So, what IS your opinion on raising kids?

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This seems to be the age where EVERYONE has an opinion and they all want to blog about it. Wait! What am I doing? Well, everyone but me is highly opinionated and wants to blog about it. Now that I’ve outed myself, here is my opinion:

I have “liked” this group on FB called Free Range Learning and it’s dedicated to homeschooling and unschooling and, for the most part, she posts some good ideas or tips on things to do with your kids. But more often than not she posts these articles about the latest research that links, well, everything she doesn’t believe in to how awful children will turn out if a family uses these practices.

Today the article is how spanking is linked to obesity. Then there is a smattering of comments from women who apparently don’t spank. So here’s my issue: I find sites, groups or movements like crunchy ‘mamas’ (why are they always called mamas?) that are devoted to raising kids in a specific way to be very judgmental and graceless. The main comments on spanking and obesity were, “low income and uneducated families usually spank and will usually have obese kids anyway” (I’m reducing all of the comments into this one sentence, of course). And this is the kind of BS that drives me crazy!!!

Moms already feel like they are failing  and they wonder if they are totally screwing up their kids due to all of the research out there, so why do other moms feel like they need to create sites to make them feel better about how they are raising their kids and shame others for doing it poorly?

Also, this research gives people more proof that “If your kid is fat, it’s likely that you spanked. You really should have nursed more, slept with your kid, wore them on you all the time, never had taken them to McDonald’s, never used a stroller and never circumcised.”

The reason I even read these sites is to find moments where they are celebrating their children and finding ways to encourage other moms rather than post stupid research off THE INTERNET (It’s the internet, people!) Research that has no grounding other than it presents a good argument and articulates a well written debate. Also, posting this “research” presupposes that all of the rage in kids and poor behavior is always linked to parents doing something wrong. Damn! Has your child never acted out in public, done something aggressive or thrown a fit? I thought those moments were sort of normal and even healthy.

I really have nothing against attachment parenting, crunchy parenting or the like. That’s basically how we’ve raised our kids anyway. But I have an issue with parents banning together and forming groups that judge and alienate other parents for doing it wrong. Most moms feel isolated already; feel like we’re doing it on our own and still wonder, almost daily, if our kids are going to grow up to be the next Unabomber.

So, my advice? Well, thank you for asking…..Stay away from those articles. They are ubiquitous on FB and besides, that research is more likely founded by a college undergrad who doesn’t have children anyway so they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I’m sure that 90% of parenting is intuitive. Find a book or see a counselor or take a class to get some tools to get you over a hump. But if you’re paying attention, and most of us are, the answers will come.

It’s not even the articles that bother me so much. It’s all of the self-righteous comments that people leave after the article that really irritate me. I read a crunchy mamas site that started the circumcision debate and one women’s chime-in was, “I saw a boy flipping out at the store the other day and I knew that all the rage was because his mom likely circumcised him”. Oh barf! Get over your totally awesome and perfect parenting-self, mama! Embrace your fellow moms, even those who spank and sit at the park together, under the trees, and watch your kids play. They need a break from you too.

Here’s to raising kids and embracing all of our imperfections while doing it….sometimes doing it poorly!

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Art on the Ave

 

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Today was Tacoma’s annual Art On The Ave festival and, once again, it didn’t disappoint. I took the kids by myself (Matt was working) and they actually did really well. Oliver only wandered off twice and the second time I told him I’d take us all home if he did it again. That seemed to do the trick. Man, what must it be like to be a highly driven and highly curious kid in a rich, overly stimulated setting?

Art on the Ave 2013

Art on the Ave 2013

 

They were able to pound out some leather key chains, and chisel their names on metal, eat some handmade, gourmet popsicles from Hilltop Pops and ask me every five minutes if I could get them something from every single vendor booth we passed. Speaking of the vendors….I love to see artsy t-shirts but Oliver kept stopping by the tables where the shirts said things like “Pitch my tent” or “Are you staring at my boobs?”. He wanted to get the tent pitching one and I had to just buckle down and explain why it wasn’t appropriate for a kid to wear.

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I love our little art community in Tacoma and it’s great to see so many people come out for this  community event. We even had sunny skies and 80 degrees F. Last year Chloe watched the Tacoma Derby Girls have a go on the square and Oliver made buttons and crafts at tons of booths. The first year we came was, meh. But the last two years have been fantastic. Well done, Tacoma. Now it’s time for the Fall Free For All to rock it out a bit better.

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Daddy play dates

When you think of play dates do you think of moms getting together with their wee ones, sitting around the table knitting and eating scones, talking about life and what have you? Do you envision kids running around with food and drink crusted around their mouths and foul-smelling nappies in their nether regions as 18 month olds stretch and pull the toys away from one another screaming, MINE! while mommys sip green tea and talk about the economy?

When you think of play dates do you think of knitted beer hats and strong coffee while little girls play with dolls and the dads talk about bikes and wearing said knitted beer hat to festivals in order to get free beer? I know that’s what I think of. Matt has had a few stay at home dads who like to bike over to let our kids play together. I showed up yesterday and felt immediately like this was a play date of its own kind. How right I was….

Ye old Rainer Beer. Notice the fig newton next to the hat. Must have snacks

Matt. Maker of said hats. Hand knitted, yo!

Check out more of his awesome hats here:

The Can Hattery

Halloween with children

I’ve loved this season so much more since having kids. There was a time that I sort of opted out of Halloween just because it didn’t seem to apply to me anymore. I wasn’t too into dressing up, although I often dressed as Princess Leia when I had my long hair (that was pretty rock!), and I wasn’t going to be one of the ‘big kids’ that you see going around trick or treating with a pillow case full of candy.

After having kids I never knew I would find Halloween to be so much fun! Trick or treating with a little person who is dressed as some sort of fuzzy creature is the best. When Oliver was two we took him out dressed as a fuzzy, green monster and he kept running into people’s homes when they opened the door. He didn’t really understand the concept. It was awesome! Now that the three of them are dressing up and actually understand that they receive free candy for knocking on a door, they are beyond stoked to head out into the cold air.

I know that there are a lot of people who believe Halloween has some sort of evil attached to it due to it’s history and, although I do respect them for it, I totally don’t understand their fears or what they feel they might be exposing their kids to with allowing them to participate in Halloween. Don’t we give meaning and power to inanimate things? A holiday, in itself, is no more evil than money is as an inanimate object. I’d be more concerned with the message we send them in dropping 50clams down on a Halloween costume for them every year. These days we’re more of a consumer culture than a pagan culture (we don’t seem to worship trees and fairies as much).

Every year there seems to be less and less kids out as parent’s growing fears of poisoned candy and razor encrusted apples seem to take over. “Let’s make it a safe holiday and all go Trick or Trunking!!!” Yes, it’s true. You can pull up in a parking lot while car’s trunks open up and the adults give all of the children candy out of their car. I thought we were teaching them not to take candy from adults in cars! If you don’t live in a neighborhood and this is your only option, I get it. But for safety reasons? I keep hearing that, statistically, Halloween is one of the safest times of the year for kids; they travel in groups and most of the neighborhood is already opening their door every few minutes to pass out blessed candy.

I took the kids out Monday and talked to our neighbors, saw children running around that go to Oliver’s school, watched parents out with their kids in their homemade costumes and was amazed with how many grown adults stayed home all night, sat out on their porches and talked to all the kids that came up for free candy. People got really into different ways to make it entertaining for all the kids. It felt so rad to be a part of a neighborhood with neighbors that we know or are still getting to know. It’s like the one time of the year where it’s ok to go door to door and have a two minute conversation with your neighbors while your child steals their candy. I loved it! I took our kids out with the intention of hitting only our street but we were having so much fun I kept going block after block. Then I waited until they slept to take out all of the Snickers and Almond Joys. Mommy tax!

There are even a lot of people in our own neighborhood who go to the nice, posh North End to gather candy, maybe thinking it’s somehow safer over there because the houses are nicer. Well, it’s all candy, folks! There just happen to be a lot more kids and families in our part of town so I saw TONS of people out all night long. It was a blast and I already have plans for taking them out next year. Here’s to enjoying a favorite of every child’s memory! Happy Halloween!

Is preaching at funerals a bizarre tradition?

Photo by Tracie Bonjour

My friend Caleb is a funeral director and a writer and he’s just  posted a hot topic of discussion  regarding whether or not pastors should preach a gospel message or salvation message at funerals; namely, eternity is upon the departed so get your own life right in God’s eyes. Right now the topic of where people will spend eternity is huge considering Rob Bell’s new book, that I have not yet read, Love Wins. Boy, this poor guy is being slammed out of the evangelical window right now for some of his comments in the book regarding hell and whether or not a loving God creates an everlasting hole of perpetual torment for ‘unbelievers’. If you ask me this sounds more like a night out at Denny’s. With this in mind I do think it’s timely that Caleb posted his thoughts on preaching salvation at funerals since eternity and whether or not hell is for the heathen is such a huge discussion point.

I’ve been to funerals that were heartbreaking but precious as we all grieved the loss of another life. Then I’ve been to funerals where I kept wondering who this stranger of the departed is and why he’s saying the stuff he’s saying. I know a lot depends on what the family wants to be said, the same is true at weddings. I’ve even been to a few weddings where the couple actually wanted the unbelieving family members to know that time is a-tickin’ and they better take stock of their lives soon. Then we all had cake with butter creme frosting and boogied to Michael Jackson songs. Mazel Tov!

I personally believe that death is an intriguing part of the human experience and that we as Westerners seem to want death to be wrapped in a tidy bow for a variety of reasons that I don’t fully understand yet. Maybe grieving families want the attenders to know there is a heaven and a hell and that, as we face the death of a loved one, we need to keep our own vulnerability in front of us. Maybe we hand the keys (so to speak) over to our pastor to officiate the service because this is the role of the pastor in our church; a leader, a shepherd, a guide to the flock, anointed to bring a gospel message, one who orates better than the rest of us?

I guess at the heart of it I find preaching salvation at a funeral to be in poor taste considering death is such a huge loss for people to walk through as it is. I believe death has its beauty and also has the potential to draw out the strength and connectedness in an entire community so, in my opinion, when you have a pastor in front preaching about heaven and hell you lose this dynamic element of mourning that a community needs to experience in order to move forward. In this case someone’s death has become a platform to deliver another Sunday service message and a funeral isn’t that, it’s much more exceptional than a church service.  I guess it can serve as a gauge in reminding us of our own brevity in a short life but, in general, as far as the amazing event of a funeral goes, I think the preaching is better left for Sunday morning. And again, by preaching I mean letting the participants know “there is eternity and we will spend it somewhere so where will you spend it?” end quote

Could it be that preaching a message of salvation at a funeral, by the pastor, is a tradition that not too many people question these days; sort like wearing black at a funeral or wearing white at a wedding, or shaking a stick at a witch under a full moon (ok, that last one is just made up)?  Does preaching belong at an event as profound as a funeral?

And that’s a wrap!

Just last week things finally came to a head with the neighbors. I’ve been learning a lot about living in an urban setting and the places where our family needs to give and take as we live so close to so many people. The noise? Ok, I can deal with that (most of the time). The loud ‘chatter’ as people pass by our home in the middle of the night? I can deal with that too. Shopping carts? Well….I’m still calling Safeway every time those bloody things end up on our street. But living next to some of the worst people on the block has been a huge learning curve. The question for me was always, “What do we have to accept and what do we NOT have to put up with?”

When we first moved in I learned that you can’t cower in fear when things get crazy, you must confront! When a violent fight broke out next door and the cops took one of them away our first week of moving in, I decided to talk with the neighbors the next day and ask if that was going to happen again. I was reassured, through many apologies, that it would not happen again (even though it did, but that’s another story).  Talk through the fence to the people who live near or next to you and it will always create more relationship. It also let our neighbors know that I was now alert and paying attention, not just pretending it didn’t happen. I also learned every house member’s name and I used it when I saw them. It’s been six months since we moved in and not one of them knows my name. Ok, fair enough, they don’t have to call me Tracie. “Hey” or “Um” will do for now.

I have also learned that you need to keep talking through issues instead of letting anger fester, even though I have, at times, let it fester- they really stressed me out, man! If people are starting construction projects at 3am with the windows and doors to their home wide open, ask them not to do that (the next day, maybe). If they are dry humping in front of your kids even when you let them know there are children in the yard, do speak out! But I felt I had done everything I could to be a tolerant neighbor when I finally started to call in Jonny Law.

I’m not about getting all the loud people out of our neighborhood so the Bonjours can abide in peace. We all share space together and for the most part, I like my neighbors and I really like our neighborhood. It was about having a home next to people who were committed to living in a community and not tearing one down. They brought drugs, noise, lawn trash, parties, fights, they tore up my garden and woke us up countless times with their late night, porch “chatter”.  So I started to respond, when I wasn’t reacting inside.

The last straw for the Tacoma Police was when our neighbor (the owner of the home) didn’t pay the power and water bill so both were shut off while he had split for a few weeks (MIA). The tenants had to move out, except for two rowdy stragglers who lived sans electricity and water fror almost two weeks. Finally the city found out that there were people living there without power or water and the next day the police boarded the house up. I guess the owner ran off with rent and electricity money that he’d been collecting and just didn’t pay things off. Oops!

So here we have this lovely and amazing house that now sits abandoned by the owner. It’s really a shame because he had put work into it when he bought it five years ago. Then he let life spiral out of control and when we moved in it’s like we had a ring side seat, sitting here watching it get desperately worse with him. Things are much quieter now but it’s eerie having a boarded up house next door. So here are a few lessons I’m learning about urban living:

1. Invest into your neighborhood! It’s yours now too!  When I use to live in community housing there were often stains on the carpet and smudges on the walls that had literally been there for years because the place really belonged to no one. When you own something, you take care of it.

2. The little things matter. Pick up trash in the street, cut your lawn and take care of the area

3. GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS. Names, hellos when you see them and small talk until you get to know them better make a huge difference.

4. Make your place lovely in the ways you know how. I garden and I’ve taken back so much land at our house because I’m out there putting stuff in the ground. It looks lived in and loved.

5. Don’t put up with crime. Fear is huge when you see people breaking the law, especially in terms of violence, but we have to stay on top of things in our area and that’s one lesson I’m really learning lately. The police work for us and they want us to tell them when the “fit is hitting the shan”, so to speak.

6. Talk over the fence when your neighbors are acting crazy and talk to your other neighbors about a problem house, getting the rest of the neighbors involved.

7. I am finding that living in confidence is helping me enjoy the people here. Fear is normal when you move to a rough area but you have to keep believing in others rather than stereotyping and reacting in fear or mistrust. We all want the same things in life anyway, right?

Here’s to urban living! Salute!

God Bless This Feast

Easter

 

There is an  online literary magazine  that I subscribe to, and LOVE, whose latest issue is about feasting. Reading the poems and prose in this issue has brought back a lot of memories from Wisconsin. Some days I really miss our community dinner crew. Now that there is some distance and time between all of us I feel I have this perspective of how profound and simple our meals together were. I’m pleased to hear that they are all still meeting together, being a loving community, eating and making good food and raising children together. I’m sad we aren’t a part of that anymore and some days I long for another ‘group’ to feast with.

We cooked lamb and drank red wine on a Thursday.

In the Springtime we roasted asparagus and made fresh bread to hold our cured meat.

There was a small farm which gave us ribs and raw milk.

Manuel fried crepes, Brandy tried her luck at her first turkey, Sarah gave us her culture infused into spring rolls and spicy noodles. Tiffany’s desserts….bliss. Something I always looked forward to. Chocolate spread over a sponge cake, silky and brown. I remember the Passover that was our gift from David and the nan and chorizo from Danielle.

Red wine, mojitos and summer ales. Fire side chats, swatting mosquitos while our skin sweated and our hair frizzed in the humidity. We talked about politics, art, children, culture, missions, movies, music, and our own personal spiritual journeys of faith.

What came out of our times together was the sweet smell of feasting. Enjoying and savoring rather than consuming and rushing. Five years of feasting together,  taking time to slow cook the ribs from the freshly killed pig off the Trautman farm. Rolling out the dough by hand. Picking the herbs from our hand grown gardens. Juicing the watermelon to make the adult, summer drinks. Cranking out the noodles made from floury, pale dough and gooey, yellow eggs yolks. While others may eat out of the can, standing over the sink, we wanted it slow, together. Grabbing a snickers bar while you drive is normal these days but the flavor of real food, enjoyed by friends who laugh and yawn together as the night stretches out is rare.

Thank you, old friends for the feasting. I see cast iron skillets and think of you. Red wine reminds me of our winter nights and pork on a stick over the fire makes me think of our summers together. Enjoy the late nights together still. Bon Appetit and God Bless your feast!