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Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Abortion: Two Perspectives

Photo by Donnie Nunley
My cousin published a statement on Facebook yesterday about her perspective on abortion. She asked for no comments or discussion on the post, but it got me thinking. Though she and I have opposing views on the subject, much of what she said is perfectly accurate:
“…sexuality and hormones are natural…”
“…people think you should just put the baby up for adoption if you don't want it, and I feel for people who are unable to have children, but unfortunately, if you look at the foster care system in the US, there are hundreds of thousands of kids every year who were not and will very likely never be adopted…”
 “…no birth control option is completely preventative and it's unrealistic to expect humans not to have sex…”
“I do ask why any of us thinks it's our right that our personal beliefs should be forced onto anyone else.”
As I read her very thoughtful and logical presentation, it finally clicked for me why Christian pro-life proponents and non-religious pro-choice advocates can both have so many reasonable and compelling arguments, yet remain so polemically at odds with each other. Shouldn’t truth align people, rather than wedge them further and further apart?
But our disparate collections of truths divide us, I think, because our respective positions on issues like abortion arise out of two opposite focal points on why the problem exists in the first place. Christians look at the problem as an affront to the good and proper order of things. Those with a liberal perspective take the more pragmatic position of responding to a situation that well and truly exists, regardless of why it exists.
Christians are taught, rightly for the purpose of personal holiness and wisdom, to recognize that we live in a fallen world which is no longer in the perfect state as it was created by God. We believe in a standard of morality which leads to right living, healthiness in individuals and relationships, and an optimal order to life which makes everything work in a good and productive manner. We seek to “be perfect as I am perfect”, as Christ instructed us. So we start from this standard and attempt to apply it to our lives in order to make them (and by extension society) better:
“Thou shalt not kill”. We believe that God is the author of life, and if he has allowed a life to begin in a womb, ending that life is murder and opposed to God’s will.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery”. We believe that sex outside of marriage is unhealthy and opposed to God’s will for our ultimate good. We believe that sex is a good thing, and a gift from God, but only in its proper place. Sex is not a necessity of every person’s immediate life. Therefore if we refrained from sex outside of marriage, there would be no unwanted pregnancies.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. We call an idol or lower-case god anything to which we give more importance than God and his will. This includes everything from money or fame to personal happiness and fulfillment. Therefore anything we choose to do to for our own pleasure in opposition to God’s will is sinful.
By these standards, abortion cannot be justified.
But if we disregard biblical ethics, which even God says we are perfectly free to do, we then have to view the world more like a momentary snapshot, a small slice of time in which things are happening for various reasons, known or unknown, and we must react to the way things are, because the only standard for how things should be is what each person wants for him- or herself in that system. Hence:
Sex is natural and enjoyable and it’s foolish to think people aren’t going to have it. Therefore, there will be unwanted pregnancies.
We must deal with the world’s problems as they are, not as we wish they were, because we can’t go back in time and change people’s choices.
One person’s choices may be very different from another’s but they are both equally credible and must be respected and validated.
The above are completely accurate, if you do not subscribe to a worldview that believes in an established and comprehensive moral standard.
As long as we continue to waste our time and energy battling each other over whose opinion is more defensible we’re missing the opportunity to seize upon and make progress toward the things we do share in common:
We both want women and children to be cared for, healthy, and supported.
We both want to see fewer abortions take place.
We both want a society where everyone is free to practice his or her beliefs.
Christian, if you found that last sentence offensive, I’d ask you to check your privilege. Remember, even God gives us the freedom to choose him or to not choose him. There are consequences to both choices, and he’s very clear on what those consequences are (see Deuteronomy 30:11-20), but we do still have that choice. If God has given us freedom to choose what we believe and how we live, what right have we to force our beliefs on anyone else?
Morality cannot be legislated, nor would we want it to be, because compelled faith is not faith, and if faith can be compelled, then any faith—be it Christianity, Islam, Satanism, or atheism—can be compelled by the preferences of whatever group holds the most power in a society.
For the last few hundred years in western culture that’s been Christians. But such is arguably no longer the case.
What is the answer to the abortion problem? I don’t know. Better minds than mine continue to struggle with that question.
But I do believe that there are good intentions and genuine concern for women on both sides of the issue. And focusing on how we can agree and where our opponents have valid points must be a better starting place than continuing to bludgeon each other as fools and villains.
Because neither side is ever going to win that fight.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

5 Easy-ish Ways to Step Up Your Game With a Tween/Teen

As the mother of a newly minted thirteen-year-old, I’m admittedly no expert on parenting through the teen years. But having taught and worked with seventh through twelfth graders—and especially because I possess a bafflingly vivid memory of my psychologically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally tumultuous years being one—I’ve picked up a few handy tidbits of adult behavior I’d like to offer up for your consideration.
These five relationship tweaks can work astonishingly well for bridging the gaping abyss between the adolescent/teen and us elderly folk who have no understanding of anything about today’s world, much less the complicated life of a tween or high schooler.
1. Make Our First Interactions Positive Ones
This is a good strategy for all relationships, actually. When greeting another human being first thing in the morning, after returning home from school/work, or following any kind of separation, let’s make the first words out of our mouths positive ones.
“Good morning. How did you sleep?” is good; “Why didn’t you put the trash out at the curb like I told you to last night?” is not so good.
“Glad you’re home. How was your day?” is warm and welcoming; “I’ll bet you left your math textbook at school again, didn’t you?” not so much.
“Getting some R&R?” is a non-judgmental comment that recognizes the value of down time; “Have you done anything today other than lie on the couch playing videogames?” will throw a kid into defensive mode faster than chucking a mad raccoon at his head.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time and space for us to deal with discipline, work ethic, responsibility, and the like. But if criticism, irritation, and negativity accompany us every time we walk in the room, our kids—and anyone else with whom we interact—will develop the unconscious and pervasive habit of inwardly throwing their dukes up whenever we’re around.
And it’s pretty tough to cultivate a healthy relationship through a pair of closed fists.
2. If Questions Must Be Asked, Ask Open-Ended Ones
Older kids are notoriously non-communicative. Whereas five years ago we’d have gladly paid half our yearly income to get them to shut up for an hour, now an invisible switch has flipped inside their mouths. Suddenly “Fine”, “Yes”, and “No” comprise the complete and universal teenager responses to any questions for which those answers will syntactically serve, such as:
How was your day?
Did anything exciting happen?
Is there anything you want to talk about?
We may feel that if we don’t ask these questions we will never again hear the voices of our offspring, but this is actually a counterintuitive miscalculation. I’ll talk more about the remarkable value of adult silence in the next section. But for now let’s look at how to word the questions we do want to ask.
Closed questions, like those above, typically elicit a binary (yes/no) or otherwise single-word response. Open-ended questions (think who, what, when, where, why, and how) can’t be answered so dismissively.
The secondary and arguably more appreciable benefit to open-ended questions is that they also tend to communicate deeper understanding and greater interest on the part of the asker:
What did your teacher say about your history project?
How are you handling that problem with Brian?
Tell me what you’re enjoying and what you’re not enjoying about tenth grade so far.
 Hard as it may be to believe, our kids actually do want to talk to us. And when we give them reasons to think that we’re interested in them and in their world, they’ll open up.
Which brings us to the surprising benefits of shutting up.
3. Listen 80/Speak 20
We really need to get more comfortable with silence. Why? Because if we’re talking, we’re taking up the space in which our kids could be talking. Time is a finite thing, after all. What I use leaves less for you.
A good benchmark to strive toward is to listen 80% of the time and talk 20%. This is, admittedly, really hard. We’ve been in teach-instruct-train mode with our children for so long, haven’t we? But you know what? By this stage of the game our kids pretty well know what we think. About pretty much everything. They’ve been listening, observing, absorbing our guidance and knowledge and wisdom for over a dozen years. They know where we stand on most issues.
Right now, they’re trying to figure out if they agree with us or not. Hence the battles.
So when a kid says, “I heard that a guy in my class has been smoking weed,” this is exactly the wrong time for the parent to launch into a lecture about the dangers and horrors of drug use. That kid already knows that his parent either wants him to stay a hundred miles away from the druggies, or that the parent hopes the classmate can hook him up with some ganja.
The parent, and/or the parent’s viewpoint, is not the subject of the conversation. The child is.
A better adult response? “What do you think about that?”
Then we shut up and listen, interjecting only the occasional clarifying (or maybe even leading) question or comment. We only expound on our viewpoints if we’re specifically asked.
Yeah, it’s way hard. But the conversations this strategy generates are way worth it.
4. Praise What They Do, Not Who They Are
This one has actual scientific evidence to back it up. People—and kids are people—perform better when they’re praised for traits over which they have control, than if they’re praised for qualities that they feel are unchangeable.
For example, kids who hear, “You succeeded because you worked really hard,” tend to try even harder when challenges arise. They believe that success is a function of perseverance. On the other hand, kids who are told, “You succeeded because you’re so smart,” exhibit the opposite behavior. They give up more easily when confronted with an obstacle, because they fear that failure will prove they aren’t as smart as others think they are.
When a kid pats himself on the back for how brilliant he is, we can say, “Yeah, you’re a pretty smart cookie. But what impressed me was how much time and effort you put into that science fair project.” Conversely, if he claims he’s dumb, we can counter with, “I don’t think that at all and I hope you don’t think that about yourself. But regardless, you showed by that song you wrote what great work you can do when you put your mind to something.”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

5. In Moments of Crisis Don’t Tell Them What To Do, But Ask Them What They Need
Lastly, we have to quit being our kids’ problem solvers. This one’s really hard too, both because we’ve been putting out all the fires for so long, and because we’ve gotten pretty good at it. When the poo hits the fan, I can stop the carnage and clean it up a lot faster and more efficiently than my kids.
Or at least, I think so.
But in order to become functional adults our kiddos must learn to deal with their own crises, and when better than now, while they still have an adult nearby to back them up?
When the child realizes, as the bus is coming down the street, that he never packed his lunch, let’s resist the effort to A) throw some grub in a bag for him on the way out the door, B) stuff a fiver in his pocket to buy a lunch, or C) lament his failures as we chase him across the yard. Instead, why not say, “How can I help?”
When she calls from school to say she forgot her homework: “How are you going to resolve this?”
When they tear the seam of a new garment they were fighting over, just minutes before we need to walk out the door: “Whether you two are dressed or not, we’re pulling out of the driveway in ten. Figure it out.”
Giving them ownership in the solution to a problem shows them we respect and have confidence in them. (And it also makes parents’ lives loads easier, once the kids get used to managing their own crises. Sweet!)
It’s a Brave New World
I’ll admit, I really like the teen years. Babydom and toddlerhood had their charms, but teens are just awesome. They’re clever, energetic, interesting, and balanced on that fragile rim between childhood and maturity.
But it’s a whole new game, with new rules and no rule book, when we suddenly find ourselves looking up at our own progeny and wondering, “What the heck just happened here?”
It’s all good, fellow parents. We’re raising adults, and the finish line is in sight.

Monday, October 17, 2016

October Market Bag Giveaway

October Giveaway!

Just in time for end-of-season Farmers Markets or Halloween candy-collecting, this colorful market bag will go to one lucky winner on Monday, October 24.

Enter three ways: Like Maria Keffler's Facebook page, Like and/or Share any post from Wasting My Education (including this Giveaway Announcement), or Subscribe to Wasting My Education.

You'll be entered once for each Like/Share/Subscription.

Happy October!

My Couch to 5K

Mrs. Keffler's Food Rules, or Oatmeal & Peas for Everyone!

Confessions of a Yarn Ho

The Great Ponytail Band Hunt of Apocalyptic Savagery

Satan, Thy Name Is Cat

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cat's on Prozac

Our cat has anxiety issues.
I learned this after forking out $300.00 at the vet on our fat, lazy, sleeps-16-hours-a-day-and-naps-the-other-eight couch-potato ball of shedding fur who’s been “thinking outside the box” on and off for the last year.
How in the help-me-understand-this can a housecat, for whom the pinnacle of excitement occurs on the semi-annual occasion that a mouse unwisely meanders into our digs, have anxiety?
She is deeply beloved, petted, and coddled. By the children.
The hubs and I, however, are trying to strategize an end to her life which is not traceable back to us.
Do hit men take contracts on cats? ‘Cause I’m about there. A raccoon showed up on our deck a couple of days ago, and I swear if the kids had already been in bed I’d have tossed the cat outside and may the best predator win.
I grew up on a farm. Animals, in my opinion, belong in a barn. I make an exception for cats, because they are clean creatures who learn how to use the litter box as kittens, after the human simply scratches Kitty’s paw into the sand a couple of times.
Once the carpet becomes the cat’s preferred toileting patch, however, my loyalty and generosity come to an abrupt end.
But, as I said, the children love the stupid cat. Their dad and I put her outside for twenty-four hours, and you’d have thought we skinned her, made feline falafels, and turned her hide into Domestic Shorthair earmuffs.
Oh, if I could get away with that behind the children’s backs…
But in an effort to keep our kids from becoming runaway statistics, I dropped a wad at the veterinarian’s office, who prescribed Prozac for our perpetually peeing and pooping puss.
Prozac. My cat is on an antidepressant.
I feel ridiculous. Stupid. Laughable. Like someone who buys an entire designer wardrobe for the little Shitzi-Malti-Poodle-Dee-Poo she carries around in her Birkin Bag.
I seriously considered putting diapers on the cat. I still may.
The upside of this, I suppose, is that her medication comes from a pharmacy that supplies people, and the prescription contains the very same chemical compounds given to humans, albeit in smaller doses.
Back when I suffered post-partum depression they put me on 100 mg of Zoloft for a year. We called them Mommy’s Happy Pills.
So I guess if the Prozac doesn’t mellow the cat back into her litter box, I can pop a few handfuls of her dope and I just won’t care anymore.
“Mom! Are you peeing in the corner?”
Leave me alone. I have anxiety issues.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Bad, the Worse, & the Ugly

1957-1963. The Good Old Days,
when issues like race relations, inequality,
and social injustice just didn't exist.

What does it mean to “Make America Great Again” or to be “Stronger Together”? What is it we really want, anyway?
I think white America wants the one-eye-closed white America we remember from Happy Days and Leave It to Beaver and That 70’s Show, where we’re financially and culturally comfortable and everybody else is just like us and the only social responsibility we have is to pursue our own version of happiness.
I think black America wants an equal place at the table, to raise their kids without fear of them being murdered because of their skin color, to feel like America is their country rather than the country that kidnapped their ancestors and now wishes the descendants would go away.
I think immigrants to America want a life where they can pursue peace and happiness, where they’re not starved or tortured or tyrannized by their own governments, or in fear of their children’s deaths every relentless day, Sunday through Saturday, 24/7.
I think politicians want the power and prestige that comes with an office: the heady aggrandizement of making decisions that impact millions of lives, the ego rush of seeing their faces in the media and having people listen to them and write about them, the speaking and consulting and name-lending fees they’ll collect after they leave office. In fact, I think wanting to run for office should automatically disqualify you from running for office.
I think each one of us wants what we want, and we naively believe our candidate of choice will hand it to us.
America will not be greater or better while we collectively and individually behave with animosity, self-interest, and ugliness. The way we are is not any single politician’s fault, or the fault of any public official in the history of the nation. The way we are now is because of the way we are.
Because it’s easier to bang out hateful slurs and hurl profanity on social media than to have a meaningful conversation about why each of us thinks the way we do.
Because it’s easier to block out people who disagree with us— to unfriend that political opponent; to vilify FOX News or The Washington Post as biased in every way and completely untrustworthy; to hang the shingle SATAN or SAVIOR on our unfavored or most favored politicians — than to listen to those we don’t understand, and try to understand, even if we never do come to agreement.
Because it’s easier to think we already know everything than to ask ourselves if there’s something we might not know yet.
So what do we really want? We want it easy. And we’re getting what we’ve earned from our lazy stroll down the easy way. We’ve earned the disappointing candidates who will be on the ballot this year. You, me, and every single one of us.
The ugly American is right here at home, and he is us.