Seamless Faith: A Q&A with Author Traci Smith

headshotbwmediumAs I continue to rest in the words of others this Lent, I am pleased to offer this short Q&A with Traci Smith, fellow Chalice Press author, whose book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life just came out recently. Take it away, Traci! 1. What led you to write this book? As a Director of Youth Ministries, first, and then a Pastor, I have met many parents and caregivers who want their children to grow up with an understanding of faith and spirituality, but didn't feel equipped. They worry that they don't have enough time, or that they're "doing it wrong" or that they don't have enough knowledge of the Bible or Theology. I wanted to write a very practical resource to empower and encourage parents. It also helped that my boys, Clayton and Samuel were both under two years old as I was writing this book. It inspired me to imagine the things we could do together as a family. In a very real sense, this book is for my family as much as any family.

2. What will people gain from this book that they won't get anywhere else? I think of this book as a type of "recipe book" for a faith-filled home. The book carefully lays out practices that any family can incorporate into daily life. Just like a recipe, each practice lists the ages that its suited for, along with materials, step-by-step instructions and variations. There are many wonderful books about children and family spirituality out there, but none is laid out in quite this same "pick it up and run with it" way of Seamless Faith. It's incredibly user-friendly.

Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proof3. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud. One of the chapters is called Ceremonies for Difficult Times and it features practices that are suitable for hard times such as divorce, death, illness and anxiety. It's a very special chapter to me, because I think we need to remember that every day isn't a trip to the zoo or a picture perfect moment. We need resources for the hard times too. Writing practices that parents could turn to in a time of grief or crisis was an honor, and it is a great joy to have them out in the world for families to use.

4. How have you changed your own parenting as a result of your work on this book? One of the things I've felt as a mother in the few short years I've been one (my oldest isn't yet three) is that there's a whole lot of pressure. There are endless blogs and books and resources with advice and tips, and it can be dizzying to keep track of it all. Writing down my ideas about how to incorporate faith into family life reminded me that each parent and caregiver puts his or her own stamp on parenting. It's not "Dr. So and So's" way or "Expert Fancypants's" way, it's "my way." This is one of the things that most excites me about the book -- each practice offers many ways for parents and caregivers to make it their own, no matter how old their children are, no matter what their family's style is.

5. As an author, I know that the book keeps "working on you" even after the manuscript is done and turned in. Are there ideas you've begun to think about differently, or new content you wish you'd included? Another way of asking the question: what will be included in the sequel? :-) Along the lines of the previous question, I've been thinking a lot recently about how parents need large doses of encouragement and respite. I think the sequel might include a lot of prayers and practices for parents who need to recharge and recenter in their busy lives. Then again... that's what Sabbath is for, and there's already a great resource about that!

Aww, thanks Traci!

All right folks, let's give Traci the Blue Room bump! Seamless Faith is available at Chalice Press, Amazon, etc. What a good resource for churches to share with families. What a perfect gift for a friend who's a new parent. What a great thing to have on your own bookshelf. Thank you for the fine book, Traci.

Having "The Talk" about Santa

medium_4188008601There are parents who refuse to participate in the Santa myth because they don't want to lie to their children. That stand has integrity in its own way, I suppose, but it seems unnecessary to be so draconian about it. Myths are tales that give meaning and texture to our lives. As an adult Christian, for example, Christmas invites me into the mystery of a God who refuses to remain at an aloof distance but would participate fully in human vulnerability through the incarnation of Jesus. But that's kind of abstract for a kid. The Santa myth is much more relatable. As much as some of us chide our kids about lumps of coal and Santa keeping a list (and setting aside the reality that Santa showers more gifts on wealthy homes than poorer ones), the fact is that Santa embodies grace: no matter who you are or what you've done, you will be remembered on Christmas morning.

But if you participate in Santa, you need to be ready for some messiness later. There will come a liminal time in which younger siblings still believe in Santa but older siblings know the whole truth. Or what to do with classmates at school whose awareness may not match up with your own child?

Our middle child asked for "the truth" about Santa last year, and Robert shared it with her. Interestingly, this year she's acting as if the conversation never happened. There's not always a clear before and after with these things. Sometimes there's a willful forgetting, or a benign sense of denial. And that's OK.

Still, if you're truly concerned about your kid landing in therapy someday to work through their betrayal once they discover the truth about Santa, you could start by downplaying the Santa thing from the get-go. Don't insist that the guy at the mall is the "real" Santa. Don't answer a kid's critical thinking questions with ever wilder explanations about the physics of flying reindeer, or how Santa can deliver so many presents in 24 hours. The appearance of presents on Christmas morning, as if by magic, is wondrous enough. Glitter and fake hoofprints in the snow are just gilding the lily.

When my children ask questions about Santa, I usually preface my answer by saying, "Well, the story goes that..." This puts me in the role of the communicator of a folktale rather than some perpetrator of a fraud. If they're inclined to continue believing, they will accept this framing. If they're ready to push further, they will.

In fact, though there are many ways to have the Santa conversation, this is the one that makes the most sense to me---to approach it as a story. Here is the gist of what I said to our oldest daughter a few years back. Her questions had turned from idle to insistent (and trust me, you'll know when it's time for this conversation). I'm recreating it here as a single commentary, but this unfolded over a series of halting conversations---in fact, it continues to unfold.

The story of Santa is just that---a story. It began a long time ago, with a man named Nicholas, who was a bishop in Myra, in present-day Turkey. Nicholas was a humble man with a special fondness for children. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. There are many other examples of Nicholas's generosity that were told. Over time, Nicholas became Saint Nicholas, which is the church's way of honoring him.

And his story spread, as beautiful stories tend to do. It was such a beautiful story that everyone wanted to be a part of it, not just in Greece and Turkey, where Nicholas was from, but all over the world. People changed the story somewhat and called Nicholas by other names: Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and so forth. Just as Nicholas gave gifts in secret, so do parents and other adults give secret gifts to children.

The story of Santa has continued all of these centuries because it's a powerful story that helps give our lives meaning. And that story has not ended with you asking the "truth" about Santa. Santa is as real now as he was the moment before you asked the question. And the story will continue as long as there are people willing to tell it and live in it.

Yes, the story goes on---it's just that you're in a different place in the story now. Before, you were in the part of the story that received gifts as if by magic on Christmas morning. Guess what? You still get to be in that part of the story. But now you also get to be in the part of the story that shares those gifts with other people. (Maybe you'd like to help pick out stocking stuffers for your younger siblings, for example.)

There are all kinds of characters in stories like this. There are characters who think the whole thing is silly and a waste of time. That's OK. There are also people who go around telling their siblings or their peers the "truth." You can choose to do that if you want. But then you've taken away their choice to be where they want to be in the story. I hope you won't take that choice away from them. They'll come to another place in the story when it is time.

When I said earlier that the story began with Nicolas of Myra, that's not really true. Because Nicholas was part of an older and deeper story, the story of Jesus. Jesus' life was one of giving to those around him, living simply, sharing good news with hurting people, and asking others to follow his example. Nicholas decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to living in that story. So many of us, when we participate in the Santa story, are also participating in Jesus' story. For others, the Santa story is not connected with Jesus, but with the spirit of giving. That's OK too.

Over time, you will have questions about Jesus' story as well. How can a man die and come back to life? Are all of Jesus' miracles really possible? What happens to us after we die, if anything? I have all of those questions too, and probably always will. But the bottom line for me is that the story of Jesus has grabbed ahold of me and won't let me go. It's the story I want to live in, as best I can, for as long as I can.

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photo credit: cuellar via photopin cc

A Hidden Cause of Helicopter Parenting

A few days ago a friend of mine posted this article from Slate, "Why Millennials Can’t Grow Up: Helicopter parenting has caused my psychotherapy clients to crash land." The author is a mental health professional who's seen a dramatic rise in the number of millenials who end up in her office, unable to cope with their burgeoning adulthood.

I'm glad this author addresses the narcissism trope, which I'm so tired of:

It seems as if every article about millennials claims that these kids must all have narcissistic personality disorder. It’s easy to generalize an entire population by its collective Facebook statuses. However, narcissism is not Amy’s problem, or the main problem with millennials.

The big problem is not that they think too highly of themselves. Their bigger challenge is conflict negotiation, and they often are unable to think for themselves. The overinvolvement of helicopter parents prevents children from learning how to grapple with disappointments on their own. If parents are navigating every minor situation for their kids, kids never learn to deal with conflict on their own. Helicopter parenting has caused these kids to crash land.

We've all heard this. People love to kvetch about helicopter parents; we pass around stories of parents who go on job interviews with their adult children, or who call colleges during the application process, pretending to be the high school student, or who step in for their high schooler, arguing for higher grade on tests. My sense is that these egregious stories are outliers, though there does seem to be an uptick in this helicopter mentality among certain socioeconomic groups, and I've seen plenty of examples of it myself.

My question is, why? Why are people choosing to parent this way? If we can get to the cause, we can start to correct it. I've heard a number of explanations:

  • the increasing competitiveness of college admissions and the job market;
  • the spiraling cost of higher education, leading to a "customer is always right" mentality;
  • a media culture that likes to peddle fear of the bogeyman lurking behind over corner, to the point that parents are terrified to let their kids roam free in the world (figuratively and literally)
  • a rejection of authoritarian, "do it my way" models of parenting in favor of a teaching/shepherding model. In theory, this shepherding model should be about equipping the child to make her own decisions and live in the world, but other factors combine to create a bitter result: buddy-buddy parents who are so petrified of their kids' failing that they flatten every bump in the road.

I suggest another cause underlying this stuff. I haven't heard it mentioned much, but I think it's a factor we shouldn't ignore. It has to do with time.

Nobody starts out intending to impersonate his child to a college admissions officer. It happens over a period of years, and it happens with a thousand tiny decisions, starting when they are young. Decisions like:

1. When my child is having an emotional reaction to something, am I able to stop what I'm doing and let them have their feelings, or am I going to find a quick and easy way to smooth things over?

2. If my child absolutely refuses to wear a coat, will I let them go without one and suffer the discomfort---and learn a valuable lesson---or am I going to "make" them wear one?

3. If a student is having a conflict with a teacher's teaching style, will I coach him first on how to address the issue, and support those efforts, intervening as a last resort? Or will I immediately swoop in and take over, demanding that the teacher conform to my child's learning style?

4. Am I going to let my child play freely on the monkey bars, knowing there's a teensy-tiny chance they could fall and break their arm, or worse? Or am I going to follow them around squawking "be careful, be careful" like a paranoid cockatoo?

I argue that the way you answer these questions, and a thousand others, is directly related to factors such as:

1. whether you've built any margins into your schedule to address a child's emotional life, as opposed to pacifying or appeasing them so you can get on to the next thing, or

2. your tolerance of a cold and complaining child, which is directly related to your own stress level, or

3. whether you're able do the hard work of coaching, which will take much longer than just doing it yourself, or

4. whether you have time for a trip to the emergency room. (OK, nobody really has ER time built into their schedule.)

I don't consider myself a helicopter parent by temperament. Sure, I hate as much as anyone to see my kids experience pain or loss, but I try to take the long view and understand that failures and setbacks build resilience. That said, the times that I find myself firing up the chopper are precisely those times when I am too busy, too stressed, or too anxious to stop and help the kids work through their issues. I'd rather solve it myself, brush my hands off, and get on with life.

But in this parenting business, short-cuts (while sometimes necessary) can be costly. One of my parenting mantras is "the harder thing is the easier thing." That is, doing what seems harder at the time is often easier in the long run: investing the time in helping a child understand her own emotions, or advocate for herself, pays huge dividends down the road. Building margins into my schedule is my biggest spiritual challenge at the moment, but I need to, not just for myself but for my children.

Because there's no way I'm accompanying them on a job interview.

 

A Family Liturgy for Halloween

medium_4053524544 Halloween is still several days away, but in many homes, the excitement and preparation has been going on for several weeks. In our family, the kids are planning their costumes, imagining ever-more-intricate ones. I love their creativity, and want them to have fun and feel great about their costumes, but some of the logistics of their imaginations require me to ratchet back their expectations. I am not a seamstress with an abundance of free time. As of this writing, we are settling on a zombie, Gaia (aka Mother Earth) and Luke Skywalker.

Truth be told, Halloween is one of my least favorite holidays. Some Christians have a suspicion toward Halloween because of its supposed relationship to the occult. That’s not my issue; in fact, All Hallow’s Eve is connected to All Saints Day, an explicitly Christian celebration adapted from the Celts.

No, I don’t love how over-the-top Halloween has become. The trend is away from homemade, improvised costumes and toward “authenticity.” My aspiring Luke Skywalker is angling for a “real” costume, not one of Daddy’s white shirts with a wraparound belt and makeshift lightsaber.

Halloween is a huge and growing industry, and it shows in my neighborhood. Every year we see more and more houses with extreme decorations—elaborate graveyards, spooky lighting, fog machines, even a full-fledged haunted house right on the front lawn. That’s their choice, of course, and my children love trick-or-treating at these homes… but they make even a moderate amount of decorating look positively Scrooge-like in comparison! (They also draw the bulk of the trick-or-treaters, leaving the rest of us to frantically give away six Snickers at a time as the crowd starts to thin.)

And the candy… oh, the candy.

READ THE REST, including some ideas to connect Halloween with Christian faith at Practicing Families. Thanks Joanna for the invitation to write!

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photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Parenting Hack: Kid Check-in

medium_5021400714 My friend Ashley Goff is a part-time pastor with three kids, just as I am. When her youngest entered school last year, a friend suggested that she try to spend 15 uninterrupted minutes with each kid when they get home. Let the child decide what she wants to do---talk, read a book, play a game. The point is time together without distractions, smartphones, dinner preparation, etc. This puts a bit of structure around the afternoon chaos of snacks/homework/activities/plaintive requests to play on the iPad.

I filed that suggestion away for this year, with all three kids in school. Count me a fan of the 15 minute kid check-in.

OK, we've done it twice since school started.

But both times were great!

James has a little trouble when it's not his turn, but he's learning. I'm also learning how to deal with three kids at home in the afternoons, often while I'm trying to finish up the day's work. I realized that when the kids get home I'm often hurriedly trying to finish one more email, etc., and I end up putting them off with a "just a minute, just a minute." But by focusing on them as soon as they get home, it gives them a "shot of mommy" so that if I need to, I can go back to the home office and tie up any loose ends more easily.

Ashley's parenting hack would work as a way of approaching Sabbath too. Sometimes, an uninterrupted day of rest is not possible. (Our Sabbath this weekend was about four hours on Saturday morning). But how about carving out a little time for each person in your family (or spouse, or group of friends) during a weekend? In this way Sabbath becomes a series of intentional encounters---free of phones and other distractions, driven by connection, mutual fun and delight---that weave into a busy weekend.

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Reminder: Have you entered the contest for a Sabbath Book Group Study Pack yet? Deadline is Wednesday. Here are details.

photo credit: Rutger Blom via photopin cc

Sheep Need Underpants, Kids Need Play... And You Need a Free Book

I am very excited to be hosting Lee Hull Moses today at The Blue Room. She is co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, available from Alban and from Amazon. Believe me, it's good---really good. Smart and funny, eloquent and real. It's John Wesley meets Tiny Fey. We're also excited to be giving away a free copy of this book. See the bottom of this post for details. And now, take it away Lee...

4766601577_93ec78a50b_b“Let go of your tongue!” the mother next to me shouts to her daughter, who is lining up with the other five-year-old soccer players in the middle of the field. The girl looks over at her, still gripping the tip of her tongue with her finger and thumb. “Let go of your tongue!” the mother shouts again.

The girl lets go long enough to shout something back, something about a hurt finger. Neither the other mother nor I can figure out what this has to do with her tongue, but then the coach blows the whistle and play resumes. The mom looks at me in exasperation: the things you never thought you’d have to say out loud.

(“Yes, sheep wear underpants,” I once told my daughter Harper, trying to move along the getting-dressed routine on the morning of the church Christmas pageant.)

This is our first foray into organized sports, and I have to admit, it’s not as terrible as I feared. I signed her up for this 8-week league partly out of peer pressure (all the other parents seem to have their kids in activities like this), partly out of guilt (she’s been asking for dance classes for years and we can’t seem to get that together), and mostly out of opportunity (a half-price Groupon offer showed up in my inbox.)

I thought she would probably enjoy it, but I didn’t think I would. It meant getting her to practice every Monday night, and games on Saturday mornings, and buying new equipment (and keeping track of it), and getting used to new schedules and people and procedures. I was wary of another evening commitment, and dreaded tying up our Saturday mornings – our only at-home family time. Also, there was this: I’m pretty awful at not being in charge of things. Most of the activities we do are related somehow to the church, and I generally know everybody involved and have made a lot of the decisions about how things get done. To be just another parent on the sidelines is a weird place for me to be.

So these eight weeks of practices and games and looking for the shin guards have probably been as good for me as they have been for her. And I have to say, I’m a convert. It’s been, well, fun. There’s something wonderful about 5-year-old soccer. Nobody keeps score. The teams are small so everybody gets to play a lot. There’s no ref – just the coaches, who nudge the ball back onto the field if it goes too far out of bounds. Everybody cheers when somebody makes a goal, regardless of whose team it is. I’ve heard the horror stories, of bad-tempered coaches and mean-spirited parents, but for us, it’s just been fun.

cover imageOne night recently, we were in the kitchen laughing, all four of us, in a few found minutes before the next thing happened – before I had to leave for a meeting, before bathtime needed to begin – and for once I was ignoring the pile of dishes in the sink and the mess on the living room floor. I don’t know what silliness we were laughing about but it doesn’t matter; I could see that Harper was watching us. She was laughing, participating in the silliness, but also she was watching. And all of a sudden I could see that she is hungry for this, this all-out fun we are having. This sort of moment is rare enough that she noticed, and soaked it up. More than any meal, this whole-family laughter feeds her, fills her up.

I forget that sometimes, I’m afraid. I forget that she needs us to have fun together, to know that we are happy.

I’m firmly in the I-won’t-martyr-myself-for-my-children camp. I like doing grown-up things. Reading books with more depth than the Berenstain Bears. Walking across the kitchen without stepping on smashed up raisins. Watching West Wing reruns after the kids go to bed. I like the work I do beyond my family, and often, I wish I had more time to do it. And sometimes – oh, I love my children dearly, but sometimes – the kid stuff, packing lunches and signing up for soccer and cleaning up the puzzle pieces for the eight-hundredth time, start to seem like chores that get in the way of what I’d rather be doing.

But my kids are not tasks we have to take care of, not items on the to-do list to be checked off.

My daughter needs those tangible things, certainly: food, shelter, clothes and shoes that fit. She needs me to sign the permission form so she can go on the field trip, and she needs me to remember to make her an appointment at the dentist. But she needs more than that. It’s her family, too. She lives here. It’s her life, and she needs me to help her live it. She needs me to listen to her stories. She needs me to ignore the dishes so I can play with her. She needs me to laugh, and mean it. She needs me to have fun, with her. She needs me to sign her up for experiences she’s never had and stand on the sidelines with the other parents and cheer my heart out, for her.

Turns out that sometimes, that’s what I need, too.

~

bromleigh-and-leeLee Hull Moses (right in photo) is the co-author, with Bromleigh McCleneghan, of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People. She is also the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband Rob and their children, Jonathan and Harper. She will be spending this Saturday morning cheering at the final soccer game of the season.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment, sharing your thoughts on this post and/or a similar sense of joy in the midst of the busyness of life. We'll choose a winner Monday morning. Limit one comment per person per day.

Soccer ball photo credit: Great Beyond via Photopin

Friday Link Love: Stephen Colbert, the Art of Procrastination, and More on the Bombing in Boston

First, the links of self-promotion. My publisher, Chalice Press, is giving away free e-books this month in honor of Earth Day. Go there and get free stuff. Next, the link of friend-promotion. I forgot a book on last week's list of books published by friends. It's The Benefit of the Doubt: Claiming Faith in an Uncertain World by Frank Spencer.

Anon!

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My Father's Arms Are a Boat -- Brain Pickings

A picture book from Norway. My children are outgrowing picture books but I'm sure not:

myfathersarms7

This tender and heartening Norwegian gem tells the story of an anxious young boy who climbs into his father’s arms seeking comfort on a cold sleepless night. The two step outside into the winter wonderland as the boy asks questions about the red birds in the spruce tree to be cut down the next morning, about the fox out hunting, about why his mother will never wake up again. With his warm and assuring answers, the father watches his son make sense of this strange world of ours where love and loss go hand in hand.

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Stephen Colbert Wears His Religion in His Punch Lines -- LA Times

This whole article is MaryAnn bait:

There was a time when [Martin] Sheen's brand of liberation theology drove social and political conversation. Now Colbert is its most visible proponent — if he wasn't married and didn't make so many jokes about "lady parts," he could be this generation's hot radical priest.

The brilliance of "The Colbert Report" is its refusal to dismiss or denigrate the religion with jokes that equate faith with idiocy or churchgoing with bovine surrender. Instead Colbert attempts to extricate what he sees as the essential message of Christianity from the piles of intellectual rot and political carpet bags that have been piled on and around it in the last 10 years.

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Magnetic Putty is Completely Amazing/Terrifying -- Colossal

Is it ever: "Magnetic putty is just like any other putty in that you can handle it, sculpt it, and squeeze it in a fist as you visualize your enemies. But place it anywhere near a strong magnetic field and it will SPONTANEOUSLY ANIMATE and move to consume anything magnetic in its path like a voracious mutated slug."

https://vimeo.com/63773788#

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The Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity -- Marc Andreessen

The guy invented the first widely used web browser, so he's got some game.

This is a great list. Even the stuff I can't emulate for practical reasons (I'm a pastor, and pastors have meetings) still intrigues me to think about. Here's structured procrastination:

The gist of Structured Procrastination is that you should never fight the tendency to procrastinate -- instead, you should use it to your advantage in order to get other things done.

Generally in the course of a day, there is something you have to do that you are not doing because you are procrastinating.

While you're procrastinating, just do lots of other stuff instead.

As John says, "The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done."

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Two links inspired by Boston:

How Terror Hijacks the Brain -- Time

Know thyself:

Traumatic events typically evoke a whole suite of brain responses, such as making people faster to startle, increasing their reaction time and producing hyper vigilance to any type of sensation that might be linked with the threatening experience.

And this warping of perspective is exactly what terrorists aim to achieve. “Terrorists are trying to induce fear and panic,” says Hollander, noting that media coverage that repeats the sounds and images of the events maximizes their impact. The coverage keeps the threat alive and real in people’s minds, and sustains the threat response, despite the fact that the immediate danger has passed.

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#PrayForBoston: Prayer as Meme -- Elizabeth Drescher, Religion Dispatches

Prayer memes shared in times of crisis do something besides expressing traditional religiosity, calling us to God, to regular spiritual practice, or to worship. Rather, in an increasingly secularized America (the Land of the Rising None), praying or calling for prayer in times of tragedy seems to mark a kind of existential angst, sorrow, or confusion for which other words or gestures seem inadequate. Likewise, the impulse to pray holds a space that we may not even believe exists, giving us time to gather our less spiritually distracted wits about us. It is “true” in what it offers more than in what it is.

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The Economic Logic of the 'New Domesticity' -- Ann Friedman, New Republic

A new book, Homeward Bound: Embracing the New Domesticity, offers another angle to the lean in/opt out discussion:

Each of the lightning-rod articles that [discussed the opt-out 'revolution] (Linda Hirshman’s in 2005 and 2008, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s in 2012) was primarily about what women are saying no to: women who don’t want to do what it takes; women who can’t have it all; women who are letting their careers slide; women who are walking away. These are all articles about the demands of the workplace, not the joys of the home, chronicling why women are pushed out, not pulled in. This implied lack of agency is probably why women on all sides of this debate tend to get so defensive—think Sex and the City’s Charlotte screaming, “I choose my choice! I choose my choice!” ...

Still, these women are not exactly CEOs or congresswomen, and the number of women at the top of the professional world is still dismal. Feminism, many argue, has not gone far enough. But to hear many of the new domestics tell the tale, feminism has gone too far. In nearly every arena, second-wave feminists come in for some of the blame. They stand accused of pushing women into the workforce but failed to break the glass ceiling or ensure paid family leave. They’re charged with devaluing domestic skills like cooking to the point where we all got fat on fast food. But feminists “did not invent the two-career family,” Matchar points out. “The economy did that.”

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I care about breaking the stained-glass ceiling. And as a part-time writer, I like being here when the girls get home from school and being able to chaperone their field trips. So I toggle between all kind of contradictions and negotiations. Sounds like an intriguing book.

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Have a great weekend, everyone! We are going to see American Utopias at Woolly Mammoth Theater, in between shuttling kids to birthday parties. And you?

Friday Link Love

Three Christmas Gifts -- Faith and Leadership

I dug this up from the Friday Link Love archives, since I've started thinking about the kids' Christmas gifts:

At a retreat on Christian life, I heard Susan V. Vogt describe a wonderful tradition suggested in her book “Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference: Helping Your Family Live with Integrity, Value, Simplicity, and Care for Others.” A parent of four kids herself and a counselor and family life educator, she had tried her own experiments with gift giving, eventually settling on a simple yet elegant plan: she and her husband give each of their children only three gifts for Christmas -- a “heart’s desire,” a piece of clothing and “something to grow on.”

I liked her idea immediately. Giving these gifts would ensure that the needs and wants of each child would be met, that each would receive an equal number of gifts, and that we would have a structure to help us resist the cultural message to run out and buy.

My friend Sherry gives her kids three gifts because "It was good enough for Jesus." We've been doing that for some time, but I think we'll try this approach too and see what happens.

Stay tuned: I think Caroline's heart's desire is a guinea pig.

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An Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Physics Education -- Brain Pickings

Apparently we're not teaching modern physics in high school (like, anything after 1865). Is that true? Yeesh:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BGL22PTIOAM]

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Why You're Never Failing as a Mother -- Pregnant Chicken

This is making the rounds, and rightfully so:

As for the past generations that like to tell you that they raised six kids on their own and did it without a washing machine? Well, sort of. Keep in mind child rearing was viewed pretty differently not that long ago and you could stick a toddler on the front lawn with just the dog watching and nobody would bat an eye at it – I used to walk to the store in my bare feet to buy my father’s cigarettes when I was a kid. As a mother, you cooked, you cleaned, but nobody expected you to do anything much more than keep your kids fed and tidy.

So much more awesomeness at the link.

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Mark Kelly Speaks to Jared Loughner -- Huffington Post

Loughner was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords and killing several others. Her husband Mark spoke to him, and to us as well:

Mr. Loughner, by making death and producing tragedy, you sought to extinguish the beauty of life. To diminish potential. To strain love. And to cancel ideas. You tried to create for all of us a world as dark
 and evil as your own.

 But know this, and remember it always: You failed.

Your decision to commit cold-blooded mass murder also begs of us to look in the mirror. This horrific act warns us to hold our leaders and ourselves responsible for coming up short when we do, for not having the courage to act when it’s hard, even for possessing the wrong values.

We are a people who can watch a young man like you spiral into murderous rampage without choosing to intervene before it is too late.

We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced. We have representatives who look at gun violence,
 not as a problem to solve, but as the white elephant in the room to ignore. As a nation we have repeatedly passed up the opportunity to address this issue. After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.

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How to Use If-Then Planning to Achieve Any Goal -- 99U

One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., "If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work.") The results were dramatic: months later, 91% of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39% of non-planners!

Why are [if/then] plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain – the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in "If X, then Y" terms, and using these contingencies to guide our behavior, often below our awareness.

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Motoi Yamamoto's Saltscapes -- Colossal

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto travels to the salt flats of Utah to discuss life, death, rebirth, and his labyrinthine poured salt installations. These are stunning:

[vimeo 52553020 w=500 h=281]

Motoi Yamamoto - Saltscapes from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

He began this process to help process the grief of losing his sister. Salt as an element in healing? That'll preach.

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My Kid Won't Swim the Olympics

Caroline competes each summer with our pool's swim team, and last week their coaches had given them an assignment to watch some of the Olympic time trials held in Omaha. It was fun to watch elite athletes swimming at the top of their game and to listen to Caroline's observations about the different strokes.

I took particular note of Davis Tarwater, who was once described as one of the best swimmers never to make an Olympic squad. The announcers last week noted that he has a 30 hour a week job designing banking software for third-world countries. I wondered how having a job like that impacted his ability to train at the highest level. As it happened, he failed to make the team in all three events he attempted, only getting a slot in 200 m freestyle after Michael Phelps opted not to swim that event in London.

Don't get me wrong--Tarwater is an elite athlete, holding a national record. And it sounds like he feels a sense of mission around his "day job"--I don't think he's doing it for the money. But it was a reminder for me of the roles that circumstance and privilege play in achievement.

The other day our swim coaches posted the ladder with the kids' times thus far. In the 9-10 age group, Caroline is currently 6th in freestyle and backstroke and 4th in breaststroke and butterfly. Caroline is a good swimmer technically, and she loves the sport. She's had some fun victories and finishes this season, but she is not in the top tier of her teammates. Then again, she's competing against kids who play various sports year-round, including kids who swim competitively for a program that is supposed to be amazing but costs almost $2,000 a year.

The pressure to achieve, to give one's kids the best of everything, is huge around here. As a mother, I am in it, even as I disdain it. I felt a little torn when I read the ladder this weekend. If we had the time, energy and money to invest in her swimming, maybe she would move up from the middle of the pack. But we just don't have the extra bandwidth to make that happen. I already push my job to the limits of its flexibility; I wrote last week's sermon on deck at the pool, for heaven's sake. One of those elite swim programs meets at 4:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right.

Caroline doesn't seem all that interested in upping the intensity of her swimming, so I'm certainly not going to push it. This post isn't really about swimming. Rather I'm struggling with how we talk to our kids about privilege. How do we understand our own privilege? How do we frame competitive events like a swim team in a way that encourages kids to do their best, while acknowledging that some kids have an advantage by virtue of circumstance?

And can we explain all of this to our kids in a way that doesn't foster bitterness, but rather a hunger for justice? I don't want my kids to resent the only child with the mom who can devote time and energy to driving them to extra practices. But I do want them to wonder about kids who don't even have the advantages we do. Our upper middle class swim problems are small potatoes; read this article that profiles six people who live at the different levels of income disparity in the U.S. and extrapolate it out. You think competitive swim team is expensive? Have you checked out four year colleges lately? What does all of this look like for the Pallwitz kids (page 3 in the article), whose parents are barely making ends meet? What will achievement look like for them?

When the playing field is uneven at many levels, what does it mean to "do well"?