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Archive for October, 2011

Eve’s temptation

 I think one of the biggest obstacles I face in trying to be a good mother is the whole concept of control.   And I think I’ve talked about this before- I had to relinquish some control at the very beginning, when Sofya didn’t fall in line with certain long-held opinions of mine; but that was far from the end of the story. I have certain standards for myself, and in order to achieve them I need Sofya to fall in line. Unfortunately, she’s a person and an individual and our goals don’t always correspond. It’s very difficult for a perfectionist and an activist not to be able to control a project. Well, no, a child isn’t a project… I knew that. It’s a habit of thought- this is what we have, and this is what we want and here’s how to get there. Then I scare myself and do an about face and contemplate dropping all the reins. And that wouldn’t be right either- a toddler doesn’t raise herself. And the really frightening thing is that no matter the level of control I manage, the end results are beyond me. So we go back to problem solving- what exactly am I trying to achieve, anyway? I want my daughter to be kind, to be gentle, to be polite; to be healthy, to be educated, to be clean and neat; to have a living, breathing relationship with God; to be happy and to have a certain amount of life wisdom. And I want people not to look down on me as a mother, and to admit I did my best. So maybe the second point isn’t worthy, but it’s actual- and I’ll bet I share it with every other parent.

Well, I can’t make her kind- that’s from the heart. And I can’t make her gentle, even if I can make her follow certain rules  of polite conduct.  I certainly can’t make her healthy, despite my best efforts, and to my continuing frustration.  I can put her through the school program- but to be educated is a state of mind, not a list of information.  She’s still small enough that I can wash her hair even when she cries, and insist that she pick up her toys, though what that may lead to in the future, I’ve no idea.  I cannot make her have a relationship with God; I cannot give her my relationship with God; I cannot insist that she believe, as my mother-in-law’s father did, turning his son away from Christianity forever.  I cannot tell her to be happy,  or make her think. 

And every time I turn around, God is bringing me back to one place.   There is nothing I can insist on; there is one thing I can do.  I can only pray.  Yes, I know, “only” pray isn’t a very spiritual way to put it.  But it is very difficult, as a human, as woman, as a mother, for heaven’s sake, even as an American, to admit that I can’t achieve something with the Puritan work ethic.  And yet this is what God brings me to, over and over again.   No, you cannot and you are not going to fix this; you’re going to pray, and trust Me- or you’re going to fuss and whine and sulk, but it won’t make any difference

So here I am again.  And I can admit that I’m a human, and pray; or I can pretend that I’m god, and run circles around myself like a hamster.  And the sad thing is that it’s actually a hard decision…

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 I have 8 cloth roses to sew today to finish the curtains in my bedroom. This is a big deal. I’ve been waiting for these curtains for two months, aggravated by windows that face the street, and temperatures that soared to 120 in the sun. And I admit, I stressed over their design and function- something that could be closed against the sun and for privacy, but would be light and bright enough not to irritate my mother-in-law or awake old teachings in her son. Something that would fit our lilac-washed walls (a compromise between my dislike for stark white, and my mother-in-law’s for wallpaper), but not be too girly for my husband. Something that wouldn’t be too avant garde (something I’m occasionally drawn to) but wouldn’t look like those Chinese drapes that hang in 9 out of 10 houses. I flatter myself that I’ve achieved my goals- and even managed to work my mother-in-law’s beloved lace panels into the design.

I like to read women’s magazines, especially the ones that have ideas for decorating, holidays, etc.- for one thing, they’re inspirational, and for another, they’re light, relaxing reading. As a matter of fact, I have to admit to an addiction to Martha Stewart- I enjoy her mix of practicality-class-craftyness.   Every woman wants to build her house (even those who later tear it down with their hands), and especially now, trying to fit myself into my in-laws’ house again, I have an interest in what can be done with a house. I agree that it is important to create a place for rest and emotional recharging.

But I must say I am amazed at the emphasis and tremendous meaning people put on home décor! Don’t misunderstand- I am not of my mother-in-law’s school, with white walls sans pictures or photos, minimal window coverings, and bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. And yet it honestly shocks me to see people put so much thought, time and money into creating a stage set that follows a particular “style” or theme. One letter to the editor of “Romantic Homes” magazine mentioned how the publication had helped them to find furnishings in shops around the world to decorate their Victorian house. I quite understand that a Santa Fe mirror might not be appropriate in this Victorian mansion, but sending off to Timbucktoo for one that is seems a bit over the top.

It all strikes me as very artificial- and not the way to find a place for rest and emotional recharging. Do people live their lives on those stage sets, or do they play their roles- and find their refuge in the back room that “we haven’t had time to redecorate”? Beautiful things can be an inspiration, but in such a manicured environment, I would think they have little more meaning than plastic.

Lest you think that I have a case of sour grapes- since “my” house is old, full of my mother-in-law’s clutter (“things” would be a misnomer here, it really is just clutter), and I’m in no position to be sending to Timbucktoo just now- I have to explain that I’m contrasting this micromanaging of home decoration with the stories of starvation and famine that are coming out of Africa.  Stories of mothers who are leaving dying children by the road, in a desperate bid to get the children who aren’t yet quite dying to food.  Stories of people who have no home, and don’t aspire to one- people who would be happy to put something in their stomachs, or failing that, in their children’s stomachs.  Stories that aren’t just stories, but lives.

My children have never starved, but I know the desperation that prays that God will just let this child live another day; it is at the center of Home- of Love, and Family, and Unity, and everything that makes up being a Wife and Mother-  and it has nothing to do with choosing which of three shades of Terra Cotta would most fit “the look”.

There is a difference between “house” and “home”- something that is absent in Russian, as there is only one word, “dom”.  A home implies something emotional, something soulful, something intangible.   And this is what we’re really trying to achieve.  This is the reason I recognize for “home decor”- making your family more comfortable, and bringing more peace and harmony into your home.

There is nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful house for your family… if God blesses us with the means to create a lovely setting, I’m sure there are many ways that we can bless our family in that setting.  And don’t think I’m too holy to spend a fair amount of time bewailing that I live with the Russian Ma Kettle.  But decoration is decoration; it’s something we put on what’s already there- and it should only serve to enhance. 

Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree notwithstanding, if there’s not much there to begin with, all the decorations in the world aren’t going to create a home.  And on the other hand, if the home is there, the house seems to be a secondary question to me.

I probably haven’t made myself very clear, but what I’m trying to say is that I think it’s more than sad, it’s tragic to mistake your house with your home; that beautiful things are lovely as an expression of your family, but not as a creator of your family’s image; and that while Scrooge insists that the poor are always with us, that doesn’t mean that we can ignore them while we choose between contemporary and retro for the living room.

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