Thursday, July 31, 2003

cleaning up

I've been going through old files, trying to make some order in this new almost-office. I bought some neat wire things to hold file folders upright on my industrial-grade shelves, and then I moved all sorts of things that had been "filed" in the bookcase upstairs down here to my little spot. In the process I discovered all sorts of story ideas, article ideas, half-written essays. It's amazing to me how much I've written (not published, mind you) over the past several years. I'm not claiming it's good, but it did at least jog my memory about some things.

So here's one memory, from when Nick was about two and a half.

Recently I had to warn Nick repeatedly to stop touching the computer. Don't click the mouse, don't push the buttons. He was jealous, I know, of this machine that claims my time, my attention. So he kept on, despite my growing exasperation. As I pushed his hands away again, saying, "No, don't push the buttons," he finally gave up, consoling himself with a vision of the future. "When I grow up I will be big and I will be the mommy and I will push all the buttons."

I love that.


the cat really likes the new location for my computer. It's down in the basement now, helping to mark out the space that will one day be an office. Another part of the basement will be a TV/play-place, if we can ever get our act together to hang some lights, paint the walls, put down carpet, etc., etc.

Anyway Anna likes to get on the desk while I'm working here. She spent some time exploring the various cords that hook the powerbook up to its various accessories, and she really really wanted to walk on over and help me type. I seem to have convinced her that that is a bad idea and she is now lying on the desk purring, pushing her back and side as close up to the back of the screen as possible. Is she looking for warmth?

Whatever. It can't really be good for the computer. When I took the space bar off in my vain attempt to clean it (to keep it from sticking, which is a major annoyance right now) I found all kinds of cat hair underneath it. Ewww! Well, not all kinds. It was all Anna's--white, soft, quite lovely. But definitely where it should not have been.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

more about that Rowan Williams piece

What I like about this--what I struggle with--is the reassurance that there is no reassurance. That when we look for reassurance we are barking up the wrong tree (the wrong crucifix?), as it were. We crave reassurance, and there is a deep reassurance in that "promise of forgiveness and of a future." But not a reassurance that we are right, that we are righteous.

Motherhood has taught me more about spirituality than any other experience in my life. And what it teaches me every day is to lighten up, to accept uncertainty, to move forward in faith rather than fear. I've always been a pretty fearful person--afraid of failure, of danger, of physical pain. But motherhood is all about those things. Physical pain--ha! I laugh at it! (OK, not really, but after childbirth much else pales.) Danger--well, it's just there, isn't it. Life is dangerous, and after taking reasonable precautions you just move on or you'll find yourself shut up in the padded room wearing a crash helmet, and what's the fun in that? As for failure, that's the hardest. But I really do think we fail as parents almost every day, and our children forgive us.

I read a wonderful piece in Brain, Child some time ago--by Tracy Mayor, I'm pretty sure--called "Losing My Religion." In it she discusses her inability to embrace conventional religion, despite her earlier belief that that would just naturally arise along with parenthood. (I always thought I'd get a stocked bar when I became a parent, and I was wrong, too.) In the end, though, she embraces the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, making meaning out of her son's death. A religion that makes meaning out of the loss of a child she can understand.

I can too, and I found her reflections poignant. But today I'm thinking a religion that makes meaning out of a child's forgiveness is a pretty radical religion, too, and it's one I'm more and more attracted to. We make mistakes, we receive forgiveness. We do our best, we fall short--and again, we are forgiven.

Rowan Williams...

...also has some interesting things to say. Here's a taste from Sojourners:

There is a clinging to Jesus that shows itself in the longing to be utterly sure of our rightness. We want him where we can see him and manage him, so that we know exactly where to turn to be told that everything is all right and that he is on our side. We do it in religious conflicts, we do it in moral debates, and we do it in politics. We want to stand still and be reassured, rather than moving faithfully with Jesus along a path into new life whose turnings we don't know in advance. To have an absolute reassurance of our rightness somehow stands in the way of following Jesus to God. It offers us an image of ourselves that pleases and consoles, instead of the deeper and harder assurance of the gospel—that whether or not we have a satisfying image of ourselves, we have the promise of forgiveness and of a future.

Read the rest here:"Do Not Cling to Me."

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Elaine Pagels... one of my new heroes. Check this out: The Politics of Christianity.

Here's something to get you going:
"Some of the most fascinating discoveries in this find include the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of early sayings attributed to Jesus—it starts out with the words "These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke and which the twin Thomas wrote down."

Now we know there was a disciple of Jesus called the twin, and this is a series of secret sayings which are claimed to be transmitted through this disciple, this one favored for secret teaching. The teaching we find in the Gospel of Thomas is very much like some of the teaching in other Christian texts, like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament. But some of it is radically different. Some of it looks like Buddhism, and may have in fact been influenced by a well-established Buddhist tradition at the time that these texts were first written. There were Buddhist missionaries in Alexandria, coming from Egypt, at the time.

The name Thomas is an Aramaic term for twin. It's just a nickname, really, and the given name of the disciple was Judas. Some people thought it meant that Jesus had a twin brother. But this is a very literal rendering. In fact it's meant to interpret the reader's situation; that is you, the reader, are in effect the twin brother of Jesus. And what you discover through the Gospel of Thomas is that you and Jesus on a deeper level are identical twins." (from the interview cited above, in Edge)

Identical twins. Go figure. I always wanted a twin.

Alice McDermott

I'm finally catching up with some reading I've been wanting to do forever. I just read Charming Billy and there's a little piece of it in my commonplace book.

Mind the Gap

I keep thinking about this article from Salon a while back. It's heart-breaking: the older kids dissing the mom in the worst ways, rejecting her every move, while the little girl adores her with every fiber of her being. As Winik puts it: "I am experiencing simultaneously two phases that really should be separated by a decent interval -- the wild tumble of falling in love with a baby and the bewildering pain of living with adolescents. As I respond to my daughter's dependence on me with a passion that is no less fearsome for being evolutionarily ordained, I'm also coping with my sons' break for the fence." So she can't really enjoy the love because she knows it will dissolve into rejection before long.


I mean, our kids are almost that far apart in age. We don't quite have a toddler and an adolescent, but there's more than 7 years between them. Nick's going into first grade this year while Mariah will start 8th. But we're not experiencing quite the highs and lows that Winik describes. At 3, yes, Nick completely adored me. That much is true, and I gratefully remember it when he picks yet another fight over what someone said. He's got this one down. I'll say, "It's time for bed," and he'll respond, "why did you say I have no head?" "I didn't say that," I'll point out patiently. "It's time for bed." "I know THAT," he'll answer in an exasperated tone. "But I DO have a head and I don't know why you said that."

And so on. Eventually of course it is well past time for bed (the point of the exercise anyway, no doubt) and it will be less fun than it might have because by now I'm thoroughly annoyed.

So, yes, it's nice to remember those sweet days of unconditional love. And there are still moments like that, when he sits on my lap and his bony butt doesn't hurt and we cuddle briefly, united until the next episode of Scooby-Doo entices him away.

But we're not getting the outright rejection from Mariah yet, either. Her first year in middle school when the other mothers were complaining about their daughters' and sons' distance, their sullenness, their anger, we had none. My flip explanation was that she couldn’t afford to piss us off—school was so awful for her that year, she needed us to be her sympathetic refuge.

And we were, and she changed schools. And last year there was a little more silence, a little more sullenness. But no outright hostility, no rejection.

Except of Nick. And that seems to be how this gap is working for us. They deflect their hostility towards us onto each other. Hey, how cool is that? And we didn't even plan it!

Well, not that cool. Try driving three hours with three kids in the back: Mariah, her friend, and Nick. Nick does everything he can to draw her friend's attention to him, to annoy Mariah. It works. She lashes out, he cries, everyone's in trouble.

It works the other way, too. I tell Mariah Nick has to come with us to the store and she looks up hopefully. "Can we leave him there?"

"I hate Nick," she'll say, walking into the kitchen just before dinner. Inevitably he's picked a fight, whining that she's poured him water when he really wanted milk (but hadn't told anyone), and she's gotten mad and he's started crying.

Mariah's away at camp this week and things are very quiet at home. No one's arguing, no one's crying—except Nick when he thinks he's being ignored. Then he'll bump his knee on the stairs and wail until he gets some attention. I haven't asked him if he misses Mariah—that's too good an opening for his complaints. But I did suggest that he might want to write her a letter at camp. This is what his said:

"I want the nis sid uv you to com bak." (Translation for those who need help with kid-spelling: "I want the nice side of you to come back.") It also said "I mis you" down one side, and ended with "I love you I love you I love you."

So it's not all bad.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Monday ramblings

I had the most amazing dream last night. It involved visiting my dissertation director and her partner at a very ritzy NY penthouse. To my great surprise, they had children! Three of them, in fact. (Since in real life my dd is about 20 years older than me and quite determinedly childless, this was a big surprise.) (She doesn't live in NYC, either.) The kids were a 15-year-old girl, a 9 or 10 year-old boy, and a very cute and chubby toddler. My dd looked my age--I remember noticing that her wrinkles had miraculously filled out, her makeup was not so heavy, and she seemed relaxed. We talked about kids and how they change things, all the while putting together some kind of large potluck. It was really the most pleasant time I've ever had with her (which is to say, I didn't have too many, though I learned much from her...)

More happened that I can't recall--though I do remember being amazed by her daughter's curiousity and erudition--but then the scene sort of shifted and she and her partner were sitting above me, outside, on a very steep hill. Some distance behind them was a house and I was determined to reach it and leave a light on in it--"for Jesus," someone said, and I seemed to agree, though I'm not entirely sure what the idea was. DD and partner went back & forth for a bit about whether the story about the light in the house was from Baruch or Ruth--I was sure it was neither, but was too busy trying to climb the soft hill with a platter of food in my hands. Finally I put the food down and tried to push myself up with my arms--but I awoke before I could make any progress.

Hmm, obvious? To me it seems so. I have always felt inferior to my dd, who was brilliant and chic and never out of control, while I was big and blousy (pregnant, even) and nowhere near brilliant enough. So I figured out a way in which we could be somewhat equal--as parents--and then somehow she was between me and some spiritual goal, a goal she didn't really understand but could still keep me from.

I'm glad I woke up.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

grandparent movies

After seeing Whale Rider a couple of weeks ago I'm trying to remember if I've seen any other movies in which the relationship between grandparent and grandchild is so central. It is in The Secret of Roan Inish, another favorite of ours, but it's highly romanticized in that film and not at all in Whale Rider. The amazing thing is that the grandfather is in many ways a very unlovable person--and yet his granddaughter loves him, and we can understand why. What a lovely film.

off to camp

We took Mariah to camp today. She's 13, and this is the first time she's ever gone to sleepaway camp. She's got two friends there--one in her cabin--but it's still a big change for her. The cabin looked just like camp cabins in the movies. Neither Mark nor I ever went to camp so we're as clueless as she is...but it looks like fun. Art Camp--woo-hoo!

And Clothilde leaves tomorrow, so we'll go from three kids to one in the space of about 12 hours. What a change that will be. For a whole week Nick will be the only child--and with no day camp of his own, either. Look for very little posting next week. I'm expecting a lot of pooltime.

Well, this is a pretty brain-dead post. Funny what eight hours in the car will do to you. We did have a lovely dinner at a charming little cafe in Charlottesville--and managed the thumbnail history of Thomas Jefferson for Clothilde while we were there. It's great having someone around who has to at least feign interest in our various nuggets of wisdom!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

how things look

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. I shrunk the type a bit today. Let me know if it bothers you and I'll change it back. I just wanted to see a little more text per page.

food movies and kids

No, there's not a comma missing in that title up there. I saw Mostly Martha last night and I loved it. Okay, it telegraphs its ending miles away, and it's all about how uptight Germans need some Italian passion and looseness in their lives, but I loved it anyway. I love food movies generally. I can't remember one I didn't like. I made a little list of them last night. Here are some:

  • Tom Jones (Well, it's about more than food, but there are some good food scenes, as I recall)

  • Like Water for Chocolate

  • Big Night (Maybe my favorite...)

  • Eating Raoul (sick choice, I know...)

  • Moonstruck

  • Eat Drink Man Woman

  • I haven't seen the following, but I'll list them anyway:

  • Babette's Feast

  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding

  • Chocolat

  • Anyway, here's my point. In not one of those films are kids central. Food movies are simply not kid movies. Which actually makes sense, if you think about it, because food movies are really all about sex (am I right?), and no one wants to think of the product of sex while they're watching a really good food movie.

    Then there's Mostly Martha, which blows my thesis. Or, better, it's the exception that proves the rule. Because you watch this movie--or I did, anyway--and you realize that kids and food don't mix. Well, kids and good food. Everyone has a favorite story of the great cook whose food was rejected by kids. In our family it's my brother-in-law's dad who made the great pasta quattro frommagio (sorry, I can't spell in Italian), which was rejected by nieces & nephews who knew mac & cheese wasn't supposed to look like that. I love the way it works in Mostly Martha, in which Italian food comes to stand in for kid food--it's fun, it's easy, AND it's sexy. How weird is that? But great, too. I loved it.

    Let me know if I've missed your favorite food movie. I'd love to collect more.

    Monday, July 21, 2003

    help me hell, part two

    Still thinking about "Help Me Hell." I think the kids, when they made that up, intuited something about God that I've taken years to come to myself. That is, that as long as you can say "help me" and feel some response, there's God. Right? Maybe.

    All I know is I'm not very good at saying "help me." I attribute this, of course, to my upbringing, to parents who seemed like they had it all figured out and thought I would, too. They're New Englanders by affinity if not birth, and they have that sort of upright, we can do it ourselves attitude. After all, they retired to a house on a dirt road that was only recently added to the electrical grid. Before that they had a generator and passive solar and no cell phone coverage and they did just fine. They've both always seemed to me to be super-competent, the kind of people other people ask for help but who never ask for it themselves. You know, the "God helps those who help themselves" types.

    And yet. Recently I visited my dad's old prep school with him. Somehow we got talking about the school motto, which was in three parts. He could only remember two, and when we came to a wall adorned with the motto I read the third part to him:"Self Reliance." Again, those old New England, Emersonian virtues, right?

    "That's why I don't remember it," he said. "I've been blocking it. I don't think that's a good motto for a Christian school."

    And suddenly I knew what I hadn't known before, that he, too, knows about "help me hell." It's the place we go to when we think we can do it all ourselves, when we get all self-reliant--and then fail. Which we inevitably do, because we live in a world, we live interconnected with others, and self-reliance is a kind of idolatry, really. We need our connections, and it's when we pretend we don't that we get into trouble.

    I don't really think Nick knows all that yet. But he's still at the age where he knows he needs a lot of help. I mean, he can barely wipe his own butt. So maybe he still knows something that most of us forget as we grow up. I hope we can help each other to remember.

    Saturday, July 19, 2003

    blog stuff

    I don't read many blogs--I'm actually trying to cut down on my internet use, believe it or not. But I put a few links over there on the right to things that I've been reading and learning from lately. Check them out, if you like.

    Friday, July 18, 2003

    "Help me Hell"

    Nick and his friend Marina were playing last night, occupying themselves while the big girls found something else to do, while their parents were still eating and drinking and telling stories. Finally Nick and Marina came downstairs and told us about their game. They had developed an elaborate fantasy in which one of them was in hell, and the other would effect a rescue. Nick explained in all his five-year-old seriousness: "So if Marina is in hell I will come and rescue her." Then Marina--one year his junior, though you wouldn't know it--chimed in "Unless I'm in help me hell, because there no one can rescue you."

    My friend Kathy, a medievalist, watched in growing amusement. They explained more about "help me hell"--"it's where you go through this trapdoor from hell, and all you can do is call 'help me, help me!'"

    "They're channeling Dante!" Kathy cried. We laughed and laughed as we listened to them explain ever more elaborate conditions for their various hells, including what would happen if you were the devil of hell (nothing good, believe me).

    I don't know where they got this stuff. Nick never hears about hell in church, I'm quite sure--I tend more towards the "mercy" than the "judgement" school of Christianity--and Marina's being brought up without any religion at all. But then, hell's not really a religious concept, is it? It's an idea we need, we here in the world, to explain what will happen when those who offend us and prosper finally go to their rewards. And "help me hell" sounds just about right...

    Sometimes I think I'm there, just calling and calling. But in mine, someone usually hears me.

    Odd Girls and others

    I've been reading Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out. It got a lot of press last year some time, all about how girls really weren't so cooperative and care-centered as we'd all been led to believe (at least by Carol Gilligan and Lyn Mikel Brown) but rather that they engaged in "alternate aggressions"--verbal bullying, games of exclusion and inclusion, clique-ishness, etc.

    Well, duh.

    But actually the book's more complicated than that little summary implies. In fact what Simmons really argues is that all that cooperation and care is the sunny side of the "alternate aggressions"--that, finally, girls are smart about relationships, that they are socialized to know that relationships are important, and that therefore the way they wield power is through their (peer) relationships.

    I remember.

    I remember fighting with my younger sister, then promising to be her "best friend" if she wouldn't tell on me. I remember reneging on the promise every time she threatened to become burdensome or annoying. I remember finding her burdensome and annoying daily--not because she was, necessarily (though she may have been) but because a friend my own age would always trump my baby sister.

    I remember moving to a new school partway through seventh grade and having someone tell me she really liked my pants. I remember the pants--they were red double-knit flares that I had bought all by myself. They fit well and I liked them, but I knew somehow that this compliment was not what it appeared to be. I brightened anyway and turned to the girl to accept her compliment, only to hear her say, "Yeah, they really suit your personality. They're--personality pants!" And then she collapsed into giggles, surrounded by her giggling friends.

    I remember being in a tight-knit group of friends in high school, and how three of us would frequently gang up on one member. Sometimes it might have been me. One time it was my dearest friend--the godmother of my daughter, now. We made her believe that a group of us was going on a school-sponsored trip to Japan and that she couldn't come with us. We elaborated on the plan day after day on the schoolbus, falling into mock-guilty silences when she approached, then "reluctantly" revealing the "truth" about the trip...that it did exist, that she couldn't come. Which was no truth at all, but it took us weeks longer to reveal that. Why did we do it? Why did she forgive us?

    My daughter is 13 now. She spent six years at an elementary school where she wasn't one of the "most popular" girls, but she got along fine. Then for sixth grade she went to a new school, a middle school that had kids from various other local elementaries including her own. All the old groups broke down. One of her best friends started trying to fit in with a more popular group--by teasing Mariah. By insulting the very thing they'd enjoyed together the day before. Every day, she got in the car after school sullen and surprised, off-balance. I could hear the pain in her voice when she asked me what was wrong with her, what was wrong with her friend, that this could be happening?

    Simmons says we need to call this abuse, name it what it is so that we can intervene, teach girls better ways to interact. I'm not sure. That is, it is a kind of abuse, certainly. And the examples I've drawn are fairly minor--no one was driven to despair, or drugs, or disaster, in any of the instances I remember. And certainly many of us could use anger management, and conflict management, skills. We practiced these alternate aggressions, no doubt, because we didn't know how to handle our anger, our feelings of distance and separation from our friends. We still don't, in many cases.

    As a parent I recalled to Mariah how horrible my own middle-school years had been. I told her some of the stories of ostracism and meanness that I could remember. Her eyes opened wider and wider as I told my stories. Inadequate as a parent though I may be, she still thinks I've got it more together than she does, and to hear that I suffered as she was suffering seemed to empower her. She didn't come into open conflict with her friend, but she found other friends, other groups who were welcoming. And she switched schools, though the social scene was only part of the reason. I don't know if we can get teachers to intervene, but I do hope we can be more open about our own experiences.

    I didn't tell Mariah what a bully I had also been. I'm too ashamed of those memories, but I think I have to--in case she finds herself on that side of things, as well. I started to see it last year--badmouthing a girlfriend to another one day, then sweet-talking her the next. Teenagers are volatile, certainly, but they also--don't we all?--use their friends, sometimes.

    This stuff causes Mark to shake his head and mutter "chicks are weird." (He's quoting an old buddy from years back whose words have become a catch-phrase in our house.) To him, we are. He grew up with a brother, in a masculine household. I've learned to function in his world, and he in mine, but Mariah bewilders him, and I think he's shocked and somewhat disbelieving when I share my own similar history. How do we get these stories out of their female ghetto, make them heard in the wider world, without just sounding "weird"?

    Monday, July 14, 2003


    I know I want to post something about adolescence soon. In the meantime I'll put something from Anne Lamott on the subject in my commonplace book.

    about midlife

    I have a friend who started referring to herself (and, by extension, me, since we were both born in the same year) as "middle-aged" when we were in our mid-thirties. I bristled at the label. I was still very much a young adult in my own mind--just out of grad school, starting a new job, having a baby. (I had my first at 28, second at 35.) So I didn't feel middle-aged at all.

    And when friends would moan about the pains of middle age: creaky joints, slowed reflexes, greying hair, weakening eyes--I didn't join in. Having never been an athlete as a child, I got into fairly decent shape in my thirties. I was strong, from lifting babies and working out. My reflexes got quicker when I had to chase a two-year-old. I colored my hair and didn't care about the grey. I'd worn glasses since age eight, gone to contacts at 18, and added reading glasses in my late twenties, so I didn't notice much change in my eyesight, either.

    So I didn't worry much about middle age.

    This year I realized I'm in the middle of my life as a hands-on mom. If you figure 18 years per kid, with some overlap, I've got 13 years down and 13 to go. So I'm in midlife that way, at least.

    Oh, yeah, and I'm losing my hair.

    hair today...

    I'm losing my hair. Every morning I brush it and pull out a handful of strands; more litter the shower drain, and still more drift up against the walls of the bathroom, forming into little tumbleweed-like balls if I let them go too long.

    I still have a lot of hair on my head, but it's noticeably thinner than in my luxuriant twenties and thirties. I've always had thick, wavy hair--once, years ago, it was characterized as my only good feature. (The speaker, a fellow 7th-grader, quickly revised her words to "best feature," but I heard and remembered.) I've always been pretty vain about my hair, and the post-partum hair loss shocked and worried me both times. But this time it never stopped. Since Nick was born, almost six years ago, I've been losing hair steadily. Now, some days I can see my scalp even where my hair isn't parted.

    My hairdresser reassures me, "you have fabulous hair." My doctor ran some thyroid tests that all came back fine. Mark tells me I've always worried about losing my hair when really he's the one in trouble. And, well, he's right--his male-pattern balding trumps my anxiety any day. But then, he's a guy, and guy's don't worry about their hair, right? Mark has taken the middle-aged guy solution du jour, and shaved what's left down to about a quarter inch. It looks good on him, and it's fun to rub his head. He recently shaved off Nick's curls, too, and Nick's sleek little half-inch crew cut looks adorable. But I'm not going there. I'm surreptitiously checking out ayurvedic solutions to hair loss, googling hair loss and thyroid (those tests were a few years ago, after all), reading shampoo labels--and, most of all, checking out the back of my head in the mirror more often than seems quite normal.

    It's pure vanity, I know. I try to tell myself I'm just listening to my body, trying to hear what it has to tell me--but right now what it has to tell me is that I'm aging, and I don't want to hear that. I start bargaining--I'll take grey hair, as long as it's full! I won't color it again! I'll take wrinkles as long as I have hair! But apparently I don't get to choose. Yet another lesson in acceptance that I'm not quite ready for.

    Maybe it's time for Rogaine?

    Sunday, July 13, 2003

    my commonplace book

    After typing in lots of stuff from Elaine Pagels yesterday, I decided that what I really wanted was a commonplace book, a place to put interesting or weird quotations that I come across. Sometimes I'll comment on them, but probably mostly not. Feel free to add your own comments, however.

    So here it is: My Commonplace Book

    There's not much there yet, but I'll be adding to it soon. Enjoy!

    Saturday, July 12, 2003

    about the beach

    I meant to get back to talking about the beach. Because Virginia Beach is such an unlikely spot, really, to feel any sort of spiritual regeneration. In the first place, it's a military town. Or it feels like one. Norfolk is right near by, the biggest naval base on the east coast if not in the country. There's Langley Air Force Base as well. In fact the parking lot for the beach we went to has a sign: "Free Parking All Day unless Firing Range is in Use." Well. That, and the concertina wire along the perimeter, slowed me down a bit.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. First of all there's the drive from Richmond. Virginia Beach is about two hours away, past all sorts of spots of historical interest: the Jamestown settlement, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Water Country USA... we didn't stop for any of them, nor for the outlet malls for which Williamsburg is rapidly becoming better known than for its Disney-esque colonial village. We just drove, on and on, finally reaching the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel over and through the Chesapeake Bay. (I've heard that it combines bridge and tunnel to prevent its destruction in case of war, though I'm not sure how that helps...)

    Finally, Virginia Beach. The end of the road, almost literally. There's a "strip," where there are "no cursing" signs. Or that's what I assume they are: the red slashed circle, containing "#@!%*?". Or something like that. No cursing? Mark thinks they're code for "no cruising while blasting rap"--or, more directly, "no driving while black"--maybe so. Bizarre, anyway. Years ago I remember seeing signs there that said you couldn't pass by the same sign more than twice in an hour...another "no cruising" ordinance.

    The kids were taken by the giant mini-golf sites we passed along the strip. (Giant mini-golf--is that an oxymoron?) But we didn't stop for them, either. We had waves in mind. Or Mark did. We parked at one spot and he ran out to check the surf--and came back to report that it was good, and regular, but too crowded. So we drove on to another spot and parked at the free parking lot (apparently no one was using the firing range).

    This beach is not a "couples on vacation" type of beach, nor, really, a "family" beach. The surf may be too much for families, but I think more to the point is the firing range, the concertina wire, the atmosphere of military installation. This is not alleviated by the frequent flyovers by Navy jets. They're everywhere, as are the helicopters. I didn't see any big ships off the coast, though.

    There were lots of high school kids at the beach, traveling in single-sex packs, for the most part. Pretty girls in bikinis bumming lights off of tanned guys in baggy trunks and crew cuts. Lots of boogie-boarders out in the swell, lots of others just sitting and watching. Every now and then a couple of guys would start throwing a football around. There was an offshore breeze that picked up a beach umbrella every now and then and carried it down to the water, occasioning great hilarity as sandy kids ran down to pick them up.

    The water was frigid, and the bottom was fairly pebbly. It was too cold for me to go in all the way, though everyone else managed to. But as I stood in the shorebreak, letting my feet get numb, I didn't really hear the jets or see the concertina wire. I just felt the water wash over me. Clothilde pointed out to the horizon: "There's France!" We laughed, but I felt the connection, too. The ocean dividing us, but connecting us as well. And that's why the sunburn didn't matter.

    (Clothilde did burn--my fantasy of the perfection of French teenagers is shattered.)

    doing vs. believing

    I've just finished reading Elaine Pagels' wonderful book, Beyond Belief. Actually Nick woke me up in the middle of the night--crying about his sunburn, so scratch at least some of that optimistic stuff from yesterday--and when I couldn't get back to sleep I first sketched out a draft of the book review I'm supposed to be writing (so far it's only 10 months over due) and then finished the Pagels book. It's incredibly dramatic--all about the factions within the early church and the reasons the early church fathers (and they were all male) felt so strongly about quashing "heresy" (or, free choice) and establishing orthodoxy. The "gnostic" or Coptic gospels, early writings about Jesus and his followers, were destroyed or hidden by about the 4th century as the canon of scripture was established. What Pagels shows is that Christianity in some measure lost out by this process, by rejecting the insights of other believers, other Christians. What was suppressed often stressed doing over believing ("being" a Christian rather than attesting to a certain creed), individual insight over corporate doctrine. What was suppressed also valued women, women's insights, women's knowledge. Women were full partners in at least some of the early churches and the "gnostic" tradition valorized the feminine "Sophia," or wisdom, alongside the more familiar patriarchal god of the Hebrews. ("Sophia" has her place in some Jewish traditions as well, and one thing Pagel does really nicely is stress the continuity between the kabbalistic tradition in Judaism and certain brands of Christian mysticism.)

    It's a sad story, in a way, the triumph of orthodoxy over a vibrant, living tradition, a tradition that in many ways makes intuitive sense to me. What I especially like is the emphasis on doing--I know the faith vs. works thing is old news in Christian theology, and that lately faith has been winning out (thanks, Martin Luther & John Calvin). But really, doubt is such a central experience of my faith. I've never had one of those moments where it all comes clear, never really "felt" God's presence in any way I could articulate, never been certain that God was at the other end of my prayers. But I do feel--and Pagels gives me more language to articulate this--that what God, or the universe, or love, wants, is for us to be connected, to be aware of things larger than ourselves, to "walk in love," as the prayer book says.

    There's lots more, and this feels fairly incoherent so far. But it's a start.

    I've got some quotations from Pagels in my new commonplace book.

    Friday, July 11, 2003


    We took the kids to the beach today. This involves a two-hour drive (if there's no traffic) and then the long drive looking for parking, toting all the paraphernalia to the appropriate location, applying the sunscreen, flinging the sand, etc. etc. It was heaven. No, really, it was. Something about the combination of sun and salt water and ocean breezes and the sound of the waves is incredibly calming, and deeply spiritual. We were there about three hours--11 to 2. I know, I know, prime sunburn hours. And we had sprayed on tons of sunscreen but guess what? It really really needs to be rubbed in. Often. So we are all more or less burnt, but still walking around with goofy smiles.

    Nick boogie-boarding has to be the highlight. He tried it out for the first time, just lying on the board in the shorebreak. He got washed off the board way more often than not, shrieking with delight every time. Then he came up to me where I was sitting frying, and said in this totally cool, nonchalant way, "I rode some really good waves out there." This child has seen The Endless Summer II more often than he should, probably. (Though it is, truly, an excellent film. Very calming.) Mariah and Clothilde, our summer visitor from France, walked the length of the beach, jumped in the waves, and helped Nick with a sand castle. Clothilde is more daring than Mariah and did some real swimming. As I saw her jump in, headfirst, and come up spluttering, I said to Mark,"that's why she's so good at this travel-study abroad thing. She just jumps in." And it's true. I can't imagine myself having that kind of self-confidence at her age, and I don't see it--yet--in Mariah. But maybe it will rub off. Even if not, it's nice to be around it.

    And somehow, even though she put on far less sunscreen, far later than the rest of us, she's not sunburnt. Go figure.

    Thursday, July 10, 2003

    Half-Moon Pose

    I'm toying with the notion that equilibrium isn't all it's cracked up to be. Working parents are inundated with articles, ads, etc., about maintaining "balance" between work and family, and I've read them as eagerly as anyone, looking for the tip that will make things work. But what if there isn't one? And what if it doesn't matter?

    I like balancing poses in yoga a lot. I tend to be better at them on one side (left, I think) than the other. And yesterday I managed a half-moon pose for the first time. That's the one where your (say) right hand and leg support you, while the left leg is up, making a line with the back, and the left hand points straight up. Rather than look down your head is to the side, chest wide open. It's difficult--for me, anyway--and I'd never been able to do it in class, where we tend to start out standing, then lean down to touch the ground and rotate the chest up. This time, following instructions in my Om Yoga book, I started in a sort of lunge, with my hands already on the ground. Then I straightened my standing leg and the other one just lifted on its own. I still can't hold the pose very long, but it's very cool, somehow--it feels victorious to hold it for even one breath.

    Still, it's just a pose. And you can't stay there all day. So I guess what I'm saying is I like the feeling of balance, but I need to remember it's tenuous and only fleeting. Of course we can all balance with two feet on the ground, but how often do we get to stay there? Way more often I feel my hands flung out to the sides, one supporting leg wobbling wildly as I try to stay up, just for a minute. Maybe the minute is enough.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2003

    Driving Miss...

    So this is what life with a teenager is like. You drive a lot. Then you wait for phone calls, or check messages, or make phone calls, because whatever plan there was, failed, and there is no new one yet. Oh, all right, I wrote about this yesterday. But it just keeps happening.

    I was unreasonably happy almost all day today. I talked with a colleague in the office for a while and she was miserable--hates work, hates summer, had to cancel a planned vacation, life sucks, yadda yadda. And I know, it does, in lots of ways. But somehow none of the things that bother me did so today. (Yeah, I know, just wait for tomorrow...) Then I had lunch with my rector. A little trepidatious here, because I've missed a lot of meetings lately that she wanted me to be at. But I just had to draw a line and skip things if I was going to remain a member of this family. So I was all prepared for the lecture, and it never came. She wanted my advice! Ha! (Actually, that was fine.) And I told her I don't think I'm called to ordained ministry right now. It's something I've been struggling with for almost two years now and I feel this great sense of relief (unreasonable happiness?) that I don't have to make a big change right now. Which is not to say I won't, at some point. But right now--I have a job that has great hours, great benefits (summers off, a lovely office, free books, no overdue fines at the library)...oh, and they think it's cool that I want to read and think about books and theology! Or, at least, they tolerate it--and, actually, pay me for it.

    And then there's the fact that we now have central air conditioning and just refinanced the house, which will save us lots of money and actually caused a large check to be delivered to us yesterday. Things are good.

    Which is not to say they might not be bad again tomorrow. But for the moment, it's all good.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2003

    car service

    Of course the bike-riding went fine yesterday. The girls got a taste of freedom, I think, by riding over streets they've previously only been driven on. They are beginning to learn their way around.

    But they still aren't free, needing us to help plan, and then to drive. We (Mark and I) don't want to become a taxi service, but some days that's what it feels like. Yesterday they had car service from another parent and we decided to treat ourselves to dinner with Nick. We were home well before they had said they would be--but when we got there they were sitting on the front porch, waiting. I can live with inconveniencing them a little bit, but my friend, the other parent, was sitting in her car waiting as well, unwilling just to drop them off on our doorstep. We need to work on not crossing signals.

    (And I'm aware a cellphone might have alleviated this confusion...but we're not there yet, not at the point of wanting that kind of leash. Maybe next year.)

    Monday, July 07, 2003

    Wake up time

    I wake Nick up most mornings. His alarm goes off at eight but he ignores it and rolls himself ever tighter into his blanket. So I come in ten or fifteen minutes later, lie down next to him, and start talking and unrolling. I usually find his warm belly and say good morning to it. This morning that struck us both as funny, so I said good morning to various body parts: hair, teeth, eyes, knee, ear... It didn't get him out of bed any quicker (probably the reverse) but it did amuse us.

    Mariah is having trouble finding things to do. Or, maybe more accurately, it seems that all she wants to do is watch TV and we want to expand her horizons. Mark had a long teary talk (Mariah's tears) with her last night about it, and reported that they were reconciled by the end and that she understood. In an immense act of self-control I stayed out of it. Usually when she cries I want to rush in to defend her--the mama lioness.

    This morning she looked a little puffy around the eyes but seemed OK. And she just called me a few minutes ago to get directions to the community center (we drive past it daily but she's never taken note of how to get there...). She and Clothilde are biking over there to play ping-pong. Now I'm nervous that she's out in the world, with a French girl, no bike helmet, and a rusty bike lock--not to mention the traffic she'll have to negotiate. I want her to be more self-sufficient, but every new step she takes scares me at least as much as it scares her.

    Sunday, July 06, 2003

    A swimming day

    Today Nick swam. He took swimming lessons last year, and didn't really get very far. This summer he started out nervous and whiny--he especially hated to get water on his face, which really slows you down as far as swimming goes. But the last couple of days it's been really hot, and he's been a lot less nervous. Yesterday he jumped in (yes, getting water all over his face) and today he swam about six feet before he put a foot down.

    This is progress.