Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

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Holding the Blade of Sacrifice

isaacI had fallen asleep thinking about the Sacrifice of Isaac: The account, given in Genesis, in which patriarch Abraham is called by God to venture to Mt. Moriah, and sacrifice his young and beloved son—the son born to him and Sarah in old age, for whom he had longed for decades. And as the Genesis narrative relates, at the very moment Abraham has steeled himself to bear the knife, a ram appears “in a thicket,” and Isaac is saved, and the ram is sacrificed in Isaac’s place.

I’d gone to bed mulling over what I was going to write in the very post you are reading now. At that point, I intended to focus on how the compact of parenthood has seemed to expand since I was a child: Whereas my older siblings and I had been more or less “thrown” into the world to survive by our own devices, young people today, middle-class and above, seem so tethered to their parents—by cell phones, by cars that parents pay the insurance on well into their children’s twenties, by the occasional checks for thousands of dollars meted out for Christmas and mortgages for sons and daughters closing in on forty.

Mostly, I’m just envious.

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An American Girl’s Tale

American-girlDave Ramsey, the millionaire evangelical Christian money coach who’s famous for telling his clients they “can’t afford it” and hectoring them to pay their bills in cash, would have thought I had lost my mind.

And, indeed, it is true that I was aflame with that particularly American form of madness which manifests itself as Having to Shop. The day before I had faced some obstacles peculiar to the American professional workplace, nothing that was all that punishing but was disorienting and exhausting enough—work-life balance, blah blah blah—that the only appropriate remedy was to spend money. I took my five-year-old daughter to the American Girl store in Tyson’s Corner Mall.

This was a matter of some urgency: The dolls Marie-Grace and Cécile had “been retired,” and I was in a race to get at least one of them.

Let us pause now to consider the phenomenon of American Girl dolls in general, premium-priced, but not especially fragile or rare dolls that were once noted for their exceptionally and historically detailed accessories. The line of dolls with accompanying books launched way back at the end of the 1980s, long after my own doll years in the more modest era of the patchwork-clad Holly Hobbie. [Read more...]

The Casserole Dish Manifesto

I possessed a consummate ideology before I had children. It was a perfectly distilled comprehension of man, God, and government. I knew with certainty that if everyone would just turn off the television and read Important Books, we could live alongside one another the way the Almighty intended when he crafted laws of the universe that so clearly comported with my belief system.

It was all so obvious to me, which made the fact that some people disagreed with my worldview both infuriating and validating. How do you not see the truth? How can you ignore these facts staring you in the face? How awesome am I that I have not fallen prey to the deceptions entangling you?

I was enlightened. I was chosen. Only the ignorance and avarice of my ideological enemies stood in the way. Surely God would not have gifted me with words if he didn’t want me firing them from both barrels at the enemies of peace, freedom, and progress.

Then my children arrived.

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Each Woman Mary, Each Child Christ

I found respite recently in Jeanne Murray Walker’s essay on Alice Munro in Image, describing Munro’s domestic fiction, and related utterly to Walker’s wrestling with “Doing Something Important.” It is a place I find myself often, wondering if the few hours a week I have of child care for the baby are an example of my missing what I am supposed to be living and learning. Jesus does not say to come to him as someone Doing Something Important, but as a little child.

You’re not supposed to write about your own children if you want to be a real writer. Too cliché, too sentimental. But what about the one whose birth we so recently celebrated? This isn’t sentimental—it’s the real deal. A child is born in Bethlehem, and he is the king of kings. This is earth shattering. There’s something there we’re meant to learn. Maybe even everything.

A December 2004 article in Time notes that the nativity story is the part of the Jesus history that gives scholars most trouble. Only Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus, and like most parallel accounts in the Bible, their stories contradict each other. Neither account is given much room on the page for a holiday of such current social and commercial import.

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