Thursday, May 28, 2015

Welcome; Mini Book Reviews

Wow, I was amazed at the huge (for me) spike in new readers that happens when several people share a post on their timelines. Welcome, if anyone has come back to visit! I don't normally make it a habit to write about controversial items in the news (I am a recovering people pleaser, if that's okay with everyone) so if that's what you're looking for on a daily basis, this won't be the blog for you. However, this experience has made me realize that if I care deeply about an issue, I should write about it since my words may ring true for others.

Today I'm going to write about something that no one ever cared about back in my glory days of up to 5 comments per post: books. Although now I have several avid readers who comment here, so there's that. I thought I'd do mini-reviews of what I've been reading lately, since I don't have enough to say about any particular book to make up a full post. After slogging through The Count of Monte Cristo, I've had better luck lately in my book choices.

First up was The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer. This was the first book by Georgette Heyer I have read, and (at the risk of beating a dead cliche) I must say it won't be my last. Heyer's slyly adept descriptions and dialogue brought new life to the over-familiar trope of the murder-in-a-country-house mystery novel. I checked this out as an e-book from my library. For some reason they have this and a few of her other other Golden-Age-era mysteries, but not the Regency romances she is best known for. No matter; I'll find the other books. I can hardly wait to read more of her work--her books will be the perfect light, frothy, but not idiotic summer reading. I might buy some of them in paperback, because I can see her novels being fun to reread, too. (This is high praise because I only buy books when a) I know I'll reread them OR b) they are so cheap I won't mind donating them to charity when I've finished with them, if I don't care to keep them.) Four stars (and a half, if Goodreads would let me give half stars).

Next is comedian Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story. I listened to it as an audiobook while commuting, also borrowed from the library (I love the library!) I enjoyed it, and as other reviewers have said, listening to it on audio is the way to go. It made it seem like one of Gaffigan's comedy routines, and since he's one of my favorite comedians, that's a plus for me. Of course he recreated the Hot Pocket rant that made him famous, but I hadn't heard it in a long time, so that was okay. I do think he didn't have to make the book quite so comprehensive; it was like he felt compelled to include every kind of food to pad the length. By the end, I was like, "Okay, I get it: you like to eat." In fact, I started to wonder how Mr. Gaffigan doesn't weigh 800 pounds. But there were plenty of funny parts that made up for the parts that dragged. All in all, one of my most successful audiobook picks. Three stars.

I started As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust as another library audiobook, but quickly realized I had underestimated the amount of time and attention listening to a novel takes. I would never finish listening to the book in the amount of time I had left, and since it's a new book, someone would want it immediately after my time was up. I returned the audiobook and requested the hard copy. Lesson learned: for audiobooks, stick to nonfiction or short stories (easier to get back into) or older novels that I can recheck if needed. Here are my thoughts on the actual story:

Although I read this installment of the Flavia de Luce novels quickly and with enjoyment, I gave it a 3 instead of a 4 because it was not very believable (I mean, besides the fact that the series is about a very young girl, even one who is a chemistry prodigy, encountering dead bodies every few months and solving the case). In addition, the Canadian characters had some false notes (I doubt anyone ever actually talked like some of the boarders at Miss Bodycoates' school. They sound like Jimmy Cagney at times). I was relieved when [spoiler alert] Flavia is told she is being sent home to Buckshaw, and only partly because I was tired of reading about how she is startled by her own emotions every time she remembers it. I also missed the usual cast of characters, especially Dogger. I wonder if some of the shadowy members of the mysterious Nide league will feature in forthcoming novels. If not, the book left a lot of questions unanswered. I do think Bradley does a magnificent job of subtly portraying that Flavia, despite her keen perceptions and genius-level IQ, is still a child and can make childish mistakes...although many times her childish intuitions turn out to be exactly right. Three stars ( for comparison, I gave four stars to each of the previous books). 

Another audiobook, and this one was an unqualified success. It was the best audiobook I've listened to. I literally laughed out loud on average every two minutes. Even though I'm generally conservative in my beliefs, Stephen Colbert's parody of a right-wing pundit is so spot-on that it had me giggling helplessly at the absurdity of his statements on everything from marriage to pets to higher education. I read the book in hard copy a few years ago, but this was better. Besides Colbert's word-perfect delivery, there is stirring background music and a series of actors voicing little monologues titled "Stephen Speaks For Me" from such people as a confirmed Spinster and The Guy Sitting Next to You at a Sports Arena, I highly recommend it. Four and a half stars.

I'm going to stop now. I was going to include another novel I finished a week or so ago, but apparently I have too much to say about it for this post. 

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations, for audiobooks or "regular" books, as I think of them? Either way, happy reading! 


Monday, May 25, 2015

A Christian's Response to the Discovery of Abuse

Okay, so I haven't written about anything controversial on this here blog yet. That changes now, because I am all het up over something (and no, I don't know why I suddenly sound like an old-timey cowboy. I'll stop now.)

The Duggar family of TV fame has been forced to respond to allegations that one of their sons, Josh Duggar, molested several underage girls, including his own sisters. Josh Duggar has admitted the abuse and resigned from his position at Family Research Council. He and his parents have released statements, but since the statute of limitations in Arkansas is three years after the incident, he will face no criminal charges. Here is a thoughtful blog post about this story:

Really, I could just copy and paste that post with added underlines and capital letters and monosyllabic exclamations of agreement in parentheses throughout, but because I want to develop my ability to analyze situations and think through them clearly, here goes.

At the time the Duggars learned about the incidents, they handled the situation completely wrongly. And they are still approaching it in a way that is inappropriate--no, it is WRONG and--dare I say it--DANGEROUS.

Please allow me to elaborate. First, I understand as a parent and a church leader, how tempting it is to hide such a discovery rather than report it to the proper authorities. In our society, child molestation is arguably the worst crime a person can commit. They likely couldn't stand the thought of their son being labeled for all the world to see as a hideous monster (ironically, this is what is happening now that the truth has come out.) We all know that child molesters are at the bottom of the prison pecking order, below even imprisoned cops in the prisoners' minds.* In the Duggars' minds, all those years ago, given the evangelical culture they surrounded themselves with, they were doing the right thing.

Here's why they were wrong.

1. They hid the evidence of the abuse. 

The Duggars thought they were doing the right thing (although once you discover your 14-year-old son is sexually abusing young girls, you don't start off with a stern, "Don't do that again." What was next--GROUNDING him?) Eventually they sent him away in an effort to prevent further occurrences. However, even this action was inadequate and harmful.

It appears that despite their statement that they had sent Josh to a "program" where he received "counseling," they actually sent him to live with a family friend who needed help with doing some remodeling. Because that's how you cure a teenage child molester, with some good old-fashioned manual labor, am I right?

The Duggars are probably not completely lying (though I would argue they are being intentionally disingenuous, which amounts to the same thing.) In the evangelical Christian world, "counseling" doesn't always mean "a series of sessions with a trained professional." It can also mean "one talk with a 'wise' elder." (The quotation marks around "wise" are there because I obviously don't think this was wise.) This was likely their intention by having Josh talk with yet another family friend who was a state trooper. "Don't do that, it's a sin and if you keep doing it and your parents can't hide the evidence, you'll go to jail." Boom, done.

No, it was ILLEGAL. State troopers are required to report any evidence of child abuse to the proper authorities for investigation. The friend should have said to Jim Bob, "Nope, sorry, I now have to tell the state this happened. And how dare you ask me to cover it up?" Maybe the trooper's willingness to sweep the incident under the rug has something to do with the fact that he was deeply involved in (and later convicted of possessing) child pornography? 

(The irony. It burns. From a purely Christian perspective, the Duggars' "discernment of spirits" spiritual gift was an epic fail.)

It's an unfortunate example of a Christian pattern of hiding criminal behavior and saying we are dealing with it privately, when in fact there are reasons why it should NOT be dealt with secretly within the family and church. Also, there are plenty of examples in the Bible which make it clear what God thinks about people who sin and lie about it. Hint: they involve being struck down dead instantly. Sometimes I wish God still did that. I would be a vengeful God, which is probably why I'm not God.

2. Christians are not above the law.

A lot of non-Christians are (understandably) offended by the Duggars' use of the words "mercy" and "grace." This is what happens when Christians start throwing around spiritual words in a case like this, where a man is being forced to admit that he did wrong although he was never punished by the justice system. To these people--and I would think especially to victims of abuse--it sounds like Josh Duggar  is saying, "Yeah, I admit I violated those girls as a kid. But I told Jesus I'm sorry, and he's totally cool with it, so you should be, too!"

No, I am not cool with it or willing to let you off the hook, bro, and neither should any Christian.

I see it like this: there are spiritual and non-spiritual elements to every wrongdoing. As a Christian, do I believe that God's grace extends to anyone who sincerely asks for it? Absolutely.

I also believe that God's grace has nothing to do with legal penalties. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," Jesus said, and I think that can extend beyond taxes into "OBEYING THE FREAKING LAW OF THE LAND." Fellow believers, WE ARE NOT ABOVE THE LAW. We may be free from the religious "law of sin and death," but that does not make us immune from the laws of the United States of America. Otherwise we could just rob a bank, repent, and say, "Oopsies! Oh well, I repented to God, so I don't have to give the money back or go to jail."

My father is a pastor, and I'm thankful that even years ago, he was light-years ahead of the Duggars. Upon learning that a member of his congregation was sexually abusing his child, my father prayed with him...but escorted him to the authorities to turn himself in, with the understanding that my dad was going to turn him in if he didn't do it himself.

Unfortunately, far too many pastors think the word "grace" is literally a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's like we're so invested in the idea of God's unlimited grace that we can't identify sinful behavior as also worthy of legal punishment. Some of our extended family had to leave a church because the pastor was allowing a convicted child molester to teach Sunday School.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a minute. And our family members (the wife is a survivor of sexual abuse) were told to leave because they were not forgiving enough to be okay with this.

Note to pastors everywhere: DO NOT DO THIS. If you do, you are guaranteeing that more children will be abused. You are creating a haven for the abuser.

tl;dr Just because God forgives someone, that does not mean that they are free from the consequences of their actions. Period.

3. As Christians, our responsibility is to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, and to provide proper treatment.

As a PK**, I know about another situation in which one of the children was discovered to have been molesting another one for years. The parents freaked out and first denied it ("Not in OUR family!" is a common denial response) and then swept it under the rug and pretended it didn't happen.

Just imagine how damaging that is to the victims of the abuse. They are being told in effect that they are lying, that their feelings and experiences don't matter. They are shown that the abuser's reputation is more important than their pain (because it affects the family reputation, and it's important to keep up the image of the "perfect" family. And in this case, the family's livelihood--being on TV pretending to be portraying a perfect family--is at stake.) So the victims are told to keep quiet. And because they are Christians, they are told to forgive their abuser.

There are a lot of things I could say, but this post is getting too long. So I'll just say this: forgiveness is not excusing an abuser, or allowing him to get away with his heinous behavior. This has happened far too often in the Church--because the Church is a hierarchical, male-dominated structure. The powerless victims--women and children--are often bullied into silence. And that, my fellow believers, should not be. Jesus said that anyone who harmed a "little one" would be better off if they hung a huge rock around their neck and drowned themselves. Sounds pretty definitive to me.

Maybe it's just my background in psychology, but my first reaction on hearing any story in which a minor child victimizes another is that both kids need serious therapy. Yes, the victim definitely does (which does not seem to have happened in the Duggar case, at least not for their girls--I don't know what action the other parents took). But so does the perpetrator, if there is to be any hope for prevention of recurrence. If a kid acts out sexually with other kids, it often means that they have been abused themselves, that they think sexual acts are "normal" because they have been exposed to sexuality at an age when they shouldn't be. On the other hand, a 14-year-old boy, feeling sexual desires for the first time, in a repressed subculture where such things aren't talked about openly, might very well do what Josh Duggar did without having being sexually abused himself. But no matter what, his actions were abnormal and wrong, and should be labeled as such.

Look, as a Christian I believe that we've all sinned and come short of the glory of God. And some days I'm super thankful that my shortcomings aren't being broadcast for the whole world to see.

(I also haven't chosen to put my family on TV as an example of a perfect Christian family. But I digress.)

I just believe it is time for Christians to stand up and call abuse wrong. And to let everyone know that it will not be excused and tolerated and allowed to flourish under cover of our churches. Does grace cover all our sins, even the very worst ones? Without a doubt. But make no mistake: the same Bible says, "Be sure your sins will find you out."

In the case of Josh Duggar, they certainly have. I just hate that the revelation took so many years, and that he will not receive the punishment he deserves, nor will there be measures taken to protect children who are left alone with him. In no possible world is this a good outcome.

*I have no idea if this is true or if I just got it from popular culture. It seems right that even murderers would look down on men who abuse children, though.

**Preacher's Kid, for you godless heathens out there (just kidding! I love godless heathens! Some of my best friends are godless heathens! Please don't yell at me!)


Friday, May 22, 2015


So my husband and I were at the gym Tuesday night...

Do you hate me already? Please don't. I should preface this by saying a few things (I always have a few things to state before I make my main point.)

1. I am not trying to exercise to get a "bikini body," whatever that means. I love a post with the clickbait title: "How to Get a Bikini Body," which when you click through, had these simple steps:

     1) Get a bikini.
     2) Put it on your body.

In THEORY, I completely agree with this. I certainly agree with it for anyone who feels comfortable in a bikini, no matter what their size. I just don't agree with it for ME. I will not be wearing a bikini, this summer or any other. Last year I bought an adorable skirted suit that I feel great in. And since research shows that even liposuction doesn't get rid of cellulite (it's a skin issue, not a fat issue), I'm fine with keeping my thighs covered.

No, it's not about bathing suit season. I'm just trying to be LESS LAME. How pathetic is it that I am just now, after 4 weeks* of the 5K Runner app (which I highly recommend, by the way) huffing and puffing my way through 3-minute runs? But hey, at least I can run that long now--anything over 10 seconds used to make me break out in a sweat. I could run out of a burning building now if need be!

*Actual time to get this far: about 8 weeks, since we keep only going to the gym 1 day a week, then having to repeat the last day we did. WE ARE BUSY PEOPLE, DAGNABIT.

2. I also have two other goals: keep fitting into the clothes I currently own (and lose enough weight that I am more comfortable in them) and not becoming the old woman who can't get up out of a chair without assistance.

I know. Some of us have lofty goals. It is a lonely road we travel. *stares into the distance pensively*

So, anyway, Tuesday night we were at the gym. I don't exactly know why we go together, because a) we spend all day and night together already and b) he is faster than I am, so we only warm up and cool down together anyway. OH WAIT, I do know why we go together--because I would find an excuse not to go if he didn't push me. 

I was huffing and puffing in the middle of one of those "long" 3-minute runs, listening to music on another great free app called Rock My Run, when a boy-teenager passed me going approximately 90 mph. Or, you know, some speed above a walk (I'm pretty sure most people can walk faster than I "run," especially during the second half of my workout.) 

I see these type of runners every week. They're usually very thin and young. They zoom around the track a few times, passing everybody up, and then they're done. And I don't see them there every week--it's seemingly random.

Now, I don't know for sure if this is part of their training regimen, but "run as fast as you can for five minutes every two weeks" doesn't seem like a good way to stay in shape. I have to admit that I'm okay with feeling smug about being better than these roadrunners. Someone weighs 500 pounds and is struggling around the track? More power to them; absolutely no ridicule here. Someone is overweight and never works out? None of my business. Someone is "thin" but out of shape? FIST BUMP, MY SISTER.

But I DO feel superior to these kids (they are all kids to my nearly-40-year-old self). They are in good enough shape to run fast...for five minutes. I could have done that at their age. Big whoop. At this stage of life, what I value most is perseverance. If I have to walk in between my measly 3 minute runs, so be it. I NEED to walk, simply to catch my breath since my lungs feel like fiery lumps of metal that are useless at supplying oxygen to the rest of my body. I love the walks. I welcome the walks. You go on ahead and sprint--but I'll still be here plodding along 20 minutes later while you're off cherishing the delusion that your body will always be this perfectly svelte while you demolish a carton of ice cream and a bag of chips. 

*weeps for my dearly departed metabolism* 

Sorry, I didn't mean to depress myself. I'm back.

What was I saying? Oh, right: perseverance. It's something I've come to value in the last few years, and not merely in regard to exercise. There is something to be said for not quitting even when everything in you screams that you should. Like most people who have been married more than 5 years, I've thought about divorce. But Justin and I made a deal that whoever left had to take the children, and I've never been able to face raising them on my own.

I'm kidding. (Kind of.) But I'm not kidding when I say that I'm so, so glad I didn't take the easy way out. Our marriage may not be glamorous, but it works for us. We never would have gotten to this excellent place if we had zoomed through a few years, then parted ways when things got hard.

Same thing with business. Six years ago, the shop we were renting burned down, destroying $60,000 worth of cabinets that we had to replace out of pocket (insurance didn't cover them) and damaging or outright destroying most of the machinery. We considered closing our doors, but realized that other shops were closing due to the economy, and if we could hang in there, we could be one of the top cabinet shops in the area. Which is exactly what's happened. 

It wouldn't have happened if we had stopped when the going got tough. 

The same is true for our spiritual lives. We are all going to face valleys and dry spells--it's just part of being human, and we are fallible even though we love Jesus. No wonder the Bible says, "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV). 

Let's look at the second part of that verse first: you're not going to be successful just because you're talented. Time and chance (i.e. luck) have a lot more to do with it than we think. Now, that may sound almost as depressing as my realization that I can't maintain my weight while eating that same amount in chips and queso, but bear with me. 

The comforting part of the verse is to realize that just because someone starts with an advantage, it doesn't mean that they finish with an advantage.

Because finishing is the REAL reward. They don't give medals for "fastest starter." If you run a marathon, your time isn't important unless you run all 26.2 miles

(Which is why I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that I'm never going to run a marathon. Can you imagine how long it would TAKE me to finish?)

Just ask the hare who decided to take a nap while the tortoise kept plodding forward. Slow and steady wins the race. 

Anyone can start well. How well will you finish?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Comfortable, Flattering, Cheap: Pick Two

I got the idea for this post when I read Patience Crabstick’s post Building a Professional Wardrobe Part 1: What Doesn’t Work. She was a SAHM for 19 years after graduating from college, and then wore scrubs every day when she re-entered the workforce. When she became an analyst, she had no professional clothes, because if there’s one thing mothers do well, it’s neglecting to buy clothes for ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary. And sometimes even then we moms manage to scrape by without buying enough clothes for ourselves. The kids always need something! 

It’s hard to shop when you feel you have to buy everything at once and money is an issue (money is always an issue for me). I do best when I accumulate pieces over time. This means I have to weed out some of the items I thought would work (or that my mom, my own personal shopper, found at a thrift store) but ended up not being comfortable or flattering. I almost added “or don’t work with my wardrobe,” but let’s face it, if it’s comfortable AND flattering, I WILL make it work in my wardrobe. It’s amazing how often I talk myself into letting clothes take up my precious closet space when they aren’t either one! 

However, it’s easy to understand why we keep things that are only one or the other. When something looks amazing on me and doesn’t cost too much, HECK YEAH, I buy it! Then wear it once and never again, because ugh, it didn’t feel good on, how soon can I get rid of this? Unless I wait long enough to forget how much I disliked it...wear it again, take it off as soon as possible… lather, rinse, repeat. 

For things that are are comfortable but not flattering, it often takes a moment of revelation to make me toss them. My husband takes his life in his hands if he suggests that those pants might be a little saggy--”I DON’T CARE, I’M WEARING THEM ANYWAY,” I have been known to snarl. I like to have a lot of clothes. I am not like the people who wear a variation of the same clothes every day--a capsule wardrobe, or “uniform” if you will. I respect their choices, I even envy them, but I wore a school uniform for 12 years as a kid and I don’t want to wear the same clothes every day. Yet I am also cheap (I believe I mentioned that) and will wear things that were a good deal if they feel all right on my body even if they make me look like a heap of discarded rags. So yeah, sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror, or see a photo which I can’t excuse as just a bad angle, and shudder. About twice a year I purge my closet, filling bags to donate to the local resale shop, and wonder why THAT made the last 20 cuts.  

I meant to discuss my current wardrobe issue, which is the opposite of Patience’s dilemma--needing to create a more casual work wardrobe, but I see I’ve rambled on enough that I would rather save that for another post. Readers (male or female), what wardrobe changes have you had to make when you made changes in your lifestyle? 


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

For the first book in my “Classics Challenge,” I chose The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, reasoning it would probably be a page-turner. When I picked up the unabridged version in the bookstore, I almost second-guessed myself. It may be a page-turner, but there are a LOT of pages--which makes sense since it was first published in serial form. When you’re getting paid by the word, it makes sense to use as many words as possible--and Dumas certainly did that. I've never approved of abridged versions of Great Books, but in this case, I think a lot of the description and some of the subplots could have been cut or shortened. In fact, I think I read a version abridged for children when I was around ten--and it turns out that I still think I remembered the best parts.

The story begins this way: Edmond Dantes is on the verge of seeing all his dreams come true. The nineteen-year-old sailor receives a promotion to captain as the book opens, allowing him to plan his wedding to his sweetheart, the beautiful Mercedes. Unbeknownst to him, other men are jealous of his good fortune, and anonymously denounce him to the authorities as a dangerous supporter of the exiled emperor Napoleon. Dantes never receives a fair trial and is imprisoned in the Chateau d’If. He almost goes mad, but connects with the Abbe Faria, a gentle priest of great learning who teaches him everything he knows and helps him deduce the men who caused his downfall. The Abbe’s death allows Dantes to escape from the island prison, while the secret of the immense treasure of Monte Cristo goes with him, to aid him in his quest for revenge.

At heart Monte Cristo is a revenge fantasy in which the author gives his character unlimited resources with which to work the demise of the people who destroyed his life. After the Count appears in Paris, the author dwells heavily upon his vast wealth, the better to establish that nothing can stop his intricate revenge plot. I got tired of reading about how rich the Count is, as well as the frequent use of Oriental imagery and comparison to the Arabian Nights.. I was ready to move on, to see how these people (some of whom are not immediately connected with the conspirators) would be dealt with. Some of the offenders are easy to recognize; others have changed their names when they earned titles, and of course there are their children to keep track of. Dumas certainly keeps the reader’s interest up with the multiple subplots, and underneath it all, we can feel the Count’s indefatigable purpose marching inexorably onward. This is probably why the novel “works” for so many readers despite the implausible elements of the plot. Dumas does not disappoint in wrapping the whole story up neatly; no modern ambiguity for him, which I appreciate. If I’m going to commit to reading a 1,300 page book, I want resolution by the end, and I got it here.

Since the sections after the Count appears in Paris do not allow us into Dantes’ thoughts, we must figure out his plan for ourselves.  Toward the end of the novel, we learn that the Count thinks of himself as the tool of God’s justice. Only when one of his plans ends in tragic, unintended consequences does he wonder if he was wrong:

"Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he felt that he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, 'God is for and with me.'"

Soon afterward, however, his self-doubt vanishes, and he sails away with his beautiful young former slave, returning to the East where he found her. This addition of a May-September romance may have been to help the reader feel that Dantes was fully recompensed for his lost love, but I thought it would have been a far stronger ending to have the Count, the ultimate Byronic hero, sail away into the sunset alone, the way he entered Parisian society, while his friends watch thankfully and the few enemies who are still alive try to comprehend what happened.


Friday, May 15, 2015

No Fair

Sometimes it is very trying to have an adolescent, but I don’t mean trying in the way you’re thinking.

Here is this...person who inhabits a body 27 years younger than mine, which functions perfectly with no everyday aches and pains and not a hint of cellulite. Plus, she works out just because.

If I hadn’t been present for her birth, I’d say there’s no way she’s my child.

The other day, I mentioned that at the gym, I had done some of those walking lunges. We were walking down the hall toward the living room, and she was behind me.

“How many?” she asked, interested.

“I didn’t count. I only did the length of the track once. I’m really sore now.”

“You only did one straight side? One time I did 100 of those in my room just because I was bored.”

A second later she was laughing hysterically. “Right after I said that, I fell down!” (We have a sunken living room and she missed the step.)

“Serves you right!” I said. “Making your mother feel old and decrepit goeth before a fall!”

She was gracious enough to understand my reference and laugh at herself.

(And the oh-so-graceful falling? Yeah, she is my daughter after all.)


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Designing My New Identity

I just love those “All About Mom” questionnaires that teachers have young kids fill out before Mother’s Day. You learn so much! In my son’s case, I learned that his favorite thing to do with me is read (yay!) and that I am best at “jogging and yoga” (this is not even remotely true, but bless his heart). One question and answer, though, triggered some thoughts.

Here’s how he completed the sentence “My mom’s job is”: Cabnet desiner.

This is also not correct, but I didn’t tell him that. I do work for my husband’s business, which builds custom cabinets and furniture, but I don’t do any of the design work. I am a very verbal former English teacher with almost no capacity to create a mental image of, well, anything. I look at floor plans and can’t envision how the cabinets are going to look in the room. After four months, I’m still not entirely sure what “full overlay inset with a bead” means. Trust me, no one wants me designing (or desining) their cabinets, much less building them. But of course I didn’t tell my son that, because I try not to nitpick. He knew it wasn’t really correct, though.

A "cabnet" I had nothing to do with. You're welcome, homeowners!
“I don’t actually know what your job is,” my son confessed. And honestly, I wanted to say, “Honey, neither do I.”

Up until December, it was easy: “My mom’s a teacher.” Oh, a teacher! That’s a profession everyone has a pretty clear understanding of, since most people have attended school at one point or another. When I told people what I did, I heard a lot of, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t teach school.” And I would laugh and say something like, “Well, you really have to feel called to do it.” I still believe that. I’m thankful for all the amazing teachers who are fulfilling their calling even under the current educational conditions (don’t get me started!)

But by the end of 2014 I knew I had to walk away from teaching. It was draining away too much time and energy and I no longer had enough for my family or even myself. My husband saw how miserable I was and offered to let me work for him, once our partner okayed it. It was a big step of faith and I was ecstatic for the first three months. “You mean I can watch TV after the kids go to bed instead of grading more papers? I don’t have to try to make anyone else do their work? I can go to the bathroom whenever I want? THIS IS AWESOME!”

All of those things are still true, but for the last month or so, I have been struggling. My title is “Office Manager” but what am I actually managing? Both partners have been taking care of things on the fly for so long that I’m having to figure out as we go what they can have me do instead. Some of my days are full while others are not so much--but I need to be available. For example, when the crew needs materials, I can go pick them up. “Going to get things so the owners can do more important things instead” is not exactly what I’m used to. I think what I’m wondering is, “Am I actually useful?”

No. What I’m REALLY wondering, deep down, is “ Am I good enough, just in and of myself, to be on this planet, to be taking up space?”

I’ve been trying for so long to earn my right to be here, to matter, to feel I was making a difference. Many people feel teachers do make a difference, so that seemed to be my answer. Looking back, I’m still not sure if I made a true difference with my high school students. Most of my former students are happy to see me and say sweet things, but basically it could just be that I was nice to them and not that I actually inspired them to do anything meaningful.

Whether I was inspiring or not, I do believe I was supposed to teach for those years. I did my best because I was called to be there.

But that was then. And now I’m starting to understand that I’m called to be somewhere else. In the office of a dusty cabinet shop, shaping order out of chaos a little bit at a time, making things work a little more smoothly, solving minor problems so they don’t become major ones.

And then I get to drive home and spend my evenings more involved with my kids and husband than I used to be. My son also said he knows his mom loves him because she snuggles with him (and reads to him). Not that I never did that when I was teaching, but it’s easier now.

Whatever my job description is, I now have some super-awesome perks and a great boss.

Why I do what I do.
And let’s face it, it’s also nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I want.