Ink for 15

According to the lists I found on the Internet, on the 15th wedding anniversary the gift should either be watches or crystal.  I have a works-well-enough-for-me watch and no desire to own any crystal.  Like, ever.  So Kullervo and I decided that we would forgo tradition and go for ink instead.  While he has a handful of tattoos, this would be my first, so I wanted to make sure it was just right.

Our next decision involved figuring out what the tattoo should be.  What would represent us–fifteen years of us–with all of our inside jokes and arguments and values?  On a long road trip home from Tennessee, we made a list.  We wrote down all the things that we could think of that described Kullervo, and me, and us, looking for something to jump out at us.

Nothing did.  Or, rather, nothing did in such a way as to really capture who we are in a form that would translate to skin.

Driving down the Interstate, we grew quiet.  The radio was playing, the kids were reading, and we were lost in our own thoughts.

Some time later, Kullervo said that he might have an idea.  At the same moment, I thought that maybe I did as well.

He wanted me to listen to something, and cued up a YouTube video for me to listen to.

While we waited through the ad at the beginning, I butted in, “What about a mason jar?”

His video came through, and we listened to this together.

This is a part of a series called “For the Life of the World” and is really a fantastic video series.  And in this chapter about love, hipster Adam and hipster Eve say yes to each other.  To sacrifice and to pouring themselves out into the world, into children, into messiness and brokenness.  They say yes to each other.

As it happens, when Kullervo and I got married in the Mormon temple, we didn’t say ‘I do’… we said ‘yes.’

And right then, we both knew that our tattoo had to say yes.

But what about the mason jar?  Why that?

We only drink out of mason jars.  Water, chocolate milk (don’t judge), beer, wine… we serve it in a mason jar.

And if you know us, you might know that we have intentionally structured our life in such a way as to follow Jesus Christ as best as we can.  And one of the ways that we really try to radically live that out is through hospitality.  What’s radical about hospitality?  After all, it sounds like the same kind of radical that geometry homework is.  Or being told that your talent is that you’re a compassionate person.  It sort of sounds boring.

But here’s the thing.  You can come to our house.  It will be messy, it will be chaotic, but you are welcome here.    At midnight, you can show up at our door without notice, and we will bring you in and feed you and love you and not resent it even one bit.  More on that here:

Not only that, but a few years ago, we started canning our extra food and making our own jam.  We grow some food, we preserve it, and when we pop open a jar of tomatoes to toss into our spaghetti sauce, we wash the glass and it joins the other glasses.  And when we have too many glasses, we realize it’s time to start canning again.  There is something really neat about the ebb and flow of having, and then pouring what we have out for the sustenance of our family, and then taking what’s left and pouring into it for the short term needs of hydration.  Our mason jars are work horses.

For us, the mason jar represents following Jesus and living into the gifts He provides and the ways we can use those gifts to provide for others.  It represents our marriage because we intentionally live into that, with all of the messiness and sacrifice that it brings.

So, sitting in the car that day, we realized we’d both just had the right idea.  And we realized that a mason jar, which usually has the brand name written on the side, could say Yes instead.  All of a sudden, we had our tattoo.

*Note:  I asked Kullervo what to say when people ask what the tattoos mean, because this is sort of a long-winded explanation.  His response?

“Just say that it’s some hipster shit.”

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Dinner at a hipster restaurant post-tattoo.

You Don’t Deserve Your Children’s Love

You don’t deserve your children’s love.

Got your attention?

Well, it’s true.  You didn’t do anything super special to get your kids.  You either had sex—which might have even been great sex, but that was its own reward, eh—or you adopted or fostered or something.  And while the paperwork and all of the hoops you have to go through to adopt are incredibly challenging and time consuming, you still didn’t earn your kids.

But you love them.  You love them unconditionally.  (And if you don’t, well, you can just stop reading because this blog post isn’t for you, and also, what’s wrong with you??)  Even when they’re horrible.  Even when they make terrible decisions.  Even when they hurt you.  Even when you don’t like them, and you’re angry and frustrated and tired and they’re annoying, you love them.

So what do I mean that you don’t deserve them?  Well, I think that we take it for granted that when our kids grow up, they will love us and respect us and our relationships with them will evolve into a mature friendship with mutual respect and affection.  I think we take it for granted that our kids’ love for us is unconditional.

It isn’t.

Now, I’m not saying that your kids don’t love you.  They probably do.  If they’re young, they definitely do.  Even abused kids love their parents and it messes those kids up because the relationship is so wonky.

But your unconditional love for your children is not reciprocal.  They love you, but you can mess it up.  The relationship you have with your adult children is wholly dependent on how you show them love and respect while they are young and when they grow up.  You will have a much more challenging time with an adult connection with your kids if they don’t grow up feeling like you are interested in them and respect them.

Think about it–how is your relationship with your parents?  And what do you remember about growing up, and how do those things correlate?

Parents and their children do not have equal footing or a two way relationship.  Kids don’t love their parents unconditionally… but they do love their own kids unconditionally.  And your parents probably loved you unconditionally.

We are all broken people and we all mess up.  Just like I have to regularly ask forgiveness from Kullervo for the days that I’m irritable and cranky, I also have to ask forgiveness from my kids for the same.  Just as it would be totally rude for me to ignore a friend when they’re talking because I’m reading a book or checking my email, it is also rude to do that to my kids.

I’m guilty.  The other day I was reading with Oliver.  Taking time with each kid every day, individually, to read together is something that I think is really important, and I try to hold as sacred time.  But, and I’ll admit that this is absolutely shameful behavior, while I was reading, I got a text.  I checked my phone quickly, and saw that it was important that I answer soon, so I sent back a quick response.

Then I looked for my place in reading to Oliver and realized something horrible.

I had been midsentence when my phone beeped.  And I stopped reading aloud midsentence.  To check my phone.  Seriously.  I’m so embarrassed, but it’s true.  My phone beeped, and I stopped reading in the middle of a sentence to see what someone else was saying to me.  During my time with my son.

In that horrifying moment, so I thought of so many things.  Immediately, there was rationalization—it was an important text!  It only took a second.  There was also the realization that if Oliver had had a phone and checked a text while we were reading, I would have been So. Incredibly. Annoyed.  I would have gotten angry and probably stopped reading to him.  I would have had my feelings hurt that this device was more important than our time together.  I realized that I was subtly telling my kid that external people were more important to me than our time together.  And, perhaps most humiliating of all, I noticed that he didn’t even bat an eye.  Is this normal behavior for me?

I stopped reading.  I turned to Oliver and told him what I had just noticed.  I told him that if he had done that, I’d be furious.  I told him that that wasn’t how I wanted our relationship to be—where I can be disrespectful of his time and of our relationship, where I can abuse my power and he is stuck accepting what I dole out to him.  I apologized.  I silenced my phone and turned it over so I couldn’t see any lights blinking.  And we continued reading.

One day this kid is going to be a teenager, and then a full-fledged adult.  And how he feels about me, and whether he trusts me is going to be based on all of our history together.  I need to preserve that.  I want to have a good relationship with my teenagers.  I want, when I set boundaries for them, for them to understand that the boundaries aren’t arbitrary, but based on our values.  I want them to trust that I can set good boundaries for them because they trust that I see them as whole human beings with feelings and thoughts and value.

I did not show Oliver that he had value that evening.

I love my kids.  I love them so much.  I think they’re cool, they’re funny, and they’re interesting.  I like hanging out with them.  They are these tiny humans who add so much to my life.

And I need to show them that.

Just like I need to constantly work on my relationship with Kullervo, tweaking behavior patterns to soften our edges, regularly checking in to make sure we’re on the same page, and generally being interested in him, I have to do that with my kids.  And I, the parent, need to be initiating that relationship maintenance.  It’s not their job.

My kids do not love me unconditionally.  They don’t know it yet, but they don’t.  If I play my cards right, if I work really hard, maybe they’ll never realize it, or at least not until they have their own kids and realize that the way that I loved them was so much more than they could have conceived of when they were little.  They’ll be able to tell me about it—want to tell me about it, even–because they will still love me and still trust me and know that I not only love them, but I also respect them as the individual people that they are.

I am not entitled to my children’s love, but hopefully I can earn it.

To Homeschool or Not To Homeschool

If you know us, you probably know that we have been considering homeschooling for our kids, on and off, for about as long as our kids have been in school.  It’s an incredibly complex decision, and not for the reasons that I would have guessed.

Here’s the thing.  We have special needs kids.  They aren’t delayed and they don’t have any of the other issues or problems that people assume when they hear the words ‘special needs’.  But, all the same, they have special needs that a school is going to be hard pressed to meet.  Oliver and Hazel are off-the-charts smart.  Both were reading at age 3; Hazel is in kindergarten and reads on at least a second grade level.  Oliver is in second grade and reads on at least a sixth or seventh grade level.  Oliver intuitively understands mathematical concepts and remembers everything he reads.  Hazel’s writing skills and attention to detail are incredible, considering her age, and her spatial skills are probably better than mine. Continue reading

She Tried To Take The Leash

I think I missed an opportunity to experience something beautiful today.  Why?  Because I’m prideful and insecure.

With five inches of snow yesterday, school was canceled and today there was a two hour delayed start.  Since we’ve had the baby, Kullervo has been taking the kids to school in the morning, with a two hour delay, the responsibility fell on me.  The kids were ready for school, and with snow and ice and salt all over the sidewalks, it seemed obvious to me that babywearing an infant and pushing a reluctantly riding toddler in the stroller was not enough while taking the other two to school.  Clearly, I needed to bring the dog along.

There is a method to my madness-with this terrible weather and the snow and the ice and the salt, I haven’t been walking Dally like I was before the baby came.  It’s been too icy for Kullervo to take her running at night, because it’s even harder to avoid ice in the dark.  Also, he’s been crazy busy at work (if he still exists; I don’t know that I’ve seen him enough recently to be certain that he isn’t just a hologram or a wonderful dream that’s going to fade away).

So, this morning I put the dog into her face harness.  I have multiple harnesses and collars for walking her; my ideal would be for her to just naturally walk on a loose leash… her ideal would be to RUN! RUN! RUN ALL THE TIME!  I have a pinch collar that I’ve been training her with, and a face collar that annoys her to the point that she won’t pull.  Snow, ice, salt, baby, and toddler and all, I figured today wasn’t the day to train her, but get her some exercise.

So we walked to school.  The sidewalks were thankfully not too bad on the main road—in fact, they were perhaps oversalted in front of the schools.  I mentioned to the kids that we should have brought a brush and dustpan because there is a salt shortage in the stores, and our sidewalk is relatively treacherous.  (Sorry, neighbors.)

I kissed the Bigs and they held hands and trudged into school, stopping to pick up some clean snow to eat on their way inside. I convinced Henry to climb back into the stroller and turned around to head home.  I started walking home when Fitz’s hat fell off, into some slush.  No big deal, right?  I retrieved it, shook it out, and then attempted to put it back on his head.  But with my mittens on, I couldn’t get a good grip.  No big deal, right?  I just had to take my mittens off.

In order to take off my mittens, I had to unwind the dog leash from my hand.

As soon as I gave Dally some slack, she started edging away.

Henry decided it was time to stand up in the stroller and lean backwards, causing the stroller to begin to tip over.

So, I had a hatless infant, a struggling dog, a tipping toddler, and mittens tangled up in the leash.

I just needed a minute to sort everything back out.  To pull Dally back and get her to sit so I could re-mitten.  To instruct Henry to sit back down and make sure the stroller was steady.  To secure Fitz’s hat and put my mittens back on.  I could totally do it, it just needed some juggling.

A woman approached me from behind, and attempted to take the leash.  In the moment, I was confused.  I resisted.  I said I was fine.  She, wordlessly, attempted to hold onto the stroller.  I resisted. I said no thanks.  I sorted myself out quickly, and walked on.

I have seen this woman before.  In fact, to be honest, and to my current shame, I haven’t had the kindest of feelings about her.  She’s an older Asian woman who picks up her kindergarten grandson from school when I am picking up Hazel.  I see her regularly.  She doesn’t speak English.  And I have been certain that she has thought nasty things about me because she has fussed over me when I’ve had Fitz at school pickup—attempting to help cover him up with a scarf, etc.

I have assumed that she has been judging me, thinking that I’m incompetent or that I shouldn’t have a new baby out of the house or that I’m doing everything wrong.

As I was walking home this morning, though, I was imagining what it would have been like if I had allowed her to hold onto the dog, or push the stroller, and we had walked together.  I was thinking about how uncomfortable I would feel, walking with someone I couldn’t speak with.  I’m an awkward enough conversationalist that when you throw in a foreign language I’m pretty much dead on arrival.  But, then I started wondering what if I had let her anyway.  What if I had let a stranger help me shoulder the load?

I realized that the unkind thoughts I’ve had about her, and the assumptions I’ve made that she is judging me are all me and my own insecurities.  She hasn’t said anything—she doesn’t speak my language.  The actions that she has taken, that I assumed were assertive and presumptive—what if they were an older woman reaching out to a younger woman to help?  What if they were the acknowledgement of the challenges of juggling multiple children and responsibilities, and an attempt to lighten the burden?

I don’t let people help me.  I don’t ask for help, and I am very resistant to accepting it.  I like that about myself, but it has a flip side.  I am lucky because I have good, wonderful people in my life, and I’ve had good friends basically smack me over the head and help me over my protestations.  One friend once said, “I know you don’t need help. I know you can do it all on your own.  But I am going to help you anyway.”

I’m always surprised when people show up for me.  When people are willing to go out of their way for me.  Like, sobbing into my pillow at night surprised.  It’s clearly something broken inside of me that makes it so hard for me to accept it.  Something that, for all of my independence and can-do-it-all-by-myselfishness, I need to fix.

I might have missed an opportunity today.  I might have spent the rest of this year walking in companionable silence with an older woman from another country, someone who was gracious enough to try to help someone clearly juggling too many things.  Someone who was willing to put herself out there for someone else even though she couldn’t communicate her intentions verbally in a way that I could understand.  I might have gotten to know her over time, gotten to understand her, gotten to learn from her.

But because I’m too prideful to accept help, and because I’m too insecure to realize that people who offer help aren’t offering it because they are critical of how incompetent I am, I didn’t.  Because of that, I might have missed out on something beautiful.  At the very least, I certainly missed an opportunity to let someone else lighten my load this morning.

Now, in writing this, I see obvious tie ins here to Jesus Christ and to my Christianity and my willingness (or reluctance?) to accept His sacrifice for me.  I’ll leave that alone for now, and spend some time on my knees working on that.

I Didn’t Post This On September 11

I did not blog about September 11 on September 11.  I did not post anything on Facebook about it.  In fact, the only people I talked to about it on 9/11 at all were Oliver, who asked questions after school, and my big sister, who relives it every year, remembering how she watched it all happen from a rooftop in New York.

It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important.  I certainly did not forget.  We will never forget.  Nobody in the United States who was alive will forget.  We all know exactly where we were when we heard it, when we saw it, when we turned on the television and saw the towers collapsing.

One of the traditions since 9/11 happened has been to share, on the anniversary, what you were doing when you heard.  Where you were.  Who you were with.  Who you were worried about.  How it affected you.  Inasmuch as you look forward to anniversaries of tragedies, I look forward to these memories as they are shared.  But I do not reciprocate.

It isn’t that I was terribly affected by 9/11.  By all accounts, aside from the way that all Americans were affected by it, it didn’t change much about my life at all.  My experience was not unique.  I cried—but the whole nation cried.  I was filled with pride for all of the heroes of the days and weeks to follow—as we all were, and are.  My heart swelled when I heard Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American”, and still does.  The Star Spangled Banner suddenly seemed more meaningful to me, a newly naturalized American citizen, immigrant to this country.  And I still cry every single time I hear Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning”.

But I also remember the good that came from 9/11.  All of a sudden, for the first time in my life at least, we were one nation, under God, indivisible.  The good of people shone through, and our great country was not destroyed by tragedy.  We were strengthened.  We were united.  We were Americans, and it suddenly meant so much more to be an American than it had before.

My husband, the devilishly handsome Kullervo, joined the Army National Guard after 9/11… but not right after, and not as a direct result of it, although to say that it had no bearing on the decision would be disingenuous of me.  He joined right before we invaded Iraq, and we were fortunate in that we did not have to deal with the atrocities of war which so many of our friends have endured.

So, like all Americans, the events of September 11 affected our family.  But, through being a military wife and getting to know an amazing group of women, I have seen how 9/11 has affected their families.  I have heard the stories of the PTSD from these wars we’ve been in since 9/11 that has changed marriages, hurt families, and resulted in suicides.  I have friends who lost loved ones, on that day and in the days, weeks, and years to follow.

There are people with stories that turn my stomach and hurt my heart.  Their stories need to be told.  Their stories are the ones I want to remember and never forget.  My heart cries for those who were lost, both during and afterwards, both through death and through emotional turmoil.  My prayers went out to our nation, bleeding and suffering, and still do.  My prayers still go out to the awful people in the world who are taught to hate instead of to love, who are taught to do evil.  I don’t excuse them the evil things they do, but I pray for them, because Jesus told me to.

So, the reason I don’t share my story every year is not that I don’t remember.  It isn’t that I don’t care, or that I don’t think it isn’t important.  I turn inward, and light a candle for the memories, and pray to God for sense to made from the senseless, for beauty to rise from the ashes, for joy to replace the heartache.

Gun Talk

All Oliver can talk about is guns.  Nerf guns.  Water guns.  Real guns.  He desperately wants a Nerf gun for his birthday.

Now, in principle, I am okay with toy guns.  My concern is that in a society for which violence has become commonplace and not a big deal, without a lot of care and due diligence (for lack of a better term) by the parents, that same casual attitude is passed down to our children.

I think it’s a big cognitive leap to understand that playing with toy guns in a game and pretending to kill people (!) is okay (and is it?), but playing with real guns where people really do get hurt or killed isn’t.  We’ve avoided this, in part, in the past, by having games that we play with him that do involve shooting be able shooting marshmallows and getting each other so sticky that you lose the game (totally Kullervo’s imagination at work there, mind you!).

I’m not going to pretend otherwise–real guns make me really uncomfortable.  I’ve had some bad experiences in my life associated with them.   I lived in a house once where the gun that was there (not mine) that was for self-protection was turned on us, and we were sort of held hostage.

At the same time, my baggage is my baggage, and not something that my kids need to live or deal with.  And part of being a responsible parent, in my opinion, is recognizing that, and thus teaching my kids appropriate caution without terrorizing fear.

So, for now, we talk about it.  We talk about real guns and toy guns.  We talk about how they are different, by a seriously huge magnitude.  We talk about killing, and death, and hurting people.  These aren’t fun conversations to have, but important in the context.

And I have to figure out–or rather, Kullervo and I have to figure out–what sort of play is okay.  Kids have been playing cops and robbers for ages and ages.  Is it bad to pretend to kill a bad guy?  Is it wrong?  What do we allow?  On the one hand, when kids pretend to kill things, it’s downright creepy.  On the other hand, death is a part of life.  And, for worse (not for better), killing and hurting other people is a part of life.  And exploring difficult, complex, and philosophically deep ideas about life and death through play seems appropriate.  We are supposed to role play to teach our kids how to handle things like smoking and bullies… is it okay to role play to teach our kids about death? About the darker nature of man?  If I tell him that he can play with toy guns, but he can only pretend he’s hurting someone, not killing them… does that make death seem like this big, terrifying thing?  What do we do, then, when our enormously-fat-probably-won’t-live-forever-seven-year-old-cat dies?

I’m sure that a part of this conversation also has to go into religion.  Which means I’m going to have to prayerfully figure out what the heck I teach my kids about hard questions like that, religiously.  This probably belongs in a whole separate post, but I feel like Jesus’s way was wholly different from the instinctive response to this.  For example, bullying.  I want to teach my kids that if someone bullies them, or hits them, they should hit back.  Knock a kid out.  Bullies only respond to strength.

But Jesus didn’t teach that.  I don’t want my kids to hurt… but I do want them to follow Jesus’s teachings.  Those two might be mutually exclusive in some circumstances.  And I need to spend some time with God figuring that out, and then with Kullervo to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of raising our kids inter-faithfully.

Another aspect of the whole gun issue revolves around hunting.  I respect that it’s a sport, and that lots of people seriously enjoy it.  I personally find it repellent, but I can see and understand where other people would feel differently.  And Kullervo loves going shooting (not hunting, but shooting).  He was an infantry soldier, and he’s a good shot.  It’s something he excels at.  How does that fit into all of this?

In addition to the concerns about Oliver playing with Nerf guns, letting him do it exposes Hazel at a much younger age to them.  Which means that she needs to be a part of the conversation as well.  I don’t think she’d show as much of an interest in them, but I think it would be really easy to have the conversations with Oliver, and then just assume Hazel picked up on it, when her cognitive development is that of a three year old, not a five year old.

I don’t have any answers at all, just question on question, so any feedback or suggestions are appreciated.  Do you let your kids play with toy guns?  How old were they when you let them start, if it wasn’t always?

Literally

You know what’s a minor pet peeve of mine?  When people mispronounce the word literal.  Instead of saying literal (three syllables) they say litrel.  Or when they say something is literal when it isn’t.  “It was lit-relly, like, bigger than the planet.”

Anyway, are Adam and Eve literal?  Lots of people think that they are, and it’s a really fun idea.  So while thinking about them, I like to come up with ways that Adam and Eve could really be real people, 6000 years ago, when we have fossils of people much earlier than that.

So, there’s the standard ‘we don’t know what the measurements of time were that were used–a day could mean an era of some sort.  Especially since this was all written later, if someone was sort of having a vision of all that happened and then tasked with writing it down, well, God would sort of have to speed up the process.  So a vision with a time-stop thing that sort of showed the creation could make it seem like, okay, this was a day.  (Do you know what I’m talking about?  They do it in the movies all the time but I don’t know the technical name for it.  Let’s just say that if you were in the Twilight movie universe, you’d be spinning around a chair showing the seasons going by.)  Then the next thing happened.  And that was, like, another day.  If Adam and Eve were real people, that probably makes the most sense.

But!  What if God isn’t talking about the very first man at all?  What if there were totally men and women hanging out, living lives, herding, hunting, gathering, farming, whatever, but Adam and Eve were the first of God’s people?  So, evolution happened the way that we think, but the Bible has this record of the Israelites, who were some of the descendants of Adam and Eve.  But what if there is some other -ible, the Gible or Zible perhaps, about Ronald and Sue, the first people of another set of people.  Why haven’t we heard of these people, you ask?  Well, there’s the flood, after all.  I bet a lot of paperwork was lost in the flood.  Also, have you heard about all those fires that California keeps having?  Stuff that’s written down is notorious for just, like, disappearing when there is a wildfire.  (And obviously all this stuff is written on pieces of paper, right?  I mean, my NIV is, so I extrapolate that to all documents by every culture ever in history.)

*Note that in all of this, I haven’t said that I actually think that Adam and Eve were real people.

So, now, what if Adam and Eve were not real people, but are in fact myths, stories of the beginning of time that aren’t supposed to be literally interpreted, but mined for the wealth of information that they give.  I suppose it is also possible to very narrowly interpret the story, possibly putting too much emphasis on ideas that could then skew your entire perception of the Bible.

If Adam and Eve were not real people, there are some questions.  What about all of those random descendants who are named but (as far as I know) never really returned to or seen again?  Why bother with the cameos of these children who didn’t turn out to be the ancestors of Abraham?  Perhaps they had (have?) more meaning to the Jews at the time that it was written.

Also, when did the people start being real people and not just myths?  It’s possible that there is some blurring here–maybe Abraham was real, but more has been attributed to him than actually happened, or stories about a few people were combined into one.  You see this a lot in the Greek myths–depending on which stories you read, you get different versions of which god did what, etc.

*Note that in all of this, I haven’t said that I actually think that Adam and Eve were mythological people.

So, is it time for my opinion?  I warn you–it’s going to sound wishy washy.

I don’t know if Adam and Eve were literal people or not.  And I don’t really think that it matters.  Whether they were literal people or not doesn’t change the lessons that we have to learn from them.  It doesn’t make or break my faith.

In any case, I think it is a beautiful story about the origins of mankind (civilized mankind?) with so much to learn about man and God and what our relationship should and could be with God.  And for what God thinks about people and how He treats us.

Wishy washy?  Maybe.  Post-modern?  Probably.