Category Archives: Uncategorized

Oops. I took a break.

Right. So life happened. First, I went on vacation, and then we all came back, except that my brain and my writing muscles all decided to go on hiatus.

This was not a planned hiatus. It was one of those forced-because-I-don’t-quite-know-what-to-write-about hiatuses. (The plural of hiatus is actually hiatuses. I looked it up.)

Anyway, I think that I am ready to come back to the land of the overeducated, underemployed writer/bloggy thing. More to come soon. Thanks for reading!

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Consequences

Trigger warning: sexual abuse.

Today is a day for… I don’t even know. Justice is not quite the word, because when it comes to sexual abuse against children, there is very little justice that can actually be achieved. I have in mind the image of Lady Justice, blindfolded, holding the balanced scales. In cases of sexual abuse against young people, there is simply no balance possible. So, this is a day for a moderate kind of recognition of the real-life consequences of the actions of those who perpetrate abuse as well as those who work to shield the perpetrators from the consequences of their actions.

Yesterday, the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State University for the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. A $60 million fine. Vacating a decade’s worth of victories for the Penn State football team and their coach Joe Paterno. A ban on post-season play for four years. And though it was not part of the sanctions, Penn State removed the statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside of Beaver Stadium.

There is a saying in 12-step circles that it is right to allow an addict to have the benefit of his or her own consequences. In the case of addicts, this means that the family members and friends are doing the addict a disservice by shielding him or her from the consequences of her or his destructive behavior. And the truth is, the consequences remain, even when the addict is shielded from them. Instead of the addict suffering the consequences, often times, the consequences fall to the children or other family members. This is neither just nor healthy, and the fallout almost always does more damage than if the addict had been allowed to experience the consequences herself.

What we are seeing at Penn State is the fallout after entirely too much time, energy, and money was spent shielding Jerry Sandusky from the consequences of his destructive behavior. NPR ran a piece this morning in which some students were upset that they are being penalized for Sandusky’s actions. And, of course, they have the right to be angry. They are experiencing the fallout of an extended delay of consequences. But let us be clear. The NCAA is not the bad guy here. There is plenty of blame and anger to be spread around, but it ought not be directed at those who are finally enforcing consequences for a decade of cover-up. The fallout always happens, and the fallout is not necessarily just.

It is for this reason that I have to wonder when the fallout will come down in the Catholic Church, and who will suffer the consequences.

Today Monsignor William Lynn sentenced. Last week, Monsignor Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment for participating in a cover-up of sexual abuse. Let’s make this clear. Monsignor Lynn allowed priests he knew to be predators to continue to minister to children.

His sentence is 3-6 years. Now, apparently, the defense lawyers are appealing the court’s decision, and the appeal has a significant chance of being successful. The reasoning behind the appeal is that Monsignor Lynn never directly supervised children.

Monsignor Lynn is really a middle-man in this scandal. He did not abuse anyone directly. Apparently he even had moments when he wanted to document and report the abuse. “But when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua instead had the list destroyed, Lynn chose to remain in the job and obey his bishop – by keeping quiet.”

I fear that we have not yet begun to see the real fallout from the abuse dolled out by predatory priests and the cover-up that extends all the way up the ladder to the Vatican. At Penn State, after a decade of sexual abuse perpetrated by one man, the university cleaned house, and the fallout is to the tune of $60 million, and other sanctions, most of which will be felt rather acutely by the students who had nothing to do with the abuse. In the Catholic Church, we are looking at decades of abuse by who-knows-how-many priests, and what we see most often is a single diocese making token settlements to a group of abuse victims.

All actions have consequences, and when the offender is shielded from the consequences of his or her actions, there is always someone else who ends up bearing the brunt of it. I don’t yet know how to predict who will bear the brunt of the fallout from the Catholic Church’s efforts to keep the misconduct of its priests quiet and secret.

“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

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On Inspiration

This is a post in response to Small Assignment 4. Also check out responses from Anecdotaltales and Prajjwal. Thanks for writing and sharing!

A few years ago, I had a supervisor who drove me crazy. The reason for the crazy-making is that I was supposed to get a written review every quarter, but quarter after quarter, I did not get a written review. Then, all of a sudden, I would receive four quarterly reviews on the same day. This was… unhelpful. The excuse that my supervisor gave for the late reviews was that he needed to “be inspired” to write. Let’s be clear. He had to be “inspired” to simply do his job.

Now, years later, I am a writer. I get assignments and deadlines, and I must meet those deadlines or not get paid. When I get to work (often still wearing my pajamas), my first step is staring at a blank screen, or maybe write a little chicken scratch on a notebook or on the back side of an envelope. But at the end of the day, the deadline does not move, and the deadline does not wait for inspiration.

The experience of writing professionally and on deadline has crystallized one thing for me: writing is NOT about inspiration. Writing is about, well, writing. The moments when I feel inspired are wonderful moments, but if I’m honest, I must admit that those moments are rather few and far between. I am always more capable of finding an excuse to not write than I am of finding “inspiration.” In fact, not feeling inspired becomes a wonderfully convenient excuse to avoid writing. It’s right up there with “I have two babies” and “I don’t get any sleep.”

Last week, some old friends came to visit us for a few days, and then we drove out to middle Tennessee a rented a cabin for the weekend. While there, all gathered under one roof, we decided to work on a little group art project, which took the form of a book for each of the three families. Most people drew a little picture or a sketch. The kids who could be trusted to not eat the pens made drawings of their own. Now, I am not an artist. The best I can do on most days is draw a cartoon cow, although I do think I happen to draw a mean cartoon cow. So it was suggested that I write a little something.

Now, we were in a beautiful cabin out in the woods. We were half a mile from a beautiful lake, surrounded by friends and children and a hundred different reasons to feel inspired. But I did not feel inspired. I felt pressured and on the spot and a little weird. I was busy trying to keep my kids from destroying the other kids’ toys, and I really just wanted to pour another glass of wine. But one afternoon, I sat down and wrote a little something to put in the memory book. It was not the best something I’ve ever read; in fact, it was a poem. I am really not a very good poet. But it fit on the small sheet of paper, and it was written.

I believe in inspiration. I do believe that there are times when the Muse whispers in my ear and the words fit together like pieces of a puzzle. But most of the time, writing is just about getting the words down. So let me go and pour myself a glass of wine, (or coffee, as it is not yet noon), and let’s get to work.

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And.. I’m back!

Right. So, I went out of town there for a while.

I took the kids and spent the week with my parents, where there is a pool a block away and where someone else always did the cooking. From there we went and spent a few days with my grandmother, who turned 94 in May. It was wonderful to spend the time with family and to watch the kids discover the joys of swimming. It was a week of sun and light and laughter. But it was not particularly conducive to writing anything worthy of publication (on the blog or otherwise.)

So now we’re back in Memphis, and the kids are going through typical grandparent withdraw, what with the drag of just hanging out with me now. We’re all getting back into the swing of things, just in time for another little trip out of town next weekend. And then another trip out of town a couple of weeks after that. I know. My life is so hard. First world problems.

I am hoping, though, that in the next few days I will manage to get something worth reading written down and posted here. For now, though, let me encourage you all to keep on writing. Put pen to paper. That’s what counts!

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Vacation: It ain’t what it used to be.

Warning: In what follows, there will be mention of vomit.  You are not obligated to read any more.  You have been warned.

Right, so I posted this last week, and then we packed up the car and flew the coop.  So this is my response to my third Small Assignment.

Last week, the small vacation that we had planned to go visit some friends in Nashville kind of… appeared.  I found myself running around the house making sure that the kids had enough clean clothes to get through three days plus sunblock, and Oh Yeah Maggie’s things that she insists on having in bed with her these days, including the plastic purple Easter basket that we got for an Easter egg hunt last year.

We stayed with the same person we always stay with when we go to Nashville.  The last time we visited, I was pregnant with Beckett, and our friend was living in a three-bedroom townhouse.  These days, though, he is in the process of building a house, so he sold the townhouse and is living temporarily in a one-bedroom high rise loft.  This meant that the whole family – David, me, Maggie, and Beckett – all stayed in the same room.  Beckett was immediately beside me and Maggie slept on the floor on a little toddler-sized sleeping bag.

All went about as well as we possibly could have hoped.  The kids went to sleep several hours before David and I crept into the room and climbed into bed.  Then in the morning, the kids somehow both ended up in bed with David and me as we tried to protect our friend (who was sleeping on the couch) from the noises of small children in the morning.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a vacation without some kind of hiccup, right?  That came when something shorted in the elevator on Friday evening, and the power to the entire building was blown.  It was about 4:30PM when it happened.  We spent the rest of our visit without power.  Fortunately for us, our friend lives on the 4th floor and not the 20th.  Maggie can handle four flights of stairs.  (For that matter, I can also make four flights of stairs while carrying Beckett.)  We figured that was our adventure for this vacation.

After spending a wonderful couple of days in Nashville (even despite the power outage), we headed back to Memphis, deciding that we would stop for gas .  The kids were exhausted, and so we figured they would probably just pass out for most of the 3-hour drive.  Well, 15 minutes into our drive back to Memphis, we ran into a traffic jam of rather epic proportions.  After about 40 minutes or so, we came to an exit (3 miles from where the traffic jam began), and we took it.  We wound our way to a gas station, where we stopped to fill up the tank.

While we were sitting in the car, letting the gas tank fill up, our leisurely drive took a turn toward the gross.

Maggie was singing peacefully in the back seat when suddenly, she puked.  All the way down her front, all over the car seat, in the buckles, everywhere.  It was unbelievably gross.  I got out of the car and got her out of the car seat.  I undressed her, and started cleaning her up as best I could.  Fortunately we were stopped at a gas station and could buy some cleaning supplies.  David bought a package of “Wet Ones,” which we used to clean the car seat and surrounding area.  Then we gave Maggie her little plastic Easter basket, in case she had to hurl further on down the road, said a little prayer, and took off to drive the rest of the way.

Maggie is doing better today.  She hasn’t puked since we were stopped at the gas station outside of Nashville.  But that event is likely to be the defining mark of this vacation.

I remember when my vacations were largely about reading a few good books, getting a little sun, and maybe sleeping in.  Now my vacation is about trying to keep my kids quiet so that we don’t wake up other people before 7AM, and then cleaning up puke on the way home.

Funny thing is that I’m having the time of my life going on vacation with my kids, puke and all.

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A Sunny Disposition

(This post is written in response to my second Small Assignment.)

I honestly don’t have many memories of my elementary and middle school lunches, but the few that I have are important.

I remember a classmate named Stuart breaking a lunch tray over another student’s head while the whole cafeteria full of kids shouted “Fight! Fight!” I did not actually see the lunch tray being broken, because I remained seated at the table, hunched over my sandwich, until it was over, willing the violence to come to an end, scared that somehow the violence would bleed onto me.

I also remember that Stuart did not graduate from high school with me, and it wasn’t because he moved.

I remember approaching the cafeteria with a certain dread.  The school building in which I attended elementary and middle school was a three-floor building with carpeted hallways. The carpet color coded the floors.  The top floor was red, or rather burgundy.  Burgundy was kindergarten, first and second grades.  Blue was the middle floor, and third, fourth, and fifth grades.  The school cafeteria was also located on the floor with the blue carpet.  The green floor was sixth, seventh and eighth grade.  The green floor was in the basement.  Keep the inmates as far from the door as possible.

So I remember approaching the cafeteria, staring down at the dingy blue carpet, turning the corner and smelling the stale, greasy smell of cafeteria food.  Most days, I brought my own lunch, with a turkey sandwich, carrots, and some kind of fruit, so I didn’t need to stand in line. I would go straight to the tables.  Some of the tables were round, eight-top tables, where, if you had eight friends to sit with, you could occupy an entire table.  Those tables, though, filled up very quickly.  In all my years at that school, I almost never sat at the eight-top round tables. The other tables were long tables with built-in stools.  The stools were uncomfortable, and the tables always smelled like industrial cleaner.  Often the stools broke.  The worst possible scenario walking into the cafeteria was that you would end up being required to sit on a broken stool at the long table.  The jagged plastic would dig into your thighs, and if you were wearing a skirt, it would snag your tights.  I hated those seats, and I always seemed to be the person who ended up sitting on them, because at the time, I hadn’t yet learned how to advocate for myself.

My final memory in this montage is of one teacher, who always seemed to have lunch duty.  Her name, paradoxically, was Miss Sunny.  So far as I can tell, Miss Sunny was about a thousand years old, and was there forever.  I don’t actually know what she taught, as the only time I ever saw her was in the lunch room.  She took a zero-tolerance approach to noise, with a husky voice that had to have been shadowed by years of cigaret smoking.  When the volume got just a little too loud, she would flap her arms as if she was about to take off and yell, “WHOA.”  If the noise did not immediately stop, she would impose silent lunches, during which every child in the cafeteria was required to sit and eat lunch in total silence, under threat of detention and a call to the parents.

I was a good kid in school.  I was even a bit of a teacher’s pet, and so the very idea that I might get detention for sneezing a little too loud during a silent lunch scared the pants off of me.  When the volume in the cafeteria started to go up, I would focus all of my efforts on being quiet, thinking that maybe, if I were quiet enough, I could compensate for the loud kids who were sitting at the round tables with their seven friends.

It never worked.

Eventually, I finished middle school, as most of us do, and went to high school. There, I learned the joy of eating lunch in the band room with a group of other kindred spirits – other kids who had been forced to eat lunch in silence while sitting on the edge of a broken plastic stool.  Together, we would have filled up an eight-top round table or two.  But I still really hate the thought of that blue carpet.

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The Shared Room Experiment

Over the weekend, David and I began (yet another) great adventure.

We assembled an IKEA bed – a real bed – a twin-sized bed – for Maggie.

Now, Maggie hasn’t always been so good with the transitions.  She, like most toddlers, likes her things just the way she likes them, and that’s that.

So we were a bit nervous about transitioning her into a bed from the toddler-type crib-without-a-side bed into a real bed.

To make the transition a little bit easier on her, we spent about a week hyping up the “Big Girl Bed” that was soon to be hers.  We also spent a lot of time telling her that the crib would be Beckett’s bed soon.  And then… we let her help assemble the bed.

Anyone who has ever assembled IKEA furniture knows just how… edifying… the process of furniture assembly can be.  Throw in a 2-year old, and, well, let’s just say the process went about as smoothly as we could have possibly expected.

The very best part about the process, though, was that as Maggie “helped” to screw in the various bolts and push in those God-forsaken little dowels, she continually said (on her own) “Maggie’s Big Girl Bed.  I build it!”

Points to us for indoctrination.

When it came time for Maggie to actually sleep in the bed, she did!  Just like that!  She seemed a bit skeptical at first, but with a little encouragement, she fell asleep and slept the night through in bed.

So of course, getting Maggie transitioned so easily into her bed, we got smug, and decided to try our luck.

Beckett has been sleeping in our room since he was born.  At first, he was in a side-car co-sleeper, which I loved for the little baby.  But then as he became more aware of his surroundings, having him right next to me didn’t work so well.  So we detached the bassinet and moved him across the room.

Then he got HUGE.  (He’s about 25 lbs now, at 9 months.)  So we got rid of the bassinet and moved him into the pack n’ play, still in our room.  That worked for a while until he learned how to pull himself up.  So now, he can peek over the edge of the pack n’ play during the night and look at me and David.  It’s so much fun that he doesn’t really care to sleep.

So last night, in a brazen move of pure hubris, we decided to try moving Beckett into Maggie’s room.  We put the side back up on the crib that Maggie had called home for the last two years and put them both to bed in the same room.

It did not go well.

The first thing that happened was a feedback loop where Beckett, in unfamiliar surroundings would kind of complain.  Maggie, hearing Beckett’s complaints, would get out of bed and go to his crib and make him laugh.  Eventually, one of us would go into the room and instruct everyone to lay down and go to sleep.  Then the cycle would start all over again.

Eventually, they did both go to sleep, for a few hours.  Beckett woke in the middle of the night, and would. not. go. back. to. sleep.  So we bailed and moved him back to the pack n’ play in our room while David and I moved to the futon in our den.

We’re all tired today, and the kids are off their schedules, because we all slept in this morning.  But, it was the first step, and David and I got to experience the joy of being able to put away laundry after the kids have gone to bed.  That, my friends, is success.

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