Two sides to every story

I’m finding that parenthood is a double-edged experience – one side healing, the other grief. The joy is obvious, the grief less so, but lately, I’m feeling it push its way to the surface. I look at the way my daughter is in the world, and I love her open-mouthed curiosity and sense of wonder and the way she reaches out to grab anything she finds of interest. She pinballs from laughter to tears and back again without thinking through all the possible ramifications first, and she just IS without trying to figure out the secret rules that surely everyone around her must be hiding.

All of that is as it should be. I’m not inclined to idolize the innocence of childhood, but maybe that’s just because in mine, innocence was in short supply. I’ve learned to live with what scars remain, but still – watching my daughter hits me in the face sometimes with what I missed. (And while I missed out on a number of things, on other things I didn’t – my white, middle class privilege has always remained intact, and I got decent food and schools and dentistry, none of which should be discounted.)

I’ve gained a wisdom and a peace and an awareness that I wouldn’t trade, particularly because I know just how much it cost me, but I am just as aware of my deficits. I do things that make my life much harder, not because I want to, but because I don’t know how to do anything else. I compensate reasonably well in general, but if you know me well or live with me day to day, you might get a sense of just what parts of me I never learned how to operate.

 Or maybe you wouldn’t. I’ve never been one for dramatic self-destruction, preferring instead to maintain social acceptability in the face of the type of damage that infests the place slowly, quiet and slow and possible to ignore until the whole damn house caves in.

I want her to be better than that, better than me. I want her to experience happiness easily, not spend years clawing through shit to find it. I want her to keep reaching out to grab what she wants (with compassion and empathy for others, of course) without questioning repeatedly whether she has the right to do so. I want her love to be much less full of fear than mine.

It’s not her job to fill a hole she didn’t dig, so I hold both those things in my hands at once – who she is and who I’m not – and accept both joy and grief, and hope she has more of the first and less of the latter.

One of the best things I ever did was learn how to break a man’s arm

One of the best things I ever did for myself was learn how to break a man’s arm. I took a rather intense self-defense class a few years back. Here is the blurb about the class:

Our Vision is for women to have the skills and capability to be destructive to anyone attempting to violate them. SHIELD is a close-range fighting system created specifically to empower women against sexual assault…. It emphasizes close-range fighting to be efficient to fight in tight quarters using lower body strength to generate power.”

You can’t say it clearer than that: This was a class designed to teach me how to use violence to injure another person. Taking it was a public statement of my willingness to do some serious, and possibly permanent, damage to another human being, of saying that yes, my life and my body is more important than some ideal of peace and non-violence, that if it comes down to him or me – I choose me.

(But you know what? I shouldn’t have to make that choice. The solution to rape is NOT for all women to learn how to beat up rapists. The solution to rape NOT TO RAPE PEOPLE – and I say people, because men and boys get raped too.)

But I digress. At the time I took the class, I had identified as a pacifist for fifteen years, and it was a biggish step for me to say that sometimes, non-violence is not the highest value. It required transgressing my peace and forgiveness party line. I don’t want to be attacked, of course, nor do I look forward to the idea of hurting someone else, but you know what?  It’s not my fault that it’s a violent world.  There’s a place for non-violent resistance, but for every Martin Luther King, there’s a Malcolm X and the Black Panthers and the Deacons for Defense and Justice, and I don’t know if I want to tell them that they’re wrong. Maybe every Dr. King needs someone on the margins holding guns to make him seem more reasonable.

Of course, I’m not the leader of a movement or trying to change the world. My choice was not particularly altruistic: I simply weighed the options, and if the choice is getting raped again or fucking up the rapist, I’ve decided that my well-being is more important than his. For some people, that seems obvious, but too me, it’s wasn’t – at least not then. It’s not like I walk around expecting some guy to jump out at me from behind a corner and try to drag me to his van. Most likely, I will never actually use my skills from that class, but that class was part of a broader process in my life of learning to value reality over theory.

 I decided to start with what IS right now, not what someone somewhere said what OUGHT to be. (And also, whatever happens in my future, I’m fairly certain that Stanley Hauerwas  will not be there to help.) And what IS is that I’m no longer willing to live my life according to a set of otherworldly, abstract values that are more important than my very life – or someone else’s. I’m no longer willing to place ideology or theology or any other –ology over and above my actual, lived experience. (Fist bump to Dorothy Smith! ) And my experience says that I’ve borne all the crosses and had all the martyrdom I can stand.

Outsourcing the dirty work

I first declared my pacifism in a Christian Ethics class at a Southern Baptist university in Texas. The response was fully as unenthusiastic as you’d expect in that particular environment. I stayed an official pacifist for fifteen years. In the process of shedding a few other labels, I shed that one as well. There were two main reasons I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist today.

(This is somewhat obliquely a response to the What Would Jesus Do (With His Enemies) post  at Rachel Held Evans’ blog, BTW. )

Passing over the fact that I don’t really believe that anyone knows what Jesus would do in any given situation, here is reason one why I’m no longer a pacifist:  A couple years back, I was in the know about a situation that involved a woman getting choked and beaten by her fiancé.  With some assistance from friends and family, she moved out of their apartment, broke off their engagement, pressed charges, and got a restraining order.  I am strongly in favor of her doing all of those things, but that means that I support sending police officers to her fiance’s house with weapons to handcuff him, put him in the back of a police car, and throw him in a holding cell until he can make bail.  Whatever happens to him next will be decided by a coercive system that runs on punishment – particularly for those without the cash for a good lawyer. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise.

 While I am categorically opposed to the death penalty and support notions of restorative justice, I do believe that people who commit violent offenses should go to jail – even though I am fully aware that our prisons are dangerous and violent places and I am supporting an incarceration that will most likely involve beatings, rape, and various other forms of torture, dominance, and control. Even if all those things didn’t happen, locking someone up in a cage surrounded by guards with guns is most certainly a violent act.  I know all this, and I still think violent criminals should go to jail. I don’t think I can trumpet my commitment to non-violence just because I am not personally walking uniformed and armed through the halls of Pelican Bay.

 I do the best I can in a world where sometimes violent people do violent things within  violent systems, but I shouldn’t kid myself: The only reason I don’t own a gun is because my taxes pay other people to do that for me.  I participate in violence every day, not because I want to, but because I just don’t have a better idea.

 I don’t plan to buy a gun – ever.  I’ll still skew left, practice yoga and meditation, and support better gun control.  I still think California has too many prisons, SuperMax facilities are inherently inhumane, and the death penalty should be repealed. I do work at being non-violent, respectful and non-coercive in my relationships.  I try to share power. I shoot in the general direction of compassion. (I don’t always succeed, but I do try.)

 All of that is good and worth pursuing, but I’m not sure I can call it non-violence. Violence is like Kevin Bacon – there’s never more than six or three or one degree of separation between us.  My questions about non-violence aren’t really about changing my values or behavior.  They’re more about giving up pacifism – and its accompanying moral superiority – as an identity.

 Are pacifists better than soldiers or better than cops?  I haven’t got a clue.  (I could  say that I’m no better than a serial killer on a murder spree  - except I think I am.)  I’ve picked my path, and I intend to continue walking it, but I’m not sure I want to congratulate myself on the good fortune of living in a society where someone else will do my dirty work.

Reason two is quite a bit more personal, and I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Parenting as meditation

My meditation and yoga practice has been close to non-existent since my daughter was born. I will eventually figure out how to incorporate it back into my life, but for now, I’m finding that being present with my daughter is its own kind of practice.

If I follow the path of least resistance, I tend to live too much within the confines of my skull, and the past or future reality in my head can quickly take up more space than the actual reality in the world around me. Yoga and meditation help with this, but I’m finding that my daughter is just as good.  She’s all about the now.  She’s hungry now, sleepy now, poopy now, wants my attention now, and she feels what she feels in the moment with no mediation. Even the simplest things are fascinating.

I have to stay present with her to make sure that she doesn’t tear apart something important or try to eat the dog’s food. I don’t always do that very well, but my daughter is a very insistent bundle of energy who consistently pulls me into the present, where I am supposed to be. I can view that as an interruption or an invitation.

The trouble with ditching religion

The trouble with ditching religion is that you also ditch a significant source of relationships and community. In my case, I’m self-employed, I work from home, and the closest family on either my husband’s side or mine is a six-hour drive away. I moved to Los Angeles in my thirties, so I don’t have any childhood connections here either. If I were still a church-goer, I could just show up on a Sunday morning and take advantage of the structures that other people had already built. Building relationships would still take effort, but at least I would have a significant pool of people to work from. Plus, I sorely missed the casserole brigade when I had my daughter last year.

While it’s important to me that I have more community in my life, it is also important to me that I not make myself insane by going back to church, so I’m going to have to figure out something else. It’s not that community isn’t out there – it’s just a hell of a lot more work to build it myself, especially since I’m not a very group-y person on my best of days. I do much better one-on-one, but you have to meet a bunch of people to find those individuals that you click with.

I got married and had a baby last year, so I suppose I could be forgiven if I didn’t have a lot of mental or emotional space to establish new relationships. (Note to self: Never plan a wedding while pregnant again.) But I am feeling the lack of it these days, and need to carve out the time to find some new ways to connect to the community around me – get back to volunteering somewhere, find some people with kids activities, maybe try to connect with some other solopreneurs. And like with the mommy guilt, recognize that building community is hard and takes time and it’s okay if I don’t do it perfectly.

Mommy guilt and staying in the Now

It turns out that it’s actually pretty hard to balance a baby, a business, and not living in squalor, so blogging has fallen by the wayside – as has my meditation practice and yoga and a few other things.  But that is okay – having a kid is a major life adjustment, and I’m trying to be compassionate with myself that I have not immediately managed everything perfectly. Still, I process things by writing, and I have felt that I need to come back to my tiny spot on the internet.  For better or worse, this is how I figure things out.

I think each phase of parenting will have a learning curve, which is uncomfortable, but I’m trying to view that as a good thing, as an opportunity to grow instead of evidence of my personal inadequacies. I’m finding that, when it comes to mommy guilt, what helps is to stay in the moment and in the now. (Not that fathers don’t experience guilt, but it does seem like, in our culture, we actually WANT and EXPECT mothers to feel guilty, and if you don’t feel guilty, maybe you just don’t care enough.)  If I measure myself against how my actual daughter is actually doing, then I usually feel like I’m doing okay and I can tell if there is something specific I need to adjust in my approach.

It’s easy to think of motherhood as a task that must be performed according to outside specifications.  When I do that, I find myself comparing myself to the abstract Ideal Mother floating in the ether. Then I beat myself up because I’m not making all of her baby food myself and didn’t register her in time for the Wet Tots parent-child swimming class, so it filled up, and now she’s not getting enough socialization, and maybe she’s not getting enough outside stimulation in general, which will impair her intellectual and emotional development, and we’re off to the mommy guilt circus.

Which is ridiculous, because she’s 8 months old, and she doesn’t read her baby books – she tries to eat them. It’s not like she should be out discussing War and Peace with all the other babies.

And if I talk to actual parents, no one gets everything right. Some things are truly bad parenting, of course – abusing your child or feeding her meth-laced twinkies, for example – but on a lot of stuff, what’s right for one kid is wrong for another, and sometimes – hell, no one really knows what you should do, so you just wing it and hope for the best, changing course if it turns out that something was a bad idea.

I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that one of the best things I can do for my daughter is to enjoy being her mother. Not every second, of course – being up at 4 in the morning with a teething infant is an objectively unenjoyable activity – but in general. This means making parenting a relationship, not a to do list, and learning to identify and make time for what I need. (For me, #2 is way harder than #1, and something I need to work on, baby or no baby.)

And if the sounds emanating from the crib are any indication, nap time is over. Time to go to the park and blow some bubbles.

 

Temporarily embarrased millionaires

I do not feel rich.  I worry about money quite a lot, in fact, (and that’s without thinking about how much college will cost by the time my daughter is ready to go). Still, I sometimes forget how close to the bone much of America lives, and how many resources I have by comparison. (Viewed against a global backdrop, of course, where a couple billion people make less than $2 a day, I am Trump-like by comparison.) For example:

 The answer is hundreds of thousands of people. But they work two jobs, share apartments, miss out on time with their kids, stretch every dollar and hope their children will get a chance to do better.

Over one-quarter of workers earn under $25,000 for full-time, year-round work” in Los Angeles County, said Daniel Flaming of the Economic Roundtable.

The average rent for a one bedroom apartments in Los Angeles is $1354 a month and $1794 for a two bedroom apartment. That’s $16, 248 per year and $21,528 respectively. If you’re making $25,000 a year, well – if you do the math, you’ll see that it is full of impossibilities. Los Angeles is not unusual in that regard.  When that many people work full-time – hell, MORE than full time – are still poor, with no chance of that changing, income inequality is structural, not individual.

John Steinbeck once said, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

I think Steinbeck was right. It boggles my imagination that our elected representatives – on both sides – appear unaware that income inequality might be a serious structural problem. And we the people seem loathe to hold them accountable, perhaps because we secretly hope that our membership card to the 1% club will be arriving any day now.

The Democrats are, for the most part, too afraid of pissing off the corporations that pay to re-elect them to address the core structural issues, while a number of Republicans seem to think that the answer to income inequality is to say, “Fuck ‘em.” to the struggling,  and then to, I kid you not, quote Jesus in support of cutting food stamps:

Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., then quoted a verse from the 26th chapter of Matthew, saying the “poor will always be with us” in his defense of cuts to the food stamps program.

I, personally, do not have the nerve to cite the will of God as a foundation for my public policy opinions, preferring instead to marshall a mound of facts to support my argument  – but that is the kind of statement I would be afraid to make if I were a hellfire-type Biblical literalist, given the existence of the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 23 and Leviticus 25 and the almost 900 verses in the Bible dealing with money and the proper treatment of the poor.  I would be a touch nervous to explain the following to the Almighty:

 A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan Washington research group, said the cuts in the food stamp program would eliminate 2 million people from the program, most of them children and older people. The report said the cuts would come in addition to a reduction that food stamp recipients would experience starting Nov. 1, when benefits that were increased under the 2008 economic stimulus expire.

“Placing the SNAP cuts in this farm bill on top of the benefit cuts that will take effect in November is likely to put substantial numbers of poor families at risk of food insecurity,” the report said.

I am frustrated that at a time when the sequester cuts are hitting the ones who are struggling the most, Congress wants to cut a program that actually works, with very low levels of fraud, while simultaneously coming up with more money for the TSA so that they don’t have to wait in line at the airport.

The fortunes of Wall Street are almost entirely divorced from the well-being of the rest of the country.  Despite record profits in many industries, wages have been stagnant for forty years, while fewer companies offer pension plans and health insurance.  Yet, creating living wage jobs hardly even seems to be on the radar screen, and multi-national corporate “Job Creators” are treated as if they are willful, capricious deities from Greek literature that must be appeased – rather than entities that have demonstrated over and over again that they exist to benefit their shareholders and upper management, and no one else. (There are some notable exceptions to this, of course, but they are just that – exceptions.)

The answers are complex and hard, as they tend to be, and there is room for debate about what exactly we should do about it, but we aren’t even asking the right questions. But we can at least ask our representatives not to cut a highly effective and efficient program that helps millions of people have enough food to eat.

On not feeling like a mom

When I get asked “How does it feel to be a mom?”, I don’t know how to answer that question, because I don’t feel like a mom. I just feel like me with a kid. Motherhood has brought more joy to my life and some healing, which is not at all insignificant, but being a mom feels like a very specific relationship, not a change in my general identity.

(I had similar trouble with the “How does it feel to be married?” question too, so my response was generally “Pretty much the same actually.” I can tell you what it feels like to be married to my specific husband, but would struggle to tell you how it feels to be a wife. While I think the ritual of a wedding ceremony witnessed by our nearest and dearest was important, there was no magic “We’re married!” moment, when I felt that everything changed. I’m sure that for those who weren’t already living together, it’s different.)

  “Doesn’t having a kid change everything?”  people will also ask.

Yes and No. It is true that I would not have been awake at 2:00 am last night and again at 6 if it weren’t for my daughter, but honestly, so far, having a baby is easier than I thought it would be. (My many years of whacked out sleep patterns are probably a plus for once.) I may feel very differently once she starts throwing tantrums, but at the moment – it’s mostly pretty fun.  I have my moments of frustration, of course, but those are just moments.  For the most part, I really dig hanging out with my little drooly bear, and parenting is only the fourth hardest thing I do every day.

 Some of this is no doubt circumstantial. I have a healthy, not terribly high strung baby, a supportive partner who does not have to be cajoled into caring for her, and a business that lets me work from home less than 40 hours a week. Because J and I both work from home, we can juggle baby care between the two of us. Things would be a lot harder if I had to be in an office for eight hours a day or if we were struggling to pay rent or if our baby had significant special needs.

Still, I thought I would be much more neurotic about parenting than I am, that I would question myself more, and feel more guilty. But I don’t.  I’ll spare you my labor and delivery story, but despite my firm insistence on a natural childbirth, I ended up getting an epidural about 14 hours into the situation.  It was the right decision, and I felt perfectly fine about it.  I still do.  When breastfeeding didn’t go quite as planned, the lactation consultant seemed to think that I would be devastated.  If the rest of my life is any indication, I should have felt like a failure. Instead I was a little bummed for a day or two, and then I got over it. And I just now realized that my daughter’s shirt is on backwards, although this does not seem to disturb her unduly.

  My inner critic puts in a full week’s work with overtime in most of the other areas of my life, so there’s not much carry over of this motherly equanimity, and most parts of my life – of me – feel unchanged.  I think this is why I resist the idea of finding “mom friends.” “Mom groups” feel a little bit like when people would try to set me up with someone in my single days, and when I asked why they thought we would be a good match, the thinking was “You’re single, he’s single, what more do you need?”

I do feel like I need to expand my social circle right now, but I’m not sure I want that to be centered around “mom stuff.”  Just because another woman and I both have babies doesn’t mean we have anything else in common – or even that we’re experiencing motherhood in similar ways. I’m not opposed to hanging out with other women who are parenting, but I would prefer that it be women that I click with on some level, and that we do more than just compare parenting philosophies.

 Speaking of which, my parenting philosophy involves feeding my child when she is hungry, so I’m going to go do that.

Team of Rivals and that hope-y, change-y thing

I’m reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin right now, which is sort of a group biography about Lincoln, and his competitors for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination – Chase, Bates, and Seward – who later became part of his cabinet.  I’m still in the first 100 pages, which covers their early years, and I have been struck by how much death they all faced. And I don’t mean the Civil War, which was incredibly brutal. Life in the 19th century meant the death of your nearest and dearest on a regular basis.

All of the four men – Seward, Bates, Chase, and Lincoln – had at least one child die. Bates lost 8 of his 17 children (yes, 17 – let’s give three cheers for birth control!) A staggering number of women died in childbirth – including all three of Chase’s wives, and Lincoln’s sister.  Bates, Chase, and Lincoln each lost a parent as a child.  Seward’s daughter died, as well as Lincoln’s first love, both from diseases that would be preventable today.  Bates and Chase both had their fathers die when they were young, and their widowed mothers (who would never have the right to vote) were left with no way of supporting their children and farmed them out to relatives.  Seward had it the easiest of the four, and even he studied his ass off for 15 hours a day, entered college at 15, and was a lawyer by 22.

Seward, Bates, and Chase were from relatively privileged backgrounds, so if life was difficult for them, just think how much harder it was for poor people and women.  And if white women had it rough, think about how much exponentially harder it was for slaves or Native Americans.

We tend to get a little gauzy about larger than life figures like Lincoln, making something romantic out of studying books by candlelight, but there was nothing romantic about it. Lincoln grew up shit poor, was devastated by the loss of his mother and sister, and he kind of hated his father, most likely for excellent reasons.

Lincoln himself did not romanticize his upbringing. For most people in America in the 19th century, life was hard and then you died. Large swaths of the country were illiterate, and books were only for the rich. In many areas outside the east, there was essentially no public education. I always knew Lincoln didn’t have much formal education, but I was surprised to realize that he had only one year of school. I have a new appreciation for the herculean effort it took for him to educate himself, and just how extraordinary he was.

And then there was slavery, a grotesquely brutal institution on which the South’s economy depended.  While there was a strong abolitionist movement at this time, the South was fiercely devoted to keeping slavery in place, and many, if not most, Northerners were more concerned with the unity of the country than they were with getting rid of slavery.  Radical abolitionists were heavily criticized, and even those white Americans who were opposed to slavery couldn’t imagine black people being equal.  (While Lincoln was always opposed to slavery, he was far from being a radical abolitionist.)

I am finding this book strangely hopeful. The notion that we live in a post-racial society is utter nonsense, but damn, we’ve come a long way. In the roughly 150 years since Lincoln’s election, this country has gone from slavery to a black President elected and then re-elected, not to mention near universal literacy, the advances of feminism, and the fact that I could be reasonably sure I wouldn’t die giving birth to my daughter. Jason Collins got a phone call from the President and a congratulatory tweet from Kobe – Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have even had a category for that (or maybe he would, depending on which historian you talk to.)

There are many things that alternately enrage and depress me – rising income inequality, rape culture, my HMO, bombs in Boston and the dead children in Newtown who make the news and the dead children in South Los Angeles who don’t, next to a craven and dysfunctional Congress seemingly paralyzed to do anything about anything that matters. If it’s not wars, it’s drones, and if it’s not that, it’s Guantanamo. All of that is true and worrisome.

But this is why we need history. Congress was corrupt and cowardly then as well, and some of them were stupid – really, really stupid. Hell, they still had duels and shot each other. Still, in the middle of all that, there were some people of bravery and courage, and some of a middling disposition who got roped into doing the right thing in spite of themselves, and we got the 13th Amendment.

It’s a long way to travel from slavery’s profound evil, and the path to change is hard, sometime unimaginably so. The U.S. had to travel through a long, bloody, and devastating Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, Jim Crow, lynchings, waterhoses, more assassinations (Emmett Till and Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and JFK and Bobby), the legions of nameless dead and the equally nameless activists who worked tirelessly in obscurity for a better world that they would never live in.

History is a reminder that we can make the world less brutal than it used to be. And if that is possible here, in a country built on blood and bones and conquest, then it is possible elsewhere. There are still large swaths of the globe where a staggering number of children still die, where women have no rights to speak of, and millions of slaves wait for an emancipation proclamation of their own.

Change is always spotty and seemingly improbable, but with lots of hard work from lots of people, it does happen. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

Original Sin in Dapers

I referred before to motherhood as something that I am finding profoundly healing.  Some of it is that babies require that you be present in the moment, which is healthy for someone who tends toward pathological levels of introspection. When she is hungry, she needs to be fed NOW.  When she has a dirty diaper, she needs to be changed NOW.  Much of caring for a baby is repetitive – Feed. Burp. Change. Bathe. Repeat. – which is about as much meditation as I am able to manage at the moment.

The bigger piece, though, is the realization that my child is good.  I look at my daughter, and don’t understand how I could ever think otherwise.  It’s not that I think she will never make mistakes.  She will.  Some of them may be big ones, but the idea that at her core she is somehow morally defective seems utterly absurd.  I was there when she came out of me, and all she needed was love and food and a little clean up.  If I were to look into her chubby little face and see something so bad that someone had to die for God to stand it – well, that would be my problem and not hers. My daughter is, admittedly, significantly cuter than average, but still, I feel confident in generalizing the statement to say that babies the world over are not repositories of evil.

 For those not raised in the shadow of Original Sin, I’m sure this seems abundantly obvious.  What kind of psychotic moron thinks her baby is immoral?  Because, you know, it’s a BABY.  What’s she going to do – plot to overthrow the government just as soon as she learns to hold her head up?

For those of a Calvinistic disposition, however, it is a different story. Original sin, which is also known as total depravity, (the T in TULIP, which is not nearly as pleasantly floral as one might imagine), posits the following world: God is holy.  God is powerful. People are so thoroughly sinful that we don’t even know what good is unless God tells us. Eternal hellish conscious torment is the final destination for the non-elect, which is most of the planet. The rest of us deserve hell too, but we just got lucky because Jesus died for us despite our lack of worthiness. Also, God is love. Reconcile that with the other the best you can.

Now there are perfectly nice people who believe this, in addition to a fair crowd who are not.  You can buff up the theology of it into something that sounds less harsh, but fundamental moral defectiveness is really the core of it, no matter how much it gets prettied up by seminarians.

Maybe the people that told me this didn’t really believe it, at least about themselves, but I did.  For many years, I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that there was something deeply and irrevocably wrong with me, and I was stuck with whatever salvation God the wrathful Father might see fit to deliver, no matter how unsatisfactory it seemed to be.

I rejected the concept of my inherent sinfulness a few years ago, but that shit’s some nasty poison, and it sinks in bone deep.  I’m always running into it in the dark and less populated corners of my psyche, this idea that there is something wrong with me that I can never fix. Granted, there are reasons for that over and above bad doctrine, but I still sometimes feel the twisted power of being told that I can never trust my dark dark heart, and that’s The Gospel Truth.

 Staring at my daughter and her toothless grin, however, is like being smacked in the face with the ridiculousness of all of that.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with her and there’s nothing wrong with me and there’s nothing wrong with any of us.  Yes, for many people and many systems for lots of complicated reasons, it all goes bad somehow, but those dark deeds are not our starting point and not our deepest truth. (And if I fuck up every other blessed thing in parenting, I hope my daughter knows that much.) I’ve known this for a while, but it’s one thing to face things down with determined seriousness, and quite another to find them laughably bizarre. It takes away those bits of fear still hidden in the corner. We were all babies once and good.