Friday, May 30, 2014

"The only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love."

photo by Tim
By Mary C. Tillotson

I was saddened to hear about the shooting over Memorial Day weekend. Like many of the mass shootings we’ve seen over the past few years, it was arguably a “suicide with murder as an epiphenomenon, rather than murder that happens to end in suicide.” Most times when I read about these kinds of events, my heart breaks for the shooter, who always seems to feel deeply alone and unloved.

In the days following a tragedy, it’s only natural to feel a desperate desire to undo it, to rewind and try again to get it right. But we can’t, so we wonder how it could have been prevented and how to prevent it from happening again. I saw this in my news feed from Politico last week:

'RED FLAGS CAME TOO LATE': The start of Memorial Day weekend was interrupted by tragedy late Friday when 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded 13 before killing himself near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Los Angeles Times reports on the warning signs: "According to interviews with Rodger's acquaintances, law enforcement officials and mental health professionals, all that was known about the 22-year-old college student was that he was terribly sad. And being sad is not a crime, nor the sort of mental state that would, alone, cross a legal threshold requiring official response."

Being sad is not a crime, nor the sort of mental state that would, alone, cross a legal threshold requiring official response.

That, taken alone, is as it should be – it’s frightening to imagine a world where those not showing sufficient cheerfulness are automatically referred to a government psychologist for evaluation. But that’s bureaucracy, politics, and a legal system, and I don’t want to talk about any of those. I want to talk about real human relationships, and love.

People need to know they’re loved. This is an awkward thing to talk about in politics and policies and legal systems, and in one sense it doesn’t really belong there. Love isn’t the sort of thing that works in systems. Love isn’t a list of obligations that can be written down, tallied up, or checked off; love is the result of a decision to orient your life and dispose your heart in a way that prioritizes others.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'Why Is That Girl Wearing No Pants?'

By Joy Pullmann

Yesterday I was at the grocery store with my two toddlers. Before us walked a young lady in brightly bolored volleyball shorts, which is to say, underwear people call pants. My three-year-old son gaped at her and said, entirely innocently, "Mom! Why isn't that girl wearing any pants?"

I fumbled about trying to think of a thing to say that would be true but not close off future conversations on the subject. I came up with, "Because her mother did not teach her to wear pants." My son accepted this but was still quite confused as to why anyone would walk around in public with no pants. (And this little boy is no prude—for one, he whips down his pants in the front yard when he needs to urinate. We stopped that one, though.)

Usually when we see a young lady wearing really scandalous clothing, her mother is not too far behind, and the mother's dress makes it obvious that neither of them has any clothing propriety. In this case, the mother looked normal. But I know that mothers nowadays have lost the ethos and habit of training their children in what is right and wrong, in dress and in everything else. This is probably both because it's a lot of work to enforce morality on young barbarians, and because nowadays people falsely believe that there is no right and wrong—in appearance, or anything else. As a consequence, people really never become true adults.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Go play!"

By Mary C. Tillotson

When my grandma died this spring, I felt like something had unraveled. She had been a kind of locus of unity in my extended family – she was how we were all connected. She was widowed a few months before I was born, so in my experience, she always stood alone as the pinnacle of the family tree. There was Grandma, then her three children and their spouses, and then us twelve grandkids. We would all go to visit Grandma, and we would all be together. Then she died, and I felt unstable, somehow. Would we all just drift, like astronauts untethered from their spaceship?

Grandma must have foreseen this, because she made sure it wouldn’t happen.

Caroline, Anne, Mary, Ellen:
The CAME club at my 2012 wedding shower.
They were my bridesmaids.
My family (two boys and three girls) lived about 20 minutes from her, and my Michigan cousins (four girls) lived within a couple hours, so we visited several times a year. The four of us little girls formed the CAME club, the best word our initials would spell. We ate ice cream out of little plastic cups and tried to turn them into toy boats to float down the river. Inspired by the paintings on her wall (which she’d painted) we held art contests in her basement, drawing sunsets with colored pencils on copy paper. We went for walks around her block. We ate the M&Ms, lemon candies, and pink candies she left in dishes around the house. We played house and fort and boarding school, crawling through the cupboards under the basement stairs and climbing over the wooden fence in the backyard, fortressed by a protective pine tree.

I still don’t know what the big kids did, other than exclude us, but we weren’t big kids and they weren’t little kids, and nobody seemed to mind. But there was another problem: our southern Indiana cousins. All three were boys, and two were little kids. We saw them once a year, for a few days just after Christmas, and we mostly avoided them. We didn’t know them, and they were boys. Plus, the initials of their first names – the two younger ones, I mean – spelled B.M. Ew!

Grandma had been close to her cousins when she was a kid, and she wanted the same for her grandkids. When the oldest was about 14 or 15 and the youngest was 3 or 4, she rented a lodge on Houghton Lake in northern Michigan, the beginning of a fifteen-year tradition. It was a two-hour drive for us Michiganders and a day-long trip for the Indiana family. We arrived, unpacked, and ran around doing kid stuff. The twelve of us grandkids fell fairly naturally into the six big kids and six little kids – some parent told the CAME Club we had to let the younger boys (B. and M.) play with us, and after some adjustment we found a way to fit them in.

A handful of us taking the boat out.
We spent the week doing all the things you’d expect from kids at a big lodge on a beach. We played hide-and-seek and capture-the-flag. We played water football and went tubing behind my uncle’s motor boat, affectionately named after my late grandpa. We drove into town to buy rubber band guns and suction-cup bow-and-arrow sets at the Indian store, then yarn and beads at the craft store. We rode the rusty old bikes to the park for tennis and the playground. We opened wintergreen leaves to smell them. We fought over who got to sleep in which room upstairs. One year we made chalk out of eggshells; another year we decorated popsicle-stick picture frames with glitter and buttons. The Mountain Dew flowed freely and we never ran out of Doritos. Our parents took lots of pictures.

Grandma wasn’t bubbly or extroverted. She would do crafts with us (the photo of all twelve grandkids standing in age order has been on her fridge for years, in the handmade popsicle-stick frame) and she would sit on the beach chatting with my mom and aunts, drinking something we weren’t allowed to try. Mostly, though, I think she enjoyed watching all of us be kids together. Then we were teenagers together. Then we started getting summer jobs and couldn’t take a week off, so while our parents stayed the whole week, we’d be in and out as we could make it. Finally, the youngest cousins were in college and the oldest ones were working entry-level jobs with no vacation time. Grandma had an empty nest.
Six little kids and Grandma at Houghton Lake, 2011

Almost three years after the last Houghton Lake week, Grandma died. Her grandkids were scattered all over the eastern half of the country. Four spouses and four children – one of them newborn – had been added to the family. But all twelve of us returned to our parents’ hometown in southern Michigan for the funeral. We hugged and cried and then went back to her house to be together. It was the first time we’d all been together in three or four years, and it was the last time we’d all be together at Grandma’s house.

The six little kids – now mostly grown up, with the youngest in college – were playing cards while trying to assign the responsibility of buying the lodge at Houghton Lake when my cousin David came into the room with a serious look on his face.

“Guys, we need to make some promises,” he said. “We always have to love each other, and we have to stay in touch.”

We all agreed, but the room was too merry (in that way reunions are) to consider them with the gravity David had intended. But we didn’t need to. All of that was an unspoken given – including buying the lodge, though it will be years before that’s a possibility. Grandma had wanted all of us to be friends, and she made it happen. Her tactic was simple. She took us all to the beach and said, “Go play.”

And we did.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How To Honor Your Mother (Differently)

If imitation is flattery, what is the desire to do things differently?

I want to mother my children differently than my mother raised hers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mothers Day: Sadly, Overcommercialized

By Joy Pullmann

I do not like to receive gifts for Mother's Day or Valentine's Day. And don't even think about Sweetheart's Day or whatever else they're calling further additions to the list of "buy crap no one wants because commercials made you feel guilty."

Mother's Day advertisements on my Kindle and email sidebars began a solid three weeks before Mother's Day. It may have been four weeks. Whatever it was, it was indecent. Mother's Day is not even on the A-list of holidays. That, for me, includes Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And maybe the Fourth of July. Those would be the top two Christian holidays and the top two American holidays. (By the way, President's Day and Labor Day are also stupid.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How To Organize for the Hopeless Disorganized: Desk Edition

Raise your hand if you're feeling disorganized. Raise your other hand if you'd rather sit on the couch and cry about it than clean. Hey, me too! Now, turn those hands into fists and shout, "I WILL PREVAIL!"

Okay: attitude. Check.

Whether you live in a small or larger space, the starting point is the easiest/ first place to make yourself feel accomplished. Set a time for ten minutes and move fast: kitchen, living room, bedroom. If you have kids to help, even better. If your other half is around, grab him too. Share the fun!

We're not deep cleaning here, people. Keep it easy breezy.

My personal downfall is my desk area. I say desk with quotation marks, as my desk is also our kitchen table at present. One and a half more months and then we move, and then I'll have my own desk and room! I'm looking for helpful additions to keep my papers neat and my mind focused. Here's what I've got so far:

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Kids Come First

By Joy Pullmann

This week my husband and I made a big decision. It was to take a big pay cut and leave a job I enjoy so I can keep my kids from outside childcare. Right now, as readers know, my husband stays home with the kids most days while I work most days. I am comfortable with my children being cared for by their father if not always by me. But he will go to graduate school this fall. For a few months, I was not exactly sure what we would do with the kids, but my plan involved finding regular childcare, from either an extended family member or some nice local lady. I was not extremely pleased with the idea but was ok with our three little ones spending about 15 hours a week with someone who was not their mommy or daddy.

Long story short, another job offer came along, and I've been given the gift of cutting our income in half, which still pays our basic expenses, while continuing to do some of what I love. But, most of all, I don't have to outsource my children. And that means the most to me.