Tuesday, March 26, 2013

College and Family

So today was my first college class. The professor asked how many of us took Sociology in high school. I resisted the urge to laugh aloud. I'm pretty sure both "Sociology" and "High school" are dirty words to my Mom. I'm going to love this class. It's all of the things I'm most interested in, which makes me wonder if I should get my degree in Sociology instead. (Can you do anything with a degree in Sociology? I'd love to know.) Best of all, the professor is a Lutheran pastor not much older than me, married with kids, from a family that sounds an awful lot like my Mom's. And it sounds like he shares about as many of their opinions as I do. I'll be sorry when this class is over.

Speaking of Mom's family, my sister drove us south to visit them over the weekend. I'm so glad we went, as I don't feel confident about making it back down there any time in the near future. My dad's father passed away without ever meeting the boys, and I was very sad about that. We stayed with my Grandpa the first two nights, and at the house of my mother's favorite aunt the third night. Our plan was to leave that afternoon and spend the fourth night with my sister's mother-in-law (different sister), then arrive home this morning in time for my classes. Since the baby and I both developed ear infections ON THE WAY DOWN, however, that was putting a major damper on everything. Fortunately the Princess didn't suffer long, and seemed okay the second day. Whiz Kid wrestled with a sinus infection. But I was lucky enough to get my period at the same time, which always knocks my immune system flat. So after two days of sore ears and throat, fever, and general misery, I swapped the useless and expensive vitamins for Advil and was ready to just go home. We were able to meet my Uncle's new wife, a very sweet lady from China, at their informal reception Sunday. Most of the core relatives were there, and although I was glad to meet them I was more than ready to go home once it was over. I worried about crossing the mountains because of the pressure changes, but we made it to the mother-in-law's house without severe discomfort, for which I was very thankful.

As soon as I saw her house I wanted to kick myself for having decided not to stay the night. It was a converted barn, huge and amazing and my idea of a perfect house in every way. (At least the downstairs.) She offered to let us reconsider, and had toys for the kids to play with, but I really wanted to get home. We only had another 2.5 hours to go and I needed to sleep on my own mattress before my spine rearranged itself completely.

Good thing we didn't. When we got back on the interstate the car began making a disturbing noise. We had a bad wheel bearing. We called Dad and he said we could drive slowly and probably get home okay, but in twice the time. Ugh. At least we hadn't waited until the next morning to find out, because I would never have gotten to class if we had. My sister drove 35 MPH all the rest of the way home. She's an angel. We got in at 1AM. It wasn't too bad except for the 30-mile stretch we HAD to be on the interstate in order to cross the river. Good thing it was late at night and there was little traffic. We were nearly run down by a couple of trucks as it was. Apparently "emergency" flashers don't mean "emergency" to everyone.

I registered for my summer and fall classes today, and was very excited to see that the college has added ASL courses! Whoohoo! Obviously I registered for them. The first course uses the same book I'm currently using, and it will save me a lot of time to take a college course instead of the classes. It looks like I may have to go with General Studies as a major, though, and that's annoying me. I was sure I had seen Human Services as an Associate degree on the college website, but it's only up as a transfer degree right now. Which leaves me with the same problem I had going for a Psychology degree. I don't see any two-year degrees in any related fields, so I guess my best bet is just to take as many courses as possible in related fields and then start with another institution when I have enough credits. In case I hadn't mentioned it before, none of the institutions that have transfer agreements with the community college offer higher-level ASL classes. And those high-level classes MUST be taken through a college. They aren't offered independently.

While driving home last night my sister and I were talking to keep ourselves awake, and we got on the subject of Mom again. She reiterated again that Mom feels I reject her, and I was trying to explain that Mom only feels that way because she chooses to interpret any disagreement I have with her as a rejection of her personally. My sister didn't believe that. So this morning I tried to talk to my Mom about it. Of course she said that she does not feel rejected simply because I disagree with her about things. Then she proceeded to point out AGAIN all the areas in which my disagreement is unacceptable.

In other words, I was right. And I'm not wasting any more of my life coddling other people's feelings. My sister even went so far as to say that I should have more consideration for how all this stuff with DH has traumatized Mom. Really? When if she hadn't personally witnessed his breakdown she'd still be hounding me to get back together with him? That's how she advises, you know. She HOUNDS. Like a dog on your heels. Even after you've explained 500 times why you feel differently. The NIGHT BEFORE his episode she refused to keep the children until I got home, saying she wouldn't feel right keeping them from their father. THAT'S traumatizing. Knowing that your mother is looking out for everyone else but you. It was always that way until last summer. But oh how quickly we like to forget, and then get angry when others remember.

She has mentioned several times how much she wants to be my friend. And while I'd like to think that will happen someday, I know that it won't. Because what she means by friend is inaccurate. She wants to be my mentor, my forever teacher, my Mother Superior. To have me hang on her every word and sweetly gobble up all of her advice and be the person she wanted to be. She doesn't want to be MY friend. She wants me to be HER friend.

The kind of friendship I need right now is the kind that takes many years of closeness to establish. She has no right to expect to fill that gap by default simply because she prevented me from forming any others that fit the bill. I suppose she will always feel rejected, and always believe that my opinions are based on a desire to be different from her and not on actual beliefs. And you know what? That's insulting, and inexcusable, and I will not pretend it's okay. When I started taking catechumen classes at the Orthodox Church, she made a comment one day to the effect that "Maybe you and I should sit down sometime so I can give you MY religious classes." If anyone else had said that to me, I would not have spoken to them again. It was so condescending, so incredibly self-righteous and disrespectful, and on top of that it was downright stupid considering that I spent 20 YEARS in her religious classes, every morning and every evening and for 3-4 hours every Sunday! There is nothing more she could possibly tell me about her religious opinions, and I DISAGREE! After lots of research and study of various Christian traditions, I DISAGREE! Deal with it! The more I try to talk to her, the more obvious it is that she will not accept my differences as anything but rebellion or ignorance. So let her think that. It's her problem. And it IS a problem. I'm not going to let them make it mine.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wow. It's amazing how much avoiding Facebook can improve my mood. I should have done this sooner. Oh, and it saves time too. Lol.

I'm really sad to be missing the first three Sundays of Lent at St. Michael's. But it can't be helped. We have to leave at 8:15 AM to get there in time, and the flu just keeps going around... and around... and around... Ugh. It's hard to get up at 7AM when the kids didn't fall asleep until 9:30 and two of them were up in the middle of the night. At different times. And the dog wouldn't keep quiet. Even with earplugs I'm still lucky to get 8 hours of sleep at night.

Mom lets me put the Princess in the playpen in their bedroom after she wakes up for her 4 AM bottle. That helps. And for some reason she loves sleeping in there. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that the pillow smells like my Dad. She has started to really warm up to him since getting her glasses. She runs and hugs him when he comes in from work, and often Little Bear does too. It makes me happy to see them "adopting" him as a father figure. I couldn't ask for a better one, despite our strong theoretical differences. Actions speak louder than words, I have to remember, and that works both ways.

Oh yeah, the Princess has glasses. The doctor says she's very farsighted, and she definitely prefers to have them on unless she's tired. She has been cross-eyed since about 8 months old, so that's how we found out. She's still stubborn and snooty, but more sociable than she was. Also, she's become less interested in her musical toys and more interested in toys with faces. She calls anything with a face "baby," whether human or animal. She still loves music, though, and always dances to it by swaying gently back and forth. She's very independent and climbs like a little monkey. This forces us to confine her a lot more than I'd like to, for safety reasons. She figured out how to climb the bunk beds last week. She gets in all the cabinets and goes into my Grandmother's room if the door isn't latched, which is a real concern since my Grandmom has Alzheimer's and often takes her medicines to her room. She avoids taking them whenever possible and will hide them under things, but forgets and isn't shy about letting the baby poke around in there, assuring me that she has nothing dangerous out. I think she gets a little miffed sensing that I don't trust her with the baby, but it's not something I can explain. She will only feel bad and then forget soon after. I have to routinely check the door to make sure it's closed completely.

I asked the school counselor to put Whiz Kid in the lunch group again, and it seems to be helping. Getting to see a psychiatrist is a laborious process here, and the only way to speed it up is partial hospitalization treatment. That requires spending mornings at the facility and then afternoons in school for a week or so. I don't think that's necessary or a good idea, because he's doing very well in school and I don't want to mess with that.

Sadly, I can't escape the fact that as much as I want the kids to see their father, the boys seem much happier when we aren't seeing him every weekend. We had a dreadful visit last month which seemed to be a contributing factor to Whiz Kid's breakdown, and I told him we weren't going to visit on a schedule any more but just take it week by week. We didn't see him for three weeks. Then his mom paid for us to go to a museum and brought him with her (she asked me first), and he seemed fine that day. So yesterday we saw him again, but he wasn't doing well. It's so frustrating how unpredictable his behavior is. I really wish we didn't have to see him at all. I firmly believe it would be better for the kids, and I know it would be for me. I just struggle with the question of whether I have a moral right to end it flat out. I'm aware that I have the legal right. On the other hand, weeks like the one before last make me wonder if I have a moral obligation to end it.

You can't imagine how badly I want Spring. I am so tired of the cold, and the kids are so stir-crazy. I want us all to be active and alive again. My sisters have been taking them on ice-skating nights occasionally, which is awesome. I would love to go too, but I really have no time for socializing. Hopefully school will provide some of that without eating into my "mom" time. I can't wait for the garden to be in, either. My family always does one, and I don't have time to plant my own but I'm glad for the opportunity to work in theirs with the kids.

This weekend we're going to visit my mom's father with my sister. I have seen him only three times since reaching adulthood, and those were the first visits in many years. My Grandma always monopolized and controlled the conversations, so it was impossible to ever really visit him. She passed away last year, and I'm really looking forward to an actual visit with him. We will be seeing other relatives too, and I hope it will be a refreshing trip for all of us. When we get back, COLLEGE!!!!!! WHOOHOO!!!!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Goodbye Facebook

So, apparently I was wrong about the first day of Lent. Hehe. That's embarrassing. I don't know what was going through my head. There have been a lot of personal things going on; too personal to blog about without serious time to think, and too important to take that time out for. But I'll touch on some of the less important things.

Sierra wrote about activism fatigue the other day, and that's something I am definitely feeling. I'm tired of attempting meaningful conversations with family members, only to find out more and more things we disagree strongly on. I had a conversation with my Dad the other day that was terribly disappointing; I always thought of him as the sensible, reasonable parent. I guess I was wrong. I'm tired of Facebook for the same reason. It provides too many opportunities for finding out how outrageous some of my loved ones' opinions and beliefs are. It took me so many years to be willing to speak up about my own beliefs; and now that I have started to, it's very embittering to put all that effort into a sensible argument only to be told that the facts cannot be true because ______ (insert random Bible verse here); or that my experiences are invalid because ______ (same idea). Sometimes I can hardly believe I share a planet with them, let alone the name of "Christian."

My family's biggest philosophical flaw is their belief that most people are as thoughtful and discreet in their actions as themselves. They couldn't be more wrong. And as evidenced dramatically in the argument with my Dad, when it comes to personal rights they want to take ideals and standards that can only be handled responsibly by persons of the HIGHEST moral integrity, and apply them across the board. A recipe for disaster in every way. Most frustrating is that even in the face of their children's experiences, they will insist their way was best and the outcome has been some sort of unforseeable exception.

Anyway, I won't be on Facebook for a while. I'm starting classes in two weeks, I need to get back to seeing my counselor before I start freaking out on people, and my oldest needs to see a psychiatrist. (My parents would probably recommend the wooden or leather kind, which would only drive us further apart, so add that to the list of THINGS I CAN'T TALK ABOUT WITH RELATIVES. Most of my personal life is on it at this point.) The boys and I are going to start family counseling as well. We have several things coming up with school, and my Innocent Spouse Relief was approved, so when that money comes back I plan to enroll the boys in some sports activities to help with their issues. I need a break from reading about how horrible the world can be, and hearing others insist it's not so. Or worse, that it's only so because we aren't all being better Christians. I'm tired of all the dissertations on how evil society is by those who laud themselves on being separate. If you want to know what's actually going on in society, TRY LIVING IN IT!!! Spend more time being the change and less time vilifying the lack of it.

My parents think today's social problems are the result of undisciplined children. They're not. The problems we see today are the result of a culture that promotes self-indulgence and mocks self-discipline, choosing instead to discipline the lives of others and compound the problem. Funny that as soon as you point this out, you're accused of overstepping your boundaries. It's perfectly acceptable to have a 60-minute sermon on the faults of society and of other churches/Christians/leaders; but try to say that God doesn't command you to beat your children, and suddenly you're a judgmental, nosy liberal who probably hates the Constitution too. I hear the complaint a lot that when it comes to children, we've become "a nation full of experts." Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black!

You know that verse, Proverbs 19:18, that says in the KJV, "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying." I was curious to see how it read in the Orthodox Bible, which uses the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. I was floored by the difference. It reads, "Instruct your son, for thus he shall be hopeful, but do not lift up your soul in arrogance."

Talk about lost in translation. I'm starting to think most of what Christ came for has been lost in translation by now.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Days of Unbelief

I'm starting to recognize a pattern with my spiritual self. I go through cycles much like the physical menstrual cycle (in fact, I'm not entirely sure they aren't connected). I'm not sure which happens first, but three things are generally present at once: I'm abnormally anxious and depressed, I'm lacking sleep because of the kids not sleeping well (we're still sleeping in one room but with much better accommodations overall), and I'm coming down with another bout of seasonal illness. Any one of which could certainly bring about the other two. And when this happens, I lose my desire to maintain religious connections.  In fact, my mind is overwhelmed with all of the reasons why religion (not faith) is a poisonous and harmful thing.

It's funny, though; if I attend a Protestant church or gathering during these times, rather than patiently tolerating their judgmental dissertations on how evil society is, I become revolted and deeply angered at their arrogance. I can barely remain seated and keep a straight face. But if I go to the Orthodox Church, I feel rejuvenated, washed with peace and love and restoration of faith. Which is an entirely different thing from religion, as I have observed before. The beautiful colors, the sweet harmony of the liturgy, the service consisting almost entirely of prayer. Not the self-flagellating prayers of many western congregations, but prayers for all mankind, and specifically those closest to us. The running theme of the Orthodox liturgy is, "Lord, have mercy." On everyone. And that is a prayer I can enter into wholeheartedly, with every fiber of my being.

I'm starting to understand the appeal of asceticism. Religion has to be kept simple if it is to remain faith. Too many doctrines, and it morphs into a different animal entirely. It's just like the government making laws. Of course some are necessary. But you have to keep in mind that every new law makes a criminal. How much do we really want to criminalize? And the same with doctrines. At some point, you're just making more sinners, not purifying yourselves.

Today marks the beginning of the Orthodox Lent. I'm not observing it strictly, and I don't feel guilty about that. For one thing, today would be a poor day to start fasting since I'm coming down with another nasty sinus infection. Eating cloves of garlic without dairy isn't a good idea. But I'm finding that I enjoy fasting, on a spiritual level. I'm realistic; I cannot go forty days on a vegan diet. Which is essentially what the Lent fast is. I have to eat eggs and dairy at least, and I will. I'll still try to abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays unless I'm sick. Those days are commonly fast days for the Orthodox, and I think there are physical health benefits to that. But the real purpose of fasting, to me, seems to be discipline. SELF-discipline. And that is something I need and want to cultivate. It's important to me that I be able to go without comforts.

I got my tax return from last year. My big splurges were a transmission tune-up, more accommodating beds that my Dad kindly spent ALL of yesterday putting together, and two books. An Orthodox Study Bible, which I've been wanting for a couple of years now, and a book by the current Patriarch of the Orthodox Church. I've only made it through the foreword so far, but I think this is someone I can relate to. He has been called the "Green Patriarch" because of his passion for the environment, reminding people that we are supposed to be preserving the Earth for our Creator, not using it up for our own advancement. He talks about the icons reminding us that Christianity is a "religion of faces," meaning that it is supposed to be a religion for the common people, a religion of unity. He strives - unsuccessfully, which is sad - to create and maintain dialogue between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the Middle East.

I think there will always be doctrines held by the Church that I take exception to. And I was comforted to find, in talking with the priest, that I am not alone in that. The Church requires only that you believe in the Nicene Creed, and that you personally do not live a life in open contradiction to their doctrines. For example, they do not require that I personally believe homosexuals to be sinning. Only that I do not live as a homosexual or promote it as an acceptable lifestyle. Right now, I'm not ready to do either one (condemn it or promote it). Our priest does not believe in the death penalty, although the Church holds it to be an acceptable form of punishment. And while the Church does not hold pacifism as a doctrine, I think from what I've read so far it's a safe bet the Patriarch is himself a pacifist at heart.

A "religion of faces." I like that. It sounds like a religion I can live with, and not compromise my own faith to do so.