Category Archives: Marriage

Unprofundity

I feel like life consists of constantly shifting objects from one place to another.

Pick up a plate, and put it on the table. Pick it up again,  and put it in the sink.

Pick up a toy, and put it in front of the baby. Pick it up again, and rinse it off. Put it back in front of the baby.

Pick up the sweater, put it in the closet. Pick up the socks, put them in the laundry. Move the laundry upstairs, take other laundry downstairs.

Pick up the stack of tests, place it in fifteen different places before actually grading one.

I can’t bear to tidy up any more. I can’t bear to live in a mess. I can’t win.

Is this one of those deeply spiritual quotidian mysteries? Is it a metaphor for the endless conversion of our souls?

Will someone please pick ME up?

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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

So They Say…

People lied to me a lot when I was pregnant. Mothers of my middle school students were the worst culprits. “Pineapple will get contractions going for sure,” one said. “Your adrenaline will take care of the pain if you skip the medications!” claimed another. And one of my personal favorites: “You really do get used to smelling like sour milk and poop, eventually.” Lies, lies, and more lies.  Oh, I know they meant well, but that doesn’t make it right.

In my ninth month, when my belly was at its biggest and the swelling and water retention were at the max, women started feeding me this line left and right: “Don’t worry–You’ll get your body back!”

Of all the whoppers I’ve been told, this was the worst.

I’ve been suspicious for a while, but a pre-summer swimsuit trial run last night confirmed it: I’ve got a body back, all right, but it’s certainly not mine.  My hips don’t go out to there, do they? My body doesn’t have those stretch marks, or that tummy, and it’s about fifteen pounds smaller, overall.

Perhaps I misunderstood.  See, when they told me I’d get my body back, I thought they were saying everything would return to the way it was before. Maybe they were just telling me that someday I’d see my feet again. People don’t always say precisely what they mean.

It’s hard, because I’m so used to thinking of my body as a direct extension of myself. If my body is in good shape, then I must be in good shape. If my figure isn’t looking great, then, by extension, there is something wrong with me. I acknowledge that this isn’t a particularly mature or healthy way of thinking, but it’s what I’m accustomed to. I’m used used to being more attractive then I am at present and—trivial, vain, and ridiculous though it may be–I miss how I used to look.  I tried to explain this to my husband yesterday, but I don’t think I succeeded. Maybe men don’t make such a strong connection between appearance and identity. Is this an exclusively feminine mindset?

There is another dimension to the lie about getting your body back. Your size diminishes, certainly, but any mother who nurses her baby knows that you lose even more autonomy after the birth. Sam is nearly twice as big now as he was when he was born and all of his nourishment and substance has come from me. If my body is an extension of myself, this little guy is still, in some senses,a direct extension of my body (save a few ounces of formula and some chromosomes from his dad).  He needs me just as much now as he did before.

And, looking at Sam sleeping next to me–chubby little arms stretched above his head—I wonder if I really want my body back after all.

12 pounds 2 ounces of adorable.

I might complain that I can’t be away from him for more than 3 hours…but, truthfully, I miss him long before I get home. I will cry and cry and cry when he stops nursing. Goodness, I can’t even think about it.  Autonomy isn’t all its cracked up to be. Some kinds of independence aren’t worth celebrating with fireworks.

Maybe there’s something to the appearance/identity connection after all; maybe the physical changes that come with having children are a reflection of some personal growth that hasn’t quite caught up yet. If my body is dedicated to serving my family first, maybe my spirit will follow.

People told me a lot of lies while I was pregnant, but this is the platitude I heard most often: “Becoming a mother shows you just how selfish you are.”

And that one is definitely true.

 

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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

I Grow Old…

…I grow old…

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

We’re all used to thinking of ourselves in a certain way, right? We rely on our relationships or our jobs or our personal stereotypes or our notions of what other people think of us to develop a framework for self-perception. We progress through the segmented identities of the school years to defining ourselves by majors or sports in our college years. And after the easy classification of the university ends, we find our places in the world as athletic stockbrokers, latte-sipping librarians, and amature skiers who wait tables on the side.

Some of the fortunate few manage to develop a realistic picture of themselves in relation to God and the world, acquiring what my husband would call “accurate self-esteem” and what others might call a healthy humility. These wise ones understand their place on the Great Chain of Being. The rest of us waver between abject self-loathing and delusions of grandeur on any given day. And sometimes, well, we’re forced to face the truth about ourselves and our station in life, whether we like it or not.

Last night, I realized that I’ve been clinging to a self-image that expired 3 years ago.

You see, my first year as a single working girl was a pretty tough time of transition, but by my SECOND year, I hit my stride.

The good life of a single working girl in Colorado Springs looks something like this: living with a handful of fabulous and fun-loving college friends in a gorgeous downtown apartment that was high-heeled walking distance from at least 17 bars; working a full-time job that paid the (ridiculously low) rent and proffered all the perks of an academic schedule; maintaining a relatively rigorous work-out schedule and keeping up with the latest fashion trends.   You know these girls: they’re cute, well-dressed, and will eagerly make the drive to Denver to try a new martini. They are, in a nutshell, Whoo Girls.

Later on, the good life got even better: me and my single friends gradually found our prince charmings (not one of them was discovered at any of the 17 bars, by the way); then came the season of wedding-planning when we all learned that grown-up life is very expensive; then the season of weddings and honeymoons. And, immediately following that: pregnancy! (But that last one was just me).

Through all that, it didn’t seem like much had changed. Sure, we made the transition from crazy margarita/pinata/oops, the-cops-are-coming parties to smaller, more intimate dinner parties. And, honestly, the downtown club scene lost a lot of appeal when I took a nine-month hiatus from alcohol. But young, hip, married couples aren’t too far from young, hip singles, right?

Wrong.

Last night Zach and I took Sam to a birthday party for one of Zach’s young, hip, single friends. This fellow was turning twenty-five (Happy Birthday, Brad!) and celebrating with a barbeque that would transition into a roaring house party as the night rolled on. The guys had a fridge specifically designated for beer, and a suspicious looking machine serving “Sneaky Punch” on tap.

Our little family showed up around 5pm for burgers and beer. Sam, who has yet to develop most social graces, slept the whole time. For a while, all was well: we ate and talked like normal people at a normal party. But then a strange thing happened. The next door neighbors arrived.

The neighbors were curious creatures: impossibly slender young women wearing clothing so fashionable that I momentarily wondered if it was a costume party.

 

Seriously: this qualifies as "clothes"?

Don’t get me wrong: these girls were perfectly nice young women. They just seemed a little too young for a party with Sneaky Punch. And a little too cute in their sun dresses and jumpsuits. And can anyone really be that excited about putting up streamers?

I pondered these things for a little while when I took Sam downstairs to nurse after dinner. As the two of us sat in a bachelor’s basement listening to the party up above, it occurred to me that perhaps my choice of maternity jeans, flats, and last year’s cardigan was frumpy party-attire. Not much fits well twelve days after giving birth, though. But, true, I hadn’t even taken the time to do my hair before we left (how could I? Sam had to eat).  Was it possible that I no longer cared about presentation? Was it possible that…?

Shortly thereafter, we took our leave. It wasn’t even 8 o’clock.

As we carried Sam’s car seat inside, my ever-observant husband noticed my “about to burst into irrational tears” sniffle and asked, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

The only response I could articulate at the time was, “I just…I feel like such a MOM!”

But what I really meant and mean, is that I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’m not the cute young thing I used to be and am, instead, in the process of receiving the cumbersome blessing of motherhood, and it’s a little more than I feel ready to handle most days.

But there will be time…for visions and revisions…

…and I guess I’ve got some revising to do.

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Filed under Domesticity, Marriage, Mothering, Poetry

Perspective

I’ve been fortunate to spend my pregnancy in a community that’s very supportive of our decision to start a family. With the exception of a few irritated glances from people who may or may not have been victims of an accidental belly bump as I wrangled my six-month-stomach down the narrow aisle of a plane, I have not been subject to any discrimination, harassment, or abuse. No one has accused me of single-handedly over-populating the world. And though I’ve been overly sensitive to the “Wow-you-look-ready-to-pop!” comments, no one has actually made any untoward remarks about the physical changes I’ve experienced during the process.

Instead, I have been showered with encouragement, empathy, and gifts for the little one. My boss (who is a mother herself) has put absolutely no pressure on me to make a decision about returning to work next year. My friends have listened sympathetically to my litany of woes (the kicking! the swelling! the exhaustion!) and have managed to compliment my figure with a straight face. Or, you know, at least my hair cut. My parents have made plans to drive out here all the way from St. Louis, to take care of us and just be here to welcome the baby when he comes. Dad is even building a bassinet for him.

And my husband: where do I begin? He has endured over 15 hours of birthing classes where words like “perineum” and “amniotic fluid” are mentioned about 5 times a minute…and he’s taken notes! Just to make sure that he can be as supportive as possible during labor. Instead of making fun of me when I burst into irrational tears, he kisses me and offers to indulge my every craving or whim. He’s actually excited about trying the whole cloth diapers things. And, most importantly, he’s even more eager than I am for the baby to actually be here.

I remember how freaked out I was when I first looked at that pregnancy test…and by the time I took the test, I already pretty much knew (thanks, NFP). That confirmation, though, was terrifying: I didn’t feel ready at all. But, with time and prayer and the reassurance of mothers who have gone before, I’ve become accustomed to the idea of being a mother. And, of course, I’m terribly curious to meet the tiny creature who has been tucking his feet under my ribs for the past few months.

It’s hard to imagine what this year would have been like if no one else had been excited with me, if no one else thought that having a baby was a good idea. I’ve always been adamantly pro-life in principle, but I don’t think I realized how much support I would need to carry my own child.

I came across this article earlier today: Ask an Abortion Provider (warning: explicit language). It’s basically a young woman’s defense of her choice to abort her baby and her aspiration to become an abortion provider. Her tone attempts a weird form of jocularity, but ends up sounding, not surprisingly, defensive and militant. And the “warm fuzzy” moments she’s experienced during her training fall rather flat as she celebrates the success of the procedures she’s performed.

She sees herself as courageous for daring to enter a profession so fraught with danger (from pro-life activists) and so laden with stigmas (from pro-life culture). And that she has plenty of examples (death threats, verbal harassment, people egging the family planning building) to add some legitimacy to her self-victimization is definitely discouraging.

Frankly, the article is kind of obnoxious and I don’t recommend you spend time reading it (or getting involved in fights in the comment box, for that matter). I just bring it up here as a point of contrast: I wonder how differently this woman’s life would have turned out if her loved ones had been able to celebrate her pregnancy and her baby instead of celebrating her independence. Yes, she’s responsible for her own choices and yes, I think she’s making poor ones. But, ironically enough, after experiencing pregnancy, I’m no longer able to see her as an independent agent.

She is a victim, but not in the way she thinks. She’s the victim of a pro-choice culture that did not support her life-giving potential and denied her baby a loving, welcoming community.  Her failure is our own.

***

I’ve always loved this Lauryn Hill song, but I appreciate its simultaneous struggle and celebration even more now.

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Gilead

Every time I read Marilynne Robinson’s quiet novel Gilead, I appreciate it differently. It’s written in the form of an elderly preacher’s diary/letter to his young son. The Rev. John Ames has been diagnosed with a heart condition and expects his seven year old child to grow up without him, so he writes this letter as a way of speaking into his son’s life. But the reflective process of journaling leads the pastor to some profound insights into his own life. It’s not an exciting book: but it is beautiful, and true.

The first time I read it, I remember being struck by the way Robinson creates and maintains a fictional voice of such incredible wisdom and consistency. It’s difficult enough for a writer to create a realistic voice for a character of the opposite gender (For failures, see Hemingways’s A Farewell to Arms, for successes see Cather’s My Antonia), but to craft an entire book in the voice of a fictional character of the opposite gender? And to give that character a lifetime’s worth of literary and biblical references to draw from? Amazing.

My second time through, I grew to appreciate Ames as a person, more than a fictional voice. My husband always says that the great characters of literature are more real than most people ever are. I used to take offense at the idea, but I’ve come to agree that, yes, Odysseus exists in a greater way than I have had the opportunity to exist, and Anna Karenina’s personhood–pathetic though it may be in some respects–eclipses my own in sheer magnitude. Ames does not overwhelm one like these other literary giants; rather, he plumbs a depth of knowledge, wisdom, and compassion that most people will never achieve. His wisdom is best manifest in the way that he acknowledges his weaknesses and moral failings as he experiences them. Instead of waiting until frustration or selfishness has passed to look back on it and note “Why yes, I was thinking wrongly at that time,” he recognizes his errors in real time. Maybe some day I’ll arrive at this height of spiritual sensitivity, but not any time soon.

I just finished re-reading Gilead a third time a few days ago, and it’s been sinking in differently again. This time, I found myself grieving along with Ames at the thought of missing out on his son’s life. The concept was sad enough when I first encountered his story, but I can appreciate the magnitude of that loss so much more now. Is this one of those hidden gifts of motherhood? That bearing a child allows you to go back and re-read every story with a completely different perspective? An entirely new point of identification? I’m so accustomed to identifying with the young characters, the children, the daughters. Will I someday watch Fiddler on the Roof and feel Golde’s pain more keenly than Chava’s? It’s an astonishing thought.

And the change is coming on so quickly, too! Just last night, Zach and I were watching Toy Story 3. Near the very end, as Andy plays with his toys one last time, Zach looked over to catch me crying quietly. (He’s so used to this now, after eight months of pregnancy, that he just chuckles at the sight of my tears, as he should.)

“What’s the matter, honey?” he asked, ever so gently.

Let me just say that I know now and I knew at the time that I was being irrational, but I didn’t have time to come up with a more reasonable excuse on the spot. So, choking back sobs (heavens, I’m tearing up again!), I finally admitted the truth:

“It’s just that….I just….I DON’T WANT OUR BABY TO LEAVE FOR COLLEGE!”

 

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