And the winner of the “Mary and Me” giveaway is …

… Jill L!  Congratulations, Jill!

Thanks to all who entered.  I just may do this again sometime, so keep checking back.

And while you’re at it, have a terrific weekend.

Why I stink at resting

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I went to the doctor earlier this week to ask about this weird cold/respiratory thingy that has dragged on and on for weeks.  He gave the diagnosis I always hate to get: An unspecified virus, something that medicine won’t cure.  Nothing to do but wait it out.

“And you really should be staying home from work and resting,” he told me.

I almost burst out laughing.

“I’m a teacher,” I said. “Unless I’m dying or in labor, it’s just easier to go to work.”  He must have a teacher or two in his family, because he smiled sympathetically .

Later that day, I recalled our conversation. I realized that it touched on a few big truths: one about my profession, and one about myself.

Teaching may be one of the only jobs where it is just as much work to stay home sick as it is to go in.  A sick teacher gets the joy of writing directions and lesson plans, figuring out what a sub needs to know about the students in your class.  There’s the retweaking of the lessons you thought you’d be doing yourself, which  will have to be altered in the face of your absence (even the best sub won’t be able to give that background lecture on Victorian England).

Often, staying home affects the rest of the week’s lesson plans, too, as you realize you can’t do Thursday’s lesson unless you’ve adequately covered the stuff you were going to get to on Wednesday, and since someone else will be doing Wednesday’s lesson now, you have to make sure the kids learned everything you wanted them to learn before you go on.

This is why I teach when I’m sick.  It’s just too much work otherwise.

But this conversation with the doctor also touched on a truth about my non-professional self.  Even when I’m not teaching – when I’m home during summer, say– I’m simply not very good at taking it easy when I’m sick. 

Is this a female thing?  I think it might be.  Even though my husband is fabulous about taking care of the kids, there is still some very primal, very archaic part of my mind that seems to think that I need to be on top of it all, because I’m the mom, and the wife, and the woman.  I feel guilty about resting, even though no one is making me feel guilty but my own weird little mind.

And even if I’m home sick, I still notice things that need doing: the unmade bed, the teetering laundry baskets, the stuff in the entryway that needs organizing.  My husband has a higher tolerance for clutter than I do, which is good in some ways, but it also means that he’s not likely to take the initiative and de-messify on his own.   And when I’m not feeling good to begin with, I feel even worse when the floor is strewn with stuff.  This means that my ill little self ends up putting it away instead of hunkering down on the sofa with a blanket and an entire season of Monarch of the Glen.

All of this explains why — bizarre as it sounds – I don’t dread going to the hospital.   I look back with nostalgic fondness on last summer’s surgery, as well as on last year’s day spent in the ER for stomach pains. I’ve realized that being in the hospital is the only way that I can completely rest without guilt.   I can’t clean house if I’m hooked up to an IV, can I?  If you plotted my relaxation levels on a graph, my hospital stays would be right up there with my infrequent spa visits.   (“That’s really, really sad,” said my brother-in-law.)

He has a point.  If a friend of mine were to tell me all this, I’d tell her she needs to change.  I’d tell her she needs to be better about doing what the doctor ordered and – gasp! – resting for a while.  I’m not sure how, but I know I need to find some way  to chip away at these old thought patterns – some are actually more like  instinct patterns, not even thoughts – that make it so darn hard to stop taking care of everyone else and let others take care of me for a while.

Something to strive for, anyway.

Modern women and Mary: Win a copy of “Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God”

Once upon a time, I wanted to know what young adult women thought about Mary.  (Mary as in Mother-of-God Mary.)  So I wrote an article about it.

Then, with the encouragement of an editor (who is herself named Mary!), I wrote a whole book about it.

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The process of writing it was eye-opening.  I talked to women from their twenties to their nineties, and heard their stories about who Mary is to them.  Those stories were poignant, affirming, at times raw, but always moving.  I came away with a deeper understanding of how much this young girl of Galilee keeps on inspiring women, even two thousand years later.   The whole experience proved that there’s so much power when women share their experiences of faith.

And since today is the day when Catholics have traditionally celebrated Mary’s birthday, it seemed like a terrific time to keep the sharing going.  So in honor of the day, I’m giving away a copy of Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God to a lucky recipient!  

How do you enter?  All you need to do is leave a comment in the comment section below.  You don’t even have to say anything deep or clever (seriously, who can pull off deep or clever on a Monday?).   A simple “I’d love to enter!”  is all it takes.  Entries will remain open until Friday, September 12th, then I’ll randomly choose a winner.

So please add a comment, tell a friend, and –while you’re at it — spend a minute or two reflecting on your own experiences of Mary.  Maybe you could send her a little “Happy Birthday” while you’re at it.   (It would probably make her son very happy, don’t you think?)

A song for parents

Sometimes, when I tell my kids to put away their toys and I have to repeat myself five times before they actually do, I wonder if they hear anything I say.

And then there are other times when, completely out of the blue, they reference something I said months earlier.  It comes back, that obscure comment I made, and I’m always astonished to discover that the kids not only listen to what I say, they retain it.  It makes me realize that a parent’s words are more powerful than I tend to think.

That’s why I love this song.  It’s  by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, sung here by the incomparable Bernadette Peters.

Careful the things you say 
Children will listen

Enjoy the music, the singing, and – if you’re a parent – the gentle reminder.

Labor Day and one big soul that everyone’s a part of

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At Mass yesterday, the closing hymn was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored

That, in turn, got me thinking of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which I’ll be teaching again this year. (Interesting bit of trivia: It was Steinbeck’s wife Carol who suggested that he use the song lyric as the title.)

And The Grapes of Wrath got me thinking about labor, and Labor Day.

Have you read the book?  If not, I highly recommend it. It’s a book about the dignity of labor and the laborer, as well as a call to justice in the face of worker exploitation.  Italo Calvino once said that “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”  In a post-Citizens United world,  The Grapes of Wrath speaks as powerfully now as it did during the Depression.  (It also has one of the two best endings of any book I’ve ever read.  It weirded me out as a high school student, but now, I’m in awe of what Steinbeck managed to do in one perfect scene.)

And as I sang along with the rest of the congregation and thought about the book,  I found my mind wandering to labor in general.  As much as we (or at least I) like to think of free time as being the real stuff of life, it’s work that makes this world run.  That’s true whether it’s crews building the roads or  migrants picking the crops or moms bathing the kids or  teachers setting up their classrooms for the start of the school year.

Still,  I think it’s fair to say that society as a whole seems to value some work more than others.  I know women who are disparaged for being stay-at-home moms, and we’ve probably all heard people make dismissive comments about the people who work in fast-food restaurants or work as sanitation engineers.  (And then there’s that saying about how those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.  That one makes me nuts.)

Looking at the two young boys on either side of me, I realized how much I care about counteracting those attitudes. I want my kids to grow up to respect all kinds of workers  and all kinds of work  (save, of course, something  like dealing drugs).  Whoever we are and however we earn a living, we can only do our jobs because other people do theirs.  No one is an island;  we’re all part of a complex web of interdependence, one that works best when we all recognize and respect its existence.

As the ex-preacher Jim Casy famously says in The Grapes of Wrath, “Maybe all men got one big soul and everybody’s a part of it.”  (If you read the book in high school, I hope your teacher did the instructional equivalent of putting that line in neon lights.)  And if the book teaches nothing else, it teaches that there is a life-giving power when people remember that.  We all share a common humanity, no matter what kind of work we do, and that’s worth remembering all year long.