Merry 2017!

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One sharp and sparkling January night, when the bank sign told us it was a balmy -35°, we gathered our essentials and crammed them into thirty some suitcases, boxes, and bags. I took a break, before the sun went down, to run outside and take one last picture of our house in the snow. I figured I could share it with the kids when they were languishing under Atlanta heat.

When the last Lego and whisk had been stowed, we packed and saddled our trusty White Whale. She is the extended, lifted, 1980’s era Ford Econoline that has served us faithfully on streets of glass, unplowed highways, mountain goat thoroughfares, and sagebrush dotted deer trails that Ben pretends are roads. We somehow squeezed seven kids and an extra driver in there, too, and headed to Salt Lake for a 12:45 AM flight to Atlanta.

Ben’s company needed him in the satellite office for a few months, last winter, to build and train a sales team, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to expose the kids to city life and culture. Ben secured for us a 1,000 sf Midtown Atlanta apartment, on the fifth floor of a building that was dwarfed by its neighbors, and he stocked it with food and supplies. We researched nearby museums and activities for the kids, and realized that the aquarium, art museum, a seven-floor library (one floor per kid!), and amazing parks were all within easy walking distance. We shipped sleeping bags and mats for the kids, but the mattress we had ordered for ourselves wasn’t due to arrive until a week after we did. Other than that significant detail, we felt like we had a pretty good handle on making the transition.

I’m not sure how to describe what it feels like to rip your kids out of their idyllic country life and bring them to the heart of a city. They didn’t really understand how traffic lights worked, or have experience with roads that are more than two lanes, and less than half of them remembered seeing a building taller than three stories. And knowing that, we put them all on a plane for the first time in their lives, and brought them to an alien landscape with only a fraction of their belongings and none of their friends.

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It should have been a lot worse than it was, but I had met a few Atlanta residents online, while preparing for our journey. One of them heard that Ben and I would be sleeping on the floor. He told me to come by his place when we arrived, and he and his wife would lend us an air mattress. I remember sitting on a suitcase in the airport, with a crowd of hungry, exhausted, somewhat scared and sad children, waiting for Ben and one of the big kids to pull to the curb with a vehicle I’d never seen, when I started getting texts from our Atlanta internet friends, who wanted to feed our dirty, travel weary, diet-restricted family in their one bedroom apartment, and loan us a bed.

Schlepping my circus into their place and being greeted with hugs and enough food for an army of Celiac sufferers made me feel like Joseph and Mary really should have tried Atlanta instead of Bethlehem.

That feeling never wore off. Everywhere we went in that busy city, there were people to greet and help us on our way. I never once carried our massive double stroller up a step. Whenever we came to stairs on our path, two or three wise men would appear out of nowhere to share the gifts of strong arms and sound backs. When we stopped for a snack at a fast food place, there would be a couple extra orders of fries I didn’t pay for, and the guy behind the counter would tell me about his nieces. At the art museum and on skid row, people acted as if I had borne these children and brought them on an outing as a public service. I have gotten less praise, delight, and shouted glee when I was in an actual parade than when I paraded my kids around Atlanta. Even teachers shepherding their flocks of students through the library and the YMCA would stop and visit for a minute.

It made me feel that we miss the point when we call Israel the Holy Land. I don’t believe the sweat on Jesus’ feet was holier than the sweat of the passing ladies who stood poised and waiting with me when a mentally ill man made threatening noises and gestures at my children. I don’t think it was holier when Jesus fed the 5,000 than when neighbors and friends gather to feed the homeless and the suffering. I don’t think the location of the Last Supper is holier than the place where people gather to sing in community and share their love for God.

I believe that the way we use the word profanes and disregards the sacred gifts God has given us. The entire point of the story of Jesus’ birth is to renew our wonder and respect for the sanctity of the ordinary. The whole point is to recognize that these containers of flesh are fit to hold the Creator.

To be holy is to be created by God, to be touched by the finger of the Almighty. Holiness doesn’t belong to structures or institutions. It resides in the breathing miracles that walk beside us. Holiness can’t be found in separating some of creation from the rest of it, nor in buildings, authorities, layers of clothing, words, permissions, or any other coverings we silly humans create to protect and separate ourselves from each other and from God’s eye.

The God I met on the streets of Atlanta is not so precious that normal human chaos needs to be hidden from her view. Her eye rests as lovingly on the sparrow as on the toddler who colors on the rug. She sings with the choir, and she sings the frustration of a tired mother’s tears. She’s not getting worked up about a little dung near the makeshift cradle. She sent her son to teach us to love and accept the painful, screwy, and uncouth parts of existence. She remembers, if no one else does, that meeting Christ was holy before the place had a single chandelier.

This coming year, I wish for all of my friends and family the spiritual exercise of neglecting the façade. When greeted in their soul-naked beauty, humans are much more accepting and interesting than they are when they’re hiding.

May your cups be merry and your tables full of delight this winter, and all through the year. Best wishes from ours to yours,

The Mavys

 

Eve (14): One of the best things about this year was that our cousins moved here. We play Mafia and board games when they come over. Going to Atlanta was fun because we got to go to the best aquarium ever, the art museum, a seven-story library, and joined a really fun choir. I miss it a little bit, but not too much, because most things (except for it being too cold) are better in Star Valley.

Sadie (12): The coolest thing I saw this year was a cloud of fifty turkeys roosting in about five trees. I ran cross country, and it was really fun to run an actual four miles at a time, instead of a half mile here and there. And I beat Eve twice, and that was the best.

Liberty (10): The happiest thing that happened this year was coming back to Wyoming from Atlanta. The most exciting thing that happened this year was starting gymnastics. I like making new friends there and getting challenged.

Nathan (8): Riding on the airplane to Atlanta was the most exciting thing we did this year. Another thing that was exciting was when Jason and Ruth moved here. Now I get to play with my cousins all the time and have sleepovers. And Ed and Sheila moved closer, so I get to play with those cousins more, too.

Annie (5): My favorite thing was the cherub choir in Atlanta. I liked it because we getted to make our art and we getted to play. In the classroom we just played games and we singed and that’s all. I liked the swimming lessons at the deep side of the pool. What I liked about it was we getted to have races.

Hezzie (4): I liked going to the Schatz. I liked seeing Daphne. I liked playing with her. It was little Daphne that I was playing with. We played stuffed animals. I found Stitch at the Schatz. We have a puppy, Josie. I can’t say anything else.

Matilda (2): Tilly is a little young to share her favorite things from 2017. From what we’ve gathered, she enjoys being in charge, growling at everyone, and making optimal use of her perpetual motion machine metabolism.

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Perfectly Unacceptable

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When I was a good little Catholic 14-year-old, attending an all-girls boarding school to learn how to become a nun, we had something called Spiritual Direction. It was 15 minutes set aside for us to have a talk with an assigned superior. We were expected to rely on these women to guide our spiritual growth and we were to bring them our thoughts, questions, failures, and triumphs. We were given little pads of paper on which to write “dependence memos” during the week, to keep her apprised of all that was going on in our sheltered, boring, little lives.

I don’t remember much from the 3.5 years of weekly chats.  I think it was mostly exhaustion induced weeping, on my part. But I do remember an early session that set the stage for the rest of my experience with religion. I was a newly minted PC (short for precandidate, because we were not yet candidates for religious life), when I had what felt like serious and valid concerns about some of the details of the liturgy we celebrated daily. We were asked to stand at a time that I was accustomed to kneel. Since my parents had taught me that kneeling at that time and place was a vitally important sign of deference to God, I knelt while my peers stood.

I was barely over 5 feet, and we filled the chapel by height – short girls at the front, and the tallest girls at the back. My spiritual director was sure my antics were distracting from the mass, and wanted me to cut it out. Being an omniscient, unimpressed teenager, I told her that they should change if they were distracted, because I was doing it right. And I meant it. I was much too self-righteous to joke about the mass. I’m sure she wanted nothing more than to strangle me, but instead, she carefully explained that Regnum Christi  (our religious group) followed the Pope’s example, and that he wanted the faithful to stand at this particular point in the mass. “This is how it’s done in Rome, at St. Peter’s!” She was sure this was a trump card. But I wasn’t buying it. The Catholic church is unchanging, I told her, because its doctrine is based on principles, not the arbitrary whims of a human ruler. The Pope is only infallible when he speaks on faith and morals, and we should be grateful for that, because there have been corrupt and evil popes who had terrible ideas and philosophies, and who committed terrible sins. If we followed their personal examples, instead of only heeding their words when they spoke formally and infallibly, where would we be? Her response was an open-mouthed guffaw. “You know better than the pope? Who do you think you are, to believe that you are capable of understanding better than the Holy Father – the representative of Christ on earth, what God wants?”

Then she helped me write a Program of Life, which was something like an in-depth New Years resolution, to cure me of the malignant, festering pride that would lead me to worship God authentically rather than to obey my betters.

Despite her attempts and other authority figures’ later attempts to mold me into a proper entrant to religious life, I had this innate feeling that the whole thing should be a system of growth and moral action, based on immutable principles. I thought it was something that should make sense and serve my need to draw closer to God. My spiritual director’s appeal to authority felt like a betrayal of true religion, as I had come to know it. I didn’t want to imitate the pope, I wanted to be a better person. It seemed to me that following the Holy Father fell far short of following Christ.

Every time I see another article or sermon about the waning of religious adherence in modern America, I remember that interaction I had with the woman whose job was to bring me closer to Christ. What I saw in her insistence on conformity was an effort to draw me away from my spontaneous act of worship, and re-direct me to allegiance. I see some of that frantic press for allegiance in these hand-wringing articles and sermons about where people sit on Sunday mornings. It feels weirdly divorced from any concern for the things that Jesus told us hold up the entirety of religious practice, namely, love for God and neighbor.

When I read things like Greg Trimble’s soaring piece on the coming revolution in the LDS church, it sounds a bit silly. It feels like we’re being told to manage our hunger for a while longer, because porridge is coming, while we’re sitting and waiting, frail and ill with deprivation, at a table that groans under the weight of an opulent feast.

In Greg’s words, “This revolution will be against those that judge, those that hate, and those that refuse to see past their narrow, regurgitated, cliche point of views. This revolution will be a revolution of love… I think we’ll see a time where programmatic meetings are cut by 50% and where the efficiency of those meetings are increased by 50%. We’ll spend less time behind closed doors meeting about all the stuff we should be doing, and more time ministering to the proverbial fatherless and the widows. We’ll get back to true religion and root out any programmatic religion.

Does sticking around a place that admits it’s full of hate, unfair judgements, and unoriginal points of view, waiting for the gospel to find it, sound like something the Son of Man would have us do? Would the teacher who called us to let the dead bury their dead ask us to wait for a 50% improvement in the godliness of our lifestyle, sometime in the future? He told us who our neighbor is, and chided us for being too righteous to stop our busy church work and love like the Good Samaritan loved. He told us, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matt 25:45) How does that square with spending hours behind closed doors, compliantly waiting for someone in authority to open them, so we can go love God and serve God’s children? Where should I get all this time for sitting around waiting for somebody to tell me it’s OK to leave my nets and go follow Him? Why would I sit at the feast God made for me, refusing to eat because someone told me that God told him to make me porridge some time, maybe soon – it’s definitely coming?

Based on his other work, I assume that Greg would respond to my questions with a guffaw similar to my spiritual director’s, all those years ago, and a reminder to look for guidance from people who have a closer connection to God than I should ever expect to have. He begins his post, not with acknowledgement and loyalty to the name on the church building, but to the men Greg believes speak for Jesus Christ. He wants to make sure that we all know where his loyalties lie. I find myself wondering again, why is spontaneous, unapproved worship a problem to be corrected? Why is this system guiding us towards allegiance to men rather than a connection to God?

And this is where it breaks down for a lot of Millennials who have a desire (as did self-righteous, 14-year-old, me) to reach out to God in community. We don’t see a good reason to keep doing something that’s not working for us. We value the result more than the process. We’re looking for fruit, not pretty leaves. If we don’t find a meal where we’re told to expect it, we’re perfectly happy to go elsewhere, and let the fruitless tree wither away. We don’t recall Jesus sitting under the fig tree, waiting patiently for the coming revolution of fig season. He cursed the tree and left.

Many of my religiously unaffiliated friends have gone to the bible with new eyes, and found a Jesus who is markedly different from the one religion presented to them. Instead of an all powerful being who deigned to lower himself to our level on certain conditions, and must be continually appeased, we see a very human person who loved his friends, who stood up for the weak and the sick and the poor, who irritated the religious leaders and authority figures of his day, and who was killed for daring to make God accessible without intermediaries.

And Greg obviously sees that disconnect. He knows we can do better than our current church culture. He dedicates the middle section of his article to all the kinds of sinners we should be accepting into our lives and our church houses, with the grand assumption that these masses are staying away from church because they feel unworthy to approach the throne of God. I have no doubt that his personal accounts of having met and counseled with such sinners are all genuine and shared in good faith, in love, in acceptance, and understanding. But I also wonder if he knows or cares about the other empty spots in the pews? Does the coming pivot away from unjust judgement include making space for people who don’t think they’re sinning, but who simply have a different way of reaching God?

I am aware that I have an unusually anti-authoritarian personality for a stay-at-home mom with 7 children and 0 recreational substances in her home, but I think that I’m not alone in this feeling that the gasping of church ladies is not so impressive. I think that many Millennials are, quite simply, done hustling at Authority’s beck. We found out that the pediatrician isn’t going to her office, mid-appointment, to consult with her colleagues. She’s checking google to see what that mystery rash might be. We found out that going to college isn’t the golden ticket our teachers and parents promised it would be, no matter how perfect our grades were. We found out that news anchors lie, even when there’s no good reason to do so. We found out that cops are not liable for their behavior, and that racism is systemic in the nation’s police force. We found out that that there are some problems with claiming that the bible, or other scriptures, are the literal word of God. Our trust in Congress is so low, it apparently defies numerical quantification.

This lack of trust in institutions does not indicate a universal inability to trust anyone or anything, it’s simply a redirection of trust, from what we view as unaccountable behemoths, to answerable individuals. We have a hard time supporting wars on foreign soil, because we’re friends with foreigners. We are comfortable with the sharing economy, because we see reviews as a much more effective accountability tool than a huge company’s reputation, making Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, and Etsy increasingly popular. We aren’t afraid of our neighbors, be they gay, foreign, drug users, atheists, people of color, or, surprisingly enough, bible-believing Christians. We seem to think that individuals are generally good folks, and that our differences are no cause for fear.

I hope Greg is right about his revolution’s imminence, and I hope the revolution includes making space for those who approach God directly, rather than conforming to Authority’s whims. To avoid losing a generation, churches and church people are going to need to open their eyes to the feast that’s before us and encourage people to eat, rather than hassling them to wait out an imaginary famine for the coming gruel. The guffawing and the appeals to authority will need to stop, because Millennials “know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)

Those who chide and scorn should know that my generation does unacceptable perfectly. We cheerfully disregard unwieldy bureaucracies and get the job done ourselves. Our ability to share and create with our neighbors is a curse on the tree that fails to feed us.

I’m the mom. That’s why.

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This is parenting – take heed, ye childless hordes, and plan accordingly.
 
My kids have been driving me batty, the last few days, by having “shoe-making contests.” They cut and tape plastic grocery bags into these little slippers. I keep responding with impassioned grumbling, and reminding them it’s time to leave, or clean, or study, but I don’t really want to die on this hill, because there are a hundred other hills with my marker already on them, and so I haven’t outright forbade it.
 
Yesterday, as we were getting ready for the park, I realize we are completely out of plastic grocery bags. Out. I have 7 high energy, high metabolism kids. We buy a lot of groceries. I have never, ever run out of grocery bags before yesterday.
 
I grumble and flounce, and we get out the door with the wagon and the roller blades and our snacks in a library bag.
 
We’re heading east on 12th, and guess who is having a chat with her friend on the sidewalk? Yep, it’s the apartment manager who doesn’t know how many kids we’re hiding in our 2 bedroom loft. Her eyes bug out, and her lips start moving in silent enumeration. I try to avoid eye contact, hoping she doesn’t recognize me out of context, but then she smiles at me and coos to the baby. I try to look relaxed and busy at the same time and get the heck out of there, praying that the flowers we gave our downstairs neighbor worked, and making a mental note to bring her cookies ASAP.
 
5 yards later, I see that one of my beauties has run ahead of us, and used the extra time to sit down on the sidewalk to change out of shoes and into rollerblades. As she points her toe into the rollerblade, I see a target symbol on the bottom of her foot. Freaking kids. She’s wearing grocery bag slippers instead of socks. My blood pressure spikes into the stroke zone. And the apartment manager is still in sight. I hurriedly catch up and do the furious whisper, Crazy Mom Eyes routine and get her to put her tennis shoes back on. The best part of this is that she not only has no shame about the slippers, or about trying to use roller blades in the middle of the busiest part of the city, she demands that I give her a thorough and reasoned explanation why cotton socks are superior to grocery bag socks.
 
I do my best to avoid Because I Said So, but I went ahead and treated myself to a large helping of it, this time.

Sunday Music

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I was so excited to come to the library and enjoy all the kids being occupied in a safe place with no neighbors to bother.  What a great opportunity to write!  Of course, I forgot to bring the SD card, which is my brain’s external hard drive.

And, in case you were wondering, telling my kids to hurry up and gather the library books is like telling them to hurry up and shower themselves dry.  I spent hours chasing them out of corners and closets, where they would hole up to read each others’ books.  10 minutes later, I’d be unable to find any of them, or the books.  Again

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, but I’ll save the specific updates for pictures.

One event that didn’t involve a camera was our visit to a local Episcopalian church we’ve been enjoying seeing as we pass by it on our travels.  We had planned to check out the local LDS ward, but they must have had stake conference, or something, because the building and parking lot were abandoned.

What an experience All Saints was!  It was very reminiscent of a Catholic mass – lots of familiar wording, music, art, and architecture, but dialed up to 11.  Here’s the interior, courtesy of google.

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What really knocked my socks off (and most of the kids’), was the music.  See those shining pipes to the right and left of the altar?  They’re at the back of the church, too.  This was the first time I actually understood why anyone plays the organ.  We didn’t so much hear the music as feel it.  The 2 organists looked like they were playing a sport, not an instrument.

And then the choir!  I’ve never had the privilege to hear a choir of that caliber in person.  And we were in the second pew.  And the 3 soloists were highschool kids.  I am so in love with the city.  So in love.

While I was dripping tears on the kids’ heads, Ben was in the back, walking Matilda, and he happened to meet the children’s choir director.  We’re going to check out a practice on Wednesday afternoon.  The kids are half skeptical, half excited.  I’m hoping it will at least introduce us to someone who can give us the scoop on local musical happenings for kids.

The kids are anxious to go see more churches on more Sundays.  It seems that there’s a gorgeous, old church every couple blocks.  We have our work cut out for us.

Piedmont After Dark

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On Wednesday night, I was up with Harriet pretty much nonstop from 2 until the other kids woke up.  I figured it would be wise to stay home, rest up, and push herbs and healthy food the next day.  We did go out for a short walk in the afternoon, but by evening, everybody was pretty tightly wound.  We waited for Paterfamilias to get home, then we went on a longer walk to see the lights on the buildings around Woodruff Art Center.

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This one always has something to ask about or comment on – always.

We ended our walk at Mayor’s Grove.  As soon as we got through the gates of the park, onto the walking path, the kids just bolted, running like colts.

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That’s the MOON behind the swinging girls.  First time we’ve seen it since we left Wyoming.

They found the play equipment in short order and climbed everything in sight.  They told me they were so glad we went at night, when no one else was there to get nervous and tell them to follow the rules.  I think we’ll keep choosing school nights for park time.

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Alexandria

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We found the Real Library, on Friday.  It has seven floors, and every single one is full of books.  It was so great.  The librarians were so happy to see us.  When I asked where the nonfiction kids’ books were, they got all excited and told me that the more nonfiction I check out, the more they get to keep.  I guess there’s a thinning process happening, based on what’s getting checked out and what’s moldering on the shelves.  The rejects are already contracted to be sold to a nonprofit.  I asked.  If we didn’t have to walk 2 miles home with all our books, we would have filled our 50 book quota with ease.

As we were planning this trip, my 10yo said, “Do you think the librarians will be black people?  I hope they are.  Black people are way nicer.”  This is something the kids and I picked up on almost immediately about African-American culture in Atlanta.  It seems to place a high value on family.  Every single time we’ve felt in someone’s way or I’ve been reminded to keep my kids out of perceived danger, it was with a white person.  African-Americans don’t see a problem when we walk by, they see a reminder of their kids, their cousins, their siblings, etc., and they generally want to talk about it, or just offer congratulations and support.  It makes all of us feel so good!  This was the longest walk that we’ve taken, here, but it was much more pleasant, because half the city thought we were celebrities.  Lots of people talked to the kids to tell them how great they are, people would ask us if we needed help when I would stop and look at my phone to figure out if we were still on the right path.  The people working at the library were so incredibly helpful and anxious to get us all the materials we could dream of, that it was a full hour from when I walked in the door, until I had time to respond to a text from my husband.

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Next week, when we take the walk again, I’ll get some pictures of the city.  It’s crazy huge and busy.  We walked right past (or through) the America Mart, which feels like another planet, with all the sky bridges connecting these massive buildings.  The kids weren’t fazed at all.  They asked if we can walk those bridges sometime, but I was the one oohing and ahhing at all the sky scrapers.  They were more interested in the dolphin statues on the sidewalks.  Is that a sports team, or something?

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We also passed by some gorgeous churches that the kids are anxious to see inside, as well as the Historic Academy of Medicine, and the Biltmore.  There’s an endless supply of things to see and visit, here.  Even if we’re visiting sites 4 days a week, I doubt we’ll see them all in 6 months.

 

Wednesday at the High

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We made it to the High!  What a great experience.  On Weds. morning, we got dressed, ate, and ran out the door to go see the art museum.  It was significantly warmer than Tuesday, but everyone was still glad to have hooded jackets.

The symphony is on our way there, so we stopped to take a look at this cool statue in the plaza.  There were no signs, or fences, or any other indications that this was a Don’t Touch display, so the kids ran up to get a better look.  As soon as I finished getting some pictures, a security guard came scowling towards us and shooed us away.  She was not pleased that we had gotten up close and personal with the Guy Made of Guys, as we dubbed him.

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When we got to the Sifly Plaza, and the kids could run on the grass and play on the Tio Vivo exhibit without interruption or danger, they took off like wild beasts were after them.  We spent about an hour letting off steam and exploring the exhibit, then headed inside to find out about passes.

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Let me just say, if you live close enough to the High to visit often and you aren’t taking advantage of the family pass, you’re wasting a great opportunity.  It would cost my family $87 for one time tickets to visit the museum.  The Family Pass Plus (which has reciprocity with hundreds of other museums around the country), is $125.

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The art was amazing, and the kids’ interest in it was delightful.  We had a really good time walking around, taking notes, deciding what we want to learn more about before we return.  But the really great part about being there was that we weren’t just wanted, we were celebrated.  It was wearing on everybody a little that we’re constantly in everybody’s way.  On the sidewalks, at the library, in the apartment, we’re trying to be quiet and leave room for people to get around us.  At the library, the patrons and the librarians acted put out that we were in their space, and some expressed concern that all the children weren’t physically attached to my body at all times.  We had to go to a busy hallway to stop and have a drink and a snack, and there were concerned and irritated looks there, too.

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At the High, people were happy to see a crowd of matching kids.  We were encouraged to check everything out, ask questions, touch the things that were made for touching, there was plenty of space and tables and chairs for a lunch break or just a break.  There was a children’s section with chairs, tables, toys, and a cool exhibit.  It was restful to be there, and we can’t wait to go back!

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And on the way home, we even met some cardinals hanging out in the bushes.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real cardinal, before, or if I did, I didn’t notice him.

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