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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Yes, Your Kids Are Awful

I’m no expert on parenting. I used to be. I used to know everything. I was brilliant. Then I gave birth and it all went away.
Every child is different. You discover this when all the things that worked with the first peachy little cherub are completely, utterly useless on the second and third and every one thereafter.
Each parent is different. You know this if you had two of your own, or if you created a child with one other than yourself, or if you’ve ever lobbed a parenting question into any group of more than one person not including yourself.  Everyone has a philosophy; everyone has a body of experience; everyone has an opinion. Or two. Or eighty-five.
Here are mine.
Children Are in Charge of Nothing.
I am the boss. What I say, goes. Period. My house is not a democracy; it is a benevolent dictatorship.
But isn’t that unfair?
No, it is not unfair. Because I am the adult with the life experience, the wisdom (hopefully), and the responsibility for the safety and welfare of my home and my family. The snaggle-toothed ankle-biter who licks the bottom of his own shoe and, given the opportunity, would eat nothing but Pez, Pepsi, and Pop Rocks all day, does not get to decide whether or not he will wear his coat outside, how long we will stay at the grocery store, or what time he will go to bed tonight. He will do those things when and how he is told. Because if he doesn’t, he will go to Kid Hell.
Where I learned
the concept of Kid Hell
I am the Gatekeeper and the Keymaster of Kid Hell.
What is Kid Hell, you ask? It is the place your child least wishes to be. It is the environment or situation he will do anything to avoid.
It’s the pack-n-play when she won’t stop pulling the cat’s tail.
It’s losing Blankie or his favorite plush snuggle bear for the night when he refuses to get in bed and stay there.
It’s alone in the bedroom when he won’t speak respectfully to his parents, siblings, or playmates.
It’s the front of the grocery cart, facing Mom, legs through the square holes. If the eight-year-old throws a tantrum in the candy aisle, her round little butt goes in the cart’s baby seat, even if it gives Mother a hernia to put her there.
It’s holding Mom’s hand to cross the street, when the ten-year-old can’t or won't remember to look both ways first.
It’s Mom attending every single class, all day long, with the middle-schooler who bullies other kids or uses inappropriate language in school or claims the teachers NEVER assign homework.
I Am Not My Child’s Friend or Buddy.
If I do my job well, I will be her friend someday, when she becomes an independent and responsible adult. Until then, I am her advocate, her mentor, her tutor, her cheerleader, her confidante, her counselor, her manager, her taskmaster, her spiritual guide, and her trainer. But not her buddy. If I take on the role of Buddy, I abdicate all other positions. And if I’m not filling them, she’ll find someone else who will. Probably one of her buddies.
Dr. Kevin Leman
is my hero.
Discipline is Not a Dirty Word.

Discipline means “training”. Lately it has come to connote “punishment”, but that is only one of the many components of discipline. To discipline a child means to train him toward self-management.
When I give my child a directive, he will follow it. Immediately. If I have to count to three, or ten, or two hundred and fifty to get him to step up, I have already transferred all of my authority to him. He is now in charge of what he does with his time between one and whatever number I claim is the point at which he must comply. And according to what I’ve witnessed from adults who employ this strategy, the end of the counting typically signals either the beginning of a second round of counting, or an angry, perhaps physical outburst on the part of the grown-up.
Ineffective, both.
I want my children to learn what appropriate behavior is, and then to practice it. And with less and less intervention from me. To this end, I enact discipline. An ounce of prevention (“Here’s what I expect from you while we are at the Jones’s house…”) is worth a pound of cure (“…and if I am disappointed in my expectations, here is what will happen to you…”).
On Discipline,
for People Who Don't Like 
the Word "Discipline"
Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say.
I bluffed one of my kids once. It ended badly. I will never do it again.
Remember that old Oil of Olay commercial? “If we say it makes you look sixty years younger, it does!”
If I say I will take away my son’s Nintendo 3DS if he misbehaves, and he misbehaves, I take the Nintendo 3DS.
If I say my child will get nothing else to eat until she finishes her peas, she gets nothing else. Even if it takes thirty hours (yes, thirty—I’ve been there) for the peas to be consumed.
If I say there will be no trip to the waterpark until all the homework is finished, the truant homework-er will not see the wave pool till the last math problem is finished correctly and legibly.
I do not negotiate with small children or terrorists. (Is that redundant?)
Your Kids Are Awful.
It’s true. They’re deranged little savages who behave like deranged little savages. All children are. Mine, too.
So do something about it. There’s no dearth of resource material out there. Pick a book, find a strategy, get a plan, and follow it. Ask for advice from parents whose parenting you respect, and then take the advice. Your children will not turn out to be well-mannered, self-regulating, successful human beings just because you want them to. Just like nobody will hand you a bag of money because you sat on a bench in front of the bank and hoped for the best.
Children are clever, selfish, willful, manipulative, obstinate, petulant, impulsive, and wildly creative human beings. So lower your head, steel your nerves, and meet their challenge.
If parenting were easy, a child could do it.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

If You Get Lost You Can Always Be Found

I really like that song, referenced in the title above, by Phillip Phillips. (Except for the bridge, which makes me think of a cattle drive from the Ponderosa to Carson City.) And I hope the artist’s label won’t sue me for copyright infringement. I’m told the music industry is pretty draconian when it comes to eking every miniscule droplet of plasma out of a song’s profitability.
UMG Records! I am making no money off this blog. None. Not a farthing. Please leave me alone.
No, I am not a particularly materialistic person. At least, I don’t think so. Shopping for shopping’s sake holds little appeal for me, which has disgruntled my mother ever since I was old enough to say, “I’m bored and I want to go home” in the middle of J. C. Penney’s coats and dresses department. And I’m pretty free with my stuff. If you really like something I have, it might go with you when you leave my place.

"I'm bored and I want to go home."

However, that could be more related to the people-pleasing tendencies I’m trying hard and often failing to overcome.
Maybe if I hawk
Gary Chapman's book
he'll hawk mine.
But I do get kind of thing-clutchy when it comes to gifts. If you go in for the premise of The Five Love Languages, you would easily recognize mine as primarily Acts of Service, followed by Gifts in close second. Clean my house and leave me a plate of homemade cookies on the counter and I will do anything for you. Forever.
So when I looked in the mirror while getting ready for bed one night, and discovered that one of my earrings wasn’t there anymore, I got that sick feeling you get in the stomach when, say, you’re backing up in a parking garage and you feel the thud/crunch of a concrete pillar sucker-punching your car’s rear quarter panel.
Not that I have any idea what that actually sounds like.
Those earrings were a gift from Dear Husband, and they matched a bracelet that were also a gift from Dear Husband, and they were fairly pricey, as I could tell from Dear Husband’s facial expression when I showed him my naked left ear.



But even more significantly, Dear Husband lacks confidence in his gift-giving skills. He’s an engineer, in every sense of that term, and leans much further toward logic, mechanics, and practicality than emotions, romance, and symbolism. I once mentioned that I’d like a new alarm clock, and he leapt out of his chair, fizzing with the delight of a child who’d just been presented a pony with a birthday cake on its saddle. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “I can get you a present that has an electrical cord!” And I got a super-whamo-dyne alarm clock that does everything except make the bed for me after I get up.
So he scored with the earrings and bracelet. I loved them, and they were sweet, romantic, and beautiful. He was proud of himself, and rightly so. He picked them out without the least suggestion or direction from me.
And then I lost one.
Over the next week I turned the house upside down. When I discovered only an earring back, it confirmed my greatest fear: that the earring itself had fallen somewhere outside the house. We got snow and ice that week, too; if I’d lost it in the great outdoors it had surely been buried, then swept away by the blade of a shovel or snowplow.
I cleaned out the car, in case it had tumbled beneath the seat. I shook out all my clothes and jackets and scarves and hats. I scoured my jewelry box, in the hopes that I’d actually just forgotten to ever put it on.
Nowhere.
I prayed. And felt really shallow doing it. “God, please help me find my sapphire earring.” Talk about your first-world problems, right? That sounds not just first-world, but uppity, up-town, country-club, one-percent, “Oh, James—our stock portfolio has fallen three points” trivial.
"Beach shack" of a first-world, uppity,
up-town, country-club one-percenter.
(Apologies if you’re a first-world, uppity, up-town, country-club one-percenter. I’m sure you’re a lovely person.)
In desperation, I started making the two-block trek to my kids’ bus stop with my face to the ground like a bloodhound sniffing out the trail of a fugitive bunny. I even told my kids, “There’s ten dollars in it for anyone who finds that earring.” My seven-year-old lobbied for fifty. Pretty sure she’s destined for law school.
And you know what? I found it. Not in the house, or in the car, or in the jewelry box, or even as a result of the email plea I sent out to our neighborhood. I found it in the middle of the sidewalk half-way between my house and the bus stop. Seriously. Walking home with my girls, I glanced down and there it lay.
I squealed, picked it up, and I think I may have even done heel-clicking dance bells with my feet. I showed the girls, whose faces registered awe and disbelief, just before the little one said, “Can I have the ten dollars anyway?” I called my husband and emailed my friends who knew about the missing earring.
Now, you probably think I’m going to draw a parallel between my earring experience and the biblical proverbs of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Well, I’m not. That’s way too obvious, and you all know those stories already. Psyche!
(Did I just date myself with that last word?)
No, this story is about the importance of relationship. The monetary value of the gift had little to do with my sorrow over its loss. I felt equally sick when a houseguest put in the dishwasher an “I Love Mommy” mug that my daughter decorated with Sharpies and gave me when she was in kindergarten. The mug came out of the wash cycle as pure white as the day it came off the assembly line, and I cried and cried and cried. Because the five-year-old who created it no longer existed, and now neither did the artwork that represented that five-year-old’s love for me.
The earring is about my relationship with my husband, who loves me enough to get out of his comfort zone and try to do and find things that please me. And it’s about my relationship with God, who cares enough about the “trivial” things of my life to give the back of my head a push downward at exactly the right moment.
At their core, relationships are not about things, but things do symbolize our relationships, just as the physical world manifests spiritual realities and the body experiences a symbiotic relationship with the heart and mind. In that sense, matter matters. And it’s not shallow or materialistic to give a gift, or to love a gift that’s been given, because the gift is the embodiment of the giver’s love.
Photo by Erica G.
So let me just conclude by saying that I’m whole-heartedly open to gifts, and I clearly have a very godly and righteous perspective on them. So go ahead, shower me.
I'll try not to lose them.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Porn for Us

It seems like everybody’s on one of two “Fifty Shades of Grey” bandwagons right now: they love it or they loathe it. I’m driving the latter truck. I hope you’ll hop aboard with me.
The Rosetta Stone of Romance
rosetta.stone by Eisabeth.Skene
In a former life I consumed books of erotica (the industry innocuously calls them “romance novels”) with the appetite of a fire ravaging a paper mill. I considered them innocent guilty pleasures. I got the vicarious thrill of being swept off my feet and seduced by an honorable highwayman in the wilds of eighteenth-century Ireland; by a rakish duke spying for king and country on the high seas and in foreign ports; by a mysterious, ronin samurai haunting the palaces and bamboo-covered mountains of old Japan.
You’ll note that the love interests in these stories are never plumbers or teachers or actuaries, unless they are merely disguising their true heroic identities for some noble—or ignoble—objective.
I think there previously existed an idea that romance novels, erotica, and pornography were somehow three different things. With the viral explosion of “Fifty Shades of Grey”, however, the deceptive nature of those distinctions has been obliterated. We have, in E. L. James’ literary proffer, a sort of Rosetta stone between pornography, which has traditionally been viewed as unique to men, and romance, the province of women.
In terms of the effects of both men’s visual pornography and women’s verbal pornography, they are one and the same.
Porn for Them. Porn for Us.
Photo by dancer Dallagio
You’d have to be an ostrich or a naïf to remain unaware of the widespread and pervasive proliferation of pornography, especially via the internet. Researchers have discovered that, just as athletes and dancers train themselves to have muscle memory, wherein they practice the same exercises over and over so their bodies will respond without conscious thought during performance, so men who have saturated themselves with pornographic images have trained themselves to be unable to respond sexually to actual women. (“Internet Pornography Destroying Men’s Ability to Perform with Real Women, Finds Study”. The Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., Web. 16 Feb. 2015.)
I would argue that the same phenomenon occurs in women who use erotic literature to satisfy cravings for romance: they become increasingly unable to accept and develop intimate relationships with actual men. A woman can hide her dysfunction more easily than a man can hide his, but the depression, dissatisfaction, and disappointment that one’s partner can’t be more-this, more-that, or more-the-other-thing is equally real and debilitating.
Photo by Stephen Coles
The Rape Fantasy Fallacy
Another weighty issue related to pornography, which deserves better and greater attention than I can give it here, is that of the rape fantasy. While certain genres of visual pornography actively portray actual and/or enacted rape, some detractors of women’s romance literature argue that erotica also depicts rape, which therefore indicates that deep-down, women truly want to be violated.
I find both of these suggestions to be in grave error. My argument draws from the difference between rape as it is defined, and depictions of “coerced” sex in women’s romance literature.
Rape is a violent sexual act forced upon a person who does not want to engage in it. The intercourse portrayed in romance novels always involves a woman who is physically and emotionally attracted to the man with whom she is becoming sexually involved. Her mind or will, however, wants to reject him for whatever reason the author contrives. He, in turn, knows that she really does want him, despite her protests to the contrary, and he seduces her, engaging the eventual consent of her body over that of her mind. He sensually convinces her to abandon her better judgment; but never does he rape her.
Photo by Mat Che
Two very dangerous fine lines twisted into every romance novel include the man’s ability to read the mind of the heroine and know what she really wants, and the woman’s conflicted feelings about the hero. An author constructing such a story, who has access to the inner thoughts and experiences of her characters as well as knowledge of all the past, present, and future events which occur between the covers of the book, can weave and dance and play around these lines with impunity. Real people in real relationships, without omniscient access to each other’s thoughts, cannot.
The end of the matter is that no real man can be to a woman what the hero of a romance novel is to the heroine, just as no real woman can be to a man what is portrayed by the carefully constructed, Photoshopped images of women’s bodies portrayed through traditional pornography.
The Bottom Line
It’s all about the money. Romance/Erotica is the publishing industry’s top-selling, top-money-making literary genre, generating $1.44 billion in revenue in 2012. (The number two genre, Crime/Mystery, came in a faraway second at merely $728.2 million.) People write erotica, because people buy erotica, which encourages more people to write more erotica. I got a C in college economics, but even I can clearly recognize the law of supply and demand in operation here.
So, what is one to do?
Photo by khrawlings
If you are not bothered by the blurring of the lines between rape and romance, sex and love, wildly contrived fiction and wildly fulfilling reality, then do nothing. Read the stuff if it gives you a fleeting rush, watch the rubbish if it gets you off one more time, contribute to and propagate the behemoth that deceives men and women about each other at the most fundamental levels.
But if any of the above saddens you, angers you, or has damaged you in any way, the fix is pretty simple. Put the toxic drivel back on the shelf. Buy a ticket to a different movie. Vote with your feet.
I did so a couple of decades ago, and I haven’t missed a thing.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love is a Dirty Job

Photo by Tim Hamilton
On this Valentine’s Day, a holiday fraught with angst for both the coupled and the hitch-less, everyone’s talking about, thinking about, longing for love. “What a person desires is unfailing love…” (Proverbs 19:22a, NIV). And according to a dear, wise friend of mine, who usually expresses it while ruffling up the facial fur of some small animal, “Everything needs to be loved!”
That reminded me of certain popular song lyrics, which got me thinking about modern music, which I figured (by reflecting on my own listening experience) is by and large about love. I like quoting statistics—I think it makes me look savvy and scholarly—so I Googled the question, “What percentage of pop music is about love?” Here’s what I learned:
“A study by SUNY Albany psychology professor Dawn R. Hobbs found that ‘approximately 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the [Billboard] top 10 in 2009 contained reproductive messages’.” (blog.syracuse.com)
Love songs aren’t actually about love! They’re mostly about sex.
I think the majority of people reading this are canny enough to recognize that sex and love are not the same thing. In a perfect world they’re symbiotic, but not synonymous.
So if we live in a culture that’s couching (“couching”—get it? See what I did there? Bwah-ha-ha!) sexual gratification as the ultimate expression of love, it probably behooves us to give some thought to what love actually is, as opposed to what Brittany, Beyonce, and Bieber say it is.
One thing real love is NOT is a noun.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Love is a verb. Love is an adjective. Love is a behavior. And it applies equally to any relationship, be it with a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, or an acquaintance.
Love acts.
Love is patient and kind.
One morning on his way out the door my friend’s husband asked her a stupid question. I don’t know what the question was, but she declared to me the full, flagrant, raging idiocy of its content. Maybe she’d just answered it two minutes before, but he wasn’t listening. Maybe any third-grader could’ve sorted out the solution if she gave it the briefest amount of thought. Maybe it was the same thing he’d asked her six times in the last week.
Whatever his query, the first response that tried to spring from her tongue like Michael Phelps off a diving board was snarky, sarcastic, and just plain mean. The second answer that came to her was only marginally nicer. So she turned to the wall, clenched her jaw, and breathed until her brain could come up with a gentle and kind response.
That’s love.
Love is not jealous or boastful.
In Humility, one of the best books ever published (IMHO), Andrew Murray writes, “The humble person feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learned to say with Paul, ‘I am nothing’ … The soul that has done this, and can say, ‘I have lost myself in finding you,’ no longer compares itself with others.’”
Competition used to be an elephantine presence in my marriage. Friends refused to play board games with us, because they feared for the emotional and psychological safety of all involved. Recently Hubby and I also had to stop playing Scrabble before bed, because one or the other of us would win, which meant the other would lose, and there was no love crossing over the pillowcases after that. Ever.
Love applauds another’s victories, and puts aside the egotism that says, “Me first. Me tops. Me at the expense of all and everyone else.”
Love is not arrogant or rude.
A wise woman I know often says to me, “We are given discernment not to criticize, but to pray”. (You have, perhaps, rightly discerned that I tend toward being a smidge critical.) Discernment is the ability to make accurate judgments. In the spiritual sense, it suggests a supernatural element to the ways a person might know something that in any natural, logical sense they shouldn’t be able to know. But even in the practical, physical world, we all discern things, good and bad, about other people:
“She’s selfish to the core.”
“He wouldn’t tell a lie to save his life.”
“Pretty sure he’s got a mental disorder.”
“She has no self-confidence at all.”
“He’ll stab you in the back first chance he gets.”
Photo by i k o
Love uses such wisdom and knowledge to uplift, protect, and encourage others. Arrogance and incivility use what we know to tear people down. It’s as simple as that.
Love does not insist on its own way.
This is where love gets down in the dirt. It abandons its rights.
Love chooses to care more about the relationship than about the wrecked car or the broken window or the forgotten birthday or the perceived offense.
Love chooses to care more about the person than the mess they made or the quality of their work or their bad decisions or their character flaws.
Love chooses to care more about the future than about the past; about perseverance than about pleasure; about intimacy than about expedience.
Love sacrifices in ways that cause it real discomfort, inconvenience, pain, sorrow, and hardship. It concerns itself with the good of the other, and the good of the relationship, and for the hope of what could be, and for the integrity of keeping its promises.
It says, "I’m sorry,” even when it thinks the other person should be sorrier. It says, “I forgive you,” when the offense feels unforgiveable. It says, “I will not abandon you.”
Love is not irritable or resentful.
If you read Grumpy, Growly Grizzly Bears, you know that it took Hubby and me a long, long time to learn to work with, rather than against, each other’s nocturnal/diurnal tendencies. Believe me, I resented him PLENTY for sleeping in when the kids were teeny-tiny and they got their busy, needy little days started by 5:00 a.m.
Photo by Marcus Rahm
One morning, after a few choice words to the back of his horizontal, quilt-smothered head, I left to make the kids’ breakfast—again—and hurled back a single epithet as I descended the stairs. I won’t reprint it here, but it’s a compound word, starting with Jill’s broken-crowned brother and ending with the backside of a braying animal.
I couldn’t believe that didn’t elicit a response from Rip Van Winkle.
Later that day we made up, and both apologized for our part in the contretemps.
“I’m sorry for what I called you,” I told him.
“When did you call me something?” he asked.
“When I left the bedroom this morning.”
He started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked him.
“I didn’t hear you because I yelled something at you at the exact same time.”
He never would tell me what he called me, but I bet it wasn’t, “Darling.”
All that irritation and resentment above? That’s NOT love. Just so we’re clear.
Love does not rejoice about wrongdoing, but about the truth.
Original Photo by Angela Mabray
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That’s a huge, wild, unparalleled lie. There’s no justification for celebration if we think we’ve won a battle by decimating the person we say we love.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Why can’t you be more like Tom (or Jane or Bill or Sarah…)?”
“Can’t you do anything right?”
If you’ve ever heard words like these from someone important to you—a parent, friend, spouse—I bet that same stab of heartbreak shot through your stomach when you read it above.
Words are potent. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
We must speak truth over our relationships, and seek truth in our relationships, even if it’s painful truth:
“I’m angry.”
“I don’t like what happened.”
“This hurts me.”
Argument is not a Biblical concept. Debate and rhetoric are not scriptural mandates for resolving conflict. Anger is intended to flag injustice, not serve as a defensible lifestyle. If you don’t believe me, do your own concordance research. I’ll recant if I’m wrong on this.
Original Photo by Angela Mabray
Love edifies with its words and rejoices when both parties win.
Love protects.
Another version of this passage reads, “If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost” (1 Corinthians 13:7a TLB). In other words, you defend her when others dishonor her. You look out for her best interests, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially. And this loyalty is also reflected by the “in sickness and in health” piece in the marriage vows.
I once overheard someone say that she and her husband had agreed that if either of them developed a chronic, debilitating illness, the other was sanctioned to get a divorce and continue his or her life unencumbered.
That sounds so… selfless. So freeing. So fair-minded.
But it’s so, so wrong.
What good is love if it only operates on sunny days? How “free” can one feel in a relationship, if it’s clear that other person is only obligated to stay as long as it’s easy and pleasant to do so? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:3 NIV). You may think you’d take a bullet for someone you love, but would you abandon your dearest life dream in his best interest? Would you sacrifice a financial gain? Would you accept a lifestyle or situation that is less than you think you deserve?
That’s love.
Love trusts, hopes, and perseveres.
Has anyone not heard the story of Hachi? Every day this dog met his person at the Shibuya train station in Japan. When the man died at work of a heart attack, and never got off the train again, Hachi posted himself at the station and waited there for nine years, until his own death. (If you can read this book or watch this movie without crying, you are an ice-hearted, soulless, cardboard-cutout of a human being.)
Was Hachi foolish for wasting his life that way?
Should he have cut his losses and gone home with some other person who did get off the train?
Did he prove nothing except that dogs are loyal to the point of stupidity?
If so, why do we love Hachi so? Why does his story make us want to go back in time and feed him and take him into our homes and give him the love he lost?
I think it’s because we all want that kind of love. Love that never quits, that hangs onto hope and faith and honor. Love that remembers.
I hope you have that kind of love in your life today. But even more, I hope we all learn how to be that kind of love to the people in our lives.
What better Valentine’s Day gift could we ever give?


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