Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Loving the World

When I think about the Bible, I sometimes having a hard time getting behind God.  He can be a hard character to root for.  If  he's not being mysterious, he's smiting.  He's demanding that a parent kill his child; he's drowning the population of the world.    And his mysteries don't necessarily make me feel any better about the smiting.  Add to this Biblical God all our cruel cultural aphorisms of "Everything happens for a reason"  or "God's got a plan."  I can get bogged down.

But as I go along in life, sometimes a verse jumps out at me in a new way that makes me feel a connection. Yesterday,  I lit upon that very first memorized verse from Vacation Bible School: "For God so loved the world that he gave his son."    For the very first time, I thought about this verse not from the perspective of the son or of the world, but  from the perspective of the parent.

I thought, there is nothing that I could love enough that I would willingly send Paul to his certain death. 

And then I thought, but what do all parents do except send their children to the world?   We don't keep them wrapped up with us forever.   Here I am, an adult, in a home of my own, in a town of my own.  My parents gave me to the world many years ago, with no assurance that it would all turn out all right or that it will turn out right.  

So much of my life is devoted to helping my children learn the skills they need to find their way in the world.   Can they do laundry?  Can they talk to a love interest openly and honestly?   Can they do their best to protect themselves and those around them?  Even from the very moment of birth, I have been learning to give them to the world: helping them learn to eat; helping them struggle to sleep; giving them support to lift their heads without breaking.    

Although I can hope beyond hope that when my children leave home, their paths will not lead to certain sacrifice as Jesus's path did, I suddenly feel more of an affinity with this God.  I can see God as another parent,  ardently hoping and watching, sometimes leaping with joy, and sometimes collapsing with heartbreak as our children make their way.  I could sit down to coffee with that God and break bread and hearts together.


Why I don't write about the girl so much any more

Regular readers may have noticed that I don't write very much on the blog about Eleanor any more.   It's not that she's not jogging along as  sweet, funny, hilarious person that she's always been.  Oh, I have stories I could tell.  And it's not just that she has become more and more self-conscious as she enters as middle school.  There are more stories there, too, mainly revolving around her fear that I'm texting people the details every time we have an argument.

I've stopped writing so much about her because she's reached the age where her story is her own to tell now.  When she was little, she still seemed so twined up together with me.  Giving birth to a child certainly does not finish the symbiosis.  It seemed at times that she and I were one complementary organism, even if she could go off to school and I to work.  The story of our lives was the story of us.   That's still true for little Paul, who heads out in the morning and circles again home in the afternoon.

But Eleanor's adventures are ever more far ranging and singular.  She goes off with Girl Scouts. She bicycles with friends.  She does not tell me everything any more. What she tells me, she tells in confidence.  Sometimes, it feels like she's breaking away, and sometimes it's clearer that she's just taking the first steps in her grown-up story.  That's exactly as it should be.

And it's her story and not mine to tell any longer. Okay, maybe late at night into Chris's ear or mid-morning at the coffee shop to my friends.  But publicly, it's all up to her now.

The preschool teacher teaches Sunday School

I'm nearing the end of my second year of teaching Sunday School to 3-5 year olds.  I've learned some lessons beyond the lesson that there is not a lot of age-appropriate Sunday School material for 3 year olds out there.  

(1) You have five minutes. As a Sunday School teacher, you are not the kids' school teacher or their parents, who can probably keep their attention for a ten minute story.  You have five minutes to get your Bible story across; if you try for longer, it's just going to end in frustration for you.  When I was in preschool in Canada, our Sunday School teacher used to have the large group play for the entire hour, and she would call us over one by one to tell us the Bible Story.  I still think that's not a bad approach.

(2) Choose your stories wisely:   There are a jillion Bible Stories. There's a reason that that book is printed on onion skin paper.  You've got plenty to choose from.  So I'd suggest you choose to face your death by firing squad before touching the story of God asking Abraham to kill Isaac.   Your job is not to choose any stories that result in a four year old losing sleep at night.  I still can't read that story without my first thought being, "Wow, that God is an asshole,"  so I don't know how you'd pull that story off with a group of adorable tots.   I'd just stay away from Bible stories where children die.  If a story is too scary for "Sesame Street," it's too scary for preschool Sunday School.   Leave those to the parents and to the sermons in "big church."

My personal favorite story to teach in Sunday School is the story of Zaccheus.   The story of Zaccheus has so many elements that preschoolers already understand.  They understand that people sometimes snatch and grab (Zaccheus, the corrupt tax collector).  They understand what it's like to be too small to see anything around all these giant grown ups (Zaccheus, the short man who can't see the Jesus parade).  They understand being naughty (Zaccheus, climbing the tree).  They understand being gently chastised by grownups (Jesus, telling Zaccheus to get down from that tree).  They understand playdates (Jesus coming over to Zaccheus's house).  They understand that having a friend makes them better people (Zaccheus deciding to stop taking people's money after he and Jesus have their playdate).  It's just a great story for preschooler,and you can act it out on the playground if you have any kind of swingset.

Similarly, preschoolers love funny Bible stories like Balaam's donkey.  What is not to love about a talking donkey who knows and sees more than that the grownup who's riding him? And the lesson is that Balaam was going to go be mean to some people; his donkey saw an angel and talked him; Balaam decided to be nice instead.   Talking animal stories for the win!   Funny Bible stories are your friend.

Preschoolers love reassuring stories.  They are big fans of the story of Ruth and Naomi because they also want to stay with their moms forever.  They will tell you at length how they are always going to live with their mom and dad .   So to find a Bible Story where a grownup (Ruth) tells her mom (in-law Naomi) that she will go with her and stay her forever?  Preschoolers dig that. They get it in a way that we adults often don't.

Tomorrow:  Using language that preschoolers understand

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

And on the third day, Mama lay curled up in a ball in a dark room

I missed most of Easter this year.   Saturday afternoon, a bad migraine (as opposed to a good one?  A really, really bad one, I guess) swooped down and claimed me for the weekend.  I muscled through Saturday: a family dinner and grocery shopping, reading "Fortunately The Milk" aloud and with funny voices, sending half the family to "Jesus Christ Superstar," putting a child to bed and putting together Easter baskets. And then the migraine took over. So I missed helping the children find their Easter baskets, I missed church, I missed bike riding with the family.  I did not nothing but lie in a still, darkened bedroom and I waited.  And I waded through the pain.  I'm glad this only happens a few times each year.  

But despite the over-burdening guilt which a migraine like this lays upon my heart, I am grateful.  There are gifts of a migraine.
  • The tween, who sometimes seems steeped in the very preoccupied tweeniness of life (as she should), showed her skills by helping with her young brother, by watering garden plants and keeping them alive, and by tending to the dog.   The life of pre-adolescence is at once so immediate and so earthy, but also ethereal.  Right now, she inhabits the world of First Principles and Ideal Forms.  She doesn't know these terms, but her brain has discovered its power.  So much of her life seems given over to the logic of figuring things out --and the logic of proving me wrong-- that it was an Easter Blessing to see that there's still a person in that mind who knows how to water plants and walk the dog of her own initiative.
  • I rarely get to hear Chris read bedtime stories to the boy.  Bedtime stories is their nightly ritual, and most of the time, I am swamped in the quotidian evening -- Are lunches packed?  Does the boy have clean underwear for tomorrow?  Do any of us have clean underwear for tomorrow?  Is the dishwasher loaded?  Is guitar practiced?  Is the homework done?  Is the dog walked?   But wracked in the bed by migraine, through century-old home acoustics, I got to listen to Chris read Desmond Tutu's version of the Easter Story to the boy, from triumphal entry to last supper to death to life to transfiguration.  I didn't miss Easter after all, and I heard it through that most beloved voice.  
  • I am forty years old, a middle-aged lady.  And yet my own mother is healthy and vigorous, and she came to help care of the children as the migraine stretched on into the school week.  That is a  gift of everyday, not just of migraine.  I am thankful each day.  

And then, of course, there are the gifts of every migraine, which are:

  • learning  that pain itself is survive-able.
  • learning what pain can be danced through and what cannot.  
  • learning that it is possible to stay in one small room, with only pain and breathing.  
  • learning that the people you are love are capable of taking care of themselves and each other when you disappear for a few days -- and that is the hardest gift to accept.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Young Teachers

Well, it's begun. I'm beginning the process of becoming a crone.  I'm turning 41 this year, which I happen to think is not old and crochety, but my extremely youthful doctor recently told me that "You should start taking a calcium supplement now that you're getting older."    What?  Aren't we all getting older?  Even juvenile doctors.  I do like and respect my physician quite a bit; she's knowledgeable, current on the data, and  more personable than your average physician.  I worry that she, since she's approximately the age of Doogie Howser, our small town is going to lose her  to brighter doctoring pastures.  

But that was the first time a professional said to me, "Now that you're getting older," and it's begun my crone-ification.

Because meanwhile, the middle schooler has several teachers who are under the age of 25.  They do not have ANY gray hairs or wrinkles, and yet they teach preteens.  That is some serious youth right there, if you can spend the majority of your day with 100 twelve-year-olds and not have ANY gray hair.

One of the young teachers sends very short and terse text messages to remind parents about homework.  Very short.  Very terse.  And every time, my first response is to want to shoot back a text message that says, "You need to take a respectful tone with your elders, young man."  I don't,  and it's not just because I'm "getting older" and my calcium supplementation keeps me from understanding how text messages work.  I'm a good parent, and I don't make waves with the teachers. But it's still my first thought.  

Let's the croning begin!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Diabetes-- our unseen guest

Diabetes is the unseen guest in our home, ever present to us though often invisible to the rest of the world.  Sometimes diabetes is a quiet guest, who trundles along with us in our daily lives.   And sometimes, sparked by an email that changes are coming to the health insurance plan, Chris's diabetes keeps me up all night despite the determine to breathe and not borrow trouble and sleep.

Diabetes is the unseen guest:

  • in the mysterious high morning blood sugars that persist for a week and then disappear. 
  • in the counting of grams of carbohydrate in every meal.   Counting 6 grams in 100 grams carrots in this stir fry, 4 grams in 100 grams of peppers,  3 in 100 of mushrooms,6 in 100 grams of onion, 3.5 in this 10 grams of garlic. Total it all and divide it: 5.48 grams of carbohydrate for every 100 grams of stir fry.  And is it all this tedious measurement and math what makes it a pain or the  reminder of why these measurements are necessary?
  • in Chris's every successive 80 hour work week and the fears of early widowhood. 
  • in listening to people tell you how they're pretty sure they read some news story about how diabetes can be reversed.  Oh, fun!  Time to do some education  about the difference between Type 1 and Type 2.  
  • in sniffing the children's breath, not for alcohol or anything illicit, but for ketones when they've been drinking a lot of water.
  • in the stories of people's diabetic cats and how many shits I do not give for diabetic cats.
  • in the closet shelf that holds infusion  sets, sensors, needles, lancets; in the butter drawer of the refrigerator which is solely devoted to insulin
  • in being buddies with the pharmacist and quarterly visits to Lexington for check ups. 
  • in pills swallowed prophylactically  to stave off kidney damage. 
  • in late night  fears about changes to insurance and what they may mean, for long-term financial stability and,worse, for long-term survivability.  
Even though type one diabetes is not the death sentence of 150 years ago, the shortened life span of 50 years ago,  it's no less a serious, life threatening disease.   And even though Chris is skinny and in good health, diabetes is still our daily guest at the table and in every other moment.   We seem chipper and cheerful.  To the world, Chris seems like someone who can do anything and never gets down.   But he isn't; we aren't.   We have an unseen guest.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Theology Time with Paul

We have landed ourselves a deeply religious boy.   He has a mother who's not at all spiritual, but into the Social Gospel in Christianity.  His father practices his own mix of what we call 12-step-astro-buddhism.  And then there's his sister's ongoing preadolescent spiritual crisis.  But the boy is out and out religious.  This is a child who frequently chooses to stay and listen to the sermon on Sunday instead of running around in children's church.   During the sermon, he whispers asides to me about his opinion of what's being said.  "Nope," he says, "that's not true."  I'm not sure what it means that finds  more fault with Kent's sermons than with Rachel's.  Hint: those of you who know Paul and his deep appreciation of the ladies can probably guess why.

Since the New Year, he's been having us read his "Page-A-Day" Children's Bible to him during his bath. Chris started out trying to read him fairy tales.  Fairy tales, the boy says, are way too scary.  Cinderella?  Terrifying! But the Old Testament, bring it on.  Nothing scary there, just a few  massacres. What?   Anyway, we read the Bible during bath time, and the boy has a lot to say.

And now, for posterity, theological gems from a six year old:

  • "The Old Testament God is still good, but he makes bad choices."   This came after the drowning of all those Egyptians in the Red Sea, followed by the forty year desert wandering.
  • "The Old Testament God is crazy."  I had completely forgotten or never even known about the passage in Judges where God creates a town for people who have accidentally murdered someone.  Both Paul and I found this mystifying.
  • "Old Testament:  if something good happens, you know something bad is about to happen.  Good. Bad. Good. Bad.  It's a lot like kindergarten."   This was Paul's response to Joshua's death after finding getting his people settled in their homes.
  • "True!  It's all true!   Moses, true!  Ten Commandments, true!  Red Sea, true!"   Chris was the parent who shared the limits of Biblical literalism with him, but I was the recipient of this diatribe. He's like the Billy Eichner of the Bible. 
  • "People in Berea are not for war.  People in Berea love people even when they are bad.  Do you think Berea took over for Jesus after he died?  Jesus was a very good man.  God was his dad."  (after the Martin Luther King Day service at church.)

  • And my current  favorite, Paul's theory on universal grace:  "There will be killers in Heaven, but there will be no guns."
Sometimes it feels like a big responsibility to talk about deep moral issues all the time with a small child, but Paul so infuses God into every conversation that I'm beginning to feel less like I had better get these conversations right and more like theology is just the talk we do.  

Meanwhile, you might spare a little prayer for all of us as we try to not to giggle during his extremely long blessings before the meal.  When a prayer begins "It was a dark and stormy night,"  you know that your mashed potatoes are going to grow cold.