Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Why do we put boys in the altar with knives, fire and alcohol?

October 12, 2009

After Divine Liturgy yesterday my 9 year old reported the usual shenanigans that altar boys get into behind the iconostas.  (Moms, you’ll understand when I say I much prefer not to see what’s going on.)   So the 9 year old tells me, in a very casual manner, about an “incident” that happened with his 7 year old brother.

“Mom, if M’s hair smells like charcoal, it’s ok, it just got a little singed.  He got his head too close to the censor, but we picked out the burned parts.”   

School photos are tomorrow.   Luckily the missing parts are on the back of his head.

Troy Polamalu On Faith, Family (and Football)

August 11, 2009

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Without a question, my greatest wish would be for [my son] to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian.

Amen Troy. 

It’s a human weakness to feel a vicarious pride in the accomplishments of our children.  From Day One we’re always looking for signs of excellence and, more often than not, the measure of our children’s progress is made against other children and their parents.  It’s selfish and self-centered, and some would say it’s just a result of Darwinian natural selection.  But how many of us parents, Orthodox or of any Christian faith, measure our children’s success in terms of their relationship with Christ and their faithfulness to his Holy Church?  And when our children graduate from high school and go out into the world, will we also measure our success as parents by their careers and income or by their devotion to prayer and an active church life?

I so feel Troy Polomalu’s desire for his son to be a pious Orthodox Christian.  It is the only burning desire I have for my own two sons.  When I first became a parent I agonized over raising children with a spouse that was and remains completely closed off to the Orthodox faith.   For so many years I’ve felt like a windbreak in a howling gale, protecting the tiny flame of faith I’ve tried to catch in my children.   As long as I’m nurturing that flame I have hope, but the scary part is when you realize that you’ll have to stand up and move away.  Whether or not that flame continues to burn is dependent to some degree on the fuel you fed the flame with, but I think the harder part of letting go is accepting your children’s own free will and openess to the Holy Spirit.   Sadly, some may want to light new fires of their own or even let their flame die out.   I worry that despite all my efforts, my kids may do just that, and then what?  Will I accept their choices or rage against their free will?   Parenting is surely a cross in its own way.

Do not miss reading the rest of Troy Polomalu’s interview with Pittsburgh Magazine.  Every Orthodox parent in America needs to read this interview and take to heart a commitment to the spiritual lives of our children.   There is an eternity of consequence at stake here.  Football may be a game but the salvation of our children (and ourselves) is not. 

Gangsta Genes

June 22, 2009

Here’s the latest scientific research  that tries to give credibility to the packs of tattooed, drop-out, criminal punk-asses, who’d rather bust out your car windows and each others faces than take responsibility for their own lives. 

The debate over the root causes of criminality – genetic or environmental – goes way back.  It’s a theory that has influenced criminal justice practices for decades, and the fluctuations between either camp determines the ebbs and flows in  social intervention programs for pre-offenders and the types of incarceration, rehabilitation and parole conditions for convicted juvenile and adult criminals.

My 9 year old and I watched a classic movie this weekend, The Bad Seed, the whole premise of which is based on the idea of inherited criminal character versus an environmental cause.   My son was just as fascinated with this movie as I was at his age; maybe because this highly stylized and moralistic film shows a clear image of what true evil and sin can be committed by fallen man.  On the other hand it could leave you with the false impression that you aren’t such a bad person after all – you’re certainly not a homicidal 8 year old so you must be pretty good.  

When our children are young and innocent we’ve all wondered to some degree whether they will grow up to be law-abiding, honorable, good people.   I can remember freaking out a bit when my youngest son was 4 years old and constantly acting up at church.   He’s always been a bit of a monster and I’ve spent many hours in frustration over his wild child behavior.  These early episodes should have been a tip-off to his now diagnosed ADHD.  On this one particular Sunday, we’d made the gazillionth trip out of the church to regroup and burn off energy.  I finally asked him, “M., why are you acting up like this?”   I really didn’t expect an answer, but he shocked me when he just popped right back, “I evil, Mommy.”   I thought for sure I had a future axe murderer on my hands. 

What does society do then with these gangsta teens?  I for one am not ready to blindly accept the idea that they just can’t help it.  It’s in their genes poor things.  The opening field of genetic research I think is going too far in their passion for finding the genetic cause of everything.  Isn’t assigning genetic factors to every human behavioral and psychological condition pretty close to denying our free will and leaving us only one step up from the instinctual behavior of animals?   I give these  gang bangers more credit than a school of fish, and I still believe in the old-fashioned idea that if you can’t find the self-discipline to change your life than you’re going to have to pay the consequences.   

My little gangstas (Spring 2007)

My little gangstas (Spring 2007)

Evil, Evil Cupcakes

June 19, 2009

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Who can make school administrators hyperventilate?   What sends teachers into cold sweats?  Who can kill a Valentine’s or end-of-school party with a simple phone call campaign?   No Child Left Behind?  Mandatory testing? 

No, it’s a shrill, preachy, obsessed, helicopter mom whose greatest fear is that her darlings will – ‘horror’ – eat a sugary treat at school.  Here’s a woman who really knows how to kill a class party.   MeMe Roth has made a one-woman industry out of fighting sugar and fat in all its public school incarnations.  Just visit her website  at National Action Against Obesity and you’d swear the webmaster for PETA was working on this as a side job.   Does anyone see the big rebellion coming along when her kids decide they don’t want to be indoctrinated in Mom’s ‘sugar is bad’ propaganda camp anymore?  When they hit 16 it won’t be binge drinking they go for, but all night pig outs at friend’s houses, eating Crispy Creme donuts and shotgunning Big Red.

I live in San Antonio, Fat Capital of the US, so I’m well aware of the dangers of childhood obesity.  Every day I see the results of poor parenting and poverty and I can empathize a bit with MeMe Roth’s ideology.  I also happen to be the mom of a chubby boy so I do my share of  preaching about healthy eating habits.  I encourage lots of physical exercise and sports, and teach him food awareness and nutrition.  I review the school menus, and applaud the ban on cafeteria vending machines.   However, am I abusing my child as MeMe Roth believes, by allowing him to eat a cupcake during school parties?    I think there’s more abuse in the rules she enforces on her own kids than the simple fun of celebrating a classmate’s birthday with a small cupcake and a juice box.  

Where is the moderation in this crusade?   Many parents have become so focused on optimizing their childrens’ chances for success, beauty and health, they suck out a lot of what makes childhood fun and memorable.    I think it’s a pretty good bet that many of the  children of zealots do not take up their parents’ causes when they grow up.   They see where concern and reasonableness end,  and instead become a source of childhood embarrasment and resentment.

Shame Isn’t a Dirty Word

May 26, 2009

Can I ask what has happened to the proper and venerable place of shame in modern culture?   Does no one even know what that is anymore, much less exhibit it in proper moderation?  I’d certainly have thought that if anyone knew the meaning of the word it would be Mel Gibson, but it looks like his big boy hormones have shut off the switch on his good ‘ol reservoir of  Catholic guilt.   

Appearing yesterday on The Tonight Show, his words and body language say (a) I’m the expectant father of an illegitimate child  (b) I’m happy and relaxed with that; and (c) I’m a  sinful package of contradictions and delusions. 

Ironic isn’t it? – that Mel should break the news about the fruit of his infidelity on the same night as America’s current reality TV train wreck, Jon and Kate Gosselin of  Jon and Kate Plus Eight fame.   Here’s a family that needs a little shame in their life too – a little shame and a dose of humility might be able to save them and their poor kids from the monster of reality TV. 

I’m certainly not saying that celebrities should be held to a higher standard of morality or that society should go to a Taliban extreme of enforcing virtue.  I’m saying that, by choice, these people have placed themselves in the public eye for monetary gain.   Children and teens are influenced by them in a way that vastly exceeds anything their parents hope to achieve.  But the perks of celebrity carry a  public responsibility to act in a decent, respectable manner.   You wanna drink your brains out, ditch your wife, and  knock up your girlfriend?  Fine, go right ahead; just don’t go on TV and declare your happiness to the whole world and expect lots of affirmation for your lack of self-restraint. 

Swine Flu Report #1

April 28, 2009

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 This has been a test of the Blogosphere Emergency Alert System (BLERT).  If this had been an actual emergency you would have been instructed……  

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 If you found this post with a Google search using the terms “swine flu”, “global pandemic”, “quarantine”, or “apocalypse + plague”, I do not have anything useful to report or suggestions for survival.   For some strange and inexplicable reason, I am not at this point totally freaked out, even though I live almost at ground zero from the initial Texas outbreak.   Steele High School is just 15 miles away, right over in the next community.   So, it’s practically in our own backyard.

What’s the difference in my panic level now than from what I felt over the bird flu infections?   Simple – all of the US infections have been non-fatal so far.   It’s horribly xenocentric, but it seems it takes the death of some otherwise healthy American to jolt us from our complacency – not just the poor victims right across the border.

It’s not too early to make some mental check lists of things to do – contingencies.   For me that’s wondering what to do when the first cases hit my kids’ school and the district shuts down as it did over the weekend in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City school district.

I am not old enough (well, I am older) to remember or maybe it wasn’t on my radar screen in 1968 or 1976 when the last swine flu scares came along.   What stands out in my memory is President Gerald Ford being mercilessly skewered on Saturday Night Live for what some people believed was the Great Swine Flu failure of 1976.  It seems the virus could not be predicted and several million people didn’t die as predicted.   I don’t think anyone’s going to get all riled up over emergency preparedness this time around.

What did the churches, particularly Orthodox Churches, do back in ’76 about liturgical services?  Were some cancelled or did they go on a usual?   What about our practice of communing from a common chalice?  I’m inclined to say, “God will take care of us since it is the Body and Blood of His Son”, we’re communing.  I bet that doesn’t assauage the paranoia though.  Church attendance and frequent communion are going to surely take a hit over the next few weeks or months.

What interesting and scary times we live in!   I know one thing, if we do have to go into lock down mode and the kids are sent home, I need to make sure chocolate and Blue Bell ice cream are on my list of essentials.  There’s no way I’m spending a week or two shut up in the house  with two wild boys without some basic comfort foods. 

The Bad Side of Fiesta

April 21, 2009

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It’s Fiesta week in San Antonio!  Who doesn’t love lots of parades, a gazillion special events, people breaking cascarones over each others’ heads, tons of  food, crazy local royalty whizzing around town with police escorts, the music, just everything.  It’s sometimes a problem though when Fiesta coincides with Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha.  This year’s Fiesta  started on Thursday, April 16th and will continue through Sunday, April 26th, so us local Orthodox Christians only missed out on a couple of days.   A fast free Bright Week is perfect for Fiesta.  In ten days, about 3.5 million people attend multiple events and generally the whole of San Antonio is affected to one degree or another.  Working downtown, I’m right in the thick of it and I’m so glad!

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However, one Fiesta event I absolutely detest and procrastinate about and wish could be killed forever,  is the dreaded, headache-inducing, stress-filled FIESTA SHOE BOX FLOAT PARADE!  If you’re a parent you know about this concept.  Schools, preschools and daycare centers feel it must be a fun and educational experience for their children to participate in the local parade madness with their very own, customized, personally decorated, and themed shoe boxes to pull around the school in a mini-parade with strings, mount on little wheels, or pull around in mini wagons.  Who makes the floats?  Certainly not the kids. 

My kids I have been making shoe box floats for Fiesta for 8 years.  Every April I’m caught unaware because of the selective amnesia problem I’ve developed about this project.  Fiesta celebrations have been happening around San Antonio since the first Battle of Flowers Parade in 1891, so you’d think I’d be prepared.  When did I realize I had to make this year’s Fiesta float for my 7 year old?  6:30 am this morning as I cleaned out his backpack.  When is the float due?  Tomorrow morning.   When am I going to run screaming into the street, babbling like an idiot, covered in confetti and gluey tissue paper?  About 10:30 pm tonight.   Watch the news tomorrow morning.  It should be a pretty scary sight.

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Little League Needs A Stimulus Check

March 17, 2009

Let’s forget about the sucky economy  and who can or can’t afford to buy a new luxury car this year; the unsightly women foregoing their nail jobs and highlights, or the companies dropping the corporate deer lease.  This crisis is finally hitting home when kids can’t play Little League  baseball.

I imagine this news story reflects a reality that is affecting all childrens’ sports programs, after school activities, camping, fishing and scouting programs.  Not to mention the ripple down effect on the stores that sell athletic goods, uniforms, and equipment, or the motels and restaurants that fill up for out-of-town league play or field trips. 

This issue is close to my heart because both my boys have played Little League baseball for years.  I love the family-friendly, quality league we play with, McAllister Park Little League.  This from someone who was not particularly into competitive sports.  I’ve totally come around now that I see how important it is for children to be exposed to the good side of sports and sportsmanship, and strong, encouraging, adult role models.  A coach isn’t just teaching you how to hit a ball or swing a bat; he or she is teaching you what it means to be a responsible adult.

My oldest in Spring 2008

My oldest last Spring 2008

Yesterday was the opening day of the spring  season and my husband and I shuttled my 7 year old to practice then spent the rest of the evening watching my 9 year old’s game.  We chatted with friends under blue skies that faded to deep twilight; a beautiful Spring evening that had the smell of fresh grass and raked sand.  Bats flitted against the lights, deer came out to feed in the new grass at the edge of the fields and Killdeer wheeled low over the outfield and called to their mates.  And every  now and then the ‘chink’ of ball and metal bat and the excited calls and hoots of proud parents.

I see the positive effects of team sports and family involvement at least four days a week and I’m really angry and disappointed that so many kids are going to be deprived of this experience.  I hate to see our kids paying the price for the grown ups’ mismanagement of the economy, but there are so many culprits it’s hard to know who to be mad at.   How do you explain to your child they can’t be in Girl Scouts or play soccer because the failing banks and stock market have affected your take home pay and you can’t afford it?  That life has changed from one school year to the next and the money for family activities just isn’t there anymore?

I can relate to these parents.  Playing ball this year was a conscious choice but not an easy one.    The recession has cut into our income like everyone else, even though we’re fortunate to be in an area that has a low cost of living and a good job base.  We’ve had to make so many cuts and compromises I’m feeling pretty shocked by the whole thing (not to mention sinfully selfish, materialistic and put out with the change in my economic status).  I can totally understand why parents in other sinking areas of the country are being forced to make these hard decisions.  Our out-of-pocket expenses this season for registration fees, new uniforms, cleats, and batting practice hit $475 for two kids.  That’s three weeks of groceries, two electric bills, four months of DSL/phone service or half a mortgage payment. 

So next time you worry about overweight kids who don’t exercise enough or support school budgets that gut physical education programs, and curse the kids who are out tagging fences and burning stuff, remember there was an alternative.  In the long run it’s a lot more expensive for all of us to house and feed that kid in juvenile detention or state prison than it is to support sports programs and after school activities. 

Lesson Learned:  Try your best at all times

Lesson Learned: Try your best at all times

Godly Co-Dependence

February 27, 2009

I had one of those teary-eyed parenting moments yesterday evening.  My 7 year old was at baseball practice and I stayed home to make dinner.  I was fixing a potato and onion frittata (gotta use up all those pre-Lent eggs you know) when I realized I didn’t have any good bread in the house.  Looking at my sweats and Birkenstocks I realized I didn’t want to be seen in any store and was just too lazy and tired to change for a quick trip.  That’s when I remembered I had the next best thing to a hired servant in the house – a 9 year old.  It did occur to me that this would be a good lesson in independence, but that wasn’t my first thought – it actually ran along the lines of “the boy, the boy, yeah, the boy could do it”.  And he was excited about the idea – either by the prospect of doing something truly grownup or keeping the change from my $10.

So we quickly drove down to La Madeleine  about a half-mile from the house.  I parked within view of the front door and gave him his instructions.  He jumped out of the car and I waited.  He came back five minutes later with my change and said he had to go back in because the baguettes weren’t out of the oven yet.  So off he went.  After another 5 minutes I stepped just outside the car to get a better view of him through the window as he patiently sat by the front counter.   He wasn’t messing  with anything, he wasn’t goofing around, and actually, was acting like a real customer.  I started to tear up thinking about how much he’s growing up and said a quick prayer thanking God for such a good son and asking him to guide him into adulthood.

It’s a funny thing about the life of a Christian.  We spend our early years under the care of our parents, growing  in independence (free will) and self-sufficiency, only to find that once we become adults our temporal and spiritual lives are as rooted in dependency as an infant.   It can be a real shock for some young adults when they discover this truth.  They’ve grown up believing what all of us well-meaning parents (at least American parents) fill our kids with – on ideas of individuality, independence  and self-sufficiency – only to learn we’re all inexorably linked to everyone and everything around us. 

Here’s a not too funny and all too true observation.   How many overprotective mothers does it take to change a grown son’s light bulb?  Only one – because a mother is all a son will ever need.

Shall I tell you the difference between healthy independence and the  38 year old single man living at home with his anime collection and part-time job at GameStop?  It’s the godly parent who instills in their child the belief that they are personally accountable to God for the conduct of their lives, and that accountability is a godly co-dependence. 

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:5

Omnipotent as he is, God doesn’t need anything we can give him; not our piety, not our sacrifices, not our spiritual efforts, not even our worship.  God is above everything, yet intimately involved and interested in every aspect of our lives, and he willingly accepts our love, worship, and adoration.   We grow in our free will love of Him and our independence is actually the strongest expression of dependence on God.

I believe that I’ve tried to accept that my sons could have a career in most anything when they grow up and that I would be ok with that, as long as they were hard-working and honest (and college graduates – ok sorry).   Christian parents want the best for their children and we aren’t immune to praying for the same materialistic things  – health, happiness, good grades, good jobs, a homerun or touchdown.   But a Christian above all prays for their child’s spiritual life and their continued faith and dependence on God.  

When I sent my son into that bakery I was just trying to save myself a little time and effort, but I didn’t realize that in some small way I was helping him become a godly man who, I pray, will one day realize his greatest worth is to be a  faithful Christian.  Dependent on God, but dependent because of his own free will.

O God, our heavenly Father, who lovest mankind and art most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon thy servant ___ for whom I humbly pray thee, and commend to thy gracious care and protection.  Be thou, O God, their guide and guardian in all their endeavors, lead them in the path of thy truth and draw them nearer to the, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in thy love and fear; doing thy will in all things.  Give them grace that they may be temperate, industrious, diligent, devout and charitable.  Defend them against the assaults of the enemy, and grant them wisdom and strength to resist all temptation and corruption of this life; and direct them in the way of salvation, through the merits of thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the intercessions of his Holy Mother and thy blessed saints.  Amen. 

                 (An Orthodox prayer of parents for their children)

 

Thank You Troy Polamalu!

January 20, 2009

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Thank you for making Orthodoxy cool.   For showing my sports-crazy 9 year old son that a professional football player can be a devout Orthodox Christian who isn’t afraid to talk about his faith  and to make the sign of the Cross in public.  Thank you for your example of good sportsmanship and hard work; your devotion to family and a clear-mindedness about the value of eternal things  over material possessions.

I’ll admit it, but football isn’t one of my favorite sports.  Maybe having spent my entire life in the state of Texas makes one either love football or not.   It’s not for lack of exposure though.   Back in the day, my high school (Judson HS)  won the state championship several times.   As a geek,  I was of course president of the “spirit club”.  Yeah, that meant myself and other fellow geeks and nerds worked the concession stand every Friday night and made the big, decorated paper goalpost banners.  Then I sealed this ambivalent footballness with my induction into the maroon and white cult of  Texas A & M; a university that could not be more historically and intricately linked with football.  However, it was at A & M that I most clearly understood and appreciated  the Pavlovian reward for fan devotion and team spirit.  Football games that by tradition require men to kiss their dates after every Aggie touchdown are ok in my book.   

So, what am I going to do now that my 9 year old thinks football is the greatest sport since the gladiatorial games?  If he’s got someone like Troy Polamalu as a role model, I’m gonna say…. GO STEELERS!

(And Mr. Polamalu – if you ever feel the need to get out of the cold Yankee north country, I know a very nice Orthodox parish in San Antonio that would love to have you come for a visit!)

For a very personal interview with Troy Polamalu, discussing his faith and family life, click here.

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