Should I Quit Church?

Should I Quit Church?

 

“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

— Woody Allen, from the film Annie Hall

 

 

 

(Trigger warning: This post is kind of spiritual-ish)

 I’ve been thinking of quitting church.

imagesTime out: I’ve mentioned before that I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, and promised to write more about it because, although it’s been around over five hundred years, a lot of people aren’t really sure what it is. Many of those people are UU’s, actually, which is part of our marketing problem. It boils down to this: we welcome everyone who comes in peace, we value freedom and work for social justice. If you want more details, you can go here, and maybe here.

Ok, so—

I joined this church back when my boys were three and five years old, because not only did the modest building have a huge banner outside that read “Standing on the Side of Love”, (referring, then, to the fight against the ban on same sex marriage in California that was raging at the time), but they also had an old school playground with dangerous “retro” equipment, like one of those metal carrousel things where kids propel themselves around until they throw up or crash into the dirt. There were big wooden climbing structures full of splinters and the occasional black widow spider and a sandbox that needed a good sift, if you know what I mean.

“Can we play here?” My son, then five asked.

“I think it’s for the church people,” I answered, looking through the chainlink fence, woven through with jasmine.

“Let’s be church people,” he said. He was little. He had no idea how loaded a statement like that was to an expat from the bible belt, like myself.

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (probably not), but I just had a feeling that these could be my people. Raising kids these days can whip you into such a frenzy of hyper-vigilance, that it not only zaps the fun out of it, but it can make you a little nuts. The lure of this playground, with it’s promise of good natured hippies who weren’t afraid of gay people, lawsuits or cat poop, was enough to get me through the doors.

We found community.

We took part in traditions like Passover, where my non-Jewish husband had an unlikely star turn as The Burning Bush in the seder play, and a Christmas Eve service, where my son, age six, was welcomed into the pageant dressed as Spiderman because, “Who knows who really attended the birth of Jesus?” said all the happy UU’s.

We got involved. UU’s are nothing if not crazy for social justice, and the church gave me a place to learn more about issues I cared about and pitch in where I could.

My relationship with church was great,

until several years passed and then…

it wasn’t.

As my boys got older, life got busier, and weekends were especially precious real estate on the calendar. The church got a new minister that didn’t take, and when he left after a few rough years,  it caused hurt feelings and a flurry of gossip that poisoned the positive vibe I’d loved so much in the beginning.

So I did something I’d never done and made an appointment with our minister. I needed to know: Is it possible to fall back in love, or had I let my relationship with church become stale, like a bad marriage, and was it time to pack up the kids and move on?

Talking to my minister was a lot like talking to a shrink. She asked questions, nodded and and listened with empathy, but mostly it was on me to suss it out.

“Maybe I just need a break,” I reasoned. “A spiritual sabbatical. That’s a thing, right?”

Again with the nodding. I tried to make my case.

“Then, when I come back, it will be a choice, not out of some, you know, obligation.”

“MmHm.”

We looked at each other. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. She listened, but I wasn’t going to get her stamp of approval for bailing out, and I wasn’t going to get a guilt trip about it either. Either of those would have given me the green light, but she wasn’t biting.

I went home confused.Why was it so hard to walk away?

I curate my life pretty carefully, picking and choosing what fits best, minimizing discomfort as much as possible. I shop at the grocery store I prefer, even though it’s not in my neighborhood and I have perfected my Starbucks order to a t. What can I say? I like things the way I like them. giphy

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (it was), but I started to wonder  if the problem wasn’t with church, but with me. If I did the work of showing up, even when I’d rather do something else, what might happen?

Which brings us to Easter Sunday.

My family and I woke up late, had toast and chocolate rabbits for breakfast, and made our way to church. All the familiar faces were there, and familiar songs were sung. As always, instead of eggs, we hid cans of food for the kids to find, to be donated to a local food bank, and participated in something called a Flower Communion.  It was, in the words of David Byrne, same as it ever was.

But it felt different.

Why?

I hate to say it, but I think it had to do with faith.

It felt like a leap of faith to show up, because even though I’m going through a phase where that place is working my last nerve, there’s something I need there, even if I can’t name it. And as annoying as it can be to get my ass out of bed and serve a community that sometimes asks too much, it is working on my insides, changing me for the better.

So, I guess I’ll keep going because, hey—

I need the eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

To state the obvious, it’s a scary time for a lot of people.

I won’t pretend to have new insight or valuable commentary on the political climate that is fueling many of our fears, because I’m not nearly smart enough to do that. But I do know a few things about fear, seeing as how I’m a scaredy cat from way back.

Just for fun (yours, not mine) let’s just list a few of the fears that haunt my mind on a regular basis. I think it will give me some credibility on the topic.

A short list of things that freak me the hell out:

    1. botulism

    2. port-o-potties

    3. heights

    4. head lice

    5. speaking in public

    6. losing my teeth

    7. water moccasins 

    8. sleeping with anything sharp near my bed

    9. marionettes

Conspicuously absent is any mention of harm coming to my husband or children because I am too afraid to even put it on the list. (Dang. See how it weaseled it’s way in here? Crafty little bugger.) But, to make it an even 10, I’ll add this:

    10. writing about things that really scare me and, as a result, making those things happen 

Ok, so we’ve established I’m scared of a lot of weird shit, in addition to the stuff that  scares most normal people. Which brings me to The One Thing I do that helps me when I’m, say, watching my sons try on all the costume pieces at the renaissance fair— including those hats that everyone and their preschooler has put on. (WTF???)

I do this:

I stop my anxious fiddling and just get quiet for a second. Then I put my right hand (it can be either hand, but using my right hand tends to relax me while using my left feels like I’m checking for a heartbeat) gently onto the middle of my chest. I name what I am feeling, in this case, Fear. I just say that silently to myself, and allow it to be there. The result is that the fear that had felt like part of me is now just a thing with a name. I’m not chasing it away, or trying to outrun it. I’m not justifying it or minimizing it.

It’s such a relief.

So, there you go. One thing.

It may seem overly simple, but it has saved me on many a bumpy take-off and landing (which would be #11 and #12). I do this when I’m a little scared, like when I have to ride a glass elevator, and when I’m fucking terrified, like when I read the Sunday Times.

It helps with both.

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t make it up. At least I don’t think I did. I probably heard about it, or a version of it, from this guy, or this gal, both of whom have lots of helpful tricks for living in a world where people are always blowing up.

 

love-826936__180And let’s be very kind to ourselves. This isn’t easy.

xo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

In which I realize that I am more like a thirteen year old than I thought (plus a contest!)

My first born turns thirteen tomorrow! Holy cannoli, where did the time go??

Ok look, the truth is that I have never been that mom who asks “where did the time go?” It’s been thirteen years, and I am here to tell you that it seems like thirteen years, but that doesn’t mean that my heart isn’t being pulled apart at the thought of my baby growing up.

IMG_3013.JPG

One thing being a mother has taught me is how possible it is to have two or more emotions flood you to the brim, at the same time. I have found the parenting journey (cringing as I type that. Parenting journey??? Geez. Who have I become?) to be more fulfilling, humbling and exhausting than I expected. With thirteen comes a break in the physical labor of parenting, and a sharp uptick in the mental toil.

I’m ready. (ish)

I know the next years will probably be a bit, shall we say, rocky. As my boy treads in the bracing water of adolescence, I belly flop into the river of peri-menopause, in my Target swim skirt. It’s new territory for both of us, so at least we have that in common. In fact, we are probably sharing more now than we have in a dozen years, back when I nursed him through the night, providing him with milk in exchange for those blessed calming hormones that got me through. I remember in the morning we would wake smiling at each other (no memories of the tense 3:00am cursing under my breath. Oh yes, we’ve all done it), and I’d have just a moment with him before the veil lifted.

Sigh…

Please pardon that little stroll down memory lane that leads,

as you can see,

nowhere,

really.

A side affect of waning estrogen is that I occasionally lose my train of though or forget where I was going. Actually, it probably does lead somewhere, somewhere very profound, only my glasses are steamed up from a hot flash so I can’t see where the hell I’m headed! 

Oh, and that that rage thing? That’s hormonal too. My adolescent child deals with this temporary problem by playing his guitar cranked “to eleven” or doing backflips off the couch, while I head to my trusty key board and type into the void.

My apologies.

Not to change the subject, but hey, you guys! It’s World Poetry Day! And it just so happens that I have a poem to share here, by one of my all-time faves, Anne Sexton.

images

She was a troubled soul (understatement) but God, could she get to the heart of things. In keeping with this post’s theme, thus far, please enjoy:

Young

A thousand doors ago

when I was a lonely kid

in a big house with four

garages and it was summer

as long as I could remember,

I lay on the lawn at night,

clover wrinkling under me,

the wise stars bedding over me,

my mother’s window a funnel

of yellow heat running out,

my father’s window, half shut,

an eye where sleepers pass,

and the boards of the house

were smooth and white as wax

and probably a million leaves

sailed on their strange stalks

as the crickets ticked together

and I, in my brand new body,

which was not a woman’s yet,

told the stars my questions

and thought God could really see

the heat and the painted light,

elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Let’s just sit with that for a second. She’s so good.

 

Ok, next up, a contest…

One thing that real bloggers with lots of readers do is have contests. In the spirit of fake it ’til you make it, I am going to have my own Tiny Contest! Please email me directly, or leave in the comments below, or post on this blog’s FaceBook page, a piece of advice you really wish someone had given you when you were thirteen. The first person to do so will get their very own free copy of Anne Sexton: The Complete Poems, sent directly to you! You Can’t Win If You Don’t Enter, as they say, but let’s just face it, your odds are pretty good. (Hope you don’t mind that it’s gently used, since I just found it on my book shelf next to another one of the exact same book. I have an Amazon addiction. It’s a disease).

Maybe I’ll press a flower in it, seeing as how it’s now officially Spring, and all 🙂

 

 

Pi Day and Other Things I’m Supposed To Be Interested In

Unknown-3

It’s Pi Day, but I’m sure you’ve heard that by now. It’s everywhere.

Suddenly, it’s a big thing to celebrate and if you don’t take your kids out for pie (get it??), or better yet, bake your own special Pi pie while wearing your ironically cool Pi t-shirt and humming this catchy little tune, then you’re fairly sucking at the whole parenting experience. But still, no matter how many people explain Pi to me, I don’t get it and I can’t care.

Days like this always remind me of a quality in myself I’d rather forget, but that I feel, for the sake of others in the closet, I need to cop to right here and right now: There are a lot of things I’m supposed to get all excited about that pretty much bore the shit out of me.

But first, because I haven’t quite conquered my approval seeking nature, I think I’ll share a list of things that, prior to having kids, used to bore the shit out of me, but that I now find super interesting:

  • Second hand smoke
  • BPAs
  • Newberry Awards
  • Cost of college tuition
  • Bullying/asshole kids
  • GMO labelling
  • Internet porn
  • Smoothies

So see? Parenting has indeed opened my eyes to the bigger world and, to the best of my ability, I’m on it, I promise.

But one thing about being a mother that I wasn’t expecting, is how many things we’re suddenly supposed to be interested in, even if we’re really not. I remember talking to my therapist when my son was about two years old, about how I just couldn’t play Little People with him anymore.

Unknown-2

I know. I spent money to deal with this problem.

But at the time it felt like a life sentence. It felt like, if I had to get down on the floor for even one. More. Minute. And make the little yellow haired plastic guy talk to the little orange haired plastic girl, I was going to seriously lose my shit. I don’t know. I was really worked up about it at the time, go figure.

Here we are years later, and I’m still feeling the pressure to get super excited about things that leave me cold. Only this time, it’s not my kids who are sending the message, but some all-seeing parental force that has no name, but that I shall just call People Who Are Super Into It, Smarter, and Probably Younger. PWASISPY, for short.

Here’s a list of things the PWASISPY does that I don’t/ can’t/ have zero interest in:

  • Learn Minecraft.
  • Do shit like this
  • Dress up on Halloween
  • Read Harry Potter fan fiction
  • Stand in line for sixteen hours on the day the new Star Wars movie opens with thermoses of hot cocoa and Princess Leia braids
  • Understand and get very excited, VERY fucking turned on by the concept of Pi

God, they have so much fun! The PWASISPY go camping and love it. They build really complicated thingamajigs in the backyard and launch them.

Ok.Clearly this might warrant just one more trip to therapy. And if I went, what would I say?

That somewhere deep inside, I think, If Only.

If only I could do these things, my son would open up to me more. He’d feel so loved and understood that he would share with me when the girl he’s crushing on likes another boy, and how that makes him feel. I’d know what he’s really truly afraid of, if he secretly wishes that he were as tall as the other kids or (gulp), that he had a funner mom.

Ugh. That old chestnut.

Once again and as always, it’s no one else’s deal but mine. There’s no looming dark cloud of judging super-people out there, just my own craving for confirmation that I’m doing OK here, because when it comes to a job like raising kids, we just never know, do we?  I look Out There to tell me what to do, while simultaneously claiming not to care what anyone thinks.

As I ponder this flaw in my nature, I’ll make my kid’s favorite lunch and bask in the knowledge that, while I don’t know thing one about Pi, I do make a kick-ass grilled cheese.

Oh, and a very happy Pi Day, to those who celebrate it.

Unknown-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Son Laughed in My Face (and made my day)

On Facebook not long ago, I shared an exchange that happened between my twelve year old son and myself and it went like this:

T: What are you looking at?
Me: In this light, I can see just the tiniest beginning of a mustache on you.
T: Hmm. Really?
Me: Sure. It’s small, but yeah, I can see it.
T: (squinting at me) Like mother like son. (he breaks into hysterics)

I posted it because it made me laugh, but I was surprised to find that I thought about it a lot, after it happened. Not only did it make me laugh, the way kids often make us laugh, but it made me smile deeply. It warmed me.

If you’ve ever had a kid then you probably had at least a few of those moments where you breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was that they came into the world mostly healthy and ok. Or maybe it was when they looked you in the eye and smiled, or reached for a toy, or spoke their first word, held a pencil, ate peanuts without a reaction. It’s different for all of us, but there are those moments when you just say to yourself, “Thank goodness. Phew. They’re gonna be ok.”

The biggest one, of course, is kindness. When you start seeing your child think of someone else besides themselves, it’s a big relief. Clearly, kindness if life skill number one, but when the conversation above happened, I noticed I had a very similar reaction. It was a soft, inward sigh of relief. He’s got a sense of humor, I thought. Thank god, it will serve him well.

A sense of humor can get you out of a world of trouble and keep you afloat when things get really bad. You can be smart, beautiful and talented, but without a sense of humor, I wouldn’t want to trade places with you. If we were living in another time, a sense of humor would be like having the sharpest arrowheads, or a full set of teeth. Life is just going to be easier for you, and more fun for your tribe. A sense of humor without kindness is a recipe for disaster, but put them together, and I want to know you.

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I will be having a disagreement and he will find a way to make me laugh. You know those moments when you’re so pissed, but then your beloved comes at you with a spot on Maggie Smith impression and gets you laughing?

No? Oh.

Well, anyway, it’s the best. Provided the timing is right (there’s a 8.6 degree of difficulty here, guys, proceed with caution), it never fails to reverse the direction of a downward spiral. Maybe it’s not a total reconciliation, where he admits I was completely right and he was completely wrong, but at least the tone has changed. After a good laugh our hearts a little softer. Things go better.

We all know that you don’t have to be funny to have a sense of humor, although I think the two usually go together, if you listen closely enough. All my friends have a sense of humor, they just do. All of them make me laugh, but I’m sure not all of them think they are funny, which of course makes me love them even more.

My son has been making me laugh since he was born. Kids are a hoot, after all. The malapropisms, goofy outfits and knock knock jokes. Hilarious! But now the laughs are different. They reveal more of how he sees life, and more and more often he makes me laugh at the exact moment that I need to lighten up. If we’re locked in one of those lose/lose battles fueled by menopause and puberty and he makes me laugh, I’m almost always incredibly grateful to him. It’s usually just what I need to get my head screwed on, if it’s come,  just ever so slightly, off.

I was at a funeral a while ago, where the adult child of the woman who had died said, with tears in his eyes and so much love, “When we were growing up, we all knew that if you could make Mom laugh, you could get away with almost anything. If you were in trouble, your best bet was to crack her up, which was easy to do.” Not a bad legacy, in my opinion. I’d be happy with that.

I hope I’m the kind of person who laughs easily, even when it’s at myself. I can’t imagine surviving motherhood (or childhood) any other way. So, just for today, I’m forgetting the math homework that hasn’t been finished, the dirty socks stuck in the couch, the twelve year old attitude, and remembering this: that, in addition to being a generally good egg, he can see the humor in life. He can see absurdity and irony and, apparently, he can see my mustache.

That’s ok, I’ll get him back. I’m his mom, I’ve got the baby pictures 🙂