Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Social commentary on Facebook (Baltimore)

D asks me sometimes, "Why do you stay on FB if it pisses you off so badly?"

It doesn't piss me off, really, but the comments and postings I see on it confuse me on a regular basis. And I don't necessarily mean bad "confuse."  Confusion, if it makes a person consider and reflect, is actually a terrific thing in my book.

So it is, at the moment, that I am "confused" about the reaction to the Baltimore riots.

I feel like I should preface any comment I make with the obvious declaration that as a suburban, white woman I have no earthly idea what it is like to be an urban, black person.  I am so smothered in privilege that I don't know which end is up.

But, here's the thing:  I understand why they are rioting, or at least I feel like I get it.  When people riot, destroy things, hurt others in anger, I understand it.

Although I believe nonviolence is a much harder road to take (to restrain oneself is an act of supremely powerful will), I totally understand
that anger can fester....
that sometimes people lash out and regret it later....
that anger is not to be ignored or belittled.

I read A Raisin in the Sun with my 9th/10th graders this semester, and we talked about a number of race issues, such as what an Uncle Tom is and which characters acted "white" and what that means.  We discussed what stereotypes we have of "acting black" and "acting white."  I recently read Across Five Aprils and The Brothers' War:  Civil War Voices in Verse, which I will be using with my middle schoolers next year.  I think, despite so many positive changes, there are still so many issues related to racism that our country hasn't figured out.

I'm certainly no expert, but I like to think reading the things I have read keeps me humble, keeps me from thinking that "those people are just crazy, wrong, thugs, etc" (which is some of the stuff I've seen on FB about the rioters in Baltimore).

Why are they angry?
Would you feel the same anger in similar circumstances?
How would you handle your anger if given those same circumstances
(not your current circumstances, which may play a huge role in how you think you would address injustice)?

Why is their anger any worse, why are they more thug-like, than the white folks who burn their couches when their basketball team wins or loses?  To me, at least, the folks in Baltimore are making a stink over something far more important and complex than a danged sports game.

The comments I see are ones that make me feel I have to choose a side.  I'm either right or I'm wrong. I either choose the black side or the white side.

Does a person have to be black to question racial profiling?

Does a person have to be black to remember other race riots from many years ago (Rodney King verdict) over law enforcement/criminal justice?

Does a person have to be black to wonder how a man dies from a spinal injury that didn't exist prior to being arrested by the police?

Does a person have to be white to fear that thinking such things means he/she will be accused of not supporting law enforcement?

Does a person have to be anything to ask whether both sides of the equation are failing in their own particular ways? 

Monday, April 27, 2015

I'm ready (pre-emptive August thoughts after 11.5 years of stay-at-home mothering)

I willingly stayed home with my children for the first five years of each of their lives, a decision that I do not regret.  Still, after over a decade, I am ready for the next stage.

I'm ready to not frantically squeeze in exercise, volunteering, errands and me-time in a 6-hour window per week from Sep-May.

I'm ready to be able to write during the daylight hours without interruption or bribing my kid with video game time.  (The fact that I have composed and published as much coherent stuff as I've done is miraculous.)

I'm ready to make professional phone calls without the worry that the Xbox timer will run out and the person on the line will hear endless screams of "MOM!  MOM!  MOM!" in the midst of our discussion.

I'm ready for a 5-minute errand at the grocery to actually be a 5-minute errand and not a 45-minute traipsing through the aisles being badgered into "just one" nasty processed piece of junk.

I'm ready to get my butt to the gym without any more coercion than what I need to get my own physical self out the door.

I'm ready to be able to browse Target sections that I like rather than reading a book in every toy aisle.  (Seriously, they need to put benches at every end-cap.)

I'm ready to only get food for myself during the day and not have to cater to the Hobbit meal plan of post-breakfast snack, lunch, and post-lunch snack.

I'm ready to not pack 30 lbs of food and drinks for every jaunt outside the house Monday through Friday (per the Hobbit diet).

I'm ready to be able to finish books in less than 3 weeks because I can read uninterrupted while waiting after my allergy shot.

I'm ready to only take care of my waste removal processes during the day.

I'm ready to finish a number of projects that have been in limbo for 11 years.

I'm ready to have occasional lunch dates with my husband and friends.

I'm ready to take a nap after lunch without falling asleep to the sound of Uncle Grandpa and being awoken by the Hobbit's demands for food.

For many years, I fretted over the time when my children wouldn't be young, thinking I wouldn't be needed.  I am 41 years old and still call on my own parents regularly to ask questions or favors.

I am ready for my children to need me in a different way.  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Serendipitous death

I've written before about feeling like life/God is telling me something....those odd coincidences that just feel more purposeful than random.

I'm in the midst of one of those.

Looking back, I see its progression.

My neighbor told me about a book she wanted to finish reading called God In a Box by Marion Pember.  After reading a bit about it, I decided it sounded interesting so I got a copy and read it.  It was a bit mind-blowing for me, especially its discussion of what heaven may or may not be.  I've never been really comfortable telling my kids that heaven is in the sky because that feels too concrete for something as nebulous as death.  Plus, I want my kids to determine what they believe and having some choices, some possibilities within a framework, feels right to me.

Soon after I read the book, G commented as we drove by a cemetery, "There's thousands of people who've died, right Mom?"  I decided to tell him about the book and its suggestion that maybe death, what we think of as an ending, could be movement into another dimension that our brains can't perceive.  He seemed to like this idea, the idea that those we've loved and lost are closer to us than "out there" in heaven, wherever that is.

A week or so after the book and my talk with G, a former colleagues' boyfriend died of cancer.  She has been on my mind for many months since she reported his diagnosis.

This past Thursday, we euthanized Shanks with the help of a most compassionate vet, and that same afternoon I received an email from one of my magazine editors asking me if I'd like to write an article about preparing for a loved one's death when you know it is coming.

My inner anxious instinct wants to go off the rails on this one, wondering "Am I going to die soon?  Is THAT what life is trying to tell me?  Maybe D or one of the kids is going to die soon?"

I'm trying really, really hard

I'm trying to see this as purposeful, too many connective strings for me to ignore.  That this is not a warning, but that I've somehow, in some way, on the right path at the right time.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The heaviness of afterwards

D and I, with the help of a caring vet, helped Shanks pass this morning.  I felt his last breath; it was quick and peaceful.  I am sad and relieved and all sorts of other contradictory feelings.

The basement door is open, and I keep thinking I need to shut it so Shanks doesn't come up.  I keep thinking that a chunk of my and D's marriage is now different.  I associate getting the cats with the start of our life together.

Last night, we told the kids, which was a mix of all kinds of contradictory reactions.

As soon as I said "Shanks," N began crying.  Full-on ugly cry that bordered on ridiculous.  High drama.  I struggle with high drama.

G and M were in a fit of stupid until we went downstairs to visit with Shanks for a bit, at which point G understood the weight of what we were saying.  M danced around, jumped on the trampoline and when I said he wouldn't see Shanks again after Thursday, he said, "Ok" (in the same way he would if I asked him if he wanted some chips).

I anticipated that G would extrapolate outwards, and he did at bedtime.
"Why aren't you crying?  Don't you care?"
"Who will be my mom when you die?"
"Will I ever see you again when you die?"

This morning was much the same.

I am emotionally exhausted both from being a part of Shanks' passing and from trying to guide the kids through their own grief processes.  I know we did the best, most merciful thing.  It was time.  I think often, probably too often, about how I will face death when it comes, at least if I am sick or grow old.

I am bathing in the heaviness of afterwards.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Euthanasia blues

The week before our Good Friday and Spring Break vacations from the cottage school, I asked my students to respond to the creative writing prompt:

You try a button on your new cell phone and it opens up a channel of communication between you and the Lord. What do you talk to Him/Her about?

I was surprised by the responses of my 11th/12th graders.  I guess I assume that most Christian homeschooled kids are pretty firm in their beliefs, so I was a bit shocked that rather than praising God, they were questioning, asking why are things this way?  Why do things feel unfair?  Would you really deny salvation to those who have different beliefs?  They sounded like questions I would pose to God.

We talked about how faith, how living, is all about hard questions, complexities that are not easily remedied.  Well, I guess they would be easily remedied if we could all just snap our fingers and "be like Jesus," but that isn't very easy for regular ole humans.   I told them that one of the most maddening things for me, personally, are those people who claim to have a sure answer.  Answers are easy, at least in theory, for them.

For me, life is far too complicated and weird for there to be a pat answer to anything.  We like to think we can live in a black & white world, but most things are grey.

How, for example, do I decide when and if to euthanize our 17-year-old cat, who is absolute skin and bones, and has been in decline for months?  Last night, I came to the basement to find every cushion on the two couches and one overstuffed chair with large urine splotches on them, and Shanks lying in one.  His tummy rumbles like it is going to explode, like I may not want to sit too closely or I might be bathed in cat digestive juices.  He is wobbly on his feet, although he can still make it to his food.

I spoke to an end-of-life vet today.  She says most cats his age have kidney failure.  Cats with a history of chronic vomiting (as he has) often develop intestinal lymphoma (which may be the crazy rumbling/gurgling).

He is not going to "get better."  We're on the downhill slide, and as I know from when Gonzo passed two years ago, there is a very short slip between "seems tolerable" and "Get a vet here this second to put him out of his misery."

There isn't an easy answer to this.  If he couldn't walk or eat, it would be simpler, although Gonzo got like that and it still took us 2 days to call the vet because there is always that hope....that "maybe he'll rally and have a little bit of time left."  I spoon fed Gonzo soft cat food and water trying to help him stick around longer.  I didn't want to make a hard decision.

No one likes to make hard decisions...the grey decisions...the ones most of life is about.  The ones I might like to ask God about if my new smartphone ever opens up that special link of communication. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Belatedly getting into the 21st century

It is with mixed feelings that I enter the world of the smartphone.

I have only had a mobile phone in order for school to be able to reach me when I'm running errands, and up until last fall I had been happy with my archaic flip phone (which was actually my upgrade).  

D has been asking me for years, every time he upgraded his iPhone, if I wanted to use his old one, and I have politely declined for a variety of reasons:  I didn't want the distraction of the internet; I didn't want to have one because everybody has one; I didn't want to pay a monthly fee when 1000 minutes would last me 6-9 months.  

But over the past 8 months or so, I've had a series of small inconveniences that have made me decide that, perhaps, a smartphone might be helpful.

One of these inconveniences was when I texted a friend to get a mutual friend's number.  She sent me the number using her smartphone, and I couldn't open it.  I replied with "Caveman phone.  Send real #."  Since that initial event, it has happened a few other times with different people.

Then there is the issue of communicating with people via different modes.  Some people I text.  Some people I email or message through Facebook.  I have had occasions when I was expecting a message from someone via email or FB and had to drive home to check because I was unable to do so on my phone.  I was supposed to meet the person somewhere and didn't want to drive to our meeting spot only to find out they had sent me a message saying they couldn't meet.   It certainly wasn't a big deal, but considering how much time I currently spend in the car, and how much additional time I anticipate in the car when N starts middle school and M begins elementary, I really would appreciate anything that reduces time spent on the road.

I generally try to keep a book on hand at all times, but there are many occasions when I forget to run upstairs and grab my current read off my nightstand.  When I am waiting in carpool line or in the doctor's office, I have nothing to do.  Being able to check for articles for my classes in those 10 minutes of carpool time would save me 10 minutes on the backend of the day when I could be showering and going to bed.

There is also the coupon thing.  I have gotten so bad about using coupons.  Partly this is because there are 1. rarely coupons for generics and 2. rarely coupons for healthy foods, so I don't use them that much, but for household items like toilet paper and tissue, they still come in handy.  It is all I can do to remember the binder I have them in.  If I don't leave it at home, I leave it in the car.  I am hoping this forgetfulness is mostly due to having to run errands quickly during the 6 hours a week I don't have M with me, but having all of my coupons on my phone, which stays with my wallet, can only help.

I am not looking forward to having a monthly bill, but I am hoping that all of the bells & whistles of convenience (gas saved from not driving home to check email; ability to bring coupons and actually save a bit on expenses, etc) will minimize the time I spend stewing over it. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How we do the "birds and the bees"

I have always tried to talk openly with my children about...well, everything really, but especially the facts of life and sexuality.  To be honest, we've been talking about it since I was pregnant with G, when I had to explain to N how the baby got in there to begin with and why my abdomen hurt after he was born.

My kids have always known that breasts are for nursing babies.  By the time N was 9, she'd been watching me nurse somebody in the house for half her life.

It isn't a constant conversation, but it ebbs and flows, depending on whatever questions pop into their heads.

Awhile back I did find this book at a used book sale and bought it for N.  We read it together, and I left it on her bookshelf so that she can access it whenever she so chooses.

The other day, for whatever reason, G asked me about how babies are created so I found an online video for him and M to watch.  I sat with them and tried to explain anything I thought they might find confusing.  I explained how some of the sperm get "lost" on the way to finding the egg.  As the "winner" neared his destination, I explained how once he was inside, the egg would close off to all the other sperm.

M screeched, "He WON!  He WON!  OMG!  G, he's trapped in there!"

G asked, "What happens to all the other sperm?"  to which I replied, "They die."

The very next morning, at approximately 6:30 am, G asked me, "So how did you and Daddy get the 3 of us if all the other sperm died?"

I put him off for a couple hours because I hadn't yet had my coffee.  Who can discuss these things at 6:30 am without coffee?

D sat in the recliner cracking up at the prospect of how I'd handle this delicate conversation.

I explained it in the most basic, clinical terms I could.  G responded with, "Ewwwww, that's gross."

After a moment's pause, he said, "So you and Daddy did that 3 times?"

I replied, "Well, a sperm doesn't always hit an egg, so sometimes, as in your case, Mommy and Daddy had to do that a lot to get you."

(A challenging child from the get-go.  I should have known......)