Thursday, May 18, 2006

A mother who is really a mother

We live by this huge flight of steps (I've never counted, but it must be hundreds of steps in all) that goes down, down, down to a beach. Because it's health-conscious Seattle, people don't just hang out on the steps and admire the little glimpses of Puget Sound through the trees - they RUN. Up and down, often more than once.

So, sometimes I take Elijah to the steps and we run up and down the first section - it's not long but we're both certainly winded by the time we do it a couple of times. Today, a regular on the steps (an old timer with bad shoes and a great tan) saw us and said:

"Now you are a mother who is really a mother. You are to be commended, doing this with your boy."

It was one of those chance comments that came at just the right time. I've been feeling a little sheepish about this post. I think, no, I KNOW, I was snottier than I needed to be about jo(e) and her blog and I've been feeling sorry.
Shout out to jo(e): Sorry for being snotty before. And thanks for being nice in my comments anyway.
In that post, remember, I was going on and on about how other people's kindness and competence made me feel evil and inadequate, but last week, I had the following revelation. I've been whispering this little sentence to myself and it's changed my life.

I am actually a pretty good mom.

When Eli was born I was so stunned. I've never had a job or a relationship that required so many decisions. I'd never seen the results of those decisions bear such immediate, and often such undesired, fruit. (Remember that time, for example, when he was 13 months old and I gave him a bowl of chili and also four days of terrible diaper rash? Of course you don't, but I will never forget it.) As a consequence, I think I have let myself believe that I was just bad at being a mom.

But the truth is, that is not the truth.

There is no abuse or neglect going on here - just the every day work of trying to figure out how to be a human being, by both the 4 year old AND the grown-ups. I sure don't have that figured out yet, and it's ok for him to know that. In fact, he's going to know it sooner or later, so easier if it's sooner and maybe it won't be such a big shock. Ok, sometimes I'm grumpy, like I was in that other post. So what? Isn't that just part of the big story of being human?

Seeds of the revolution/revelation: One day last week, Eli's quiet play hour (alone in his room for one hour) consisted of drawing a huge map for his cars, along with a cityscape and the people inhabiting it. With crayon. On the wooden floor. So I pulled out the new scrub brush we had, by chance, just purchased at the drug store. That new scrub brush was the coolest thing Elijah had seen in a while and he loved whisking it around on the floor, which was profoundly irritating to me. I heard myself say to him “Hey! This is not a game!" but I looked at him grinning and scrubbing away and I wondered why it couldn’t be. He could learn not to draw on the floor and still have fun cleaning up, couldn't he?

So now, in every situation, I ask myself "could this be a game?" It's remarkable how often it could be. I'm saying "yes" a lot more, and laughing a lot more. And guess what? It's not making him spoiled and bad. It's making him delightful and good! I'm really enjoying it, and I'm ENJOYING enjoying it, if you know what I mean.
In other words, I think I might finally be becoming a mother who's really a mother.

Why if we actually had TV, nothing else would ever happen at our house:

No time to blog.
Must go watch the entire second season of Lost, now available on iTunes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day Gratitude

The more I parent my own boy, the more I'm finding myself grateful to MY mom. But I'm pretty sure I don't tell her that often enough. Since it's mother's day and all, it's on my mind, here's the very short list of gratitudes, just the order they came to me. There's more in there, but there's the time, and also, the not boring you completely with a long long list. Thanks mom for:

Joy to the world!
My mom loves holidays (especially! Christmas!) and she always does a lot of work to make them special and beautiful. For instance, we always had lighted real candles on our Christmas tree, a tradition that sort of shocks my safety minded husband. But we never burned the house town, and lighting the tree on Christmas Eve was something I looked forward to the whole year.

Chop wood, carry water.
I'm always grateful to mom when I chop wood for fireplace, bake bread, sew a button on something. And sometimes when I wash dishes or fold laundry. She taught me to do all these things, and I didn't see them as learning at the time, just as stuff we did together.

Getting things done
My mom works hard and has created a really successful business with her business partners. She is also is really active in politics. She always taught me that the work I do makes a difference.

School daze
My mom went to school a little bit at a time through most of my early childhood, until she got her degree as a nurse when I was a teenager. I am so proud when I think of that now, knowing how hard it must have been to scrape together the money and the time for it. And I know she battled with the administration to get help for child care and recognition for student parents on campus. Many years later, she inspired me to fight my own battle for the same recognition.

Rolling with the punches
Back in my rad lesbian days, my mom was the coolest! In fact, she was the one who took me to my first Holly Near concert. Also Ferron.
Famous coming out story
Me: I think I am a lesbian.
Mom: Oh, thank god! I thought you were on DRUGS!

Later, when I switched rather suddenly, and rapidly married a man (and a man in a wheelchair at that!), she was cool about that too. Must have meant lots of explaining to her friends, but I didn't really think about that or thank her at the time.

Showing up
You know, when I was in high school, my mom always came to every play I was involved with, often to multiple showings, even when I was (as happened so often) Second Assistant Stage Manager Twice Removed. At the time, I always just thought that Mom must love high school theater, but when my brothers came along, she never missed a little league game, either.

24 Nurse Hotline
I started thinking about this gratitude list just this week, when my mom called to check on how the pesky migraines I've had this year were coming along. I gave her an update and we talked about various treatments and medicines for a while and it reminded me how grateful I am to have a mom that is so clearheaded and caring about stuff like that. Back when I was pregnant with Elijah, my water broke at 5 in the morning a month before he was expected, and mom was the first person I called. She got on a plane in Minnesota that afternoon and was in Seattle just after he was born that same night. We hadn't planned that, but it was so awesome to have her here, since E was so sick at first and both he and I needed lots of TLC!

And speaking of having babies
I can just barely figure out this parenting thing most days, and I'm 37 years old(!) so I'm so in awe of my mom managing it when she was still a teenager herself. The biggest gratitude I have these days is that she just stuck with it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

grace notes

For reasons of my own, the time has come for me to go to an Alanon meeting. I've never been and am not sure what to expect, so I talked to my Awesome Anonymous pal about it, and she reminded me that even if I don't get anything out of it myself, I need to know what I'm referring people to when I'm ministering to them. Good advice, but maddening.

I felt nervous and kind of sick with fury since, as usual I'M the one who has to do the WORK of getting WELL even though it's other people who are SICK. Well, you know. But online I found out about an Alanon meeting nearby last night and it was a full moon which seemed a fortuitous time to start a new thing and Awesome Anonymous said she'd meet me at a coffee shop with another friend and then we'd go.

So we met at the coffee shop and I cried a little and everyone was very nice about it and Awesome Anonymous got me a cup of tea and our other pal gave me some cookies she had made and then it was time to go to the actual meeting. We weren't sure of the address, so we drove around in circles a little, then discovered that the church was actually only 2 blocks from the coffee shop, but the lot was full, so we had to go back to find parking and then we were late.

There was a meeting in that church basement. But not Alanon. Evidently, that meeting is not gathering there anymore on Friday nights, as of a month or so ago, and the web site has not caught up with this information yet. We stood around, a little deflated, trying to figure out what to do next. It was cool out, and none of us had the right clothes for walking in, so we agreed to see if the sanctuary was unlocked, and maybe we could talk in there.

Up the stairs, across the little courtyard. And the sanctuary WAS open! And there were people in there! Turns out it was an artwalk night on this street, and the Seattle Mandolin Orchestra was playing a little drop-in concert. And I saw someone I knew, and she gave me a hug, and we sat and listened and looked at the sweet Methodist stained glass and prayed and I felt all that nervous rage draining right out of me.

Afterwards, we all agreed that it had been just right, although not at all what we expected. Awesome Anonymous joked that it was just like us that we could not just make a PLAN to go out for coffee and to a nice concert, instead we had try and do a Very Serious Thing, which turned seemingly by itself into a Gently Relaxing Evening instead.
Which just goes to show you how sneaky God is.

Did I mention that the concert ended with "Roll Out the Barrel" - the all-mandolin version?
Because if I didn't mention that part, I should.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

in the belly of the beast

In spite of my currently idyllic suburban existence, I still have my natural-co-op-girl creds, which I prove by using only natural cleaning products. However, our bathtub, where my precious offspring soaks his body every single night and which I usually clean with Bon Ami and some natural lavendar soap, has developed a permenent layer of orange goo that my natural fallbacks just simply cannot remove. Today I caved and got Lysol bath cleaner foam, after standing in front of the Evil Cleansers shelf at the drug store for a really long time, talking myself into and out of and back into buying it.

Man, that shit really works. I'm going back for the straight bleach tomorrow.

But it cannot be the temptation of the eco-unfriendly products that is making me feel a little in despair today, can it? No, I think my despair can be traced back to reading jo(e)'s blog a couple of days ago. I love jo(e)'s blog, of course, just like you do. She's such a great writer, and has such an interesting, settled life. I can't wait to read about her adorable, spunky children and her endearing, active parents. But, sometimes I can't help wishing that more warts would show, you know? I mean, is it really as effortless as it seems to work as a professor, be just about the best writer on the web, be the world's funnest mom and keep up with seemingly hundreds of friends and extended family, all while attending thrilling conferences and practicing excellent self-care habits? SURELY NOT.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, she was blogging about her philosophy of parenting, which is, distilled, to be the kind of person that you want your kids to be and they will emulate you. According to the comments, most everyone was grateful for this advice, which, they said, would help them really be themselves.

It sent me into a spiral of self-loathing.

Who's the kind of person I want to be and, therefore, want my son to be? The list starts with patient, spritually aware, light hearted, present, gentle, strong, honest, relaxed, organized, compassionate, politically astute, revolutionary, smart, healthy, fun, hospitable and forgiving. Especially forgiving. Instead, I am so often, blech, not those things. Today, for example, I had the great idea to take Eli on the longest bike ride of his young life at 4:00 in the afternoon (40 blocks, the second half mostly up hill) and then GOT MAD AT HIM WHEN HE COMPLAINED ABOUT BEING TIRED. He's three years old, people! What is my PROBLEM?

All I'm saying is, it's an ok theory, but when I'm barely hovering just over the line from that cranky, resentful, impatient, anti-spiritual person that I feel like a lot of the time, having Eli be just like me doesn't seem like all that much to aim for.
I'd rather be the parent that Penelope Leach tells me to be.

Buy the book!

The Revgalblogpals have got a new book out - devotions for Ordinary Time. I have a couple of essay-lets in it this time (wayyyy in November!)

I'm pretty sure the money is still going for disaster relief in the gulf coast region, so it's a good read and for a good cause, too.

You can buy it by clicking here or on the link to the right.

the other 90

So, weirdly, the most inspiring workshop I attended at our recent regional denominational annual (sheesh, lotsa modifiers!) meeting was about stewardship. First, I should back up and say that in general, the tone of the whole weekend seemed right on with my experience in the church where I'm serving. Most people seem to have finally copped to the reality that there is no mainline church anymore, and that we have to stop acting like we're the only thing going on a Sunday morning. With that in mind, there was a HUGE emphasis on faith formation in every gathering I was part of.

I went to a workshop that was called, vaguely, Bible Study, but which turned out to be a primer for preachers who want to help people develop Biblical literacy by having some scripture stories they can carry "in their backpack." It was very inspiring and helpful, I think, for our denomination in particular which has had such a suspicion of text and tradition.

But the stewardship one, led by our associate pastor Hollis Bredeweg, really was very inspiring. I'm including my notes here in case you want to start thinking about stewardship ideas - his main theme was that we need to be doing stewardship all year, and to include more people in the process. Read on to find out how:

First, most churches do stewardship wrong and it's not all that effective. So their response is to it wrong harder. (Have you noticed that to be a theme not just in stewardship campaigns but in your whole life, as I have in mine, btw?)

Jesus said - DO NOT BE ANXIOUS.

Hollis told a story about a woman in a former congregation who was a famous tither, who told the congregation during their pledge drive one year "God's not interested in my 10% - God wants to know what I'm doing the other 90, and where I got the whole bundle." Jesus said nothing about tithing, he asked for 100% - we are not asking folks for enough. Preach about consumerism more, and about a stewardship message that is about a whole life.

Hollis' approach is, rather than pledge cards, to encourage people to give to whatever they are most moved to give to and support those things close to their heart. They are much more likely to give more that way, and be grateful for the chance to do it. IF no one is giving to the things that the church "needs," the leadership must re-assess whether that is actually a need and either let it go, or do better education. If you really love pledge cards, send everyone a blank card and envelope on which to write down their hopes and dreams for the coming year for self, family and church. Seal the envelope, never open it - it is between God and the pledger. Make your budget by forcasting rather than counting pledges (this part is a little technical - email me if you want the whole thing. If you are even still reading by now...)

The context is a faithful life.

Every time you mention money, tell the story of what that money is doing IN HUMAN TERMS. (Ex: Thank you for ministering with me in the hospital room this week - your support meant that you were all there in spirit with me....)

Move from soliciation to expressions of gratitude - thank individuals for what they are already doing for and with the church. (I made a note to myself here to take better advantage of the offeratory time - right now I usually just say the same little old sentence about being given abundance and giving back as we are able - but that could be a very rich time. This week I will plan it better and write it down!)

Send a letter of thanks detailing what the money has done, and the numbers small on the bottom, rather than a quarterly statement that looks like a business invoice.

Segment the stewardship campaign to different kinds of people - it's ok for different people to give to different things they are really passionate about.

"Receive" the offering - do not "take" it!

Have the marketing people, the good storytellers, present the budget - not the number people. The budget is a code - break it down into human terms. Ex: airline commercial: they dont talk about how expensive it is to put an airplane together and fly it when they're advertising. Instead, they give you a VISION of where you can GO on the airplane.

Talk about money and what we do with it more. And be prepared for people to get mad since most people are so private about how they manage their money, and have so little idea about how to do it. "Most people would rather hear about the mechanics of sexual intercourse from the pulpit than about how to manage their personal finances."

One guy shared that at his church, they stopped taking pledges but talked about tithing for several months instead. The stewardship committee presented numbers on stewardship Sunday - "this is how much we think we need...." - and they are doing better than last year.

Another church has everyone involved in the budgeting - anyone who wants to can make a budget and present it (I love this idea!!) and they get play money and they "vote" by putting that money in boxes marked with different "line items." So, the budgeting is based on those votes.

Hollis ended by urging us to see that there is a deficit of vision and faithfulness when churches sit on money in savings, but cut staff and programs.

I'm feeling all jazzed about stewardship now. Wouldnt it be funny if THAT was a part of ministry I could actually get good at??

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cinco de Mayo, Yakima WA

Our denominational conference annual meeting coincides this year with the Cinco de Mayo celebration here in Yakima. Yakima is a desert town of no more than 75000 people, where, according to the Spanish-launguage newspaper I picked up yesterday, 14,000 fuerza marched at the immigrants rights rally on May 1st. Anyway, I'm in the hotel lobby (wireless does not reach our room way at the end of the universe) at 12:10 am while young, gorgeously dressed people walk in and out of the hotel bar.

I havent written too much in a while - I've been stretched thin, as Bilbo would say, like butter spread over too much toast. It's just math - I simply can't have less childcare (now that Eli's not in daycare), more responsibilities at home (now that we have no help for money reasons) and more sleep (the one sure thing that helps these damn headaches is 9 hours of sleep out of every 24) and do everything I've been used to. So this writing had to go, but I've missed it. I'm squeezing it in now, on this sort-of work weekend that, because my family is here and because it's a break in the regular routine, really feels like a vacation.

We havent had the real sticky meetings yet, those come tomorrow, so after an ethics training all day (big message: anyone can become a sexual predator if they don't watch out. so watch out.) on Thursday, we spent Friday hanging out and re-connecting with folks. It's a good time Eli is big enough to really enjoy himself this year instead of feeling abandoned in the childcare room. I've been reminded all day of the sweetness of church people, who so earnestly love the church and so honestly want to make a change for themselves (uh, I guess that would be OURselves) and the world. And also, of the weirdness of spending cinco de mayo talking about the church in the world and how to be more relevant and, you know, a hotel convention center.

Dude, the real world is just. right. outside.