Friday, June 22, 2012

1:11 They Found Me Out!

Mark it: the day Anne-Marie Slaughter went viral about "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." It's a worthy read. I shared on social media today, but it no place for a fuller response

I feel obligated to opine further because:
  1.  This blog is about mothering. As a priest's wife, I signed on to be a mother who works. Some clergy may make $40-50 thou a year, but not young priests in OCA parishes. Married priests usually have wives who bring home the bacon, try to create a safe castle for kids and husby, and be a little mother in the parish too.
  2. This article made me nod "Yup" on every page. I confess this: on the eve of our move from seminary to parish, while trying to prompt obstinate children to pack up their rooms as I worked from my home office, I yelled some incoherent and spiritually damaging words: "I never wanted to be a middle school or high school teacher. I work a job I never intended to work so I can be a better mom for you." For the record, I was wrong about that. I am at peace with teaching. I think I'll do it the rest of my life. It took ten years for that peace to be realized. I had to sign up for what Slaughter calls, "A Reinvestment Interval." What she doesn't talk about, and I hope to articulate, is that the "Reinvestment Interval" has a spiritual, not just familial or gendered dimension.
  3. This author found out that I too just push 111 on the microwave because it's faster than finding other numbers. It is so great to find out other women do this too.
There are two points that Slaughter makes I'd like to expand upon. One is the aforementioned spiritual benefit to the intervals we women (and men) take when delaying promotions or securing 'tenure' on a longer timetable. It is what I've learned along the way, while delaying my personal gratification for my kids, that has made me better equipped to be their momma or anyone's little momma.

When I went back to school after five years of marriage, my husband and I agreed, I would earn a BA in English and go to grad school, so I could teach college or work in publishing. When I was ensconced in a fabulous career, he could finish school or go full-time with his music career. Trade off.

I was vetting programs when birth control failed or God succeeded. Take it how you like it. I think it was both. I announced to my closest gals that I was preggers with my second baby, and those Christian ladies responded right in my emotional scale.

"Are you okay?" They knew I would be fine at some point, but how soon? This was going to change all "our" plans. I took summer courses, not covered by my Dean's High Honors Scholarship, adding a cool $5000 to my school bill. My son's birth derailed my last mid-term, fall semester, senior year. I had him in a sling, nursing while I blue-booked my Medieval Lit exam two weeks later. I still had sixteen stitches desolving around my birth canal. It was hard to think and write. Instead of staring at the nine-month belly swell sliding down a block wall to wait for class, twenty-year classmates watched me with a sling and baby, later a cow pump for breast milk. No grad school for now. We couldn't move until debts were paid off again. Enter teacher licensure program and first position at a private Christian school. $19,000 a year starting salary minus $13,000 for licensure courses add cost of commuting and subtract tuition for daughter's private school. Total positive earnings first year of teaching. $0. Commuting with my daughter, keeping her in a good school near me, coordinated parent-child schedule? Priceless.

When I had to make more money, I dropped the commute and got a job at a local high school. Pay bump of ten grand, less private school tuition for daughter again. Total time working? Twelve hours a day. That's where my hubby did the "interval." I became career-mom, super-teacher. He cooked, cleaned, took kids to extra-activities, planned sexy retreats for our marriage, took over the checkbook. He worked full-time, played music part-time and came home to another full-time home-maker's job.

Then seminary. Earnings from hubby for four years? $0. Donations. Thank GOD and many of His faithful servants. 

That's the thing about having it all, and my second point to this post. (Almost inseparable from the point I plan to make fully.) Anyone who has kids can't have it all. Anyone who loves family can't have it all. Stephanie Koontz wrote a great book The Way We Never Were, and I learned from it how damaging the myth of the nuclear family is. When Slaughter discusses the culture that cultivates men who have the excuse to work long hours, for greater good or not, and ignore their kids and partners, I find myself wondering. Just how long has that culture been around? How long could we have sustained it? In times not so far back, whole families made their ways together, living close to the land and each other. The urban dwellers often worked one generation or two out of the industrial slave trades of coal mining, steel-working, meat-packing, etc. If they couldn't escape one way, they unionized.

Wendell Berry's novels, Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow, have reinforced that the idea of having it all is always at the cost of something or someone. His Hannah Coulter urged her kids off the land to the great careers, and they disappeared from her life. Grandkids came back disenfranchised and bruised with ennui. It's not a life I want for myself.  So far, I think we can avoid it. We've adopted another kind of tradeoff. It's been a dance against and for the forces of traditional gender 'jobs' in the home, but always always for the preservation of our marriage and spiritual health of our kids. It is not perfect. Sometimes it is myopic and blind decision making, and living with the consequences many times. It requires confession and repentence and change when the choices are poor.

Consider seminary. I kept trying to advance my job security and my professional reputation while my husband was doing an intensive program. Teaching and ministry are human-services and ministerial positions. They are both 'callings' -- but any job is a calling! They require internalizing and burying other people's dramas and traumas, and finding the peace to guide and pray through. They are like parenting. They are rewarding, demanding, exhausting. We made choices in seminary that belittled what we gave to our kids. I was working from home for a cyber charter school. My daughter was enrolled and learning from home. We homeschooled my son one year, and privately schooled him others. I brought my computer to the table, and my husband brought seminary stress. Our kids got lots of us, the bad side of us. It is as poor a parenting-choice as getting little but calling it quality.  Sorry, folks, there is such a thing as that kind of poor parenting.

At that time, all the lessons I learned from teaching, I stopped applying. I was parenting and working from the hip, surviving. Hoping to have it all. We were that low-income couple that shuffles bills, over-uses credit cards, never takes dates, sets aside all the markers of a restful, connected family.

I had learned many excellent parenting skills from my teacher mentors and reflections. Give kids three choices, not two. Walk away in angery situations. Use proximity, not loud words to lend authority to the expectations. Be consistent and clear about the difference between rules and procedures. Be consistent about rules and consequences. Above all, be patient. Don't think or speak hurtful things about your students or children, even when you think no one can hear. It's what Elder Porphyrios calls spiritual violence. 

All these had spiritual value. My work was making me a better parent, even when I thought a thousand times in April and May I never wanted to teach kids. I wanted to climb the ladder in a college or writing career. This investment interval I made, along with having kids made me a better person. I commend Slaughter for noting that the alternative is likely the lonely authoritarian woman berating employees for not having a work ethic because they don't commit to 12-hour days. There are still women who suggest that pregnant women are hurting their careers. I have enough strong will to know, if I didn't have kids to interval me, I would be bitter and judgmental. Or, I should be honest, more judgmental. I have my times.

Here's to dittos I can give Slaughter- we need to change the culture to be more 'care-giver' friendly, regardless of gender. We need to embrace the personhood that we gain in being care-givers.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More Meditations on a Lament

In my previous post, I reference Josh Ritter's "A Girl in the War" and I started thinking further of my recent commitment to Rafe Esquith's example from Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire or Viktor Frankl's discussion of the existential vacuum and man's search for ultimate meaning in his tome by that name.

The lyric that links them opens the song:

Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote
 Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go

I've wrestled with those lyrics. I like rules. I tend to be a very 'justice' oriented person. I am very rule driven.

I am one of the people that Esquith puts on Max Kohlberg's fourth stage of moral development.

Level I. I don't Want to Get in Trouble (Obedience and Punishment Orientation)

Level II. I Want a Reward (Individualism and Exchange)

Level III. I Want to Please Somebody (Good Interpersonal Relationships)

Level IV. I Follow the Rules (Maintaning the Social Order)

Level V. I Am Considerate of Other People (Social Contract and Individual Rights)

Level VI. I Have a Personal Code of Behavior and I Follow It (Universal Principle)

Esquith is one of those hyper-enthusiastic teachers that I fancy myself to be, but alas, I'm not. Still, if teaching has done anything for me, it has taught me to be a better parent and better person. When Esquith says he learned over his first ten years of teaching that from levels 1-5 "We can do better," I though to myself, I can do better. 

That has become even more important since I tend to parent in a crisis mode, a reactive rather than pro-active one. This problem is the result of being too busy. Our kids get shoved to the margins of our jobs, which I believe are also our ministries- my husband's and mine- but I tend to fall into a delusion that our happy marriage and relatively stable home mean that our children can sustain periods of busy-ness. Those get out of control and suddenly we're sparking off each other like electrons in a chemical reaction. Next I start parenting from the holster at my hip.  "You don't want me to come after you..." "Do this or else..." "Because I said so, that's why!" or "If you do that, I will take you shopping, out swimming, we'll play a game together, I'll make you a smoothie or (insert reward here)." Or, because "I love you." Or, because "families take care of each other." Or, because orderliness is from God and order matters. Some of those higher moral reasons for good behavior aren't bad, but as Esquith notes, "WE can do better."  These earlier things are the rules of the game. "And the rules are the first to go," says Ritter's lyric.

It is not lost on me that his speakers are alluding to the Apostles Paul and Peter, the rock upon whom "I will build this church" and the most loquacious of the New Testament writers. They argued with each other about right and wrong too. But, if Kohlberg is right, the rules are training wheels, supports, buttresss, scaffolds, for something greater.

Consider the Fruit of the Spirit. I was listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko speak on this in a podcast yesterday morning and he notes that we change this into "fruits" but shouldn't. The Fruit of the Spirit is either singular or a collective noun. It is a lump. If we have love then we have joy, he says. How can we have love without joy? How can we have joy without peace? And peace without patience, et cetera? We are aiming for something higher, and he teaches on that the Desert Fathers exalted humility as one of the greatest virtues. Consider this quote from a Fool-for-Christ:

If you are praised, be silent.
If you are scolded, be silent.
If you incur losses, be silent.
If you receive profit, be silent.
If you are satiated, be silent.
If you are hungry, also be silent.

And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

~St. Feofil, the Fool 

It takes extreme humility to avoid words when scolded, praised, in loss, in hunger, and when we are over-full. It takes a relinquishing of ourselves and recognition of greater Goodness that we don't have to create or deliver the Fruit. That is God's job.

This is what Kohlberg and Frankl praise too. A higher order, not without rules, but embodying them yet not bound by them. Frankl's big on God, on His place in ultimate meaning: 

“As long as a self is driven by an id to a Thou, it is not a matter of love, either. In love the self is not driven by the id, but rather the self chooses the Thou.”
 In other words, man wants love, but love even is impossible unless man finds something more than himself. He cannot find even love without getting outside of himself, his ego, his own identity. He is called to look beyond, to a Thou (God). Meaning in life, greater good, is always found when we stop introspecting and start living for Thou, beyond ourselves and our full knowing and understanding. I love his articulation of this mystery.
Read on, if you so desire:
“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of human is through love and in love.

I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for the brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way-an honorable way-in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words,"The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
Victor Frankl, Man's Search For Ultimate Meaning  
Ritter, towards the end of the song wrestles angels too: "Angel fly around in there but we can't see them." In Ritter's song, man is all tangled up in existential anger towards the unjust controllers of society, the men and women who call for war, and send his girl off into it.  He's looking up there into the meaning of things, trying to figure why bad things happen. He's trying to find meaning, right and wrong, next steps, and why he should do the 'right honorable' act when other people do bad things. 

Hmmm. I guess I don't have a neat conclusion, a bow to tie this up with. In the end, I think there is reason so few of us get to Kohlberg's stage six and why even Kohlberg implies that few if none of us have ever remained there. Still, as I parent a tween and teen, I think we are working toward home and a spiritual state that says: "We can do better." Lord, Have mercy.

A Girl in the War

I was running Saturday morning in the summer morning heat. Before I crashed and fractured my toe, I was doing a little praying, a little thinking and a little dancing- this is the true runner's high- when Josh Ritter's "Girl in the War" spangled my playlist. When I listen to books and songs on runs, they take on the pain and meaning of specific runs. Last week's specific pain was centered around parenting, as much of my life is. It was parenting my girl in the war.

The girl? My teenage daughter. I can't help thinking all teenagers are on a spiritual precipice. Have you read the research on adolescent brain development? These kids think with their frontal lobes, the emotion center of the brain. They are cutting as many synaptic connections as their pre-kindergarten development built, in about the same amount of time. Thousands. They are juiced on hormones to do the work and grown the body at the same time. They make many or most decisions from this portion of their brain. Damned be logic and reason.  They take risks without the ability to calculate cost. They still need directions in three or fewer steps at a time.

Did anyone ever tell you your teenager will need you as much or more as your preschooler? Heed those words.

This is a war and the battlefield is our culture. By sixteen around 50% of our kids' peers will have had one sexual encounter. Most will have tried alcohol, nicotine or another substance- at least a monster or red bull.

Our war? Getting a girl to
  • have a spiritual life while following her passions towards an unchurched boy.
  • own her faith in a culture such as a a public school where there she didn't recognize a fellow PK with whom she spent a week at science camp as a religious kid.
  • recognize the trouble of technology which disconnects kids from their parents, siblings and friends by a bait-n-switch.
  • discern beyond the surface, where, as she put it: "I spent the week around kids who aren't virgins and their relationship with God and others seem fine.
  • realize that the only reason we kick in the 'boundaries' is because she isn't doing it herself and now is the time when she needs to be doing that.
  • live with a clear conscience because only when she is clear and true to her knowledge of right and wrong can she have trust with those around her.

So that song came on and tore me up, particularly these lyrics.
Paul said to Peter 
 "You gotta rock yourself a little harder,
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire"
And I got a girl in the war, Paul the only thing I know to do
Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through

Because the keys to the kingdom got locked inside the kingdom

And the angels fly around in there, but we can't see them
And I gotta girl in the war, Paul I know that they can hear me yell
I have to admit a little literalism applied on 'pretend the dove from above (allusion to the Holy Spirit) is a dragon and your feet are on fire' felt like my running. I am aware that this lyric could be interpreted to pretend the Holy Spirit is like the evil dragon of Revelation, the serpent or monster against God. Or just a frightening monster that chases us. Based on a heart to heart this week, when she said dreads church, I think my daughter feels this interpretation.

I feel the need to run run run through these days. I don't know what I'm running from, except to give her and my kids some space and quiet. It's important to avoid being overbearing. I cannot over-parent right now and that is a scary tension. I have needed to lose a few runs due to lost sleep parenting at all hours when she did need me. This was one of those weeks. I think the Spirit woke me at one am so I find out that my daughter, who thought she didn't need a parent, would discover she did. Nothing like being nearly locked out of the house in the middle of the night to create that panic in child.

Both of us need music. It's okay to tune out to it sometimes. I read recently to avoid demanding too much of your teen. Give them down time. For an introvert like her and one like me, turning up music and getting away is good, as long as it's in limited doses

But I do feel "the keys to Kingdom got locked inside the Kingdom." That's how this battle feels. I feel like I'm yelling prayers up at our Savior and to his mother: "Please God, don't let her fall off this precipice. Don't let me be the one who shoves or bumps her off. Dear Theotokos, I suck as a mom; will you please take over?"

My father confessor says it's good to ask Our Lord's mom to remind me how to parent, to pray for her, and to look to the Theotokos as an example of mothering, instead of trying to go it alone.

One of the refrain lines is "I got a girl in the war and her eyes are like champagne/ the sparkle bubble over in the morning all you got is a rain." The hard part here is to realize in the morning she'll have a reservoir of mourning. We'll pick up and carry on, but what life or damage will that storm leave? Teaching her that storms leave a bit of bad and good is the hard part.