Monday, November 3, 2014

Putting away childish things

During the weeks before the Fairness vote in our city council, we learned a lot about the quiet misconceptions Paul had been holding in his mind.  Unlike his older sister who thinks and speaks simultaneously, he stews on issues before speaking up and asking questions.  Who knows how long it would have taken to find out his concerns if the Fairness issue hadn't been a revolving topic at our supper table?

For example, we learned that Paul believed that everyone is assigned a partner when they reach marrying age and that he was really hoping to be assigned a woman for his life mate.  Who was going to be doing this assigning?  That never became clear.  Certainly, not his beloved President Obama:  "President Obama can be the president for mine whole life."  When I told him about term limits, Paul told me that he was sure President Obama would find a way to get around the law.  Who says that the left and right have nothing in common?  Paul shares with FOX news watchers the belief that the President will find a way to seize power.  It's just that what is for them a paranoid fear is for him a cherished hope.

Back to Fairness and marriage, it never became clear exactly who would be assigning him a spouse in 15 years.  The city council?  Lyle Roelofs, President of Berea College?  All he knew was that he was hoping for a woman.  He'd really like to move two of his first grade peers and his married thirty something pastor to the top of the list of possible candidates, but he was mainly concerned that he be assigned a woman.  When I told him that there would be no such assignment, that he would have at least half the say in choosing his wife, and that he could choose not to get married at all, he reacted in shock.  That would be horrible, he told me, because you have to get married to avoid homelessness.

We corrected his misconceptions, but it was okay that he had them, just as it's okay that he continues to be confused about what "gay" and "straight" mean.   As a small white male in a family headed by a heterosexual couple, he inhabits a position of privilege.  It's not at all fair that he has to be reminded about his friends who have two dads or two moms.  His friends don't have that privilege when their communities believe in a god given right to question their family structure.  It's not fair.  Paul gets the gift of not having to give a second thought to adult relationships and sexuality.  He sees his happy parents, he feels secure, and he forgets all about the world of adult romance until the next time the conversation comes up at the supper table.

It will continue to come up.  It's our job to help him learn.  His older sister once held similar misconceptions:  "Men can't be married to men, Mommy."  Now several years older and beginning to embark on the mysteries of attraction herself, she understands that love is love.  She followed the Fairness debate closely and attended some meetings with me.  Similarly, Paul's misunderstandings will fall away as we keep talking and as he grows older.  That's the nature of childhood and of learning about life.

But what is okay for a seven year old is not okay for a 37 or 57 or 77 year old.   After the Fairness Ordinance failed, we have heard from one of the voting council members about his fears of the ordinance.  He is fearful of  people changing their gender identity for the purpose of using public bathrooms with the shortest line.   It's too bad that he hasn't experienced childbirth because then he would know that women don't worry about gender identity when the line for the women's room is too long and the men's room is empty.  We just set up shop and start guarding the men's room.  That's not the point.  The point is that it's a ridiculous fear to think that someone would base their gender identity on a momentary convenience.

It's our family's job to educate our children, but adults are responsible for learning and thinking even past childhood.  If we are stuck in middle age with some of our childish misconceptions, it's our job to figure things out.  For example, I no longer believe that our home microwave is radioactive.  I no longer believe that Hitler will sneak into my bedroom window at night and kill me.  My brother no longer believes that everyone changes gender at age 16, like snakes shedding skin.  We sought out information, and we learned.  I'm happy to say that we were much younger than the fearful city council member when we figured those things out.

The Apostle Paul wrote: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."   Bereans, when we vote tomorrow, we need to put away childish things.  We need to think like adults and vote for adults who will guide our town by being willing to learn, to gather information, and to accept adult responsibility for mature decisions on our behalf.  Let's vote tomorrow, and let's think.

How To Feel Fully Middle-Aged In Just Ten Easy Steps

(1) Notice that you have a gravel driveway. Notice that the autumn leaves are cascading gently upon the driveway.  This seems an idyllic way to discover middle age, doesn't it?

(2) Note that the wind shakes trees' worth of leaves onto the gravel each day.  Reflect upon raking.  Reflect upon sweeping.  Reflect upon raking and sweeping gravel into the grassy lawn.  Reflect upon losing an eye next summer when your lawnmower throws raked gravel into your face.

(3) Buy that which you swore you would never own: a leaf blower.  Go whole hog.  Buy a gas blower because you've noticed that you're not getting any more coordinated as the years go by.  The last two things you need to combine are machinery and trip-able cords.  Tell yourself that you only bought the gas blower because you share a driveway with your neighbor and you are obliged to keep it tidy in the name of neighborliness.  You have only embraced middle aged, middle class American values for the sake of the neighbors.  Wait.  Isn't that the epitome?   Demonstrating to neighbors that you are good enough?

(4) Take a break to go to the optometrist because flinging your glasses off and on to try to read to the leaf blower instructions is the ABSOLUTE LAST straw in your progress toward all American capitalism.

(5) Confirm with the exceptionally attractive silver fox optometrist that you are in fact old and need bifocals to read, not just leaf blower instructions, but also the optometrist's little laminated card that says "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."  Only when he puts the bifocal lenses in front of your eyes.

(6) Discover that bifocals will cost you $600, what with your prescription, your need for high index lenses, and the fact that this optometrist seems to carry fancy frames.  Even though you are never going back to coke bottle glasses and even though you are definitely not getting lined bifocals at age 41,  the idea of paying $600 for a pair of glasses makes you feel like wetting your pants.  Hell, since you're middle aged now, maybe you even do wet your pants a little.

(7) Decide that there's got to be another alternative and weasel your way out of the doctor's office without spending more than a month's mortgage on glasses.   You'll just keep reading with your glasses off and your book two inches from your face.  You did it when you were 8 years old.  You can do it again.

(8)  Go home and google "cost high index progressive lenses."   Then read -- and this is the kicker -- an article on the AARP website about choosing bifocals.  AARP?  Perhaps you should not be feeling middle aged.  Perhaps you should be feeling elderly.  Perhaps you should get lined bifocals.  Put away the internet for another day.

(9) To hell with directions.  Fire up the leaf blower.  It's a two-cycle combustion engine.   How hard can it be?  It's not.  You don't get to be middle aged without understanding a little bit about the difference between "choke" and "run."

(10)   And then, and this is important, notice how much you dig the leaf blower.   You like the way it blows the leaves.  The whirling reminds you of "as dry leaves that before the wild hurricane flies."  That reminds you of childhood.  And even though you vow to only use the blower on the gravel, your mind begins to wander to how easy it would be to just keep blowing the leaves through the lawn into the woods.  You don't, but you think it as you watch the leaves swirl around each other, like they're in a crazy but coordinated marching band, heading together toward the compost.

You smell like gasoline; you can't see up close; you feel poetic about downed leaves.  That's how you get to middle age.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

On the Sabbath, she reflected at random

  • So far, parenting a preteen mainly consists of Chris telling me to stay calm and then me telling Chris to stay calm.  Bad days are when we can't talk each other down from reacting with anger.
  • What does this say about us?  Today, in the middle of church, a bad smell arose.  Chris assumed it was me, and I assumed it was him.  It was neither of us.
  • Our pastor's reflection on how to go on after the election, no matter our principles:  "Be hard on the issues, but soft on people." 
  • This is the down time of living intimately with trees.  Literally, down time, as in the leaves are falling down.  And soon, I may be going down in my back.  I raked for a long time today.  I'm going to rake for a long time tomorrow.

Time After Time

It's the first cold day of the year. Outside, chilly air in the nose heads straight to the brain, and I can think clearly for the first time after the endless heat of summer.  Feeling that rush of clarity and perhaps overly chilled nasal passages, it seems like no time at all since this moment last year.   It was just yesterday that I was sniffing this first cold air of true autumn.  Each year spins faster away from babies and sleepless nights so that I am frightened of the passage of time.  Life speeds away.

Then Chris reminds me that it is seventeen years to the day of our first date, and that is forever ago.  I am not entirely sure that I am the same person nor that he is.  Our cells are all different, certainly.   That first date and his first poems seem foggy, as if  through the Biblical glass darkly.

Last week, Paul found a decade old picture of me holding up two fingers. What are you doing with your hand, he asked.   Making the peace sign, I told him even though that was not true.  I remember it clearly, Chris's graduation day and I am signaling to him in the picture he took:  two months.  That too seems forever away, and I do not want to tell this seven year old that he might have had another older sister. A decade gone, and I do not want to return to first grief with this overly sensitive first grader.  And overly prescient,too, a child who might quickly realize that he might not ever have been thought of had that older sister arrived.  So I tell him again that I am making the peace sign.

My parents painted his nursery a white/green in the heat of summer. We painted over the charcoal gray of the previous teenager from the previous family.  Two coats of primer and three coats of white, and still the gray peeked through.  It probably does to this day, and it seems a long time ago that I rocked tiny baby Paul in that room and longer since I sat on Heather's porch with him, rocking the baby and calling out to speeding cards, "Slow it on down."

Back at home after our  cold walk, I climb the second set of creaky stairs in the second old house, filled with my grandmother-in-law's furniture.  It's the fifth house Chris and I have shared together in seventeen years.  Our first place was a garage attic behind the shuttered television factory.  The whole place was smaller than our living room now, and it smelled of dog piss that drove our now long gone cats mad.  Chris did qi gong on the lawn in the mornings there.

If the cold air in my nose and the return of fallen leave make it seem as though my children are racing,  as if three-odd pound Eleanor has done nothing but run toward the woman she is becoming, the memory of those cats, that baby, and that dinky apartment lengthen the time and distance.  In that context, there might be enough time.  Maybe.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why You Should Be Concerned About the Recent Fairness Debate (.... even if you don't support the ordinance)

As we all know, Fairness is the issue that drives me when it comes to politics.  It's my litmus test.  It inspires and enrages me.  Fairness is my jam.

During the last few months, as the Berea City Council finally came to a vote over amendments to our anti-discrimination ordinance (AKA the fairness ordinance),  I was able to  attend council meetings and forums on the issue.  Despite the brave "yes" votes from Virgil Burnside, Diane Kerby, and Billy Wagers, the amendments were defeated.

What I saw makes me concerned about the state of our democracy in Berea, and I think everyone should give  a second thought to the workings of our council, even folks who don't support anti-discrimination when it comes to our LGBT citizens.  Here's why.

During the course of the council meetings, I saw and heard the following from our council members.
  • Some council members appeared either not to have fully read or understand the ordinance they were asked to vote upon.  Even after multiple meetings and multiple readings of the ordinance in meetings, these members still seemed to have fundamental misconceptions about the provisions of the ordinance, especially the exceptions around public bathrooms, churches, and landlords. 
  • At the public forum, one council member suggested amendments to the ordinance that would contradict the state anti-discrimination laws.  Even after being corrected by colleague about the impossibility of superseding state law, this council member persisted.
  • At multiple meetings, a council member conveyed inaccurate information about how the city Human Rights Commission works.  This council member seemed to think that the HRC, a city agency, was the same as Bereans for Fairness, a grassroots action group.  The council member also seemed to think that the HRC had already investigated claims of LGBT discrimination and not found any.  It doesn't; without an anti-discrimination ordinance, LGBT cases are not yet part of their investigative job.  Council members should know that. 
  • Finally, more than one council member expressed the view that the ordinance amendments should be put to a popular vote, but that is not how local law making works.  By voting for council members, the people of the city appoint those members to make laws for us.  Then if we don't like how those council members work, we vote them out the next time.  That's basic high school civics.  
That's why, even though I'm upset that the Fairness Ordinance did not pass, I'm even more dismayed about the state of our council and our local democracy.  I'm alarmed that Bereans are represented by a few individuals who have seem to have misconceptions  and misunderstandings about their jobs.  That's why I hope that even people who are not moved by Fairness will thoughtfully cast their votes on November 4th to make sure that we have competent representation for the next two years.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Straight Talk With Tweens -- Scared Silly

So sometimes you just have to lay it out for the tweens in your life.  This monologue happened here last night in response to some snooty disapproval about some television programming which I was consuming at 9 PM.

"Look, sweetie.  Look. [It's election season, so I naturally went to politician speech with the "looks."].  Your dad and I just cannot be appropriate all the dang time. We have to have some time in the day to be adult humans.  Now that we are two years into this experiment of you staying up until 10 o'clock, which is as late as I can stay up, I just cannot be child friendly at all times.  Your dad and I have to have time to hang out with each other  and watch grown-up shows and talk about current events.  So if you're going to be hanging out until ten, there is going to be some 'Key & Peele;, there is going to be 'Colbert.'   I'm not going to watch 'Louie" or John Oliver when you're around, and I'm not going to cuss my head off.  Still, your dad and I are going to sit on the couch together and hold hands, which I know is completely gross.  If I have to watch one more Food Network show, I am going to poke my eyeballs out.  These are the consequences of being awake and in the living room after 9 o'clock.  I just have to be able to be an actual adult during some part of the evening, and it's going to have to be okay."

To which Mr. Hobson's Choice muttered, "This is the real me now; I no longer have an inappropriate self; I am only child-friendly in content."  From the number of times I've heard him say "Gosh, darn it!" in the last few years, even when children are not around,  I have to acknowledge what he says might be true.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The dog wants to know if she should get LinkedIn

The family dog, like her owner, is updating her resume and applying for jobs. Unlike her owner, she's only applying for openings in a niche field:  mailman murdering. She is available for any and all jobs requiring the regular murder of postal workers and  UPS drivers. She will consider positions branching out into the maiming of pizza delivery guys. That's not her dream job though. She also prefers jobs where she can murder mail MEN; female letter carriers are free to go in peace.

Also, unlike her owner, she's willing to relocate for any job in the field of bloodshed. Frankly, in her position as Hobson's Choice family dog, she has not had the opportunities she thought she would have when she took the job. In fact, she has not been allowed any contact with mailmen and their kind. When a delivery requires opening the door to a letter carrier, she is shamefully scooped up into her owner's arms or else shut in the bathroom (albeit with a piece of dog bacon). If she didn't know better, she would suspect that her All-Knowing God/Mom Jenny has some kind of arrangement with the postal service where the dog is not granted any access whatsoever to the mailman's ankles.

When she first began her stint as Hobson's Choice Family Dog, she thought her life was back on track. She wasn't living in some mean dude's car any more. She had food and regular access to lap-sitting and ear-scratching. She was allowed to steal the occasional pair of underpants and eat them. She  had a backyard that could veritably be coated with her dog scent. Unsurprisingly, a house with a yard ranks more highly on the Dog Livability Scale than an Oldsmobile Olds.

Looking back, she should have noticed something was wrong when the All-Knowing God/Mom made her wear a human onesie with a maxi pad for a week and then followed up that indignity up with abdominal surgery. Still, the dog  had felt utterly terrible and confused that week, even beyond wearing feminine hygiene products, and she had felt so much better after the surgery. Perhaps God/Mom had done this thing for her benefit. She tried to dismiss her concerns with her job.

Five years into the gig as the family dog, she realizes it's time to get back out there and see if the job market has improved in her chosen field. She knows she's going to miss God/Mom, who graciously lets her sleep on the bed under the covers. And she's going to miss the dog bacon.

But how much sweeter the taste of mailman ankle. She hopes that potential employers won't be deterred by her advanced age and her small size or by the fact that she rolls over on her back in submission ten seconds after meeting actual humans. She's ready to get back out there with the biggest and fiercest of them. References available on request...if only she can get outside, find the current mailman, and get a reference letter from him.