The Christmas Pageant Rat Race

I’m starting to have second thoughts about church Christmas Pageants.  Yes, I know, cute little kids in lamb ears and tails running around, slightly older kids herding them with shepherd’s crooks or strutting up the aisle carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh, still others in wings and halos slipping down into their eyes, kids remembering lines, or maybe teens narrating so the kids don’t have to.  It’s adorable, right?

Well, yeah.  But we parents are frequently not.  I’ve finally noticed the parental competition that goes into it all.  I used to think maybe it was just me, but no, a lot of parents get really hung up on their kids getting just the right role.  And a lot of churches must fall into patterns that parents then take as rules and then get their feelings hurt when the pattern falls apart just as their child should get to be the star.

Yesterday, a friend was complaining about her older teen not being in the pageant.  Whether her complaint had merit is not what I’m concerned with here.  It was her memories and mine that her story dredged up that got me to pondering it all.

She mentioned how her church had had the tradition of the oldest girl playing Mary but when it was her daughter’s rightful turn, someone else got the part instead.  Two different girls over two different years, if I understood correctly.  This reminded me of the first year we were in our current church.  A friend’s daughter got the part of Mary over Jane and I felt a little bit jilted.  I cynically wondered if my daughter would always be second fiddle simply because she was new.

I know there weren’t exclusionary motives behind the Mary selection that year.  In all reality, only one girl can play Mary.  And Jane was a solid foot taller than the boys.  She would have made a rather strange Mary.  Her friend fit more comfortably in that role while Jane was an outstanding head angel.

That memory led me to our previous church, where the coveted role was not Mary, but Baby Jesus.  Yes, if there was an infant in the congregation, we had a real live baby play Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, it became understood that the role went to the youngest baby.  Jane started off the tradition, complete with a recording of her cries.  When Daryl was born, also in October, he took his turn.

But when Hal joined the world just two months before Christmas, he was overlooked for the role.  Some of the other parents had felt that our family was hogging the Jesus role.  It was given to a kid a few months older.  I was miffed.  How dare they change the tradition?  That was my child’s role by right.

It was ridiculous, I realize that.  But it was also real.  Raw emotion.  It’s the same competitiveness that makes parents worry when someone else’s kid talks first or walks first or potty trains early.  Some sense of validation and spotlight.

I wish I could say I’m beyond all that now.  Given some time, I can let it go, but my gut instinct is one of indignation and a desire for my child to have an important role.  Fact is, though, that there are only so many parts.  A kid gets or doesn’t get a part for a variety of reasons.  None of them, I would wager, is something that should be taken personally.

Besides, while we all clamber to make sure our kid is Mary or Joseph or Baby Jesus or the biggest speaking part, it is always always all the sheep running around that steal the show.  Every time.  That leftover role that gets handed to the littlest ones who can’t be counted on to recite a line or to go where directed.  The role that gets handed to any kid that shows up that night, having missed all the rehearsals.  That’s the role that makes the audience laugh.  That makes the audience fall in love.  That makes the audience think, Hey.  Maybe this Christmas Pageant thing isn’t so bad after all.  Just look at them!  I can’t wait to see what we come up with next year.

Burden vs. Consequence

I’ve been working on a fairly long post attempting to articulate some of my thoughts on the responses I’ve seen, particularly on the internet, to the ongoing protests concerning the recent police shootings.  I’m not ready to share that yet, but here’s a thought that I decided to share separately rather than find a way to work it into that already bloated piece that’s in work.

I’ve seen a lot of people make remarks along the lines of “Well, if so-and-so-now-dead-person had just done this or had not done this, then they’d still be alive.”  And, yes, those statements are completely true.  The incredible thing about hindsight is that it is always 20/20.  Nearly every bad thing that ever happened to anyone could have not happened had they just done something differently.  Sometimes that different choice was obviously the better choice, sometimes not.  Sometimes it’s only obvious looking back.

But whether they could have made a better choice doesn’t (or shouldn’t) put the blame on them.

Here’s an analogy.

Where I work, there are a lot of separate buildings and thus quite a bit of foot traffic outside.  There’s also vehicular traffic.  Company rules state that pedestrians have the right-of-way.  Everywhere.  The parking lot, the streets, the alleys between buildings.  Vehicles are always to yield to pedestrians, regardless of whether they are in a cross walk.  Period.

The burden is on the drivers to avoid hitting the pedestrians.  It is their responsibility.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the pedestrian who will pay the price if they don’t.  It’s the walker who will be squashed like a bug if the driver isn’t paying attention.  The pedestrian suffers the consequences.

It’s the same thing with police.  The burden is on the police to control the situation in an appropriate manner.  It’s their job to keep it from escalating.  It’s their job to keep their cool.  It’s their job to determine when deadly force is appropriate.  It’s their job to not jump to the wrong conclusions.  It’s a difficult job, no doubt about it.

But it’s the person the police approaches who pays the price if they don’t.  As such, it is wise for them to not be provocative.  To do what they are told.  To swallow their pride.  But it is not their responsibility.  It’s still the police officer’s responsibility.  The officer is the one with control and training.  The officer carries the burden.  Or should.

One final note of comparison.  Someone several years ago was driving a vehicle on company premises and didn’t see a petite woman walking. He hit her and caused severe damage to her ankle.  She was out of work for quite some time and it took a very long time for her to recover.  She suffered the physical consequences of the driver’s carelessness.

She was so small, she was probably difficult to see.  The driver didn’t mean to hit her.  He felt really bad about it.  He still lost his job.  The responsibility to avoid the collision had still been his.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

When Math And Awesome Aren’t Considered Synonymous

Jane and I had a conversation recently as she struggled with her math homework and I grew frustrated with what she didn’t understand.  I finally looked at her and said, “Honey, I’m sorry.  But you are not a math person.  I mean, you may do well in math sometimes.  You are in the Pre-AP class and you are making an A, but you just aren’t a math person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

She shot back immediately with, “Mom, I’m sorry.  But you are not an awesome person.  I mean, you sometimes do awesome things.  Like, you married him.” She motioned to her father.  “And you gave birth to this.” At that, she shimmied her hands down her figure.  “But you just aren’t an awesome person.  That’s ok – I still love you.”

“She does, however, have an exceptional command of the English language,” my husband said with a smile.

“Yes, yes, she does,” I said, laughing.

This is a fascinating reality to me.  Ask anyone who knows us – she looks just like me.  I mean, she’s bigger.  Taller, bigger frame, fuller features.  But I could never deny her as mine.

She also talks incessantly.  Just like me.  And fails to guard her tongue when it would be best not to say something.  Just like me (although I’m finally starting to learn).  She can’t help giving her opinion, taking over, dominating a conversation.  Just. Like. Me.

She loves to read.  She writes very well.  Her eyes are blue.  She angers easily and has trouble letting it go.  Just like me.

But she’s not me.  She is definitely not me.  I get that and I’m ok with that.  But sometimes, in some areas, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around.  And this is one of them.

I loved math.  I mean, I dearly, obsessively, insanely loved math.  When we got to story problems, I consistently worked the unassigned problems in the book because I thought they were fun.  And since I had to know if I was right, I asked the teacher to check them.

Someone gave me a math calendar in early high school.  Each day of the year had a math problem whose answer was that day’s date.  I raced through the entire calendar during the Christmas break and carried it in my backpack when school resumed.  I had been baffled by the repeated appearance of a variable without enough information to solve.  It gnawed at me.

And then one day, my Algebra II teacher said, “Remember how we’ve always told you that you can’t take the square root of a negative number?  Well, we lied.  Meet ‘i’.”  At that, she wrote on the board that i equaled the square root of -1.

That’s all I needed.  I actually exclaimed out loud, “I!” and immediately began to rummage through my backpack.  I pulled the calendar out triumphantly and began to work all those unsolved problems, oblivious to both the instruction taking place and all the incredulous stares of my classmates.

To love something so dearly and have your children not share your passion is difficult.  And, quite frankly, confusing.  When growing up, I was used to most other students not sharing my love of problem solving.  But then I went to work as an engineer and I was surrounded by other people just like me.  Life made sense.

Then I had children.  And I wasn’t prepared to hear “I really don’t like math” or “this doesn’t make sense” or “why do I need to know this”.  Or  “none of the careers I’m interested in require any of the things I’m learning in Algebra I.”  Excuse me?  What’s that got to do with the price of tea in China?!

That’s what I got last night as I helped again with homework.  Maybe part of the problem is that I truly delight in trying to get her to *see* how it works.  And she’s not interested.  She just wants to plug the numbers and get an answer and put a box around it and call it good.

She’s still stubborn and overly certain that she’s right.  Which gets frustrating when she’s not.  She worked a problem and eventually got to “t=3″.

“So what’s t?” I asked.

“It’s 3,” she said.

“No, what are its units?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what is it?  3 what?”

“It’s the distance that Claire ran.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is.”

“No,” I said firmly.  “It’s not.  Look at your equations up there.  Claire was running 5mph, so 5t was the distance she ran, right?”

“Right.”

“So what’s t?”

“The distance she ran.”

“No!  That’s 5t.  What does t represent?”

“Miles.  She ran 3 miles.”

“No!”

“Yes!  I know what I’m doing!  I’m right!  The problem asked for how far she ran and I got three.”

“No.  You are not right.  And just because the problem asked for distance doesn’t mean that’s what you solved for.  Listen to me.  I am an engineer.  I love math.  This is not challenging for me.  I know what I’m talking about.  So listen while I explain it.”

I still don’t get why she argues with me on these points.  I really don’t.  She eventually figured out what she was doing wrong and we moved on to another problem.  Where I promptly made a subtraction mistake as I worked the problem on the side.

She again insisted she was right.  I asked her to show me her work.  She did.  It looked right.  I checked mine, noticed my mistake, and affirmed that she was right.  She promptly and smugly mimicked my earlier comments.  I explained that the difference between the two of us was that she insisted she was right and refused to listen to me explain why she wasn’t, whereas I asked to see what she had done and saw that I was wrong.  And admitted it.

On that second problem, she had a division problem that resulted in an obviously wrong answer.  She eventually got it straightened out and came up with “x = 290.”  Again, I asked what x was.

“It’s time.”

“Ok, what units?”

“Minutes.”

“How do you know it’s in minutes?”

“Because that’s what the question asked for.  It said, ‘How many minutes?’.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.  That just means they want the answer in minutes.  It doesn’t mean the number you calculated was in minutes.  What if they gave you all the same information but asked for the time in hours?”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh?  You think so.  Why not?”

“Because she is trying to teach us.  She wouldn’t throw a trick in there like that.”

I disagreed but let it go.  Before long, we were on a problem where the rates of growth of some trees were given in inches per year and their heights in feet.  We both missed that detail even though the last statement in the problem was to pay attention to units.

She was comfortable with her answer and was prepared to move on.  I was bothered by the statement.  Why make that statement on this problem in particular when the units match up, just like all the others.  And then I realized that they didn’t match up.

“Oh! Ho!” I exclaimed in triumph.  “She did it to you!  She totally did to you what you insisted she wouldn’t do!  Look at the units!”

I know I shouldn’t take such glee in being right around my children.  But when you have really bright children who always think they are right, it’s hard not to.  It’s also hard to accept that you are alone in your love of numbers and problem solving.  Daryl is in line with Jane.  I guess I’ll have to hope that Hal, against all odds, will *get* it.

It’s (Not Quite) Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas…

My Kindergarten son still has so much to learn about our family. So much to learn…

As we drove by some lit up houses the other day, he adopted his most know-it-all, disgusted tone, copied so carefully from his older siblings, and said, “Why.  Do all these people.  Have their Christmas decorations out?!  It’s not even Christmas yet.”

“Actually,” I countered, “this is an appropriate time to put decorations out.  It’s December and that’s when people put up Christmas decorations.  We are getting awfully close to Christmas.”

He turned his head in shock and dismay.  His tone turned accusatory.  “Then why don’t we have our decorations out?”

“Because we’ve been busy.  We’ll get to it.”

Give him a few years.  He’ll learn – eventually – that if we don’t pull the decorations down from the attic the day before we leave for Thanksgiving so we can put up the tree that weekend when we return, it might not happen for weeks.  He’ll learn that only once or twice in the 20+ years of our marriage have we ever had decorations/lights up outside the house.  He’ll learn to be grateful that the tree gets up in time.  Shoot.  One year, I cut out some green paper in the shape of a tree and taped it to the wall.  Much younger versions of his siblings actually had a good time drawing the decorations that year.

He’ll learn.  We aren’t like normal people.  Given time, he’ll even come to appreciate it.

Baking With Grandma… or… Still So Much To Learn

I baked cookies with my mom and grandma last Friday. We made some of those chocolate crackle cookies, some with peppermint candy on top and others with marachino cherries and a cherry glaze drizzled. We also made a bunch of “press cookies” in various Christmas shapes, then drizzled a clear glaze, and added sprinkles.

It was fun and I enjoyed working with them. It’s definitely easier (and more enjoyable) to be able to do stuff like that assembly line style rather than being responsible for every single step yourself.

What fascinated me, though, was how much I learned. How is there still more for me to learn about baking from the two people who essentially taught me to bake in the first place? How did I miss learning this stuff earlier? Did they always do it this way and I just never noticed?

Take as an example the cooling racks. Did they always place newspaper under them? They both thought it was natural. The newspaper would catch the crumbs and – more importantly – the glaze drippings and sprinkles.

Mom even commented that we should glaze and sprinkle on the cooling racks specifically so the glaze and sprinkles could fall through, rather than pooling on the cookie sheets.

Did she always do that and I was too clueless to pick up on it? What else have I missed? What valuable family knowledge is not getting properly transmitted through me?

Missed Me?

I’ve been silent for the last week and I’m not quite sure why. I have a lot of stories floating around in my head. Some of them are about the kids (what I am supposed to be writing about) and others are commentaries on stuff around me or current events (what I find myself writing about more and more).

Those ideas are composed and recomposed over and over again as I walk or drive from place to place. I would gladly write them instead of working but… well… I’d like to keep my job. I keep doing the mental composing throughout my day. Then I get home and take care of the myriad obligations there. Eventually the kids go to bed and that’s my usual blog time.

Except I haven’t felt it.

When I list the things I need to do and I hit “write a blog post”, I think Man. I really don’t feel like doing that right now. When that’s happened before, it’s usually been because either a) I don’t have anything to write about and don’t have the energy to come up with something or b) I’m angry about something and don’t feel that’s the right state of mind to be in when writing for a blog entitled “My Bright Spots.” But that hasn’t been the case lately. I just haven’t felt like it.

So… nothing.

It’s been an interesting shift. Used to be, I consistently wrote my posts because I wanted to. But lately, I’ve been writing because I felt I had to. I needed to be predictable. A post every day Monday-Friday, with a “Throwback Thursday” post on Thursday. When it was getting late and I realized I hadn’t written one, I felt obligated to sit down and churn one out.

I’ve been having a similar reaction to reading blog posts. I’ve been feeling like we are all chattering magpies yapping away at the wind. What’s the point? Are we all just producing this stuff for each other? Why? Has my blog just become a more refined version of a “share every thought that comes into my head” Facebook life?

I’m not sure.

But the interesting thing is that as I write this, more topics are coming into my head. Everything from baking cookies with my mom last week to my thoughts on Ferguson, MO. So I don’t think I’m coming to feel there’s no point. I think I’m just tired. Really, really tired.

It’s not easy to be a full time engineer, mother to three kids (from a Kindergartener to a teenager), church elder, Sunday School teacher, club volunteer, DIY home rennovator, regular (almost obsessive) exercise practioner, and a blogger. Sometimes I get tired. Ok, not sometimes. I’m always tired. And I have to let something go. I’ve chosen not to let up on the exercise. I committed to the church for a three year term. The club needs me. The projects at the house still have to get done. And I can’t really drop my work and parenting obligations. That leaves the blog.

I don’t want to quit though, and I’m not going to. I’m just going to try telling myself that I don’t have to publish on a schedule. I don’t have to do it if I don’t feel like it. I can skip for a week or two or longer if I want to. And it’ll all be ok.

Now, don’t be surprised if I end up publishing something every day this week. Now that I’ve primed the pump, so to speak, I may find I “feel” like writing and easily fill my week with posts. But if I do fall silent for a bit (again), just say a little prayer or send kind thoughts my way. Something simple like “I hope she gets some sleep” will do. Thanks. :)

How about you? Do you keep a schedule or have a guideline of how often you want to blog? Do you fall into slumps? Does it bother you? Do you ever feel obligated or is it always an act of joy?

Don’t Worry About It?

At the symphony the other night, an old and not-very-mobile man was sitting a few rows in front of us. At some point, he decided he needed to leave. As he struggled back up the aisle, he suddenly exclaimed “Dammit!”

I glanced his way and my suspicion that his pants had just fallen was confirmed a couple of seconds later when he stage whispered to his wife, “I should have worn my belt.”

None of this was amusing or shocking to me. Not the pants falling, not the loud swearing, not the too loud remark to his wife. No, what got to me was his wife’s immediate response to the Dammit! and sudden grabbing of his pants.

As he struggled to maintain dignity and before he remarked about the belt, she muttered (also loudly enough to be heard), “Oh! Don’t worry about it!”

Don’t worry about it? Really? He’s a grown man in a public place and you don’t think he should worry about dropping his pants? Even placing aside issues of dignity, there are some practical considerations. He couldn’t get out of the chair without your help. He can’t walk up the aisle without you holding one arm while he leans against the wall with the other. He’s basically shuffling along the floor, unable to lift his feet high enough to step. And you don’t think he should worry about his pants suddenly puddling around his ankles? As if that won’t further hinder his progress?

Let’s try switching roles and see whether you can resist worrying about your pants falling down.