Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Education

In the last few years, I've caught up with some people from my past- a few people I went to school with, a few people I lost touch with-
For the most part it has been nice. I had a terrible ten year high school reunion. No one I was close with showed up and I felt as if I was in a sea of vultures with no life preserve. I went into chatty survival mode, it was awful.
But now I have another significant reunion coming up and I am really looking forward to this one.
For one thing, they don't scare me any more and my own trauma is a part of my past I'm not that angry about any more. I spent a lot of time bitching about the bullies and writing about them and working out all that pain and angst. I mean, it really caught me off guard running into a schoolmate by accident at Cicero's about eight years ago. I was still so pissed off... she just brought it to the surface.
But then I have been thinking how much I have changed and how really, I should give those girls a chance. I decided to wipe the slate clean, and deal with them like I was meeting them for the first time, because in some ways, I am. I never really knew them back then- at least the ones I disliked.
I had a wonderful dinner with a former classmate in New York, a wonderful set of emails from a girl who was quite mean to me way back when and an exchange that ended up being quite cathartic.
And I think I have forgiveness in my heart for them- don't get me wrong, I still think some of their behavior was reprehesible and I doubt I will be shy telling them so but I forgive those lost little girls who were acting out.
I also think I have been quite lucky in many ways. As I was having dinner with my old classmate, she talked a lot about the pressure to be the best in school, to have the most A's and the highest scores and how competitive she was in certain classes because some other girl was excelling right next to her.
She wasn't mean about it- she just felt the internal pressure.
I thought back and realized my only competition was myself. I really did not care if I got an A in Algebra or if the girl next me was getting one. I only cared about getting the best grade I could get in the classes I gave a damn about. Which were mostly English and French and Drama.
I had no issues with knowing I could excel in whatever I wanted. I chose to excel here. I was only let down by myself. I was so self contained and secure in my intelligence, I knew very early that it was only me holding me back.
Sometimes I would forget there were others. If I hadn't been competing for a role on stage, I doubt I would have been competing at all. I like to win, I admit but I want everyone who deserves to be there to just be there. And there was no point in making a competition where there was one.
I'm actually significantly grateful for all that angst- it's given me great depth in my writing. I don't think the key is to pit kids against one another. I really feel like the better way is to unlock their potential.
As I ponder this, I know I will have more on it later...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Old thoughts on an old religion

So, I have been thinking about religion and faith and church hopping. When I was young, it was really easy to believe in God because everyone told you that you should and so I did. At one point, I learned my dad was an atheist and I was literally horrified.
But I didn't like my dad so it was easy to reject him and whatever he believed. He was surely the opposite of good and love and I rejected him and his beliefs.
When I was in middle school, I began to desire a belief in myself and I wanted to believe what I knew, not what people told me to believe. I quickly decided that sex with love was not evil and decided that the belief that fornication was sinful was outdated and silly and that I was already deciding that some things in the Bible were ridiculous.
I knew there was no way I was going to obey my husband- was not happening. For a very shy girl, I had some brave thoughts and they were not always the easiest to put into action.
But I didn't have a problem with faith- I believed because I did, because my mother did, because it seemed a very logical thing to do and now I feel logic is going to get me in trouble. It doesn't really bother my mother that my father is an atheist. I asked her recently, with all her education and all that she knew of the hypocrisy and sexism and inherent contradictions in the Bible- how could she believe in God?
I mean, my mother is a super educated woman- she knows the things that most of us don't. She's read the Dead Sea Scrolls- in person- she translates the new testament from Greek- she knows all about the co-opted holidays and the ridiculous rules of Leviticus. She knows things that shake faith, confound belief and make even die hard theologians scratch their heads.
And she said to me "Are you crazy? Of course I believe in God."
Because I have always known just because you go to church doesn't make you a Christian- and doesn't mean you believe anything that the Pastor says. Church is a social function- has been for a long time. It's what people do on Sundays- it's where people go to find acceptance and often find the single most judgemental people ever. But they want to be part of that clique, so they hang around.
I find the act of being an atheist one of the single most brave things I have come across. Many or most of the atheists I know live the most moral lives- and they live without fear of going to hell. I know a few brave atheists who are not afraid to say they are and I find them simply inspiring in so many ways.
My father is a hypocrite in many ways but he doesn't lie, steal and I truly believe he has never cheated on my mother. He has never cheated on a test- if a cashier gives him too much change, he gives it back. He doesn't drink excessively, do drugs or even look at pornography. He readily hands out money to the poor and to charities and has a code of ethics that he follows very strongly.
Weird, eh?
I'm not going to pretend that man is perfect. It would have been nice if he had it in his code of conduct to not beat up his wife and kids but, you know, everyone's a sinner. But I still have to say he puts some serious Christians to shame.
In the face of this, I have to say, I have had a pretty serious crisis of faith going on. I struggle with what I know versus what I cannot prove all the time. I struggle with logic to believe what logic tells me is probably a fairy tale.
Faith is an act of will. Sometimes just believing that everything will work out in the end gets you through the day. I think religion can be a dangerous addiction and also a saving grace.
My oldest brother ran away from home when he was fifteen- we didn't know he was alive until he was seventeen and called us up one day. He was a drug addict and only he knows what he did to survive those years on the street. When he was nineteen, he was 'saved' on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and we were all quite relieved. He straightened up, quit drugs, got a steady job- married and had a family and he was in the church for years- I was quite relieved he was in the church. I do believe it saved his life and gave him a new addiction- a bit more healthy than his last one.
When I was fourteen, I went to stay with him one summer and did the walk down the church aisle to be saved. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and was lighter than ever until I got home and reality crashed in.
This was not the drug that was going to make me happy. I was going to have to figure out a lot more. No, I didn't do drugs, no I didn't cheat on tests.
Once I asked God to show himself, to give me a sign that he was there- help me find my hairbrush- there it was. Faith is an act of will, a choice we make, proof is something very different in every person's eyes.
I know my husband loves me because I can feel it, because he does things that show it, but I have zero tangible proof that he loves me. Really I could be feeling it all by myself. How many people do you know that are deluding themselves in relationships? There are lots of things that we take on faith, that which we have no proof.
This will not be my last thought on this subject, I'm sure.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

you should thank your husband

I've been a mother for a very long time. More time than I care to tell people. I had the oldest child so long that people start doing math in their head immediately... For the first eleven years, I was a single parent with three children. If wanted to do anything, go anywhere, work or go to school, I needed a babysitter or day care or school hours.
I barely left the house for the first two years of my oldest son's life. I lived with my parents who were out of town a significant amount of time and it was announced to me by my mother when I brought the child home from the hospital "You can live here but I am not your personal babysitter."
Which pissed me off because why would she think that of me? But I'm glad she said it and it toughened me up a lot. I also watched other young moms regularly dump their kids on the mom they thought had no life. That was not my mom. That ultimately was not me.
My mother has helped me and stood by me more than any one in my life has but she pushed me to become an adult- and she did not coddle me when I needed to be standing on my own. She always let me know I could do it myself. And sometimes it was downright unpleasant. Once I was begging her to just give me twenty minutes in the shower and she said to me- 'when I wanted a shower, I had to take the baby in with me and strap him in his seat. Otherwise, wait for him to take a nap.'
So, I learned to do it. Does that sound mean to you? I thought so at the time but I learned to be less helpless- and more resourceful. She knew she could cripple me or teach me to do this on my own.
So, after eleven years and three disappointing and abusive relationships, I was a single mom giving birth to my fourth child in a relationship that was very promising and has turned out to be very fulfilling and wonderful but from the beginning- he has been hands on with his daughter. I had to learn to share responsibility. What? You can watch her while I take a shower?
We can go 50/50 on the chores and the child care? I can go out with my friends and I don't have to arrange a sitter? It was hard for me to learn to share, I was so used to doing it all. He used to get one night out a week and I used to get one night out a week and one night was ours together at home-But nowadays, neither one of us goes out as much- I go out for work or events but most nights we stay home.
I like to travel, some for work, some for pleasure- he does not always want to go or he can't go as he has to work. So it's usually a combination of my fantastic babysitter and my wonderful husband.
In the early days of this, he used to argue with me about it, he didn't want me to leave but he has become accustomed to it and now understands that if I need to go, I need to go. He has gone out of town a couple times without me- but I do it more frequently for sure.
Without fail, every time I go out for the evening for pleasure, or go out of town, someone will ask me "who is watching your children?"
Most times, I say, my husband, their father... and people will say "you should thank your husband"
Men and women say this. And I am always thinking- do they think I need a reminder? Do I appear ungrateful?
First of all, I am grateful for him in my life. He is a wonderful and loving human being and the best father on the planet, okay?
I don't have to fall on my knees and thank him every time he does his job! I don't expect him to do that for me! Do I expect him to thank me every time he goes to work for caring for his children? Do I expect him to thank me if he wants to go to the baseball game with his friends? No, it's implicit- we are grateful for one another and what HE does is no more extraordinary that what I do.
If anyone thinks after eleven years of single parenting that I am not very thankful to have some help, you don't know me. But he is just doing what he should be doing, parenting his children. I should really not be scolded for his excellent parenting- and that is what it is. I get accused of being spoiled, entitled and ungrateful. You should thank your husband is code for 'you realize you are a woman and should not have such privileges as being able to go out of town by yourself for five days, why are you so lucky?'
I guess this would not bother me so much if it didn't happen every time and I find myself having the same discussion over and over. And then I appear ungrateful. But hello, people, no one ever asks him to be grateful to me for doing my job parenting my children and being kind enough to allow him to be a human being and go out with his friends and have a life and have a job and get to interact with adults.
So for the last time, yes, I know how lucky I am to have a plugged in husband who thinks his children and wife are a priority- YOU don't need to remind me.
I actually take all the children on long trips and he gets to stay here by himself and go out with his friends and have some quiet time- should he fall on his knees when I take the kids to Florida for spring break?
So- knock it off, people. In case you didn't know, it's sexist when you say it. It's sexist when you assume he should be the one going out of town and that I am extra lucky when my husband is just being a father. It's offensive and it's sexist- it's sexist when people are shocked at our non traditional 50/50 relationship and people presume that I am not taking on my role as a mother.
But I forgive you all for that because maybe this is a little surprising to you- you are used to women NOT doing these things and NOT taking on these roles and NOT exercising independence. Before I was married, I had a fantastic babysitter who watched my kids while I worked and went out of town and NO ONE ever suggested to me that I should thank her (and believe me, I did) but no one ever suggested this to me because it was her job to watch my children. I paid her to do it- the love she gave them was free- and the most priceless thing in the Universe but no one ever said to me "you should thank your babysitter."
People often said "you must have a really wonderful babysitter." to which I replied- why yes, I do, she is the best in the world and I am ever so lucky to have her in my life and she loves my children as if they were her very own. She's more than a babysitter, she is family to me and I love her more than you will ever know.
And I would say the same about my husband.