Monday, December 17, 2012

Won't you be my neighbor?

There is an abject evil in the world that has taken our breath away.
The people of Newtown, CT are on their knees, felled by the heinous, unmentionable act of a killer who walked into an elementary school and opened fire on its students and teachers.

The rest of us are on our knees, too: some in prayer, others in despair, and still others as a reactionary double-over from the kick in the gut elicited by an act of such unfathomable terror. It’s hard to speak of normal activities with the sickening, shameful, pornographic violence our world has seen.
Just when I think I’m about to resume the business of my life, new waves of grief well inside me and I think of Newtown where mothers are not Christmas shopping and teachers are not making gingerbread houses from milk cartons. Siblings are crushed, families ravaged—ruined—at a time when rejoicing and gladness should come easily.

In the aftermath of Newtown, one thing that comes back to me is the image of that young girl on the news footage whose sweet, little face was contorted in complete terror as she was lead from the scene with her class.
What kind of untold, collateral damage has been done to that little girl, her friends, her teachers, the parents who got to school and didn’t leave with a child? Above all else, it’s the image of that little girl’s face that haunts me; her confused expression saying what the entire nation feels inside.

Newtown could have been us. It could have been anyone.
Among the processing going on via social media, I love the quote from Mister Rogers:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."
Am I the only one wishing I lived in his neighborhood right now?

I have taken to repeating those words when talking to my children about Newtown. I keep telling them—thus, myself—to look for the helpers. Where you see the helpers, you’ll know that’s one of the ways God is working in the lives of these hurting people, I tell them. I really, really want to mean it.
So I’ve started looking around here for helpers. The day of the shooting, I went to pick up my kids from school to find that our trusty crossing guard (the same one who always flashes the “I love you” sign when families pull into the school) had arranged for Santa and Mrs. Claus to stand outside with her and visit with kids. 

I’ve been engaged in several Facebook shares offering, simply, peace and support—no political rants or too-soon petitions—but love, from our hearts to theirs.
I watched our President deliver a nation’s condolences to that broken, bewildered community, and echoed his sentiment and sadness.

I watched a video, posted by my dear friend, of her precious son singing—appropriately— O Come, O Come, Emmanuel at his voice recital. It was beautiful and moving.
I sat in the sanctuary of my church yesterday morning while my pastor and friend shared about the breaking heart of God, whom he imagines to be standing beside us in our grief, putting the world back together. Moments later, the children of our church sang to us about a Savior.

Come, Emmanuel, indeed.
I think some of the real helpers are working with my kids today. I am deeply grateful for the loving, living examples of helpers I see in the schools my kids attend. Our elementary school principal, along with her her staff, is in the trenches everyday—long before we arrive and long after we’ve gone home—working, thinking, creating ways to help kids learn. Often, her efforts aren’t so lofty. I’ve seen days when she worries first about a child getting breakfast, much less acing a multiplication test. I imagine her visceral reaction to Newtown, and want to hug her, thank her and be a helper, too.

The same goes for the teachers. I have no doubt that the teachers of my kids caught wind of Newtown’s tragedy and began a painful process of getting through the day without letting the students see their heartbreak. I’ll bet they were simultaneously counting kids, reviewing lock-down procedures, hugging little bodies and grading papers. That night, at home, I’ll bet they came apart like the rest of us. But today is Monday and there they are: back again to shape our future.
Thank you, helpers. I’ll keep looking for you, and make every effort to be one, too. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for giving us a way to help navigate through this ineffable pain until we find ourselves being your kind of neighbor.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Raise Your Glass, Raise Your Kids, Wear Some Pants

I really like the song “Raise Your Glass” by Pink, and this morning it’s what played through my head as the soundtrack to a busy beginning to this Friday.
Let me start by going ahead with the admission that I did, indeed, take the kids to school in my pajamas. I know, I know. But I really thought I could get them around the building and through the drop-off line without having to get out of the car. It wasn’t just my sparkling personality that made me stand out this morning. It was also the purple flannel polka-dotted pajama bottoms I wore, the long-sleeved t-shirt, the red and black woolen socks and burgundy flats. I topped the whole ensemble off with a super-cute navy sweater-wrap, as though it was the piece de resistance in an effort to salvage my dignity, which I’m pretty sure I left near the railroad tracks on Stewarts Ferry Pike when I realized (with the help of the Music City Star) we would not be on time and I would have to walk the kids in.
I didn’t just want to get the kids in to avoid (another!) letter from the truancy office. Sure, I care about their learning and education; promptness is a part of that. Yeah, I get all that crap. I really just wanted to get them there before I received another shaming look from Front Office Staff And All Around Keeper Of The Keys Mrs. Shamey McTardimuggins.
And today was my lucky day! Because ala Pink, I’m “too school for cool.”
Imagine my delight when I screeched to a halt in front of the school and ushered my kids out of the car, one of whom was still finishing off a French Toast Stick, to find the front door still open. That means no sign in! That means no shaming looks! No tardy today! But they would have to hurry. The door was about to close.
“Ha ha, suckas!” I shouted to the people just pulling into the parking lot. These were the fully-dressed people, with dignity still intact, whom I’d zoomed passed in my fury, humming Pink the whole way:
…So raise your glass if you are wrong, in all the right ways, all my underdogs,
We will never be, never be anything but loud, and nitty­ gritty dirty little freaks…
It was then that I noticed our beloved, highly-professional and erudite principal at the front door, greeting the last of the “on time” children with an equally professional-looking guest. And here I was, secretary of the PTA board, in my flannels. I considered a swan-dive into the landscaping and an Army crawl back to the van, but I think she already spotted me.
So, I mustered what was left of my self-respect and stood up straight, cinching up my sweater-wrap. I waved gracefully and kissed the kids goodbye. (“Have a great day, sweetie! Mommy promises to be dressed when I pick you up after school! Unless I get caught up in a Glee marathon this afternoon.")
Back in the safety of my van, I was thrilled to find that my child left her freshly-poured juice in the car. She loves to drink her juice out of a tiny wine glass she calls the “fancy glass.” I grabbed it and took a long drink of the pineapple-orange ­juice. I was trying to merge in front of a gentleman in a huge, red truck, who had no doubt watched the entire pajama-clad freak show unfold.
Perhaps I’d frightened him. Maybe he was just being nice. Maybe he wondered why the hell PTA Mom was dropping kids off in her jammies and swilling what appeared to be mimosas from a wine glass at 8:00 in the morning.
Okay, 8:02.
But he kindly motioned for me to go ahead, and I did the only thing I could think of.
I raised my glass.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Original BFFs

Not many people have affected my life the way Michael has. We are, as he likes to call us, the original BFFs.
My life was forever changed when our last names placed us in homeroom together at DuPont Junior High in Belle, WV. No sooner had I placed my Mead Trapper Keeper under my desk and smoothed out my Forenza sweater over my stirrup pants with Chuck T. high tops, when Michael turned to me and said something sarcastic. In that moment something happened.
I’ve heard people talk about love at first sight—but this was more than that. This was humor and wit at first sight: I had found my soul-mate. Michael and I hit it off right away. Immediately, I liked him and the way he could keep up with my sarcastic banter, giving it back as quickly as I could dish it out. Our first order of business was to rename everyone in the class. I still occasionally wonder how “Spiral McPermison” and “Mary Jane Von Stonerton” are doing.
We had fun together. Once, convinced that I should learn to cook after I caught a bag of microwave popcorn on fire, Michael donned an apron and set about my kitchen with my mother’s avocado green mixer. Another time, he hid in my bedroom and scared the bejesus out of me when I got home from school. We spent a lot of time at Taco Bell and TCBY. We may or may not have belted out Taylor Dayne tunes into a hair-brush microphone in his car. One of his shining moments of BFF greatness came on my 18th birthday when he showed up at my grandmother’s house, after our family dinner, with a birthday cake for me, because he knew no one else had a cake for me. I loved him for that. Even if the cake did say, “Happy Bar Mitzvah, Steve.”
We’ve endured some heavy-duty issues in our lives, too. We’re 40 now people—we have jeans older than some of you. So, we have encountered some crazy juju, the most notable of which was a rift between the two of us that lasted the duration of the 1990s and took us all the way past the birth of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.
Alas, the original BFFs hit a major snag somewhere around the early 1990s. About the time Vanilla Ice was hotter than hot, our epic friendship cooled off. As in: frozen. Stone cold. Brrrrrr.
It is a long, complicated story whose details don’t need re-hashing. But during that rift, we missed out on so much: Ross/Rachel, Clinton/Lewinsky, the unfortunate onset of “japris,” my wedding, his coming out, the OJ trial, the SNL Spartan Cheerleaders, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Ace of Base, Titanic, and Y2K. While Will Smith was “Gettin’ Jiggy With It,” we were nowhere near a much-longed-for reconciliation.
During our junior year of high school, Michael and I had the good fortune to end up in the English class of Carol Recco, teacher extraordinaire and all-around fabulous person. She, more than anyone, was privy to the genius of our wit when she poured over those weekly journal entries wherein Michael and I penned, with Pulitzer-like finesse, all the teenage angst and euphoria of (depending on what was being served in the cafeteria) our young lives.
But one big thing wasn’t being written in Michael’s journal: he is gay, but he wasn’t telling anyone. Why, I’ve wondered? But the truth is, it was Belle, WV in the late 1980s and life was not an episode of Glee. (If only!) An adequate safety net did not exist for Michael the way it may today. I think back on that hilarious, attractive, smart, wonderful boy that I loved for all the right reasons and my heart hurts that he couldn’t feel safe telling even one person—even me—that precious part of himself. We were Will and Grace before Will and Grace were cool.
And that is exactly how our reconciliation happened. One blessed day about six years ago, at different times, we both had similar conversations with our beloved Mrs. Recco. She casually mentioned to each of us how much the other would love to reconnect. (Mrs. Recco has always used her super-powers for good instead of evil.)
Finally, we connected in a phone conversation that lasted a few hours. There were tears, there were apologies, and there was story after story in a remarkable reunion that brought us back to that friendship we had so missed.
“This is so Will and Grace,” I said to Michael.
“I’m signing us up for the Amazing Race right now,” said my BFF.
And just like that, we were back, settling into a comfortable banter just in time for me to deliver my third child and Michael to find the love of his life.
Today when I crack open my senior yearbook I see the once and future BFFs, now two grown-up friends.
I see a strong, still-handsome, still-funny, good man unafraid of who he is. He is blessed to be in relationship with an equally good and wonderful man, and it is my great pleasure to know and love them both.
I see a younger version of myself and want to tell her, “Wait until you see the wonderful gifts life is about to hand you. Also, the late 1990s involve knit pants and matching vests. Try to avoid that.”
I’m not sure I believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe people are in our lives for a reason and I am so grateful to have Michael in mine.
And thank God for the reunion because there is always so much for us to discuss.  With the fleeting drama of an election year, a divorce for Tomkat and—God, help us—Honey Boo Boo, it’s nice to have a BFF that endures.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Zero is (still) not a size

Ladies, yet again we are being judged for our physical appearances.
In the last few days, Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston has made headlines for confronting the rude author of an offensive email targeting her weight. Livingston, who aptly pointed out that she is “much more than a number on a scale,” took the high road by using the uncalled for remarks about her appearance to bring attention to Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, which happens to be this October. Livingston admonished viewers who may be experiencing ridicule for any reason, to stand up for themselves.
The email Livingston received not only called her obese, but also a poor role model. Come on, crass stranger, really? The man who sent Livingston that dim-witted email wasn’t privy to the inner-workings of her life and soul. She is a mother of three young girls. You can bet that as she got ready for work that morning, before getting to her office and finding the vile  email, she was packing lunches, signing permission slips, tying shoes, brushing pigtails, giving hugs, fixing boo-boos, settling arguments, scheduling meetings, and asking herself if she remembered everything. She likely shared a brief kiss with her husband, fed the cat and grabbed a Luna bar on the way out to the minivan—because that’s how real women function. No one gets to accuse her of being a poor role model, least of all someone who admittedly doesn’t watch her news show. How would he know what kind of person she is?
But to me, the most heinous part of this whole thing is that a perfectly competent, lovely, smart woman—who does not mirror society’s concept that physical beauty is borderline anorexia—is being called out for her size at her job as a television news anchor.
Since when should a woman have to answer to a random stranger—or anyone— for her size?
Since always, that’s when.
Aren’t you tired of it, ladies?  Isn’t enough enough? And while it’s a complete travesty that Livingston was judged, not by her ability, but her appearance, perhaps an equally deplorable reality is that most of us still try our damndest to stay engaged in some ever-illusive pursuit of a “better” body.
Don’t misunderstand—I’m not discarding the benefits of a well-rounded plan for self care that includes physical activity, rest, nourishing food and some kind of balance between our physical, mental and spiritual selves. I’m very invested in mine, and encourage sane, healthy behavior as much as possible.
Unfortunately, our culture still judges women on the way we look. Just last week, there was a scuttlebutt around Lady Gaga’s admission that she has struggled with an eating disorder since she was 15-years-old. Simultaneously, she was being raked over the coals for gaining weight. Duplicitous media messages about her alleged weight gain flew all over the web prompting critics and fans alike to speak out, and Mother Monster herself to post pictures in her skivvies with a message to fans:
  “To all the girls that think you’re ugly because you’re not a size zero,
you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly.”
Amen to that. Besides, zero is not a size. It’s just not. One, five, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty—all sizes. But zero? Not so much. I recently voiced my concern about this to a very nice sales associate at Anne Taylor Loft, which not only offers a size zero, but a double zero.  A double zero! Less than nothing!
Last night I cruised by the magazine rack at the grocery store. I saw 33 magazine covers featuring women who would qualify as supermodels. Only one was a woman of color; most were blond. I’m certain none of them were even average-sized, which is somewhere around a 14. Designers for Hollywood starlets make samples in sizes 2-4. Maybe Livingston’s critic spends too much time in the magazine aisle at Kroger.
Like many women, I can’t remember ever thinking I didn’t need to lose weight: not when I was 10 years old and far too young to be concerned with such issues; not when I tried (another) fad diet at 13, and threw up at the dinner table; not when I weighed 112 pounds and was as bootylicious as I’ll ever be; maybe not even today. Even as I write this, I’m fresh off a high-intensity workout with a friend. But I do remember what happened to my body to change the way I think about it.
I had three babies. I got pregnant, grew these human beings inside me, ate to nourish both of us, and miraculously delivered them into this world safely, un-medicated and in complete awareness. Then I used my body to nurse them—each of them for more than three years, giving them the best possible start, and if you want to get technical, a boost toward avoiding obesity later.
That changed everything about the way I see my body: every curve, every stretch mark, every gravity-controlled part. Remarkably, it brought about a new confidence, a sense of “I’m pretty frickin’ awesome!”
So, I will continue my frickin’ awesomeness and try not to let the detractors emailing inane comments get in my way. I have things to do. I have to counteract for my kids the idea that they should fit into some cultural idea of acceptable beauty. They are already pretty frickin’ awesome the way they are.
And to Jennifer Livingston, keep that spam folder in your email active, and keep doing a great job.

You’re not a disgrace, you’re not responsible for the physical health of La Crosse, Wisconsin and you’re most definitely not alone.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Extreme Makeovers: Cheaper than marriage counseling?

Someone once told me that if a couple could survive painting together, their marriage would survive anything.
True, that.
We’ve just spent most of our kids’ college savings on an Extreme Bedroom Makeover: Walker Edition. (Ha, ha, kids! Just kidding! Of course we didn’t, really. We don’t even have a college savings for you. Keep those grades up, smarties!)
We’ve spent the better part of three weeks re-arranging, re-assigning and re-decorating rooms for the kids. Now, the boy has a room of his own and the girls are shacked-up together. They look great. I’m talking Pinterest-worthy, people.
An interesting dynamic unfolds when people start decorating together, which is really just a microcosm of real life. In our case, one of us (okay, me) likes to think and ruminate on how things should be. The other (guess who?) hears me say out loud that I might like the idea of stripes, and has the entire room taped off and ready to paint before I can return from the other room with my color swatches.
You have to be careful what you say out loud around a man of action.
“Hold on a minute!” I said, when I happened upon my beloved, poised and ready to stripe the girls’ room in a Parisian Pink. “Dude, Parisian Pink was yesterday. I’m leaning toward Perfectly Pink now.”
He looked at me sadly, brush in hand, as though I was supposed to rush a decision like this. Hello?! These things take time. When I told him I may not even want to do stripes anymore, he seemed to have a small aneurysm.
I get him. He’s a do-er. Maddening as it is for a big-picture gal like me, his detail gets the job done. This is part of the delicate balance that we’ve learned to achieve.
And he gets me, too. I need to ruminate. I’m not just pondering where to put the new bookcase. I’m grieving the stack of board books that will no longer be on the shelf. I’m not just practicing serious Feng Shui with that gimormous van load of donations for Goodwill, I’m weepy that the little size 3T Osh Kosh Halloween sweatshirt, photographed on little Walkers at pumpkin patches all over middle Tennessee, has been relegated to the “give away” pile. It takes me a minute, y’all.
There is also a tricky equilibrium in how to decorate. What I mean by “tricky equilibrium” is I have to reign in my sarcasm—a lot—when other people like to have opinions about my decorating ideas. More than once, I’ve had to take a deep breath and remember it’s not ALL about me. Mostly is it, though. I’m the one pouring over Pinterest and practically getting slapped with a restraining order from Nate Berkus. No one else knows the delicate placement options of a chevron stripe. Well, do they?
I’m barely used to the idea that my husband has an opinion about home decor, but now the children are depositing their two cents. I get it: they live here, too. But do they have to have their own thoughts, ideas and preferences?
Oh, wait. Of course they do. That’s how we’re raising them: to be “independent thinkers” and “individuals” and “self-possessed people.” Damned good parenting. Now look what we’ve done! We’ve gone and taught them to think for themselves!
Now that we’re in the home stretch, everyone is very pleased with the results of their new rooms. My current challenge is letting them actually USE their rooms. I mean the new digs are so organized and pristine. Yesterday I almost cried to find a pair of dirty socks on a brand new hot pink rug. A pair of ill-placed Converse All-Stars gave me dry heaves.
Thinking ahead, I went to share a new idea with my man of action to find him putting the finishing touches on the final room. “I’ve been thinking,” I announced, which always yields a look of sheer terror on his handsome face. “Would this be a bad time to tell you how I think we could re-model the den to include another room?”
“Yes, it would.”
“Okay,” I said, content with keeping it to myself for a while, or at least until the paint dries.
That’s the beauty of ruminating. The idea will still be there when it’s time to do anything with it. And, thankfully, so will my man of action.

Monday, September 10, 2012

9/11 and coffee cake

On September 11, 2001, as the center of the universe lost its pulse for a minute, I baked an orange coffee cake.
   I was getting ready to go to Hana's house for our weekly lesson. Hana, my friend and student, was a young Muslim mother from Iraq and a refugee to the United States; I was her ESL teacher.
   Baking a cake was all I could think of to do. Frankly, it was the only thing I had all the ingredients to bake. (How do I offer some comfort, I wondered? Is there protocol for the world falling apart?) I pilfered around for orange peel. I pulled the cake from the oven--maybe a moment too soon. Oven off and towers down, I rushed to Hanna's. I never did find orange peel.
  We spent the remainder of the morning watching the news, side by side, on her couch. I want to remember us huddled together, holding on to one another--Christian and Muslim, American and Middle Easterner, mothers, sisters, daughters--but I think we probably just sat sort-of close to each other. Our young daughters were playing with toys. We shared a slice of coffee cake and Hana offered something to drink. We shared a lot more than that, too. She was afraid for her family in Iraq, who like so many, had suffered under Saddam Hussein. I wondered silently what it was like for her husband at work that day. I was struck by her gratitude to be in the U.S., despite the distance it put between she and her family left in Iraq. We mourned the losses unfolding in front of us.
   In the coming years I would remember Hanna and that morning spent on her sofa. When people talk about what they were doing when the towers fell, I remember, too. I think about how significant it is to me that, on a day that served to create division and ineffable pain, community happened--on the edge of a sofa, over a slice of orange coffee cake, while our very futures played together on the floor.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Adventures in Babysitting, circa 2012

The Walkers are on a quest for a new babysitter. Our beloved Rachael is off to college.
Rachael has been our official go-to girl for a few years now. For her 16th birthday, my husband printed off and gave her Map Quest directions to our house. My oldest child gets some of her cute hand-me-downs. My youngest child thinks she’s as pretty as Barbie (in fact, she’s much prettier and far more real). The rest of us just think she’s cool. The thing about Rachael is that she’s just enough of a kid that my kids don’t realize their being supervised; but she’s just grown up enough to get all of my pop culture references.
We’re all a little sad to let her go.
Who will let the kids play games on her phone and watch too much Disney channel? Who will build forts in the den floor that the kids insist on leaving there for days? Who will let them wash her car with lots of soapy water, then let them slide off the hood into the grass? Oh, wait…NO ONE will do that. We have to draw the line somewhere. Epic night for the kids, though. It’s still talked about neighborhood-wide.
And how, oh, how will we manage date night without her?!
But I’m not one to procrastinate. Just kidding! Of course I am! I’ll avoid finding a new sitter as long as I can, possibly even texting Rachael’s college advisor with an emergency request for her to return home to help avoid a close call with WMD (Walkers Missing Date night).
And while I would love to keep Rachael around to maintain Most Favored Babysitter status, I know what waits for her.
I know she is about to embark of the time of her life. I know she is about to meet lifelong friends and have priceless experiences. I know she’s about to step out into that magical space between childhood and adulthood that will shape who she becomes. I know she’s about to challenge every belief her family holds dear and examine what she’ll keep and what she’ll let go.
I know she’ll head east in a few days, her trunk loaded down with all the stuff she thinks she will need, which I imagine to include some camouflage bibbed overalls, some rocking heels, a flat iron and a volleyball.
I know she’ll do great, and I want her to. I want her to shine her sweet, funny, smart light all over east Tennessee.
Incidentally, I had a brief conversation this morning with a potential new sitter. (Let’s not call her a “replacement.” As if.) This person is someone who already works with children, is capable and comes well-recommended.
So when I let her know of our next planned night out, she let me know she would think about it and get back to me.
What’s that, now? THINK about it?! Don’t you know who you’re dealing with here, sister? Not just anyone gets to watch the Walker kids. They’ve come to expect a certain quality in a sitter.
Sure, this new change will be all right. On paper, she fits the bill just fine. She’ll take care of our kids with expertise and vigilance.
But will she let them soap up her Honda?
Alfred Hitchcock said, “A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.”
With Rachael, they always were.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

To Do: Stop Obsessing On "To Do" List

Oh, those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer! They’re over, people.
School starts today, and that means one thing: my “To Do” List is, again, over the top.
Fueled by good intentions and crippling perfectionism, I, like most mothers, have an epic “To Do” list that Franklin Covey couldn’t tame.  It’s at its worst on the first day of school. While we want to use it as a guide—to bring order to that important first day—sometimes we expect too much from ourselves. Nothing gets a mother’s perfectionism stirred up like the first day of school. We all want to make the day go smoothly for our kids and start them off just right, but face it, we’re human.
That, my friends, is why I have constructed TWO “To Do” lists for your perusal. Perhaps we can manage to find ourselves somewhere in the middle.
First day of school “To Do” list (how we want it to be):
1.      Wake up at 5:00; Preheat griddle for homemade spelt pancakes; tap maple tree for syrup; go for a run before waking kids and hubby.
2.      Wake kids at 6:00 by singing original Good Morning Song composed during previous run; smile and kiss each sleepy head.
3.      Shower and change while kids are getting dressed and hubby is flipping pancakes; be amused that he’s wearing an apron; snap random candid pictures.
4.      Review last minute supply list for each child, being sure to include hand-written note in every organic, super-healthy lunch.
5.      Gather kids on front steps for official “first day of school” picture; remember to mail it to Pottery Barn Kids for cover photo contest.
6.      With 15 minutes to spare, gather everyone in the Odyssey and head to school; hand deliver homemade “first day teacher gifts” to each classroom.
7.      Blow kisses and marvel at those precious people you made.
And for the rest of us:
1.      Wake up at 5:45, hit snooze; wake in a panic at 7:25; run to fridge; curse like a sailor when it’s empty.
2.      Wake kids by screaming that school starts in 20 minutes. Hand them breakfast: half a bag of donuts and a 2-liter of Sprite.
3.      Pull on running shorts, bathing suit top and cowboy boots; tell hubby to pull the pillow off his head and find youngest child’s other shoe; curse again when the shoe is the only thing in the fridge; take batteries from TV remote and add to camera.
4.      Scrounge for school supplies; hand everyone seven sheets of wrinkled, college-ruled paper and a highlighter; pass out lunches: tuna on saltines and a baggie full of potato chip crumbs.
5.      Gather kids on front steps for official “first day of school” picture; insist that they smile, damn it, it’s the first day of school!
6.      With no time to spare, gather everyone in the Odyssey and head to school, screeching on two wheels into the parking lot, just as the Pledge of Allegiance begins; walk kids to class while reciting the Serenity Prayer.
     7.      Blow kisses and marvel at those precious people you made. (Because some things are the same, no matter what kind of "To Do" list you have.)
Have a great first day, friends. May your lists be checked in all the right places.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why I'm NOT reading 50 Shades

This summer, you can’t throw a rock without hitting some sister pouring over a clandestine copy of the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy. I get it. It’s all the rage. Christian Gray and what’s-her-name are all anybody talks about anymore. Poor Tom and Katie must feel so bad; barely anyone is even paying any attention at all to the demise of their marriage and Brad and Angie haven’t been mentioned for weeks. Even poor Bella and Edward, the tamer-but-just-as disturbing teenage version of Shades main characters, are being put on a shelf. It’s all about the Shades.
But I’m not reading it. Now, I anticipate a giant, collective, breathy gasp when I say that (or maybe that winded panting is from a whole slew of people having just read through chapter five and are just beside themselves about the latest pulsating curiosity of the protagonist's nether-regions.)
If you are the singular human left on the planet who hasn’t heard of Fifty Shades, here is, from what I’ve gathered, a basic run-down:  22-year-old virgin and college graduate Ana meets mid-twentyish billionaire Christian and is, at first, really turned on by his brooding gray eyes, unfriendly stand-offishness and complete lack of emotional availability. Later, despite her constant questioning that something isn’t right, notably her fear of being punished (and I do mean actually beaten) by Christian Gray she continues to sacrifice her good sense and judgment, her intuition, her own preferences and wants, and her will in order to achieve orgasm with a man who refuses to let her touch him and insists on “fucking hard” instead of “making love.” I know. Charming, huh? Well, we have to give him that one. I mean being tied up and flogged by a riding crop doesn’t necessarily conjure tender images of sweet love-making, does it?
Or does it? Maybe for you, it does. And if so, you go girl, I guess. But I don’t get it. I just can’t really understand that the sight of a huge “playroom” stocked with paraphernalia to facilitate rough sex wouldn’t send any self-possessed woman packing. Readers, such a room existed in fictional millionaire Martin Vanger’s basement in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and we hated him for it. Why is everyone in love with Christian Gray?
I know, I know. People keep reassuring me that it’s a love story. Fine, whatever. Ana saves Christian from the darkness of his past and, hopefully, goes on to be a soccer mom to his sexually-repressed little billionaire spawns who will no doubt be well-behaved, ’cause, "Damn! Have you seen that thing Dad beats Mom with?!" Six years from now, we will peek into the life of Ana Steele-Gray to find her musing about what gets her motor revved up, and hear something like this: “My inner goddess has been doing the running man all morning because Christian actually took out the garbage AND threw a load of whites in the dryer! But I better get to the grocery right after work, or it’s the belt for me!”
Now, the real reason I haven’t read the books is that I just cannot stomach the inner dialogue of a 22-year-old virgin and her companion, her “inner goddess.” I picture the marginally attractive Ana Steele with a teeny, tiny, tap-dancing libido deep inside her vagina just clambering to get out every time Christian’s angry, gray eyes look her way. There is enough hype online that I feel like I have the Cliffs Notes. I join the banter for this reason (other than to wallow in sarcasm): to ask the hard questions. Are we really okay with all this domination/submission business? Is this what women want, to be dominated by a controlling sex maniac? To give away their power? And finally, do people still say “Jeez” all that much anymore?
Not reading Fifty Shades has nothing to do with being prudish or frigid or morally opposed to a good steamy scene between two people, or for that matter, mind-blowing sex. As a writer and a lover, I adore a great love scene that sticks with readers, and have conjured some doosies in my own prose and marriage bed. I really, really do not wish to judge anyone who has read the book. Actually, while I was on the fence about reading it myself, I recommended it to my own mother, a decision that will effectively secure my seat at a therapist’s office for a long time. I simply wish to explore the phenomenon that throngs of women are identifying with a weaker-than-Bella Swan-Cullen female character and are practically giddy at the thought of being beaten into submission by the first adorable, brooding billionaire/sex offender that comes along.
It’s not that I didn’t want to read it. I tried. Kind of. Almost everyone I know is reading it. Every single woman I passed on the beach while on vacation was reading it. Based on the restocking needs at my local bookstore, the entire population of the tri-county area and their sneaky kids are reading it. But even if I could (and I can’t) get past a woman doing sexual things that hurt her, things that she isn’t even sure she wants to do, so that she can ensure a man’s pleasure at the expense of her own, the writing wasn’t great. It just wasn’t good writing, and that is an offense of another kind. A book that has sold over 10 million copies should be better written than Fifty Shades is.
Call me old-fashioned (not 16th century-sex-chamber-and-women-as-property-old-fashioned, just regular old-fashioned) but I like my men thoughtful, available, and capable of intimacy. I don’t sign contracts spelling out every detail of my physical care, nor do I spend time “in my head” second-guessing whether or not my actions—from food to friend choices—will anger my lover enough to beat me, the way Ana does repeatedly. That is abuse and should not be confused for a loving, mutual sex act between two adults.
I’ve known a lot of women who have suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of men who wanted to control them, objectify them, use them, own them. Some of them went along with it for a long time to please their man. Who knew all they needed was a contract and a safe-word to make their complete submission a sexy and desirable thing? (No need for thinking here! No need to have your own needs and wants! Someone wants to spank me with a leather belt and have an orgasm over it, and it makes my “inner goddess” tingle, so I must be attractive and wanted in some way!)
I have friends who have read the book and absolutely love it, and I do not cast aspersions on the conditions of their sex lives, nor do I think everyone that reads it needs sex therapy asap. Reading therapy? Maybe. A literature class? Sure. But their sex lives are their business. Further, I see no problem with spicing things up, either. I just hope they’re reminding themselves that sex is not the greatest sign of love. Sex is a wonderful, fulfilling, beautiful, important thing—but it’s the sex that is the thing, not the girl.
E.L. James, is somewhere lighting up a cigarette every time she gets off (ha!) the phone with her accountant because her story is practically outselling the Bible. (Incidentally, the Bible has some pretty illicit stories, too. Check out that Old Testament. Yowza!) But here she is, in the literary world whether we like it or not.
Now let’s just see if we can get her change the name of her genitalia. Jeez.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Got Milk?

I love it when I get to talk about breastfeeding. It's my thing.

So imagine my delight when I saw the Time magazine cover released yesterday featuring nursing mother Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her almost-four-year-old son. The cover photo depicted a tank-top clad Grumet standing up and her son--standing in a chair--nursing. The image blew up on Facebook, Twitter and all kinds of parenting websites.

The cover story references Dr. William "Bill" Sears, and his wife Martha, who are widely considered to be the parents of Attachment Parenting. The couple (parents of eight) propelled the Attachment Parenting philosophy to fame about 20 years ago, making it, more or less, a household name and giving new parents different kinds of support and resources than the popular cry-it-out methods being endorsed at the time. Attachment Parenting, practiced by many parents including yours truly, supports a series of practices such as extended nursing, co-sleeping, baby-wearing and a few others. It's not rocket science. In fact, lots of people practice this style of parenting, or some version of it, without knowing it has an official name. (Other cultures--particularly eastern cultures--have done so for centuries and without the endorsement of the Sears library. I'm a big fan of the Sears library; I'm just saying.)

Best I can tell, the stir caused by Grumet's cover photo is a mixed bag. Are people up in arms about the fact that she's nursing a preschooler? Are they miffed by her display of public nursing? Are there judgements about her parenting-style in general? Is there real discussion going on, or just shock about the photo?

Far more brazen than the photo of Grumet, is the title which states, "Are You Mom Enough?" Is Time magazine kidding me? Using the word "enough" with a mother is like a bullet in her chest. We are constantly being told we aren't enough, and are being polarized about whether others are enough, less than or better than we are. Who are you, Time magazine, to judge what makes a mother "enough"? To judge mothers at all? (Further, there are plenty of mothers out there, near and far, who not only worry about being enough, but rather having enough. But that is a topic for another day...we'll get to that. Here, I refer largely to those of us fortunate enough to have access to clean water and health care. Our discussions are also limited to biological children. Two people very close to me are adopted by fabulous mothers for whom nursing was obviously not part of their process.)

I want to be clear about this. I am as passionate about breastfeeding as anything I can think of in the world. Nursing is, by far, one of the greatest acts I have chosen as a mother. It's been an act of service, an act of love and an act of labor. It has been hard work, tender exertion and a bonding, liberating, wonderful experience. I believe I have given my children countless benefits--physical and emotional--that have helped to shape them into the attached, healthy, lovely people they are...and are becoming.

But somehow that isn't translating out there where people are in a tizzy about this cover photo. The comments left by readers and oglers alike are no help at all, though are at once entertaining and outrageous. Is all the anger energy directed where it should be--at establishments like Time Magazine for sensationalizing a topic that, by and large, needs to be discussed more from some organic place of mutual care than polar extremes?

Listen, I spent 12 of the last 13 years lactating. I know about extremes, and Time magazine hasn't been beating down my door for an interview and a photo-op. So what? I nursed each of my kids until they were three and a half, until we had each one's "Goodbye To Milka" party complete with breast-shaped cakes with gum drops for nipples. Yep, we did that--and would do it again should I ever have the privilege of breastfeeding another one.

I nursed in public, too. That issue in particular seems to be one of the hot buttons surrounding breastfeeding, creating a need for nurse-ins all over the place and waging war on Facebook for disallowing nursing photos. Lactivists (breastfeeding advocates), stage nurse-ins at establishments where mothers have been asked not to nurse publicly. The idea that a nursing mother is discouraged from nursing her child wherever she happens to be is, quite simply, absurd. I was once asked by an employee of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago to take my 7-month-old from the theater because I was breastfeeding in the back row. The female employee noted that people might "feel uncomfortable" with me nursing my child, which was code for "I'm uncomfortable with you nursing, and even though at least two other buxom women in this theater are showing way more skin than you are, please leave immediately." I politely informed her that I planned to finish nursing where I was, as was my right according to Illinois legislation regarding such. Later I sent a letter to the board of directors voicing my concern that if Adler Planetarium was really proud of the scholarship they offered female students pursuing careers in science, they might consider a softer approach to this most fundamental issue and that I was pumping my little, future female scientist full of antibodies and wholesome lunch, and surely they could get behind that kind of science. (However, in fairness, I'll tell you that the Chicago Children's Museum offered a world-class nursing area so comfortable I almost checked out of our hotel, just to stay in that pleasant little room for a day or so.)

But I had to seek out great support to facilitate that kind of comfort with nursing. Thank God in heaven for a wonderful nurse named Jo who told me about Attachment Parenting and taught me about nursing. So helpful was Jo, Angel of My Early Nursing Experience, that FOUR MONTHS LATER, I was still popping in for visits to her, because that's how long it took me to finally "get" nursing. Four months. I went to great lengths. I pumped every night, even though my newborn was sleeping for hours at a time. I fed her at the breast, through a nipple shield, through a special bottle called a Haberman Feeder and all combinations in between. At long last, we finally got it with just the breast and it went swimmingly until she was three. The next two came along and nursed right off, though both mostly on my right side, so I'm lopsided evermore. It was worth every minute and it will be a deep grief to think that stage of my life is done.

I have long said, though, that if I could figure out a way to bridge the gap between moms who nurse, moms who don't and moms who combine the two, I would happily make a career of it. I believe it's possible to support, validate and encourage mothers in their experiences. I'm not suggesting it's easy, or tidy, just possible. I've worried a few times while writing this post that I would hurt some of the mothers I care most about by so passionately declaring my support of nursing. Yet, that's my truth, and inviting a real discussion around breastfeeding--sans any judgement of each other--seems a good idea. The stellar moms I associate with (really, I find myself in the company of some truly amazing women), include several who bottle-fed their babies. Some of the best mothers I've ever known (including my own) didn't nurse and I dare Time magazine, or anyone else, to judge the kind of mother they are based on that. I also don't think they judge me, and are glad I'm so passionate about nursing.

Can't that mutual respect be contagious somehow? Women working together could be so much more powerful than women being divisive.

If you can't get on board with that, well, tough titty.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We Are (Still) Nashville

  It's hard to believe that two years ago, we Nashvillians were wading through the flood that left us stunned. The city and her people took an enormous hit, though it barely made a blip in the national news.
  But we saw it. A few days after the flood, I wrote the following article, that was published in a Kentucky magazine. Two years later, I think it's good to remember.

Nashville Keeps Going
By Kristi Stephens Walker
I have always hated those stupid sayings about when the going gets tough. I don’t like the “tough gets going” part. I especially don’t like the “tough goes shopping” part that cutes it up. But after what I have witnessed over the last eight days, I would have to say that when the going gets tough, Nashville gets tougher.
I live in Nashville. Right now, no one goes anywhere without talking about the flood.  No one.  Further, no one wants to. It is on every mind, in every newspaper, on every news channel in Music City.
A little over a week ago, Nashville endured the worst flooding it has ever seen. FEMA estimates over 1.5 billion dollars in damages. At least 10 people died in Nashville, more in surrounding counties. Homes are lost, employees are displaced, historic landmarks are destroyed. Schools have just re-opened, after a week of crisis management. We are being asked to conserve water. 
But the people of the Volunteer State’s capitol city keep going.
Our beautiful symphony center, the Schermerhorn, is awash, along with its glorious grand piano.  The hallowed ground of the Grand Ole Opry, sacred space for so many of country music’s own, is severely damaged. Even Barnes and Noble Booksellers at Opry Mills mall, where I have worked part time as a barista making latte after latte, is laid bare by the flood of 2010, and the employees scattered among other stores in the region. They, like so many others, are grateful to be safe and doing the next right thing.
But the most remarkable thing about this flood, is how Nashvillians have organically begun to rebuild the community. As immediately as families were being evacuated from homes, churches were opening their doors to provide refuge and safety. Community centers and organizations were setting up information and distribution centers where folks can donate clothing, personal care and cleaning items needed by flood victims. Throngs of people are turning out to help neighbors—and even strangers—sort through rubble, provide lunch to other volunteers and generally pitch in.
Tonight, I looked over the Facebook posts of a friend who has suffered tremendous loss to her home. From the time she and her daughter were forced out by the rising water, her posts (including a mobile upload of a photo that showed water almost covering the stop sign on her street) gave updates on their safety and remarks of gratitude to caring friends and family. Remarkably, as her situation worsened, her gratitude increased, continually mentioning the “blessings” she has received. I want to think if FEMA was standing in my gutted living room assessing untold damage, I could have an attitude like that.
Still, we grieve, but we go on. We joke about not showering for days to conserve water. At the grocery store, I see fewer cell phone conversations and more real ones. Did you stay safe, people want to know? Did you have damage? There is real concern. On a broad scale, the entire community is going there, too. Schools are collecting toys and books for kids. Churches are feeding people, offering supplies and space as needed. Benefit concerts and telethons are raising money. Local businesses are giving discounts or portions of their proceeds to help out.
All in one fell swoop, it seems, while people were asking, “Where do we go?” the city of Nashville, TN was rallying with, “It’s go time.”
I can’t help but wonder what I would have wanted to save if I was forced from my home, after of course, my family members’ safety was ensured. I considered my beloved pictures and scrapbooks and my signed first edition of a Pat Conroy novel.  I thought of all the art projects my kids have made over the years and my husband’s trombone. What about my aunt Sue’s purple handkerchief  or my grandmother’s magazine rack—the one her father made her when she got married? None of my cute shoes made the cut, nor did any electronics, although, truth be told, I may try to grab my laptop, too. But really, if we had to go, would any of the stuff matter? In that moment of realization, that frightening awareness of leave-taking, would I care a whit about anything but my family and our safety? I doubt it.
So, all over Nashville tonight, mothers lie awake—on cots in church basements, on neighbors’ couches, in hotel beds—thinking of their shattered, lost wedding china, their soggy, ruined high school yearbooks, their children’s baby teeth and first haircuts—and they weep. We weep with them. But they keep going. Tomorrow they will get up and do the necessary work to contact FEMA, get phone service, track down deodorant, school uniforms, lunch.
And Nashville will keep going, too.  She is a strong, good city. She’s taken a beating these last several days, but if you listen closely, amid the busy hands and feet going in every direction, her music still plays.
  Nashville, I have seen you re-building, surviving, moving on after such a tough time. I saw the collective cringe that happened for months every time Lisa Patton said heavy rains were on the way. I high-tailed it over to Opry Mills the minute the doors opened, and remembered how it looked in May of 2010. I grieved the absence of Barnes and Noble. I remember everyone adding We Are Nashville to their profile pics and t-shirts in an effort to echo hockey blogger Patten Fuqua's true statement that became our city's rallying cry.
  And, gratefully, we are still, indeed, Nashville. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Breakaway

When it comes to parenting, there are all kinds of new fangled things going on that weren’t happening when we started our family a few short years ago.

Notably, the “Babymoon” is a little vacation taken by expectant parents, a sort-of last hoorah, before the baby comes. I guess our little whirlwind trip to Gatlinburg would qualify as a Babymoon, it just wasn’t called that. (Spoiler alert: If you young ‘uns think a long weekend at Gulf Shores is going to prepare you for the journey ahead, think again, suckas. Call me when you’ve gone three or four days without a shower or sleep and we’ll talk about Gulf Shores. I will remind you what a fabulous accomplishment it is that it’s only taken you 72 hours to get that load of whites folded.)
The “Dadchelor party” is a reason for dads-to-be to get with their guy friends and hang out before a baby crashes into his life and poker games become few and far between. I still don’t really get how it started, but nothing says “Good Daddy” like a Vegas-style throw-down with your frat-bros.
The “Push Gift” is a bauble of some kind given to a wife, from her husband, apparently for doing a good job in getting the baby out. A friend of mine got diamond earrings from Tiffany & Co. It never crossed my mind to want or need jewelry for appropriate pushing. I mean, I came away with a baby human. That seemed pretty good to me.
Other ideas are more mainstream, even manageable—if you are doing them during the second trimester of your first pregnancy, when energy levels return and you’re sporting the cutest Liz Lange fashions ever. (Seriously, am I the only one who wishes I could still buy those adorable tops and dresses?) Journals, photographs and letters are all very sweet when you have plenty of time to flip through the Pottery Barn Kids catalog and convince yourself that, in real life, children’s book shelves really do contain only four hardback Caldecott winners, a stuffed bear and an antique jewelry box. You’ll wise up, don’t worry.
Later, when you’ve gotten the hang of having children, you’ll be faced with the most ridiculous and asinine of parenting issues to date: The Brat Ban. Yes, folks, there is a movement to actually BAN CHILDREN FROM PUBLIC SPACES and it is being referred to by our sensitive and intelligent media as a Brat Ban. Increasingly, restaurants, theaters and airplanes are trying to ban kids. Is somebody kidding me with this? Airplanes?
That is not to say that there aren’t places where kids do not belong. If you are hosting a paintball tournament, dining at Coyote Ugly, or conducting a covert, special-ops rescue with a bunch of Navy Seals, get a sitter. Going to the Oscars? Leave the diaper bag—and its owner—at home. Celebrating a romantic holiday with your baby-daddy? Go ahead and farm them out for sleepovers with friends .
But if you’re going to the post office, grabbing a bite to eat or flying on a plane, your progeny should be allowed to tag along. There are restaurants that most thinking parents wouldn’t choose to visit with small children. But as emerging members of this society, they shouldn’t be relegated only to places with indoor playgrounds and dino-shaped nuggets, should they? You shouldn’t be eyed with disdain by business folks on a flight to Orlando for having kids along. Quite the contrary: everyone knows that a flight to Orlando is tantamount to a flight to Neverland, as Orlando is the center of the universe for every family with kids in America. Really, it is. MapQuest directions to Orlando state simply to go to the “second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning.”  I swear, you turn Dr. Phil loose with a topic for half a second and the next thing you know, children can’t even go anywhere.
Kevin and I have been married for 18 years and have been parents for over 12. I assure you, there are no Tiffany blue bags laying around with rewards inside. As best I can tell, Kevin doesn’t have plans to rival The Hangover any time soon, unless the church men’s retreat boasts more chutzpah than I thought possible. (Full disclosure: I will say the church women’s retreat could raise a few eyebrows, but to my knowledge, so far no one has been banned from anywhere.)
While we fully support the assimilation of children into the culture at large, we know too well that, sometimes it’s not the general public, but the Mommy and Daddy who need a minute. Therefore, we have revived a long-adored parenting concept to save families and strengthen marriages, and given it an adorable mash-up name: The Spring Breakaway.
The basic concept of Spring Breakaway is simple. The kids get to stay with Mimi, which thrills them. We get to recharge our batteries, make eye contact and hold uninterrupted conversations at establishments where we could care less what the rules are about children, which thrills us. Everybody wins.
Just last week we had dinner with friends—kids included. Yes, we took up some space. Yes, the children got a little rowdy, especially when the cheese dip and salsa ran out or got stuck in someone’s hair. Yes, we felt for the couple whose booth backed up to the eight (yes, eight) kids we had crammed in one booth. They were cajoled, bumped, shoved, and, at least once, kicked with a soccer cleat. They handled it like champs, though, smiling and ducking at just the right times. Afterward, a few of us moms approached them, and offered to buy them a round of margaritas for being so patient.
So, yeah, the kids were loudish. But they weren’t unfit to be in public. I dare say the beer-swilling ruffians a few tables away caused more of a stir. And good for them for taking time to get together. After all, the way they were doing jello shots and rounds of tequila, it was probably a very sweet, tender moment at a well-planned Dadchelor party.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Listen up ladies: today is International Women's Day. Established in the early 1900s, International Women's Day promotes and celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women, past and present. There is no shortage of women accomplishing great things-everyday. And they're doing so while earning about 25% less than their male counterparts. They're doing so against great odds. They're doing so amid danger and real consequences. Sometimes, they're doing so just to put dinner on the table or pay the light bill. Internationally and locally, from the politically savvy to the poverty stricken, women all over this world are inspiring others and working to make a difference.

But not everyone thinks women are all that. You must have been hiding under a rock if you have missed the most recent misogynistic tirade of talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh's now-famous accusations that Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke is a "slut" and a "whore" have been in the headlines for days. Fluke spoke out in favor of the Obama administration's contraception rule. But Rush and his ill-informed sensationalism aside, even our government has dropped the ball when it comes to women's issues. The whole thing with Fluke started in mid-February with the all-male congressional panel on birth control, which assembled to discuss a co-pay free option for birth control coverage and a religious institution's exemption from it. Understandably, it caused quite a stir. So much so, that House Democrats Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) left the hearing in frustration. A discussion of religious liberties may be why Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) claimed to have refused Fluke a moment to testify, stating that she was "not appropriate or qualified" to do so. Was Fluke, whose uterus and ovaries qualify her to engage in a discussion about birth control, less qualified than the all-male panel that convened that morning?

So, women have taken a hit lately, mostly from the mouthy, ill-mannered, tackiness that spews from the pie hole of Rush Limbaugh. It's already making me sick that his name has been mentioned in this blog post more than the multitudes of fabulous women who deserve attention and thanks for a job well done. They are in the newspaper and in our neighborhoods. They are on the front lines and in our grocery lines. They are at our Capitol and at our Churches. They are in our schools and they are at our shelters. They are living examples and past heroines. They live in our homes, our hearts and our hopes.

We all know stories of women who have made a difference or connected with us. Hardly a single life would be the same if not for the vision and dedication of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton or Marie Curie. And what of those brave, ancient women like Mary, mother of Jesus, legendary Chinese warrior Mulan (and by far the most kick-ass Disney female character around), and Jochabed, mother of Moses, who had the good sense and faith to float that baby boy down the river in a basket and then volunteer to nurse him for the Pharoah's daughter. There is something so universally tender and powerful in that simple act.

And let's not forget the contributions and sacrifices of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Thatcher, Maya Angelou, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride, Frida Kahlo, Oprah Winfrey, Christiane Amanpour, Betty Ford, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Melba Patillo Beals, Ella Fitzgerald, Harper Lee and the throngs of other superb examples of women making history.

But who among us would be the same without our own mothers and other women who have shaped us? I credit my mother for teaching me to be kind, strong, independent but not isolated, and to laugh in the midst of pain or joy. My step-mom has shown me strong examples of grace and faith, forgiveness and acceptance that I will always carry with me. The generosity of my Aunt Pat, and her sameness, left me different than I would have been without her. My Maw Maw, with her pragmatic, sensible sass gave me part of who I am. My sister, who is 14-years my junior, whose life experience speaks of grace and God and change that is never too late to come by.

But there are more: friends who give me love, support, grace, and themselves everyday; women, slightly older than I, who show me the way; women slightly younger than I who remind me that I am capable and have come so far; women whose struggles and successes give me cause for gratitude.

So, today, remember those women in your life who have blazed a trail before you, who accompany you on your journey and who watch you from the sidelines. We are a powerful and competent people.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Man Cave Monday: 18 Years & Counting

by Kevin

Yesterday was my 18th wedding anniversary.  At this moment 18 years ago Kristi and I were in San Francisco enjoying our honeymoon.  It was fun but I look back now and think what a kid I was, even though I was a married adult in the eyes of the Church and the State of Tennessee.  18 years of marriage has not been easy.  In fact, if someone had done a social history of my life on March 3, 1994 and made an objective hypothesis about whether or not the marriage would last, the most likely answer would have been, “Hell no!” 

Here are the facts: My biological parents divorced when I was five years old; both of my biological parents experienced a total of eight (yes, 8!) marriages between them; I experienced childhood trauma in the form of abuse and neglect; I moved so often as a child that I cannot remember all of the schools I attended, nor do I have a memory of childhood friendships…to this day long term memory is hard for me to possess; chaos and loss of familial relationships marked my childhood. (I have biological family on my mother’s and father’s sides of the family scattered all around the USA – none of whom I have a relationship with).  The odds were NOT in my favor.

Yet, here are the other facts: Married to the same woman for 18 years; father of 3 amazing children; residing in a fantastic city with my brother, his wife, and daughter (I literally cried last year when my brother called me because my niece Caroline wanted to talk to me and tell me that she loved me); wonderful in-laws in  LaVergne who know both my strengths and weaknesses as a husband, yet love me and are incredibly supportive; a niece whom they are raising who is a living embodiment of God’s grace; a mother in law in West Virginia whom I love, who loves me, and makes the best damn gravy and biscuits in the world; and more friends than I can cram into our house for a Super Bowl party!

Why would the hypothesis be wrong?  Because the social history did not take into account one glaring reality…God.  That is the only thing I can surmise.  I KNOW that God has marked my life.  From Abraham to David to Peter to Paul, God has been in the business of taking damaged goods and making something beautiful out of it.  I have been blessed these 18 years to learn to know what love is.  I thought I knew love when I said “I do” at College Hill Church of the Nazarene (and, yes, I’ll admit it to those of you who were there, we had way too many prayers in the ceremony!)  I was wrong.  I did not know love until Kristi and I walked this road together, through the financial, relational, and spiritual ups and downs.  Through it all we have made a life together…wait, that is not correct, through it all, we have been willing to be open to receiving a life together from God.  As one of my favorite theologians said, love is not the prerequisite for marriage; marriage is the proving ground for learning what true love really is.  I have been a glad participant in that proving ground for 18 years.

Yesterday on our anniversary date, we stopped at Home Depot to pick up a thermostat for our hot water heater.  That is what 18 years of marriage gets you – a date with my wife to go to Home Depot to get a part to fix the hot water heater.  18 years ago, I did not know what a hot water heater looked like, let alone how to diagnose a problem with it.  Today, I can buy a thermostat with Kristi beside me, enjoy our date, go home, and install the damn thing so that she and the kids have hot water to get ready for Sunday church.  That is love and marriage.  That is why I am the luckiest (most blessed?) guy in the world.  My experience is that God doesn’t play the odds…he stacks the game in his favor in order to win and that “stacking the game” is what we Christians call “grace”.  And that is why I cannot be sufficiently grateful to God for what he has done in my life these past 18 years and counting.