"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Jesus Painting

About a month ago, Evan's Language Arts teacher assigned a research paper. He was to choose an artist to research and become an expert on, then convey what he had learned in what ended up being a 9-page single-spaced paper. It was a Big. Deal. He selected Leonardo DaVinci and he did a great job on it.

Then, as a culminating project, he had to recreate one of the Master's Masterpieces. This was going to be difficult. Evan, by his own admission, is not an artist. He doesn't like the subjectivity or the mess.

I assumed he would sculpt DaVinci's horse, the one that was, famously, never completed because it was destroyed in a war. How apropos for my military history loving kid, I thought. Plus, a horse sculpture seems pretty simple to recreate. I mean, just get the basic shape down, the teacher doesn't expect  DaVinci level perfection, right? Instead, he decided to paint The Last Supper. 

Yes. This one:

The Last Supper - by Leonardo Da Vinci

"Wow, bud," I said, trying to mask my surprise. "That's pretty ambitious."

"She said if the painting has a lot of people in it, we only need to do a part of it," he clarified, easing some of the concern I had for him being able to complete the project.

"And I'm going to make mine a Jesus painting."

I couldn't help but smile.

"You know why that's kind of ironic?" I asked, remembering a story from a few years ago....

"Because I'm an atheist?"

Hmmm...yes. That, too. But I was thinking of this...

We were invited over to the home of a family who had recently moved into our neighborhood for a playdate. As the kids bounded down from the playroom, headed to the backyard, Evan noticed a painting hanging in their hallway.

"Who's that guy?" Evan asked the mom, pointing.

She looked at the painting, then at Evan, then at me.

"Well, Evan," she said, with the faint hint of judgement in her voice, "that's Jesus."

"Oh!" he responded. "I thought maybe it was somebody's uncle or something."

I stifled my laugh.

*****

We're not Christian, and that's unusual where we live. I think most people assume that we just haven't "found our church" yet or that we're "Christmas and Easter Christians." When I come out and say it, though, that We're Not Christian, people are often taken aback. Our kids have heard about Jesus, of course, but we talk about him as a historical figure...a good guy...a great leader. Evan thinks of himself as an atheist, Max doesn't think that there's a puppet-master God who has our whole lives already planned out for us, but hasn't labeled himself yet.

I'm not surprised that Evan has, though.

His skepticism began when he was three, attending a church-run preschool program two mornings a week. He came home from school one day and announced that his class had learned a new song. He went on to sing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," before demanding some further information. Who has the whole world in his hands? And why is he holding it? And, you know what, Mommy? That's not actually possible.

He's a fact and figures kind of guy. Evidence-based proof. Historical data. He'll believe it if he can see it.

And, he comes from skepticism. I renounced my own Catholicism when I was 16. I had had some unsettling questions and doubts about Christianity for years but hadn't wanted to admit them. (I was, and still am, such a Pleaser. I didn't want to upset anyone with my lack of faith.) As I got older, though, and started to learn of the politics, scandal, and hypocrisy rife within the Catholic Church, I couldn't keep quiet and I could no longer accept Communion.

I took a smattering of World Religion courses through college. Nearly enough to have minored in it, actually. I was seeking. I didn't feel like an atheist...I felt as though there was something "out there" that was bigger than all of us and giving all of purpose...but I never found that one Truth that spoke louder than the others. 

There's a lot to admire in all of the world religions I studied, but in the end I settled on the "religion" of Science and Nature. We're all part of this one vast organism that is the universe; we are all connected and depend on one another and should, therefore, do right by each other.

As for an "afterlife," well, I believe in the scientific principle that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. My life energy will exist in some form once my body dies, but I'm not really concerned about the particulars of where or how. Reincarnation? Maybe. It makes sense to me from an energy constancy standpoint. I don't know if it's as highly structured and based on the economy of karma as the Buddhist worldview posits. I do know that I carry the life energy of my grandparents and people with whom I was close who have died. I can feel it. I can feel them.

What more could I want?

Lesson Learned:

Evan says he is an atheist. He probably is. I think he sees this world in black and white; truth and justice, action and consequence. It doesn't bother him that there is nothing "after" this life. This life is enough. Maybe he'll change his mind some day and seek an alternate Truth that feels right for him. Maybe not.

He also says he'll never paint again. I'm not sure there's much truth to that, especially given the fact that he has been assigned to an Art elective next quarter. But, in this case, I hope he's wrong. I loved watching him struggle through this project...not for the frustration...but for the perseverance. He hated every minute of this project, but he nailed it. And I'm so proud of him.


I think he's pretty proud of himself, too.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Dragon Lady is Seven

She was born in the Year of the Dragon, under the water sign.

A gentle dragon.
Nothing could be more fitting for my Baby of babies.

She is fiercely independent. Strong-willed and determined. 

She can tame the wildest of beasts!

She speaks her mind, ferociously at times...


 but always with a generous heart. Her compassionate streak runs deep. She is expressive and creative, yet quiet and introspective. She goes with the flow, yet she knows exactly who she is.

My Water Dragon Lady.



She is at once ahead of her time--slamming doors and telling me that I'm "never nice" like the teenager she will become--and taking her time--still fitting comfortably on my lap and wrapping her arms around me to tell me she loves me "too tight."


Sugar and spice.


Beauty and brains.


Strength and tenderness.

Adventure and comfort.

She is everything.

So are her lashes. My god.
She'll be a veterinarian when she grows up. And a Mommy. The Daddy in her family will stay home with the kids so she doesn't have to take care of the animals AND the babies. Priorities, you know?


She's still a vegetarian--for ethical reasons, only occasionally allowing herself to forget that bacon is meat.
She cares deeply about this world and has a wise-beyond-her-years awareness of our current political, social, and environmental climate. Partly, this is my fault. I don't shelter her from my feelings about our president and his disastrous failings. But it's also just who she is. 

It was her idea, after all, to decide not to join Girl Scouts when she learned that Max wasn't allowed to join a troop. She didn't think it was fair. Social justice is in her blood.

Without provocation, she announced that when she's old enough, she'll only vote for people who are going to save the environment. There are too many animals who need these trees that people keep cutting down...

It's a strong one, that moral compass of hers.

(One...
...two little baby teeth down.)
Her favorite movie is Black Panther. She saw it in the theatre with her Mom Mom and Pop. Her brothers opted out on account of scariness, but not Molly. "How'd she do?" I asked when it was over. "She loved it!" my dad reported. "She didn't cover her eyes once!"

Her favorite letter is lowercase "g" because it's so fun to write, followed by "M" because, well, obviously.

Her favorite foods are white: Bread and cheese. Carrots, red peppers, waffles, strawberries, peanut butter, and nuts round out the entirety of her diet. But she's starting to venture out. She'll eat spinach now (leaf by leaf, each dipped in ranch, leaving a tiny pile of spinach stems on her salad plate), and key lime coconut milk yogurt....so that's a start.

She still can't say "pearl" ("puhh") and she still says /y/ when she means /l/.

She still likes to be carried.
And I do because she's my Baby of babies. (And she's a peanut.)  


She makes us laugh...both unintentionally, with her adorably tiny voice, and intentionally, with her invented stories and characters that have us rolling (...like the one about the super heroes "Dice Jeffrey" and "Wonder Woman's Clone" and "Wonder Woman's Clone's Clone")...

and her clever jokes:

What do spies like to put in their pies?

SPY-ses!


She is a kind friend, an excellent student, an eager helper, and my favorite Sunday morning newspaper buddy.


She makes us whole.

Give this child a modeling contract. I'll buy anything she's selling.

Lesson Learned:


One of my favorite things in life is watching you experience this world. You are joyful and curious, a seeker. You are kind and affectionate and thoughtful. You take risks and are not afraid to be the first one to reach out. You can be bashful, but you are brave. I am inspired by your confidence.

You are stronger than you know, and more capable than you can imagine. I can't wait to see how you change this world, just by being a part of it...

Happy Birthday, Molly Bolly. You are so loved.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Speak Up

If you see something, say something.

It's the new "Just Say No." Schools are posting the message on bulletin boards and preaching it during Morning Meetings and school culture assemblies. It's part of an anti-bullying movement, included in lessons about bystander awareness. If you see someone being treated unjustly, if you see someone being bullied or intimidated or discriminated against, if a friend confides that she is thinking about harming herself, if you see a threat posted online, speak up. Say something

I talk to my own kids about it. 

"It's not tattling, it's reporting." There are situations that are too big for a kid (even a big kid) to handle on his own. It's not your responsibility to hold this information or to fix the problem, it's your responsibility to tell someone who is in a position to do something about it.

Isn't it funny how it's hard to take your own advice sometimes?


*****

The kids' grandparents gifted them tickets to a local children's theatre production for Christmas. The show was Huck and Tom, a quick one-hour Cliffs' Notes version of the novels by Mark Twain. We saw the show this past weekend. It was a small auditorium, with eight or so rows on three sides of a small central stage. The actors were adults but the show was geared to little kids, so there was a lot a singing and exaggerated facial expressions. The kids enjoyed it. 

I was familiar with the basic plot of the show, having read the novels years ago, but one scene caught me off-guard. (Isn't it funny how you can re-read the same story you know from childhood and have a totally different reaction to it as an adult? Perspective is everything.)

It's after Huck and Jim run away. Huck has the grand idea to sneak back into town to hear the news...is anyone looking for them? Do they know that Huck has decided to help Jim escape? To properly sneak, though, Huck needs a disguise. What better disguise than to dress up like a girl?! Oh, the hilarity!

As soon as the plan was announced, I felt prickly. I glanced down to the little boy sitting beside me, who had chosen his favorite skirt to wear to the show. He was watching, listening intently.

The scene proceeded...Huck is helped into a dress and the cast points and laughs. Max watched. He giggled. The scene continued...exaggerated feminine prancing about the stage by the dress-wearing Huck, exaggerated, belly-clutching laughter by the cast. I watched Max watch. I watched as he began to survey the audience for their reaction. From our vantage point at the very back, we could clearly see every row of all three sides of the auditorium. We were surrounded by parents, grandparents, and children pointing and laughing at the hilarious absurdity of a dress-wearing boy.

The skirt-wearing boy beside me saw it all.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. 

Instead, I fumed. All afternoon, all evening.

I consulted with my most trusted advisors the next day...I told them that I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry....but I know that's just my overly sensitive Mama Bear coming out. I told them that it's not really that big of a deal...Max is fine. He enjoyed the show! Didn't say a word about that scene. He's fine.

But it's not fine. It IS a big deal...and each of my advisors said the same thing: "You should say something."

So, I did. 
There was a handy Google forms submission link on the website.


Hi! My family attended a performance of Huck and Tom yesterday. All three of my kids enjoyed it very much. I did want to bring something to your attention, though, that maybe had not yet been considered by your cast and crew. My 9-year old son has identified as gender fluid for years. He's been wearing clothing traditionally worn by girls since he was old enough to express an opinion about his wardrobe. He attended yesterday's performance in his favorite skirt. The scene in which Huck disguises himself as a girl was uncomfortable for me to watch while sitting next to my kiddo...not because of the scene itself (I do understand how central the scene is to the storyline) but because of what I felt to be unnecessary negative attention paid to Huck for dressing like a girl. I watched my son watch the cast point and laugh at a dress-wearing boy, and watched as he surveyed the audience for their reaction...more pointing and laughing. The scene could have been equally comedic, in my opinion, if the cast seriously and without humor, helped Huck find a great disguise (even a dress, if you feel it necessary to maintain the integrity of the original story), then played up the part of the scene where he couldn't keep his assumed identity straight. That part ("I'm Mary, or Sarah, or Mary Sarah!") WAS funny to all and didn't include poking fun at anyone for how they dress or how they choose to present themselves. You may not always have a dress-wearing boy in your audience, but you did on Sunday. I'd appreciate it if you gave some thought to my opinion. Thank you.

I hit Submit, then felt like I was going to throw up. It's not easy to Say Something. I feel very strongly about my opinions but I HATE confrontation. 

I was on pins and needles anticipating a response, which I knew would come. It would be bad PR to ignore feedback like that.

A day and a half later, I heard back. Here's an excerpt from the response:

I wanted to reach out to thank you for your comments and concern about Huck and Tom. We are taking your comment very seriously. I will be having a conversation with the cast before our next performance to see how we can incorporate this idea. I'm sorry for any discomfort that either of you might have felt. It was never meant to be offensive and I am thankful for your pointing out this situation so we can address it and do our best to continue to be as inclusive as possible. 

To be honest, I was surprised by the response. 

In this day and age, where it is so common to deflect blame and to refuse to take responsibility for a mistake or a lapse in judgement, I was so grateful for this open-minded acceptance of my opinion and my family's experience. Will the show change? Maybe not. But maybe. And maybe there will be a dress-wearing boy in this weekend's audience who will not feel ashamed or confused by what he sees on stage. 

Lesson Learned:
If you see something, say something (kindly). Even if it's hard. When you speak up, you might prevent someone from being hurt...you also might open someone's mind or heart....and with awareness comes progress.