Tuesday, March 17, 2015

This Blog is Moving!

Sometime this month, all content on this blog will be deleted and moved to PurvaBrown.com - I hope you'll visit and find me there!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I Cook Dinner (Almost) Every Night

I did not expect to meet my mother, six years after her death, in a blog post. I thought I had cremated her, dealt with the seething, strangled ball of anger, honor and confusion I tried to unravel as she lay dying eight thousand three hundred and forty-seven miles away. But there she was. In my Facebook feed, my friends’ conversations, suddenly, everywhere I looked. The more I read, the bigger thought bubbles my memories blew. They got larger, threatening to pop all over me, spittle and all, demanding to be noticed. My childhood had finally come, screaming, swinging in the swiveling kitchen door, naked, begging to be diapered, powdered, clothed. It was time, I decided - time to either kiss the wound and send it away happy or put that disobedient, tear-streaked cheek in the corner, to mete out punishment or take it upon myself in the name of womanhood. 

I knew what she would have done. I knew only too well. 

Cooking was how my mother showed affection - and the lack of it. Making dinner was her weapon of choice. She wielded it extremely well. On days she and my dad fought, there would be no dinner cooked, as if to force my dad to acknowledge that he needed her after all. On the flip side, she made homemade wine, pickles, party food, pizza, festive food. Growing up, I didn’t know a single person who intentionally stayed away from a celebration at our home. I knew no one went home and didn’t tell whoever he met that he had just gained five pounds and wouldn’t mind gaining another five if this woman invited him over again for dinner. My father’s friends were jealous, as were mine. 

Except for this one thing. 

“Don’t you ever, ever quit your job after you have kids!” she often warned. “You lose your worth. All you’re ever good for is cooking and cleaning.” She didn’t teach me to cook, intentionally, I think, even though some of my fondest childhood memories are puttering around in the kitchen with my toy pots and pans while she cooked. As they say in shorthand parlance, my relationship with cooking was complicated, right from the start.

So I was disconcerted, to say the least, to be confronted with the same acerbic complaining that still echoes in my ears thirty years later on the other side of the globe. Cooking is too hard, it takes too much time and no one appreciates it anyway. There should be something better I could be doing with my time, something not inside this house. Why all this focus on the homemade dinner, this onus on the mother? This restlessness, this unnamed self-pity, the seeming sadness classified as the woman’s lot, propped by ditties claiming a woman’s work is never done draw me into darkened corners of my psyche I never wished to visit again, places that I wanted to leave dimly lit, cobwebby and dank. 

“Mommy, can I help?” my daughter asks me today. She wants to chop vegetables, admire them. She wants to learn to make aioli. She wants to do dishes, revel in the feel and worth of a kitchen apron cut just to her size. She wants to learn my imperfect art. And I have to look at it anew – not through my mother’s eyes but my own.

I have to do what my father wasn’t willing to do to my mother - shake her out of her dark reverie, her imagination that didn’t allow her to see the truth. That cooking is work but it isn’t drudgery. That it is a tool, not a weapon. I have to remind myself, gruffly, if I must, that I actually do like my food, even if I don’t necessarily like to make it every single day. There are days when I’m tired, not interested, would rather be reading or soaking in the tub, wine tasting with my friends, but when I’ve had my fill of the world and all its delicacies, I would rather just eat something cooked in my own kitchen. It’s not gourmet and it’s not always fantastic. Yes, it’s work. But like all work, it is ultimately satisfying and God-glorifying, even when it falls far short of perfection. I have to remember, especially when it gets hard, that our family dinner is more than food – it is life lived together – a culmination of all our individual labors: my husband’s work away from home, my planning and shopping, the children’s cooperation in the store and assistance in carrying in the groceries and, finally, my cooking, in which my daughter sometimes joins. This is not romanticizing our family dinner. This is just looking at it from a point of view that is not borrowed and stitched together from the rags of feminism.  
If I didn’t have a little daughter, I would remain heartless, I sometimes think. She reminds me, innocently, quite efficiently even, of what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I am surprised but ready with an answer when a friend asks me the same question. 

“I wanted to be like my mother,” I say wistfully. Never having known the working mom side of my mother who quit her job when I was three, I loved the notion that I would be a stay at home mom when I grew up.  I don’t know when it became a bad thing, when cooking for people who depended on you to nourish and love them became an insult, when it diminished your worth. I don’t know when I began believing my mother’s lies. “I wanted to be like my mother. Only happier with my life,” I say to her. And realized, then, that I am.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Friends Are For

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. This is the one that started it all, so we can let it go, I guess. Then came others: Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks. Friends don’t let friends drink blush wines, or chardonnay, for that matter. People who offer you drugs are not your friends. Friends don’t let friends smoke or use bad grammar. Friends don’t let friends eat GMO foods or use Huggies. Friends don't feed friends gluten, friends don't let friends avoid gluten, friends don't let friends vaccinate or not vaccinate. Friends don't let friends miss daily Bible reading time, friends don't let friends allow their babies to ride face forward even though it's legal. Friends don’t let friends let their babies cry it out or not, or spank or coddle, or breastfeed or not breastfeed. Friends don’t let friends do anything with which they disagree. 

Apparently, friends don’t let friends do much of anything at all unless they are completely complicit. It must then follow that they’re not friends; they’re clones. But even that is tenuous at best. So what are they? Carbon copies? For someone who can barely live with the thoughts inside her own head on some days, that is a scary, downright terrifying thought. If my own internal monologue gets on my nerves, I certainly do not want carbon copies of me proclaiming the same thing I’m stating, repeated back to me, echoing down endless mirrors of sameness until Christ returns. I mean, seriously? Blech! Me too, me too, me too, me too, me too, me too, me too, we would nod and nod like Sylvia Plath’s disquieting muses until we finally fell asleep on our identical sheets on identical beds and wake up perfectly disheveled, with matching puffy eyes the next day because we both woke up to the sound of duplicate sprinklers on indistinguishable lawns because, well, we never let the other think otherwise, “let” being the operative word in all of this. (See, you were wrong there, reader. You thought it was “friend.” You wild goose chaser, you.)

So maybe it’s me who doesn’t get it. Then again, maybe it's you. 

My friends don’t let me do anything; they also don’t not let me do anything. They have opinions, some strong ones at that. And I have opinions, equally strong. And that is okay. (Even if they’re wrong.) (Yes, I said it. Get over it.) Because a friend can handle that. Neither one of us feels the need to curtail, edit, alter or otherwise revise our opinions because they do not reflect the other’s image. We are not friends because we agree on most things. In fact, often, we are friends in spite of the fact that we disagree. Lest you think this is tolerance, mind you. I’m not a tolerant person. I do not believe it to be a virtue. I reserve the right to judge, to discern, to weigh the spirits. I’m pugnacious, increasingly so as I grow older and things begin to matter more than they ever did when I was young and single. And yet, I have friends. Real, legal-right-to-one-phone-call friends even.  

We must be doing something wrong. If friendships rest on us handcuffing the other into submission to our point of view, my friends aren’t my friends at all. Yikes. Perhaps I’ll bring that up the next time we’re eating gluten and drinking wine and Starbucks as we read a book about cry it out sleep training. Then again, I wonder if they’ll let me?

Monday, June 23, 2014

What I've Always Wanted to Say about Homeschooling (But Was Afraid To)

I am a homeschooler. And I love it. I love it in a no options, no excuses, no holds barred kind of way. I love it without reservation. I believe in it. I’m passionate about it. You should know this about me if we’re going to be friends. In my mind, there is no doubt that homeschooling is the single best option to educate children.
This is hard to say. It is unpopular. It seems to offend too many people. It’s almost as if I have to add a disclaimer each time I speak of homeschooling, lest I appear negative, bigoted and insensitive or, heaven forbid, not inclusive enough. I’m expected to pay my respects to public school teachers, listen to unsolicited advice from them in the oddest of places, (like the gym locker room!) salute the state, and whoever else is included in this village that it supposedly takes to raise my children. Don’t get me wrong. I know quite a few teachers and as far as I know they’re fine people but, if they work at a public school, they are working at an institution that is antagonistic to parental rights. Can you tell I’m not a fan of the Department of Education yet? Yes, I wholeheartedly love many wonderful families and I wouldn’t think twice before leaving my children with them but that’s only because they do it with an eye to my authority over my children and do not try to usurp it. Oh look. I’m doing it again.
Disclaimer has apparently become my middle name.
So here it is. I am a homeschooler and I (no disclaimers) love it.
When I say I love it, I don’t mean it’s easy. When I say I love it, I don’t mean only when it’s practical. When I say I love it, I don’t mean I love it every minute we’re settled around the dining table poring over worksheets and manipulatives. When I say I love it, I don’t even mean that I do it perfectly or that I never wish (or pay) for a break. When I say I love it, I don’t mean I’m going to only write about how wonderful it is and only post uplifting things. When I say I love it, I definitely don’t think it is the only way to educate my children, but let me be perfectly clear about this one thing: I do, whole-heartedly believe that it is the best way.
“But… but… but…”
I can already hear the slingshots loading.
“Surely you’re not saying you’re their best teacher? What training do you have?”
“Are they learning anything? How do you know they’re learning?”
“Oh, what? You think we who send our kids to public school aren’t Christian enough? Are you looking down on us?”
“Have you read this?”
To which I say, Yes, I am, and, I’d like to understand your idea of being qualified to teach. Yes, I can see and hear and understand, I’d like to talk to you in person about this, and finally, yes.
We’re not part of the purity culture or the patriarchy movement or the unschooling culture or whatever other "culture" you think we might fit into. We just happen to be passionate about homeschooling. I’m not necessarily raising my daughter to be a homemaker and my son to work outside the home, although that might just be how things work out. And if they do, I would be overjoyed. Because you cannot be whatever you want to be and you cannot have it all. I teach life skills depending on their interests and abilities. Right now, my daughter wants to learn to cook, change diapers, do math, read, play with babies and is able to do so. Currently, my son wants to learn to fix things, listen to stories, watch television, do dishes, play video games and do math.  So that’s what we do.
And also, for the last time, I do indeed believe it is the best way to educate because if I didn’t, if I didn’t truly, whole heartedly believe that, why in the world would I give it my all? In a world where it’s considered so very important that I do something “just for me,” why would I choose to let go of other pursuits – professional and artistic – and spend so much of my energy, my time, my emotions, my intellect and sheer will in picking a curriculum, hand-holding, controlling my temper, teaching, making my children do things they do not want to do, catechizing, explaining, exhorting, disciplining? Why indeed? Because I take God’s call to disciple my children when at home and when in the way and when we wake up and go to sleep very seriously. Why else? And I just don’t see how I can do it if they’re gone all day long in a place with twenty or thirty other children and an authority figure who is NOT their parent. There are only so many hours in the day.
Interestingly enough, even though I firmly stand on Christian ground as a homeschooler, my introduction to homeschooling began in the secular world. The first books on education I read were by John Taylor Gatto. Even as a Christian, I believe you should read them. It was only later, after I had decided to homeschool that I read the Bible and became a Christian. As a result, I have quite the unique experience of seeing from both worlds, secular and Christian, how homeschooling affords the best possible option for educating children. Why else would we do it? God forbid, if we ever had to send them to school outside the home, I would, but I wouldn’t think that it was even close to the kind of education homeschooling would afford them.
If you think this is a case of semantics, let me assure you it’s not. Where children spend most of their time matters. Who they spend most of their time with matters. The kind of education they get matters. It matters a lot. I’m tired of saying we do it for practical reasons, which could change as soon as it doesn’t work anymore or as soon as it gets difficult or as soon as we can afford a Christian school. I’m sick of disclaimers. I’m really just tired of defending my family against people who either don’t like homeschoolers or homeschooling or feel judged by my conviction that homeschooling is the ideal way to educate children. I’m tired of offering an apology for my passion; I am tired of hearing it being called an agenda. 
If I have an agenda, it is this: to raise my children in freedom, to train them in a job well done, serving in excellence, knowing God and understanding how to relate to Him, His Creation, themselves and their neighbors in His image, which is what education is, after all. So maybe I do have a homeschool agenda.(Hey, you know what? Anyone who wants to get anything done has an agenda.)
Yes, homeschooling is all it’s cracked up to be. Even on days when it sucks. Even when it’s hard. I’m not asking for permission to be in love with homeschooling any more. I’m not going to apologize for promoting it. I’m going to be unabashedly supportive of other parents who choose this option. 
I’m not going to say that it doesn’t matter what you choose. Not any more. Because it does. 
I am a homeschooler. And I love it.