Is Parental Discipline a Black and White Issue?

Let’s be clear from the start: this is not just about Toya Graham.

Toya Graham is the woman captured on video physically disciplining her son for throwing rocks at police officers during the Baltimore protests, hitting him several times in the face and head, forcefully removing his hoodie, and pushing him away from the crowd while swearing and yelling at him.

The clip went viral, and Graham was quickly labeled “Mother of the Year.” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts praised her actions, saying, “I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids out there tonight.” Some on my Facebook feed applauded her actions, quoting Scripture as support: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

But after the video made its rounds on social media and news sites like CBS, other opinions began to emerge. Graham was branded a child abuser and a prime example of violence begetting violence. Calls of “racist” were directed from and to both camps of opinion, rendering discipline an issue of race, class, and cultural norms.

You can read the rest of this very non-controversial article (haha) at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics
.

Advertisements

Things That Are and Could Have Been

She—my baby girl Rachel—so badly wants babies. And we tell her: go to college, get married, have babies, in that order. She’s cool with this (she’s five), but the problem is: she really doesn’t like boys. Except her big brother, and sometimes her dad, and even less often her little brother. Boys, she says, are the losing team. They stink, and have too much body hair, and if they nursed babies it would be dirt-milk. So how to achieve her goal of motherhood? This, I want to tell her, is a problem women have faced for centuries.

She informed us tonight at dinner that men aren’t necessary for the birth of babies. My husband took umbrage at this and sought my support in convincing our daughter otherwise. I cocked my eye at him and said, “That’s a fine line, dear. She’s talking about carrying the baby inside and giving birth and nursing it. Do you really want to cross that line and tell her just exactly how it is that men contribute?” That put an end to that, and our daughter remains convinced that mamas are all that are needed. A lot of mamas think this too, and it’s kind of dragging us womenfolk down, all this hard work of going at life and parenting alone.

I should know: I did the single parent thing for right at twelve years. Technically I was married for about 18 months of those 12 years, but not in such a way that anyone would’ve noticed. Overall, those single years were some of the happiest of my life. My son makes for a wonderful life companion and I am the most introverted of introverts so being alone kind of suited me. But while happy, those years were also extremely, extremely hard. Like Chris Rock says, “Sure, you can be a single mom, but should you be?” It depends, of course, so I’ll just leave that one alone. Too many caveats.

I remember this girl from law school who was pretty much the most anti-marriage woman I’d ever met outside of a punk club. “It’s the worst contract for women ever! It’s killing us and bringing us down! We’re losing our selves, our careers, our potential!” And so on and so forth. That (wonderful) woman is now happily married with two kids and often posts Pinterest-worthy photos of homemade crafts on her Facebook page. She also is now “self-employed,” which we female lawyer-types know is really shorthand for “I want more flexibility than the jerks who run law firms (and some non-profits) will let me have.”

There is also the infamous case of Gloria Steinem who said women need men like fish need a bicycle (as in, not at freakin’ all). She is now married as well. I’m not sure if she’s happy or not because I haven’t checked. But regardless.

My personal ambivalence towards marriage could be because my first marriage was such an abomination. It was full of abuse, affairs, bar fights, and lots of drugs, none of which were perpetrated, had, started, or used by me. The innocent party stands highly wronged here, and though I’ve reached a level of forgiveness, the PTSD is a little harder to shake. What did come from that first marriage are two of the most beautiful people God ever created, and lots of what some might call “wisdom,” but only because it’s stuff I learned before the age of fifty; to anyone over fifty it’s mere common knowledge.

For some Godforsaken reason I decided to get marriage at fifteen. I think being pregnant had something to do with it. My parents yelled and screamed and forbade the marriage (as they should have), but his parents were gleeful and facilitated the whole shebang. I realize now the reasons for this were many. One, they were happy that their oldest son, whom they worried about greatly, had found a gentle and God-fearing partner who could influence him for good. Two, seeing as how I was pregnant, and that they were fundamentalists Christian types in a kindly and charismatic spirit-led sort of way, they figured we better make things legal to please Jesus.

So off we went in the middle of the night in an old Mustang that ended up stranding us halfway to the airport. Me, scared, pregnant, and hungry. Him, just happy to be doing something frowned upon by the establishment.

That baby, the one making me hungry, is the one who later died at not quite one year old. But even after that the ex and I stayed together and soon had another baby. That baby is now eighteen, in college, and the love of my life. Without him—as I often say while loving and hugging him hard—I’d probably have wound up in a cardboard box somewhere, spanging and dumpster diving with a tear tattooed on my face.

But instead, I’m here.

In case I haven’t mentioned it thus far, let me now say with emphasis: things happen for a reason. So I try not to even question it, this voluptuously curvaceous life, choosing instead to marvel at the mundane, squint so as not to bat my eyes at the ironic and absurd, and keep focused on the faithful, such as finding myself squarely in these middle years, strangely, dizzily, ironically, married.

Again.

I’m Sorry–I Just Don’t Like Your Shoes (or Tupac)

When I was in my late twenties and, after a several years’ long, self-imposed dating hiatus, decided to start dating again, I created a firm set of criteria for men:

Good shoes
Good taste in music
Liberal politics
A little older than or the same age as me

There were deeper things as well, of course, such as matters of the soul, heart, brain, and spirit. But shoes, music, politics, age… those were the immediate first impression items that would make or break the possibility of a first date.

I recall getting an email from my son’s baseball coach, Steve, sometime soon after I reached this dating decision. Steve wrote in his email that the team would be getting a new assistant coach (AC) in a few weeks, that right now the new guy was traveling in Africa but would have a lot to offer the kids upon his return. Steve said something (I don’t remember what) in the email that made me realize this new coach was probably my age and the question flitted, unbidden—unwanted even—across my mind: was Africa Guy a dating possibility?

I promise it really was a fleeting thought. I still wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to date, and I don’t recall thinking of it again. Not until I first saw Andy, anyway.

I could tell as soon as I pulled into the parking lot that the new AC had finally arrived. I saw him standing by third base, separated by only a chain link fence and a few feet of dirt from where I would be sitting. He was tall(ish) and thin, but that’s all I could tell from my car. Minutes later, as I climbed onto the bleachers to watch practice, I took advantage of my dark sunglasses and close proximity to take a closer look.

Ugh.

Bad shoes. Terrible, even. Beat up sneakers, laces dragging in the dirt. Just really, really bad.

Oh well. I wasn’t really looking anyway.

If your child has ever been on a travel team, you know that travel teams require a lot of practices, games, and, well, traveling. Parents become very close during these months of game playing and road tripping and hotel staying, and at the end of the traveling season as everyone says goodbye with empty promises to stay in touch over the break, you can’t help but feel a void where those parents had been for so many months, day in and day out, whether you wanted them there or not.

During these forced but somehow magical months together, I was surprised to find myself strategically maneuvering into whatever car this ugly-shoed guy was riding in to whatever hot-as-heck town it was we were headed to at 5am on a Sunday morning. I was even more surprised when I later realized he was doing the same thing.

During these weekend drives, I came to find out that this guy has (present tense) HORRIBLE taste in music, clothes, and shoes, and that he’s five years younger than me. In fact, I found that the only first-impression criterion he met is that he’s liberal. Very, very liberal. (also present tense)

But I also found out that he loves kids and practicing random acts of kindness, is crazy intelligent, and that my son adored him. That I was kind of starting to adore him, too.

If you’re anything like me in this kind of situation, you may agree to go on a first date that turns out to be really lame, but for some crazy reason feel in your heart that a second date is in order. And then a third. And so on and so forth until one day, crazy upon crazy, you find yourself walking down the aisle towards this man who wears very bad shoes and doesn’t even know who the Misfits are.

I promise you, this is what you might find. Of course, you might not. But you might.

And a few years down the line, you may realize that sometimes it really does make things kind of tough that you can’t share musical references, that you sometimes feel a little too irksome over something as shallow as shoes, and that, on occasion, you will make a joke that he is too young to get.

It isn’t a one-way street, of course. Being forced during kitchen clean up time to listen to honkey tonk, British folk, or screaming once-twenty-year-old punk rockers who are now in their 40s and 50s with saggy tattoos probably isn’t too fun either.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to lie and say that these things end up not mattering. They do matter and, yes, it adds a few complications to the already-complicated institution of marriage when husband and wife don’t share some things in common. But it would also be unfair of me to act like these things matter-matter. Because they don’t. 

I’m not incredibly old, and I haven’t been married an incredibly long time. But I’m willing to bet that marriage, like the rest of life, happens in stages. In the early stages you simply don’t care about anything other than the overwhelming newlywed love you feel towards one another. In the tired middle years—which is where my husband and I now reside—you care about who takes out the garbage and gets up with the baby. During the initial empty-nest stage, I imagine you might want to be with someone you don’t mind sitting with in a too-quiet and kid-lonely house. Bonus points if you can hit the RV with that person and travel to places unknown without killing each other. And I’ll bet that during all of the stages of marriage, the infamous notion of a helpmeet comes into play far more than my 25-year-old self would ever have wanted to admit. If you aren’t familiar with the notion of a helpmeet, don’t google it. All I mean is: spouses who help one another. A wife who moves across the country for her husband’s job. A husband who endures four-hours of sleep each night for month’s on end so his wife can get some recuperative rest. Partners who, together, agree to tackle finances and kids (not literally) and heartbreaking 2am phone calls and bouts of occasional melancholy.

Shoes and music and even age matter so little when you get a call from the principal’s office. Or the hospital. Or the police.

You know this to be true when you stop to think about it, but thinking in the face of a first impression or first date is typically not done. In fact, I’m willing to bet we’re at our stupidest during the heady early months of dating.

If you’re in those stupid months right now, or hope soon to be, my “old and married” advice for you on this once-religious-now-Hallmark-secular holiday we call Valentine’s Day would be to not get too hung up on the particulars of things you’re not even going to have time for later in life anyway (trust me, you won’t. Unless by “music” you mean the Frozen soundtrack and by “shoes” you mean slippers.) I could see age being an important factor in some instances, but even age may not be as important as you think. I can’t really speak to the politics part of it since that particular assistant coach and I ended up being on (mostly) the same page. I can, however, point you to James Carville and Mary Matalin, who are apparently still very much in love. I don’t really know any other examples of polar political opposites, so take what you will from their odd little union.

My “old and married” love note for my husband this Valentine’s Day will not overflow with flowery and poetic language, but rather will convey the simplest but most important of sentiments: Thank you.

I will write:

Dear Africa/Assistant Coach/Bad Shoe Guy,

Thank you for helping me so much and meeting my needs. For letting me roll my eyes at your clothes and ask you to turn your music down, especially if I’m trying to cook. For sighing when you don’t get a 1970’s punk reference, and for teasing you when you try to pretend that you do. Thank you for using your exaggerated Mark Twain accent to tell our little girl stories of a “Mr. Goldwater who in 1964 went home to fish due to one Mr. Johnson, who probably should’ve been fishing, too.” For getting our oldest concerned with sovereign debt issues, and for getting our youngest to occasionally wear pants. Thank you for loving me, neuroses and bad hair days and all.

If there’s anyone in this world I want to have so little in common with but so much love for, it’s you.

(You can read last year’s Valentine’s Day post here.)

Why He Should Get Up With the Baby While I Sleep

One of the things I’m most grateful for in the parenting arrangement my husband and I have worked out is that he’s the one who gets up with the baby. There are several reasons for this (such as the fact that I usually can’t fall back asleep for hours), but the primary reason is because I stay home with the kids.

I know this arrangement may seem counterintuitive and maybe even a little unfair: He has to put on dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes and interact with actual human beings all day, whereas I can wear PJs from start to finish while eating lots of chocolate and fatty foods to get myself through until bedtime (yes, yes. I KNOW that’s a bad idea). I can usually put my paid work off until a better day, and things like laundry and dishes are done on a self-imposed deadline. But really, it makes a lot of sense and is more “fair” overall for everyone involved (because let’s be honest: so much of marriage comes down to discussions over what’s “fair” or not. It’s like a never-ending kindergarten battle over who had what toy first.)

Why is it more fair?

Because if the parent who stays home with the kids doesn’t sleep (be it the mom or the dad), multiple family members pay the cost:

  • The kids may get put in front of the TV too much, which will lead to brain rot and keep them from someday joining the ranks of contributing members of society (otherwise known as “Really Useful Engines”);
  • The kids may get disciplined instead of redirected, which will lead to absurdly high therapy bills, both for us and for their future families. Reducing tax-deductible medical costs is good both for our checkbook as well as for the national debt;
  • The kids may get snapped—or even yelled at—for minor, un-snap, un-yell worthy things (see above);
  • Etc.

All that said, there are many reasons to let the work-outside-the-home parent sleep:

  • If s/he is an attorney or judge with a trial the next day;
  • If s/he operates motor vehicles or carnival rides for a living;
  • If s/he works at a daycare;
  • If s/he works at a nuclear power plant or the Pentagon;
  • Etc.

Before you go thinking how lucky I am, I should point out that I often get up at 4am, which is when the little guy wakes up. So oddly, although my husband’s sleep is broken into chunks (a MISERABLE way to sleep), he frequently gets more sleep than me, especially on weekends.

(Ha! Equal points, people, equal points!)

There’s also the option of switching off, which can be a great way to go since it’s “fair” for both parents and reduces (or evens out) score keeping. It tends not to work for us, but, you know, once Andy starts hallucinating, I figure it’s time I step up a bit.

I recently decided to take New Year’s resolutions a bit more seriously than in the past (I mean really? Wait until 1/1/xx to start bettering ones self? Makes no sense to me, but this year I’m giving it a go), and I’m going to try the same with Valentine’s Day. With nine days to go until the big to-do, I’m racking my brain for things I love about my husband (okay, it really isn’t THAT hard). With three kids and lots of marriage under our belts, this list has turned away from things like:

What gorgeous eyes!

He’s best writer I know!

Check out those calves!

To:

He doesn’t mind unloading the dishwasher!

He gets up with the baby!

He likes to run errands!

It’s funny how things change with a bit more of life in the (I’ll-get-to-it-someday) scrapbook. The jury’s still out, but I’m pretty sure I’ll take night wakings and unloaded silverware baskets over gorgeous eyes and a well-turned phrase any day.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

Woman of Ink, Woman of the Cloth

Social justice Christian? Right wing fanatic? Death penalty proponent, or death penalty protestor? The media doesn’t always show it (okay, it NEVER shows it), but there’s actually a wide array—huge!—of Christian thought out there. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a good example of that. Some folks call her the devil, while others think her work with misfits of all stripes is a God send. I got to talk with Nadia on the phone the other day, and would love to share some of that conversation here.

In a dichotomous church world of traditional/conservative, weird/liberal, how do those in the latter camp resist the urge of a sort of reverse snobbery?

I don’t know that I’ve ever really resisted it. It’s still there, but it’s in bad from to assume I’m right about it. I feel it and think it, and I’d be lying to say I didn’t. The problem comes when I think God agrees with me or is co-signing on it, or it’s somehow the prophetic thing to assert that my snotty opinions are God’s truths. What is lacking on both sides of the equation—fundamentalism of the left or fundamentalism of the right—are two things that I won’t do without in my life anymore since I was raised in a fundamentalist setting, and those two things are joy and humility. I don’t see a lot of joy and humility being allowed when your main thing is holding some sort of line. I saw an advance screening of the Selma movie and it was incredible. I put up on Twitter the next day that I couldn’t wait for the rabid liberals to tell me why me thinking the Selma movie is amazing actually makes me a horrible racist. There is incredible pridefulness in social media. You aren’t really allowed to say if you like anything, because immediately someone will have some article about “What Selma got wrong.” It’s unbelievably prideful. You know, I enjoyed the movie and thought it had a lot to recommend it. But there is a lot of joy stealing out there in terms of no one being allowed to say they think anything is good, because someone will immediately come place themselves above you, saying “here’s why you got that wrong.” It’s not helping anyone. With Charlie Hebdo we’re talking about freedom of expression, but how much is that limited at this point because you’re afraid you might use the wrong word or say the wrong thing? It’s crippling.

You can read the rest of my interview with the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber here.

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.

photo 1-3

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)