Tag Archive for identity

Why I Chose a Bible as My Literacy Artifact

Last week I wrote about the process I went through to choose a literacy artifact. I was to share this object with my colleagues at the professional development workshop I was attending at Michigan State. It wasHoly Bible Pink Cover to represent some story of my literacy and educational journey. In that post I explained the various objects I considered and then ultimately revealed the artifact I chose: a Bible.

In today’s post, I explain why I chose the Bible as the artifact that best represents my story about literacy and education. Some people may not think that the Bible would have much of a role on education, learning, or literacy. It’s a book, and we know books can teach, but the Bible is not connected to schooling (at least not public schooling) and it doesn’t explicitly teach about learning to read or write. However, the Bible did impact my development as a learner, as a student.

What follows is not a straightforward, linear narrative about the Bible’s impact on me as a learner. I provide a mere glimpse into its impact on me, a few stories that contribute to some part of the story. The story is not a complete (or completely accurate) history. I do not want to share every story and experience; some things I still like to keep to myself. And I honestly can’t pinpoint all of the ways the Bible has impacted my education (or my life). Plus, this is my perspective; my parents might have a different story to tell.

The Bible is the first book I remember. I carried one to church with me. My parents read it to us as kids. My siblings and I put on drama skits for my parents and others who would watch in which we acted out stories from the Bible. We used the Bible to plan and study and learn the stories. We used the Bible as part of our weekly family devotionals. When I learned to read, I began reading the book by myself. I continued to read it growing up. It was the center of our church services, at least metaphorically. Preaching, teaching, singing, and fellowshipping were centered on this object and its meaning. The Bible was the lens through which I looked at life. It is a part of my literacy story like no other object is.

When I was around eight years old, my dad decided that it was time for me and my older sister Kim to start reading the Bible every day. He bought both of us a new Bible, one of those “Read through the Bible in a Year” ones. We were excited to get new Bibles. I remember the first one he got us: it was red and each day included a passage from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms. This Bible would allow us to read through the Bible in a year. Each day, we read the passages and then signed our name when we were finished. We couldn’t play outside or watch TV until we had completed our daily Bible reading. On some nights, my parents would quiz me over what I read for that day. Other times my dad would ask me questions about the story to see what I knew or what I had learned. These conversations often developed into longer discussions about what the passage meant or how I could apply it to my life. The Bible became relevant to me.

For at least ten years of my life, I read through the Bible in one year (I did skim some days and did not always read even when I said I did; I was a kid.). I knew the Bible. I could tell you story after story after story and where that story was found and what it might even mean. I could name random people in the Bible. I knew the generations of the Hebrew people. I knew parables and miracles and the men and women God used to tell the story. I could quote long passages from the Bible. I knew a lot of memory verses. I was proud of what I knew about the Bible. I gained confidence in myself because of my knowledge of the Bible.

The Bible became a part of me, my identity. (Of course, I didn’t know what everything meant and didn’t know how to conduct exegesis over a passage. But I don’t think that was the point—to figure it all out. I still haven’t figured it all out!)

This practice of daily Bible reading also coincided with another practice my dad instituted for me and my sister Kim (and eventually my brother, too). My father decided that we needed to take notes during church. As a kid (and maybe as an adult, too), the sermon is the longest part of church. You had to sit there, quietly (this was of utmost importance), “listening” (to words, names, and ideas you didn’t understand), and doing nothing (there was no Children’s Church or iPads or iPhones). It was the longest, most dreadful time of the entire church service. I tried my best not to be loud, not to fidget, and not to get taken out to get a spanking (this did happen more times than I want to admit). I always became excited when I could tell a preacher was wrapping up the sermon. Whew. I made it!

My dad didn’t want it to be like this for us, so he came up with a plan. He had an idea for something we could do during this time, something useful and practical. He bought us spiral notebooks, which we were supposed to bring with us to church each time, and required us to take notes over the preacher’s sermons.

This began in the third grade for me. I had to sit there each Sunday morning and Sunday night with my pen and paper in hand and take notes over what the preacher was saying. I could not sit with my friends in the youth section; instead, I had to sit with my parents and listen and take notes. What’s even crazier is that as soon as we got home from church, my dad checked over the notes (yes, checked them) and either approved them or not. He gave us constructive tips to improve our notetaking skills and helped us to better understand what the preacher was saying that we didn’t quite get. I am going to write another post in which I give more details on this practice of sermon notetaking, but suffice it to say that I believe one of the reasons I was such a good student in high school and college (and graduate school, too) was my ability to take notes.

Although the Bible has been an important object in my life, my relationship to it has changed. The object itself remains the same, but my relationship to it has changed. I look at it differently. I read and understand passages differently. I no longer “read it like a child”; instead, I read it understanding that I am reading it through a certain lens, coming to the text with my own assumptions, biases, and perspectives. Instead of learning the “right answer” (or how to find it), I have learned, instead, the importance of asking questions. Of pondering the text, responding to it, questioning it, just like I do with other texts I read. When I struggled with doubt or faith, I went back to the Bible and interpreted it differently. When I went through graduate school, I began to notice much more about social justice, women’s rights, and compassion. I begin to see how my own perspective and beliefs impacts what I find in the Bible.

The Bible has impacted my educational journeys in profound ways, and it continues to do so today. These are just a few stories how. What I didn’t know back then is that one day I would marry a preacher and become a preacher’s wife. I wonder if my preacher husband is going to make our preacher’s kids take notes over his sermon. If he does, I will be the one to check them.

This is my story. Do with it what you will.

The closing line of this post comes from the beautifully eloquent (and unconventional) CCCC talk given by Malea Powell from MSU. This line was stated at least 10 different times by the various participants who spoke, and it had a profound impact on me in terms of thinking about story, both telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. Isn’t that statement brilliantly provocative?


Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This question was posed to me by Jenn Fishman, an Assistant Professor at Marquette University, who is today’s speaker at the Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition that I am attending. Jenn asked us beforehand to bring with us an artifact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before coming to the conference (Isn’t it such a provocative thing to consider?). I even posed this question to my friends on Facebook, who responded with creative and interesting artifacts, including a flute, library, teachers, a spreadsheet, a human skull, and a laptop. Notice that these items were not limited to schooling; instead, these (smart) people looked at education from many different vantage points, including schooling, of course, but also extracurricular activities, hobbies, places, people, and extraordinary objects.

When I began thinking about how I would answer Jenn’s question, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those people who, at least in academia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, predictable, ignorant, judgmental, and hateful. I didn’t want to be characterized, stereotyped, or judged because of this artifact that I might bring.

So I began to ponder other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplomas hanging on the wall. I considered bringing one of those. I even took a picture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great meaning to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I considered telling the story about how I overcame a speech impediment when I was young. I couldn’t pronounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name correctly. This story has defined me in ways that I cannot fully articulate, that no one else quite understands even when I try to explain. It is connected to why I try so hard at things, why being a valedictorian and getting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bringing a picture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remember but who, in the second grade, showed me how, though six months pregnant, maternity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bringing a basketball. Basketball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about discipline, teamwork, dedication, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own children. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weaknesses were innate (I had a logical mind and could predict where a player would throw the ball and intercept it; I was short and could not block a shot); others were developed in life (I could nail three pointers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a teammate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through playing basketball.

I learned about life and people and love.
I learned about good teaching through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about passion and practice and performance.
I learned how to have a good attitude, not be selfish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good teammate, how to be a leader, how to forgive other’s mistakes.
Basketball taught me how to experience and live life.

I also thought about bringing one of my all-time favorite novels, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mockingbird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of college. It was in “The American Novel,” the first upper-level English course I took after switching majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached people and story. It expanded my understanding of listening, emphathizing, understanding. I identified with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suffering and loss this family experienced. The stories within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Steinbeck books as I could, including Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Travels with Charley.

John Steinbeck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injustice.
More aware of the terrible ways people treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is a myth.
More aware of systemic poverty, racism, classism, and sexism.
More aware of privilege.
More aware of my own subject position.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me reason to be angry. To be raving mad. But it also allowed me to understand the dignity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injustice. It changed me.

Eventually this book led me back to the first book I considered as my artifact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the artifact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover


It’s a Matter of Perspective

When Shane and I first moved back to Texas from Kentucky, we lived in Gatesville, a small town about 45 minutes west of Waco. Shane was the preacher at a church there. I became good friends with Amy, a girl who lived with her husband about 5 miles outside of the town. When we talked at church or on the phone about what we would be doing the next day, she often told me, “I have to make a trip to town tomorrow.” The first time she used this phrase, I thought she meant that she would be driving to Waco. That’s what I meant when I said I was driving to town. Cool! Let’s go together. To me, driving into town meant a long drive to the “big city.”

Living in the Country

Image courtesy of freefoto.com

But I soon learned that she did not mean that at all. Instead, when she said she would be driving into town, she meant that she would be driving the five miles into our town, not to Waco. She lived in the country and “town” for her was Gatesville. I lived inside the city limits (and also came from the big city), so, to me, “town” was the bigger city of Waco.

It was a matter of perspective.

Last week I posted 12 reasons I like living in the country. A lot of people read that post, and, since then, at least five people have told me, “You know you don’t really live in the country.”* They have pointed out to me that since I have city water and city sewage, I do not live in the country. They also used as evidence the fact that I do not have well water. No, I do not live in the country, they say; I live in a “rural community,” “a small town.” One friend at my church even commented that she must have me out to their house so that I can see what living in the country truly means.

In some sense, I agree with them. Yes, I do live in a city. It is rural and small, but it’s still a city. We have about 7,000 people living here. I do not have to “drive into town” for groceries. I have neighbors. I have a city address. I live on a paved street. I do not have a well. I do not have a stock tank. I do not have cows or horses or pigs. I have internet access and it is fast. I have good cell service. We have 4G.

No, I do not live in the country in the same sense my great-grandmother Meme did while she was alive. She lived in a single-wide trailer with nothing else around her for miles. No grocery stores, gas stations, or schools. Not even a Wal-Mart. She used well water. She had cats running all over the place. She had a big tank in her yard that we liked to climb all over. Skunks lived under her trailer and made a major mess of things. She lived in the country.

Shane’s grandmother also lives in the country. I love going out there to the ranch. She lives in the country in a way that I do not.

But, in another sense, I do live in the country. Although it may not be the country in the technical sense of the word or in the same way my great-grandmother did, I still live in the country in comparison to my experiences of city life.

As I mentioned before on this blog, I grew up in Houston. For those of you who live in or have lived in big cities, this doesn’t need much explanation. For those of you who were part of my life in Houston and knew what life was like for yourself and for me, you know what a statement like this means. Images of city life immediately take hold, and you can imagine what big city life is like.

But for others who have not lived in a city or a bigger city, saying that may not mean very much.

When I graduated high school and first moved to Abilene for college, I thought I had moved to the middle of nowhere. Abilene was considered a “small town” to those of us who came from bigger cities. It was. About 150,000 people. Fast forward several years later to Gatesville: 10,000 people.

My definition of “small town” soon shifted. Gatesville was a small town; Waco was the “big city.”

How we regard life is a matter of perspective. Where we’ve come from. Where we’ve been.

Our perspective shapes what we see. Our perspective limits what we see.

Only when we interact with others who come from different places than we do, who have different experiences, who believe different things, can we truly understand how limited, situated, and incomplete our perspective is.

Only when we get to know others can we truly grow in our own perspectives.

*My husband was one of the people who told me that I am wrong, that, no, we do not live in the country. I think this is interesting because, like me, he lived in big cities for most of his life. I think it’s even more interesting because he has  referred to where we live as the wilderness.


Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent article in Time magazine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blogosphere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image courtesy of http://themotherlode.wordpress.com

Some authors have addressed the title of the article and all that it implies (competition, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sexism, identity issues, etc.). Others have commented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is sucking on his mother’s bare breast while looking at the camera (how it is going to scar him forever, how public breastfeeding is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a helicopter parent, etc., etc.). Most discussions have addressed the topic of the article, attachment parenting.

I’ve read many commentaries on and responses to this article. (I particularly liked what my college roommate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provocative post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Motherless Child?“.

I have my own opinions on all of these matters. I obviously do not choose to do attachment parenting. I stopped nursing my children when they were between 8-10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any circumstance, allow my children to sleep with me and my husband in our bed. I also work outside the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the movement, discourages women who want to incorporate attachment parenting philosophies from doing.

I don’t love my children any less. I love them a lot, actually. I believe it’s important help my children feel loved, safe, confident, self-assured, and independent. I let my children play for long periods of time without getting involved or interjecting my own agenda. I let them work out problems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be creative. I challenge them.

Most mothers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many different ways to mother. There are different ways to be a mother. And there are different definitions of mothers and motherhood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expectations. Our culture and the media (and sometimes religious organizations and people) send the message that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pinterest images attests to the pervasiveness of societal expectations and norms.

But who are we to judge other mothers? Aren’t we all just trying our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the children in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.

 


Inventing a Winning Machine

Earlier this week, I was looking through my 1st grade daughter’s backpack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writing. Elizabeth wrote the following:

“My invention is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image courtesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr's Creative Commons License.

Two sentences. Two sentences that reveal a lot about my daughter. Elizabeth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the opportunity to imagine a machine to invent that would make life better, easier, she chose a technology that would make winning at everything possible. (Of course, there are problems with such a tool, because someone has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her invention already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Elizabeth comes by this desire honestly (just like she does her stubbornness, independence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the opposite of her; I would want something that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Kentucky (we had probably been married 4 months), my dad was making a speech in Indianapolis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the airport and walked around downtown for a while, visiting the statues, parks, and other outdoor sights. Indianapolis has such a lovely feel. We ate dinner and then were heading back to the car (after several hours of walking around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was arguing with me about the route we were taking back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direction. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insisting that we were going the complete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direction (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep following her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I disagree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laughter. It was a lesson from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walking the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from liking to play games, just like Elizabeth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t celebrate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for athletes when they start gallivanting down the court after making a basket or a touchdown, especially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such celebration!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that matter. Things that don’t. Things that had major consequences for me in terms of scholarships, prestige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One sidenote: It is interesting when I play games with other people, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They target me (in Hearts, Double-9 dominoes, Monopoly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They celebrate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being competitive and winning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But winning isn’t what motivates me; what motivates me is NOT losing. I’m sure there’s a lot of complexities going on in this statement, but let me just say that losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an article I’ve written gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sabbatical for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a position for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of negative teacher evaluations.

When someone says something negative about me.

When I compare myself to other moms. 

When my children misbehave and disobey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My identity is wrapped up in NOT losing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Elizabeth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to confront the underlying insecurities of losing.

 


12 Reasons I Like Living in the Country

I did not choose to live in the country.

My husband took a ministry job in a small town outside of Waco, and I followed him here (just as he followed me when I went to graduate school). I was skeptical of moving to the country. I grew up in Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States. And I liked it.

When I left Houston for college, I moved to Abilene, a small West Texas town. I thought it was a small town (about 150,000 people). It was small. And, when I moved to Central Texas to work at Baylor, I thought Waco was a small town.

But my definition of “small” has changed since living where I live now.

I live in a town of about 7,500. I still consider myself a “city girl,” but I do like some things about the country. For today’s Twelve Series, I’m going to write about reasons I like the country.

1. The wide, open spaces. I love the Dixie Chicks song, “Wide Open Spaces,” but this has new meaning to me living here. Most people here, even those who live in town, have large yards (front and back) and quite a bit of space between homes. Many people own acres and acres of land.  I like having my own space; it doesn’t feel like people always know when I’m coming and going or what I’m doing (I do live in a parsonage, though, but that’s a different story). If I ever do move back to the city, I would like to have some land, if possible. Not much, just some. 

Even the idea that things are slower here really appeals to me. Even though I still run around like a crazy woman, I also slow down. Sit on the front porch, watch my children play in the background, and enjoy life.

2. We don’t need a Farmer’s Market; we have the farms! I love going to the Farmer’s Market, and one concern I had moving to a small town was that I would no longer have access to the Farmer’s Market I had visited for years. Come to find out, one of the farms represented at this Farmer’s Market was from the town I now live in! So, I can now drive 3 miles to the farm and pick out all the produce I want. And, unlike the Farmer’s Market I visited before, which was only open from May through September, this one had a year-round farm stand. Buying my food from them makes me happy. I also like that my children are learning where food comes from, how it’s grown, and what it means to buy local produce.

3. The close-knit community. In some ways it feels like the bar in Cheers where everybody knows your name. Shane and I have gotten to know so many people, far more than run in our “typical” circles. People who (in some ways) are different from us but who are living life and trying to do the best they can. We love this community. No, it’s not perfect, but the people here will always be very close to our hearts.

4. The stars. The wide open spaces allow for us to see so many stars at night. “The stars at night. Are big and bright. [clap, clap, clap, clap]. Deep in the heart of Texas.”

5. No traffic. I grew up in traffic. I went through 32 (red) lights on my daily commute to school. Traffic was a part of life. Sometimes it took an hour to go to a friend’s house. When we traveled for junior high and high school sports, the trip could take an hour and a half, each way. My dad worked Downtown, 19 miles from our house. It took him well over an hour each way. Driving long distances and and waiting in traffic was a part of life. I didn’t know any different.

Even though several major highways (both state and national) go through our town, traffic is not much of an issue. It’s easy to get around and there isn’t much waiting. Now, when I go back to Houston to visit my parents or to Austin to visit my sister or Shane’s parents, I dread the traffic. It takes 20 minutes to go two miles (and that’s good!). Shane and I comment each time we go that we are glad we don’t have to experience traffic like this on a regular basis. It’s a perk.

6. The opportunities to be involved in many aspects of the community. Getting involved is easy. There are so many ways to help this community, and we like getting involved, serving others, and making our community a better place. I like to feel like my life matters, that there is a purpose greater than myself, that I can use my gifts to help others.

7. My big backyard. Having a huge garden and still enough space to run around and play games with the kids is amazing. We don’t have neighbors beside us (on either side) or behind us. It’s quiet (when the neighbor down the street isn’t playing the drums!) and relaxing.My Backyard

8. The ecumenical nature of the churches here. We have a great diversity of churches here–all types of denominations. We even have a Mormon church. In large cities, people often get together with other churches from their same tribe (Baptists with Baptists; Presbyterians with Presbyterians; etc.). Here, though, since there is typically only one church for each denomination, the churches work together, play together, and serve together. Recently, we had an ecumenical prayer walk. It was so neat to see all these people coming together to pray to our one God.

We do have people from other religions living here, but I do not know of synagogues or mosques in the area; the great majority of people here are Hispanic, and most of them are Catholic. 

9. The diversity. Even though I come from a big city where people from all walks of life live, I also live in a town that is extremely diverse. Approximately 80% of the population are racial minorities (45% Hispanic, 30% African-American; 25% White). This is a very, very poor town, and my kids go to schools with other children they never would have been exposed to in the suburbs or in private schools (at least not at the same percentage–Elizabeth is one of 3 White kids in her entire class). The rate of people with college degrees is very low, but it does allow for us all to learn from each other and to see how to live together even though we come from different backgrounds and places.

10. Our church. I love the church community of which we are a part. Our church is at the top of our list on things I like best about this town. Great people with servant hearts. I’m glad to be a member here. 

11. The teachers and principals and counselors and nurses and administrators and paraprofessionals and janitors at my daughter’s school who know our children and us very well. Attending a small school has its perks, especially how “everyone knows your name.” These people care for the children and know where they come from, which, I think, makes a difference in being able to meet (and exceed) each individual child’s needs.

12. The numerous small businesses in the area. Many people who live here decide to open small businesses. Retail stores. Quaint boutiques. Delicious restaurants. Consignment shops. And other unique places. This entrepreneur mentality helps our community in many ways.

If you live in the country, what do you like about it?
If you don’t live in the country, what do you think you would like the most? The least?


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three vivacious, spunky, independent kids. I like being a mom. It’s difficult to define and articulate what motherhood means to me and how much of my identity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feeling, an emotion, and words are often not enough to explain my feelings about motherhood.

That being said, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this holiday. So many women (and men) experience pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Someone is thinking about their own mom (perhaps she has died, she gave him/her up for adoption, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or something else that brings them pain).
  • Someone is thinking about the loss of a child–through a miscarriage, an abortion, an adoption, a death, a kidnapping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Someone is thinking about not being able to conceive or still being single and not having a child.
  • Someone is thinking about how they do not measure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some comments on this issue).
  • Someone who is grieving the choices their children have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for everyone, contrary to the predominant narrative greeting card companies, retail stores, businesses, and corporations are selling us. Many people have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a federal holiday in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson instituted it. I do not know the history of this holiday, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became synonymous with materialism, with giving and receiving gifts (just like Christmas). This holiday equates love to gift-giving.

It promotes motherhood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our mothers. Our mothers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite consignment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom's Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.

Materialism.

But it belittles mothers.

This image, and most other marketing that surrounds Mother’s Day, equates loving your mom to giving her expensive gifts, or, at worse, not giving her expensive gifts and thus not loving her.

The consumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are supposed to experience Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buying and giving and getting more stuff. Even if showing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the marketing of this holiday takes the focus off honoring your own mother or (being honored yourself as a mother) to focusing on the buying and selling of products. It equates love with giving expensive gifts.

Corporations have decided that they can manipulate dads and children and spouses and mothers into making this event–motherhood–all about materialism. They send the message that the only thing mothers really want is “stuff.”

They diminish motherhood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew mothers at all–sitting from where they are making a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as mothers (or sons or daughters or fathers or husbands)–then they would understand that we do not want this. No, motherhood is more than materialism. Much more. And if these corporate powers tried to understand mothers at all, they would realize this truth. Instead, they belittle and degrade us and treat us like children in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more complex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other values besides gifts. Our hearts are with our children, not with what they do or not give us.

If corporations really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t market to our children on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and commercials about “the perfect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no capitalizing on mothers.

Honor us by refusing to coerce and manipulate our husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and grandchildren. Honor us by leaving our families alone, by leaving us alone.

Motherhood is much more than their minimalization of it.

Dear readers: I hope these posts about motherhood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my perspective as honest and real, and a little mad, too.


Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

When I was in high school, I became really close to one of my boyfriend’s aunts. She was close to her twin nephews because she was very devoted to her sister, their mom. But this woman was also close to her sister’s kids because she didn’t have any children of her own. She couldn’t have children. She and her husband had tried for years to conceive, but they never did. I don’t know any of the details except that she wanted kids and couldn’t have them.

I was sad for her. She had a deep desire for children but couldn’t have any.

She was sweet, loving, kind, gracious, and honest. She was a doting aunt, a confidante, a friend. She would have been a great mom.

As the years went on, we kept in touch (even though her nephew and I had long broken up). I continued to think of her. I empathized with her because she couldn’t have children.

One year in college, Mother’s Day rolled around and I had an idea to send her a Mother’s Day card.

Happy Mother's Day Card

Image courtesy of http://stacy.typepad.com/stacys_paper_crafts/2009/04/happy-mothers-day.html

This card came from me, but I wrote about all the people—all the kids, like me—that she had touched. Even though she didn’t have a child of her own, she influenced so many children. I expressed to her my appreciation for the influence she had on my life, probably one that she never even knew about.

She was touched by my gesture. She told me that she cried reading the card. She had never received a Mother’s Day card before, and this card was so unexpected. I think what affected her the most was that she felt nobody cared about her on this day.

She was left out of the celebration because she wasn’t a mother. Yes, she had a mother (a great one), but she also desired to be a mother and she wasn’t one.

While most people celebrated motherhood, she mourned it.

While (male) church pastors and leaders spoke about how God instituted motherhood and how wonderful it is and on and on and on, she grieved.

When Hallmark commercials came on, (I imagine) she changed the channel, or watched it with sadness, loneliness, and pain.

I love my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandmothers. They are special women. But I’m extremely uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

I’m always thinking about the people left out of the “motherhood celebration”.

Women who have suffered a miscarriage.
Teenage girls or young adults who have given their children up for adoption.
Women who have had abortions.
Women who cannot bear children.
Children—young and old—who have lost their mothers to death.  
Children who do not have the “type” of mother promoted through greeting cards, retail stores, and even the church.
Mothers who do not feel they meet up to societal or Christian standards about what makes a “good mother.”

I’m uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

My husband does not preach a Mother’s Day sermon for many of these same reasons (However, he is giving a 4-part tribute to the mothers he loves in his life, including my mom).

This Mother’s Day, think of women:

Who are not in the mood to celebrate this holiday, a national one, mind you, not a Christian one.

Who do not have the emotional energy to come to church on that day because of the pain they will feel.

Who grieve every day but on this day, in particular, the grief hurts even more.

Who feel alone and lonely.

Who want to be a mother but can’t.

Who were mothers at one time but decided not to be.

Think of these women when you go to church, when you call your mom, when you talk to friends, when you buy gifts.

Pray for them.

Do something special for them.

Listen to their stories, and let them know you care.