Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Missing the Mold of Manners

We've been watching the old TV show Poirot. A brilliant, stout, impeccably polite detective (the Belgian Hercule Poirot) finds himself around complicated murders and proceeds to solve them through observation and conversation. He is the epitome of class, good manners, and gentle dry humor, and if he weren't an old guy, I'd have a crush on him. He's like a favorite uncle that I want everyone to meet.

The stories (based on Agatha Christie novels, which are even more excellent than the show) take place in the early twentieth century and mostly in Europe. As such, everyone is Just So. The men, even on their days off, wear three piece suits and carry themselves with perfect posture. They pay their debts, watch their language, and rise to their feet when ladies enter the room. The women exude poise, pride, and propriety to the point that it's palpable. Their dresses are flimsy and flowy and they wouldn't dream of leaving the house looking a wreck or failing to offer a guest tea.

I've also been using The Dick Van Dyke Show as my mindless, while-I-chop-veggies-for-salad show. (Gabe doesn't care for it, but I grew up watching reruns so it's basically comfort TV.) Though that takes place in the '50s, I think, it's got that same air of class. If people are invited to dinner, they put on a suit or a dress to attend. Men call for ladies at their houses for dates. Words are well-chosen and well-enunciated. Ladies sometimes wear gloves. Houses are neat. Everyone understands what's expected of them to do or say, or not do or not say. It's so...pretty. Life was pretty.

Now, I know I'm supposed to rage at the fact that in Poirot women are treated like dainty, delicate creatures who can't be exposed to nasty words, and in Dick Van Dyke, women are expected to do the housework and look nice for their husbands...but I don't. I just don't.

I wish I lived in one of those times. I just absolutely love the cultures. The more I watch stuff like this, the more I think we've gone too far in the opposite direction. In our quest for "realness," we've completely disregarded tact and presentation. In our quest for equality, we've demonized the idea of women being managers of the home. In our quest for expediency, we've neglected to foster healthy, precise vocabularies.

This paragraph here was originally me admitting that "of course, there are some things I'm glad I can do today that I wouldn't have been able to do in Poirot's day," but I couldn't even come up with anything besides "wear shorts," and I think dresses and skirts are more comfortable anyway. I guess I'd miss some modern medicines and plumbing. Yeah, that's definitely true. But to give up such amenities in return for Such Classiness sounds like a fair trade.

(Note: These thoughts are more about manners than societal/gender roles. That's a topic for another post.)

I wish people were still expected to behave well. Sure, it's easier not having to put your napkin in your lap or bring a hostess gift or stand when an older person walks in or say "Excuse me" when you leave a situation, but...just because it's easier doesn't mean it's better. I get that honesty, transparency, and genuineness are desirable qualities, but can't we still maintain some discretion? Obviously I want to be able to share my thoughts with my sister or husband or best friend even if said thoughts aren't polite or rosy, but maybe that's where we should draw the line, rather than spewing outright, inarticulate shade to anyone with ears.

Of course, even "back in the day" shade was thrown and insults were spoken (have you ever read a Jane Austen novel?), but it was done more subtly, and almost more fairly too, because people were more aware of expectations. If you did X, Y, or Z, you knew it was considered impolite; you opened the door to just criticism.

Some might say that's worse, that all the manners just made it easier to be phony and passive aggressive and prevented people from becoming fully themselves. Maybe I'm just a sucker for appearances? Or maybe I'm a little bit right. I think when done correctly, the old manners don't just help you appear to be a prettier, better, politer person, they might actually help mold you into a one.


Monday, January 9, 2017


I think it's time I told you something. Something that still makes me childishly giddy with happiness, something that makes me feel mysterious and unexpected, even five and a half months later. But first, some background.

I don't like female main characters*.
* Except Wonder Woman, whom I love.

I love Bojangles*.
* Though sometimes Bojangles makes me sick.

I hate Chinese food*.
* But PF Chang's is one of my favorite restaurants.

I love cats*.
* But unfortunately I'm allergic to them.

I hate flowers*.
* But I actually love orchids.

I hate gray area*.
* Although I do rely on and often seek out gray areas.

I'm terrible at directions*.
* Except inexplicably in Italy. I never get lost in Italy, and can even create efficient shortcuts.

I am not girly*.
* But I do love dresses, skirts, and makeup.

I'm a writer*.
* I don't actually write very often anymore.

I'm not a touchy-feely person*.
* But I like snuggling with Gabe in bed.

I'm a huge cheapskate*.
* Except for when it comes to books. There is always money for books.

I need alone time to recharge*.
* But I get bored and lonely really easily.

I'm terrible at tedious, detailed things*.
* But I'm an editor.

I am a dead, failed creature*.
* But through Jesus, I'm made alive and perfect.

I would never get a tattoo without my best friend Cassidy there*.
* Unless it was only my honeymoon.


An asterisk. A piece of punctuation. A reminder to pay attention, an indication of exception. Sometimes we love them; sometimes we hate them. They're a part of language; they're a part of humanity. They're certainly a huge part of me (and sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it).

It's tiny. It's subtle. It's hidden. But never doubt, every time you look at me, there's an asterisk behind my left ear.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Survivor's Guilt, or Something

I don't know how to say what I'm feeling, which is why I'm here, saying something. It might sound arrogant and obnoxious and insensitive, like a scrawny person complaining to an obese one that they can't gain weight (which is a real issue, and not one that I'm trying to hate on, but you get what I mean). I will be the first to admit that I struggle with arrogance, obnoxiousness, and insensitivity. But here's the thing:

I got good grades in college and graduated with honors. I found the love of my life and got married and moved into an apartment. I got a job that actually fits my college major and I love it. All the main things in my life are going pretty great.

And a lot of times, I'm made to feel guilty about that.

In college, I studied and made flashcards and outlined and wrote. (I also watched Netflix, had movie nights, and ate dinner with my friends, just the Reader's Digest versions.) I worked really hard because I wanted A's. And my friends who strove for Cs made me feel like such an erudite brat for being sad if I got a B, like it was personally offensive to them that I thought I could do better.

So I stopped talking specifics about my grades or study habits, almost ashamed that I could pull off all A's some semesters.

When Gabe and I started planning the wedding, time became even more of a commodity. Now, if I wasn't studying or writing papers, I had wedding stuff to figure out. Venue hunting, dress shopping, taste testing, and decoration hunting swallowed up nearly every weekend. And my friends got mad about that too. I still hung out with people (though mostly my roommates), but the fact that I had a wedding to plan seemed to cloud conversations with derisive refrains of Oh, right, the wedding.

Now there are all these circulating lists and open letters about how it's perfectly fine that 20-somethings don't know how to boil water and how hard it is to find a job and yourself at the same time.

(First of all, I only recently learned to boil water, and second of all, I have a job and it is still hard to find myself.

And guess what? I got good grades and it gave me gray hair. I planned a wedding and shed more tears in six months than in the collective college years before engagement. I had a wedding and experienced the drastic drop in fitness motivation that follows. I got married and discovered just how damn much there is to fight about in a family of two. I got a job and realized that what I learned in college is only the tip of the iceberg of skills I need to succeed. I got an apartment and learned how much daily attention it takes to live above "slovenly at best.")

I have a lot of friends with whom theses lists and letters resonate. I have a lot of beautiful, funny friends who are still single. I have a lot of intelligent, hard-working friends who are still jobless. It makes me frustrated and sad on their behalves that they haven't yet hit the stride they're searching for. It seems unfair. To break my fast-forming rule about the F word, I feel for them.

But it also seems like the increasingly-popular reassurance lists and letters are aimed, in part, at people like me. At erudite brats who just got lucky and should feel guilty for flaunting our "success"--and "success" is in quotations because how successful are we really gonna feel when in ten years we realize that we didn't even know what we wanted back then and we got on a career path that isn't making us happy and don't we wish we'd taken the time to travel and make mistakes and find ourselves first? It seems like culture/social media is reassuring one group by giving another group the middle finger and saying "Well, GOOD FOR YOU" with as much sarcasm as an Odyssey Online keyboard can muster.

I am sorry that you're single and jobless. But I refuse to apologize for being married and employed. I still have real problems in my life. But I also feel blessed beyond what I deserve.

I guess that's really what it boils down to. Not the fact that I still have legitimate problems, but the fact that I'm made to feel guilty for liking my life. Half the time, I feel like I'm not allowed to voice my problems, and the other half I feel obligated to voice them just to avoid making other people jealous or depressed.

So, keep sharing the aforementioned Lists and Letters if they inspire and encourage you. We all need more inspiration and encouragement in our lives. But I really do mean in "all" our lives, even people who look like they've got it together. Don't throw shade at people who get mostly A's. Don't get passive aggressive toward people who find wedding plans stressful. Don't make people who love their jobs afraid to say so.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hey, We Had Dinner Together, Didn't We?

I pull into the Wendy's parking lot, make almost a full circuit before I see an empty spot and pull in. I'm a little late, but it's fine. At least I'm here.

I walk in and scan the restaurant, all plastic and shiny and smelling like crispiness and sugar. I see her at a booth and head over.

"Hey!" she says, getting up to hug me.

"No, don't get up," I say, smiling distractedly. "Er, well yeah, get up." I laugh as I pull out my phone. "We need to order, I guess."

We get in line and she starts asking me about my day. I deflect mostly, just trying to get to the cashier.


"TFor here," I say. "Lemme get a 10-piece with sweet and sour and a water."

I text as we take our food back to our booth. I'm not trying to be rude, this text is just about work.

We sit down.

"So," she says, smiling. "How--"

"Aren't you gonna eat?" I ask, nodding at her burger. I can't point because I'm holding chicken nuggets in both hands.

"Yeah..." She picks up the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger. "So--"

"One sec." Another text, but it's work again, so it's not a legitimate diss. It's just--sorry. "Okay." I set my phone down with an air of finality. "I actually only have like five minutes before I need to head out, but what's up with you? Oh, but lemme tell you about what happened yesterday. You seriously would not believe..."

Between bites of whole nuggets, I fill her in on my day, ending with a modest request for her to drop off some milk at my place later. I want to make the really good hot chocolate.

"So this was fun!" I say, raking my trash onto the tray and standing up. "Dinner tomorrow, same time and place?"

She smiles, looking a little sad, which is ridiculous because I just offered her my time again for tomorrow.

"Yeah," she says. "Tomorrow. Maybe I can call you later toni--"

"Gosh, I don't know," I say. I speak over my shoulder as I dump my wrappers and containers into the trash. "Tonight's kind of busy. How about I just see you tomorrow? Okay? Great."

In Jesus' name,

I would never treat my friends this way. So why do I treat God this way?

Feeling convicted this morning.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Grammar Fallacy: Yeah, but does she know what it means?

This isn't what I'm being paid to do right now, but hey, I will work until 5:30 and happily call it worth it.

You know how sometimes you'll see or hear something that gets under your skin, and you feel as though you absolutely cannot think of anything else until you respond? Something that makes you fidgety, like you need to stand up and move around, cool off a bit? Something that makes your heart pound and your tongue wedge between your teeth?

Well, that's happening to me. And it isn't even something big. In fact, most of you will probably be disappointed when you find out what's bugging me, because it isn't a big political issue, or a body image issue, or a feminist thing, or even something you already know outrages me, like sex trafficking.

It has to do with four-year-old Brielle who has appeared on The Ellen Show. I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and loved it. Brielle is confident and polite and well-spoken, even though she has trouble forming her words sometimes. Oh, and she's an absolute master of grammar ("grammar": the vocabulary or principle elements of any subject).

So impressive, not to mention adorable.

Since she's only four years old and has had time to learn all this, I immediately wondered if she was homeschooled. I started Googling to find the answer, and found other videos of her. She also knows the entire periodic table of elements.

Automatically, because I'm just naturally a glutton for punishment, I scrolled down to see the comments on the article about her knowing the periodic table. Lots of people were nice ("Good girl!! Hope she falls in love with learning...!"), some people--of course--criticized the parents ("Child abuse."), but one comment made me stop cold. Made my heart pound and my tongue wedge between my teeth. I had to stand up and walk around.

"OK, idiot savant... But does she know what the table means?"

*pauses for a moment, collecting self*

Maybe that seems like a legitimate point to you, and if it does, I'm not mad. I'm actually really glad that you're reading this, and I hope you'll read on.

The simple answer? No, Brielle probably does not fully grasp what the periodic table "means." She has probably memorized a lot of words and terms and definitions that don't mean a lot to her right now. She probably doesn't know exactly what protons or electrons ARE. Little kid brains are just wired for storing information. Little kids are THE BEST at memorizing because their brains are trying to collect info to help them understand the world. Memorization is obviously not impossible once you get older, but it is more difficult, especially if you didn't exercise your memorization skills as you grew up.

So right now, Brielle pretty much only knows the words. She knows facts and sentences.

But fast forward to high school, when she starts doing "real" chemistry. Her classmates have never really thought about the periodic table of elements. They don't know the order of elements, and consequently don't know the atomic numbers of elements. They don't know what any of the elements do, except maybe that hydrogen has something to do with water. Brielle's classmates must memorize the table of elements, at the same time that they're trying to learn and practice chemistry. They're trying to get good grades while learning the grammar (the vocabulary) and the dialectic (applying concepts and asking good questions) at the same time.

But Brielle? Brielle thinks back to the "empty" words and terms and definitions she memorized when she was four. The words didn't mean a lot to her then, but now, with her more mature understanding, she can recall that information and quickly attach more meaning to it. Brielle won't have to memorize the periodic table (or the bones in the human body, or where all the countries in the world are). Instead, Brielle already has that information and can immediately move on to things that are more complex than memorization.

The words and terms and facts she has memorized provide "pegs" for her to hang future knowledge on. The words and terms and facts naturally grow with her whenever she learns new information. If she hears something about hydrogen that she's never heard before, the information will not go in one ear and out the other, because there's already a box in her mind that contains "Hydrogen" facts. The box has been created and is partly filled, and she has only to add this new information to her collection.

If you hear a new fact about breakfast cereal, don't you think you'll store that information better than a random fact about, like, the Winter War?

When I was ten, I memorized a list of 160 historical events. I didn't really know what some of them meant ("The unification of upper and lower Egypt by Pharaoh Menes"?), but now, when I hear something about the ancient unity of Egypt, I'm like "Oh, okay, yeah. Pharaoh Menes did that," and I know that it came around the time of the Tower of Babel and the Old Kingdom in Egypt, because I know what historical events came before and after it.

So to answer your question, "Tonye," no, Brielle probably doesn't know exactly what the periodic table means. But that does not detract from the value of what she's doing. One day, all the "rote memorization" that came easy as a child will pay off, giving her the boost she needs to move on to true understanding.

Never undervalue the power of kids "just memorizing" without true understanding. They are just collecting the light bulbs that will go off later.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Reason in the Rhyme: having kids when I'm selfish, scared, and cynical

Spoiler alert:  I am not pregnant.


Having kids has never been a question for me. Of course I am going to have kids. When I was little, I thought it was just what happened when you grew up and got married. As I grew up, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind (where I stored the information gleaned from The Talk) I knew that I didn't HAVE to have kids, but I always knew that I would. I loved babysitting; I never completely grew out of my love for "playing pretend;" I enjoyed conversations with children. Kids never intimidated me, even the ones "you couldn't do anything with."

As I grew even older, I began to think about what it would be like to raise a mini-me. What would she look like? Would she love to read? (Of course she would love to read.) Would she be allergic to peanuts? Would she be a worrywart like me?

When I fell in love with Gabe, my future wonderings grew concrete in a breathtaking, exhilarating, frighteningly real way. His was the other half of my kids' DNA. Brown eyes are dominant, so my kids would now probably have brown eyes. Gabe is much more patient than I am, more steady. Maybe my kids would have his patience and surefootedness, rather than my peanut allergy and inclination to stress about literally everything. Maybe one kid would be like me, another like him. Maybe they'd all be perfect mixtures. Maybe some would be completely out of left field and we'd have to learn them together.

I've never doubted that I want kids.

But then...

Then we started premarital counseling, and had to put our goals into categories:  short term (3-5 years), medium term (5-10 years), long term (10+ years).

Clearly, at age 22 and wanting four children, the logical category for kids was Short Term. But a spark of panic leapt into my stomach and bloomed into something hot and scratchy.

Three to five years? Gabe won't even be finished with school for three and a half years. What, he graduates and gets a job and then BAM--babies? No time as married adults with regular jobs? No years as DINKS to travel and eat at fancy restaurants and go to movies at full price?

Was I terrible for thinking that way? I really did want kids. I love kids. I want my own kids. I want to read to them, and fix their favorite foods, and take them to historical places, and play pretend with them, and hear their thoughts about the world.

But I already worry about my body. I'm already a bit of a hypochondriac. Can you imagine how worked up and freaked out I'd be if I were pregnant? Still worrying about myself all the time, except ALSO worrying about the little person inside of me, and how my own health would affect him or her.

And, if I'm absolutely throwing good taste to the wind, I might as well say that the idea of being pregnant freaks me out. My stomach is going to swell. There is going to be an ANIMAL (I know, a person, I'm there with you, but it is, in fact, a creature) forming out of tissue and soul in my stomach. Growing. It'll be like I swallowed a person, except that it keeps growing.

And don't even get me started on how scared I am of actually giving birth and nursing not sleeping for months.

Also, the world today. What if my baby has to know Hilary Clinton as his first president? Or Donald Trump? What if my baby's best friend has two mommies? What if my baby tries to tell me that he thinks he's actually a she? What if my baby's brain is skewed by the prevalent use of social media? What if he subconsciously feels like if he doesn't take a picture of an event, it might as well not have happened? I already struggle with that, and I wasn't even born into this craziness.

I feel so scared--and so selfish--when it comes to having kids. I feel like a bad person. Sometimes I want kids RIGHT NOW, sometimes I can't even pretend like I might want kids any time soon. But God is doing several things to keep me sane about this, the biggest of which is my job.

I work for Classical Conversations: a classical, Christian, community-based curriculum program for homeschooling families. Its mission statement is "to know God and to make Him known," and one of its core beliefs is that parents are the best educators for their unique children. I did this program growing up, and its philosophy and content prepared me for college and life better than anything else could have. Seriously, I will have to write a post entirely about this company sometime.

But this is not that post.

I'm the assistant editor for the multimedia side of the company, which means that I get to read a lot of the curriculum and the catalog and the resources and the emails and basically everything that this company is putting out there for parents and students.

And guys, it makes me so excited to have kids.

I want to read Story of the World to my kids. I want to hear their little voices rattling off complex history sentences from memory, the way I did when I was their age. I want to show them the beautiful logic behind Latin, and how fun it is to read original documents. I want to see the light go on in their heads when they see laws of science work in experiments. I want to hear their thoughts on the Dred Scott decision. I want to see the map of the world they can draw from memory.

I want to help them love learning, even more than I did. I want to help them understand the truth, goodness, and beauty of the world even better than I did. I want them to live a life of learning, even more intentionally than I did. I want them to see the connections between Latin and music, western culture and theology, math and literature even better than I did.

I want them to live with more love for and awareness of God than I did. I want them to feel His joy more than I did. I want them to see His connections better than I did.

Every day, I get to work with resources that help kids become the best humans they can be for God. I'm selfish, I'm scared, I'm cynical, but how can I not want to have little humans who will learn and grow and love and explore and understand better than I did? I know it sounds sort of backwards and silly, but Classical Conversations is such a great program that it makes me want to have kids just so they can participate.

I know this isn't the best thinking process, and I'm struggling with whether or not I should even hit "Publish," but this is my truth for the time being. This is my reason in the rhyme. This is how I'm staying sane and wanting kids even though I'm selfish and scared.

*shrug* I'll let you know how I feel in three to five years.


Friday, September 2, 2016


I changed my name.

I'd been practicing my new signature for weeks, anticipating my new title as eagerly as I await summertime every year. Meter. Stephanie Meter. No longer Stephanie Bailey. I was excited, and excitement is as deep as my thoughts on the matter went.

Then I got married. It was the perfect wedding. I wouldn't change a single thing. I even remember most of it, despite being assured that it would all be just a blur. And the honeymoon was amazing. And I am completely in love with my husband; I fall in love with him more every day.

Then Gabe (Gem) and I went to another wedding, and I saw my place card at the reception: Stephanie Meter. I felt that happy thrill of excitement. But then a little snaky stream of resentment followed.

Wait, what? Resentment? How?!

That surprised me. It made me very uncomfortable. I was wholly delighted to be a Meter. I could not be happier. So what was this?!

It continued to bug me. I changed my name on Facebook, and every time I saw "Stephanie Meter" appear, I felt that ambivalent rush of joy/resentment. She wasn't ME. That name belonged to someone else. I didn't know a "Stephanie Meter." How could I BE her? How could I not know who I was?

Stephanie Bailey is a writer, a dancer, a bibliophile, a logophile, a best friend, a classmate, an occasional emotional wreck. I know who she is. I've been her for twenty-two years. And now, just because I joined with another person, I'm expected to change my name? My identity?

Maybe it's just because words are so important to me. Names are important to everyone, but ESPECIALLY to me. Words are treasures whose values run deep, all the way to the core of the universe. Whether you say "cat" or "gato" or "Katze," you speak, in much the same way God spoke when he created reality. In changing my name, I am changing my reality, my identity. It's symbolic (and not required), but it's huge.

I suddenly found myself more attached to "Bailey" than ever before. Before marriage, I'd debated whether I would keep "Bailey" or my middle name to go with my new last name when I officially made the switch. Now there was zero question. I was keeping Bailey; it was a part of who I am.

I changed my Social Security Card. I changed my license. I changed my company email. For about an hour, my company email was "" But then I sent an email and asked to change it to "sbmeter." I love Meter. But I love Bailey too. I love who I was.

But I am loving who I am too. And I'm finally, finally starting to get it, starting to get why it's so important and symbolic to change your name.

I am NOT Stephanie Bailey anymore. I gave her up when I got married. Whether or not I ever changed my SS card is irrelevant. When you get married, you cease being your old self. (Hear me out.)

Marriage is about identity. No, I am not changing who I am to fit Gabe; he is not changing who he is to fit me. We are BOTH changing who we are to fit Married Stephanie and Married Gabe. According to God, we are now one person. We act as a unit. We absolutely retain who we are (I love clubbing; Gabe is never ever going to love clubbing), but we change who we are a little bit too. I can no longer be the girl who doesn't rinse her dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Gabe can no longer be the man who doesn't put the toilet seat down. We're changing.

I was right in my initial hesitation about Facebook's "Stephanie Meter." I DON'T know who she is--I've never been her before--but I get to decide. I'm not Stephanie Bailey anymore; I'm Stephanie Bailey Meter. I am changing because I'm growing, and I'm growing differently than I've ever grown before.

I need not feel any resentment toward Stephanie Meter. She's still me, or at least she will be. I was much too young to decide who I was when I got my first last name; Stephanie Bailey just sort of happened. But this time, I get to be intentional. Who is Stephanie Meter? Is she kind? Is she fun? Does she love Jesus with all her heart? Is she a writer? Is she a dancer? Does she cook?

I can't wait to find out.

~Stephanie Meter