A Common Language

MultitaskingI realized today that I talk about my kids incessantly. I have become one of “those parents” who can’t help but insert a funny anecdote about my kids and their bowel movements to help illustrate a point– any point– even if the conversation at hand has NOTHING to do with children OR poop.

And yes, it did take me 5 minutes to remember the word “anecdote,” because my brain is only 25% focused on what I am writing at this moment. The other 50% is paying attention to the toddler and preschooler fighting over who is going to get to sit on my lap right now. And before you start wondering about the missing 25% of my brain, it has long ago turned into mush and has a voice that sounds like Elmo. I am not making that up.

But as I look back over my sadly out-of-date blog, and attempt to type with one hand while my toddler has staged a sit-down strike on my right arm, I realize that the reason that I write so much about parenthood is because… well… it is sitting on my right arm. And it’s starting to smell.

I have been lucky enough in life that I have had few challenges as profound as parenting. But this challenge, or series of never-ending challenges, never has and never will leave the forefront of my brain. It occupies my existence 24/7/365. So I guess that it is probably a good and necessary life skill to be able to find big life-lessons in the seemingly small, gross, and weird that comes along with kids. Think of it as multi-tasking.

Now, if childless me from the past had accidentally stumbled upon this exact blog entry (because, let’s face it, childless me would have never read a blog talking about kids, like, on purpose) I would have told me to stop complaining.

Well, childless me, let me let you in on a little secret: I am not complaining. I am merely speaking a different language– a not-so-secret tongue shared between caregivers of children the world over. You might witness evidence of this language in supermarkets; that knowing look shared between parents when a tired, hungry child has a complete and utter meltdown in the bread aisle. It is a look that says, “Yeah. I know. I’ve been there too. But I am SO glad it’s not me this time.” This look, childless me, is the exact opposite of the look that you presently give to parents with cranky children. The “you are the most horrible parent in the world, and I know this because I have taken care of a kid for a couple of hours before” look. Stop this look. It will come back to haunt you, I promise.

Spoken correctly, this “caregiver of children” language is spoken with great love, understanding, and support. This language can transport you to a world where it might SOUND like you are complaining to a friend (or complete stranger) about changing crib sheets three times in one night after your toddler discovers how to undress himself for the first time. But, really, you are bragging about how awesomely brilliant your kid is for performing this Houdini-esque act, and paying tribute to that adorable, proud smile that made your otherwise miserable day. (Besides, you took some sweet pictures that you are going to show your kid’s future friends and partners. After all, you did change the sheets three times.)

The best part of this language is talking to other caregivers knowing that their lives have been forever changed as profoundly as yours has; that they, too, have had the unbelievable opportunity to humbly rediscover the world all over again through the eyes of a child. Stories shared have the power to help bring back beautiful memories, they can open your eyes when perspective has been lost, and can help a parent come to terms with the limits of what he or she can realistically offer their child.

Somehow being around and nurturing children, and being around others who share these experiences, has taught me more about this world, myself, and even my own childhood than I could have ever learned any other way. Shared experience, I think, can be one of the most powerful tools of understanding and support. Sometimes we just need a little anecdote about poop to break the ice.

And now that my hand is falling asleep from the toddler that has been happily perched on my arm, I am wondering if perhaps there is a lesson in this for me; a subtle reminder that I also need to care for myself so that I may be a fully-functioning parent. Or maybe my son is just telling me that he needs a new diaper. Multi-tasking.

On Killing Evil

on killing evil

I cried on the day that Saddam Hussein was executed. And, yes, they were tears of sadness. Not because I thought that Hussein was a great, upstanding guy by any stretch of the imagination; he was undoubtedly responsible for the death and suffering of many, many people.

I was upset because his hanging was celebrated in the same manner as we behave when our favorite team wins the Superbowl.

When I see a culture that is not only indifferent about the loss of life, but actually feels pleasure and delight when another being is killed, my heart sinks.

I wonder how I am to teach my children to value peace and non-violence when they are surrounded by the mixed message of “killing is wrong… unless ‘we’ have decided ‘they’ are evil… and then we have a huge party to celebrate your killing.”

The same pit that I had in my stomach in December of 2006 was there again this morning as I read a text from my husband that said, “Turn on the news. Bin Laden is dead.”

As I made my way to the TV, I wondered what the attitude of the reports would be. Perhaps the journalists would be solemn and contemplative; maybe our media would be raising important questions like, “what does Bin Laden’s death mean for us and the rest of the world? His family? Those who lost loved ones on 9/11? Those who lost loved ones fighting the war in Afghanistan?”

Or would the reports be a cheerful? After all, Bin Laden had taken responsibility for killing thousands of American men, women and children on 9/11. I would understand if there was a cheerful undertone.

But the reaction I saw brought me to my knees.

A Party in front of the White House. Seriously?

Relief? Yes.

Contemplation? Yes.

Remembrance of those who have lost their lives because of and in pursuit of this man? Absolutely!

PARTY????? NO!

Why not a candle light vigil? Why not have a discussion on how further loss of life could be avoided without having to murder another human? Heck, why not even have a conversation about why so many of us seem to feel this release of emotion; so much so that we are chanting “USA! USA!” in front of the White House in the middle of the night?

Our media (mind you, the very SAME media that has reported with condemnation in their voices when attacks on America were celebrated in the streets of other “radical” countries) is highlighting these jubilant celebrations and even reporting them with elation. Because the person WE killed was EVIL. So OUR celebrations are clearly justified.

How is it that we live in a world where a death, ANY DEATH, is met with anything less than a heavy heart and a celebration of life? Bin Laden’s death should lead us into a period of meditation, prayer, and wondering. Bin Laden’s death could even lead us to celebrate the lives of those who choose every day NOT to kill in the name of a bastardized faith and those who have made many sacrifices for the greater good.

To me, justice is when the people who promote love and peace dominate the news; celebrating the good decries the destructive ambitions of those who choose to live in a world where “might makes right” and where retribution is a means to that end.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. All of us.

Today instead of celebrating a killing, I will instead light a candle for life and love.

For the lives of all are worthy, and a day when a life is taken in the name of protecting the greater good is truly a sad day.

In the Earth-lover’s Library…

Ensuring that our Earth will be cared for in the future means that we are charged with raising the next generation to be conscientious keepers of our earth. Try surrounding the youngsters in your life with fun earth-centered activities and stories and watch them become devoted tree-huggers; and, hey,you might just find yourself having a good time as well!

Check out some of my top resources to help create a generation of Earth-loving Tree-Huggers!

Story Books:

What can I say? I am a sucker for a picture book about loving our planet, so there is no way that I could choose just ONE book! So here are my top five “green” books for kids:

The Lorax By Dr. Seuss:

The Doctor is in! This is the ultimate Earth-Day classic and reaches across generations. And, don’t forget, there is a TV version of this as well.

The Earth Book by Todd Parr

If you look at my last series of favorite books for kids, you’ll see that I have already sung my praises for Todd Parr. I have a serious soft spot for this author who can speak to kids of all ages through his simple, loving wording and his adorable illustrations. Plus, this book contains a special surprise; a pull-out poster of reminders of the things that we can do to help our planet every day. You may just find yourself putting YOUR underwear in the freezer this summer!

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

This book tells an inspiring and charming story about a little boy who begins a movement and ultimately transforms a “green-less,” abandoned railroad into luscious gardens that transform the city into a place of beauty, community and life! This story is a great way to get kids excited about gardening and to even introduce them to the idea of urban gardening. The book will touch your heart and hopefully move you to make a difference in your city!

We Planted A Tree by Diane Muldrow

This short, poetic story is an easy way to introduce the idea of the Interdependent Web; “We planted a tree, And that one tree make the world better.”  Through looking at all we can do by simply planting a seed, we get in touch with the power of each and every act. Check it out!

All I See is Part of Me By Chara M. Curtis

Speaking of the Interdependent Web… this story beautifully reminds us that we are connected to ALL. Reminding our kids that they are connected to everything (even things they cannot see!) is a great way to share the importance of caring for our planet and each other.

Music

I couldn’t highlight some of my favorite resources without talking about Jack Johnson.

One of my favorite albums is called “Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George.” With songs about recycling and a collaboration with Ben Harper that reminds us of what we can achieve with our “Own Two Hands,” this is a must-have for parents, teachers, grandparents, and… well, everyone!

Not only is Jack Johnson’s music great for all ages, but he is also a heck of an enviornmentalist himself; take a peek at his website to learn more about his efforts to green everything from the way he produces his music to reduce the footprint of each and every concert.

Crafts:

Make It! By Jane Bull

If you or anyone in your home loves to get crafty, check out this awesome book of ways to reuse items and turn them into great gifts (and a fun project for a rainy day!). Learn how to make jewels from junk mail, nifty picture frames from old toys, and stuffed animals from hats and gloves. This is a great way to make gifts for holidays.. and hey, play a little Jack Johnson in the background and you have yourself a recipe for a “green” day of fun!

Redefining “Faith”

Re-imagine faith

I have issues with Faith.

Not the concept, the word.

Let’s face it; there are real gaps in what we can know and prove, and sometimes we all have to make a leap or two so that we can actually make it through the day. If we are being totally honest, we admit that there is no possible way to know, beyond all doubt, that the sun will come up tomorrow. But most of us believe pretty strongly that it will nonetheless; and that is okay. The notion that we can, and sometimes have to, form a belief in the face of incomplete evidence does not trouble me; what I have a problem with is we have named this concept “faith” and made it the ideal.

I take issue with this because I hate that our religious and moral fiber is often determined in direct proportion to how many “leaps of faith” we are willing to make in the name of our religion of choice. Furthermore, it seems that those who maintain a belief, even in the face of a mountain of contrary evidence, are at times even more praise-worthy than those who choose to walk the paths of religious integrity, living their beliefs every day. Why does it seem that in the eyes of religion how little we question is valued more than how intentionally we act?

This means that if you value critical thinking, questioning, and examination, you may feel just a tad alienated by the whole “faith” thing. And it certainly puts us non-creedal, question-loving Unitarian Universalists in an interesting predicament. Are we a people of “faith” or not? If “faith” is defined as the willingness to accept beliefs in the face of lacking or even contrary evidence, then perhaps not. Do we reject “faith” and all that comes with it, or embrace it?

I propose we say “no” to both.

We have been stuck for far too long debating the use of religious language in our congregations (I am looking at you, UUs who refer to “faith” as the “f-word”). If we are going to move forward as a religious community, we need to look “faith” in the eye and re-claim it once and for all.

“We are the church of the open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.”

If you have spent any time leading UU children in religious exploration, you know that what we teach our children does not involve telling them to accept ideas and entire moral codes on authority alone. We teach our children and youth that it is what we do that matters, and that we ought to try to do our best to live our Principles every day. This approach to “faith development” suddenly changes the simple act of picking up trash into a faithful one.

We work with our kids to help them ask questions and introduce tools as they explore their very own path. We tell them that it is okay to disagree with yourself and others after learning something new, and that old ideas can and should make way for new information. We let them know that wisdom can be found just about anywhere from anyone if you just leave yourself open to the possibility.

In short, for Unitarian Universalists “faith” should not be a noun; it should be a verb.

We develop our faith by learning to be powerful people of intention and integrity. Unitarian Universalism is a religion with a rich history of people who have acted in faith; not on faith. We are a religion that talks about walking a faithful path, not making leaps of blind faith. We become strong congregations when we gather to search for our paths and provide support to one another as we aspire to walk these paths faithfully.

So why is it in our current climate where more and more are rejecting the practice of blind religious faith in favor of scientific discovery and critical examination, that Unitarian Universalism is not growing? Perhaps it is because we are a people of faith who have not yet told the world “faith” is not about the blind trust of authority, but about building the trust of community by acting in line with reasoned beliefs. We have yet to tell the world that we are Unitarian Universalist and that WE Redefine Faith.

Being UU at Home

Being UU at Home

When I was growing up it was always safe to assume that the only Unitarian Universalist kids attending whatever school I was enrolled in at the time also lived in my house. In other words, UU kids were kind of hard to come by outside of our home and church.

I remember how hard it was for me to know just how to handle conversations about religion when I was really young; I was acutely aware that my church was different from the churches that most of my peers attended, but I was always unsure of how to respond if religion ever happened into a conversation. Generally speaking, my anxiety would result in a giant lump in my little throat and I would hurriedly search for a way to excuse myself from the impending blank stares that were sure to come my way after I revealed the lengthy name of my home church. Religious discussions meant either chiming in and letting my faith be known, or simply keeping my mouth shut and avoiding eye contact in hopes that I would simply disappear.

For most people whose faith traditions are not the cultural norm, conversations like these can take a great deal of energy, no matter how old you are. Like other UU kids, I had experienced the heartbreak of losing a friend because her parents didn’t approve of my family’s faith, and this added yet another dimension to my anxiety. But as I got older, I found I could have religious conversations quite easily and, nine times out of ten, I knew more about the other person’s faith than they did (or ever wanted to). I even started seeking these debates and discussions wherever I could find them; but I still found it very difficult to make friends who could put up with my convictions, my love of debate, and…well… I was kind of on the annoying side.

My peers would innocently ask me what they thought was an incredibly simple question: “What IS Unitarian Universalism?” Of course, they were suddenly blindsided with my awesome religious history lecture as I shared with them more than they ever wanted to know about my faith and the history of the Protestant Reformation.

What I didn’t get at the time is that those who asked me about my faith really didn’t want to me to present a dissertation on the history of Unitarian Universalism (shocker, I know). What they really interested in was, “What does it mean to be a UU and what does this look like in your life?”

They didn’t want to hear about some guy they have never heard of being burned at the stake; they wanted to know if Santa still came to our house. They wanted to know if we said a prayer at dinner, if we went to church every Sunday and if we had a Bible. In short, they wanted to know how my life was different from theirs because of my religion.

I think that the tendency to lecture instead of opening a window into our lives is common amongst Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes we, understandably, get so excited by all knowledge we think we have obtained as a result of our faithful journeys and we forget that what we ought to share with the world is not a list or a lecture, but our passion for exploration and learning. There is always space for lectures and dissertations; they are a necessary element to our faith, but to someone who isn’t on this journey, or even for someone who is, the real power of Unitarian Universalism may just be when a UU kid stands up for someone else who is being bullied because, to him, that is what it means to be a UU. Unitarian Universalism shines when we lift the voices of those who would otherwise go unheard and when we strengthen our own spirits through a practice that fills our hearts. The power of our faith is in what we do every day of our lives. It is in how we celebrate our holidays and how we are with the people we love (and the people we don’t).

To me, our faith means that I never stop looking for new ways to grow and learn. It means that my family lights a chalice at dinner every night and we enjoy each other’s company in a sacred space. It means that I pray on some days and meditate on others and I celebrate holidays that make sense to me and in ways that honor me, my family and my earth home.

We should celebrate the ways in which our faith enriches our lives and the lives of those around us; perhaps even more than we celebrate the theologies we reject. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus: What does our Unitarian Universalist faith mean to you?

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!

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"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?

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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!

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"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.

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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!

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"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!

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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!

Welcome to UU@Home!

Welcome Home!
I had originally planned to use this space to provide simple, once-a-month ideas for Unitarian Universalists who are looking for easy ways to put our UU Principles into practice every day at home.  And since I am also of the optimistic sort, I hoped that this space would also be filled with contributions from UU families everywhere who are implementing these and other ideas in their own homes as well.

While these ideas still have an important place in my overall vision for this blog, it alone seemed a little incomplete.  So in true form of a lifelong UU, I have endeavored to turn a simple idea into something a little more complex than perhaps it ought to be.

Weaving UU principles into one’s home and life isn’t just as simple as starting a new tradition; blazing a new trail brings with it its own brand of baggage.  How do we explain new traditions to our non-UU family members and friends?  How do we confront a culture that doesn’t always recognize our Principles or even our religion?  How do you encourage your child to remain confident in the expression of her UU values despite the fact that her peers awarded her a not-so-flattering nickname, “petition girl,” after her latest effort to ensure that the authorities at her school would actually step in and defend those being bullied because of their looks?  Or something like that.  You know, just as a hypothetical example.  Ahem.

The point is that navigating through life as a UU can be challenging, messy, and, at times, let’s face it… it can be downright funny.

So while I will contribute a monthly suggestion to help you survive as a UU@Home, I will also share my insights from my own experiences as a lifelong UU who also happens to be a parent, young adult, and religious educator.

Welcome Home!