I didn't know what I was saying

When our babies were little, we could see that the primary needs of a small human being were the needs for stability and connection. We pledged to those tiny people, so small and helpless and infinitely charming, the following words. (And I'm not kidding - I thought of it like this -- and we discussed it exactly like this.)

"You will learn by experience that come hell or high water, no matter what happens, no matter what else changes, you can count on your parents." We will not surprise you with sudden or unexplained explosions of strong emotion, and we will respond to your overtures to us, and we will not allow you to cry unheeded. (That last one used to really get my goat. Why would anyone allow a baby to cry uncomforted and unacknowledged? It's just so horrid and cruel. If we treated our spouses like that, it would be readily seen as abusive. And how can we train compassionate toddlers if we spent their infancy ignoring their pain?)

"You can count on us." That's what we wanted to teach them. You are free to do your work because your world will not shift under you. We promise.

But I didn't know what I was saying. I didn't realize that yes, they would learn to count on us, but the another thing would happen. We would change. We would become people who, eventually, after a couple of decades of stubborn insistence on being dependable rocks in their foundations ... we would become what we had been becoming. The rocks in the foundation can feel every vibration from the building resting on them. I didn't know. We didn't know that we were asking to become people who feel everything that happens in our children. Forever.

Another thing we used to say to them - a pledge we made before they were old enough to understand the words - was this. "We will not expect anything from you that you have not learned, and we will refrain from doing for you what you can do for yourself." (Or, the short version: "If you can, we won't.")

We meant that one too. We waited, and tried to erase every trace of looming impatience, while tiny hands tied tiny shoes and easily-distracted minds learned the skills of concentration. We read to them until they wanted to go do something else, and we read to them after they could read to themselves - because listening is a skill to get good at. We gave instructions, and then gave the dignity of our waiting for the will and the action to come from the child instead of asking for something and then doing it ourselves. We didn't say stupid parent things like: "Your shoes are untied" when we meant "tie your shoes." We refused to give an audience for a lack of self-control because we would not do their self-control for them (tantrums weren't tried very often though), and we refused to re-make beds after they'd been made by children - because the skill is the goal - not the lack of wrinkles.

And this too became a habit. We meant it. "If you can, we won't."

But we didn't know what we were saying. We didn't know that someday it would become a matter of shame vs. honor - for us, I mean! Now - with our kids as big as we are - we would be ashamed of ourselves if we jumped in to "help" without being asked. We'd know we were way out of line if we tried for "fix" things for them. And they wouldn't allow us to anyway.

So I've been thinking. Was I just naive? Maybe I'd just never seen parents of adults going through this separation process. Shouldn't I have known this? It could probably be inferred from "a sword will pierce your heart." Mary knew what it was to watch and be only able and allowed to feel - but not to do. The New Eve - the Theotokos - she knew. Shouldn't I have known?

But ... no. I guess this isn't something you know until you live it. Probably, I suppose, the difference is the view from the beginning of a journey and the view after you've been traveling awhile. At the beginning, you can see a lot - but there's simply no way to see all of it until you've gone over those hills, through those dales, and into and back out of the various valleys along the way. Like nothing else, with parenting "you had to be there."

There's another thing we used to say - or, giving credit where credit is due, my husband used to say to me. He used to talk about how wretched and terrible it seemed to him to become "useless" in this world. He'd talk about how the old people who kept finding their next useful place in the world were the people he wanted to follow, and how doing what seemed socially sensible was too often a matter of following along like one of a herd and how that wasn't very useful. Come to think of it, he says the word "useful" a lot, my husband does. We even have a conversational shorthand for it in the family now. If we're seeing herd behavior in people, we just say, "moooooo."

Until recently, I didn't know what he was saying - I didn't know why I needed to know that. It seems a bit silly to be talking about being useful if your children can't even put their shoes on the right feet. (And wouldn't you think the chances of that would be about 50/50?) Useful is what the parent of small children can often wish they weren't - at least for a few hours every once in awhile.

But now I see the wisdom. Now I know it and I am trying to live it. I've returned to the library so that I can be useful to a system I believe in (is there anything in the modern world as useful as a public library??), and I can be useful in household income at the same time. I can set up a writing habit that works now too - or ... I can pretty soon.

This week the second of the offspring moves out, and that frees up one room, one shower time, several laundry loads, and one scheduling attention block. After this week, I can't wake him in time for work or school, if he's late I won't know it, and if he gets fired he's the one who'll have to deal with it. ("If you can, we won't." He can. And what's better, he wants to.)

But ...

um ....

well, see ...

If the household's Mom has to pay attention to times and schedules and the obligations of her kids, she's useful. When the kids no longer want or need this ... then who is she? What is she for?

I didn't know what my oddly wise husband was saying back then and ever since when he has talked about being useful. But I'm starting to figure it out. Now, with the changes in being the Mom, I can be useful at work and in our budget (on the income side now too, I mean -- not just cleverness with the outgo side). I am putting together the bits and pieces of usefulness, and there are parts I have figured out.

The part that is still a bit like stacking BBs or responding to toddler talk as if I knew what the toddler was saying is the Mom part. I'm not sure how to do that yet. I know that I have to be unshakably dependable - and I know that if they can, I mustn't. But dependable what? Mustn't what?

Blessed Mother, pray for me. After two and a half decades, I'm not sure how to be the Mom any more. And I think I need to figure it out.


Ya Gotta Love Project Gutenberg





Kate Greenaway used an early version of the rhyme to illustrate A APPLE PIE which was first published in 1886 and it will be noticed that there is no rhyme for the letter I.

The rhyme of A APPLE PIE is very ancient and reference is made to it as early as 1671 in one of the writings of John Eachard. In these early versions the letters I and J were not differentiated. The letter J as we know it to-day was the curved initial form of the letter I and was always used before a vowel.

E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell, Erika Q. Stokes,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team


A really good one over at Jaden's

Over at Jaden's Steamy Kitchen, this appears:

These past few days, I needed to cook healthy. Not for me, but for the sake of my children.

You see, last week, I had Lasik eye surgery. As any reasonable mother would do, I milked it as far as I could go in terms of slacking on my housewifery duties. Laundry? bah..eyes too dry. Ironing? doc said no heavy lifting. Dishes? need to lay down to put in drops every 2 hours. Vacuuming? nope…can’t see squat after squirting in drops. Best to just sleep in every morning and let Scott handle the kids.

It took 3 days before the kids confessed me what they’ve been eating for breakfast….

What follows is very funny, and really yummy too!!! Go there. 's good stuff!

Blast that Kafka ...!

How dare he expose me like this? I just read this Kafka quote. He's right ... but I don't like it much.

"In argument similes are like songs in love; they describe much, but prove nothing."

(mumble, mumble, gripe, gripe) He's right. But for me, the simile - exactly the right one - it's like a focusing lens and a clarifying tool. I love the right simile. It explains everything to me. It proves everything to me.

But then ... I like a good song in love too.

When life gives you tomatoes ...

...use the amazing white cheddar with caramelized onion in it that you got at Trader Joe's yesterday, and the sausage you got at the same time, and make ... whatever this is.Broil it. Eat it with crusty bread and red wine, and call it dinner. Because ... well ... what else are you going to do with all those tomatoes???

Creative Power of Self-Possession

Here's something I'm thinking about lately.

1. First, there's the fact I've known for awhile -- I know that the person having a huge spaz attack and completely wigging out ... that person has blown all authoritative credibility. Children write off explosive parents because they figure out that such people can't be depended on, students write off the capricious and moody teachers, and in general, the person given to the temper fit has no credibility.

I learned this early in my life. Probably everyone has one parent more given to explosions and one parent more given to going quiet, and I could see that the explosion dissipated the power. It looked to me like power could either be thrown all over the room and evaporated out into the (now somewhat unpleasant) air ... or it could be used. The angry person isn't a person who can take in information. It shuts down all the intake valves to have a big tantrum. There is simply no authority and no power in a tantrum. None. I figured that one out for myself awhile ago.

2. Second, there's also this other fact that I've tried to verbalize from time to time, and now have recently heard from Dr. Christiane Northrup's newest PBS presentation, called Menopause and Beyond. Women are, by their very nature as women, creatures of centripetal force. We have a gravitational field for other people. We draw things into ourselves -- ideas, feelings, Y-chromosomes ... and we decide what to do with all of this incoming material upon which we may work.

Okay ... so I've been thinking about where these two things meet -- and I think they meet at that point of self-possession where we decide what to do about input WE DON'T LIKE. When something comes to us that we didn't choose, don't want, or thought would be something it turned out not to be ... that's the moment of decision. It is for men too, but I think it's different for women. I think that men are biologically and psychologically inclined to deal with the world outside themselves as if it is actually outside themselves - but women are inclined to take from outside of themselves whatever is there, and take it into themselves, and work from there. I think women tend to work from a perspective of womb -- yin, not yang -- darkness and hidden and secret during creation, not light and power and out-spreading. At least, not at first. For women, first it's Yin. (And the human balance comes in the blending and mutual support of the opposing forces, just as the strength of an architectural archway is in its tension and opposition.)

But I digress.

What is this thing we do not like? Did not want? Would rather refuse?

It could be anything. It could be universal things like aging and the passage of time and the fact of kids not being kids any more. It could be something specific and personal, like the fact of someone being horrid to us. It could be situational - like a well-made plan that will be all messed up if someone else's input gets factored in. It could be something relatively small and silly in the great scheme of things - like we're out of a certain ingredient and we're already in the middle of the recipe.

Whatever it is, it comes to us - unexpected sometimes - and sometimes more or less than we'd thought it would be. Whatever it is, it's a moment of possible change - a moment of decision. And that's when we get a chance to exercise power. Real power. The best and most powerful kind of power. These moments are the trumpet voluntary introducing our chance to CREATE.

Of course, it feels like a setup. Every time - it just feels like the deck is stacked against us, and the power is in the situation. It feels like something happening "to" us.

But that's a lie. In fact, it is in these moments that we have the power of actual creation in the moment of chaos. We can decide to substitute ingredients, forge new kinds of relationships, and do things with our age that we couldn't do with our youth ... or we can decide to relinquish our power, lose all self-possession, and just have a huge spaz attack, giving (flinging) all power into the situation and taking none of it for the act of creation. (Or ... what I usually do ... wig out and THEN calm down and create something.)

See what I mean?

I am coming to believe that women take things in, and then women create -- or ... when they do not create - when they decide instead to destroy - or to deny the power being offered to them and do nothing with it - then women end up with these moments coming to them, and they duck and cover, rail and rant, and in the end, run the risk of having passed by every opportunity to engage in the most powerful of
all human endeavors -- the power to create.

That woman is Zheng Xiaoying, the first Chinese woman conductor. As the first Chinese woman conductor, professor Zheng Xiaoying has been the first conductor in China Opera, dean of conduct department in central conservatory of music and chief inspector of art for Woman Philharmonic Orchestra. Now she is engaged as the general director and chief conductor of Xia Men Philharmonic Orchestra, the first Symphony Orchestra supported by government and run under responsibility system. She is also the executive council member of Musician Association of China. In 1981, she won the first prize of conductor in the art societies directly under Ministry of Art, the honorary decoration of Literary and Art of France in 1985 and the national devotion award of the old. --- That's pretty creative. Now imagine all the many moments of decision that happened in her life.

But it's a war! Women didn't start this war. Men did. (A very tired argument, that one. But it does refuse to die.) So? What's to do about it then? Moan about the fact of it? Or pick up a riveting gun?

Today, on NPR, I heard about Lt. Katherine Flynn (later Katherine Nolan), who was part of the 53rd Army Field Hospital that treated the most seriously wounded — from the D-Day invasion through the Battle of the Bulge and beyond. Not only that, her husband was a WWII vet, her sons served in Viet Nam, and her youngest son, Steve, has been serving as chief of a combat stress unit in Afghanistan. If you get a moment, listen to the segment. Her whole attitude can be summed up at the end of it. "Somebody had to do it." So she did. That's her there, washing her hair in her helmet - the helmets, she says, they used for protection, and if they got sick, for throwing up into.

Thanks, Katherine. Your valor, and the valor of your entire family
puts a whole lot of things into perspective for the rest of us.


Life is like a box of --- no wait -- it's like a bike!

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

That was today's quote at French Word-a-Day, to go along with her fantastic post today. And the bike pic is from a fantastic site called Cycle Chic, that's about bicycling in Copenhagen. Really wonderful shots there.


A bench at the park

I found this picture of Oxford Botanic Garden, and I wanted to climb into it and sit down and breathe in and out and listen. It's autumn. And in autumn, not in the spring when the sprouts poke their heads out and the life cycle goes new and green, but in autumn, when the world feel like scrapings and picked-clean vines - in autumn I can feel my foundations again. It is in autumn that I check for cracks. Once the trees are bare we can see their skeletons again. And they will soon be bare when they start to change color and drop their clothes in a scented, dissolving layer on the ground. And so, in autumn, when it begins to look like this scene at Oxford, I begin again.

It is the fall of the year. The year falls. The old year is falling. The full flower of the thing is waning and the real growth will be out where we can all see it. How interesting that we have Halloween masks at the time of the year when things are being unmasked. Perhaps we, in the northern hemisphere, where the close of the year brings more darkness, perhaps we feel a need for masks precisely because it is the season of unmasking. We feel bare because the unseen comes very near to us in fall and winter when the seen fades away. We feel a need to hide. Perhaps.

I feel a need to hide, anyway. I could hide in plain site - there - on a park bench, while the leaves of the year begin to drop to the ground around me. No one with human eyes would be able to see the leaves of my year drop to the ground inside me, and my examination of the foundations and skeleton and summer's growth would not be something others would watch.

But sitting on a park bench in the absence of conversation, I would be able to hear this dropping of the leaves, and I would be able to feel again, this year, that all of it mattered. Every growth ring and new branch matters. The trees are not what they were last fall, even as they are the same. And I am not what I was last fall. The leaves are beginning to drop - I can smell them - and I do love that scent - and I can turn and look, and I can see. The season for seeing is here.


"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
James Joyce

The storms of midlife emotional upheaval have passed, and I am myself again today. The remains of the storm are lying about on my internal beach, and my clouds are gorgeous because only a storm can do that to a sky. And I can breathe again.

Today I can remember that without the passage of time, we would be stuck forever in a Bill Murray Groundhog Day, and we would never move into our futures - we would never find heaven. And today I can remember that without a whole stack of yesterdays, today would not be what it is. I can say thank you for the fact of time passing. Nothing is wasted. It all matters.

Today I also find that I am hoping that as surely as a girl gets over being a teenager, a woman will get over being in her forties. Good golly, these midlife storms are violent!


It always slams me on their birthdays

You know all that partying that happens at birthdays? Well, I think it's a cover. It's the same kind of cover as bands playing when the soldiers are marching out to war. It's the same kind of cover as a party for the circumcision or the weaning of the child, and it's the same kind of cover as our very weird modern notion of "celebrating the life of" the deceased instead of mourning our own loss.

And today, on the twenty-third birthday of my oldest child, I want to cry. All day. Alone. I just want to feel my own feelings of grief and separation and the passage of time.

Okayokayokay. I know. I do. I know it's a cause for rejoicing too. And so are the successful and still living first eight days of the life of a new son and so is the fact of the childhood of survival into the preschool years. Most of the really scary diseases are past by then. The kid is still alive. The kid can safely be weaned. Yay. But at these parties, when the patriarchs rejoice, the mother whose child has outgrown her cries. She is comforted by other mothers and grandmothers. The children do not know why she cries. For a child, the fact of another birthday is good news. Pass that weeping woman a large cloth on which to wipe her tears.

The victories of soldiers and the heroism of the ones who struggle - I get it - I do celebrate it. I understand it, I tell you. "I have finished the course. I have fought the good fight." I get it. It's good. I know that. And I'm sure I'll feel it again.

But today, as far as I'm concerned, all the birthday candles in the whole world can just melt into a formless mass of the sum of the weak, unspecified pastel color they always come in, and all those insipid little white swirly stripes that go up their sides can just disappear into the blob. Put out the candles and trod on the cakes. Stop that horrid singing and for heavens sake please do not blow on even one grating, jarring, nasty little whistle or kazoo. I don't want to hear that stuff today. I just don't.

You know what has to happen for love to happen? Honest to goodness sacrifice - that's what. Death. Blood. The obliteration of something you have already loved - it has to die so that the living love can be there next. That's what has to happen. I hate this.

Today I just want to throw everyone else out of the house and have a good stormy fit of tears and sobs and a loud and adamant refusal. I want to throw things at the walls and lie down on the floor and beat it with my fists. I won't do it - I refuse to be happy that my baby is the soldier now. Okay? Hear that, Father Time? I refuse. I just won't do it. I can't. You can't make me.

Today I remember what she felt like in my arms as we left the clinic that day to take her home with us, and I remember how tiny she was in the hands of my husband, and I remember every pink ruffle and soft bedtime story and blanky and dolly and script. That's what she used to do. She used to give me a script. She'd say, "You say, '___________.' And then I'll say, '_________.'" This would go on for several dictated exchanges, and I could never remember all of them (in order) to her satisfaction, and she would become quite overtly "patient" with me, and repeat the whole thing again until I got it right. I remember all of that.

And I DON'T WANT to move on. I won't do it, I tell you. I won't.

Those were my BABIES, for cryin' out loud.

And the last time I could really take care of them was before they were born. From that time on, in increasing intensity, their safety and food and care, and the shelter of them has been further and further away from me.

During labor and delivery, there is a point at which the (unmedicated, not interfered with) mother says, with absolute and utter certainty, "I can't." In that moment, she knows for a fact that she simply cannot deliver this baby into the world. The baby is arriving, and everyone else in the room knows it. But in that moment, before she begins to bring forth that new person into its own life, and before that new person must begin to breathe and eat for itself, its mother knows this to be an insanity. She knows it to be an impossibility. She can't do it. She knows she can't. It is the first taste of this knowledge. There are more to come, but this is the first. She cannot do it.

And then she does.

And she does it over and over and over.

Today ... on the 23rd birthday of my firstborn child, I can't.

Somebody bring that weeping woman something to cry into, and take her from the room. She's really bringing down the party.


It is not the principle of the thing

If you don't like posts about religion, just skip this one.

If you don't like popular culture, you might want to skip this one too. If phrases like "Christian World View" and "separated from the world" mean something to you, pass by without perusal. Really. You won't like this much. If you're "separated" or if you don't like to do, watch, or listen to "worldly things," give up on me. Your principles are going to make you very unhappy with me.

See, lately I've been watching the HBO series Big Love, which is about a fictional polygamous family in Mormonland ... and it's about their mainstream, non-polygamous Mormon neighbors and friends, and it's about their Catholic school teachers in a school far enough away so that the dad can be the public dad and the second wife can be the public wife to their son who attends the school. It's a TV drama, to be sure, but the questions it asks about the meaning of words like "family" and "loyalty" and "sacrifice" and "Jesus" and "patriotism" ... well, it asks some good questions, and mostly by just posing them in the first place in such a surreal way - surreal especially for one such as I.

After my own Lutheran beginnings, once our family had become more fundamentalist (but not like they are in the south - and not like they are in Mormonland), I heard certain ways of talking about the Bible and talking about Jesus and Christianity and God and "doctrine." These ways often included various ways of using the word "principle." We learned to live by "Biblical principles." We learned to have a Biblical worldview. We learned to find the scriptural principles for living our lives.

Is any of this making your flesh crawl? Does in make you squirm?

I have just now realized that I do have these reactions to the whole notion of the "Christian principle," and it's the series Big Love that made me finally hear what I was hearing. See, in Mormonland, "living the principle" means living in polygamy. For them, the principle is the principle that God meant for people to live in family kingdoms, and in these kingdoms there is a priesthood holder - the man - without whom the women and children will never go to heaven. For them to be living the principle, they need a "testimony" from God, telling them they're called to get on with it, and find some more sister wives for the husbands and their first wives to be married to.

And it sounds so strange to outsiders. Sick even. Illegal, certainly. But they don't mind the illegal part of it. They love each other, they know for sure God has told them to do this, and they know all the Bible verses about persecution in this world so that we can get into the next.

Did you hear it? God wants them to. They know it. They have God's own Holy Spirit testimony in their hearts for it. What can anyone say if God Himself is talking - there - in the heart - where no one else can hear?


Nobody else can say anything at all to that.

...unless the person making the answer first rejects the very notion of living by a "principle" of things given to the individual heart directly by God. That's the problem. The key is this whole idea of a secret and silent notion of God's communication. It's the ancient mistake of Gnosticism - a secret knowledge - a code - a key to the kingdom - the stuff you have to "know" in order to know God. And it's wrong. It's deadly, deadly wrong.

There is no more basis for what the Biblical separation people talk about than there is for the Mormonland Gnostic heresy. It's all the same thing. God didn't give us guiding principles, and He doesn't give us individual knowledge or revelation or interpretation skills. God gave us something we could see and touch and taste and smell and hear. God gave us ten really clear commandments, and He gave us the Sacraments.

Just today I figured this out.

I just realized that in the last dozen years or so, I have learned not to look for the Biblical "principles." I don't try to figure out the Biblical world view - don't try to find the all-inclusive safety net that will help me by showing me "God's will" for dinner or a parking space or whether or not to have another child. I just obey the actual commandments, and try every day to love God better and my neighbor as myself.

In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.

Love, and do what you will.

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting. Amen.

And I don't believe in finding the Principle of the thing. Amen again.


Today's remodeling lesson, part 2

If you work on your own house ...

and if you use the tack hammer for the house wrap tacking to put a big hole in a piece of your window glass ...

and if that glass is in a window that's as old as your old house ...

it helps if your ancestors were all packrats.

If they were, you can go "out behind the garage" or "up in the barn" or to some other random location (and because your family has evolved the brain that keeps track of this sort of thing, you will remember where to go), and you can get an old piece of glass to match, and you can put it in.

Poof! As good as---- um ... as good as old.

Today's remodeling lesson

Note 1: Tack hammers will not fasten the tacking nails into window glass.

Note 2: "Vintage" glass in windows doesn't crumble - it shatters.