Rogue Homilies by Deidre Price

a study of life that smacks of the divine

Month: October 2015

“My Mom, the Spanker”: A Rogue Homily on Teaching and Why We Don’t Get to Decide What People Learn

I try to learn one new thing a day. That’s it. One thing. It’s easily done enough. I’m a professor who grades forty thousand papers a day, give or take, and I’m a reader, so knowledge finds me.

My work goal each day is to teach one person one thing. Once I’ve done that, it takes the pressure off. I usually check in with my students after a class ends. I’ll ask, “Did anyone learn anything?” If I get even one hand (I usually get most), I celebrate that. One person has learned something from me—that’s humbling and honoring all at once. It means they were listening, they were watching, they were waiting.

It’s nothing short of the stars aligning for learning to happen in a computer lab where click is king, so when my words get through, it’s a marvel to me. And they do most days.

I’m a good teacher even though I never set out to be. I tried to be a good writer and a good reader. I wanted to know how to love literature well through the study of it. I ended up in a classroom because that’s where people think you learn to be a good writer and a good reader—spoiler alert: It isn’t. Quite honestly, it isn’t how you learn to be a good anything, really. It’s analogous to an expo, really. You see a lot. You’ll use less than we show. Your job is to browse and to familiarize, to pick up information you can use later, when the real work starts.

The trouble with teaching is that you only get to decide what you’d like to teach, not what they actually learn.

Sometimes in class, I’ll follow up with my “Did anyone learn anything?” and what they say they learned is tangential to what I thought I was teaching. I might be talking about an essay mode and, in the process, end up talking about getting started and mention that one could start with the body paragraphs instead of the intro paragraph to avoid writer’s block, and that might be so liberating to them that it sticks, and they get all “Free, body and soul free” on me. I want to say, “Cool it, sister. Did you hear anything else I said? Did you hear anything else I needed you to hear?”

The answer? Nope. Nada. Zilch.

The same is true in parenthood. We decide what we teach but not what they learn.

I learned this myself when my son brought home this gem:

12139978_10106787272573203_8101050811458186238_o

I swelled with pride over the pages upon pages of construction paper stapled together into a makeshift catalog of things that defined his very four-year-old being.

My mind raced from thing to thing he loved and how it would be represented on the pages before me. I thought, Surely he mentioned Legos or how we play Play-Doh together for hours on end. He had to mention woot beer fwoats or maybe soccer. I’m sure he mentioned his curls. Everyone loves his curls.  

Batshopping 4

And then I opened to this:

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First of all, I’M A TIME OUT MOTHER! I can count on less than three fingers how many times I’ve ever spanked this kid, and I cannot remember the last time he was even spanked. Was it a year ago? Maybe two?

Despite my own spankalicious upbringing, my mother, Grandmother of Endless Grace and Peace and Mercy in all her glorious grandmotherliness takes issue with even the timeouts I dole out for his bad behavior because, well, Atticus is the perfect angel who never deserves anything but hugs and trucks full of ice cream.

I can hear her explaining away his vitriolic sass as I carry him off to his room for four measly minutes to allow him to get ahold of himself, an opportunity for resolution, a chance for peace.

I AM A VERITABLE MOTHER TERESA OF DISCIPLINE, THE SAINT OF ENDLESS MERCIES. I AM THE UNKEMPT VERSION OF SUPERNANNY. I WILL SO RETURN YOU TO YOUR ROOM SEVERAL TIMES IN SILENCE WHILE I YELL INTO A PILLOW IN ANOTHER ROOM. I HAVE SELF-CONTROL!

I suppose I should be grateful. What kind of questions are these? Is it an abuse and neglect screening disguised as a quaint little arts and crafts project?

He could have said, “I get sad when Mommy leaves for work every day to leave me to the recreational torture of friends and playgrounds only to be picked up by Grammy who makes me enough eggs and grits to last for the ages. The nerve.”

Or, when they asked about anger, he could’ve said, “When I get angry I’m typically encouraged to exercise deep breathing and look into my mother’s cold, dead stare while she says yoga things to me. Namaste, nama-go.”

Instead, he dubs me Mommy, the Spanker, in the first month of preschool, and it’s sent home as what, I can only assume, is a warning shot before the anger intervention people come for me in their white coats. I know how this world works.

And so I say to my son…

Atticus, darling.

Angel.

Let the good things stick and the bad things fall away.

Forgive.

Move.

Let the ick be like snow that melts into the ground.

You do not get that reference as you are a Floridian, but I assure you’ve seen snow on one of the iPads, iPhones, flatscreen TVs, laptops, or desktop computers you’ve been privileged to see in our sweet home in your sweet, short life so far, right?

Maybe you’ve seen snow in one of the thousand trips I’ve taken you to the library to pick out your own books? Maybe in one of the thousand books we’ve read in the aisles of Barnes and Noble while you tried to distract me with Thomas the Train cars?

Maybe you’ve heard about it in your favorite seasonal songs we’ve tolerated hearing on repeat during the Christmas season, like “Dominick the Donkey” in the month where I forfeited sanity for the sake of your sonic delight?

Maybe you’ve seen it in the seven dozen times we’ve circled Northgate Estates to look at their luminaries during Christmas while dining on sugar cookies and red velvet cupcakes and while sipping on Starbucks hot chocolate that I ordered special at “kid temp” because I care about something as silly as a burn on your tiny little unforgiving tongue?

To all this, I say, “Let it melt…

into the ground…

like so many other transgressions and missteps and slippery words…

Forget the spanks, the timeouts, the STOP, DON’T, WAIT, NO.”

I ask him, “Why did you tell them I spanked you?”

He replies, nonchalantly and matter-of-factly as though he hadn’t just wrecked my whole world because it depends solely on him and whether he thinks I’m a Glenda or a West witch, “Because you did.”

It’s true.

I did.

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How We Hold Out Best: A Rogue Homily on Fear

I used to count on death. This is what the depressed do. It’s the “suicide pill” the broken mind keeps in its darkest corner. That “out” looks almost like hope in this light. The resemblance is uncanny.

That kind of light casts the widest shadow so that even happy comfort words get met with a cynical, anxiety-ridden me.

The gift of cyclical depression is that one starts acknowledging feelings as temporary; this is a healing notion because it turned my stop into wait, and while I can’t always stop, I can almost always wait.

The downside of all downsides is that the happy-happy seems inauthentic and insufficient, so it doesn’t work like it used to. It just doesn’t stick.

I’ve traded my want of happy for a want of true.

True sticks around when happy can’t.

So the bumper sticker Christianity is lost on me. The prosperity gospel simply does not compute. I wish upon all my wishes that I’d see #grateful instead of #blessed. You don’t get to brag about the favor of the God upon your life just because you’re driving home in one of Lane Pratley’s brand-new, pre-owned Sonatas.

Don’t even wait. Just stop.

I do believe there is good news, even capital Good News: Death doesn’t win.

But I also know from experience that just because capital Death doesn’t win doesn’t mean lowercase death doesn’t happen.

It does, and it’s awful.

I say things casually to my husband often, like, “If I die, please delete all my selfies, burn my papers, and save my books. Make sure the kids know I love them. Tell the doctors it started with a slightly sore throat. My knee also kind of hurts. Please hire someone to clean before your mother comes over; you’ll be too wrecked with grief to do anything. If you have to move, stay in town until the little ones hit middle school; they’ll already be mad at you by then. I need to write all my passwords down for you. Ask Patrice to finish grading these essays; give her my D2L password.”

Without missing a beat, Jonathan responds, “You mean when you die. It’s not if.” He seems not at all concerned with the memoirs he’ll have to extensively edit. Not a worry in the world with that one.

Because he is precisely no comfort in this area (he has other gifts), I turn to scripture, which gives me less sass, to find even less help:

“…you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” –James 4:14 ESV

What kind of inspiration is that supposed to be exactly?

Give me unicorn Jesus. I want rainbows and airbrushed lions next to harp angels. Seriously? A mist!? That was your best shot? It’s a marvel James had any friends.

One of the best preachers I’ve known said something deep but simple about life that stuck with me: “No one is getting out of this alive,” which was, if you think about it, both incredibly depressing and incredibly true at the same time.

I loved how those words knocked the fear out of me for a moment. He made death sound ordinary, like it was the most normal thing we’d end up doing.

Again, not if but when.

Once you realize that something is certain and coming for you, even if slowly and maybe less menacingly than you once speculated, you begin to plan for the eventual.

If you can’t beat it, at least get ready for it.

Preparing for an eventual death, likely decades away, is not as easy as stocking up on batteries and bottled water. You can’t shop for life insurance. Well, you can, but not the kind I wanted, which was that, basically, I wouldn’t die ever—or at least until I was super, super old, like suspiciously, Death-Becomes-Her old and then it would be absolutely painless and instant—but I would have enough notice prior to it so that I could make sure the laundry was caught up, et cetera… et cetera meaning I’d delete my own selfies since Jonathan, again, so racked with grief, might be inclined to make wallpaper out of them for public posterity.

Also, the moment it happened, someone would erase everyone’s memory of me. This would be some cross between the short-term Men in Black flashy thing and the more calculated approach of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is the future, so I can be picky. I’m sure we will have gotten there by then.

The rest for my worry-weary mind came one night while sitting in my living room with a few dear mama-friends of mine. My mind wandered again toward death and what these lovelies of mine would do should my family ever be without me. I knew they’d do for me what I’d do for them:

We’d take care of each other’s others.

And that was it: YES! Our stories will all end one day, but they probably won’t end at the same time. We will die but not all at once, and even though it’s not happy-happy, it’s true, and that was enough to wash the worry from my ever-heavy heart.

We take turns. Always. In life, in death, we take turns. This solves it. It’s flying tandem. It’s circular breathing. It’s sharing the tank in an underwater emergency.

And even when it seems like we’re all on the same ship that’s going down, down, down, there’s peace in knowing we won’t be alone. Know that that’s enough, too, to sustain you, that that’s enough to make you wait even if you can’t stop.

We were born to take care of each other, to offer shelter, rest, and soup. We were born to hold hands, in life, in death, and in uncertainty, no matter the mess.

Take this lesson as a broken benediction. My friend Jen has a beautiful one-year-old son about whom she shared these words tonight:

“Tonight while cooking dinner, Owen runs in, puts his hand up, wanting me to hold his, but then he just stands there holding my hand. He closes his eyes and bows his head. Then he lets go and takes off back to the living room. One minute later he runs back in the kitchen and grabs my hand with his little sweet hand (my heart melts every time) and again closes his eyes and bows his head. I think, aww…is he praying? Then I realize that, no, he is not praying. He is preparing to go into the incinerator. That’s right, the boys turned on Toy Story 3 for him while I was cooking. It was the end of the movie and he was acting it out. It was one of the funniest, sweetest, saddest things ever.”

I replied to her, “Aww! He knows you’re his ICE.”

What a beautiful thing that instinct is, especially for a baby, to reach over, reach out, reach up.

And how much better to wait together when we cannot choose to stop, to occupy ourselves with one another at bedsides, on the sides of streets, and yes, even in the darkest corners of our mind.

holding

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Dr. Pepper and God: A Rogue Homily on Faith

Meet my new genre: the rogue homily. Let’s be clear; I’m no preacher man. I do want desperately to reconcile my life ledger and make sense of the mess in the margins, but my theology’s hot—stolen from people way better than I am.

I want to put God on the page but usually end up finding him in people. So I tell stories about the people and put them on the page instead.

My friend Ashley Besser's answer to my husband's insistence that I didn't have enough street cred to pen homilies.

My friend Ashley Besser’s answer to my husband’s insistence that I didn’t have enough street cred to pen homilies.

I’m playing dirty here, I know, with the homily approach: dining and ditching and leaving you to foot the bill of a hundred indecisions, a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of toast and tea. Maybe just make like I’m Alice, you the rabbit; follow me out the door.

Dr. Pepper and God: A Rogue Homily on Faith

My fourteen-year-old daughter and I have been splitting up lately. I send her in one direction with a cart as I yell out a few items for her to track down, and off I go in the other direction.

She goes for the usuals—the dog food, the toothpaste, the granola. I go for the unusuals—the interventions, the spontaneous, and surprises—the things she’d never ask for. She’s such the humble one.

She’s fourteen and doesn’t smile as much as I remember smiling at her age, so I lighten her days with occasional delights, like books or a Dr. Pepper.

Daina has the loveliest network of spare mamas. Some, like Lexi, borrow Daina’s books and call her room their own personal library. Daina, of course, loves playing librarian and book reviewer for them. All her spare mamas from my work are writers and lit Ph.D.s who send me home with New York Times clippings of bestseller lists and bags of books for her to try.

Yesterday, Robyn (my colleague and her personal YA novel consultant) messaged me to say that Magnus Chase had been released, so when I arrived to Publix, of course, Daina split (practically lickety) to head to Books-a-Million, leaving me to hunt and gather on my own.

When we arrived home, her book and my groceries in tow, we were unloading the trunk, and I was fumbling with one bag with root beer cans falling out of the top.

“I got you Dr. Pepper,” I told Daina as she worked to beat her last best bag-holding record.

She looked into the trunk disappointed but sorry to have to tell me at the same time, “Oh, I don’t like root beer.”

“I didn’t get you root beer,” I told her, as if she hadn’t heard me clearly.

“I don’t like root beer though,” she said, confused.

“I know. I said I got you Dr. Pepper,” assuming she’d understand the root beer was for Atticus, her brother who loves root beer for his occasional woot beer fwoats.

“That’s root beer, Mom,” as if to shore up all the teenage know-it-ness she could manage.

“Stop focusing on what you’re seeing and listen,” and I pointed to the bag she’d already gathered into her arms with eight tiny cans of Dr. Pepper in it, just like I’d tried to tell her over and over again.

I kept thinking, Man, she’s so sure of herself. Why is she so sure of herself? She didn’t even set foot in the store. 

And then those words snagged my mind cardigan: Stop focusing on what you’re seeing and listen.

drpepper

I told you so.


 

*Note to Rabbits: I realize that I’m God in this analogy. Just go with it. It’s been a mom day.

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