I work as the “media coordinator” (i.e. public relations, social media, website manager) for my kids’ dance studio. I took on this position and expanded it slightly in August of 2018 when the previous website manager moved their family to a new studio in town. It was mostly a just for kicks, way to help out sort of job that kept my skills fresh and funded my kids’ growing dance hobby. Then a pandemic happened and my for funsies job turned into necessary and kind of a lot more. I haven’t worked this hard or this much since I was in my first media job at a television station during a spurt of several important “breaking” news stories.
Just like all of the regular schools in America, in March we had to shift to distance learning in response to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders. We were flying by the seat of our pants just like everyone else trying to figure out how to make it work and how to reach our students. Just like them, things were inconsistent and all over the place in those first few weeks even though we were really trying so very hard at it.
We started off with classes via Instagram live, pre-recorded classes via IGTV and YouTube (shared to our Facebook), and pre-recorded choreography learning videos via those same channels. Everything said “if we just stay home for a couple weeks” this would all be over so while we were urgent about keeping choreography & skills fresh, in the grand scheme of things a couple weeks also does not mean a huge difference in learning. Kids go on vacation or are sick and miss a couple classes in a row all the time.
Then we heard about and figured out Zoom. Again we were still just trying to adapt in a high pressure, quickly changing environment. We set up classes based on when teachers said they could teach or when a time slot was available, not on the more usual carefully crafted schedule that takes into account things like not having too many of the same level classes on the same day. We only had a basic account at first so we couldn’t host more than one class at a time which meant instead of our usual after school times, our classes stretched from 9am to 9pm some days of the week. We also still had no way of knowing how long this was really going to last, so if a class still wasn’t meeting for a live class check-in, it wasn’t always a huge concern. There were plenty of pre-recorded classes by this point that people could use on their own and we might be back to in person learning at any time.
Then it was going to be summer. The schedule was fixed, the Zoom accounts were expanded just in case. We still didn’t know how long it was going to be. We didn’t know if a performance later in the summer would be a possibility. There are many things we still don’t know all these months later. A few days before summer session started the stay-at-home orders were phased to reopening including our industry.
For nearly 7 of our 8 week summer session we were able to dance (if we so chose) in person. Some chose to keep learning at home via Zoom. We followed guidelines. Kids got spritzed with hand sanitizer coming in and going out. We created a single flow traffic pattern. Some kids chose to wear masks, some chose not to based on caveats for age, recreation, and increased risk during physical exertion in the masking order. We tried to practice and enforce physical distancing to the best of our ability, but also recognized they were kids (some as young as 4 and 5) and some families chose to allow more interaction than others (if nothing else the later was a good lesson in consent). The studios were sanitized between classes. As far as we know at this point not a single case happened or was traced to our studio in all those weeks.
Then cases spiked, our county was placed on the governor’s monitoring list, and that meant our industry had to close indoor operations again. The switch to Zoom was smooth and pretty much uneventful. We had the Zoom codes ready to go at a moment’s notice from the governor’s press conference and accounts for each studio so the schedule could remain unchanged. As a staff member on the receiving end for questions & complaints, my inboxes were quiet. As a parent that was worried about burnout and how the kids had responded to remote learning last time, it was like a world of difference. The kids just went right to it and treated it much like regular class, putting in the work and taking it seriously. They knew what to expect and how to make it work.
So why am I telling you all this? Mostly because I see a lot of people making rash decisions based on fear. Deciding they are going to homeschool even if they don’t like that idea or feel particularly passionate about it because they are afraid of their kids being unsafe in an in-person school setting. Or putting their kids in a private or charter school that has an in person option because they are afraid that what happened at their school this Spring is going to be repeated this Fall and “remote learning doesn’t work” and they have to work anyway so their kid needs to be somewhere.
If your school is meeting in person, reasonable sanitizing and PPE precautions will be taken to keep kids and staff safe. If your school is meeting remotely it’s not going to look like it did last Spring.
It’s obvious we all have been changed by this. Even our family doesn’t want to go completely back to what was “normal” before this. My husband worked a lot. He was unable to participate in our family life a lot. Rather than “home” schoolers, a more apt description for what we did was more like “activity” schoolers that ran around town from thing to thing with a bad fast food habit to keep it going. Our dog was left home alone in the backyard a lot and destroyed things to deal with his anxiety. I don’t want to go back to all of that. It’s nice being able to run an errand by myself and the kids stay home while my husband works there. It’s nice eating good food at home. It’s nice not having multiple daily 30min commutes to work and activities and appointments. It’s nice having our new fence not be torn to shreds by an anxious dog. It’s nice having time for a spontaneous swim with my family. So I want to make decisions about our life with this kind of rationale of what we want to keep because of what we have learned and like from all this with wisdom and reasonableness rather than based on hysteria. I hope other people do the same.
It started in March when the schools moved to remote learning: people began asking the homeschool veteran friends they knew and joining homeschool Facebook groups. Some because they were dissatisfied with the way their local school was approaching remote learning, some because they were actually really enjoying all the family time, some because they had always kind of wanted to homeschool and this made them feel like they could do it. One poll I saw during this initial period said a whopping 40% of parents were considering continuing to homeschool in the fall, we normally make up only 3.4% of the general population. This is a monumental shift!
Now as school districts are beginning to release their plans for the fall, like many of my friends that already have been homeschooling, people I know are asking for advice, joining our local homeschooling groups, and trying to figure it out. Some because their district has decided to go back to full time in-person classes and they don’t think that is safe, some because they’ve realized how much family time is stolen away from them by a traditional public school day, some because their school is doing remote learning and there’s no way they want to do Zoom meetings or all digital learning because it is not working for them, some because recent social movements have made them question the curriculum and version of history in particular that their kids are being taught in school.
I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I know homeschooling is NOT for every family. I know that I come from a position of privilege here where I basically don’t *have* to work, that we have two involved parents in our family, and we both *can* work from home right now. I can, however, share what curriculum has meshed well for us, how we make it work, how much it costs, and why I like it or why I think it is effective. I also come from a place where while I am a religious person, I tend to gravitate towards a more secular approach to homeschooling for the most part. I do some religious or catechism type stuff, but it is a subject all its own and does not really influence the other subjects that we study. I’ll get into this, but I think my approach can be adapted to a variety of backgrounds. So, if you find yourself in this new homeschooling club, this post is for you. I hope it is helpful, insightful, and empowering. I also hope that if this is not the choice that is right for you, that you do not feel any guilt or shame from me. Like I said, homeschooling is NOT for every family and I know not everyone is even in a position to make this choice. I don’t think there is a perfect solution for the situation we are all facing right now and it all around just kind of sucks.
But with that, I will get right into it.
For Littles Only
When I just had Jillian and Ethan I used a curriculum called Five in a Row. I believe there is some mild religious content like a few Bible verses here and there, but for the most part you could just ignore that section which doesn’t have too much to do with the rest of the curriculum itself. Five in a Row is basically a classic children’s book unit study. So you could also just skip the curriculum all together and get real creative on your own with some of your favorite little kid books. There are even a ton of Kinder and Preschool websites that do this very thing with other books too, Google “unit study [title of book]” and you’ll probably find quite a lot. The premise is that you spend a week with a book doing all kinds of activities related to the book. For example with Corduroy it is counting buttons, making a teddy bear craft with green overalls, practicing the letter C, learning about corduroy fabric, the color green, etc. Since Jillian and Ethan were only about a year and a half apart and Ethan always wanted to do everything Jillian was doing, I would just do it with both of them.
To get me started (and what I still reference quite often), I used Children’s Garden of the Theotokos program from Anaphora Press. This program is meant to be done as a whole circle time situation and sometimes reads like it was more geared towards a church school and I don’t really use it that way, to be honest. I prefer the sections that deal with specific feast days. There is great information about them and usually some traditions, a recipe, a craft activity, or something that they can do. It doesn’t have a huge amount of feast day coverage though so I tend to take this concept and apply it to other days or saints I think are important to cover. So we will read a children’s book about a saint or feast and sometimes make food or a craft I think is related or is traditional. One of my “tricks” for school with four and doing a lot of literature based learning is to have them work on a coloring page (the OCA’s Department of Christian Education has a plethora of them) and use the Troparion or Kontakion (hymns) as copy work or handwriting practice while I am reading to them. If my husband is available, I will also have him teach us the music for these.
I feel like everyone that homeschools LOVES Handwriting Without Tears and maybe if I tried it I would too, but we use Zaner-Bloser which is incredibly simple. I buy them the workbook for their grade level and they get lots of practice. I also like to buy the grade level specific reams of paper for all the copy work I have them do in science, history, catechism, etc.
When I first started looking into math curriculum possibilities I had basically narrowed it down to two: Right Start and Math-U-See. This was because both of these programs had a hands on approach to math and based on what I had observed in both of my children, I thought it would help them understand math a lot better to do it this way. The Right Start Program just seemed really huge and expensive and really kind of locked into their way of doing it, Math-U-See was less expensive, we could just buy the workbook for each kid that followed, and it seemed like if we needed to switch to something else for whatever reason we would be able to do that fairly easily. This program has been great for our kids for all the reasons I thought it would be and I also like it because it comes with DVD lessons for each chapter of the book. So it is something I can have them do more independently since they can put on their lesson and then work on their workbook pages afterwards mostly by themselves. We usually do one workbook page per day around here. Sometimes a kid gets ambitious and does a whole slew of them, but for the most part it is just one page per day.
When I taught Jillian to read I used a program called All About Reading from All About Learning Press. It was GREAT for her. Not so much for my boys. I tried a variety of things to make it work including breaking up the lessons into much more smaller chunks that we’d take a week to work through, but it just was like so much power struggle and frustration and tears that I thought I hated homeschooling at times. I went cold turkey on AAR and Stephen started working with the older two on reading through video game prompts and they made a lot of progress. I also found an app on my iPhone called Homer and it has been great for the younger two, but Ethan thinks it is too babyish. So a few weeks ago I got a copy of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We started around lesson 60 based on where I kind of thought he was and it is going amazingly well since the switch.
One of the books that kind of gave me a lot of direction on how to go about homeschooling, even though I don’t do about half of what it suggests, was The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jesse Wise (side note, as sort of a follow up and another great book to read after that one is Rethinking School: How to Take Charge of Your Child’s Education by the same author). So that kind of naturally led to using her history curriculum, Story of the World. This is not your usual US-centered version of history. When it says “story of the world” it means it. So you hop around from country to to country covering what was going on during four time period/volumes: ancient, middle ages, early modern, and modern history. In addition to the four volume text, there is an activity book that goes with each of them. These books have review questions, chapter summaries, geography, crafts and recipes, coloring pages, occasional related science, paper dolls, games, and additional literature lists. As far as how I make this work for us, it definitely has had fits and starts over the years. I have gone through periods where we try to do it all from the activities and the additional reading and other weeks where we just do the “bare minimum” for me which is read aloud the chapter with my same trick from above with a coloring page and copy work/handwriting (I use the chapter summary for this) during that, then geography, and answering the review questions verbally as a group. I also like to try and plan field trips to museums or state parks that coincide with what we are reading when we can. For example, we visited the Museum of Man in San Diego during ancient history because of their excellent Egyptian and Incan exhibits. So the method for using Story of the World is that you repeat these four volumes every four years. Some people move on to Bauer’s History of the World for high school, but the activity books for Story of the World have a variety of literature recommendations and activities for various age levels. I can see us using this all the way through. I will say the final volume has not been my favorite of the bunch. It doesn’t adapt quite as well to a variety of ages (the activity book specifically) and it’s taken us two years to get through.
We have also loved a few History Unboxed kits and many of them correspond directly with various Story of the World chapters. They are a bit pricey, but definitely full of high quality projects and information:
When we first started out homeschooling I always felt like science was this hodge-podge for us. It was tough to find something consistent about one area of science that was specifically geared towards kids. I really loved the Magic School Bus and Young Scientists Club (same company) science kits for awhile, but there again they just kind of hopped around with no consistent theme. A couple years ago I discovered Sassafras Science Adventures and it was exactly what I was looking for. I like to think of it as the “Story of the World” approach to science. For each volume you study a specific area of science (we’re in Zoology right now because I decided to start over at the beginning, but we started off with Geology) through a story format where a pair of twins get to travel all over the world meeting experts in their field thanks to their slightly mad scientist uncle. Besides the fun story that has science built into it, there is an activity book and student workbook that has experiments, additional reading/literature suggestions, and journal activities to keep track of all the facts they learn as they are reading the story. Most of the experiments use basic household items, but they have a kit you can order with everything you’d need for that volume’s experiments.
When Jillian was in Kindergarten we tried out a program called Classical Conversations for half the year and it was definitely not for us. But I loved the art book they used and have used it over and over through the years to pair art with what we are doing in history. I also really like the Art in History kits I discovered and did quite a few of them with the kids (and now have way too many painted pottery pieces around here to show for it, ha!).
So the “classical” approach for foreign language is to learn Greek or Latin which is the basic foundation of most languages. Stephen really wanted our kids to learn Spanish though because he felt like it would be a much more useful skill and after our first year of chanting random tidbits of Latin in Classical Conversations, I agreed. So I tried a few different things: Little Pim, a curriculum called Risas y Sonrisas, and a few random apps, and it just wasn’t working for us. I finally found Song School Spanish last year and we totally love it. OK, actually my kids hate the “song” part of Song School Spanish because they feel it is a little babyish, but we love the DVD lessons and the student workbook.
As to how we do it, I kind of went over that a little in some of the subjects above, but I can tell you how I make it work for us more in depth. We start off each school day with the basic three of math, grammar, and handwriting. I lay out their work for each of these and then sit at the table with them there to answer any questions and work especially closely with Peter currently. Then we do reading for the three boys and move on to another subject that we do all together, so everyone is studying the same period in history or the same subject in science and we just adapt things down to each level. We’re usually finished for the day between 1 and 2 depending on how late in the morning we started, occasionally going until 3 or 4 if we had a really late start or I had other work of my own or appointments that interrupted our day. We take lots of breaks in between things so people can finish their work at their own pace and so I can prep copy work, make photo copies, etc to get us ready for the next subject. Here’s an example of a weekly lesson plan for an idea:
Hopefully that wasn’t like total information overload and was as I said helpful, insightful, and empowering. Good luck on your journey as you try to figure out how to best navigate family life, working, and school during a pandemic. It’s a tough situation all around for sure.
The question, directed at my husband, seemed so foreign. I remember having a typical teenage ‘tude with plenty of eye rolling, back chat/being rude, some yelling, and a short goth phase with black hair and clothes, but it’s kind of hard to be rebellious in the classic sense when there are basically no rules aside from OCD cleaning standards and “doing good” in school (but even then there were no severe punishments for grades, just disappointment).
Being raised by two people who were atheist/agnostic and very liberal (at least at the time, my dad became a Fox News watcher and Trumper later) meant I didn’t grow up with the pearl clutching Evangelical/Protestant/Moral Majority ethos clouding my outlook on life. My life was instead shaped by a revolving door of various misfits and neurologically a-typical people my parents were always befriending or trying to help through tough times even though they were usually in the midst of tough times themselves.
Further, once we moved to Bakersfield when I was in the fourth grade, rather than the “token black friend” posts I’ve seen all over social media these past few weeks, I was more like the token white friend if there is such a thing. Looking through boxes of pictures there I am, sometimes one other white friend, and a “rainbow” of other skin tones. My same street neighbors were Mexican, Black, Sikh, and mixed. From 4th-8th grade I tried to pass as at least half Mexican by not correcting people that assumed. I honestly thought for a time that being brown skinned would make me not be such a weird misfit. So I’d capitalize on the olive skin tones I inherited from my Sicilian father, laying out all summer to achieve the perfect crispy tone and probably ensuring I’ll be dealing with skin cancer at some point in my future adulthood. Later I figured out they were cussing at me in Spanish most of the time, especially the boys, calling me whore and f*ing idiot. Ignorance is bliss, I guess, and to this day I still feel far more comfortable living, working, shopping, and driving through the areas of my town that other people refer to as the “ghetto” than I do around people who share my skin color that are big, male, and aggressive and/or the redneck methed out “dalians” of Bakersfield’s notorious ‘08.
I grew up on Motown, my dad teaching his four girls to do the “dances” to the Temptations, idolizing Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Earth Wind & Fire, Whitney Houston, and War. “We are the World” was probably sung at every elementary school assembly I can remember.
I learned about the “rules” for driving and interacting with police while black by piling in and riding in the car of my black friend/team member going to and from debate tournaments. While I can remember at least two other friends having access to cars or their own hand-me-down family cars, I think we rode in his car because the classic Mustang was coolest option. We debated and gave speeches on affirmative action, racial profiling, hate crimes, gay rights, and terrorism in values laden Lincoln-Douglas style, in current event driven impromptu and US/World expository speech, in interpretations of famous speeches, and the practical legislative structure of mock Congress. We memorized statistics, anecdotal stories ripped from headlines, and scientific studies. We dealt with stereotypes and jokes and those of us who were white learned in the safety net of a diverse group of friends where the demarcation line of what was appropriate lay.
Matthew Shepherd was lynched for being gay my sophomore year of high school. James Byrd Jr. was for being black by three white supremacists later that year. All while the Lewinsky Scandal, multiple school shootings, and embassy bombings were going on. Columbine happened my junior year. Brandi Chastain scored the winning World Cup goal that year and women’s sports finally got some limelight and some criticism because Heavens to Murgatroyd she ripped off her shirt in excitement.
So current events and tragedies would happen. The world would seem to be in turmoil or scandal and then settle down again. Each time progress, that favorite value to uphold as paramount in our LD debates, would be eked out a little more. When I started going to church my junior year of high school, it was through these same friends and through debating what I understood to be the “backwards” stance of the Church on various social issues. Some of these friends were the ones that convinced me that ultimately love was the paramount LD value. And boy did I want love so very badly as the daughter of two fairly dysfunctional adults and the victim of over a year of sexual abuse. So despite many misgivings about actions versus teachings on love that I encountered in the Church, I became a Christian anyway. But I never stopped prodding, questioning, and trying to rationalize these viewpoints and my misgivings about them.
That prodding and questioning eventually led us to Eastern Orthodoxy which while still problematic on many social issues, at least has a lot more historical context and racial diversity than a five year old mega church full of hetero cis gender white people.
I’m not perfect. I’ve voted for things and people I later regretted.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
And I’ve been quiet with these most recent events, mostly because “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” and feelings of, “Why is this taking all of you so long?”
So much frustration and anger.
I’m sure there are things in here I’ve said that are problematic because “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” as the irreverent Avenue Q pokes at us, but I was debating what we should be doing about hate crimes against gay and black Americans TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO as a sophomore in high school and already then it felt like a much too long in the making discussion to finally be having in 1998.
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
I wake up after a night full of nightmares and terrible sleep (definitely an anxiety sign for me), still feeling unsure about my decision to step away partially from social media for a week. I have to stay connected to work accounts and on Facebook that means seeing my personal account, but I plan to not post or comment or spend too much time on there if I can. And I have to stay connected to the news to see what new announcements impact us. I still can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do or what I am allowed to feel or if this is the “right” thing to do though. “Mommy bloggers and influencers need to end!” in light of YouTubers that “rehomed” their adopted autistic child, or, “If you are not an educator in the public school system you need to shut up and not tell us how to do our jobs,” (or weigh in on any of the budget and policy things being discussed), and “If you are not a scientist, epidemiologist, or doctor you can’t talk about Covid.” But probably most importantly in this particular hour, racism and police brutality in America. That there are just as many posts calling for white people to be silent this week and not take up Internet real estate as there are Desmond Tutu quotes being memed about. So damned if I do, damned if I don’t. And that is how I got here. A cacophony of shouting on all the subjects from a very divided and passionate Internet mob. So I’m checking out for better or worse.
We check the news for the latest on LA protests. We call our Matushka (priest’s wife). Everything seems to be OK and in the clear for us to go to LA for liturgy so we head out. Traffic is still really mild in light of the pandemic. Starting in Santa Clarita though, the National Guard is poised at various points along the freeway. It’s unnerving. I let out huge sighs each time we pass their caravans, the hairs prickling on the back of my neck and arms.
In church everyone is masked and we had to enter through the back alley which makes it feel slightly illegal. Is it legal to go to church in LA yet? I didn’t even think to check that, instead was going off our priest’s invitation and the governor’s guidelines. We get our temperatures checked before coming in. I think about how any parent must be laughing at the absurdity of relying on these infrared thermometer checks knowing how completely inaccurate they are and how every pediatrician we’ve ever seen tells us not to trust them ever. Then sure enough H reads at 100 degrees one minute and 98 the next. I have an internal eye roll moment and like I do with homeschooling via our charter school remind myself to just suck it up and jump through the hoop. We can’t touch anything or light candles. Matushka scolds someone for singing because it is against the rules. I nearly cry twice at the overwhelmingness of it all. I think about how white women aren’t supposed to cry right now. Everyone is tired of our crying. Our tears have been weapons. Alice drowned people in Wonderland with her tears. So I hold back the tears. Father serves communion with an N95 mask and a face shield using separate spoons that are dropped into a kettle of boiling water. Nothing about it feels right. He makes a crack about looking like he’s from outer space to diffuse the situation with levity. I just want to go home. We make our usual stop at the In-N-Out by UCLA and then home with nothing else eventful along the way other than a discussion with the kids about everything happening as they ask questions and try to understand.
I am not a napper, but I can barely keep my eyes open and wind up napping for 2.5 hours when we get home. The rest of the day feels out of sorts because of that though. S tries to go get groceries, but every store is closed early because of protests even though they haven’t really been on our side of town or violent in our city. We decide it must be a more general corporate policy. I read two news stories about media members getting attacked by law enforcement and even arrested covering the protests. I send a text to my friend (and her husband) that I used to work with saying I’m praying. She says she’s never been so scared about him going to work in her life, he’s slated for another night of protest coverage.
I read another article about intelligence officials monitoring a surge in social media accounts that are infiltrating the conversation. Amplifying certain messages and trying to divide. Maybe they need amplifying though? It still confirms my resolve that social media is not real life. It’s a construct based on our own narcissism and interests managed by algorithms that are constantly changing that no one completely understands. I’d watched my feed flip on a dime the night before. A couple posts in my stories about what was going on, a sign of a few petitions on change.org and my feed instantly went from all the dance things and ads for dance things to every post and news story being about the protests. Maybe we really do need to be consumed with this right now as a nation, but it definitely feels like a preprogrammed agenda when it happens the way I experienced it. And if I hadn’t made those posts would I have just continued to be blissfully ignorant in my dance world?
I get some work done processing videos and checking in with our artistic coordinator about the dance schedule. Nothing to post on that yet so I wrap it up. However, she does tell me that she thinks she can get us all in the studio again if we’re under the same 25% capacity rule that churches are. So I attempt to cancel our marley flooring order. No need to refloor the whole living room if we’re not going to be dancing at home all summer and fall like we thought. S is watching TV and it is late so I knit and watch a little with him.
Since the studio is on break along with basically all the other school children in our city, I decide to let our kids be too. S still is working from home though. I check the news for overnight developments and then make us breakfast. I tell him the CDC released office guidelines as their next thing and when I list some of them off he says, “I’d rather work from home. That’s just not worth it.”
I’d started a furniture project over the weekend and need more supplies to finish it. Plus one of my new plants is already dying. I feel like I’m the only person in Home Depot wearing a mask. Once home I spray paint my project and then move on.
The sewing things came out over the weekend and I have a whole stack of cut projects waiting to be sewn up. I decide to start with H’s tap costume even though it will likely never grace the stage. I get started on the shirt first because I’ve made several and want to start with something I’m confident in. I still manage to have to seam rip a few times. The sleeves have a few puckers I’m being perfectionistic about, but once it is on him it is passable. “Yeah. It works. Fits like a regular old church shirt. I like it,” he says.
I watch the governor’s whole press conference live wanting to see how he’ll handle the protests, our president’s insults at governors that morning, and if we’ll get gym guidelines like he said last week. I’m glad he doesn’t take the insult bait and am not too surprised that there are no gym guidelines either in light of the weekend’s events.
I start in on the lederhosen next. This is a bit more tricky, but still fairly easy to follow. As I’m working on a hand embroidery section I decided to add, I think about how we get to know we’re German and Scottish and Italian and French and a few other backgrounds. We even know things like our tartan and family sites with our Scottish heritage. I think about how African Americans don’t get that because they were ripped from their homeland and forced to assimilate generations ago with no cultural ties. I think about that social media post I read once that said most genetic testing options are basically implicitly racist. I think about how maybe Trevor Noah is right and the social contract is unraveling because minorities were never asked if they wanted to be part of or given an equal share of that contract and thus have no reason to uphold it. Many an old debate team moment has come back to me since watching that video because basically all Lincoln Douglas debate boils down to is endless discussion of the social contract.
S tells me he found an organization to donate to with the refund from the flooring (if it happens, I did get an e-mail that they are confirming with their shipping department that they can cancel it). The organization he found uses data analytics to combat systemic racist problems in police departments. It sounds like the perfect melding of his special brand of nerdiness with the cause on everyone’s hearts right now. I’d wanted to donate somewhere too, but didn’t know where to begin. Glad he found that one.
I finish out the hand embroidery near midnight and decide to check work socials just to make sure there’s no spam comments or messages in the DMs.
Almost every square on IG is black. They’re calling it Blackout Tuesday. Studios and instructors are cancelling classes across the country. Since FB requires me to be on my own account at the same time as that page check, I catch a few posts from friends. Again I see a mix of calls to stand and not be complicit as well as to mute for the week so the algorithm naturally amplifies the voices of PoC.
I check the news. Oh god our president opened his mouth for the second time today. Why?!?
And then there’s the latest round of conspiracy theories, this time tied to the protests, of course.
I end the night by drowning my anxieties in guac and chips.
It’s chiropractor day. I have to get up “early.” I stumble to the shower. S asks if I was up late as he is already “at work” at the desk next to our shower. I say I’m not sure, that I read the news, ate chips, and went to bed. Then I say, “Our president opened his mouth again.” We’re both frustrated and dismayed. “I’m really mad about threats of military involvement. The protests have been largely peaceful except when police decide to push them,” he says. “Yeah, yesterday when I checked Facebook for the studio stuff my friend that used to live in DC showed this AP News photo of her friend that had his skull cracked by police at the White House even though they had been peaceful.” “You know why they did that right?” “He went to church or something?” “Yeah and the pastor is completely livid. He gave a speech about the looting and basically just did this photo op. They attacked innocent people so he could have a photo op!”
How is this real life?! How are we so helpless in the face of this? What can we do?
The car app doesn’t recognize my iPhone on the way to the chiropractor. I feel my anger and frustration at a level not reciprocal to the situation. J has a meltdown about forgetting her mask that also is not reciprocal to the situation. “No one wears a mask at the chiropractor anyway,” I tell her. So there’s my great parenting moment of the day, if everyone else jumps off a cliff, let’s be lemmings and join them. Five people walk in with masks while we’re in the waiting room, just to prove me wrong.
I check social media while we are waiting. I muse at the viral nature of the black tiles spreading like wildfire and note how even ballet companies with notoriously all white members now have one. Is this virtue signaling or what? Are they going to recruit more members of color and of various social classes? Help them pursue the arts at young ages? Because ballet is basically for the rich and white in most places.
I remember the hubbub this year over NYC Ballet’s first black Clara and how even in our little city where the LA Times likes to come from time to time and find the most backward confederate flag waving Oildale resident to pick on us, that we’ve had NEW YORK CITY beat on Claras of color for years. Obviously there is still work for ALL of us to do, but when I saw those headlines this year I really couldn’t believe that New York, of all places was so far behind the times.
Still I wonder if we should post a black tile too. Do I ask? Should I ask? I see a Facebook post from a friend that says, “Why would a movement that directly benefits from social media receive any help at all from everyone posting a black tile online and logging out for the day?” and from one of our former students, “This Instagram blackout is dangerous. Please don’t fall for this false activism. Black voices are already being quietly suppressed on these platforms and literally burying them under more actual blank posts is not going to help.”
I think again about the article I read and the amplification of messages online and whether it is a good or bad thing. Maybe we need rousing? What is this doing to our sense of reality? Again I say to myself, social media is not real life. How are my perceptions being altered by it right now?
I don’t have to ask about the black tile. Our studio owner reaches out to me and says to do it and so I do. I say that I don’t think we should release the summer dance schedule today even if it is done and she agrees. I’m intentional with my hashtags on Instagram picking only the ones that relate specifically to this movement in our industry and not the general cause so as not to bury information.
I tell S about our conversation because he sees the consternation on my face when he takes a lunch break. He says he thinks it’s good to weigh everything like I am and that he believes ultimately a strong showing of solidarity is really powerful. 10 minutes later the man that NEVER posts on social media is asking me how to post a black square of his own. I wonder if I should break my avowed week long silence as well, but ultimately decide to stick with it.
At 5 or so I check in again to see that most dance and theater organizations the studio follows have now taken down their black square and replaced it with… another black square (?!?) with the slight difference of the words “the show must be paused” as an overlay and an explanation that they have taken their black square down to not interfere with the the information that Black Lives Matter organizers are trying to get out. It makes zero sense. Not only have they posted again ensuring more “burying” and “flooding,” but they’ve essentially done the exact same thing they did earlier. I guess it kind of makes sense in that they removed certain hashtags, but honestly social media is weird and completely illogical sometimes. This is my job and I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations, but sometimes I really do not understand my profession.
I start the day reading an article about the history of the FBI project COINTELPRO started by J. Edgar Hoover to actively create animosity between whites and other races and which led to the designation of the Black Panthers as a terrorist organization and the assassination of one of their leaders, Fred Hampton, that was on the cusp of brokering a major coalition between the Black Panthers, the Latin Kings and white churches. The “Annie” song plays in my head. I know it is a different Hoover, but the sarcasm applies and the tune fits:
We’d like to thank you [J. Edgar Hoover]
For really showing us the way
We’d like to thank you: [J Edgar Hoover]
You made us what we are today.
“We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” —Lyrics by Martin Charnin & Charles Strouse
My first local media employer covers our city’s protests last night with a specific story about how our mayor was there too. It’s 20 freaking 20 and a portion of the article is dedicated to what she wore. I cannot eye roll hard enough.
I see a post from a local friend about her child being back to gymnastics (along with what looks like several other kids) at one of our semi-competitors. I text it over to our artistic coordinator because I haven’t seen the guidelines come down yet and can’t find them anywhere, but apparently these guys get to be fully open? She says we’re not far behind.
I think about the black tiles yesterday and want to know some organizations specifically in the dance industry helping to promote diversity in dance. Because I decide a black tile is just virtue signaling if it is not backed up with active pursuit of change. I find three-ish with a Google search.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance
The International Association of Blacks in Dance preserves and promotes dance by African ancestry or origin, and assists and increases opportunities for artists in advocacy, audience development, education, funding, networking, performance, philosophical dialogue, and touring. IABD values and validates the significant connections and influence that dance by people of African ancestry or origin have on the American and International cultural landscape. IABD scholarships are awarded to those who demonstrate ability, artistry and passion. Scholarships are for summer intensive training and professional dance training, education and/or study.
Brown Girls Do Ballet
Brown Girls Do Ballet is a division of Brown Girls Do. Their purpose is to promote diversity in the arts by providing annual scholarships, a mentor network, and community programs to empower young girls. Their mission is to help increase participation of underrepresented populations in ballet programs through organizing and arranging ballet performances, photo exhibitions, and providing resources and scholarships to assist young girls in their ballet development and training.
The Brown Girls Do Ballet Scholarship program was created in 2013 to provide additional financial support to young dancers wishing to continue in their training. The scholarships are open to those seeking to develop further, both educationally and artistically. The annual Brown Girls Do Ballet Summer Intensive Scholarship is awarded to female dancers of color ages 9-18, who have registered for a summer intensive program.
Francisco Gella Dance Works Equity Scholarship Program
The Francisco Gella Dance Works Equity Scholarship Program is based on the belief that when given an opportunity to learn and do what they love, every student with motivation can succeed. Therefore every student deserves at least one chance to try. But we are fully aware that not every student has the financial means or support to participate in training and educational dance programs that will give them access to the information they need in pursuit of their goals. To level the playing field of opportunity and identify talent, FGDW offers financial support through full and partial tuition scholarships to eligible applicants for all of its intensives and workshops.
Too often, only students who already attend intensives and conventions, and who can afford to be ‘seen’ and recognized are the ones to benefit from the very opportunities that propel dancers into the best schools, colleges, and jobs. Those who can afford to attend dance training programs are frequently the ones who benefit the most. The FGDW Equity Scholarship is an effort to decrease the likelihood that inherent bias will keep any talented and hard-working student from accessing resources to achieve what is possible for themselves.
The summer dance schedule is finally done and came out last night. So I had quite a few hours of work in the evening to do between updating the website, Google calendar, then Facebook, then converting it all into graphics as well for IG. Our artistic coordinator and I shared a discussion and laugh about whether there’s anything controversial or confusing at all in the letter that accompanied it that could possibly be taken the wrong way and cause ourselves to have to answer ALL the comments and e-mails. Seriously, if you would have told me when I graduated from college in 2006 that in 2020 a little dance studio in Bakersfield legitimately would need a real public relations position, not just for kind of volunteer funsies update the website twice a year and post a few pictures on social media, but a real PR person, I would have laughed at you, especially in Bakersfield where very, very few companies even saw that as a real need.
After everything we’ve been through these past almost three months, it is such a relief to wake up to SO many positive comments and happiness over the news of the summer schedule and returning to the studio instead of like when this thing first started, but we were not told we had to close quite yet and we got shame on you comments like, “You are putting lives at risk!”
I check into FB to see that our county public health is holding a news conference to update on the virus. Eager for more answers and clarification, I watch through the whole thing. I can’t remember which of the four officials says this, but I transcribe it down to send to our artistic coordinator, “Quickly about reopening, most businesses in Kern County are reopening. We are working with them. The state has provided guidance for most industries. There are some remaining industries that are part of stage 3 which the governor has termed higher risk businesses for the spread of Covid. Those are businesses like bars, gyms, nail salons, public pools are in there. The governor has stated that he will allow Kern County to begin opening those businesses as soon as the state health officer publishes guidance for those businesses. Kern County, our team here, is standing ready and awaiting that guidance. We have not been given that guidance yet from the state of California. As soon as we get that guidance, we will begin opening those businesses as quickly as possible under that state guidance.” There’s also some talk in there from the media about rumors that the guidance documents are coming Tuesday, but they don’t confirm it.
So what exactly are we to do? Swim places have been back open for a full month already even though pools are something he specifically mentioned. Friends that own a brewery that only serves beer have been open this entire time (first for take away and now for dine in with the help of local food trucks) and I know from Instagram that local officials have been supporting them. Obviously our semi-competitor that offers a whole range of activities including dance is back open as my friend’s social media post showed. I scan the list of other stage 3 things on the California Covid site and find zoos and museums on there, but our local county museum reopened partially this week. All of this just feels really unfairly enforced and like a hodgepodge of guidelines of what is and isn’t OK. She says we stick with the plan and if we get told otherwise we go from there. Besides the guidelines were supposed to come out this last Monday originally so maybe they will still come out between now and then. I feel frustrated that we’re apparently incapable of working on or caring about more than one thing at the same time in the media or government. This feels strategic after all, let’s wait until this current news cycle dies down before we release these, we can’t make it seem like we are not focused on only this other issue of the day. A few minutes later public health confirms that community centers can reopen because they want to ensure that the cooling centers program gets started, this is Bakersfield where we have triple digit summers after all. Both my initial conversations with the state and the county said we are considered a community center or gym so we leave it at that.
I finish a button up shirt for S. I bought the fabric for it last year during Me Made May, cut it out at the beginning of the pandemic so I could use the scraps to make masks and finally sewed it up this week. Two more are waiting. I think about Napoleon Dynamite, “I caught you a delicious bass,” and “build her a cake or something,” except mine is, “Happy Father’s Day, I built you a shirt.”
I think about the many false dichotomies I’ve seen this week that are forcing people into just one area of focus like the media and government obviously feel like they are in. “We don’t get to check out or change the channel or turn this off. We don’t have that privilege. This is our life.” And I think about the amplification of various narratives via social and news media. Maybe not everyone gets to “check out” of their various hardships whether due to race, socioeconomic class, whatever it is making them so angry about their fellow humans, etc., but not everyone has to be interacting with news media and especially social media that is amplifying, possibly inaccurately to a greater degree whether by bots or algorithms, either. This isn’t real life. Just because someone isn’t having the conversation on social media about whatever issue of the day from any of the many that were weighing on my heart at the beginning of this week, doesn’t mean they aren’t supporting or thinking about or processing through what all that means.
Some are posting on social media
Some are protesting in the streets
Some are donating silently
Some are educating themselves
Some are having tough conversations with friends and family
A revolution has many lanes — be kind to yourself and to others who are traveling in the same direction
Just keep your foot on the gas
—Blackout Tuesday Meme
Or maybe this is just one of the many misguided lies that nice white people like me tell ourselves as we take social media breaks for our delicate mental health.
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw — that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.
A friend didn’t know I had been fired for blogging once. Yep, back in the good ol’ MySpace days I tell her. As I recounted the story, nearly 15 years removed from the situation and a little older and wiser, I started to realized how terribly they handled everything. Retrospect. Here I was, young college girl in my first media job. There had been a horrifying accident where four carpooling nursing students had hit a semi head on. I had to import the unedited video from the live truck into the studio. I saw shredded bodies. Cameramen stood around and joked nearby about their “red tapes” (unedited tapes of gruesome scenes) nearby and how this was one for the red tapes. We were short staffed so a lot of us were working longer shifts to cover the holes. One of our anchors was regularly there for the morning show (arrive at 4am) and would stay to do special reports all the way until the 11pm show. I had just retrieved the thousands of pages long Vincent Brothers court docs for the station and we were all photo copying and reading it in our “spare” time to distill it down into reporting. I cracked under the circumstances and wrote a blog about how these hours were not sustainable in the long run, how media people needed mandatory counseling after traumatic situations like first responders, and how I wasn’t sure I had what it took to have a long term career in journalism. This was a Friday. A coworker on the assignment desk copied and pasted my post and e-mailed it to the whole newsroom. My producer friend called to tell me. I went through the whole weekend wondering what would happen. Knowing how short staffed they were, they made me work my whole Monday shift without saying a word and then the news director pulled me upstairs with the CEO to tell me I was right, I couldn’t cut it in the news business and that even if I did decide to try they predicted in less than three years I’d move on to a different career path. Then they sent me downstairs to pack up my desk in front of the whole newsroom. My big burley gruff manager had tears in his eyes and said, “I’m sorry kid. You’re a great reporter. I really went to bat for you.” Officially the employee handbook at the time banned talking about work on the Internet. Now I just laugh when I see similar posts from media members all the time, usually promoted by their companies as official blogs, that make reporters the story and talk about how hard their jobs are. I was ahead of my time. And the terrible part of it is that instead of being insulted by the criticism and taking it personally, they could have recognized the trauma situation, offered some official counseling options and a leave of absence and probably kept a loyal and fairly good journalist that would go on to write some stories the following year for the competition, even beating them out on a few, and win a couple press club awards too.
So I’m thinking about that story and how it applies to all the hurt and anger in our nation right now. This is trauma. How can we be a healing presence here instead of one that just takes it personally, gets angry and hurls insults and demeaning predictions like my old news director did?
Last night the state health department slipped guidelines for 12 additional industries quietly onto their website, including gyms, but luckily a few of our local officials pointed it out on their social media and because of our county’s variance they apply immediately. So we’re covered on both the community center and gym side of things. That was the last piece I was waiting for so now I really can kind of step back.
S and I had one of many hard conversations we’ve had this week about everything going on and our shifting belief system. What true love and friendship look like, exclusionary practices, and always a burden to wrestle with every few months even without all this stuff going on if we can keep being Orthodox. We didn’t solve anything, just stated things and fell asleep.
I’d said at the beginning of this week that I wanted to hike at some point, but we saved it for the milder weather predicted for today. After some deliberation over semi local options and road situations we decide to go MIA in Sequoia for the day which opened earlier in the week. Time for some big trees for some big perspective on how tiny and insignificant we are and how short our lifetimes.
We decide to take the dog so he isn’t left to stress in the backyard or a crate. I was sure I’d seen tourists walking their dogs when we’ve been here before. Note: getting all the way to Porterville to check the pet policy in national parks is not a good idea. Just FYI, dogs are not allowed on trails, but they are in picnic and campground areas. So I hang out in allowed areas with the dog while S takes the kids on trails.
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods.
I think that’s really my problem, along with an overly analytical mind and a hypersensitivity/aversion to conflict.
In Orthodoxy we believe in pressing into the struggle. So I am reminded that the only way this huge burden can be tackled is bit by bit.
“Only struggle a little more. Carry your cross without complaining. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are. And, especially, love one another.” —Fr. Seraphim Rose
“Don’t wage your Christian struggle with sermons and arguments, but with true love.” —St. Porphyrios
But what is the loving thing to do here? Even that seems to be in question. How do we love our neighbor as ourselves when everyone seems to have a differing opinion on what that looks like?
I read a news story about temporary unemployment/furlough converting to permanent as this thing drags on. I empathize deeply. I worry about my own workplace and whether we’ll be able to continue on much longer in this manner. I cry over what the loss of an organization that has provided 52 years of teaching tradition in this community, multiple generations of dancers, and 42 years of an all local Nutcracker production would mean to me that has watched their performances as a little girl; danced with them as a pre-teen/teen; covered them as a reporter; introduced their performances to my own children which instilled a love of dance in them; that currently trains in and continues to stoke a love of dance in my children; and which I also support with my talents, education/training, and hard work. I know there will be a way forward. I know some of our teachers would carry on in spite of it all and create something new, but it would definitely not be the same and would be the end of something special, an era. Does this empathy mean I care about “profits over people” as is so pithily thrown about? No. Do I worry there are people that would perceive me that way if I admitted my empathy and worry? Yes.
I make homemade cloth masks on the weekends when I have time to myself without the pressure of Stephen working from home and trying to fit in homeschooling the kids around our extensive Zoom dance schedule. And honestly sometimes this spills over into the regular week when I just don’t feel like doing anything else, even homeschooling. Having something creative, meaningful, and charitable to do helps me feel like I’m contributing in a positive way in spite of the situation and it keeps me going in some ways. But even that act feels controversial. Hospitals/organizations are asking for masks. No they are not, they have adequate PPE. No they don’t. Cloth masks are useless. New research says they aren’t. I personally hate wearing masks because of all my sensory issues. You have to wear a mask to come in X, Y, Z stores and places of business. Then you see people wear them half off their face, or only cover their mouths and not their noses, they hang them from one ear, they take them off to talk to a friend they run into in public all of which render them essentially useless. We have enough masks now. We don’t have enough, keep making them. The cancer center that treated my dad asks for them to hand out to patients, but wants to make sure the public knows they are taking care of all their HCWs with N95 masks. So I want to give back in his memory and I feel inspired to make another batch. Days later though the dismay of HCWs over the latest conspiracy theory videos and protests, some going so far as to say those people should sign a waiver agreeing to die/no treatment if they do get the virus, wonders what those same HCWs would have thought of my MAGA hat wearing dad were he still alive today. The bag of 110 masks continues to sit next to my sewing desk.
I read another news story about the virus hitting rural America hard in some places. How in one small town the attendance at a couple funerals in the closest big city led to the virus running rampant and devastating them all. Their underlying health conditions are noted as being a major factor spurred on by poverty and lack of proximity to healthcare. They had to establish an additional temporary morgue for all the bodies. Their one pastor died from it and now the deacon is performing the multiple funerals that are happening daily. There’s been a density argument here all along, that the virus hits hardest in big cities where people are living on top of each other. That rural places are fairing better. For this reason (among many), our own city/county wants to fast track reopening because we have not been as hard hit. We’re more spread out. I’m married to someone that analyzes data for a healthcare organization that serves our most impoverished population which also makes up a huge percentage of our general population. Those underlying conditions plague us too. Will we wind up in the same boat as that small town from my news article if we do rush to reopen?
Then there’s the remote learning. It’s the best we can do, but it is also not completely working well. Spotty internet issues. Videos freezing. Delays. Trouble shooting tech issues and missed e-mails and regular school meeting time conflicts and frustrated parents and students. Problems with sharing recordings with those that have to miss from cloud storage shortages to files randomly disappearing to music copyrights. Classes at weird times. On a personal level, what used to occupy a couple afternoon/evening hours a few days a week now takes up most of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday for us because everything has to be spread out. Fitting in regular homeschooling has been hard. The love of dance in my kids is now facing burnout and staleness especially at the prospect of working on the same choreography over and over while our recital plans stay up in the air. Teachers that make corrections on timing and musicality and technique that feel hard to process with the video delays and freezing and not having someone right there to show you how or make that physical adjustment. And being the extroverts they are, the loss of the social aspect is especially hard on them.
But then how amazingly and quickly the arts community has responded. My kids can take classes from professional dancers and broadway stars any day of the week if they so choose. We can watch performances of things we will likely never be able to afford to or be able to travel to streamed digitally in our living room. So many artists are giving back and having talks and encouraging kids to keep doing their art.
The confusion over the phased reopening and the logic behind the decisions of what categories of places fall in each phase. The inability to plan anything and figure out how we will move forward. Where does the business I serve fall and why do we not have a clear answer on that? Schools, daycares, and preschools can reopen in phase 2. We serve the same population. Some people use our services as a form of daycare for the hours they continue to work after the school day ends. I try to keep abreast of things. I see that some of our peers in the “industry” are given permission on reopening. One of our both direct and indirect competitors that also has a preschool/daycare is allowed to partially reopen now because essential workers need childcare. Another while not a direct competitor, but still in the same general kids sports and activities industry is allowed to because their sport/activity involves a chlorinated pool and sunlight which is expected to “kill everything” and therefore be low risk. Local people and politicians sent a letter to our governor asking for churches to be included in phase 2 as well for a whole host of both reasonable and unreasonable arguments. But for some churches what really makes that much different from what performing artists do? Yes, we can overspiritualize the concept here, but at the bare bones of it all the same arguments in that letter can apply here as well: the larger gathering of people being OK in school versus not in this situation (again with the idea that it is much the same population as those schools), the uplifting of our mental health through performance and beauty, allowing for freedom of expression, and maintaining our connection with our community.
Speaking of performing arts and shows/concerts, then there was the shocking revelation (at least for me) this week that Woodstock happened in the midst of another pandemic. Then in that same week a panel discussion that says performing artists and singing artists in particular will have to refrain until there is a vaccine because their projection and athletic breathing means they are “super spreaders.”
The signposts being moved further and further out (remember when it was just if you stay home for 14 days?) and the feeling of hopelessness and no end in sight. When the governor says our election in November will be by mail is that the signal for at least how long we should expect this to last? How well will the people and places I know fare if this does last that long? What will our summer look like? Should I even hope for our summer intensive and is the hope for a late summer recital even realistic?
The lack of civility. How every post and news article turns into an argument, name calling, self-righteousness, being quick to correct one another with the “facts” and “science”, intellectual superiority, appeals to authority, appeals to emotion, ad hominem attacks, anecdotal evidence, and public shaming. I find myself deleting things I want to say minutes later for this reason. I don’t want to see my friends and family attack my other friends and family behind the anonymity of a screen. But then they say if you stay silent you are part of the problem too, a la Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…”
It’s the worst possible time to have a death in the family and someone requiring additional elder care and we have had both. I don’t even know how to talk about either when usually I am so verbose. In one case where Alzheimer’s is stealing away what precious little time we have left of recognition, we can’t even have that time right now because of social distancing.
It’s just all so exhausting and depressing. And I know, I know this wreaks of privilege and first world problems… boo hoo my poor kids and our technology supported life with access to dance classes while my husband works from home and I make decisions like whether I sew this week with minimal consequences to our middle class white life. I know.
The heart shaped wreath my baby sister got died yesterday. The kids needed to practice piano. So I rearranged.
I’ve felt like this whole few months has been “all the things they don’t tell you about…” like when you are pregnant/giving birth/a new parent except for death and dying. Which gets me thinking. Why do we not talk about these things? Why are we all just fumbling around in the dark on so many aspects of life (and death)? I read the little blue book at the hospice center and suddenly the whole world of my last few months finally made sense just a couple days before he was gone. It would have been nice to know some of that information before that. Why did I have to get that information from a book? I can see now why there is a trend for “death midwives” after this experience.
Things they don’t tell you: someone in your family will get a ginormous picture of your loved one leftover from the memorial service. And huge flower arrangements.
So for now this one is in my living room on the easel that used to hold the flower wreath for his memorial service that now occupies the bottom of my green barrel. Stephen straightened the picture a little more precisely when he got home from work and said, “This is right where he’d be if he were here. He was always in the living room.”
A couple years ago, some friend shared this post and it showed up in my newsfeed. I know Mayim Bialik is not everyone’s favorite, kind of controversial, etc. and I’m usually not one to give a rip about what some celebrity says or thinks anyway, but the paragraph she included with post was intriguing and for some reason I clicked over and read through.
“Saying Kaddish is one of the most significant and meaningful ways I have experienced to move through my first year of grief. Jewish practice designates 11 months after burial for the daily recitation of this prayer – a prayer which reaffirms the reciter’s belief in G-d, and which has for centuries functioned as sort of a rabbinical pause in the daily prayer service. Judaism gets a lot of things seemingly wrong, but across all denominations, rabbis and scholars agree that we got this one right. Encouraging a presence with a community in the time of acute grief is profoundly meaningful…”
At the time it was a “gotcha” kind of moment for me. Further evidence that Eastern Orthodox Christianity was doing it “right” because if Jewish people did this kind of thing, then with their roots in Judaism, how could my previously held Protestant Christian beliefs decry the Christian version of this practice?
I was at war with myself, really.
Words can be one thing and people’s actions can be another. In my previous experiences with death while believing something almost entirely different about it, I saw that despite those words, there is a natural inclination to honor the person and do something meaningful at various anniversaries/dates of significance: gathering together for favorite food on a birthday, donating to a cause the person was passionate about, a scholarship fund in their name for kids that liked the same things, a huge event near the anniversary of their death, lighting a candle at a particular hour, a blue light on the porch for a LEO killed in the line, planting a tree or favorite flower, sending up floating lanterns or a balloon, a candlelight vigil gathering at the site of the death or a significant place in town, flowers at the graveside on significant days, a march, a 5K/marathon, etc.
At the exact hour one week from my father’s death, my sisters FaceTimed, lit a candle and listened to the last song that played in his hospice room while he breathed his last. We were at an event and I was unable to participate. None of my sisters are particularly religious anymore and yet the inclination to honor him at a significant date and time was there. When we were planning his memorial, there was a strong desire, despite the day of the week it fell on (Monday) to do it exactly one month from his death rather than the more convenient weekend. For the scattering of his ashes, there has also been a strong desire communicated to do it on his birthday despite it falling on a weekday.
In Eastern Orthodox Christianity there is a memorial service called the Panikhida. It is done immmediately after death, the third day, ninth day, fortieth day, three months, six months, one year and subsequent years. There are also memorial Saturdays throughout the church calendar where the service is done for whole groups of people. “In the Eastern Church, the various prayers for the departed have as their purpose praying for the repose of the departed, comforting the living, and reminding the living of their own mortality and the brevity of this earthly life. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them… The service is composed of Psalms, litanies, hymns, and prayers. In its outline it follows the general order of Matins and is, in effect, a truncated funeral service. Some of the most notable portions of the service are the Kontakion of the Departed and the final singing of ‘Memory Eternal’ (Source).”
Similarly, from Mayim’s post: “Kaddish is meditative if you let it be, and being in the midst of quiet prayer and stillness during grief – even for minutes a day – is helpful and profoundly comforting… I did not recite it every single day, but I recited it many, many days… But you could not keep me away from It, nor It away from me. Grief followed me and hung over me like a veil of darkness everywhere I went. A cloud of sadness, a weight of death on my chest. And now the 11 months have ended. My responsibility is over. My father’s soul is as it was before, although the people in the synagogue where I have gone so many early mornings and so many afternoons and evenings tell me his soul can be lifted up because of the honor I have given it through my dedication to Kaddish. It’s higher, closer, nearer to G-d’s resting place in the heavens I don’t really think much about… Is this what you wanted from me, G-d? And did I do it for G-d, for myself, for my mother, for my brother, for my dead father? Sometimes you put one foot in front of the other just because it’s the only thing you know how to do. And for 11 months that’s exactly what I did. One foot in front of the other. I think about the times I slept in. The times I didn’t make it to shul. Did I not miss my father enough to go to synagogue one more time? Shame on me. And when I went instead to the movies, or to see friends, or to seek comfort other ways, was I running from this responsibility? …Eleven months reciting a prayer. Eleven months devoting my time to the loss of my father’s. Eleven months counting down until the next milestone, and the next, and the next: the English date of his death. The Hebrew date of his death. The unveiling of his matzeyvah (tombstone). And then the rest of my life. I had my father for 39 years. I gave him 11 months of kaddish. I gave myself 11 months of discipline and presence. I gave my religious tradition the opportunity to hold me up in ways I didn’t know how. I gave strangers the ability to become my comrades. I gave myself permission to learn something new, so many things new. I gave my community the chance to learn about what one daughter can achieve for the sake of her father.”
And so I find myself turning to my own tradition’s prayers, adding them in each night at the end of the regular evening prayers we do with the kids before bed most nights (when we too are not tired, lazy, or otherwise occupied):
“Prayer for the Departed: With the souls of the righteous dead, give rest, O Savior, to the soul of Thy servant N., preserving him/her unto the life of blessedness which is with Thee, O Thou who lovest mankind. In the place of Thy rest, O Lord, where all Thy Saints repose, give rest also to the soul of Thy servant N. for Thou alone lovest mankind. Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thou art the God who descended into hell and loose the bonds of the captives. Do give rest also to the soul of Thy servant N. Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. O Virgin, alone pure and undefiled, who without seed didst bring forth God, pray that his/her soul may be saved. With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of Thy servant N. where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.
“Prayer at the Death of a Parent: O Lord, You heard Joseph grieving over the death of his father, Jacob, as he wept and kissed him. Your own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, also knew the love of a mother, for as He suffered upon the cross, He beheld his Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near her, and He said: Woman, behold your son. And to the disciple, He said: Behold your mother. Good Master, look down from heaven and see the pain and grief which have laid hold of my heart and soul today. Be merciful to me, Your servant, and receive the prayer which is offered to You by a child who has lost his (her) beloved father (mother). Forgive whatever sins he (she) has willingly or unwillingly committed, whether of word, deed or thought. Merciful Master, hear the grieving voice of one who has been taught by his (her) father (mother) to turn to You with true faith in times of need, and to raise my eyes and voice to You. Show Your mercy, O Lord, and grant rest to my father (mother), making him (her) a partaker of Your eternal blessings and granting him (her) a place at Your right hand, for blessed and glorified are You unto all ages. Amen (Source).”
I guess I find comfort in the mystery of we don’t know what exactly this does versus the very definitive, “this does nothing” of my previous tradition: “When we pray for those who have died and the forgiveness of their sins, we are asking the same thing, for their communion with God, whether broken or impaired, to be made whole. Of course, we enter mysterious ground in all of this. The Orthodox Church has very little to say in a definitive manner about prayers for the departed… What is essential in this is something that runs very counter to our contemporary minds, formed as they are by the false assumptions of modernity. Salvation, the full and complete restoration of communion with God and our complete healing, is not a private matter. We are not saved alone, for ‘alone’ is the very antithesis of salvation. Communion is how we exist. Neither can we have communion with God without communion with our neighbor (1 John 4:20-21), Our contemporary culture imagines that we are self-existing, that life is merely a matter of biology. However, true existence, both in this life and the next, is marked by communion, both with God and with others. This is the very heart of our salvation. That the Church prays for those who have died is the abiding confession that death does not destroy our communion with one another. That our prayers are of ‘benefit’ for those who have died is the abiding confession that our communion is real and effective. That we ask the prayers of the saints is the abiding confession that those who have finished the course are of benefit to us (Source).”
Thanks to my Sicilian heritage I’ve had acne since puberty that has never let up. When I looked through a favorite recipe book in my 20s with lots of pictures of average real Sicilians, all my skin woes finally made sense!
A couple years ago I started using a sulfur based acne soap and saw some marked improvements in my skin. My acne did not go away, but it definitely helped. The problem? For a little over 4oz, it costs about $60 after shipping. It lasted me awhile and my skin improved so it felt justified, but I have another problem: kids. Specifically kids that like to play with soap. Maybe I should just be the fun mom that doesn’t get all worked up about her kids playing in the shower/bath, but when your child has turned $60+ worth of a tiny amount of soap into “potions,” it kind of makes me lose my mind. Also I have acne on my torso and back so I could never bring myself to use this expensive soap on those much larger portions of my body.
Friends of mine had used an activated charcoal based soap and saw similar improvements to mine so I started trying that too. The one I use is available pretty much everywhere and retails for about $10 for 5oz. I found that it works OK, but not as good as the sulfur soap.
So a few weeks ago I was in the health food store and tried to find a soap that combined both of these ideas. I found separate bar soaps of each, but nothing with both. So I bought two bars of soap and thought I’d alternate between them.
I hate bar soap though! Getting a good lather is hard, the bar falling off the shelf onto the floor of the shower, it getting all soft and mushy in the shower, etc. it just grossed me out. I even tried some of those terry cloth bar soap pouches and still was not liking it.
Every once in awhile I decide to do something really crunchy granola. It’s been about 8 years since I tried making my own laundry soap (it made way too much, was way too much work at the time, and didn’t feel like it got our clothes clean so after the first batch I quit). Well, I remembered laundry soap making and decided to apply the same concept to my bars.
It’s super easy to do, makes a successful liquid soap with a great lather, and makes a ton (I was scrounging all over the house for more containers!). Whether it keeps my face as clear remains to be seen, but here’s what I did…
Most of the recipes I refreshed myself on wanted you to use a huge pot and lots of water to make gallons of soap. I did not want gallons of soap! I did find one that used only 4 cups of water and one bar of soap though. It said that it may come out a little thin though and to add more bar soap if necessary. Since I had two bars of soap, I decided to use 6 cups of water instead.
I can’t remember the exact brand of sulfur soap I bought, but a quick look online says they run from $3-$12 a bar. There is even a bar that has sulfur and salicylic acid (another common acne treatment) in it from DermaHarmony.
I do know the activated charcoal brand soap I bought was from The Seaweed Bath Co. because I recognized the packaging. Activated charcoal bar soaps also range from about $3-$12 a bar depending on the brand and store.
Step 1: In a medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water to a boil.
Step 2: While you are waiting for the water to heat up, grate your bars of soap. You can also use a food processor, but I feel like food processors are harder to clean so I just used my regular cheese grater.
Step 3: Once the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add soap gratings.
Step 4: Stir until gratings are all melted. This will take awhile. I started to wonder if they would ever all melt and whether this was worth it and then they did and I realized I was being a bit dramatic.
Step 5: I knew tea tree oil is supposed to be good for acne too so I added about a half teaspoon to the pot at this point. The added benefit of a better smell in my kitchen than sulfur.
Step 5: Let cool completely, stirring ocassionally.
Ok so here’s the deal, most of the recipes said to let it cool overnight on your stove to get optimal thickness, but I didn’t have time for that. Once mine was about luke warm, I started putting it into a random assortment of containers I scrounged and cleaned (Next time, I’ll probably be a little more prepared and buy containers). Then I put those in the fridge and left them there for about an hour before deciding I need a shower ASAP and can’t wait anymore.
The soap did seem a little thin and is kind of a weird dark not so pretty olive green color, but it lathered up just fine on both my hands for my face and loofah for my body. My skin felt clean and soft afterwards and I have no complaints.
I’m not sure how much volume the grated soap added to the total, but if we just use the original 6 cups of water, that means I got 48oz of soap for about $10 (I think I paid about $5/bar) vs. 5oz for $10 or 4oz for $60.
This last fall I joined a book club and I have been endeavoring to read more in general. This month the book was my pick and I chose it because it had been referenced in a couple articles I read. The book is Leisure: The Basis of Culture by 20th century German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper.
In Leisure, Pieper makes an argument for man’s need for leisure, but not as we would probably think of synonyms of that word such as idleness or laziness. Leisure is not that:
“The ‘worker,’ it has been seen, in our brief analysis of that significant figure, is characterized by three principal traits: an extreme tension of the powers of action, a readiness to suffer in vacuo unrelated to anything, and complete absorption in the social organism, itself rationally planned to utilitarian ends. Leisure, from this point of view, appears as something wholly fortuitous and strange, without rhyme or reason, and morally speaking, unseemly: another word for laziness, idleness and sloth. At the zenith of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, it was held that sloth and restlessness, ‘leisurelessness,’ the incapacity to enjoy leisure, were all closely connected; sloth was held to be the source of restlessness, and the ultimate cause of ‘work for work’s sake’ … Idleness, in the medieval view, means that a man prefers to forgo the rights, or if you prefer the claims, that belong to his nature. In a word, he does not want to be as God wants him to be, and that ultimately means that he does not wish to be what he really, fundamentally, is. Acedia is the ‘despair from weakness’ which Kierkegaard analysed as the ‘despairing refusal to be oneself.’ Metaphysically and theologically, the notion of acedia means that a man does not, in the last resort, give the consent of his will to his own being; that behind or beneath the dynamic activity of his existence he is still not at one with himself, or as the medieval writers would have said, face to face with the divine good within him; he is a prey to sadness (and that sadness is the tristitia saeculi of Holy Scripture. And then we are told that the opposite of this metaphysical and theological notion is the notion ‘hardworking,’ industrious, in the context of economic life! For acedia has, in fact, been interpreted as though it had something to do with the economic ethos of the Middle Ages… Idleness, in the old sense of the word, so far from being synonymous with leisure, is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible: it might be described as the utter absence of leisure, or the very opposite of leisure. Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being, whereas the essence of acedia is the refusal to acquiesce in one’s own being. Idleness and the incapacity for leisure correspond with one another. Leisure is the contrary of both. Leisure, it must be clearly understood is a mental and spiritual attitude — it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul, and as such, utterly contrary to the ideal of ‘worker’ in each and every one of the three aspects under which it was analysed: work as activity, as toil, as a social function. Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of inward calm, of silence, it means not being ‘busy,’ but letting things happen. Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean ‘dumbness’ or ‘noiselessness,’ it means more nearly that the soul’s power to ‘answer’ to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation. Furthermore there is also a certain happiness in leisure, something of the happiness that comes from the recognition of the mysteriousness of the universe and the recognition of our incapacity to understand it, that comes with a deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course… Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves…” (p.23-28)
The other book I am currently reading is also non-fiction and I picked it for the same reasons as Leisure, because it has been referenced in things I have read over the last year. It is How (Not) to be Secular by James K. A. Smith which is his guide to reading philosopher Charles Taylor’s 900 page A Secular Age which has been called one of the most important books of our time.
I have been struck by Smith’s analysis which resonates so deeply with me and writing down quotes from it in my quote notebook like mad:
“Like those hucksters on Venice Beach offering maps to the homes of the stars, there is no shortage of voices hawking road atlases for a secular age. Confident ‘new atheists,’ for example, delineate where we are with a new bravado. Employing a kind of intellectual colonialism, new atheist cartographers rename entire regions of our experience and annex them to natural science and empirical explanation, flattening the world by disenchantment (Graveyards of the gods are always a highlight of this tour). At the same time — and sometimes as a reaction — various fundamentalisms seem intent on selling us maps to buried treasure, pulling out yellowed parchments and trying to convince us that these dated maps tell us the truth about ourselves, about our present. But their maps are just as flat, and we feel like they’re hiding something… Both of these sorts of maps are blunt instruments. They are road atlases that merely show us well-worn thoroughfares, the streets and interstates of our late modern commerce. They do nothing to map the existential wilderness of the present — those bewildering places in which we are beset by an existential vertigo. These neat and tidy color-coded road atlases are of no help when we find ourselves disoriented in a secular age, haunted by doubt or belief, by predawn fears of ghosts in the machine or a vague sense of the twilight of the idols. These road atlases of belief versus disbelief, religion versussecularism, belief versus reason provide maps that are much neater and tidier than the spaces in which we find ourselves. They give us a world of geometric precision that doesn’t map onto the world of our lived experience where these matters are much fuzzier, much more intertwined — where ‘the secular’ and ‘the religious’ haunt each other in a mutual dance of displacement and decentering.” (p. 13)
“…most of us live in this cross-pressured space, where both our agnosticism and our devotion are mutually haunted and haunting. If our only guides were new atheists or religious fundamentalists, we would never know that this vast, contested terrain even existed, even though most of us live in this space every day.” (p. 14)
“But the haunting is mutual, which is why religious literature in our secular age attests to the persistent specter of doubt. Outside of Amish fiction and Disney-fied versions of biblical narratives, believers in contemporary literature are ‘fragilized‘ …twentieth-century fiction was where we saw that ‘the churchgoer was giving way to the moviegoer.’ What Taylor describes as ‘secular’ — a situation of fundamental contestability when it comes to belief, a sense that rival stories are always at the door offering a very different account of the world — is the engine that drove Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. As she attested in a letter about her first novel: ‘I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It’s hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not.’ Even a faith that wants to testify and evangelize — as certainly O’Connor did — has to do so from this place. Indeed, consider the dramatis personae of religiously attuned literature over the past fifty years, from Graham Greene’s whisky priest to Walker Percy’s Dr. Thomas More to Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder, even Marilynne Robinson’s Protestant pastor in Gilead: not a one matches the caricature of either the new athiests’ straw men or fundamentalist confidence.” (p. 20-21)
“Indeed, on Taylor’s account, ardent secularism has not appreciated or embraced secularity. And he thinks that, in some fleeting moments of aesthetic enchantment or mundane haunting, even the secularist is pressed by a sense of something more — some ‘fullness‘ that wells up within (or presses down upon) the managed immanent frame we’ve constructed in modernity. In the same way postmodern believers can’t shield themselves from competing stories that call into question the fundamental story of faith. Evolutionary psychology and expressive individualism are in the water of our secular age, and only a heroic few can manage to quell their chatter to create an insulated panic room in which their faith remains solidly secure. Ours is a ‘secular age,’ according to Taylor, not because of any index of religious participation (or lack thereof), but because these sorts of manifestations of contested meaning. It’s as if the cathedrals are still standing, but their footings have been eroded. Conversely the Nietzschean dream is alive and well, and the heirs of Bertrand Russel and Auguste Comte continue to beat their drums, and yet Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert still make it to the best seller lists and the magic of Tolkien still captivates wide audiences… While stark fundamentalisms — either religious or secular — get all the press, what should interest us are these fugitive expressions of doubt and longing, faith and questioning. These lived expressions of cross-pressure are at the heart of the secular.” (p. 22-23)
I found myself nodding my head over and over at the apt descriptions and analogies that describe the world in which most of us find ourselves. I am an Orthodox Christian, but even when we are doing the shortened Reader’s services that the laity can perform without the clergy in my own living room or at a beautiful Orthodox Church for a full Divine Liturgy, I am haunted by whether or not God is really there, what the heck He is even doing with my life, whether I am on the right path, if God is really at work in the situation I find myself in: a two family tiny mission parish in a town that is a sea of over 200 Protestant churches full of people that believe very differently than me.
And for those of us who do have faith, maybe not the same faith, but faith nonetheless, I found myself wondering how we got here where it is so hard to have faith at all as I see countless friends claim their new labels of atheist or agnostic, rejecting faith and the practice of faith. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon to me, I grew up in a home that didn’t have belief, it’s just more shocking when life-long believers that grew up differently from me throw that off completely. Over the weekend we watched the documentary Becoming Truly Human which explores this rise of the “nones,” from 7% jumping to 25% of the population now claiming no religious affiliation in polling. Smith addresses this question of, ‘how did did we get here?’ too:
“Our goal in trying to understanding our ‘secular age’ is not a descriptive what, and even less a chronological when, but rather an analytic how. The question is not whether our age is less (or more) ‘religious;’ nor is it a question of trying to determine when some switch was tripped so that, in the world-historical language of Will Durant & Co., we went from an ‘age of belief’ to an ‘age of reason.’ Instead, Taylor is concerned with the ‘conditions of belief’ — a shift in the plausibility conditions that make something believable or unbelievable. So A Secular Age is persistently asking and re-asking various permutations of the following questions: ‘How did we move from a condition where, in Christendom, people lived naively within a theistic construal, to one in which we all shunt between two stances, in which everyone’s construal shows up as such; and in which, moreover, unbelief has become for many the major default option?’ ‘Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God, in say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?’ As you’ll notice, these questions are not concerned with what people believe, as much as with what is believable. The difference between our modern, ‘secular’ age and past ages is not necessarily the catalogue of available beliefs but rather the default assumptions about what is believable.” (p. 26-27)
It was really interesting to read that passage and then pick Leisure back up and hear Pieper pretty much describe that same world of easy belief of the 1500s still shaping people’s lives in the early 1900s when he was writing:
“The soul of leisure, it can be said, lies in ‘celebration.’ Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure emerge together: effortlessness, calm, and relaxation, and its superiority to all and every function. But if ‘celebration’ is the core of leisure, then leisure can only be made possible and indeed justifiable upon the same basis as the celebration of a feast: and that formation is divine worship. There is no such thing as a feast ‘without Gods’ — whether it be a carnival or a marriage. There is no such thing as a feast that does not ultimately derive its life from divine worship, and that does not draw its vitality as a feast from divine worship. That is not a demand or a requirement; it does not mean that that is how things ought to be. It claims to be a simple statement of fact: however dim the recollection of the association may have become in men’s minds, a feast ‘without Gods,’ and unrelated to worship, is quite simply unknown. It is true that ever since the French Revolution attempts have repeatedly been made to manufacture feast-days and holidays that have no connection with divine worship, or are sometimes even opposed to it: ‘Brutus days,’ or even that hybrid ‘Labor Day.’ In point of fact the stress and strain of giving them some kind of festal appearance is one of the very best proofs of the significance of divine worship for a feast; and nothing illustrates so clearly as a comparison between a living and deeply traditional feast day, with its roots in divine worship, and one of those rootless celebrations, carefully and unspontaneously prepared beforehand, and as artificial as a maypole… There is in fact no room in the world of ‘total labour’ either for divine worship, or for a feast: because the ‘worker’s’ world, the world of ‘labour’ rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A ‘feast-day’ in that world is either a pause in the midst of work (and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of ‘Labour Day,’ or whatever feast days of the world of ‘work’ may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated — once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to ‘work.’ There can of course be games, circuses — but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal? It simply cannot be otherwise: the world of ‘work’ and of the ‘worker’ is a poor, impoverished world, be it ever so rich in material goods, for on an exclusively utilitarian basis, on the basis, that is, of the world of ‘work,’ genuine wealth, wealth which implies overflowing into superfluities, into unnecessaries, is just not possible. Wherever the superfluous makes its appearance it is immediately subjected to the world of work. And, as the traditional Russian saying puts it: work does not make one rich, but round-shouldered.” (p. 44-47)
How indeed did we move from a construal where feast days are connected to divine worship and leisure to one where most of Christianity has only 1-2 feast days (Christmas and Easter), if that? Where Christmas falling on a Sunday in 2016 sparked huge debate about whether churches should have a service or whether the pastor and his family needed a break to celebrate because the church always steals PK’s dads? Where dressing up for Dr. Suess’s birthday and making green eggs and ham gets more participation in elementary schools across America than most church services, even on those two floundering feast days we still kind of observe on the Liturgical calendar?
And this is why I joined a book club this year: to reclaim my motherhood sapped brain and read more and ponder the deep thoughts.
It’s January. So much of my ideal vision of motherhood and Orthodoxy is wrapped up in what was my normal for the last four years as well as goals I have for our family spiritual life. I mean, I’ve been researching and writing a book, non-fiction, that is sort of an encyclopedia of various feast day practices throughout the year for the last few years so I definitely have a lot of ideas, whole Pinterest boards of them, but the execution both in actually writing the book and in our personal lives is often lacking.
In my ideal January we’d start off the year sharing Vasilopita with friends and all the excitement and anticipation of who get’s the coin and the blessing of St. Basil for the year. I’d make the cake from scratch from someone’s centuries old family recipe. It would be perfectly dusted in powdered sugar and the year.
On January 6, which fell on a Saturday this year, we would be having Liturgy for Theophany (the feast of the Baptism of Jesus), heading out to bless the Kern River as we have in past years and then house blessing and food all afternoon.
On the weekend nearest January 15, our dear Ethan’s birthday, we would have that Pinterest perfect “How to Train Your Dragon” party that he has planned up in his mind. We’d have the amazing Night Fury cake with candles coming out of the dragon’s mouth, Popsicle stick catapults and “sheep” marshmallows, games, a picture perfect tablescape, a photo booth set up with viking and dragon themed props, a clever party hashtag, the works.
On January 17, we would spend some time talking about St. Anthony the Great, our schoolwork patron saint, and try learning that Troparion (hymn) for his feast day yet again.
Lent and thus Pre-Lent comes early this year, so on Sunday January 21, we’d sing the silly Zaccheus song and go to Hart Park to climb Sycamore trees on Zaccheus Sunday.
And at the very end of the month, we’d be gearing up for St. Brigid (Feb. 1) and Candlemas/Meeting of our Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2) getting supplies to make Brigid’s cross and candles.
In my ideal our home would function as a little monastery in some ways, in the mornings we’d do prayers before starting our day, we’d do the full fast on fasting days, and in the evenings we’d either do evening prayers or Compline as a family.
It’s nearly midway through January and what my month has looked like so far:
Dec. 31 was a Sunday this year. Ever since our mission closed public doors, we’ve done Typika (a shorter version of the typical Sunday services that laypeople can read through) at our home with another family and more recently an inquirer that has been coming for about a month. That morning I woke up early, bought a boxed spice cake mix from the closest grocery store and made it just before we started the service. I frosted the cake and put number candles on it because sifting powdered sugar to make the year is messy and not my thing. I was surprised the cake even turned out because my mantra has been “I can’t bake” for quite some time. I got the coin this year after we all stuffed ourselves on too much cake.
January 6 was filled with the lows of my husband’s grandmother’s memorial service where we were gutted by bagpipes (she was very proud of her Clan Sinclair Scottish heritage) and bittersweet memories.
That afternoon was followed by the highs of the birth of Christ late that evening on Old Calendar Nativity. Death and Birth all in the same day. An emotional rollercoaster, and yet fitting, since Christ’s coming allows us to “rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The middle wall of the partition has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise…” (First Stichera, Vespers of Christmas Eve).
Christmas on January 6/7? Old Calendar? A brief history lesson: In the 1500s the Pope of Rome decided to change the calendar which is 13 days “behind” to correct some dating issues and slowly much of the world followed suit, except some Orthodox holdouts because the job of calendars and dating events had always belonged to the Church of Alexandria, an ancient center of learning. Eventually some Orthodox switched to the New Calendar, with the date of Pascha/Easter still ascribing to the Old Calendar date so that all of Orthodoxy celebrates on the same day.
On January 10 we were just getting around to reading the our favorite children’s book on the Life of St. Catherine (Nov. 25) and making our liturgical journal entries for her, because that is how far behind we are on those. Though I did manage to make from-the-can cinnamon rolls on her actual feast day.
This weekend will be spent sewing a couple paraments (fancy Liturgical cloths that cover stands, tables, etc.) for a special Liturgy we’re having on Monday to celebrate Theophany kind of halfway between the dates on the Old and New Calendars and all of our usual pomp and procession, river splashing, and house splashing that comes with it.
Monday also happens to be Ethan’s birthday. I got wind of his party plans only a week or less ago and struck up a compromise that I’d bring a cake with plastic dragons on it to our homeschool co-op at the end of this month. I always feel bad for the kid because we’re usually so wiped out after Christmas and his birthday just becomes an afterthought like this most of the time.
As for my other lofty spiritual family goals, ha. Our mornings are not started with prayer, like ever. And I hate putting kids to bed. We had a good two month stint where I was boring my kids to sleep by sitting on one of their beds and chanting Compline and an Akathist to the Saints of North America. But honestly, it started to make bedtime take even longer, which I already hate, and I wanted to do other things besides taking an hour or more to chant. The kids joked that they were giving me “a holiday break, just like for school,” but honestly I don’t really wanna anymore. Last night I kept popping in their darkened rooms to put away laundry and Henry would say, “Prayers?” every time I came in with a new pile and I said I was busy and he knows the “Our Father” so can’t he pray himself?
But I think real life and our faith and having an Orthodox home is lived somewhere in between this idealism and nothing at all, just like my real month has looked. We stand up, we trip, we fall, we get up, we brush ourselves off, and repeat.
“What we should bear in mind is that every type of work on earth and in all the universe is God’s work, and as such it should be performed from the heart, without reservation. When we do so, we can free ourselves from our interior resistance. Every action of ours will then help our neighbor, beginning with our family, wherever we may be… We must learn how to live a heavenly life. And that is not easy, because up until now we have led a life of resistance and opposition. Take, for example, a family man who has a home and a family and who knows how to do his job well but is doing this job against his will. That is how inner resistance builds up… For we have acquired the habit of always opposing one thing or another, as there is always something that is against our will. We have not learned to be obedient to the will of God but always want our will to be done… Therefore, let us be thankful to God for everything. He knows why He has put us in the position where we find ourselves, and we will get the most out of it when we learn to be humble. We should always remember that whatever task we perform here in this life is for Him.” –Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine our Lives
I always find this amusing. It is Dr. Suess’ birthday Thursday. There will be celebrations in classrooms and libraries across the country with dress up, readings, songs, special food, etc. None of my friends that believe honoring and celebrating saints and feasts is sinful, or idol worship or whatever will bat an eye. They will send their kids along merrily to partake in all of these festivities. Green eggs and ham will be eaten. Some may even volunteer in classrooms donned with a certain iconic striped stove pipe hat. A LuLaRoe consultant I know has outfits picked out from her collection that are themed to certain beloved characters even. 😏 Pick X, Y, Z American icon or hero and it is the same story. Like humans just can’t help themselves when it comes to this sort of thing. I remember a priest we knew once making an argument in a sermon about how humans are prone to idol worship and that’s why the Church has icons and saints so our honor is rightly placed.