Thursday, September 25, 2014

Parenting: A Cautionary Tale

Last week I had sinus surgery so every minute I wasn’t lying on the couch with a bag of frozen peas on my face, I was reading, which was awesome.  (Isn't it a depressing state of affairs when even surgery is a welcome situation as long as it gives me a few hours of alone time?)  Hence the stack from the last seven days…

Of the choices above, I’d say The Secret Place is your best option, though all were satisfying.  (Hopefully I’m embarking upon one of those phases in which everything I choose to read ends up being great…do you have these?  I haven’t had one in a while, and I’m hopeful.)  Anyway, even though I found French’s novel a bit more predictable than her previous ones, it was still expertly paced and plotted – she’s really a master of structure.  A House in the Sky was probably the most memorable – a memoir about a freelance journalist who is kidnapped and held prisoner in Somalia for over a year.  I just finished The Poison Tree last night and I found it even better than the previous Erin Kelly I’d read (The Burning Air).  I think there is a third by her as well – has anyone read it?

But I don’t really feel like talking about books today.  Instead, a story.

What they might not tell you about parenting is how unbelievably gross it is.  And I’m not talking about babies, here, even – I’m talking about the whole gamut of the parent job.  Allow me to illustrate with what I’m sure will only be a momentary episode – an incident that in the future will probably prove to be only a brief glimpse into the overall disgustingness that is the charge of a household of small children and pets.  In other words, you will find this story revolting, but it is also woefully ordinary.

We have a dog named Henry Baxter, who is a 12-year-old West Highland Terrier.   Though spry in his puppyhood, recently Henry has started to decline – he has cataracts, he can no longer clear the jump onto the couch, and, most notably for the purposes of this story, he cannot tolerate human food.

He really can't be bothered to look at the camera.  Fine, Henry Baxter.  FINE.

So, there’s an easy solution to this.  WE DON’T FEED HIM FROM THE TABLE.  Ever.  It’s simple really – chicken makes the dog vomit?  DON’T GIVE HIM CHICKEN.  Bacon causes regurgitation?  DON’T GIVE HIM BACON.  Steak equals barf?  You get the picture.

However, on the particular night in question, my 8-year-old son, Owen, decided he didn’t want his dinner.  So to avoid being forced to eat the requisite three bites, he fed his entire plate to Henry while I was doing the dishes.  You can imagine my, uh, dismay.

The thing is, the barfing thing never happens right away.  It is stealthy, and unpredictable.  Around 11 that evening, I sank into an uneasy slumber. 

The following events are difficult to explain, but I will try.  Maybe bullet points would work best here.

·         1 AM – Become aware, mid-REM cycle, that Henry has moved from his tuffet on the floor to my bed.  Remain asleep, but semi-awake in the manner in which Chuck Norris slumbers (asleep yet watchful).

·         1:35 AM – While still asleep, become aware of retching noise in close proximity to own face.  Dreamily realize that if dog does indeed throw up, the vomit will slide between the headboard and the wall, causing much nocturnal strife.  Make split-second difficult yet necessary decision.

·        1:35:05 AM – Shift, Matrix-style, into position as vomit receptacle.  Flawless positioning of hands achieved through apparent successful echolocation since room is still black, lights are off, eyes are closed, and body is mostly still sleeping.

·         1:35:06 AM – Catch dog barf in bare hands.  Awaken.

It is a grim state of affairs indeed when the lesser of the evils is catching your dog’s vomit in your own outstretched hands, but there it is, people.

But the story did not end there.  OH NO IT DID NOT MY FRIENDS.  Because nothing in parenting can ever be easy, or fast, or convenient.  So as I ran to the bathroom and sanitized myself, I realized that my night was only just beginning.  Now it was time to parent.  Natural consequences, and all that stuff.  Ah, the glamour of parenting strikes again.

So I cleaned my hands, preserving chunks of chicken in sink basin to serve as visual aid in parenting mini-lesson to be enacted.  And I went to awaken my 8-year-old son.  He was, of course, exhausted, so he cried throughout the ordeal.  But I taught him to strip the bed, scrub Resolve into carpet, and start the washer (fortunately, my stealth-like barf ninja skills were effective in preventing vomit down the wall, so he got to avoid that job).  Whatever else I’m doing wrong with these kids (and there is a lot, I’m certain), my kid knows how to do laundry now.  And I’m pretty sure he won’t be serving his dinner to the dog again.

From this experience I glean this as truth.  Moms will do basically anything, ANYTHING, to avoid one more godforsaken mess to clean up.  Amirite?  What's your grossest parenting story?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Love Wins – Rob Bell

I don’t read a lot of Christian apologia.  Though I am a Catholic Christian, I don’t enjoy reading about my faith.  I honestly don’t enjoy reading the Bible either – it’s a struggle for me.  My true love in reading is the escape that it provides…so when I read, I want plot and characters and twists and surprises.  I like to think, but I don’t really want to philosophize, if that makes sense.  So my review of this book feels clumsy to me, and for that I apologize.  I’m out of my league in this genre, honestly.

However, this book has been popping up in conversations and my Facebook feed for a while now, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m glad I did.  Overall, I loved the point of the book.  Love Wins is a back-to-basics message – not at all revolutionary in terms of my personal beliefs, but a nice affirmation about what I believe to be right in terms of how to live and interact with others.  Life, according to Bell, is not about getting somewhere else (heaven, or whathaveyou), but about loving others (no matter what their faith, politics, sexual orientation, etc.) and living your best life now.  Eternity starts today, says Bell, and the way we live now in terms of the good work we do and the way we treat others indicates our future path. 

Or something like that. 

Bell also makes the excellent point that there’s not one “right way” to everlasting nirvana, and that judgment is not ours but God’s (or whatever force each one of us calls “God” ) and that God/“God” is truly merciful and loving and wants us to be with her/him forever in eternal joy.  God, in other words, is bigger than our belief in Her/Him.  Most satisfyingly, Bell trounces the idea that if we don’t respond to God in the right way, we will be eternally tortured.  Because in what way does “eternal torture” fit with the idea of a loving and perfect God?  Love wins – the title really says it all.

(The book is about 200 pages, and though it is easy reading – most paragraphs being of the 3-sentence variety – the previous paragraphs are in no way the entire message.  That above rambling is just a couple of the points that held the most weight with me.)

From the first, Bell admits that nothing he says is new – but I think that everything in the book bears repeating, especially in the charged and Bible-thumping climate we live in today.  It’s the kind of book that every member of the Westboro Baptist Church needs to read about twenty times in a row, in other words.  People need to be reminded that love is the answer, no matter what the question…and that questioning one’s faith and philosophies is an exercise that is essential.  He reminds Christians that questioning is where understanding and strength are born.

However.  (Of course there’s a however.)  While I agree completely with Bell’s message, I take issue with his rhetoric.  To put it bluntly, his argument commits a logical fallacy.  For those of us who don’t know what this is (confession:  I totally had to look it up), here’s a definition:

A fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning.  
An argument can be fallacious whether or not its conclusion is true.

To explain.  Bell’s central argument (or thesis) is advocating for a non-literal interpretation of scripture.  (As a Catholic and an academic, this is not an issue for me.  I read the Bible as a product of history, as a product of many translations, as a work that came into being hundreds of years after the death of Christ.  I read the Bible as a masculine text – written and compiled and read exclusively by men for most of its history.  I read the Bible as a literary work – dependent on the interaction and partnership between writer’s word and reader’s interpretation.  I read the Bible as allegorical, as symbolic.  All that jazz about the world being created in seven days?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Maybe God’s definition of a day was 8,000 years!  And so on. 

So reading the Bible in a non-literal way is obvious, to me.) 

My problem with Love Wins is that the proof and support Bell uses for his thesis is literal Bible quotes.  Bell says we need to read the Bible non-literally, using literal quotes to back up his assertion.

Do you see the issue here? 

So, anyway.  Again, loved the message about love and life and God’s love and all that.  But I wish that Bell could have found more relevant proof for his assertion – proof that would perhaps address a wider audience.

So I wonder, have you read the book?  What did you think?  Which parts were helpful to you?