summer: an update

Time for a little recap. As much as I have been itching for fall I can’t believe we’re already at the end of summer and gearing up for Drew’s semester and my…um. What is it called when you live full time with two toddlers and don’t get paid? Indentured servitude? Yeah. I’ll be doing that again.

With hopes of keeping the dreaded tunnel vision at bay, I’m working on a very low key curriculum/guide for our fall together. It’s just so easy to get stuck in surviving the day, and some days we are still so there with sickness or tantrums or general 2-year-old-itis. But more and more often I am craving some kind of routine and push to get moving and accomplish something (anything) before the post-nap crank hours of doom that end with dinner and a downward spiral to bedtime.

So I’m planning some fun weekly themes, a few field trips, lots of mornings at the Y (free childcare is the best gift in the whole world), ping ponging between the free storytimes around the city,  and lots of library books and movies to help us learn about the world beyond our little kentucky home. When I pull a few more things together I will write something up on it, I would love to do a sort of virtual toddler co-op/idea swap with anyone who is interested!

I’m also starting a class at a local seminary. I’ve been seeing this really wonderful man for some spiritual direction (which is like counseling specific to working through questions of faith) this summer and he’s invited me to take a class he’s teaching at a seminary just outside of Lexington. When he first suggested it I felt like I had been handed a golden ticket of opportunity, an invitation to a world I feel I’m always longing to be a part of. But now I too can enjoy a whole evening of thoughtful conversation with other adults every week, reading wonderful books about mysticism and spiritual formation, writing (!) and sharing our thoughts with one another. I am completely thrilled. I’m not an academic at heart the way Drew is, but I have missed the college experience of living in a community of people who were daily exposing themselves to new and challenging material, and looking for friends to process with. I’m hopeful about the community I will find this fall!

So clearly I am leaning towards good things this fall. But we have also had a really lovely summer. I had the opportunity to work for an agency here in Lexington where I was able to assist two clients as they got out into the community and worked towards new and challenging goals. It was really refreshing to have a new space and new relationships to offer myself to, but also a bit difficult to find the energy for another caregiving/support role and then come home and offer the same to my own family. I really enjoy this work but the added toll of caring for young children is not a great mix. I’ll be taking a break this fall while Drew ramps up with classes and teaching. (Hence the desperate need to replicate the sweet freedom I enjoyed this summer!)

We were able to see both of our families this summer. My parents came out in June for a week of fun and caring for the twins while I recovered from a minor surgery. Thanks to some hazy days of painkillers I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened that week but I do remember lots of excursions out where the children were perfect angels as we showed off our new favorite city. Near the end of their visit we traveled down for a family reunion with my Dad’s side of the family and then I sobbed (seriously) for the first 30 miles on the road back to Lexington. It’s just too much to think that our toddler babies won’t see Nani and Papi for another year +!

At the beginning of August we had a visit from Rob and Bonnie who treated us to a fun road trip (hotels with pools! The kids were in heaven!) and vacation in South Carolina where we learned the proper way to do beach life: with sparkling water in hand, relaxing under the umbrella while Oma and Grandpa keep up with the minions. It was wonderful in every way. The twins had the time of their lives splashing around and digging to their heart’s content in the sand and we all returned home feeling rejuvenated for the fall ahead. The perfect last hurrah of summer!

 

I now understand why people move back home when they have kids, it’s such a gift to be able to watch our kids and parents share time together (especially when it means we get to sneak away for a meal or full night of sleep!). I wish it was possible to pop over for a weekend with them during the rhythm of regular life. Special visits are certainly that, but I wish for more of the mundane shared together. Until that is possible, facetime fills the void and I am grateful.

The rest of summer was a haze of humidity and heat that had us seeking refuge in the kiddie pool and fountains downtown while Drew and I swapped childcare duties – me to work and him to study for comps or tutor or work late into the evening at the grocery store. Liz and Zach drove down for the 4th of July and despite lots of rain we had a wonderful time taking in the sights and sounds of downtown at a patriotic picnic and the farmers market. They even cheerfully accompanied us to see Dory, an event which may have provided several years of free birth control as they watched us whisper yell at/wrestle the twins for most of the movie. They are the sort of wonderful friends who will not only put up with another chaotic dinner but also do all the dishes while you bathe the children.  We are so glad they have found each other and excited to celebrate their marriage next month!

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Catherine flew down from Massachusetts last week, the first time we had seen each other since we were littles ourselves! Our parents put us in each other’s lives when we were not much older than R&E, and a few years ago it was our writing that brought us back into each other’s orbit. It was a treat to have her here, seamlessly folding herself into our chaos, offering her laughter and peace. I’m now more certain than ever that a 3:2 ratio (at a minimum) is what a pleasant home requires. Would anybody like to live in our basement and help us parent? Catherine set the bar quite high, but she could totally type up some pointers or something. I can compensate you with the deep satisfaction that comes from unexpected toddler arms around your neck, smooching your cheeks and giggling before they bound off to discover some new skill or belt out a few more letters of the alphabet. It’s a wild time of life.

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But here we are. The dawn of a new semester. Weeks of curriculum have been prepped. Tutoring sessions planned. As of last Friday, comps have been written and while we wait for the verdict a new rhythm has already taken hold. Drew is done with the grocery store and we are basking in the luxury of evenings together. Family dinners. Sharing the exhausting circus of the twins’ bedtime. Sitting in different rooms while we work on our laptops late into the night. Marital bliss you guys.

Wednesday brings the start of the new semester. Drew told me tonight he’s only taking 3 classes so it won’t be too much to also teach an additional four classes and tutor four students. Freaking superman. I am looking forward to the post-phd life when we have boring jobs and stale routines and a meager but stable income. The novelty!

 

cultivating light as we lament

Like everyone else, this past month has me living grief to grief, horror to horror. Fighting against the apathy and resignation that press in after news of yet another attack, another murder. Trying to find the balance between awareness and lament and embracing what is beautiful. Feeling guilty that it might be dishonoring to the victims of police brutality or rogue gunman or terrorists to continue to share joyful meals with friends and play in the kiddie pool and occasionally lose a day to netflix and the laundry pile.

I am horrified not only by the fresh violence we wake to each day but also by the unfolding cultural shift from apathy to fear. For some, this fear compels them to defend and justify police violence. Others use the massacres as a platform to build momentum against all Muslims, embracing racism and religious discrimination as the only means to a ‘safer society’. I’ve watched as the bizarre theological justifications for hatred and oppression roll in, voices from the christian community shouting about God’s sovereignty as if it were a war cry. And then there’s this supremely sobering week spent watching the RNC where every fear or failing experienced in america is pinned on black or brown folks who are stripped of their humanity and painted as animals – violent, amoral, predatory.

My heart is breaking over and over and over again, for what is happening to the world and for how it is revealing just what kind of people we are. What kind of person I am. And I feel paralyzed by the task before me: to raise children who know not just to love but to actively seek out the forgotten, the beat down, and listen to their stories. To lament and love. How do you teach these things to a child? I sit at the kitchen table watching as black men are shot point blank by the officers they are supposed to trust and respect and my children sit across from me trying to bite and smack each other, fighting over graham crackers and blueberries. And the more I watch and read the more volatile I become, stressed and afraid and sorely lacking in patience.

And so from this worn-through place, nerves frayed by the darkness of life and also by the guilt at my ‘grief fatigue’ as a privileged white woman in the most affluent nation in the world, I’ve been reflecting on the meeting place of beauty and lament. I believe there is power in naming victims and pushing against both overt and casual racism and injustice. I believe there is power in educating those who don’t understand, sharing what I have been taught when I did not understand. I believe there is power in weeping and mourning and leaning in with neighbors as we grieve. But it isn’t enough. Without the opportunity to cultivate beauty and reshape our world, we are stuck here in this dark shadowed place. And so I wonder, what can creativity as lament look like?

I’m reminded of this wonderful professor in college who led free yoga classes each week. We would pack the largest rooms on campus, our bleach-stained towels laid out end to end as we sought refuge from the stress of frenetic schedules and unending to-do lists. We longed for rest and rejuvenation, and as soon as we began she would encourage us to set an intention for our practice. She challenged us to choose a person in our lives for whom we can offer our practice of peace and strength. I know some people write off this side of yoga and mediation as new-agey and bogus, but there is something powerful in intentionally spending an hour thinking about someone else and what it means to offer them peace and strength. Sometimes I thought of friends who were struggling with hard situations and sometimes I thought of people who were making life hard for me or others, people I was struggling to make peace with. Either way, for one quiet hour each week I was oriented towards this radical, mystical kind of giving. I need more of that in my life in these dark days. Maybe you do too?

I’ll keep thinking about what it means for me to make space for lament-birthed-beauty, and I would love to hear how your creative impulses lead you to bring light and life into our shadowed spaces. Tonight I plan to do yoga, for my own centering and for those in my life I am struggling to understand and love. I will shove aside the dirty diapers and scattered toys and lay my mat down on top of the carpet of crumbs. I’ll light a few candles and try to let go of all that I cannot control and set my intention upon that which I can: loving others. Unconditionally.

summer nights and suicides

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We were outside tonight when it turned cool. A breeze pushed off the humidity while the sun filtered through the trees and the light danced around our patchy yard. I was weeding a bit in the garden, puzzling over my puny pepper plants and marveling at the discovery of a four inch green bean on a plant that’s not much taller. The kids were running around with their neighbor friend, all of them in diapers as they splashed in the kiddie pool and traded trikes and dragged tiny lawn chairs around the patio. We chatted with our neighbor and made plans for more landscaping in our shared yard and looked after each other’s children. It was a snapshot of the best summer has to offer: time for rest, cooling off, nurturing relationships, and coaxing life from the ground.

We came inside for dinner and Drew bathed the kids and then we all cuddled together in our great big bed. The smell of lavender and chamomile bubble bath on their skin and their wet hair and the weight of their bodies on mine as we snuggled down under sheets had me full to the brim with joy and peace at being in-this-beautiful-moment with them and their silliness and laughter. They smacked big kisses on our cheeks and lips and blew raspberries on our flabby bellies and begged for tickles and I ate up every moment.

And then, after we put them to bed I scrolled through facebook and came upon a sobering video (put out by buzzfeed, no less) about the culture of fear and violence we have grown up in, specifically through the mass shootings that have defined our childhood, adolescent and young adulthood. He makes a plea at the end not for shares or likes but for action, for millennials to reach out to political leaders and communicate our longing for a different country. One that moves beyond partisan talking points and towards actual flourishing.

And then before I could process all the feelings I have about that, I glanced down and saw the news about the suicide bombings in Istanbul. 36 dead. 140 or more wounded. And I’m overwhelmed with the rush of so many feelings (fear, guilt, anger, shock, apathy) before settling on heartbreak. Heartbreak for a world rife with violence. Heartbreak for families checking in for vacations and visits to family and ordinary business trips. People waiting to greet loved ones returning home. All of them now casualties in the wake of this hideous violence.

I think about my small life, safe and sheltered from the effects of coups or rebel armies or terrorist groups. There are no drone strikes or armies marching through my neighborhood. No suicide bombers at my grocery store or church or airport. It’s just me and my little family, playing in the yard, coaxing food from the earth mostly as a hobby (we have four well stocked grocery stores within two miles), bathing our kids in freaking organic bubble bath. It is at once everything I could hope for and also everything I am ashamed about. Why was I born in this country and not in Turkey or Afghanistan or Syria? Why am I not one of the refugees carrying her possessions and children on her back while I put as many miles as possible between myself and the terror-torn country I used to call home? Why am I not among those who must weigh the risk of death and the need to fill her pantry, feed her family? Why am I not a woman from a small Syrian village, forced into ‘marriage’ with an ISIS fighter?

I teeter on the edge of this fatalism, willing away the beauty before me because of the evil elsewhere, an elsewhere far far away from here. But no. In these dark days we must all claim the goodness wherever it can be found. When we meditate on what is love and joy and peace we can reorient our lives towards it and extend it to others. Even on the darkest of days.

Fear is cheap. Easy. And ultimately, fleeting. Hope is like a small flame against the darkness, a single candle lighting one and then another, each reaching out to spread light and then all of the sudden everything is illuminated and the faces of those who nurture the light are shining brightest of all.

Tonight, I weed my green and growing garden for you, Turkey. Tonight I spent time getting to know my neighbor a bit better and I have been changed by hearing her story of hard work and love of family and choosing to persevere through hard times. Tonight I am collecting my thoughts and writing them down rather than numbing them with tv or distracting myself with endless scrolling through posts on social media. These are small things, but I believe these smalls acts of human flourishing, of goodness, they will enable me to extend my flame to another. And maybe if we all reach out just a little bit further than we thought possible, we’ll light the darkest corners of this weary planet.

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Maybe you’ve seen this video circulating over the last few weeks. In it, former CIA agent Ammaryllis Fox reflects on her 10 years working on secret ops in the middle east. She makes a plain and powerful case for empathy – that if we want anything to change (really change) we have to find a way to listen to our enemy. To see their humanity. This feels like a really foolish thing to say on the heels of another terrorist attack. What terrorist deserves our empathy? But maybe it’s the kind of foolishness that dares to imagine something bigger than us vs them. Something beyond fear. A world of light.

It might sound like a silly optimism, this longing for a world where no person is so desperate or broken that they believe killing others is the only way to bring fullness of life. It sounds more than a bit childish. Incredibly naive.

But I think of my children and the world we are giving them and I can think of no greater ambition.

 

But the truth is that when you talk to people who are really fighting on the ground, on both sides, and ask them why they’re there, they answer with hopes for their children” – Amaryllis Fox

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
– Wendell Berry The Peace of Wild Things

 

 

an introvert in the age of the internet. also, the apocalypse.

“No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

My friend Anna recently reviewed the novel Station Eleven and it piqued my interest. Granted, I’m a sucker for the post-apocalyptic anything, so I wasn’t surprised that I fell instantly in love and couldn’t put the book down for the next three days.

There’s something so raw and revealing about the genre. I love getting swept up in the intense mix of horror and romance, imagining of what will become of us. It’s all the more vivid when the story is set in places I have lived and loved. [Station Eleven begins in Toronto and winds down around the great lakes.] I try to imagine walking on the overgrown highways: tree branches tunneling overhead, wildflowers pressing right up through the cracks in the concrete. We haul our few possessions and our children in our bike trailer as we wander towards some vague sense of hope, looking for a place and people with whom we can begin again.

Just imagining this possible future puts an ache in my chest, thinking about the distance that separates us from our families. Would we ever see each other again? Then I feel a swell of hope when I consider what communities-becoming-family could accomplish together – all these years cultivating neighborhood gardens coming to fruition as people reclaim city parks and football fields and corporate lawns for crops that will sustain many families. I wonder, with a racing heart and lump in my throat, what kind of hate and fear might take over and turn neighbor against neighbor when we need each other most. I think grimly about this disorder and panic which is very real today all over the world, driving families to flee terrorists or prop governments my own country has set up; all these brave parents putting their lives in danger in the hope of offering their children the chance to live to adulthood. What a luxury to read a book about such horrors from the comfort of my very on-the-grid apartment, safe and sheltered and struggling to really picture the collapse of my community. [And I don’t know what it means to steward this gift, this wild privilege.]

Speaking of privilege: when I came across the paragraph above, the barest reminder that online is not everything or forever I was stopped still. Of course I know this is true. I can clearly remember the pre-computer area and the day I went with my family to buy our very first. I’ll never forget the dial up screeches and the black and green screens and the eventual advent of youtube and myspace and xanga and every social media outlet after. And yet, online social interactions have become such a integral part of my life that I feel a sense of loss when I consider a future without them. What will life be when I can’t facetime my mom 1200 miles away? How will we navigate home to Iowa for Christmas without our maps and messages conveying travel plans and apps to find cheap gas and fastest routes? (Assuming somehow travel by car is even possible in this future world.)

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No internet, no more crazy hilarious very loud family skype calls. One of the more serious losses to be sure. 
There’s a passage a few pages later where a scientist rigs up a bike to power a computer and they try to “find the internet”. That image makes all of this modern virtual life feel so small and useless. The whole of the internet, locked away on servers that can’t be accessed without electricity and satellites to transmit their content. There is no way I could resurrect such a thing, and yet it is so meaningful to me. It represents a home-space for my writing and for sharing life and wisdom and loss and dreams and passions with friends through emails and messages and social media, a collection ofwords and photos and videos to help us remember what it looked and felt like to be in these times and places. The more I think about this – the future scenario and also my current dependence on and participation in these technologies – it makes me wonder if I’m as present to my daily life as I am to these bits of me that are locked away in some warehouse of servers somewhere. And if they were to disappear, would I know myself and those around me without them? Would I have the skills for and commitment to reaching out and drawing in, deepening relationships without the medium of snl clips or funny memes or soliloqous blog posts?

And no, I’m not angling towards some kind of media fast, decrying the fleeting reality of online life and culture. It’s more that I’ve been swept up in a ‘what could be’ and now I’m simply struck by the vastness of what is and what I want it to be.

I want to make sure my online life and my tangible life are the same. That if I use the medium of blog or email or video to connect with a loved one – sharing highs and lows and encouragement alongside my own doubts and fears, then I am also doing that in real life. Weaving such honesty into the rhythm of my days, over meals and at the park or in my messy living room.

As an introvert, I feel like I was made for the age of the internet. Given a laptop and an empty evening I can explore ideas and cultures and questions by myself in the virtual company of others, leaning into their unique experiences and observations from the comfort of my couch. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by mothering I head to my moms of multiples facebook group (a sentence I always feel sheepish and adolescent saying aloud) where I can vent and laugh and share ideas or lessons learned and absorb all of that from everyone else.

I love those women, they are a safe and rich space for expressing our parenting triumphs and disasters. But I wonder if we would we be as candid and intentionally encouraging if we all lived around the corner from each other, barging into each other’s messy living rooms, filling sippy cups fished out of a sink of dirty dishes. I hope so. But the truth is that even though I want to embrace my neighbors and friends in my actual day to day life, I fear unannounced company and spend frantic hours before playdates restoring the house to some level of basic order. Spending time with another adult + multiple toddlers is wonderful and also spectacularly emotionally draining, the thought of trying to carry on a conversation while the dirty diapers and moldy pile of kitchen towels and a carpet of crud serves as ambiance is just too much for me. (Even though I live in that state 95% of the time.)

And so, contrary to the diatribes of every grouchy baby boomer who believes the internet to be nothing more than a new party-line: a space for gossip and humble-brags,  I think I am often the truer version of myself online. Perhaps because I posture myself a bit, but largely because online life happens at a pace I can engage with intentionally and thoughtfully. I can read about a friends’ horrible day or new challenge with her preschooler or absorb an intense news story and then think about it for a while before I respond with just exactly what I want to say.

The cynic might say this is filtering, only showing the most optimal version of myself. And I agree. Except. Except it doesn’t have to be the best. Just the honest. In the honest space between messages and emails and blog posts I have the time to filter through to the heart of my feelings and fears and desires. In this pause I can find words for what would otherwise go unspoken in the rapid pace of most conversations, even those that aren’t interrupted by little people in a state of constant need.

Of course, online life can be as compulsive and overwhelming as any real-life interaction. Anywhere that tired and insecure humans reside, wisdom and thoughtfulness are lacking and the oversimplification and ridicule of complex ideas are in abundance. So what then? Does it make a difference to press into these friendships?

I believe it does. I believe in the power of vulnerability to transform these dark and fractured spaces. I read one of Brene Brown’s books last fall and it was such a relief to learn that these deep desires for connection and honesty I’ve always felt make me the odd one out are truly beautiful gifts I can offer others. Her work has also helped me understand why so many people, even those I care for deeply, are so resistant to (what I see as) thoughtful, honest interactions. But I see now that when we are plagued by our own insecurities and fears we can’t step beyond our walls and masks. We rely on sharp comments, empty platitudes, and small talk to defend, deflect, and distract others from our true selves. Brene writes:

Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

This life lived out of worthiness, whether online or in my kitchen, is transformational. For me and for you. What I believe about myself will shape who my children are, both in the ways that I treat them directly and in how I model self-love and grace. Who I am for them today and in 5 years and when they have their first big screw up and when they find someone to love – my place and the reach of my voice and love in all of it will depend on how I offer my truest self to them today. Even (especially?) as two year olds. In this stage they are little sponges, absorbing every turn of phrase, latching onto every habit and norm. This frightens me. But it also fills me with hope.

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Things I need to remember: These people will likely be parents and spouses some day and also they are already neighbors and friends. 
Hope for a generation that values and invests in the humanity of others. (Something disturbingly lacking in our culture today, if Brock Turner  and Trump (and Ryan, and the rest of his republican cronies) are any indication.) Hope for a family culture that loves well, argues well, respects differences, honors vulnerability, leans into hard times, and trusts each other in our failings. Hope (and gratitude) for friends as family who desire these things too.

Of course, I’m not gunning for an apocalypse, but I’m captivated by these stories because they make the present so much more real. I read about the days leading up to the collapse of everything and wonder “Would they have lived differently if they had known?” These stories inspire me to lean in. To become more curious and to let that curiosity compel me to extend vulnerability into new spaces in my life. To live grounded in today but also leaning into the tomorrow that empowers and sustains, seeking out humanity wherever it can be found and elevating the expectations of honesty and kindness as we let down our guard and take the hands of those we find on the same journey.

Virtual or real, our longing to be known abides. May we lean into it with the quiet confidence and joy of the wholehearted.

 

summer intentions

We’ve been hanging on for weeks, caught in the chaos of the end of the semester and everything else – job offers that fall through and new jobs that suddenly spring up, health scares, trips to see friends, teething toddlers. “Just one more week,” we keep telling ourselves as we tuck into bed after midnight again and again. Just one more long weekend of furious paper writing and grading. Just one more week of night classes, one more week of solo bedtimes, one more week stuck at home, kids riding bikes back and forth and back again across our 20 feet of patio. Just. one. more.

And then suddenly, it has come. The last papers will be soon submitted and Drew is home again. It is sunny until nearly 9pm, long after we’ve finish dinner (together! a luxury we haven’t enjoyed in months!), washed the dishes and finished our other chores. I carried the garbage out at 8:42 tonight and marveled at the slow spread of orange and pink and crimson reaching up from the horizon. We have had friends over for dinner on a weeknight (!) and enjoyed slower mornings with time for walks around the neighborhood in the still-cool part of the day. It is everything we have been longing for and more than once a day we’re exhaling the long hard spring with proclamations of “This is so so good.”

But I am restless.

All the dreams and goals and projects that have been deferred for such a time as this now feel like a load of work and expectation and the fear of failing weighs. And so I sit around watching waste-of-time tv, folding endless piles of laundry, side-eyeing the pile of books that are supposed to inspire my writing.

Summer is a pause for us, a long inhale of fresh air between no-moment-to-spare semesters. Drew will be devouring the Philosophical cannon in preparation for comps this fall and we will both be working more hours than usual, but without the intensity of his class schedule we will have time together. Time for play and for rest. Time for making plans and for good work and for friends and visits from family. And still: the restlessness. It pulls me already ahead to August, looking at the fullness of life this fall. Why are we doing this? Will it pay off? Will our marriage survive three more years of this? Could there be anything else for us? Are we doing the right thing?

And so I need to set a purpose for this time. This “how did I get here/what do I want from this life” season. Something to anchor the days that are now split between toddlers and a new job. Something to help tie together all these fragments and questions. Something to breathe fresh perspective into the musty closed up closets of my creativity.

So: My hopes. Dreams. For this summer, at least. May a summer thoughtfully pursued (with a heaping measure of grace for all that does not go according to plan) perhaps launch me into more thoughtful and restorative life patterns for many seasons to come.

  • I began a new part time job this month and it feels like a turning point for nurturing new rhythms into our life. This summer Drew will spend more time at home with the kids and I will be out more, less responsible for every moment of their intense little lives. (praise be.) I want to do this job well. To be really present in the hours I spend working with, befriending, caring for some new friends who walk through life with different abilities than me, and just as present in the hours I have with Drew and the kids, re-working my habit of splitting my attention between mindless social media-ing on my phone or half-listening to a podcast or half-engaged with my family while keeping up a text conversation with someone else. I want to be there. I’m sad that this goal alone feels like such a challenge, but this is the first step. Wisdom about the unplugged life is welcome!
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UN. PLUGGED. This girl gets it.
  • I want to train for and run a 10k. My health issues have been conspiring all spring to derail every renewed commitment to my training plan, but I will not be deterred! (Thank you to the wonderful YMCA childcare workers for their saintly kindness to my screaming children, although I fear your high turnover rate and our increased use of the center may be related.)
  • I want to find ways to weave contemplative practices into my slower paced summer life. So obviously, deliberately screen-less time. More bread baking. Reading scripture and the reflections of mystics. Gardening. Meditation. Prayer.
  • I want to write about it. Maybe a book proposal: contemplative habits for parents of young children. (Except with a title that doesn’t sound like a poster presentation at an undergrad theology conference.) This idea feels wonderful and like it’s been a long time coming and also truly terrifying. I have no idea how one goes about proposing a book, or if anybody would want to read such a thing, or if I could actually write it! But other than that, I’m totally excited.
  • I want to get back into a regular habit of recording the small bits of my days. Journaling, just for me. What we did. Who we saw. What we fought about. What I longed for.
  • I want to create. I don’t know what – maybe curtains for our boring bedroom or some paint for the kitchen or we could finally print some photos and hang some of our 65 ikea picture frames. The bar is low but I am craving beauty and our home is severely lacking.
  • I want to garden. This is something I must do – we’ve invested so much in building the beds and buying seeds and dirt. But I want the daily work. The mud and earth and waiting and tending and weeding and the veggies. Feeding my family and our friends with the miracle fruit of our labors. The calm and quiet and mystery of calling forth life from the earth.

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  • I want to sleep. Lots of sleep. I need to stop staying up so late, trying to squeeze every last drop from the day – reading that one last article or finishing another episode or comparing 14 highly rated bike trailers on amazon. I want to settle into bed and feel my body relax the weight of the day before my consciousness fades. To be present even to my rest.
  • I want meals shared around our table. I want the extra chairs to become permanent fixtures because we’re opening up our home so many nights of the week.
  • I want to enjoy Lexington. The hard part about this will be curbing my impulse to throw up all my grievances on Drew when we finally have a spare Saturday to enjoy together. I’ve developed a terrible habit of holding our rest times hostage until we work through lingering conflicts and it ruins so many good family days. I want to learn to let go. To take the long view. To make it out to the farmers market, even if the laundry is scattered and the sink overflowing and the shoes are left muddy in the middle of the kitchen.
  • I want to work on my marriage again. These kids take and take and take all of my energy and desire to be with people. They take it all and it’s still not enough, and so I’m frazzled and short and disengaged with the man who is my best friend in all the world. We need time to rebuild and relearn each other. To celebrate surviving an insane first 5 years. To dream about the next 5 and 50.

 

I turn 27 tomorrow. I’ve never had hard edges on my dreams for the future – who I wanted to be or what I wanted to accomplish or where I wanted to live and share such a life. Parenthood has made those vague notions even fuzzier, I feel like I’m in danger of losing myself entirely if I don’t press into these longings and reach for the firm walls of the way forward. I hope that in a year or two or ten I will be able to look back and see the growth, even if it isn’t in the direction that I planned for or in pursuit of the dreams I’ve laid out. I just want to grow. To be more loving and patient and kind and gentle, a heart renewed and open and inviting.

I wish there were these hidden stores of wisdom somewhere, the secrets to holding all my hopes in balance with the realities of life, gracefully continuing on even when I fail myself and the ones I love. But, better than that: I imagine that such wisdom is scattered among all of you, my friends. Your unique experiences and passions and heartaches. We can light the way forward together.

Here’s to 27. May I love better this year than last. May I wait more patiently. May I respond more gently. May I magically transform into a person who stays on top of her laundry situation. May I adopt a slightly less canned/weirdly dramatic/repetitive writing style. May I acquire a faster metabolism. May there be a sequel to Station Eleven. Okay okay. I’ll save the rest of my birthday wishes for tomorrow.

Cheers to a wonderful restorative summer for all of us!

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Thank you to Kendra for these delicious almond sponge cakes!

to the lousy mom on mother’s day (a letter to myself)

I see you.

Introverted and overwhelmed. Keeping on day after day, thinking too deeply about every challenge and stage and parenting suggestion. The kids need you all the time, even when you follow all the rules about teaching them to play alone. You worry about misunderstanding what is their personality and what is defiant behavior and what is just being a kid. You have a mama tribe and they are amazing, but somehow you’re still lonely and longing for something you can’t name. Another life maybe?  You’ve always been reliable and stable and on top of things but now you’re maxed out and nothing is working and you’re not quite sure who are anymore.

I see you.

His 2 year molars are coming in and he’s been screaming and biting and chucking toys at you and everyone all day. For two weeks. You dig deep for the last reserves of tenderness when he brings you a book and climbs into your lap. 20 seconds later and he’s changed his mind about the book so he’s screaming in your ear and clocks you in the chin throwing his massive head back in a tantrum, and you’re screaming back “NO! We are reading the book you picked out or we aren’t reading anything at all!” (As he throws himself to the floor you notice this library find is called “The Big Book of Happy”. Of course.)

I see you.

She’s trying so hard to talk but every word sounds like some variation on “ball” or “shadow” or “water”. Everything you do must be identified, step by step, item by item, in the toddler’s own words. You must confirm what she says or she will continue to scream it at you, banging her head on your hip, pulling at your arm until you figure out what she means. You melt down first: “SHUT YOUR FACE. STOP SCREAMING AT ME.” She sobs. You hate yourself.

I see you.

I want to tell you there is grace for your parenting and that the expectations for motherhood today are ridiculous and your life is really stressful and you’re pulled in too many directions and your children are exceptionally needy and your family are all half a country away and so it’s okay that you’re not doing so well. I want to tell you of all that because it’s true. 100%. But I think this is the bigger thing: you do kind of suck at this. And also: you’ve never been so bad at something that you could not quit. 

Remember when you were 15 and went out for cross country? You were halfway athletic but still monstrous compared to the lean leggy girls on the team and you were so embarrassed in the locker room every day, changing into your team shorts that made your thighs rub together until they chafed. You were slow and terrible and not built for running but you learned to love the solace of the trails and found an amazing community at the back of the pack where they celebrated every PR like it was winning gold. But then remember when you tried to run track later that year and you went to one pre-season practice and ran 1 painful mile and then never went back because it was so miserable to have everyone watching you toil like a hamster on a wheel? And it felt so good not going back.

Remember when you started nannying for that b-list movie star and her twin babies? And she was really nice but it was really weird and there were three other round-the-clock nannies and the hours were horrible and then you were having a panic attack in the middle of a sleepless night thinking about how you’d have to be up in two hours to catch the 4am street car and so you just texted her that you were sick and couldn’t make it and she texted back that it was really unprofessional and that you were fired. And remember you expected to feel so guilty but instead you felt instant relief?

Remember when you were so bad at math senior year that you convinced your teacher to let you drop the class and take an online remedial tutorial instead? And remember when it said your algebra skills were stuck somewhere around the middle of 7th grade? And remember how nobody really kept track of your progress so you sort of just did the bare minimum until graduation?  Remember how you were juggling a job and too many AP classes and club responsibilities and you were so grateful to just disappear under the radar for an hour every day? Bliss.

But this? You can’t quit motherhood, no matter how terrible you may be. And sure, the yardstick that measures your mom-skills is totally warped by pinterest and mommy blogs and everything google-able. But still. You’re intense and introverted and have a very low tolerance for touch and noise. Toddlerhood is about as good a fit for you as a rave. You put so much energy and thoughtfulness into your parenting style and activities and schedule and then try to ditch the schedule and go with the flow and none of it matters. They don’t know what they want except that they want all of you, all the time. More than you can give.

And you can’t quit. And you feel the walls closing in. And the guilt and the rage and the tears all mix together. And oh hey, it’s mother’s day! But you want to do is run away. From the kids and the guilt and the laundry and everything you thought you could be. Should be.

That’s the rub, I think. You have been dreaming of your motherhood for so long. You tried for months and then you lost the baby. Then you tried for one and got two. The pregnancy shut your life down. The first year was a blur, but you pushed through.Year two was hazy but improving and sometimes even really fun. Now, entering year three and it’s so hard again and your magical mom self hasn’t materialized. You’re stuck with this volatile burnt-out woman who suggests fun family baking projects and then finds herself melting down when the little hands go right into the flour bin and the bowl gets tipped over and they’re just always grab grab grabbing before she can get anything ready.

So what do you need? Time away, for sure. More sleep. Exercise. Adult conversation and also no conversation, sitting alone for a few hours in a quiet room. And also you need to let go of everything you are convinced you should be. In the vacuum of your mind your idealism and virtue builds this superwoman and you long to bring her to life. But it’s okay, in fact: it’s time to let her go. She is lovely, but there are no overwhelming children in there with her and so all her amazing parenting values and clever hacks are meaningless.

This is so cliche, but : embrace who you are and what you can be today. Set the bar low and then kick it a notch lower. Take care of the basic needs, theirs and yours, and then find something joyful to do together. When it becomes miserable, let it go. Leave the messes until you can’t handle them any longer and then shut your children in their rooms or give them all the screen time it takes to give you dish washing in solitude. Let them be joyful and naked, or don’t and duct tape those sagging diapers onto your wild child. Feed them whatever you’re eating because you aren’t a short order cook, or feed them whatever you know they’ll eat and not throw on the floor. Bathe them as often as you want which might be as often as you remember. Teach them their colors and numbers and shapes and letters, but when you start to lose your mind identifying every color of every object in sight, tell them you don’t know and that the colors are “all gone.” Act as surprised as they are.

You are a mom. Period. You don’t need qualifying labels of success, but you absolutely need to know your efforts are not in vain. This is a long and wearying journey, walking your kids towards autonomy and kindness and teaching them how to be thoughtful citizens of the world. Motherhood doesn’t come with performance evaluations to help troubleshoot challenges or awards banquets to recognize all the late nights and dedication you’ve put in along the way. Sometimes you have to be brave and ask for the mentors and peers this journey requires. Tell them when you’re feeling low and when you need them to cheer you on.

There is no shame in needing some back-of-the-packers to slog through the race with you. You can’t quit, but nobody can force you to kill yourself trying to keep up with the rest. Walk, crawl, dance, lie down and take a nap while they watch Cars for the 479th time, do whatever it takes to get through today. Don’t stop dreaming about tomorrow. Make plans that will fill you up. Listen to good music. Eat a huge delicious salad and lots of dessert. Watch bad tv. Read young adult fiction and get lost in other worlds. Reach out over and over until you get what you need. We are all in this together, even when we all want to be alone.

I see you. You are going to make it. Mother’s Day does not have to be happy, but it is for you. For all that you are and have been for all those who need need need you. Don’t let your growing go unnoticed, even if it means you’re mediating on your growth while sitting quietly in the bathroom in the dark, hiding from your offspring.

You do you, mama. I see you and you are beautiful. Inspiring. Your little people are going to be as messy and wonderful as you are for them. Gifts to the world.

Dear friends, may you have the best possible Happy Awful Crazy Absurd Joyful Mother’s Day, tomorrow and every day after.

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confessions of an angry mother

This was going to be one of those gushing posts about my little cherubs turning TWO last week, but the truth is I’m just not feeling the love lately.

I mean, I am, of course. Evelyn is suddenly super affectionate, running up demanding “Hug. Kiss. Cheek. Cheek. Ips.” and making exaggerated smooching sounds too boot. It’s adorable and heartwarming until she decides she hates everyone again and her scream makes my blood run cold. Similarly, Rowan is tapping into his gentler side- eager to help his sister up a flight of stairs or to unload the groceries, or pick up his toys. At then he isn’t and he throws whatever is in reach or rams his hard head into your chest or leaves full dental implants on E’s arm and I lose my mind.

I love them. But also loving them is bringing out the ugliest parts of me and, like any mature adult who has intensely avoided working through her feelings, I sometimes hate them for it.

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Drew: “Do you remember when we used to complain about being so stressed and tired all the time before we had kids? We had no idea.”

After hearing people go on and on about the Enneagram test, I finally took it for myself a few days ago. The website spit out my ‘type’ and a whole page of insights about my personality which I quickly glossed over until I found the flattering things I most identified with, and then I made Drew stop what he was doing (actual work) and take it so we could find out how compatible we are for each other and if we should commit to a long term relationship together. What can I say? I like to stoke that spark of intimacy in creative ways. [Apparently we are destined to be best friends but highly ill-advised as lovers. Thanks internet. What do you even know. #5yearstolife]

This morning when I opened my computer the same page was staring back at me but this time I read a whole depressing paragraph about the rage that bubbles just beneath the surface of my mama bear personality:

Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

Nothing there is really surprising. I am bossy. I love to be in control and act on my intuitions and I have no patience for anyone who can’t anticipate the next step in my dazzlingly ‘logical’ train of thought. I can drum up passion about anything worth forming an opinion over, and it’s true that I tend towards holding my feelings close to my chest. (I always blog with the computer cradled there, so you get my rawest bits of honesty.) But as I’ve grown up I’ve learned how to reign in my zeal, or at least how to keep it in the realm of zeal and far away anything resembling rage during intense confrontations. I’ve always prided myself on being the level headed, rational, calm friend. The one who has an eye on the bigger picture, pressing towards justice and light and redemption in a wise, measured way.

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Here I paused an argument I had started all the way back before we left the house 30 minutes prior so I could get Drew to snap a photo of our ‘family fun’. [Note the look of sheer delight on the children’s faces.] Eventually it was fun, but only because Drew worked extra hard to overcome my best efforts to control and stuck the joy out of everything. [To quote myself, 1/2 mile in as Drew twirled and jumped and danced with Rowan on his back: “Stop being the fun parent. You’re setting a precedent I can’t live up to.” Don’t you wish you married me?] 

 

But there I was, sitting on the floor of the twins bedroom without a grand vision or noble cause, and I was SCREAMING at them.

Let me just list the chaos, for a little context.

  1. I was sorting through their toddler-reorganized dresser (aka: they had unloaded everything into a mountain of clothes on the floor), looking for their pj’s so we could get the show on the road to bedtime
  2. after having just cleaned up the pee of a child who ripped his diaper off as soon as I put it on him, ran into the other room and peed in three places, tracking through it with wet footprints as he shrieked with laughter
  3. the same child who, just before the pee-incident, climbed onto the kitchen table, grabbed a pair of scissors, and nearly impaled his sister
  4. because for 30 seconds I wasn’t watching him while I was running to the other room for some rags to clean up their dinner mess
  5. which was made by two children who, after a shockingly pleasant 10 minute shared meal, decided to abruptly end things by chucking their dishes and remaining food onto the floor

And so now the kids are screaming and jumping on their beds and suddenly they run over to the curtains which have been hanging precariously for a week and with one gleeful yank, down comes the whole thing.

And I lost it. Screaming, spanking, waving black-out curtains in their faces like a crazy person. They grinned and giggled and my rage was pouring out like steam. I threw the curtains to the ground (not satisfying) and decided threats were all I had left, my only way out of this ridiculous show. “Put on your pj’s if you want milk OR ELSE IT’S BEDTIME.”

First of all. Yikes. Secondly, whatever your opinions may be on spanking (I have been and remain committed to using non-corporal punishment, so this was a spectacular failure), I was FURIOUS when I smacked those little diapered bums. In-control enough not to hit too hard, but angry enough to think I was going to feel better if I could just vent my frustration physically.

Feeling this out-of-control is maybe the lowest point of my parenting career. Worse than when they pooped in the tub and I was too tired to care that they drank the water. Worse than when I accidentally fed one newborn twice and just ignored the crying baby for two hours because I thought they already ate. Worse than my new habit of baiting them to the car-seats with fruit snacks.

I hit my kids because I was mad at them. I’ve been sitting on that sentence for days, hating myself and feeling like a total failure. How did I become this person? Have I always been this person? Latent rage just waiting for the right mix of insanity to bring it to the surface? Thoughtful, passionate, big-picture Julianne crumbles at the sight of too much urine and a broken curtain rod?

I feel myself acting out the part of my own mom when I was tiny and she was the young mama, overwhelmed and exasperated and alone. Back when spankings and time outs and threats were ‘the only way’ to keep us in line, encouraged by big-name christian writers. It has been fascinating to watch how my parents’ approach to behavior and discipline changes as they raise my youngest siblings. I had hoped I’d be able to jump right to their mid-life wisdom about the power of grace and healthy boundaries and letting go of the control you never really had anyway as you seek to encourage and nurture your children into thoughtful adults. But now I hear it doesn’t work out so neatly. Bummer about that.

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So tell me, dear readers. Do you really mean it when you say you love your toddlers and everything about being a mom? Are you just holding so tightly to your tickle fests and the sticky hugs and sweet slurred “I wuf yuuu”‘s that you block out the rest of this god-awful stage? Is it a sort of coping mechanism? Convincing yourself that only the good times matter? Because that was working for me for a while but now it’s not. Like, really not. We have plenty of beautiful moments every day but they seem to serve as a siren song for toddler mischief: adorable dancing becomes a biting contest, somebody gets slammed into the brick wall, pee. Always pee, everywhere.

Never have I ever worked in any job as demeaning as this gig. Never have I worked so hard to be creative and energetic and emotionally available, organized and flexible, patient and kind. Never have I had my most faithful efforts so mercilessly thrown back in my face (or down the stairs, or over the side of the porch into the neighbors yard, or ripped into pieces that were peed on and then shoved in the couch cushions). How do you all cope? How do you hold onto or better yet – nourish – your inner self? How do you step beyond motherhood so that you can re-energize your whole self for this all consuming task?

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I’ve been thinking back on my golden years of independence, the blissfully privileged season of life called college. I had these amazing routines that included regular exercise, adequate sleep, quality time with friends, attention to my hobbies, cultural experiences, journaling, and a vibrant inner spiritual life. Now I just spend a lot of time washing dishes and picking up toys and it all feels so alien. How did I get here?

I want to spend the summer working on mindfulness. Contemplation. Meditation. All of it seems totally at odds with this parent-of-two-toddlers gig, but it also seems like the only thing that will see us through. Like the soft kitchen light left on for the straggler, so the mystics and contemplatives have been lighting the way home for the weary, one generation to the next, for thousands of years.

And there’s this: the enneagram is a tool developed by the desert fathers and eventually further fleshed out and then brought to the west by Franciscans and Jesuits. These monastics used this tool to help people understand their darkest selves, and from that place of understanding, to grow.

So maybe my children are my enneagram, making me face my true self, nudging me towards a fuller life in the light. When I look at them I see all the possibility and terror of the future. I see myself. Some days I even see hope in spite of everything. And we press on.

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Selah, like water

 This year on Ash Wednesday I attended a simple and beautiful service at our church, a time for reflecting on the darkness and emptiness that still ravages our world and our hearts. I wept the whole way home and long after, sitting in our driveway as the windows fogged up and the tears flowed, grieving for the first time in a long time for all that is not right and for the daughter we lost and for the ways I fail the children I have.

I am so thankful for these visceral, tangible expressions of faith, practiced together. For ashes smudged on my forehead. For lit candles and gathering together on a chilly night to sing and lament and remember. These rhythms help make real the things that are quickest to slip away in doubts when fears loom large. The experience of grieving Selah is the realest thing I have of her, the most powerful way to remember her. The emotions and longing and ache in my chest, it reminds me that she was. And that I was changed by her.

Today marks 3 years since I miscarried Selah. You can read more about our journey through grief and towards hope here.
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First-born daughter of mine.

I imagine you
maybe towheaded like your brother
with a mess of curls like your sister
wild life in your eyes and mischief on your mind.

I picture you, big sister
helping and giggling and playing and teaching.
Adoring. Doting. Smooching.

I can see you, sweet girl, proudly reaching milestones before your younger siblings.
Dressing yourself. Potty training. Fetching diapers and pj’s and being just a little bit bossy as you tell them where to sit and not to talk while you ‘read’ them their favorite board books.

But of course, that was not – could not be.
You were and then you were not.
And then, before you could have been ready for this world anyway,
there they were.
Here, in our arms.
And you were not.
And so, in your death you made room for new life.
I wonder, was it because you came first that their budding bundles of cells
could burrow deep enough into my womb? Because you slid right through,
helpless babe being washed out, they could live?

I think I will forever carry the weight of that question.
The weight of all that I could not be for you.

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Sometimes I think of the mom I would be if I got to mother you first.
Just the two of us, learning to nurse and play and grow together.
Perhaps I would be a bit more patient or calm or creative.
Perhaps I would have found a rhythm sooner. Hosted more. Been a better friend and spouse.
Or, perhaps I would be even more overwhelmed, mothering the miraculous 3 babies conceived 6 months apart.
Perhaps I would feel guilty for all that I could not be for you with two new newborns in my arms.
_

Selah, you were like water.
Flooding us with greatest joy and then deepest sorrow.
Washing all the way through until we were dry again.
No trace of you save for the carved out hollow space in our hearts.

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image here via Unsplash

But see, here is the beauty of it. The beauty of the 3rd year of grief.
Now I see how each hour of grief spent in that space has worn it smooth.
Now I invite others there.
In the space that could not hold you, I can hold others.
When we weep, we widen the walls of this memory-place.
Because in this broken world there is no end to grief, but also no end to love.

The peace I have this year on your birth-and-death day,
it feels like a little arm swung around my shoulders, the way that kids do
when they lean in to tell you a secret or a silly joke
and their breath tickles your ear
and you smell their sweaty hair
and feel something sticky on their fingers
and everything feels safe and whole and true
and there’s nothing else to do but lean in and laugh together.
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You, dear daughter, wherever you are in the cosmos:
in infinity, in tomorrow.
I hold you in my heart.
You are to me a voice of wisdom and love, little one.
A reminder of the fragility and intensity of life.
A reminder to slow and savor.
A reminder to lean in and laugh.
A reminder to love fiercely and freely.
A reminder that sorrow and hope are meant to be woven together,
hemming us all in as we live with fuller joy.

But I miss you, my love. Oh how I miss you.

 

 

questions for holy week

I don’t write very much about faith on this blog.

My last blog was nothing but, chronicling a spiritual journey started in the trenches of homesickness freshman year of college, following through to the life and death of Selah three years ago. The writing was irregular but passionate, honest. Words from a woman who stood firm in convictions even as she muddled along in faith.

Every now and then the ‘facebook memories’ feature will toss up an old post and sometimes, if I have the courage, I’ll click the link and rediscover the woman I was 2, 5, 8 years ago. Perhaps you know the feeling: equal parts connection and distance with your former self while you look at photos or read an old post written by younger you. Sometimes I feel embarrassed by my sincerity, annoyed by my enthusiasm or confidence or certainty. And then sometimes I’m surprised to find I haven’t changed that much at all – the same questions and doubts have been winding in and out of my writing for nearly a decade now and I’m no closer to answers or certainty now than I was then.

In those early years I struggled with the questions but still trusted and hoped in the goodness and love of God. I was leaning out, trying to get some perspective, but still mostly at home in the theology and language and practices of my childhood faith. And now? I don’t know how to go back to what was, but I miss the comfort of that faith. I miss the communion and community. I miss the knowing.

Lately I’m stuck on this question of who (what?) God is.

[As I sit here staring for many long minutes at the blinking cursor I’m realizing I don’t yet have the courage to share with the internet all my deepest doubts, or even what this particular one feels like, but perhaps we can chat, just the two of us sometime over email or skype or a mug of tea?]

This question looms large and weighty as the twins grow older. I want to protect them from the dark pain of the world and also from the dark pain in my own heart. I want to teach them the rhythms of this christian community, but I want to shield them from the dogma and protect them from the baggage. And my baggage. 

But how do you explain that to a child? How do you teach a child to pray or study or think about God? Is it possible to dance in the mystery of it without taking advantage of their wholehearted trust that whatever we tell them is the truest way to see the world? I am so timid in my parenting around faith. Even reading from their storybook bible feels like a loaded gun. We have the one that everyone raves about, the one where everything points back to Jesus. And yet. The genocide. The rape and patriarchy and slavery and abuse. How many years of reading these stories will it take before my children spin off into their own doubt, wondering if it’s okay to question, puzzled at how everybody else has made peace with these terrifying and sordid details of our faith history?

And yet. I do believe in an ultimate Love. A way beyond the darkness, a lifting of the veil. I want to give them an imagination for God. For all that God is in the infinite universe and the infinite microcosm. For all that they were called out of the void and into this life to be.

[Typing those words I still wince, waiting for the doctrine smack-down that will surely come from some zealous friend or family member. But this too, is a step. A year ago I still believed it was God who would delight in smiting me for my less-than-orthodox view of God-self. Progress! Grace!]

More than anything, I want to deal honestly with my doubts. I don’t want us to be the family who sweeps the mess under the rug. I want us to be the family that has to wash their feet together every night because the grit is stuck to every one of us, tracked into the farthest corner of our home. I want us to muddy up that bath water, splashing and laughing and stepping on toes, watching the grime swirl down the drain before we climb into our big bed and cuddle and dream about what tomorrow might bring and how we can be for one another in it.

*

Whenever a little voice reaches across the hall at 2am (a blessedly infrequent occurrence these days!) and one of us stumbles into the dark towards the outstretched arms, scooping up a feverish or pee-soaked toddler to bring back to sleep with us, I remember what it was like to be that little one. I can still feel that dark eternity, alone and scared in my own room, not wanting to annoy my mom and dad but terrified about a dream or a noise or simply because I didn’t want to be alone. And I can still feel the instant safety and peace they brought to my little bedroom simply by being in it, tucking me back down beneath the quilts and covers, squatting beside me to wipe away tears. 

And now I am that parent. That dispenser of 2am calm and comfort. How can this be?

Our bedroom, the comforting place for R&E, is unremarkable. There’s nothing on the walls. No headboard, just mismatched side tables with lopsided lampshades and piles of bills and books and crumpled up tissues. Everything left on a nightstand by morning will be dragged out to some corner of the house at the hands of curious toddlers who are especially fond of my disgusting teeth grind guard.  All of our furniture is pushed up against one wall to make room for the parade of laundry baskets that run from the door to the foot of our bed. And if you climb into bed with any momentum, you’ll send the whole thing sliding across the floor, dragging clothes and shoes and heaps of toys with it. 

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This is not a bedroom I will look back on with any fondness. Except. Except for these snuggles and hide-n-seek games and the giggles that turn a cruel 5:30 wake up into a balm for my weary soul. I am safe, my truest fullest self, when I am nestled in my bed with my family. I hope they will remember this safe space too. The way their toes warmed when they shoved those little icicles underneath mama’s mighty thighs while they nursed. I hope they will remember how their Papa obliged every request for “shawies”, bringing all sorts of impressive shadow puppets to life on the ceiling. I hope they will remember what it felt like to be safe and known and loved.

I think I’m trying to find my big bed of faith. The place where I can retreat and warm and rest and wonder. The room where I can bring and make my mess and still be folded into the arms of love. The space where love is the first and only rule and if you are, then you are enough. 

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Holy week is always hard for us. For me. It reminds me of all I have not figured out in this year of faith. But maybe that is the whole point. A reminder of all I cannot do. A reminder of all that I long for. A reminder of all that can be. A reminder of the love that abides.

Peace be with you all this week, whatever your Easter longings. May you have people around you who are not afraid of big uncomfortable questions. May they lean in and embrace the mystery and absurdity of stumbling forward in a faith tradition that celebrates a God-man coming back to life. May you find hope together, and share it.

 

 

enough.

Tonight the weather man told us winter was over.

“Yes, spring has arrived! Just look at these temps folks, 63, 73, 75, 76 – I think we’ve finally put the cold behind us.”

And so just like that the shortest winter of my life is over. We had two snowstorms, the kind that melt within a day or two but school is shut down for a week because the country roads are still iced over and kids can’t get into town. There were a few weeks where the weather was too cold for afternoons at the park, but even then the sun would break through and the birds were chirping and our grass had already started growing at the end of January.

And yet. And. Yet. This has been one of the hardest winters of my life. Drew has been carrying us financially since I quit my jobs in November. His load includes full time course work, TA-ing two sections of a undergrad course, and now a whole lot of hours at a grocery store near campus, shifts that keep him out until 11 or midnight when he rushes home to try and cram in an hour or two of reading before succumbing to sheer exhaustion. I teeter between feeling like I have the most luxurious life in the world (hanging with my favorite people all day, playing games, living in yoga pants) and the most miserable existence (being screamed at for hours, so much poop, messes that don’t end). The long days of solo-parenting are exhausting and I spend way too much time obsessing about if I’m doing this parenting gig the right way.

We do have Sundays together, so that’s something. Because we are thoughtful people who know the importance of prioritizing family life, we like to save all our best arguments for our one precious day together. A week’s worth of stress and anxiety and exhaustion explodes out of us as the kids squirm away from soggy diaper changes and dump bowls of cereal on the ground. (“See-wol”, Evelyn calls it. “Uh-oh see-wol”.) There’s always layers to these fights – the issue at hand, the issues the issue at hand reminds us of (cue long list of resentments) and the much larger problem of exhausting life circumstances that are not only causing these stressful situations but also severely limiting our capacity for rationality and kindness. It’s the pits.

By naptime we are friends again, crying and then laughing about how absurd it is to do life with toddlers in grad school. A few weeks ago a friend told us he was accepted into a PhD program out of state and he and his wife and two young kids would be moving this summer. My first thought was “Are you crazy!? You’re going to uproot your whole family from this wonderful community and start over in a place where you don’t know a single soul?” And then I remembered. Oh yeah. We did that. What were we thinking? And why didn’t anybody stop us?

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Last week I posted a picture of my collection of seed catalogs and a friend commented on how beautiful they were and surely there is something to be written about the contrast between seeds and the optimism of new life against the dark grayness of winter. I’m sure there is something beautiful to be written about the wonder of planning a garden while the snow falls and the sun sets at 5:30 and you’ve forgotten what it feels like to enjoy the wind in your face, but when I read her comment I was having one of those very worst days and my mind was like a wrung-out sponge, dry and useless. All day Rowan had been always just one step ahead of me, making messes faster than I could clean them up. Evelyn would not stop screeching for me to hold her, affixed to my leg while I cleaned up pee and then marker off the wall and then a box of cereal on the stairs and then a full cup of milk spilled in the living room.

So when I paused and saw her inspiring comment I couldn’t help but cry in that ugly only-when-you’re-alone way, feeling like my life was such a joke. In that moment I couldn’t summon a single image of joyful spring. I couldn’t form even one thoughtful sentence in response, let alone imagine a compelling piece about pressing into spring from the dark days of winter.

And then as I sat pondering my own slide into stay-at-home-mom oblivion, Evelyn threw a book at me and it caught me square in the face and I lost my mind and yelled and threw the book down the stairs. And then of course I cried some more because I’m a grown woman who was sitting on the dirty floor crying and throwing things because of messes and because a small child just threw a book about easter at my face and also my life is meaningless and marriage is really hard and how will we pay the bills and we’ve had a whole freaking week of freezing weather and my new kentucky constitution just can’t handle it.

And then an hour later we were all snuggled in on the couch and they were demanding that I repeatedly read/sing their new favorite book which is just page after page of beautiful illustrated lyrics for “What a Wonderful World”. I sent out some SOS texts to some other mom friends wondering if I’m going crazy and how do we survive this insane season of life and please tell me I’m not the only one who might not make it to the other side and they wrote back and made me laugh and gave me strength to get through to bedtime.

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I was dreading today. Yesterday was rough and my meltdown from last week was still fresh in my mind. We had just had another one of those talks about if we’re doing the right thing or if we should give up and get normal jobs and give up on this dream, and also why did we have kids so young? What exactly were we thinking?

But then Drew left for work and the kids wandered out of the kitchen without a second look back. And then, you guys, they sat down and started to read a book together. Unprompted. They were giggling and turning pages and pointing out “tucks” and “actors” and chattering off all manner of animal sounds from their favorite farm book. Over the next hour I listened to two podcasts, cleaned the kitchen (like, all the way. floor swept and everything. you should have seen it!) and rounded up all the laundry to take downstairs. Another hour later and I was still sitting with the dirty laundry, reading blogs and the news and listening to the giggles of my two former psychopaths laughing hysterically as they jumped on their beds together. It was glorious. A warm breeze of spring-hope that things are going to be all right. In my basement, hope smelled faintly of urine and graham crackers and damp towels, but it was enough.

Enough for today. Enough for the next mess and the next meltdown. Sometimes, enough is the best you can do. Enough helps me let go of the pressure of both “what were we thinking?” and “what will we do next?” Enough makes it okay to live lots of small and exhausting days and to both love and hate them intensely. Enough allows friends to reach across miles and remind me I’m not as alone as I think and oh hey, maybe if I remembered to ask my friends how they were doing they might feel a little less alone too. Enough can be yelled at the top of your lungs when you just can’t take it anymore and it can be sighed with a shrug and a half-smile as you survey your attempts at dinner or dressing the children or picking up the playroom.

I was enough today. I enjoyed some unexpected rest and Drew came home early and we got through. And of course, the kids far exceeded my wildest expectations so tomorrow is most certainly going to be a downer, but that’s okay too. We will take it one hour at a time and remember that we are leaning into spring and trying new things and also sometimes we sit on the couch and watch youtube videos of chicks hatching or seagulls taking flight because that’s what toddlers like to do and it will bring us one hour closer to bedtime.

I’m sending love to all you weary people who stumble across this little blog. If you ever want to come over and have an average day in my messy house and feel better about yourself/vent about your stressful life, we’re here almost all the time and we will definitely put on pants and clear a path for you if you text when you’re on your way. You are enough and we like you that way.

JER Tongues