Refrigerator love, and rebellion

Some people put their children on their refrigerator, proud moments and happy faces captured digitally or, old school, on film. Magnetically affixed and Scotch taped next to their children’s art work are their drawings of turd families and colorful unicorns.

Here is my refrigerator today:

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A proud papa, my refrigerator displays a disciplinary write-up and a detention notice. I’m privately subversive like that. (For those of you pissing yourselves, don’t read too much into it—it’s just a magnet we got in the mail. I would use a Trump magnet if it were sent to me, and he’s a complete asshat. #SendMagnets.) I say “privately subversive” (which means nothing) because we won’t do anything about the ridiculousness of our children’s respective schools. And we won’t because there isn’t anything we can do. We’ve tried. You can’t turn a fool from his errand. So my frustration bleeds into the pages before me, osmotically.

The administration that treats every person as a non-person, as product, places the top-of-her-class, quiet art student in an hour-long, after-school detention for three tardies. The kind of student, mind you, that every single teacher there would kill to have in their classroom. And the tardies? There is only one for which she had any responsibility. And the last tardy she received was for being literally three seconds late, the teacher standing in the doorway watching her hurry down the hallway. It all tickles me as pink as the copy of the discipline form they sent me. They cannot punish me, so they punish her.

Maybe I’m not so tickled.

Now my son was written up for distracting the class by “playing with [his] hair and giggling” during silent reading. She said she’d given him a warning. He says he didn’t hear it, if she warned him. When I first heard he was written up by his teacher for distracting the class by playing with his hair, I told him he should have fired off gun hands at her—one, two; pew, pew,—and say, “Only distracting to you, Babe.” (I’m not anywhere near the best father or role model in the world.) And last night I desperately wanted to shave him bald and send him to class with a note saying, “My son will no longer be bothering the class. If you have any more problems with him, please let me know.” Unfortunately, my son isn’t just a troublemaker, he’s also chicken.

I no longer bat an eyelid when my son gets written up nowadays, but I do worry about what the write-ups do to him, how they discourage him. Because this is his third or fourth one in the past two years, and each one has been laughable. One write-up was, I shit you not, for catching a carrot someone had thrown at him (not to him) in the cafeteria. The principal was tripping over herself to apologize for all the trouble. How do the write-ups make my child feel about authority and respecting that authority when it seems so arbitrary, when it seems so silly—while so many real behavior issues are ignored? My kids may not always act maturely, but that does not mean they are blind.

I apparently have my own problems with authority.

But only with silly, arbitrary rules and the people who love them.

And I have problems with stupid. I have problems with rigidity and meanness.

I have problems with people inadvertently creating the kinds of problems they are trying to prevent.

I have problems with them doing these things to children. With people who lord their authority over them.

Speaking of which, this is not simply a school problem. It’s everywhere, in all the expected places and all the unexpected ones. It even happens in my parish where people should know better. People use their authority, rules and hoops, as an obstacle to the sacraments (to our Lord). “Do x, y, and z,” they say, “or you cannot receive the sacraments”—the grace, the presence of Christ that he freely offers. That kind of manipulation of behavior doesn’t work, doesn’t change a child’s heart, by the way, and it doesn’t tickle me. It burns the hell out of me. And it wounds me deeply. But maybe that’s another post.

Children, fearful of pinching, dress in green

An old pizza box I’ve been using as a hot pad for baking sheets of French fry dinners sits on the table. Its pathetic begging to be recycled is tiresome, so I boldly push into its neglect. Alongside it is an old, white Nintendo Wii and a Wii remote with dead batteries and a missing battery cover. An empty Sour Cream & Onion Pringles can from last night, still there—an unimpressive pillar. Empty. And there are other items. But there are no books here anymore. Next to my left hand, are some pencil shavings. And my Autumn mug filled with penitential coffee is at my right. I take a sip.

Hells, that’s some bad shizz.

Most of the mess on the table this Friday could be ordered in a matter of minutes. Most of it needs to be burned up or washed clean. Today, like every other day, is a good one for cleaning.

It is St Patrick’s Day. Children, fearful of pinching, dress in green. And this year corned beef and cabbage runs squarely up against Friday’s Lenten obligation to abstain from meat, which has resulted in many bishops giving a dispensation from our obligation today. Our diocese has done this, thanks be to God. Because meat. Such actions always gives me pause about the burdens that Mother Church lays upon us, an opportunity to consider and re-consider these obligations and their purpose(s). It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that there is nothing intrinsically evil about eating meat on a Friday in springtime. Yet a moral weight is lent it for our penance. To what end?

I’m uptight about some things. Like missing the first few minutes of a movie, or arriving somewhere late. But I’m fairly easygoing. And I’m trying to be more easygoing in more areas of my life. I probably am pretty tightly laced compared to many people. But life is too short to always be tied into knots because of other people’s expectations. And life is too beautiful.

So I dropped off one daughter late to school this morning. She had told me she needed something from the store for school the night before. But we both forgot about it this morning until it was too late. So I kept her in the car as I dropped off the others and took her to the grocery store. She would be tardy; everyone else would be tardy if I’d done it differently. This happens occasionally. It happened to one of her sisters yesterday. But she was not happy, the thought of tardies and potential detentions down the road frustrated her. She dragged out, “It goes on my permanent record.” It would have been funnier if she wasn’t taking it all so seriously, like I also have a tendency to do. In some sense, Daughter, everything that happens is permanent, I suppose. It has entered the cliched annals of history that become only murkiness over time. Permanent records are impermanent things. My high school GPA, for instance, is only permanent in any real way to me. I’m the only soul alive on this planet that has a reason to give a fig about it. And I don’t.

“Permanent records” and such things are carrots and sticks, for the ordering of a community or a society. They’re in place in order to get people from Point A to Point B—and eventually to Z—smoothly, much like traffic lights and double lines. Sometimes these arbitrary symbols and social emperors are revealed to be naked for us, like when I spent five minutes at a broken red light in the dead of night—the only soul awake in town. And sometimes those very ideas are there working for our good, for our safety and our life.

I am not trying to deconstruct morality because I’m allowed corned beef today, by the way. I believe in a moral law that may not be dispensed with. (Unlike the grammar rules governing that last sentence.) But there are many practices given to us, and given to us with moral weight (or, as an obligation), that are there for our good, for order’s sake, rather than because such actions are fundamentally opposed to life, like the commandment to love, or the prohibition to kill. Good men and women in authority, awake to charity, know how to discern between the two. Know when mercy is in order. Know when charity is being offended by the strict adherence to a rule. Know that the Sabbath was made for man, rather than man for the Sabbath.

To what end, then, are these obligations given to us? For what purpose do these obligations—that can seem so arbitrary at times—exist? Why are they necessary for us? They are necessary to wake us up to participate in the moments and seasons of life. They are for our good and the good of our children. To help us remember. And in remembering, to repent. And in repenting, to share in the Divine life. So that we might love all people and all things as God does.

For what it’s worth, I ate fish for lunch today in solidarity with my brothers and sisters for whom the obligation was not lifted. But mostly because I like fish tacos.

Brr

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It’s cold. I mean, as cold as it’s been all winter kind of cold. Like springtime in Michigan kind of cold. Brr. And our stick-built home is so old, most of our heat is disappearing into thin air. Because it’s cold in this house.

And lonely . . .

No, it’s too cold to be lonely. Today’s about survival, baby. Well, survival and Zelda. And working, taking care of babies, and blah, blah, blah. But for sure, survival. (And Zelda.)

Wherever you are, brethren and sistren, keep warm.

 

Pax et bonum

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Hey!

How are you doing?

If you said, “I’m doing good,” then, Are you a savage? Learn to speak English.

If you said, “I’m doing well,” then thank an English teacher. And, I’m glad you’re doing well. Life can be wonderful, can’t it? Give freely to those in need. Smile. People are hurting. Do what you can to alleviate their pain. If you are funny, make them laugh. If they love you, love them in return. If you are obnoxious, leave them alone. Be kind to others. Be patient with them and excuse them, as you can, for they are wounded and hurting. Don’t let them steal your peace. Always pray.

If you said, “I’m doing badly,” then I am sorry. Life can suck sometimes and be or feel all wrong. If you need it, get help. See a health professional. Get medication. Take your medication. Talk to someone you trust and love. Talk to your priest or pastor. Go to counseling. Go to Confession. Whatever help it is you need, get it. Try to give thanks for the blessings that remain. And, if possible, for the suffering you are experiencing. Be at peace. And always pray.

If you said, “I’m doing fine,” because you’re unengaged, then, Wake up! Open your eyes and live. This world is a beautiful place. It’s not meant to be simply endured, slept through, Facebooked or Netflixed through. Taste it. See it. Enjoy it. As St Augustine says, “Love, and do what you will.”

If, however, you said, “I’m doing fine,” and you meant you don’t want to talk about it because you’re doing quite badly or you’re confused, lonely, or sad, I understand. I love you. Probably. Maybe I don’t know you. Certainly someone loves you. And even likes you. Yes, those voices in your head are telling you otherwise. The voices are saying that no one loves you. That you are alone. That you are worthless. But I am giving you permission to tell those voices to go fuck themselves. More than permission, I insist. Those voices are only interested in destruction and death. There is no peace in listening to them. And, as you know, always pray.

If you said, “It’s none of your business,” then, I’m sorry. Peace to you.

God gives grace in exchange for our brokenness, garlands for our ashes.

It is Lent. Everyone carries private burdens you know nothing about. Maybe even that they know nothing about. Therefore, be patient and kind with one another.

Peace and good to you.

My desk on the second Friday of Lent, or Mind your own business

My desk, this mimsy metaphor, is messier. You would think that when you clean, spaces would actually get cleaner, but the process sometimes makes them messier first. And sometimes the will to clean itself leads to doing less than you normally would do. So the spaces in your life become messier because you’ve been afraid to begin. Life is hard. Life is messy.

Oh, brothers and sisters, do your best and give thanks.

On a darker note, let me just say that having black coffee as a Lenten sacrifice is stupid. Sucks balls. Though it’s a bitter drink as well, I may switch to green tea for my caffeine fix during the duration. Because black coffee—especially my wife’s non-measuring method of making coffee—is . . . *Shiver* The morning coffee routine seems pretty ritualistically ingrained. We’ll see.

This first week of Lent we seem to be, each of us, struggling with the deep spiritual issue of learning to mind our own business. Often we get frustrated with one another because, “Didn’t they give such-and-such up for Lent?” or “So-and-so hasn’t even made a Lenten sacrifice.” Much of the time we have these concerns because we’re so frustrated that we can’t have/do x, because of what we have chosen. We’re frustrated because of the burden we’ve laid on ourselves, of having to tell ourselves No. “Mind your own business” is a good lesson for all of us. We have our own souls to mind, and need to leave others to theirs as we learn to love them and pray for them (but never proud prayers). And so we learn to live with the decisions we have made, without becoming angry with those who have not made similar decisions.

It has also been difficult for me to write this week. The first reason is that I have had a particularly nasty migraine for a few days. The pain has been frustratingly resistant to my normal meds, but I did find a fix in these headache patches available. They’re gel compresses with menthol and camphor (I think my wife said? I’m probably wrong) that stick to your forehead. It cools and . . . well, works. For me. It does take a while, unfortunately. But with some rest and a few hours, it seems to do the job. And sometimes it seems to do some of the work quickly enough to take the edge off so that I can exist without being completely miserable. I would recommend these as a staple in your medicine cabinet. Beats a wet rag. And stays in place. Just go to your pharmacy and tell them what you camphor. *Rimshot*

The second reason it’s been difficult to write is because we picked up a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for our old Wii U (wanted a Switch too, but my wife reminded me that we need the van and our house and, you know, food). Forgive the punctuation mess and cliche, but: What. A. Game. We have barely enough time to squeeze in an hour-long turn for everyone during the week. And then an hour seems to go by so quickly as you are fighting mobs, training horses, foraging for recipes, or simply distracted with exploration. A gorgeous, big, open, beautiful game. I’ve always been a fan of Zelda games, but this one is something special. That being said, I need to write more and help my children play the game less. Oh, and sleep. I need sleep. I’m not a young man anymore. Say mirrors. Says body. Say children.

It is Lent. Pray for me. And I will pray for you. Let’s draw nearer to Christ this season together.

My desk on the first Friday of Lent

A handful of clay fired in the middle-school kiln has become a broken bird. Beakless, like some barking alien, it sits on the table and stares at me. A penitential cup of coffee sits next to it. This morning my coffee has evolved into a Lenten sacrifice, like bitter Seder herbs. No half and half. No sugar. No Red Bird puffed mint. A necessary sacrifice, I suppose, because I am so forgetful.

The left-hand side of the table is a mess of books, notebooks, and other miscellany. Like so many spaces in my life, it needs ordering. But it is Lent. It is the liturgical season for cleaning, mending, ordering, and planting.

My work space, my desk, is the kitchen table. I appropriate it each morning for writing, the best I can with the inevitable interruptions from my children. At the moment I am relatively free to write. The toddler stands in the chair on the other side of the table in her crying-uncle diaper watching videos on my phone and eating Cheerios out of a red Solo cup. The smiling boy is watching Super Mario walkthroughs. And the baby has a pizza crust in her hands and Cheerios spread out in front of her. She is happy. Her screams and vocalizations are boldly impenitent. They fill up the house with joy.

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Place

I grew up in Michigan, and my heart aches for it somedays. But I need these blue skies with which North Carolina is so profligate. The soil of my soul is too poor, like red clay. I quickly wither without this bright, happy sun. My brain is malformed. Its chemistry catawampus. I haven’t the mettle for Michigan.

Here, already, there are daffodils wherever I turn—dopey, pretty flowers like awkward teens. And blessed early blooms, such as forsythia and camellias, help chase away my noonday demon. Every flowering plant begins to wake under these warm, late-winter skies and whisper, Again.

This place, this necessary place, is also home. My children grew up out of this hard clay, spread themselves under these clear skies. Irrepressible wisteria, cover these hills in purple.

When I am not weeping, I am thankful.