First Resolution

Are you feeling guilty yet over those holiday pounds and indulgences? Well, read on, because I’m about to make you feel a whole lot worse.

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’ve never once made a New Years resolution. I haven’t made one and then not stuck to it- I mean I’ve actually never made one. I figure if you need a life change no date on a calendar is going to help you. Until now. It just so happens that I need a change immediately. My first ever resolution is- to give up chocolate. Not for my waistline, for my conscience.

It all started with my one woman mission to ban candy sales from my kids’ private school. This is for many reasons: hating fund raisers, hating selling things, really hating selling bad chocolate. I’m opposed to my kindergartener going door to door, I’m also opposed to me going door to door. But mostly I’m put off by the fact that as a Christian school and Christian family we are ‘loving our neighbors’ deeper and deeper into the obesity epidemic. I don’t want my 6 year old eating a bar of chocolate and I don’t want yours to either.

Last year my response was to hide in shame when the boxes of 50 bars were sent home with the warning that what you don’t sell you still have to pay for. Envisioning a box of 48 chocolate bars sitting on my kitchen counter for the next 3 months strengthened me to not accept that dastardly box. I was the bad mom; worse, the uninvolved mom. Out of sheer guilt we ended up picking 100 avocados off our tree, selling them 2 for a buck and donating the money to the school.

This year I’ve decided to stop hiding and actually do something pro-active. My mission is to find a better fundraiser that can also bring in the same level of cash as the dreaded candy sale. Because A) I love our school and B) There’s nothing worse than a whiny mom who complains about something but offers no alternatives.

Your holiday not ruined yet? Stay with me.

In the back of my mind I remembered a Huffington Post article I read about a year ago regarding child slaves in cocoa production. At the time I went ahead and filed that in my brain under Things That Suck That I Can’t Do Anything About and went on my way inhaling peanut butter snickers. As a side note, I will miss you, peanut butter snickers. So. So. Much.

So I decided to do some research to make my argument to the PTA more convincing. That was my first mistake. What follows is what I get for trying to make people feel badly with snarky arguments in the first place.

Turns out children are slaves in cocoa production.

Let that sink in for just a second. There are children right now in bondage, under terrible conditions, not playing, not in school, torn away from their families. They are in bondage because the people who buy and sell them profit off of their free labor. There are children that are in slavery so that you and me and our children can eat cheap chocolate. Because you see, if the workers were paid a fair wage, chocolate would be much more expensive to us, and as I’m learning more and more, us Americans are addicted to artificially low prices.

Now I know I’m losing some of you, as I was lost the first time I heard about this. How on earth could little old me make that much of a difference for good or bad in an industry worth 80 billion dollars? (Yes, that’s Billion. With a B)

Also, how could I change my chocolate-y ways? Even if I only purchased fair trade chocolate (which is the only way to know for sure that slaves weren’t used in any stage of the production) what to do about everything else? What about the chocolate milk my kids love? What about my Starbucks mochas? What about those delicious trail mix bars from Trader Joe’s with those teensy tiny adorable chips in them? What about my PEANUT BUTTER SNICKERS.

Well, start by watching the documentary, Chocolate: The Bitter Truth

Then read this article
http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/19/child-slavery-and-chocolate-all-too-easy-to-find/

Also, this one: http://www.childlabor-payson.org/

And just for kicks, this one too:http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_8583000/8583499.stm

Like me, you may be thinking this is one of so many injustices. There are child sex slaves in Cambodia (and across the globe in reality) child slaves of war in Uganda, child labor in most third world countries. We can’t possibly fix all of the world’s problems. We can’t dwell on it, thinking of these atrocities while watching our own kids frolic and play. The guilt is too much for us and we shut down.

But I’m realizing we don’t have the luxury of shutting down when we significantly contribute to a problem. America is the number one consumer of chocolate on the planet.

That’s the rub my friends. The chocolate companies won’t demand better conditions for their workers unless the consumer demands it. The most effective way a consumer can demand it is to stop paying for it. That is my resolution for 2013- that I will not contribute financially to this problem anymore. Goodbye peanut butter snickers. It was good while it lasted.

Sorry for ruining your day. Happy New Year.

Skipping Stones

The 5 stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  According to my Facebook newsfeed, it is clear to me that in the last 10 days, society has collectively steamrolled our way past denial and we have moved right on to anger.  Good news: we are getting somewhere. Bad news: we may not be going in the right direction.

Most of this anger comes in justifiable calls for gun control and better mental health care.  I say Amen to both of these.  I, personally, can think of no possible reason for a person who legally wants to protect their home or go hunting to need a semi-automatic weapon.  Apart from a zombie apocalypse I cannot imagine why anyone would need something that shoots 45 rounds per minute.  Neither do I think it reasonable to strip every single person outside the military and police of their right to bear arms.

So we need reform on gun control yes, better mental heath care, double yes. In my therapist days I treated a boy eerily similar to Adam Lanza.  He was a 13 year old schizophrenic raised by a single mother who, to put food on the table, left him to his own devices the majority of waking hours. I echo the frustrations raised by parents of the mentally ill and their doctors.  The parents need support and resources, the therapists and doctors need something more effective than a 72-hour hold. Our system is broken and needs fixing.

But what does that mean to you and me? I don’t know about you but no one in Congress has sent me a personal invitation to come stand on a soapbox and tell them how to fix things.  In all my free time I have not yet completed the perfect comprehensive mental health plan that solves all these issues.  Even if I did, I’m pretty sure no one would care. I personally don’t know how to bring together both sides on such a volatile issue as gun control. Maybe we sign an online petition, or urge against signing an online petition.  At the end of the day we wring our hands and ask, What else can I do? I think we can do more because I think this tragedy was about more.

About a year ago, I was pulling out of a parking spot on a busy street in my town.  The spaces on this street are lined up at a weird angle forcing you to inch inch inch your way back until the back half of your car is sticking out into the street before you even have a view of cars coming your way.  It is common for the folks of our town to routinely pass by cars that are halfway out of a space without a blink.  I was doing the inch inch inch waiting for a gap in traffic to come when a driver apparently thought I was trying to cut her off.  The woman laid on her horn and came to a full stop next to me.  “WHAT THE F*&# ARE YOU DOING?!” She hollered at me.  “Uh…I…” “Mommy”, came a voice from the backseat, “What’s that lady saying?” So I rolled up my window as fast as possible, more worried about what my children were hearing than explaining myself to Crazypants.  She ranted for another 10 seconds then sped off.

Wow.  This is where we are y’all.  We are going around doing life at a 10.  We are angry about our jobs.  We are angry about our relationships. We are angry about what happened in Connecticut.  We take out that anger on those who think differently than us.  If someone looks at us wrong, cuts us off in line, or God forbid inches out of a parking spot anywhere near us, we lose our ever loving minds.  I say we because I really mean me.

Just the other day I was at the drive thru line at Mc Donald’s.  Now, before you judge, I really really wanted a coffee.  Drive thru coffee was invented to save parents like me from unbuckling 4 children in the rain, traipsing into a Starbucks, waiting in line while keeping them from unplugging peoples laptops and sneaking bites of strangers muffins then traipsing back out into the rain where statistically at least 1 out of 4 will run away from me, making me spill my coffee to make sure they don’t get hit by a car thus nullifying the $2.75 I really shouldn’t be spending on coffee to begin with.  First world problems, I know, but still.

So, I’m sitting in line at McD’s hoping against hope that the children don’t take notice too soon.  I’m second in line and the quicker I get in and out the less the widow of time to hear, “MC DONALDS! CAN I HAVE A HAPPY MEAL? CAN I HAVE AN ICE CREAM? WHAT TOYS DO THEY HAVE, CAN I HAVE A TOY MOM? PLEASE JUST ONE TOOYYY MOM PLEEEEASSSE”

I was so close to getting through unnoticed when out of nowhere comes a woman talking on a cell phone who cuts right in front of me.  I felt my blood pressure skyrocket. I instinctively laid on the horn then recoiled in horror because I remembered Crazypants.  At the time I was so appalled at her level of misplaced rage and here am I, hypocrite that I am that I can’t get my McLatte as fast as I want to.  We all think we are at a 3 or a 4, and sometimes, maybe during yoga class we are.  But the majority of us go around at a 10.

Adam Lanza should have had other people supporting his mother in raising him.  He should not have had access to assault style weapons.  He should have had access to good, affordable mental health care.  I fully support the world grappling with these issues and fighting the good fight on them. I even think we need to get a little angry to work through our collective grief. But Adam Lanza was still going around at a 10.  He was still looking for someone to set him off- an outlet for his aggression.

As I said in my last post, we have to pick up our piece of this awful grief that surrounds us.  We have to carry some of this burden for these destroyed families.  But we have to pick up a piece of our responsibility too.  Our society helped create Adam Lanza.  He was definitely a sick and tormented man.  What he did was unconscionable.  But he was also a product of the world around him.

My son recently told me about a boy in his class who had been mean to him.  I asked who this kids friends were and my son said,  “Oh, no one wants to be friends with him.  He makes weird noises and gets mad a lot. Plus, he uses bad words.”  Already, in first grade this child is classified.  He is weird.  He is other.

Maybe my small part of the responsibility is to teach my child that the mad kid who makes weird noises is the kid we need to invite to play dates.  Maybe my piece is to talk to his mom, to get involved in her life, to ask her out for coffee instead of the women I naturally gravitate to with similar interests and friendly children.  Maybe my piece is to stop worrying if other kids are being nice to mine at school and start instilling in him a love for the people around him by my own example.

My life is small.  It feels mundane and insignificant. I am busy and sleep deprived.  I just want my coffee in a timely manner before all of my kids implode in their car seats.  I just want to relax for the few and precious minutes of down time between changing diapers and cleaning up messes with friends, not strangers.  I don’t really want to take the chance of my kid being labeled ‘other’, or picking up bad language.  I don’t want to step outside my comfort zone. I’m usually so overwhelmed at the needs of my family that I rarely seek out the needs of others.

But at what cost can we continue to think only of our families and ourselves?  At what point do we say enough of this madness?  Enough of our kids being gunned down.  Enough of this brokenness. Enough of this hate. Just because we can’t do something big does not mean we shouldn’t do anything at all.

So, I am going to try to do the small things, the hard things. My kids and I are making approximately 4,000 batches of cookies to take to neighbors.  I want to see them and look into their eyes and wish them a Merry Christmas. I want to get to know and be known by those I’m camped near. Tonight we are going caroling with our church at a convalescent home, we will bring cheer whether they want it or not.  I will do my best not to get aggressive in the McDonalds drive thru. I will allow God to use me as His hands and feet to a hurting world.

In a way these things have nothing to do with what happened in Connecticut but in a way they have everything to do with it. I acknowledge that these things are small and that I am no world changer. But I am a society shaper and so are you.  We, all of us are like skipping stones, disturbing the water around us for better or worse.  Our parts may be big or small but we all have a part to play.

Pieces of Grief

12.14.12

I have spent all day pushing my tears down.  Pushing, pushing, pushing, because diapers need to be changed and food needs to be made and because no amount of my tears can make anyone’s baby come back.

It’s times like this when we all, Christians included if we’re honest, question God’s sovereignty.  We all wonder how God can be fully in control and fully loving when terrible things happen.  Why does God allow babies to die? Why theirs and why not mine? Why why why???

These questions simmered in my brain as I sat outside of F’s school today, way too early for my pick up time.  As soon as I heard the news my arms longed to feel his weight in them. I wanted to smell his slightly syrupy scent.  I wanted to feel his warmth on my face.  I knew I couldn’t pick him up too early or he’d be alarmed and it would be disruptive to the teacher.  My brain told me to wait, but my senses told me to run.  So I sat, idling in my car, waiting for the time where it would be considered early to pick him up, but not obnoxious.

He ran to where I was waiting and leaned past me to collect his things.  I watched his chubby little fingers reach for his lunchbox and I thought about how just six months ago, I could see a faint trace of a line where his baby wrist fat used to be.  Going now are these last remnants of his babyhood.  Today he is still pudgy and dirty, tomorrow I will wake up and he will be lean and hairy.  His run won’t have an awkward gait; his speech won’t have a slight lisp.

I could not take my eyes off of him, all the while thinking, This was the age of the babies that were murdered today.  Kindergarteners still have their baby remnants.  They are still unashamed to hold hands in public; they still want to be sung to at night.  They are on the cusp of being big kids, but not today, not quite yet.

As he walked away my gaze stayed on the rows of lunchboxes.  And I thought about the rows of uneaten lunches left in Connecticut today.  All lined up.  Someday in the near future those lunchboxes will be returned to the parents whose children were not.  Those parents will remember what they packed inside without having to look.  They’ll remember how they hurried their children out the door today.  They’ll remember if they snapped at their kids.  They’ll remember if they said they loved them.  Maybe they’ll remember how even after everyone was strapped in the car, one of them forgot their lunch and mom had to go back in the house to get it.  Maybe they’ll remember yelling at their kids, as I did today when that same scenario happened to me.  Maybe they’ll regret it like I did, but on a scale I cannot even fathom.

I have never lost a child, but I can imagine the feeling being on par with having a cannon shot through my abdomen.  Then having the world expect me to go on living, and walking and breathing with a gaping hole where my baby used to be.  And this is where I have been all day: trying to imagine the unimaginable and make sense of the senseless.

I believe that “the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” (James 5:16). But I do not feel effective or powerful. I feel weak and so very sad.  I’m reminded of how I felt when C was hospitalized as an infant.  I felt powerless and scared then too.  I knew God was real and loving, but in all honesty I was a little too pissed off at Him to pray anything more elaborate than, “help me help me help me.” I asked people to pray when I couldn’t and they did.  Her birth defect didn’t magically go away and she remained very sick.  But we were given a good doctor; we were shown love by our friends.  People brought casseroles and compassion. We felt peace in the midst of pain and I attribute that to the prayers of the righteous.  Even just knowing people were praying brought a sense of relief.  In a way I’m not smart enough to understand, praying carries some of the pain and displaces some of the burden.

We are in a season of advent, of waiting for Christmas.  Advent means to wait, and I will wait with those parents and families.  I will expect God to show up. I don’t have any good answers but I will leave room for the answers to come.

“Let every heart prepare Him room”. Our hearts may or may not have made room for Him but we have some precious brothers and sisters whose cannon sized holes are gaping wide.  My prayer is for Him to fill those holes, to make room in our own hearts where we have left Him none; to fill up the vacant spaces. I will wait for and pray for His love and peace and light to fill them up.

I know for the next few weeks, like every parent in America, I will be more patient with my kids. I will yell less and hug more.  I will be so grateful that they are safe.  I will battle myself not to worry about a day when they are not.  But in a few months you and I will forget because we are a forgetful people.  Those families will never forget.  Because of that I will stop pushing my tears away, and today I will let them flow.  I will pick up my piece of this grief that belongs to us all and carry it with me. I will do my best to carry some of their burden.

Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”