08 March 2011

oh who cares why....

So, Lent starts tomorrow.

Which makes today Mardi Gras.

But the British, of which I am one (both spiritually and ancestorally), don't like calling things Gras.
So crass. So French. So Bestial.
Beyond tacky.

But, the people over there in the UK still had to fast - Which meant that we had to get rid of our eggs and our sugar and our butter and all the good stuff you might eat drastically less of during Lent. One last culinary hoorah. And what better thing to do that with than pancakes.

Or something.

Who cares why the English eat pancakes. But they do, and so do we displaced Anglicans at heart.

And who wants pancakes without bacon?

So, I'm getting out the griddle and making a pancake feast.

This serves another example of the markers we give children. I could preach them a sermon about Shrove Tuesday or have them read an article (and eldest baby girl may have been doing a bit of that today), but you know what they'll remember most?


Tomorrow, we repent. But today, we drizzle and sop and all things sticky.

and to dust you shall return

We 'do' lent at our house.

(I have a tendency to be overly ambitious with my lenten goals, and so sometimes I fail at doing lent, but we try.)


Well, it's complicated. First of all, we do not believe that doing lent is like doing the sabbath - required for all Christians everywhere. We are required to keep the Sabbath, which in our world may mean a additional things, but what it definitely means is weekly corporate worship.

There has long been a discussion of whether or not we should 'keep days': Paul (the apostle, not my husband...) tells us that keeping days will not earn favor with God (and by extension we are no longer required so to do) (Gal.4:10). So, we can throw out day keeping as a requirement; unlike our Roman brothers and sisters, we, in the freefromthePope world, don't have Holy Days of Obligation.

But, the traditional Presbyterian (the branch of the church in which I currently find myself) position had a little bit of throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater. That is to say, we knew that the Church couldn't (and shouldn't so pretend to) determine our salvation based on whether we made it to mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

But along with that, we threw out the entire church calendar.
There went the Baby.

Or maybe not the baby, in my opinion, at least something useful.

Why useful?

Well, we humans tend to forget things. We especially tend to forget things we don't particularly like. If it were up to us, we'd probably just have Christmas and Easter. And Christmas and Easter again.
And Christmas and Easter are great - they are both celebrations of hallelujahs, of wonderfulness, of Christ, of Grace.

And grace is good. It's not just good, it's it. It is the story. The climax. The point.

But guess how Grace doesn't make sense?


It's like Cinderella meeting Prince Charming without our having seen her scrubbing the floor.

It's like a wedding day without the courtship.

And, here in America, protestant land, we have done just that. We have gone with grace alone - with Christmas and Easter only (and we don't even all go to church at Christmas - don't get me started...), and if you look around, we seem to have forgotten the evil stepmother.

The hours on our knees.

The altar, the sacrifices, the law.

And it shows in the lives we lead. We are overgraced and underhumbled.

What does this have to do with the Church calendar? Well, it is the forgetting the things we want to forget and remembering the things we want to remember: We don't like the altars or the law. But they're necessary. And something that helps us remember is Lent.

Lent is the season in the church calendar that reminds us of the story behind the Grace. Of the law. Of our humanness and of our need for Christ.

And, frankly, I need reminding. I'm a seasonal gal, and an absent minded professor on top of that. I operate seasonally - I drink red wine in the winter and white in the summer; I get so excited for red beans and rice and heavy stews as soon as the leaves start to change; in May, it's all I can do not to make pitchers and pitchers of pina coladas and sit on the back deck dreaming of the gardens I have not planted.

I am not the only one. We are seasonal creatures. We were created for the seasons and the seasons were created for us.

This is why all the people in Southern California are insane.

=) Gotcha.

Anyway, I need the seasons as reminders, or my life would be all out of whack. The same with my spiritual life. I need Advent and Epiphany and Pentecost and most definitely Lent.

So, what do we do with Lent? Well, it has been traditionally a time for fasting.
Find a major form of spirituality that is not all tied up with food, and you will have found something noteworthy. And we Christians are no different. Paul (again, apostle, not husband) preached about food; one of our very few sacraments is the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, the Lord's Supper.

What do we do to commune - to sign and seal our common relationship with Christ?

We don't shake hands or hug or kiss or make love or visit. We eat together. Bread and Wine.

So, we fast. And it needs to be from food.

But, Lent is a fast with a purpose (and it's not to look better in our bathingsuits, like one darling little fluttery girl once told me). It's a fast to have us contemplate; to have us pray and meditate on our sin and our need for Christ. It is there to get us ready for Easter; to make us know what the resurrection means.

And sometimes to do that requires more than just giving up food.

For me it requires a couple of things, and one is that it requires that I limit my media consumption.

Television and the Internet are, frankly, the opposite of contemplative. A big part of my non-contemplative day is time I spend cruising CraigsList, education blogs, Wikipedia or, most for me, Facebook. I love the comfort of witty, but non-consequential updates from my friends and family. I love to see pictures of my friends and of their children. I love to connect with those whom I don't often get to connect. I love to see what funny things people can come up with to respond to other's comments. I love it. But it ain't helpin' me contemplate jack.

So, this year, for the third year in a row, during Lent I'll be deactivating my facebook account. I'll be out of the loop a bit for the next 46 days, but it'll be a good out of the loop. That out of the loopness will force me into having time for other things - most specifically for prayer, reading of scripture and meditation.

This is not a fast. A fast is inherently tied to food, and we've got that going too, but there is something to be said for arranging the season so that it is better able to help you do what it's there to do to begin with.

So, adios Facebook. See you in late April or early May.

03 March 2011

a lot in common with drunken fraternity boys

My first and most favorite girl child has a tendency to be a frustrated big sister. Why?
Because my second and most fun child has a tendency to be an annoying little brother.

Frustration is not the problem - it's life - it's the reaction that matters, right? But Ada doesn't always react well...
I mean, we're all going to be frustrated at something most days of our lives.

Poor drivers, milk cartons with holes in them, 3,923 loads of laundry left to fold, miscommunications, our own sin, onions that won't hurry up and saute, husbands that don't call when they're going to be late, children that spill things and walk away, and, yes, little brothers that won't leave you alone.

They keep following you everywhere.

Or climbing up on your bed.

Or interrupting your reading time.

Or drawing on your paper.

And, like any imperfect six year old who nonetheless expects perfection out of herself and everyone around her, especially her little brother, Ada gets frustrated. Bee doesn't particularly like Eason to bother her. Would you?

Eason and Ada still share a room. In a year or four, we'll have to move her out, and Collins in to Eason's room, but as long as Collins will stay in his baby bed, everyone is going to stay where he or she is.

And at night, Eason can become a bit needy.

And he worships his sister. We're working on that, but it's a nuanced issue, so it takes time. When Eason becomes needy at bedtime, he gets up on the bunk bed belonging to Ada. And sometimes Ada loves on him and he scurries back to his own bed.

But sometimes she gets irritated. He's invading HER space AGAIN, and he WON'T MIND.

The rule, as should be obvious, is that if Ada doesn't want him on her bed she's supposed to

(1) Ask him nicely to get down.
To which he should respond by respecting her wishes and
(2) Getting down with all deliberate speed.
If (2) doesn't happen, she's supposed to
(3)calmly remind him
that by not respecting her wishes in this case, he's actually disobeying his parents who have instructed him that if Ada calmly requests for him to leave her bed, he needs to comply.
To which he's supposed to respond by now engaging in step (2). If that doesn't happen, Ada is supposed to
(4) Calmy remove herself from the situation and come get us to intervene.

And this is what happens. Because secretly we're living in Eden, or we're the Walton or the Ingalls family and everyone obeys first and if they don't, they feel genuinely bad about it, and everyone works together for the good of each individual.


So, what actually happens is that Eason gets up on the bed, Ada yells at him, or pushes him off, or pinches him. And if she does remember to proceed with step 3, Eason almost never actually gets down. He just becomes more belligerent.

After all, almost four year olds have a lot in common with drunken fraternity boys, and at bedtime, those commonalities are exacerbated.

And we've never before made it to step (4).

Until a couple of weeks ago.

One Friday evening, I think, in February, Paul had tucked the children in bed, and we were proceeding to have a nice adult supper with some nice adult friends.
All of a sudden, without any warning, my eldest child appeared.
I didn't even hear any conflict preceding this.

She said, 'I've asked Eason to get down from my bed, and he won't. Would you please come help me?'


Sometimes, we don't love the obedience. I didn't want to get up. I wanted her to deal with it. Just shove him off the bed, I thought to myself. My soup is getting cold.

I'm a monster.

One of us, I think Paul, begrudgingly got up. And went and did our job. You know, as the parents living at this house.

But, I know she saw it on our faces. I know she saw that we didn't want to fool with it. That we were beleaguered and wanted a glass of wine and uninterrupted dinner. Wanting that - now, there's nothing wrong with that at all - I'll trump the horn myself for that cause. But, in reality, unless they're in the care of someone else, we aren't ever off duty.

So, though we did not let Ada down by our actions, we certainly did by our attitude. And I wonder, as I listen to her this morning not following the steps of appropriate conflict resolution when her brother is annoying her. I wonder if I had hopped up! and bragged on her! done a little dance! - bragged on her doing the right thing - coming to us calmly, removing herself from the situation without committing her own sins - if I had done all that, what an impression I would have made.

It works on the 1.7 year old. We get excited when he does what he's supposed to do. And that has an effect on him. When Ada Brooks does what she's supposed to do (in this situation -appropriate conflict resolution - which frankly most adults cannot muster), I just stare at her like she's heaped another burden on my list of parenting duties.

I pulled her aside in the morning and bragged. But the moment was lost. The good thing is we get 18 years with them. Almost 2 decades to instill the fact that we love them and how to act right. When Ada's college roommate leaves the refrigerator door open again or her husband absolutely will not quit stealing the covers, hopefully, she'll use a kind tone to correct him or her. Lord willing, she won't pinch or bite or throw anyone out of the bed.

Though, I think I may have pushed a husband out of my own bed for cover stealing before....

I have faith that this one moment won't do any damage. But it's a great reminder for me. One that I needed. Keepin' me on my toes these little people are. Keepin' me on my toes.

Find the What?

Good night light, and the red balloon.

If I wrote a post about the epic goodness of Goodnight Moon, all you parents, my generation and the couple of generations before, will roll your eyes at my lack of originality.

Though, does it invalidate the uniqueness of my individual experience just because millions of other mothers, fathers and children across America for the last 60 some odd years have been having a nearly identical experience? I think not! But, let us come back from the brink of philosophical humdrumedness.

Quickly, now. Come along!

One of the first books I remember being read by both of my parents is Goodnight Moon. And then I remember reading it to my little brothers, and to babysitting charges, and then to Paul at some point, as though he wasn't read it by his dutiful, reader-parents.

Presently I have, and as far back as I can remember, I have had a very, very irrational and frankly ridiculous fear of all things rodent. I am not scared of much - not snakes, not spiders, not the dark, not bad guys, not giving birth, not traveling alone, not heights, and goodness knows not public speaking. But anything with a pink tail, well, it can make me scream like the girl that I am. I have jumped on tables. In restaurants. I even had an argument once with Paul about whether rats are mammals. How dare they share not only a Kingdom and a Phylum, but a Class with me. I am not in the same (taxonomic or otherwise) Class as a Rat! And done all sorts of other things that made my husband consider taking the next train out of Dodge.

[Here is a side note about the pink-tailed description: The only reason this description is necessary is because people are always challenging this fear. I readily admit that the fear is irrational, but still, people doth protest. "But why?" But then they go further. If I say that I am afraid of rats, they want to know, "What about mice?" and when I say, "As ridiculous as it is, yes, pretty much all rodents," the people invariably say, with smart alec written all over their faces, "Well, what about squirrels?" Well, then I want to slap them upside the head. No, not squirrels, dumbo! But yes, opossums make my adrenaline start pumping. And finally, my dear friend Ragan came into my life. She shares my fear, though I don't know if she'd be quite so difficult as I am. And she remarked one day "it's those pink tails." Aaahh - Thank you, Ragan. Now I know the reason squirrels are cute and mice are evil.]

Back to sweet and wonderful children's literature.

I don't know if I actually remember this, or if I've been told with such vividness and adoration so many times, but when I was a very young child, starting not long after my first birthday and continuing, I imagine, until I was no longer being read Goodnight Moon, I played a game with my parents. On every color page of Goodnight Moon (any decent human raised in North America will remember that it alternates between color pages and black and white pages), there appears a mouse.

And I would crawl up in the as-yet-uncrowded lap of my Daddy (being a first kid and all - that empty lap is heavenly), and he would say "In the great green room..." and then, page by page, I'd get to Find the Mouse.

The mouse moves. He's in a different spot on each page. At times, he's very central to the scene - perched happily in front of the fire - and at other times, he's very peripheral - peering over the edge of an obscure bookcase. And I'd hunt. I'm sure it was developing some sort of awesome brain processing skill (though I never was good at Where's Waldo), but more than that, it was creating a memory. A memory that my Daddy cannot help retelling over and over again (he has a problem we're all fond of, and he's still quite a young man: he tells us things multiple times). But, as much as Daddy repeats himself, I've never tired of hearing of my mouse hunts.

I actually looked for the mouse. Sought out the mouse. Tried so hard to find it.
Wonder what went wrong?

(Actually - I trace my fear of all things rodent to two things: First, another story my Dad tells all the time - a story for another day - that involves a rat running up a broom handle. And secondly, seeing The Princess Bride at too young an age, and no one protecting me from the R.O.U.S. scene. And yes I just googled to put a picture here of a Rodent of Unusual Size, and I couldn't do it because my heart rate went up. Instead, a young, beautiful Carey Ewles, sporting his R.O.U.S.-inflicted injury upon emerging from the Fire Swamp: )

(Yes, I just put that parenthesis there. What would you have had me do? Put it before the picture, when clearly it belonged after? Or worse, leave it off entirely???)

I hate mice. But I used to hunt for one all over an entire book. (Perhaps because his tail does not appear pink, but white, and kind of short).

And I still do hunt for one.

Last night, Collins crawled up in my lap for a bedtime story. He picked Goodnight Moon. We haven't had the hours of Goodnight Moon with Collins that we had with Ada and Eason, or that my parents had with us. Some of that is because he is the neglected third child, but it is mostly because he has gravitated toward other books.

But last night, the little bald-headed dude plopped his as-yet-diapered bum down in my lap and opened up to those three little bears sitting on chairs. And the mouse game came flooding back to me.

I said, "Collins, can you find the mouse?" and he immediately went to looking. Searching for him. He found him in front of the fire:
"Mouse hot."
He couldn't find him by the bowl full of mush, but when I pointed out the little pink tailed demon:
"Mouse eat."

I inherited my father's tendency to repeat the stories that are most important to me. I can already see that my children will know - and know and know and know - about the mouse hunting game their grandparents played with me, and then that I played with them.

Yes, Goodnight Moon is ubiquitous, and I am not quite naïve enough to think we're the only family to play Find the Mouse, and no, Find the Mouse did nothing to inoculate me from terror at the little mammals. But, I treasure it. The book, the game, and the memory.

And so does this guy:

This pensive, mouse-hunting, low-on-hair, adventuring, happy, not-so-neglected-after all, little guy.