Books that “Stand on the Side of Love” (Week Four)

"Uncle Bobby's Wedding" by Sarah Brannen
In honor of this month’s @Home, each week in February will feature a different children’s book that honors all families and celebrates love.
Just by reading and sharing these stories we are all doing our part to help create a culture that affirms the worth and dignity of all persons AND their families.

No matter what your family looks like, I hope you will take some time to check out some of these books!

**************************************************

"Uncle Bobby's Wedding"

Week Four – “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” by Sarah S. Brannen
I was introduced to “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” by Sarah S. Brannen just in the nick of time!

My daughter has reached the age when questions about EVERYTHING fill our days; including her wonderings about all of this “getting married” stuff she is surrounded with seemingly every minute of every day (thank you, Disney). Of course, the images that bombard her world tend to feature a very narrow view of what love and marriage looks like.

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding  was a great way for me to begin to address some of my daughter’s questions about marriage and weddings and has allowed me to incorporate more diverse representations of marriage into her world view.

Brannen’s tale introduces a rather familiar concept: the jealousy a child may feel when he or she learns that a beloved family member may be sharing time with someone new. In this story, Chloe, an adorable hamster, is saddened, even in the midst of her family’s celebrations, that her favorite Uncle Bobby will be getting married to Jamie. Chloe adores the time that she gets to spend with her Uncle Bobby and wonders if he will still have time to share with her after he gets married. Of course, by the end of the book (spoiler alert!) Chloe learns that she doesn’t have to be jealous of her Uncle’s new husband, but that there is enough love to go around.

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding is a sweet story that features themes and characters that speak to the heart of children of all ages. If your little one is beginning to wonder about marriage, why not include this book in your conversations?

**************************************************

So, UU@Home-rs, this is where you come in; in addition to providing four of my own favs, I am turning the tables this month and asking each of you to contribute some of your own great resources for all ages! Add your book recommendations below, or check out the UU@Home facebook page and join the discussion board, post pictures, and don’t forget to include a link!

Books that “Stand on the Side of Love” (Week Three)

A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager

In honor of this month’s @Home, each Wednesday in February will feature a children’s book that honors all families and celebrates love.

Just by reading and sharing these stories we are all doing our part to help create a culture that affirms the worth and dignity of all persons AND their families.

No matter what your family looks like, I hope you will take some time to check out some of these books!

**************************************************

"A Tale of Two Daddies"

Week Three – A Tale of Two Daddies by Vanita Oelschlager
I stumbled upon this week’s book in our local library a few months ago and I instantly loved it.

The author of “A Tale of Two Daddies”, Vanita Oelschlager, does a wonderful job capturing the genuine curiosity expressed by children when they meet someone who has a family that looks a little different from their own. This charming story features a little boy who wonders about the family of his playground playmate; a little girl who has two dads.

As the two children play together, the little boy begins to ask a series of questions including, “Which dad helps you when your day begins?/ Who is there to tuck you in?”

The little girl proudly responds, “Poppa’s awake when my day begins. / Both of my daddies tuck me in.”

I love that kids and caretakers can read this story and think about who helps them in their own home and discover that while each family is not exactly the same, love is always there!

“Who is your dad when you’re sad and need some love?”

“Both, of course!”

Through it’s simple story and beautiful illustrations, this book reminds us that a child’s concept of “family” is ultimately formed by what they know and see around them; so surround the children you love with books about the love shared between all families!

**************************************************

So, UU@Home-rs, this is where you come in; in addition to providing four of my own favs, I am turning the tables this month and asking each of you to contribute some of your own great resources for all ages! Add your book recommendations below, or check out the UU@Home facebook page and join the discussion board, post pictures, and don’t forget to include a link!

Books that "Stand on the Side of Love" (Week Two)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

In honor of this month’s @Home, each Wednesday in February will feature a children’s book that honors all families and celebrates love.

Just by reading and sharing these stories we are all doing our part to help create a culture that affirms the worth and dignity of all persons AND their families.

No matter what your family looks like, I hope you will take some time to check out some of these books!

**************************************************

"And Tango Makes Three"

Week Two – “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
This week’s pick was a total no-brainer: “And Tango Makes Three” is a heart-warming, true story that celebrates the love shared between two male penguins, Roy and Silo, and the beauty of the family they create together after they are given the gift of a fertile egg from another penguin couple. Roy and Silo take turns caring for the egg and, eventually, it hatches, and Tango is born.

This book is a great way to remind children (and adults) that even though Tango’s family might look a little different than theirs, that the love shared between Tango and her dads is just as beautiful and valuable as any other family. Plus penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins?

While “And Tango Makes Three” has become a staple in UU Religious Education libraries from coast to coast, this book has still faced a fair amount of controversy. It topped the American Library Association‘s list of “most challenged books” in 2006, not falling to number two until 2009.

The calls to ban this book are yet another sad reminder of just how much our society needs the lessons from books such as these and how important it is to fight to keep these stories alive. Hopefully, the generation of children that grows up loving Tango will create a world that truly honors the value and rights of all families. In the meantime, this book continues to play a vital role in putting an end to bullying by teaching us that the love shared between Tango and her dads is not unlike the love in every other family.

**************************************************

So, UU@Home-rs, this is where you come in; in addition to providing four of my own favs, I am turning the tables this month and asking each of you to contribute some of your own great resources for all ages! Add your book recommendations below, or check out the UU@Home facebook page and join the discussion board, post pictures, and don’t forget to include a link!

Learning Love

Learning love

I remember so clearly the first time my now three-year-old daughter told me that she loved me. The very image of my toddler expressing her love was enough to melt the heart of even the grumpiest scrooge. You know the scene: glowing eyes, the smile that filled her face, her arms reaching to give the biggest hug her little body could possibly manage. Not that I am biased or anything, but there is not a baby mammal or a hamster in a helmet that could possibly compare to this level of cuteness.

It has always amazed me how capable young children are of freely expressing emotions that adults are so apt to keep to themselves. Even babies will offer their comfort items such as pacifiers and bottles to other children who are upset, as if to say, “I know how you feel; I’ve been there.”

Still, even as I anxiously await my 15 month old son’s first proclamation of love, I can’t help but wonder: do kids really “get” love? Do they know what they are saying or are they simply mimicking behavior?

Yes, yes and…Yes!

Kids are expert cultural anthropologists; soaking in every bit of experience every minute of every day. They can sense tension and are astutely aware of happiness. I know this because both of my children are grumpy on my most stress-filled days and will laugh with me at my jokes when no one else will humor me… most of the time.

Kids are cultural anthropologistsSo when a caretaker affectionately whispers “I love you” and then shows it with hugs, understanding, presence, and sacrifice, it forms the child’s very understanding of “love”.

Go ahead; ask a child to define “love”. I am willing to bet that what awaits you is a list a verbs that reflects how love has been shown to them:

“Love is hugging, love is listening, love is helping, love is friendship.”
OR, in the words of a three-year-old:
“Love is when we use our nice hands and we don’t hit our little brothers. No. No.”

How have you loved today?

Books that "Stand on the Side of Love" (Week One)

The Family Book by Todd Parr

In honor of this month’s @Home, each Wednesday in February I will feature a children’s book that honors all families and celebrates love.

Just by reading and sharing these stories, we are all doing our part to help create a culture that affirms the worth and dignity of all persons AND their families.

No matter what your family looks like, I hope you will take some time to check out some of these books!

**************************************************

"The Family Book"

Week One – “The Family Book” by Todd Parr
Let me just start by saying that I love Todd Parr! If you are at all familiar with his work, then you know that all of his books are colorful, engaging and appropriate for all ages. But beyond those (awesome) qualities, Todd Parr is unique in that he approaches each topic with genuine love and makes his readers, young and old, feel special.

The first time I read “The Family Book”, I literally teared up. Never before had I read a children’s book that truly honored all families by reminding us, in the most clear-cut way possible, that families come in all shapes and sizes. I imagine this book having the power to un-do some of the damaging ideas that have been passed down from generation to generation. I imagine kids world-wide reminding adults that there is no one “desired” family structure and that a family with two moms or two dads is just as special and wonderful as a family that has one mom and one dad, or, as Todd reminds us, “Your family is special no matter what kind it is.”

P.S. Check out some of Todd Parr’s other amazing books; with topics from adoption, to different kinds of mommies and daddies, to taking care of the Earth. You now have a new favorite author!

**************************************************

So, UU@Home-rs, this is where you come in; in addition to providing four of my own favs, I am turning the tables this month and asking each of you to contribute some of your own great resources for all ages! Add your book recommendations below, or check out the UU@Home facebook page and join the discussion board, post pictures, and don’t forget to include a link!

Beyond the Rhetoric

Pointing fingers

It is hard to think that there might be anything left to share that hasn’t already been said following the events in Tucson last week.

To call this an unthinkable act simply does not give this justice.

In a just a few seconds, the lives of so many have been forever altered, and I fear our democracy may be as well; not just because our representatives may become even more inaccessible to their constituents than they ever were before, but because a country cannot thrive when it is ruled by fear.

Almost immediately following the horrific events on Saturday, Twitter and the blogosphere came alive; first with questions of, “Why?” and “Who?” and very quickly followed with far-fetched assumptions and finger-pointing. As we were all dizzy with a heavy mix of sadness, fear, and confusion, we reached to the only place we knew to go: those people.

So quick were we to wonder about the religious background and reading list of the killer; because surely these would identify the “responsible party.” So quick were we to search every Palin speech and every Beck and Limbaugh broadcast, looking for the one thing that MUST have set-off this would-be assassin. So quick were we then to respond by spending all of our waking hours rummaging for stones to cast back across the isle; because we could not bear to think that any one of us was more responsible than those people. I am ashamed that too much of my time over the past few days has been dedicated to tuning into programs I would not ordinarily support, knowing that my emotions would reach an all-time high.

Maybe I just needed to be angry; or perhaps this is our reaction because deep down we feel that it must be impossible for just one person to create such a large ripple in our pond; especially when this single individual has made this wave by doing something so horrendous.

Over the past days I have been restless as I struggled with my own internal debate about our language, our power of influence, and the responsibilities that come along with those. I was disheartened at the haste with which we assigned blame to others instead of combining our efforts to rise up and lead forward in solidarity. How are we to defeat the violent rhetoric if we give it so much power?

At the same time I was angry at those who have chosen to use their power to spread messages that are disingenuous at best and intentional fear-mongering at worst. But, through all of this I keep coming back to the same question:

How can we use our voices to reveal injustices and, at the same time, not allow our collective voices to give rise to hate and fear, giving those who perpetuate violence more power than they deserve?

Much of the debate that has been raging on in the media reminds me so much of the arguments that happened over ten years ago, as those of us who occupied high school classrooms attempted to wrap our minds around the Columbine Massacre.

Ironically, it was conservatives at that time who were ready to ban Marilyn Manson from stages across our country and who were ready to protest stores that sold his albums. “These musicians influence our feeble-minded children,” the argument went, “so those people are responsible for teaching our kids this violent behavior.”

I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the shooting and I don’t remember much about the news coverage in the days immediately thereafter; however, I do remember feeling sad and confused about what had happened and, above all, I felt anxiety about how our lives were to move forward.  While the media and politicians were busy debating censorship I, WE, had to go back to school. Life did not stop.

For a few days after Columbine, the high school I attended excused students who were not yet ready to return. My brother and I were never really ones for school, but nothing could keep us from going back as soon as the doors had opened. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride as we walked to our classes alongside my dad and the few other students, teachers, and parents who stood together with us on those few uncertain days.

Eventually, our lives seemed to get back to normal; although the new “normal” involved school lock-downs and make-up days at the end of the year; not because of weather closings, but because of the incredible amount of bomb threats our schools started to endure. All of these years, and countless debates later, and we still have not discovered the magic formula that lead to that fateful day.

This is not to say that these debates are not important at all; in fact, we need to consider that by focusing our energy on these debates in the midst of a crisis diminishes not only the suffering of those who are mourning, but also lessens the value of the issues at hand. I am not suggesting that we light-heartedly “drop it” until a better time, but that we take a moment to introduce a little bit of level-headedness back into the equation. It is important to deeply consider the consequences of our words and the power of our influence on others, so let’s consider it; deeply and sincerely. We have all said things that do not reflect our peaceful ideals and we ought to afford others the same opportunity to learn and do better.

I am ready for the moment where we walk through those figurative high school doors, proud to stand together in honor of those who suffered the most.

I want us to recognize that we all have a part to play, and that assigning blame is not the same as shining a light on injustice so that we may do better.

I do not want us to slowly, angrily sink back into life as we knew it before this tragedy; I want to intentionally move forward, better, because of it. This can’t happen as long as we are focused on lifting up hate and violence, even if we do so because we think we are speaking out against it. The more time we spend assigning and deflecting blame, the less time is spent tilting the scales back toward love, justice, and healing.

I, for one, am ready to walk through those doors; a new “normal” of our own creation awaits us on the other side. I am ready. Are you?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi

I Confiscated My Kid’s Bed

Jumping on the bedYesterday was a Monday.

The day began… well, actually, the day never really actually began, per se, because it really just kind of flowed into the day before.  The funny kind of math that you never fully grasp until you are in the midst of your parenting “glory days,” goes a little something like this:

1 teething one-year-old
+ 1 three-year-old asserting her independence
——————————————————–
= 0 sleep

0 sleep
+ 1 teething one-year-old
+ 1 three year-old asserting her independence
+ To-do list a mile long (pressure!!!)
——————————————————
= 1 day for the record books

All things considered, I think that I should get some sort of award for patience; for most of the day, anyway.  I was doing great until bedtime when I confiscated my three-year-old daughter’s bed.
That’s right- you read that correctly.  I confiscated her bed.  The whole bed; frame and all.

In my defense, she was jumping on the bed rather than actually sleeping in it.  And she had spent the whole day climbing chairs, couches, my leg, and anything else that resembled any sort of climbable structure.  I was at the absolute limit of what my body would physically and emotionally allow.  I could not sit her down on her bed, calmly talk to her about listening ears and helping hands, or sing “no more monkeys jumping on the bed” one more time.   Confiscating the bed felt… right.  And, as a nice fringe benefit of my moment of possible insanity, I get to forever hold on to what the casual onlooker might have observed as I summoned up what little strength I had left to storm out of her room, angrily pushing the poor, dumb-founded kid’s bed into the hallway.

I was done.  I felt like I had wasted an entire day doing nothing but reminding:  reminding a three-year-old over and over…and OVER again about “The Rules.”

I guess we all have our limits; and the pressures that come along with that mile-long to-do list can easily turn into an incredible perspective-devouring monster.  As I (eventually) cooled down from my bed-stealing frenzy, I thought about everything I had said and done that day.

“The couch is for sitting, not for jumping.”
“Don’t hit your brother”
“That was a great hug!”
“Thanks for using your nice words!”
“Please don’t flush the toilet three times in a row; you are going to break it.”

Days can too easily become a blur of yeses and no’s and the little lessons and sweet, unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime moments can get so lost while we are busy mourning the loss of the time that we needed to “get things done.”  And, perhaps, the most important task we are all charged with is to remind each other… over and over… and OVER again in love.

“Hands are for helping; not for hurting.”
“Use your nice words, please.”
“Do not hurt yourself.”
“We take time to listen to each other.”

My three-year old reminded me on Monday that I need to recognize my limits and take a time-out when I need it.  Perhaps next time she can remind me a little more gently.

Stairs, Elevators, and Empty Bowls of Ice Cream

Unitarian jokes
I love a good Unitarian joke.

My favorite is the one about how the last time “Jesus Christ” was heard in a Unitarian Universalist church was when the janitor fell down the stairs.  For some reason that one just never gets old.

What I love most about UU jokes is that they aren’t just about making each other laugh, they also tell a story about our faith in a way that our silly “elevator speeches” cannot. A good Unitarian joke tells a story about who we are and how we do things; it gives our religion character and puts our faith into context for us and for those who have no clue about who we are.

This is probably why I shamelessly brag every time I hear a well-played Unitarian jab on TV.  Just tune into an occasional episode of “The Simpsons” to see what I mean.  For some reason equating Unitarianism to an empty bowl of ice cream makes me feel so… loved.  I mean, it is one thing for Garrison Keillor to make fun of UUs; you make a Unitarian reference on NPR and it is pretty safe to assume that a good 75% of the listening audience are members of a UU congregation, and the rest probably would be if they absolutely had to join a church.  But if the writers for “The Simpsons” believe that their viewing audience knows enough about our religion and our quirks to actually laugh at us, I’ll take it.  It makes me feel famous. It pleases me to think that we are culturally significant enough for people to make fun of us.  It means we aren’t totally invisible.

In a recent UU World article, Doug Muder addresses the problem of our invisibility as he talks about the difficulties of explaining our faith within the time constraints of an elevator ride.  He points out that, for the most part, our dominate culture has no frame of reference for Unitarian Universalism, and we are left with nothing left to do but to give our listeners a laundry list of religious ideas that we have rejected over time.

The problem with the whole elevator speech idea is that, while this is a great exercise for personal theological reflection, Unitarian Universalism does not and cannot exist in the vacuum of an elevator shaft.  The beauty of who we are is lost if we do not include a glimpse into what our faith means to us and how we are everyday. Our faith has evolved over time and will continue to do so, and explaining Unitarian Universalism should never be the same at any two given moments as told from two different people.  Context is so important to who we are because we are always striving to discover the most “right” thing for us and our world at that time.

If people want to know how to define “Unitarian Universalism,” then they can look it up in a dictionary; but it probably won’t tell them what they want to know.  If someone wants to know what our faith means to you and our world, I suggest taking the stairs and rambling off a few good UU jokes.

Give yourself permission to laugh at the fact that our churches often feel called to involve about three committees and two subcommittees in the decision of how, when, and why to change a light bulb (and those of you who are involved with the Green Sanctuary Program know what I am talking about).  But be sure to take the time to lift up that it is so funny because we really do earnestly recognize the impact of one little light bulb and we do our best to honor the voice of every person that is connected to it.  This says a whole lot about our faith.  I truly believe that it is what we do that leaves a lasting impression on those who don’t know us.  And to most of the world, especially to those who will converse with someone of a different faith during an elevator ride, our theology (or lack thereof) makes no difference.

Our “essence of UU,” or our “UU-ness”, if you will, comes out in our jokes and in the stories of our everyday lives of how we are together at home.  Our faith shines when we share that many of our congregations do not talk about Jesus much, if at all, (even if you do), and that UUs are known to celebrate about 5 different winter holidays.  You may even let it slip that UU communion takes place at coffee hour and our potlucks are second to none, and then find yourself accompanying a guest to your church next Sunday.

Besides that, laughter is a great spiritual practice and it is good to learn to laugh at yourself a bit (and at the quirks of our faith, for that matter).

So if you find yourself getting a little too upset when someone makes a joke about how many UUs it takes to change a light bulb or you start to become a little too overly concerned for that mythical janitor that fell down the stairs, relax and remember that our jokes play a vital role in creating our UU culture and help us share our light, if not our lightheartedness, with the rest of the world.  We have plenty of time to be serious in the name of making change in our world, and if I have to share one thing with someone during a ride on an elevator, it should be a good laugh.

The Holiday Shuffle

The Holiday Shuffle
I am going to miss going to my Grandparents’ Lutheran church on Christmas Eve this year.  It may be weird to hear such a thing from a Unitarian Universalist (a life-long UU, at that), but I really, truly have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve ritual of joining my grandparents in worship at their church.

As is the case with many families, Christmastime for my family was packed full of places to go, gifts to be bought and wrapped, and cookies to be baked.  We called this, in our house, the “Holiday Shuffle.”  Truth be told, I always did an excellent job pretending to hate it all and could “Bah Humbug” with the best of all possible Scrooges, but, between you and me, I loved every bit of it.

I loved rushing to wrap presents and the butterflies I would get in my stomach as I wondered if we would make it on time (thrill issues, perhaps?).  I loved getting dressed up and smelling the Swedish Meatballs, potatoes, homemade lefse and dinner rolls that were keeping warm in the oven while we went to church.  I especially loved the sharp, cold air and the countless stars that filled the dark Wisconsin sky, wondering if we would be lucky enough to see a snowflake or two that night.  But most of all, as my family filed into the long, wooden pews in the dimly-lit sanctuary, I loved the sound of the choir and pipe organ that filled the cathedral ceilings as one and all waited in quiet anticipation for the stories to begin.  It was magic.  It was, what some people might call, “Holy.”

As is the case with many UU kids, I often wondered why most Unitarians bothered to celebrate Christmas; after all, we, by definition, do not believe in the divinity of Jesus.  I totally stand by that; but what I have decided that I believe in is the Holy of the holiday.

Decorating the treeI believe in the magic of inspiration and I believe in soaking in the wonder and awe of things greater than you; no matter where you find it.  For most in my Grandparents’ Lutheran church, the “bigger” was found in prophecy and story and song about the birth of their Savior and the miracle of His life.  For me, it was just being a part of this ritual, knowing that my presence was valued and treasured, and being reminded, once more, of the miracle of family.

These days, it is nearly impossible for us to make it to my Grandparents’ Christmas Eve celebration and to join the worship at that beautiful church in Wisconsin six hours away from our home.  But as I create new traditions and rituals for my children, I hope that they, too, will feel the Holy of this night.  Merry Christmas!

Therapy Fund

Therapy FundI am not a parenting expert.  In fact, I am hardly a novice.

I have to say, I am extremely suspicious of anyone who claims to have the key to unlocking the secrets of producing the world’s perfect children (complete with perfectly styled hair, spotless clothes, and halos, of course).

In my mere 3 years of being an actual parent, I would have to say that I actually now know less about child-rearing than I thought I did before my children happily shattered every dream I had about the ease with which I would raise them.

It took a few healthy doses of humility to get me to the point of admitting my cluelessness; I spent my first few months as the “perfect” new parent, looking down my nose at other parenting styles (you know, the new-age or simply archaic practices from the parents who will enviably produce the trouble-making kids that my simply angelic children will have to endure at school every day.  Those parents.  You and I are not in these categories, of course).

After enough mishaps and public tantrums that leave the entire room looking at you the exact same way you looked at all those other parents who just couldn’t control their kids, it hits you: YOU DON’T KNOW SQUAT.

Each child is unique, bringing into the world his or her own set of needs and gifts, and each caregiver is different, bringing to the table his or her own set of gifts and weaknesses.  You add in all of the variables and suddenly your simple formula for parenting success…well, let’s face it, I was never really good at math anyway.

Shortly after I figured out that “I know nothing” is the only thing I’ll ever know, I started making mental contributions to my kids’ “Therapy Fund”.  I would make imaginary deposits every time my temper was too short or my patience much too thin.  I would even make an occasional contribution on days when I was questioning whether or not our lifestyle choices would leave our children feeling too different.

Then I decided that it would be way more fun to have an actual Therapy Fund. (Especially as I  imagined how fun it would be to pop ten bucks in the therapy jar to diffuse a moment of teenage hormonal rage when my kids declare their hatred for me at about 500 decibels.  “Oh, tell it to your therapist!” I might say to myself.)

Therapy FundTo be fair, the creation of this jar wasn’t JUST for kicks and giggles; I created it in part because I sincerely believe that this is one of the gifts that I can give my children, and not just because they will be actually receiving this money one day (they will probably need someone who will help them work through all of the baggage they have obtained, courtesy of the wacky parents who raised them as UU vegetarians in a fairly conservative small town).

But I think the best gift of the Therapy Fund is that each deposit is a physical representation to me and my children that I recognize that I am, by no means, super-human.  I have real shortcomings that may leave a real void in their lives.  I don’t know all of the answers and I never will (although not for lack of trying).  This simple, silly little jar reminds me that it is okay that my kids may need to turn to someone other than me to help them over one of life’s hurdles, and that I am totally allowed to have a bad day or two (and that I might even be able to forgive myself for that one day).

It also oddly helps me strive to be the best parent I can be (I am not made of money, ya know).  The less I have to put in that jar, the better.

Some time, I may even just throw in a couple of bucks just… because.  Even the parents who have written the books on parenting need help too.

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries