Sunday, November 26, 2006

Darkness Falls, and I tiptoe through culture's minefields

Every so often, in spite of all the self-education I have on teenagers, I feel like the ground under me is not so stable. I wish I could say this was a simple case of "The Enemy" attacking, as some Christians I know might say.

But I think it's a more complicated issue of the collision of free will(s), the object being a Wii or an MP3 player, and the conflict between my 13-year-old son's free will saying yes, and my free will saying no.

We had the discussion last night about his Christmas gift list, and my first response was $200 is too much money to spend on Christmas gifts. He, teary-eyed, said I was mean and that all his friends got way more than that. Me, tired, replied that we weren't his friends' parents. He, defiant, said you got that right. Then he stomped off.

I have several problems with the thing. It's not like it's all that new -- we had the Sony walkman 20 years ago and they all do the same thing: allow you to listen to music at any time you like. So my first objection is the ever presence-ness of it -- you can't get away from the music, and there's never any possibility of silence. Not silence in the sense of Mom and Dad can't stand the racket, cuz the things are glued to ears and it's hard to hear when you're on the outside. But the silence that's necessary for life. The distraction is not entirely safe, at least this is what I tell my son, though I've never heard of a teenager hit by a car because they were so wrapped up in their headphones.

Secondly, I object to the downloading of music, for two reasons. The first is, most people download illegally, that is don't pay for it. But the second reason is that you choose only the individual songs you like, so that the "collection" comprises unrelated pieces of music. There's no way a kid gets to hear a musician's whole canon. There's no possibility for nuanced variations in a musician's vision, and even though I might not like the music, I do recognize that every musician has some kind of worldview or vision.

Third, there's no way for a parent to vet lyrics on 300 songs. My stipulation has always been this: while I might not personally like the music, I do recognize your (teen child) choice in music. But I will have a say in the lyrics you're consuming.

Fourth, I do think there's an eardrum issue here -- potential for later damage.

Now that I've had the chance to sleep on it (and where did that expression come from -- anyone who's had to wrestle with something never sleeps, but lies awake tossing and turning, about the problem) -- tonight we will have a family conflab and I will list all the reasons why I'm opposed to giving an MP3 player for Christmas, and I will invite his reasons why he should have one. If they are solid and reasonable, chaos will set in once again, I will spend another night not sleeping and mulling and chewing this over, and we will go back to the negotiating table.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Absence makes the heart feel guilty...

It's been two whole months since I last posted on my own blog, and judging by the site meter results, it looks like my visitors have dwindled down to those accidental tourists who get directed here by their own googling mistakes.

But if you think I've ignored the blog, you should see what's happening in my house! My 13-year-old has just discovered -- no embraced -- the true meaning of anarchy. And my 7-year-old, not to be outdone by her older brother, has quickly followed suit.

In the past two or three weeks, they have refused to go to bed, eat their fruit and veg, pick up wet towels, put away dishes, or turn off the TV and video games when asked. Their dad is looking a little gimlet-eyed of late, too -- he exploded (a lot from a very mild-mannered guy) the other day about how nobody listens to him. That would include me.

And don't even get me started on the house. I was going to go get a new prescription for eye glasses but have decided against it -- I don't want to see the dirt sticking to baseboards like a leech to a swimmer's legs, or the dust that coats the tops of doorjambs and picture frames like newly fallen snow (in a snowstorm).

As if I wasn't overwhelmed enough, I've taken up reading Revelations (it's the subject of my new seven-week Bible study course and not some form of twisted punishment). It could actually be viewed as a book of hope, except for those who refuse to bask in the light of God's illumination.

It's like the dust in my house -- I don't want to see it, so I'll walk around without glasses. But we can't do that with God, cuz if we hope to get closer, the light emanating from his glory and presence is so blinding that it shows off all our dark and dusty corners.

There's one big difference between housekeeping and faith, though, and that is Jesus parable of leaving the interior home so spotless it becomes an open invitation for Diabolo to take up residence. While we're meant to tidy up our messy interior, we're also supposed to fill it immediately with the Holy Spirit.

I'll take that parable into the mundane -- or the profane, as my house looks today -- and exploring my neglect of children, house, husband, and dog (whose nails I only managed to clip last night after three months). In light of those preoccupations, it means that I not only have to sweep out the cobwebs -- the dust and dirt -- but also the bad habits of relating ("whaddya mean you have no clean socks, underwear or towels, if you don't like it, then wash them yourself -- I'm on strike!").

It also means filling my home with a certain kind of presence -- praise of God, focus on Jesus, a relationship with the Spirit. That's the only thing that gets you anywhere in trying to mend fences with those you've disconnected from.

Cuz, anyone who's ignored their kids for a period of time will tell you that it's not easy sidling up to them after you've gone awol (even if it was to work so hard you could afford braces for their crooked little teeth). They're like pets you've left at the kennel for holidays -- they ignore your attempts for a statutory three days then they're all over you like a pig on a sofa.

It's not so bad, though -- usually all they're looking for is food, a hug, and a word of praise.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Snowball Effect

For the past two years, I have sat at my desk, in full view of my kitchen floor. A kitchen floor that's always top of mind and the to-do list -- always in need of washing and waxing. When it was installed 11 years ago, the hunter green and white checkerboard effect was stunning, and being linoleum tile, it was less expensive than ceramics, and gentler underfoot.

Now, however, it's cracking in spots, and breaking off at a few corners. It can still look good if stripped and re-waxed -- an arduous hands and knees job.

But it needs to be replaced. And there's the rub. Is it worth replacing the floor now, if I'm going to change the cupboards in a couple of years? They're 11 years old and some of them are getting shabby. And if I replace the cupboards, I might as well knock out the wall between the dining room and kitchen that I've wanted to do for a long time now. And if I do that, I might as well enlarge the opening between the dining room and the little den/TV room that's now my office, in full view of the kitchen floor. But if I do that, I'll need to replace the hardwood flooring throughout the main floor, because there's no way to match 80-year-old flooring with new bits and pieces. So if I'm going to go that far, perhaps it would be best to do an addition on the back of the house, enlarging the kitchen to make it big enough to eat in and entertain in. And while we're at it, we might as well go up and add on to the second floor.

Which is why I'm back to doing nothing with my kitchen floor because it's going to end up costing me $80,000.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Daily Ablutions

It's no secret to the people nearest and dearest to me that I must, in order to pay the grocery and orthodontic bill, write stories about the interior design of model homes and condo suites. Occasionally, a truly spectacular building -- low rise home, or condo project -- will come along. But for the most part, these are dreary creations, often with gratuitous embellisments meant to make the place look pretty. That's the architecture.

And then there's the interior design. If you can call it that. The subdivision homes are the worst by far. They have endless hallways and staircases, which consume about a third of the square footage, and then there are the double height ceilings in the formal living room.

I can't, of course, slam this stuff, because I'd never write again in this town. But you can't imagine what I'm thinking while waxing cheesy poetic from my keyboard.

Today, for example, I had to extol the virtues of very high end spa baths and gourmand kitchens. First of all, nobody has the time to luxuriate in that spa, nor to rustle up delicious vittles in that fancy kitchen with its two wall ovens, two sinks (one for washing lettuce!) and stainless steel fridge with glass doors -- only neatniks need apply, since every fingerprint shows up here.

Secondly, how much more retreating from the public sphere are we going to do? At least if you belong to a gym and go to the spa, there's a communal sense to it. You can even take a friend along. But can you imagine inviting a friend to join you in your bathroom, no matter how nice it is?

If you play out the scenario, there you are in terrycloth robes lounging away, perhaps even leaning up against the bidet or the commode. For heaven's sakes, who can relax, up close and personal, next to the "seat" of ablutions?

Most of the women I know are so busy that they take those precious few moments of their uninterrupted shower time to scrub out the tub. Like me, they've even got the sequence of rituals down to such a fine art so that they can shave a leg with one hand, while squeegeeing the walls with the other, as they wait for the conditioner to set. The only quandry is whether to wash it all off before hauling out the industrial size Vim or after. The advantage of the latter is that they can scrub the tub bottom with the soles of their feet slathered with Ajax cleanser -- and so save the high price of a pedicure and pumice stone treatment.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Happy Holidays

Lately, I've been wondering if I even know what it means to be joyful. The past two weeks I've been off from work, and the kids and I have been supposedly doing holiday things. What I'd envisioned as a lark -- merrily off to enjoy the sights, smells, food, and events of summer -- has turned into hours upon hours of them watching TV or playing video games, while I've tried to corral the mess in the house. Them going to bed later and later every day, while DH and I struggle with lack of sleep. And the endless bickering! Arguing over who has a millimeter more of cream cheese on their bagel.

Mark Gaskill author of Systemic Parenting says that problems with kids indicates a larger problem with the family as a unit. So what does that say about our family? Probably that we're stressed, and trying to do too much.

As the summer winds down and school is about to start -- and we haven't even gone on our away vacation yet -- I find myself writing more and more to-do lists. All those things that were on the summer to-do list have been pushed on to fall.

And what a list it is!

What kind of drug was I on that deluded me into thinking I could paint the living room, hallway, all the wood trim up and down, replan the garden, add a bit onto the deck, take the kids to myriad fun summer activities, write model suite stories for the paper, AND finish the book manuscript????

I think a big part of it is we are living way too much in our heads -- that everlasting to-do list and the miscalculation of how much time it takes to complete.

The pope just came out with a declaration against too much busyness and his conclusions are spot on -- too much activity, leads to distraction and hardness of heart. Barbara Killinger says much the same in her book on workaholics -- that the drug of work can render you numb to feelings.

What's the alternative? Drop everything? Do nothing? Go fishing?

Paring back is important -- in fact, today we are not heading out to Ontario Place, but instead staying home, getting ready for our trip and walking down to the lake and dipping in our toes.

Paring back though has to be accompanied by a new perception of all that we do. Yesterday's Christian quote of the day had this pithy quotation which applies:

There is no one in the world who cannot arrive without
difficulty at the most eminent perfection by fulfilling with
love the obscure and common duties.
... J. P. de Caussade (1675-1751)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Going to the Dogs

OK, now I finally get it. The other day I saw a guy out walking (or maybe it was jogging) and he had a pooch in a stroller. How ridiculous is that. Well, apparently, not very....

Today I was reading some back clippings, stuff I'd saved for a time such as this, and I read about the doggie strollers that are like baby jogging strollers. Isn't the whole point of a dog, though, to let them get some exercise?

Continuing in this vein, there's a store in Toronto devoted to dogs, and it sells school uniforms (yes, for dogs), hoodies, tennis dresses, Hawaiian shirts and even wedding dresses. (I wonder -- if it's a same sex marriage, who gets to wear the dress??)

Lastly, there's a much bigger trend in small dogs, like Yorkies, daschunds, chihauhaus, etc. because of the travel lifestyle, and the ease of being able to carry a dog on board when it's as small as that.

Now all we need is for Al-Quaeda to figure out how to make a walking suicide bomb out of a lapdog.

On Being Inoffensive

I've just finished reading a great book on writing, by Sol Stein. His last chapter talks about the writer as shill, the one who will write inoffensive pap in order to put food on the table, or in my case to pay the orthodontic bills so that my kids will have a perfect, even set of choppers.

This leads to what I write in order to pay said doc. I write decorating stories about model homes and model suites -- those lovely little airless vignettes intended to dictate to the consumer what an interior should look like. The mantra should read like a William Morris anti-statement: I will have nothing interesting, unusual, beautiful or even remotely functional in my home.

After a year and a half of writing this mindless drivel, I can tell you pretty much that 90% of these builders don't know what it's like to live in the real world. And, incidentally, most of them are men.

You can't imagine how many pictures I get of "lovely" furniture (for the most part, cheap offshore construction, dark stain on particle board with a plastic varnish to give it the durability that will withstand the abuse the public can give out.) If you can unglue your eyes from the arresting decor for a moment, though, you'll notice all the flaws. Like electrical outlets in places they have no business being, and several of them clustered together. These little white squares are jarring on an expanse of builder beige or taupe.

Layouts: formal front living and dining rooms pay lip service to the name and function of these spaces. In reality, they look more like doctor's waiting rooms, uncomfortably crammed into the small space beside the door.

Corridors, Scarlet O'Hara staircases, double height ceilings with no sense of proportion or scale, eat up a goodly portion of these monstrous homes, so that if you parse it down to room sizes, it's clear that these subdivision homes have precious little more room than a standard three-bedroom semi in the heart of the city.

OK, that's enough for now. I will continue my rant anon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Spare Tires and all

Belinda wrote an interesting reflection today on her blog about flabbiness and eating properly, and the spiritual analogy to that.

I'd like to add that when Jesus was speaking to the Jews about daily bread, life was hard. They were hungry, so a piece of bread was a big deal. He was saying I am your daily bread.

Now, however, the tables have completely turned. We have TOO much to eat, we are flabby and overweight. I would also say that spiritually we're overweight as well -- too much puffy feeling, and not enough discipline. I know that sounds kind of harsh, and there's long been the need of a correction in the feeling department (I grew up in an age when telling your kids you love them was just not done!).

But we are so concerned that everyone gets "fed" on the heavenly bread, that we're not focusing too much on the heavenly diet and exercise program!

Belinda's reflection was so right about saying what I put in my body today, shows up in a few days or months, and likewise spiritually. But have we really broken that down to see what it means in concrete terms?

For one thing, it means obedience to God's word and will. When I let my kids do what they want, they are restless and unhappy, without moorings. When I'm too strict, they are uptight and nervous.

It also means not ingesting too much of a bad thing, so our flirtations with pop culture, no matter how much control we think we have on ourselves or our kids, can be courting disaster if not kept in check. A little junk food now and then is fine, but a steady diet of it will make you weak, not able to think clearly, and craving more.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Little Decor Tip

Came across this little tip for transforming a regular door into a French door. Not sure if the link I've posted will work.

Add the look of a pretty French door. This is a great way to give a plain interior door an intriguing treatment. Have a mirror cut to the size of the interior door panel and add muntins painted to match the door.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

God is good

More on the niece. She caused a disturbance at a downtown church and because there wasn't her usual support group present, the clergy called the police, who then took her to the hospital. This was a good thing, a very good thing, though she is furious. The psychiatrist ran tests, both blood work and whatever psychiatric tests are necessary, and then they transferred her to the psych ward of a different hospital. While I feel sorry for her being in a panic to get out, I am so thankful that she is finally getting a) a proper assessment and b) meds and treatment.

The other thing that came of all this was the revelation that there's quite a substantial support group that she has, good people who worry about her, buy her clothes when she needs them, help her find work, listen and talk to her, and actually like and respect her. It's generally believed that she is much worse now than she was a couple of years ago, before heading to Quebec City, and that she is more aggressive. But at the same time, she feels very deep upset at not being able to care for herself in a proper adult way, and grief over not having a marriage, home, family, and so on. These things I understand.

So, I've been able to connect a couple of social workers with some people DH knows so she can get some housing help, get her into a stable living arrangment, so that she can heal partially. Oh, and the other thing -- much of her behaviour is directly related to her being high almost all the time. Likely on street drugs, like crack. As desperate and grim as all that sounds, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Until of course the next tunnel appears. But that's life. And you gotta deal.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Gender specific decor

Lately, my daughter has been playing a video game called Animal Crossing. In it, these little gremlin-like animals putter around their community, knocking on each other's doors, receiving mail, finding things at the dump, trading up or down for goods -- larger homes, decorative items, etc.

While it does bother me that the DIY home remodeling craze has hit such a young demographic, there's something anthropologically interesting about the choices of each of my children (13 year old son plays too).

Today, A proudly showed off her new home. Inside was a splendid fuschia and green oriental carpet, and wallpaper that resembled an ivy-covered brick wall that you might see in a garden. It was really quite a stunning tableau. She then "took" me over to her brother's house to see what he had in his lair. There was a couch, a TV, a fridge and stove (no sink, however, because who needs to wash dishes or lettuce leaves?), a dinosaur skeleton, a ping pong table, and a bobbing bird "perpetual motion" kind of toy.

How telling is that?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More on Oddballs

Feeling a little ashamed of my not-so-secret desires to keep away from my crazy niece, especially after seeing the movie Elf. For those not in the know, Will Farrell plays a 30-year-old elf who doesn't realize he's a person and has acquired very strange (elf) habits, like eating only candy. He visits his people family -- the father who left his mom and him behind 30 years before, the new step-mom, the 12-year-old half-brother. Everyone is very much bothered by Elf when he first arrives. He's weird, he doesn't fit in, he does strange things, he breaks stuff. But he is fun, and all he wants is to be loved by his dad, and his extended family. I was almost more worried about having her stay with me in case she let the dog out. Better that she sleep on the street than the dog does, right?

That said, my niece is 37 years old and she has lived on her own for the past 18 years, shuffling back and forth between rooming houses, seedy apartments, Vancouver, San Fran, Quebec City, and so on.

She won't take any help, institutional or psychiatric, because she doesn't think there's anything wrong with her. Maybe in a way she's right. She takes her welfare check and either spends it on second hand clothes, drugs, or gives money away to others. She pats children on the head and tells them they're beautiful. (Kids, interestingly enough, like her.) She says the police are brutes, which may be true, and that psychiatrists are sick and often alcoholic (also possibly true).

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fly-By Shopping

I just came back from visiting friends in Charleston, South Carolina, and after reading Mine Eyes have seen the Glory by Randall Balmer, and Sue Careless's latest on the Book of Common Prayer, I thumbed through the inflight Skymall magazine for a little light reading.

For anyone not acquainted, it's essentially a shopping mall -- in magazine format -- full of inventive items designed to bring ever greater ease and comfort to life.

It also provides comic relief. Check out the following highlights:

1) Ultra Mini Air Supply, which claims to be the world's first wearable air purifier. I guess this is in case your seat mate has either bad breath or bad gas. (Only $129 USD)
2) the new "intelligent" chair alleges to focus its therapeutic massage where it detects muscle tension and stiffness; offers shiatsu, tapping, stretching and rolling, and a footrest for deep massaging feet and lower legs; the armrest panel has 20 programs -- a bargain at $4000-
3) motorized tie rack for dozens of ties you never wear
4) my personal favorite is the pop-up hot dog cooker, with space for two buns and two dogs, ensuring your kids can stuff hot dogs into their overweight little faces at any time of day
5) fold-flat pet stroller with lots of storage for accessories -- isn't the point of walking for you -- and your pet -- to get some exercise?
6) million-germ eliminating travel toothbrush sanitizer -- need I say more?
7) upside down tomato garden allows vines to hang down in mid-air and not rot on the ground
8) the inflatable movie screen (120" diagonal) for watching movies at your backyard pool parties. Can be set up and inflated in minutes!
9) tailgate chair (resembling an infant's jolly jumper) that hooks up easily to the trailer hitch of your Chevy Blazer
10) a carpeted ramp to allow your grossly overweight dog to clamber up on the sofa for a snooze
11) the fish finder watch, with a sonar sensor for transmission of fish info

That said, there are some items I'm tempted to buy, like the world's largest crossword puzzle -- at 7'x7', with 28,000 clues and over 91,000 squares, it hangs on the wall and takes months to finish; the instant soft ice cream maker; and the back to basics egg and muffin toaster --- now if only that robot could whisk up some hollandaise...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lunatics and other reminders of humanity

Every time I start to explain my family gene pool, and some of its more questionable spawnings, everyone says "every family has at least one." We have more than one, but that's beside the point today.

I have a niece who fried her brains on drugs -- bad street crack, probably crystal meth, certainly pot, and mushrooms, and so on and so forth -- and though she may have had a predisposition to schizophrenia anyway, that cocktail of drugs certainly sent her well on her way. Now, at 37, she has become completely non-functional. At least before she could survive, and occasionally held down jobs -- an extra in movies, waiting tables, and so on. She does go on welfare and disability (thank the Lord for the safety net here in Canada!). But my sister has had to continually top up her income by at least $200 a month.

She landed on my doorstep a few days ago, and I've asked her to leave. I can handle the gibberish muttering to the ceiling and the raucous laughter as she watches endless reruns of Veggie Tales. But we can't leave the house if she's here alone -- she leaves burners on, lets the dog out, feeds candy and chocolate to the dog, makes endless phone calls to people who have no idea who she is. She wandered over to the neighbour's house and was peering in the windows and knocking on the door. When I went to fetch her, and ask what she was doing, she said she was looking for a car lot.

I said I'd take her to the bus station and put her on a bus for my sister's, but she won't go there. She won't take the subway. She won't find an apartment. She won't go to a shelter, which she used to live in, and where the staff are wonderfully supportive.

My kids like her, though they know she's weird. She laughs at things, and talks to herself. She is kind, and yet leaves her stuff all over the house in a trail like Pigpen's.

I can't work -- she stands behind me as I'm at the computer, talking incessantly and looking at what I'm writing (she's not here now, btw). It takes me six hours for work that normally takes two. My husband works at home too, and he's finding it very disruptive.

She has to go.

And yet. And yet. I feel deeply sorry for her; she is sinking lower and lower on the functional scale (and she can't be put in an institution against her will). I am conflicted about making her leave, for where will she go. I cannot simply say God will clothe her as he does the sparrows.

Some things have no earthly solutions, do they?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

a diva in the house

True Confessions:
I shop at garage sales. And I love it. If I don't get a garage sale fix, say in the middle of winter, I NEED to go to Goodwill (Value Village is too pricey :). If I'm feeling really extravagant, I'll go to the outlet mall, but only if there are deep discounts on the already reduced prices.

Sometimes my clothes reflect this post-post-Depression era mentality (my mother grew up in the Depression). I have lots of clothes -- some very nice -- but there's a, shall we say, disconnect in my attempts at ensembles.

I also shop at garage sales for my kids, though boys' stuff is harder to locate -- knees are worn through long before they are outgrown. But girls clothes are easy -- one nearby yearly sale puts out Talbot's For Kids, Gap, Frannie Flowers, and Next, all of them really nice "outfits."

A, at almost 7, is starting to take an interest in clothes. In the morning, she asks me to get her an outfit, which inevitably gets nixed, and I send her upstairs to put something together for herself. Sometimes, she is really inventive and puts things together I'd never think of, though there's usually something eccentrically "cool" about the get-ups. One morning, though, she must have experienced creative block, because I found her in her room, in front of the "altar" -- the open drawer of her dresser -- flopping around on the hardwoord floor like a dead fish, and weeping: I have nothing to wear. I have nothing to wear.

This familiar refrain -- at least to most females -- can be countered by that Bible verse about His clothing of the sparrows.

But it wasn't something to remind her of that morning -- when sorrow is her goal, words such as those are fuel for a literal but imaginative mind, turning "nothing to wear" into "wear nothing" and proceed out of doors clothed in, well, what the birds wear.

So, instead, I left her to sob and figure it out on her own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Musical Beds

This post ought to put a whole new meaning to the phrase "sleeping around." Although any parent will know what I'm talking about immediately.

Our first child was a dream sleeper -- after I put the Ferber boots to him, that is. After six months, he slept all night and in his own bed. Baby #2, who's now 6 and three-quarters if you please, was a different matter altogether. I remember many nights on the floor beside her bed, shoulder bone to hardwood floor. The other night, the older one, at 13, decided to get into the act. I woke at 4, unable to sleep -- like so many other women of my age around the world -- and about 15 minutes later, Anna came into our bedroom. So Tom went to her bed, but the dog was in it. So he took his comforter and pillow and slept on the floor of that room. Ten minutes later, Aidan came into our room, and said he couldn't sleep. So I suggested he sleep with Anna and I would take his bed. (Confused yet?) Apparently, Anna kept moving and Aidan couldn't sleep, so he went into to his dad in Anna's bedroom, on the floor, and woke him up to tell him. Tom told him to go back to bed. By then, the dog was roused and had to go out to the bathroom. The bed was now free, so Aidan grabbed it. Tom gave up and got up. It was 5 am.

I have since started a new method with Anna. She gets my watch, and is told she cannot bother us until it's five minutes, six minutes (one minute more each night), and this seems to work.

At least it has the past two nights. And they say, I'm told, that three nights makes a trend.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What's wrong with Christian Kids?

I've had an ongoing discussion with some of the parents at my church about our children's dis-ease and seeming inability to fit in at school. These kids aren't nerdy, geeky, weird, or bizarre, either. When I was pregnant with my 13-year-old son I was looking for a warm, nurturing, spirit-filled church in which to bring him up, because my husband isn't a church-goer. So when I came to Little Trinity I found what I needed. Aidan's been with these kids -- about six boys in total, and a couple of girls (those poor girls throughout Sunday school, but more on that another time) -- since he was a baby.

I've also had most of these boys over at one time or another, plus I taught them for several years in Sunday school. They're all intelligent, fun, active kids, some more high energy than others.

When the other moms tell me that their boys sometimes have trouble fitting in at school, I have to wonder.

Is this because we've created a Christian ghetto, with a language and lexicon only Christian kids understand? Do all kids suffer from social problems in their early teen years? Are we Christian parents so worn out toeing the line between faith and culture, that we've become anxious and hovering and created kids who are likewise? Are we becoming schizophrenics, living one way on Sunday and another during the week so that our kids can never really fit in? Is this just the tension that Christianity always finds itself in with current culture, and the more antagonistic toward faith, the greater the tension?

I'm going to look into this a little further. But if anyone out there is reading this and has any answers, I'm all ears!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Family as God

If I call attention to the fact that I haven't posted on my blog for two months, then perhaps I shall set a trend, and it'll be three months til I post next. So I won't make reference to that, officially at least.

While busy the last few months, researching and working on a book project about family, I've come across a lot of information related to families that makes me think, in spite of our good intentions to make healthier families, we're practicing that long-held human habit for distortion. In other words, we've made families into gods. Much is sacrificed on the altar of family -- from women's hard-won educational/career backgrounds (left behind in favour of making organic cookies and home schooling) to hobknobbing with those wholly at odds with the notion of family. A lot of stay at home moms have channeled their previous work-related energy into make-work projects with their kids -- and it's been well documented in Judith Warner's book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in an Age of Anxiety. On the other end of the scale, there's the bubble-boy behaviour of some Christian parents to keep their kids from all that's bad in the world. Like meeting a real life gay or lesbian person, which might lead to an understanding about sexuality/homosexuality and might allow them to really get in touch with what it means, concretely, to separate sin from sinner. Or to look at the thrice married pastor of their church and wonder if, perhaps, there's something wrong there too.

We parents tend to fluctuate wildly between Hyper Parenting (or helicopter parenting as some are now calling it) to outright neglect. Mea culpa -- too worn from working all day to actively engage with my kids, I let them cruise the nintendo (my 13-year-old) while my 6 year old plays her imaginary school game, while I do "just one more email." My spectrum (which can be navigated several times a day) ranges from neglect to the lecturing, in your face, kind -- how did you play today, did your teacher say anything about your history project, if you commit yourself to soccer you have to go to every practice, dropping towels on the bathroom floor is the sign of a weak spirit, and then there's my ubiquitous work-first, play-later mantra.

It's like sculpting something from a kit, sort of like paint-by-number art, you poke and prod and chip away until it takes on some sort of shape. I've found, sadly, that the shape ends up a little like the circle I tried cutting out of construction paper when I was in kindergarten. Intent on perfection, I kept cutting round and round until there was nothing left of it.

And so it is with these false gods we set up -- when there's nothing concrete, real, and incarnate within what you're setting up to worship, it ends up on the floor in a flurry of little paper bits. Pity the poor family that's being molded into this kind of stultified and studied perfection -- high marks, professional sports development programs, extra tutoring (Kumon sources say that most kids are taking classes fully two grade levels above what they're in at school), and scheduled play.

I am desperately trying to break out of that rut and have decided that prayer, really and truly, is the only way out.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sacred Females

It's been almost a month since I last blogged. Too busy finding candidates for a recent TV contract on grooming shaggy men and making them worthy of their women. I am the first one to say my husband could stand some improvement, but if truth be told a lot of the women who nominated their men actually had greater need of sprucing up.

There was the woman who called the show and asked that we do something with her boyfriend of ten years, who has rotting teeth. His breath stinks, she wailed. After he got his teeth kicked in, he's done nothing with them.

What happened -- was he in a fight, I asked innocently.

No, I kicked him in the mouth ten years ago, she replied.

Oh. He must have done something pretty awful to warrant that.

I was behaving badly, she admitted. That's when I was drinking.

Since the producer insisted we follow up on this "love story" I chatted next with the man who said their issues were way deeper than a shave and a haircut and that he wouldn't go back to her.

That's just one example. There were many others.

This brings me to the Da Vinci Code, and the worship of the sacred feminine. And the Last Supper, since this is Maundy Thursday, and Mary Magdalene who is supposedly reclining on Jesus' right side in Da Vinci's Last Supper painting.

The way that Mary M is portrayed in the DVC (da vinci code) is about as conniving and manipulative as the lovely lady who kicked in her guy's teeth while drunk.

The gospel accounts portray Magdalene as worshipful -- not lovesick, not queenly and presiding over the table as the chatelaine -- but emptied out. When women are engaged in an intimate relationship with a man, they simply are not emptied out, unless there's an abusive or co-dependent thing going on.

I have more problems with the DVC than just that, however. First of all, the priory which worships the sacred feminine is ALL MEN! It's a brotherhood.

Secondly, the secret rituals which are supposed to cause the divine spark are ugly romping sex acts -- imagine this: a grey-haired overweight woman astride an old gray-haired man, in the midst of a secret society of folks chanting like Druids.

Contrast that to The Song of Solomon, with its spiritually erotic verse illuminating the heart that pants after its Maker. As a mom, I have never once considered myself the creator of my two kids -- and to confuse the divine spark that occurs when we search for God with the sex act is more than bizarre.

And now to the Last Supper. The metaphysical divine consumed by the merely human. Now that's intimate.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Religious Imagination

I am becoming very curious about the making of the religious imagination -- is it nature or nurture?

On Tuesday, A (aged six and a half) got a sliver in her finger while she was running her hand under her dad's closed office door trying to get in while he was working/on the phone. Much howling and tears, as he carried her up the stairs for me to examine it.

She was wild about this sliver -- first she wanted me to look at it, then her dad to remove it, then she didn't want it done, then questions about how much it would hurt, then lamentations on why did this have to happen to me? As I held her on my lap, preparing to investigate further, a sterilized needle cleverly concealed in the folds of my sweatpants, she set up the sobbing anew.

"I think God should do this, not you," she said. "God can make this better."

"But God gives those jobs to his angels on earth, like mums and dads, who are here to care for you and feed you and take slivers out," said I.

The howling increased, and A ran to her room to pray. She knelt on the floor, hands clasped in desperation, and directed her mumbled request heavenward. She then scuttled back and asked if the sliver was gone. I said it didn't look like it, but maybe. She ran back into her room for more prayers, all the while sobbing.

This drama continued for a couple of days until going to her grandparents. Her grandfather looked at the finger and said if she didn't get the sliver out, then the finger would have to come off. Finally, she tossed a coin, saying if it's heads the finger comes off, and if it's tails, she'd let grandad take it out. As she described it, "the first time was her finger was to come off; the second time, the finger to come off; the third time, K (grandfather) to take out." So she let him use the needle to take it out. She told me later, that during the operation, she filled her mind with pleasant thoughts -- a particularly special playdate she'd had with her little friend Sydney.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes

My six year old daughter has been keeping my family and friends howling with laughter for most of her verbal (and even non-verbal) life.

Recently, she has developed a severe case of religious imagination, and in some instances has taken up evangelism with a vengeance.

She has a thing for the popes, which has caused her lapsed Catholic dad a lot of consternation -- what did he, a good and religious atheist, do to deserve a daughter who plasters her walls with pictures of old men in white robes and tall white hats? Good question.

A few months ago, she was outside on the porch by herself and my husband went by the screen door and was able to witness the following: she was looking up at the sky and saying "God? Where are you? Are you there? God? Gawd? Where are you?"

One time, she and her dad were having a conversation about Joseph -- who he was. Her dad said he was Jesus' father, and A said no, that God was Jesus father. So her dad said Joseph was the earthly father. And A said no God was that too. Then she said to him: You don't know these things, Daddy. You don't know Jesus. You did as a child, but you don't know him now.

About a week or so ago, I got after her about some behaviour, and told her that was naughty and not at all nice, that it was hurtful to one of her friends (I think she had laughed about one of the little boys in her class because he'd not made it to the bathroom and pooed in his pants.) A broke down in tears, and sobbed that she couldn't help being like this, because God had made her like this, and how could she go against what God made. I explained to her about freedom and human will, and about choices to commit either sin or goodness. She was unconvinced as she continued to sob out her excuses.

Another time recently, she asked (on the way to church) why Daddy didn't go to church, and when I said it's because he doesn't believe in God, she was shocked. "Whaaaat? He doesn't believe in God? How could you NOT believe in God?!?! He's EVERYWHERE!!!! He's in the car, beside me, he's outside, he's on the sidewalk, in the trees, in heaven,........"

What ensued was a lengthy conversation about the nature of belief, with A saying that Daddy couldn't believe in God because he didn't see Him, and that was very hard for him. She also said that sometimes some people will not believe anything unless they see it.

When we got home later she asked her dad point-blank why he didn't believe in God. (He couldn't answer.) And she struck up the same hue and cry she gave me in the car.

It says that a little child shall lead them, and I fervently hope and pray that in my husband's case this is true, because I've failed miserably. Perhaps Anna will do better.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Rose by any other Name

Tis true that a person is still that same person no matter what their name. But I was reminded again, on Sunday, of the weight placed on names in the Bible. One of the readings involved Nathanael, who saw Jesus and knew who He was. My son's middle name is Nathanael, given to him in hopes that he, like the young man in the Bible story, would grow up to see and recognize Christ.

While names are just words, it's good to remember that words also contain meaning, and moreover, memory. Whenever I hear that Bible story I am called anew to make sure my son grows in wisdom and stature so that he'll be able to know Jesus.

My daughter's name was likewise given to her so that she, like the old prophetess who greeted Mary and Joseph and the Babe arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem.

In times such as these, it's good to remember that words can act as symbols, secrets almost, the meaning only apparent to those who have ears to hear or eyes to see.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Haute Cuisine

Oh I really must protest today! Whatever happened to the butter knife? Or even the dinner and luncheon knife? Why does one never see these around anymore? As most women will attest, it's a rare thing to see a man holding a knife at the dinner table anymore, unless he's about to stab a side of beast.

Well, I'll tell you what's happened to the lowly knife. It's been replaced by a peanut butter and jam spreader.

Yes, I saw it this morning and will paste it here if you don't believe me. I saw it, of course, in the Globe and Mail's Style Counsel, which starts off the sales job with this line:

Sometimes it's nice to own things you don't actually need.

Judging by the state of the landfill sites, we all own way TOO much of what we don't actually need. (Dinner knives notwithstanding.)

The Style Counsel goes on to say:

It doesn't, for instance, take much to make a classic PB&J sandwich: the two namesake ingredients, some bread (sliced diagonally, crusts on) and a utensil to do the smearing. But Cuisipro, the Canadian maker of kitchen gadgets for every purpose imaginable, has designed a Peanut Butter and Jelly Spreader that is too adorable to resist.

And just in case you don't know how to use it, unlike, say, the regular garden-variety kitchen knife, they explain:
It looks like a distant cousin to a kayak paddle, with rubbery silicone ends colour-coded to remind you not to cross-contaminate.

Isn't cross-contamination the whole point of PB&J?

The ad goes on and on -- after all how much can one say about a PB&J spreader and still fulfil the word count necessary for advertising this item?

They say it's packaged with "all the necessary ingredients" -- what more does one need? -- and "it's a deconstructed housewarming gift that's far more creative than towels."

I say, bring on the towels!!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why Buy the Milk when You Can Have the Cow

As I sat at my desk last night, filling out my son's milk form for school, I remembered the milk cartons when I was a kid (now they come in bags with a straw attached). But my memories of school lunches and milk cartons are only seen from the perspective of an outsider. Because everyone else but me got milk. That's because we had our own lovely cow at home -- Brownie, who was either a Jersey or a Guernsey, I can never remember which.

And Brownie faithfully gave thick yellowy milk with lovely big globules of fat every day of her life. And my dad would sit hunched over the ten-quart sterilizing machine as he poured the milk in and stuck a pitcher under for the cleansed liquid. Not that it was much different from the unclean milk. It still had globs of yellowy fat floating in it. And most of the time it was still lukewarm. I'm not sure if that was because it was so fresh it still had the warmth of the cow on it. Or if our refrigerator was not operating at top speed. Likely the latter.

I never could stand milk, until I was much older and it was much colder.

I do vaguely remember the cow as well. She was large. And brown. I also remember how frustrated my dad would get with her when she would break off her rope (probably in search of greener pastures north of the house, and into Moorelands). She'd go trotting off, and my father would bring her back, usually attached by a rope to the back of the car.

One time, as he told me many years later, he was so mad he chased her until she broke into a run, and jumped over several fences. Apparently she couldn't have calves after that.

One of my first memories was being squirted in the eye by milk from an upturned teat squeezed in my dad's big hand (I used to follow him around the farm all day).

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Circle of Life at Church

Last night I was musing about all the new babies at church, thinking about their scrunchy little faces opening up over their first few months, like blossoms forming from buds, changing from newborn to chubby pink or olive or brown cherubs. And from there started to think about their parents, sleep-deprived for sure, but drawn into the circle of the church in a way that they hadn't been previously, when they were teens, young 20s, newly married.

There's something about babies, and the having of them, that draws a couple deeper into the fold of the church, especially by the female participants -- those moms with older kids, or the middle-aged women with their teen children, or the old women with middle aged children. It's definitely a rite of passage.

I'm thinking particularly of Heather, who is shy, pretty in an understated way, and her 2-month old baby. Before his birth, she was a member on the periphery, partly because of her -- and her husband's -- shyness. But now this baby, which gets taken from her at coffee hour and passed around, has become the focus. It's drawn her out and into the bosom of the women of the church. She will go through the whole process as we all did -- being a part of the Sunday School, getting to know the other mothers, maybe teaching Sunday School as well, fretting about our teenagers lives in the current cultural whirlpool, watching as they get married, have their own babies, then sliding into old age.

The fact that children create a thread of continuity in parish life is a good thing, but it also brings painfully to mind that ignored part of our church, those who have no children. What to do about those who remain at the edge of the community, how to draw them in? It is true a community needs focus in order to be such, and there are subsets at every church that have their focus -- missions, Sunday School, parish dinner organizers, etc.

I have no answers for this one.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Who Among us Lives in Dogville

Finally saw Dogville last night. Didn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, gripped by its incredible power, and yet wondering exactly, what’s it all about.

Has anyone been in those kids’ playgrounds where all the imitation leather bags hang down, and you have to run around bumping into them, and finding the other kids in the maze of it all? The movie felt a bit like that – I kept brushing against pleather strips redolent of gospel stories, especially parable, feeling their sensation on my arms, prickling the skin, and yet the meaning eluding me because it is not obvious, and like parables it does not hit you over the head with the moral. We either have eyes to see and ears to hear, or we do not.

But it is also universally human – how do we act, sinful human that we are, when grace comes among us? Do we choose to embrace it and be changed by it, or do we say no to it? Everyone in Dogville is at once drawn to Grace’s purity, mercy, forgiving nature, and yet they come to despise her for it. Her beauty, both physical (which often signals inner beauty) and spiritual, shows their (and our) ugliness all the more.

Grace’s intrusion also shatters the cocoon of Dogville because it exposes them (and us) to something much bigger. Dogville, for all intents and purposes, is a “city” on a hill, and its residents are gripped in a grim puritanical existence, left to scratch like chickens in the earth. There is no joy, not much celebration, except when Grace first arrives. It believes itself impervious to the outside world, and yet it can be invaded, both by gangsters and thugs, and by Grace.

Her innocence, forgiveness, light and softness is there for all to partake of, and the townspeople of Dogville do just that. For the first few days they become changed, enlightened and cheered, on the verge of becoming an authentically caring community. And then something happens; mistrust sets in, they feel threatened by her, because they are afraid of the letter of the law. Instead of being transformed by Grace, they sink lower into their slum of the soul, end up attacking grace because they cannot view her as the spirit of the law.

(Some critics have accused Triers of hating women, but I don’t agree. Rape illumines the depths of degradation to which we can sink, that is to distort love by the use of force and power is the worst distortion of love possible.)

For most of the movie, I expected Grace was another “holy fool” like Bess in Breaking the Waves, and I struggled a lot with the ending where she diverges from that. The big difference between the movies, though, is Bess was driven by love, for her husband, and for his healing. Grace, on the other hand, may have such a driving force at first but not toward the end because what she thought was love, was only self-interest (Tom Edison wants to think and feel in order to write about it, but not to live it).

This morning, my bible reading was Luke, chapter 6. It was unbelievably apropos. How the crowd sought to touch Jesus for power that came out of him, and how those who were sick and filled with unclean spirits were healed; How the Pharisees were “filled with fury” when Jesus did something good on the Sabbath; this is also the chapter that deals with loving those who hate you, giving to those who beg from you, and blessing those who curse you, all of which Grace does. It’s also the chapter that talks about no good tree bearing bad fruit, nor a bad tree bearing good fruit.

There is an overriding sense of the gospels in this movie, though it’s impossible to pin down, and say this symbol stands for this, and so on. But Grace must make a choice at the end, as God did when Abraham begged him to save Sodom and Gomorrah; God agrees, providing there are ten good men, then three, then one in the city. When none can be found, the city is destroyed.

While Grace does make a beautiful and impassioned plea at the end about mercy and forgiveness, she must decide if this town is worth mercy. (By the way, Nicole Kidman is remarkable in this role.) Thomas Edison, Grace’s amour in the movie, who might possibly have been that one good man, turns out to be just as selfish and sinful as the rest of them, as distorted by life in Dogville. I’m not sure if Triers is also saying that culture will rub off on you (probably he is – after all Lot and Abraham made very different choices when they took up their land outside of Sodom and Gomorrah, with Lot choosing to be close to the city of sin, and Abraham preferring to reside a little outside its reach.)

But I do think he is saying a lot about the choices we make, particularly about whether we choose to accept grace or not.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More Narnia

Just when it looked as though I'd finally stop going on about this Narnia movie, the review I did for the Anglican Planet has come out.

Here's the link:

And if anyone out there is reading this blog, I'd love to hear your comments on it.

When is God Present?

Over the past few days I've been suffering from a vague dis-ease about the whole Christmas thing. While I tried to retain as much of the religious content as possible, it feels flat in my memory. Someone somewhere said he was going to embrace the commercialism even more in coming years because he liked going shopping and buying things for people he loves. Maybe that is a more appropriate way to celebrate. At least there's some joy to it which may be what's missing in my own approach.

It almost feels in retrospect as if God was not even present.

But I also know that God's sovereignty means just that -- He is present regardless of what we do. That's why ritual and sacrament are so important. In behavioural terms, feelings follow actions, not the other way around. If we continue to pray and have our devotions, and go to communion, God is present, and eventually our feelings will catch up.

I am reading in the Magnificat devotions that my friend Janine gave me a few months ago, and Father Richard Veras writes that the Mass is centred around the Presence of Christ. If I find myself distracted during Mass, does that stop Christ from coming? No!

Although I'm Anglican, I do believe in Jesus's presence at Communion. What form He takes is beyond my comprehension. I cannot say that He isn't in the bread, although I prefer to think of Him as beside, around, above me. Perhaps ingesting Jesus isn't such a bad idea after all. I think it was Janine who once said that taking Communion was a little like being pregnant -- it's inside you and changes you but it has a life of its own.

How you approach the Eucharist, though, doesn't limit whether God is present or not. If I do not have a complete understanding (given my metaphysical-philosophical shortcomings) of His presence, I am assured that He is there, nonetheless.

That is why I cannot countenance the Catholic claim that only during Catholic mass is Jesus present, really and truly. If that is so, then presence would depend on our abilities, and not His grace. If that's so, then you have to throw out infant baptism -- and baptising the mentally challenged -- because those baptised aren't cognizant of God's presence.

I just now checked today's quotations ( and see it's about this topic of the body and blood. It's amazing how often I will be struggling with something and have the cquod pop up with an insight or two along the same lines.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (ESV)

And a comment by Evelyn Underhill:

Two movements merge in the real act of communion. First, the creature's profound sense of need, of incompleteness: its steadfast desire... Next, a humble and loving acceptance of God’s answer to that prayer of desire, however startling, disappointing, and unappetizing it may be.