#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am a Wee Lazy

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If we were having coffee, I would invite you in and say hello. I’m probably still yawning and stretching, and the coffee might not actually be made. Perhaps we’ll walk just down the street to Congregation, the little coffee place on the corner, or perhaps we’ll just stay in here where it’s cool and I’ll hop up to make some coffee. Today I’m being a wee extraordinarily lazy, because this week has been a doozy. (Does anyone actually say doozy anymore?–Besides me, I mean.)

I would tell you that this week I finished up the summer semester, grading essays and averaging grades and getting everything in juuust before they were due. I generally try to finish things up at least a day or two in advance, but this time I had lots of trouble getting that done. Little Jedi is back from his dad’s house for the last 2 weeks of July, so I’ve been trying to spend time with him. I also had an interview for full-time teaching that took place halfway through the week, and the preparation and nervousness from that took up quite a bit of my time. (Side note: Not sure if I’ll have the job yet, but I do know that I have a second interview!) And there’s been a fair amount of family stuff going on that has made me both anxious and angry…Things that I’m not ready to talk about here (and may or may not ever be) but that have drained me of energy in all kinds of ways.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that Little Jedi and I only get this week and next week together out of the whole year. It’s weird, but it’s true. He spends a lot of time with his dad’s family and with my parents–and that’s well and good in the sense that he has lots of people to care about him, but it makes life a little lot more complicated. It’s difficult to plan anything as a family, and it’s frustrating because the other parts of his family don’t really recognize that. During much of the year he is in school, obviously, and during the summer he spends 2 weeks of each month with his dad. Throughout most of the year he’s with his dad every other weekend, and during his Mardi Gras break and spring break he was gone to visit grandparents this year. Sometimes it feels as though he needs his own social calendar, and Sam and I get railroaded into having almost no family time.

So we’ve spent this week mostly hanging out at home, because that’s what he’s wanted to do. We’ve played video games and read and watched YouTube, and he’s had some time to play with his friend and for them to have a sleepover (or two!). On tomorrow, we’re going to the theater to see Kiki’s Delivery Service, and next week I think we’re going to make our way to the aquarium and insectarium and library. In short, we’re going to enjoy our city and one another, because we don’t actually get a lot of free time together to do that.

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If we were having coffee, I would ask what you have going on, what your week has been like. So link up your posts below, and don’t forget to use the #weekendcoffeeshare tag on Facebook, Twitter, and here on WordPress!

How Purity Culture Almost Destroyed My Life…Twice

Purity culture nearly ruined my life.

I grew up in church. We lived in a small, Mississippi town in the 1980s/90s, the place my father grew up. The entire family went to that church–my grandmother, my aunt, my nuclear family, and even some 2nd and 3rd cousins. We were there every time the doors were open…Literally. On Sunday mornings, we would attend Sunday school at 10, then sit through the church service from 11-12. We’d go home for lunch, and sometimes a friend would come over to play for a few hours. Then it was back to church at 4:30 for children’s classes and another church service from 6-7. After services many of those nights, I would go home with my grandmother and aunt, who often ordered pizza and had dinner with our pastor and his wife. On Wednesdays, we went to prayer meetings from 7-8. During the summer, there was always a week of Vacation Bible School and then another week of summer sleep-away camp.

The church we attended held many of the standard fundamentalist Christian views–especially those of the time. I can remember hearing about the evils of rock music. (When I was very young, much of the ire was directed at Ozzy, who bit the head off  of bats. Later, that disdain and concern would turn to Marilyn Manson, who destroyed Bibles onstage and was always to be found in dark clothing and layers of makeup.) When a new youth pastor introduced Christian rock, some of the church goers were upset. I remember not celebrating Halloween, because it was The Devil’s Holiday. We had an evening hay ride and bonfire in the woods to compensate for the loss of trick or treating–supervised by our parents and church elders, of course.

Sex was something that there was almost a blanket of silence about, though. I barely remember discussing sex with my parents, but I think the conversation was mostly too little, too late. Not that I was having sex (indeed, no–not until I was 19), but I’d already figured out how sex worked long before we discussed it. This was because sex wasn’t often discussed in our house or in our church…even in our community. And when it was, there were very certain parameters for the discussion:

We’d talk about abstinence. In church, we learned about the value of purity: purity of heart and purity of body, which seemed to equal a kind of purity of spirit, of soul. At our local high school, the True Love Waits group gave a presentation to the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was a member, except that it was an organization for Christians that many of my friends belonged to…I was certainly not an athlete. We were all encouraged to take vows that we would wait until marriage to have sex.

We’d talk about repentance. In church, we were told that we’d all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We were told that if we’d sinned in this way, we could become new again in God’s eyes if we only repented and then continued to abstain.

And we’d talk about consequences. So, so much talk about consequences. Disease a possibility. I remember mapping out how quickly disease could spread. Oh, but there was also the possibility of creating another human…And not being married to that baby’s other biological parent was considered a serious moral failing in our community, not to mention a hardship that extended from mother to child, an assumption that the child’s life would also be difficult. This was compounded by the occasional pregnant girl at school, a cautionary tale walking around with a burgeoning belly, the way the hushed whispers followed those girls.

Complicating this was some family history, maternal guilt and pressures. Secrets I am not at liberty to tell because they are not mine, but secrets that nonetheless affected my life. And then there were rules…So many rules. Rules about what to wear, who to be (or not to be) alone with, what time to come home, what to do while I was out…So many rules.

Only in retrospect does any of this sound extreme. It’s easy to miss the signs when you’re immersed in something.

By the time I was in college, I’d moved away from my hometown, stopped going to church. I’d met people who were different than me, many of them radically so. I’d studied literature and history at a college level. I’d had my first tastes of alcohol, of love, of freedom, of real joy and of real tragedy. But it wasn’t easy, this moving away from my upbringing. It came in fits and starts, with a lot of internalized guilt and shame. I drank a lot, often getting overly-emotional. At one point, I could drink a fifth of alcohol and keep drinking. For all intents and purposes, I was an alcoholic.

I almost destroyed myself. But somehow, I finished my undergraduate degree and moved on to graduate-level courses.

When I moved to attend graduate school, I was in an off-phase of an on-and-off relationship that had pretty much defined my undergraduate career, spanning from the end of my sophomore year of college until I graduated. Eventually, we’d find ourselves in another on-again phase.

And at 24, I’d find myself unmarried and pregnant.

I was terrified. No, I was not a child–not in the typical sense of the word. But my parents were still very much in charge of my life, helping me pay my way through graduate school so that I could focus on the very real task of getting a degree. I had finished course work for my master’s degree, but I still needed to write a thesis and defend it before I could graduate. And my parents were angry. My mother said we’d have to get married, and my dad said that mom was only wanting the best for us, did not want my child to be a bastard. I was unsure of what to do, but my boyfriend said we’d get through it. We were planning to get married one day anyway, we’d just wanted to wait longer.

And so, I married my son’s father. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other, but we were also unsuited to be married to one another. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were wholly unsuited to one another once we lived together, either. We were married for less than a year, tired of the arguments that had defined our on-and-off relationship. We knew it was unhealthy to raise a child in the turmoil of our arguments, and so we decided not to. We’d raise him together, but separate.

But that was a difficult goodbye. It felt like a death, and in a way it was. It was the death of a relationship, the closing off of a life I thought I was going to live. I didn’t want to be a divorced woman or a single parent. I didn’t want my child to grow up in a “broken home.”

It almost destroyed me, that loss of the dream of a nuclear family with biological mother, biological father, and biological child. That loss also freed me.

But here I am, 7 years post-divorce. I am remarried to someone who I could not imagine life without, someone who is not only a partner to me but an amazing 3rd parent for my son. We have a good relationship with my parents, who have helped me immensely, especially during the time when I was a single mother going to graduate school. And there’s my son…My beautiful boy with a big heart. He has two fathers.

And all is as it should be, finally.

Monday Re-Run: Reading with Wild Things

Last night, we read Biscuit and The Color Kittens and Where the Wild Things Are. Sometimes it’s Clifford or Ninja Turtles or Goodnight, Moon.

The little Jedi at 4

I read banned books. And I read them to my son.

I say this loudly. I wear it like a badge. I write it.

But why?

Because books teach us empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and open innumerable worlds. Because books allow someone who we might never meet, perhaps because they’re on the other-side of the world and perhaps because they’ve been dead 200 years, to speak to us. Because books create a multiplicity of voices in a world that pushes master narratives. Because books show us the capacity of our language. Because there’s pleasure in the forbidden.

Because learning to read and having the freedom to decide what to read are freedoms that have been denied many people based on their gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. Because one of the tools of oppression is banning literature and language.

And so, I read. I gobble up books. And I’m trying to teach Little Jedi to do the same.

I’ve been reading out loud to him since he was in utero. I’d often read sections of my thesis materials, both my research and my own writing, aloud. And then, when he was born and spent 5 weeks in the NICU, I read aloud to him during visits. And so did his grandparents. We kept books in his part of the unit, and we’d sit in a rocking chair, draped in our hospital gowns to cover our clothes. Sometimes he’d be swaddled and held while we were reading; sometimes we would read aloud through the incubator where he slept. Tiny Jedi on the night of his birth

There was so little we could do for him. But we could read.

So we did. And as he grew a little older, left that place behind, learned to walk, started to speak and think and act, the stories changed. But they were there. They have always been there.

We laugh when Max chases the little white dog at the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are. Max’s dog looks a lot like our little terrier/border collie mix, Tank. But the first time we read it, Little Jedi stopped at that place and said, rather solemnly, “he shouldn’t chase that dog with a fork.” No, Little Jedi, Max should probably not be chasing that dog with a fork. But little boys do sometimes chase their dogs, and they do sometimes run about with things they shouldn’t.

Then, when Max’s room becomes a forest, we’re both always in a bit of wide-eyed appreciation. Sendak’s art is just so good. And when the Wild Things rumpus, Little Jedi usually has a good rumpus as well. But not last night. He was tired, so tired, and he wondered how Max knew the Wild Things didn’t love him best of all, and why they didn’t give Max anything to eat, and whether there wasn’t one with wings to just fly Max back home.

And as always, the return home was Little Jedi’s triumphant moment. More than any other part of the book, he loves the last page, that page empty save the 5 words: “…and it was still hot.” There’s something about that return home and a warm supper waiting for Max that just makes Little Jedi incredibly happy.

And so it makes me happy. I get to talk to Little Jedi about all sorts of things, from monsters to forests to love to running about the house with a fork, and I get to do it by reading him this book that was written in 1963. This book that was already 21, old enough to drink, when I was born, that spawned my own questions about good and bad and monsters and love.

wild thingWhere the Wild Things Are typifies the things that are often banned or challenged about children’s books: a depiction of rage or complex feelings; monsters and/or talking animals; magic; scariness. But the world is already a scary place, and children already have complex emotions. Monsters exist, even if they don’t look like the ones Sendak drew.

Books give us ways to encounter our monsters without cost. They open the doors for conversations. They provide continuity between human experiences when there seems to be none. To ban a book is to silence a voice, to close off a line of thinking and inquiry, to shut out what is difficult and thus what might be most rewarding.

Don’t shut out the Wild Things. Invite them in. Live with them. Read them.

(This post originally ran in September 2014 as a part of the Banned Books Blog Party at Things Matter. Since then, my husband–who knows me so very well–bought me an anniversary present in the form of tattoos, Max on one arm and a Wild Thing on the other. We’ve read Where the Wild Things Are and so many, many more books with Little Jedi. Sometimes he reads to us now. Life mimics art mimics life.)