Thursday, November 27, 2014

Want To Be a Rebel? Celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  This has a lot to do with gravy.  It has a little to do with long-standing traditions, like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pajamas, knowing that the next day I’ll be decking my halls and ushering in a month of holiday joy.  It has to do with the ever-changing company of friends and families we have shared the day with over the years.  But really, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it speaks the language of my soul -- gratitude. 

But there’s more.  Thanksgiving awakens the quiet rebel in me, because to practice Thanksgiving feels a little divergent in a culture driven largely by consumption.

Nestled between the commercial giants Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is largely overlooked by our culture at large.  In fact, in the last two years, Black Friday sales have moved earlier and earlier until they began to encroach on Thanksgiving Day itself.  The minute that the Halloween costumes are pulled from the shelves on November 1st, the Christmas trees and inflatable snowmen and gift ads appear and you can’t even grocery shop without hearing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” .... and it’s 65 degrees.  Now don’t get me wrong,  I’m thrilled that Thanksgiving gets passed over on the commercial front.  I’m not suggesting we start putting inflatable turkeys in our yard (the minute I typed this my husband informed me that there is, in fact, an inflatable turkey on our street).   But doesn’t it seem a little too convenient that the one day of the year we collectively set aside to express our gratitude for the things we already have is being hijacked by Black Friday which tells us exactly what more we need? 

You know the refrain, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”   What if that is true?  What if we spent a day reflecting with truly grateful hearts on the things we already have?  What would it mean for holiday season sales? 

It’s no wonder more and more stores don’t want to find out. 

About fifteen years ago, I decided to find out for myself.   I was twenty-one years old, about to graduate from college and was spending my last summer at Mizzou living in a brown recluse-infested basement apartment with three wonderful but not so tidy guys and a family of bats that resided in our kitchen.  I was reading all kinds of books about finding your colorful parachute or moving cheese that were given as graduation presents when I stumbled upon the concept of a gratitude journal and decided that I should give the practice a try.  I had not expressed much gratitude about the roof over my head that summer and felt like I needed a change of attitude before moving onto the next phase of my life.  I’ve been counting my blessings every since.  I had no idea how radically this simple practice would change my life.  There were seasons I was more dedicated to the practice than others, and over time the journals transitioned to family projects  with the kids, or an app on my phone, or an Instagram hashtag, or simply a mental note I made before bed, but always remained the most consistent form of prayer I kept.  Some days the world gives us so much to be grateful for, and those days the journaling came easy.  But on other days, much harder days, I noticed my heart still shifting towards gratitude for the things I took for granted.   The rise and fall of my husband’s chest as he lay beside me in my bed at night, alive and well.  The feel of the fabric of my new baby’s clothing as I folded what felt like the millionth load of laundry that week, laundry I got to fold because I had a baby.  The pantry full of food that did not make a tidy meal, but that was never, ever empty.  The blessed, blessed morning after a migraine headache.  And slowly, but surely, it did in fact turn what I have into enough.  More than enough.
Our family's gratitude tree.  I warned you about my photography skills. 

This practice has not been an absolute shield against greed or consumerism.  I still want things I don’t have, like a Clarisonic (because all the gratitude in the world is not going to give me glowing skin).   But, even as I typed that, without thought or effort, my gratitude-trained heart gently reminded me that to age is a gift in itself.  (This can be really annoying when you are in the store and actually have the Clarisonic in your cart and gratitude compels you to put it back on the shelf).

This is powerful, powerful stuff friends.  Gratitude is not just for cute quotes on picture frames and it’s really not meant to just come out to play on Thanksgiving.  It is meant to permeate our lives until it is expressed right back out of us, first in the way we think and then the way we live. 

So, you want to be a rebel?  Celebrate Thanksgiving today.  Want to change your life?  Keep celebrating tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's Not Better Left Unsaid

I want to tell you a story about my oldest son, a family vacation, and a white rental car.

When my oldest was about four years old, we took a family vacation to visit family on the east coast.  We flew into Philadelphia and rented a car, spent a week with my mom on the Jersey shore and then drove up to Connecticut to visit my husband’s brother and his family.  It was a great trip, full of the kinds of memories you make when you travel with two little ones across the country.

A couple of years ago, we were reminiscing about that trip and my son (at this point 8 years old) says, “I remember that white car.” 

“What white car?” I ask, not remembering the fact that our rental car had in fact been white. 

“The car you and Dad stole from the airport.” 

My son thought, for four years, that his parents were car robbers. 

Hilarity ensued as we realized what he was referring to, and we laughed as we explained how car rentals work and sorted out in our minds how he possibly could have thought such a thing.  He was at baggage claim with me while Jason worked out the rental, he never saw any monetary exchange, he has not been in a rental car since, and most importantly, he didn’t ask, so we didn’t explain. 

The bottom line is, he’s a child, and in the absence of factual information from trusted sources, children will create their own answers to their unasked or unanswered questions. 

Most adults that are parenting right now were raised, in varying degrees, in a culture that said there are things better left unsaid, or there are things you just don’t talk about.  While this approach might prove useful when you don’t love your neighbor’s taste in yard ornaments or you are tempted to share information that truly is not yours to share, it has had devastating consequences when applied to difficult topics like race, sex, money and power.  Entire generations came of age carrying deep shame about things that should have been brought into the light of day.  And while we are doing better in some areas, we’ve got a long way to go in others.

I still have conversations in which I hear “we’re raising our kids to be color blind”  or “my kids just don’t see color.”  These words are usually spoken by kind and wonderful women who are trying to raise their children with intention and care.  This idea, that children don’t see color, has been passed down now for a couple of generations with little question to its validity.   But it’s just not true.  Children see color.  They see age, size, gender and every other physical identifier a person carries.   In fact, research shows that babies as young as six months can discern differences in race.   What they do with the information however, has to do in large part with what we say and do as parents. 

And it turns out, a lot of us aren’t doing anything. 

According to one study, almost 75 percent of white families are not discussing race with their children at all.  I know that this often comes from a place of good intention.  I know these families think that by not pointing out or over-emphasizing our differences, their kids will focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.  But the subtle message that is also sent says that our differences are bad and have to be ignored in order for people to be accepted.  It says that we should love and respect one another in spite of differences in race, rather than affirming that YES humans come in different colors and we love and respect one another because all human lives are inherently valuable.   If you want to read more about the kinds of answers kids come up with on their own, take a look at this excerpt from the book NutureShock.  For me, the young boy who says to his friend,  "Parents don't like us to talk about our skin, so don't let them hear you” sums up the impact of our silence.

We have to do better than this. 

This epidemic of silence extends far beyond race.  Any conversation you choose not to have with your child is a conversation you choose to subcontract out to someone else.  Moreover, you don’t get to interview or hire your subcontractor.  If you skirt the answers to your child’s earliest questions about sex, there is a very good chance he is going to seek out answers somewhere else next time.  If the thought of discussing your household budget with your kids makes you uncomfortable, she’ll form her own conclusions about how money is earned and spent and you may not get to decide if she chooses Dave Ramsey or the guy offering her a free t-shirt with her shiny new credit card on her college campus to inform those conclusions.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of watching one of these really important conversations go down.  My friend’s 17 year old son came to us with questions about the rioting in Ferguson.  This young man had the humility to begin this conversation by saying, “I don’t know anything, and I’m trying to understand.”  Friends, I truly believe that anytime we are willing to start with “I don’t know anything” we set the stage for learning and understanding.  I won’t go into the details of the conversation that followed, but I will say that I have watched this family parent this child since he was very young and have seen them build conversation currency.  I’ve seen them lean into uncomfortable questions and difficult conversations time and time again.  If you want a 17 year old that turns to you for answers, you have to start answering the tough questions when they are tiny because it takes time to build that kind of currency.

I’m not sure how often I’ll delve into parenting on this blog.  I’m far from a parenting expert. I’m only ten years in the trenches and my wise mentors ahead of me tell me that I’m just getting started.   Some days I feel closer to the diaper days then the driving days even though my calendar tells me that’s not true.  I’m not even an expert at this stuff with my own kids.  I have a seven year old who knows exactly where babies come from but also believes in Santa Claus and thinks he might be a wizard.  I struggle with the balance between honest and age-appropriate and I’m not about to offer advice on how to have these conversations.  I only suggest that you have them at all.

In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, at-your-fingertip internet,  and constant connectivity to friends, our kids will seek and find answers to their questions.  Unless you intend to seclude yourself deep in the woods in a like-minded community without access to technology or the outside world (by the way I’ve seen that movie and it did not end well)  it is likely that your kids will have access to information you don’t provide.  This is not all bad.  Sometimes you’ll seek outside answers right alongside your child.  In fact, that “I don’t know anything” phrase is also a currency builder with kids who love a parent’s willingness to learn alongside them.  (Equally powerful currency builders include “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”.)  Outside information is not the enemy but without the guiding context we provide as parents, it can lead kids to draw conclusions we never intended or imagined.  Take it from me, the grand theft auto mom.   When it comes to the tough topics, we have to decide as parents if we want to be one of our kids’ primary resources or not, and if we are silent on these matters, our silence makes the decision for us. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Looking Before You Leap

Sitting down to write an inaugural blog post feels a little intimidating.   I’m not sure why that is.  Those of you who know me well (which, frankly, is all of you at this point) know that I’m rarely at a loss for words.  Ask me my opinion on something, and I’ll offer you my current perspective, as well as all of the other angles I’m considering.  Ask me for advice, and I’ll share what I currently know and point you in the direction of resources to answer the questions I can’t. 
But put a blank slate in front of me, and I may not know where exactly to begin.  The truth is, I know that starting a blog is not actually the very best idea I’ve ever had.  In fact, I’ve compiled a short list of reasons I should not start this blog:

1.  Everything I have to say has already been said by someone else, but more eloquently and with better punctuation.

Do you know how many blogs are on the internet?  I can’t find a precise answer to this, but most answers point to somewhere around 200 million.  200 million blogs.  That’s a fairly saturated market wouldn’t you say?  I think if you want to find a blog on, oh, ANY TOPIC IN THE WORLD, it probably exists.  Adding a voice to that feels a little like shouting into the void.  And that punctuation bit?  I’m not really exaggerating.  I love semi-colons and exclamation points and an ellipsis...

2.  Writing a blog feels a little self-involved.

It does though, doesn’t it?  Sure, I write all day long in my head and those words are collecting dust on brain shelves that are becoming so cluttered I can barely remember what day it is, but shouldn’t a journal suffice?   Why do I feel the need to publish these thoughts or ideas in a public forum? 

Those aren’t rhetorical questions so maybe I should try to answer them.  For one thing, I have found inspiration on blogs because someone else was brave enough to share her story or his perspective.  I have found like-minded individuals when I felt alone, and I’ve found writing that challenged my worldview and shifted my actions in meaningful ways.  So, while sharing my experiences as a first-time homeschooler, or a participant in/patron of local theater, or a passionate reader of children’s literature may feel self-indulgent at times, I want to stay open to the idea that one of you reading my words might find something meaningful in them.

3. Writing a blog will involve dealing with negative people who reside in internet-land.

Since the beginning of creative expression there have been critics, and criticism can be a very positive motivating force, shining light on areas for improvement and encouraging us to stretch our thinking or perspective.  However, while the internet has offered unencumbered space for creative freedom, it has also created a breeding ground for those who thrive on ridiculing the creative work of others.   Did you know there are entire websites dedicated to mocking the 200 million aforementioned blogs?   These negative internet people also like to leave charming comments on blogs like this one: http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/rainbow-cake-recipe-inspires-comment-apocalypse-1592575661

You know what?  Strike point 3.  Those comments are actually hilarious, and if negative internet people manage to find my obscure blog and leave that level of commentary, it might be time to sit back, pour myself a drink, and laugh until I cry. 

4.  I’m not a photographer. 

No, this is not a photography blog, but a picture is supposed to say a thousand words.  That could be really helpful on days that I don't even have a hundred words to offer up.  Unfortunately, my photography skills are pretty basic.  I can slap a filter over a picture or even make it black and white (I know, I’m so fancy) but I don’t know how to to create that idyllic, light-strewn, "my house is a refurbished barn with modern fixtures" look.  Also, I usually forget that I’m supposed to move the dirty dishes out of the background of my shots.  So, I’m worried this blog won’t be very pretty. 

5.  I’m not sure I can keep up.
 

I’m new to this blogging thing (I’ve got about fifteen minutes of real-life experience to be exact) but I hear that you are supposed to create new content on a regular basis.  There are a lot of things I’m supposed to do on a regular basis that I’m currently failing at:  yoga, exercise of any type, changing all the bedsheets in my house, remembering to put the latest insurance card in my glove box, grocery shopping, trimming my dog’s nails, trimming my own nails, finishing that scarf/children’s book/tv show/cup of coffee from this morning..... the list goes on.  One time, a few years ago, I tried to write a blog for my long-distance friends and family.  It was a private blog, just a short and sweet synopsis of what my family was up to out here in Missouri.  I think I wrote 11 posts and then promptly forgot about it.  If I start this blog, that could happen again.  By the way, I kept the same name from that old blog....just to fan the flames of the likelihood of that happening again.

So, that’s my list.  So far.  I put all of those reasons in writing but if you are reading this that means I went ahead and published it anyway.  I’m not negating any of those points.  I’m recognizing up front that by hitting publish I’m adding one more voice into a large void, and that at times, my writing will be self-indulgent, that I may have to deal with some bitter voices who really hate my terrible photography and that at the end of the day, I may not be as consistent of a writer as I’d like.  But, in spite of all those reasons, I hit publish.  I’m already composing thoughts every day in my head, and I need a place to deposit them so that they don’t swirl around and around when I’m trying to sleep at night or so that I don’t keep trying to share them with uninterested parties (I’m looking at you cashier at Target who did not appear to be interested at all in my thoughts on alternative education and village schools).  At least here, you can self-select out and I’ll never be the wiser (unlike that poor cashier).

And really, this wise writer I dig put it well when she said, “The answer is YES. You should write. Even though everything's already been said beautifully. Even though there's nothing new under the sun. Even so. Because there may be nothing new to say, but if you haven't spoken up yet - then there is a new VOICE to hear. That's all we have - our voices. No two are the same. No one sees the world QUITE like you do, and no one else can tell us your story QUITE like you could. You are our only chance to know you. You're it. If you yearn to use your voice and you don't - we will all suffer for it. Be brave. Be audacious enough to consider that your story is worth telling and your voice is worth hearing. The secret it- it IS. Your story and your voice are worthy of occupying some space in this world. Take it, Sister. Take your space.” - Glennon Melton, Momastery

I’ve never been in the habit of not pursuing that thing that’s tugging at me.  Sometimes, I take the long way, collecting a lot of information or trying to negotiate the timing or predict the outcome, but at the end of the day, I usually leap and find out one way or another if that thing is for me.  So, here I go, taking my space.   The door to my space is open, so visit anytime. 

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