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Archive for May, 2012

The Liturgy Train

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Most of the time, I can tell you why I do what I do.  I’m self-aware like that.

I floss my teeth because I was once read the riot act by my dental hygienist and decided that daily flossing was easier to face than her wrath.  (Also, I’d like to avoid gingivitis.)  I drink Coke (not milk) with chocolate chip cookies because I enjoy the acidic zing of a soda against the buttery richness of the cookie.  I drive in the passing lane most of the way to work because I eventually exit on the left.  I don’t wear big earrings because I don’t want to have saggy earlobes when I’m old.   See?

But prior to last weekend I wonder why I would have said that I go to church.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’d have had a reason.  It would have been rambling and circuitous.  It would have included mentions of my faith, the benefits of the church community, and habits established during childhood.  And, if I’m being completely frank, it probably would have been largely uncompelling.  It’s a little embarrassing to think about, actually.  I’ve been going to church more or less weekly for 34 years and didn’t know why?  How is that possible?  For a smart and thoughtful person (if I do say so myself!) that really shouldn’t be the case.

It’s not that my rambling and circuitous answer would have been false.  I do try to keep a strong faith.  I do believe that for me (and probably for most people) faith experienced via community is stronger than faith experienced alone.  And we did go to church weekly when I was a kid and that ritual is a big part of my life.  But those reasons pale in comparison to the big one.  And I didn’t entirely understand the big one until this past weekend.

I’m actually surprised I absorbed it.  We were running late (normal), and I’d rushed to drop SSP off in the nursery while GAP dropped IEP off at Sunday School.  I’d missed the processional hymn, the acclamation, the opening collect, the Gloria in excelsis, the first scripture lesson, and half of the psalter reading.*  (Okay, we’re not usually that late).  So I wasn’t exactly in a peaceful and contemplative state when the sermon started.  But somehow the priest’s words managed to cut through the din of my busy mind.

He talked about the Holy Spirit (a slippery subject even for the most confident of Christians).  The Holy Spirit helps us talk to God, he said.  And the Holy Spirit is present in the liturgy and the liturgy is our path.  The liturgy is the set of footprints that shows us where Christians have been before.  It tells us where to go and what to do.  Get on the train of the liturgy, he said, and it will carry you.

And all of a sudden, sitting in the sanctuary, I got it:  This is why I come to church.  Sometimes I can’t get to God on my own.  I need the liturgy to carry me.

Many of us can’t always get there on our own.  We need the church, the service, and the liturgy to show us the path and usher us down it.  I need the structure, the guideposts, the emergency footpath lighting that shows me where to go if the power of my faith fails.  Is it a crutch?  Maybe.  Probably.  But does that matter?  I don’t think so.  I want very much to feed my faith and make it strong.  I fear, much of the time, that I don’t.  I worry that my doubts about large swaths of Christian doctrine make me a wobbly Christian.  Or, perhaps more frighteningly, a really good person who isn’t a Christian at all.

And I think this is why I go to church.  It is why I don’t like skipping church two weeks in a row and get antsy if I haven’t been in a while.  It’s why even through college and those tenuous early adulthood years I’ve always gone to church.  I don’t want to be far from God, but without the liturgy that’s where I seem to end up.

Our priest told  a story of someone in government (I don’t recall whom) who had prior involvement in diplomatic negotiations of some sort.  She said that 90% of the work is getting both sides to the table to talk.  That is the hard part.  Once you get everyone to the table, the rest of it is relatively straightforward.  And while I think that his analogy oversimplifies matters quite a bit, I get his point.

When I show up to church I’m there for a conversation with God.  I’ve carved out time and mental space to make my faith a part of my life.  Once I’m there, I have only to climb aboard the liturgy train and let it carry me the rest of the way.

*Granddaddy, please don’t judge me!

Five Dollar Post: Components of a Holiday Weekend

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

For many people a three-day weekend is a perfect opportunity to skip town and do something exciting or relaxing for a few days.  We frequently take long weekends to visit family or friends.  But this year we spent Memorial Day weekend at home, and it was one of our best.  What made it so great?  I’ll tell you:

  • Two meals cooked outside
  • One trip to the farmer’s market yielding cherries, watermelon, tomatoes, asparagus, and a couple of early peaches
  • Multiple loads of laundry done
  • A craft started and finished (yes, I did a craft!!!)
  • A lunch at an old-timey soda fountain complete with ice cream sundaes for all of us (That tiny one on the left was “The World’s Smallest Hot Fudge Sundae” for IEP)
  • The gas grill all cleaned up and ready to go for the summer season
  • Two flower beds planted
  • Two mornings of sleeping in until 7:30 or 8:00 because GAP is such a rock star and got up with the boys
  • One very early but sweet morning with my boys while GAP slept in
  • A sermon filled with blog fodder (stay tuned for Thursday’s post)
  • A church picnic following the service, complete with farm animals to pet and a bouncy castle to jump in
  • A new window box of herbs purchased, hung, planted, and ready to keep me in caprese salad and orange mint drink all summer long
  • Two dogs bathed
  • Many laughs shared with my husband and my boys

It was one of the most productive, satisfying, and enjoyable weekends I’ve had in a long time.  It left me very little time for blog writing, so I’m afraid this is all I have to offer you today.  I hope that you also had a wonderful holiday weekend.

The Olden Days

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

“Please tell me about I am a little baby.”

Translation, “Please can we talk about when I was a baby.”

It’s one of IEP’s favorite requests these days.  Now that he has a baby brother and a sense of how different babies are from kids, he finds it really interesting to hear about all the things he did when he was a baby.  Partly because I enjoy the trip down memory lane, and partly because I think it’s good for his library of memories, I indulge him.  Also, I was the same way as a kid.  I loved hearing about myself as a tiny tot.

The other thing I loved being told about?  The olden days.  ”Mom, tell us about the olden days!” my sister and I would plead.  This meant, essentially, “Tell us about growing up in a small town in the 1950s so that we can marvel at how arcane life was back then.”  And, probably for the same reasons, she also indulged us.

She told us how her family’s home phone number was only four digits long, and her grandmother’s was only two digits.  She told us that when her mother was pregnant with her and ready to deliver she just got up and walked across the street to the hospital.  She told us about writing counter checks at the Tastee Freeze after school and dragging Main Street on weekend nights in high school.  And she told us about when she worked as a teller at the family’s bank one summer in college a bird got into the building and she was the only one able to shoot it down. …  No answering machines.  No microwaves.  No VCRs.  No cassettes or CDs.  No car phones.

I remember thinking, “Whew.  I’m glad that I’m growing up in the 80s when things are so advanced.  This way my kids won’t think I grew up in the dark ages.”  Clearly 13-year-old Gale had no idea what was coming.

It amazes me to think about this sometimes – how vastly different life is today with the technological advances of the past 20 years.  My children will never know life without cell phones.  Further, they will never no life without iPhones.  They will never know life without the internet and all that entails – e-mail, social networking, instant answers to random questions, etc.  They will never replace a scratched CD.  They will never go to Blockbuster to rent a movie.  They will never know what it is to rewind a tape.

One of these days my kids will be old enough to realize that things were not like this when I was a kid.  They’re going to ask me to tell them about the olden days.  They may not call it that, but that’s what they will mean.  I imagine that probably within the next five years, and certainly within the next 10, I will have to answer some collection of the following questions.

  1. How did you look up movie times? (In the newspaper.  You only threw them out once a week.)
  2. How did you record a show?  (You scrambled to find a blank VHS tape, or something you didn’t care about taping over.)
  3. You didn’t have Tivo?  (No.)
  4. What did you do if you missed something on TV?  (You just missed it.)
  5. What did you do during commercials?  (We watched them.)
  6. How did you make plans with your friends?  (You called their house.)
  7. What did you do if they weren’t home?  (You left a message with someone else at the house.)
  8. How did you do research for school papers?  (Went to the library or used an encyclopedia.)
  9. What’s an encyclopedia?  (It’s what Wikipedia would be if it were printed out into about 30 books.)
  10. How did you listen to music?  (We made mix tapes.)
  11. How did you order things?  (You called a catalog.)

It’s amusing to think about, but I also puzzle over the significance of my life having bridged the gap between the pre- and post-internet worlds.  I think it must be akin to being born in 1890 and Ford Motor Company launching the Model T when you were 18 years old.  I think the change is that seismic.

My kids are absolutely going to think I grew up in the dark ages.  And by today’s standards, they will be right.  But in some ways, I look  forward to their jaws dropping when I tell them that you used to have to look up directions before you left the house, and car phones were mounted to your dashboard.  I think it will be good for them to understand a different way of life, if only academically.

But also, I think I will enjoy the trip down memory lane.  It’s not that I think the older ways were better.  (Life with the internet is far superior to life without it in many ways.)  But I like thinking back on the simplicity of childhood.  Yes, the simplicity of childhood is amplified by the simplicity of less technology.  But life for a child is usually simpler than life for an adult in any era.  As adults we tend to complicate things unnecessarily.  Stopping to remember that things can almost always be simpler is a good exercise for all of us.

Out of My Hands

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I apologize for my spotty presence in this space over the past couple of weeks.  Two weeks ago we were on vacation and last week just sort of slipped away from me.  I’ve missed my regular writing and am happy to be back.

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An open letter to the mother of my unborn third child.

Dear You,

I don’t know you.  Chances are I never will.  But there is no one on this earth right now whose acquaintance I would rather make.    You see, you and I are already inextricably linked forever.  Our lives will soon cross at perhaps the most sacred of intersections: motherhood.

Today you are pregnant with your child.  But you are also pregnant with my child.  Per the adoption math you are roughly seven months along.  You feel your baby kick you every day.  Perhaps he’s pushing up under your ribs, as IEP did to me at that stage.  Or perhaps he’s kicking straight out against the wall of your belly, as SSP did.  Or perhaps he’s doing some dance entirely his own.  Whatever it is, you are the only one who knows it.  I cannot feel his kicks or hiccups.  I cannot watch my weight gain and have my belly measured.  I cannot see him on an ultrasound or listen to his heart beat on the doppler machine.  Those experiences are yours alone.  …  And I’m so jealous and so nervous.

You realize it, don’t you, that you’re carrying my baby?  You’re carrying the little boy whose knees I will bandage and whose cries I will calm.  You’re carrying the boy who will pile in bed with GAP and IEP and SSP to read “The Lorax” for the umpty-thousandth time.  You’re carrying the little boy whose photo I will take on the front porch on his first day of school.  You’re carrying the little boy whose Christmas presents I will wrap and whose ball games I will watch.  You’re carrying the little boy whom we will shepherd through adolescence and into adulthood.  You are carrying the boy whom we will send to college and maybe watch get married.  He is your baby.  But he is our baby.

It’s hard for me, you know, to have no control over my baby’s health during his gestation.  With my older boys I went to great lengths to be assured of their health.  But I can’t do that this time.  My hands are tied.  You are half a world away and completely unknown to me.  I want so much to make sure that he’s in good hands with you, but I can’t.  There’s nothing I can do but hope and pray.

Are you taking good care of him?  Are you getting enough sleep, and exercise and staying hydrated?  Are you taking your prenatal vitamins and attending your prenatal doctor appointments?  Are you making good decisions?  When you want that next cigarette do you find something else to do instead?  When you want a drink of soju do you think about our little boy and pour a glass of water?  Are you being strong so that our baby will be strong?

I know it must be hard.  I can’t imagine what it would take to carry a baby for nine months knowing (or perhaps not knowing – for I have no idea how you will come to this decision) that you will not keep him.  I can’t imagine turning him over to someone else, to be bounced around the adoption system for many months, with little knowledge of where he will land.  But I commend you for it.  For not terminating your pregnancy.  For understanding that for whatever reason his best chance at a good life lies with someone else.  For being willing to let him go.

I promise that we will take good care of him for the rest of his life.  Can you promise me that you’ll take good care of him for the rest of your pregnancy?  Please?  I’ll do everything I can for him as soon as he is ours.  But for the moment he is still yours.  For the moment he is out of my hands.  For the moment I have to trust in you.  We’re counting on you. 

Please don’t let us down. 

Please don’t let him down.

Very sincerely,

Gale

Mental Muscle

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

It’s demoralizing, really, the way that I try and try and still fail and fail.  Anyone with even a smidgen of pride would walk away, but not me.  I keep going back for more, no matter how embarrassed I may be, always with the hope that I will improve.  Nevertheless, the fact remains… I am incredibly bad at Scrabble.

Actually, that’s only mostly true.  What I’m really bad at is Words with Friends, the mobile phone app version of Scrabble that I’ve started playing.  (Sidebar: I finally ditched the BlackBerry and got and iPhone!!)  I had such high hopes.  I have a great vocabulary and I really thought I would be good at this silly game.  Alas, I am not.  Nor am I any good at Scramble, another game that is basically a digital word find puzzle.  I’ve been playing Words with Friends for about three weeks and Scramble for about one.  I haven’t yet won a single game against anyone.  It pains me to say it but it’s true.  But perhaps you can understand why I keep going back for more.

You’ve probably read the studies.  They are mentioned more and more lately, especially as the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other forms for dementia are on the rise as the baby boomer generation nears retirement. They discuss how the brain is a muscle that atrophies without use.  It must be exercised.  It must be challenged and stretched.

I try to challenge and stretch my mind as often as possible.  Frankly, that desire was the genesis of this blog.  I usually use reading as my primary means of mental calisthenics.  But lately my usual zeal for reading has taken a hit.  And while I hope that I’m close to seeing the light at the end of the sleep-deprived tunnel I’ve been in for the past year, for the moment curling up with a book is still an express train to sleepy town for me.  So I was happy to find little nugget-sized opportunities to challenge myself via these interactive online word games.  Little did I know they’d have me hanging my head in shame.

And that is exactly why I’ve decided that I must keep playing.

I’ve decided that if I’m so woefully bad at these word games* then they must be calling upon a part of my brain that is weaker than the rest.  They must be forcing me to flex my mental muscle in ways that it isn’t used to – like kickboxing for the mind.  If I am this bad at them, then I must really need them.

I work hard to make sure that my body will go the distance.  But I want to make sure that my mind can keep up too.  So as I run, lift weights, and eat my whole grains, lean protein, and veggies, so will I continue to humiliate myself in word game match-ups against friends and family.  I will keep playing until I start winning.  Because my brain clearly needs the workout.

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*My only solace in this whole deal is that I recognize that these games are about visualization as much as they are about vocabulary.  Yes, you have to know the words, but you also have to see them in a jumble of letters and without any context.

My Unsolicited Medical Advice

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

I suppose I have an unusually large portion of my identity staked in being healthy.  I sort of pride myself on it – on not missing checkups, never having had a cavity, exercising regularly, having a cholesterol ratio of 2:1, eating lots of broccoli, and drinking lots of water.  I’m in this thing for the long haul and I want my body to go the distance.  When it comes to being healthy, I think I’m reasonably good at it.

In addition to my healthy lifestyle obsession I have a bit of knowledge about the healthcare industry.  I used to work for a healthcare company, and still have many friends and former colleagues in that industry.  I am also fascinated by the writings of people like Atul Gawande and their insights into how we practice and consume medical care in this country.

Given these two little truths about me, I was particularly struck by an article I read in a magazine at the gym last weekend.  It was Glamour, or Elle, or something along those lines – something decidedly non-medical.  (It was whichever rag had Rachel McAdams on the cover of its February issue…)  At any rate, the article contained letters from doctors.  The letters were to anonymous patients and said what these doctors “really wanted to say” to their patients.  Apparently – and I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me although I wish it did – many doctors withhold the full scope of their concerns about the health ramifications of patients’ lifestyle choices for fear of appearing judgmental.  So in these letters they let it all spill forth.  And it was heartbreaking.

Why don’t doctors tell us the truth?  For those of us in good health, we are lucky that there aren’t many painful truths to be told.  But for people who need to be confronted, are doctors not holding up their end of the bargain when they soft-pedal their concerns?  I’m all for physician diplomacy and happy patient relationships.  But I’m also fairly sure that there’s some interpretation of the Hippocratic oath that is violated when our doctors are legitimately worried about us and keep it to themselves.

With that – and my moderate knowledge of the healthcare industry – in mind, I thought I might offer my own perspective on what I look for in a doctor.

Asking Questions

Does your doctor ask you questions about how you maintain your health?  Are they open-ended?  Does she ask, “Do you exercise regularly?”  Or does she ask, “What is your current exercise routine?”  For starters, the Yes/No version makes it a lot easier to lie.  Secondly, the open-ended version starts a dialog.  This is true of discussions of diet and exercise, but also medications, pain points, stress levels, and myriad other concerns.  Doctors who hear you out will be operating from a place of much more complete information, and their advice and guidance will likely in turn be much more complete.

Basic History

What does your doctor know about you?  Does he know more than what you entered on the health history checklist at your first appointment?  If you have switched doctors get your records released from your old doctor and have them sent to your new one in advance of your first visit.  When you go to your first appointment ask your doctor if he’s read the records you sent over.  If not, find out why and determine if you’re in the right person’s care.

Touching

Does your doctor touch you when you go in for a checkup?  Or is he just looking at lab results and other statistics on paper.  Does he feel your lymph nodes and listen to your heart?  Does he ask questions when he checks you?  Is he paying close attention to his exam or is he just going through the motions?

Incentives

This is a big one.  And, honestly, it’s not one that you have much control over.  Nevertheless, it’s good to be aware of your physician’s incentives.  Most doctors are still paid by hospitals and insurance companies on a fee-for-service basis.  This means that they are paid a fixed amount for each exam/procedure that they perform.  In short, it’s volume-based and more patients seen means more money earned.  Internists are paid the same amount of money for a thorough checkup as a slapdash one.  Surgeons are paid the same amount for a smooth and precise surgery as one riddled with complications and errors.  I’m sure you can imagine (or have likely experienced for yourself) what this looks like in practice.  The good news is that there is a slowly-emerging trend in healthcare toward “accountable care.”  This means that physicians are in some way held accountable for their performance, whether via taking on financial risk for the health of their patients, or via bonus payments for providing high quality care.  My advice on this one?  Ask your doctor how she gets paid. Even if she’s still on a fee-for-service model merely asking the question will alert her to the fact that you are an informed patient and will be paying attention to the attention she pays to you.

So there you have it.  Gale’s guide to health and wellness.  I have no idea what any actual medical professional would think about it, but it works for me.  And maybe it will work for you.

Theirs to Lose

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

So far I’d say most of our parenting strategies have developed organically.  We didn’t make conscious decisions ahead of time about many aspects of our parenting.  Rather, we dealt with situations as they arose and a methodology of sorts naturally emerged.  By and large, I think this approach has served us well.  It’s interesting, though, because only in retrospect could I really tell you what our parenting philosophy has been at any step of the way.

Given that, I always find it interesting to hear older parents – people who’ve traveled more of this road than I have – talk about their perspective on parenting.  Last week I was sitting in a  conference room waiting for a meeting to start.  I got to chatting with a colleague and she offered some commentary on one of her parenting philosophies regarding her now-college-aged kids and it struck me as interesting.

She said, “We assumed the privileges were a given.  We didn’t make the kids earn them.  They were going to get video games, cars, clothes, and so on.  But all of those privileges were theirs to lose.  We made it clear to them that their number one job was to get good grades and be good citizens at school.  And the moment those things (and others) started to suffer the privileges would be revoked until they were earned back.”

I hadn’t really thought about the chicken and egg nature of parenting before, but in this arena I think I like her tack.  I like the idea of telling a kid that the basic assumption is that his behavior will be good; that he uses good judgment and makes good decisions; that his default setting is one that entitles him to certain privileges.  I think it sends a good message.  By comparison the alternative seems to me a bit harsh.  That is, “You have to earn your privileges because it is our assumption that you might not do so.  And until you prove us wrong you have to do without.”  In the world of self-fulfilling prophecies I’d much prefer to set the former into motion than the latter.

I’m sure my parents made plenty of mistakes in their parenting, just like anyone else.  But one thing I think they did right was to impress upon me that they trusted me.  If they told me once they told me 800,000 times that I had good judgment.  I suspect that they hoped that if and when I ever found myself in a situation where I had to choose between a smart and a stupid decision that I would think to myself at some unconscious level, “I am a person with good judgment, so I will not make the stupid decision.”  I can’t say for sure if it worked, but I can say for sure that I was one of the least rebellious kids I’ve ever met.

I have wonderful kids.  That’s easy to say at this point because they’ve had very few opportunities to let me down.  And while I’m quite sure that at some point down the road they will do just that, I like the idea of parenting from a position of faith in my kids.  I like the idea that they would know that, unless they give me a reason to think otherwise, I will believe in their goodness, patience, tolerance, kindness, intelligence, work ethic, and sound judgment.  Because to whatever extent I have the ability to shape their perception of themselves, that is the perception I want to create.

Worth Fighting For

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I haven’t had a fight with a friend in years.  Marital butting of heads?  Yes, periodically.  A silly, momentary, sisterly spat amidst holiday stresses?  Once or twice.  But a fight with a girlfriend?  I can’t begin to remember the last one I had.  Probably a roommate disagreement at some point in college, but I can’t recall what it might have been.  I haven’t had a fight with a girlfriend in my entire adult life.  And I wonder what that says about me.

This topic of fighting has been on my mind lately because someone I know recently had a major fight with a friend.  The details aren’t relevant but the gist of it is that one of them did something inconsiderate, the other one tried to glide past it while at the same time gently standing up for herself, and the first one picked the scab until the friendship bled out.  And the whole thing made me curious about the nature of adult friendships.

I guess the crux of my puzzling is whether or not there is an age at which we outgrow fighting with friends.  Is there an age after which  offenses that would have caused a playground or dormitory explosion are henceforth always dealt with via some more civilized means?  For example, today if a friend of mine did something really hurtful to me, I’m not sure I would ever confront her about it.  Provided the wound wasn’t inadvertent, I would likely just get through the moment with as much composure as possible, and then let the friendship wither away.  And I don’t know if this is indicative of the limited bandwidth of a working mother, or just the facts of adulthood, or some sad commentary about the quality of my friendships.

Consider Option #1.  I have a very limited number of hours to commit to friendships.  I work full time.  I have two young sons who want and need a great deal of my time and energy.  I have a husband I love and a marriage I want to take care of.  Girlfriends get precious little of my time.  This means that the time I do have to spend with/on friendships is time that I want to be fun and satisfying.  If someone isn’t going to be a good friend to me I don’t really have the time or inclination to dig into that kind of drama.  I’ll likely choose to move on.  Pragmatic or cold-hearted?  I say the former, but perhaps you have a different view.

Consider Option #2.  We are all adults now.  We have skills of diplomacy and self-restraint.  We understand that the fights that make for sensational reality television aren’t actually how we want our own lives to look.  If we confront a problem in a friendship shouldn’t it be in a metered, measured conversation?  If there is a disagreement shouldn’t it be addressed in civil tones over coffee?  Simply put, is there a point at which we’re just too old for fights?

Consider Option #3.  Is none of my friendships worth a fight?  If I’m willing to walk away from a friendship rather than get to the root of the problem does that mean that my female friendships are lacking in substance?  If I would sooner complain to my husband about any platonic transgression and then watch it atrophy than face the thing head on perhaps I should take that as an indication that the friendship wasn’t much to begin with.  Or perhaps Option #1 supersedes all the others.

Truth be told, female friendships are something I’ve long struggled with.  While I’ve had many friendships that I would describe as happy and enjoyable and satisfying, that deep, intimate, BFF-style bond is something that’s never come easily to me – though not for lack of desire.  As an adult with a happy family life I feel less existentially hinged on my friendships as I have so much richness in my life from other relationships.  Nevertheless, I still wish for an adult BFF.  I wish for a friendship that’s worth fighting for.  But how will I know if I’ve found one if the circumstances of adulthood are such that I never actually would?