This Land is Your Land

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Once again it is time to celebrate our country’s Independence; and in a time where there is much debate about what, exactly, our country stands for, I thought I would share a couple American icons that have deep meaning for me.

The New Colossus was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish American woman, as an auction donation to help raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Her poem was later added to the pedestal in 1903. While many of us learned of Emma Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty, and the significance of Ellis Island in elementary school, the power of these words have largely been lost on a society that seems to be fixated on the idea that the America is a country of immigrants whose borders need to be closed, a nation of wealth whose resources ought not be shared, and a place where independence means we should never depend on one another. Where did we go wrong?

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

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Before I was introduced to The New Colossus, I was, as I suspect many of you were, introduced to what is Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land.” I remember stumbling through the verses as we all waited for the chorus of this song: “This Land was made for you and me!” We always sang that part loud and proud.

What I didn’t know was that the version of the song that I was taught is highly censored. Woody Guthrie was an original rebel; a song writer who understood the power of his gift. He believed that music was not just music, but a way to bring peace to our world and a powerful way “…of saying what’s on your mind.” As the famed sticker that lived on his guitar said, “This machine kills Fascists.”

Guthrie’s lost verses are a powerful statement about this country and who, exactly, owns this land. “This land,” as the song goes, “was made for you AND me.” It is my hope that as we celebrate our country we remember to look up, look around, and remember that we share this land, this country, and this planet. Let’s raise our torch and sing it for all the world to hear.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Sign was painted, it said private property
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple ,
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering
If God blessed America for me

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

For more on Emma Lazarus: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6359435

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Colossus

http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/lazarus

On Woody Guthrie: Tony Lorenzen: http://sunflowerchalice.com/2011/08/26/what-would-woody-sing/

A great report from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2000/07/03/1076186/this-land-is-your-land

http://www.woodyguthrie.org/

http://www.woody100.com/#

Chilling Up

Over the past couple of weeks I have been feeling especially nostalgic. My daughter (my oldest) just graduated from preschool, and I may have started panicking a bit as I looked through the pictures from her end of year celebration. For some reason it has only now started hitting me that in just a blink of an eye I am going to look back at the pictures from significant days like this and feel a tinge of sadness. My heart has begun to ache for the future me that will look back on these moments and miss the different versions of my kids captured by my camera as we move all too quickly through time.

Not that I haven’t always felt a bit of that same tinge when I have looked back at other pictures of my daughter and my now two-year-old son; but I think that this is the first time when I have, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime moments, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future. I blame the lack of sleep that generally comes along with the first few years of a child’s life. It is a crime that sleep deprivation and new-parent stress can keep one from thoroughly understanding the magnificence of the cuddles, snuggles, and late-night feedings. (Of course, I say all this now that I am some distance from this stage.)

At any rate, I am feeling like I have finally grown into my “parenthood” shoes and that I can more fully appreciate each moment as it is. Letting go of the stress has allowed me to more fully enjoy rites of passage, big and small; from my daughter’s graduation to my son’s beaming pride at every great new achievement. I am more present as he has really grown into a wonderful, imaginative playmate and my daughter has, after two years, learned to share her toys. Some lessons are just so hard to learn, but well worth the wait.

Before I discover my next stage of parenting, which may very well land me right back into “stress and sleep deprivation” land, I want to enjoy this moment in time and perhaps reach back a little bit and honor some of the milestones that I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. So today I’d like to start my list of under-appreciated moments in time that I would like to remember in the future. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate or have a few of your own under-appreciated kid and parent milestones to add:

Milestones I Should Have Appreciated More:

  • When the kids started talking about (in detail) and celebrating their bowel movements. Call me immature, but it is funny.
  • The first creation of a family portrait. On the wall. The same one that we have not had the heart to erase.
  • Each car ride accompanied by complete songs; the ones that are sweet only a parent’s ears and sung over. and over. and over.
  • The puke covered shirts (mine, not theirs), for I would have never gotten onto the scarf bandwagon if I hadn’t been out of clean shirts and needed to quickly cover a little puke grossness.
  • The inventions of new word combinations such as “Hanitizer,” “Co-help-erate” and “Chill up, Mommy!” And the day when we realized that those words found a way into our everyday vocabulary.
  • The moment when I realized for the first time what I REALLY sound like; not because I was listening to a recording, but because my kids began to speak clearly enough to throw my words right back at me. And I found myself annoying.
  • When I found out for the first time which of our possessions really mattered… because it was thoroughly destroyed by tiny hands. (See related: when my children proved that “childproof” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.)
  • When I could trust my kids to play nice long enough to close the bathroom door, thank you very much.
  • When we discovered that the kids were tall enough to reach up onto the kitchen counters, only to discover just how well they could also reach the trash can, and just how hard it can be to find a set of car keys.
  • When the kids could start remembering where they hid things.
  • The day when your two-year-old throws a fit and your four-year-old says, “jeeeze… what’s HIS deal?!” Priceless.
  • The first time when I, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime milestones, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future–knowing that I will miss my kids as they are in each of these moments.

Chalice Flames and Bonfires

Chalice Flame and Bonfires

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a Unitarian Universalist church involves lighting the chalice as a part of our youth group and youth conference gatherings.

But we didn’t just light the chalice. We lit.The.Chalice.

We would gather together burnt, used leftover matches and pile them carefully into the center of the candle to create a magnificent, brilliant light. While we discussed the topic of the day, one or two of us would tend to our chalice flame, keeping it contained yet bright as possible. When we ran out of used-up match fuel for our fire, we would find a use for our broken crayon stubs and melt them in the flame, letting the colorful wax drip down the side of the candle. We thought it was more pretty this way.

Over time we learned that the bigger the flame, the quicker the candle would burn. Our beautiful fire would suffocate when the pool of wax grew too deep or when the wick simply met it’s end. We weren’t too concerned then with making the candle last through our whole gathering, though. This was more about experimentation, pushing our limits (and, as it turns out, the limits of our advisors), and the instant gratification of making that chalice REALLY shine.

Occasionally, but not often, this ritual might have gotten a little out hand; an especially overzealous youth might add a few scraps of paper in an attempt to add a little more height to our fire and discover that the now bonfire was too hard to control, or we would create a waxy mess trying to clean out the candle. Those were the times when we found we had pushed our limits a little too far and our advisors would step in to dole out the logical consequences, and sometimes we could expect to lose our fire privileges for a while.

But that seemed to be part of the role of our advisors once we reached high school- to watch us tend to our own flame (hopefully not in panic-stricken horror) and step in when it became too much for us to handle on our own. Since then, I have learned that the line between a manageable brilliant light and an out-of-control blaze is very thin, and it takes a unique individual to help youth walk that line.

Sometimes I wish I still had an advisor to help me find that line in my day-to-day life. I might wake up in the morning, feeling calm, peaceful, yet determined and focused. But I might find that by dinnertime, after encountering a day full of frustrating news– stories of children taught to recite hate, thoughtless violence, and fear-mongering politics– I have crossed the line and transformed myself into a fuming, sarcastic, out-of-control blaze.

When I have crossed that line, I respond to antagonistic articles, Facebook posts, and conversations with not an ounce of understanding; I find myself seeking out news stories filled with mudslinging and hate, just to keep that fire fueled. Then I spend hours reading the comments and adding pointless lectures that won’t be read by anyone other than the people who were trying to create a bonfire in the first place.

And I know that I am not the only one– I think that UUs in general can be pretty susceptible to crossing that line. We are a passionate people and we care a whole awful lot. But sometimes our flammability lands us exactly where we don’t want to be and we react in exactly the wrong way. We turn into blazing, out of control bonfires.

We need our congregations and fellow congregants to be our advisors; to help us discover that line and to help us sustain our calm, brilliant lights. We need to help each other remember to respond in love, and not in-kind, when someone tries to fan the flame. Most importantly, we need to hold each other accountable so that we are compelled to react responsibly, especially when the temptation not to is great.

 

Finding Meaning

sunsetBecoming a parent for the first time is a tricky business.

It really is true what they say: you are never really ready for the adventure that awaits you once you become a parent; there is nothing you can ever do to prepare, and there is no perfect time.

For as long as I can remember I have been the type of person that likes to be “the best” at everything I do; a horrible character flaw that is quite possibly related to the “overly and unnecessarily competitive” gene I seem to have also inherited. So it was only natural that when I became a mom for the first time that I was determined to be the best parent. Ever.

Of course I knew beyond any doubt that I would be able to effortlessly add “mom” to the laundry list of other things I was committed to keep doing after giving birth; hormones and sleep deprivation be damned. I would breastfeed, homeschool, be involved in my community, make all our own own baby food (from our own garden, of course!) and cloth diaper; I would also continue working and working on my career, write, continue school, take care of our home and our pets, and everything else I was already doing. Even with the wonderful partner I have in my husband, I was vowing to be super-human.

Shortly after our daughter was born, we discovered that some of the issues that we were dealing with as first-time parents were outside the realm of “normal” (whatever that looks like). Our beloved child was covered from head to toe in eczema and it never seemed to get any better, no matter what we did to treat it. As her level of discomfort increased, sleep became harder and harder to come by for all of us as we spent many of our nights trying to soothe her so she could rest. My hazy waking hours were spent searching for new answers; stressing out as new approaches consistently fell short.

Of course, after trying countless treatments and several doctors were consulted, our answer came to us after our daughter’s first taste of candy sent us to the emergency room and her life-threatening peanut allergy was revealed to us a few months after her first birthday. Upon further testing, she was diagnosed with many other “less-serious” food allergies as well.

We were scared and heart-broken, and our lives totally changed. Again.

After everything we had done “right”, none of our efforts kept this from happening to our daughter. Surely we had listened to the wrong doctors, and I MUST have eaten the wrong things when I was pregnant, or perhaps we introduced solids too early, or maybe we should have questioned the vaccines, or perhaps our house was not clean enough. In the months that followed our daughter’s first anaphylactic reaction, I found a million different ways to blame myself for her allergy. It broke my heart to know that, in all probability, the rest of her life she will not be able to enjoy a birthday cake at a friends party or eat Halloween candy; and it horrified me even more as I realized that her life would be in danger anytime we left the safety of our peanut-free home.

The three years since we learned of our daughter’s hidden disability has been filled with making new discoveries, tweaking the way we live everyday and anticipating the challenges of the future. We have learned to read labels, educated ourselves about current laws and and school policies, and made sure that among our daughter’s first phrases was “I have a peanut allergy.” We have been frustrated by the lack of understanding in some, but also moved to tears by the efforts of our family and friends to ensure that our daughter would be safe and feel included in our celebrations. We have felt anger that this has had to happen to our family and then overwhelmingly fortunate that, really, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

I have never been a fan of the whole “things happen for a reason” bit, but I have discovered through all of this that I am okay with “everything that happens can have meaning-if your mind and heart are open to it.”

My daughter’s allergies have been a challenge and a gift all at the same time; I have learned so much about the challenges of parenting, gained empathy for the range of challenges that people face every day, and, most importantly, I have been learning a thing or two about understanding (and respecting!) my own limitations. I can’t do it all, and I can’t anticipate every curve ball that will be thrown my way.

What will tomorrow bring?

I am not sure; but I think the biggest challenge for us is to not let our imagination of what is going to be or SHOULD be take away from the “is” and the lessons it brings.

Want to learn more about food allergies?

Nut Free Mom Blog

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)