In the garden…

I’ve seen the green shoots in the garden that no one wanted. The snow keeps smothering and then melting just to smother again- like the covering grief. We are not sure whether to welcome the newness of the transitory precipitation of sadness or whether to nestle in and pray for thaw. Still, the garden is growing. The promise of blooms keep us waiting despite the cold.

A few months ago, our community quaked with the loss of a young citizen, friend, and daughter. Charlotte was six years old when she was struck and killed by a truck on a quiet city street in the middle of the day. I didn’t get the news until the evening- a friend phoned while I was painting at my shop. Alone, my response was one of fury, of rage. I screamed. I roared into the absurd night. And then I gathered courage and sought out shared tears.

Charlotte was one of the children in our little “yurt school” cooperative. Full of fire and glitter, she burst into every space, romanced every flower, and choreographed the wind. She danced with abandon, shared with gusto, and stood her ground like an oak sapling.

How do you explain the death of a child to a child?

The next morning, with mussed hair and sloppy pajamas, we sat with our boys. I slowly and quietly explained to them that our friend Charlotte had been in an accident and that she was taken to the hospital and that she had died. I watched my five year-old’s eyes change as the words clicked into place, their meaning contracting and expanding the muscles in his small face. This was the most frightening moment: The realization that I would never fully know what mechanisms were at work, what cogs were turning and what internal parts of him had just transformed. Again, I was angry and fearful. What has changed in my son? Is there a stony crust formed somewhere deep in the recesses of his trusting heart? Has the muscle of his love for others grown stronger? Is the acid of this senseless loss bleeding into his veins? There was no way to know. The line of distinction between the person-hood of mother and child revealed its rich ink.

We raise our children to let them go. Each milestone becomes a landmark on a course of departure. But we all carry the hope, maybe even conviction, that the route circles back, that somehow our sons and daughters are on a ship riding the tide that ebbs, flows and returns.

So when our faith returns an empty ocean, a broken vessel, then what?

Our perceptions are always changing. Our gratitude, sustaining. And still we search for what is beyond our vision, beyond our understanding. We linger on the hopeful shore: mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters and brothers. And we fill the tides with our tears and change the course of ships with the moon of our love.

No one wanted to plant Charlotte’s Remembering Garden- we didn’t want to have to re-member, we wanted the moment to be alive in her presence. Over one thousand bulbs went into the cold earth on a rainy morning. Hands caked with mud massaged them into the soil. And now we wait for spring, trusting that the season will change and bring her joy to us again, again.

char run

 

 

 

If you would like to hear more about our experience of how we’ve walked with our children and community through this tragedy, please feel free to be in touch. Leave a comment or send me an email trouble.trace@gmail.com.

For the Win

Miley-Cyrus-Foam-Handphoto necolebitchie.com

#MileyCyrus.There, I’ve done it. I have added to the astronomically large tally of tags, hits, keywords and glommed on to the vocabulary of the moment.

Yes, I have seen the infamous VMA performance and the loaded Robin Thicke video. I have also watched the Auckland students’ (warning: explicit) parody video. And I have read some blog posts on what’s what when it comes to walking with your kids through the swamp of exploitation and scandal-hungry media hawkers. And it all has me thinking…

When my son was born I experienced a moment of alarm. Just what the world needs, I thought, another white man. The moment passed in a breath and what came next was the realization that my son was positioned, culturally, by his genetics and the strange circus of patriarchal Western culture, to be an advocate for the disenfranchised. If, by his gender and skin color and whatever other stamps and labels society wants to slap on him, he will give voice to the ones ignored. He will grow to be an oak of respect for women- a shelter from the hail of objectification of his sisters. He will honor sex not as a commodity but as a gift. This, I pray, is his birthright.

As parents we are in an arena where we are unwilling players. Chuck Klosterman (of The New York Times, The Ethicist column September 1, 2013) writes, in response to an inquiry about the morality of performance enhancing drugs, “There are no sound moral arguments against P.E.D.’s. There is, however, an ethical argument. Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create a framework for how a culture operates… Any game […] is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. […] The motive is to create a world- or at least the illusion of a world- where everyone is playing the same game in the same way. P.E.D.’s are forbidden because that’s what our fabricated rules currently dictate.” So what does this have to do with the explicit performances of Blurred Lines? Well, it seems to me that the force of American culture is fielding two teams. Is this a game about morality? And ethics? I believe yes and yes. And it is about sex and inequality and exploitation and fame. Above all, it is about greed: power and money, the Win.

When I watched Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, I have to say the feminist rage in me sat quietly- edgy and poised, but quiet. I think there is a part of me that understands the business of sex, the currency of desire. The women in that video are beautiful (Yes, in a westernized, light-skinned, emaciated sort of way. But still- gorgeous.). The song is dumb. It’s all about the hook (Pharrell Williams would be first to admit). There are moments that pissed me off, sure, where I was offended and disgusted. Times when it was clear that we are allowing corruption in the economy of relationship. But those (professional model)girls were amazing. And I have this love of nudity…

I don’t have this knee-jerk reaction to the naked body. There is the pervasive sentiment that the only logical course is to sexualize a person just because they are no longer clothed. In art school, we would get bored with nudity, there was such an abundance of it. One of my favorite models was this woman who must have weighed about 250 pounds. While my classmates groaned, I loaded up my palette ready to sculpt this beautiful woman with paint. I loved the folds of skins and abundant forms. I appreciate the bodies that I encounter. But I recognize that I am an outlier. And also not…

I judge myself in terms of the value of sexual currency that I hold. I examine my body and label the flaws. I catch myself playing the game.

In the parody of the New Zealand Blurred Lines video, I nodded along. I laughed out loud. I felt vindicated. These were my teammates.

But not really. I agreed with their message and the quality of production was great, but there was something off. Maybe it became too real; the whole Us vs Them encounter. Maybe part of it was an awareness of the complex (albeit twisted)industry behind the “other” video. I’m not sure…

The thing that I keep coming back to in all of this Miley Cyrus frenzy is that the performance was choreographed. That 19-year-old wasn’t alone out there. Yes, that was her tongue licking her own ears, smacking the booty of on of her “back-up bears”, but it would be naive to think that every appropriated step, every pelvic thrust, every foam finger rub wasn’t discussed and planned and rehearsed, repeatedly, by paid adults. It’s like football: you have a coaching staff whose numbers far outweigh that of the actual players. The only difference is that in this game we are reffing it ourselves. We are calling for the reviews and throwing the arbitrary flags and still trying to run the ball. I’m not trained to judge this game. I don’t know the rules. Do you?

Now, I am not saying that I enjoyed Cyrus’ performance. I thought it was awful and stupid. She looked like she was trying to bring Disney to the strip club. There was no sex in it, in my mind. But there was greed. She is playing the game. And she needs a better coach.

Lastly, I feel compelled to touch on the broader implications of this power hungry culture that we are navigating. Our kids might start believing that the game is real. That the MC rapping about ho’s and whatnot is some sort of icon or idol, or worse: a leader. He is expressing himself in all of his basic, unfiltered, insulated hurt, anger and longing. And beyond our measly borders, the images and lyrics – describing women as property, as sex toys, as pets- spread, gaining cultural momentum and picking up specks of truth that seem to give the global illusion that this is right and real and the way things are meant to be.

My hope, my prayer, for my sons and your daughters, is that we will know when to let the game-clock run out and we can make new rules and truly play. With joy and passion and acknowledgment of each others’ strengths and weaknesses: play. Because there is no Win.

(Have a laugh: Twerking explained…)

Super Choice Champion Chart

Since the end of winter break, it’s been a ragged transition into the heave and ho of routine. My five-year-old is especially having a rough go of it…

There have been several freak-outs and not a few fights.

Tired tears are flowing soaking many late, late nights.

I’ve had it with the shouting, the whining and the like.

And if I see those eyes roll once more,

I swear I’ll wreck your bike.

I’ve got something for you, you snotty, hissing child,

(Especially my first-born, who is neither meek nor mild)

Shut up. Sit down. (And here comes the kicker…)

“I love you, sweet boy. Have another sticker.”

So, under the wise and loving guidance of my step-mom, I made each of the boys a behavior *star* chart. First night: great success!

I’ll keep you posted…

judah super choice chartpierce super chartIf you want one for your sweet, obedient child, I am taking orders for custom charts :).  They are 8.5″ x 11″, laminated for use with dry-erase markers and so stickers can be removed/reused. trouble.trace@gmail.com

Incidental hugs

He looked defeated as he stepped heavily down the bus stairs. It was as if the big yellow box exhaled my five-year-old son onto the gravel. And there he stopped. He didn’t want to walk towards home and he certainly didn’t want to turn around and hoist himself back into the heaving bus.
His eyes were a little pinkish around the edges and his kindgartener-sized back pack slumped around his shoulders.
“How was school?” I asked the tried and true mom question.
“I don’t know,” Pierce responded like the mini-teenager he has become.
“Please walk with me- I’m cold and want to get home.”
He wouldn’t move, his blinking reptile shoes rooted in the grey dust and chilly air.
Finally, after many halting steps, I picked him up and carried him home. He kicked and pushed the whole way, but every time I gave him another chance to walk he seized up, overcome by his will to be immobilized.
Frustrated now, I plopped him in his room and gave him some “settle down” time.
Ten minutes later, his cries changed from angry vocal pushes to lonesome whimpers and I recognized myself, the child that I continue to be. So I held my son, held myself, and listened.
His day had been difficult. There was an incident at lunch when his curiosity led to unintended and challenging consequences. He made a mess of things and then cleaned it up, ashamed and confused. Fear had entered the equation after the equal sign. Somehow the sums and differences balanced out but he wasn’t sure how. “I don’t want to tell you,” he managed, ” I don’t think you will like it.”
“Maybe not, but I will always love you. No matter what your choices.”
Finally, fretfully, and with the gentle, innocent prodding of his little brother, he described the ordeal and named his part.
I watched the fear rush out of him, exhaling much like the pneumatic bus doors. Fear, shame slimed with tears and snot, my son found himself, again, walking on solid ground.
This morning when I walked with him into his school, he was ambushed by two girls. On the left, the one whose lunch he had knocked on the floor yesterday. “Pierce!” She exclaimed with a broad smile. Two pink backpacks jostled towards him. Two puffball pony tails bobbed with the dance steps of four running feet. And my son, my broken boy, was covered, surrounded by the loving arms of forgiveness and joy and my own child-heart was whole again.

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In this dark season of waiting, may you find the solace and comfort of humble joy, fierce love and courage in community.