History, Art, and Doing Better

I was discussing the removal of statues with a loved one and felt I should broaden my argument to my blog post. Clearly, as a teacher of race relations, I have a lot of opinions on the discussion. I will try to condense it here. The discussion was in response to this article.

What we’re ultimately addressing is removing something (whether art or a statue), that was erected during a different era. We can look at slavery now and know it’s wrong. In a different context, slavery was accepted. Was it still morally wrong at that point? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, such as how would stand politically, economically, religiously, etc. We can’t change that slavery happened. We can’t change that for 200+ years our government viewed black people as less than whites (at every level). We can’t criticize the people who stood by and (albeit passively) endorsed slavery as a system, because that was the culture of that era. When I teach about white privilege (which I believe exists) I’m constantly reiterating to students that this isn’t about white guilt – it’s about the white acknowledgment that even in today’s society whites have more opportunities afforded to them. Understanding the context is really critical. So, we’ll set “art” aside and revisit that. The argument is about removing a piece of history from a public space.

The general criticism of removing statues is that it’s removing history, and I disagree with that. History needs to preserve its place, and mankind (literate mankind, at the very least) need to have an ongoing appreciation for the ways history has shaped where we are today. That said, removing a Confederate statue, or in this case, Foster’s statue in no way changes the history that shaped that society, and the history that resultantly shapes us now. The knowledge will remain. People will continue to teach about it, to talk about it. We also can’t view history as “fixed” because that would be one of the most dangerous things we could do – as we learn more about history, we understand how the tales of the victor often get misrepresented over time, and people’s recollection of events gets fuzzy, or changes from one storyteller to the next. That’s inevitable. There’s no finite view of history. History is subjective, just as art is subjective. Are there facts involved? You bet, but history generally represents one view.

So, history is constantly being shaped and reshaped. Our sense of morality is constantly being shaped by the events of the time, our increased knowledge, and our mindfulness of others. If we are to move forward in a healthy way in society, we take the knowledge that we’ve gleaned (e.g., such as enslaving people is wrong) and try to make a better world for our children. Part of that involves recognizing the sins of the past and more so using that knowledge and growth that we have to reshape society so that it’s better. Better for whom? Well, better for everyone (including black people). As a white woman, I can academically examine the ways that slavery created systemic advantages for one group and inherent structural disadvantages for black people. I can read the books, and I can get it. I can’t, in my day to day life, say I can fully empathize with their experiences of subjugation. I haven’t experienced the consequences of that history as influencing my present-day life chances. I don’t have the emotional or visceral response to seeing a slave at the foot of a white man in a statue represented every day when I pass by it (well, I have that icky sense of injustice, but that’s because I study this stuff so much). More generally, with the removal of the Confederate statues, we don’t have any negative emotional response to seeing a white military leader’s statue (one who pushed for the continuation of the ideology of slavery as both just and valid) in a place of honor. Since we don’t know that experience, and can’t fully empathize with the harms of subjugation, how should we respond? Should we shrug? Should we say, “Ahh, they’re just making a mountain out of a molehill”? Does that incorporate any sense of the increasing knowledge and compassion and respect for mankind that we’ve made (albeit nominal) strides in over the last 75 years since the Civil Rights movement? Not really.

So, let’s turn to art. ANYONE who’s studied art knows the subjective valuation of art. We don’t know Moretti’s intent when he created this statue. It could have simply been reflecting the appreciation he had for Foster. It could have been reflecting the ideals of the time (which, arguably, 1900 America was still very segregated and Antebellum in ideals). Sure, Pennsylvania was more progressive than many states at the time, but it’s probably (as most are arguing) a reflection of a white artist’ appreciation for another white artist – a musician – and depicting the more ‘natural’ position of a black slave in a subjugated pose to a white. Was that bad for 1900? I’d argue no. I’d argue it was reflecting the time. Is it bad for 2018? The Arts Commission seems to think so. They’re probably making the decision to move it on the basis of public response, public criticism of keeping a statue up depicting a black slave at a white man’s feet in an era where we are still desperately fighting to have equality (and do not – which is key).

Are they folding to the pressure of black people? In my opinion – who cares? If any group is offended by the way a public statue is influencing them emotionally, they’re entitled to speak out about it, and the community *should* discuss the ramifications. Now, people are going to argue, “But if we let any group influence statues that they’re offended by, we wouldn’t have any statues!” I’d call BS on that. Saying I’m offended by a statue of a bull, for example, on Wall Street is markedly different than a black person saying they’re offended by the statue of a black slave at a white man’s feet in an otherwise rather progressive community. How is it different? Well, is there anything worse than enslavement? Reflect on that. If ANY group is entitled to complain about being disgruntled about something, wouldn’t it be the group that is still experiencing consequences of the system of slavery 200+ years later? It’s the same argument of saying sports teams should keep Native American names – that Native Americans need to get over it, it’s just a name, it has no meaning. False. It has no meaning to whites. It holds meaning to other people. If we’re humanitarians, we consider the impact our decisions and actions have on our fellow man.

Given that art is subjective and hits us all differently, and this is in a public, community space, I think it’s good the commission handled the situation with public input, with a vote, and then made a decision to respond. The statue isn’t going to wind up in somebody’s basement, shrouded in darkness. It will be put somewhere in a historical context, and people will still be able to view it (just like the Confederate statues) and people can talk about why it was removed. THAT conversation alone is an important one to have, especially with our children. We need to explain that we’re not removing history, we’re not reshaping it and we’re not eliminating art because “some people are offended.”

We are responding, with knowledge and compassion, to right a wrong. We are making an effort towards inclusion so that all people in a society or a community can feel comfortable walking down the street without having subjugation thrust into their faces.  America, right now, as at a critical juncture. Racism is spiking. Hate group membership has increased 65% since 2005 (mostly due to the internet), and 20% in the last 3 years.  The Klan is having open rallies. Nazis are walking in our streets. Do we want to roll back progress simply for the argument that a statue is so important in a historical context it needs to remain where it’s at? Is that statue worth more than any black person’s feelings? I’d argue no.

A Good Mate

This past weekend we celebrated Nathan’s birthday (I won’t say which birthday), and I enjoy having kids back home and family stop in to visit on these special days. We’ve just passed our 10 year milestone since we met and started dating. I considered all the growth that both he and I have seen in the last 10 years and it’s amazing.

I see the ways couples manage relationships covered in the media, and I think there’s too much emphasis upon perfection, upon finding that soul mate that is everything in your eyes. Not only is this unachievable, but I think it creates a burden of pressure, an onerous obligation, as each partner tries to be something they’re not or cover up their flaws. Speaking for myself, I can’t hide my character flaws from my family. Frankly, I don’t want to expend emotional energy trying to be something I’m not. I can work to mitigate them, to try not to revel in them as just a part of myself and certainly not to rationalize or justify those flaws. However, when I’m tired and crabby and the day is almost done, I know if I’m snarky I can ask forgiveness, and it is granted. As I’ve tried to point out to my children, there is no such thing as the perfect mate – there is such a thing as the perfect mate for you, though.

If you have a partner whose good outweighs the bad, one who treats you well (honestly and respectfully are my biggest issues) and works to help you achieve your goals, that’s a good mate. When we have those imperfections of character (my husband is a bit, err, stubborn, in nature, whereas it has been noted that I am a bit, err, ‘managerial’), you work around those traits. You accept your partners’ flaws as you hope they accept your own. You work to highlight the positives (the work ethic, as I’ve touched upon repeatedly through these blogs, or the dedication to family, or the generosity in spirit). My husband is the most generous man I’ve known, and I count that as a blessing and a boon to our partnership. I know my husband will help me achieve my personal goals (such as pursuing a PhD) even if it’s not in his realm of interest. I know he values I’ll help him achieve his personal goals (such as being a farmer), even if it’s not in my realm of interest. We build up – we don’t tear down. That’s a hallmark of a good mate.

So shout out to my wonderfully supportive husband Nathan. Thanks for all you do for us, for our children, and for our dreams. Thank you for being my “perfect for me mate”.

On Gerry

I met Gerry in 1999. I started cleaning her house, which quickly morphed into an overall aide-de-camp, mostly because she is such a beautifully social creature, and I am just an efficient woman who likes to run things. For about 6 years, my children were regular fixtures at her house as I cleaned, organized, gardened, cooked and visited. Gerry and Howard had 3 grown children who I came to view as family, simply because Gerry kept me filled in on their comings and goings with such detail. I knew all about her grandchildren, and watched them grow through the pictures I kept dusted along her walls. I helped hostess her social events, and this 60s and 70s set of women were role models to me: intelligent, successful, articulate, and incredibly philanthropic.

I interviewed Gerry for an oral history assignment once, for a gerontology class. I needed about an hour of tape to come up with enough notes for my paper. I wound up with 8 cassettes worth, well over 15 hours. I’d bring my tape recorder over, and we’d be out in the garden pulling weeds, and I would ask a question, and Gerry would just talk, and talk and talk. She teased me that I would have enough to write a book about her, and we decided we would call it Lessons from Gardening with Gerry. She made me promise then, “You can’t publish it until I die, though. There’s too much scandal!” And amusingly, she’d lived a full and juicy enough life at that point that the tapes just kept rolling, capturing stories from her childhood, her marriage, her childrearing, and her views on life during her elder years. I listened to a few tapes when I first moved to Colorado, in fall 2005, but I will need to dig them back and transcribe them. I know those stories would be a gift to her family.

As I was holding her hand last night while she lay in hospice, there were a few lucid moments, but many in delirium. At one point, she whispered, “I’m so proud of you,” and I just turned my head away to fight from sobbing. She has told me that often over the years, championing women’s educational opportunities through her PEO group (they sponsored me for about 4 years) and claiming each achievement I’d made as a crown to her own glory, and rightfully so. She had full confidence in my ambitions, and after I’d moved away, we touched base every few months, and she’d start each phone call with, “Fill me in on everything.”

I came out last fall to visit, and am grateful that I did. I’ve told Nathan, “You never know how long we have,” and so I tried to keep up with annual visits, despite the hours between us. I was scheduled to stop in next week, on our way to Colorado, but Leslie (my sweet friend who supplanted me as aide-de-camp some 12 years ago), said there would not be that much time when she called yesterday. It was out of the blue – definitely an unexpected call. Gerry and I had spoken about 3 weeks ago, and I wasn’t anticipating this turn. When I first got here Monday night, I had the last 15-20 minutes of clarify with her, before she started drifting off to conversations with her deceased husband and daughter.

I’ve experienced loss before, but never as a tangible thing, never as an active participant. I know the loss of my mother and grandmother made stirs in my life and development, but I was never involved in the process of their dying. These last two days with Gerry, sitting in the chair beside her hospice bed, have been an experience like no other. I’ve been blessed to have conversations with a dozen or more people who come in to say their farewells, listen to their stories of how they knew her, share my own, and watch them leave, a bit lighter from having said their goodbye. When I was in my 20s, I read a lot about the grieving process, and so I have a cognitive understanding of how my actions here, now, with Gerry, can impact my healing. I’ve also had time to muse on family (both hers, and my own) and think about the role I want to play the next time I lose someone. Those who know me will appreciate my utmost admiration for caregivers (because that is NOT a gift I have), and as each hospice worker has sat and helped walk through the process, I am overwhelmed by the strength and fortitude their job must demand.

All in all, it’s been simultaneously one of the best and worst times of my life. I’m losing the woman who was more of a mother figure to me than anyone. I can pinpoint knowledge in my life and how I’ve grown as a friend, as a woman, as a wife, and especially as a mother, and note, “I learned that from Gerry.” If I were to delineate it all here, it would be overwhelming.

Despite the tears, I am so profoundly grateful to God that I have had this time. I’m grateful I could have that last exchange with her. I’m grateful I have Nathan and Becca to look after Miles and Ruthie so I can be here, with Gerry. Being with someone who is dying in front of you provides a clarity to the gratitude, and thus there are yet more lessons I’m learning from Gerry as a result. When she passes, I will know I honored her last request (she didn’t want to be alone when she died) and was able to give back to her in some small part for the abundance she’s given to me. How often we just take our relationships for granted and overlook our blessings. Gerry has been, is, and always will be a phenomenal influence in my life.

Just a Short Stage of Life

I’ve been musing about the finiteness of things: work, relationships, childhood, money, etc. Most things are fairly temporal. Addison asked me a while ago how I juggle it all (presumably school, work, family), and her question seemed to tie in both a time element, and an energy element. Going to school full-time, at 19, carrying 18-hour loads, participating in theater productions, working evenings and weekends, and managing stellar grades to maintain the scholarship is *hard*.  My general response, when I face that question, is that this is only for a time; we invest in ourselves to make life easier down the road. This is undoubtedly more applicable beyond college, though.

When I am processing fatigue, or frustration, or reminiscing, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.”

When I’m working on a paper for a class that ends that night, and my children want me to help them string together empty boxes to make a train set (such was my Wednesday yesterday), I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” I know I can stay up late to work on the paper, but they’ll remember Mom building a cardboard box train.

When I’m up and out choring and feeding animals, and bottle-feeding the clumsiest, bumsiest little buckling you’ve ever come across, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” Someday the children will take over tending the animals, or there will be no sweet bottle-feeding animals, and I’ll miss that.

When I’m desperately missing my husband, who’s off on a job for weeks on end and sometimes can’t make it home but 24 hours every 2-3 weeks, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” He’s working hard to invest in our family, and our farm, and I’m blessed to have such a man.

When I’m running on about 6 hours of sleep from juggling my school work, my childrens’ school work, and my work load, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” When my degree is done, I look forward to having a normal job, with normal hours, and I’ll have hours to leisure read again, or sleep more. I’ll probably pick leisure reading over sleep, though.

When I have to pass on impromptu “come drink wine with us” requests from my girlfriends, even though I’d love to have some time to catch up, but have final papers to grade, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” We’ll find time to have a girls’ lunch, and when the kids have all flown the nest or work slows down and there’s more time for girlfriends, I know I have great ones who will still be there.

When my relations with exes gets strained, and there’s conflict, and I need to emotionally remove myself from interactions, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” There’s generally a pattern to good times and bad times with the exes, both his and mine, but these smooth out in time.

When I see a situation completely different from a sibling, and there’s conflict, and we don’t have the closeness that we’ve had throughout the years, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” We’ll both work through our perspectives, and the closeness will pick back up again, because it always does.

When I’m cleaning up linens from a child’s accident in bed, or wiping vomit off the bathroom floor, or vacuuming up smashed Cheez-its in my bedroom carpet (where they know they’re not supposed to be eating anyway), I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” Someday I’ll sit in a quiet house and wish I were vacuuming up smashed crackers. I’ll invite the grandkids over, hand them a bowl of cheez-its, and then ignore when they sneak them into the room.

When I have some seriously goofy expectations from my supervisors, who occasionally think I have nothing to do but read the same emails and watch short videos, so I can be “good” at what I’ve been doing for 10+ years, I remind myself, “This is just a short stage of life.” Supervisors change. Work expectations change. The only real constant is I am good at my job, and the students seem to respond well.

I do believe we invest in ourselves. I believe our frame of reference may vary wildly from another’s, but that the best I can do as a person is try to improve, and sometimes, personal improvement is just draining. Having healthy relationships takes work. Raising compassionate, responsible children takes work. Completing a terminal degree takes work. Providing for a family takes work. I’m actually fortunate to have the opportunity to experience all the challenges and opportunities that cross my path, however demanding they may seem at the time, because I can see how much I’ve changed over the years, and anticipate so much more change to come.

Measure your life in stages. Be grateful for each stage.

On Travel

It’s a phenomenally busy time of year for us. Nathan’s working 6/12s at a job in Kansas, and I’ve got a full load teaching this semester. We’re doing the homeschool cooperative, which I love, and have quite a few field trips scheduled for the next few months (the pumpkin patch next week, Missouri Theater’s bringing in Chinese Acrobats the week after, Addie’s theater is doing Our Town, and then Charlie Brown, another MU performance with Daniel Tiger Live, then a train trip in St. Louis for Santa’s Wonderland). Last weekend we hit the Renaissance Festival, and tomorrow we leave for Chicago.

The Chicago trip is “because” Rebecca is taking Art Appreciation in college right now, and needs to visit a museum to evaluate a work of art. We could have hit Kansas City or St. Louis, and I hear Columbia even has a good museum, but we missed Chicago. The Art Institute there is really spectacular (and the two other museums in town, Modern Art, and Children’s Museum doesn’t hurt our selection). By happy coincidence, this weekend the Children’s Museum has free entrance Sunday morning.

I’m excited by the trip simply because I love to travel. I moved 34 times over my life before settling here with Nathan. Quite a bit as a child, more as a teen, most as a young adult. Addison and Rebecca were uprooted a lot, and while I weigh the costs and benefits of that (emotionally, mentally) against the experience Miles and Ruthie will have living on a farm their entire formative years, travel is good.

Ironically, the dear husband doesn’t care for it, unless it involves a hunting trip somewhere. I think we’ve gotten to a place where we’re both good with that. He does his big hunting trip, and I do a lot of short weekend getaways to see other parts of the country. He prefers his non-hunting time to be on the farm. I like theater, museums, trying out new (exotic!) foods, visiting the parks, seeing the local majesty (like the Arch in St. Louis, or the Plaza in KC, or the Sears Tower in Chicago, even though I don’t think it’s technically called the Sears Tower anymore). I love the time sitting on the porch watching my chickens peck the yard, or listening to Lady (the Drama Queen beagle) yip at my ankles for some attention. However, doing that for the rest of my life without seeing more of the world would definitely *not* satisfy my restless soul.

I realize travel gets expensive, but we research and plan so we can do it on the cheap. The one big trip we took with Nathan we blew our budget in triplicate; he’s not keen on eating ham and cheese slices out of a cooler, doesn’t enjoy sitting and people watching, and would rather be *doing* something than window shopping a downtown area. We take a lot of food. Snacks, water bottles (EDC and BPA free environmentally refillable ones, of course), crackers, cookies, fruit are always staples with travel (as is the Scooby Doo blanket, because you never know when you’ll stumble across a park that begs for some chilling on a blanket). We will eat out twice in Chicago (definitely pizza, definitely a Chicago beef sandwich @ Navy Pier). We’ll enjoy our free continental breakfast in the hotel room I Pricelined about 4 weeks ago. Rebecca found a neat Pinterest post about things you *must see* in Chicago, so we’re checking out a couple of fabulous bookstores, and it’s said the Harold Washington Library has a magnificent enclosed garden area. In short, we’re doing the super cheap and free stuff. I’ve never explored the Navy Pier, and I’m looking forward to that. The Chicago Cultural Center is supposed to be very interesting, too!

For the price of a couple meals, a hotel room, and gas to get there, my children get all the wonder that comes from getting out and experiencing the world. They get to see new places. They get to experience a completely different climate (most of our time will be spent right by Lake Michigan in the Wiiiiiiindy City). They get to walk around the urban area and people watch. (Ok, truth be told, I’ll probably pull them in the wagon most of that part). We’ll pack our sweatshirts and coats (just in case) and our walking shoes, and sun hats, and swim suits (there’s some rule that if the hotel has an indoor pool, you have to swim in it). We’ve got about a dozen activities to fit in in 48 hours. A few will get scrapped, undoubtedly. I’m always flexible when it comes to travel, and we may be led astray by something captivating, such as this bicycling puppet show I keep reading about.

I was watching Poirot’s Appointment with Death the other day, and Dame Westholme said that travel wasn’t as broadening as people thought, because really, people are the same everywhere. It always comes back to the people, and I appreciated that point because one of my favorite parts of traveling is the people-watching part. Both of my girls are people watchers, but Miles and Ruthie haven’t gotten there yet. I hope that they do. I hope that they want to travel to see the sights of the world, and that it broadens their mind and fills them with a fire to learn. However, I hope most that they recognize people who may look different than us really aren’t, because we’re all God’s children. I hope they see people who make decisions that are different from ours, but learn not to judge them. I hope they offer help when they see someone in need. Maya Angelou wrote, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” I agree with that.

I also prefer having smaller Christmases, or smaller birthday presents because we’re sharing experiences together as a family. What’s a Fisher Price toy set compared to remembering the feel of the waves at your ankles? Miles looks through our travel pictures and tells me how much fun he has at this beach, and when can we go again? I love having those memories with them. There are a few places which will be staples for our getaways (like Chicago, and New Orleans, which I can’t wait to get back to). However, I might only be saying that because I haven’t stumbled onto another staple yet. I’ve got about a dozen other places to see on my bucket list (which regretfully has a rather domestic scope limitation until the children are all grown and out of college). Someday I’ll get to travel abroad. Still, I’m excited about the trip. I don’t even mind the 5 ½ hour road trip to get there. All part of the experience!

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On Firearms

I’ll be spending my 41st birthday in a rather unusual fashion. I’m taking a gun class. I appreciate I don’t owe anyone an explanation, and I appreciate that I’ve got a *wide* spectrum of loved ones who may or not support my choices, and that I don’t feel beholden to them. Before you see me “carrying,” though (and ideally, you’ll never *see* me carrying), I’d like to share my processes. At the very least, it can reassure my sisters that I’ve not slipped my gourd and am preparing for a Zombie apocalypse, and reassure my brother that I’ll never, no matter the pressure, vote for Donald Trump.

I’ve picked out my first handgun after serious research and some savvy-guidance from a gun expert (I’m coining him that, for the record). I tried out different styles, makes, and calibers. I found one that seemed to mesh well with my goals and my needs. I purchased it legally, picked it up from a licensed firearms dealer who was markedly tickled to have a woman show up at his door at 8 a.m., and did the appropriate “background check” steps. It’s the perfect choice for me, and I’m looking forward to training with it.

Those of you who know me can appreciate I don’t do things half-measure, and am a researcher by trade (something I’m sure my husband finds quite amusing as I immerse myself in books on gun laws, books on gun styles, books on shooting stances, books on ammunition). In short, I’m educating myself on the process. I found a great woman’s group which meets in Columbia at a range a couple of times a month, and look forward to shooting with them to build experience. I’ve read about everything suggested by experts in the field (and confess to no small amount of hero-worship for Massad Ayoob, looking forward to the day I can take a class with him).

Nathan grew up around guns, though, and so he’s got the experience I do not. I have two other firearms. I have a 12 gauge shot-gun I got immediately after my divorce when I was living in a very rural area of Kansas, and a single-parent. It’s an Ithaca 47, a riot gun, and it was a decidedly perfect mesh for my purposes at the time. The most activity it ever saw was the summer of the rabid skunk problem, when I killed (and buried, ugh) 7 skunks. I’m sure that’s a memory my daughters look back fondly on . . . they’d be out playing in the sand pile, see a skunk staggering about in the daylight, and I’d come running out with my shotgun. When I married Nathan, he got me a lovely .243 deer rifle. I practice with it. I handle it responsibly, and I am a good shot when I need to kill a deer. I’m not a huge fan of hunting, mostly because it seems unfair to me that the deer want to move on the frostiest mornings of the year, which means being bundled up and outside at 5:30 in the morning. Oh, the injustice of it all. Still, I like the free meat, and so I do what needs doing.

I also want to share a bit about the ideology of it all. This is yet another area where I really like my man Bernie. I’m a liberal. I didn’t realize there were liberal gun-owners out there, and finding a little community of people who think like I think is quite reassuring through the process. I’m likely not going to give money to the NRA. I think they politicize issues they should not, and frankly, I don’t understand the need for assault weapons to be accessible to the general public. I also support background checks – for everyone. If you want a gun, you should be required to get a background check. If you’re not crazy, and you’re not a criminal, there’s no problems with background checks. I do not support a gun registry, but despite the NRA’s propagandizing there is no governmental push to have a national gun registry. It was actually my ignorance that led me to ask my firearms dealer if I was now on some list, and I got a proper lesson on the matter. The only people who know my serial numbers are my firearms dealers. That’s it. If I do something criminal with it, or have to shoot someone in self-defense, it might get written down somewhere. I’m not sure about that, but I’m not opposed to it either.

I think it is my right to own a gun, and I am a good guy. My “personal firearms expert” (thank heavens I have him to bombard with questions) pointed out that we have a responsibility to arm ourselves, and I think the argument is a solid one. Not only do we want to maintain our 2nd amendment rights (and anyone studying the Bill of Rights knows our rights are only as good as long as we demand them AND use them), but I could see a theoretical deterrent effect. If bad guys know more good guys have guns, then maybe they’ll pause before shooting. This is not addressing the mental health issue – we need better mental health care, period. Not even delving into that except to say if we had more resources to help people get mental health care they need, a significant proportion of gun violence could be reduced.

There’s also the Jesus issue. I love me some Jesus. I’m still reading books on the idea about Christian pacifism and all that so I don’t have a lot to contribute to this argument. The good thing, though, is that I know I’m right with Jesus. If I kill someone defending myself or my children, I’m still going to be right with Jesus. I don’t feel a moral imperative to die because some schmoe opens fire in a public place. I do believe in the idea that when it’s my time, it’s my time, and I’m looking forward to Heaven. Now, though, my children need me, so I figure God is okay with me defending our little unit as necessary. When He really wants me, He’ll really take me.

There’s also the crime issue. I consider myself a criminologist. I’ve studied crime for years. I recognize that the fear of crime is overwhelmingly higher than the actual crime rates reflect or represent. People pass through life terrified to go places, to experience new things, even to travel because they’re worried something bad will happen. Honestly, that’s not me. I like to experience new things. I am wise enough to not put myself in risky positions, but we take little risks every day. Driving, for example. I also think that sometimes, people just wind up, through no fault of their own, in a bad place. There’s been three shootings at the Columbia mall recently. Three separate incidents. Do I want to avoid going to the mall? Well, yes, but that’s because I hate the mall, and I love Amazon, but the point is that crime can happen randomly. I won’t pass through life being fearful of crime occurring, but I don’t begrudge myself the opportunity to even out the playing field a bit (by carrying a weapon).

Then last, there’s the security issue. Yes, the firearm will be loaded. It will also be loaded with the type of bullets to stop bad guys, not the type of bullets to practice. Judge me if you will. I will be adding a “gun safety” curriculum to our homeschool plan. Undoubtedly Nathan would be discussing guns with the kids anyway, but I’ll add in the elements of handling, respect for firearms, practice. I just *love* the points raised by Kathy at the Cornered Cat, where she discusses removing the taboo of guns by letting your kids handle them (unloaded, safely) when they ask, so that they don’t run to play with a gun if they come across one somewhere. That being said, I’ll be neurotic about this, I’m sure. The loaded gun won’t be left out where my children could get to it. It’ll either be on me or in the gun safe. That’s it. The only two options. On me, or in the safe. It will take some conditioning, undoubtedly, but I’ve always been a smart cookie, so I am confident (with my children’s welfare as my focus), I won’t screw that up.

So all in all, I’m looking forward to my big day. I’m tickled with my choice of a birthday present. I messaged Dad to let him know what I put his birthday money towards, and he hasn’t responded yet. It could be either that he’s curious why his baby girl would ‘feel the need’ to carry a firearm, or he’s thinking I’ve gone over the edge. It could be either. He’d probably rather I just buy some new shoes, but this is much more practical . . . 😉

 

Farming

I watched a harvest video this morning that had me bawling. It was essentially just 13 minutes of combines and harvesters moving around a wheat field, showing the process. There was some good “steward of the land” music playing, but beyond that, certainly nothing that would prompt tears. And yet, farming makes me cry. Any country song about farming? I’m in tears. Commercials for John Deere? You bet I’m blubbering. A facebook video about a harvest? Worthless and introspective for a solid 30 minutes after. Irrationale, yes. But farming just moves me!

This past weekend I was having a discussion with Dear Husband about pursuing our dreams (mostly rationalizing why I should finish my doctorate, and soon) and I pointed out that despite the fact that, “I hate farming,” I supported him in that dream. He looked a bit aghast for a moment. It was almost as if I’d said, “I hate chocolate” to a woman. Now, in hindsight, I realize my wording was a bit too strong for the moment (not that I’ve told him that yet). I will confess my blunder so he won’t worry about my mental state, but I just haven’t seen him yet to do so since he’s working out of state.

This man wants to farm. He wants it to be his livelihood, as it is his father’s. He wants to care for the cattle, oversee our crops, cut hay from sun up to sun down. He wants to buy more acreage, build fence for the next 20 years, and leave a big legacy of farming for our children. He wants to quit welding and be completely supported by the land. I get that – really I do. As his wife, it is my duty (obligation, responsibility, dare I say, joy?) to help him reach his dreams. As such, I’m a reluctant farmer.

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While he works out of state bringing home the bacon, I tend the farm in his absence. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of the chickens I haven’t yet let out of the hen houses (I will soon) and the bottle I need to fix for the (mostly) blind calf we’ve been nursing back from a bad case of pink eye. I’m thinking of the goat kid I need to check, because we’ve also been nursing her for about a month from a bacterial infection, and the carrots I reluctantly need to dig out of the ground because it’s too hard to pull them out, and I didn’t “soak them a bit” last night (as he’d very logically recommended). I need 200 more carrots like I need a hole in the head, but I can’t abide the waste, so I’ll dig them out. I’m glad it’s not winter, and I begged and pleaded with him to be home for the winter so I wouldn’t have to break ice. I loathe breaking ice. I’m convinced my death will come from being charged by a bull (or arguably worse, a cow with a new baby calf), slipping down an icy hill side to get to the pond bank, and planting myself on the ax head. Still, I’ll do it for days, weeks, months if I need to because I want to support his dreams.

Being honest, though, that’s not my entire motivation. I idealize farming. With this one task, I feel a connection to the land, to time, to God, and to my family that I can’t get from the profession I love (education). I hate the feel of dirt when I’m pulling carrots, but I love producing our food, having fridges and freezers full of our own (healthy raised) meat, and canned goods lining my shelves reminding me of how much I hate August because its’ peak canning season. Spaghetti in the winter really tastes better with my homemade tomato sauce. Miles and Ruth both adore being in the garden harvesting. Telling these kids we’ll go pull carrots is tantamount to saying, “Let’s go to Six Flags!” Just sheer enthusiasm. In fact, as I was writing this, Miles schlepped in from the garden cheerfully announcing he’d picked some peppers for me (not sure what state the pepper plants will be in when I head out to check).

When I go out in the mornings to reluctantly chore (not overplaying the Martyr role here, just highlighting how very *reluctant* I am), the sun is cresting the neighbor’s hills to the east and the grass is wet and the smell here in mid-Missouri is just fantastic. My Zyrtec and Benadryl can’t touch the allergy issues, but you can’t beat the smell. Even the smell of damp animals is appealing – not wet dog smell, just the smell of sweet animals who nudge you when you come to feed and water them, reminding you that you’re connected to something greater. I feel so spiritual at these times. I feel so grateful to have these blessings, to have the health, the time, the energy, the means to mosey about my beautiful acreage doing rather mundane tasks (and repeatedly stepping in poop of some sort). I feel like I’m part of an incredible cycle of life when I am riding the 4-wheeler (with the kids seated behind encouraging me to drive faster, even though I never do) along the edges of the hot fence to make sure the calves (it’s always the calves) don’t get out the hot fence because the real fencing had to be put off again so he could go back “to work” to pay the bills.

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It’s ironic that working on the farm is about 10 times harder than MY work, and I’m going to presume, also harder than HIS work (probably not 10 times harder, though, since welding is some seriously manual labor). Then again, it’s about 10 times more rewarding (beyond a monetary valuation). I imagine much of the connection comes from knowing that rain (or drought) or critters or too much sun or too little sun or bugs can affect the crop that comes in at the end of the season (and I’ve long bemoaned to my farmer-girlfriend how I hate the insecurity, the financial insecurity, of farming). Thanks for always letting me gripe, Christy. We could lose the cows to pink eye, we could lose them while they labor, we could lose out on the crop costing more to put in than it yields. All that being said, it makes one more aware of the inter-dependency of Man-Land-God. I think that I idealize farming because it’s I honestly can’t think of any other vocation (or livelihood, if one prefers) that has such a splendid inter-dependency, and such an inspiring opportunity for introspection.

Last, I think I idealize farming because I was such a wanderer for *so* many years, and never really sunk in roots anywhere. Seriously — I’ve moved 34 times in my life. Although Addie and Rebecca turned out splendidly as a result of those gypsy days, and know greater diversity and love and acceptance than any parent could hope for, Miles and Ruth will grow up with a tie to ONE place. I can’t begin to imagine how that will influence possible differences in their upbringing, but I know there’s very little sweeter than watching a 4-year old boy run out to the driveway so he can hop up in Grandpa’s tractor, even if it’s just to unload a pallet of wood pellets and won’t take 5 minutes. I mean, this boy will RUN to a tractor. Ruth will sit there and cry because she wants a turn, but is too little to bounce around on the buddy seat at this point – but the day will come when she’ll get to ride in the tractor (because Mama is all about equality of opportunity and none of this sexism stuff). Someday (soon) they’ll be running out to gather the eggs and check the afternoon water levels for the animals, and (continue) to traipse all manner of dirt in on their boots, and Miles will bring in 10 buckeyes that get dropped around the house for me to pick up when I’m cleaning. They’ll have a tie to land and community that I didn’t know growing up, and while some part of me envies them that, the other is so glad that they can decide one day if THEY want to farm this legacy their father and I have left them. That thought gives me goose bumps. Sure, they might hate farming, decide to sell the land, or have a nasty sibling squabble over the estate when we die, leaving no one with enough money to actually run the farm. Still, they *could* farm it if they wanted. That’s justifiably weepy, isn’t it?

Now it’s time to put on some Willie Nelson, cook for my Labor Day camping trip, and clean my house.

 

PS — Pavla, I’m not smart enough to write about the harms of Monsanto, but I AM smart enough to know I like my food grown naturally, without chemicals when possible or genetic modifications.