The Family Mission Statement

My management theories professor told us on the first day of class, “Be wary of organizations that call themselves a family.  Organizations are not families. You cannot get fired from a family!

Yet, as we explore organizational theory this semester, there is much crossover in the concepts. There are internal and external environments which impact the type of structure and hierarchy found within a family.  Culture and values are transmitted through myth, legend, and visible signs of mutual participation – like snuggling.

And of course, there is the ever growing popularity of a Family Mission Statement, which is barely only one step removed from a Family Business Strategy – and therefore slightly contradictory to my professor’s statement.  I first heard of this idea and I knew I wanted one with the same intensity that other people want family vacations.  I wanted a touchstone that I could recall when moments got tough, for example, waking up every few hours for the sick baby which happens a lot more than they lead you to believe.

Still – I am aware that the concept of family – of what a family is, should be, and should do – means many things to many people.  And I’m not even talking about gender roles and same-sex marriage here or how to define the members of an economic household for poverty threshold status.  Those are other tricky questions for another day.  I’m thinking more along the lines of questions such as – Do families have products?  Should they?  What are they?  Should they produce things for themselves, or others?

I probably wouldn’t even have thought about these questions if it weren’t for philosopher poet and writer Wendell Berry, who raises the issue in several of his essays compiled in “The Art of the Commonplace.

“A household, according to its nature, will seek to protect and prolong its own life, and since it will readily perceive its inability to survive alone, it will seek to join its life to the life of the community.”

And regarding offspring – “children need to see their parents at work; they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents…. it matters a great deal that the work done should have the dignity of economic value.”

Furthermore I am still brought up short by the unpleasant criticism that: “the modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming.  Nothing productive is done there.  Such work as is done there is at the expense of the resident couple or family and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology.  For entertainment, the inmates consume television and purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.”

So we created a mission statement – which is very broad – more of a jumping off point than anything at all.  Like the beliefs, the trump cards, that I wrote about in this post – this is also a series of beliefs that resonate with us on a spiritual and theoretical level.  They are what we are aiming for, but we have yet to see the entirety of the pathway to take to get there.  I suppose hoping for that type of clarification is yet another reason why I write this blog.

The Privileges of Parenting

Not to sound melodramatic but sometimes it feels like parenting will never end.  Since we’re looking at a solid quarter century before our kid is likely to be independent (if you take recent trends to be any indication.  Which you probably shouldn’t, btdubs) – That’s half of our lives!

In my better moments, I’m down with the melodrama.  Bring on the “it goes by so fast” and “you’ll wish for these days again” and “they’re only small once” conversations with strangers and friends.

In my more cynical moments I cop to the idea that sure, parenting a young soul is a great responsibility – but let’s not get teary eyed about diapers full of excretions, a little boy who wakes up to cry for two or three minutes at a time twice a night (still!  more than once a week! and he’s 15 months old!) and meltdowns where I’m THAT MOM at the park with her toddler under her arm as he’s kicking and flailing and screaming and biting because he can’t eat your kid’s container full of cheerios.  (and of course, I left his snack at home.)

So, to help this mama out I’ve made a list of long, slow, torturous lessons that I actually feel privileged to be able to (try to) teach.

  1. Saying Please and Thank You.
  2. Being a good friend
  3. Order
  4. Perseverance
  5. Simplicity
  6. Caring for Nature
  7. Interdependence on others
  8. Reading and Study
  9. It’s okay to cry and to be sad.
  10. How to Pray

Oh gosh, I could go on with all the things I hope this kid will know when he grows up, but 10 is a nice number.  It’s useful for me to remember, (also in my better moments) that the best things worth teaching are skills that will help others, that will contribute to the community and that aren’t forgotten over summer vacation.

An A-Maize-ing Good Time

I love a good corn-y joke as much as the next person, which is why when my dad told me about the Davis Mega Maze in Sterling, MA I was excited about going.  There were no holds barred when it came to the advertising the Davis Farm used at the maze – this is the Safest Maze, A Physically and Mentally Challenging Maze, and Most Complex Maze in the World!

Since it was my first ever corn maze (and my son’s)  I don’t have anything to compare it to.  But I can say it was a lot of fun, and a great family activity for all ages.   I didn’t realize that each year they have a different theme, but they do.  This year was “Clue” and there was a murder mystery to solve as we stumbled our way through the maze stalking out clues and completing various adventure activities.

Puzzling out the Clues at the Davis Mega Maze

Although the maze seems pricey to me  (16.95 for adults?), we got a discount through my dad’s work and easily filled up two hours of time there just enjoying the maze.  However, if you really need a bang for your buck, they have preliminary activities set up before you enter the maze – such as as a giant chess game, checkers, a spider web and plenty more.  A word to the wise – bring water, and your own snacks, although they have the hilariously named “Crow Bar” as a place to refresh in the “middle” of the maze.  (It’s the center of the puzzle, but not the geographic middle).

Overall, I definitely recommend this as a fun summer activity (and I’m glad I put it on my summer to-do list).

Have you forgotten about your New Year’s Resolutions?

I haven’t forgotten mine!  Here’s how I’ve been working toward them.

Lose 15 Pounds – After pretty much forgoing sweets for Lent, I spent a week of eating Easter candy daily (but not to a ridiculous extent, merely frequently), had two delicious Easter dinners, and celebrated my birthday decadently.  All this added up to a one pound gain the first two weeks, followed (thankfully) by a one pound loss the next two.  So, in the end I broke even. Yet, I’m fully able to run between 25-30 minutes consistently, and I started lifting 10-12 pounds weights instead of the 6-8 pound weights due to the wonderful encouragement of reading this blog about fitness and health.  This is progress, and I like it!  I also finally signed up to run my first race, I’m nervous and excited.

Be a better friend – Even though one of my mom groups sputtered out, I have cemented other mom-connections I’ve made in the last two or three months with enjoyable trips to the movies, beach, and library. I think I’m on solid footing in this regard, and it makes me happy.  I continue to spend the majority of my free time with my sister, or in-laws, and I love that… but I realized I’ve sort of been letting “girls night out” lag.

This is one of the goals I made this year that was most open-ended.   That is, I had no idea how I wanted it to look at the end of the year.  I just knew I wanted to, paradoxically, see less people more often.  I also knew I wanted to have some friends who actually know what my husband looks like.  Making time for friendships in an area where the idea of a “schedule” can be used for every area of life (work, the gym, church, even your baby!) should let you know a little bit about hectic it is here. I don’t like it, but for now, I have to work with this structure.  And maybe that’s how it is everywhere anyway.  I didn’t expect to learn so much about friendships, but I am learning something new every month.  If you’re searching for some other wisdom about friendships, you could always check out this blog too.

Read 15 Difficult Books – I’m plugging through City of God with my little reading group, and we’re making (decent) progress, but that’s the only “difficult” book I’ve even read a little of this month.  I’ve still got hope that I may end up finishing the list of 15 difficult books I made by the end of this year, but we’ll see.  I think I need to carve out some time daily where I absolutely read, rather than letting it fall in where it can!

Family First – Between celebrating my birthday, Easter, and our weekly trips this was a really easy goal this month (even if it derailed my weight loss, it built good memories)  I could be better at calling my mother though!  I also was impressed with another mom friend who told me about her mother’s practice of keeping a “family history scrapbook.” I’ve been trying to write down more of Ethan’s developmental milestones every few days, which is working well, but I like the idea of a visual record too.  I’m going to have to toy around with this idea a little longer (and maybe spend some time on Pinterest) before I know what I want to do.

Silly faces at Pawtuckaway State Park in Raymond, NH
Not what I meant by "Family History" by I love looking at well presented family trees!

Practice Better Blogging – You might have noticed a few cool things around here.  First that I changed the template for my blog.  Next, that I finally managed to stick to a schedule.  Sticking to the schedule is for my own benefit more than for anyone else.  With lots of ideas, I can sometimes get overwhelmed, leading to less posts overall.  However, now I use the iCal to schedule my posts, and keep a Word document of ideas I’m mulling over. I can’t cover even everything that relates to my topics, but I can create an atmosphere of success for myself this way.

Be An Active part of my Communities – This month I volunteered to help with registration at my church VBS for the summer.  This will involve a couple hours of time from now until July.  I wanted to volunteer at Lifebridge, but unfortunately, our needs and schedules don’t match up.  I’m realizing right now, unless it’s for my church, the way that I want to volunteer in my communities right now are mostly one time events.  That’s fine!  Now that I know what kind of a volunteer I want to me, maybe I will have better success matching up my desire with some short term projects.  I thought being a stay-at-home mom would yield more time, but in some ways I’m limited by my son’s naps and other needs.  That was a surprising revelation to me that it’s taken me almost a year to learn.

Improve my Sustainable Living – Probably the biggest success of the month, I signed up for my CSA for the summer.  There’s a lot of ways to be sustainable when it comes to money, but I’ll get into that a little more in a couple days.  April was the month where I took some time to inventory my money.

Grow Spiritually – I’ve been attending a weekly prayer meeting at my church, which has been insightful and useful to me in a different way than Bible Studies or sermons.  Lots of times prayer can be a private activity, but because in the meeting we pray out loud, in this case it’s a more public activity.  I’ve been learning to use the Psalms for a prayer structure, and to follow up on the things that we’ve prayed for as a group.  Both of these are great lessons in spiritual life.

The March Celebration of Progress

The monthly review of how my New Years Resolutions are being thought and acted upon.

My resolutions have been driving change, small, good change, like thankfulness, and celebration.  I’ve kind of been realizing lately, that although it may be important to strive for authenticity, to search out how to live a life fully integrated and absolutely meaningful, it certainly isn’t always necessary to go to New Zealand and back to do it.  (Been there, done that.)  Sometimes, Salem, and the surrounding towns, are good enough.

That said, here’s how the goals are coming:

1. Lose 15 pounds – I lost two more pounds in March, and have been able to run for 20 minutes at a time two times.   I have been combining mostly walking and running on a treadmill, but I’m looking forward to running outside in April.  I’ve also got a story coming for you all about how running has been in my life for a looong time… and trying to lose weight.

2. Be a Better Friend – In March my husband and I went to three parties, hosted one book club meeting, and I met twice with my blog group.  I saw some faraway friends, planned a movie night, and met a couple new people this month.  Unfortunately, one my my mom groups fell apart.  That is, I think it did, since I didn’t see them all of March.  At this point, I can either decide to join another (brand new group) or attempt to salvage what is left of that group?  I’m not sure yet.   I’m realizing that this goal, which started out as “Make a friend circle” is mostly just about how to be a better friend in general, and what friendship looks like through life transitions like having a baby, getting married, and choosing a more differentiated life path.

3. Read 15 “Difficult” Books.  I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s Kingdom of God is Within You, the book that inspired Ghandi, Jane Addams, and indirectly Martin Luther King Jr.  It’s accusatory, incendiary, and revolutionary, everything you’d expect from a historical figure like Tolstoy.  This is my third difficult book of the year, if I intend to make 15… I’ll have to really step it up in the next 8 months!

4. Family First – Going places and making memories is a big part of what I think a family should do, but we were running into difficulty with things like fatigue, scheduling conflicts, and money woes.  So, my husband and I decided to switch off planning one activity each week which counts as “family time.”  This is an easy way to explore and doesn’t put all the pressure of planning on one person.  We also make an attempt to have events be free and local things, like Salem’s Book Swap a few weeks ago, and Winter Island on beautiful March evenings.

5. Practice Better Blogging – A bit of a dud in March, it continued to be really difficult to post with internet time limited to less than two hours each week.  I’m looking forward to resuming a more “full” schedule in April.  I’m also getting more and more excited about the collaboration going on for my group blog and our launch date sometime in June.

6. Be Part of my Communities – Big plusses in this area with my quest to pick up more trash off the streets, attend more church events (like our Square Dance!) as well as make a meal for a new mother.  As for being part of Salem, I visited the museum twice, made quite a number of purchases downtown (like at Mud Puddle Toys – purchasing some cars for Ethan).

I’m considering joining the Wicked Running Club in Salem this month… but we’ll see if I can run 30 minutes at a time, that’s my goal for an entry point!

7. Seek out Spiritual Wisdom  – This month I began reading Francis De Sales’ spiritual classic “Introduction to the Devout Life.”  deSales says that the devout life is the sweetest life one can live, and his book is a combination of tips and meditations.  I also joined a Bible Study which I plan to attend for the next ten weeks, at which point, I’m hoping to find a spiritual director.

8. Live Sustainably  – In March I tracked where we drove our car and what trips we took, and I’ll post that data another day.  I also SUCCESSFULLY cooked my first beans that didn’t taste awful.  If you remember, this was something I wanted to try in January, but I somehow managed to create an awful-tasting mess. Twice.  Not so in March, I purchased some Adzuki beans (which are quick cooking), and made a quinoa, bean, broccoli salad.   Success.  Oh… And we started using cloth diapers two to three times a day, talk about a successful month!

Plurality from my perspective

I went to hear theologian John Franke speak tonight at The Gathering in Salem, Ma.  The building was a bank for 200 years, inside is a door leading into an open vault.  The church tagline is “it’s still a safe place.”  I suppose that’s comforting when the talk I heard involves getting others to confess their shortcomings, engage in bold humility, and work with others on bringing about change in life and community.  Pretty heady stuff for a non-scholar like myself

One of those heady things was this idea of “plurality.”  I only understood the word in terms of adding an “s” after a noun to make it refer to “more than one.”  Turns out in church-speak it means “an alternative system of church government, wherein the local assembly’s decisions are made by a committee.”  Or, Franke seemed to be using it to say don’t reduce things to their lowest common denominator, rejoice in differences.

This relates seamlessly to the conversation my sister and I had this weekend .  About how we’ve both grown up enough to realize we aren’t becoming any more similar to one another.  We’ve both moved out of our parents home.  Been through college, and now are embarking into married life.  These are all our connections.  Meanwhile, she wants to be a mother and music teacher, I want to see more of the world and experience life.  Neither of us would be comfortable in the others shoes, and both of us are choosing paths that express our authentic selves.  And our paths are bound to get even farther apart.

In the future, when we drive together and discuss our lives we soon won’t be able to measure success in relation to each other anymore.   Travelling and Teaching as careers are apples and oranges.  Our paths are perfectly legitimate, but we won’t be able to pull each other back into the same orbit we had as kids.

That’s where I see the concept of Bold Humility Franke brought up comes in.  Instead of believing that our life paths have put us squarely on the straight and narrow path and the other person must follow on our path or be doomed to failure, we can look at our vocations and see how they run parallel and rely on each other as communication tools. In order to understand some of my miscommunications I may rely on her experiences to shed a different perspective.  She will probably do the same for me.

Committee decisions in general can be difficult, but they certainly can incorporate many more types of people, and allow for expansion of many more ideas.  This plurality calls for a lot of humility and perspective taking.  Two things I hope to become better at, the more I converse with my sister, and the more I learn from scholars and laypeople.

ps.  This is The Blog for the Salem Gathering.  They have some pretty cool events in the area.