Archive for September, 2009

Motherjudger

Caryn: Probably a month ago now, our pet snail Trappy died. When my 7-year-old son asked how I think she died, I said, “Well, she had 10 babies within a month’s time. I’m guessing she was exhausted.”

To which my son said: “Yeah. But she was a terrible mother. She totally ignored them. So I don’t know why she’d be so tired.”

To which I said: “Good point.”

Truth be told, Trappy was a terrible mother. Seriously. Never once did I see her anywhere near any of these crazy baby snails (and if anyone out there can tell me how and where these snails came from—when we don’t have any boy snails around—I’d appreciate it!). It just seemed like every couple days, we’d notice another tiny shell in the tank and Trappy would just be business as usual–hanging on the gravel, sucked onto the side of the tank, just looking for her algae.

And I have to admit, I loved Trappy for being such a bad mom. It was nice to have my children periodically comment on how she never played with her babies or got them food or snuggled them or anything. They would tell me this in contrast to me—a.k.a. the best mom in the house.

So I sort of encouraged this view of Trappy the Bad Mom Snail. Putting her down lifted me up. Of course.

I didn’t feel at all bad about this—or convicted in any way—until her babies started dying. When Trappy went to Jesus, her babies started kicking off too. We had 10 when she died. Now we have 2.

At first I attributed the snail deaths to something in the water—the thing that perhaps killed Trappy—but now I’m wondering. Was Trappy perhaps not such an awful mother? Was she actually caring for her snails in some way and now that she’s gone, her babies can’t survive without her?

So naturally, now I’m riddled with guilt. While I still have no idea why our snails are dying (and you’ll notice that I’m not talking about how I rushed out to seek help for them…..), I am convicted of my ever-quick willingness to judge another mom. Whether I know anything about her life or the way she raises her children or anything.

I seriously though that my whole journey as a mother who felt so judged by the world “cured”‘ me of my own motherjudgement, but my harshness to Trappy is kind of bringing to mind a bunch of other situations where I STILL tend to judge other moms—different moms—pretty unfairly.

So I don’t know what my point is–but I just wanted to come clean a bit and say as much as I try not to and as much of a “good game” I talk about mother being a motherjudger, I am. Probably always will be.

Carla: Maybe Trappy died of shame because she could feel your judgmental stares. I think she totally knew what you thought of her. Her last moments on earth were probably spent thinking, “You know what blondie? You try having 10 kids. Let’s see how long you last. And don’t pretend like dinging around on Facebook is any more maternal than sucking on the side of a tank because it’s not. Think I’m a bad mom? Watch how the kids do without me….”

I am pretty much over feeling judged for my mothering, mostly because my eldest child has turned out so well and I figure even if I go one out of three, that’s pretty good. But I do find myself having to turn off my internal motherjudger more often than I’d like.

I find that I rarely judge moms I know. Instead, I save my sense of superiority for total strangers. I think it’s because it’s so much easier to imagine that some random woman is dumb or lazy or careless than to cast aspersions on women I know are anything but. And really, isn’t the whole point of the judging thing to make ourselves feel better?

If I may quote the brilliant Bruce Cockburn for a moment, “Can it be so hard to love yourself without thinking someone else holds a lower card? Grow up you.”

Caryn: Judging might just be my favorite sin. (Don’t forget to keep checking here for more information on the Mommy Revolution event at Christianity21. Just over a couple weeks away!!!)

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Whoooo Are You?

Carla: Not so long ago, I was in my car with a male friend of mine who is about 13 years younger than I am. An Audioslave song came on the radio and I happened to know the words. This fact stunned my friend into silence.

I get than when you’re 28 a 41-year-old mom in a minivan does seem less-than-likely to be familiar with Audioslave but I was kind of stunned by how shocked he was.

Then I realized that most of the people I know these days have no clue that I have an Alice in Chains song on my iPod or that I can belt out a showtune or that I can name all the original members of Kiss or–and this is impressive–that I can recite the entire rap section of the song “Rapture” by Blondie. Not that these are signs of my coolness by any means. Rather, they are reminders–to me at least–that I am more than what people see.

This really goes back to Caryn’s book and the ways in which motherhood tends to swamp the other parts of who we are. I don’t feel like myself most days and I wonder where that other Carla went. But in those moments when she pops up and other people are surprised, I realize just how hidden she has been.

Caryn: So, of course you lost me. My brain couldn’t get past you being in the car with a 28-year-old man…. Sorry. Didn’t come back until you mentioned my book. Perhaps there’s a whole other side of you we need to talk about here. If I didn’t find the word cougar so ridiculous and offensive, I’d be doing all sorts of cougary-growly-meows right now and insinuating that’s what you might be. But I hate that word and also believe OLD women can be JUST FRIENDS with young men. Plus, we ought to address all this later.

But I do love those mom-shocking moments. Mine usually have nothing to do with music (unless it’s with someone in their 70s. I LOVE me some golden oldies!!!), but I often get those weird looks when I launch into something political or economic or social or literary or something that people think, apparently, nice little suburban moms don’t THINK about. Or, what we might laugh about.

For example, I love it that two people who work for an organization with which I have some sort of affiliation BOTH emailed me the same funny thing (without knowing that the other did it). I love that they did this because it was a risk. The funny thing would not be funny to everyone. Certainly not to the stereotype of me. But to me, it’s hilarious. I love that these people (who are also like 10-13 years younger than I) know that I have an evil, depraved sense of humor. Makes me feel known and loved. Though I would like to recapture a time of my life when I laughed more.

Carla: a) I’m flattered that you think I still have enough sex appeal to woo a 28-year-old, but honestly, can you imagine the trauma a single, childless man that age would go through seeing what childbirth does to a woman?  b) I was giving a friend from church a ride, and c) some of us are capable of being friends with men. You and your Harry-Met-Sally mentality. It’s always sex sex sex with you.

Anyway, it’s funny that for all my revolutionary ranting I still have this preconceived notion of what a mom should look like and act like and listen to. Whether it’s how we dress or what we drive or who we let ride in our cars, we tend to have this picture in our minds of what’s okay and what isn’t. But there’s no reason that raising children should suddenly put us into a whole separate category of self-expression and passion. Yes, we change and our tastes and interests change with us. And yes, I’m as appalled at a 40-year-old dressing like a teenager as the next person. I’m talking about who we were and who we still are, the secret selves we’ve either buried or forgotten about or just never show to other people.

For me, music–and I am so not a music snob or a person with cutting edge tastes in bands–is one of those things that reminds me of my inner groove. So what is it for you? What would people who know you now never guess about you? And what part of who you once were do you really want to recapture? It might be something profound, it might be something trivial. Whatever it is, we’d love to hear about it.

Found My Self, Lost My Mind

Caryn: So today kicked off the 2009-2010 “speaking season” for me. Today’s talk was the one based on my book—with a smidge of the Rev thrown in—so it was all about losing ourselves, confused identities, and unrealistic expectations. All the stuff I love.

On the way home, I was feeling a big smug, thinking how after all my years of wrestling with who I was as a mom and a woman and all that, I was really doing pretty well. And I am, actually.

But then the rest of today happened. Two of the world’s crabbiest, screamiest, yelliest, fightingiest, whiniest kids stepped off the school bus and walked into my house–joining their already crabby, screamy, yelly, whiney little brother. It’s been, to be honest, the afternoon from hell. I cannot remember ever having such a wretched time with my kids.

I started out trying to remain calm, soothing moods with hearty snacks, cooler clothes, and a good rest. To no avail. Mass timeouts haven’t worked. Threats haven’t worked. It’s all descended into madness. My throat actually hurts from yelling so much.

My house is bedlam, and I seriously think I’m going to lose my mind. Have we talked about this at all, Revolutionaries? I can’t remember. But I’m dying to dig into these crazy-making moments of motherhood. To find out what sets you off and what you do to calm down. To regain sanity.

In many ways, I hate even bringing this up since it plays into a stereotype in and of itself (i.e. the crazed, frazzled mom). But these days are real. These moments when we “understand child abuse,” as one friend once told me, when we get why so many moms have turned to substances to get through the day or week or life, and why, we think we will (and sometimes do) lose our ever lovin’ minds.

(On a positive note, I escaped my crazy house to my front porch to write this. My kids followed [of course!] but are all playing quietly and nicely. Huh.)

Carla: So are you saying that the fact that I gave my 12-year-old a lecture on respect and how her leaving her lunchbox sitting out until bedtime even though it has an unopened container of yogurt in it that we now have to throw out and why do I have to keep having this conversation with her and when will she start to understand that her choices affect me and that’s why this is an issue of respect and she’d better start shaping up or I really am going to throw away everything she owns was crazy? You might have a point.

I had some time to myself last week and I had these big plans of getting my house really organized–or at least de-cluttered a bit–now that most of us are back in school. But honestly, I was so overwhelmed by the crap in my house and that no matter how often I pick up or clean or purge I am still surrounded by other people’s #$&^ that I didn’t do anything. So of course I am standing right there on the edge of losing it every time someone leaves a sock on the floor or a dish on the table. So I am totally snappy and crabby and mean.

To answer your question, I seriously think the only thing that will get me back to normalcy is to throw away everything we own.

Caryn: Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. But with that, you are on to something. The stuff makes me crazy. Actually, ever since I opened up a copy of our old friend Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Amish Peace and read about how the Amish live with what is only absolutely necessary, I’ve been on a mission to get rid of half of what we own. Except for the dishes and silverware and cups because we’re already running low. Ditto towels. And cute fall shirts for me. And money (at least right now. Someday I truly want to live on the whole reverse tithe thing). And maybe my books. I could get rid of 25% of those, probably.

But the point is, while I don’t agree with the Amish on many, many things, I do think they’re on to something with the only what’s necessary bit. Although, I’m guessing Amish mamas lose their minds too.

Deep breath. New day. Another breath. Women of the Rev (and Dude of the Rev): what do you need to do to regain your mind?

Loneliness

Carla: As you know, I am one of the 21 presenters at Christianity 21 (Oct 9-11), an unprecedented event that promises to be a cultural shake-up. There are some astonishing presenters involved and I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. PLUS: Caryn and I are hosting a Mommy Revolution hang out time so that all of you can meet each other, have some wine, and do some serious fomenting.

After much debate, I have decided to use my time to talk about loneliness. I have come to believe it is perhaps the greatest bane of human existence. But I have also come to believe that it is one of many human ailments for which the church is uniquely positioned to be the ultimate cure.

And yet I don’t think we’ve found the right approach to loneliness. For all our small groups and book clubs and community meals, too many people leave churches feeling just as isolated and disconnected as they were when they arrived.

Loneliness seems to hit nearly everyone–men, women, parents, non-parents, single people, married people, people with lots of friends and people with no friends at all. It cuts across every demographic category–age, race, social status, income, gender, educational achievement, etc. And it sucks. It is the worst pain I know and the pain least likely to be eased by words or even the company of other people. It’s deep and awful and self-perpetuating. But I think there is something we can do about it.

I’m not going to tell you what that is of course–I have to save something for the conference, which is why you should come. But I do need your help as I put this presentation together. I would love to hear from you about what loneliness feels like to you–just a few words or phrases or even images. I want to know what has kept you stuck in that place of loneliness or how you’ve found your way through it. What has helped and what has just made it worse.

Caryn: I’m glad we’re back on the loneliness kick. Because last week I had a tiny epiphany. As you all probably do NOT know, I’m on the board of my kids’ school. (I am now the boss of the man who was my high school principal. God is good.)

Anyway, as a member, last week I was tasked to call 17 of the new families. One of the members had rightly worried that parents of new students might feel as lost and disconnected as new students often felt. She thought just as we encourage veteran students to embrace these new kids (not literally, because then we’d have to expel them probably), we ought to embrace the parents (again, you catch my drift).

To be honest, this sounded like a nightmare to me. Aside from going door-to-door, the idea of “cold calling” literally leaves me cold. It takes every last ounce of “why SURE I can be outgoing!’ energy I have to do this. So I prayed hard for the words and time and plain ability to pick up the phone. And then I did.

The first day I only got through three people because each conversation lasted a long-ish time. But they were great conversations. They moved quickly from a place of “do you have any questions” to talking about where they were from, to me telling funny stories about my days at this school and decoding some jargon, to sharing about our kids, to hearing what they worried about.

After those first three phone calls, I sat down on my front steps and thought about loneliness. Specifically, that same thing you said a bunch of paragraphs up. There are a lot of lonely people in this world. And I think my conversations with these strangers attested to that. They were lonely. I was lonely. And a simple conversation with a stranger can do wonders to alliviate that. (This is starting to sound like how all affairs start! Hence the danger of loneliness!)

So I guess, my little idea for how the church ought to respond to loneliness is basic: pick up the phone. Start a conversation. Start chatting at a bus stop (though not if I’m trying to tweet at that moment). Say hey to the guy next to you on the train. Head over to chat with your neighbor when she’s out picking tomatoes. Ask people how they’re doing. Ask if they have any questions.

My fear of the cold call and the  door to door and (frankly) everything I just listed above is that I think everyone has full lives and is so bursting with friends that I’m just an intrusion. That I’d be the pathetic one trying to make friends (which I am). But my little phone-call epiphany sort of proved me wrong. I called barely-connected-to-me strangers close to dinner time and asked how they were. An hour-and-a-half later, I had three more people in this world I can’t wait to chat with again.

Carla: I think you’ve hit on something so crucial to the way we approach loneliness. I get freaked out about making new friends because I worry I have nothing to say. But I’m starting to think that all it takes is a few ordinary questions to get a conversation–“What’s the dumbest thing that happened to you today?” “What book do you wish you had time to read?” “What song do you secretly love?”–and a friendship rolling.

So please share your stories with us. What has helped? What has hurt? What do you wish was different?

On a completely unrelated note, I have declared this academic year “The Year I Get My Crap Together” and so in the last 24 hours I have made 4 dentist appointments, 2 vet appointments, an orthodontist appointment, and set up a lunch meeting. I was also two days early for a “Meet the Teachers” thing at preschool and I think that should count for something. Feel free to stand in awe of me.