“Ours Not to Wonder…

…What were Fair in Life; but finding what may be – make it Fair up to our Means.” ~ Anne McCaffery

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kansas-judge-man-who-provided-sperm-to-lesbian-couple-must-pay-child-support/

This made headlines recently and I figured I could use a good op-ed piece to get my muse kick-started again. So here goes…

First of all, I am completely supportive of same-sex couples adopting and/or having their own biological children together.  A loving home with good consistent co-parenting is a key factor in raising a healthy well-adjusted child. (I’m leaving single parenting out of my factoring in this case, although a loving strong and consistent single parent is just as effective in raising a healthy well-adjusted child – I think we all can agree that having two involved parents is the optimal situation for all concerned. Parenting is a tough gig.) That said, it is not the “right” of any couple to be able to have children simply because they want them.

If one or both of the partners is infertile then medical insurance can cover procedures to mitigate that, and/or provide Artificial Insemination or other options to assure pregnancy.  In the case of this lesbian couple – its safe to presume that at least the biological mother was fertile – in which case it was NOT incumbent upon her medical insurance (if she had any) to provide coverage for the AI procedure. Just as it is not incumbent upon a fertile heterosexual woman’s insurance to provide that coverage.  There’s no problem with the plumbing in either case.

No, I can’t say its fair that same-sex couples have to struggle on this level too, but in regard to this issue – that’s the way it is.  I’m going to use myself as an analogy here for a moment:  I had bariatric surgery several years ago.  I could use a few nip/tucks here and there post-weight loss.  However, I am not covered for it. Fair? Nope. But that’s the way it is. Life’s given me bat-wings so I better learn to fly with them! Anyway, however any of us may feel about same sex relationships, and related civil rights –  we cannot deny basic biology. Unless there is some help or scientific intervention there can be no fertile relationships between same sex partners.

So,  – the correct thing to do if AI is the way fertile females are choosing to conceive, is to SAVE THEIR MONEY in order to get the procedure done.  Mistake #1 in the case I am discussing here. Mistake #2:  The couple  advertised online (Craigslist???) for a sperm donor.  They must be OUT OF THEIR FREAKIN MINDS.  Mistake #3:  The man involved actually responded to an online advertisement to be said donor.  He was not a registered sperm donor.  HE must be OUT OF HIS FREAKIN MIND too.   The poor kid could’ve ended up with John Wayne Gacy or Delphine LaLaurie as parental material!  We all know what a wonderful, safe place the internet is, so let’s search it to find the perfect person to create a child with…….. OR NOT.

Mistake #4: AI is a medical procedure with inherent risk even when performed by a licensed physician.  Conception a la Turkey Baster at home is, how shall I say this – a “Bozo No-No”….. yeah that works…. The woman was fortunate in that her home performed procedure did not result in complications such as infection, peritonitis, sepsis, STD’s, or even death – and lead to a healthy baby.

I guess my bottom line here is that life isn’t fair.  We all have dreams that are unfulfilled; things we want to do that we cannot.  It is what it is, and we should try to make the best of it if we cannot change it.   The Kansas court rightly decided that the donor should be responsible for child support in that proper procedures were not followed by any of the adults involved regarding the insemination of the woman, or the subsequent support of the resulting child. The judge also quite correctly inferred that the child is the person who matters here.  Hopefully this will serve as a heads up to other couples deciding whether or not to have AI. If you want to be a sperm donor, please register and donate at a licensed medical facility. These steps protect you legally.  If your insurance doesn’t cover artificial insemination, save your pennies, consult a lawyer, draw up a binding contract that clearly spells out obligations and will be recognized in court, and use state approved and medically licensed facilities and personnel to perform the procedure.  Or alternatively – ADOPT. There are far too many children who need loving and supportive homes out there.  But that’s another story…..

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

Lyrics from ‘South Pacific’

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught from year to year,

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I must admit I didn’t get the underlying social messages when I watched this wonderful movie as a youngster. I was more interested in the beaches, and later as a teen – in the beefcake – to give much thought to a little bit of a song in the midst of all that glorious technicolor – sun, sand, the United States Navy, and the US Marine Corps.
That little throwaway number has become an earworm for me over the last few weeks, as I try to make sense of the senseless. I did a bit of research about the song, which actually had a pretty powerful message for 1949; and again in 1958 when the movie was released. Apparently Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein felt so strongly about the importance of that message they insisted it remain in the performances, even if it meant that the production failed. In essence, this song was the lynchpin of the entire play/movie to them, and could not be removed. And it was not, despite considerable political pressure to do so.

Humans are not born racists, homophobes, bullies, misogynists, thugs, or criminals. We are taught, and as the song goes – by “six or seven or eight” – taught to hate. It’s pretty easy actually. You just have to point your finger at someone who looks or acts different than you and blame them for your misfortunes. It’s easier than blaming yourself, after all. You just have to be afraid of the different. It’s kind of genetically programmed into us – right? Biology and survival of the fittest ; we cull out the mutations. We make snapshot judgements about others and we pass on what we think we “know” to our little ones. With our words, and with our actions, we teach our children to mistrust and/or hate people who aren’t exactly like us. Chips off the old block, as it were. We’re becoming increasingly polarized, intolerant, violent, and murderous. It’s almost impossible to even agree to disagree these days. The uber liberals and uber conservatives belittle and scoff at one another in their quest to be “right” and get the last word. Centrists don’t seem to have a voice – and a loud centrist voice is sorely needed. I had hopes at one point that our POTUS would be that voice, hopes that have been dashed by the realization he can’t even get out of his own way, much less facilitate an environment where all can come together to work towards solutions.

So I guess it’s up to us folks, and not the politicians. And maybe that’s as it should be. If change is not coming from our government, we must bring it to our government. Rightly, righteously, respectfully. We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We need a different lesson plan for People; for Families. We start with self respect; we set a standard for behavior at home and in public and we hold everyone accountable. We talk TO our children rather than AT them. We do not tolerate bullying or demeaning behavior and we support our children to speak out if they are targeted; and to stand up for others who are being harassed. We stop making excuses for offenders and we expect consequences for offenses. It’s based on the Golden Rule. Do unto Others…. We have the talk with our sons about respecting our daughters. We have the talk with our daughters about respecting our sons. We encourage learning – more books and less TV. We work at making our adult relationships work so that our children can see that these commitments are neither convenient or disposable. We admit when we are wrong, and we apologize. We can reeducate, but it will take some hard work. . I feel sometimes like I am screaming at the top of my lungs to what at best is echoing silence. These truths I have outlined, this lesson plan for humanity is SELF-EVIDENT. A no-brainer. A return to that Golden Rule and the Core Values our society is based on (see above).

Above all we need to get mad, in the proactive sense. We have to stand up and scream “No More!” No more hate speech, no more name calling, no more profiling, no more beatings, no more rapes. No more feeding a beast that deems softcore porn appropriate entertainment matter for a globally televised awards show. No more judicial system that says a 14 year old girl bears responsibility for consenting to sexual activity with a man more than twice her age… Just exactly how does one become “older than their chronological years” anyway? She is not an emancipated minor – just so that’s clear. 14 is not capable of legally consenting to ANYTHING. Coercion is implicit when a much older person gets a minor to perform sex acts. Apparently this is something the judge chose to ignore in his statement of ruling. No more mothers who sit bored and yawning in a Georgia courtroom where their son is on trial for cold bloodedly shooting an 18 month old toddler. Society’s Moral Compass is severely misaligned at present, quite obviously.

It bears repeating – This is what we need to be CAREFULLY TEACHING:

Respect yourself.

Treat others with Respect and Kindness, even if you do not receive Kindness in return. Remember that a difference of opinion is not a personal attack. If you can’t say something nice(ly); don’t say anything at all. (“You Stay Classy San Diego!”)

Play by the Rules.

Help your Neighbor.

Speak out about Injustice and Inequality. Be that shining light in dark places when all other lights go out.

Own your mistakes and strive to do better.

Get – and stay – Educated. Learn to read, speak publicly, write well, and most importantly LISTEN. You’ll find out much more when you are silent and observant.

Above all – Love one Another.

That’s not really so hard to do. The government isn’t going to legislate that for us. We have to do it ourselves. It starts with an individual commitment to change, and a commitment to raise our children to be better people than we are. How many of you reading this are willing to make that commitment, take that step, and for example perform an act of kindness for a total stranger? Give up getting a few extra presents under the Christmas tree and instead donate that money – or some of your time, to a food pantry or homeless shelter? Set limits with your children and enforce them? This includes curfews, and dare I say it again – some form of dress code? We can carefully teach our children by our loving example. They pay far more attention to what we do. What we say – not so much. (Ask any mother of a teenager about that – we’ll tell ya!) Hold the door open for an elderly person, offer to help someone struggling with grocery bags. Show our kids that we have respect for one another and I’m pretty sure our kids will start showing respect too.

I do not want these people, and countless others I can’t name, to have died or suffered for nothing – please remember them:

Delbert Belton. Christopher Lane. Antonio Santiago. Trayvon Martin. Matthew Shepherd. Islan Nettles. Cheryl Green. Jyoti Singh. Brandon Teena. James Earl Chaney. Andrew Goodman. Mickey Schwerner. Martin Luther King. Phoebe Prince. Jamey Rodemeyer. Reginald Denny. Paramjit Kaur. Satwant Singh Kaleka. Prakash Singh. Sita Singh. Ranjit Singh. Suveg Singh. Francois Chenu. Ginger Slepski. James Byrd. Jennifer Daugherty. The Victims and Families of 9/11. The Victims of the Manson Family Murders – included because it was Manson’s stated intention to incite a race war. The 11 million + Victims of The Holocaust. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………

The Head Table

Head Table Place Settings

Head Table Place Settings (Photo credit: VancityAllie)

Remember when you were a kid, and you couldn’t wait to sit at the grown up table on holidays?  No more mismatched chairs, paper plates and plastic cups at the rickety old card table. No sirree bub – you got the formal dining room and the good china at the adults table.  You were where it was happening. Definitely a mini rite-of-passage, at least for this chick.  As the oldest child and oldest grandchild I got to go first. Woo Hoo! Welcome to the Party, Pal!

But I want to talk about a different table.  The Head Table.  I don’t mean where Bride and Groom sit during their reception, or where the Silver and Gold Anniversary Couples get to sit. Those are cool places to be.   The happy place – center of attention and hub of the party wheel.  I want to talk about the table you get move up to – and sit at – when your parents pass away.  Its not an actual table, but its a real thing nonetheless.  And its emotional, and scary.  If all goes as hoped, you’re bound for the cemetery next. Not that anyone hopes to die, but if The Fates are kind, they take you before your children.

When you step up to take your seat at the table (if those Fates have once again smiled upon you) you’re usually middle aged – and usually with children and grandchildren by that point.  Sitting down, you get to take stock of your life to date.  You evaluate your goals, reevaluate them and maybe even change career direction. Or divorce. Or remarry. Have a full blown nuclear mid life crisis. Make a menopausally fueled Hit List. Or none of those things. But –  underlying whatever is going on is the stark reality that there’s no human buffer zone between you and the Great Beyond anymore. No safety net below you as you stand on the platform at the ceiling of the Center Ring.  Tag. You’re it.

I was chatting with my Aunt Jean the other day.  She lives near Chicago, but we try to connect with one another as much as possible. She was 17 when I was born, and she’s my Godmother.  We were discussing careers and work. She mentioned that at my age- I’m at the apex career wise.  If I’ve reached for the brass ring already – great. If not, I’d better do it soon. She didn’t say so, but I thought –  I’m approaching the Head Table, dammit.   I haven’t sat down yet because my Mom is still with us; but  I’m halfway up there as of 2007 when my Dad left us terribly, suddenly. Two of my best friends in the world – Cheryl and Martha – have a seat saved for me. Cheryl’s been sitting up there since 1999.  Martha, since last year.

I’ll be in great company, but I’m really not ready to move up to the Head Table yet. Those Fates though, they don’t deign to ask whether or not you’re ready to sit up there. And if I had to guess, I would say that NO ONE is ever ready for a seat at this particular table.  The view is probably lovely up there – friends, family etc. The love, palpable. But it seems a lonely place, regardless of the company you’re in. And, taking your seat up there acknowledges that you are, in point of fact, now an orphan.

So, as I meander towards my new assigned seating (which I FERVENTLY hope I will not have to sit in for a few years yet) I find myself asking the questions:  Am I happy? What makes me happy? Do I matter? Selfish questions, but at my age I’ve paid enough dues in life to ask such selfish questions. I also ask unselfish ones:  Have I made a difference to someone, helped someone, been a good parent?  (Don’t ask my girls that until I’ve had a chance to bribe them) Hahaha! ;). And finally: What do I want to do with the next 30+ years of my life?  I’ve certainly discovered a passion for writing and photography in the last year or so. I would like to build on that if I can.

What questions will you be asking yourself as you approach The Head Table? Or, what are you thinking about as you sit there?  Inquiring Minds…. etc.

What’s in a Name? And, A Drive By Vomit

I woke this morning to the sound of giggles and murmuring in my living room.  Mayhem (the youngest) has been sleeping on the couch because of a spider-fright in her room. Chaos (the oldest) had to get up early to register online for next semester’s college courses.  So of course Chaos had to make sure that Mayhem was awake – because in her world if she ain’t sleepin, ain’t nobody sleepin. They didn’t bother me (today 😉 ) and so I snuggled back into my cocoon of warmth for a few extra ZZZZ’s. When I finally emerged into the living room – Chaos was registering for her classes and Mayhem was doing her usual morning zombie shuffle. At some point, Chaos decided to help herself to some post-Easter Jelly Beans.

Didja ever start eating something that you thought you knew what it was; but it turned out to be something different? Well…  (Gagging, goat-like noise) “Mom? Black jelly beans, what flavor are they?” Me:  “Liquorice.” Chaos: “What’s anise, then?”   Me: “It tastes like liquorice…. Its a plant.” She had been expecting grape flavor -mistaking black for purple in the dim light. Well, since things usually taste pretty crappy when you were expecting one taste and get another  – much merriment ensued when the word “anise” was phonetically compared to the word for the body orifice that produces said crap.  Which I was unaware of, quite apparently –  since I continued to blather on about the anise plant.  The girls were still chortling over “anus” and thought I was commenting about anuses….how you can boil and reduce them to make the liquorice flavor. Yes, I have lost my mind – but not quite on that grand a scale – yet….Mayhem  was holding her sides. To paraphrase JRR Tolkein: Its a dangerous business – getting out of bed in the morning.

Fast Forward to this afternoon:  The Tale of the Drive-by Puking.  To set the stage: the usual state of affairs is that Chaos brings Mayhem home after work, since the younger one is a member and the older one works there.  They arrived home at abut 6:20 pm today – par for the course.  Chaos had to relate what happened on the way home –  literally just up the street. They had turned down our street and were approaching the neighbor’s house.  Both girls noticed a girl sitting on the curb. The car in front of them slowed, stopped and picked the girl up.  Mayhem: “Whats going on?” Chaos: “Getting a ride, or getting kidnapped.”  Door of car opens, girl leans out – Kidnapping Escape Attempt? Nope.  She proceeds to hurl on the street.  The driver waves Chaos around and gives her a wide-eyed  “IDKWTF is going on” look as they pass the car.  Said car then proceeds to speed off down the street in some haste – leaving the lovely deposit behind…..

I am not surprised. In this town literally anything is possible.  But I think I have had enough strange hilarity for one day.

The Times – are They a’Changin?

I have been having a multitude of conversations with my 14 year old lately dealing with behavior, morality, human sexuality, sexual orientation, social acceptance, bullying etc.  More than I ever seemed to have with my oldest at that stage of her life. Times have gotten tougher everywhere.  These times, they are a changing  – or are they? Its not that my youngest doesn’t get it, or is having trouble socially – it’s just that what’s out there is so darned overwhelming. She starts high school in the fall. It’s a whole different world – even more so than when her sister went to high school – and CERTAINLY much different socially than when her dad and I attended,  way back in the “olden” days.  (and it’s a whole ‘nother planet when you think of the differences between now and her grandmother’s generation – who probably graduated in the 50’s or 60’s)  But perhaps not.  There is so much further we still have to go in terms of  inclusion, equality, and respectful social interaction.

I read this online today at www.aholyexperience.com   and while my prevailing thinking does not generally run toward a religious bent – something she said really resonated:  “When the prevailing thinking is ‘boys will be boys’ – then girls will be garbage.”  And I went: “Wow…”   since I have those two girls of my own. Being young – and female, in today’s society comes with enormous challenges; and becoming a successful, self assured, independent female adult requires great sacrifice, a strong steady moral compass, sheer cussed stubbornness – and a big mouth.  Raising such women has been supremely difficult – and supremely rewarding.  Raising girls sure is tough. Girls are, well….girls. There are days when I feel extremely sorry for The Viking – trapped in an unending sea storm of estrogen.

We’re up against it aren’t we, after all? That glass ceiling – career-wise. A woman earns 70 cents for the dollar that a man earns to do the same job.  Hypersexualization of women in our culture from an early age Toddlers and Tiaras, anyone? Jon-Benet? . Madonna provided a hypersexualized portrait of women in their early 20’s.  Brittney Spears brought the age level down to 17/18 and Miley Cyrus – 14/15.   This society we live in, with its severely delinated and defined gender roles that allow no room for people to just be people. Outdated patriarchal thinking that allows women to be objectified; and is more concerned with blaming a  woman for her clothing choices on a Saturday night out with friends – rather than blaming the drunken lout who assaulted her.  “Boys will be boys” after all. Boys are not accountable simply by virtue of their gender?… Wait, what?  Yeah, I went there.  The “rape culture” that blames the victim and elicits sympathy for the offenders.   Witness Steubenville, Ohio.The media laments about  “promising football careers lost” while simultaneously – and gleefully – reporting that the underage victim had been drinking.  Witness Delhi, and Datia Province – both in India – where one only need be female  in order to be assaulted, defiled, and murdered.   Witness Elmont, NY – where a 15 yr old special needs student was gang raped beneath her desk while class was in session – with a teacher only feet away.  They were all asking for it?  By being drunk? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Being developmentally disabled? Or merely by being female? Oh I think not! Things like this make me want to keep my girls home permanently. Only I didn’t… haven’t… won’t.

My daughters both have minds of their own – quite intelligent and compassionate ones. The 14 year old is particularly sensitive to social issues and is not shy about expressing her opinions even if they differ with mine. (The older one is even more vocal, hahaha) My views at this point in life are somewhat jaded (I guess that would be the most apt word).  “It is what it is, my friend – and life’s not fair – so get used to it.” That’s not to say I won’t pick any battles, but I have seen the futility of tilting at the proverbial windmills.

As my youngest starts to establish her adult identity she is of course interested in self expression.  Hairstyles, clothing styles etc.  I have always encouraged my girls to choose for themselves, – but within limits.  The conversation we had the other night is a good example.  There seems to be a fashion fad going around of people wearing informal style pants where the crotch hangs down around the knees by design. The waist is not pulled down manually – as has been the gangsta style (underwear showing) that’s been so popular. Below the knee, the pants (t shirt or sweatpants material) fit tightly to the calf.  I did not hesitate to tell her what I thought: 1. Looks like pajamas, which are NOT acceptable to wear in public 2. Looks like the person wearing it has a full diaper and needs to be changed – again, not acceptable in public.

Like it or not,  people will be judged by their appearance. If you walk out of the house to do business in public in your pajamas – you will be perceived as lazy, period. If you are dressed like a two dollar hooker – please do not be surprised when you are treated like one. Is it right or fair? – NO. But its not going to change anytime soon.  How do I teach the fine line between self-expression and immodesty? Or sloppiness? or laziness?    Hopefully it began long ago, when their father and I (again hopefully) instilled a sense of pride in themselves. By demonstrating that we do things the right way, not necessarily the easy way. And, by treating each other with respect and tolerance.  Walking the talk, as it were.

No one has the right to harm another person, no matter how they are dressed, what their IQ is, where they are from, or how inebriated they are. That said, however – it is also important that women remember to be proactive, self protective, and self aware.  This means understanding that choosing to wear the belly shirt and the micro mini-skirt may bring unwanted attention. It means being responsible – and response-able, making smart choices.  We cannot control how others behave; we can only control our own behavior.  We can hold others accountable for their behavior, but ONLY after the fact.  And by then – Damage Done.  Damage in the form of teasing or bullying, harassment, or outright physical harm.

The teenage years are horrid at best – so why would anyone deliberately make extravagant choices that would paint a target on their back? What about that self expression?  Well, living in adult society often means compartmentalizing and role-playing.  For instance – I’m a jeans and tee shirt kind of girl – who also happens to be tattooed.  However, I work in an office that has a dress code and I have to wear business casual attire Monday-Thursday and cannot go sleeveless even in the summertime.  Do I feel stunted or my freedom of expression impinged upon?  Not really – because who I am inside is always there and I don’t need to show it on the outside all the time in order to feel I’m living authentically.  I know I can go home and change when I get out of work. I have developed a public identity to go along with my private one. My personal friends and family see a more complex me than my acquaintances do. My professional contacts see me only superficially. Their opinion of me on a personal level means little. I merely have to do my job and be pleasant. I have a bigger obligation to be “real” to my acquaintances and even more so with my friends and family. This is the process teens are working through – developing their adult identities and coming to terms with the fact that our public and private faces do not necessarily have to match in order for us to live happily. Finding the balance, becoming OK with the layers.

Another issue is that we tend to over share these days. Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that unless we are acting uninhibitedly we are being untrue to ourselves. NOT SO. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. A bit of inhibition is a good thing. Self-restraint is a sign of maturity whether you’re male or female.   It’s a fine line to walk, and a big challenge to impart that lesson.   (The brain’s judgment center is not fully developed until the mid-twenties) Teen females also need to learn to navigate the patriarchy and carve out their own niche – not settle for whatever society determines is right for them  ie: The Trophy, or The Bitch.

So I’ve told my girls: Be authentic – do what feels right, provided it doesn’t hurt anyone. Be respectful, and expect to be respected in return.  Harm none. Speak up against injustice and unfairness.  But, recognize that as a female they will have to do it better than the boys to even be considered half as good.   And that by speaking up, by demanding that respect – they’ll be thought of as Bitches. And that’s OK – a strong Bitch is hard to push around, isn’t she?   I want my girls to be happy and successful.  I have tried to make sure they have the tools to excel in today’s world, while also striving to assure that they have the dreams and vision to aspire to something better for themselves. So in the end, they can choose to be someone other than a Trophy or a Bitch. And THEIR daughters won’t even have to think about it.

Questioning My Faith

I in no way want this article to be interpreted as Catholic-bashing, or putting down any friends or family who are practicing Catholics. I respect that they believe as they do.  These are MY issues with the Faith I was brought up in, but in truth cannot say I practice with any sort of fervor.  I guess you could say they are long standing issues – starting when I was little. There is much I don’t understand –  or can’t agree with – about the why’s and wherefores of Church doctrine and practice.

I remember as a kid being bored in church.  Same thing every Sunday – same words, same songs, same everything. I liked the ceremony, the candles, the incense, the pageantry. But come on – same script EVERY.SINGLE.WEEK.  As a kid, I was not interested – just didn’t get why we had to sit there and listen to the same things every week. “Because I said so.” just didn’t cut it – not that I would backtalk my parents, mind you. So I mostly “suffered” in silence. Catholicism by rote and recitation.  UGH!   Then we had to go to CCD every week.  Again, same stuff every week. Whats Mortal Sin vs Venial Sin?  OK, got that…. but we never, ever moved past that in any of the CCD classes I attended. Nobody ever explained anything else, and we honestly didn’t know what to ask – we just wanted to get the heck out of there. And, when my dad’s mom passed away, we kept getting her tithing envelopes from her/our parish/church – where her funeral was performed – for quite awhile after she was dead.   Weird.

Then I did something I should not have done.  In seventh grade we had to walk to the elementary school on Saturdays and take a school bus to the next town over for CCD classes.  So, I would walk to the school, scoot behind it to the playground and stay there until I saw the bus return a few hours later. Then I’d walk home.  Really Really REALLY a STUPID thing to do in hindsight. My parents certainly thought so when they found out 2 days before Confirmation that I had not been going to the classes.  Needless to say, I did not get confirmed – nor could I sit  down comfortably for several days – and I missed out on a months worth of TV and socializing on the phone. And justifiably so. (in retrospect and speaking as a parent now)

In high school, one of our long time family friends’ son (and a good friend of mine)  would come up on weekends occasionally to help out my dad with some of the heavier chores – and help me work on my car.  Tom’s mother (Aunt Lucille)  insisted he go to church so we’d go together on Saturday afternoon – but we’d always sit in the back and take off after the gospel was read – having heard that that was the most important part of the Mass and one could technically leave afterward. So we did.

As an adult,  I do find a soothing comfort in that sameness, and pageantry of the Mass.  I understand now why the structure is pretty much the same week to week. Also, a  co worker/ friend who once aspired to the priesthood finally explained the rosary prayers and the mysteries to me when I was in my thirties.   But there is much I do not understand.

The bible says it is ” better” for priests to not be married. But it does not expressly forbid it. One of the most committed, caring pastors I know (Lutheran) is married with several children and his entire family assists with his wonderful ministry.   Could not the Catholic Church attract many more faithful and committed people to the calling if they were in fact allowed to marry and have families?  A ministry life does not preclude having a family life and in fact may lend a deeper understanding of problems families run into. Which would provide better insight and an ability to counsel.   Hmmmm.

And then there’s the whole  “lets not let the women in” thing….. Just don’t get that AT ALL.  I know several women, my friend Kelly and my Aunt Jean in particular  – who would make Super Stupendous and Amazing Priests/Pastors.  Yet they are not allowed to do so.   I think they are pushed into lesser roles in the Church simply because of their gender.  Speaking for myself:  My female-ness does not make me less of a person, nor am I responsible for the sins of Eve. I wasn’t there and had nothing to do with any apple eating.   And this is the message I get from the church when I see that women are not allowed aspire to full ministry if they want to. Its sort of like saying that I’m responsible for the death and persecution of colonists during the Salem Witch Trials because I had an ancestor who lived in Salem at the time.  I’m not responsible for that, either.  Wasn’t there, had nothing to do with it. So I guess you could say I’m not on board with the concept of original sin either.  Don’t see why I should pay a price for something I did not do. With all the sin that we humans manage to create for ourselves, why must we start out burdened with someone else’s?

The Church is anti-gay.  OK I understand that the bible says its an abomination.  Truly 2000 years ago, it was. There was zero chance of the  relationship being fertile so you were wasting your genetic material in a same sex relationship.  Lifespans were so short back then that a person really did have an obligation to procreate – literally for the survival of the species.    Times have changed, but the Church has not evolved. Surrogacy, IVF, IUI and other fertility procedures can assist any family in having children if they so choose. (Adoption is also fine, but should not be the only option a couple has if they cannot conceive “naturally”) What a wonderful thing for any stable, committed couple who otherwise would have no chance of having a family of their own.  And if ANYONE tells me that children conceived in these methods have no souls I will reach through my computer monitor and punch them in the face…. jussayin.  So if that’s what you think, please keep that to yourself. Thanks.   I also had the honour of working on the AIDS quilt patch for Father Robert Arpin.  He wrote a book everyone should read: “Wonderfully, Fearfully Made”.  “Father Bob” was an openly gay priest. I worked with his Aunt for many years which is how I came to have the privilege of working on his quilt patch. His book raises much food for thought. I highly recommend it.

The Churches position on same sex marriage: UGH!  Marriage is not just a sacrament in the church nor is it solely the reason for procreation anymore.  The Catholic Church – to my current understanding -recognizes no reason for marriage other than for the procreation of children.  But – Marriage is a social institution also.  People marry today that want to have companionship and a legal standing with and for another person that they love.  This does not negatively impact any religious institution. (Any church has the right to decide what practices they will allow It has nothing to do with the state or society at large).  I do have the right not to subscribe to that,  however. Of course, I highly recommend marriage if one wants children.  A two parent family is best – raising children is quite difficult for a single parent. Not to mention costly to taxpayers. Why can’t the church recognize the duality of marriage as a sacrament AND as a social institution?.  If I am recalling my sociology and ancient history correctly the concept of marriage and family was initially set up to provide  a method of protection for children and companionship for adults. Set up to define roles and responsibilities, and make it easier to provide for those who could not yet provide for themselves.  Not really a religious element there as far as I can see, but definitely a social one.  In my opinion, nothing wrong with a dual definition of marriage.  And, it manages to be all inclusive.

Abortion:  Truth be told, I agree with the Church regarding its stand on abortion – up to a point.  The line is drawn for me when the Church says the issue is Black and White/All or Nothing.  I cannot support  policy that states an abortion cannot be performed for a woman who’s health is threatened by her pregnancy AND she wishes to terminate it. Women should not have to wait until their pregnancy imminently threatens their life to be able to get an abortion. (Fortunately Roe v Wade opened the door that says they don’t have to) I cannot support policy that states a woman must carry her rapist’s baby to term. Its not her fault she’s pregnant, why should she pay the price for someone else’s sin?.  Does the church realize the psychological damage they are forcing a woman to endure beyond the trauma of the rape itself?  There are always exceptions to any rule and these things should be decided on a case by case basis – if the woman chooses to discuss it with her priest- not by blanket, all or nothing medieval doctrine. In my mind, this completely anti abortion policy translates to  just another way for the Church to keep women out of power.

The Church should be a vibrant entity that evolves to support the needs of its flock whilst providing a moral compass for them.  That the Church refuses to step forward into the 21st century, acknowledge and institute true reform is a real stumbling block for me. They’re still shuffling abusive priests around to other parishes instead of dealing with them appropriately – or letting the law do so. The American Catholic Church is withering on the vine, unfortunately. Fewer and fewer young men called to the priesthood.  Wouldn’t it be great to open it up so that these men could marry – or even better allow women of faith to get on board too? I’d bet a whole slew of awesome people would aspire to the calling AND be great at it; reinvigorating the Church with new blood. (no pun intended)  I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bathwater; but I do think that an update needs to be done – and its long overdue.

As another example, years ago a family member gave birth to a stillborn daughter at 22 weeks gestation in a Catholic Hospital. The priest there refused to baptise the baby.  OK, I understand that the baby was born dead. But if the Church thinks that life begins at conception does not also “original sin”? So the Catholic Church essentially told this family that there is no chance of reuniting in the afterlife with their daughter because she was condemned to limbo simply by being born lifeless and not in a state of grace? Medieval thinking,and another example of Catholicism by rote. Is not the priests job also to minister to the comfort of the grieving parents?  Providing the comfort of a baptism -even a “meaningless” one – should have been the first priority of that priest, not dogmatically following a policy that provided no relief to the family left behind.  As Captain Kirk pondered in the Star Trek episode  “Who Mourns for Adonis”  – ” Would it have hurt us, I wonder, to have gathered a few laurel leaves?” I think not. My family priest at the time actually agreed with me on this one – at least on providing a baptism for the baby in order to comfort and support the family. And why can’t a baptism be performed in utero if life begins at conception and “original sin” needs to be gotten rid of?

So yeah, I guess you can call me a Cafeteria Catholic. It fits. Has a  “Catholicism for Dummies” been published? If so, I might need to read it.  I believe in much of what the Church says – the Trinity, Heaven and Hell, The Ten Commandments, The Resurrection. Don’t subscribe to the concept of “original sin”.  Don’t really get the whole  intercession thing – why can’t I confess any sins I might have directly to God?  Not sure that a virgin birth status is necessary for Jesus to be both human and Divine/The Son of God. Which hey –  if you think about it – if Mary did not have sexual intercourse to conceive Jesus then he had to have been conceived “unnaturally”.  Which negates the opinion that children conceived via non- sexual methods have no souls.  Because of course I believe Jesus had/has a soul.  Life, no matter how created, is imbued with that divine spark we call a soul. But mostly,  I do believe that whole  LOVE ONE ANOTHER thing.  Because if we truly do that – everything else falls into place, and falls into grace. Thanks for listening while I thought out loud.  Peace, out.

Please Explain: What is a Cheerio doing in my Sugar Pops?

This quote is a funny family story about a family friend having breakfast with us while we were on vacation and finding a different brand of cereal floating in the milk amongst his preferred brand. He asked my mother to explain why, much to the amusement of all of us. OK – maybe you had to be there to get the full comedic effect; but trust me – it was hilarious at the time.

Let me now make the connections to today’s post. We had a snow day today here in the northeast, and my fingers and brain have been itching to get back to my writing. I decided to catch up with some of my blogger friends and came across this gem : Les Miserables and Social Injustice which I highly recommend you read. BTG and I don’t always see eye to eye but we provide and promote a climate that encourages thought, especially thought outside the usual boxes. Love that about him, and many of my other friends in the blogger-verse. As usual, his post got me thinking.

Just yesterday I was at lunch and talking with a co-worker/friend about current events, social issues etc. He comes from a very liberal background, but also has a great deal of common sense which we agreed is in short supply these days. He told me a story about leaving a previous social service job, and why. He used to work for an agency that provided advocacy, outreach, and support to families in crisis. Families would contact the agency with a variety of serious issues ranging from eviction, property theft or damage, home heating issues, social service legal issues like CHINS petitions, DCF interventions etc etc. One family contacted the agency because they had no heat and no money to pay for home heating oil. The agency arranged with a supplier to donate 100 gallons of heating oil to the family. Later on in the heating season, the family, perhaps trying to economise – had to relocate because their pipes froze and the residence was uninhabitable. The agency set them up with a hotel and got pro bono volunteers to clean up the flood and mess, and repair the dwelling. At the staff meeting, my friend brought up his concerns about arranging for the children to get back and forth to their school (they had to relocate to a hotel some distance from their neighborhood), and about reestablishing their routines as quickly as possible. To my friend, this meant arranging with a taxi service to get the family to and from school etc. It also meant perhaps trying to arrange for the family to meet with a financial planner/social worker who could help them create a budget to meet their needs. He was shot down, because what the rest of the team wanted to discuss was getting the mother a washing machine. (?!?) The agency had spent a lot of money and man hours helping the family and other families in similar situations. Another family had their property stolen (TV, air conditioner and the like) My friend brought up the idea of providing all the families with renters insurance. Its relatively cheap – like maybe 150 a year, and would certainly cost less than having to continually pay for replacements. Property theft is a huge issue for folks living in poverty. That idea too was shot down.

I daresay he felt like that cheerio swimming in the bowl with a bunch of sugar pops. The lone grain that’s completely good for you; and yet completely outnumbered by sugary sweet, completely non-nutritious “fluff” that tastes better – but has little health benefit when consumed. Now I’m sure that the folks working at that agency were well-meaning with big hearts. However, it was clear to my friend – and subsequently to me via his tale, that they were not able to, or actually could not, identify the pressing issues that would empower these families to regain control of their lives – rather than merely enabling them. In other words – no common sense. The sugar pops won the day, my cheerio friend quickly realized he was swimming in the wrong cereal bowl, and left his position forthwith. (See, I did relate my material to the title after all!)

One of my biggest peeves is this lack of common sense when it comes to allocating our time, talents, and treasure in terms of social activism, grassroots volunteerism, and implementation of social programs . Believe me when I say that I totally get the gray miserable-ness of poverty life. I understand how people want some happiness and how in the process of reaching for that, unplanned pregnancies may occur. Which is why I am totally for making viable birth control available cheaply to all. We’re human, and better penny wise than pound foolish. It costs less to provide a young lady a pill, or a young man a condom, than it does to support a single parent family on taxpayer dollars.

Now, I’m not poor. Both my husband and I are employed (Thank God!) – but we are living paycheck to paycheck just like millions of other middle class Americans and I know first hand how incredibly difficult it is to find any joy in life when all you are able to do is try and figure out how to get all your bills paid and make your earnings stretch as far as possible. Its horribly depressing to struggle with financial issues. To have to make the choice to pay bills rather than buy your kids Christmas presents. But guess what? That’s what we did. As responsible adults we have an obligation to provide the essentials for our families. If there’s no money left over after that, then that’s just too bad. There, I said it. We are only guaranteed the right to PURSUE happiness, we are not guaranteed happiness itself. So, I put my big girl panties on and I’m dealing with it.

Anyway, I believe – in my practical mind – that social assistance is supposed to help provide the essentials to struggling individuals and families. The essentials is the key concept here. The cheerios, if you will – NOT the sugar pops. And,we must keep in mind at all times that if we don’t hold people accountable then it becomes our responsibility as well when the system gets abused and our generosity gets taken advantage of. The current state of the welfare system has little direct oversight. We’ve managed to automate much of the processes and procedures. For example, when I was briefly on unemployment in the mid-eighties I had to actually report to a person in the unemployment office and provide them documentation of my job search efforts in order to receive my benefit check. I had to actually go to this office once a week. No phone calls, no computers. Face to face with the caseworker. These days its a matter of logging in on a computer and typing in whatever information you feel like. On the surface, this makes sense and would appear to save money. However, it’s hard to lie to someone’s face. Much easier to be less than truthful on an impersonal website. Now I’m not saying everyone is lying – I’m only saying that the system makes it easier to do so – and there are individuals who will lie to get what they want (human nature being what it is and all).

EBT cards are another example of a well meaning procedure/process/benefit that is incredibly easy to abuse. I’ve seen it firsthand and written about it previously so I won’t bore you with a recap but I can tell you it absolutely FROSTS me to see my hard earned tax dollars wasted in this fashion. I’m sorry you don’t have enough of your own money to get that lap-dance buddy, but you CAN’T (shouldn’t) spend your EBT benefits in the strip clubs, or getting a tat, or a manicure, or buying booze, or purchasing non-nutritious food. “Life is not fair”, I tell my girls all the time, so “Get used to it!” Here’s my cheerio (common sense) fix: 1.You should not be able to use your EBT card to get cash. 2. If they can set up EBT cards to reject alcohol and tobacco purchases it is certainly worth the effort to set them up to reject junk food and soda. These are not essentials, they are luxuries. We are not doing anyone any favors by enabling them to purchase non-essentials. And I really don’t want to have to pay more via your medicaid health insurance for your kid to get their cavities filled because you won’t set limits and give them nutritious food instead of those push pops you got for the “buy one get two” special at the Stop and Shop….. Grrrrrr!

No positive or empowering lessons learned – not in any way, shape, or form. We are not assisting anyone in differentiating between “want” and “need”. This is a crucial life lesson that absolutely has to be learned in order for anyone to be successful in life. Looking the other way and allowing the luxuries just because we feel sorry for folks is not actually empowering them at all. My co-worker friend had another great example about this: He was doing a home visit and saw that the family had a rather large HD LED or plasma TV on their wall. He asked about it, and was told that it was rented – paid for with the welfare benefits the family was getting. Here again is a great example of waste – and lack of prioritization. This family had all sorts of legal financial and other problems and yet felt the need to spend taxpayer dollars on the luxury of an HD television. (that was actually costing the taxpayers more than if they had paid for it outright because they were renting it) Sugar Pops. Dumb Sugar Pops.

People need to understand that a welfare check is not actually their money. They need to be accountable for how it is spent. It is a misnomer to refer to this type of benefit as an entitlement. It is not. They didn’t pay into the system, or work for it. They are not “entitled” to it. Veterans are entitled to benefits because of their service to our country. Retirees are entitled to their social security checks because they have paid into the system throughout their working lives. Laid off workers are entitled to unemployment benefits because they have worked. Our society has seen fit to provide charity to those in need. “Assistance Benefits” would be a much better phrase to accurately describe what is being provided. Now if you want to reform the welfare system and require “work for wages” then by all means, feel free to refer to it as an entitlement in that case. We need people working in the system to prioritize using a common sense approach, with a mission statement of “empowerment, not enablement” – and the mindset that goes with that.

But what do I know, I’m a cheerio swimming in a bowl full of sugar pops….

cheeriossugar pops