Archive | January, 2010

Pink Pants

30 Jan

Yesterday I was wearing bright pink pants to work because it was Fun Pant Friday.  I started Fun Pant Friday last year, I don’t quite remember how.  It did not catch on with the other teachers, so I celebrate it alone each week.  Fun Pant Friday is nothing more than that, it is just fun.  My students like routine, they like something to mark the days, something to look forward to.  They walk in, see my loud, thrift store pants and declare it Friday.  One of my side motivations is having a small forum to promote thrift store shopping in my affluent, consumeristic setting.  Plaid, bright, patterned pants are easy to find and cheap at places that re-use.

This year, the faculty at our school has been working with a brilliant consultant about gender issues.  We have recently been talking a lot about the rigid gender boxes that we put women and men in.  There is an ideal of female beauty and male toughness that is unfair and unattainable.  And those boxes are highly limiting, yet there is serious ridicule coming if we venture far from the lines.  Men should not knit or cry, women should not drive trucks or be assertive.  You get it.

The scene is laid.  So I am walking down the hallway yesterday at my school when a male faculty member stops, looks at my pants, and shakes his head in disgust.  I ask this man, who, by the way, thinks he is enlightened about gender issues but is a strong perpetuator of the problems, what his scorn is for.  He answers, “I thought we were trying to break down gender lines.”

I looked at him in his ill-fitting khakis and drab short sleeve pale yellow dress shirt and tried not to mimic his disdain.  “We are.  I am working for a world where all people can wear bright pink pants.”  In erasing gender lines, the goal is not for women to become men.  But this is a mistake so often made.  When I first started teaching at this school, men and women alike gave me advice about how to dress and how to act to avoid oversexual, inappropriate attention from our young men.  But I did not take the advice.  My very professional wardrobe is not the problem.  That is not what needs to change.  The young female students need to see that they can be smart, love theology, wear pink pants and get treated with respect.  My hope is that someday, young men can see that they can have all those things, too.

The work to loosen gender boxes in society is extremely important.  Gender is a spectrum, not binary.  And studies have shown that in cultures that have looser gender boxes and less rules, homophobia is also less prevalent. This should be our daily work.  But we must be careful that we are truly loosening gender rules on both sides, not encouraging women to become more characteristically male to succeed.  It is not about me trading my bright pink pants for baggy khakis.  It is about creating an environment where everyone can celebrate who he or she truly is created to be, putting all of our socialized gender rules aside.


The Christmas Letter

24 Jan

On Friday my spouse and I received, hopefully, the last of the Christmas letters.  I have found a few reasons why Christmas letters come late.  Some come from people who cannot seem to get their act together before Christmas, and those notes generally come with apologies.  Others try to save on postage and wait to pass it on until they see you.  Still others try to play off the lateness by calling it an Epiphany letter or an MLK letter.  Wouldn’t Dr. King be proud?  This whole Christmas letter thing is a new phenomenon for us.  It seems there are unwritten rules for Christmas letters, and one is that once two people are married and have a semi-permanent address, those two people become worthy recipients.  This year we were graced with thirty seven Christmas letters that found their way to our mantle for the season and then proceeded to the recycling bin.

Let me state my bias very clearly: I am not a big fan of the Christmas letter.  It seems odd to me.  I know that many love the tradition, but I do not.  My spouse thinks that Facebook has replaced the Christmas letter, but I refrain from Facebook for the same reason.  My argument is this: I believe both Facebook and the Christmas letter perpetuate our meritocracy that pressures us to become human doings instead of human beings.  Look at my cute kids!  Read about my accomplishments this year!  My life is on track!  I am moving swiftly toward the 2.4 children, a SVU and a white picket fence.  And gosh darn it, while we are at it, let’s make this super convenient for me.  If I send out a yearly update proving to you that I have earned the honor of living until next Christmas, I do not have to stay in touch with you for twelve months.

This year in letters we learned of houses bought, marathons ran, committees sat on, children brought into the world, dogs welcomed into homes, vacations taken, promotions and engagements.  These are all lovely things.  But when they are sent in a laundry list form, it just strikes me as bragging, and behind it a need to matter, to be impressive, to be living the American dream.

My friends have started to ask the question, “When is my life worthy of sending out the card?  When I get married?  When we start having kids? What big life change is impressive enough to earn me Christmas card sending status?”

My deep hope is that anyone in my life who I truly love and care for already knows what I look like and has some sense of how I spend my days.  And they have found this out by doing things like sharing a meal or picking up the phone.  I think we are obbsessed as a society with proving our worth by what we do not who we are.  We are preoccupied with spreading ourselves thinly and superficially instead of toiling with a few meaningful relationships.  And to what end?  So we can say we have 100 friends on Facebook?  How many of our Christmas card recipients really know how our hearts are doing?  And how do you write that in a Christmas card?

Forgiving my Father

17 Jan

My father came over the other day to make peace after a decade of distance.  Why now?  I have no idea.  But I am finding that I don’t want to reach out.  There is anger there, and a need for forgiveness.  But he does not know for what, so he cannot ask.  And for what again, am I forgiving him?  For marrying my mom, for not leaving her?  For being Republican?  For never calling or asking about what is important to me or learning how to treat me like the adult I am?  He once told me that when I give him unexpected hugs, those are the happiest moments in his life.  I can’t remember the last time a piece of me touched a piece of him.  I don’t like making him happy, and that cruelty is not like me.

If I forgive him, then what?  What would I have left? Has he forgiven me?  I know he does not know me anymore or care, for that matter.  He used to know me better than I knew me.  He would tell people about me in front of me, like he had been watching me closer than I watched myself.  It was odd that he knew what I needed.  Does he know now?  Does he care?

He never hit me or raised his voice.  He never drank or was dumb with money.  I have so little to forgive him for, but I can’t do it.  I don’t know how, and part of me doesn’t want to.  What twisted part of me is that?  Wouldn’t reconciliation feel good, a big hug laced with tears and relief?  But then what?  Would anything change?  Do I fear the awkwardness?  The hard work?  The vulnerability?  The possibility of disappointment?

He brings up sports sometimes.  That is what he was best at.  He coached me, came to all my meets and games and marathons.  He remembers my great moments better than I do.  He tries to rekindle what we had when he was on his pedestal, not realizing he could be my friend if he could just redefine dad.  He wants me to still need him for money or advice.  He wants to still be able to teach me things.  He still wants power and control.  But I am an independent woman.  If I need anything, I need a mutual relationship.  I need him to acknowledge that maybe he has something to learn from me, too.  He is not less as I become more.  Or is he?

He embodies what I fight against- unacknowledged priviledge.  A culture of power that will not admit or work to change wealth, old money, the comfort of systems handing us things.  He does not like being uncomfortable.  He does not much know what oppression feels like.  He is a benevolent dictator who will not let my very story change his heart.  He is the man.  I benefited from that man, from that money, from those opportunities.

The conversation ended with him yelling and swearing and me shutting down and asking him to leave.  I am a survivor of an emotionally abusive relationship.  I refuse to respond to men who yell at me.  He called the next day to say he thought the conversation went well, that we were making progress.  I have retreated, oceans away.

A friend reminds me of a wise Buddhist saying that anger is like trying to pass on a burning coal.  It is your hand that is getting burned.  Is holding the coal burning me more than him?  Do I need to forgive him for my soul?  For his?  Or do I leave him on the ground with his full pockets, standing next to his pedestal, to find my own terrain?

Optimism on a Cold Day

10 Jan

A few years ago, I was trying to get a friend to move from South Carolina to Minnesota so I could have him closer to me.  We had lived near each other in South America, and I missed him.  When he returned to his high school friends in South Carolina, he seemed to be lacking that sense of community, a group of liberally minded people pushing personal and societal boundaries in a way that honored our lives in Argentina.  I proposed that he come live here.  When he booked a ticket to come visit in February, I thought I had lost him to the South forever.  Who would come to Minnesota in the dead of winter and ever in their right mind want to stay?

My friend Andrew, that is who.  He loved it.  And upon reflection, winter is why I love Minnesota, too.  There is something about that first gigantic snowfall that feels like South America.  Everyone drives slowly enough that if we hit each other, no one will get hurt.  We go outside and help our neighbors or a complete stranger get shoveled out.  Young boys help push cars over a mound of stubborn snow.  People stay in and play board games.  We make fires and ask, “Do I really need to go run that errand?”  We eat good food that comforts us.  Everything becomes an adventure where all senses are heightened.  Walking out to the car, waiting for a bus, walking down the street is all done at your own risk. It is a reminder that we are not, in fact, in complete control.  A blizzard is a refreshing call back to what is important- being safe and being with family.  It brings focus and makes us stop and breaks routine and tells us that the earth really has the final say in how things are going to proceed.  It is really God reminding us to slow down and snuggle to keep warm.  I love that.

Pray Without Ceasing

6 Jan

I had a heavy day.  A transgender student told me he was getting texts from an unknown source telling him that he was a freak.  Another student showed me a mark that her dad left on her arm when he was trying to explain to her the importance of her math grade by tossing her around a bit.  I did not know what to do about either instance.  I felt totally hopeless.

Then a student caught me not praying.  I used to pray without ceasing, seriously.  Now, I think of my life as a prayer.  How I choose to live each moment is an answer to God’s gift of life.  But I do not plug in consciously as much as I used to and really listen.  Until today.  When I asked a student I had last year how she was doing, she said, “Actually, I am really glad I ran into you.  Could you pray for my cousin?”  Tears welled up immediately, which threw me since she is a tough, stoic hockey player not keen on public displays of vulnerability and emotion.  Her cousin, a high school junior, was just diagnosed with stage three cancer.  She was sad and scared.  When I hugged her, she clung.  But then I looked at her and answered, “Yes.  I can pray for her.  I will pray without ceasing.  Keep me updated.”  It is a mystery, prayer.  But somehow there is power in it, and somehow my heart is changed when a student trusts me to pray for her about something so vulnerable and petrifying.  I cannot make it better, but I can pray.  And pray I will.

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