OMG, I Have a Daughter Now

jamie:

In honor of Rachel’s 5th birthday, a reblog….

Originally posted on jamie calloway-hanauer:

Warning: the following contains many gender stereotypes that, in the case of my kids, happen to be true.

I never thought I wanted to have a girl.

When I thought about having more kids, I automatically thought “boy.” I knew what that was like: fun, energetic, lots of baseball and nerdy young adult fantasy novels with dragons and magic… what more could I want?

When the thought of having a girl entered my mind, I didn’t think those things wouldn’t exist in our relationship, it’s just that the good things were clouded by the “bad” things: hormones, dating, mother/daughter relationships and the accompanying therapy bills, and, perhaps the worse: JUNIOR HIGH.

I still have those fears for and about my daughter, Rachel. But the fact that she is the loveliest, toughest, most spectacular, Unicorn-loving, princess-dress-wearing, tool-box-toting little girl I have ever known manages to push those thoughts all the way…

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Why the Lutherans Won’t Have Us

“There is no way to capture the hilarity of what happened,” Andy said. “It simply isn’t possible.”

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Yesterday we attended a Lutheran church near our home. We aren’t Lutheran, but the church is close and it has the only service that will fit with Aaron’s nap schedule. Besides, having never been to a Lutheran church and being very much a fan of the ELCA, Andy has always wondered if perhaps there isn’t a raging Lutheran inside of him. I’ve tried to explain that there isn’t a raging Lutheran anywhere, let alone in him, but he won’t listen.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by warm air, the smell of chili, and Usher Darrel.

“Is there childcare?”

“Childcare? Um, let me check.”

When an elderly usher who has likely attended the same church since the 1950s doesn’t know if the church has childcare or not, it’s a sure sign it doesn’t.

“Should we just leave?”

“No, I’ll walk around with him.”

So there we were, one child happy to sit at the coloring table in the back of the (very staid) sanctuary, the other child happy to terrorize all present in the narthex.

Rachel and I sat side by side, neither of us listening but each happy in our own way: Rachel because she loves to color, and me because anything is better than sitting at home all day being terrorized into playing trains. I flipped through the bulletin and saw that there was indeed a Kids Time that the bigger children are escorted to right before the sermon starts. Score!

When the time came, I walked out with Rachel to introduce myself to the teacher. As I started to head back to the sanctuary, Rachel begged:

“Stay with me, Mama! Stay with me!”

Sure, why not? Like I said, anything beats all-day train attacks.

Even though Aaron is too young for Kid Time, he and Andy followed us down the hall. And what did we find? That the kids were going to watch VeggieTales! Merry Larry to be exact, and boy were they excited.

But no one was excited as Aaron. Aaron’s current obsession is trains, but it’s followed closely by his love of “BobMato.” Aaron’s eyes grew large when he saw what was on the screen and he struggled to get out of Andy’s arms. Andy let him. After all, surely Aaron would just sit and watch the movie. You know…. Like the 15 other kids there.

Uh, no.

Aaron went right to the TV and stood directly in front of it.

“Hey, I can’t see!” A chorus of protests rang out and the teacher kindly moved Aaron to the side. Andy ran to the teacher, arms waving frantically.

“He’s going to turn it off. He’s going to turn it off!”

“Oh, he likes buttons does he? Don’t worry. It’s fine.”

And it was.

For about 30 seconds.

The theme song kicked on and Andy and I exchanged looks. We knew what was coming.

Still at the front of the room, only slightly not in front of the TV, Aaron began to dance. And I don’t just mean dance. I mean dance. Like American Bandstand, Soul-Train-on-steroids dance. The kids snickered, but not meanly, and Rachel, poor sweet Rachel, didn’t even think to be embarrassed. This was, simply, Aaron.

For those who are unfamiliar with the VeggieTales theme song, it has a couple of drawn out notes that the fruits and vegetables are especially enthusiastic about singing. Aaron likes those parts the best. The first long note came…. “If you like to waltz with potatoes, up and down the produce AISLLLLEEEE…” Aaron howled. And danced. And howled some more. I smacked my forehead and turned around to avoid the teacher’s eyes. At this point the kids were way more into watching Aaron than the show.

The second long note came: “…It’s time for VeggieTales,UHALES,UHALES, UHALES,UHALES!” Aaron howled again. The cucumber fell, the tuba bleated, and the song ended. “Yayayayayayay,” Aaron clapped and shouted his thrilled endorsement.

Then turned off the DVD player.

I walked away.

Thankfully, the movie started right back up. Andy and I grabbed Aaron and for the next 30 minutes chased him up and down the hall. At one point, Aaron began climbing the steps to the chancel. Right before Aaron entered the spotlight, Andy realized what was going on and snatched him away. Oh. Dear. God.

The teacher approached me and I felt I had to explain.

“He’s really a good kid. He’s just… energetic.”

“It’s fine,” she said. “At least he’s joyful.” Yes! That’s it! We are successful parents because when all signs say otherwise, our kids are joyful. The thought buoyed me for at least five minutes.

Eventually we had to head back to grownup church and I begged Rachel to leave now. To get while the getting was good.

“No! I want to go to church!”

Well, crap. I couldn’t very well say no to that.

Darrel, oh-so-helpful-and-kindly Darrel, explained we hadn’t yet missed communion. “Take the kids up front! They’ll pat their heads and give them a blessing.”

Our youngest walks straight into koi ponds, ladies’ restrooms, and traffic. Only my good manners kept me from laughing.

“Now, Rachel. NOW,” I hissed once we were out of Darrel’s hearing range (which, frankly, wasn’t very far.)

We headed back out into the cold and found Andy and Aaron already in the van, Aaron in the driver’s seat, Andy sitting balanced on the edge of Aaron’s car seat. An apt scene, I thought.

Driving home we discussed what had happened.

“It’s close to home, but there’s no childcare.”

“That’s okay. Maybe I’m not a Lutheran after all.”

Sigh.

“So can we go to a Presbyterian church for service and the Lutheran church for the chili?”

Sure, why not. They already think we’re pretty terrible anyway.

(Seriously, this doesn’t even begin to capture what happened yesterday. He’s being, like, a gazillion times calmer. But do watch to the end; it’s pretty darn cute.)

(PS – if you know of any parents who have a similarly “joyful” child, please share this with them. I’d love to provide them with the virtual support of knowing they aren’t alone!)

(featured image courtesy of bible.ca)

A Dish Best Served

A couple of years before my oldest was set to graduate from high school and set off for college, I began putting kitchen and household items away for his future use. Little did I know that he would attend school 3000 miles away from home and would get there by plane. It’s a bit difficult to ship (or travel with) old plates, mismatched saucers, and the chipped Christmas mug from which I envisioned him sipping cocoa, head bent over widespread textbooks, hair shining under a hot-burning lamp.

This box of would-be hand-me-downs made it’s way to Maryland with us when we moved. In the flurry of moving day, boxes presented to me every few minutes for appointment to their proper home, I glanced and saw my son’s name on brown masking tape: the downstairs bedroom, I said, already turning my attention to the next box. And so there it sat, placed by movers, unremarkable, unassuming, among all the other boxes.

So I was surprised when in the midst of unpacking concert flyers, baseball paraphernalia, and things indicative of college-shenanigans, I found a box of my old dishes, languishing unused in already-yellowed newspaper.

Deciding that they would not get the collegiate use I had hoped for, I moved them to our basement kitchenette for easy snacking during family movie night, pool hustling the neighbors, and playing seemingly endless games of Chutes and Ladders.

As I unwrapped each dish one-by-one, I was struck by nostalgia. By the memories of friends gathered around my table, eating off plates collected from a variety of sources: Factory 2 U, a storage shed my restaurant-owner landlord forgot about, Goodwill, family hand-me-downs.

My collection of plates used to stack so high that my mother, at every visit, would ask why I didn’t pare it down. “It’s just you and Collin,” she’d say. “Why do you need so many plates?”

And I kept telling her: because you never know.

You never know when you will decide to host, for years on end, college (and later law school) classmates who can’t make it home for their too-short Thanksgiving break. Or when Easter will call for gathering friends, atheists and Christians alike, to stuff plastic eggs with coins for a little boy in a cowboy hat to hunt for among the devil-heads in your West Texas yard.

You never know when someone will knock on your door, and the smell of fried chicken and scalloped potatoes will convince them to stay.

My dishes now are from a wedding registry years’ past. I still have a towering stack of them—I’m too used to hosting not to—but I find these days that half the stack sits sad and surly, and the ten chairs around my dining table (and the eight in my kitchen) get a little too dusty between use.

Back in the day I used to fuss: I’d clean, scrub, tidy. Beg Collin to do the same. That’s not different today, yet my fussing goes unnoticed and my plates remain a tower.

The other day some men were working in my back yard. It was cold: in the 20s, and with the wind, the mid-teens.

“Do you want coffee?” I asked.

Oh yes, yes, yes. All three of them would love a cup.

Inside my warm house, I brewed a pot. Set mugs on a serving tray along with scalloped spoons, lidded sugar bowl, and a tiny pitcher of milk. I carried the tray to the back and set it on the patio table. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, I couldn’t help but see these men through my kitchen window, just moments before working in freezing weather, now leaning against the deck rail enjoying the warmth of ceramic against their hands. One or two of them removed their gloves and picked up the dainty spoons to stir in a bit of sugar, a little milk. They laughed and talked and I rejoiced in their comfort.

All that day I wondered: why don’t I serve more? I finally got nice plates to serve from, forks and knives for any number of guests. And yet… more guests arrived when my towering plates were a rainbow of colors, my stemware non-existent, my “good” spoons so weak one once bent in half over a half-gallon of ice cream.

More kids, more dogs, more obligations. I’m not busier these days, but the type of “busy” is different. The torture of nap- and bedtime loom large, and most of my work must be done in the wee hours of the morning and the witching hours of night.

Things change, time passes, and this week I will host only family. Husband, kids, and Mom, we will enjoy our time together, and I will stress less without the pressure of “guests.” I will also miss those guests, both of recent years and of years past. I will think often of the discard dishes now housed downstairs, waiting patiently for popcorn and potato chips, and wonder if perhaps I should run down when no one is looking and say a quick hello to the memories of having time to spare and friends to spend it with.

This week when we share with one another over Thanksgiving dinner what we are thankful for, I will say that I am thankful for our new home, this new place, the looking-forward opportunity to turn towering plates to rubble, to run out of saucers and cups and have to ask someone else to watch the baby while I go fast to the basement to grab a handful of Factory 2 U and landlord-discarded dinnerware. I will be thankful for finding forgotten dishes among a heap of mess and for remembering that hospitality is a dish best served. Hot or cold, messy or pristine, mismatched or Martha Stewart, it simply must be served.

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Why Send a Christmas Letter When You Can Write a Blog Post Instead?

Back in August I wrote that we had finally arrived on the East Coast and had a list of priorities for settling in:

Finding a church
Finding childcare
Finding a Trader Joe’s
Finding an NPR station
Finding a salon
Finding a gym

So now, three months later, I would say we’ve gotten a solid C- on our “get ‘er done” list.

Finding a Church

Maybe. Maybe not.

We’ve been to a few, and only one resonated with all of us. Of course, Tony Campolo was preaching the only Sunday we were able to make it, so that kind of skews the data. But in its favor, the youth pastor and his wife immediately invited us over for dinner (we still haven’t made it over, but not for lack of trying), we were encouraged to participate in the youth events, and Rachel may end up in the pre-K affiliated with the church (more on that later). So why don’t we just call it home? Mostly because there are one or two other churches we’d like to try out before making a selection. My gut tells me, though, that time won’t allow for that and, more importantly, that Rachel will become attached to her classmates whose parents would be our fellow congregants.

Finding Childcare

This has been perhaps our (my) greatest failure.

I began researching preschools well before we moved. At night, once we entered victory lap time, I would peruse Zillow, church websites, and local schools until my eyes bled. There were almost no options for Aaron, so the focus was really Rachel. I narrowed it down to two that we all agreed would be perfect for her. The lead contender (which is where she is now) has chickens. Chickens! And the kids sew, roam seven acres of private land, and cook meals for the teachers that the teachers actually eat. Everything is kid-sized, and every activity is kid-driven at the individual child’s own pace. I mean seriously, what could be better for our romantically-inclined and imaginative four-year-old? The cost was reasonable, the environment beautiful, and the stated goals, mission, and pedagogy closely resembled what we (try to) put into place at home (you know, when we aren’t getting Chick-Fil-a or shouting “noooooo!!!!” at Aaron, or pleading with the kids to “put the books away and just watch TV, darn it.”)

I emailed the admissions director daily. I called often. I begged, I pleaded, I prayed. And Rachel got in.

Two months later, we are a mess. Time is short (school pick up time is near), so I won’t go into every detail. But suffice it to say, our sweet, wonderful, earnest, kind-hearted little girl turned into a potty-mouthed, hitting, screaming, terror of a child with mysterious “stomach aches” and confused pleas to “stay home, no go to school, no stay home.”

Several conferences, emails, and phone calls later, we are now getting this problem solved. We may end up paying a full year’s worth of tuition at a school with lots of chickens and no Hanauers, but parents have to do what they have to do. Our “solution” is messy: Rachel will now go to TWO schools (because it’s mid-year and all the 3-, 4-, and 5-day spots are full), and have one day home with me. Like I said, it’s a mess. But it can’t be messier than losing the sweetness of childhood in two short months. So, as of today, we go boldly into the confused world of multiple preschools.

For the record, we chose wisely for Aaron, and he is happily entertained by someone who isn’t me two days a week. Where, it just so happens, Rachel will also be two days a week beginning Dec. 1st. Just on different days….

Did I say C-minus? Perhaps I meant D+.

Finding a Trader Joe’s

Yes! Thanks be to Google.

Finding an NPR Station

Yep, a whole two of them.

Finding a Salon

Sure. Google “Aveda Annapolis” and there’s only one so there you go. The stylists are good, the aestheticians less so, but, you know, the goal was met.

Finding a Gym

Yep, I found a few. But we got really, really lucky with our house and have a spare room to use for…. What? A home gym! Now before you start thinking that sounds super fancy, I promise you it isn’t. When you add together the cost of registration fees and monthly charges of gym membership, a home gym quickly pays for itself. And in inclement weather it’ll be a lifesaver. Also, who actually makes it to the gym when small children are involved? Well, you probably do, but I don’t. Now I have no excuse.

Still need to set up the multi-exercise station and treadmill, but you get the gist.

Still need to set up the multi-exercise station and treadmill, but you get the gist.

Our House

Even Scooby likes it here.

Even Scooby likes it here.

We bought a house! As heartbroken as I was to sell our home in California, I must say I LOVE our new house. There are many things tied for first place in the “coolest feature” category, but my office is certainly worth mentioning. Let me just say that again: “my office.” Need I say more? I don’t actually, you know, use it, but I’m hoping to get there some day.

Here it is. Note the little emperor ruling the roost.

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The topic of work is a whole other blog post, but I will say that when one moves twice in two months, and one of those moves is 3000 miles, and there are two little kids to deal with, a big kid to set up in sophomore year, a needy dog, and a husband with a crazy work schedule, “work” becomes a distant second to the immediacy of… well, of everything else.

Moving on…

here’s the playroom, in which the children are supposed to be always present. But much like my office, this is an awesome but seldom used storage zone that needs to be both heated and cooled.

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Rooms actually used:

The kitchen
The laundry room
The kitchen

There are already dance grooves worn around the kitchen island and fingerprints on the margins of every counter. Who puts in black counters?? I would say someone without kids, but the prior owner had five. Don’t know what they were thinking, but maybe their kids were less grubby-handed than ours.

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Speaking of which, the kids didn’t need a single second to “adjust” or “acclimate” to this house. They took to it immediately, and even Aaron already knows every nook and cranny (especially Aaron, actually). They finally have their much-desired play structure and back yard, and maybe someday soon they’ll have their much-dreamed of snow.

Do you think it seems like a jungle to them? and (sorry about my thumb.)

Do you think it seems like a jungle to them? (sorry about my thumb.)

Next week… our first Thanksgiving here, and the month after, our first Christmas. I’m asking Santa for Rachel’s school experience to be wonderful, my office to get some serious usage, and for 4pm to be the new 6pm. But, even barring all that, I’d say we’re still doing pretty okay.

Loosing the Chains of Debt: An Interview With Geoffrey Chongo

Geoffrey Chongo is the Head of Programs at the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR), located in Lusaka, Zambia. JCTR is a church-affiliated civil society organization that conducts evidence-based advocacy on political, social, and economic issues. The JCTR works through four main programs: economic equity and development, social conditions, faith and justice, and outreach, and uses the social teachings of the Church as the basis for its advocacy. 

JCTR has written that the social teachings of the church are a rich resource for empowering people to work for social justice, yet this is often the church’s “best kept secret.” How can we, as people of the church, help expose this secret for the powerful tool that it is?

Church Social Teaching is commonly referred to as Catholic Social Teaching. It is a set of knowledge resulting from careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence. It espouses principles such as the inherent dignity of human beings. Other principles include the common good and God’s option for the poor. If these principles where honored and to become the basis of our action, both in private and public life, they could promote interest all in society.

JCTR tries to create awareness of these principles especially among people who occupy public life and whose decisions affect many people. JCTR also refers to the principles as Church Social Teachings and not Catholic Social Teachings as they apply not only to Catholics but to all churches and human beings so that all people can identify themselves with them.

Your organization has developed one of the most widely-cited statistical tools for evaluating poverty in Zambia: the basic needs basket (BNB). How does the BNB work, and how has it helped lessen the impact of poverty on the average person in Zambia?

The Urban Basic Needs Basket (BNB) is a tool that helps JCTR to monitor the cost of living in 15 selected urban towns throughout Zambia. Prices of selected essential and non-essential items that constitutes an urban BNB for an average family of five (as determined by government official census statistics) are surveyed and analyzed on a monthly basis and results used to advocate for policies that improves the living conditions of people. Stakeholders such as employers and trade unions use the urban BNB data to bargain for decent wages.

The urban BNB has had positive impacts on the lives of average individuals. Recently, Government introduced a minimum wage law for lowly paid workers such as shop workers, making reference to the JCTR Urban Basic Needs Basket. JCTR has also used the urban BNB data to push for tax measures that reduce the cost of living such as increase of tax free threshold for salaried employees and removal of VAT (Zero Rating) on selected goods on which poor people spend most of their income.

The BNB and its accompanying survey—the Satellite Homes Survey—have also given birth to wider surveys such as the Households Access to Selected Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCRs) in various towns in Zambia (2012-2014). These have resulted in building awareness in communities on ESCRs. We have seen communities such as those from Livingstone and Monze districts (in Southern Zambia) demand their rights and engage with duty bearers to receive access to water and electricity, respectively.

As regards the rural BNB, this is a tool that looks at food and nutrition security as well as access to various social services through a household and key informant questionnaire that is administered quarterly. This research has helped provide platforms for community members to engage with local/district leaders in setting the agenda for Constituency Development Funds as well as to give service providers and local leaders information on needs as presented by the community. Though development in these areas is slow, progress has been seen where toilets and boreholes have been sunk to provide better sanitation such as in Masaiti (Copperbelt province), Kazunula (Southern province) and Mambwe (Eastern province).

I know that debt relief is a topic important to you and to JCTR. How has government debt impacted the everyday life of the average person in your country, and what can be done to alleviate the negative consequences of debt?

You can find the rest of my interview with Geoffrey at Red Letter Christians.

Geoffery Chongo (JCTR)

5 Ways Churches Can Support Families Providing Foster Care

The rewards of foster parenting are many, but that doesn’t change the fact that it, like all parenting, can be difficult and emotional work.

Even those who have raised a brood of their own biological children may not be fully prepared for the circumstances of foster parenting, such as court hearings, therapy appointments, visits with the birth family, medication evaluations, individualized education plans, and the rollercoaster of emotions and deep vulnerability that comes from opening one’s heart to a hurting child.

This is why we often give foster parents pedestal status. We assume they must be more patient, more giving, more loving, and more capable than the rest of us. But the truth is, they, like the rest of us, need all the help they can get.

Churches have a unique opportunity to provide this needed support, as well as to help those considering becoming a foster parent to make an informed and prayerful decision.

1. Extend new-parent ministries to include foster parents. Many churches have a network in place to support new parents. This network should extend to foster parents, including those who are fostering an older child. While there may not be night wakings and seemingly endless 2 a.m. feedings, opening one’s home to a child comes with its own kind of fatigue.

You can read the rest of this post (and the four other ways your church can help foster families!), at The Christian Century by clicking here.

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Mental Illness, Biblical Counseling, and the Role of the Church: A Conversation with Alasdair Groves

Alasdair Groves is the Director of Counseling and a member of the faculty at Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) in New England. He has a passion to foster genuine relationships in the local church, especially through counseling and counseling training, and his hope is for a church-based movement toward providing robust, Biblical pastoral care.

Paraphrased, CCEF’s stated mission is to bring “Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Can you explain what this means and what it looks like in practice?

Good question. When we talk about bringing Christ to counseling, we mean that to counsel well is to take seriously that the Bible has the deepest, richest framework for all of life. Ultimately, whether we are dealing with schedule stresses or schizophrenia, Jesus is our only hope and the wisdom he gives must ground and direct all the help we give. This doesn’t mean that we never use Google calendars to help the disorganized or that we are against Prozac for someone who’s depressed. But it does mean we will counsel best when our goals and methods of helping people spring directly from Jesus’ goals and methods for helping people: relationship with, worship of and obedience to him.

In practice, bringing counseling to the church means equipping pastors to do rich, insightful, compassionate, and just pastoral care. It means training para-church counselors like me who work hand in hand with churches to care for congregants in the context of the community of Christ’s body rather than in an isolated corner of the congregant’s world. Finally, I think it means developing the best content we can on connecting problems in living to Christian faith. We want to influence the culture, both in the mental health world in general and in the church in particular, toward a higher view of how the Bible meets us in our times of greatest need with powerful, non-simplistic help.

With 1 in 4 Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, it only makes sense that the church would want to be on the forefront of providing mental health services to those in need. Why have so many churches been slow to provide these services, and what is CCEF doing to help those diagnosed with mental illness?

You can read the rest of the interview with Alasdair here.

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