• Parenting Genius

    Honest to goodness, there’s nothing that makes me happier than some good parenting. Those times when you or someone else says something to a kid that is honest and real and makes the world a little more manageable for them to navigate. The things that they’ll repeat to themselves when they need some wisdom or encouragement or a kick in the pants later.

    If the world worked the way it should, the news would include highlights of parenting genius that anonymous parents spouted off that day rather than reports about celebrities boinking and abandoning each other. But I suppose the logistics of such a thing would be a nightmare. Which is why we all know that J Lo and Casper just broke up, but have no clue that this afternoon a woman down the street said things that helped her child be less afraid of dying one day.

    This is why I’m a big fan of Shit My Dad Says. I think I mentioned it once before, but for those who missed it, Shit My Dad Says is the creation of a writer with a sharp eye about his great, foul mouthed dad. It’s funny and wise and much more profound than anything with that much swearing and crude humor has a right to be. His father is a parenting genius, if you ask me.

    Anyhow, GQ has a Shit My Dad Says post up for Father’s Day that I loved and wanted to pass on to y’all. The dad talks like I do if I’m not careful, so there’s lots of swearing involved. But if you mind that, you probably aren’t reading my blog. Anyhow, the context is that the son froze up during a big baseball game and lost the game for his team:

    My dad walked down two rows from the metal stands and tossed a soda he was drinking in the garbage. He headed toward the parking lot a hundred feet away and I followed him in silence until we got to the car.

    “You pitched well,” he said.

    “I lost the game for us,” I said, then burst into one of those cries where all available tears and mucous shoot out of your eyes and nose at once.

    “Now hold on,” he said.

    “Don’t try and tell me I didn’t lose the game for us,” I said, as a snot bubble formed in both nostrils.

    “Shit, I was there son. That ball flew out of your hand like you were setting a fuckin’ dove free. You got no argument here.”

    “Then what are you gonna say? I know it’s just a game, okay?” I said, trying to calm my heaving breaths.

    “What I was gonna say was, your coach is full of shit. It ain’t ‘just a game.’ This is a big goddamn deal,” he said, leaning his back up against the passenger door.

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  • God and Laughing

    God loves laughter. Humor makes us laugh because it triggers delighted surprise to hear that things we fear – being alone, being unloved, being ridiculed  - aren’t as awful as it seems. And when it is awful, it isn’t as serious as we thought it was. When God gave us a sense of humor, He was telling us not to be so afraid. ~R. Trotter, The Upside Down World

    I have a real soft spot for humor. It is one of the great joys of life. I’d give up sex, wealth, tasty food and reading before I’d want to give up a sense of humor. Hell, we all know old people who made just that deal; they lost all the other joys of life to aging, so now they just sit around and laugh and laugh. And they’re having a hell of a time doing it. If they have anyone to listen to them.

    (Actually, that would make a great TV show. Travel the country visiting the funniest old people and record them talking. It would be like one of those “kids say the darndest things” type shows except the old people’s jokes will actually make sense. And tell us something about life.)

    I was really introduced to comedy by my husband, who I still reside with largely because of how much fun it is to sit around and laugh with him. My family did not do comedy when I was growing up, largely because comedians are crude and crass and talk about sex and drugs. As if they’ve done them, even. Which, you know, isn’t an entirely unreasonable concern. I suppose.

    At any rate, I’ve watched a good bit of comedy over the last however long I’ve been married. And yes, some of it has been crude and crass and fixated on the most obnoxious abuses of sex and drugs imaginable. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of Garrison Keillor. His “Lake Woebegon” stories are masterpieces humor that doesn’t rely on offending or scandelizing anyone. Plus, he gets how religion and sex actually works.

    I have this theory about humor which says that along with just being enjoyable, the primary purpose of humor is to help us learn. Researchers know that when a person is presented with information while they are laughing, they are more likely to accept that information than people who received the same information from an informational or persuasive presentation. Of course, they could have learned the same thing by observing parents with their kids. If you can get a kid to laugh, they are much more willing to admit error or change their minds.

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    When Complaining Is Ministry

    OMGeeee guys! This is going to sound crazy, but I think it would take me the rest of my life to explain what I’ve learned in the last week. None of you would still be reading by the time I got done explaining it all, of course. I get really geeked over weird things.

    I’m having one of those times where all of a sudden, everything starts to make sense and a path forward is becoming clear. And I’m super excited about it. You’d have to know me personally to understand this, but I never get super excited about anything.

    I’m one of those people who you should only bring your ideas, plans and dreams to if you’re looking for a solid critique of them. Otherwise I’ll probably give you a seemingly unenthusiastic word of support. Not that I won’t support you, just that I’ll be using all of my self-control biting my tongue because I know you need my support and not my advice. It’s hard to show how enthusiastic you are while biting your tongue.

    Strangely enough, this is a trait my husband doesn’t always find endearing in me. He’s told me that he wants to be rich enough to create his own echo chamber so he’ll never have to hear anyone disagree with or criticize his ideas again. I keep trying to tell him what a bad idea that is, but some people just have to learn things the hard way, I guess. So I’m not saying anything about it anymore.

    Personally, I dislike learning things the hard way. I’d much rather have other people learn things the hard way for me. Of course, there are those things you just have to learn for yourself. Once you get past wisdom like, “don’t take your duelie* out on the ice when it’s only been below freezing for a week” and “rich people spend all their time working so their children and grandchildren can grow up to be stunted, damaged people”, most people have no idea what they are talking about. So often, you have no choice but to make your own mistakes and figure out your own lessons for yourself.

    I certainly looked for a way out of having to learn things the hard way. And I’ve learned a great deal in the process. But I finally had to accept that there is no one out ahead of me who could give me some answer, some word of wisdom or practices or set of rules to follow that would make everything alright. It’s not just that I’m so wise and out ahead of everyone else, spiritually speaking. (Although that does play its part, of course. I should be catching up to the kids with Down’s Syndrome in another 20 years or so.) It’s also that in the end, some things are like death. Or labor. They have to be experienced to be understood.

    I’m hardly the first person to figure out that there’s  no answer anyone can give that will end my suffering, of course. But I think I might be more willing to shamelessly complain on the way than most. If you’re a jerk, that makes me a complainer. If you’re a kind, wonderful human being such as my readers are, that makes me brave and vulnerable. Which I’m always a bit amused to hear people say about me. I only share things that don’t make me feel vulnerable and don’t make other people look bad. If what I share sounds brave and vulnerable, that’s just a sign that not enough people are being honest. Because, trust me, it gets much worse than what I’ve shared here.

    We’re always told not to complain, but I think it can be helpful to keep a few complainers around. Have you read the bible at all? Complaining is biblical, people**! The complaining is one of the reasons I keep returning to the bible. Often the promises and praises sound like taunts and betrayals, but the complaining? That’s real life, peeps.

    One of the unique and valuable characteristics about the bible is the lack of sugar coating. The writers were honest about how much pain they were in. They were melodramatic and intense and blunt. And because they were so open about their pain, I knew that my pain wasn’t a sign that I had unwittingly gone astray. Being in that much pain didn’t mean God had abandoned me or wasn’t real. Sometimes people who follow God walk through terrible suffering. I know it because my bible tells me so.

    Hell, I know it because of the cross. When Jesus suffered, there was no buffer between him and the rest of the world. He didn’t get to retreat to his bedroom or into loving arms as he suffered. He suffered in front of us. He lost all control over his story. He fell in real time in front of crowds. He felt pain beyond what he could be stoic enough to bear in front of his mother and brother. Every cry, every yelp, every inch of skin and bodily function was there for the crowds to see.

    Me? I do my suffering in private and then sift through the details and decide what I’m comfortable sharing. I might look brave, but that’s only because we’re all really scared. Jesus was vulnerable. I’m just less beholden to shame than most of y’all. But no matter what the world would have you believe, there’s no shame in suffering. Jesus did it after all.

    Maybe one day we’ll know how to become wise and live in union with God without walking through all the pain and suffering. After all, there are videos on YouTube of women having orgasms while giving birth. Mr. Rodgers was so happy when he was told he was going to die that his family requested that he at least pretend to be upset that he was dying. Jesus is now worshipped  as King. There’s hope for us yet. We are teachable, after all.

    This is probably one of those things you have to experience to really understand, but I do have one little thing to share with others who are in the process of learning things the hard way. It helped me to hear it when all hope was gone, so even if it’s a bit premature, I’d like to add my voice to the great cloud of witnesses who have said it before: trust God. Even when he seems utterly untrustworthy or like a figment of your imagination. Faith is believing what you cannot yet see, after all. Just a teeny, tiny bit of faith will get you through the darkest night. And if you can complain a little on the way, call it a ministry. ;)

    *For those of you who don’t live someplace where people drive on ice, a duelie is a truck with four back tires. Also called a big bootie or fat ass truck. You’re not allowed to take them through automatic car washes. Every year up here in the Northern Tundra, some dude with a duelie drives out on the ice before it’s thick enough and puts his truck through the ice. And every year, that year’s genius is interviewed on the local news. Inevitably he informs the rest of us that the local officials warning everyone to stay off the ice might be on to something. Because who knew, right?

    **Complaining can be a problem. If you complain about something every day, you are complaining too much. Save complaining for important things like intense suffering and itching, not petty stuff like broken bones and bad traffic, k?

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    Why Parents Should Meditate

    Meditation is good for us. The bible tells us to meditate dozens and dozens of times. Modern science has shown that meditation changes the way our brains work and provides a host of physical and mental health benefits. Everyone should learn to meditate.

    While meditation is good for everyone, it is essential for parents. In fact, I think it is safe to say that if I didn’t meditate, I would be unable to parent my 5 children without the assistance of weed or booze to smooth things out. But because I meditate, I am usually an oasis of peace in the middle of chaos, even while sober.

    When you meditate, you learn to tune out your senses – or at least not give them center stage. Which is really helpful when a kid spilled milk in the car without your knowing it. If you haven’t learned to meditate and tune out your senses, the smell of spoiled milk every time you get in the car might really bother you. Not so for the meditating parent.

    When you meditate, you learn to quiet or take no notice of the chattering little voices in your head which insistently demand your attention. This is an essential skill for parents when several children gang up on you demanding ice cream and a pony. You just use the skills you have developed through hours of meditation and those chattering, insistent voices quickly fade away, leaving you free to contemplate what it would actually be like to have a pony in the backyard. As with meditation, when you take no notice of the chattering voices of children demanding that you give your full attention to every inanity of life, they wear themselves out and go away.

    Meditation also develops your powers of concentration. Which is helpful when you’re trying to pay enough attention to what your daughter is saying so you can keep track of who is mad at whom today and what each person’s favorite My Little Pony character is. When you’re stuck in the house all day with small children, you take your gossip where you can get it, so this is very important.

    The ability to tame your brain and concentrate is also helpful when you have a kid who wants to explain, in minute detail, an epic pokemon battle he saw on youtube. The control over your brain developed through meditation allows you to tune him out entirely without him noticing. You just tune in a couple times a minute to repeat the last word or two you heard – “he used thunderbolt attack, mmhm.” Then your brain is free to plan your next meal, rehash your argument with your sister or find the answer to meaning of life. A parent who doesn’t meditate has to either let their kid know that you don’t care what they are talking about or be held hostage to a long diatribe about the evolution of Celibi, the guardian of the forest.

    Another benefit of meditating is that you become more aware of what’s happening in the moment. My husband responds to the various screetches, yells, wails and shouts of our children with alarm and panic. He doesn’t meditate much and therefore has a hard time tuning into the details of the present moment in a pinch. He often struggles to discern the difference between the cry of a child whose finger has just been severed and a child who is losing an argument. But as a meditating parent who is in the moment, I can discern not only between serious injury and frustration. I can tell the difference between crying caused by injury that requires medical attention, injury which requires an ice pack and an over-reaction to a scratch. This greatly reduces the amount of panic in my life. It allows me to continue what I am doing until the child who is wailing comes to tattle on someone.

    Now that I have teens, I have found that being an experienced meditator is even more essential than ever. For example, part of meditating is not responding to every thought, emotion and stimulus that comes up. Instead of reacting, you just observe. Let it be what it is. Which was helpful this afternoon when my son came home with two bows in his hair. Rather than reacting, I could simply observe that his hair looks cute with bows in it. When my other son decided to forgo a shower this morning, I was able to observe that the room he was sitting in smelled like cumin and politely told him to go shower before the odor seeped into the couch cushions.

    People sometimes ask me how it is that I can raise 5 kids, keep my house from being condemned by the county and write. The answer, simply is meditation. If it wasn’t for meditation, I wouldn’t be able to write many of my blog posts like this (you only think I am kidding):

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    Related: Just a Housewife in Wisconsin

  • So, the chicken needs to be about this big . . .

    John the Baptist Says to Stop Being an Arse

    Some of you will recall that I was raised Catholic. So each week at mass I would listen to a reading from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospels. And at the end of each the person reading would intone, “The Word of the Lord” and we’d respond together in monotone: “Thanks be to God.” Because we were so excited.

    Now, I understand the intent of this little ritual and I truly do offer thanks to God for his Word. But now that I’ve actually read the bible myself, I kind of think that all of heaven must occasionally roll their eyes and guffaw at this response to scripture. Like say that day’s Old Testament reading was from 1 Samuel 6 where the Philistines have stolen the Ark of the Covenant from their neighbors and been duly smited. To set things right, they are instructed to “make models of their tumors” as well as of rats out of gold to give to the Israelites when they return the object. Can you imagine? Make models of your tumors? You cannot tell me that the Israelites didn’t laugh their asses off at being given a bunch of gold lumps cast from the Philistine king’s goiters. And we respond with the same old monotone “Thanks be to God” in such a way that makes it clear that we’ve missed the joke entirely. Once again, these stories and poems and words, so filled with beauty and passion and humor just get flattened into monotony and so lose their power. It’s kind of sad the way we do that (and no – this is hardly a Catholic problem!).

    I was thinking about this last night while reading a story about John the Baptist which really, could have come right out of a Monty Python skit:

    And the crowds were questioning [John the Baptist], saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”

    Can’t you just see it – here’s this wild-eyed crazy man out by the river and people come to ask him what they should do to be saved from the coming wrath. He leans in, maybe puts a stinky arm around the questioner and essentially says, “listen closely – stop. being. an. ASSHOLE.” Like it’s some big friggin’ secret or something. Continue reading

  • Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell

    Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide

    An oldie but a goody! BTW, I have something you’re going to love in the works for y’all. If you enjoy the advice I share here, you’re going to love The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. It’s a collection of enlightening essays for thinking better, being better and growing where you’re planted. I’ll be taking pre-orders for delivery well before Christmas starting after Thanksgiving. At only $5 it’s the perfect stocking stuffer. (The price will go up to $6 a copy after publication.) If you’d like a sneak peak, just send your email address to ratrotter73@yahoo.com and I’ll hook ya up. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving, all!

    Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different.  Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.”  So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archieves to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:

    1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity.  One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding.  Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.

    2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only rarely less painful than the discomfort of conflict.  The determining factor being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table after bursting into tears in front of everyone.  Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but being able to speak up for yourself is a form of self-care everyone needs to know.

    3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down.  Not every confrontation need to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted.  Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.

    4. Deliberately Look For the Good in People: Thanksgiving with relatives is the perfect place to put this idea into action.  One of my grandfathers used to corner us Continue reading

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    PMS, Reinterpreted

    Do women tend to have higher natural emotional intelligence (EQ) than men? Most people think so although research hasn’t settled the argument yet. But if women do have higher EQ, I think I know the reason: PMS. (Men, you need to hear this, so don’t check out on me now!)

    There’s this weird thing which happens with PMS. Every month you have a day or two where you are completely convinced that your life is awful, with no redeeming qualities, hardly worth living. You will find yourself collecting evidence to support this perspective. The money problems. The kid’s dirty clothes. That hole in the wall that’s needed patching for as long as the baby’s been alive. It’s all your fault, evidence of your failure. And it’s hopeless. You know for a fact that all those people saying things like “you don’t lose until you quit” are delusional unicorn-friending idiots. At some point you start to understand women who abandon their kids to smoke meth in a motel outside of Vegas with a truck driver. It makes perfect sense in fact.

    But here’s the thing: while you are busy wondering if you actually have the cajones to go to the local truck stop and start talking up potential new boyfriends, it never, ever occurs to you that any of this is anything but gospel truth. It’s not until the next day when you discover for a fact that you are not pregnant that you realize – it’s just hormones! It’s not actually real. Continue reading