One in the Cuckoo’s Nest

Sometimes, life imitates art imitating life.

Every once in a while, when the world seems to be spinning at a billion miles an hour and the circumstances of my life seem more than I can bear, I have this little ritual I do that helps me slow things down and take them in stride. It’s nothing fancy, really; it’s not even a ritual per se, more of an awareness that I call to mind and own and immediately feel comforted by.

I sit in my office, or my car, or wherever I may be, and I tell myself I’m crazy.

Good old fashioned Looney Tunes. Grab the straight jackets and the butterfly nets because one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, so send in the men in their little white coats because they’re coming to take me away C-R-A-Z-Y.

I admit this, and I feel better. It’s crazy. But that’s the point.

I’m all about logic and reason, normally, but sometimes I have to stop and admit that the world doesn’t really function that way. If it did, some of the stuff that goes on wouldn’t; and if you don’t believe me, go read the Freeh Report on Penn State and tell me where the logic and reason is in that situation. If, at heart, the world functioned in a way that made complete sense and fit rationally and logically in neat categories, things would be a lot different.

But things don’t fit neatly into categories. Heck, they don’t even fit neatly into generalizations. The world, despite our careful attempts at a logical and orderly veneer, is chaotic. A mess. A swirling, raging storm of illness and nonsense.

We struggle mightily to deny this, of course. We use words and trains of thought to attempt to bring order to the madness. We soothe ourselves with compassionate action and well-intentioned service. We seek the balm of Gilead in our sensitive lives, but eventually we grow tired of the pretending, we grow raw from the chafing of our attempts to force chaos into logic’s little box, and we give in.

We lose hope.

We declare that nothing has any meaning and there’s no way forward. Chaos wins. Madness reigns. And we just have to accept that reality.

On our darkest days, we are Randall Patrick McMurphy, and the world is our asylum. You can pick your own Nurse Ratched.

That’s why it helps for me to admit that, if the world is crazy, then I’m crazy too. I didn’t come into existence independent of the universe – I am exactly what the universe produces and could never hope to become different. I am crazy. Broken. Twisted. Insane. And by owning that fact, I am relieved of my guilt for not being able to change it. My burden becomes lighter because I know that I cannot do the impossible.

Someone greater than me has to do it. Someone beyond the madness. Someone who can understand it but transcend it at the same time. Point me to that person and let me put my trust in him/her; let me throw myself at his/her feet and ask to be rescued from the madness, from the darkness, from the asylum and Ratched’s too-powerful established madness of her own. I will gladly confess my insanity, my brokenness, my lack of utter ability to do anything for myself and seek refuge within the one who can bring order to bear on chaos. Let me fall on the one who said, “Come to me if you’re tired of your burden, and I will give you complete rest.”

I often forget all of this, but it doesn’t take life long to remind me that sometimes the sanest person in the asylum is the one who admits he’s insane.

Someone’s Gonna Get Killed…

This rarely happens in The Play Zone. There, kids rule the plastic jungle...

Tonight was “Spirit Night” for my daughter’s elementary school. The purpose of “Spirit Night” is to help kids get excited about going to their school by bribing them with fun nights where the family does something out of the norm. Tonight’s “Spirit Night” was at a local Chick-Fil-A, and may I say – it was well attended.

Now, as always, the people of Chickalay (as Jon calls it) do a fantastic job in general, but they were on the ball tonight. Not only did my son spill his lemonade onto the floor approximately 2.687 seconds after receiving it, but my wife accidentally shot salad dressing all over the table. The Chickalay folks were on it, man. Sticky, lemon-scented floor? Mopped and dried in under three minutes. Nasty globs of ranch coating your table? Wiped and clean in under a minute and a half.

But for all of the Chickalay folks’ derring-do, even they have limits. There exists a place inside almost every Chick-Fil-A where even the most hardened adult dares not venture.

The Play Zone.

It’s like being thrown into the monkey cage at the zoo, only if the monkeys were all small, had scores of black tar heroin thumping through their veins, and were trying to kill each other by screaming as loudly as possible.

Naturally I let my children run into the madhouse unsupervised.

Let me just say this: if the process of natural selection were still a viable method for the continuation of the human species, I would not have to worry about my genetic code disappearing from the face of the earth. My children would be able to hold their own in the unfriendly confines of the wild.

Especially Jon. Anytime another kid would get near him, my son would go crazy-eyed and start yelling as loud as possible in a manner similar to Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. He freaked one girl out so bad she just fell on the floor, limp. Granted, Jon does this whenever he gets really excited (and let’s face it: what’s more exciting than a small, padded room where you and your friends can climb, slide, throw, roll and otherwise exert supreme mastery over all you see?), but tonight there was a little something extra in each scream, a primal force that seemed to burst out of my son as if to say, “I am KING of this bendy plastic jungle!”

Ella was much more subtle. My daughter has been called Ella-cat since she was born, because the child has at least 13 chromosomes from the feline species. She likes to get in your face whenever it’s inconvenient, she circles your lap three times before sitting down, she’s constantly stretching and arching her back, and whenever you ignore her she breaks crap to see if you’re paying attention.

So inside the plastic insanitarium, Ella was all slink and guile, moving through the different play sections with the liquid ease of a panther, slipping between the other rampaging tots like smoke through a crack in your door. It was amazing to watch her navigate; if the other kids had been covered in wet paint, Ella wouldn’t have gotten a spot on her. I’m telling you – if the fate of the free world were to come down to a game of dodgeball, I know whom I would put on the floor: my girl.

It was just weird to observe the chaos going on just mere feet away from all of the parents enjoying a few minutes respite from the usual assault of questions, demands and whines. You could see couples enjoying their conversation, even as a group of six year-olds hoisted a trussed-up toddler above their head like a pre-pubescent Lord of the Flies. No one wanted to look. No one wanted to see. Every adult seemed more than willing to concede the 45-square feet of the Play Zone entirely to the kids.

Eventually, someone’s going to get killed. But as they say, only the strong survive.

Why I’m Giving Up On Georgia Football

The UGA-Boise State game is what helped me realize that I had a problem, and needed to take drastic measures.

I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1998 with a B.A. in English.

I worked for the University of Georgia raising money for the Alumni Fund.

I’ve pulled for and loved the University of Georgia for my entire life.

But this year’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic against Boise State was my epiphany, and this past week’s loss to South Carolina cemented my decision: I’m done with Georgia football.

For a while, anyway.

Now, before some of you pour out the Haterade on my head, let me just say this: it has nothing to do with wins and losses. Not really. I mean, I’m sure if we were winning, it might not occur to me to make such a drastic change in my life. I’m sure, if we were winning, I’d just bite the bullet and keep watching, despite the mounting evidence, despite the warning signs.

But since we’re not winning, since we’re currently looking really, really bad right now, it’s the perfect time for me to step away from the game for health reasons.

Not bad kness, or a bum shoulder. Mental health reasons.

See, as a Georgia fan, I get too invested in the game. Too emotionally involved in the antics of 18-22 year-olds who are simply trying to enjoy the physical prime of their lives by playing a game at which they excel. Too attached to the ebb and flow of the games, to the point that I find myself wiling to say and do things that are not in keeping with my normal behavior.

I first began to notice this a few years ago, when my daughter was two. She toddled in front of the screen during the Georgia-Florida game and I almost lost my mind. Georgia was driving, and right when Stafford was rolling out for a pass, she blocked my field of vision. I couldn’t see what happened on the field, but could hear the announcers sudden change in tone.

Couple that with the fact that Ella had grabbed my face and was trying to tear it off with her fingernails, and it was a bad moment. I pulled her off of me with a bit too much force; she wasn’t hurt, and to be honest, she wasn’t even fazed. But the sudden sense of guilt and remorse for that split-second action was overwhelming. I was too into football.

And ever since then, I’ve noticed that same pattern repeating itself. I watch Georgia football and I get too wired in, too involved in a game that ultimately means nothing to anyone other than fans and the University accounting department. I live or die with each bad call, bad bounce, bad run of luck. I stew like a pot of chili if we lose.

Now, I get worked up watching any sporting event, because vicarious thrills are part of the fan experience. But I don’t get raging mad if the Falcons get beat like an extra in a Bruce Lee movie. I don’t lose my stuff if the Braves suddenly can’t win against the Bad News Bears. I feel the full range of emotions watching any other sporting event without developing the intense mental anguish that comes from watching Georgia football.

In short, I care too much for being just a casual fan.

If I painted my body, spent stupid amounts of money on donations, tickets, paraphernalia, parking, tailgating, and tattoos, then my actions might be justified, because I would obviously be one of those people who are just that into the game, or into the UGA pride thing.

But I’m not that kind of fan. I have one Georgia hat and three Georgia polos. No T-shirts, no sweatpants, no matching socks that bark the fight song (“Glory, Glory to Ol’ Georgia!”). If you didn’t know me, you might not ever know that I was a Georgia fan.

So my temporary insanity makes no sense. Thus, I’m giving up Georgia football for the foreseeable future.

Even if we get good, even if we play for the national title game in the next five years, I don’t know that I’ll be watching, because the good-bad play of the team doesn’t change how involved I get. I’m wired in either way; only the aftermath changes, and that’s not worth the roller coaster ride through mental derangement.

So take heart, Georgia fans: those of you who are true to the Red and Black, who bleed Bulldog blood and bark at unsuspecting strangers, you will not have to worry about this “fair-weather” fan anymore. You won’t have to berate me for not really loving the University or for not being a true fan. You can relax and have the team to yourself.

And there’s a bonus – I’ve found that when I don’t watch Georgia games, or listen to them on the radio, or follow them on the ESPN GameTracker, I’ve found that they tend to do significantly better. Like, I think the Dawgs are undefeated if I don’t care to know how they do.

So if UGA suddenly rises to the BCS pedestal over the next few years, you can send those thank you notes to this blog post.

And know in advance that you’re welcome.


When Hell Is Not Good Enough

This image chapped a few butts last night...and brought out some unbelievable rage.

I have to confess, I didn’t keep up with the Casey Anthony trial at all. Not a bit. I knew it was going on, but the details of the proceedings were lost on me. So when I sat down at my computer last night, it took me a minute to figure out what in the world had happened. My Facebook news feed, normally a nice little collection of inanity, was suddenly a vituperative group teeth gnash. Some of the comments from last night:

“God will judge this evil woman! She may have escaped justice here, but she won’t in the next life!”

“I can’t believe the jury was that stupid! She was clearly guilty. It’s like OJ all over again!”

“Here’s hoping this slut gets the crap beat out of her in jail tonight.”

“Thank God there’s a hell, because that’s where this woman belongs, and even that may not be good enough.”

At first, I thought they were talking about Ann Coulter and her latest comments. Then I realized the verdict had come in, and that a jury of our peers had decided Casey Anthony was only guilty of lying to the police. Granted, that’s four counts of lying to the police and obstructing the investigation, but still – it wasn’t what a lot of folks expected.

And it certainly wasn’t what a lot of folks wanted. If the public had gotten its way, they jury would’ve disemboweled Casey on the courthouse steps with dull safety scissors, lit her body on fire, and danced like pagans around the pyre.

Pesky 4th Amendment.

I was horrified by what happened to Caylee Anthony, and I don’t mean just her murder. I have a five year-old daughter and two year-old son, and if they disappear from my sight for more than thirteen nanoseconds my heart begins to seize. The idea that they could be missing for a month while I was off partying and entering myself into “hot body” contests (none of which I would win) is so ridiculous as to be unimaginable. It’s offensive to me as a parent, a Christian, and a human being.

But just because Casey Anthony might be one of the all-time skeeziest parents and human beings (both of which terms I use loosely) doesn’t mean that she deserves all the rage that’s been lobbed at her. It deserves to be shared with the sleazy defense team, the overconfident prosecutors, the jury, and the national obsession with cases like this that build our collective rage to impossible-to-satisfy heights and inevitably leave us screaming for justice to be done.

Oh – and lastly, the rage should come our way too. We, the viewing public.

I’m not gonna get up on a moral high horse and tell you how awful you are for following the trial and being upset by the verdict, mainly because I found myself raging over OJ sixteen years ago. I understand the rage, and I know that it needs an outlet. But the fact that such rage exists within us as a collective people is profoundly disturbing, and what elevates the issue for me is the number of Christian people who took to the keyboards to vent their displeasure at it all.

I can understand how people who don’t believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God could be PO’d that Casey got away seemingly scot-free. In their world, the only justice is what we as human beings make, and when we miscarry justice, there’s only ourselves to blame. There’s no corrective and that leads to anger, not just at the fact we failed but also at the fact that there’s nothing we can do to make this situation right. It’s a helplessness that raises troubling questions about existence and humanity, which only leads to further anger and rage at the futility of it all.

But as Christians, we shouldn’t be prey to this line of thinking. For us, we believe that there is a God who not only knows all, but sees all, and will one day make things right. We believe that this cosmic address of grievances will include the punishment of those who have done wrong in Hell. So there should be no rage at this verdict, no anger that fallen human beings did what fallen human beings do: make mistakes. We should look at this situation differently than others do, and we should be turning off the rage, or at the very least putting it within its proper context – God will judge.

Now, I can hear some of you already, “Jason, that’s exactly what I put on Facebook last night. God will judge. And this heifer will get what she deserves.”

Yes, but God will judge means that God alone will judge. It will be up to Him to decide on Casey Anthony’s life against His standard. What many of our brothers and sisters were doing last night is deciding on Casey Anthony’s life against their own standard, and that’s not what we’re supposed t0 do. If God is truly great, and truly will judge, then why should we be pushing our judgment onto Him? Shouldn’t we sit back, shake our heads, and say, “Lord, have mercy”?

Instead, many of us want our judgment to be given divine approval – we want the lightning to strike quick and hot and without any hint of mercy, and in so doing we forget the very reason we even have these strange convictions as a Christian: that, once upon a time, this same God we so anxiously want to judge Casey as guilty, judged us as righteous because of the grace of His Son. Because we’ve been pardoned by Christ and made square with God, we now sit back and declare others as unworthy?

I think Jesus had a few words about that. So did the Apostle Paul.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be troubled by the verdict. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be disappointed that our justice system seems to fail at all the wrong times. What I am saying is that there seems to be a malicious anger within the American church that overrides the grace of God with the rage of the redeemed. And it’s polluting the message we’re supposed to be sharing. Namely, that we all deserve to be punished for who we are and what we’ve done – you, me, and Casey Anthony alike. But God is forgiving and gracious and kind, and He has made a way for us to be counted as righteous through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Only Son, Jesus Christ.

To spend our time telling the world anything else is something we’ll have to answer for ourselves – when we stand before God to give an account for how we lived beneath His grace.

Because, after all – God will judge everyone. Not just the ones we want Him to.

My Son, The Monster

Crying for little to no reason at all. Mood swings. Hitting people. Screaming “NO!” at the top of his lungs. Deliberately disobeying even the smallest request.

My son has officially turned into a monster. If Lady Gaga wants him, she can have him.

We’re pretty sure it’s because he’s getting his final molars in. And I say pretty sure because, a) we can’t actually get him to let us feel around in his mouth, and b) there’s just no other realistic explanation, short of demonic possession. And we know possession is out because we can’t get him to sleep without singing a medley of his favorite Jesus songs before bedtime.

It’s been frustrating, to say the least.

Now, I don’t know if this is just particular to me, or if it’s a common occurrence across the parenting spectrum, but whenever my son goes grade-A nutzoid, I feel a tightness in my chest that panics me. It’s not a heart attack-type feeling (at least, I don’t think it is), but more of an emotional anxiety that grips me right there in my heart. It’s a feeling of helplessness mixed with annoyance mixed with a frightening anger. It just sits there, dead center, as if it were a piece of food I can’t swallow. And the more Jonathan screams or whines or disobeys, the more it builds.

I don’t know if this feeling comes more from being incapable of helping my son or from being tired of hearing the crying. I can’t tell if I’m just a normal parent experiencing normal parent emotions, or if I’ve somehow become psychologically unstable and need to be medicated. I just know that I hate feeling that way about my child. I want to feel nothing but love, nothing but magic, nothing but the sweet tenderness of a Hallmark moment.

"I thought I told you to go to bed...does Daddy need to come in here?"

But life is so infrequently like that. I mean, half the time it seems like I vacillate between Ward Cleaver and Jack Torrance, despite my desire to be a good dad. Some days I know I’m three good seconds away from grabbing an axe, hacking through a door and shouting, “Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” not because I hate my family, but because I genuinely feel that close to being out of control.

And maybe that’s my real issue – control. I like for things to be smooth and conflict-free, and that just ain’t life with kids (it’s rarely like that with adults…). I’m not a certifiable control-freak, but I have grown to appreciate the predictability of my five year-old; in fact, I almost prefer Ella’s age precisely because we’ve already bypassed all of the crap we’re currently going through with Jonathan.

Which makes me wonder if part of my problem too is the feeling of “Haven’t we done this before?” There’s a small kernel of resentment, maybe, at having to train another kid all over.

But even in the monster madness, there are moments that make me laugh and remind me that I love, LOVE, the boy. Take bedtime last night – I put Jon down to bed at 9:15, way later than normal, and, because of the time, I abbreviated his bedtime routine and plunked his little butt down in the crib. He was quiet for almost an hour, and then began screaming his head off for no apparent reason. I went in and shushed him, but by the time I walked out of his room he was at it again. I could feel that familiar clutch in my chest, so I sent Rachel in to deal with him. She walked in and got a robust “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, and promptly turned around and walked out.

So it was Daddy or nothing.

I went back in there, fully prepared to either scold him severely or punt him through the window, but once he saw me, he stood up, held his arms out and said, “Daddy, peese.” I walked over to the crib and he wrapped his arms around my mid-section and rested his head against my stomach. I could feel his little fingers working over the fabric of my t-shirt as he attempted to get a better, bigger hug on me.

I picked him up. He nuzzled his head into the base of my neck where my jaw meets my ear and he let out the most contented sigh you’ve ever heard. It wasn’t huge, mind you – more on par with a simple exhale of breath than anything else – but the satisfaction I heard in that release  was immense. Jonathan ran his fingers through my hair lazily and within three minutes was sound asleep, his little chest rising when mine fell, our breathing intertwined. His skin, so soft and warm, was damp from the tears he’d unloaded, and in the few minutes that I rocked him, I felt the stress/anxiety/anger melt away because I knew he felt just as pained as I did.

Having kids is easy. Raising them borders on mind-shattering insanity. But being a kid is equally as tough. Every experience in childhood is somehow different from the one that precedes it, every day brings some new emotion or word or developmental milestone. It’s no wonder kids go crazy and take adults with them.

But it doesn’t last, thank God. At least, the early stages anyway. There will be growing pains of a different sort in three years, or ten. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to be at ease around my son until he’s an adult; and even then, I’m not so sure. I think it is just the life of a parent – to be perpetually on edge around your child; not so much because of them, but because of the world that surrounds them.

Right now my son is a monster, and I probably need a good dose of fluoxetine. But he’s my monster, and I love him. Here’s hoping his molars, and the other 5700 developmental breakthroughs ahead of him, arrive soon.