Category: Deep Thoughts

Catholic to My Toes

Twelve years ago, dismayed at all the misunderstandings and hatefulness I was seeing among Catholics over the Presidential election, I decided to write a column about it for the East Tennessee Catholic.  I thought I could dispel those misunderstandings and the hatefulness would cease.

Boy, was I wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was on bed rest (Lorelei was born just after Election Day) when the reactions to that well-intentioned column started coming in, but if I hadn’t been I might have taken to my bed anyway.  And if I had seen where we we’d find ourselves twelve years down the road, I might have never gotten up again.

Already today I’ve received tweets hashtagged hypocrite, babykiller, and cafeteriaCatholic.  It’s just another day in an election season during which I’ve been unfriended by an actual family member, deemed excommunicated by the friend of a friend, and attacked in a public Facebook post by someone I thought was a friend, all because I shared political articles that they didn’t agree with.

Rarely do I say anything about what my friends post on their own Facebook walls–with the rare exception being to offer a Snopes link to correct a blatant untruth.  I have never unfriended someone because I disagreed with their views. I welcome respectful discussion and try to learn from others and to at least understand why they believe what they do.

I’m a bad Catholic, of course.  I fall short on an hourly basis.  But I’m NOT a cafeteria Catholic.  Ask anyone who knows me and pore over every word I’ve written and try to find an example of any time I have EVER dissented from Church teaching.  You’ll need more than good luck and a magnifying glass because you won’t find anything.

The friend who attacked me on Facebook accused me of being a “Democrat down to my toes.”  I’ll write more about party affiliation another time, perhaps, but what I am down to my toes is CATHOLIC.  That’s my core, that’s my worldview, and EVERYTHING I believe and the way I try to live my life–including my political life–springs from that.

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September 11: Remember the Love

Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how we shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

september-11-remember-the-love

 

Tragedy and Traditions

The following was written in Advent 2011 and posted at my friend Lacy’s blog.  That first post-fire Christmas still seems very close and this time of year still is a little painful for me.

Traditions.  We all have them.  Children demand them—“We did that last year—we have to do it again!” I was fortunate to grow up in a home where holiday traditions were carved in stone.  For 25 years I knew exactly where I would be and when and with whom on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Life intervened—divorce, marriages, kids, estrangements, death.  Even as my husband, five children, and I began to develop our own traditions, we always had to be a little more flexible—never knowing for sure who would host the Christmas dinner, or where we would gather with extended family to open presents.

When my oldest was only a baby I started a treasured Christmas Eve tradition of giving each child a Christmas book to unwrap and have read to them before bedtime.  Our collection of Christmas classics grew and grew, leading to additional Christmas story evenings, reading to the kids’ classes at school, even a Christmas bedtime story party for my youngest two and their classmates for several years.

Other favorite traditions centered around the decorations we collected over twenty-two years of marriage:  the nutcrackers which covered the piano, part of a collection originally started for my husband by my grandmother and continued in later years by my mother; my less-planned collections of Santas, including my favorite of Santa kneeling by the manger;  the crèche that belonged to my grandmother and then to my mother, still in its original box from a long defunct department store.

christmas santa

The kneeling Santa my sister gave me for Christmas 2011 to replace the one that was lost in the fire

Tragedy struck on Labor Day. Our house burned nearly to the ground.

The books are ashes. The piano is reduced to its metal innards. Here and there among the ruins you can spot a piece of some treasure, beyond repair. Fire doesn’t just destroy, it consumes.

fireman

Fireman nutcracker in the ruins

Several years ago our Christmas tree fell over right after we decorated it, crushing several irreplaceable ornaments, many of them heirlooms from my husband’s German grandfather. The children and I stood around the fallen tree and cried. Every year since as we hung the remaining and replacement ornaments we have remembered and missed the ones that were broken.

This loss is so much more immense that we haven’t even shed tears over it. To lose everything you own is indescribable. What will it be like this year, putting out new decorations in an unfamiliar house?  How will it feel not to hang any ornaments commemorating “our first Christmas together”—we had FIVE! or any “Baby’s First Christmas” balls or handmade (childmade) decorations that their makers looked sheepish about but continued to hang all the same?

We believe in celebrating Advent before we move on to Christmas, so we haven’t had to deal with decorating yet. We cling to the traditions we can, so we started the season by attending the Advent Workshop sponsored by our church, where we made an Advent wreath that we will light each evening as we listen to a special reading for the day.  We’ve begun to attend the holiday celebrations—the downtown tree lighting, the Fantasy of Trees—that we have gone to every year since we’ve had children.  The Christmas Parade, the Living Christmas Tree, the Nativity Pageant, and the Walk through Bethlehem will provide continuity with other Christmases.

At home we will put up new decorations. We’ve already collected quite a few –some from a Christmas thrift store, some from Target, many from family and friends.  The question of whether to try to replace missing items or do something altogether new is something we still don’t have an answer for—and that applies to other lost belongings, not just Christmas decorations. So far, it seems we know what we need to replace when the time comes. The nutcrackers, for example—they seem to be important to everyone and we’ve already bought a few, including two big ones to guard the front door.

We don’t really need decorations to remind us of the true spirit of Christmas this year anyway—we are surrounded by the proof that there really are people who “honor Christmas in [their] hearts and try to keep it all the year.” If Christmas is about love and giving, we’ve been experiencing it since the day our house burned, when the offers of assistance started pouring in, shortly followed by donations, clothing, toys, gift cards, and enough furniture to completely fill our new home.

We are planning a holiday open house the weekend before Christmas, so that all our family, friends, and even strangers who shared what they had with us can come celebrate with us and see how their generosity helped us make it through the past few months. Who knows?  Maybe it will become a tradition.

christmas house

Our new house at Christmastime

I’m sharing this post at the #WorthRevisit linkup–please visit the hosts’ blogs here and here to see other great posts!

Love and Fear

Unless all your Facebook friends think exactly like you, your newsfeed is probably like mine right now–completely polarized on the issue of admitting Syrian refugees to the United States.

On one side are those who believe that terrorists will take advantage of the situation to sneak into the country to do us harm.  On the other are those who believe we have a moral responsibility to welcome the stranger.  Some of the first group are racists who think all Muslims are terrorists; most feel bad for the refugees but are sincerely concerned about the safety of themselves and their loved ones.  Some of the second group are motivated by Christian beliefs, others by their sense of what this country is supposed to stand for.

Both groups demonize the other.  Both groups are afraid–one of the consequences to our country if we admit the refugees, the other of the consequences if we don’t.

Both groups seem increasingly desperate in their attempts to convince each other that they are right, posting and reposting poorly-sourced and slanted news articles and judgmental memes.

I fell prey to this temptation myself the other day when I posted a meme involving the comparison of the refugees to the Holy Family seeking shelter in Bethlehem, and casting doubts on the true Christianity of those who would turn them away.

While 40 of my friends “liked” this post, many others, lacking a “dislike” option, shared their feelings in the comments.  In the end, I realized that posting something like this might make me feel good for a minute or two, but it doesn’t convince those who disagree with my position to change their minds.

Lesson learned, since then I’ve gone back to trying to be informative rather than judgmental and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what this crisis is doing to our country and to our relationships with each other.

If the goal of terrorism is to create fear, then we are all letting the terrorists win.  If half of us are so afraid of terror attacks that we are ready to ignore our responsibility as Christians, human beings, and yes, American patriots to welcome the stranger, the terrorists are winning.  If the other half of us are letting this disagreement divide our nation, if we are demonizing our friends, neighbors, and relatives instead of trying to alleviate their fears, the terrorists are winning.

Lorelei has a great picture book called The Monster Who Grew Small.

A retelling of an Egyptian folktale, it is the story of a boy who is afraid of everything.  On a quest to find courage, he comes upon a village of people so paralyzed by fear of a nearby monster that they are unable to function.  As the boy approaches the terrible creature, he finds that it grows smaller and smaller until he is able to pick it up in his hand and take it with him back to the village:

The people crowded round to see the Monster. It woke up, yawned a small puff of smoke, and began to purr. A little girl said to Miobi, “What is its name?”
“I don’t know,” said Miobi, “I never asked it.”
It was the Monster himself who answered her question. He stopped purring, looked round to make sure everyone was listening, and then said:
“I have many names. Some call me Famine, and some Pestilence, but the most pitiable of humans give me their own names.” It yawned again, and then added, “But most people call me What-Might-Happen.”

Are we going to let the fear of What-Might-Happen destroy our country from within?  Even if you take issue with calling America a Christian nation, there’s no denying that the majority of Americans say that they are Christians.  Aren’t Christians supposed to believe that God is in control?

So I’ll leave you with these words from 1 John 4:

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. . . There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. . . If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What might happen if we embraced love–both of our fellow Americans who disagree with us and of refugees–instead of fear?

Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.- Marianne Williamson.png

What I Didn’t Know about ISIS

Like everyone, I was horrified by the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, for which the Islamic State is claiming responsibility.

When things like this happen, the Internet predictably divides itself into camps.  I’m part of the camp that doesn’t want to see innocent Muslims demonized and discriminated against because of the actions of a minority of violent people who claim to honor the same prophet.

So because I do tend to engage in politics on Facebook, I posted this response by a prominent American Muslim:

When the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in a black family’s yard, prominent Christians aren’t required to explain how these aren’t really Christian acts. Most people already realize that the KKK doesn’t represent Christian teachings. That’s what I and other Muslims long for—the day when these terrorists praising the Prophet Muhammad or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims.

I did not realize at the time that this was a recycled article that was written in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, attacks that are believed to have been orchestrated by Al Quaeda, a group whose aims, methods, and ideology are quite different from those of ISIS.

While my original intent in posting the article–to highlight the fallacy of tarring all Muslims with a terrorist brush–is still valid, my posting it became a learning opportunity for me.

A Facebook friend who is career military took issue (politely) with the article, and posted a link to another article that I have found tremendously enlightening.  I knew very little about the Islamic State before reading it, and now I feel that I have a much better understanding.  I am grateful that he took the time to read my post and to share his perspective with me.

Some key points:

We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world. . . .

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam. . . .

Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

I myself have no problem distinguishing between the Islamic State and the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the countries they inhabit, any more than I have a problem distinguishing the vast majority of Christians from various crazy fringe groups who spout hate-filled rhetoric Jesus would never endorse.

We can acknowledge the religious motivations of the Islamic State without accusing our Muslim friends and neighbors of being terrorists.  There is no need to follow the example of the candidates at the second Democratic debate, who were all reluctant to talk of Radical Islam and tried to minimize the role religion may have played in the recent attacks in Paris.  To ignore the ideology of the Islamic State is perilous.  We must know the enemy to defeat it.

And we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge one another on whatever assumptions we make, and to listen to and learn from one another.

 

My Forever Home

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You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.
– Maya Angelou 

You can’t go home again isn’t just metaphorical for many people.  The first home I ever knew–the married student housing apartments where I lived with my parents until I was four years old–was demolished not long ago to make way for intramural sports fields.  The last home I lived in was burned nearly to the ground, destroying almost everything we owned.

burned down house

At this time of year, hearts turn toward home, and I am no different–but I find myself longing for places that are no longer available.  I was fortunate to live in the same neighborhood for most of my childhood.  My closest cousins and my maternal grandparents lived there too, and my paternal grandmother lived across town.  Holidays followed a predictable, safe pattern:  Thanksgiving lunch at Mima’s and supper at Granny’s, then Christmas morning at Mima’s and Christmas afternoon at Granny’s.  That was the way it was for 22 years, until divorces and deaths intervened.   Until recently, one childhood house remained:  my mother had been living in her mother’s old house.  When she sold it earlier this year, the last link remaining to that childhood stability was gone.

As the oldest in my family of birth and the first one to have a family of my own, providing a home for the holidays has most often fallen to me, and I hope that my children have fond memories of those days even though the places and patterns have shifted over time.  My favorite adult holiday memories took place in the Victorian house where we lived for eight years.  Despite its somewhat decrepit condition, with its large formal spaces it was ideal for entertaining.  It was the house for which we collected not-quite-antique furniture, piece by piece, the one we decorated with portraits of our children and religious icons.  To me it was my dream house, and when we had to move out for financial reasons I was devastated.  No house has really felt like home to me since.

Victorian House

For the two years after that, we were renting a house that never felt comfortable or safe.  Part of that, I think, was because it was not really ours and we weren’t sure how long we would be able to stay there.  When it burned down, destroying everything, it was the completion of the loss that began with our move.

Since that happened four years ago, I feel I have been trying to regain a sense of home.  We are still renting, but we have plans to buy the house we have lived in since just a few weeks after the fire.  I have started gardening again, putting down literal roots.  But I struggle with decorating, acquiring knickknacks, hanging pictures, really committing.

house and garden

Almost everything in the house–right down to the dishes we eat from and the sheets on the beds–was given to us.  We are surrounded by reminders of the love of the people in our various communities every day.

And that’s part of what made me realize that to me, home has come to mean something other than a house.  When I think of home, I think of Knoxville, my hometown, where I have spent all but five years of my life, the place where I was married and where all my babies were born.  Whenever I return from a vacation, my heart feels a little lighter as soon as I cross the Tennessee line.  The road sign that reads Knoxville – 12 miles always lifts my spirits.  And probably the most welcoming sight in the world to me is the Knoxville skyline, with my own parish church at the very front, visible on the interstate as we drive through town.

IC from CP

My roots in this town are deep–my father’s people have lived in this area since the 1700s.  Even though my husband has only lived here 25 years, he has put down roots as well.  I may not know in what house we will be celebrating the holidays five or ten or twenty years from now, but I know the party will be in Knoxville, my forever home.

Home to Me

This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls

November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb

November 15 – Ashley @ Narrative Heiress

November 16 – Rita @ Open Window

November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls

November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow

November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365

November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing

November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels

November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room

November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes

November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life

November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

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The Hardest Part about Being a Woman: There’s No One Answer

The Hardest Part of Being a Woman

Poor Caitlyn Jenner.  How quickly the accolades change to attacks, all because of a few poorly chosen words.

In case you haven’t heard, Jenner was honored last night at the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards.  In a Buzzfeed interview, Jenner stated: “The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”

Jenner said a lot of other things too, none of which will be remembered.  Also left out of the discussion will be an important part of the interviewer’s question, the two words “FOR YOU.”

Jenner did not say that fashion was the hardest part of being a woman for every woman.  I doubt it makes the top ten for most of us.  I work at home and my everyday wardrobe is whatever nightgown  I slept in.  I just got back from taking my daughter to work and for that I slipped into a stretchy skirt from Wal-Mart, a Georgetown t-shirt, and the pair of my son’s Crocs that were nearest to the door.  And no bra.  But I can do that because there are no paparazzi lurking in my bushes.  Caitlyn Jenner has to look good all the time or face the consequences on the cover of the National Enquirer the next day.  I could see how that would be very hard.

Caitlyn Jenner will never suffer through a difficult pregnancy, or have to worry about finding quality childcare, or be forced to abandon a cherished career to stay home with kids.  Jenner won’t spend long days with a house full of small children, or be a single mother living on welfare while looking for a minimum wage job, or even put up with monthly cramps and mood swings.  Starting to live as a woman at the age of 65, and as a wealthy and famous woman at that, means Jenner will miss out on a lot of the difficulties experienced by most women.

So let’s cut Jenner a little slack and realize that this is a question that each woman might answer differently, depending on her stage of life and her experience.  I almost hesitate to even answer the question, since I don’t want to imply that I believe being a woman is uniquely difficult, or somehow harder than being a man.  Personally, I think life is hard, no matter your gender.

But as I reflected on the question, I decided that FOR ME, the hardest part of being a woman is living up to societal expectations:  the pressure to be a perfect mother, to seek personal fulfillment through a career, to take care of everyone and everything, and to be thin–but not TOO thin!–while doing it.

Of course, while I won’t presume to speak for them, men face daunting societal pressures as well, and some of those pressures may seem to conflict with one another:  to support a family financially and succeed in a career while spending more time with the kids, to be strong but sensitive, to be a gentleman while also treating women as equals.

How would YOU answer the question?  What is the hardest part of being a woman (or a man, if you happen to be one!) for you?

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Staying Home: Unpacking the Concepts of Privilege, Luxury, and Sacrifice

STAYING HOME_ Luxury, Privilege, Sacrifice

It was always my plan to stay home with my children, not just when they were babies, but always.  But Emily was born when John was just starting law school, so I worked 20 hours a week from the time she was four months old until she was three-and-a-half.  There were a couple of breaks in there–two months between jobs, five months when Jake was first born.  I finally came home for good when John graduated and got his first job as an attorney, when I was about five months pregnant with my third child.

So I’ve never worked full-time outside of the home since having kids–although I did right up until a few days before Emily was born.  And I’ve been at home full-time for a little over 21 years (although I have worked at home for many of those years, more and more as time has gone by).  I have no doubt that this has been the right choice for our family.

But financially, it hasn’t been easy, and that’s why I sometimes question society’s assumptions about stay-at-home mothers (which I will now abbreviate as SAHM).

Some people say that being an SAHM is a privilege, a blessing, even a hobby:

No, Stay-at-Home-Mothers, choosing to create your own little person upon whom you’ll spend all your time and energy is a hobby. It is a time-consuming, sanity-deteriorating, life-altering hobby — a lot like a heroin addiction, but with more Thirty-One bags. Whether you call it a “blessing” or a “privilege,” the fact remains that having someone else foot the bill for a lifestyle that only benefits you and your close family is by no means a “job.”

“I am so blessed. I have a faithful husband, gorgeous and healthy children, a beautiful home, and I am fortunate enough to stay home and enjoy my blessings.”

Others call it a luxury:

[T]he ability to stay home is, indeed, a luxury. Not in the sense of being some “nonessential” merchandise, but in the sense of having a choice.  A Chanel bag may be thought of as a luxury, but really it’s the ability to buy the Chanel bag in the first place — or an iPhone, a TV, a fancy car — without forgoing, say, food or shelter that is the true luxury. The luxury is in having the choice.

There are those who say it’s a job.  They give it titles like CEO of the household or domestic engineer, and even assign an economic value to the services a SAHM provides to her family:

Is parenting, and in particular mothering, a job? I’d say it most certainly is, but not in the same way we think about a career. It’s one that goes unpaid, for sure, but it’s a job nonetheless. After all, when we can’t do it ourselves, we actually pay people to do it for us, whether that’s a babysitter, nanny or daycare.

Other people describe it as a sacrifice women make, trading financial security and career success for the domestic trenches:

Yes – some women are able to stay home because they are just rolling in dough. But I don’t know any of those people. All the stay at home moms I know sacrifice every single day to do what they do.

No matter how you describe it, someone is going to bristle.  For those of us who have endured significant financial insecurity because of staying home, calling it a privilege or a luxury feels insulting.  Luxury implies something unnecessary and who wants to feel unnecessary?  Privilege makes it sound easy when it isn’t.  We lived in a small house and drove one car and fell behind in our bills.  But at the same time I know that there are other mothers who want to stay home and can’t because they would have no house and no car at all, women who are single mothers or whose husbands work full-time minimum wage jobs.

If it’s a job, then we are all working for free and no one takes our choice of career very seriously!  It IS hard work being at home all day long with kids and doing all the thing SAHMs do, but what about all the mothers who work outside the home and then have to come home and do most of those things too, without having had the (dare I say) privilege of being with their babies all day?

And if we call it a job and complain about how hard it is, aren’t we being ungrateful for the very fact that we have kids at all, let alone that we are lucky enough to get to spend all our time with them?

And if we call it a sacrifice, that implies there is a good reason to make that sacrifice, that somehow it is better for kids to have their mother at home with them full time than not.  But that comes across as offensive to some women who could stay home but choose not to make those sacrifices.

Finally, if we assign value to women being home with their kids, then why is it a privilege or a luxury reserved for those whose husbands have a job that can support the family? Why should it require huge financial sacrifices? If it’s good for kids in privileged families, isn’t it just as good for kids in poor families? Why do we demonize women who receive welfare payments in order to stay home with their kids, and applaud those same women if they leave their kids to go work at a minimum wage job?

What do you think?  Is staying home with your children a privilege, a job, a hobby, a sacrifice, none, a combination, or something else?  Should it be a choice that is available to everyone?

nablopomo

 

 

Let's Hear It for Skin

UPDATE: I wrote this last week, before the internet exploded with discussions of racial identity fueled by a white woman passing for black, before our hearts were broken by Charleston’s violent reminder of one real possible consequence of being born black in America.  In light of all that, my post seems both prescient and naive.  We are not as far along the road of compassion [feeling WITH] as I had hoped.
skin
 
When I posted the above on my Facebook page, it received an enormous number of likes.  I don’t know where it originated, but it’s a popular picture for sure. When I first saw it I was immediately reminded of this Sesame Street video, from back when my kids were little:

I’ve always admired the way Sesame Street “does” race.  It reminds me of Star Trek (the original series, not that preachy TNG).  Both show a positive vision–people of all colors working side by side, respecting one another, playing together.  No one talks about it much; it’s just accepted.  As in the Vulcan ideal of IDIC – infinite diversity in infinite combinations, people don’t fear differences; rather they rejoice in them.
It has to be clear to anyone with eyes that our society is still deeply divided along racial lines, that many if not most of us still harbor prejudices, sometimes even despite ourselves.  Yet the fact that so many people “Like” the sweet picture above gives me hope.  We aspire to acceptance and love of all races even if we aren’t quite there yet.  We acknowledge the beauty of our many different colors, and that’s a start.
1000Speak
I have posted this on the #1000Speak for Compassion linkup, and you can (and should) read the other posts HERE.
#1000Speak
Linking this up today with #worthrevisit, which gives Catholic bloggers a welcome chance to recycle some posts!  Check out the rest of the collection by clicking below.   Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb are hosting; take some time to check out their blogs too!
Picture
 

Brave New World: Gender Selection

I haven’t tackled a topic like this in a while.  But, y’all, I can’t write about pretty graveyards and fall hikes all the time.
Today I read this story  about an Australian woman who traveled to the United States to undergo in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to achieve her desired goal:  a baby girl.  “The process involves harvesting a woman’s eggs, injecting each one individually with sperm, then growing the embryo from a single cell to around 130 cells, at which point it’s possible to tell whether the chromosomes are XX or XY. Only embryos of the desired sex are transferred to the uterus.”
Here’s just one example of a facility in our country that provides this service.  From their website: “While the desire to choose whether a baby would be a boy or a girl has been present throughout human existence, it is only recently that the technology to do so has become clinically possible and available. With improvements in gender selection technology, demand for gender selection has also been growing steadily.”
There’s that slippery slope that I’m always being told is a logical fallacy! It goes on to say, “Sometimes gender selection can be “non-medical” or “elective.” In such cases, a child of a specific gender is desired without obvious medical indications. The most frequent indication for such gender selection is “family balancing,” when one gender is already represented in the family unit and the other gender is desired.”
Which makes me say, WHY IS THIS LEGAL AND WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
Y’all, please understand, after three boys in a row I was very much hoping #5 would be a girl.  I also was hoping #4 would be a girl!  Instead we got William, and unlike the lady from Down Under, I did not “[sob] with disappointment to discover I was having a second son … and then a third.”  
Anyway, I understand the DESIRE for a daughter.  But most of us just suck it up and appreciate the children we have.  Maybe we accept that God knows what he is doing and set about parenting the kids we were lucky enough to get.  Maybe we realize we should be grateful for conceiving in the first place and for producing a healthy baby of any gender.  Remember when our mothers were having kids, and there was no way to know in advance what they were having, what they said when people asked if they wanted a boy or a girl? “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy.”  I haven’t heard that in a long time; have you?
Five Kids
I know that, to a childless woman struggling with infertility, I might seem ungrateful because I already have three healthy sons. But unless you’ve experienced “gender disappointment”, you can’t understand how crippling it can be. My desire for a daughter caused me to spiral into depression and left me virtually housebound. Every time I went out, toddlers in pink seemed to taunt me.”  
If “gender disappointment” was so “crippling” to her, what she needed was not a daughter, it was therapy and lots of it.  She doesn’t just SEEM ungrateful, she IS ungrateful.  One can only imagine what her sons will think of all this when they come across this article online in the future–if they don’t already sense her feelings toward them now.
And what about that little girl, who has a lot of expectations heaped upon her already?  My Facebook post on this topic has generated some indignant comments.  One person said, “I hope the little girl likes karate instead of ballet!”  Well, you know, since ALL KIDS tend to do the unexpected, and since they are, you know, INDIVIDUALS, that’s just as likely as not.  There’s no one kind of “girl” and no one kind of “boy,” which is why I always find these stories about “gender balance” so ridiculous, and why I always think it’s funny when people think one boy and one girl is the ideal complete family.  My three boys are NOTHING alike.  My girls are not much alike either, and their gender is only one part of what makes them unique and special.
There is so much about this story that is disgusting.  The fact that she paid $50,000 for this procedure.  That could have been used to send one of her boys to college.  Or to fund the adoption of a daughter. The fact that this is a for-profit venture in the first place. From an article in Slate:

“Just over a decade ago, some doctors saw the potential profits that could be made. . . They coined the phrase “family balancing” to make sex selection more palatable. They marketed their clinics by giving away free promotional DVDs and setting up slick websites.  These fertility doctors have turned a procedure originally designed to prevent genetic diseases into a luxury purchase akin to plastic surgery. Gender selection now rakes in revenues of at least $100 million every year. The average cost of a gender selection procedure at high-profile clinics is about $18,000, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 procedures are performed every year. Fertility doctors foresee an explosion in sex-selection procedures on the horizon, as couples become accustomed to the idea that they can pay to beget children of the gender they prefer.”
Then there is the immorality of the procedure itself.  What happened to all those little boy embryos, after all?  They were discarded.  Her own children, and she threw them away BECAUSE THEY WERE BOYS.  And where is all this headed?  Do you really believe that selecting for other desired qualities won’t be a thing in the future?  From the Slate article: “In 2009, [Dr.]Steinberg came under a worldwide media firestorm when he announced on his website that couples could also choose their baby’s eye and hair color, in addition to gender. He revoked the offer after receiving a letter from the Vatican.” Thank God for the Vatican, is all I can say.
Says the happy mother/satisfied client:  “It’s not about playing God, it’s about giving women reproductive freedom.”  Um, no.  It IS about playing God. And it’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

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