Monday, April 27, 2009

Confession 50: Becoming THAT Parent

Okay, it's official. I have become that parent. You know that parent. The one whose kids you hear clear across the restaurant or, better yet, the one whose kids are running through the restaurant screaming in delight as you give chase. The one whose kids get into a wrestling match under the coffee table of someone else's house. The one whose kids "explore" other people's homes and stores with their hands, bringing things out of rooms or pulling items into carts. The one whose kids grab everything edible within reach, without asking before they sink their little fingers into someone else's food or beverage. You know that parent: you'd really like her company if it wasn't for her kids.

Before having children, let me rephrase that, before I had my children, I always used to look down my nose at that parent. I thought to myself, why can't this parent control his/her kids? Why are these people just letting their kids run wild? And my favorite, "When I have children, they're not going to act like that." Ha! I have since learned that those thoughts signal the kiss of death.

I realize now that I have my own wild things what it feels like to be on the other side of that parent. And I have to admit, I think my preconceived notions were all wrong. It's not a parental control issue, it's a boundary issue. That parent realizes you have to choose your battles carefully when dealing with an active almost three year old boy and his 11 month old little brother. Compromise is a key strategic move. Yes, you may throw the little plastic balls in the house as long as you're not aiming at anyone, any animal, or toward a window. Basically, throw it to someone to play catch with or toss it up in the air. Or, there's this: the cabinets under the china hutch are off limits, but you may, however, play with the items in the kitchen cabinets that are not locked. This involves Tupperware being scattered throughout the house, but it is a compromise, after all. All water is off limits, especially that which resides in the animal's bowl and the toilet. An exception is the master bath tub faucet which may be turned on and played with while Mommy and Daddy are taking a shower or using the facilities. You get the gist.

The real struggles for that parent come in taking the children out of the home and into the public. "The Public" is to that parent what "The Colosseum" was to the early Christians: terrifying, painful, humiliating. Those children sense the fear and anxiety emanating from that parent and use it to their full advantage. Fun family outings turn into the Battle of Bull Run and those children go home feeling contrite and disagreeable while that parent, in her humiliation, profusely apologizes to all innocent bystanders and cleans up the collateral damage, all the while silently committing to hire a babysitter for the next time in the frailest of hope that there will be a next time.

However, when that parent cuddles up next to those children as she puts them to bed, she realizes just how lucky she is to have them. And they, in wrapping their little arms around her shoulders and nuzzling into her neck, realize just how grateful they are to have her.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Confession 49: Spring has Sprung

It should come as no shock to most of those who know me that I am not a disciplinarian. My husband is, in fact, emphatically nodding his head as he reads this. As a high school teacher, I do my best to demonstrate to my students the behavior I would like them to display. I try and be friendly with them, to not blow things out of proportion, to avoid power games and demonstrate respectful speech and attitude. However, as Spring has fully arrived in our little corner of the globe, Prom weekend has finally come, and the end of the school year is almost in sight, I have lost my patience with my students who, quite frankly, have plumb lost their minds. Snippy attitudes have emerged out of nowhere, effort is plummeting and concentration is non-existent. We have a full five weeks until Finals begin and I still have a two units, one of which is a novel, to get through. Saying that this is the time to buckle down is an understatement. There is no room in my schedule for attitude and disruptive behavior, which could explain my outbursts in class the past few days.

It all began yesterday with my third-hour juniors. My third hour kids can best be likened to a classroom full of slugs. None of them is very ambitious. School is something they show up to every day (every day) but not something they actively engage in. At the moment, we're in the middle of a major project, a multi-genre research paper, which will be the bulk of their fourth quarter grade. We've been working on this project for a month now and are almost to the finish line. I decided that it was time to tackle the dreaded "Works Cited Page". I don't know how many of you have written an essay lately, but the rules and guidelines around citation have become a major pain in the butt. It's a tedious process to go through and I was trying to highlight some key information for my students. Half of my third hour class decided this would provide an opportunity for them to catch up on some much-needed rest. Needless to say, this didn't sit so well with me. So when my fourth hour students came in and started up with their "Why do we have to do this--it's so beneath me" attitude, I just couldn't stop myself from saying to them, "How about you all just shut up and take the notes?" Normally, I would never use this phrase in my class, but desperate times call for desperate measures. They perked up after that and paid attention through both yesterday's and today's notes.

But my volcanic explosion came today during my 7th hour class. I have 14 students in my 7th hour, 10 of which are boys. For those of you experienced with teenage boys, I don't need to say anymore. We were a day behind in lessons because of an assembly yesterday, so I wanted to quickly cover the information on works cited pages and move into a discussion of word usage and verb tense. Riveting, I know, but important information for them. First came the question of whether or not I was going to check their notes, because if not, they weren't going to take them. Then, I had to stop what I was doing to tell two boys to, essentially, shut up and pay attention. Finally, one of my students told me that Microsoft Word would automatically form a works cited page for them in the MLA format and that she wasn't taking notes over this. Several others agreed. My blood pressure hit the roof and busted into the sky. I stopped teaching, sat down at my desk, and told them I didn't care what they did for the rest of the hour. If they were so smart, they didn't need me and could figure out how to do a works cited page on their own. A handful of students approached me individually and asked me to show them how to make one, which I did, but the rest just started chatting as if nothing had ever happened. Of course, this infuriated me even more and when I mentioned it one of my girls asked, "What do you want us to do? You told us to sit here the rest of the hour and wouldn't give us the information..." I had to stop myself from screaming, "I want you to freaking care!!"

I love teaching, and I love teaching in the district in which I work. Overall, our kids are wonderful and I have few problems. I just can't handle the absolute apathy at times. I know, as an educator, it's my responsibility to make learning relevant to them. But, they have a responsibility to actively engage in the process as well. And I cannot abide disrespectful attitudes, especially when I feel that I go out of my way to treat my students with respect. At least Monday is a new day. Prom will be over, it will have rained all weekend, and we'll start the week with a reading day. We'll forget our bad behaviors of the past few days and move forward. Heck, I might even show my seventh hour how to write a proper works cited page. If nothing else, I can chock it all up to a bad case of Spring Fever!

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confession 48: Baby's New 'Do

Our baby got his first hair-cut yesterday. It was a bittersweet moment. It all happened in a moment of spontaneity on my part. I had given T-Bone a bath and was towel-drying his hair. Bone came out with a full head of hair, and it has only grown since. Unlike some babies, he doesn't have a head of thick curls, just long strands that hang down and around his face. So I decided, on a whim, that it was time for a trim.

I grabbed Chris' goatee trimmers, dug out a comb from a random bathroom drawer, and secured Bone in his high chair. The moment had come. Chris was out praying at a city council meeting and would be home shortly. Since I wanted to tackle the hair while it was still wet, I went ahead and made the first cut. The silky strands fell smoothly through my fingers into my open palm. There was no going back now. It took several minutes for me to work my way around T-Bone's head. I had to sacrifice my comb in order to keep him happy. Needless to say, his daddy was a bit shocked when he walked in the door and saw his newly shorn boy. Although he was a bit disappointed, he wasn't angry and conceded that although he wasn't ready to get rid of "the mop head", the new 'do was fairly cute. Chris then got the hair clippers and rounded out my choppy (literally) work.

After it was all said and done, we were left with a chubby cheeked baby boy whose expressive face we could see much more of. Although I'm a little sad in the end (the mop hair was pretty cute) I feel good about the change, and Bone wears the new 'do very well. I'm also proud of Chris and I that we were able to manage the cut on our own. The whole process sort of illuminated the areas in which Chris and I excel. I jumped right in and started chopping, and Chris came along and worked through the details.

This is the first of thousands of haircuts T-Bone will have throughout his life. However, no matter how much hair we remove from his head, he will always be our "sweet baby boy".

Blessings and Peace,

Confession 47: "Tea Party" or "Patriot's Day"?

Today is tax day, a black letter day in our household. As a pastor, my husband gets taxed in all sorts of crazy manners that I can't even begin to understand. It makes no sense to me how the combined annual income of a high school teacher and United Methodist pastor can result in us owing the state over $1ooo, but there you have it. I suppose there's a reason I teach English and not math!

Anyway, I was reading on today that there is a controversy brewing between liberals and conservatives over the nature of government spending (shocking!). Apparently, Republicans are staging "tea party" protests to President Obama's stimulus package throughout the nation today, calling on Americans to vocally oppose the government's bailout of banks, auto companies, and mortgage companies. This, apparently, has prompted one Democratic CNN analyst to declare today instead "Patriot's Day", as this is the "one day a year the government asks us to sacrifice for the greater good." (Give me a break!) This has all fueled a small debate within my inner being because, unbelievably, I find myself leaning more toward the affinity of "Tea Party" day. Don't get me wrong, I am a big supporter (as in I bought a campaign button, not supporter as in I donated half a year's pay to the campaign) of President Obama. I think he has a very strong and noble agenda and think there is a lot of potential to move this country forward. However, I have never been a proponent of the "bailout package". I think the bailout, or stimulus plan is fiscally irresponsible and only reinforces the negative behavior we as Americans, both corporations and individuals, have been engaged in over the past fifteen plus years. Irresponsible spending has led to this recession, and irresponsible spending is not the way out of it. Why should the government spend money it doesn't have to bail out companies that have overspent or made bad investments? There is no other area in life where this economic philosophy makes sense. I mean, as much as I would love to pay off my sister's credit card debt for her, I am not going to cash out my retirement plan to do so. Nor am I going to borrow the money and create more debt for myself to bail her out. (Personal note: My sister would never ask me to pay off her debt for her, it's just a hypothetical example.) There's a simple principle to getting out of and avoiding debt: if you don't have the money for something, don't spend it!

One of our biggest problems as Americans is that we've created a culture of entitlement. If we want something, we think we should be able to get it, regardless of expense. We feel like we've earned the right to luxury vehicles and $300,000 "starter" homes after working for five years, not the twenty years our parents put in before saving up for those things. Economically speaking, we've made our own bed, and now we have to strip off the sheets and start over.

As for the notion of "Patriots Day" being an opportunity for Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of the country, while a noble sentiment in theory, my personal response would have to be... PUH-LEESE! Again, don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of paying taxes, but what are they really going to? Corporate execs who have proven numerous times they are completely irresponsible spenders? Auto makers who have refused to be forward thinking in their development of vehicles? Mortgage companies that have manipulated individuals into making poor investments? Paying salaries of congressional members who are more concerned with their stature and wheeling and dealing with lobbyists than listening to their constituents? I realize that theoretically my taxes help pay my salary, but in reality the most I've gotten for my tax dollars that I have seen is a year's worth of Parents as Teachers visits.

I know I am speaking through an overabundance of cynicism, and I do not want to be a cynical person. I think paying taxes is a civic responsibility, but I work hard for that money, and I would like to see it go to worthwhile projects. I want my taxes to go toward establishing health-care for all uninsured children. I want my taxes to go toward enriching technology in public schools. I want my tax dollars to go toward families of fire fighters, police officers, and soldiers lost in the line of duty. I want my tax dollars to go toward bringing art and culture to children who will otherwise have little experience with either. I want my tax dollars to fund research for a cure to cancer. I want my tax dollars to go toward programs that help end poverty and hunger. I want my tax dollars to be better represented. I don't think that's too much to ask from a government that was born on the principles of freedom and democracy.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Confession 46: I Don't Say the Pledge of Allegiance

My students are working on a multi-genre research project at the moment in which they have to research the life of a prominent American, create several pieces in different genres which reflect the values and beliefs of that individual, and then create several other pieces which reflect their own ideas around the concept of the American Dream. I've put together a sample project for them, and one of the genres I chose to express myself in was a blog entry. So, I thought I'd go ahead and post it.

Here it is:

I am not a patriot. Don't get me wrong, I love the United States and am grateful for the life I live within its confines. I appreciate the freedom I have and am thankful every day for the men and women who have worked to secure that freedom. However, it is precisely because I value the freedom and ideals this country was built upon that I cannot call myself a patriot. In recent years, I have seen the term patriot become synonymous with zealot and patriotism synonymous with nationalism. One of the biggest issues I have is that the state of Missouri requires all public schools to engage in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on a weekly basis. I never do this in my classroom, and although that could be considered a form of insubordination, I believe that in refusing to say the Pledge I am upholding the rights of American citizens. How can a government supposedly founded on liberty make a law requiring its citizens to verbally pay homage to it? This, I believe, is oxymoronic.

There are two other reasons I refuse to say the Pledge. First, I believe that God comes before country. As a Christian, my allegiance is to God and my purpose is to further the kingdom on earth, not to further the doctrines of the United States. Second, I cannot in good conscious pledge myself to something which our government does not uphold. Take a moment to look consider the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all
Although we may at one point have been one nation under God, statistically and culturally speaking, we are no longer that nation. Although the majority of Americans still profess to a Christian faith, our numbers present in weekly worship throughout the country would beg to differ. More than that, we have become a multi-faith nation, with many Americans professing no faith at all.

As for indivisibility, anyone looking at the election map on CNN during the past presidential campaign can see that we are clearly, color-coatedly, a nation divided. We do not all hold to the same beliefs and principles, nor should we. That's the beauty of being an American!

Finally, and probably most importantly, is the concept of liberty and justice for all. If that is the case, why are the majority of people tried in our court systems lower-income and/or non-white? Why do African-Americans still pay more on average for home mortgages than Euro-Americans? Why do athletes and celebrities get away with murder, literally, and I get pulled over for running a stop sign?

The Pledge of Allegiance is noble in theory, but silly in practice. I love my country, that's why I live here. That's the reason I teach in the public school system, that's the reason I vote on election day, that's the reason I give money to the Veteran's Association. If you want to judge my patriotism, look at my actions, don't mandate my speech.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Confession 45: Atonement

I just finished reading a really fabulous book by Geraldine Brooks called Year of Wonders. It's a novel of the plague in England in 1665-1666. The book takes place in a village and is narrated by a young widow named Anna. When plague is discovered in this village the villagers, under direction of their charismatic young pastor, covenant to seal themselves within the village so as to avoid the spread of the disease to others. Needless to say, death runs rampant. Toward the end of the book, Anna is allowed some fleeting moments of beauty, only to have them smashed by a revelation that changes all she believes to be true. In the course of this revelation, some thoughts emerge about atonement, which is a theme that runs underneath throughout the course of the book.

That said, the next book I checked out from the library was Atonement by Ian McEwen. I haven't started it yet, but I've heard great things about it. And, of course, the main premise is on the nature of atonement and whether or not we can truly atone for our sins.

I was thinking last night that the theme of atonement has been with me through the past few novels I've read. It began with the novel Tamar by Mal Peet, a wonderful story of the Dutch Resistance in WWII. A mystery unfolds throughout the book in which another shocking revelation is revealed and a character seeks atonement. I've also read Jodi Piccoult's Change of Heart, in which a killer wants to donate his heart to save the child of the woman whose husband and older child he was convicted of killing. There is some question as to the legality of him donating his heart when he is sentenced to be executed by lethal injection, and a discussion of atonement ensues.

In the Christian faith, we don't talk a great deal about atonement. We have no Yom Kippur in which we corporately make restitution for our sins. We confess, yes, but rarely do we go from confession to penance. And I wonder, should atonement be part of our practice? Should we seek, in some way, to make amends for the sins we've committed? In truth, I don't think we can, and that would be for me the major flaw in atonement theory. We are human beings. It is in our nature to sin--"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". We are incapable on our own of moving beyond our sin. We have tried. The Old Testament is full of individuals and nations seeking to atone for the sins they've committed. And they failed, every time. How many times did God have to redeem Israel? How many times did Israel fall away from God? God could not reconcile humanity to him through people's actions because people are sinful by nature. Therefore, God had to find another way.

Enter Jesus. God knew the only way to redeem humanity and to reconcile himself with his creation was to make the atonement for sin himself. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his son and a part of himself, to be the atonement for all of humanity's sins--"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son..." We cannot atone for our sins. There is no penance we can do that will make things better, but God can make us right again. God can provide reconciliation and closure. God had made our atonement for us. However, I don't think we just get a free pass when we sin. There are consequences to all actions, both positive and negative. I think, in a way, these consequences are our penance. We are forced to live with the consequences of our actions, yet, I believe that God can make good out of even the worst of these.

I also think it's important to make a difference between atonement and restitution. While God offers us ultimate forgiveness of our sins, I believe that we must seek out ways to make restitution to those we have sinned against. If we've knowingly hurt someone, we should make amends for that. I believe God wants us to be reconciled not only to him, but to each other as well. So while we can't atone for our sins, we can try to mend the hurts they have caused.

Ultimately, God is a God of forgiveness. He wants to be in relationship with us, and forgiveness is a huge part of that relationship. If we are unconditionally forgiven from our sins, then we must unconditionally forgive. As Shakespeare would say, "Aye, there's the rub." There's a big WORK IN PROGRESS sign plastered across my heart on this one. It's not that I'm incapable of forgiving, it's just that I find it a difficult thing to do when people are still hurting me or those I care about and love.

I know I have my own sins to be forgiven for (just for kicks sometime you should ask God to reveal your sins to you during prayer--it's very enlightening) and I am grateful that I don't have to atone for them. I would never get there! But God is so good, he loves me anyway. Now I need to pass that love on to others.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2