Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mothers and Critters

Sir Harlequin the Magnificent is eight years old today, and will accordingly receive extra tummy tickles. He may also be picked up and waltzed around the house while having the Happy Birthday song sung to him, a process he tolerates with an expression that clearly translates as Why me, Lord? My mother sang Happy Birthday to him on the phone today when I called her at the hospital.

Thanks to everybody who left encouraging comments or sent e-mail yesterday; it really made me feel better. (And Lee, I went to the gym and worked out right after I wrote that post!) So did the kindness of people at work, both colleagues and students, and at my health club. Mom's doctors have determined to their satisfaction that her discomfort wasn't caused by heart problems; they're now doing just-in-case tests to rule out a pulmonary embolism and to make sure the new abdominal stent isn't leaking. She'll be in the hospital at least until tomorrow, when she's scheduled for another CT. She's currently feeling okay, except for some sudden nausea which she dutifully reported to her nurse.

Speaking of cats and mothers, here's a prickly little situation: twice before at church, I've preached on Mother's Day. In both instances, I've acknowledged the difficulty of the day to all kinds of people -- those who've lost mothers or children, those who don't get along with mothers or children, those who want kids and don't have them or don't want kids and get hassled for not having them -- and in both instances, I've told funny stories about my cats to illustrate "other kinds of mothering" for those of us who don't have kids.

The congregation responded very favorably to both of these homilies. So this year, at one of our liturgy committee meetings, I asked to preach again on Mother's Day, although I also said that I wouldn't do it if anyone else really wanted to. I mentioned the cat tradition.

One person at the meeting responded badly, snapping at me, "Do you really want to do that?" This is someone with whom I've had a difficult relationship for years, and who was notably unsympathetic in January when I mentioned that we had a kitten in the hospital. Other people were very kind, and one of our priests, despite not being an animal person herself, e-mailed me every day to see how Bali was doing. The weird thing is that this individual has a cat, brushes the cat's long fur every day, and brings the cat to church every St. Francis day to receive a blessing from our priests. Go figure.

"Yes, I do really want to do it," I said. "It's fun." I decided, possibly unwisely, that I wasn't going to cave to implicit pressure and give up the spot. I'd already said that anyone else who really wanted that date should say so, and I try not to reward passive-aggressive behavior, which is entirely too prevalent in church circles (and every other small-group setting).

But at some point during Holy Week, our priest came up to me and told a little story about how much she'd enjoyed bringing her mother to church on Mother's Day, and how sad she was that she can't do that anymore (her mother died a number of years ago). And then she said, "I know you like talking about your cats on Mother's Day, but it's important for the people in the congregation to hear about human mothers. Do you think you could talk about that this time?"

"I talk about both," I said, trying not to bristle. I'd bet money that the priest was channeling comments from that other person at the liturgy committee meeting. "And it's really important to do something to include people who don't have kids."

The priest smiled, nodded, agreed, and backed right off -- but I'm now feeling really nervous about writing the Mother's Day homily. The irony here is that I can't talk about my human mother without talking about her beloved cats: witness how my sister and I got her to eat, in the hospital, by assigning each spoonful of food to a different family pet.

Maybe I'll tell that story in the homily.

Man, I hate church politics.

In other writing news, I'm working a new pair of ED sonnets, which I hope to post later today or tomorrow.


  1. Anonymous11:05 AM

    I remember once at church on Mother's Day, when my wife, for Joys and Concerns, expressed the appreciation for fathers who were mothers, those male parents who are the nurturers and all that.


  2. I hear ya about passive agressive church behavior, it makes me bristle just thinking about. I like your idea of talking about your mother and the cats together. There's so many differnet ways we form and create families for ourselves and it seems that too often "society" only wants to acknowledge one version of family - ugh.

  3. It sounds to me like the first person was reacting less to the cat idea and more to the idea of you delivering the homily ("not her AGAIN?" but of course she couldn't actually say that), in the context of your having had troubles with her in the past. Then maybe she went and complained to the priest (again, using the cat issue as a cloak for the real issue).

    Well, my reaction would tend to be: "If you don't like the way I do it, do it yourself." Ahem. My spiritual growth has a long way to go.

  4. Hi Susan,
    Glad to hear you mom is doing ok.

    Knowing that I'm inclined to snap at people who remind me too much of something I hate (or am really afraid I see) in my self, I wonder what is bugging "nasty cat lady." I think you are doing the right thing in talking about both your mom and the cat. As for the priest...well...they're human too.


  5. Thanks for the comments, everybody!

    Anon: yes, we almost always include mention of fathers too.

    JSD: I'm completely with you on the idea of "alternative" families! Especially since Jesus wasn't too big on the idolization of the nuclear family, you know?

    Tiel: The two years I preached on Mother's Day were 2003 and 2004, so I haven't done it in a while. My reaction is "If you don't like the way I do it, for heaven's sake please tell me WHY, both directly and politely. And if you want this preaching spot instead, SAY SO."

    Lee: Yes, I'm wondering the same thing about projection issues. If we could sit down and talk about it, things would be easier -- but I've suggested that and the suggestion's been ignored.

    Ah well. Fortunately I came to church late enough in my life that I never expected it to be a perfect society!

  6. I hate passive aggressive behavior; it's absolutely not helpful, and only accomplishes ticking someone off. I'm praying for your mom, and your family. I know that however you deliver the message, it will be beautiful as always.

  7. Thank you, Nickie -- both for the prayers and for the kind words!


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