30 December 2013

Finding your Clean Sink


As I've turned into an old woman (which I clearly am), I've discovered patterins (not a typo, just quoting my child) in my world and in the world of those around me.  One of the ones I continue to see is that when life is insane, the way out of that external insanity and the way to hold on to some inner peace - is to find your regulating activity that makes it all better. 

For some, this is exercise.  The world may be falling down around a person, but if he can get in his morning run, he can begin to regain control or, at the least, not lose his mind to the crumbling columns.   For some, this is folded laundry.  For some, a regular reading quiet time.  For some, it is prayer and meditation. 

There is a woman on the internet - the fly lady, I believe - who says that if you'll just go to bed every night with a clean sink, you'll be able to begin to form new habits that will save you from chaos.  There is something to that - there has to be an external reality to make us all feel better.

There are three things I do when I need to regain control:

1) Pray a rosary.
2) Purge / fill my calendar.
3)  Plan my meals. 

26 December 2013

2013 Year-in-Review

Christmas Card Photo- Courtesy of the talented Ragan Oswalt.  An amusing and blessedly brief experience. 

Two thousand thirteen has been a very full year for the Forsters.  We have new ventures, new jobs, and new people to report!  As with all newness, there have been some growing pains, but we remain humbled at God's rich blessings upon us, even and especially through hard experiences.  We look forward to two thousand fourteen being a time of rest and restoration, growth and good things.

Notice the grip - it's fairly strong.  Mountains trip in September. 

Paul William began working for the city of Jackson some years back - first as an engineering intern and then as a civil engineer in the water-sewer division.  He cut his engineering teeth there, and those who know Jackson and its infrastructure state will know that it is an interesting place to begin a career.  Paul had many coworkers whom he loved and respected, and we were thankful for the opportunity to be part of the solutions in our hometown.  However, earlier this fall, he was asked to assume the position of City Engineer for the city of Flowood, a small Jackson suburb.  Paul is enjoying his new gig - his duties have broadened much, and he is excited to spend more time at home with us - a prize he values almost as much as we do.  We remain proud Jackson residents and hope to continue to work as citizens to better our town.  Paul continues to brew beer and work on repairing the ruins of the 1930s home in which we live.

Mountains in September.  Hands full.  Full of good things. 
I have had a year - boy howdy.  I continue to teach Latin to about 30 kids, ages 9-15, and I love that. I am also still homeschooling the kids, which is, in a word, full.  Paul and I are also involved in a new, exciting venture - we're among the founders of a new school in the Jackson area.  The school is called St. Augustine School, and you can read about it here.  It will open in August of 2014, Lord-willing, and we are working a lot to make that happen.  I have the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors and will serve as the interim Dean of the Lower School during its first year.  The three bigger kids will all be enrolled there, and we're excited to see how the school can bless the community around us.

The biggest event in my life this year is the arrival of Elsa Gray Forster, whom we affectionately (and with much hubris, I'm sure) call "the caboose."
Baby Coming!  Mother's Day Announcement. 

My pregnancy with EGF was rough to say the least - I suffered from acute morning sickness, gestational diabetes, and a few other various and sundry complications.
A beautiful glimpse into the womb. 

But, she is here, all is well, as they say in the telegrams from the hospital, "Mother and Baby are fine."  I am glowing, these days, I'm told, with what we call the Post Partum Glow.  Now that food tastes good, I'm excited to be back to cooking for us and others, and occasionally even entertaining. 

The big kids.  December 2013. 

Easter 2013.  Goofy they are. 

Oh, what a daughter she is. 

Ada Brooks is so old - she's pretty much driving.  Not really, but she is nine and a half!  The last year of her first decade has been great.  She reads and she crafts and she plays American Girl Dolls.  She competes on our co-op's math olympiad team, enjoys painting her fingernails, and working through Latin translations.  If you're getting a picture of a girly little nerd, you've got the right idea.  During the summer, she swims for the Briarwood Dolphins, a local summer swim team, which is great for her.  She's not a bad swimmer, no Michael Phelps either, which makes for a relaxing sport.
At a meet on her 9th  birthday!  
At the city swim meet, reading Island of the Blue Dolphins between events. 

Ada is enjoying her baby sister and serves our family in so many ways, the newest being her uncanny ability to speed-straighten the house, as long as we've got loud music blasting.

Ever elevated - when he's missing, we just look up. 

Eason McNie is six and a half and is full of life.  Vivacious seems a feminine word, but if it could be applied, it should.  He never stops moving, never stops expressing, never stops being in relationship with someone.  Eas loves to climb and loves playing with his little brother most of all.

Typical EC Brother action.  

Ferris Wheel at the Fair.  Sit on your bottom!  On your bottom!  Now! 

They have a club - called the EC Brothers, which amuses us all to no end.  There are passwords and forts and even secret ninja moves.  One is called the Baby Tornado.  Ask for a demonstration next time you see him. You will not regret it.  Eason is a math guy - he craves mathematical challenges and, yes, tries to usurp his sister and father as nerdiest members of the Forster house. You know a house is full of nerd-dom when I don't come close to making the top three.  He has a scholarly strain, but is more Tom Sawyer than anything else.  With a perpetually grimy face, rocks in his pockets, and crickets in jars on his bed, he makes me tired and happy.  Tired and happy all the day long.

At a friend's puttputt birthday. Such concentration.

Isaac Collins is four and a half, and is benefiting much from not being the littlest anymore.  He's a helper and wants to be included in everything.  He's attempting to conquer his whining habit, and seems to actually be making progress.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Collins is introverted and introspective and hysterical.
No words.  

He loves his brother and sisters and especially loves his role in the aforementioned EC Brothers.  He's a swimmer by nature - one of those weird kids you hear about - I didn't do it, but I wish now I had thrown him in at 12 months of age.  I believe he would have just swum across the pool.
Summer 2013.  One  of 17 pairs of goggles.  

He's putting letters together into words, but we don't ramp up the learning-to-read around here until five, so his spring and summer will bring new studies and the beginning of more official academics.
With his "godsister" at the St. Patrick's Parade. 

Like his Mama, he loves to be with people, as long as those people are few in number and quiet in affect.

Newborn Pics - 11/10/13.  Ragan Oswalt Photography.  Sweet Baby Girl! 

Elsa Gray is the newest Forster.  Though her life in the womb was fraught, her life outside it seems to be right wonderful.  She's calm and generally happy. And of course beautiful, if I can still say that as her Mama.  She already has many nicknames - EG, ElsaGee, Gray, and Bucket (the last one is for when she's being opinionated and vocal, which is fairly often, actually...).  We want to keep her.  I think we will.  Especially since she's learned to smile - on purpose - and at people.

We Forsters remain ever thankful for our parents, the kiddos' grandparents.  They are a support network for us, amusements, loves, and a great means of grace.

At grandparents' one night after baths. Looking at their favorite coffee table book of baby animals.

In July, I lost my last remaining grandparent - a man unequaled in stature.  Paul Burrow Eason led a life of legend - small legend - the kind we're called to strive after, and we remain grieved at his passing.
Big Paul in the middle there, last Christmas, bemused, amused, and humoring those around him.  Brooks, Carrie and Mollie the Dog flank him. 

But, he gave the world 91 years, and it seems quite selfish to ask for more.

We are also exceedingly blessed by friends and neighbors who come in our lives and are walking along beside us through times when we need to be served and times when we can be of service.  After Elsa Gray was born, we didn't fix or purchase a meal out for weeks and weeks.  What a testament to community!

Mountains September 2013.

Paul and I are coming up on eight years married, and I don't know that we could be any happier - even in the middle of the night with someone kicking us in the face or spitting up on someone's pillow.
As Prince William and Princess Kate for halloween. 

What a lovely life we lead, and on our knees in gratitude we are. 

Christmas blessings in 2013 and cheers to a merry new year in 2014!

Ann Lowrey

23 November 2013

The Countdown

There are two things people ask when looking at our Thanksgiving plans.  Why? and How?
The why is a complicated answer, and mayhaps I'll get to it soon.  But the how is much more straightforward, and I have to write it out anyway, so no reason not to go ahead and do that here.  Also, it will help me next year as it's always easier to edit than it is to write from scratch.

The two keys to the how, I've found, are clear plans and lots of help.  As my helpers have gotten more able, our feast has gotten more complex.  We surely love the week of Thanksgiving - even Paul, who doesn't generally love things he deems to be less than necessary, has learned to love it.

So, the countdown involves times, days, and names of doers.  

Usually, this countdown is on notebook paper or notecards, but this year, I shall be official.

18 November 2013

How often do infant turkeys eat?

Paul and I were married in April of 2006.  That fall, I decided I wanted us to host Thanksgiving.  We haven't looked back.
This is Thanksgiving numero ocho.  I haven't missed hostessing one yet.  I have a bit of pride in that fact - both the good kind of pride and the kind to keep an eye on - but this year, there is this small speed bump.

Her name is Elsa Gray Forster.  She's 12 days old. 

I am a calendar girl.  I don't know if I had something approximating the Best Day Ever when they covered calendars in first grade, or if it was watching my mother write in red pen and white-out mistakes when things were wrong on her paper calendars every day of every month of every year of my life, or if it's just part of being a J on the Meyers-Briggs, but I love a calendar like white on rice.  (Butchering of similes abounds in my world.  I was the child who readily pronounced "I can read you like the back of my hand," and "I know him like a book," with all amount of confidence.  I treat similes like e. e. cummings treated parentheses.)

So, Paul and I discovered in February that we were unexepectedly (as is Forster tradition) expecting.  And the first thing I did, naturally, was retreat to my calendar. Such comfort in 30 little square boxes.  Such comfort indeed. (I'd say I have a problem, but I think it's more of a solution....)

And I saw that due date, proverbially circled in gold, 2.5 weeks before Turkey Day.  And I quivered and shook and even quavered a bit.  Whatever shall we do.

13 September 2013

Sexual Ethics as Parents, part 3(b)

Part 1:  We have a problem.  It is an especially unattractive one. 

Part 2:  To make sure everyone is on the same page about what the the problem is and isn't, we talked here. 

Part 3(a):  And, we named the first four principles of dealing with the problem here. 

I'm tired of all this sex talk.  Talk of this doesn't need to fill our days, after all.  But, we need to finish what we start, so I'm going to round it out here.  I've gotten a couple of opinion questions via email, and I'll hope to answer those in this forum in the coming months. 

Before I get to the last six principles, though, I'd like to reiterate my attitude about this whole thing.  These are not answers - they are thoughts.  My oldest child is nine and a half.  Ask me again about this stuff in 20 years.  Or better yet, ask her. 

However, I don't see a lot of public (or private) discourse on this clearly serious problem, and so, I'm trying to play my part to sort of get the conversation going.  As parents, we all have responsibilities in varied areas - as Chesterton says of mothers, our jobs are necessarily broad.  Even with that breadth, we all have those issues that prick us and drive us to really attempt improvement.  And sexual integrity, and the lack of conversation surrounding it, happens to be one of those issues for me.

I don't write here as an expert.  That's laughable.  Unfortunately, I simply have not been able to find anyone who has written well about the specifics of sexual ethics as it relates to child-rearing.  The very few books that even exist are either painfully prudish or amazingly amoral.

 [For sexual ethics in general, specifically in context of marriage, I cannot recommend enough the writings of the late Robert Capon, specifically Bed and Board.] 

So, with those caveats, back to the principles. 

Five:  We should not allow the obscene to become normal entertainment for our young people. 
One of the earliest things we think of as modern-day parents are what kinds of things we're going to let our children watch, see, read, and hear.  They used to not have this concern, see, because there was too much to do to worry with what might fill your leisure time.  But, that's not the case now, and so we must worry.  Transformers? Pink Panther?  Harry Potter?  Judy Bloom?  NPR?  Jay-z? 

We want them to speak no evil, so we don't let them hear or see any either, right?

I'd argue that there are two things at play here, and the answers are a bit different.  The first is, to what do we allow any exposure?  And these second is what do we use to train their desires?  

The former of the questions is pretty easy:  My children don't need to see anything pornographic, obscene, or anything including violence toward women or children.  So, beyond sort of a basic "nothing R rated till high school" I'm actually pretty open about simple exposure.  Even some types of PG-13 exposure.

However, exposure is not the limiting factor for our media decisions. 

The things we show to our people not once, but over and over again are what train their desires.  Most tastes are really acquired tastes.  There is a great lie in our world today - that taste is a complete accident - or entirely out of our control.  Dedicate yourself to learning to like something, and there is almost nothing for which you cannot train a desire.

So, we try to fill our kids' days with good books, good music, and some good tv and movies.  Of course, this all comes after time taken in education and in plenty of simple playtime.  But, still there is ultimately a lot of input. 

Make sure the things you recommend, the things you have them turn to for comfort, are portraying the values you want to portray. So, portrayal of sexuality is particularly at issue here, and particularly hard to parse out.  We tend to think about specific images and words only, instead of the context and purposes of those images and words.  The harder questions are what are the sexual values of the particular media in question?

Is it obsessed with teenage romance? Does it glorify serializing of relationships or does it encourage long-term monogamy?  Does it renounce or celebrate celibacy?  Does it treat marriage as a good or unfortunate institution?  Is it crass or respectful?  What is its view of gender?  Equality of strength and dignity?  Does it objectify the woman's body?  Does it justify the cravings of bodily satisfaction as an uncontrollable force in a man's life?

Quickly, let's take two movies, both of which we've let the kids watch.   But, one is better.  Much better.  Soul-food better.  To be fair, let's make it two princess movies - both sappy romances, and both very fun to watch, and even both from the late 1980s. 

The Little Mermaid and The Princess Bride. 

The Princess Bride has that great quote in it - "There is a shortage of perfect breasts in the world. It would be a pity to damage yours."  He says breasts, and it's sort of in a hot way, and Carey Elwes is great looking after all!  Therefore, it is banned. 

But, watch the whole movie in context.  The sexual ethics of The Princess Bride are dead on.  Sure, it's a silly, slapstick romance, but the things taken for granted are all true and the false and ugly is rejected.  Buttercup becomes lovely as she learns to be kind!  Even Miracle Max and his century-old bride are perfect, pottering around together, engaging in projects together, fussing at one another lovingly, waving goodbye, arms linked.  

So, we let them hear the word breasts, even in an "inappropriate" context,  admittedly full of sexual innuendo.  Westley's interest in Buttercup's breasts isn't scientific.  I offer a chuckle and a "heavenly days, as though he should say such things!" out of the corner of my snickering mouth.  But, it doesn't pollute the movie.  The movie is wonderful - it is full of truth, beauty, goodness, and, to put the largest of cherries on top, it speaks all this in the midst of laugh-till-you-cry humor.  Buttercup is hardhearted, and is broken down by tragedy, only to rise up, brave but fragile.  She and Westley are in love, but there is no glorification of the sex part - the mild sexual tension is a peripheral part of this love story about service and kindness and victory over evil men who hate and use women.  And they don't rush off to bed.  They ride off on white horses.  There is sexuality, but greedy physicality is not the point.  You are rooting for them to marry and live happily ever after; you're neither scandalized nor left cold. There is a rosy, hazy glow, and it makes you want to hold hands with the partner in your life. 

Unlike, say, the Little Mermaid whose opening scene is blatant sexual objectification of barely-clothed, eye-lash batting, hourglass young women with the dance of the harem made up of Triton's daughters. 
It goes on to focus on a boy-obsessed teenage girl who rejects her father's counsel, finds her only solace in material goods, sells her voice to the seawitch, manipulates a man into kissing her, whose true happiness is when she leaves her family for a man she barely knows, and 'loves' because he's beautiful. 

I'm a cynic, I know.  But, the themes are important.  They are all kinds of sexual, but more than that, they are objectifying, focused on the physical, and ultimately very immodest. 

Now, we let the kids watch it - Sebastian-the-Crab's scene in the kitchen with the chef is cinematic genius, and the whole thing has lots of great music.  However, it should not fill our days.  We don't buy the gear and lavish praise over it.  Ariel is not our role model.  She basically does nothing, ever, at all, worthy of replicating.  And neither does Eric, who is as vacant-eyed as his statue that Ariel fawns over in her underwater trove of material comfort. 

So, read good books, listen to good music, and watch the Princess Bride every day all day.  Obviously. 

Six:  Simultaneously, we should not wrap them in bubble wrap. 

This is not really a different principle than the above, but I wanted to highlight one key thing:  Some exposure is not only okay, it's strategic.

Many of our great conversations with the kids, which are key to leaving open a line of communication about sexual values, have come from some limited exposure to 'inappropriate' things.  When we see something together, we are able to talk about modest behavior, body objectification, etc., because we've been given a context.  It is much more difficult to bring things up out of the blue than to take advantage of a window.  And it only gets more and more awkward as they age. 

Obviously, we shouldn't seek this stuff out.  But your kids seeing too much skin or hearing something inappropriate or stumbling upon the lingerie ad are opportunities - they are gifts for us to have a moment to teach.  It is better for our sons to see a few women in their barely-there underwear, so I can say with a bit of lighthearteness, "Can you believe they mail that out to people all over the world? Pretty much nekkid women! Heavens to betsy.  Run throw that in the garbage for me, please" than it is for me to rush to the mail and toss it all, just so he can get excited when his first view of it is at 13. 

So, don't squeeze too tight.  Teaching them to be in the world requires us to be there a bit.  

Seven:  The sexual sin of other people is mostly not our business and, moreover, comes from brokenness, so pity, not judgment, is the correct attitude.  

There is a billboard we used to pass every week on our way to Church.  It advertises for a strip club downtown.  It has three women on it in barely-there underthings, and the whole thing is crass and unfortunate.  Most days, the kids are yapping amongst themselves, not paying attention to billboards.  But, every now and then....

One day, Eason said to the rest of us, 'Wonder why their Daddies let them be on that billboard in their panties?"

Oh, the naivete of the child, but, as they do, he hit the nail on the head.  Those girls up there are broken.  That is the appropriate attitude.  Their daddies, or someone else, failed them. 

But, we adults enjoy judging sexual sin.  We like it, because we ourselves are debase and broken and we enjoy knowing about the private and salacious things that people do.  Also, it makes us feel better about our every day sins.  "I just chewed out my husband, but I am not any kind of billboard girl, after all."

But, this attitude is wrong, and moreover, it isn't helpful.  Sexual sin is real.  Being on the billboard, and lingering over the billboard, and liking the billboard are all problematic.  I'm not trying to excuse it.  But, modeling for your kids pity, sorrow, and mercy for these folks is the best way to guard against destructive pride.

Also, there is gray area in this vicinity.  There is black and white, but there is also gray.  Much of it is a judgment call - it is prudence, and it will vary by person. 

Ada Brooks has friends who wear bikinis.  We don't let her wear bikinis. We have friends who don't allow their boys to swim shirtless.  Our boys are shirtless from May until October.  Explaining to our kids why we make particular judgment calls is appropriate, but it is not appropriate to dwell on the judgment calls of other people, especially good, well-meaning people who are in the trenches with us.  Not only is it uncharitable, it sets up an unfortunate, black and white dichotomy about sexuality.   This is over here is good.  This over here is bad.  Sexuality doesn't all work that way and it's important to hold that tension.

We have principles, we have convictions, but all we're doing is trying our best. 

Eight:  There are sexual sins our sons must guard against in their own lives.  

Okay, here I shall become controversial.  As though all that other stuff has been just rosy.  I'm about to generalize to my heart's content.  But, notice number nine - I'm going to be an equal opportunity generalizer. 

Boys are prone to certain bad things.  They are. 

Boys are prone to prioritizing utility, to viewing all people and things as means to an end.  This includes women.  Boys are prone to being end-driven rather than process-driven, and this shows up in the bedroom.  Boys are prone to being crass and gross and disrespectful. Boys are prone to being dismissive of women, and in the true corruption, violent towards them.  Boys' eyes linger, they are affected by the visual image, and they seek after it. Boys care about a girl's body before they care about her mind.  Boys tend to prioritize physical feelings over all else.  They are sensate beings.  The senses are in control, and boys lust after the satisfaction of those sensual preferences. 

And this is not a phase of boyhood.  These are tendencies that continue into manhood, if left unchecked.  And even when checked, they remain a struggle for most men.  Except Paul, he's perfectly tender and sensitive.

These aren't perversions of the Silence of the Lambs type, but they are tendencies that are destructive, and unchecked, they are wrong.
 So, my sons aren't allowed to act this way.  Your sons are not allowed to act this way.  Testosterone is tamable.  For the love of all that is holy, really, give up the Boys will be Boys defense. 

Men are to be respectful, loving, service-oriented, interested in thoughts and feelings, honest about emotion, open to conversation, focused on a person's soul and not her bosoms. 

Ha!  How in the world would one prevent boys from acting like they're naturally going to act?  Well, this is where fear and trembling enter into my life.  There is no perfect plan.  But, there have got to be better and worse plans. 

And no one is going to like this plan.  But, here is the current Forster plan, and that's all I've got to offer in this space. 

In addition to all the previous principles being oft applied,

Fathers and other male figures in a boy's life must model desirable behavior toward women.  They must respect, love, serve, and show devotion.  They must report to their sons their wives' brilliance or sweetness or great cooking or whatever is her particular area of beauty.  They must never, ever ogle 'hotness' in front of their sons or tell a dirty joke. 

We must warn our sons what their struggles are likely to be, which is a doozy, I grant.  But I think parents, preferably fathers, need to sit down with their sons periodically in the years leading up to and during puberty and say, 'Look - this is what I struggled with and still struggle with.  Go ahead, be on the look out.  Women are wonderful - look at your sister and your mother and all of the wonderful things that they say and build and do and teach us.  And women are beautiful creatures, but the value of a woman is not found first in her physical attributes, but in her mind and soul and being, and they are wonderful I tell you.  The bosoms are just lagnappe.' 

All you daddies are ready for that conversation right?  
No?  Well, then, you shouldn't have lusted after his mother's body and conceived this child. 

And Mamas - number three really rests on us.  We are annoyed of these dirty, gross boys.  So, sometimes we go with the "boys will be boys, and there is nothing for us to do about it" defense, but often times we go about emasculating them.  We make it difficult to grow into a man in our own homes.  If they never become men, the subconscious reasoning goes, they can never be these testosterone driven, satisfaction seeking gross people.  True, I guess, but then, they can also never become men. So, we must allow for healthy masculinity. 

But, we also have one more duty. We have a duty to act like the types of women we are telling our sons they ought to see in all women.  We have a duty to be respectable, to focus on our souls and our brains more than our wardrobes and our bodies.  We have to show our sons what a desirable woman is, and she is not focused on the outward appearance.  She is focused on inner beauty and strength.  Be the kind of daughter-in-law you want to have. 

Nine:  There are sexual sins our daughters must guard against in their own lives.  

Okay, I'm flipping teams here.  I really am just equally mean to both sides.  Again, more generalizations. 

Girls are prone to certain bad things.  We are. 

Girls long to be wanted, and love to cause things to happen.  We just do.  We like the way eyes feel on our bodies. We love to cause a reaction.  We like to get our way, and we like to be sought after.  At our most corrupt, we enjoy making others feel helpless.  Girls want to be princesses, not because we are spoiled, but because they are prized.  We long to be thought of as beautiful.  We lust to be lusted after.  And frankly, we'll use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that that happens.  We are physically intolerant and relationally demanding. 

I know we aren't all this way all the time.  But these are the temptations of the ovary-having set.  There are biological reasons for the tendencies of the male and the female, but that doesn't change the need to curb them.  And, like with the tendencies of men, if left unchecked, the tendencies of woman become destructive and wrong. 

So, my daughter is not allowed to act this way.  And neither is yours.  Estrogen can be bridled. 

Women are to be productive, straight forward, clear, secure, calm, and respectable.  We are not to be vapid or obsessed with reactions and responses.  We are to have full plates, so that we do not fill them with this licentious attention seeking.  And that is what we are to teach our daughters to do.  We are to respect men and expect to be respected. 

Do you know the etymology of respect?  It means to look at again.  Specto, spectare means 'to look at' and re, of course, means 'again'.  Respect is that look which is beyond the first look.  It is to go back and like what we see, deeply, not on the surface.  If we want that, we should probably act like we want it.  If we continue to make our bodies the things that we put forward as the most important aspects of ourselves, no respect will come. 

As mothers, we should be the women of substance that we want from our daughters.  This means not manipulating our spouses, not spending more time and money and energy on the physical - body and clothes -  than on other aspects of our lives, not being seekers of attention or seekers of drama, and it means being content with the long-term desires of one man, not vying for every pet response, especially from other men and women, like children vie for attention. 

It involves beginning a conversation of modesty with our daughters when they are young and continuing it through the awkward years.  Modesty is not about covering up parts, though that comes with it, but it is about making it natural for people to respect you - easy for them to look further.  No, their behavior is not your problem, but your projection of yourself is your problem.  If a man bows up to another man and calls his Mama fat and ends up with a black eye, we all know both men are at fault.  Well, as women continue to objectify themselves, men will continue to view them as objects, and that is everyone's fault.  So, we don't throw our legs above our heads when we are four and show the world our panties - it's attention seeking.  Put your dress down; don't hold it over your head like that.  And no, you may not wear that, because it is drawing attention to your physicality rather than any other part of your self. 

The daddies of little girls should not give into their manipulations.  Fathers should show interest in their daughters' whole selves, should enter into conversations of substance and humor with them, so that they know what healthy male attention looks like.  And so that they have plenty of this attention and do not seek it elsewhere until it is time.    

Ten:  Constant and close relationships with our children are necessary for any of this to work.  

So, our first principles - of sex being fun and frankness about parts being good - are necessary for the principles of confrontation of unhealthy sexual tendencies to work.  Right?  You have to have a home of laughter, where you have restricted judgment and encouraged relaxing, so that when you are talking about right vs wrong, you have credibility and comfort.
And to do any of this, you have to have a close relationship with your people.  You have to visit, to be honest, to have dialogue.  I know it seems like I probably don't mind talking about this stuff with my kids, but I do.  I just cannot stand it.  In the abstract, I want for them all the good things in life, and Paul and I want to train them in truth, goodness, and beauty in every area, not just the comfortable ones.  But when it's up in my face, I don't like it.  I like talking about food and books and dancing and tv and educational theory.  I don't mind talking about sexual politics, ethics, and culture with adults.  But, my children are my babies, and I don't want to do it.

But, we don't live in a world where we can cross our fingers, zip our lips, and hope for the best.  It quit working, if it ever did, when we all came down out of the mountains and into community. 

If I don't talk to them, Miley is going to.  So, talk we must.  And listen we must. And answer questions.  And be at home.  And be the home.  And never, ever make them feel silly or burdensome. 

But, we're all going to feel silly and burdened if we don't so much know each other.  The only thing more awkward than talking to a 14 year old about sex is talking about sex to a 14 year old you don't know very well.  We must know our people, and allow ourselves to be known, so that we can create the space in which ethics can be formed, expounded upon, challenged, and upheld. 

And the wine.  There is always the wine.  

11 September 2013

Sexual Ethics as the Parent, part 3 (a)

So, here we named a problem.  

And here, we put some flesh on its bones.  

But, talking about problems all day without potential solutions, well, we don't have any time for that, and eventually, there has to be an exit strategy.

So, to solve the problem.  What should we then do about raising kids with sexualities characterized by integrity and joy?

When solving problems, there are generally principles and strategies.  The strategies will vary, by culture, age, stage, personalities of those involved, and other factors.  But, the principles can be distilled.

[I am realizing, as I'm going along here, that the general respectable length of a short essay is not sufficient.  This is the kind of thing that needs chapters, and that won't do. 
 So, this shall be a four part series.  I'm going to talk through the principles important to the Forster Family in this quest in these last two posts.  And then I'm walking away; I promise. 
 Perhaps I'll come back to some more specific strategies later in time.]

But wait, before we even get to principles, we must talk attitude.
I said before that always there should involve a lot of humility, wine, honesty, prayer and humor.  

Sexual Ethics as the Parent, Part 2:

The first step is admitting you have a problem, and we have a big one. 

The middle step, before you can go about solving a problem, is to really get your definitions, roots, and things like that straight.

And so, now comes that attempt to flesh out the problem.

The problem, as mentioned before, is that our children are growing up in a sexually corrupt and corrupting culture, and there is no insulating them from it.  Even if we (mistakenly) believed that was a good way to go, it is not possible to move to the mountains.  The internet follows you to the mountains.  

So, whose fault is the problem?  To whom does it apply?  From whence does it come?  Why is this happening now?

Well, I'd like to make a few points that are bound up in our thinking here. 

1) Sex is great, and is not the problem. 
2) Sexual corruption is not new, but it is different.
3) Sexual corruption is not a private problem.
4) Nor is it a gender-specific problem. 

Sex is great. 

Paul and I like having sex with each other.  Our grandmothers may have lived in a world where ladies didn't say such things in public.  However, if Miley is going to stick out her tongue and rub her giant hand on a man's crotch in front of tens of millions, someone is going to have to say something other than "ladies don't do that."  So, we'll start with the fact that sex is great.  Not only is it super fun (when done well, which does take practice, by the way), but it is great for you.  Pick up any health magazine and you'll notice consistent research that shows that healthy, monogamous sex lives are linked to almost all good things, and lack of them are linked to almost all bad things- cancer, depression, heart disease, stress, trauma, anxiety, and on and on we go.  Three cheers for sex.  What the heck, let's make it nine cheers for sex.

And, since we're cheering for something, we are to want it for our children.  I want all four of my kiddos to grow up and find someone to marry with whom they can have really great, healthy sex.  I want them to drink good wine, eat good food, read good books, serve the world, and make-out with their spouses like there's no tomorrow.  I don't so much want in on the particulars, but I hope it for them all the same. 

The corrupt sexual culture is not new.  But it is different. 

So, sex in the 1950s (or 1850s or 1750s or on and on we go) was not healthier than it is now. Men and women weren't going around in happy marriages, just cheerfully pleasuring one another, and everyone loved each other and had monogrammed napkins to boot.  Nope.  Women were abused.  Legally, there was no marital rape, for goodness sake.  A man could force himself on his wife, and that was a-okay.  We put married couples in twin beds on television.  A man can rape his wife with impunity, but not admit publicly to sharing a bed with her.  Does that sound like a sexually healthy place to be? Sex was corrupt and corrupting then and has always been so.  Why?  Because with great power comes great potential for corruption.  It was ugly like Miley's tongue.  Don't let your mother's nostalgia for the good old days fool you.

So, the problem is not new, but has changed.  There are different problems.  We are post sexual revolution and post technological revolution.  Both of these have shifted the landscape.  Instead of women who approach wedding nights with fear and shame, now we have women who approach puberty aware that their bodies are potential tools of manipulation.  Instead of men who approach wedding nights with idiocy and fumbling, we have men who approach puberty already knowing four or five slang words for a vagina.

Sexual corruption is not a private problem.  

No man is an island.  No parent is an alone.  No child is protected.  My kids have proudly read to me the Hooters' sign and the Strip Club Billboard many a time.  You can limit exposure, and we should (more later), but pretending as though "no R-rated movies" solves the problem is a step beyond naive.
Because sex is public, it is a public problem.  We live in the public sphere.  We may or may not choose to have conversations about position choice (being southern ladies and all), but that doesn't change the fact that sex is everywhere.  Ev.er.y.whe.re.   It is everywhere, because it is part of us- because we are made gendered.  Watch a six month old boy - he knows he's a boy.  And enjoys that fact.  

Great novels (for children and adults) assume the sexuality of beings.  If your child reads books, watches movies (every.disney.movie.ever), listens to country music (or any other kind....), has friends, or anything else, sexuality is part of his or her life.  And so, like with food, sleep, education, and all other aspects of their lives, we have a responsibility to help our children know truth and choose wisely. 

The choices we make affect other people, and the choices made by others affect us. 

In the same way, sexual corruption is not a gender-specific problem.  

This is where I get off the boat with both sides to the current debate over the "FYI" post by Kim Hall over here.   It is not simply the girls' problem that the boys are being bad, as Mrs. Hall would direct us, and it's not the boys' problem that the girls' are being objectified, as the folks here would argue.  Equally true, though, it is not only the boys' problem that they're objectifying the girls and it is not only the girls' problem that they're objectifying themselves.

Everyone is involved.  Everyone is to blame.  Everyone is affected.

If you are a parent to sons, you better be on it.  Their lust is their own problem, and it's causing girls to feel broken and as though they can only offer one thing, and so they are offering it.

If you are a parent to daughters, you better be on it.  One cannot portray herself as a sexual object and have her feelings hurt when people sexually objectify her.

We don't know which came first - the chicken or the egg - and trying to figure it out is a giant waste of time.  Girls in underwear cause boys to lust after them, and the receiving of that lustful attention causes girls to want to pose in their underwear.  Boys paying attention to the girl in the smaller bathing suit causes girls to wear smaller bathingsuits, which causes boys to get excited and thus pay more attention to the girl in the smaller bathing suit. 
'Round and round we go; where we stop, nobody knows.  

Miley's reflection of us hurts our feelings, because it scares us that she is representative - that no one has a healthy sex life, much less a healthy sexual history.  

And that's what we want for our children, right? Right?  We don't want a life of experimentation and regret, nor do we want frigidity and embarrassment.

We want joyful monogamy. 

We want great sex.  After all, sex is great.  It's just that it is powerful in every realm.  Which means we must handle it with great care. 

So, how?   I have no idea.  ;)

But, it is an issue near and dear to our hearts; I am constantly quizzing those wise folks in my life.  I know they're all sick of it.  
Paul and I have developed a current strategy.  And it doesn't include sitting around the table with our sons going through their friends' photos and being critical of them.  It also doesn't include thinking that what our daughter wears is everyone else's problem.    It doesn't include sticking our heads in the sand or moving to the mountains, nor believing sexuality simply begins at puberty, so we'll talk about it then. 

It involves prayer and humility and humor and wine and honesty.

Part three.  The Principles of Solution. 

Sexual Ethics as the Parent, part one.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one, right?

Well, we have a problem. 

We have a problem as Americans, and particularly American parents.  And our problem is with sex.
It looks like this:

But, this is just an image.  And it is a reflective image, as is all of pop culture.  It reflects what we want and who we are. But, sometimes, like my mirror reflection in the morning, it hurts our feelings.

Wait, apparently 10 lbs are not just numbers on the scale, they also involve that second chin making its presence known.  Wait, apparently, sexting and twerking and scantily-clad-selfies and all the other words that I haven't yet heard because secretly I'm old, well, they look ugly in the mirror.  And we don't notice and we don't notice, and then one morning, the bathroom light is just right, and we remember to put our glasses on, and whoa, who is that 20 year old in her panties with that tongue?

She is us, and she is ugly, and that man in his jailbird? referee? outfit needs to go home to his children instead of victimizing someone else's.  Now. 

And then, as parents, we look at our babies, and we realize what kind of world they live in.  And, being in the age of the internet, we write, as I'm doing now.  We post facebook statuses and we draft blog posts, and everyone's feelings are hurt about the reflection in the mirror, and everyone is terrified that it's accurate, and accurate even to their own households, and oh my heavens, not my babies!  My babies!

And it leads to a lot of people getting riled up, because, shockingly, we don't all parent the same way, and we don't all identify the same root of the problem, or what to do to chop off that root before it chokes out the trees of healthy living we've done such work to plant and nurture.  All we know is that that woman in the mirror looks bad and our feelings are hurt and aaaahhhhh.

Some people fuss at other people's kids -  


And some people basically say that young girls should be able to do whatever they want and anyone suggesting something otherwise should rejoin the days of Scarlet Letters. 

So, we have a problem:  Our children are growing up in a sexually corrupt and corrupting culture, and due to the technological revolution, putting them in a pristine bubble isn't even an option anymore (as though it was ever healthy....).

That is our problem.  Step one.  Doesn't that feel better?  

Step two, fleshing out the problem:  here. 

30 June 2013

Menu 6/27 - 7/3 - And the Amazing Plan to Eat

A few months ago, a friend sent me an email that said, "Hey - you may not need this, but I found this awesome online menu planning/recipe storage thing a majig - it's called Plan to Eat." 

I didn't think I needed it, but then I started perusing, and I fell in love. 
I've been looking, for some number of years now, for a way to store recipes digitally, but also still be able to have a paper copy, and formatting them twice has not appealed to me.  So, Plan to Eat solves that problem, and so many more.

You can enter in recipes - by hand or by fancy shmancy import (basically, anything that is already in recipe format on the internet can be easily imported) or by basic import (which will try to read the jumbled email you sent your friend that has a recipe interspersed with tiny bits of life updates and it will import what it can and ask you to finish it).

And then, and this is the amazing part, you have this handy dandy calendar. 

And you just drag recipes and drop them on the calendar at the time you want to eat them.  And you can make notes about things you're not cooking - and you can place on there individual ingredients, so even though they don't go in a recipe, the Bran Flakes will still show up on the list. 

And your menu plan is done for the week.

But, wait, ladies and gentlemen. 

But that is not all.  Oh, no, that is not all. 

Then, you bop on over to your "Shopping" Tab and the beautiful, miraculous website has populated your grocery list.  And categorized it for you by produce, etc.  Yep, that's right.

But, what if you already have honey and cumin?  Well, you just go through and remove the things you have (forcing you to check, and therefore helping you eliminate those times when you think you have eleven cans of diced tomatoes and so buy none, or those times when you think you have no cans of diced tomatoes, and so, for eleven weeks in a row, buy a can).

And voila!  Meal planning, list making, and recipe organization is all taken care of.

Yes, it does cost- 40 dollars a year, though - So, would you pay 80 cents a week for this assistance?
 You do get a free 30 day trial.  And it's actually free - they don't request your credit card number until after your trial is up.  So, that's pretty amazing.

So, do it.  plantoeat.com. 

And be my friend! 

 And then, yes, more.  You can have friends.  And look at their recipes.  Instead of folks emailing me and calling me and I fail to return their calls with handy dandy actual responses - those who are on PlantoEat can just find the recipes there. And I get to check to see if my friends have a recipe for chicken cacciatore before I google and take the internet's word for what works. 

I know.  It couldn't get any better.

Actually, my friend Jessica and I decided this week that it is missing just one feature.  Are you listening, Plan to Eat folks?

It's missing the "View My Friend's Created Menu" option - So we can all spy and receive encouragement and inspiration and see what everyone is eating.  I can see my friends' recipes, but not their menu plan for the week. 

So, until then, the menus will still have to be here.


Thursday, June 27th - Red Beans and Rice, Sausage, Green Salad

Friday, June 28th - Bacon Wrapped Shrimp is what I took to add to an appetizer spread for a friend's Birthday

Saturday, June 29th - Grilled Chicken, Comeback, Black Eyed Peas, Squash, Potato Salad, Corn on the Cob, Green Salad

Sunday, June 30th - Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas

Monday, July 1st - Bean Burritos

Tuesday, July 2nd - Leftovers / Make a Cake for a Friend's Baby Shower

Wednesday, July 3rd - Daddy's Birthday - I don't know what we'll eat, but we'll likely eat with my dad and Carrie.

17 June 2013

allowed to cry

My baby girl has turned nine this morning.  Well, she will at 11:35 am to be exact, but that's irrelevant to everyone but her.

This morning, as I lay in bed, she came bounding into the kitchen and greeted her daddy with a very excited, "It's my birthday!"

I lay there and listened as they visited about when she was a baby - the things he remembers fondly - that she cannot remember at all.

And I cried.

And then I remembered that my baby boy turns four tomorrow.  Four.  No one under four in my house (save this small thing fluttering about inside).  Four is big.  Four is pretty much adult.  Four is learn to put your clothes away, learn to make your own lunch, learn to get your own bandaids age at our house.  There is something little about three year olds that four year olds just don't posses.

So, I cried some more.

I have always eschewed this phenomenon of lamenting the aging of our children.  We want them to grow up - to become who they were designed to be and who we are, hopefully, helping along the way.  We are supposed to be happy when they quit mispronouncing things and learn to competently put on their own shoes.  We are aiming at a finished product, and crying over growth is contrary to that aim.


As parents, we have the privilege of an intimate knowledge of stages in their lives - of times when they are different people.  Both Ada Brooks and Collins have entirely changed- him over the last twelve months, and her over the last five years.  They are different people.  And not only did we know them when, we bandaided and cried and helped them change.  Not having any babies at my house has meant that I'm not following people around trying to keep them from eating marbles of death or going down concrete stairs head first.  I have put down that type of exhaustion (for a few more months), but I have picked up different kinds.

I have one child who we're trying to teach to respect people's desires for space and calm at certain times, one who is beginning the life long process of boundary-drawing in her own relationships, and one who is so hurt by the idea that people, including him, do wrong, that he has a mini-existential-crisis three times a week.

I. talk. all. day.  I.am.the.question.answerer.  A new kind of exhaustion has crept along and joined our ranks.  I look at these people, with whom I'm not fighting many "you must eat your broccoli" battles, and I am thankful to have begun to phase that out.  (Until November, when we start all over.  Oh, the humanity.)   I am fighting new battles, because the terrain has changed. What a blessing. 

But I am also sad. I'm not fighting those battles, bandaiding those cuts, and laughing at those silly words said just a tiny bit wrong, because, well, they're finished with being those people with those needs. 

They have changed into new people.  And that is what we want.  But losing something is always hard.  They will never be my babies again - and them being my babies was good. 

My grandfather is approaching the end of his life.  He will go to live with his heavenly father after a life as well-lived as any I've known of, and it is good.  It is good that he was born, that he has lived 91 years blessing every life he ever touched, and it is good that, as his health has deteriorated, he will soon leave us for life free from pain.  He has finished his race, and, if the Lord says it to any of His broken people, He'll certainly say to Big Paul, "Well done."  But, we will all still cry.  Because it is sad to lose good things- for good things to come to an end.

So, I'm going to let myself be sad.  I have a little girl who is trying hard not to be a little girl anymore, and two little boys who are slowly learning not to crawl in my lap.  Trying to hold onto it is silly, and worse, destructive.  And not looking forward to what comes next is a waste of a great amount of hope.  But, I will still cry.  Because it is sad to lose good things - for good things to come to an end. 

I feel like I'm reading the best book I've ever read, and I see the bookmark moving every so gradually through the pages, and it's not as though the middle is not as good as the beginning.  In very many real ways, it's better.  Honestly.  I promise - conversations with 9 year olds are better than they are with 3 year olds, despite the lack of adorable phonetic confusion.
And the end will, Lord willing, be better still.  But it still means there is less to go - it will end, and sooner every day.  They will leave, and I will hope that we have done our duty and we all still like each other as much as we do now- or more.  And more than that, I will thankfully collapse into the arms of a husband who I like better than all of them.

But, the book will end, and the bookmark is moving, and I am allowed to cry.  
She's halfway to 18 - half way to gone, for goodness sake.  I am allowed to cry. 

18 May 2013

Menu: 5/15-5/22

Okay, we're going to get back to it.  It always runs so much more smoothly when there is some thought put into what we're going to eat, you know, before 3 pm the day of the needing to eat. And I like to be able to read what others are eating, and trying to post this holds me accountable. 

So, this week:

Wednesday night my daddy took us to see Lyle Lovett at the best venue in the world - Thalia Mara Hall.  Okay, perhaps not the world.  But the acoustics are great, seats comfy and not a bad one in the house, and it's 9 minutes from my house, making it awesome.

The kids ate leftover lasagna, and Paul and I joined Brooks and Carrie at the best restaurant in the world.  Okay, perhaps not the world.  But maybe.  Walker's Drive-In.  And, I've become convinced that soft shell crab is in season in the gulf in May simply because of divine providence allowing it to be at the same time as my birthday.   So, soft shell crab, lemon tarragon butter, red potato mash and thin beans for supper.  Plated perfection.

Thursday, we had Red Beans and Rice - Plain ol' Jane ol' cheap and filling. 

For lunch on Friday, we had red bean and rice tortilla roll ups.  See what I did there?  Sneaky sneaky.    Friday night, we had an end-of-season cookout with Eas's baseball team.  There were burgers, chips, hot dogs.  I was in charge of the best thing ever -  Capri Suns.  I rocked it out with those capri suns.

Today for lunch, well, I should probably come up with something....

Tonight for supper: Pork Loin over Vidalia Onions and Apple Cider.  Something along these lines:  Recipe Here.  Lady Peas, Roasted Broccoli, Mashed Potatoes.  This is me, cleaning out the pantry and freezer.  Good shall conquer evil.  Or at least efficiency shall conquer waste. 

Tomorrow, we have a food filled day.  We have our Pentecost luncheon at church -  I'm contributing a quiche (fillings as yet undetermined, but I'm thinking it might involve shredded pork loin, some chopped roasted vidalias and maybe some roasted broccoli?  ;)  ), Roasted Asparagus with Vermouth Butter, and a Pear Tarte or Gallette or some such.

Tomorrow afternoon, I get to help give a baby shower.  And I'm responsible for cracker candy and for spinach dip.  I recently had the best spinach dip so far in my life - it's easy to get bored of it - but it was so good, and I'm so excited to try the recipe I begged off of a kindly woman at a party...

Tomorrow night, we are celebrating my mother's day, a bit late (insane week), and we're having steak and twice baked potatoes and the rest of the works.  I'm cooking, but Paul is doing all of the setting up, cleaning up, minding the children, etc. 

Monday for lunch, we'll be plowing through leftovers.  

Monday evening, we've a birthday party to attend.  I imagine there will either be pizza or grilled hot dogs.  Win/Win.

Tuesday evening, Paul and I have a meeting to attend.  The kids are having supper with their grandparents, I think, or we'll continue the leftover plow-through.  Paul and I will, I'm sure, grab taco bell on the way home from our meeting, which will be a travesty. 

Okay, back in the saddle.  Feeling better.  Life under control.  We're a gonna make it.  I shall not be sick at my stomach for the remainder of my lifetime.  People will be fed.


15 May 2013

Freezer Inventory and Giving Thanks

A dear friend came to play today, but instead of just playing, we cleaned out my refrigerator.  This had not been done since 2012, I'm pretty sure.  Which means it was uber gross. 

Actually, I think it's been grosser before, and that's just by some miracle. 

So, we pulled everything out and washed the fridge guts and then put everything back in.  Which is just the best feeling in the world.  The kids were even showing it off to one another.  "Look, Ada, Look at the refrigerator!" 

Anna's baby, Roland, even climbed in before we added anything back (except the bottom produce drawer - it was already filled).

14 May 2013

A Girl! In All her Resplendent Glory

I spotted this post this morning, linked from a few friends on my facebook newsfeed. The pictures are beautiful and the project is creative. 

I was immediately drawn to it; I try to keep up with issues of The Woman, especially as related to The Little Girl.  I have one of those - little girls, that is -  and I remain concerned with the images we project onto our daughters.  [This week we're seeing the inability of Disney to let strong, real girls remain apart from sexual objectification, as seen with the reformatting of Merida, the atypical princess from the movie Brave.]   These images we continue to project, post sexual-revolution, have resulted in a culture of pornography and eating disorders, not to mention continuing the culture of unhappy marriages, divorce, and abuse. 

The second reason to be drawn to this post is that the photography is excellent.  I know not Jaime Moore, but she can sure take a picture. 

And the third reason (and it's entirely self-centered): I did a report on Amelia Earhart in second grade and have a treasured picture of myself dressed in my leather flight jacket and some sort of goggles on my head. 

So, I love these ladies - Especially Amelia, Helen, and Susan B, who are personal faves of mine.  And the little girl being photographed, well, she looks happy and to be enjoying the exercise.  And her mother's motivations are good:  stay away from the prostitutes-disguised-as-heroes in most of pop culture today.


I have a few objections to this type of thing being the key to alternative, fix-the-bad-feminine-images strategy.  Please don't read this as a criticism of Jaime Moore.  She seems an earnest, excellent type who aside from taking great pictures, is being thoughtful about how to rescue her little one from the false images of sexuality that pervade and prevail.  I'm just reluctant to join the bandwagon of "isn't this cool" linking up to this project.  It is cool.  But, I fear it is not the complete answer. 

So, to the However. 

09 May 2013

It's (not) my right: Fighting to, in fact, be a thankful house

Paul and I believe that thankfulness is the solution to many of the world's ills, thus the name of this here little corner of the internet.  And, our own world is no exception.  When there is grumpiness, chase it away with thankfulness.  When there is frustration or giving up or meanness or illness, conquer with gratitude, cheerfulness, joy.

But, not so surprisingly, sometimes that's hard.

And, as matriarch of the day, I have a special burden.  Ain't nobody happy when Mama's not happy?  Well, ain't nobody thankful for jack when Mama is just a fussin' up a storm.

And the fussing doesn't start outloud.  It starts inside.  And usually, it starts with perceived victim-hood, right?  We all know this feeling.  I have been injured, and now I am irritated, so now I am grumpy, and eventually, it works its way outward and we start snipping over the fact that are you seriously asking me again where your d**n shoes are?
And of course, the worst perceived injuries are those perpetrated against us by our families.  The world is not really out to get you, but your family probably is, right?

My husband is the most hard working, caring, kind man I have ever known, and he genuinely wants me to be happy, healthy, and holy.  And his ego doesn't even get in the way of those desires.  But, still, he clearly is in a plot to make me miserable, says the small part at the back of my head.

And do you know when the primitive id rears its ugly head and insists that gratitude is far from what is needed?

Every year at this time.
(And I bet I'm not alone here.) 

It's Mothers' Day season. 

This is a day to give us mothers a time when we are officially appreciated. The idea is that our job is thankless, and that if we can just have this one Sunday, all manner of thing shall be well. 

However, if you are as blessed as I am, you are appreciated most days.  My husband puts our children to bed, while I sit on the couch or languish in the bed or scroll at the computer, every.single.night.   My sons are, as I type, playing a game in the back yard of "Who can pick Mama the most flowers" and my daughter tells me about once a week that dinner was just so delicious and she hopes she can one day cook like I do.  And they all defer to me in matters of the matriarchy -  I dictate, hopefully benevolently and with input, the way in which our life runs on a day to day and celebratory basis.  Christmas goes the way Ann Lowrey arranges for it to go. 

They do appreciate me.  They all four do.  No, really.  But, that is not enough in my own mind.  And, to top it all off, nothing ever would be.  That's the problem, right?

One year on Mothers' Day morning, they brought me breakfast in bed.  It was pretty much my least favorite foods, all ill-prepared.  Who is the ungrateful one now?  Who doesn't appreciate whom?

Why do I (we?) feel this way?  Why is it not enough?

I was sitting here this morning and psyching myself up for not being a witch, even internally, this mothers' day.  And I realized why we keep waiting for the perfect celebration brought to us by our people.

It's because, at least for me, I'm the one who is good at this stuff.  I plan, I celebrate, I find the thing that they all need to make them feel special.  This is my job.  I better be good at it.  I am in the business of making a home.  This means the daily things and then the special things.  I am supposed to interpret and parse the real injuries from the dramatic ones, and react accordingly.  I am to take the temperature constantly.  I am to know who is stressed and why - who needs a pick me up and how - and then to enact it.  I am to recognize the reasons for and then ensure the celebrations.  And so, because of these duties, I get better at these things. 

So, this day rolls around.  And if I could celebrate myself, I'm sure I'd do a bang up job.

I would appear at my own door with a coke icee first thing in the morning.  I would send me to the book store with one of the children, and then I would clean the house for me.  I would administer a foot rub and a back rub and put on Norah Jones or better still that Diana Krall album Paul bought for me the summer Ada Brooks was born, candles lit.  I would have developed a slide show of pictures from my years of mothering, and, being inside my own head, I would know exactly what sounds good for breakfast, lunch, supper, dessert, and would pull it off with the right bit of panache.  There would be ice cream.  And I would know whether or not I was in the mood for silence or visiting, all the kids climbing up in bed with me or not, a hike or a nap, an outing or 30 rock.
I could really Mothers' Day it up around here. 

But of course, we don't want to do that.  We want them to know it all and do it as well as we'd do it for ourselves.  Even though this is what we do all day, and this is what they do once or twice a year.

I have a favorite song - it's by Mary Chapin Carpenter - the lyrics are all about a woman and those small things she wants.  It's got a great piano intro, and she rocks the guitar while singing in that great old country-rock style that defined my childhood.  She just wants pens that don't run out of ink, and, ultimately, she just wants passionate kisses.  She sounds so reasonable.  And then, she gets more and more irritated and she finally says, "Do I want too much; am I going overboard to want that touch?  Shout it out to the night; give me what I deserve.  It's my right."

And so, the seed of ingratitude grows.

[And, just before we allow ourselves on the high horse:  quiet martyrdom is no better, and sometimes more long-term harmful, than actually fussing.  Thinking, 'oh, they can't help but be terrible husbands and children, but my role as mother and wife is to sacrifice and so I shall be silent and alone and only the Lord will know the sufferings of my heart, woe unto me' may be worse than saying, 'hey sweetheart - could you buck up and do something for me?' Silent martyrdom isn't helpful; the only solution is recognizing how well-loved and undeservedly blessed we already are.] 

 "It's not hard to love on people - just love on me."
"Love is a transitive verb, afterall."
 "Just try, for goodness sakes."
all run through my head, and too many days for me to admit, escape my lips.

And they do try.
And they perform at about a C- level.
And our victim hood grows.

It is the sin of our mother Eve.  She knows better, and probably, if you'll just let her alone, she'll take care of it, and you'll all see.  But see, she doesn't just want to do it her way; she wants you to do it her way as well.  It is, in a word, disgusting.

So, admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, right.  I am joining Ingratitude Anonymous.
The list of things for which I should be on my knees constantly giving thanks about is ridiculously long.  God is good to the world He created.

I have an employed husband who seriously never quits serving people, usually us, who is also awfully funny and a terribly good kisser.  I have three pretty children who are healthy and amusing and generally pleasant.  I have a house - with 75 year old wood floors - a gas stove, gin and tonics, phenomenal friends, a church family that actually loves us, reliable transportation, clean water, great extended family, my health, hulu and netflix, an in-house and public library system,  sauteed onions and chocolate milkshakes, great music.  

But, for mothers' day, because I deserve it, afterall, I would also like 100 ranunculus in this perfect shade of antique ecru with an ever so slight tinge of pink undertones.  Carnations are evil; don't even try that jazz.  And why, family, do you not already know this? 

Lord have mercy on my soul.

08 May 2013

Dinner and a Movie

I've been plotting our summer school experience around here.  It's difficult for homeschooling mothers - or probably any sort of educator-parent - to just enjoy the summer break.  However, I do believe in a break.  Slow growth.  Relaxed progress.  Joyful.  Calm.  Fun.  Easy.  Flexible. 

But, we have to do something.  It's not just my educator compulsion -  it's also because I know full brain disengagement for 3 months is actually damaging.  And because my children - like their mother - do poorly with an empty to do list. 

So, we have a few goals for the summer. 

1)  Swimming.  We are all four (Paul just won't) going to practice our swimming nearly daily.  The older two kids have joined the swim team, and Collins and I will join them at the pool most days. 

2)  Reading.  We'll all read a lot.  Collins will just listen. But Eason and Ada Brooks have ambitious reading goals, as do I - mainly reading aloud to the kids, but also doing some personal reading. 

3)  Memory Work.  We are all working on a list of things we'd like to memorize this summer.  We're aiming at very short lists, so we'll actually succeed.  ;)

4) Morning Meeting.  We did these last summer, and the kids still ask after them.  It is a brief 15-25 minute meeting most mornings when we sing, pray, recite, catechize, laugh and start our day from a centered place.  Yes, a combination or orthodox western Christianity and some eastern mysticism? 

5)  Miscellany.  Eason wants to improve his violin.  Ada Brooks has determined to learn to type 20 words a minute.  (Start small...).  Eason and Collins want to throw and catch a ball without dropping it 15 times in a row.  (Again, small).  Ada Brooks is going to plan and cook supper once a week.  Ada Brooks and Eason both need to work on their math facts speed.  They get the right answers; it takes them FOREVER. 

So, those are the categories.   As part of the Reading category, I had this idea that once a week we'd watch a movie that had been based on a book that one of us had read.  Ada Brooks will carry the plurality, and Eason will have a few and a few will be read aloud by Paul or me to the kids. 

Here is the dinner and a movie schedule.  The person who read the book will give the rest of the family a brief summary, we'll eat (on tv trays!) and watch the movie version.  Ada Brooks, for her 5 books, will write a compare and contrast paragraph about the book and movie.  Maybe.  If she enjoys it.  It's summer time after all. 

  • Basil of Baker Street - Mama reads aloud - Movie on May 23rd
  • The Secret Garden -  Ada Brooks -  Movie on May 28th
  • The Wizard of Oz - Mama reads Aloud - Movie on June 4th
  • Shrek -  Eason - Movie on June 18th
  • Swiss Family Robinson - Ada Brooks -  Movie on June 25th
  • Nim's Island - Daddy read Aloud - Movie on July 2nd
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Ada Brooks - Movie on July 9th
  • The Princess Bride - Mama read aloud - Movie on July 16th
  • The Littles - Eason - Movie on July 23rd
  • A Wrinkle in Time - Ada Brooks - Movie on July 30th
  • Stuart Little - Eason - Movie on August 6th
  • Around the World in 80 Days - Ada Brooks - Movie on August 13th

If anyone wants to join us for any of the Dinners with Movies, let us know!