Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Skydiver Parenting Part 1: Intro and Your Team

Once upon a time, I was an avid skydiver. I used to drive down to the dropzone (DZ) on a Friday night, crash overnight and be out on the first load in the morning. In some cases, I was hung over... but that's ok because nothing cures a hangover like an airbath and Darlene's eggs. I'd hang out all weekend, jumping and packing parachutes and pal'ing around with my skydiver buds and then, on Sunday afternoon, head back home to the real world and re-enter life.

I miss skydiving. There's something about the thrill of it all, the zen clarity of having something life or death going on, and the incredible camaraderie of a group of people who literally trust each other with their lives regularly that makes it an amazing season in my life. I hope that it's a season I'll revisit someday, but it just isn't compatible with raising young kiddos. When I was all alone for a weekend it was great. Now I choose to be home with my family. Still, on a sunny day when the sky is blue and the wind is low I sometimes look up to the sky, tracking the high puffy clouds to gauge the "uppers" and remembering the way the air smelled at the DZ in the morning.

Recently I have been feeling that tickle of a seed of thought trying to push up through the soil. An idea has been forming in the back of my mind, and the more I think on it the more I know I'm right about this. The idea is this - that there's a lot of important lessons from skydiving that apply to parenting. So I'm going to explore this idea and see if there's a flower blooming...

Lesson 1: Pick Your Team Wisely

When you decide to start skydiving, you usually do it on a whim or on the blind so this is a lesson that occurs to me in hindsight. If you are thinking you want to skydive ever, take note. I wish someone had told me. Luckily, I got this part right on accident but not everyone is so fortunate.

When you are starting up your skydiving adventure you need to be careful about who you start it with. Sure you could just wander into any tandem shop off the street and get your rollercoaster ride. But if you are entertaining any thoughts of pursuing this seriously, you really ought to find the right place to learn. Go online and search your area. Check for reviews, find out their injury rate, look at the cost. Find out their style - is it an assisted freefall (AFF) group or static line? Do they tend to teach things "old school" or are they more modern in their approach? If you have a hankering to learn sit-fly, you'd better find a place where a few people know it. If you want to do canopy relative work (CRW), you're going to need someone else to do it with. (That's why they call it "relative" work.) Does the atmosphere fit your personality? Is it a professional, businesslike place or a club full of rowdy buddy types?

This is all pretty important in the world of skydiving, and about a thousand times more so in the realm of parenting. Who are you making/raising this kid with? How well do you really know them? I know everyone shies away from judging people based on rumors, and I'm generally one to agree, but the rumor mill can be a rough gauge. Do you know of at least five women claiming he's their baby-daddy and he doesn't help out? That's probably not a good sign... because even if half of these girls are lying that's still two kids he's left hanging. Yours could be the next! What about approach? If you are a baby-wearing, nurse until they go to college, co-sleeping sort of new-age mom then your partner should not be someone "old school" who thinks babies can be spoiled by being "held too much." If you're looking for a natural birth, you need someone who will support that. If you want to adopt, you need someone who is on board.  Discuss everything from discipline to finances to family time and if you aren't on the same page then either find the middle ground or reconsider starting a family with this person.

The bottom line is that you and this person will be bound to each other, through this child, for the rest of that kid's life. Even if he or she ditches and is never seen or heard from again you can bet that when you look at your child you will remember that person who helped you make them. You don't want to spend the next 18 years, minimum, either constantly battling with the person who is supposed to be working with you or wishing you could forget the person who helped you create this precious life.

Parents ought to be a team in order to provide a child with the best possible upbringing. It doesn't matter if you are straight, gay, divorced, or whatever other situation. If you can't at least work together where your child is involved then you will put your kid in the middle of all sorts of tension and give them leverage galore to pit you and the other parent against each other, with all manner of negative outcomes.

All I'm saying is that you are going to be working with this person. For a long, long time. So look before you leap. It will save you a lot of pain and frustration.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grudges and Grace

Wow, tonight was an amazing night at church and I'd like to share what I have learned. I just never thought of it this way, and maybe my reflections could be of use to others...

Tonight we were examining the line of the Lord's prayer that says "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive out debtors." (Matt 6:12) What blew me away was not the first portion, which is about God's grace towards us, but the second part, which is all about our grudges towards others.

I've got 'em. Or at least, I did before tonight. I was carrying my grudges. I'll not go into the specifics, but I had a couple of people I had not forgiven. How can I tell? Because I already had it rehearsed in my head what I would say if given a chance to give them a piece of my mind. Because I frequently reflected on how wrong they were in what they had done to me. Because I would have taken the opportunity to "out" them in a heartbeat - if someone had offered me a chance to stand up on a rooftop and scream their transgressions I'd have taken it. That's a grudge. You're still mad, you still want to call them out, you still want to punish them.

Here's some things I learned tonight. First, by holding a grudge I reduce God's forgiveness and the power of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. I declare them unforgiven, their crime unforgivable. Nothing can excuse it... and that includes the death of Christ on the cross. I lesson God's ability to forgive. I refuse this person forgiveness, I try to exclude them from God's love and grace. I begrudge them eternal forgiveness, I wish hell on them. How dare I do that? To anyone? What gives me the power? What gives me the right?

Second, by holding a grudge I reduce my ability to show Christ's love in this world. I cannot offer one hand in love while the other is curled in a fist of rage. I cannot serve two masters at once. It's impossible to truly embrace love while nursing rage. We are compared repeatedly to lamps, lights in a dark world. Our lamp is our heart, and a grudge is a dark spot in our hearts. It reduces the light we have to share, robbing others of the joy of the light. How can I shine when my heart harbors hatred?

Third, forgiveness is without qualifiers. In the past I've tried to logic myself out of grudge-holding by saying things like "Well, they're God's children too" or "God made them, so there has to be good in them." These things are rationalization to try to talk myself out of not wanting to forgive them. They make it a matter of my judgement instead of God's grace. It's still all about me, about what I think of that person and their transgressions. I'm still squarely in the judges seat, but I'm pretending to follow God's lead. The reality is that I'm still sitting in judgement, and that's not where I belong. I can judge the action, not the person. And that's what a grudge does, it condemns the person forever based on the action. If I am to truly release a grudge, it has to be without qualifiers. Not because there's good in them to outweigh what they did, but because there's good in GOD, and through my faith in Him that good is in me as well,  to let their transgression be let go.

Fourth, how screwed would I be if God forgave me as I forgave others? "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." If God forgave like me, I'd be in a lot of trouble. I'd have no hope.

Most of all I realized that we forgive not because they are God's children, but because WE are God's children. God did not mean us to be petty and full of grudges. In forgiving others, we become what we are meant to be.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Blame Game

I recently read a statistic that bothers the hell out of me. A recent survey of Americans found that 45% believe children enter foster care due to juvenile delinquency. 45% of us believe that when kids are removed from their home, or relinquished by the caregiver, it is THEIR fault. This is patently false, these kids are removed or relinquished due to the failure or inability or flat out unwillingness of their parents to provide their care. Saying anything else is blaming the innocent.

What is truly frightening about this figure, though, is that I believe it a small piece of a larger problem. I don't have statistics to back this up, but extrapolating from the above information and factoring in my own personal experience, I content that a significant number of people believe that children are orphans because there is something "wrong with them." Sometimes it might be their behavior, sometimes it might be their attitude, maybe it's a medical condition. Perhaps they can't help it, but the problem lies with them. They are damaged. They are faulty. They are discarded because they are worthless.

Not only is this so wrong it makes my skin crawl, but it's ignorant and cruel. Blaming the victim is never cool, but we seem to love to do it. These children had no choice as to when and where they were born. They didn't choose their parents. They didn't ask for a disability. Honestly, I don't see any real need to assign blame at all. Figure out the cause so we can stop the problem of abandonment, yes please. Let's go do that. Provide assistance to break the cycle. But if you think that pointing fingers at an unwed mother, yelling at an addicted father, or vilifying a grandmother who just can't keep up with her grandkids and can't find their parents is going to accomplish anything or help anyone then you are callous and, frankly, not too bright.

Why? Why do we feel the need to do this? Never mind the need to place blame, but the need to place the blame on the only truly innocent party in the whole mess. Why would anyone do such a thing? I'm going to lay some blame of my own, and I think there are two factors at play. One is a media culture that portrays orphans as just that - damaged, weird, bad or evil. The other is a need to escape personal guilt.

I can't say where it started, but Hollywood and the news media seem to love to show us screwed up kids with no parents. Maybe it's a reflection of our belief that parents are vital for normal and healthy development. Maybe it's subliminal messaging, telling us to be careful how we parent because these kids can come out really messed up. But it shows up in movies - "The Omen", "The Good Son", and "The Orphan", to name a few. IMDB them. Each one features an orphan who is taken into a family and turns out to be evil and tries to tear the family apart. It shows up in the news - tales of parents living in fear of a violent child they adopted, or stories of parents who either abuse or abandon their adopted child because the kids is "too difficult" or "fails to attach."

I'm not trying to say that adopting is easy, or that adopted children won't have challenges to overcome. What I am saying is that the challenges of adoption are NOT because the child is bad, or faulty, or evil. Difficulties in attachment aren't the result of a child who has no feelings, it's the result of a child who is afraid. Who has been made that way by their environment. To quote one child who had spent years in the foster system "They said I had an attachment problem. I say I had a life problem, and I attached myself accordingly." Developmental delays are not because the child is "retarded" or "stupid." It's because their developing brain was sidetracked at a young age by their survival instinct, and the opportunity to develop higher functions was pushed aside by the need to make it one more day. At any rate, their difficulties are not their fault.

More than anything else, though, I think people hold this ludicrous belief that kids are to blame for being orphaned because it makes it easier to do nothing. If there is something wrong with them, then it's a short "logical" step to say that nothing can be done for them. No one could raise them. No one could help them. If it's their fault then they deserve to be in foster care, or an orphanage, or an institution. It's not my fault I do nothing to help them - they don't deserve my help. I don't have to feel guilty when I hear the statistics. It's not selfish of me when I refuse a request for help. It's smarter not to waste resources on a bunch of delinquents who wouldn't amount to anything anyway. And since it's their own darned fault, I can sleep at night.

Wake up. These kids are innocent and they are screaming out for our help. Our failure to respond is precisely that - our failure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Crafty Women are not Monogamous!

Help me!! I'm on the verge of falling prey to a darker instinct. It's like an addiction, pulling me away from peace and harmony and into a well of chaos. It is my horrible, terrible, secret urge to... craft.

The other day I was at a quilting store and I saw a GORGEOUS book of patterns for little girls' dresses. I want. I want BAD. But I told the wonderful woman who owns this gorgeous store that I can't buy it now because I'm trying to get through a quilt project so I must not start anything else. "Oh, you should start something else," she answered. "Every crafter has two or three projects going on at one. It's how you keep from getting bored!"

She's not the first to give me this advice. I think every woman I know who loves to knit, sew, crochet, bead, spin, weave, draw, paint, refinish, make cards, etc has told me that they have six or seven projects on the burner at once. Things get started, then the boredom sets in and they go into hibernation for a bit while the hottest new thing starts up. After a while you either finish the new and return to the old, or grow tired of the new and find a new new while the new old and the old old wait patiently. Project ideas reproduce like bunnies and before you know it, you have 15 projects and you can't finish any.

This is why so many crafters see UFOs. Un-Finished Objects haunt us in our sleep, waking us up in the middle of the night to beam us aboard the mothership and torture us. We're all one project away from going over the deep end and wearing tinfoil hats. "Excuse me, miss, but why are you wearing that football helmet?" "It keeps the UFOs away!! Want to join my knitting group?"

Sigh. I'm doing so well in my quest to finish Kaylin's quilt. I'm partway through quilting the fifth of nine blocks. It's adorable. I love it. I'm so pleased with it, because it's not just cute but it's also my first hand-quilted project. But it's sort of repetitive and I'm getting antsy. Someone yell at me and help me fight the itch! Remind me of my deadline, which is only one month away. Don't let me forget that this thing is GOING BACK TO RI WITH MY PARENTS IN APRIL and it will be best if it has binding on the edges, don't you think? Appeal to the sense of monogamy that makes my marriage so easy to maintain.

Or just confiscate my sewing machine pedal and my knitting needles until I finish.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Your Embarrassment will be Televised

My dirty little secret indulgence is a morning radio show called the John-Jay and Rich show. It's on a top 40/pop station, and in between catchy pop tunes these two guys and their poor, long-suffering female assistant name Kyle have segments that are basically Jerry Springer show outtakes. My favorites are "The War of the Roses" and "Second Date Update." Those are, basically, the two "relationship" segments.

Second Date Update is when someone calls in who had a really nice date with someone else, but since then the other person has been avoiding them and they want to know why. The hosts call up and pretend to just be wanting to talk about it with this person, but the other party is on the line and eventually they reveal their presence and the ensuing argument is played on the air.

I'm entertained by this. Call it schadenfreude, or perhaps the relief of not being the person calling in, but I listen when I can. It amazes me how neurotic some of these people get about someone they went on one or two dates with. But here's what amazes me the most - how totally ignorant some people are of the situation they are in.

(I'm going to aim this at women now, because in listening to the show regularly it has been my observation that roughly 99% of the segments are women calling to find out why a guy isn't calling them. Guys just don't seem to call in ever. In fact, I say 99% not because I have ever heard a man call in, but because I figure it's statistically impossible for it to be 100% female and I don't hear every single show so perhaps I missed that one random dude.)

If you went on a date with someone and slept with him that first night and he never calls anymore, he just wanted the sex. How women fail to get this is totally amazing to me. "But he said we had a real connection!" Of course he did. He wanted to get in your pants. "But he said it after we did the deed." Yeah, because you were still there and he didn't want you to flip out on him if he told you the truth, which would be best expressed as "Next!" If you give it up right away, then you should be prepared for the very strong likelihood that you will now be off this person's radar.

"But he called me again! We got together two more times!" Oh that's nice... what did you do those two other times? Did he call at 2 am to hook up? Yeah... he never took you seriously. You were not girlfriend material, you were an easy lay. And apparently, a half decent one because he came back for seconds and thirds. But then he grew tired of it and that was enough for him.

Here's a message that all women need to learn. Ready? You can't f$%& a man into loving you. It doesn't work that way. No way on God's green earth will you finish the deed and he will look at you and say "Ya know, I was not planning to see you again after tonight. But that was so wonderful and magical and deep that I now want to be with you forever. Marry me." See, we women tend to project and think men are like us. They're not. They truly can just have relations without involving their hearts. In fact, if you engage the libido too early the heart will be nowhere to be found.

Ok, that's the first thing. Second thing is this... nothing says "I'm desperate!" like having your favorite radio station track a man down to find out why he isn't calling. Maybe he really was super busy and unable to get together for a week or two. Perhaps there was a death in the family and he didn't want to talk about it yet. Maybe work is totally hectic. Maybe his dog is sick. Maybe he got a new cat and it needs him during this difficult transition. At any rate, if he wasn't avoiding you before, then he will be now. And if he was avoiding you before, then he will not be changing his mind because you sneak-attacked him onto the radio for a very public confrontation. If a guy disappears it's because he isn't interested in you. It will not make him more interested in you to find out that you are not just a cute pisces, but also an obsessive stalker.

These women seem totally amazed to be embarrassed on the radio... but what else did they expect? They called into a radio show to air their dirty laundry for all the world to hear (thanks, internet radio!) and somehow that experience leaves them feeling unsatisfied in the end. Most of these women seem to think that the guy is being a hypocrite by lying to get sex. Hey, it's dishonest. I'll agree totally there. But it's not really hypocritical. Lying to take advantage of someone else is pretty consistent behavior. In fact, it's the means to the end. He's not a nice guy if he does this to you, I concur. But you are not a smart girl if you let him. We all grow up with the same conventional wisdom poured into us. We all hear it over and over "Never give it up on the first date." "Why would he buy the cow if he can get the milk for free?"

If you don't want a relationship either then it's up to you. That's your call if you want to just "have fun", and while I totally disagree that's not the purpose of this rant. If you were looking for love and you gave him sex then you set yourself up for disappointment. Would you hand your keys over to some random person and then get mad when they made off with your car?