Category Archives: Friendship

Best Readers Ever

You know, it’s funny. Just when I think I’ve gone and alienated pretty much everyone who reads this blog (because, really, who browses the internet searching for a litany of domestic woes?), you overwhelm me with empathetic responses. I’m grateful for those of you who took the time to write encouraging notes and remind me that it’s okay to be a mess sometimes, and acknowledging that working, parenting, and keeping house are often difficult to balance.

My favorite response, though, came from my best friend of 12 years, Miss Meghan Clark, who said,

“All those people that we admire? The Samuel Johnsons and the Ben Franklins who spent their lives writing prolifically, contriving new inventions and changing the world? Yeah, they had SERVANTS. Think about that.”

I HAVE thought about it, frequently, and it’s an excellent point. Thanks, Meg.

And in case you were wondering, things are going better today. I’m making pumpkin chocolate chip oatmeal cookies while the baby naps. They’ll be ready in a few minutes, so come on over if you want one…. 🙂

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The Great Mid-Western Road Trip: East Bound

We made it.

I know, I know–I ruined my own ending. But you have to try to hear that first sentence not as a matter of fact statement, but as an wonder-filled whisper, a trembling, grateful prayer while witnessing a miracle. 

When we told people that we were driving with our two month old son from Colorado to Michigan, 98% percent responded with a mixture of skepticism and awe. The other two percent–members of my immediate family–nodded matter of factly and reminded me that the drive from the Springs to St. Louis isn’t nearly as bad as the bi-annual drive my parents took from Pennsylvania to Kansas. And they had THREE kids to pack for and deal with in those days. Can’t impress everyone, I guess.

But even though both Zach and I had moments of exasperation and Sam suffered some serious infant constipation from being stuck in a car seat so long, it really wasn’t that bad. I hit a low point between Chicago and Grand Rapids, openly weeping in the back of a hot car in a gas station parking lot while trying to nurse a wailing, sticky, smelly infant. Sam’s low point followed immediately afterward, when, after three days of nearly continous travel, the monotony of his view from a backward facing carseat became more than he could bear. And Zach’s low point wasn’t far behind: listening to the pitiful cries of an unhappy baby will bring anybody down. Thanks to a combination of unhealthy snacks and controversial talk radio, we rallied and sallied forth. So to speak.

We enjoyed some wonderful visits with family along the way. After the first leg of our journey, we stopped to visit my grandfather in Parsons, KS. Now, I know that driving through Kansas gets a bad rap, but it looks like the Arcadian fields after a drive through southern Colorado. There isn’t a changing table between Colorado Springs and Cheyenne Wells: at least 200 miles. What a wasteland. When we arrived in Parsons and were greeted with hugs, homemade ice cream, and promises of a trip to the lake the next day, we resolved never again to participate in the rampant Kansas-bashing most Americans enjoy.    

Sam met his maternal aunt and uncles, his cousin Rosemary (who managed to be more enthusiastic about BABY SAM! than I am, which is saying something), his great grandfather, his great grandmother, and my best friend over the course of the journey. He’s been napping since noon: clearly, this intense social exertion exhausted him.  

And now we’re in Michigan. More on what that’s like later. I just wanted to let you know that we made it.

We made it.

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Filed under Cars, Domesticity, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

Neophyte No Longer

My term as a neophyte officially ends today.

The past year has been exceptionally rich in sacraments. Last Easter marked my first confession, my confirmation and my first communion. The months immediately following were devoted to preparing for the sacrament of marriage. And this year, on the Monday of Holy Week, we were able to celebrate the baptism of our first born son. We cannot, of course, maintain this pace of sacraments, or we’ll arrive at last rites far too quickly. But they’ve made for a wonderful start.

The ebb and flow of the liturgical year is becoming a more familiar mark of the passage of time than turning over pages on the calendar. I love the intentional focus of each season: the simplicity of Advent, the warmth of Christmastide, the stark solemnity of Lent, and the burst of joy at Easter. With all the solemnities and feast days in between, we never lack for reminders of the hardships and blessings of following Christ whole-heartedly.

While preparing for one of his recent lectures on the tragic Death of a Salesman, my husband remarked that the curse of Eve is not simply pain in child birth (though that one IS a doozy), but more so, the pain of passing on the curse, of seeing our children succumb to sin and suffer the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the community. It’s tempting, as a new mother, to let fear of all the “what-ifs” in Sam’s future overwhelm me: What if he gets sick? What if he becomes a rebellious teenager and hates his parents? What if he doesn’t like to read? Terrifying possibilities.

How grateful I am, especially now, that we have been provided with the sacraments, with these physical signs of the spiritual realities. Seeing my child blessed with holy water and anointed with the fragrant chrism oil was not just a comforting ritual: from that moment, he has been truly free from the curse of original sin. And as he grows in understanding, I pray he’ll come to claim that truth for himself.

Little Samuel, all dolled up for his first Easter Mass

And how grateful I am, too, for the communion of saints! My godmother, Eve, has been so encouraging through RCIA and this whole year of changes and celebrations. And now one of my dearest friends, Amy, has joined our little family as Sam’s godmother. Their prayers, along with those of our patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri and the prayers of all our friends and family, have certainly blessed Zach and I as we’ve adjusted to marriage, and now parenthood.

So, Happy Easter, dear friends and readers. May this joyful season nourish fresh hope and new life in your spirits.

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Filed under Beauty, Catholicism, Faith, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

Some Things Never Change

Nearly four years have passed since I crossed the platform in my cap and gown to receive my degree from Hillsdale College. During those four years, I’ve visited the campus precisely three times: twice on my own to recruit new teachers for my school and once for the sole purpose of walking around the grounds with my new husband while eating an Oakley.

The campus has changed so much in those four short years: not a trace remains of the horrible, asbestos-infested Kresge classroom building, and the new student center supplies current co-eds with so much comfort and luxury that I CAN’T believe they’re getting the same quality of education that students enjoyed when they had to suffer through the EAR…and the EAR couples.

Suffering was an essential element of the Hillsdale experience: Suffering disappointment when some jock ahead of you in line took all the triangle potatoes at breakfast; suffering physical discomfort because of the smell of the fellow sitting next to you in the computer lab; suffering through the awkwardness of the housekeeper coming in to vacuum while you’re wrapped in a towel or, worse, just starting to get dressed; suffering intense embarrassment while you waited in the EAR for your friends to meet you for dinner and an EAR couple started snogging on a couch ten inches from your face…those were the good days!

Delp Hall: I used to deliver scones here a week before final exams

Some changes, such as the turn over in faculty, are bitter sweet. For example, I can no longer visit Delp Hall in hopes of dropping by Dr. Cuneo’s office for a chat. He’s gone on to become an Eastern Orthodox priest, though, and I’m sure he’s thriving in his new role. Some, like the venerable John Willson, have retired. Others have simply moved on. However, in a few short months, I look forward to knowing that one of those faculty offices is occupied by a dear and brilliant friend, Matthew Gaetano, who is joining the history department. When his then-fiance, now-wife Amy and I sat in our third story room in Mauck hall sipping tea and struggling to pronounce passages of Old English properly, we knew that some day she would join the ranks of enviable professors wives (so sophisticated! so talented in the kitchen! so intellectually active!). How pleasant it is to think that there will be familiar faces on that campus for some time to come.

And a brief glance through the headlines of the latest edition of the Collegian show that despite the inevitable marching on of years, some things will never change at Hillsdale College.

There are still those that protest against dancing in public: Monday Night Fever (sorry, Beyonce).

The deans are still making those difficult choices about which students can be deemed responsible: Woman RA’s Selected (though, to be honest, I’m not really sure why this qualifies as “news”)

And, best of all, the social ritual of tea-drinking that Allison, Amy, and I discovered during our freshman year is still going strong: Some like it Loose-Leaf and Campus Tea Culture (TWO feature pieces on DRINKING TEA….incredible).

But I suppose it’s only fair to note that Hillsdale isn’t the only thing that changed over the past four years. As much as I miss the classes, the culture and, of course, the people, on any given day, I know that I’ve changed far too much to be able to relive those days. While I miss my darling roommates, I’ve grown accustomed to having more than one room of living space. And while I miss my fascinating professors, I’m much better at delivering lectures now than I am at taking notes. And even though I miss Oakley with indescribable longing, I’m grateful to be done with the days when purchasing a sandwich represented a daring act of fiscal irresponsibility.

Thank you, staff of the Collegian, for the trip down memory lane. Now, it’s time to get back to work.

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Filed under Friendship, Teaching

My Favorite Story to Tell

My little brother is visiting for the long weekend and I’ve had little time to write in between our little hiking excursions, games of Snatch-it, and viewings of The Social Network. However, I find myself with a little time on my hands while Peter, Zach, and Leroy take on the slopes at Monarch Mountain. My condition forbids me from joining the (exhilarating, terrifying, fabulous) fun, and so I’ve taken the opportunity to explore the near-by town of Salida, CO.  I have visited Salida only once before, but it will always hold a special place in my memory. As I settle down in my cushioned leopard-print chair at The Simmering Cup, it seems only fitting that I tell you the story of that day.

It was January 9th, 2010 and Zach picked me up early in the morning. A co-worked had generously given us two free lift tickets at Monarch, so  Zach was taking me skiing for the first time. I had over-slept, as usual, and wasn’t quite ready when he arrived, but he was more energetic than ever, running around the house helping me gather gloves and scarves, making suggestions regarding what to bring or wear for skiing. We had just settled into the car when he realized that he had left the snack cooler in the house, so he ran back in to get it. Then we were on our way.

My previous skiing experience was limited to a bunny slope in Pennsylvania when I was eight or nine. The only lasting impression I retained was fear of the rope tow: it shredded my mittens and lurched something awful. And falling. Falling hurt.

Learning to ski with Zach was an entirely different affair. He gave me a few general guidelines, let me practice stopping once or twice, then took me up the lift: no lessons, no bunny slope–nothing. And it was incredible! I made it down the first run without falling once, though I must admit that I screamed (half delight/half terror) all the way to the bottom.

Zach stayed with me the whole day. He kept behind me, even though I’m sure my beginner’s pace was painfully slow for him. He helped me up when I fell (for the beginner’s luck on that first run didn’t last all day). And when I really wiped out and sent a ski sliding down the mountain ahead of me, he went ahead to fetch it and then trudged up the slope in his ski boots to return it to me: no easy task.

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Seven

Seven o’clock on Wednesday night in a tidier than-usual kitchen. A loaf of banana bread cools on the counter and the kettle heats on the stove. As I finish up the dishes, iTunes ends a ballad by Over the Rhine and flips to The Weepies: Gotta Have You.

No amount of coffee, no amount of cryin’

No amount of whiskey, no amount of wine

No, no, no, nothing else will do

I’ve gotta have you.

 

I have two playlists on my husband’s laptop: Domesticity (a blend of old up-beat favorites designed to get me humming through the daily chores) and Husband, Come Home (a mix of more mellow, melancholy tunes put together the first time Zach was away overnight). They only play when I’m alone and seeking to drown out the quiet for a while.

 

HCH is spinning at the moment, and appropriately, too, for my better half is putting in an appearance at his school’s information night this evening. This incredible man barely had a moment to eat dinner between his daily P90X feat of exertion and school on either side.

People warned me about the first year of marriage. They told me all about misunderstandings, yelling, and fearful doubts creeping up in the night. They tried to explain that everyone wonders, now and again, if they made the right choice. Maybe I’m still only a foolish newly-wed, naïve to the real struggles, but it seems to me that all this premarital counsel missed the mark.

No one mentioned, for example, that if I’m not careful, tears of gratitude will ruin my mascara during the morning drive as I thank God for the man I just dropped off at work. They forgot to tell me that all my worst fears would diminish and fade in the light of a new, unthinkable, unendurable possibility of losing him. Not a word was said about how difficult it is to maintain a social life when all I want, all the time, is to be home with him. And, somehow, they forgot to warn me about the painful, breathless moments when I’m walking down the street by his side and suddenly feel a surge of love that will no longer be kept at bay.

Yes, that’s it: people told me about the fights and the conveniences and the frustrations and the perks, but no one told me about the love. They couldn’t, of course, any more than I can tell you. To attempt speak it is to open to the floodgates of a current that no words can survive.

Seven-thirty on a Wednesday night in an empty kitchen. The bread has cooled and the tea has, unfortunately, stewed. Our song comes up. The Wallflowers serenade me and I wait for my husband to come home, knowing that

Every day, I get a little bit closer to you.

 

(Happy seven months, darling)

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If You Can’t Think of Something Nice to Say…

Pregnant women are notoriously sensitive, emotional, irrational: both personal experience and chemistry support this stereotype. But in defense of expectant mothers, they receive more than their fair share of provocation during their nine months of blissful anticipation. Something about a mother’s protruding belly seems to cause a selective malfunction in the average person’s verbal filter. Perfectly kind, well-meaning individuals will sometimes make surprisingly offensive comments or ask shockingly personal questions when conversing with a pregnant woman. This lack of decorum usually arises from a sincere desire to appear interested and empathetic: we pregnant women DO understand the innocence of the intent. But I’ve put together a beginner’s guide of comments to avoid in order to help you communicate more effectively with the expectant mother in your life.

What Not To Say: You look like you’re about to pop!

What the Pregnant Woman Hears: You’re really fat!

How the PW Feels: “I know—I’m huge! And I’ve still got two more months to go and what if my center of gravity shifts so far that I fall down all the time and I’m afraid that I’ll never get my pre-pregnancy figure back and I’m ugly! Why am I so, so horribly ugly?

What the PW is Forced to Say: *awkward chuckle* Yeah..he’s/she’s getting bigger every day…

What the PW Would Like to Say: So do you! *pointed glance at offender’s midsection* But at least I have an excuse! Ha ha! (This is especially effective with people who are in relatively good shape: give them a moment’s taste of the tormenting self-consciousness you’ve suffered for months.)

What You Should Say Instead: You’re looking lovely today.

What Not To Say: Wow, you look exhausted!

What the PW Hears: Not only are you fat, but your overall attractiveness is diminishing, too.

How the PW Feels: I’m supposed to be glowing, but instead I looked harried and worn: what kind of hag will I become when I’m actually up feeding a newborn five times a night?

What the PW is Forced to Say: Yeah…I guess I haven’t been sleeping well.

What the PW Would Like to Say: You would look tired, too, if in addition to working a full time job and cooking and cleaning, you were constantly knitting together and feeding a new human being! With no hands!

What You Should Say Instead: Have I mentioned how lovely you’re looking today? Why don’t you let me do the dishes so you can take a little nap.

What Not To Say: Are you going to get an epidural?

What the PW Hears: Are you a real woman or a weakling?

How the PW Feels: I don’t know! I’ve never done this before! And I’m dreading the pain almost as much as I dread these awkward questions. What are you going to think of me if I cave and accept pain medications?

What the PW is Forced to Say: (This depends on her personal choice, but chances are good that she’s not comfortable saying it.)

What the PW Would Like to Say: Hmm…it seems like only reason you could want that information is so that you can judge my worthiness as a woman or compare me with other women and I am not comfortable with either of those alternatives.

What You Should Say Instead: When would you like to use this gift card for a pre-natal massage that I picked up for you?

 

What Not To Say: Are you experiencing…swollen feet/water retention/constipation/etc?

What the PW Hears: Please explain your uncomfortable medical issues to someone who a) is not usual privy to personal information and b) can do nothing to help make you feel better.

How the PW Feels: Awkward! That’s something I only want to discuss with my doctor or my mother and since when is it okay to inquire about someone’s medical history?

What the PW is Forced to Say: Oh, you know…just the usual stuff….it’s not too bad.

What the PW Would Like to Say: Do you really want to hear about my gastronomical difficulties? Do you really think either of us will enjoy that conversation? Because if you really want to know, I can tell you. Imagine first a constant pressure on the bowels and…

What You Should Say Instead: How Are You? I mean, how are things going in areas of life besides your pregnancy?

What Not To Say: Do you mind if we…drink this freshly corked bottle of wine/eat sushi in front of you/all go skiing next weekend?

What the PW Hears: We’re going to have fun without you for a while now and we would appreciate your pleas.

How the PW Feels: You’re going to do it anyway, whether I mind or not, so why must you make a big deal about asking me if I mind and making me pretend that the privilege of bringing new life to the world is enough to make me perfectly content to be the only sober person in the group?

What the PW is Forced to Say: Oh, no, go right ahead!

What the PW Would Like to Say: Do you mind if I go to a corner and weep for the loss of my autonomy? 

What You Should Say Instead: Would you like…a cup of tea/to pick a restaurant/to take a walk together?

Clearly, there are myriad other comments and questions to avoid, but these have been the most common in my experience.  I’m sure that I’m guilty of being equally insensitive to people in other circumstances, but I hope that being on the receiving end of some of these comments will help me to think before I speak in the future.

If any other mothers (or sympathetic fathers) out there have suggestions to add, please take a moment to leave a comment! Together we can work towards a more courteous society.

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Filed under Domesticity, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering