Relevance – Who Matters Most and Who Matters Least?

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Four generations

Four generations

Society deems some people relevant and necessary while others are irrelevant and of lesser importance. The uneducated, the downtrodden, and the so-called dregs of society found in prisons or sleeping on our city streets are in the latter category. Labeled as un-useful, a burden to others, and a drain on public resources, they are often ignored, uncared for and unloved.

For many years, motherhood was frowned upon. While I was raising a family of six children, I often received scathing glances from those who thought I was nothing more than a “baby machine,” even though each child was wanted and adored.

Today being pregnant is “fashionable” and “trendy,” especially for the jet set and the famous. If the mother-to-be is unwed or impregnated by a boyfriend or from artificial insemination, that’s even better. The starlets sport their growing bellies with pride; such compassionate women, these, burgeoning goddesses ripe with fruit, about to replenish the earth.

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My grandson, Andy, the day before his wedding.

In the sixties, the world was on the edge of disaster from “over population.” Fear fed the rumors that food and commodities would become scarce. There was no room at anyone’s “inn” for more children. Abortion was the answer. Millions of Einstein’s, Beethoven’s, and potential writers, artists, and scientists were crucified on the altar of convenience, ideology, and false premises in the name of freedom and women’s rights.

Although the tables have turned once again, the abortion mills are still running at fever pitch. Motherhood is having resurgence, but it is promoted by single mothers in diverse circumstances and applauded by gender blended families. Traditional family’s where a mother and father are actually married and celebrate the birth of each child is going by way of the dinosaurs.

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“Mother and Child” Brush Drawing available at http://carol-allen-Anfinsen.artistwebsites.com

The role of wife and mother has also changed and frequently disrespected and unappreciated. A woman’s role of wage earner is valued at the expense of motherhood. If too much of a woman’s time is devoted to family, her career may be in jeopardy. After taking time off it is difficult to retain her before-maternity-leave status.

I remember well feeling like a slug – a non-contributing member of society. The Equal Rights Amendment battle was in full sway. Like other young mothers, I was torn and confused. Even in marriage my writing ventures and the time spent were belittled and viewed as a waste of time until I started earning money. Then the hours I spent at typewriter and eventually keyboard were given respect.

Stay-at-home moms were taken advantage of in so many ways. I remember thinking that my husband, my kids looked right through me. I was invisible – unnoticed until someone else’s needs were ignored or neglected. Then a wave of whining and complaining woke me out of my doldrums.

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“Lady in Waiting” oil on canvas; Prints available

This became distinct and clear at a school Halloween Carnival. We had three children and one in the hopper. We waited in line for sloppy joe’s and drinks. I helped the younger children and made sure they had napkins and utensils. By the time we sat down, I discovered I had forgotten my own. “Heavy with child” and reluctant to get up again, I turned to my husband and said. “Would you mind getting me a fork and napkin?” He looked at me with cold eyes and said: “Get it yourself,” which I did.

Later, watching them play games through the classroom window, father and children, I said, trying to buoy myself up, “See you’re not invisible. I can see your reflection in the glass.” I looked down at my arm and pinched it between thumb and forefinger. “See, you’re not invisible, I can feel that pain.”

I’ve never felt so low and unimportant in my life. Talk about irrelevant! Sadly this was the beginning of the end. A downward spiral that eventually led to divorce; but not before two more children were born and I realized that things were never going to change.

"Does this hat make me look fat?"

“Does this hat make me look fat?” Pencil drawing

What a sad commentary on motherhood; the sacred creation of life. Instead of floundering at the bottom of the food chain, motherhood should be at the top. Without it society would become non-existent. The foundation that held families together in the past is now missing in action. Mothers are not there when their children come home from school. Lessons of the past are considered obsolete or old-fashioned. The values and virtues once revered are mocked.

Many people view pregnancy as simply a biological result of sexual relations; an unfortunate accident. The fact that parenthood might be part of a joyful plan is considered immaterial. Where will it end?

Teachers should Nurture, Enlighten and Protect their Students

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"An Open Book" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

“An Open Book” 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

I come from a long line of teachers, and take pride in having five teachers in our family today. I revere teachers and respect their profession. As the mother of six children, I had a lion’s share of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Over the years, I’ve seen good teachers and bad teachers.

Ms. Morrell was my English teacher; a stern spinster, and the butt of jokes and complaints from her students. But without her, I may never have become a writer. She knew her stuff! She was firm, but patient. She insisted on good behavior and was a hard task master when it came to grammar. And she could see past the jeers and bluster of her students.

She encouraged me to enter the school’s literary contest and I won. She saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. I remember her to this day, not as the frumpy spinster with the stern look, but for what she taught me: lessons that stayed with me throughout my life.

"Looking Outward" 3-D painting in an actual window frame

“Looking Outward” 3-D painting in an actual window frame

Mr. Holmstead was my History teacher; a fun-loving man who walked a shaky line between likability and control. Somehow he managed; not because of classroom rules or rigid authoritarianism, but through his own charisma and passion for his subject.

Whether you liked history or hated it, you were bound to love how Mr. Holmstead told a story. He captured your attention and made history seem relevant and wondrous. The test questions were easier to remember because of the performance and the theatrics he tied to each fact. Those who thought history was boring were in for a big surprise.

By noon, Mr. Holmstead already had a five o’clock shadow. By the end of the day, his tie had been loosened, his jacket hung on a chair and his sleeves were rolled up. We loved history because he loved history. His teaching was infectious.

And then there are the not-so-great teachers. I met one of them at a parent teacher conference. She was irritated by my energetic son. “He fidgets too much at his desk,” I was told.

“And why does he fidget,” I asked? Turns out my son finished his work before the other students and then he became a distraction. He even turned over his paper and doodled on the back (imagine that!) making his worksheet messy and dirty (the nerve).

By the time I finished listening, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change this teacher’s mind. I did suggest that she give my son another sheet of paper to doodle on while he waited, but she refused, saying that she didn’t have time to cater to one student. Oh the “mind is a terrible thing to waste!” (Negro College Fund Slogan)

Here is the flip side to that story. In my son’s sixth grade year, he had a teacher named Mrs. Bush. The children loved her, not because she was lenient or friendly, but because they knew what to expect from her. Her discipline was consistent; her style full of expectation and follow through.

My son was still the same wiggly, talkative child, but she used that enthusiasm to their mutual advantage. When he sat fidgeting after finishing his work, she showed him how to use the classroom camera. He took pictures of designated materials under her supervision. And wouldn’t you know, the envious other children began to work harder to finish their work so that they could use the camera.

At one point, during their study of China, Mrs. Bush showed him a tiny picture of a Chinese dragon and challenged him to see what he could do with it. She gave him some brushes and paints and turned him loose on the classroom window. By the end of the day, he had completed a giant, colorful dragon; an exact replica of the original small drawing.

That painting amazed not only me, but the entire school. Mrs. Bush saw a glimmer in my son and harnessed his active mind and body; a true modern-day miracle worker. Teachers like this never scream for recognition or pay, but they deserve it. They simply do what they do best: teach children. I say God bless them!

Tags for Living

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All-that-Jazz

“And all that Jazz,” 11 x 14 acrylic on panel

My daughter, Holly, mailed me her favorite book. Inside was a colorful gift tag splattered with flowers; and on the reverse side, a handwritten note telling me how much she loved me, and that she hoped I would enjoy reading the book. The tag became my bookmark as I turned page after page, thinking of her.

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it was the tag that intrigued me. Time and again, I returned to her note and the shiny painted flowers on the back. My mind churned. What was there about this tag that called out to me? Thoughts bubbled to the surface.

Our lives are controlled by tags, or at least influenced by them. Tags are everywhere:

  • Tags for luggage, tags for identification, price tags, tags for washing instructions, tags for sizes, tags on foodstuffs, gift tags, sales tags, dog tags, gurney tags, toe tags, healthcare tags, tags for gardening, tags for equipment, fertilizer tags, warning tags and status tags for every substance, action, and product in the world.

Wouldn’t it be great, if there were tags for how to live your life? Tags for newborns might read:

  • “Fragile — handle with care,” or “feisty when wet, change often.” Or how about “stubborn and willful — requires coaxing,” or “prone to temper tantrums — distract if possible.”

Tags for teenagers might suggest:

  • “Prickles when angry — hug anyway,” or “count to ten and listen, really listen,” or “sasses back when cornered — don’t argue, just walk away.”

Newlywed tags might stave off marital grief:

  • “Requires lots of attention — likes to be pampered” or “sleeps soundly — wake up gently” or “thinks taking out the garbage is a man’s job — just do it,” or  “listen closely —  it might be a test.”

As I pursued this line of thinking, I realized we already have tags for living, and they cover every facet of human life. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible, but most particularly to the book of Proverbs.

There are mini-instructions for raising children, being a good spouse, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a faithful follower. Here are some familiar ones:

  • “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Prov. 22:6 NIV)
  • “He who spares the rod (correction) hates his son (or daughter), but she who loves her children is careful to discipline them.” (Prov. 13:24 NIV)
  • “Discipline your child, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” (Prov. 19:18 NIV)

Remember the newlywed tags I proposed? Try this proverbial advice:

  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a hard word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1 NIV) Good advice for an argument over how to squeeze the toothpaste or hang the toilet paper.

How about this marital gem:

  • “A patient man (or woman) has great understanding, but a quick-tempered person displays folly.” (Prov. 14:29 NIV)

Quarrels over sex and money are the main reasons many couples get divorced. The antidote?

  • “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from a calamity.” (Prov. 21:23 NIV)

Add the turmoil of alcoholism to the mix, and you triple the trouble.

  • “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1 NIV)

Proverbs has countless tags for being a good neighbor:

  • “A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.
  • “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” (Prov. 11:13 NIV)
  • “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house; too much of you, and he will hate you.” (Prov, 25:17 NIV)

Last but by no means least, there are instructions about government leaders; those politicians who hold our lives in their hands:

  • “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” (Prov. 26:24-26 NIV)

We can only hope that the “assembly,” the press and the people will do their job and expose the hypocrisy of each and every politician.

Some people say: “God doesn’t talk to us today. He turns a blind eye to disaster and allows good men and women to suffer.  If there really were a God, wouldn’t he protect us and keep us safe? Why is he so silent?  Why doesn’t he tell us what to do?”

Hello?  All you have to do is pick up the book — “The Book!” Read the words of God. Turn the pages. Follow the tags or mini-instructions God has already given. Apply the information. As Sherlock Holmes once quipped: “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”