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.

Post "T-day" Reflections

"T" is for TurkeyWhen I picked up my kids from daycare on Tuesday, my daughter presented me with her daily art project as she beamed with excitement.

It brings me great comfort to know that when I can’t be with my kids that they are in a place where they can learn and grow and take such pride in learning something as simple as “T is for Turkey.”  Even at the tender age of three.

Believe me when I say that this lesson in honor of Thanksgiving is very cherished, but bear with me as I share why this simple project was so humorous to me:

We don’t eat meat.

Not that I didn’t see this moment coming; I have actually been writing and re-writing what was to be my pre-Thanksgiving entry in which I shared (ad nauseum) my many day dreams of what my kids might say and do once they entered the world of the local public schools and were introduced to the arts, crafts, and inevitable fairy-tale lessons of the first Thanksgiving Feast.

"Save a Turkey..." t-shirtOne of my more elaborate visions included my precocious daughter announcing to her classmates that some poor baby turkey was now walking around motherless and that the table cloths at the first Thanksgiving Supper were probably small-pox infested anyway.

Of course, at three, my daughter hasn’t quite made the connection that the reason we say “T is for Turkey” is because most people in our culture find those turkeys just so irresistibly yummy.

We find ourselves doing an interesting dance this time of year; deliberating between different ways to lift up our lifestyle choice while still honoring others who choose differently out of principle or simply because of circumstance (because, let’s face it, a vegetarian diet is a privilege).

I don’t want my kids to look down upon others who eat meat, nor do I want them to choose to eat meat merely because they feel as if there is some great magical holiday moment that occurs the second the turkey enters your mouth (surely there must be fireworks displays and a chorus of angels that sing upon digestion).

I totally expect that one day my children will want to try meat, and they will be able to do this with our blessing; there may even come a time when my kids decide that vegetarianism is just not for them and I want them to feel good about that too.

The fact is that we can have conversations all day long about why we are vegetarians and how we came to make this choice (although, this conversation at the Thanksgiving table brings with it the risk of turning your light-hearted family function into a bad SNL skit ala Debbie Downer.).  But at the end of the day, this is who we are and this lifestyle suits us and our Principles best.

Thanksgiving day meal

(At Right: Even vegetarians can do “meat” and potatoes… chickpea cutlets! Maybe I DO hear that chorus of angels… )

So let’s laugh about our differences, drink a glass of wine (a vegetarian delicacy in my book), and remember that we have more in common than we have ideals that separate us.

I, for one, am thankful for that!

Cup of Joe

Cup of Joe
It is no secret.  I LOVE coffee.

Okay, I don’t just love coffee, I probably have what some might classify as an “unhealthy obsession” with coffee (not to be confused with an addiction, mind you).

I come by it honestly; anyone who spends any amount of time in a UU church is privy to one of our most widely-shared inside jokes: OUR communion takes place at coffee hour AFTER the service.

As a kid I fondly remember feeling the warm embrace of the lingering coffee aroma as I would enter the “Common Room” at our family church to join the adults after the Sunday service. I was captivated by the buzz of thoughtful conversations from grown-ups who were solving the problems of the world, pausing only to take an occasional sip from their mugs.

Even outside of our church, coffee became a staple in our family-gathering menus – coffee when we first woke up in the morning after spending the night away from home and coffee after supper to help dilute that bottle of wine that was polished off as we laughed about the latest game of trivial pursuit, won by the same person who wins EVERY time.

At times the coffee ran like water filling seemingly bottomless cups and, sometimes the cups were filled “only half a cup” at a time, especially for my Grandpa Joe.

Now, don’t mistake me for one of those people.  You know the type; totally dependent on the caffeine.  Although at times, I’ll admit, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Truth be told, there are days when I sip from the same “cup of Joe” all day—even after it gets cold.  On occasion, I’ll even sneak in a cup of decaf.  The reality is that the coffee is really less about that actual coffee and more about the comfort of the ritual.  My mug is sort of my grown-up version of a blankie.

As an adult, I find myself seeking out places to get my comfort fix.  Some of my fondest memories originated in coffee shops where I worked as a barista; engaging in philosophical conversations with customers I knew only by their preferred drink and listening to great music from struggling local artists.

I will forever cherish the terrible coffee at the “greasy spoon” closest to my college dorm room where many mornings were spent quickly finishing up philosophy papers due later that day, discussing with my classmates other philosophical issues totally unrelated to my project at hand.

Nowadays, my morning cup of coffee has become my daily respite; my time for meditation, my time to gather my thoughts and give myself my morning pep talk.  To me, there is nothing better than soaking in the silence of a cold, dark morning, hot cup of coffee in hand.  It gives me hope to think that when the world is seemingly so void of life that in five minutes or less, energy, warmth, and comfort can be brewed.

And, of course, there will always be coffee hour at church.  There is just something about sitting down to coffee with good friends, family, or even a total stranger that inspires blow-your-mind debates and deep heart-to-heart conversations.  It has often been over a cup of coffee that I feel the most alive.

If communion is supposed to be a time of sharing and of intimate fellowship, then I say that this certainly fits the bill.  “UU Communion” may not be about Transubstantiation or the remembrance of Jesus, but maybe the joke is so widely told because our coffee really is so near and dear to our hearts.  I know for me, nothing beats a “Cup of Joe”, or a half a cup, for Grandpa Joe.

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