Monthly Archives: December 2012

What I do all day

IMG_1879Today my chief task is to clean up the house.

At the end of the day, the house will still need to be cleaned.  There may be some areas that are visibly cleaner than they were this morning.  Or not.

Here’s a blow-by-blow description of why.

Task: clean up.  The first part is to get random detritus off the counter tops and the top of the fish tank, putting it all away (preferably not just shoved in an 18 gallon Rubbermaid bin), and wiping off the dust, dirt, and inexplicable sticky stuff that is found under all the things.

Here is a Christmas wreath of yarn and pom-poms, lying on the kitchen counter.  It was made by number one daughter a couple years ago.  She was overjoyed that it was put into service as the official front door wreath this year.  Sadly, the white-hot temperatures that develop between our southern-facing dark green front door and the glass storm door quite handily melted the hot glue holding said wreath together and bits began falling off.  Daughter was devastated, so the wreath can’t be simply thrown away.  It needs to be refurbished and hung in a more climate-controlled location.

So, I obtain the glue gun and glue sticks (luckily located for other projects last week.  Well, the glue gun was, and the extra glue sticks were not found at that time, but were located later, when the same sewing basket was rifled once again in search of the foot pedal to the sewing machine.  The foot pedal was nowhere to be found, but the previously absent glue sticks had warped in from a dimensional rift.  So that was lucky for today.)

While waiting for the glue gun to heat up, I pick up the next item cluttering up the counter.  It’s an information form about pictures taken at preschool.  I sit at the computer, find the web site, sign in, and try to decide if any of the pics are good enough to spend money on.  Then call the photographer and leave a message.  By then the glue gun is hot, so I glue bits back onto the wreath.  I have no idea how the teachers originally succeeded in gluing he hanging loop on the back, and in my attempt, I manage to burn my fingers as well as adhere the photography information sheet to the back of the wreath.

So that represents about 30 minutes of work, and two items I’ve tried to clean up have progressed about 75% toward actually being off the counter top and put somewhere sensible.  And they’re stuck together.

Every additional stray sheet of paper, toy, UPS package, and decoration brings with it a high possibility of involving similar calendar transfers, contact list additions, e-mails, phone calls, repairs, cleaning, input from other adults, children, or bureaucracies, reorganization of the space into which I wish to put the thing, and/or disassembly and deposition into the recycling of some form of package, box, or bag.

So, at the end of the day I’ve done an executive assistant’s worth of filing, calendar management, and contact maintenance, several crafts, some mending, de-cluttering and reorganization worthy of a TLC show, and enough box handling to qualify me to work at UPS.  And the house looks about the same.

Finally, I’ve started adding things to my To Do list as I complete them, and including each step of a task as a separate entry. “Clean kitchen” gets replaced with neatly checked-off entries such as:

empty dishwasher
sanitize sink
take recycling out to garage
take overflowing garage recycling out to curb container
realize in a panic that it’s recycling day and sprint curb container down to curb as truck pulls up
wave sheepishly at truck driver

At the end of the day, my To Do list is immense, and almost every item is checked off!  My house still looks about the same.  But at least I know the answer when I (or anyone else, should they dare be so reckless) wonders what the heck I did all day!

Giving a little on our Amendments

I don’t tend to describe things as “sacred,” but for me the First Amendment comes close. When I contemplate it, I feel a flutter of awe and respect. I think enshrining citizens’ freedom to believe, speak, report, and associate as they see fit is a monumental achievement in history. I consider it a key component of both patriotism and freedom, and I don’t take infringements of it lightly.

Yet after Friday, I’m willing to consider some further restrictions on the press. That’s not something to take flippantly – it’s a potential threat to the foundations of our society to consider legislating against free dissemination of information. But I think it might be worth it. We need to openly investigate whether breathless, lurid, 24/7 coverage of mass killings leads to more mass killings. And if there is a reasonable indication that it does, we need to try to craft careful, narrow, reasonable limitations that might prevent fame and notoriety from inspiring carnage. The press can never rein itself in on this subject, because there will always be worry that competing media outlets will embrace “if it bleeds it leads,” ad-grabbing sensationalism. It may be that it’s worth government intervention to mitigate that pressure.

Please know that I’m only talking about talking about it. I’m not calling for sweeping legislation or doing away with freedom of the press. I’m saying that we need to discuss the issue, to investigate whether there might be a significant risk created by the way media covers this subject, and if so, to see if there is anything we can reasonably, Constitutionally do to address it. If we ask these questions, it may well turn out that there’s not enough evidence of causation, or that there is, but there is no rational way we can ameliorate it without infringing too far on basic rights. But we must ask the questions. What happened in Newtown means you have to have the conversation before you decide it’s a no-go.

And so, I’m also asking my fellow Americans who cherish the Second Amendment to join me. Please, please be willing to have this conversation! Don’t shut down any discussion that has a whiff of gun control by saying, “Criminals will get guns anyway, discussion OVER,” or declaring that the only relevant subject is mental health. The relevant subject is how to prevent mentally ill people from using guns to make headlines. And that involves mental illness, guns, and headlines. Again, it may be in the end that we can’t make things significantly better through gun safety laws. It may be that we could, but not in a way that complies with the Constitution. But we need to investigate and discuss these issues before coming to that conclusion.

Until now, I’ve viewed mass shootings as akin to lightning strikes – random, something that may be lethal and horrifying, but nothing I can do much about. I have insulated myself from the details of the massacres because “I can’t do anything, so there’s no point in worrying about it.” But I just can’t do that anymore. Maybe it’s because my child is in school, or because I grew up 15 miles from Newtown, or maybe it’s just because finally the weight of accumulated incidents has become too much. I may find in the end that I really can’t do anything, but I have to at least ask the question first.

I am willing to engage in some creativity and openness, some brainstorming in which even impractical, ridiculous, “unthinkable” ideas get put up on the blackboard to be pruned away later. Even when those ideas make me feel profoundly uncomfortable; even when they could threaten the foundational ideals of our culture. I’m begging you to do the same.

Mom, do you believe in God?

These conversations always happen in the car. I think it helps because she knows I won’t be making eye contact and I can be easily distracted if she’s done talking about whatever dread subject she’s raised.

“Hey Mom, do you believe in God?”
“No, I don’t believe in any gods. I’ve never seen enough evidence to convince me there’s anything supernatural.”
“I think most of the kids at school are Christians or something, and they said if you’re an atheist you live a terrible life.”

At this point I was half rolling my eyes, half mad. I don’t remember the next bit very well, but I think Chloe opined that this didn’t make sense to her, using me as her sample. So that was flattering as well as reassuring. She also wanted to confirm, “We’re atheists, right?”

Dawkins would be proud of me – I told her Dad and I don’t believe in any gods, but that doesn’t dictate what she believes. She said, “Well, I want to be an atheist.” Just goes to show no matter how you try to inculcate skepticism and freethought, while letting your children have freedom of conscience, they have very strong labeling and tribalist inclinations!

Turns out she doesn’t believe in any particular god, but she really likes reading myths and legends about gods, so she wasn’t sure if that would put her in the theist category. I assured her that in fact, many atheists started as believers, but when they got into myths and legends, it eroded their faith. It’s perfectly consistent not to believe in gods but to like stories about them.

I asked, “When they said ‘lead a terrible life,’ did they mean you’ll be unhappy and miserable, or you’ll do terrible things?”

She replied she wasn’t sure, so I noted that our family was pretty happy and healthy, and that we also tend to do good things for each other, our friends, and our community, so it certainly didn’t seem to be true. I also mentioned that if they mean atheists do bad things, she could tell them that in prison populations, there are hardly any atheists, but there are lots of Christians.

At this she seemed very interested. In fact, a bit too close to gleeful. I think I’ll have to have a discussion about diplomacy on this subject matter post haste. But at least it gave her a concrete example, beyond the bounds of our little family, that atheism doesn’t make you evil.

And so it begins. It’s going to be interesting as the kids all get older. I’m hopeful they can be educated into more acceptance. I’m pretty sure these children were unaware that they actually know atheists. And if anyone can be a good ambassador for atheism, it’s my sweet, generous, funny, intelligent, friendly daughter.

Instructions on showing love to your children – really?

Because I’m a masochist, I listen to Christian radio from time to time.  A few days ago I heard the intro to a Focus on the Family episode discussing how to show your children you love them.

This is a question that has never occurred to me in nine years of parenting.  “How can I make sure my kids know I love them?” is a completely bizarre question to me.  I may be anxious and uncertain about a lot of things in life, but I have always had 100% confidence that my children know I love them, such that it’s been a background certainty like the sun coming up each morning.

Now that I stop and think about it, they know I love them because I have always taken care of their needs, had fun with them, read to them, cuddled them, and treated them as individual human beings deserving of respect. I tell my girls I love them at least once a day, without calculation of how much it will reinforce our bond or boost their self esteem, but because I love them so hard it just bubbles up out of me and must be expressed!

I suppose there are loving parents out there who would like some concrete guidance on communicating love.  Maybe some people are just more naturally reticent, or they didn’t have role models in their own parents for being affectionate.  I’m not saying this show was a bad thing.  It just surprised me at first!

But I couldn’t help thinking that Focus on the Family in particular has to puzzle over how to express love to children in part because it advocates beating them.  FotF’s website has an extremely detailed manual on spanking, which instructs parents to hit their children with a wooden spoon, while weirdly saying it’s not violent, but also that it must inflict pain.  Oh, and equating this process with showing love:

The Bible never implies that the rod of discipline should be violent.  . . . When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist.  . . . If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior.

This bizarre, contradictory approach is continued in their recommendations for the “discipline” surrounding the spanking, which calls for extreme authoritarian interrogation and demands for capitulation, but also holding and hugging the crying child and telling God how thankful you are for them, in an “intimate, touching moment.”  This is supposed to demonstrate that you deeply love your child while also being willing to discipline them, but to me it seems more likely to make a kid very wary and confused.  You can’t average out abuse and emotional manipulation and call it an expression of love. (Frankly, it reminds me of the cycle of domestic abuse, where violence is followed by extreme affection, and yet also blamed on the victim: “You made me hit you by doing X.”)

And yes, I have smacked my kids on the butt a few times, when I flew off the handle.  But you know what I did next?  I apologized and said it was wrong for me to do that, as you do when you mistreat a fellow human being.  I can’t help but think that’s a better approach to making sure your children feel loved.