Author: Bethany

13Mar

Religulove

When we enrolled Natalie in first grade last September, we opted out of religion class. Even though we share some fundamental beliefs with the Roman Catholic Church, we weren’t comfortable with her learning doctrine as an academic subject. Frankly, I find it incredibly dangerous when any religion is painted in the same black and white lines as grammar or algebra—right versus wrong, subject to a grade—and I’d like to think that we would have opted out of the class even if it had taught our exact beliefs. (Sunday School is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, but it’s easier to discuss what the girls learn there without having to discredit the entire academic system.)

I was at peace with our decision until we picked Natalie up after her first Friday at school. She was as cheerful as ever, happily recounting how she had gotten to go out in the hallway during religion hour and watch the other teachers have their coffee. I was… less cheerful. Bit by bit, Dan and I uncovered that Natalie was the only child in the entire elementary school in the entire course of its history to opt out of religion class, and the teachers didn’t know what to do with her other than send her out of the room. My heart thudded straight down onto our granite tiles.

I know all too well what it is to be the odd child out… the only kid at the grocery mid-morning, the only girl in our homeschool group wearing a jumper, the only teen not pledging for True Love Waits. I remember the icy sense of exposure and the sharp loneliness, and I’ve never, ever, evereverever wanted to subject my daughters to them. However, that’s exactly what I found myself doing that Friday, wielding religious principles that banished my six-year-old to the hallway.

I hurt all over for her, but Natalie was clearly not bothered by skipping class, so Dan and I didn’t push the issue. Instead, we talked to the teachers and arranged for her to join the other first-grade class while hers was doing religion. Some of the other parents overheard us, and the next Friday, Natalie was joined by a little boy. For all the countercultural drama we were putting her through, at least she was no longer alone.

The subject of religion class hasn’t really come up in the months since, but this morning, the little boy’s mother caught up with me after school drop-off. “Guess what I found!” she chirped, taking my arm as if this were the seventy millionth instead of the very first time we’d talked. (I immediately wanted to kick myself for not introducing myself sooner. Or, you know, at all.) “Looking through my son’s workbook, I found a little note he had written during religion hour: ‘Dear Natalie, you are beautiful!’” We laughed together, and I felt a little like crying and a little like skipping all at once. She asked about our church (evangelical), and I asked about theirs (Muslim), and it didn’t matter a single bit that some members of both our religions dedicate energy to hating each other. Our faiths didn’t affect our ability to be friends.

And yes, I know I’m realizing things all the time on this blog that are probably common sense to most people and it’s got to be irritating by now, but I realized in those three minutes of conversation that this is the lesson we’re teaching Natalie with our lives here. She and her classmates might not attend the same church, but our families’ homes are open to each other. We share meals and swap recipes and give each other’s children rides, and if I hadn’t been bracing myself so hard against alienation, I might have noticed sooner that there was no need. Our differences don’t prevent us from loving each other well. Our separate journeys with God don’t make us enemies. That this is even possible makes my soul giddy with hope, and I find myself grateful in a way I couldn’t have imagined last September that my daughter gets a front-row seat.

12Mar

Caps Lock and Grace

I’ve learned that when I open the refrigerator and start thinking in caps lock, it’s time for bed.

“Oh no. Oh no ohnoohnoOHNO. There are NOT ENOUGH LEFTOVERS. I will be expected to COOK SOMETHING TODAY, and I CAN’T because everybody knows that cooking is THE HARDEST THING EVER, and I’ve set a horrible precedent by doing it in the past. WHAT WAS I THINKING???? Will anyone notice if I pour plant food over some Fruit Loops and call it lunch? I guess they probably will once Dan gets back and notices that the girls and I ARE DEAD. Having DIED because THE UNIVERSE EXPECTS ME TO COOK. Is it possible to posthumously sue God for inventing stomachs? LIFE. IS. OOOOOOOVEEEEERRRR.”

This monologue has special variations for opening my closet, the mail, or… well, my eyes, but each tends to conclude with life being oooooooveeeeerrrr, and the more draining the previous week has been, the more over life is. If, just to pull an example from thin air, the previous week had included lice and vomit, husbandlessness, and masochistic allergies, I might be prone to die on the spot whereas a week of marathons or natural disasters would only bring on some mild weeping. In any case, the cure is bed.

Now, I know this. I know that a meltdown brought on by something as non-life-threatening as a full refrigerator means I need sleep, stat. However, my brain isn’t the most logical of creatures when it’s overtired, and so I usually decide what I really need is chocolate frosting on a spoon. And then I need to re-read my Twitter feed from the last month. I need to stare into space for twenty minutes or so, and I definitely need to pluck my kneecaps while I ponder the futility of existence and ignore my children’s requests for food. I really, definitely, especially need to stay up as long as possible, preferably into the wee hours of the morning, in the hopes that some magical sense of accomplishment will descend and validate my decision not to sleep. This, I think, might be the definition of insanity.

Natalie informed me matter-of-factly after the refrigerator meltdown today, “If you’re tired, you should sleep.” She’s a wise one, and I give her credit not only for prompting a much-needed nap but for reminding me that self care is as much about awareness as it is about grace. I have a longstanding reluctance to honor my own needs, but awareness and grace are two practices I believe in with all of my heart, and I can’t pretend they don’t apply to how I treat myself. Which is why, even though the night is young and my only notable accomplishment today was feeding my children human food, I’m going to take my body’s—and daughter’s—advice and go to bed.

11Mar

Point Taken

I’m home from church again, miserably stopped up from allergies masquerading as a cold again, and every time I take a sip of water, it requires me to stop breathing through my mouth and then I start dying, and as I’ve been dying on an off for a month now, it’s getting pretty old. I try to stick to my blogging philosophy of No allergies, PLEASE because otherwise, every post written between January and September would include a description of my sinuses. However, it’s worth noting that I have only been able to go on one date with my husband since January, and throughout our romantic meal, I plowed through two entire packs of tissues and had to chew with my mouth open in order to avoid asphyxiation. Sexy.

You’d think a little friendly neighborhood pollen wouldn’t have that much of an effect on my day-to-day reality, and it probably wouldn’t—itching eyes and Neanderthal table manners aside—if not for The Haze. As I [attempt to] breathe, my brain accumulates layers of yellow-green dust that act as a mental smog. It takes all my energy to ride a train of thought to its conclusion these days, and more often than not, I lose my bearings mid-sentence. Surprisingly, writing becomes a lot more difficult when I can’t remember what I was…… uh…?

Take this post, for instance. I think at one point, it had one. A point, I mean. Whatever that point might have been, though, has disappeared into the yellow-green ether, and I can only hope that it was a good one. All I can remember at the moment is that I have a freelance deadline tapping its foot from my desk chair (as I bulwark myself in bed) and that the laundry still is not nor ever will be finished and that I can’t pop another antihistamine until… well, I don’t actually know when because I can’t remember anything from more than seven minutes ago.

In times like this, by which I mean every day between January and September, I have to rely on what I know to do instead of what I feel like doing, and maybe that’s why I was so desperate to nail down a life purpose before the end of our Christmas trip—because it was either that or spend the next nine months in bed with an ice pick. In all my hours of talking it over with loved ones and bouncing ideas off of God and journaling myself crazy, I have received less of the detailed personal business plan I requested and more of a single-facet word: WRITE!

And so I’m writing, even though I can’t remember why I should or why I started or more than anything else, why…

why…

………

……………uh…?

~~~

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, which utensils do you fantasize about using on your own head? (I dream about ice picks and Brillo pads, though today, I’m inclined to scratch both and just go for a guillotine.) 

9Mar

Pirates and Police

Joining Soule Mama today for “{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.”

(Oh, but I want to add words. Badly. I’m considering this an exercise in restraint.)

~~~

 Police and pirates

8Mar

Lice or Death

It’s been my recurring fear since the first day we dropped our girls off at school. Bullies, I could handle. Learning disabilities, I’d take in stride. But an infestation of tiny wiggling brown things feeding off our scalps? Ohmygoodnessno. When it comes to insects, I’m not known for my soundness of mind. I fear creepy crawlies the way some people fear the zombie apocalypse, and this school year has been especially agonizing with two different classfuls of children passing around lice like trading cards. A new notice is posted every few weeks, and I rifle through my girls’ hair as if it were a matter of life or death. Because it is.

Mercifully, we’ve always escaped the nitmare. Always, that is, until yesterday morning. With Dan out of town on business, I was doing my epileptic octopus routine trying to get both girls ready for school at once, and it wasn’t until halfway through my final pigtail that I noticed the wings. Or at least, they looked like wings. (Whatever you do, never ever ever search for close-up images of lice to determine whether or not they have wings. Ignorance, in this case, equals the bliss of keeping your breakfast down.)

I called our pediatrician in my most nonchalant and responsible grown-up voice to let her know hello, good morning, and I just saw a louse in my daughter’s hair. In the following second of silence, something of my mental state must have transmitted through the phone line because the doctor’s next words were “IT’S OKAY.”

Now consider my viewpoint: A second brownie after dinner is okay. Whipped cream on my latte is okay. Flesh-eating parasites laying their eggs in my baby’s hair is not even in the same space-time dimension as okay. However, when you’re the parent on duty, no one else can challenge the forces of hell for you. It has to be you, and well… I guess it just has to be okay.

That is the only plausible explanation for how I was able to massage pharmaceutical mousse into a nest of nits and then pick them out with my own fingers. (So much shuddering in my soul at this moment, I tell you.) It’s how I could pile all the linens from the house into the laundry equivalent of Mt. Doom and not faint at the sight. It’s how I could clean for eleven hours straight, tuck two little girls who had been shampooed and combed within an inch of their lives into sleeping bags, and get back to cleaning. Had my husband been home, I probably would have spent the day relocating to Antarctica, but since our lives scalps were depending on me, I somehow tapped into new reservoirs of strength.

And good thing too, because this morning started well before dawn with a little girl wailing for me from a sleeping bag full of vomit. Pre-Infestation Me would have freaked out because I only have two hands whereas ten or eleven were clearly called for, and our washing machine isn’t big enough to fit a sleeping bag, and my brain doesn’t do problem-solving before noon, and do you know how many hours I spent cleaning that particular child yesterday? New me, though—strong, capable, nit-picking me—smiled gratefully at the vomit because it wasn’t alive and told herself, If I can survive my child bringing home head lice, I can survive anything. And I realized that the doctor might have been on to something because even as the mess and the need and the undignified demands of parenting grew around me, everything was really, truly okay.

Lice laundry
Expected completion date: March 2015

~~~

Please consider this a golden opportunity to share your own personal horror stories. They will be salve to my soul which, while it is fundamentally okay, can never unsee those search results. 

7Mar

Dormitory Night

When he’s away, I clean the kitchen at 10 p.m. The house sleeps around me while I sop up crumbs and shuttle coffee cups into the dishwasher, but my martyr act falters when I remember that shining counter tops have only ever been for myself. He would tell me to go to bed, so I do… once every accessible surface smells like lemon.

When he’s away, I make a nest of our bed, my bare toes wriggling puppy-joy under the covers, and settle in with late night guitars and peppermint tea. (More than one longing glance goes to the Chimay stash, but that’s ours, and some unwritten pacts are not to be broken.) I can never decide whether I relax best by reading or by writing, so I waltz between the two as minutes slip by in the lamplight.

When he’s away, I tell myself that this will be the time I take advantage of his absence—transform overnight into a monk and spin productivity out of the silent pre-dawn—but it never feels like an advantage at midnight when his side of the bed is still cold and I can’t remember how to sleep alone. I wait until the lowness of the hours makes my head spin. It’s the feeling of oxygen deprival, of dormitory nights.

When he’s away, I tuck a pillow under the covers where his chest would be and keep this contour of us, together warm until he’s home.

~~~

Those of you whose significant other travels frequently, how do you adjust in his or her absence?

 

6Mar

Loved Dizzy

New days don’t feel quite so new when I wake up muffled in allergies, my head packed with fiberglass wool. This blog entry probably couldn’t get any further from profound, but life right now involves gouging my eyes out on an hourly basis, and one of my aims for this year is to present myself as accurately as possible, so here you go:

Self-portrait with allergiesYou’re welcome.

In fact, I sounded like nothing so much as a hyperventilating goose last night on the phone with Rain, but that’s the thing about soul sisters—they don’t care if you sound (or look!) like a barnyard death scene or if your thoughts trip at the back of your throat and send your conversation skittering in a thousand directions. When you speak the same heart-language, conventional ones aren’t really all that essential… and this is how I see God the most clearly.

Have you heard of the 5 Love Languages theory which suggests that each person senses love primarily through one of five ways: affirming words, quality time, gifts, service, or touch? I can easily pinpoint the love-receptors of many of my friends and family, but my own falls outside the standard categories. I feel the most loved when I’m the most understood, when others can see my heart between the lines or untangle my intentions from their emotional trappings. I realize that this is a tall order for my dear ones, impossibly tall, because what I’m really asking for is intuition, and how can a kinship of heartbeats and brainwaves be engineered?

Yet impossibility has a way of coaxing miracles into the open, and the sweetest mystery of my life is that I do know love. I am heard and understood and loved dizzy by precious people all over the world, and it’s why I continue to write, to reach for the goodness that you all see in me. It’s also what stirs the embers of my relationship with the divine. I can’t attribute this meeting of souls to coincidence, and I can’t compartmentalize the life that flows between these other growing, glowing beings and myself. My heart has always recognized its kin.

So to each and every one of you who sees through the itching insulation, who hears through the honking, who understands through the far-strewn words, thank you. You are my own personal proof of light and Life, and it’s not just the spiky green pollen leaving me dizzy this morning; it’s realizing that you’ll read this and know exactly what I mean.

Soul sisters
 Selves-portrait by Rain, who always leaves me brimful

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