Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Response to the MOPS Debaucle: Loving my Kids is a Walk to the Park

I joined MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) this year. I remember my first invitation to join, some 4 years ago or so. A woman in the library talked about a preschool-like atmosphere for small children while mothers congregated in another room to (and these were her exact words) "discuss a topic." I bristled (visibly, I'm sure...I've never been very good at bristling on the sly) at the idea of joining a melange of women circled around buffet-style breakfast foods to "discuss a topic," and I graciously (except for the bristling part which I had no control over) declined. Years passed, and with them 8 or so more invitations to join MOPS, each of which I turned down for one pitifully contrived reason or another. Then, last year, a friend asked me to come for a free visit to a MOPS openhouse. Well, if you've even given a cursory scan to my prior posts, you know how I feel about free things. So I went. And the women were kindhearted and authentic and vulnerable and helpful and funny, and the childcare rooms were orderly and fun and well-thought-out...and....well....I joined!

So far this year, the "topics" have been limited to introductions on the first week and design and decorating on our second (because of which I have moved a couch away from a wall and plan to rehang my drapes!)...so far so good! Last week, our third week of ...topic discussing....I stayed home with two sick kids and missed a presentation/discussion starter entitled "Christianity 101." I cannot comment on the presentation at all, as I was enjoying the day with my children (illnesses notwithstanding), but I clearly missed the most hoppin MOPS day on record! More than a couple of other mothers from our group have made a point of talking with me about the scant discussion of material that they have all described as "heavy." Aside from some doctrine (dogma?) -laden talking points, the salient issue that everyone keeps mentioning is the speaker's insistence that we must, as mothers, evaluate whether or not our love for our children supersedes our love for God....hmmmmm. (I think that's a fair parsing of the point; I'll steer clear of the various illustrations he used to elucidate it since I wasn't there to take them in first hand.)

When my friend talked to me about the presentation and, in particular, this point, I must have looked.......stupid. That's the look I get when I'm processing. Here's how it works: I take in the incongruous statement (eyebrow curls downward), I try to comprehend it generously, giving full deference to the speaker and his overall intent (head tilts back, eyes widen and focus somewhere to the left of the person telling me the information), and then I formulate a response (eyes narrow, head shakes vaguely...almost imperceptibly): read, I look stupid.....worse, disinterested. WORSE, like I tacitly agree with the declaration at hand! In other words, my friend probably walked away from telling me about the speaker at MOPS believing that I was one of the following: a genuine ignoramus, not at all interested in what she had to say, or in agreement that a mother must somehow choose between her love for God and her children, which exist in some sort of artificial hierarchy!

SO, I'm clearing the air with this response, which it took me until later that evening to formulate and which it has taken me a full week to articulate in this post.

First of all (isn't it nice that I can't interrupt a several-screen post with a phrase like "first of all"?), let me say that I have NO problem with anything offensive. The MOPS presentation has, more than once been described as "mildly offensive" or at least "intrusive." I ache (probably visibly again....you know how I am....) over having missed it! I love mildly offensive, intrusive things! In fact, no real transformation in my life has ever occurred without having begun as something that I had previously labelled at least mildly offensive, and I am always hungry for another transformation (my husband is not......he's good....I on the other hand....). So I began my assessment of this idea by challenging myself with it, since it grates so dissonantly against the web of philosophy and faith upon which my mothering tenuously hangs.

The thread upon which his proposition keeps snagging is this one: any assertion that loving God and loving people are opposed to one another seems either heretical or begs a redefinition of the word LOVE as I understand it. Worship, perhaps. Honor, maybe. But loving God and loving people cannot be opposed to one another. The one contains the other, like the concept "Mother" contains "woman."

If Josh came home and asked me, "Would you like to go to the park or go for a walk this evening?" I would get that stupid look on my face. I would respond, "Why don't we walk to the park?" I know there are lots of ways to get to the park; we could ride bikes, take a car, roller skate, run -- but my favorite way remains walking. I'm best equipped for it, by both inclination and ability. ............ If someone asked me "Do you love God or your children more?" I would doubtlessly look stupid (if not mildly offended!:), and I would say that loving my children is my favorite way to love God. I know there are lots of ways of loving God -- appreciating and preserving the world He created, singing in the choir, serving meals at the Waffle House -- but I LOVE loving my children. I'm best equipped for it, by both inclination and ability. It's my favorite way to love God in much the same way that walking is my favorite way to travel to the park. The one accomplishes the other; the two do not oppose one another.

If only loving my kids and finishing my school work reconciled so easily!

Apart from the fact that the speaker directed his objectionable comment to an audience full of women who have elected to occupy themselves fully with the care and training of their children at the expense of other daytime occupational or avocational interests (which doesn't seem.....nice), I think his intentions were probably good....although I wasn't there to hear the "good" part, so I can only comment on the one or two things that made their way back to me after my kids had fully recovered.

Hooray for MOPS, though! The discussion hour last Wednesday may have been flat, but the last several days have been carbonated with its repercussions. I'm not sure what this week holds, but I for one, am hoping for something REALLY offensive.....like "The Art of Censoring Objectionable Material from Your Children's Books," or "The 2008 Election: Vote Libertarian or Don't Vote at All." I hope the art project isn't too distracting (yes there are art projects....there was tote painting....a little stamping....and I missed mug painting...I'll not comment further.) because I'm overdue for some transformative conversation! Bring it on, MOPS!!!

By the way, I think that November may be National Chemistry Month, so Carey, if you're reading this, know that I'll be thinking of you!

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