Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You Are What You Eat

I'm orange because of the carrot 
I ate in a magic garden. 
I should've heeded the sign that read, 
"You are what you eat. Harken!” 

Peas were the first I ate
Off twining vines in there, 
Until masses of snaking sprouts
Sprung up amidst my hair. 

Before my coiling locks 
Lashed me to a legume, 
I plucked tomatoes, yellow in color, 
Supposedly family heirloom. 

Alas, my golden glow 
Drew bees onto my skin.
I swatted madly, found a knife,
And opened a honeydew melon. 

I savored the sweetness inside
Until I doubled in scale. 
I went rolling. What could I do 
But stuff my cheeks with kale? 

Kale suggests well-being, 
But knobby skin’s atrocious. 
So I picked a red pepper, long and slender, 
Whose heat was quite ferocious. 

Aflame, I realized the hour
And pondered tomorrow with dread. 
Tapered and tall, orange suits me. 
What would you've chosen instead? 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your Dog is Not a Child: An Apology on Differences in Nature

I realize, from your perspective, the two might seem particularly similar. Your dog eats toilet paper. So does my daughter. You have to walk your dog daily or else he doesn’t sleep well at night. I must go on daily outings to tire out my children as well. You can’t simply leave for vacation without getting a dog-sitter. Ditto. You’ve disciplined your dog not to bark in the house. I have to discipline my children to behave as well. You have to take your dogs to the vets to get flea shots. I take my children to get Tdap shots. Your dog costs you quite a bit of money and so do my children. 

You explain this to me like these responsibilities are a medal or a certificate or a battle scar. “See,” you say. “I know what it’s like to have children. I have a high maintenance dog.”

And I am angry. Not because you are ignorant, though you are, but because everything makes me angry these days: all inaccurate speech, all loud noises, all missing shoes, all grease stains on my shirts, and elbows bumped on doorjambs, and things accidentally dropped.

Let me tell you what you are missing. You are saying that little humans are like dogs. I don’t know if I should be offended that you bring my child down to an animal’s level or that you bring your animal up to the level of a child. Or perhaps it’s the other way around completely. After all, your dog doesn’t need to be spoon fed or wiped. Perhaps then my children are the lowly creatures and yours is the exalted one because yours is so much more self sufficient.

I suppose we could list all the tasks children require and then we could list all the tasks that dogs requires, and we’d quickly see that children require more work. But what would we have accomplished through this? That dogs are easier to care for? No, it is more than a difference of degrees. It is a difference in . . . well . . . in morality, I suppose. It is the difference between being given a hundred dollars to invest and being told to become a kind person.

A dog at his very best will be obedient, a good companion, guardian, and playmate. At his very worst he will be wild, pee on the furniture, bite someone, eat all the chocolate cake, or run away. He will never jump the fence, find a gun, go into Pet-smart, and kill all the kittens and rats and pond fish. He will never shut himself in his study for hours and then discover a cure for cancer. If he ends up being particularly helpful, say cheering people up in a children’s hospital, we will marvel at his training and his trainer. We won’t believe him to be a saint for, after all, he didn’t choose that occupation. If he does jump the fence and kill the neighbor’s Chihuahuas, we won’t blame him for it or require him to go to jail though we might put him down for being wild. 

In nature when we see animals adopting other’s young or helping one another with parasites, we marvel at the preciousness or practicality of it. We don’t say, “Well, of course! That’s what animals should do.” But when a man rescues a child from a burning building or a lady collects trash on her walks, we say, “That was the right thing to do. We need more people like that.”

In nature, if a pack of lions starts to consume a baby elephant while it’s still alive, we squirm and shut our eyes, but we don’t hold those lions responsible. We say, “That’s nature.” 

We surely don’t do the same of humans. We want justice. We want accountability. And if people can’t behave properly. We lock them up or kill them.

It is the potential for great goodness and the potential for terrible wickedness that makes my children different than your dog. A good dog is one that does what you wish him to do. A good child is righteous in the sight of God.

Now place the great responsibility of raising either a saint or a criminal into the lap of a mother and you will find the weight is great indeed. It is nothing like the job of caring for a dog.

What dog can say as my son did upon seeing my hair in ponytails for the first time, “You fancy, Mama?” And then a few minutes later, shoots me with his play Tinkertoy gun. 

One day I hope to sit with my children as equals and discuss sainthood. Until then, we'll go to the zoo and look at the monkeys. 


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tumbling With 3-5 Year-Olds

The asylum subjects:
Unbidden commentator,
Attention crazed,
Stock-still starer,
Lost sheep wandering
Following orders, disorderly.

And mothers

One childless teacher:
A linguist without words
on an alien planet
with aliens
who don't know jokes
or how flamingoes walk.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Paradox of Choice

The Paradox of Choice simply summarized: Happier is he who relinquishes freedoms for the sake of wrapping himself in relationships. May his decisions be swift and without return lest he fritter away his energies on endlessly fishing for bigger fish.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz has empowered me to take action in decisions where I was previously stuck. It has given me the courage to tell myself, “What does it matter? Just choose and be content.” 

There is no room for contemplative, deliberative, analytical decision makers in the common everyday life choices. Such choices—what to order at a restaurant, what to wear to work, how to phrase my questions, what to do for Mother’s Day—become burdensome when I believe that a perfect option is awaiting my discovery, and when I make that perfect choice, I will be completely satisfied.

I call out that lie. It reeks of consumerism. 

American advertising has declared war on my satisfaction. It has been doing so since the day my eyes could focus on billboards and magazine ads. We do not live in a country, an age, a planet rather, that lets us be. I can’t escape their phone calls, their knocks on my doors, their pop-ups on my computer screen. They yell at me, “What you have could be better!”

Perhaps if we lived in a rural town without internet, without magazines in our mailboxes, and without television showing us how the wealthiest live, perhaps then we would be content with the result of our simple choices.

But no. Our race is backwards. Our very hearts won’t let us alone because what we don’t have is always more beautiful than what we have. The fruit is good for food, lovely to look at, and will make us wise. 

It’s called envy. We don’t learn it. We’re born it.

The Paradox of Choice doesn’t teach contentment. Schwartz wasn’t intending to prescribe medicine for our hearts. Instead, he describe the sickness: self-doubt, anxiety, dread.

We’ve been given far too much freedom. We can choose where to live, where to work, who to marry, how many children to have, how to save for retirement, what friends to keep, what friends to unfriend, what doctor to see, what treatment to request, how to marry, how to bury. We’ve been given the opportunity to be the author of our lives and to make them meaningful and significant (Schwartz, 3).

We’ve been offered the role of God, and we’ve found it weighty indeed. 

More than that, we’ve taken hold of the reigns and found the horses to be beyond our control. We’ve been weighed and found wanting. We don’t have the knowledge to choose what’s best for ourselves. We hardly know ourselves at all, which sure explains why we like taking personality tests, going to psychiatrists, and seeking out the perfect fit in attire and tastes.

We used to know ourselves in relationship to the people around us. Now we know ourselves by our independence, this hideous conglomeration of whims and weaknesses all compiled together in a Tower of Babel that’s trying to look different, and by different I mean better than our neighbors. How sickeningly similar we all turned out.

Freedom of choice is not the devil. The liar is the devil. And he is telling us that perfect contentment can be had through our right choices. Call it out. It is false. Contentment cannot be had with this heart. We need new ones. Everyday we need new ones. Perfect, whole, sinless new ones. Bathed in a spirit, a holy one that is whispering truths to combat the lies. 

Truth: No job, product, lover, or form of entertainment will continue to fuel that thrill as had when first acquired. The new will become the normal, and you will go seeking for another dose elsewhere. 

Truth: Our families, friends, and coworkers are not mistakes. They are ours to boil away the dross, to tie us up, take our freedoms so that we haven’t the chance to think ourselves perfect masters of our lives.

Truth: Contentment grows upon gratitude for providence, that sweet assurance that regardless of your choice, you are not the author. The results, no matter what you choose, are still making that glorious story sing, “Holy, holy, holy.” And that is good. 

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice New York: Harper Collins. 2004. Print.