The Real Parent

My friend Deb, a fellow mom of 5, writes a superb newspaper column called Real Parent. (Click here to check her out on Facebook.) I'm like the first in line to read it and I'm almost sure half of what she writes is actually a great big finger pointing in my general direction, although I will admit to some occasional paranoia. At any rate, I went to drop off some old laptops at her house today. (What's that about one person's trash being another's treasure? I think her genius, computer-programming boys hit the jackpot today, although, they may beg to differ with the missing keys and lack of power sources....beggars can't be choosers boys....although you weren't technically begging, and I should probably thank you for taking them....) At any rate, because of the missing computer keys, the conversation naturally turned to Solomon:

Me: He's a monster I tell you. He watched the window guys all last week and by the end of the week I saw him go over, open up the great room window and crawl right out of it and onto the deck. (You know, because THAT is totally safe in a two story house.) And on Saturday, he ran straight out into the parking lot at soccer and there was nothing I could do to stop him because he was so fast getting those great big warehouse doors open. I spilled coffee all over myself chasing after him.....had there been a car coming he'd have been toast....

Deb (after a brief, contemplative pause): Why don't you go Chinese on him and bind his feet? Then he won't be able to go anywhere.

This is exactly why we are friends, y'all! Now that's a real solution for real parenting! (You'll love her column too, check it out!)

Thanks Deb! I may have to give it a go......googling feet binding now (although I believe total body binding may be more appropriate....actually, maybe I should just get him a cage.....)


Killing the Inner Pack-Rat: Step 3

In Which We Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives Over to the Care of God 
as We Understood Him

(If only God were easier to understand!)

You might be thinking this would be the easiest step of all for someone like myself who already believes in God. But even with a working belief in God, turning one's will over or even acknowledging the need to do so, presents a formidable challenge. While it can be difficult and deflating to admit we have a problem, and overwhelming to consider that we too can be restored to sanity, actually turning our will and lives over to God is an entirely different beast. Let go of my control? Are you kidding? I only get this little box to control and I. am. not. letting. it. go! Thankyouverymuch!

Even those of us who already believe in a Power Greater than Ourselves have a hard time truly surrendering. Might I offer for your remembering those law-abiding Pharisees of the "I got this" character, thinking they had made themselves righteous by being so incredibly not like those sinners all around them.....God really digs that attitude...oh wait, no, He doesn't.

Here's me:
  Read spiritual stuff, my shelves are overflowing with the deep and sacred
  Pray a lot (while not aloud for all to hear, certainly more continually than not)
  Try to be a good person, doing the right thing even when it's tough
  Continually seek truth
  Teach our kids about God and living within God's will
  Attempt to be a good steward of the many blessings in my life
  Marvel at the beauty in the world and in people
  Strive to be a good "helpmate"
  Donate to charity
  Participate in church, worship, fellowship
  Try to show love to all God's children, etc., etc., etc.

And here's also me:
  Get short with my family
  Complain inwardly and silently about the tediousness of the drudgery tasks before me
  Throw mercy out the window (probably the same one the two-year old left open AFTER  CRAWLING OUT OF IT!)
  Consciously do a less than generous thing because another mom a Target looked at me with ridicule and expectation (long story, one that ends with our house having a Pass the Pigs game and her house going without....)
  Demand my own way more than I ought
  Don't give the benefit of the doubt to those closest to me
  Hold on to things I don't need, material things other people could find great value in or emotional things that would be better left behind
  Assign blame, point fingers, fail to notice my own flaws and wrongdoings
  Scornfully note the impatience of the young driver rudely tailing the elderly gentleman driving in front of him and only moments later find myself irritated with the "incompetent" driver in front of me
  Buy a cart full of sugary Easter treats, five pounds of granulated sugar and a bag of powered sugar two weeks before I know we are eliminating sugar from our diets, etc., etc., etc.

Um, inconsistent? To say the least! And notice, neither of those lists included the word surrender or anything close to turning my will over to anyone but myself. There is no conscious effort to rely on God anymore than I have to. My prayers are more about thanksgiving than surrender, more about other people's needs than my own, more about patting God on the back for His awesomeness (and, ahem, for mine) than allowing Him access to transform me from the inside out. After all, I got this and I'm so grateful I'm not one of those people who actually need to claim total dependence on something Greater than Themselves. That's for vulnerable, broken people....not me....

But wait, God, as I understand Him, told the self-righteous that he didn't come to save the righteous, that a doctor doesn't come to heal the healthy but the sick, and then he proceeded to surround himself with people who had obvious flaws and deficits and he tried his hardest to point out to the righteous that their need was even greater, that their hearts were in the wrong place. And where God is concerned, heart placement is apparently pretty darn important.

The German writer Goethe said, "Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of things which matter least."

Much of my life has been just that: allowing the things that have little importance outweigh that which is most important; letting the illusion of self-suffiency blind me from the greater choice: a reliance on and true surrender to a Power Greater than Myself. And if God is all I think God is, He will be a far better caretaker of me than I have been! For me, this step is about a daily decision, about consciously letting go of the living I have been doing at the foot of an empty cross where I play the guessing game all by myself, struggling to figure it out on my own and instead embracing the new life that Easter truly offers, the one that we are called to live out, that offers hope and a future and life everlasting. The cross was important but we must not get stuck there.

And so, within this surrender, my Inner Pack-Rat loses it's centralized position in our house as the fruits of the spirit begin to chip away at the fruits of our labor and I begin to understand that spiritual fruits should never be at the mercy of material fruits, that God's role in my life should never be at the mercy of anything, especially not my self.

As the old hymn goes:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, 
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Happy Easter.


Killing the Inner Pack-Rat: Step Two

In Which We Came to Believe That a Power Greater Than Ourselves Could Restore Us To Sanity

Well shoot, I sure as heck hope so because if a Power Greater Than Ourselves can't help us then we are all toast!

This second step got me thinking: many, if not all, of the major religions and spiritual practices of the world offer valuable insight into accumulated stuff, its power over us and the importance of freeing ourselves from this bondage. Like it or not, we live in a culture of greed and excess. And it isn't just "them," those "others," the "1%ers" or whatever some might think. It is all of us. If you are reading this blog, you probably have more than you need......like time to read this blog.... Hello? Shouldn't you be working or something? Heck, I know I am neglecting something just thinking about this! (The cat just informed me it is his dinner I am neglecting. Silly cat, doesn't he know I got rid of his dinner as one of today's 21 things?) But I digress. While I can't cover all variations of this Greater Power, let's see just how our sanity might be restored by It, shall we?

Starting with what practice I know best, I am confident Jesus would be quite displeased with our excess here in the U.S., my house included. I am pretty sure that when he said if you have two coats, give one away, that he actually meant it; not only because he wanted us to be generous but he probably truly didn't think we need so many coats...because obviously he didn't live here in Minnesota and clearly had no idea what he was talking about! (Silly, Jesus.) But seriously, when he told us not to lay up for ourselves treasure here on earth, this was a pretty direct statement that we need not gather more and more possessions, so many that we forget what we have and go buy more the same stuff or start running out of space to contain it all. And he also really meant what he told us, that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. I am 100% sure that my heart is better off with God and those I love than it is packed away in a box with a hundred useless trophies from the first 18 years of my life. God can actually make good use of a heart like mine (and yours, too), if only I am willing to take it out of the box. So perhaps Jesus was onto something when he told us to sell our possessions and give to the needy because when we finally get around to getting rid of our junk (and stop spending money on junk to replace it!) and use the free space/time/money to help others, we are one step closer toward restoring our sanity. Come to think of it, Jesus said a whole lot about this. And I'll be the first to admit that I have personally glossed over those particular passages because certainly they apply to those "other" people who are greedy and have way too many things, not someone like myself who just has, um, way too many things......ahem....

In Luke, Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Amen, Jesus. So, I'm pretty sure he was talking to me....and I am pretty sure he means it is time to let go of my abundance and replace it with more meaningful life.....and it is up to me, to us actually, to either respond positively or to walk away sad like the rich man in Matthew 19 who "had great wealth"....a story that ends with Jesus confirming our second step by saying, "With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible." It is a Power greater than ourselves that restores us to sanity, not our own doing. (Thank God because I was certain to go crazy trying to do it myself!)

Similar to the Hindu belief that there are three gateways to hell (lust, wrath and greed), in Buddhism, greed (or the selfish desire of, or attempt to possess something that is beyond personal need) is one of the Three Poisons that leads to evil and suffering. (The other two are anger/hatred and ignorance/delusion.) And get this, in Buddhist tradition, at the center of the Wheel of life are a snake, representing hate; a pig, representing ignorance; and what could possibly represent greed? A ROOSTER! So. Darn. Fitting. Dang it! According to Buddhist tradition, the three of them combined keep us bound to samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which apparently is like being held in the hamster wheel of bondage, so, kind of a bad thing. The word they use for this suffering is dukkah. You don't want to get stuck in dukkah. You just don't.

But Karen, you argue, I have a lot of stuff but I don't think that means I am greedy. After all, most of it came from gifts and hand me downs and really great sales!

Ok, you and Pig just keep thinking that. Let me know how that works for you. But you might want to know that smug ol' Rooster over there is cock-a-doodling through your dukkah.... 

The bottom line, if you have more than you need, too many coats in your closet or clothes in your wardrobe, if you can call a charity pick-up after a week of purging and decluttering and know that you will need two or three more pick-ups (my hand is raised here), chances are greed is somewhere in the mix. And maybe delusion. I don't know for sure but I am willing to bet it's tough to get off the cycle of samsara with so much excess. Which is why a Power greater than ourselves really comes in handy here.....

In the Muslim faith, the third Pillar is called Zakat, which means purification, specifically, purifying one's heart from greed. They believe that wealth is a gift from God and that it is a human's natural inclination to love and even hoard wealth. They believe it takes God's help for a person to part with some of his wealth which is why they require the payment of zakat (or 2.5% of a person's wealth and assets). And that of course got me thinking: shoot, only 2.5%? They get off easy compared to Jews and Christians who are commanded to tithe 10%.....but when I told Kurt maybe we should reconsider our faith, he reminded me that giving 2.5% would be an increase for us....insert tail between legs and doh! Watch out for that dukkah! 

I'll have to address that issue after I finish the purging though because really, there is only so much a girl can handle...perhaps this is where that higher Power comes in.....it's too bad that my Higher Power didn't intercede BEFORE I started writing this post!


Slight Oversight?

Dear God,

I know you have a lot on your plate. What, with the wars and poverty, murders and crime, the widows, widowers, orphans, the hungry, the starving, and the politicians, the mental heath issues and drug addictions and great sadnesses, the physical injuries, cancer, disease, and all that healing and guiding and listening to the whining of the fortunate and the cries and groans of the meek and weary and marginalized and your disappointment with some of us and your love for humans, times like 7 billion, and your hope for our future and well, trust me when I say I understand how you might have missed a memo or two, perhaps haven't glanced at your calendar in a while. So, I thought I would humbly offer you a gentle reminder that today is the first day of spring. Isn't that wonderful? Yet when I looked at my outdoor thermometer this morning, it was only 4 degrees outside.

Please don't think I am complaining. I understand very well that the record low for March here in the upper midwest is somewhere in the negative 30s. I was just wondering however, if you might crank it up a notch....maybe give us 20 or 30 more degrees, or 60......because, you see God, we are having windows replaced in our house and while I realize it is a blessing that I can even write that, that I have a house with a gazillion windows and that I can afford to replace them, well, on the first day of the replacement it snowed. And then today it is so cold I am in two coats while standing in my kitchen.....because while they are really fast at getting the windows out of the walls, the putting new ones in part seems to be a very, very slow and tedious process. (I am beginning to think they are paid by the hour.) It is now only 50 degrees inside my house. On the first day of spring. And they just opened all the doors in the house so that the air pressure doesn't change while they are putting windows in 15 feet up which could make the workers and the new windows fall out the huge holes in the wall.....and while that isn't the same emergency as say the freezing homeless on our streets and the chemical warfare they are fearing over seas, well, it kinda stinks for us right now, here in the arctic spring of MN.

So, if you think of it, in the midst of your divine busy-ness, maybe you could offer a little less sunny but extreme cold and a tad more springtime warmth?

And if not, I totally get it. We are kind of low on the totem priority pole. And we kind of prefer it that way actually. So, come to think of it, scratch that. Let's just call it even and you have a nice day in eternity.

Much Love,
The Graceful Chicken

P.S. Next time a contractor says they can put windows in even though it is going to be cold and snowy, that is it "no problem," please give us a gentle nudge reminding us that it might not be a problem for them but for us, well, it might just be a slight headache. You know, like the migraine kind.


In Case You Think I'm Kidding

It occurred to me after my last Solomon post that you might think I am just being overly dramatic,  exaggerating the extent to which he makes trouble. Let me assure you, I am paying time for every last judgmental thought I have ever had about any ones else's parenting. Karma comes full circle. Every. Time.

To those friends and strangers out there with feral children: I get it now. I am sorry if I ever looked at you with that silently judging eye....you know what I am talking about. When your kid dumped the cat food into the litter box or climbed up onto the piano keys to practice jumping, I know it isn't because you haven't tried. I realize now that you are as good as they come and yet somehow, maybe because of an awkward moon phase or too many stars misaligning with dwarf planets, you gave birth to a human-like beast and you are simply doing the best with the hand you were dealt. So, you resign yourself to the chasing and picking-up and heavy sighs and a few extra glasses of wine each week because you are raising something far more savage and barbaric than the average mom deals with. I am so, so sorry for any scorn you may have felt. Rest assured, I get it now.

So, the pastor at my church has a nephew who she says is a bit like Solomon: very inquisitive.

Isn't that nice? So much kinder than the words I would choose. This is why she is the minister; she knows how to dish out grace, heaping it on where all I choose to see is chaos and destruction and OW! matchbox cars dropping on my head from the staircase above....SOLLY!

I would argue however, that this goes beyond simple inquisitiveness. You know that scene in Singing in the Rain where Gene Kelly is tap dancing with his umbrella and he starts splashing the water in the gutter with one foot? Yeah, imagine Solomon on top of my piano reenacting that scene, only it looks less like tap dancing and more like the bar scene in Pete's Dragon where the people in the bar are singing "A dragon, a dragon, he says he saw a dragon" and as they are drunkenly dancing on top of the bar they start kicking all the beer bottles off the counter and onto the floor, making a huge, smelly mess.

There had been music where he was standing.....
Now folks, contrary to what some may believe, I do not run a circus here. But apparently I am bringing up one of their kin. Or one of their animals, I am not sure which. I suppose this is what I get for having pulled him down FROM THE CHANDELIER in the dining room only moments before! I may never get to the dishes again. Sorry sinks and toilets but you will have to wait, too! And welcome all ye dust. Just settle right in and make yourself comfy as I won't be attending to you until 2020-something....

Even more recently than this, I heard crying in the basement. It was a fairly terrified cry so I went down to investigate. The door to the laundry room was locked but when I went to check the utility room where a light was on, no one was there. The crying was coming from inside the dark, locked laundry room. I got the key down from where we hang it, went in and found Solomon standing on top of the washing machine.

"What the??? How did you even get in here?" I asked as I scooped him up into a big hug.

Later, as I was folding the clothes, I turned around and there he was again:

Yes, that would in fact be the Clorox that he is resting his hand on.....
 "Solly, really?" I took him down and then a minute later I caught him in action:

You can see his little face looking through the tiny hole that he is using to sneak in from the utility room.
He apparently has been hanging out with the cat too much and has learned all the cat's secrets. I knew their friendship was going to be trouble! And yes, those are two big electrical outlets for him to go through (right under the Clorox Clean-Up) in order to climb onto the machine.....I can't see this being a problem really, I mean, it's not like he loves electrical cords or pouring stuff out or anything.....

Sigh. Inquisitive is only the tip of the iceberg.


Killing the Inner Pack-Rat: Step One

Step One in Which We Admitted We Were Powerless Over Clutter - That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

First thing first: I married the antithesis of a pack rat. From early on in childhood, he would do semi-regularly clean-outs of his room, spending hours sorting through and throwing stuff away. My understanding is that his brothers would often wait patiently outside his bedroom door, ready and waiting to go through his unwanted treasures. I can't really look at them without thinking about vultures.

Meanwhile, way down yonder, I spent hours stuffing all my dearest toys, most of which I didn't play with (some of which I didn't recognize), into my closet until it was so full the door would only stay shut with a chair wedged under the knob.

I can recall the time I took my grandfather by the hand, showed him my treasure-filled closet and asked:

"Grandpa, how many toys do you think I have?"

"Well, I don't know, maybe a hundred?" he replied. (I now know he was most likely cringing from the pain such excess caused his soul....it might have been the beginning of his heart issues, I'm not sure.)

"And how many do you think I play with?" I asked.

"Well, I don't know. I suppose all of them," he said.

"Nope. None of them," I declared, slamming the door shut (and wedging the chair back under the knob). I am not proud of my utterly spoiled 5 year old self, not in the least.

At any rate, while I have been chained to my stuff from a significantly early age, my husband is incredibly unbound to material possessions. His idea of a great time is scouring closets and rooms and entire houses looking for anything and everything that is unnecessary and then tossing them into the trash. This process, which produces enough anxiety to force me into hiding in whatever closet has the majority of my stuff, acts like an opiate to Kurt, soothing his soul, smoothing out the rough edges, calming the intensity of his somewhat overactive cortisol gland (you may think there is no such thing but I promise you, he has one).  And while I am fairly certain he won't rid himself of things like his wedding ring or lawn mower, or his legs, I can honestly say that very little is safe from this obsessive drive to rid his life, our lives, of clutter. Sometimes I feel like even the kids and I are on the chopping block the moment we stop being useful. Watch out cat, your time's far overdue!

I, on the other hand, need no less than a twelve-step program to set me right again. Today, in attempt to clean out some of my junk room -- I'm almost embarrassed to admit I even have such a room but it doubles as my sewing room....and computer room, music library and instrument room, picture/scrapbooking/baby book library, ironing room, picture room, floppy-disk storage space (you know, for computers we no longer have), etc. etc. in other words, Kurt's worst nightmare -- I threw out an entire drawer full of free travel brochures and catalogs that I had requested over two years ago in case we ever took a real family vacation to Never-heard-of-it-Land, Midwest. They had been completely untouched, right next to the two drawers wedged full of plaques and awards from middle school and high school....and let's be honest, elementary school! Seriously, who keeps that stuff? It's almost a sickness.

But this week, I have been consumed by the desire to live more simply, to purge our life of the unnecessary, to make room for emptiness and not to fill it up again with random, unfulfilling things because by doing so, we leave no space for creativity, for relational experiences, for the holy and sacred. I don't know if it's because of the book I am reading for a second time this week (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker) or if it is something that has been building for a while and this book has just opened the flood gate, but I do know that my desire to teach my kids about the things we value and to steer them away from excessiveness, from the "more is better" mentality that pervades so much of our suburban world and the American culture, is at the forefront of my mind.

So much so that last night I cleared out half my closet. Your welcome, Goodwill. You too, Kurt.

But, while Kurt is the perfect storm for deforestation of our home, I am full of sentiment, reservation, what-if thinking; the concerned citizen who opposes the controlled burn even though the prescribed burn is what creates a more optimal forest floor and minimizes the risk of catastrophic wildfire! Kurt worries about the clutter overtaking us while I worry that we may get rid of that one super important thing that has a 0.001% chance of being needed ten years from now by a child our neighbor hasn't even conceived yet. It's a problem.

A couple weeks back, Kurt held up a single black ski glove and asked the simple question: Does this have a match? I balked. If I told him the truth, that I didn't know where the other one was, he'd throw it. If I argued that I was still looking (for over a year now), he'd probably still throw it. I breathed deep to unclinch my jaw and told him the other one was missing and then closed my eyes as I heard the glove land with a thunk in the trashcan. And people, wouldn't you know, not more than two days later I found the match! The regret in the pit of my stomach was like no other. I wanted nothing more than to go ripping apart the trash cans but since that was the week of the plague, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt careless.....someone could have used those. We could have donated them. We could have given them back to their rightful, ten year old owner who can't seem to keep a pair of gloves intact to save his life. I thought of the waste, of the expense, of the cruelty (seriously, how did I not find it until two days too late!?) Meanwhile, Kurt's heart was a wee bit more joyful from holding onto one less thing. I imagined his spirits uplifted and his stress lightening and slowly, slowly it assuaged my grief.

I clearly have a lot to learn and lot more to undo because certainly this kind of living is the beginning of a person's unraveling. I'm jumping in full speed ahead though, under the assumption that it isn't too late to live the life we really want to be living.

And to those of you who have ever given our children anything, ever, they do not need anything else ever again. Outside of school uniforms, they will need exactly zero things. We have far too many things now and I predict even after this exercise of scaling back, we will still have far more things than we actually need. And if any of them ever asks you how many toys you think they have? Tell them too many and walk away quickly before they start begging you to buy them chairs. And door knobs.

A Day Without Fanfare

Kurt turned 40 today. Someone asked me what I was giving him and I think they were a little disappointed when I said I was simply going to pretend it wasn't his birthday. Seriously, I learned very early on in our relationship that the last thing on Earth he wants is attention, especially on his birthday. That surprise party I planned for him when he turned 28? I don't think he spoke to me for a week. Lesson learned. Matter of fact, I think the only thing that makes him more uncomfortable than unwanted attention is the Urologist, or any discussion about his experience with the Clip and Snip (which sends him crawling into the attic where he cowers in fetal position under three feet of insulation....holding his shot gun....well, in his mind anyway.)

So, this year when he said he was taking the day off, I packed up the two little ones and left the house for the majority of the day. Best present ever, so I was told.

But really, the kids and I decided that the best (i.e. least expensive) gift we could give, one that he would truly appreciate, would be a total family/life make-over, starting with our diets. You see, we are a fairly normal family. In our crazy busy lives, we fall back on eating too much processed junk and too little whole food goodness. While I might load up on lean proteins and veggies (because I am addicted to kale) and anything else that may give me that little edge in my training, I fall way short on forcing my kids (and husband) to eat so intentionally. If they had their way, I believe they would live on bagels and ice cream with an extra shot of corn syrup and trans fat and a side couple plates of bacon, each!

So, since it is Kurt's 40th birthday we decided, (and by 'we decided' I mean I decided and dragged them along kicking and screaming), that we would go the next 40 days enjoying the foods in our house, eating through our pantry and cupboards, making all the meals and treats and desserts our hearts desire, until all sugar and refined flour and processed junk is gone. During this period, we will begin to slowly fill our kitchen with mostly whole, fresh foods. After the 40 days of easing into it, we are going to try to maintain a 40 day fast from processed sugars. (I was hoping to go all out and do an entire elimination diet but I think my kids might actually die from eating only apples and bananas so we will start with what I believe is the biggest food issue in our family: too much processed sugar.)

At the same time, we are also going to be having a little come to Jesus with our clutter problem. For the next 40 days, we are going to be getting rid of 21 things each day. That's 840 things that will make their way out of our house and into the hands of someone who needs them more. And we'll all live happily ever after. The end.

But seriously, after the day off and house to himself, homemade pizza, Costco cake and four different kinds of ice cream to choose from, Kurt is in heaven (or perhaps that is just a sugar coma, I can't be sure). I think this may have been his best birthday ever. Well, except for the giving up sugar part. Wish us luck!


For When Things Get Out of Control

For when things get out of control, there I will be also. -- Jesus (my paraphrase)

You know things have gotten out of control.....

1. When you see your two-year old walk out of a room and hear him say, as clear as day, "Ah, F#&k it! (I do not take credit for this one as I assure you, that is not my bad word of choice!)

2. When there is not enough furniture in your child's room to keep him in his bed.

His escape plan

3.  When your donation pile looks like this......


(Seriously, this is a major issue; so major that it appears even the cat is ready to jump ship! I will be addressing clutter over the next couple of weeks....I know, I know, I can hardly wait either....)

4. When you have to remove a towel, two drumsticks and a cat bed from the shower before you can use it. (While I'm fairly confident I know who is responsible, I am hesitant to speculate on the why of it.)

5. When this is how you find your two-year old eating his lunch....

 .....of Girl Scout Cookies.... and you feel pretty good because this is improvement over the random teddy grahams he found (and ate) off the floor out in public the other day.....

If Jesus is with us more the more things get out of control, then by golly, I think he's got us surrounded.....perhaps it's time to surrender. The good news is, I am pretty certain order can be restored with just a little 'casting out of the demons'.....well, really one in particular.....


Confessions to a Police Officer

A police officer visited Liam's class last week. When I returned to pick him up the teacher told me:

"So, Liam told the policeman that his mommy drives 'super fast.'"

"Gee, thanks Liam! Throw me under the bus why don't you?!" I said, laughing.

"The policeman told him to tell you to slow down," she continued jovially.

"Yeah, it's tough when your number-loving five year old regularly monitors how fast you are going and anything above the speed limit is considered 'super fast,'" I said.

"Oh, that's not so bad really," the teacher went on. "[Liam's little classmate] told the policeman that her daddy has a set of handcuffs 'just like those' in his bedroom*."

Um, yeah, I'll own up to that "super fast driving" confession, and heck, even throw in an occasional lead-foot through a changing yellow light. And I might have to repress some giggles when I greet aforementioned parents at drop offs because, well, just because.

*For purposes of writing integrity, I'm not certain that the teacher mentioned just where her dad keeps his handcuffs or if my juvenile brain unintentionally filled in the blanks, but really, does that change a whole lot? Raise your hand if you own a pair of real hand cuffs.....on second thought, don't. I don't really want to know!


The Challenge

I overheard this conversation today:

The Computer-Shaped Game: "I'm Superman. Are you ready to face the challenge?"

Two year old Solomon, holding game to his face: "YESSSSSS! I weddy to face the challenge!" And then he patiently stood there, ready and eagerly waiting. For what? He had no clue.

I think this is what Jesus must have meant when he told us to have faith like a child. Solly had no idea what "the challenge" involved. I don't think he even knows what a challenge is actually. None the less, he was ready, declaring, "Yes, I'm all in!" before he even knew what was in store.

But we are a busy people. We want to plan, prepare, organize. We want task forces and focus groups. We want details and dates and then the proper amount of time to discern and decide. Yet, this God of ours, whose tendency is to qualify the called and not the other way around, wants us to respond like a child: Yes Lord, I'm in. I'm ready to face the challenge.

As I watched Solomon a little later banging the game against the wall in utter frustration, I began to wonder, am I really all in? Am I ready? And exactly what am I ready for?

The challenge will be a little different for each of us, but I'm fairly certain its wrapping is grace, its voice is love, its shape is God's and day by day, its power transforms us to better resemble Jesus. And with any luck at all, there won't be any banging it against the wall!

For that, we boldly declare as God's children: Yes! I'm all in!


TMI: Post-Baby Breasts

Warning: This post contains things you may not want to know. If you are the least bit prim, proper or prude, easily offended or embarrassed, don't like to know too much personal information about anyone other than yourself and maybe not even then, think that certain subjects are completely taboo and off limits, and so on and so forth, then this post is not for you. Please turn around now, find something more bland to read, like the minutes from CSPAN and perhaps steer clear of this blog forevermore. For the rest of you, you should be ashamed of yourselves! Just kidding, sit back and relax but know you have been warned. 

Around Valentine's Day, I thought I would check out some stuff at Victoria's Secret. Now, for those of you who have kids, or simply a working brain, you know that pregnancy (and breastfeeding) irrevocably changes female bodies. (With the exception of my grandmother who swears that after her fifth child her breastfeeding ladies just stayed on for good.....a gene, dear readers, that I assure you I completely failed to inherit....if anything, mine mutated in the other direction!) So, minus certain "medical" procedures (and by medical I mean purely cosmetic) there is simply no way to fix the damage that is done to a woman's breasts post-babies. (Especially if you happen to have very little body fat because you run 16 miles when you have stomach bugs and then wonder why you look like a cross between an emaciated nine year old and something out of the National Geographic Goes Tribal edition...Sorry Kurt, didn't mean to spoil the fantasy me you have amazingly managed to hold onto all these years....seriously, the guy's a saint....you know, if saints weren't mostly celibate....and played video games in lieu of performing miracles.....)

Anyway, they just don't tell you these kinds of things in school, which is really kind of stupid because if they were to show a bunch of teenagers the before and after shots of the female body (pre- and post-pregnancy/breastfeeding), those kids would all take vows of celibacy, problem solved!

They also don't tell you about this in childbirth classes. Perhaps they think it isn't as important as the proper way to hee-hee-hee-hooooo during contractions, which I will tell you is NOT what it sounded like when the primitive me took over and gnashed its gnarly teeth and growled its deep guttural growls during labor. There was no pretty hee-hee-hee-hooing at all actually. But after all the talk of epidurals, episiotomies and placentas, I would have liked to know what to do about deflated boobs.

So, this year I thought maybe I could look into it a little. You know, try out some pretty little somethings that would both enhance them and hide them without resorting to costly invasive surgical procedures, that may or may not be dangerous to my long term health but would definitely leave me feeling a little awkward, a lot fake, way behind budget, a bit out of touch with my priorities and perhaps a wee bit totally awesome!

So one night I got online and started browsing the Victoria's Secret website and discovered that apparently they don't see the need to make busty lingerie for those of us with the tiniest of busts....it's kind of ironic, right? Like, hey, you are so small (and yet so freakishly saggy) that it's kind of an embarrassment we don't want to bother with....but see that well endowed teenie-bopper over there? Yeah, we're gonna make her look even bigger! Don't let that bra snap you on the way out!

I was discouraged to say the least. But then I remembered getting sized at Nordstrom last year so I ran up to my closet to figure out the brands of the perfectly fitting bras I remortgaged our house for bought. I was even more discouraged when I realized exactly what size they had put me in. (No, I had never bothered looking before as I was just happy they fit right so that I could escape from the dressing room in which the salesclerk, who was seemingly half my age, was watching me try on bras while assuring me she had seen worse....) Let's just say, I didn't even know they made bras that small. I am surprised they didn't send me to the pre-teen section and have me buy training bras actually. I mean, let's be honest, I have never been a busty gal but at least I had a little perky something before and could fit into a bra that didn't have to be specially made. Now a days, with 5 kids having completely drained me of any breast tissue and the running taking off the last of the remaining fat, I have like, well, nothing. No. Less than nothing. Actually, truth be told, they almost suck backwards into my chest wall as if my heart has to borrow all their mass and air to just. keep. beating..... I am surprised the doctor hasn't said anything actually. Like, "Gee Karen, where the heck did your breasts sneak off to? You actually don't have space for lumps, why bother with this check-up at all!" Matter of fact, I am thinking she only tells me to do a monthly self-check because she has to for liability reasons. After all, if a lump showed up, I'd have to move up a bra size and I think I'd notice.....

Ah, but I digress. So, there I was online, realizing I am pathetically boy like, or just pathetic, and not even Nordstrom had anything online in my size. So, I quickly went to the manufacturers website and started browsing their bras and lingerie. Only, every time I liked something, they didn't make it in my size either. So, then I wised up and did a search for my specific bra size and darn if that website didn't start a belly laugh like I have never heard before! Just hooting and hollering away. I think I even heard a knee smack. And after it was done calling all its friends over, pointing at me and making painful Dear God, It's Me Margaret jokes, it finally directed me to the right section: The Asian Bra Collection.

Dead. Serious.

Now, I am not one to make over generalized jokes about specific groups of people but how is that not hysterical?!  At first I was like, the Asian Bra Collection, really? Why would they make a collection specific for Asian women? Are they really that much different than other women? But then as luck would have it, the very next day as I was walking through the locker room at the gym I came face to face with a very slender Asian woman in the buff and I was all, "Oooooooh" and it took everything I had to contain my inner giggles and not exclaim: "Hey twinsy!" I'm sure she'd have been flattered and want to be my bosom buddy.....(snicker snicker....)

So, a few days later, after telling my friend this story she says, well Karen, why don't you just go to that place down the street (the one that caters to breast cancer survivors and mastectomy patients), I'm sure they could help you.

Gee, that's so tempting....

And so not that important!


Perspectives on Gastroenteritis

If you have been here long enough then you know there is nothing I love more than a good, old fashioned stomach bug to savage the house, leaving no one behind. Ah yes, what would the world be like without such bold little germies ravaging our digestive system until we're fairly certain we just lost our colon?

Much better, that's what! I often wonder what the heck was going through God's mind on the eighth day when he decided that what the world really needed now were some pain in the ass germs to wreck havoc on families all over the good, green Earth! Yay, God. Nice going on that one! Really, we appreciate the occasional deep cleaning, thanks....right up there with a good root canal sans Novacaine....performed by a lab money on crack....

But seriously, last week was one of those weeks. No one was spared. Not even the cat. (Although my guess is his issues have nothing to do with ours....just a hunch.) But I learned a very valuable lesson last week that I must share with you so pay attention; this is important stuff. Apparently, it is NOT a good idea to run 16 miles when you have a stomach bug. For those who are non-runners, or at least non-crazy runners, or perhaps just not me, you are shaking your heads: "Well, duh. Who in their right mind would think to run 16 miles when they were that sick?"

Uh, me? In my defense, I don't claim to be in my right mind while training for marathons. I think those two things are mutually exclusive actually. I'll google it and get back to you. But seriously, after those first few miles, when I had to jump off the treadmill and run to the bathroom, I thought, well, that was weird but maybe the pheasant we ate the night before (you know, the ones that Kurt hunted last fall) just didn't sit right. So, I kept going. After the next pit stop, another 5 or so miles later, I started wondering if maybe it was more than the pheasant. (You'd think the sick kids would have given that away....) Then, after 16 miles, when I was done with that days mileage yet stuck in the bathroom I realized: Houston, we have a problem.

Between the dehydration from running (with my legs and otherwise) and my inability to eat more than half a banana, I lost just under five pounds that day. It's like the diet they don't like to publicize because it is so darn effective they are afraid everyone will try it. And then die. (No, I don't know who "they" are either. Just go with it.) By the end of the day, I started looking a wee bit less like an athlete and a wee bit more like one of those shrunken heads on a stick you see in the movies. I thought I might be scaring the children but they seemed morbidly obsessed with sitting in the bathroom and watching me wallow in my vulnerability. Such good times we had. Oh yes we did.

But, the best part was that it gave me a chance to find out what really goes on in my bathroom when I am not there.

First, there was Solly making monster silhouettes behind the window shade up behind my bathtub.
(Imagine the photo here because apparently, although I thought I was taking cellphone pictures from the luxury of my throne, not a single one survived the upload before my computer joyfully erased them....at least that is what I think happened....it couldn't have been that I was too out of my mind to not actually be taking the pictures I thought I was taking....)

Then, there was Solly chasing the cat into the shower, holding him captive inside. I wasn't so worried about Solly being in the shower, actually it might be a fairly safe place to keep him come to think of it. But in this instance he had taken a drum stick with him and well, it didn't seem to bode well for the cat because if there is one thing cats like less than water, it is a two year old wielding a drum stick.

Finally, there was Solly crawling up onto the counter, getting all cozy in the sink and then rattling a bottle of medicine while playing with the electric razor.

Remind me to get a lock for my bathroom door.

Have a great week y'all. And remember, keep those hands washed up right nice! And when you get sick anyway, look on the bright side, if you can find it.....(Hint: it can usually be found about 24-48 hours later.....good luck!)


Deb Saves

Do you have a personal deity? I am not talking about God or making an idol of money or material possessions or what not. I really mean, does someone in your life fill the role of savior? Because I have to tell you folks, if I wasn't told explicitly that it is not okay for me to adopt a god other than the one and only, I would swear by the hairs on my chinny chin chin that my friend Deb was my personal savior sent here to save my derriere on a semi-regular basis.

First she has gifted us with enough hand-me down toys to save a birthday and a Christmas or two. Remember that terrifying bounce house this Christmas? It has become such a big hit that I think I may have to put it away for a while just to keep the kids from bouncing all the intelligence from their brains. (It has been a true sanity saver for mom though.) She has lent me books and audio programs on parenting, offered countless hours of judgement-free listening and honest, life saving advice (no seriously, she has saved at least one child from being sent off to boarding school and just last month she put things into perspective in such a way that I forgot my plans to lock them in a closet somewhere in Siberia, or down the street, whichever is colder.....) and most recently she has helped save my marriage.

What? What did that say? Did that say there was a monster at the end of this book? Well kiss my grits! Pull out the wine 'cause here come those skeletons! (No, not really.)

Well, ever so often in the life of some married people, this funny thing happens (that no one seems to talk about). They start wondering what the heck they are doing, putting up with this other person, their flaws, foibles and all. And then this avalanche of negativity begins, leading to a lonely pit of resentment and despair until one day they wake up (after having been up four different times with four different kids the night before so obviously they are now perfectly rational and thinking totally straight) and they think, something's gotta give. And usually, once they are done with the finger pointing, it means looking in the mirror and realizing that the change needs to start with self and that grace needs to take it from there, stretching its sticky little fingers out to every nook and cranny of the relationship and on out to the entire family until nothing is left untouched, unloved, unforgiven. But sometimes, when that mirror is too harsh and everything seems a little fuzzy and grace seems too far off in the distance, it takes a friend to offer a reality check.

So one day, after a long conversation on my recent personal struggle to stay happily married, Deb handed me this video series called the Us Factor. Totally cheaper than therapy and much more humorous watching TV couples go through the arguing and miscommunication that most marriages experience from time to time. It took over a month for us to forgo a night of TV comedy and get started on the thing (and even then it was a last resort, a "gee, we are all out of shows tonight, I suppose we should watch some of this") but I'm glad we did. It is so much more fun to laugh at and judge the silly things those OTHER couples are struggling with. It has brought a sense of peace and calm back to this rocky terrain. This one little step is all it has taken for us to get back on the right track because: "Doesn't that woman know she married a serial killer? Just look at him! Whoa, I think his head is twitching a little. You'd think Gollum, the Turtle-head therapist would mention this fact and tell her to get out now before it's too late! Run, lady, run!"

Ok, so maybe maturity is one place for me personally to start but seriously, there is nothing that makes you feel more at ease with your own issues than listening to the same issues in others. And laughing. Because the truth is, we all have them, some people just hide them better than others. (And apparently some people are far better actors than others, too!)

Thank God for grace. And for Deb. (I'd offer to give out her number but nothing in the Good Book says I have to share this particular savior with anyone! Plus, I take too much of her time for her to save the rest of you! Oh, and she has a real job too so really, she just wouldn't be able to fit you in. Sorry. It's not you. It's her...)

Thanks Deb!