Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Way to my Heart is Through my Feet

A couple nights ago, Kai-Kai came into our bedroom after Scott and I had both settled in for pre-bedtime reading.  She took one look at me ensconced on my pillows with Entertainment Weekly (my favorite guilty read thanks to expiring airline miles), and knew I would be in no mood to chat.

"Hi Mom," she said with a smile, "Do you want me to rub your feet?"

I looked at her, disbelieving, but sat up a little and said, "Sure!"

She grabbed the Peppermint Cooling Foot Rescue Treatment off my dresser (cream I bought for myself in hopes someone would make just such an offer) and settled down.  I stuck my left foot out from the covers, put down the magazine, and became all ears.

Getting my feet rubbed was a good swap for listening to a 13 year old when I've completely run out of steam and ability to be a nurturing mom anymore, which unfortunately seems to be the rule rather than the exception to my life.  

I wish I was the sort of mom who has endless reserves and waits with bated breath for the moment her child finally wants to confide in her.  But I wake up at 5:15 a.m., so I'm tired by 9 p.m.  

I also spend my entire work life listening to others.

Using up all my emotional energy is an occupational hazard with ministry.  My first four years with InterVarsity, when I lived in New York City, I basically had enough emotional energy to create healthy relationships with my housemates (who also happened to be my boss and his family) and to make one good friend.  As someone who was studying interracial friendships for her dissertation, in part because I thought I was good at friendship when I chose that topic, those 4 years were sorely disillusioning.

The 2 years after that, when I went to part-time ministry and full-time dissertation writing, to my surprise, I found I had boundless energy for friendships and community building again.  Spending 8-10 hours/day with my computer and books took zero emotional energy.  I made more and better friends in those 2 years than I had in the 4 years previous.

Perhaps that should have been telling and I should have switched careers then and there, but I actually love ministry and the awesome folks I've met through being a campus chaplain these past 21 years.

When we moved to Boston, I switched from undergraduate to graduate student ministry, hoping that I would use more of my mind and less of my heart.  I wanted to keep more of my heart for myself, especially in light of marriage and new parenthood.

Grad/faculty ministry has indeed taken more of my mind, but it still takes a lot of heart, and adding 2 more kids takes even more heart.

Which leaves me at 8:30 on a weekday night just wanting to read Entertainment Weekly and learn about movie stars I'll never meet, TV shows I'll never watch, and movies I'll add to my Netflix queue but never get around to playing (case in point:  I have 117 titles in my DVD queue and 151 in my instant queue).

But Kai-Kai's a really smart and emotionally intelligent girl.  She's learned that if she wants to connect with me, the positive way to do so is to offer physical affection that's purely for my benefit.  I've written on "The Chinese Problem with Hugs," but I don't have any problem with full body massages or foot rubs.  So periodically she gives me an offer she knows I can't refuse.

Kai-Kai rubbed my feet, my calves and then even worked on my arms, chatting the whole time.  Because I enjoyed both being rubbed and enveloped in zingy peppermint, I didn't nod along, waiting for her to stop talking.  I just lay there semi-comatose and let her words wash over me while her hands massaged my tired limbs.  She didn't really want me to talk back much anyway.

It was a good deal for both of us.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why am I the bad cop?

It was a rough weekend.

At one point, after a day of bickering and wrangling with 2 out of 3 kids, one of them went up to Scott, hugged him, and said, "Good night Dad, I love you!" and stalked off ignoring me.

"Why do I get to be the bad parent?" I demanded.

Meanwhile, the other kid kept referring to me as "she," as in "SHE is making my life miserable."

"Don't call your mother 'she,' that's disrespectful," said my dear husband.

"Well SHE deserves it."

He spoke strongly with that child who finally stooped to calling me Mom, and then hugged and kissed Dad goodnight without a further look at me.

Did I say it was a hard weekend?

My friend Tara says its what you get for being a mom.  This is the same friend, famous for her love of well heated homes, who insisted on sleeping in a tent with her husband and 2 boys in 40 degree weather even though I offered her a warm bed AND private room at our over-crowded fall retreat.  "I refuse to be the un-fun mom," she said, "I'm going to sleep in that tent so the boys will remember me as the type of mom who slept in a tent with them."

Knowing Mom luck, they'll remember that super-fun tent night all right.  They just won't remember Mom was freezing in there along with Dad.

As Mom, I am the quintessential presence in my kids' lives.  I get to:

  • take them to the doctor
  • take them to the dentist (tomorrow at 3)
  • chastise them for eating junk snacks and not cleaning up after themselves after school
  • talk about the most recent bad math test grade and how they need to go talk to the teacher (which always leads to more conflict and more references to me as "she")
  • take them shoe shopping
  • Read and sign almost all paperwork coming from the school
I really don't understand that last responsibility.  When I'm out late, a kid will hand me some paper with a glare the next day and say, "You weren't home to sign this!"

"You had another parent at home," I'll say, "Why didn't you get him to sign it?"

But somehow it's just not within their worldview or realm of possibility to think of Dad signing papers.

So I get to be the dirty work parent, and he gets to be the fun one.  Even though I take them out individually each week for "special time" (except when they're knee deep in the musical like now), do they seem to remember or appreciate that?  Nope.  

Instead they remember that when I go out of town, Dad takes them out to dinner, finds friends to hang out with, and lets them have sodas with maraschino cherries in them.  

When I complained further to Scott about the inequities that I'm the bad cop, he reminded me of a study I learned about in a human development class.  Apparently, girls with the highest self-esteem and highest performance had pushy mothers who insisted on high achievement and fathers who loved them unconditionally.  I remembered that study, because that was my family of origin constellation.  Girls whose moms were their "best friends" had the lowest self-esteem and performance of all.

Well, I guess I won't have to worry about that for my girls.  No chance of being their best friend.  

These days, I'm lucky to be "she."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Glad to know SOMEONE felt better

2 days ago, as I chit-chatted with a friend before our faculty leaders meeting, he said, "On Sunday I saw Scott picking up your girls from youth group.  They raced to the car, pushing and shoving, competing for the front seat.  Then the one who lost punched the winner."

He laughed heartily.

"Wow, great. . ." I said.

He chuckled, "It just made me feel so good!  We're not the only parents with kids who act like that."

As the father of 4 girls, he should know.  He added, "Of course, now that we only have one kid at home, it's not a problem anymore."

So there's hope.  The hope of empty nest.

Luckily, I feel comfortable enough with this friend that I didn't sink through the floor that he witnessed what regularly happens in our home.  Usually our kids are smart enough to keep their shenanigans out of public view, but apparently church youth group took them over the edge.

But what can I expect?  I fought non-stop with my siblings.  Even when I was in GRADUATE SCHOOL, during a family trip to England I got into a squabble with my 13 year old brother.  I didn't punch him, but I was mean enough to make him cry.  

Yup.  Not proud of it, but that's where my kids get it from.

There's nothing from my past or present that knows how to help my kids stop shrieking, shoving, and slapping one another.  Especially since I can't seem to stop myself from terrible behaviors when I'm mad either.  

But even if it was mortifying that my friend witnessed our version of GirlFight, there was something extremely encouraging knowing that his girls also go at it.  Interacting with them over the years, his girls always look poised, friendly, smart and kind.  They also seem to love each other and enjoy one another’s company.  All 3 of his girls who’ve left home, have written letters saying they (finally) realized they have an awesome family and amazing parents.

That's my hope and prayer.  Unlike the feedback from the kid who said last night, "I hate family dinner more than anything,"  I want to someday receive affirmation from our kids that we did OK, or even more, better than OK.  

If we don't kill each other first.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Blessing (and Curse) of Chinese Hospitality

2 summers ago, when we spent a month in China working with a house church, the leaders showered us with hospitality.  They took us to the famous pearl market, treated us to lavish Chinese banquets, took us to see pandas at the zoo, and our last night, hosted us in their home for yet another sumptuous Chinese meal.

As the house church pastor said, "In China, we show hospitality by taking our friends to the very best Chinese restaurants.  In America, you show hospitality by having people into your homes, that's why we're having you to our house."

Some of the dishes his family served

So when I learned this pastor was coming to Boston, I immediately offered to host.  But I felt stymied.  As a Chinese-American, do I show hospitality by taking him and assorted Chinese students and scholars to a great restaurant or by cooking for them?

I floated the question with the crowd, and a student said they'd love to come to my house.  That was a relief because hosting 10 adults at a really nice restaurant involves a bundle of cash we don't  have.

But then, what do I cook?

Although (IMHO) I'm a good cook, I'm mediocre when it comes to Chinese food.  Growing up, my mother cooked all the Chinese food and I cooked all the Western food, so I never developed dexterity with my native cuisine or its cooking methods.  Non-Chinese who eat my Chinese dishes are usually satisfied.  True Chinese (or Chinese-Americans) immediately know I'm an imposter.

Also complicating Western menu options, most Chinese don't eat cheese or dairy products.

On top of it all, I spent last weekend leading a gigantic graduate student fall retreat, then flew to meetings in Chicago.  There wasn't time to shop or cook ahead of time.  AND Scott was spending the weekend at the monastery on silent retreat so I was flying solo with the kids.

On Thursday, as I sat with colleagues at a bar in O'Hare because half of our flights were delayed,  I shared my dilemma.

"My wife makes this really great slow-cooker chicken using cream of mushroom soup," said my wonderful colleague from Nashville.

Now I love cream of mushroom soup recipes as much as anyone (as evidenced by my pork chop recipe previously posted--ironically, that blog post was also on the challenges of feeding and honoring our youth pastor), but I looked at him and said, "I can't do that."

"It's really good!" he suggested helpfully.

"Yeah. . .  I can't do that."

The meal a Chinese family served us.  This includes a
chicken soup that took all day to make, Yunnan
ham (a delicacy), and a rare mushroom.  I think
we counted 17 different dishes they cooked!

When I got back, another friend suggested I do take out.  Once again, "I can't do that."

I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner using the extra turkey I bought last Thanksgiving that's been sleeping in our deep freeze.  No cheese, a festive meal, perfect!

But I wondered what was going on within me at 8:15 a.m. Saturday morning as I grocery shopped only to find there were no turkey thighs (We Chinese like dark meat better than white).  My skinny 16 lb. bird just wasn't going to cut it.  I asked the butcher to call around to all the nearby stores.  Store after store, he came out shaking his head until finally, he found 3 packages 10 miles away.

I wondered at my craziness again as I drove to the other store only to have the butcher say, "We don't have any turkey thighs."

Sheer horror.

Then a laugh, "Just joking!"

Here's what I came up with:
  1. The Chinese language of love, hospitality and abundance is food.
  2. I'm Chinese.  That means I need to show lavish hospitality to honor my guests well
  3. The way I do that is feeding guests with gusto
  4. Yet if I was entertaining any old American group, I would have made my mother's beef curry with lots of condiments, served it over rice and called it a night.
  5. Did I say the Chinese language of love, hospitality and abundance is food?
Thank God Kai-Kai has inherited my obsession with cooking and has culinary skills.  When I woke her at 10 a.m., turkey thighs in hand, she jumped right out of bed and helped me for 3 straight hours.

I still descended into screaming mania for a few minutes the hour before guests arrived because house was dirty.  But overall, it ended deliciously.  Our guests felt well welcomed and fed, and the only mishaps were a broken wine glass (strange since almost no one drank alcohol--but being married to a Scot means I've been socialized also into believing that good hospitality always involves wine), and forgetting to serve Kai's cranberry sauce.

We cleaned up the glass, served the cranberries with dessert and enjoyed warm fellowship and conversation (much of it in Mandarin) throughout the evening.  The food wasn't the center of attention, but it served its role:  it spoke welcome--telling our guests they were important; it served as social lubricant; it strengthened our bodies and tasted good all at the same time.

Definitely worth the search for turkey thighs.  

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    i don wan 2 talk 2 u. U no y

    While I was in Chicago last week on a business trip, here's the communication that happened between me and a child throughout Tuesday:

    1 p.m.

    Child (on cell phone):  Hi Mom, I got a D+ on my history exam.

    Me:  You need to talk to your teacher.

    (Much argument while I'm standing in the hallway about to go into the meeting so I can lead worship)

    3:57 p.m.  My phone rings during someone's talk--I hastily scramble in my briefcase, looking for the phone so I can turn it off.

    Me (text):  I'm in a mtg.  Can call u in an hour

    Child (voicemail that I never listened to until just now because it didn't show up):  Hi Mom, I just wanted to let you know I got an A-/B+ on my English paper which was pretty good compared to what everyone got, and only one person I know got higher than me.  So yeah.  And also, I just read your latest blog on Boy Parts vs. Girl Parts, and I just wanted to say that it sounded really sexual but I didn't want to comment on that in case you thought it was mean.  So OK.  Bye.

    5:38 p.m.

    Child (text):  Also, dont cal bak cuz i don wan 2 talk 2 u.  U no y.

    5:54 p.m.

    Child (email):
    There's not really much point to going to see him about my test because i know exactly what i did wrong and there isn't really anything he can tell me that i don't already know
    It is true that we have two big bottles of conditioner, but they both have the pushy-top thingys so i can't (use them) so i went to cvs and bought one without a push top today. wil you pay me back?
    i have to go to piano now but i'll email u more. don't call me cuz i dont want to talk to you.

    7:59 p.m.

    Me (email with Scott cc-ed so he can also parent in this D+ mess):  
    We love you no matter how you do in school.

    That being said, you need to go see your teacher, if for no reason other than saying, “I’m really disappointed in myself and want to do better, do you have any hints?”  This guy is supposed to be one of the best teachers in Winchester—figuring out how to learn as well as possible from him is essential.  Learning how to talk to those with whom you fail is also an incredibly important life skill.

    Please go talk to your teacher!

    Love, Mom
    8:07 p.m.

    Child (email):  thanks for that mom. that was so helpful. can you tell im using sarcasm? and just cuz u love me no matter how well i do in school, you like me better if i do well. don't deny it cuz its true. 

    also im wondering if it would be a good idea to. . . (invite friends to youth group)

    8:12 p.m.

    Child (email):  also i raised 20 dollars for (charity). will u pay the other 30? cuz u kinda said u would...

    8:27 p.m.

    Scott (email):  I’m not sure I understand all of this, but I’m supportive of the $30.

    8:29 p.m.

    Child (email):  also i want to see the help after i read the book and 50/50. when it comes out on dvd.

    Schizophrenic communication in an increasing changing world!  But I guess the good news is that no matter how often my child writes "i don wan 2 talk 2 u.  U no y" the emails, texts and voicemails keep coming.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    The Proof of My Love

    Last week Thursday, the day before my biggest work weekend of the year, the day before 201 students traveled up to NH for our gigantic Fall Retreat that I direct, the hours I should have been figuring out how to stuff 30 extra students into housing and supporting my staff as they bombarded me with questions and emails, what was I doing?

    Driving 20 minutes to the Burlington Barnes and Nobles to buy 3 copies of The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.

    Here's the backstory:

    4 summers ago, Ling trounced into the house a week into summer vacation with the CDs for Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief.  The book had been assigned as summer reading for 7th grade, and Ling being Ling, had borrowed the book from the library in the first week and finished it already.

    "We HAVE to listen to this book--it's SO good, even though it's really scary."

    That became the summer of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  For those of you who haven't been swept into Rick Riordan mania, Percy Jackson learns he is a a demi-god, the son of Poseidon, anathema to all the monsters and evil forces from ancient Greek mythology.  Having always been the worst student in his class, he now finds his ADHD serves him well as he fights to stay alive and defend his friends in modern day New York (Olympus rests on top of the Empire State building).  The books are funny, exciting, and provide an excellent primer for Greek myths.

    We listened to the first 4 books of the series as we drove to and from Niagara Falls and all became rabid  Rick Riordan fans, all except for my husband.  Scott and I have had a little struggle around long trips ever since I discovered that books on tape are the best way to keep the kids from melting, fighting and whining.  But I enjoy listening to the books as much as the kids.  Scott would prefer to invest in our marriage by carrying on adult conversations.  The nerve of the guy!  He finds it very annoying when he thinks I'm listening intently to him, only to discover I've drifted back to Olympus.

    When the last Lightning Thief book was published, we went into mini-mourning.  But then to our delight we found out that Rick Riordan was starting a new series based on Egyptian mythology.  And then to our joy we learned he was starting yet another series based on Roman mythology.  Even better--it intersected with Camp Half-Blood, the world of his first series.

    Even muchos more better, I discovered that giving the latest copy of a Riordan book to my son, NOT my daughters, gave him immense motivation to read.  He just loved the power of having a book they so desperately wanted.

    Several months ago, Ling, having already scoped out when The Son of Neptune, the 2nd book in the Roman mythology series, would be published, also found out Rick Riordan was coming to the Burlington Barnes and Noble for a book signing.

    "On October 7th we are going to the Burlington Barnes and Nobles to meet him," she announced.

    "Sure, uh, nope, can't do it," I replied, "I'm going on the fall retreat that day and leaving around noon.  Plus Kai and Ren have piano lessons."

    Much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    But several weeks ago, she found out the signing was at 7 p.m., that we needed advance copies, and wristbands to even have the privilege of standing in line to see Rick Riordan.  But that meant Scott could take them and there was rejoicing all around.

    Fast forward to last week.  By Saturday, our retreat had filled.  By Tuesday we had 27 students on the waiting list.  I seemed to spend every waking minute working on how to deal with the overflow.  Wednesday night I had my women's accountability group.  Thursday morning I asked Scott if Ling had gotten him to order The Son of Neptune online.  She hadn't.  

    With a pit in my stomach, I called Barnes and Noble.  

    "Sure you can still get wristbands!" they said, "Come on in today!"

    So on the most hectic day of my year, I drove 20 minutes, stood in line, learned all the details around wristbands and proper attire for waiting in line given that they expected 2000 fans to descend on the store the next day.  

    I drove away with 3 copies of the book and 4 wristbands that allowed my husband and 3 children to stand in line for 2 hours until Rick Riordan spent 8 seconds (Ren counted) scrawling his initials on the inside flaps.

    As I said to Ling when I called her to tell her what I had done, "What does this prove to you??"

    "That you love me?"


    "Thanks Mom, I love you too!"

    I'm writing from Chicago, left Tuesday for the Grad/Faculty Staff Director's meeting.  This morning I awoke at 5:45 and finished The Son of Neptune, having read the first half on the plane.  Sigh.  It was great.

    Totally worth it.

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Boy Parts vs. Girl Parts--More on Gender and Justice

    All right, I know what you thought I was going to write on. . . but. . .

    On Thursday, Kai-Kai called me at 5:30 with the great news, "Ren got Little Jake!"  Little Jake is Annie (in Annie Get Your Gun)'s little brother.  It's probably the best role he, as a 6th grader, could have gotten.

    "Wow!" I said.  "What did you get?"

    "Frieda, Wilson's wife, it's an OK part, but Ren got Little Jake!"

    Later, when they got home, Ren was exultant.  "I've got 23 lines!  Kai has 17."

    My two younger kids tried out a couple of weeks ago for "Annie Get your Gun" (read here for how the family reacted to watching the movie), but the first weeks of rehearsal were basically ongoing auditions.  

    Alfred Doolittle
    I was thrilled that Kai's first response to hearing their roles was to call me with the good news about Ren, but all the same, it's hard.

    Last week I wrote on toilet paper, equality and justice, where I argued that life isn't fair and sometimes for good reasons--that boys' needs for toilet paper and girls' needs for toilet paper are just different and it's OK to treat them differently.  But today, I'm writing about the other side.

    Boy parts are just better than girl parts and it's just wrong. 

    Daddy Warbucks
    Last year the middle school production was Annie, the year before My Fair Lady.  My Fair Lady has one (count it, just one) juicy role for one lucky girl (Eliza Doolittle), but has 4 great boy parts, each with at least one solo (Henry Higgins, Pickering, Freddie Eynsford-Hill and Eliza's dad).  Annie has several great girl roles, but also provides at least 2 plum boy parts--Daddie Warbucks and Rooster.

    IMHO, my kids are about equal in their acting and singing talent.  When Kai was in 6th grade, she got a terrific role as the shopkeeper with 7 lines and a solo verse for the song "Candy Man" in the elementary school musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  For a girl, who had just tried out for her first play, she super scored.

    Ren, in his first outing as a 5th grader, played Robert, steward to the king, in Sleeping Beauty. Robert had 24 lines.

    Henry Higgins
    What makes it all more challenging is that there are about twice as many girls in these plays as boys, and frankly, the girl talent way exceeds the boy talent.  The 2 girls who alternated playing Eliza could have been on Broadway.

    However, it's funny how my perspective shifts.  As Kai-Kai's mom,  I feel outraged that musicals provide excellent boy parts while shafting the girls.  What's wrong with our society?  What's going on here?   We should change as many boy parts as we can into girl parts so we can not only get some justice, but also watch a better show!

    Freddie Eynsford-Hill
    But when I'm Ren-Ren's mom, I'm secretly glad he gets a leg up--that his demographics get him better parts, even if his talent doesn't.  Because I'm really just a stage mother who wants to see her son shine and get opportunities to feel good about his own performance.

    All to say, it's not surprising there's no justice in musical theatre (or the world)--clearly there's no justice in me.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2011

    Mike Chang, Glee and The Asian "F"

    Tonight was a good night for Asian-Americans and Gleeks.

    Thousands of us heaved a big sigh as Mike Chang, played by Harry Shum Jr., aka as "The Asian Guy"  finally not only got his own story line, but sang two whole solos including the whole song "Cool" from West Side Story--one of my most favorite songs!
    Boy, boy, crazy boy, 
    Get cool, boy! 
    Got a rocket in your pocket, 
    Keep coolly cool, boy! 

    I admit it, my whole life I've always looked out for whatever Asian actor or actress somehow squeezed onto a show, from Bernadette on Zoom, to the Asian girl on the Electric Company.  And call me racist, but that person was always also my favorite character.  I craved seeing people like me in art and media.

    So when Glee came out and I immediately fell into Gleekdom, it made me happy that it showcased 2 Asian-American actors, Jenna Ushkowitz and Shum.  Jenna's adopted, hence her ability to even become an actor.  But at least her character sang and talked. . . sometimes.

    Almost all of Season 1, Mike Chang and the only Black guy in New Directions never spoke, never sang, danced occasionally and did reaction shots.

    Really Glee?  For diversity you have 2 minority guys but you don't give them a voice?  (Hmmm, I think that's often the issue. . .)

    In Season 2, Mike Chang's role slowly grew, a little.  He even did a sort of solo "Sing" from A Chorus Line, which is a song all about how he can't sing--and he didn't.

    Despite the lack of Asian-American sensitivity, Glee was my guilty pleasure.  We didn't let the kids watch because Scott didn't like the disrespect of the kid characters and the terrible behavior of the adult characters, and we weren't clear they would get "This isn't how high schoolers should behave."

    Last year Ling was allowed to watch it with me, but we never could find the time, so we missed the last half of the season. The only consolation is that I bought all the songs from the first season.

    This fall we caved and our whole family watches Glee on Tuesday nights, but only if kids have done ALL their homework, piano practice AND cleaned the kitchen.  (A teeny bit of Tiger mom remains)

    But tonight!  Tonight the show opened with Mike's father excoriating the principal that Mike got an A- in Chemistry--an Asian F.  My girls cheered as they recognized those words--not because I tell them they get Asian Fs with an A-, but because their Asian friends do.  (Only Ling says in Winchester an Asian F is an A.  You should have gotten the A+)

    Even if Glee dealt in Asian stereotypes, it's a stereotype that rings true in our community, and they gave us something to talk about.  I think my kids recognized a little of themselves up there on that screen.  Kai even asked to "process" what we saw.  (I said tomorrow, tonight, bed!)

    It was even cooler than Bernadette twirling her arms on Zoom!

    Monday, October 03, 2011

    Toilet Paper Distribution, or how Equality and Justice aren't the Same Thing

    At our church, once a month, I get to serve on the set-up team.  One of the most important tasks for set-up is examining the toilet paper in the ladies room.

    When Kathy (a brilliant financial analyst with graduate degrees) trained me in toilet paper inspection, I was amazed at the thoroughness with which she had thought through this challenge.  In each stall, a large industrial toilet paper dispenser sits attached to the wall and holds 2 rolls of toilet paper, each about a foot in diameter.  The dispensers look something like the photo below, but not exactly, because each dispenser can't actually hold 2 12"rolls of paper.  If you shove in 2 full rolls, they're squeezed so tight you can't pull any toilet paper out of the bottom.

    Therefore, the toilet paper checker (me) needs to make sure that there's one almost full large roll, and a smaller, about half-way used up roll, so that there's both enough toilet paper to last through 3 services, but not so much that the rolls stick together so incoming women can't retrieve any paper when they most need it.

    This means I go from stall to stall, eyeing toilet paper roll proportions and transferring rolls from dispenser to dispenser, trying to get the exact right amount of toilet paper in each stall.  It's a surprisingly satisfying task.

    Yesterday, however, the church changed the storage for large toilet paper rolls and it just didn't look like we'd make it through 1 service, let alone 3.  I was forced to tell John, Kathy's husband and the head of our service team (who has a doctorate and an MBA and is a brilliant businessman) about the toilet paper dilemma.  A man of quick and decisive action, he ran into the men's bathroom and brought out a roll with a big smile.

    "Oh no!  That won't do," I said, "I need the large ones!"

    "Large ones?" he crooked his head.

    And that's when we both realized that the men have different toilet paper than the women. Having never been in the men's bathroom, I didn't know.  Likewise, John never learned the toilet-paper-whisperer ways of his wife.

    That got me thinking about justice and equality.

    Men and women's toilet paper needs are different.  Judging by the size of women's toilet paper rolls and the amount of training needed to ensure a welcoming bathroom environment, women need about 75% more toilet paper than men.  Our needs are just not equal.  But I suspect there's a general sense of justice happening, even if men are 75% short of toilet paper compared to women.  After all, no men have picketed the church demanding their toilet paper rights.

    Likewise, at InterVarsity's gigantic 25,000 Urbana student convention, held in the old days at the University of Illinois-Champaigne/Urbana, in order to create justice for the hordes needing to relieve themselves, half the men's bathrooms were turned into women's bathrooms.  With women using 75% of the bathrooms, the lines into the bathrooms were almost equal between the sexes.

    This is relevant because our kids are constantly crying out about unfairness, how some kid gets the goods while this particular whining kid gets squat.

    Each time, I say, "Life isn't fair."

    To their further outcry, I continue, "Only God is just."

    And when they whine more, I say, "Everyone in our family has different needs.  We try to meet those needs to the best of our ability, but we may get it wrong which is why you should plan on getting therapy later in life."

    In a family I know, the parents tried really hard to treat each kid equally and even boast about it.  But the problem is that each kid was different and what worked for one, didn't work for the other.  The kid for whom the equal tactics didn't work, has had to work through feeling like even if he got equality, he didn't get what he needed.

    Paying for a math tutor for the kid who's struggling with math, or vision therapy for the kid who can't read, or an extra party for the kid who has no friends may be unfair, but it's my best attempt to meet my kids where they need it most.

    And they should be happy!  At the very least, in our home, everyone gets all the toilet paper they need OR want.