Scouting Out a New Heritage

As my children and I celebrate the Supreme Court’s lifted ban on marriage equality, I couldn’t help but remember details of our (less than pleasant) stint in the (conservative alternative to Girl Scouts) organization American Heritage Girls.  Realizing I never did get around to blogging about that whole ordeal, I decided this was a good time to let it all out.  All of that shame, humiliation, and discomfort that my daughter and I experienced… right here.

Years ago, I learned about AHG online.  I’d always had ill feelings toward Girl Scouts for their support of organizations that leave a bad taste in my mouth.  I have strong feelings against Planned Parenthood for personal reasons and the fact that they (Girl Scouts) financially supported this organization bothered me greatly.  Also, I was still trying to do the conservative thing and be the conservative wife and mother.  So, mental note, if a troop ever formed nearby, I’d check it out.

We attended an open house and immediately I was bothered by what I saw and heard.  I was told that pledging allegiance to the flag was not optional and I had to sign something saying that I believed marriage was between a man and a woman.  While I didn’t want to sign this document, I went ahead and did it (when will I ever learn?) because my daughter said she wanted to participate and I’d dragged her there so… I signed.  I justified it by saying that, at the time, same sex marriage was not legal so therefore, technically, marriage in our state WAS between a man and a woman.  They should have written the statement differently.  Loophole.  Loopholes everywhere.

I didn’t want to leave my daughter alone with these strangers so I was also required to purchase a membership just to be allowed to sit in the room with her.  Okay.  RED FLAG.

Once the meetings got going, I could see that my daughter wasn’t happy.  She felt awkward at the meetings and like she didn’t fit in.  They didn’t allow her to join in with her grade.  She had to be put into a group based upon her age and she was significantly more mature than the rest of the girls in that group.  Eventually she made one friend but that child was in the older girl’s group because they met at a homeschool activity and were in the same grade.

Also, the joke was on them because I literally did not stand for any of their pledges.  I sat during each one, just daring them to try and make me stand.

We are pretty big on follow through here at our house.  If you start something, unless there is abuse or danger or some other terribly good reason, you finish it.  Just simply not having a ton of fun wasn’t a good enough reason to drop out of American Heritage Girls so we continued.  We worked on badges at home and participated in the extra activities outside of meetings.  My daughter hated every second of it but, confession, I thought it was kinda fun!

Still, there was a part of me that felt uncomfortable. For one thing, I noticed that at the beginning of one meeting, the leaders prayed, publicly, for “marriage to remain only between a man and a woman.”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Were they seriously praying about gay marriage?  This would not sit well with my daughter. And it certainly didn’t sit well with me.

At the beginning of one meeting, a girl approached my daughter and the first thing she said was, “Why does your mom homeschool you?”  My daughter was taken aback.  She’d never been asked this question before so she responded in her most defensive tone, “Um, because she doesn’t want me to grow up to be stupid.”  While I laughed hysterically at this response, we did take a few moments to discuss alternative responses should such a circumstance arise again in the future.  I believe we decided upon, “Because it’s what she feels is best for our family” to be a better answer.  But come on, when someone approaches you with a question phrased in such a manner, they are kinda asking for it!

During our 14 months of being involved with AHG, I felt humiliated several times.  Perhaps the most humiliating situation was when my girl was earning her theater badge.  One of the requirements was to be part of a production and then invite your troop to attend the performance.  This “children’s show” called Goldilocks and the Three Bears had closed-to-parents rehearsals.  Great.  I have stuff to do.  So I dropped my children off at the theater and went on my merry way. My husband and I made plans to attend the very last performance.  Meanwhile, four families from my daughter’s troop had purchased tickets.

Little had I known that the show included drug and alcohol references and a lovely little song about bras, with the actors (all children, mind you) holding a variety of bras.

Now, I’m no prude.  My kids watch all matter of “not appropriate for children” material and I’m fine with it. But in the context of government funded children’s theater, I take family-friendly very literally.  That should mean all (or at the very least most) families should be able to attend the production.  Considering what I had learned about the level of conservativeness in the AHG community, I was certain I must do something and I needed to do it quickly.  I went home and wrote a letter of apology to the four families who purchased tickets.  Two of them responded graciously, laughing it off.  Another family didn’t respond at all.  And the troop leader?  She’d been forewarned about the material from a friend who attended the show opening night and made the judgment call to keep her children at home.  She didn’t blame me but I could tell from her letter that we were parenting in two entirely different worlds. Still, I felt like had a level of respect for me, especially when I wrote the appropriate emails of complaint, requesting her ticket money be refunded.  I’d done all I could.

So imagine my surprise a couple months later when I asked her to spread the word about my public Q&A session with Veterans at the public library and I was met with great resistance.  My homeschool co-op put together a “Meet the Veterans” event.  It felt like the perfect fit for AHG since they are all about patriotism and loving on our Veterans (a characteristic of the organization I appreciated).  I was called and questioned at length about why my co-op is secular.  What did that mean?  Why did I choose to involve myself with a secular co-op (which I started, by the way)?  After I answered her probing and irrelevant-to-the-event questions, I felt mentally violated.  I never could figure out why the answers to these questions mattered when it came to informing the other AHG homeschoolers about our Veteran’s event.  I was humiliated.

My daughter eventually experienced humiliation as well.  The night of the last awards ceremony, my daughter wasn’t informed that she was to go up with the other 2nd graders.  She sat there waiting for the 3rd graders to be called because she was in 3rd grade.  Anyone would be confused.  She stood there, waiting for the announcer to call her name.  They never did.  Finally, they saw her there and said her name very quickly just to get her moving off of the stage.  She was never actually recognized.  She was so confused and I felt terrible for her.  Someone should have remembered that she’d been stuck with a bunch of kids in a different grade from her own.

At her final meeting, we both decided that it was high time our family and AHG go their separate t ways.  She left that meeting horrified.  I did too.  She witnessed one of the leaders in her classroom verbally abuse her developmentally delayed daughter over misusing a wipe.  I witnessed a mother in the lobby slap a little boy in the face for basically just existing.  We were both heartbroken.  This was not an environment in which either of us felt comfortable.  I told her that night we’d not go back in the fall.

I asked the troop leader, a month or two later, to remove me from the mailing list once she started sending out reminders about the upcoming school year.  It was then that she apologized for the embarrassing mix up which had occurred the night of the award’s ceremony.  When I explained that my daughter had been crying, begging to not go to meetings, and that I couldn’t keep forcing her, the troop leader kindly offered up prayers that she’d find an activity she truly enjoyed.  And I believe she was sincere.

Now that I’ve had a full year to reflect upon the entire experience, I’m, more than anything, just glad to be away from it.  I’m sure they’ve issued a formal statement about the decision made by our Supreme Court yesterday.  As soon as the Boy Scouts instated their policy of homosexual acceptance, I received an email from AHG stating that they were suspending any and all affiliation with the BSA organization.  No doubt there are plenty of AHG members praying about the fate of our country.  Certainly the leaders of the organization are making plans to “take back” our nation for the sake of our girls.

Meanwhile, I took this picture of my daughter last night.  When I took it, I didn’t realize she was wearing her AHG shirt.  But it seemed rather fitting that she’d be donning her most patriotic attire on a day when we were all feeling a little bit more proud than usual of good old ‘Merica.  I’m thankful for a daughter who tolerates, loves, and accepts unconditionally.  She learned all of those things without the influence of some religious sect disguising itself as a “scouting troop”.

gaycookies

Relentlessly gay cookies in celebration of marriage equality.

Not Right Now

“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”
Fulton J. Sheen

(Do not ask me to tell you anything about Fulton J. Sheen as I have never heard of him? her? but when I found this quote, I knew I simply had to add it to this article.  It was too perfect.)

The past month has been rough.  Bad news has come what seemed like daily.  Commitments have arisen.  Hearts have been broken.  Unfamiliar has become familiar. But one thing is for certain… lessons have been learned.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of ideas.  Ideas, dreams, pursuits.  None of them ever worked out.  The dreams would fizzle out as quickly as they were thought up.  Months, even years of hard work I’ve watched slip through my fingers.  I could do nothing about it because circumstances would no longer allow me to chase frivolous diversions.  It wasn’t practical.  I had babies to birth, nurse, care for, educate… I heard God whisper to me, “Not now.”

This past weekend, the family devoted our time to rearranging several rooms, adding a loft bed for the youngest to have his own space for sleeping, and turning the “play room” into more of a “school room”.  We have officially moved into the big kid phase of parenting.  All three of our children are “school age”.  They are all pretty self-sufficient.  This is the space I’ve been waiting to enter since I became a mother eleven years ago.  Things are so much easier and there is energy left over for things I might want to do.

So I believe it’s no coincidence that the things I had been asked to wait on are now coming back into my life.  Full circle. My head is spinning.  At some point, I truly believed that I’d never ever ever get the chance to explore my art again. I’d never get to do any *real* writing.  I’d never appear on the stage again.  And all of those dreams I had about serving mothers in my community by providing them with artistic opportunities? Ha!  As if.  I was a mom.  And I’d better be happy with that.

But, miraculously, all of the things I’ve only dreamed of doing while I was breastfeeding, diapering, and parenting little kids are coming back around again.  I am writing, I am cast in a small role in a local production, and, I might even be rebirthing that whole Artsy Mamas thing I started a few years ago. The realization that there is plenty of time to do it later is helping me to stop and breathe a little bit more often.  I am feeling less pressure to write that book, get that play finished, create that masterpiece.  One day.  Meanwhile, I’ll work at a pace that doesn’t take me away from my family and friends.  Children won’t keep.  But if I have any actual talent, it will.

Vaccines: That Was Then, This is Now

Eleven years ago, I was about to become a mother for the first time.  I was spending a lot of my time at night, while my husband was at work,  reading message boards about parenting.  Being the hippie that I am, I naturally gravitated toward more crunchy, granola-type information and that is when I was presented with the notion that vaccinations were optional.  Until this time in my life, I’d never heard of anyone refusing a vaccine.  So I started reading.  And I started worrying.

At first, I never dreamed that my husband would ever go for not vaccinating.  But somehow I managed to print out the right information and present it at the right time (maybe when he was half asleep) and got him to hop on board the “not gonna vaccinate our kids” train.  I was shocked really.  He was so much more “normal” than I was.  However, I felt his willingness to support me in my concerns about vaccinations was a sign that we would make a good team.  Really, it might have been.  We’ve disagreed a lot over the years but for the most part, when it comes to unusual parenting decisions, we’ve managed to stay on the same page.

What was it about vaccines that I feared?  Well, for one thing, it made good sense to me that vaccines might be correlated to autism. Not that I was convinced there was a direct causation but correlation seemed logical. When I thought of autism, I didn’t think of it in the way that my whole family is autistic (bunch of weirdos) but rather I thought of my autistic cousin, completely nonverbal, living in a home and a total drain on his mother.  I thought of my mom’s brother, dead at a relatively young age with a strange obsession with music and unable to live on his own.  I remember my mom talking to my aunt and having her agree that her son’s autism did appear to become visible at about age 18 months, shortly after a round of vaccines.  In my mind, I began to see vaccinations as a potential trigger for all kinds of health issues.

Eventually I wasn’t just worried about autism. I felt worried about cancer.  What if vaccinations triggered cancer?  I thought about mental illness which ran rampant in my family.  Wasn’t it about the time of my booster shots when I began battling depression, something with which I struggle today even?

It’s not that I was ever anti-vax.  I realized that my children were benefiting from vaccines that other people had received.  Never once did I feel superior to anyone else who did vaccinate.  Never once did I judge people for not doing things the way that I did them.

I saw things from both perspectives.

Similar to how I see many issues today.

It’s a quality that causes many people to call me tolerant and accepting which also gets me labeled a  “fence rider” by other, more fundamental individuals.  I do see gray areas, something I was made to feel ashamed of years ago when my husband had decided to marry me and various people in his life were pointing out my character flaws to him. Today, I am a proud of my ability to see gray.

While I didn’t wish that vaccines had never existed, there was small voice that kept telling me not to vaccinate my children.  Some might say my gut was talking to me.  Others might call it the holy spirit.  No matter what you call it, I knew that I wasn’t ready to give my kids shots.

I gave birth to two more children and my feelings didn’t change.  Once in a while, I’d check in with my husband and I’d ask him if he still felt good about this decision and he’d give me the thumbs up and we’d keep moving forward.

Then my oldest got cancer.  I started to wonder if the not vaccinating thing was somehow related to that.  If the vaccines would have made some kind of impact on the outcome of his transplant or treatment.  I still wonder that.

About a year ago, doubt began to stir in me.  I began to think that, maybe, it was time to discuss vaccines with my husband.  But I never brought it up until one day we were talking about some political issues that were distressing to him and I told him that I’d been thinking that maybe it was time for us to consider getting at least some of the vaccines for our children.  He said he’d been thinking the same thing.  I told him I’d like to pray about it and think on it and I asked him to start reading some things.  We talked about it again a few months later.  Then we decided, together, that it was time to make the appointments.  We discussed waiting until flu and cold season had died down and then we’d call.

It was very interesting timing that the measles outbreak began right around the same time we made that decision.  So I have prepared myself for people, who know we haven’t vaccinated in the past, to accuse us of deciding we should get the shots because of the outbreak.   But that’s not how it went down.  It’s really not.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of nasty things about people like me… people who don’t vaccinate their children.  It’s been hurtful to know that people I love and care for very much think that I’m nuts, crazy, ruthless, and a danger to my society.  I know that their reactions come from the same place from which my reactions to the vaccines themselves come:  fear.  But it still sucked to know the truth about how people really saw me.  Most of the time, I learned this through passive aggressive posts on Facebook.  This is a great example of the kinds of things I’ve seen over the years:

FriendsDont

Then I’d see images like this and think, “No wonder so many folks think I’m kooky.”

vaccine

Today, my children received some vaccinations.

With an exception of the tetanus shot my daughter received last summer after stepping into an uncovered heating and air vent and being scraped up by nails, these are the only vaccines we’ve ever given our children.

They received three different vaccines, ones that my husband and I both felt comfortable with them having and ones we felt were necessary.  There was one more he was considering but I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that one yet and he respected my request to wait.  They go back in about five weeks for another round of vaccines.

Will we get more vaccines as time goes on?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  We might.

Now that we’ve changed our minds, do we regret having not vaccinated in the past?  No.  I have always firmly believed that the answers are there in front of us if we just listen.  Clearly, my husband and I were both being moved by the holy spirit, in my opinion, at the same time.  I believe my children were better off having not been vaccinated before and are now better off having been.  I feel completely at peace with the way that we’ve chosen to handle this matter.

I’m not gonna lie.  Today was hard.  I didn’t go with my children to the doctor’s office.  I asked them if they needed me there and they said no.  Doctor’s offices bring up a lot of issues for me, particularly their pediatrician’s office, which is where I first received the news that my son likely had leukemia.  So I stayed at home and got some work done.  I had some anxiety about the shots, even though I felt it was the right thing to do.

My daughter has felt sorta yucky this afternoon and I messaged my best friend about it.  She reassured me, reminded me that I did the best thing for my family and that I’m a great mom.  She also said that it’s easy to be paranoid after having read so many horror stories from anti vaxxers over the years.  I appreciated her knowing exactly what I was going through without my having to tell her.  I felt confident and calm.

Tonight I can rest easy knowing that I made a good choice for my family.  I did it on my terms and the terms of my husband.  As another dear friend pointed out, I’m able to grow, change my mind, and make decisions that are different than the ones I made before.  She was proud of me and I’m proud of myself.

My hope, by writing this article, is that I can help other people, no matter what side of the issue they happen to be on, see that all people who choose to not vaccinate aren’t crazy, reckless, unreasonable lunatics. Instead, I am simply a mother who followed her instincts, made the best decision she could at the time and made a different decision later on when it felt right.  There are so many factors making parenting super hard.  Being judged for doing what you think is best for your children shouldn’t be one of them.

It’s About Love. Messy Messy Love

For the first time since I became a mother, I felt as if I failed at Christmas.

Showing Messy Christmas love by baking for sweet friends.

Showing Messy Christmas love by baking for sweet friends.

The past few months have been crazy.  Fall semester is always much busier than spring but this one was particularly busy.  We left last week, directly following a production of “Annie Jr.” in which my older two children were involved, for a seven-day-long trip to Florida.  This trip involved more traveling than our vacations typically involve and was not exactly restful.  Upon arriving home, there were groceries to be purchased, friends to visit, and the next thing I knew, it was Christmas Eve.

And I was exhausted.  I’d been so exhausted and distracted that I accidentally bought my oldest child a gift I’d told his grandfather to get him.  And due to some miscommunication I don’t quite understand, three of his gifts under the tree this morning had been given to him last night by other family members.  So, at about 1 am I found myself scrambling around trying to figure out what I could do to make up to my child who was receiving significantly fewer gifts than his siblings.  As if that weren’t enough, I also realized that I’d kinda blown off stocking stuffers.  I had a few things for each child’s stocking but, well, it was pretty pitiful.  Maybe I’d meant to take care of that on the trip and just didn’t see anything they would like and it sorta slipped my mind?

Also, as usual, hubby was working last night.  Which meant that I had to do Christmas by myself again. I had to get the gifts out of the closet, stuff the stockings, read the Santa hate mail from the girl, and stress over the incongruity of the gifts… all by myself.  Slammed my head against the shelf in the gift hiding closet as I attempted to stealthily retrieve the gifts without waking the sleeping sweeties in my bed.    Being a single mom on Christmas is extremely lonely.

So when the oldest got up at 5 am, before his dad had time to get home from work with an extra gift, I found myself feeling embarrassed by my shortcomings.  I found myself explaining to him why he didn’t have as many gifts as his siblings and how I was sorry that the stockings weren’t full.  I held my breath, scared that he’d have a melt down, accuse me of not loving him as much as I loved his brother and sister.  Instead, he just looked the gifts over, said, “That’s the coolest backpack ever” about an Adventure Time bag I’d snagged at a local discount store, and proceeded to want to see a picture of the new baby sister that had been gifted to his best friends in the wee hours of this morning.

He didn’t care.

Not only did he not care, he felt the need to comfort me.

And despite the fact that I threw a giant fit, slammed doors, and locked myself in my bedroom where I cried for half an hour after the gifts had all been opened (and, at times, broken, insulted, thrown, and, to be fair, squealed over), he’s continued to be super sweet to me today.

After my fit (and a shower that helped me feel a little better), I announced in my kitchen that I wasn’t okay.  I stated that I felt like a giant failure because of the broken gift, the unappreciated “gross” gift, the Louise hat that didn’t quite fit right, the duplicate gifts,  the lack of stuffed stockings, the chocolate peppermint waffles that fell apart.  My husband promptly responded that I had it all wrong.

Christmas is not about gifts and everything being perfect.  It’s about family and being together and having fun.

“Well, I’m not having much fun right now!” I responded.

Then my five year old entered the room and yelled, “It’s about the looooove.  Christmas is about LOVE!”

I didn’t have anything to say about that.  This little boy understood Christmas better than I did?  How could this be?

And if Christmas was about love, how come I wasn’t feeling very loved at the moment?  After all, I received three gifts… earrings from my girl that I’d picked out and watched her buy, a calendar that I’d bought myself, and some candy that, in all fairness, I love and my son did pick out and purchase for me with his own money. Still, having worked so hard to buy something small and sweet that made me think of my husband, I was hurt when he’d not given me a gift.  First no birthday gift or card.  Then no anniversary gift or card.  And now no Christmas gift or card.  Sure, Christmas may not be about gifts but if it was about love, where was the expression of this love from this man who had promised to love me?

Then came the dreaded epiphany.  I realized that this Christmas wasn’t about the love that I would receive.  Instead it has been about the love that I have been able to give.

My reality is that I’m of very little use.  At least I don’t feel very useful.  I’m not great at anything.  The one thing that I might like to do for a career (work as a doula or a midwife assistant) is just beyond my reach because if I were to go through the training, I’d still have my husband’s night job standing in my way until  my children are old enough to be left alone at night for extended periods of time.  Heck, even my attempt to serve as a Bible teacher at church has left me feeling rejected, misunderstood, and completely useless.

I’m simply not much good to many people.

What I am good at, however, is loving people.  Some folks will tell you this is absolutely not true.  Those are the people who have met my attempts at friendship with contempt, judgment, and criticism.  Those people don’t get a vote.

But there is a whole other group of people who would tell you that I’m a damned good friend, a wonderful mother, and a service to my community.  Because those people see my actions and the love behind them.  Best of all are the folks in my life who let me love on them.  2014 has been a year filled with many opportunities to love on people.  I’ve been able to be the hands and feet of Christ, outside of the church walls, over and over again this year and I can honestly say that I finally feel like God is using me and my talents more than ever. While I still feel like I could make a bigger impact on the world around me, I can at least see myself as a blessing to others.

Clearly, my little guy was right… Christmas is about love.  And this afternoon I’ve dried my tears and I intend to spend the remainder of the day resting, taking care of myself, making food for my family, and maybe watching another one of my favorite Christmas movies.  I will feel grateful that my life is filled to the brim with people who I love.  Who let me love them.  And I will love on my kids too, because they are a huge part of my ministry and were given to me, specifically, because I am capable of loving them best.

I may have forgotten to fill my children’s stockings but I can certainly be intentional about filling their hearts.  And I will make it my mission to try and fill my husband’s heart as well, forgiving him for what may have simply been an oversight on his part as much as the stocking stuffers were an oversight on mine.  But even if it wasn’t an over sight, it doesn’t matter.  My true gift is being given another day to love on him.  And I can totally do that.

Bob’s Burgers Makes Me Cry

It’s been twelve years since I got married.  I lived in a little apartment then.  On the day of my wedding, my parents had visited me and my dad had changed into his suit in my bedroom.  The next day, when I brought my new husband to what would be our temporary home, I remember finding a small, folded handkerchief on my comforter.  This must have fallen out of Daddy’s pocket yesterday, I thought to myself.  Then I thought about how he’d cried before walking me down the aisle.  How he might have reached into his pocket for the handkerchief only to find it missing, unable to wipe his tears.

Though I’d not lived at “home” for about eight years, being a newly wed only child felt a bit sentimental.  Realistically, my dad’s walking me down the aisle was done strictly out of tradition.  I’d even asked if both he and my mom could do it… I didn’t like the idea of being “given away” by a man.  It seemed sexist and, let’s face it, I’d not belonged to either of them for many years, if ever.  Despite my liberal feminist mentality, there was still a bit of mauldlinness attached to my having married.  The closing of a door, the beginning of a new journey, the official end of my youth.

Somehow this abandoned handkerchief symbolized so much to me.  A part of me already knew that I didn’t have much time left with my parents.  (I’m not exactly psychic but I have gut instincts.  A voice whispered to me that I would lose a parent soon.  I heard the voice again a few month before my mother did die… it told me she was the one going, not my dad.)  That hanky seemed to embody everything I’d been feeling.  Everything I was thinking.  All of the emotions that are attached to major life events.  The hanky allowed me to see my Daddy differently as well.  Until that moment, seeing that handkerchief laying there, all by its lonesome, helped me to see my father as vulnerable.  Human.  Flawed. Less scary.  Someone for whom I could feel empathy.  These were new feelings.

At this point, you may be thinking I am crazy. (Which I totally am.)  Ridiculous.  Concocting romantic notions like a silly young bride.  You might simply not be able to understand what I’m saying.  If this is the case, you would not be alone.  My mom had no idea what I was talking about either.  I couldn’t wait to tell her about my emotional experience over seeing the handkerchief.  Surely, she of all people, the woman who had spent most of her life loving this man, would see the beauty in my newly found softheartedness toward him .  Sadly, I was wrong.

Once I’d spilled my guts, telling her all of the mushy gushy details of my moving ordeal, she simply said, “Well, you can keep it then.”

That’s it.

I could keep it.

Nothing else.

I think that was the last time I let myself be so forthright and transparent with my mom.  After twenty-five years of not being understood, I’d concluded that it was pointless to try.  So I didn’t try anymore or ever again. I gave up.  She died about three years later.

Every single time I am rummaging around in some old jewelry and hair stuff to find something from years go by (this time it was an Annie and Daddy Warbucks pendant to show my son who is currently in a local production of Annie Jr.) and I chance upon that pendant, it reminds me of how poignant I felt upon finding it that day after my wedding.  It also reminds me of how misunderstood I always felt by everyone in my life, including my own parents.

Bob’s Burgers is my new television obsession.  It’s about a family running a struggling Mom & Pop business.  The family is made up of a weird Dad, a weird Mom, and three weird kids.  And I mean that in the most loving way possible because I absolutely adore all of the characters and I can relate to every single one of them.  The middle child, Louise, is nine years old and is often a source of confusion for her family.  She’s three handfuls and sometimes they simply don’t know what to do with her.

So last week, the kids and I were watching an episode called “The Kids Run Away” where Louise

The Belchers being the best family of all time.

The Belchers being the best family of all time.

finds out she has cavities and runs away from home to avoid fillings.  After failing to manipulate her into coming home, the parents just leave her with her aunt, also weird.  By the end of the episode, the aunt has concocted this elaborate scheme where the entire family and the dentist and a family friend participate in acting out some kind of illegal undercover CIA-esque drama, all surrounding her dental work.  As I watched each member of the Belcher family bust into the dental exam room with their pretend guns, delivering rehearsed lines in order to execute the charade, I found myself bawling my eyes out.

This family gets Louise.

Weird, complicated Louise is not always easy to figure out but, by golly, this family will literally do anything to help her out and see things from her perspective.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be raised in a family like that.

All three of my kids are pretty unique.  Sometimes I am not sure how to deal with them and I don’t always understand them.  But I work my tail off trying to understand them.  I ask questions.  I pay attention.  I apologize if I don’t comprehend right away.  And I work hard to embrace everything about their minds, their hearts, their personalities.  I can’t help but imagine how Linda would respond after hearing Tina monologue on and on about finding Bob’s handkerchief the day after her wedding.  Hypothetically, I bet it would have been a much different response than the one I received. A more empathetic, earnest, and passionate response, even if she had no idea about that which her daughter was going on.

I may not have experience that same level of patience in my own family of origin but I’m learning so much from the Belchers.  Never before have I witnessed members of a television family show one another such unconditional love.  And sometimes it’s just too much to handle.

On a side note, if you aren’t watching this show, seriously… this must be fixed.  Right away.

Keep Your Disturbing Elf Away From Me

Maybe it’s an aspie thing (I can blame stuff on that, can’t I?) but I really really really don’t get the Elf on the Shelf.

Sure, we’ve done Santa around here a little bit.

But only after my daughter kinda wore me down. (Which, by the way, she doesn’t remember and this week she came out with, “Mom, when I’m a parent I don’t want to lie to my children so I will not be telling them about Santa.  I will tell them their gifts come from me.”  Apple doesn’t fall far, does it?)

So there has been a pretend giant elf sneaking into my house for the past three years on Christmas Eve.  He won’t come this year, though, because the five year old is no longer convinced that Santa is real.  I asked if I could still pretend and do all of the things that Santa always did and he agreed.  I’m glad that part of my parenting isn’t quite over with just yet.

But this notion of some Elf, sitting on a shelf, that comes to life at night, assuming you haven’t touched him, right?  This notion BLOWS MY FREAKIN’ MIND MAN.  And not in a first-time-I-watched-The -Wizard-of-Oz-while-listening-to-Dark-Side-of-the-Moon kinda way.  More in a way similar to how my son feels about E.T. (meaning he screams and has a melt down, even at nearly 11, any time he sees the little dude).

So he sits there, glaring down with his creepy smile, at my children, taking notes about how they are behaving, and relaying that information back to the North Pole?  Is that how it works?  I am so totally not okay with that.

My youngest already believes he’s on the naughty list.  He told me this just yesterday.  We were listening to Christmas music while making dinner.  He was cutting hot dogs and I was opening a pomegranate.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was playing and suddenly, in the middle of the song, he said to me, “I’m on that.”

“You’re on what, Buddy?” I asked.

“The naughty list.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I’m always bad.”

“You aren’t always bad. You are sometimes bad.  But so am I.  Everyone is sometimes bad.  Do you think I’m on the naughty list?”

“How should I know?”

Poor guy.  Does he really need some creepy doll taking note of his every move and judging him, like

Yes, yet again, I feel all alone in this mindset.

Yes, yet again, I feel all alone in this mindset.

some scary version of God?  I don’t think so. We aren’t Jewish but you wouldn’t be able to tell it from the level of guilt experienced in this home.  Nope, my kids and I are a guilty group.  We’re well aware of our misdoings and we aren’t proud. And we are punishing ourselves more than enough.

Honestly, to my knowledge, I’ve only ever been in a house with this “Elf” once and the experience was traumatizing.  So maybe I’m a little biased.  But for the record, when I recounted the ordeal to my children, they were offended by the idea of this Christmas tradition.  Feeling great relief, I was, yet again, thankful for the like-minded kids I’ve managed to produce.

Our Christmas traditions range from super weird (writing television characters on the tags attached to the gifts under the tree) to pretty typical (drinking hot cocoa in the car while we look at Christmas lights… oh YEAH, I bet that’s where the brown stains on my car seats came from).  But this is one neurotypical holiday tradition I don’t think I’ll ever be able to embrace.

For the record, I do like the idea of playing tricks on my kids.  I’ve been a trickster mom for as many years as they could possibly enjoy it and I will continue to play tricks on them until the day they tell me that I’m crazier than they need me to be.  And I hope that day never comes.  But I’ll be darned if any sinister holiday ornament gets to take credit for my tricks.  Those are mine.  Allllllll mine.

A Season of Sacrifice

Lately, I’ve been feeling… stuck.  I wake up, exercise, take my vitamins, make breakfast, do school, make lunch, do more school, make dinner, take whichever child to whatever activity, work on school plans, watch a little Bob’s Burgers if I’m lucky, collapse, pass out from exhaustion, and do it all again the very next day.  This is my life.

It’s a good life.  It’s the life I’ve chosen.  However, it doesn’t allow room for anything else.  Once in a while, I can carve out a minute to write.  Occasionally, I get to work in my sketch book because I sneak it into our school day.  Every now and then, I happen to be inspired to write a blog post at the same time I have a spare ten minutes to type up my ideas. (I type this as there are three minutes left on the timer before my dinner is finished).  I am an artist.  An artist who is aching to create, day in and day out.  My head is full of ideas.  My problem is certainly not lack of ideas.  No, my problem is that, frankly, this ain’t my time.

These are my times of sacrifice.  Seems unfair since I spent the first twenty-plus years of my life sacrificing myself, my creativity, my desires for school (and for living in an area where the opportunities for young artistic types like me were rather lacking).  I finally have my arms free from babies.  My mind is free from academics.  I’m swimming in artistic ideas and inspiration… in every medium.  But there is just simply no time to make much of it happen.

Earlier this week, I had to make a difficult decision.  Last year, I submitted the play that recently I wrote for consideration to be presented in a monthly Nashville series for local playwrights.  I was delighted and flattered to be offered a spot in March of 2015.  Unfortunately, I had to turn down that spot.  My children are all planning to take part in a local production of Winnie the Pooh.  My oldest has his heart absolutely set on playing the role of Christopher Robin.  As much as I’d like to present my work in this series, I know that I don’t get to do that.  I know that it’s just not my turn.

Maybe I’ve already had my shot.  Maybe I’ll get another chance again when the kids are older.  But this time in my life is about being a mother.  A taxi driver.  A cheerleader.  A teacher.  A facilitator.  If I can sporadically slip a writer’s group meeting in, assuming I’ve had time to write at all, then great.  If not, who could blame me?

I struggle with feeling useless.  Unemployable.  Lacking in marketable skills.  I freak out when I think about ten years from now, trying to find a job while competing with those who are more recently educated and who have real work experience under their belts.  My back up plan is a full time job at Whole Foods.  Okay, I admit.  It’s my only plan.

One day, my children will be able to say that, because of the sacrifices my husband and I made, they were able to spend a considerable amount of time pursuing their passions.  It is my prayer that they will look back upon their youth and feel gratitude.  They will surely know that we gave them our absolute best and that we didn’t spend our best on other people and endeavors.  And maybe they will be a little bit in awe of their cool parents… ones who found a little bit of time to use a sword and pencil during tiny breaks in responsibility.

Surely they will know.