Thursday, June 30, 2011

From the Annamaniacs Files: Driving Me Crazy

I had a request from my daughter - yes the same one in this story - to post this particular column from my heydays as a humor writer in newspapers.  Apparently she thinks that this story of herself somehow impresses people. I am not going to argue.

                Having seven kids means that you eventually learn to handle stress fairly well.  You learn not to pull out your hair when kids draw on the walls. You don’t freak out at the first sign of blood. And watching two-year-olds walk along the backs of couches or four-year-olds climbing trees, doesn’t strike fear into your heart.

            So I’m cool, I’m calm, I’m collected, and I’m in control.

            Or at least I was until my sixteen-year-old got her learners permit.

            To be fair, we’ve been after these teenage girls to get drivers licenses.  Here in Alberta they can get their learners at fourteen. They can get their license at sixteen. I have a seventeen-year-old that still hasn’t made the first step. The sixteen-year-old finally has. I want my daughters independent. I want them to be able to drive themselves places instead of having to ask mom and dad or rely on unreliable friends. Most of all, I don’t want to have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to drive them to their scripture study class.

            So I was happy she finally got her learners. And yes, I would teach her how to drive. I could handle this.

            I can’t handle this.

            “First rule,” I say to my daughter, “do not hold on to the steering wheel like a two year old does. It causes the van to sway all over the road.”

            “I’m not going to do that Mom,” I know how to stay straight.”

            “That would be fine if this was a straight road. But it curves.”

            “So how am I doing?”

            “Don’t look at me when you say that.”

            “Mom, why are you pretending that you have a brake?”

            “Why are you looking at my feet?”

            “Mom, I’ve driven this road plenty of times.”

            “You mean once.”

            “No, three.”

            “Three times is not exactly plenty.”

            “Now wasn’t that a good turn?”

            “Yes dear, it was the best turn in the entire history of the world, except for that car that you hit.

            “Mom, there was no car there.”

            “Well if there had been you would have hit it.”

            “Well if there had been a car there, I wouldn’t have turned so wide.”

            “That’s right, you would drive so much better with more traffic on the road.”

             My husband came home from a driving lesson and declared “I’m never letting her drive again! You teach her.”

            “What happened?” I asked smiling.

            “She shone the high beams right into an oncoming car.”

            “I couldn’t see.” My daughter said.

            “Neither could the other driver.” My husband said.  “He nearly drove into the lake.”

            So it was up to me. Not only that, but it meant that whenever I picked my daughter up from work I had to take the clunky old van instead of the nice new car, so that she could drive home. There was no way she was going to be allowed behind the wheel of the car.

            “Would you relax.” She said one day on the way home from her work.

            “I am relaxed. I’m having a nice relaxing drive sitting in the passenger’s seat. The next time we do this, could you remind me to bring your brother’s bike helmet and the cell phone?”

            “Well, at least you haven’t freaked out yet.”

            “Not even when you shone your high beams into an oncoming car and almost drove into the ditch trying to shut them off.”

            “Yeah, you were pretty cool about that.”

            “I was speechless.”

            “You know, if you want me to learn how to drive, you’re going to have to let me.”

            “That would be logical. My brain understands that. It’s my body that hasn’t grasped the concept.”

            So I am warning everyone out there as I uncurl my body from its fetal position. My daughter is driving. Please be patient. Mistakes will be made. And keep your fingers to yourselves.
Now that I posted it, could my daughter post in the comments section and tell what happened in drivers ed class and at school after this column appeared in the newspaper.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Frankie, Squeeze My Rubber Duckie!

I'm pretty easy going when it comes to movies, TV and music. When something questionable comes on I don't put my hands over my ears, shut my eyes and sing "la, la, la, la" until I think it's safe  to stop. I have no problem with people who do this unless they tell me that I should do it too. I just choose not to do it because I have a wicked side and I admit it.  I know people who only watch G rated movies and still think they're risque. I am also not one to go purposely looking for problems. When a Christian coalition accused Bert and Ernie of being gay, I rolled my eyes. I roll my eyes a lot which may be why the words on medicine bottles have gotten smaller.

My grandchildren are visiting. The fact that I have grandchildren is causing me panic attacks. When did I get old enough to have grandchildren? My birth certificate says I'm old enough, but I swear this whole thing has snuck up on me. Shouldn't there be warning signs? Like alarm systems that go off screaming "Danger" when you reach certain birthdays? Celebrities my age are having children for the first time. When my first grandchild was born I still had young kids. Is it any wonder that I am in denial about my age and my growing sense of foreboding that I am running out of time and I still haven't made a million, gone to Europe, fit back into normal clothes, or been kissed since...since...see, I've forgotten. Memory loss is a sign of old age.

Anyway, with my grandkids here  the cable channel Treehouse is on all the time. I don't normally watch Treehouse. It wasn't a station that was on when my kids were little. Sure there were kid shows but not on all day and all night for those two year olds who stay up late partying with beer and drugs. It was while I was watching Treehouse that I became perturbed and realized that I am just not mature enough to handle the material that is being presented. During a one hour period I heard these following statements from various kid shows geared to the pre-school crowd.

"Frankie, squeeze my rubber duckie."
"Spread your legs. Now spread your cheeks."
"Dam the puddle."

I was shocked. I wanted to put my hands over my ears, shut my eyes and sing "la, la, la, la". But it was too late. The damage had been done. My psyche had been irreversibly compromised. I had not been prepared for such phrases. In the past I knew I was going into enemy territory when I watched  Sex and the City and so I was prepared for the dangers I would meet there. But this was different.  I thought I was safe and so I had not been careful.  My 12 and 13 year old were affected by it too. "Frankie, squeeze my rubber duckie" has become a catch phrase around here.

A warning out there. Treehouse is like walking through a landmine.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

We spent a bit of time today talking in Sunday School about a passage in JSM 8 “ And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” We looked at the word “offended” and talked about what that meant.

I took issue with some of it. Did I say anything? No. Because Gospel Doctrine class is not a safe place to say anything that doesn't go along with the consensus of the group.

Basically it was stated that when someone is offended then they are the ones at fault.

In some cases I think this is true. We have all been in situations of innocently offending someone. Or been in situations where we disagree with someone and our disagreement causes offense even though we have no intention to offend. We know or may have heard of members who have left the church over something someone has said. And yet I think there is a bit of shirking of responsibility going on with this belief. One person stated something to the effect (I don't dare try to exactly quote someone), “no one can make us feel anything. We choose what we feel. If we're offended we choose to be so.”

Really? If someone comes up to you and calls you stupid or ugly and you're instantly hurt, are you choosing that emotion? Isn't that a natural reaction?

And aren't we creating a “blame the victim” attitude.

Because believe it or not, there are people within the church who are cruel and mean. People who will tell you that you're stupid (yes, it's happened to me), accuse you of being a bad parent (yep, happened to me again), question your faith (yes to me again) go behind your back to the bishop making false accusations while they keep in the shadows not allowing me to know who they are (the me is a give-away) tell you that you're worthless (yep, again), call you a liar (yes it has happened) and blame you for what ever had gone wrong (all this and more has happened to me.)

None of this was accidental. It was not me misinterpreting things. It happened.

A lot of this was done by a leader.

But we're not supposed to speak out against the leaders. We can say they're not perfect, but we still have to accept whatever garbage, punishments, and misjudgegments (withholding of temple blessings, church callings, etc. etc.) that comes from them. We are warned not to say anything or else we are in danger of being an apostate – yep, I've been accused of that one too. Note - I am not saying that we shouldn't be held accountable for our actions and in some cases its necessary to take away church priviledges, but there should be proof or confession, not because a leader doesn't like you or believe you or because its a case of he said/she said and they always believe the priesthood holder because he has the priesthood.

So if we can't speak against the leaders the answer is to suffer alone in silence.

I wonder how many suffer alone in silence and would feel much better if they knew they were not alone. I wonder how many bad things happen that are kept quiet and continue to happen because we are not supposed to speak out against our leaders.

All the leaders are men. If there's a problem between a sister and a leader, then its the leader (the man) who is to be upheld and believed. The sister must at all costs be kept quiet and disbelieved. It is her reputation and standing in the church that is threatened, never his, because he is a leader and therefore innocent of any wrong doing. There might be some who take offense to this - yes I used the word offense - but it stands to reason that if the leaders cannot be questioned and must be followed and all leaders are men, then the sister cannot be supported.

I think this whole thing of saying “if you're offended then it's your own fault” stance is a nice way to let everyone else off the hook. It allows us to say or do anything to each other and not suffer the consequences. “I can tell that sister that she should take better care of her children and if she's offended then oh well, it's her problem.”

And then we wonder why people leave the church and blame them for leaving. "They don't have enough faith. They are not righteous enough. They shouldn't feel hurt when someone says hurtful things."

Why would you stick around if you do not feel loved? If you are not loved? If people chase you away?

I have chosen to stick around. Yes I have been offended. I admit it. I have an off/on switch when it comes to my emotions. Either all my emotions are on and accessible, or none of them are. When I was a teenager my switch was off. I shut everyone out. I had no friends. I didn't care about my family. I chose not to feel emotion. It was an experience that I don't recommend to anyone. Consequently, with my on switch on, I feel things. So when people are mean to me, I get hurt. I get offended. I feel those things strongly just like I feel joy, humor and love. If someone comes up and tells me I'm a bad mother then it hurts and I get offended. If someone comes up and gives me a compliment, then I feel good. Having my on switch on, enables me to love my children and makes me a better mother. It enables me to feel the spirit. It allows me to forgive and understand others. It also causes me pain. The pain I feel is worth the joy I get to have. It's the price. I do not want to give it up in order to not be "offended". It is not that my emotions rely too much on other people, but it is the result of not being an island. I do not live in this world alone and consequently I am affected by other people and other people are affected by me.

So why have I stuck around when I have experienced so much pain within the church? Because it's where the Lord wants me to be. That I know, and I will follow the Lord, not some leader that would lead me off a cliff. Do I expect others who have left over becoming “offended” to understand this? Nope. Instead I understand them and feel compassion for them. Not because I have great spiritual insight – I don't, frankly I'm not a leader in anything and I'm constantly struggling, and no one is looking to me as an example – but because I came so close to leaving myself and only my stubbornness (he is not going to chase me away) and knowing that the Lord wants me there, as well as the example I feel I need to set for my children, has kept me within the church. There were many times I wished I had the money to move away to get distance between myself and a bad leader who told me that I was not spiritual and could not received revelation for my own life, but alas, I was not able to just pick up and go to another stake, another ward, or else I would have. I do not perceive that as running away from problems, but merely as going to a place where I can be better loved and understood.

People can be offended and leave the church over little things. In that case, they are probably on the edge anyway and just looking for an excuse. But sometimes there are big things and big reasons. It is arrogant of us to point fingers at those who have been “offended” and blame them for sorrows that have been heaped upon them by others. It is unfair to ask that people not feel anything when others are being cruel. “We choose how we feel.” Really? If someone punches you in the face with his fist would you not feel physical pain? If they punch you in the face with their words, would you not feel emotional pain? If you are punched in the face with a fist you can go to someone and complain about it and no one would condemn you for it or tell you that you shouldn't feel sore or you shouldn't be damaged. But we are to suffer word punches silently. I feel tremendous empathy and understanding towards those who have left. For now, I have chosen a different path, but I completely understand why they have chosen the other one.

Abuse happens when we keep silent. Leaders have lead people astray. The scriptures are full of examples both ancient and modern. History has shown us, both in and out of the church, examples of leaders who have done atrocities while victims have kept quiet, out of fear, out of respect for the office of the leader, of knowing they will not be believed. The result is that the leader continues to do his misdeeds. What do you do when a leader denies you blessings, for instance the blessings of the temple, because they have misjudged you? What do you do when a leader says “I have the priesthood and you have to abide by me”, again a statement that makes women powerless.

It was also said something to the effect that if we are offended then perhaps there is truth in what was said. Again, really? If someone says something, makes an accusation, then it's true? So if someone comes up to you and says “you're stupid,” then that makes it true? Frankly, I didn't know I had that kind of power that I could run around pointing fingers making all kinds of statements and magically that means they are instantly true.

I have been offended because people have deliberately hurt me. I have chosen not to be offended when I recognize that there was no malicious intent involved and we all say things that can be taken two ways. In this case I choose to look at it in a more positive light and give them the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes deliberate hurt is unmistakable. There are those who would not believe that others in the church would be hurtful. They have led lives where they haven't experienced it and so they believe it doesn't happen. It's like the atheists who haven't experienced God so they come to the conclusion that there is no God because they haven't experienced it.

I have chosen to stay in the church. Fortunately for me there are kind people in my ward as well, who have been there for me and often have a nice thing to say to me. If there are those who disbelieve me, it is perhaps because they themselves are kind and can't imagine why anyone would say those things to a sister.

There is the parable of the lost sheep. We are to search out the lost sheep and bring them home. Perhaps we wouldn't have so many lost sheep if we didn't chase them away. So lets not chase the sheep away. Let's not be wolves in sheep's clothing. Let's not be the mean sheep that turn our backs on others, keeping to our own little cliques and saying nasty things. Then we wouldn't have to search for so many lost sheep.

There is also the story of the prodigal son. I have always felt empathy for the son who stayed home. I think we judge him unfairly yet I think he has a point when he tells his father “ Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment (admittedly an overstatement but lets look at the spirit of it and recognize that he was hurt when he said it): and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends."

Basically I think he's saying “Hold it. I'm here. I've always been here. Why don't you celebrate me? Don't you love me?” If you look at the scripture, he wasn't even invited to the party. No one came and told him that his brother was home. He was left out in the field, working hard, and he was forgotten. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

Are we doing that? Are we forgetting the ones that are here? Are we not inviting them to the party? Do we fail to celebrate them? Are we failing to love them? Or are we instead blaming them after they leave and saying “well, if they're offended then it is their own fault.”

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

When we look at this scripture it's natural to assume that it is the ones who are offended that will do the betrayal and the hating. And certainly there is a case for that. But we can look at this scripture another way. Perhaps there are those who are offended because they have been betrayed and hated.

And maybe that's what she should be focusing on. Not betraying, and not hating, and loving instead, so that people won't be offended and can come to us and solve differences and misunderstandings instead of going away to suffer alone in silence.