Thursday, May 31, 2007

The St. Joan Problem

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. For those not well-versed in the lives of the saints, St. Joan was a French peasant who lived in the 1400s. She heard the voices of various saints. These voices told her that she was destined to save France from English rule. She was to lead the army in support of the dauphin, in order to ensure France's independence. She was heartbreakingly young - 13 when she first heard the voices. She led several key campaigns in the war and was instrumental in the eventual French victory. The English captured her, then tried her as a heretic and a witch. One of her so-called heretical actions was wearing men's clothing. She was burned at the stake at age 19, abandoned by the government that she defended. A short while later, the charges of heresy were revoked and she was reclaimed by the French as their national heroine. She was canonized in 1920 - quite a while after her death! Honestly, I am very ambivalent about St. Joan. I admire her in so many ways. She had amazing strength of character and strength of faith. She embraced her calling and applied herself completely. At a time when women weren't valued, she managed to become a great leader (by the grace of God, of course). "Act, then God will act," St. Joan said. My faith demands application, demands thoughtful Christian actions both large and small. When I hear the gospel, I pray (as do all Catholics) "Be in my thoughts, my words, my deeds." Clearly, we are called to act. Clearly, St. Joan's life is worthy of study and consideration. But. And it's a big but. I am a pacifist. I believe, both rationally and viscerally, that I am not ever to intentionally harm any of God's other children. True pacifism is a difficult position that requires constant consideration. I question it regularly, but am unable to ever really accept any other position. Nor do I believe that God loves the French more than the English, or the Germans more than the Russians, or the Spaniards more than the Aztecs (although I certainly would appreciate it if He would give the Cardinals a little extra blessing). The idea that God called St. Joan to guarantee French victory is, well, difficult for me to accept. So, I seem to be stuck in a hard place. And since St. Joan of Arc is the patron of my parish, the problem is not just going to be pushed under the rug. I walk under a mosaic of an androgynous Joan holding her spear on a regular basis, making it somewhat difficult for me to just dismiss her. I could take the easy way out and claim that St. Joan must be viewed through the veil of history. And really, there is truth in that explanation. We are all of us products of our time. The trouble is that God is most assuredly not a product of any time, and so I cannot constrain St. Joan's calling by history. I obviously do not have any answers, just questions that raise questions. The marvelous thing about the questions is that they don't shake my faith, but deepen it. Even if I never manage to reconcile the St. Joan problem with my own absolute belief in pacifism, I can still learn and apply that knowledge to my own life. "Act, then God will act." So how am I to act? How can the inherent passiveness of pacifism become action?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stop the Complaining!

Over the past few weeks, my fun-loving, active, comic son has morphed into a buzzkill. Actually, that's not a strong enough statement. It's more like Jacob is the (not so) mild mannered alter ego of Captain Buzzkill. His secret power is the amazing ability to find the negative in any situation, then point it out in the most noxious manner attainable by humankind. If I make macaroni and cheese and peas for dinner, he complains that I didn't put enough on his plate. If we go for a walk together, he complains that I'm walking too fast/too slow/in the wrong direction. If I pick out a book to read, he complains that it's boring. If I ask him to pick out a book to read, he complains that he can't find the book he wants to read. If we go hiking and happen to see an ultra-cool frog pond with a never-before-seen frog ruckus (after some discussion, I am uncertain whether it was a fight or some low-down dirty froggy type sex), Jake will complain that we didn't see enough frogs, that we are leaving too soon, and that he just wants to be home anyway because this whole frog hiking excursion was a waste of his precious time. If I throw up my hands and say, "I give up! Tell me what you want to do!" he will complain that I always force him to make all the decisions which isn't fair because he's just a little kid. First, we tried making gentle fun of him. Surprisingly, that's not a very effective technique for improving Jacob's behavior. Unsurprisingly, it is a very effective technique for reducing my stress level. Next, we tried pointing out that everything isn't rosy all the time. Stating the obvious had no effect. Which, upon further consideration, ought to have been obvious. Now, I'm trying to point out all the times that I am unhappy but not complaining about my unhappiness. This feels ridiculous and wrong. "Oh, look! We're having corn for dinner. I don't like corn, but I'm not going to make a big dramatic announcement about that. I'm not going to whine and sigh about having corn on my plate. I'm just going to politely taste the corn and keep my thoughts to myself." Oh, hmmmm. It appears that was a rather dramatic announcement. I didn't exactly keep my thoughts to myself. Instead, I painted myself as a martyr while simultaneously causing shock to ripple around the table. "How can you not like corn, Mom? Corn is good. Everyone likes corn. I like corn. Except I don't like corn on the cob and that's what you made and WHYOHWHYOHWHY did you put this nasty corn on the cob on my plaaaaaate? I'm not eating it. It's GROSS. And you know that it's gross because YOU DON'T LIKE IT EITHER!" And that, my friends, is the point where I pour myself another glass of wine and start daydreaming about throwing corn cobs at my beloved first born child.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

13 Annoyances

  1. You know how the competitors on The Amazing Race have to unzip their clues? Then after the unzipping, some of them drop the little strip of paper on the ground. That annoys me! Don't be spreading your litter around the world! Put it in your pocket!
  2. I don't like it when women call themselves derogatory names. It's bad enough when other people call us bitches and whores, we shouldn't do it to ourselves. It's not funny or clever to demean yourself.
  3. I cannot stand it when baggers put my loose produce into a plastic bag before putting it in my canvas bag. If I had wanted my onions and garlic in plastic, I would have used the produce bags in the produce department.
  4. And on that same note, I am also annoyed when baggers put gallons of milk into my canvas bags. See that neat handle on the milk jug? That suffices.
  5. While we're talking about the grocery store, let's talk about the checkout lanes. I can deal with the candy and magazines in front of the checkout. Lately, though, the registers seem to be at the end of an ever-expanding aisle of last chance merchandise. There are banana stands, carts filled with clearance items, special cardboard POP displays for everything from tea to spices. Do people really buy that much crap on impulse while waiting to check out?
  6. Lately, the evening news has been annoying me. I cannot even stand to watch it because the entire world's worth of news has been boiled down to 5 stories. There's the leading story, one more news story, a health news item, one part of the current 3 part in depth series, and a cute piece at the end. Seriously? In the whole world, only two important things happen on any given day?
  7. The sliding door on my shower annoys me by simply existing.
  8. Everybody in my family asks me where the remote is. I guarantee that if I had the remote last, it will be on the big chair or on top of the entertainment center. If you can't find the remote, it's because you didn't put it away.
  9. The upstairs telephone emits one warning beep before the battery dies. I barely have time to say "OhcrapthephoneisdyingIwillcallyouback" before I'm disconnected. Is 20 seconds really too much to ask?
  10. My neighbor waters her lawn excessively. The sprinkler reaches through the fence to a 10" strip on our lawn. So we always have a strip of lawn that's longer than the rest.
  11. People who make jumps in logic, ie, make 1+1 = 543.
  12. Spam = unsolicited email sent indiscriminately to a mailing list. Marketing = solicited or unsolicited email sent to a mailing list composed of people who might reasonably be expected to purchase a product. Don't confuse the two. That's fine if you don't want to receive special offers from companies with whom you have an existing relationship. But do not equate that with offers for cheap Cialis sent to every address in the free world.
  13. There is no such thing as Valentimes day. It's Valentine's day. ValentiNNNNNNe's day.

Monday, May 21, 2007

He lost a tooth and then he lost it.

About a week ago, Jacob's left front bottom tooth started wiggling. A day later, the right front bottom tooth started wiggling too. Because I am a sick person who enjoys wiggling teeth and picking scabs, I checked the wiggle factor (wigglablity?) of the teeth several times per day. Jacob has been enduring my fascination with good humor for the most part. He has to put up with my quirks since I'm the only mother that he has. "Jake! Tell Mom your big news!" Nick said as soon as I walked in the door on Friday evening. Jacob was busy pretending to be a voyageur, so Nick had to tell me. "Jake lost his tooth!" "Wow! He lost his tooth! Where is it? In his backpack?" "No. He lost it. He LOST his tooth." I blinked at Nick. Le petite voyageur wandered into the living room and declared, "I lost my tooth! SEE!" He showed me the hole in his mouth. "I don't know where it is! It fell out or something." I blinked at Jacob, who promptly wandered out of the room again. I blinked at Nick. Jacob and I eventually wrote a note to the tooth fairy and put the note under his pillow in lieu of a tooth. The tooth fairy, being an exceedingly understanding sort, wrote a note back. She found a tooth in the school cafeteria. She was relieved to have placed the tooth with an original owner. Jacob chose to supplement the tooth dollar with a little cash from his piggy bank. He bought a harmonica. So, all's well that ends well, I suppose, especially if it ends with a musical score.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

13 Songs I MUST Sing Along

Some songs are for listening, some songs are for singing, especially in the car.

  1. John Denver Take Me Home, Country Roads
  2. Bob Dylan When the Ship Comes In
  3. Indigo Girls Closer to Fine
  4. The Proclaimers 500 Miles
  5. The Tannahill Weavers* The Shearin's No for You
  6. The Tannahill Weavers Westlin' Winds
  7. Eric Clapton Layla
  8. Kristen Hall Out in the Country
  9. Michelle Shocked Over the Waterfall
  10. John Denver Rhymes and Reasons
  11. 10000 Maniacs Verdi Cries
  12. Indigo Girls Hammer and a Nail
  13. Billy Joel You're My Home
* Nick calls them the "Ho Weavers" which both annoys me and makes me laugh.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Jacob has a new hobby. He races cars. No, not toy cars. No, not a video game. No, not an imaginary game in the backseat while my heavy foot tries to bore a hole in the floorboard. He actually races against them. When he hears a car coming, he gets into a loose starting stance on the sidewalk near the middle of the block. His left foot is forward and the right back a bit for a good push. His arms are bent. His muscles are coiled for action. He looks back over his right shoulder. When the car reaches a set point, or when he just can't wait any more, he sprints to the stop sign on the corner. He is absolutely convinced that he will one day beat a car to the corner. The doting mother in me wants to pay the neighbor boy to drive slowly so that Jake can win.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Love's Unique Beat

Claire had horrible gas as an infant. I limited my diet a bit, easing but not eradicating the problem. I spent many hours relieving the pain of her rock-hard tummy. I'd put her in the sling, her legs crossed over her belly to provide pressure. I firmly patted her back while she snuggled with her cheek to my chest. Nick had his own methods of pain relief that worked as well, but for me it was the endless squoosh and pound. A few days ago, I scooped Claire up for a goodbye hug. She smashed her cheek against mine and started patting my back. I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy it. Then I noticed that she and I were patting in rhythm. I never stopped the squoosh and pound - Claire just joined in the activity after a while. Over the past days, I've realized that we always pat in rhythm and the beat is always the same. We pound and vibrate, providing ourselves with a shared external heartbeat. It is steady and strong. I started looking around at other mother/child pairs. Jake and I have a different rhythm - less regular. We alternate a slow squeeze with the rapid trill of a tickle. A mother in church had a slow rock with her daughter and a slower shuffling rhythm as she rubbed her son's back. A mother in the grocery had a staccato bounce with her infant. My mother and I have the easy, lazy beat of a stroll, no doubt born in the midnight hours she spent pacing the hallway with me. This is the art of mothering, I think. We find that shared rhythm that comforts both mother and child. As we grow, the song changes but the beat stays true. I have no doubt that when I hug Claire 30 years from now, she will pound my back in the shared half-forgotten memory of her infancy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Miracles Do Happen

For a couple of years or maybe even longer, the left front speaker of my car (whose name is Darth Honda, just in case you were wondering) has been completely out of service. I can't remember when exactly it stopped working. I just know that one day Nick remarked on it and then I realized that the speaker hadn't been working for some time. I compensate by fading 100% to the front speakers, blasting at top volume and deafening any fool who dares to ride in my passenger seat. Not too long after that, a CD got stuck in the slot. I'm not sure which CD it is, but I have a sinking suspicion that it is Richie Havens' Live at the Cellar Door. That's been sorely missed for a while now. Every once in a while, I push random buttons and curse in an effort to extract the cd. On days when I feel brave or exceptionally irritated, I poke stuff in the slot. The poking usually occurs when NPR is having a pledge drive, forcing me to listen to commercial radio. My sanity seems to start leaking out of my ears after two Metabolife ads. I start casting about for a pen, windshield scraper, paper clip, or anything remotely skinny and flatish to poke into the CD slot while crying, "Richie! Come back to me Richie! I need to hear you sing Here Comes the Sun before I lose all faith in humanity and consign myself to living in a post-Lorax hopeless world!" On really bad days, I start singing Here Comes the Sun myself. That is always disheartening as I do not have the dulcet, smokey tones of my dear Mr. Havens. Then yesterday, Darth Honda took a hard fast left onto the highway entrance ramp. And while I was craning my neck to gauge the speed of an oncoming Navigator (insert standard rant here regarding large vehicles), the speaker kicked on. My jaw and foot both dropped in shock. Darth responded with all the might of his four cylinders and slid in front of the behemoth while I continued to stare slack-jawed over my shoulder, lost in the unexpected sound of Nina Totenberg's voice blaring from the dashboard at foghorn volume. I am holding out hope for a second miracle. If the speaker can come alive, so can the cd player. Stranger things have happened. UPDATE: The cd is out! The cd is out! I found Nick's dart set in my car. Using two darts as chopsticks, I managed to retrieve the offending disk. It was not Richie Havens, but Lou Rawls. I managed (barely) to supress the urge to stick the disc back in and give it a whirl. But tonight, I will find a cd that I don't care to keep (perhaps The Wiggles) and try it out. WOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

13 things that make my life sweet

Earlier today, I was complaining to a friend about people not appreciating their good fortune. That comment boomeranged right back around and smacked me on my forehead. I am extremely fortunate and I have a charmed life in many ways. Here are thirteen of them in no particular order.

    1. My husband loves me as I am. He has never once suggested that I should be thinner, funnier, earn more, or dress a certain way. After almost 9 years of marriage, his most frequent complaint is that he doesn't get to spend enough one-on-one time with me. That's a sweet, sweet blessing.
    2. I have people in my life who really understand me. They know who I am and where I'm coming from, and I don't need to explain every little thing to them.
    3. People laugh at my jokes most of the time.
    4. I'm healthy.
    5. I live in a beautiful neighborhood. I can walk to two parks. I can take the trash out after dark. My neighbors adore my children, as does the nice lady who walks her dog while I'm rushing out to my car in the morning. If something happened to us, people would mow our lawn.
    6. I live in a wonderful parish. There are opportunities for personal growth. There are enough Mass times that I can't use oversleeping as an excuse not to attend. The music is good. The priests are good homilists.
    7. We are in a stable financial situation. I don't lose sleep worrying about the mortgage.
    8. My son has a laugh like a carnival ride. He laughs every day, almost.
    9. My daughter grabs my face, kisses me on the mouth, then nods her head curtly at a job well done.
    10. I have a secure job with a solid company. I don't worry about being laid off or reorganizations or anything, really. I have a job here for as long as I want to be here.
    11. My husband still makes me swoon, more often than not.
    12. Jacob makes me chase him to give him a kiss, but he doesn't really run that fast.
    13. I can still fix anything that ails Claire with a hug and a tickle.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Just when I thought she'd be ok

Claire's daycare provider fills in a "My Day" paper for me. It has information about diapers, meals, naps, and projects. Usually, I glance over the paper for major issues and then hand it to Claire. She likes the paper since it's usually pink or purple. Besides, she's a toddler and most toddlers like to carry junk around. It's in the official Manual to Toddlerdom, chapter 3, point 17: "Pick up random trash and carry it everywhere for no less than 30 minutes and no more than 30 days." Claire usually chooses to rip her paper into tiny pieces on the car ride home. I approve of this activity. It gives me time to listen to the news instead of being forced to sing "Bringing Home My Baby Bumblebee." The one inch thick coating of purple and pink confetti on the back seat is a nice bonus. I could host a fairy tea party back there with five minute's notice. Last night, Claire changed up the usual routine by eating the paper. I told her not to eat the paper. "Is yummy! Is yummy purple!" I offered her an apple. "No! No apple! I eat yummy purple!" By the time we got home, I think she managed to ingest about 3/4 of the page. I guess we should probably get the number of the school counselor and put it on our speed dial. I suspect we're going to be getting chummy with her over the years. P.S.: Thanks to all for responding to the Thursday 13. I've got movies to watch and book to read now. And in case you were wondering, "wheretofor" is a word that drives me crazy (and I use "word" in the very loosest sense). Nick says it whenever he wants to see me roll my eyes and sigh.