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.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Momma Drama: On the Offensive

I'm on the offensive.

It all started a few weeks ago at Laser Quest. I went on a "Mommy/Son Date" with my eight-year-old to play laser tag. We got into that holding room and the teenage employee told us to put on our equipment and get prepared. I helped my son into his laser vest (which was almost as big as he is) and looked around the room. He was the smallest one in there. Codes names programmed--he was Air Jordan; I was Katniss--we lined up, amid a gaggle of teenagers and several adults, and the doors opened up into the dark, foggy battle ground that would be ours for the next half hour or so.

Somewhere around the doors opening and the first shot being fired, it stopped being a game for me. I went full-on Kill Bill on anyone who came near my boy. Suddenly, in that dark, noisy maze of predators, I was laser-focused on keeping my child safe. At one point, I used my right arm to push him against a wall and jump in front of him to stave off an onslaught of bullets, while I, mid-air, mowed down a group of teens with the laser gun in my left hand. I was stealthy, determined and, frankly, a little crazy. I may have done an army-crawl up a ramp to the second level. I think I made a grown man cry. Before long, other players started to recognize me, coming around corners (where I was locked, cocked and waiting for them) and sigh, exasperated, "Oh, man!" when they realized what hit them. They ran away from The Momma.

As it turns out I finished in the top ten and Air Jordan was well-protected. If only every situation were that cut and dried.

Fast forward two weeks: here I am feeling the need to protect that sweet little guy, and I find myself vulnerable without my heavy armor and laser gun. There is trouble in his second-grade world. Trouble. With a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for "Please, other more worldly-wise children, stop talking to my baby about sex!" (Really, that's what it stands for. Music Man Meredith Wilson first approved these lyrics but the outcry among River City residents was astonishing, so he had to tone it down. Hey, sader but wiser is not for everyone.)

I suppose a child can no longer have an innocent crush on a school friend without some other, slightly older, wiser kid moving it into inappropriate territory.  Apparently, my son's buddy has quite the 4-1-1 when it comes to s-e-x and felt it necessary to say so in the car-rider line the other day. (Please note my use of "car-rider line." I formerly referred to it as the after-school "pick-up line," but fear that will spawn a whole new discussion among second-grade gigolos.) I'm not even going to share the details. They don't matter. What matters is that, in our culture, just getting to be eight-years-old is not as easy as it should be. And it's not just confined to an after-school tutorial from unsupervised reprobates.

At any given time, I can flip on the radio to a local pop station and hear songs called "Stupid Hoe," "Turn Me On," and "Young and Wild and Free," wherein Wiz Khalifa and friends tout their love of pot-smoking and excess drinking with a big, "So what?"  And who among us hasn't tapped a toe (or more?) to the totally appropriately-acronymed pop sensation LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It?" Nothing cuter than my small boy child singing of "passion in his pants" and he has no idea what that even means. LMFAO, wildly popular among folks who, on their own, cannot even afford to buy their music, has summer plans to tour with Ke$ha. At least she has good oral hygiene. You need only play Wii's Just Dance 2 with a five-year-old who will croon how Nashville-born Ke$ha is careful to "brush her teeth with a bottle of Jack" before she leaves her home for the day.

Don't get me wrong. I love to shake what my momma gave me as much as the next guy. Put me in a room with David Guetta or Pitbull and I'll tell you the truth: hips don't lie. But I'm 40. I get to participate in pop culture when and how I want to. I just wish we adults would agree to keep the kiddo content G-rated for a good, long time. I wish my son's buddy wasn't allowed to watch or listen to anything he wants. But in real life, I don't get to use a big, fat laser gun to just zap away anything that threatens my children or their safety. I have to rely on intentional parenting, faith, good support and a sense of humor.

So, after a good long cry and a two-mile run, I've decided that Kelly Clarkson, in her current number one song on the Billboard Hot 100, says it best: What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.