Imperfect Serenity

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Friday, May 27, 2005


One day last month my eight-year-old daughter asked me, “Hey Mom, did you know you can get gonorrhea from riding a tractor in your bathing suite?” My mouth dropped, but I knew exactly where she had gotten the idea, having watched that episode of Seinfeld years before.

Let me just say that I consider myself a moderate on the TV issue. We don’t totally abstain from media, like our friends at the Waldorf school, but we don’t usually let our kids watch Seinfeld either. We’re more of a PBS family. But one night when I was debilitated by a sinus infection—barely able to lift my head from the couch with my husband out for the evening—I agreed to let my children watch some evening television just to help me make it to bedtime.

I usually try to shelter my children from sexual humor, so I was nervous when they found Seinfeld, though frankly, I didn’t have the strength to argue. Fortunately, the innuendos went over their heads, and they just laughed at the slap-stick, Kramer’s clumsy entrances and Elaine rubbing a co-worker’s stapler in her armpit. My concern was unwarranted, it seemed… until a few nights later when they watched the gonorrhea episode with their dad. They’ve been begging for Seinfeld ever since.

It’s hard to shelter children in our culture. Even if we permanently unplugged the TV, avoided the supermarkets that sell Cosmopolitan, and listened only to classical radio stations, they would still hear sexual lyrics from their friends at Quaker school. The violent toys and movies marketed to boys come even earlier than the slinky clothes aimed at girls. My five-year-old son, who has never seen a Star Wars movie, speaks knowledgeably about Darth Vader’s fall from grace.

I’m part of the culture I criticize. I have to confess, I think Seinfeld is funny and Star Wars entertaining—but for adults, not five-year-olds. I vacillate between wanting to totally shelter them and wanting to teach them how to understand the world they will inevitably have to deal with. I try to do a bit of both, but it is exhausting. I only gave a sketchy explanation of gonorrhea, though not getting the joke didn’t keep my son from trying to repeat it to another Kindergartener at Yearly Meeting (a large gathering of Quakers from around the region). “Hey, Rachel, want to hear a joke about a tractor?” he asked. Fortunately, I was standing there and was able to shelter her, but not for long.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Head Lice

I usually don’t pray about things like head lice. I prefer to pray for other people, which Quakers call holding them “in the Light.” For example, my mother and my mother-in-law have both had medical issues recently, so we’ve been holding them in the Light. You can translate this as “sending them good energy” or “asking God to take care of them,” whichever makes the most sense to you.

I think of holding someone in the Light as praying for whatever is best for that person, without trying to tell God exactly what that is. Larry Dossey—author of Healing Words, among other books—says that studies show that this type of intersessory prayer is actually more effective than specific “Please let mom’s test come back negative” prayers. Aside from the interesting fact that people are studying the effectiveness of prayer on the sick, I am struck by Dossey’s explanation that there seems to be no evidence that one religion or denomination’s prayers are more effective than another’s. However, there is a measurable benefit to patients when the prayer is open-ended or non-specific. Dossey, a physician himself, prays for his patients, "May the best possible outcome prevail." He acknowledges that sometimes the best possible outcome for the patient is actually a peaceful death, even though as a doctor he wants to prolong life for as long as possible. The message for me is to try to be open to an outcome that is not what I originally envisioned, but which may be best in some bigger sense.

So, it was with some ambivalence that I finally prayed last night, “Please let us be done with the head lice!” After more than two weeks of toxic shampoo, daily nit-checking, and excessive house-cleaning, I’m fed up. I tried to be open at first. When we first found a few lice in my daughter’s long red hair and I had to keep her home from school to treat it, I thought, “Well, maybe we needed this quality mother/daughter time.” As I’ve meticulously looked through her hair every day since (making us late for school many days), I’ve thought, “Maybe she needed this extra attention.” When we found another louse a week later and then a few more ten days after that (including some in my hair), I thought, “Maybe God’s still trying to teach me patience.” Frankly I’d prefer for God to teach me how to get rid of the lice.

This is a theme on my spiritual journey. I want to control things, get the lesson over with, move on. However, usually the problem doesn’t go away until I let go of my anxiety and accept whatever is going on. I don’t believe in totally passive spirituality—turn everything over to God, while the head lice multiply. I’m still going to check our hair tonight, soak it in vinegar to get the nits out, and keep working on cleaning the house. But tonight, perhaps I should also pray for the patience to deal with the head lice. That might bring a better ultimate outcome than just getting rid of the buggers.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Peace-making vs. Peace-loving

On May 15 our family went to a peace rally to remember all the people killed in the Iraq war, the 100,000 plus civilians as well as the 1,600 soldiers. My hungry eight-year-old, who wanted to leave and get ice cream, looked around at the clumps of veteran peace activists sitting on the grass listening to speeches they’ve heard before and said scornfully, “This is not going to change George Bush’s mind.” Her criticism stung because it was so true.

I’m reading Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics in which he points out that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” not “Blessed are the peacelovers.” Most of us at that rally were peacelovers, but to actually make peace we need something like an effective strategy, which the peace community doesn’t seem to have at the moment. There are meetings and events, most of which go unreported in the media, but these events are a fraction of the size of the rallies protesting the war before it began. Then we had a sense that we might actually affect the course of events. Now we don’t, especially after the election, which so many of us worked so hard on.

Although many of the speeches were good, especially those by veterans and members of Military Families Speak Out, I felt we needed something radically different. Perhaps we could have gone across the street to the counter-protesters with US flags and engaged them in real dialog. We could have made a deal with them: they would really listen to our speeches, and we would really listen to theirs. We could try to understand each other, instead of each side broadcasting to their own. Probably it wouldn’t have worked, but was our nice civil peace-loving event better than a messy but real attempt at peace-making?

When my daughter said that the peace rally would not change George Bush’s mind, I responded, “You’re right. But it is important for us to be here to show that someone cares about all the people being killed.” I believe that, but I also believe it is not enough.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Blog Beginning

So this is my first day of blogging, a new form of communication for me. My friend Miriam Peskowitz recommended that I give it a try since she has had a good experience promoting her new book The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars through her blog My first impulse, I have to confess, was purely selfish; I also want to promote my book Imperfect Serenity when it is published. But as I’ve surveyed other blogs, I’ve started to get excited about the idea of meeting and sharing ideas with other people through this new forum.

Just setting up the page has been thought-provoking. How do I describe who I am in two sentences? Am I a religious writer who happens to write about motherhood, or a motherhood writer who happens to be religious? If I describe myself as religious, or say that I’m Quaker, will I scare off potential readers who would probably resonate with my ideas but who feel alienated from traditional religion, as I was for many years? If I use the word spiritual in my description instead, will people really know what I mean? I suppose the uncertainty is part of what makes this interesting. It’s like planning a dinner party menu without knowing who the guests will be.

Mostly I like to write about my ongoing struggle to put my ideals into practice. In my book proposal for Imperfect Serenity (which is currently being read by publishers) I describe myself as “a Quaker who opposes war but who occasionally wants to pummel her children, an environmentalist who drives laps around the neighborhood to get her baby to sleep, and a stay-at-home feminist mother who wants to surrender her selfishness without losing herself.” (My children have grown a bit since I first wrote that: they no longer nap, and I’m no longer home full-time, but I’m still full of contradictions.) I believe that facing our own imperfections is an important part of spiritual growth, and motherhood has certainly illuminated my imperfections. Although many religious classics written by celibate men recommend solitude as the route to self-knowledge, I’ve found that a cranky toddler can show us our flaws at least as effectively as a desert retreat.

When I’m in the heat of some conflict with my kids, I often don’t realize what I’m learning, until later when I try to articulate it. That’s why writing is so important to me; it gives me a chance to make sense of things. So these pages will be a place for me to share what I’m learning about life and a place where you can share what you’re learning. Hopefully, we can learn from each other.

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