The Joy of Cousins

The Joy of Cousins

Planning vacations has always been an optimization exercise of some sort: how can you see the most places on a modest budget? Is the extra cost of flying pay worth it for the extra time you might have spent driving? Which route will allow you to see the most National Parks/countries/restaurants with Michelin-stars? Dozens of hours and hundreds of internet searches are devoted to discerning the good from the best.

These days, I have a new criterion in planning holidays: which option will give us the most time with cousins? Because, dear friends, more and more I’m appreciating that cousins can be solid gold in the treasure bank of childhood memories.

Since they share a common ancestor, cousins are close enough to share some common stories, common interests, and (quite possibly) some common eccentricities (You can also curl your tongue? Cool! Your mother also makes you drink kefir? Awesome! You also know the words to going-gang-goolly-goolly-goolly-whatsit-ging-gang-goo? I thought that was my Dad’s own personal cup of crazy.)

But, unlike a sibling who shares all these things, a cousin is also far enough removed to have the thrill of some novelty: know a game you haven’t learned, go to a school you don’t go to, or—in our case—be able to sing Happy Birthday in a different language. Cousins, at their best, are an exquisite blend of both familiar and exotic.

Cousins can be a tribe you belong to without having had to try out.

Cousins nestle in that space where they can be both family and friends.

And cousins come attached to grown-ups: aunts and uncles (or cousins once-removed), who know all about your parents’ crazy quirks, and have a built-in love for you already. Aunts and uncles can often tell you silly story about what your mom or dad were like when they were a kid: blowing holes in that serious-parent guise that moms and dads sometimes like to hide behind. Aunts and uncles remember your parents as children, and tell fantastical stories about that time Daddy got a carrot stuck up his nose, and Mommy went up and down the street selling raffle tickets to the neighbors with her sisters’ birthday gifts as the prizes (true story).

And of course, this mommy has her own set of stories to tell the cousins about their parents as revenge.

Our kids have no cousins nearby: in fact, they have no cousins on the same continent. But every now and then, a family wedding or a big birthday will allow us a couple of days with cousins. The days are hectic and loud and meal times are crazy: too many food preferences and not enough chairs. Travel is exhausting and sleeping arrangements are always cramped. All of this is…. less than optimal.

But, no matter where we are in the world, I need only look up to see a herd of children—a clutch of cousins—running laps in the yard, planning mayhem or trading secrets and finding the best hiding spots, and it is all worth it.

And so we sit, with our calendars open, and dream of vacations in the years to come: places we’d like to go, things we’d like to do. We wonder when we should go, and how we should budget for it. And, as the years go by, we find ourselves asking one extra question: will there be cousins?

 

 

Pick of the Clicks 06/20/2015

Hello, hello! Just a few this week, but great ones. Can I point your attention to….

…This interview with Andy Crouch (by Joshua Rogers) is one of the pithiest and most helpful nuggets I’ve come across. 5 short questions on responding to the supreme court’s decision on gay marriage, social media engagement and on the issue of singleness: SOLID GOLD, especially his comments on taking the long view on where the discussions of male/female are heading in our culture’s narrative arc. Just a snippet to tempt you:

I think one of the most urgent tasks for the church is the evangelism and discipleship of men, helping them see how Christ can use and transform their inclinations toward competition, achievement, and the protection of the vulnerable. The key to changing the current patterns is to unapologetically call men to greater risk and sacrifice, including what is in many ways the greatest risk and sacrifice a man can make, binding oneself to one woman in marriage.

Frankly, given the disparities of available men and women in the church, I don’t think many men should question whether they have a “calling” to singleness or to marriage — I think that barring clear guidance otherwise from God and your community, you should assume that you are called to marriage and fatherhood and proceed as quickly as possible in that direction. And for God’s sake, stop playing video games. Spend that time getting to know a real woman instead.

…This, from Osheta Moore: What I Need You to Say In Response to the Shooting in Charleston. (which prompted me to write a letter I’ve been simmering for too long too: from a white south african to white americans)

…Meme of the week goes to Brenè Brown:

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… Say what you like about Jon Stewart, but HE GETS IT. This is him, not funny, being deadly serious:

…This made my hair stand up on end: My Child’s Photo was Used in an Offensive Corporate Campaign. (and it prompted me to write this: why I said no to prenatal testing.)

…I just LOVED this: A Valedictorian Anonymously Posted Kind Words About Classmates on Instagram For Nearly a Year. WOW. What a quiet way to change your entire school.

…Double honors to Maria Guido, the newest member over at Scary Mommy, for two amazing pieces: First, This is What Happens When You Put a Preschool in a Nursing Home, and also Stunning Photos Showing Moms are So Much More Than Their Bodies. YESSS!!!

…This was hilarious: 21 Actual Analogies Used by High School Students in English Essays.

…And this: this made me WHEEZE with laughter. I nearly woke up the kids: Geraldine deRuiter with I Went Paleo And Now I Hate Everything.

…Now here is something marvelous: when you add a Noir Filter and a Joy Division soundtrack, it’s AMAZING what happens to Teletubbies (Brilliant work, Christopher G Brown):

…This was such fun: Arnold Schwarzenegger playing pranks on people at Madame Tussauds (for charity):

That’s all for this week, folks. Happy clicking, and as always – leave suggestions in the comments if you found something worth reading!

A Letter from a White South African to White Americans

A Letter from A White South African to White Amerians

Dear friend,

It has been an eerie thing for me these past few years: sort of a déjà vu experience to watch the news and read about Ferguson, Eric Garner, Baltimore riots, McKinney and, most recently, the horrific shooting in Charleston. I’ve been watching #blacklivesmatter trend on Twitter: grief and outrage and opinions from every corner. And, as someone who grew up in Apartheid South Africa, this all feels eerily familiar to me. I listen to people talk and think I remember, and I recognize that.

America did away with legislated racism a few decades before South Africa did (I remember reading many of the early US cases in my constitutional law classes in SA), but institutional racism is still alive and well, and people are hurting.

I recognize the fear, the blaming, the use of “they” and “them” in people’s language. I remember hearing the voices of brave voices in the black community appealing to people to listen, to learn, to please, please acknowledge that there are hurts I don’t see or understand. I remember the talk of white privilege, and feeling unjustly accused by the term. I remember grappling with what it meant to be regarded as an oppressor, even though I was too young to have done any wrong myself.

I know there are many differences between America and South Africa’s histories: they are complex narratives, woven in blood and ink. I do not write this as an expert analyst, or as a political pundit – but as one confessing there is so much I don’t know and understand. But, I offer the little I’ve learned living in a country which shed tears and blood over race, and now living in another doing the same:

That, even though I was raised as a “liberal” white person, I was still a beneficiary of privilege. I still had more opportunities than people with more melanin in their skin, just because of race. I had not yet learned that we are all blind to our own privileges until we hear the stories of those who have lived without. Just as we don’t know what a privilege it is to be able-bodied until we, or someone close to us, loses significant body function, we don’t know what white privilege is until we, or someone close to us, experiences significant discrimination on the basis of their skin color. For example, I didn’t know until recently that even the color of band aids reflected privilege: the “norm” is a skin-tone suited for caucasians, not people of color.

That, just because I wasn’t a hate-mongering “racist” and even though I had friends of other races (I was one of the few who went to a private, multiracial school in the 80’s), didn’t mean I knew what it was like to be black. I had not yet learned to listen to people’s stories. 

That, even though my mom did much to try and teach us not to use racial slurs (for example, black men are not “boys”), there were still other presumptions and prejudices and blindspots I carried because of the culture I was born into.

That, even though I believed in a gospel where “there is no male and female, slave nor free, but we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), that there was still a significant need for reconciliation and restoration within the church. The denomination of which I was a part (REACH-SA) held a number of meetings in the mid-nineties, seeking to discuss this very thing: what needed to be done so that predominantly “white” churches” and predominantly “black churches” within the same denomination could have healed and whole relationships with each other. At first, I scoffed at the need for such talks (Why do we need that? Haven’t we all been forgiven by Jesus and so we just forgive each other and move on?), to later on a deep and dawning realization that just offering to have that conversation showed a humility, and offered an olive branch, which had been sorely lacking. As it turned out, we needed to say I’m sorry, even thought I hadn’t realized there was an offense.

To you, beloved Americans, I offer this humble suggestion: please learn something from South Africa’s history in the current crisis? Read Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. Read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Consider Desmond Tutu’s words and example. Read Michael Cassidy. Read about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Listen to what happened (and how the church responded) when a group of terrorists walked into St James Church and massacred the worshippers there in 1993.

Listen to the stories of the white families around you who are adopting black children, and are learning in their own families about how their darker skinned children are treated differently to their white ones (like Jen Hatmaker, Karen Yates, and Kristen Howerton). Listen to the words of writers like Austin Channing, and Osheta, who are seeking to be peacemakers (not trouble causers) by telling the stories we need to hear about race. Acknowledge that if you are white, you have no idea what it’s like to be not-white.

Can I also gently say that you are not going to hear the stories that will move you towards grace and better understanding if you are exclusively watching FOX news. (Or reading Matt Walsh.) South African would never have been able to move forward if we all just kept listening to the people we had always listened to. We need to read and listen outside of our little circles. It was really only when I had finished law school and was at seminary, side by side with South Africans from every race group, and people were sharing their testimonies of growing up that the penny really began to drop for me. I’m still trying to listen. It’s hard. God knows, I want to be a better listener than I’ve been.

I’m a long time fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels: I love the way she weaves together stories about deeply divisive ethical issues, and places characters in her story who represent various viewpoints on those issues. What amazes me about her writing is how, as each chapter skips to a different character, their views make sense to me when told from within their perspective. Her writing has made me realize that everyone says and does things in accordance with their viewpoint, and that differences of opinion are often less about who has the facts, and all about where a person is coming from in viewing the facts.

I’m in my late thirties, and still learning how much my opinions have been shaped by my being white and growing up in the predominantly white communities and schools I did. Watching South Africa go through its painful transition to democracy was the beginning of a lesson in needing to listen well (and silently) to other’s stories. The difference between a freedom fighter and terrorist is really just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

I write this with tears, prayer, and hopes that we can do better. Listen better. Love better.

Things are not okay the way they are.

 

Why I Said No To Prenatal Testing

Why I Said No To Prenatal Testing

I read a story today about a woman whose child’s photo was used in an offensive corporate campaign. Christie’s beautiful daughter has Down’s syndrome, and she had a gorgeous photo of her on her blog. A cheapo Turkish stock photo site lifted the picture illegally, from where it was then used by a large Spanish company selling prenatal testing kits. “Tranquility,” the poster promises to those who buy their wares, as if a little girl with Down’s syndrome were a cautionary tale. (Read the article, and let it rouse your angry mama bear, too.)

It took me back to the sterile room I sat in nearly four years ago, clutching at the gaping edges of the medical gown draped across my growing belly. My final pregnancy was different to the first two: I was officially a “geriatric pregnancy”, or AMA (of Advanced Maternal Age), as they politely noted in my file. In other words, I would be 35 by the time of delivery. Out came the kid gloves and the red carpet treatment: we elderly mamas are delicate, you know.

I listened carefully to what the doctor said, trying to stifle my inner snort as I wondered what kind of treatment Sarah, a first time mom at age 80, would have received. What was different, the doctor explained, was that because of the increased risk of complications  due to my advanced maternal age, I was eligible for a whole battery of prenatal tests. Insurance would pay for it all: elaborately subsidized peace of mind was mine for the taking.

“No, thank you,” I said.

The doctor held my gaze. “You do know the risks are significantly higher for a woman of your age?” she queried.

“Yes, I do,” I confirmed.

“And having the tests could give you early information so you could be fully prepared,” she followed up, pushing now.

“Yes,” I snapped, “but no matter what you tell me from those tests, I will keep this baby. And if there is something of concern, the 20 week ultrasound usually picks those markers up, don’t they? So I don’t see the point of undergoing extra tests, which could even be invasive and increase the risks for my baby, when I’m going to keep it anyway.”

She stepped back. I could see the words on her face: Oh, you’re one of THOSE.

Yes, I’m one of those. One of those who feels that prenatal testing gives parents a choice they shouldn’t have to make: of whether to kill the life inside them, or “live and let live.” One of those who has read about the heightened rates of false positives on those early tests – meaning they sometimes flag problems when in fact there are none. For some, this means invasive extra testing, for others this means an early choice to terminate the pregnancy: for everyone, this means significant stress and heartache.

I’m one of those who believes in modern medicine and vaccinates my kids on schedule. I take my physician’s advice on a great many things. When we have questions, we call the advice nurse. But when it comes to prenatal testing, I draw a line.

If I’m committed to keeping the baby, honestly, I just don’t see the point. And Genoma, with its horrible and offensive ad campaign, promising that its test can keep you “tranquil” so you don’t land up with a baby with Down’s syndrome, don’t deserve a dime of that lavish health-insurance-approved spending.

I know what the word above that darling girl’s face should have read: JOY. And the more special needs kids I meet, the more I know this is true. Heaven forbid we rob the world of beauties such as these.

 

Photo credit: Carol Lara (Flickr Creative Commons)/edited by Bronwyn Lea

 

 

Splashin’ Safe: Establishing Pool Rules for Your Summer Babysitter

Patricia Sarmiento is a life saver. Literally. She sent me this helpful guest post about making sure kids stay safe if they go swimming with the baby sitter: definitely something I’m keeping for future reference. 

Pool Rules For Summer Babysitter

My kids would play in the pool all day, every day if I’d let them. But inevitably there are days when I’m not around and our trusted babysitter has to watch them. She’s wonderful, but when she first started sitting for us, I made our neighbors’ pool off limits. We’d swim in it all the time and are always welcome, but I just didn’t feel comfortable having my kids be around water if I wasn’t going to be there.

But after much begging from my kids, last year I gave in. I agreed that the sitter could take them to the pool, but I sat her down and had a long talk before then. I made sure she understood what rules would need to be followed (and I made sure my kids understood those rules as well!). If you’re about to have this conversation, I recently discovered this great resource on water safety information for babysitters–it will make for a great guide when speaking with your sitter.

If you’re having reservations about letting your sitter take your kids to the pool this summer, here are a few rules you can put in place to ensure everyone stays safe:

Always know where the kids are. Especially for pool owners or for parents whose neighbors own pools, make sure your babysitter understands they are to always know where the kids are, even when indoors. As KidsHealth.org notes in its pool safety guide for babysitters, a toddler could easily wander back to the pool if the sitter isn’t keeping a close eye on them.

Lock all doors and gates. If you own a pool, as these safety tips for babysitters from CVS.com note, make sure your sitter locks any entrance points to the pool after using it. Also, stress the importance of moving objects away from the pool fence that kids could use to climb over it. It might be helpful to give them a checklist of post-pool time tasks to make sure the pool area is secured properly.

Provide constant supervision. The National Water Safety Month site provides great tips on water safety. One section stresses the importance of always being alert at the pool. Make clear to your sitter that they should never leave the children unattended at the pool. No child is drown-proof. Be sure your sitter understands that even if your children are strong swimmers or are older the sitter should always be at the pool supervising them.

Use cellphone only in an emergency. It only takes a split second for an accident to happen at the pool. Make sure your babysitter knows to never be on their cellphone while at the pool with your children. While, as these prevention tips from AllState note, it is good to have a phone at the pool in case of an emergency, it’s best that it be turned on silent so that it won’t be a distraction while everyone is swimming.

I never want my kids to miss out on an experience simply because I’m afraid of what might happen. Letting my kids swim with their sitter was a really tough decision for me, but one I’m glad I made. They enjoyed every second of it, and it was a great way for them to stay active when I couldn’t be with them.

 

Patricia Sarmiento is a health and fitness blogger. She enjoys writing about health, wellness, fitness, and other health-related topics. As a former high school and college athlete, she makes living an active lifestyle a constant goal. She lives with her husband, son, daughter, and the family dog in Maryland.

Photo Credit: keep cool at the pool /Julien Haler (via Flickr Creative Commons) /image edited by Bronwyn Lea.

Pick of the Clicks 6/12/2015

We are officially on summer vacation, so the Pick of the Clicks may be spotty for the next two months… but for this week, there are some GEMS to bookmark and explore. Enjoy!

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Margaret Philbrick’s essay Loving My Sister-Brother, on the journey of love and faith she has been on since her sibling announced he was becoming a woman, is my top pick this week. THIS is what gracious listening and loving looks like. (Margaret is also the author of the novel A Minor, which I reviewed here).

What happened in McKinney, Texas this week should not have happened. Reading Austin Channing’s This Is What Its Like (to be a black girl in America) was sobering and important. As always, I appreciate Kristen Howerton’s voice in matters like this: read America… The place where a white woman yelling racist insults ends in the brutalization of black children.

Judy and Steve Douglass, the leaders of Cru Global (formerly Campus Crusade) celebrated forty years of marriage this week – Congratulations! I met Judy through the Redbud Writers Guild (read her guest post for this blog here!) and really loved her Reflections on 40 Years married to Steve Douglass. They are an example to me!

I am busy reading Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, a book about the incredible strength of introverts in an extroverted world. Her website devoted to the Quiet Revolution featured an article by David Zweig: How to Succeed Without Self-Promoting. Such good stuff.

Branson Parler’s observations on How science and reason created an age of unbelief – in science and reason is a short and excellent piece. He asks:

How do we account for the way that the corrosive unbelief of our age is not just limited to matters of religion, but of science as well?

This was fascinating from Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR: Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain.

Helen Young Hayes’s post recounting her experience of being Held by God when the airplane she was in crash landed gave me goosebumps.

Lesley Sebek Miller’s thoughts on how to help the homeless when you have kids in the backseat was so good: it gave me something practical to think about to address some of the poverty we see around us in a wise way.

Lore Ferguson’s reflections on Counting Marriage As Loss are poignant and wise: for all those who grapple with singleness (or love those grappling with it), there is some profound good here.

Fist bump to Jon Acuff for his short and excellent post: Learning how to tell someone “no”. He writes:

If you tell someone “no” and they react in anger, they just confirmed you made the right decision.

I wanted to award Rachel Marie Stone with gold stars and a giant slice of cake for this fantastic piece: Forget Paleo: here’s the religious case for eating that slice of wedding cake. She writes:

You can eat your cake. Just not when it’s masquerading as a muffin, a coffee drink, a granola bar. Your kids can eat their cake. Just not when it’s shape-shifting into cereal, juice boxes and snacks disguised as fruit.

I wish we could at least agree on these things: cake should be cake, and eaten as such, which is to say, occasionally. Cucumbers should be cucumbers — eaten in salad, not as cake. And Paleo brownies should be used as a natural version of Ex-Lax.

On the blog:

From the ‘Ask Me Anything’ series, two readers asked for advice about how to find a new church.

I had a guest piece (which tells a very special story about how we came to decide to have children) over at Songbird & A Nerd. Find the link here: The Post-It Note That Called the Stork.

And did you see the fantastic piece from Liz von Ehrenkrook? You’re Bleeding, Not Dying.

The Post-It Note That Called The Stork

I have a guest post this week over at Lindsey Smallwood’s Songbird and a Nerd blog: a very personal story about that time when I felt ready to have children, but my husband didn’t. I get butterflies just remembering this… 

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There comes a time in marriage when you just can’t talk about a thing any more. You need to say your piece, and then leave it in peace.

This is how it was for us on the topic of when to have children. In the newness and chaos of our first year of marriage, we had made a decision to delay: at least until he was finished grad school. But as grad school dragged on, I became more and more persuaded that the reasons underlying our delay were not faith and wisdom, but fear and selfishness: How would we afford it? Would we ever get to travel again? Would we even like children? After all, they come with a strict no-returns policy.

I bundled all my reasons and wrapped them up with a g(u)ilted bow: “If we say that children are a blessing,” I wheedled, “then why do we live as if they wouldn’t be?”

(Click over and read the rest here…)

Thanks to Lindsey for her invitation and her hospitality. Oh, and remember Lindsey wrote a guest post for me? You can find it here…. and more thoughts on that whole pros-and-cons of kids thing here