Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One Last Thing...

School starts up again tomorrow, so my blog will go back to being neglected for the next few months.  But I just had to say...


Nothing is perfect, and certainly there were many problems with our family life and marriage as my kids were growing up.  Before I accepted the probability of my daughter being "on the spectrum", I often doubted if maybe her slow social development was possibly related to not being forced to interact with crowds on a daily basis.  Now I know with 100% certainty that home schooling had nothing to do with it at all.  In fact, who knows where she would be if she were forced to deal with crowds on a daily basis?  It would not have helped her mature any faster, or changed her neurology.  So, yeah, I am glad she did  not have to deal with public school.

Instead, her earliest years were spent in a calm, creative environment.  Our home was resplendent with educational paraphernalia: books, DVDs, CD-ROMs, paints, colored pencils, markers, whiteboard and markers, scissors, glue, construction paper, magnets, puppets, toys, craft kits, music, posters- you imagine it, we probably had it.  She had all the time in the world to explore and most of the day was free to get busy.  I can't think of a better environment in which she could have grown up.

The middle school years were tough, and things were  not good at home.  Mom had been imbibing Poison for my Marriage for years, and the damage was growing daily.  When I listen to P!nk's song "Family" I think of how tough that must have been for her.  But even then, I am grateful  that on top of that she didn't have to face the expectations of a school full of NT adults and children each day.  Rejection and misunderstanding from her parents, her church and social groups was bad enough without crowds of people to overwhelm her and add their disapproval to the mix.  As much as I misunderstand and didn't notice being home with her every day, how much more would *I* (not working moms in general, but me specifically) have missed if my attention was further divided to include the workplace AND the potential problems she was facing expanded to include the public school environment?  For us, home schooling was the right choice.

Home schooling has turned out to be a boon for my son as well, at least as far as the interests he has and the man he is.  He would like to be more popular (who wouldn't at that age?) and he certainly would have had a greater crop of potential friends to choose from had he attended public high school.  But this coming semester, going to the urban community college instead of the rural community college he attended last year, I think he'll solve that dilemma.  Also, the wisdom that comes with maturity (not everyone at public school is popular either) will give him a greater sense of satisfaction with his life.

So, if I had to do it  over again, would I still home school?  Yes.  If I had the budget to afford an exclusive preparatory school, I would have encouraged my daughter to try that for high school.  Ditto for  my son.  Christian school would remain out of the question, because school should be about learning and education, not indoctrination.  But we never had that kind of money, so home school- for my two- really was the best option.

Peace and good will to all who read here. SS

Monday, January 7, 2013

My Daughter, My Hero

My daughter amazes me.

She is extremely talented in several ways.  She's an amazing artist.  It comes to her naturally, things that I never got right even though I took art in public school for several years.  She was born seeing all the layers of color in the every day world around us, and since childhood she has incorporated this talent into her art.  She sees the color in white.  She can correctly put one hundred different hues of a color in order, with no mistakes, in record time, and she does it for fun.  She remembers color, something I was told is not possible.  For my daughter it's possible.

She's an amazing musician.  When she was seven, she started taking guitar lessons at a local music store.  Her first instructor was a nice enough guy, but she was quickly losing interest.  She played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at her first recital.  At the end of that year, I called a musician friend to look for an instructor who might make it more interesting for her.  I was told there was only one instructor in the area, and she gave me his name.  Rex Willis, music professor at the local university, took her as a student and at eight  she began playing classical guitar.  She was good at it, and good at it without practicing for hours a day.  She played for the next six years, and then quit as suddenly as she had begun.  Recently she picked her guitar up again, and in a day it all began coming back to her.  She plays beautifully.

The girl has language skills.  As a tween, she used to co-write adventures with friends as characters they created from the world of Neopets.  Neopia, I think it's called.  She learned to read seemingly effortlessly at the age of four, and used to devour books from the library.  In the early years, I would get twenty books from the library each week, the most one could check out.  She would sit and read them all, one after the other, in a single day.  The fact that she recently graduated cum laude from university is due in no large part to her exceptional talent in language arts.

And this talent is not confined to English only.  She also has foreign language skills.  I started teaching her Spanish when she was in kindergarten.  She grew bored with that by late elementary and wanted to learn Japanese.  Though it took a few years before I actually found her a tutor, she did not become discouraged and give up on that dream. She also taught herself some Russian and studied codes, including gypsy codes, online.  Probably the most unique part about her is how she put her language and analytical skills to to use by coming up with her own code. She kept her diary in code starting in middle school, a complicated written alphabet that looks to me a lot like Tolkien's elvish.  It's hauntingly beautiful.  I thought she had created an entirely new language, but it is all English, just in code.  Still, it's very impressive and she worked with it continually, changing and evolving it several times through the years.

All of these talents and interests are pretty darned impressive, but her innate talent is not why she is my hero.  Her character is why she is my hero.  She is a better person than I am in so many ways.  My hat is off to her this morning, and I want all of you to also know why I am in awe of her.

She does not back away from hard things.  While her many talents are impressive, every day things have not come easy to her.  Her large motor skills were always lagging behind other children her age.  Yet even though physical coordination does not automatically come to her easily, as it does for so many of us, she has not backed down from physical challenges.  She joined ROTC as a sophomore in college, worked hard to earn a spot at field training, and passed.  This was incredibly challenging for her, and yet she took it on and worked hard, really hard to earn her top score of 90 on her physical fitness tests.  She also was part of a mime team at church in her teens.  She swing dances, something I am not coordinated enough to pull off myself.  Because it was difficult for me, I never tried very hard to learn to dance.  Even though it is very difficult for her, she has kept at it for several years.

She works hard to accomplish and achieve many things the rest of us take for granted.  When she went to college, finding her way around campus was far more difficult for her than writing a paper.  In her freshman year, she lived on campus at a small school whose entire campus took up only one city block.  Her sophomore year, she transferred to the big city university and lived off campus.  I did not appreciate at the time how much courage and determination this took, because I shrugged off her difficulties with spatial awareness.  I scorned her when she confessed to me as a middle school child that she couldn't find her way around our neighborhood.  I accused her of not paying attention to her surroundings and being stuck in her head, when the opposite was true. She has always had to seriously concentrate on her surroundings, because she sees everything.  Where my brain ignores so much of what I see and helps me naturally focus on only the important features of the landscape, she sees everything.  If I were her, I might very well never leave my home.  But she did leave home, and successfully made her own way in this world.  Her senior year she moved even farther off campus and got a place of her own, with no help from her parents  That may be common for most of us, but it was bold and audacious for my daughter.

Driving falls into the same category. Now that I am finally starting to understand how her brain works, my admiration for her grows daily.  She was not eager to get the keys to the car as a teen. It was just one more way the world (and I) blew her off as weird.  She is not weird.  She is careful and thoughtful. She waited until she was ready to take on the challenge successfully before stepping out to earn her driver's license.  She resisted a lot of peer pressure to start driving before she was ready.  When she finally decided she WAS ready, she passed her driver's test on the first try.  I didn't pass my driver's test on the first try, and I have an easy time navigating my way through space.  I do it effortlessly.  She works for it.

In fact, my daughter does perseverance unlike anyone I have ever known. She does not stop until she has accomplished what she set out to accomplish.  The recent undergraduate degree she earned, in spite of all she has going on to accomplish everyday living, is a testament to her diligence. She graduated, cum laude, with  a Japanese major, an aeropspace engineering minor, and she did it in only four years.  It took serious daily application of effort, far more effort than we regular folk will ever know, over those last four years.  She accomplished it with honors.

But of all the character traits she has that I admire, it is her loving heart that I most appreciate.  She is kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving like no one else I know.  Since coming to realize how often she has been misunderstood, unappreciated, criticized and even ridiculed unjustly, the love that she shows everyday amazes me.  I am in awe of her loving heart.

So many of the comic book super villains have their evil hearts explained because they suffered injustice and loss and could not get over it.  We humans resonate with that, because we understand the concept of having a breaking point. We understand it because the world is full of bitter, angry people who can not get over the injustice they suffered. We ourselves all have a hard time with moving on from heartache and pain.  While all of us have been misunderstood and falsely accused, few of us have known such experiences on a daily basis.  My daughter has.

Honestly,  if I sent this to you, the odds are good that you have misjudged and rejected my daughter.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents have all been angry at her or rejected her for what appeared to be resistance, apathy or rebellion.  In a new situation, she needs more sleep and more time to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings than neurologically typical people.  Because of this, people misjudge her as lazy.  It takes a lot of concentration on her part to master all the visual stimuli her eyes and brain see, and the quietness she exhibits while she is concentrating has been judged as being unfriendly.  The fact that she is never at ease or relaxed in these stressful situations means that her relatives call her weird, and say she has a personality problem.  With rare exception, though all of our relatives are Christians, self-righteous condemnation has been the most common gift my daughter has received from her relations.  I include myself in that number.

The rest of the world is no kinder.  People are expected to behave more or less the same with very little variation allowed among us.  We call it "normal". When someone's neurology puts them outside the norms, whether that is in the form of great talents (which  my daughter has) or in ways that make life more difficult (which my daughter has), this world is not at all welcoming.  You would think that with such amazing talents, she would be lauded and encouraged to develop her talents to the fullest.  That rarely happened. The cattiness and jealousy people have expressed over her talents hurt just as much as being misunderstood and rejected for her social difficulties.

And yet, she loves.  My daughter loves.  She loves God who created her and is the closest friend she has ever known. She doesn't love religion so much though, as it has never been a place of comfort and welcome to her.  But she has a rich and full spiritual life with the One who never casts out those who come to Him.

She loves and forgives those who have rejected her.  Painfully, she has learned that pursuing relationships with jocks and other haters will always be a waste of effort.  The extra effort she puts in to keep up with such people is not even noticed, much less applauded.  Yet she herself is not a hater.  She is welcoming to all, only later weeding out the people who prove to be more harm than good to her.  Love tempered with wisdom, you could call it.  I  greatly admire her for managing to keep her love alive.

So, just so you all know, I am very proud of my daughter. In fact, she is my hero.  I admit she is a better person than I, and I am lucky to have her in my life.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Look

Recently I was spending time with a younger Christian mother.  Her children are still small, three years old and five years old.  I asked how they were enjoying the holidays, and she mentioned the joy of sharing all of her childhood favorite movies with her children- Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, etc.  I smiled with her, remembering the fun of having little ones around at Christmas.  Our shared good will was warm and mutual.

Then she asked if I had watched any holiday movies with my family this year.  Without thinking, I blurted out that the only movie I had seen this season was Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas.  I was still smiling, as I was intending to follow up with how much I had learned about myself and my family by watching it, when I saw it: the look.  The smile froze on my face as I watched the expression on hers change.

Fear and disgust danced across her expression in an instant, but only for a moment.  She realized that this was a superficial social situation, unsuited for sharing her true opinion of my choice in holiday movies, and the smile returned to her face almost immediately.  Too late.  I had recognized the look at once, and understood all too well the thoughts behind them.  I was once a young evangelical Christian mother, up to my eyebrows in Focus on the Family movie reviews.  I once had the same revulsion to all things goth and/or related to that devil's holiday, Halloween.

Inwardly I thanked her for how quick she was to stifle the look.  She can't help it, I reassured myself.  She's been indoctrinated to think this way and the cult control of modern Christian culture is very effective.  It's sad that she has started down that road to isolation in the golden Christian ghetto, but hopefully she won't stay long.  I woke up and escaped.  Jesus can lead her out to, if she ever wants to leave.  At least she still has enough kindness in her heart to spare me the lecture I know she could easily deliver if she wanted to do so.

But though we went on as if nothing had changed, something had changed.  I had been about to open my heart and share my learning experience.  I wanted to talk about how my heart had been softened and my eyes opened by watching the forbidden film.  But now I knew: it would not be understood, it would not be welcome.  Her mind had been set in a certain direction, and there was no way to reach her with an understanding outside of her paradigm.  I had lived that paradigm.  I knew it all too well. Halloween is demonic.  No good can possibly come from associating oneself with Halloween.

Watching The Nightmare Before Christmas, I thought I had come to a better understanding of my daughter. Turns out that was only the beginning.  The look on my companion's face, the one that stopped me in my tracks and cancelled all hope of understanding and intimacy between us, that look brought me from understanding to empathy.

I had given that look to my daughter.

How many occasions had I given that look to my daughter?  How many times had she been trying to share her heart with me, and gotten instead that look?

Even worse, how many times had she been trying her hardest, putting much more intention and effort into living every day life than I ever have, and gotten that look from me for not performing at a level 9 or 10 instead of a mere 6 or 7?  How many times had I given her that look for not moving quickly enough, not being friendly enough, not trying hard enough to "get along"?  How many times had I given her that look for having an expressionless face, because I truly believed that all good Christians should be smiling and welcoming in expression?  How many times had she shut down from overload at the intense effort it was taking for her to get by, and I screamed at her to get moving?  Or yelled at her for not caring?

A chill crept into my heart.  I managed to enjoy the rest of the evening on the outside, but inside all these thoughts were tumbling together in my subconscious.  While I smiled my welcoming expression and made pleasant small talk, the thoughts inside me were making new connections and growing bigger.  I said my goodbyes at the end of the visit, got in my car, and drove home quietly, distracting myself with pleasant smooth R and B on the radio. The thoughts had not yet broken to the surface of my consciousness.  Soon enough they would.

The middle of the night came.  I woke up thirsty, and as I reached for my bottle of water on the nightstand, it hit me.  No more did I consider how many times *I* had reacted with disgust and fear at my daughter.  That was bad enough, for your mother to treat you that way.  But how many times has she unexpectedly and undeservedly seen that look cast her way by others?  Aunts, uncles, cousins, peers?

How many times?

When did it start?  Looking back, I know it started earlier than I want to recognize, earlier than I want to admit.  I think back to her early years, in preschool.  I think back to her years in soccer.  I thank back to her years in Girl Scouts.  I think back to all those times in church, in so many churches, and the times I heard the adjectives "weird" "unfriendly" "passive" "mean" "strange" and the question "why is she that way"?  That way?!

The enormity of the amount of rejection my child has faced in her short life overwhelmed me.

I have been crying off and on ever since.

Mulan's Big Win

Did you know that Tim Burton has Asperger's?  I didn't.  Did you know my daughter has Asperger's?  I didn't, not for sure.  I suspected it, starting when she was about fifteen, but I was so horrified by the possibility that I put quite the negative spin on it.  Stop being that way! I would demand.  You don't want have Asperger's, do you? You do NOT want to have Asperger's.  Stop acting like you do.

(Some of you may hate me now.  Go right ahead.  I deserve it.  But I am not the only mother to react this way to her suspicions, I'll bet you dimes to the dollar.  I am just one of the few honest enough to admit it.)

When my daughter was sixteen, I paid cash to visit a child psychiatrist to consult about whether I should seek a diagnosis.  The doctor listened patiently, asked very pointed and appropriate questions, and then offered me a solution.  She rightfully pointed out that seeking a diagnosis would only prove beneficial if my child wound up in need of special assistance to succeed in life.  If that were the case, then and only then would it be the best course of action.  She gave me a checklist of teenage social developmental milestones, and a timetable of six months.  If all, or even most, of these criteria were met, I should just relax.  If less than half were met, I should seek an appointment for my daughter to be evaluated.

Six months came and all the blocks were checked off the list. I breathed a sigh of relief.  My daughter did not have Asperger's, I reassured myself.  It had all just been a phase.  *whew*


My daughter, being the hard-working, beautiful-hearted, amazingly talented person that she is, just worked extremely hard to compensate for her neurologically atypical wiring.  I am in awe of her accomplishment.  Here, in someone else's words, are what it took for her to pull this off:


The following is only an analogy. The real world is much more complicated than this, and this is not true for all autistics.

Pretend there is a way of measuring doing a certain skill, so that there is a "resting performance level" in that skill and an "active performance level" in that skill. The scale is from 0 to 10.

9 or 10 is the way people are expected to perform in that skill.

Most NTs have a resting ability of 7 to 10 in a skill they have either learned or been born with.

Many autistics have a resting ability of 0 to 3.

In order for an NT to do that thing, it takes either very little effort or no effort. If their resting level in that skill is 10, then they don't even realize that they are using that skill.
In order for an autistic to do that thing, it takes considerably more effort. It takes the degree of effort that it takes NTs to do things that they usually have a resting ability of 0 to 3 in, such as multiplying large numbers in their head.

But when an autistic gets practice, they get used to pushing themselves.  They may push themselves so that in public they are functioning at between 7 and 10 in that skill at all times.

The NTs around them, taking for granted that 7 is the lower limit, don't even recognize that the person maybe had to climb all the way up from 0 to get to 7. They start taking for granted the autistic person's ability in that area, because it is within the limits of the only range of abilities they even know. The autistic person's effort gets unintentionally ignored, and NTs wonder what's going on when the autistic person gets exhausted and overloaded from doing "normal" things, or suddenly stops being able to do something they were "good at" before.

One example of a thing that NTs are usually at a 10 at is recognizing the objects in front of them. Unless they have had brain damage (at which point they're not technically NT anymore), they usually can easily and effortlessly perceive and differentiate between familiar objects and name them.

Some autistic people, in order to do that, have to do things like decide to look at something, see a garble of shapes, start differentiating individual shapes, focus in on one of the shapes, figure out that the shape is a Thing, figure out what the Thing is, and figure out what the Thing does. And that's all just to get to the bare minimum of what NTs do automatically, and it's leaving out things like differentiating one sense from another and doing this in a non-passive setting.

Doing that kind of thing all day with all your senses can be very tiring and overloading. That does not mean doing all the things NTs do to function all day, mind you, it just means understanding our surroundings. That's the background that a lot of autistic people have to work up to to then do the "ordinary" things like go to school, obey teachers, do schoolwork, housework, and stuff.

Some autistic people can get extraordinarily good at holding this together to the point where it becomes pseudo-automatic (doesn't require conscious effort, but takes a huge energy drain), or can devise ways of dealing with the world that don't involve having to perceive all of it all the time, but there are usually things going on that an autistic person is doing consciously that are a lot more basic than what you're used to thinking about. It's not necessarily always in the area of sensory perception; that's just one of many things that can be like that for us.

It doesn't often get recognized that even if an autistic person gets up to a metaphorical level of 7 to 10 in a skill, and performs that skill in that manner on a regular basis, in all likelihood they are still performing all of the complex maneuvering consciously. We are less likely than NTs to just get used to things, and even when it becomes pseudo-automatic the drain on our resources does not necessarily go away.

The natural inclination of many NTs when they see an autistic person at a 7 to 10 in that skill is to believe that that skill has been "mastered" and is now fully automatic, requiring very little effort. They then push the autistic person to pile more skills on top of that skill, into a really big stack. The problem is that the more skills get added that the person then has to monitor and deal with, the more likely that the lower-level skills will falter and bring the whole metaphorical "house of cards" down. That can look like overload, shutdown, or meltdown when that happens.

When it happens for a long time and some of the skills do not get built back up again, then it often gets called "regression", which is not a word I'm fond of. I suspect that's one reason that autistic people sometimes shut down on skills we've supposedly mastered a long time ago when learning new things. Skill mastery simply doesn't work the same for us.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton’s movie entitled “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was released to the public in 1993.  My daughter was three years old. 

I was a fully committed fundamentalist Christian mother at that time.  Determined to pass on my faith to my precious daughter, I filled our home with Christian books, Christian videos, Christian music, and Christian toys.  I took her to Sunday school.  I took her to Mother’s Day Out at our church.  I took her to Vacation Bible School each summer.  Every day in every way, I sought to fill her environment with words of faith and love.

Faith and love were my intention, but faith and law were instead often the result.  So many things seem to be like that in parenting.  We embark on a course of action with every positive intention, and when the course is run, we are stunned to find that we are nowhere near where we intended to end up.  Like the many parents you can see each week at Disney World waiting for the evening parade, the frustration of having all our good intentions stymied can be maddening.  We put all this money, time and effort into trying to create this magical experience of wonder and amazement in our children’s childhood, and then they instead experience something entirely different and not always pleasant.  Who wouldn’t be upset?

Most parents’ initial reaction is anger.  They (we) scold the children for being (fill in the blank) ungrateful or selfish or rude or ugly or call them whiners or sissies or other unpleasant names, when they are experiencing our efforts as a negative instead of the positive we intended.  Good parents catch themselves and stop, apologize, and do a logistics check to look for the cause of distress.  Hungry?  Tired? Sunburned?  Cold? Thirsty?  Sick?  Over-stimulated?  Need to go to the bathroom?  Activity age appropriate?  I liked to think I was a good parent, especially when my daughter was very young.

But then, when my daughter was somewhere around eleven or twelve, things went awry.  I was doing all the right things- Christian devotions, daily prayers, fun activities, church socialization, teaching to her interests and strengths, providing lessons outside the home, exposing her to social groups (Girl Scouts in this case).  Why was my daughter so depressed?  Why was she so “rebellious”?  What was “wrong” with her? 

Looking back now, the signs are everywhere obvious.  She needed me to stop with all the religion and constant moralizing and spiritualizing everything and listen to her. I should have listened to her, and listened without any idea in my head of what the “right” answers were, the “right” feelings were, the “right” thoughts were.  I am sad, truly sad, to say I did not do that.  I was full of Christian culture claptrap, up to my eyebrows, and I knew what were the right answers, the right feelings and the right thoughts for all good Christians.  I was quick to point out to her where she was wrong, why she shouldn’t feel the way she did, and why she should not think the thoughts she was thinking.  I called her thoughts and feelings evil and demonic.

To those of you not up to your eyebrows in Christian culture claptrap, I know that sounds heinous- it is heinous to say that to a child!  But to those of you steeped in Christian culture, it will sound right and good doctrinally.  We are always being tempted by the devil and his demons to think evil thoughts and hold on to evil feelings like fear, resentment and jealousy.  These are not perfectly normal or understandable human emotions and reactions. They are sin.  If a person does not repent of them right away, then they are under the power of the demonic.  That is the spirit at work “in the children of disobedience”.

 Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 
Poor kid.  She was having a hard time figuring out who she was and how she fit into this world, and she was getting no breaks from me.  I thought I was the most loving and supportive Christian parents a child could hope to have, and I was.  I was living the Christian version of the Eagle’s “Life in the Fast Lane”.  I knew all the right people; I took all the right "pills".  I had the scriptural answer to everything. 

But she did not need a Christian parent, she needed a loving parent. She did not need religion to tell her how she should feel and think.  She needed a loving mother to listen to her express how she did feel and think, and without shaming her for having the “wrong” thoughts and feelings.  That she did not get.

She did get tolerance. That was the best I could come up with at the time, but she did not get that tolerance shame-free.  Oh no, there was still plenty of shaming and prodding to do the “right” thing and think the “right” way and feel the “right” things.  Is it any wonder that my daughter’s favorite song to play at the time was “Reflections” from the movie Mulan?

“Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I'm not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my fam'ly's heart.”

So, she quit talking to me.  Most of the time, she just hid in her room.  We didn’t always fight (disagree, clash, hurt each other), but it was still a daily occurrence.  For reasons I now understand, but did not at the time, we just could not connect.  I tried, in my own fashion, every day.  My daughter tried, in her own fashion, probably just as often.  But I was not really trying to understand her.  I was trying to change her.

I wanted to mold her into what the Christian culture said she should be and it was not taking. She appeared to be something else entirely, much to my dismay. While appearances are not always what they seem, she seemed to be (in my estimation at the time) mean, self-centered, uncooperative, pretty much the opposite of the cheerful, obedient, pleasant Christian girl I was expecting.

I was embarrassed by her, because I knew that we would be judged harshly and rejected by our Christian peers.  But I did not forsake her, as I have watched so many other Christian parents do to their children whom they could not control. I give myself some good parent points for that.

The best I could do, the very best at the time, was stand beside her.  I allowed her to express herself in the ways that she chose, though I was not really happy or supportive about it.  I tolerated it.  Not a best case scenario by far, but really the best I could come up with at the time.  I was willing to bear the shame of being her mom, even though I did not understand her and was incapable of trying, because I knew that God loved and accepted me as I was, without condition. I would love my daughter the same way.

The day came when my daughter became fascinated with Goth culture.  She was already depressed, I reasoned.  No wonder she would fall into a depressing and dark subculture.  I didn’t want a war over everything, so I picked and chose what I could tolerate and what was just too far over the line for even me.  So, when she asked to watch Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” I stuck my nose in the air and agreed to tolerate it.  *I* would never watch such garbage.  I am quite sure I made some comments about not understanding what she saw in such dark entertainment, but I allowed it. 

I thought that was the farthest stretched out limit to the love of God any reasonable Christian parent could reach- to allow her to watch it.  I would not sully my own happy Christian bubble by watching it with her.  I was too pure for that.

Fast forward to this year.  My daughter is now a grown adult. She was home for the holidays, and I asked her and her brother if they wanted to watch a Christmas movie.  “Yes!” came the happy answer.  “Let’s watch ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’!”  Her father and I, being less religious than we were ten years ago, agreed.  Ironically, we are still both infected by Christian culture enough to only agree reluctantly. J

Oh, my dear Lord, why did I not watch this movie earlier? 

This movie is a beautiful fictionalization of my daughter’s experience of life. Like Jack Skellyton, she wanted to belong to the magical world of Christendom (Christmastown).  She was enamored by it, and tried her very hardest to make it work.  But like Jack, she was doomed to be forever on the outside of that to which she so wanted to belong.  Ten years ago, when she asked me to watch this movie, she was trying to get me to understand her heart.  What a religious fool I was to turn my nose up at the opportunity.

There’s a scene in the movie, where Jack is pretending to be Santa Clause and failing miserably. The townspeople are employing anti-aircraft guns to shoot down the imposter.  They don’t understand that Jack has a good and loving heart and wants to be a part of the gift-giving love-fest that is Christmas.    All they know is that his gifts don’t look right, and he doesn’t look right, and when he tries to “ho ho ho” it sounds like the frightening cackle of a Halloween ghoul.  So they take aim and shoot him down.

Jack falls out of his downed aircraft and lands, appropriately, in a cemetery.  Even more poignant, he comes to rest on the outstretched arms of an angelic statuary.  I am tearing up at this point, and I look at my daughter.  Tears stream down her cheeks, and yet she is smiling.  “Yes,” she assents out loud, “because God loves us, too, even the ones who can’t ever fit in.”

My heart broke in that moment and it still hasn’t fully recovered.  I hope it never does.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Unconditional Respect= Participation Trophies?

Growing up I always had a special attraction to World War II stories.  I was taught to lionize Corrie Ten Boom and others who stood up against the Nazis, risking their lives to protect others.  I fell in love with Dietrich Boenhoffer.  I read Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I read about Jane Addams, Mary Bethune, Mother Jones and Amy Carmicheal.  These men and women were heroes because they took a personal stand against injustice.  I knew that all good people should aspire to be like them.

All good people would of course include all good Christians.  I did not study the long history of injustice and abuse sometimes instigated by the church (pogroms) and other times promoted by the church (Nazi propoganda) and in some cases merely given tacit approval by the church (Ku Klux Klan).  If I had, if Christians would study the dark side of their own history, maybe we wouldn't be so prone to repeat it.  But regardless, I grew up respecting these people because of their character and their accomplishments.

The church was supposed to lead a love revolution on the planet. This was Jesus' command, to love one another.  This was Jesus' example, to go about doing good.  This true Christianity still survives, but not in the Christian publishing empire.  Nope, the visible church is once again at time instigating abuse, promoting abuse and giving tacit approval to abuse. And this time, it's my beloved country. This time, it's my beloved fellow citizens foaming with self-righteous hatred at any suggestion of living a life of love as a society.

Pay a penny tax to help the children of the poor?  Suggestions like that provoke overt anger in "good Christian" men.  Restrict access to high-kill firearms so that society suffers less gun violence?  "Good Christian" men become livid at the suggestion that they modify their behavior in any way, for any purpose.  They demand their rights be respected!!

But other people's rights?  Let them fight for themselves.  Well-off white Christian men worked hard for what they have, and it's theirs!  It is not possible anymore to get them to consider that other Americans work just as hard, if not harder, for far less because they were born without the advantages of middle-class white people. They won't even admit these advantages exist.  And if they do admit to any advantage, they have no gratitude or sense of humility about having it, they will just claim it is because of their parents' hard work.  As if the children born into poverty all have lazy parents- which is what they truly believe.  They do not even try to understand what life is like for those on the bottom tier of economic system.  They don't believe it is right or good to do so.

That is where we are today. Good is called evil, and evil good, and by the very people (Christians- followers of Jesus Christ!) who should be leading the charge to minister to "the least of these".  

Today's evangelical church has a new cause- patriarchy, not brotherly love.  Today's evangelical church has a new enemy- gay people, not personal failure to live a life of love.  Today's evangelical even has a new "least of these" to be concerned about, and it's not the poor, the crippled, the widowed, the hungry or those in prison with whom Jesus chose to be concerned.  (Oh  no, especially not those in prison!)  The church is concerned about male privilege- the loss of which they liken to being castrated. This is the emergency the church must respond to NOW- not feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless or visiting the socially isolated.  The big need today is for wives to offer unconditional respect to their husbands.

Unconditional respect?!  When I was a child that would have been loudly denounced. That's what Stalin demanded of the people of the USSR.  That's what Hitler demanded first of Germany and then the world.  American earn respect, they don't demand it.  Unearned respect is an oxymoron anyway. 

Respect carries with it the idea of admiration, a belief in the superior nature of the one being respected for a real reason.  We respect Teddy Roosevelt for taking on trusts. We respect Mother Theresa for her dedication to the poor. Some respect athletes for the dedication that made them world class players, or even for the natural talent they possess.  But in all cases, respect is there because admiration was there first.

Recently the right wing has rightfully attacked "new age" pedagogy, which gives out trophies to all children for participation, rather than rewarding only the best results.  Conservatives scoffed at the notion that a child's self-esteem was at stake.  Life is competitive, and only the ones at the top get rewarded.  I tend to agree with this, that self-esteem will always be based on real accomplishment. Accomplishment should be recognized and rewarded, in an effort to encourage children to strive for true achievement.  Merely showing up should not earn awards.  The "self-respect" such awards create is short-lived and unsatisfying, and makes children expect big rewards for little effort.  Critics claim that the unearned awards would make lazy, demanding whiners out of our nation's children.

And yet these same conservatives want grown women to give unconditional respect to men!! They even claim that the men's self esteem is suffering because they do not get the moral equivalent of participation trophies each day from their beaming wives.  Women are urged to give "unconditional respect" to their husbands or their poor man will suffer from being emasculated.  Men "desperately need" this unconditional respect, according to popular author Eggerichs, in his big money-making enterprise (books, DVDs, seminars, $$$$$) Love and Respect.

Christian men are "desperate" for their participation trophies?  But won't all that unearned "respect" ultimately back-fire?  When reality breaks in and the marriages fail and the broken, wounded people emerge from families led by immature, lazy, demanding whiners won't that be a bad thing?  Because it is. It no more builds strong families to offer husbands "unconditional respect" than it builds winning sports franchises to give all players equal time in a starting position.  Human nature doesn't work that way.  

This Eggerichs guy is getting rich, filthy freaking rich, by telling Christian women to use the same "new age" pedagogy that conservative rightly criticized and applying it toward their relationship with the grown men they married.  I am sure it is generously proof-texted, but that doesn't make it true.  If only Christian women would seek God on their knees, and then use the good brain God gave them to seek our truth, this book would not be a best-seller.  The world will be a much better place when the self-made Christian golden ghetto disappears, and all the hucksters and snake oil salesman disappear with them.  

I am happy to report that my husband earns my respect by his character and achievement. When his character  or actions are not worthy of respect, he figures it out pretty quickly and takes appropriate action. THAT is why our marriage is making it where many others have failed.  The damage of misogynist fundamentalist religion in our marriage was addressed (is still being addressed) by both of the adults in this relationship.  We each, regardless of our gender, have taken (are still taking) responsibility for our beliefs and the actions that spring from them. As God spoke to Cain in the garden, "If you do good, shall you not be rewarded?" 

Trophies go to those who earn them.  Respect is awarded to those who earn it.  Unearned respect, like unearned trophies, may feel good at first but the concept is just setting men up for failure.  Ultimately the world does not continue to stroke the egos of lazy, demanding whiners.  It just is not going to make better men or better marriages, and by extension better families.  Christian homes will be a toxic mess of entitled husband/fathers, harried wives/mothers  and wounded children who will see right through it as they grow up under the madness of such a contrived emotional system of padre pandering.

PS The unconditional love that "women long for"?  All of humanity longs for it. And that, we are COMMANDED  to offer freely to one another, married  or not, regardless of gender, or age, or any other descriptive term.  

John 13:34

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.