And for once I was SuperMom

Monday, September 23, 2013

The New Norm of Tragedy

When someone tells me that they don't like Facebook or are taking a break, I get it.  If I didn't keep this blog I would forego the site at times.
Because sometimes I hate it.
I do.
Especially in times like this.  For the past few days there has been a hostage situation at a mall in Nairobi that I always used to go to.  In fact Scott and I used to comment that Westgate was where an attack would happen because so many westerners frequent there.  I remember sitting there in Artcaffe looking at the patio and picturing shattering glass, wondering where I would go if it came to that.
Then it did, it didn't happen to me, but it happened so close.
I wandered that mall while pregnant.  I took my daughter there.  My infant daughter there.
As CNN showed cell phone footage of someone running through Nakumatt, I recognized each aisle.  Each and every single step that person took, I have taken.
I have been on the periphery of so many tragedies lately, a former co-worker of mine, Jessica Buchanan Lindemalm, was kidnapped and held captive by Somali pirates, the Boston Marathon bombing, even Newtown (only one state away) felt awfully close, and now this.
When is it my turn?
When am I the one huddled over my child?
When am I the victim of terrorists or a crazed gunman?

Then I log onto Facebook.  Someone complains about something asinine, then there is a post about Westgate.  On it goes, asinine, tragedy, asinine, tragedy, asinine, tragedy...
It feels like whiplash from part of my worldview to the other.  Protected, it can't happen to us here, America, dangerous everywhere else.

The worse part is I have no idea what to do about it.  If I write letters for gun control in the US does that change anything?  If I raise money to educate youth in hot bed countries does that change the world fast enough.
If I write this blog, does it make a difference?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Happy Days

            A friend posted on Facebook, ‘What would you do, as a profession, if you had no restrictions?’  The comments that followed were ‘race car driver,’ or ‘travel show host,’ or, ‘beer taster.’  One friend, who is childless, just wrote, ‘mommy.’  My heart sank a bit.  A thin finger of conviction wiggled its way into the hollows of my heart.  I know that there are thousands of women that would give what they have to trade with me.  I have wallowed in self pity about my status as a stay at home mom.  Something I chose because I didn’t want someone else to raise my children, but once it started getting real I wasn’t so sure I wanted the job anymore.  Feeling hands tied I have stayed.
            The friend who posted ‘mommy,’ regularly fosters children from a local orphanage (she lives in Kenya), she takes in children for the weekend.  This is done so that the kids can get a little more loving than they would from the overtaxed workers.  I could drink some sour stew and say that she doesn’t know what it’s really like to have children.  She doesn’t know how hard it is.  But fostering certainly gives you a fair taste of what it would be like.  Yes, there is nothing comparable to having a child of your own flesh, but I will chose not to sip that bitter drink. 
            You know when you’re grocery shopping and some nice elderly lady or gentleman stops you and tells you to enjoy every moment of what you’re doing?  Or tells you that when their children were young was the happiest time of their life?  And all you want to do is say,
            “Hey, look lady, I have poop on my jeans,” I usually just smile and say, something dumb like
            “Well, I like them,” and shrug. 
            This is hard, young children are the trenches of parenting.  So many ways I have felt like I have lost my sense of self, sense of dignity, sense of space, sense of time, I feel tired in my bones, I feel holes in my mind…  I don’t want to deny how hard this is, that would be unreal.  In truth it would be lying. 
            I have thought and thought about this, maybe the key to all this is not to pretend that these people ‘can’t remember’ or ‘don’t know what it’s really like.’  To tip that other cup of bitterness to my lips and say ‘they’ve forgotten,’  or, ‘it’s different now.’
Maybe the key to loving ‘the now’ that we are in is to focus on the happy moments. 
            When I spread out a blanket on the lawn and they jump on my belly, don’t focus on the sharp knee banging against bones and the elbow in sensitive crevices, but focus on the sweet face just inches from my own.  Focus on the feel of soft perfect skin under kisses, hugs, and tickles.  Focus on the way that two sisters look at each other and then play.  Focus not the fact that she brings me flowers when I am looking for keys with laden bags, and asks me to just stand there and hold them, but the sweet fact that she is bringing me flowers at all.  Focus on the look of round cheeks and laughing mouths.  If I sink in those moments and hold those more dear maybe the potty accidents, the long nights, the disrupted dinners, and the ruined clothes won’t matter as much.  If I am alive in the good moments, make sure that all my senses are on, maybe when I see a young mother with child in tow I will remember early morning snuggles, and late afternoons where I said, ‘to hell with dinner,’ and sat down and played with my kid.  Let the happy moments be the sweet music that punctuates and covers over the white noise of stress. 
            That’s what those people women who don’t have the children they want see; the little hands, the precious gift of a child, the deep love of ‘my own flesh and blood.’  That’s what those sweet people in the twilight of their lives remember; the giggles, the kisses, the laughter, the incredulity of raising a little human being.

            I am going to try and see that now, so that I don’t poison this time with stress and frustration.  I am going to remind myself that those who stop and tell me to ‘enjoy every moment’ might be looking back on their life and wishing that they did.  It’s hard to enjoy poop on your jeans, but maybe in a few years it can be funny.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dirty Laundry

Earlier this week I met my husband, his assistant, and his twelve students out on the Colorado Trail.  We hiked Mount Massive together.  At the end of the hike I gathered up their old stinky clothes, their trash, and gave them new clothes and new food.
Today I washed their  laundry.  I dumped out the black trash bag; the pile of mesh, quick-dry, and wool smelled like a mix of garlic, meat, and smoke.  Exactly the way mine smelled seven years ago when I completed my student trip in a similar backpacking leadership program.  I smiled, humanity, we all smell the same at the end of the day.  Or the end of a week spent hiking in the woods.
I knew when they handed me the bag that I would wash it.  I couldn't leave it sitting for two weeks.  The smell would fell trees.
I decided I would fold it and lay it out on a table to they could find what they needed.  I washed it in a mixture of soap, oxi clean, and a cup of white vinegar.  I washed each load twice, with vinegar both times.  The thing about backpacking clothes is that the smell isn't terrible, it just lingers.  It infests the clothes, almost has a life of it's own.  You can't wash other items with the clothes, the smell will take over.  It will only die after many, many washings.  This beast is only aided in it's existence by the fact that most hiking clothes are made out of synthetics and wool, fabrics that retain smell.
I hung a drying line and hung each item up, the Colorado sun and wind would whisk away more smell than any dryer could.  As I hung the clothes, I kept thinking, 'I don't think I would have done this before I became a parent.'  Something about having children, seeing and caring for these little ones makes me think of everyone person as that.  We were all children once.  We were all birthed, we all squalled when we needed love, some of us got it and some of us didn't.
I read Mother Teresa's book last year.  Expecting great wisdom from this woman that embodied Christ's kindness.  Expecting earth shattering advice.  Expecting standards that I could not live up to.  But over and over again she said, 'Go home, love your family.'  Go home, love your family.  Love those next to you.  I can't go to Calcutta and comfort those with leprosy.  But I can wash some laundry.
No, these college students aren't the least of these, most of them have some sort of privilege.  But they are people.  They are someone's baby.
Maybe one day when someone hands them a bag of stinky laundry, they'll just wash it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Am I There Yet?

My last post started a bit of a discussion on Facebook, the women debating are people I respect and value as being thoughtful.  One pointed out that the fact that we are still discussing a girl's 'coming of age' without the male sphere of influence means that we are still very far from being independent from that sphere.

My heart sunk as I read her words, I know that she's right.  We're still talking about this crap.  Men don't have to defend their autonomy.  We still seem to need to.

I reflected on those few years after college where I came into my own, I do remember how much I longed to be in a relationship.  Makes me sad that I wasted so much mental energy on that desire.  But aren't we made that way?  Aren't we made to be in relationship?  Do men crave it just as much women?

I remember a moment where I was completing a backpacking training course, one of our teachers asked us if we felt like we were adults yet.  My hand went up half mast, bent at the elbow, a question waving in mid air.  I was dating the man that I knew I was going to marry.  I was 24.  Shouldn't I be an adult by now?  With my hand still aloft I decided that by the end of that summer I would be an adult.  Not because of that man that I would marry, but because I felt like getting married was a pretty adult decision and shouldn't I be one before I make that commitment?

The more I read the responses that people send me the more I wonder about much our focus on individualism has hurt us.  So many young adults don't know when they become an adult.  We crow so much about making our own journey we forget that we all journey, and that we are still in this together.  America is not a group of random people all sharing the same borders, we are a community.  Whether we realize it or not.  It should be the role of those in the community to say, 'Yes, you are an adult now.'

In Romania you are not considered an adult until you are married and have children.  In our culture we can't say something like that, because that excludes people that have chosen to stay single, or stay in a relationship but remain unmarried, or gay people who cannot get married, or those that have chosen not to have children, or are infertile.  So what are our markers?  A few mentioned 'work.'  Being tired after 'work,' or 'working' in a cubicle.  Does that make us adults?  We are so work focused in our nation that being dedicated to your work surely does make you an adult.  That seems to be what we value the most, considering our unfriendly policies towards paternity and maternity leave.  We don't value children much because they don't make money and they get in the way of our individual autonomy.

My husband worked with an organization in Kenya that led rites of passage for youth in the city of Nairobi.  As Kenyans have moved into urban environments they were missing out on their tribal rites of passage, causing youth to go morally adrift.  So this organization stated that the church should be the 'new tribe' and provide youth with meaningful rites of passage into adulthood.

I keep thinking about the public deconstruction of these girls becoming women, I know that some of my friends certainly experimented sexually and I doubt they would say that made them an adult.  Most of the responses I've seen were similar to my own; realization of self, and financial independence.  I see a happy disconnect; art is not imitating life nor is life imitating art.  Maybe the media is not as powerful as we think it is.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Coming of Age

“I was disappointed by this song, I used to like Miley, but not anymore,” my friend tells me as a Miley Cyrus song plays on the radio of the bus that we were in.
“Why? What’s it about?” I ask, I don’t really have informed opinions on the lives and songs of pop stars.  In fact most of the time I don’t even know who they are anymore. 
“She really wants you to know that she’s not a little girl anymore,” my friend tactfully says.
“Unh, they all do that,” the conversation continued on to a one sided discussion about Amanda Bynes.  I don’t even know who that is.  My friend is a few years younger than me, so I suppose these are the Britney’s and Christina’s of her age group.  I talk to my friend about a pattern I see repeated over and over again, they start as sweet innocents singing songs about first kisses and first crushes. Then around their 18th birthday (right when they’re legal) their necklines plunge, their hemlines rise, their hair turns a different color, usually a tattoo happens, and their songs get exponentially more explicit. 
Their whole image seems to revolve around men.  They are either singing sweetly about boys or naughtily about boys.  Very few talk about themselves outside of relationships with men.  Packaging Girlhood talks about the marketing that is directed at young women; girls are given two categories they can either be ‘for the boys’ or ‘of the boys.’  You can be an attractive cheerleader, cheering men on; ‘for the boys.’  Or you can be a tomboy, playing sports with the men, ‘of the boys.’  Oddly enough all the women I know that have been cheerleaders exist without relationship to men.  Same goes for all the tomboys I know.
For the rest of that bus ride I mused about my own ‘coming of age.’  Our culture lacks a true rite of passage into adulthood.  Most of us just stumble forward on a time continuum; graduate high school, go to college, get job, get married, buy house, and have children.  At some point you scratch your noggin and think, ‘I guess I’m an adult now.’  I thought about when I really felt that I came into my own, really felt like I was my own person.  My mind skipped over the two years after I graduated college. I did date someone.  Then I broke up with him and was on my own for a long time.  I traveled, I took up a sport, I spent long hours in prayer and reflection.  These were the years that finished that honing that college had started.  I left my home state, moved halfway across the country, and felt that I was my own woman.
When I felt the most myself I was without a man.
Huh, I ‘came of age’ without a man. 
When I met the man who was to become my husband I felt an adult.  My coming of age had nothing to do with sex. 

Isn’t that funny?