Friday, February 25, 2011

I’m probably not as sheltered as you think…

…but maybe it’s not such a bad thing that people assume I’m so naïve. There was certainly a time when they were absolutely correct. I remember hearing what sex was from a fellow student in sixth grade. She suggested that the district could forgo hiring a new sex-ed instructor, because it didn’t require a whole semester. With a quick hand gesture she illustrated the act, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. As my mind raced in horror and curiosity, I tried to keep my face expressionless and casual. I didn’t want anyone to know I hadn’t known.

What always gave me away was my blush. Two things I struggle to control: my bladder and my blush. Feeling that heat creep up my cheeks from my neck makes me feel so self conscious I could cry. And that only makes me turn a deeper shade! Believe it or not, although I don’t know that I’ll ever feel secure during a hearty laugh, I did actually enjoy a season of total facial neutrality. In many ways, it was wonderful.

Taking custody of my 14 year old sister for a month after high school graduation, we looked out for each other in the familiar territory of our home town just fine. However, as soon as we started the cross-country drive to rejoin the rest of the family in Wyoming, the unfamiliar culture of rest stops and campgrounds was seriously intimidating. We realized we drew fewer uncomfortable leers from our fellow travelers, if we avoided bathing and invoked Detroit as our place of origination, instead of Belleville. By the time we got to our destination, on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, I was getting into this “tough act.”

It came in handy. Working at the lodge, I was surrounded by all sorts of colorful characters, who were ready to pounce on any weakness or naiveté. It turns out that many people who choose to live an hour away from the nearest post office have something they’re hiding, or something they’re running from, and it’s a small, intense community. Crass jokes, bizarre behavior, methamphetamine abuse…and complete disregard for the division between youth and adult, ruled my relationships that summer. As much about adventure as survival for me, I soaked up the experience, learned all the nasty jokes, polished my banter, and lost my blush. Thank God, “New Student Days” started and I rushed off to start classes before I found myself alone in a trailer with an older man, or giving Crank a try. I definitely had enough Blackberry Brandy, often found abandoned in the break room by a drunken co-worker, to get my college experience off to a start.

It came in handy, my freshman year, that my blush was gone. You would not believe the things I could hear and say that year, and with a demeanor so casual you’d have to look at me twice to confirm that I was actually the one who had said it. It was fun to shock the girls and intimidate the guys. I had taken so much crap in my life for being shy, smart, and sweet, it felt good to finally take control and not have to be the one to back down every time. I felt respected, but was probably a bit of a tease. It was probably also a good thing that I could handle my liquor better than the other girls.

You can guess, however – it didn’t last. I was smart enough to spend the next summer back in Belleville with my old friends – and very little brandy. When I got back to school my sophomore year, I forged deeper friendships and my old identity resurfaced. Maybe a little edgier than before, I was pretty much back to being known as sweet and nice. Then a crisis of faith sent me foraging in the New Testament Letters of Paul, and before I knew it – I was blushing again, too. I was a little annoyed, but I realized right away that it signaled something right in me, not something wrong.

Blushing is so inconvenient. It’s like an open invitation to everyone in the room to read your mind. I hate it when I blush. We’re taking the youth group through a Bible Study this month about building healthy relationships, and, of course, we have to cover the intimate stuff, too. It’d be so much easier to get through the tricky stuff, if the kids didn’t see me struggle for words and turn beet red.

But what can I say? I’ve lived without my blush; and I like me better with it. Being able to spot Meth users has come in handy sometimes, though, so it wasn’t all a loss.

Keep your eyes on the LORD! You will shine like the sun and never blush with shame. Psalm 34:5

Friday, February 18, 2011

A training bra made me cry.

Hopefully it is just a hormone thing, but I felt the tell-tale itchiness around my eyes this morning at Walmart. It took me by surprise and was, well, embarrassing. Fortunately, no one actually saw me on the verge of tears in front of the girls’ training bras, but it happened, and I’m going to get it all off my chest.

You’re probably thinking that this all goes back to being sentimental about my daughters growing up – which, in all honesty, I am – but that was not the reason for this morning’s weak moment. This has been building up since my first venture into the girls’ section, when my “110th percentile for height and weight” toddler needed to start wearing 4/5’s at not quite three years old. Up until then, I’d noticed that there were platform go-go boots and camouflaged mini-skirts in the baby section, but was able to ignore them. There were still plenty of jumpers and Mary Jane’s to choose from. When I had to move out of the toddler section prematurely, is when I starting feeling strong discomfort with the fashion trends for young girls. I had to navigate aisles of low-slung jeans, and slim-fit t-shirts with sassy sayings; it was very discouraging to shop there for a three year old. I could have dressed my preschooler for a night out at the dance club as easily as for a day at the park.

I’ve read that marketers found decades ago that the cheapest way to add new buyers was to employ a technique called “compression.” Whatever you have successfully marketed to a particular age demographic, you then market to the next youngest age. They are usually primed to desire these styles and items, because they’ve been seeing them in use and associate them with the next stage of maturity. First they started marketing college stuff to high school girls, then once that was maxed out, they kept moving down. I think platform shoes on children who are just learning to walk pretty much illustrates how far beyond reason compression has pushed us.

I’ve tried to set a fashion standard for our family where modesty does not require fashion blindness, but little girls must look like little girls. Still, my daughters can both recite my typical response to their requests for high heels or mature clothing styles, especially when they try to invoke their friends’ fashion choices to support their cause. “[Insert friend’s name] is not my daughter, she can wear what her mom says is OK. You are my daughter, so you can wear what I say is OK.” I’ve been able to live with that, and overall, I think the girls have been comfortable living with that, too.

This morning, my “I can dress my children appropriately without judging other moms” mantra came crashing down, and it honestly smarts. As I walked past the training bras, one in particular caught my eye. It was so tiny. I think it was a 30A, or possibly a 28A. Put it this way, this bra might have fit a six year old. Now, especially the way weight and nutrition have hastened puberty in young girls, I don’t deny there might be a six year old out there that needs a training bra. But this bra, tiny as it was, had an underwire and a good ¼ inch of padding in the cup. This bra was not designed to help an awkwardly blooming little girl achieve modesty under her t-shirts. This bra was designed to make a very young girl look womanly.

My first thought was, “Fine, let some other mom buy this thing for her kid. My kids don’t need to be attracting that kind of attention – ever.” Then I thought about that other little girl. My girls are going to be in school with her. As the physical changes and self-criticism of adolescence set in, my girls are going to be comparing themselves to those little girls. The other kids are going to be comparing them to those little girls. What kind of a body ideal are our girls going to have by Sixth Grade, if they start wearing padded underwire bras in Second?

Kids are notoriously foolish. They won’t realize that it’s that girl's ridiculous undergarment that makes her look like a teenager or that my daughters’ shape is natural and real. Whether anyone says hurtful things or not, how can I shelter my girls from the warped perceptions that will inevitably arise from our cultural obsession with dressing little girls like miniature grown-ups? If I compromise my ideals, I contribute to the trend; if I uphold my ideals, my daughters may end up feeling awkward or inadequate next to their over-developed looking peers. There is no way to win; whether I buy padded underwire bras for my sweet, little girls, or not.

I thought adolescence was hard back when I went through it, but that was a cake walk. Raising these three girls to be confident and secure – able to show humility, yet feel certain of their beauty and value – feels like a bigger challenge this afternoon than it did when I woke up this morning. And it makes me want to cry a little.

Let's pray that our young sons will grow like strong plants and that our daughters will be as lovely as columns in the corner of a palace. Psalm 144:12

Friday, February 11, 2011

I’m a demanding lover.

We learn about relationships through friendships.  I was a very isolated and lonely kid, so when I first came out of my shell and started making friends, those who ventured to connect with me were probably overwhelmed pretty quickly. I thought affection was static. If someone said we were “best friends,” I took that as a lifelong commitment; surely a “best friend” is going to stick by me, no matter what, right? Even if I act obnoxious, eat all their potato chips, and wear something completely embarrassing to the winter dance? I would throw myself into friendships and then be terribly hurt when my beloved friends wanted to move on. Over time, I learned that friendships come and go, they have dawns and dusks and, in the end, it is very rare that anyone will truly care about you “no matter what,” or even appreciate the kind of devotion that I was so anxious to offer. 

I caught on to the transitory nature of most friendships, but my early romances were similarly misguided. If I uttered the word “love,” let alone heard the word “love” uttered in return, that was it. That word was never casual to me; it carried the weight of intense commitment. I could have ended up a very broken person, had I attracted more boyfriends. As it was, I was lucky and few took interest. I endured just one, pivotal heartbreak. My parents’ marriage ended shortly after that, and between the two failed relationships, I came to the hard realization that human beings cannot love each other “forever and no matter what.” Being in love, it seemed, was just not the magical bond I thought it was.

I set out to test my theory that no one could love me unconditionally. I dated more than I ever had before, but introduced every guy to as many of my thorns as possible. If I disagreed, I challenged them. If I didn’t like the meal, I said so. If I had a paper to write, I wouldn’t make time for a date. Sure enough, guy after guy would last two or three weeks, then head off to find easier prey. I didn’t mind, because I honestly believed there was no other way to find a guy who was going to love me the way I needed. Why waste my time or theirs, if they weren’t the one for me?

My husband wandered into this snare of mine, right as I was hitting my groove. The night we met, I wouldn’t give him my phone number. He didn’t have a piece of paper, and I just knew he wouldn’t remember it; he wasn't even drinking, he was the driver for his friends. I told him my last name and said if he really wanted to call me, he could find a college phone directory and look me up. I was shocked when he won my scavenger hunt and left a message with my roommate that weekend. I called back and he sounded so happy I almost hung up on him. He had to be putting me on; no one had ever been that excited about a return phone call from me.

On our first date, he was smiling so big, driving along, that he looked to me like the happy skeletons you see as Day of the Dead decorations. Not one to keep these things to myself, I told him, “You’re smiling so big, it’s like I can see the shape of your skull.” He just took it in stride; I don’t know why he didn’t turn around and take me home, but he didn’t. Mini-golfing was fun, and I even had a night open in about a week and a half for a follow up date. I knew he wouldn’t call. He didn’t. He left me roses on the doorstep, instead. No guy had ever given me flowers before.

One of our first pictures together - 7 months into it.
Was I that hard-headed that we don't have any pictures?

To this day, my husband has stood by me, thick and thin. He’s taken my crap and dished enough in return for me to know he’s for real. It was Valentine’s weekend, 1996, 15 years ago this weekend, when I first told him that I loved him; I’d already known it for a month, but didn't tell him. I still feared that his infatuation was going to wane and he would realize I’m not as exciting a catch as he seemed to think. I warned him when he proposed six weeks later that he better think it through, because if he married me, there was no escape clause; nothing was going to keep me away from him short of a restraining order. He told me that sounded good to him and gave me permission to love him with all my insane tenacity. And I do.

In general, I don’t love as easily as I did. I share a generous portion of filial, “friendly love,” but the agape – the bottomless, endless, tenacious love that says, “no matter what” – you might have to be a little unstable yourself, if you even want me to love you that way. It could involve a restraining order someday, after all. I feel incredibly blessed for the daring man who was brave enough to want that kind of love from me - and keeps right on giving it back.

I hope for each of you this Valentine's Day that you know the blessing of love unconditional.  That kind of love is a glimpse of the Divine - the only truly dependable source of "love no matter what."

Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails! 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

Friday, February 4, 2011

It takes a Roethlisberger to make me a Cheesehead.

We usually have friends over for the Super Bowl, and I usually, at some point, find myself torn between football and entertaining. Since our Vikings never go to the Super Bowl, I like to take the part of the underdog, and always hope for an exciting game. I don’t know why I bother, though, because I end up chatting it up in the kitchen while I cut more celery sticks anyway.

This year, the Super Bowl is turning into a real drain on my sportsmanship. Instead of rooting for one team or the other, I’m tempted to root for injuries and wardrobe malfunctions. It may be the first time ever that I can spend the whole game refreshing the bean dip and playing Spoons without feeling like I’ve missed a thing. If there were a possible outcome where neither team won – I’d root for that.

Although I think Wisconsin is an exceptionally beautiful state, I can’t imagine living among Packer fans. There were actual tears from Cheeseheads at our 1998 Super Bowl party, when their presumed championship over the Broncos didn’t come to fruition. People who are so crazy for a team scare me. And irritate me. Between the ticket prices and the weather, I just don’t get it. One fan will spend enough on game day to feed a starving African village for a year. And who loves a football team with such earnest as to spend four hours out of doors in below zero weather – occasionally dropping the parka to show off their bikinis and body paint? Aside from the insanity of actual Packer fans, I find it most irritating that people who know as much about football as they do about nuclear physics, almost universally, claim a deep and abiding loyalty to the Packers. If they really don’t care, why not go out on a limb and be more original? Cheer for the Lions. No one around here ever jumps on the Lions’ bandwagon. Green Bay Packer fans lead me to seriously question whether the Midwest is really the center of common sense and down to earth good judgment that I’ve always believed it to be.

I could have probably, easily, taken the Steelers for Sunday’s game and rooted with fervor for them to pound the Pack. Could have – if only they weren’t quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger. In fairness, I did not presume to remember the details of the allegations against Big Ben, so I did a double-fact-check and remembered, once again, that if the guy is not a rapist, he is an attempted-rapist. These guys have ample opportunities to woo consenting women, who want their advances. Why drag a college girl into the bathroom of a club and force yourself on her?

If it is up to me, I’m rooting for Roethlisberger to get sidelined by a nasty groin injury. Then I can root for the Steelers. Otherwise, I will, reluctantly, suck it up and cheer for the Pack. Please understand, however, that is only if a team actually has to win this year. How many OT’s do they have to blow through to tie? I know. I’m a terrible sport; I need to leave the judging to God.

But Christ has no favorites! He will punish evil people, just as they deserve. Colossians 3:25