Tag Archives: parenting

how interesting it all is

There is comfort to be found in the mountains, in the open air, in the away.

There’s something to it; maybe it’s the stillness. Maybe the fresh air alters our chemistry. Maybe there’s a spiritual component, whatever that means.

Years ago, before I knew how frayed the edges of my religion were, I noticed this comfort. Sometimes on Sunday mornings the thought of church was enough to make me cry, and the mountains provided a specific kind of escape, one that called to me. I didn’t know why I was so upset–even if you couldn’t name thirst you would drink water when you came to it–now I think my brain and body were rebelling against situational anxiety that I couldn’t identify as such, and wouldn’t be able to for years to come. That particular stage and script, for which I was so ill-suited, was making me sick. These things will out, somehow.

I confess I cried recently while watching Pete’s Dragon in the theater with my kids. I’ve written about wildness here before–how it’s a gift I was granted in childhood. I have a deep gratitude for it, and often wonder if I’m giving it to my own children, and how exactly to do it. Parents know this matrix of examination all too well, this thing where I think we’re okay on this front, but what about xyz thoughts make you stare at the ceiling at night. The movie, with all its beauty and wildness, abandonment and new starts, its understanding of home and companionship, has stayed in my thoughts since.

In German, I understand, there is a word for the feeling you get when you’re alone in a forest. I’m spending a lot of words to try to name the feeling of being comforted and filled by wild things. This is not nearly so elegant, and yet I learned to name the thirst over time. I’m learning to name the water.

This summer we spent two weeks in national parks, which is a curious experience because you’re right there in the wildness, with hundreds of other people. This was no backcountry camping trip. It can be pretty comical, really, but you know what was beautiful? The shared, earnest, childlike excitement over the sight of a bear, or an eagle, or the first of many bison. Adults, standing in clusters, huddled around specialized lenses that they set up before dawn, just waiting for a glimpse of the wildness. And when you catch it, it’s spectacular. You exclaim and sigh and point and smile and ask your neighbor if they see it.

You ask them if they see it, and they say yes, and you share that moment of communion.

So we followed the paved roads, hungry for sight. We walked along dirt trails; we respected and preserved. We didn’t pick the flowers, but we took three pictures of the same flower, or four. We gaped at boiling hot thermal pools–deadly, agate-like marvels. We took in the beauty of a red-rocked desert that is more harsh than the desert we live in.

And when we left, we were beauty-saturated. I scribbled memories in a moose-adorned journal: we saw a marmot frantically eating on the tundra. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins to the kids each night, in the tent. We sipped wine by the fire, or whiskey, after they went to sleep, listening to the night sounds. Silas drew the solar system in the dirt with a stick. There are purple lupines everywhere. Ricky braved the mosquitoes to take a bath in the river.

Life is now schedules and routines, and fresh back to school energy. What does it mean to commune with wildness? Is that even the thing I’m trying to name here? I only know this: when my children stop to examine the snails that emerge after a summer monsoon, or when we spent a Saturday gleefully wading in a shallow river and they caught their first tadpole, when I notice them examining the growing pecans in the backyard, or finding mama toad and papa toad in the leaves, and in all of these things see their complete engagement, I feel a type of hope that I’m seeking. I think that this is how I pray, now, if prayer can be simply slowing down enough to notice how interesting everything really is, and to feed yourself with that.

There is so much to see, to learn, to appreciate. It truly is the work of a lifetime.

I need to teach them all kinds of things, but this learning, theirs and mine, is particularly sweet.

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Raising Up Sisterhood

Friends, I have a beautiful guest post to share today. I had the opportunity to work alongside Stacy Hart in a Perinatal Services Unit and got to know her there. She’s a skilled and compassionate nurse, an invested conversationalist, and she has a peaceful conviction about her that really shows up in her words today. I smiled when I read them, because I’ve never felt anything but support and genuine interest from Stacy. She models the strengths of women well–strengths that sometimes are hidden by the heavy things that burden us. Her post today encourages us to lay down those heavy things and come out from our hiding places. I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged, as I certainly was!

Little girls with string tied between their beds. Hiding giggles in pillows as they pass notes, dolls, and sisterhood back and forth on their homemade contraption. Footsteps coming. Flop down fast, try to trick Daddy; make him believe dreams are the only thing awake in this room. He peeks in the door, sees eyes squeezed too tight, smiles playing at the corner of mouths, and hears the faintest attempt at fake snoring. He grins, closes the door, knowing this is more important than sleep.

It always will be.

This aching. This longing. This need–for each other.

Community. Connection. Sisterhood. Family.

Life is born and the first cries from a sweet new babe’s mouth beg for comfort, to be held close, to be wanted. Needed.

We are women. We were created for community. Designed to do life side by side.

But the world says no. Society screams stop. Experience teaches us to hold others at an arm’s length. View them as a threat. Assume the worst. Give no benefit of the doubt.

Then we turn on ourselves, and become more harsh than any critic would dream of being.

I must have it all together. Be the most successful. Be better than everyone–then I will know success. I must dress flawlessly. Emulate airbrushed lies in magazines. I must devour the right parenting books and produce children who never bite me or throw tantrums in store aisles. I must keep up appearances. Put my best foot forward. No matter what the cost. This is where happiness is found.

Eventually our world screeches to a stop. Life happens around us. And we believe all of its lies.

We know we will never be what SHE is. We will never be that good. That talented. That beautiful. That successful. That carefree. That skinny. That crafty. That funny. That desirable. That intelligent. That perfect.

Comparison is the poison that devastates community.

Does it really matter if you breast feed or use formula? Co-sleep or have separate rooms? Does making my own baby food make me a better person? Does slinging verbal abuse in the comments section of parenting articles mean I win? Does gossiping about the popular girls make you prettier? Does a brand name give me more worth? Does hurting someone else ever make me better? Happier?

No. No. Every time, no.

Defeat threatens. But hope prevails.

I have heard a whisper. Felt a stirring.
And I know that I am not the only one.

The rumbling is off in the distance but it is steadily growing louder, more powerful. I hear the voices, the hearts, the souls, of thousands of women who have decided to say…

Enough is enough.

Comparison will not steal my joy.
Comparison will not poison my sisterhood.
Comparison will not win.

Community.

Community is making a comeback.
Possibly one of the greatest and most important comebacks in all of history. Think I’m exaggerating? Think again.

When community thrives, when selflessness and a servant’s heart reign, selfishness dies.
When community is the goal, competition, comparison, and mommy wars lose their sting.
When community exists, lives change.

Where community lives, Love reigns.

Imagine this world.

Open your eyes.

The rumbling is all around us. Community coming back to life. In neighborhoods, in churches, in offices, in blogging communities, on social media: women are realizing we need each other.

Friendship rediscovered. True connection. Life to the full.

When you stop looking at someone, and their talents, and all of their beauty, and their allegedly Pinterest perfect life, as a threat, your eyes are opened to who they really are.

A woman. A wife. A mom. A heart and soul as weary, as exhausted and as lovely as you are.

This movement. This powerful force of women who challenge, encourage, and inspire me every single day. This wave that will change society forevermore. It starts small, nearly too small to notice at first.

It starts with weary moms at Target smiling at each other so we know we’re not alone.

It starts in book clubs, and spinning classes and yoga studios.

It starts when we stop looking at each other through the eyes of comparison.

It starts when a tragedy happens and thousands of women on Instagram reach out to a family experiencing unbelievable loss.

It starts when we ask real questions and have real conversations and discover how desperately our soul was longing for friendship kindred.

It starts when we call out the beauty and the talents and the extraordinary we see in women around us.

It starts when we believe that we are our very best when we do life together.

It starts when a new mom has meals delivered to her door and her toilets scrubbed.

It starts when we introduce ourselves at playgrounds instead of staring at our phones.

It starts when there is no fear of judgement…
In asking for help.
In revealing our weaknesses.
In being vulnerable.
In speaking of the uglier parts of life.
In asking forgiveness when we are wrong.
In dying to the disease of pride.
In asking women we love to journey with us.
In admitting we need each other.

It starts with you. It starts with me.
And it is so time.

We’ve got this.

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Stacy is a wife, mother to three beautiful daughters, Labor and Delivery nurse, and in case you couldn’t tell, she’s passionate about the power of community and friendship among women.

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dearest ones,

May you know what it is to rise each morning with work to be done.

May you know the stillness of an afternoon with a space laid bare for thoughts to gather and be stirred into vision.

May you look for the dim light in the distance when you’re caught in a fog–may you chase it with stubbornness and wild hope.

May you sniff the air and know that snow is coming, hike alone to meet with God, and put all your senses into noticing a crackling fire before you.

May you know silence–may you enter into it gladly, eager for its lessons.

May you travel and fill your minds with strange and delightful newness, may you see things that bother you, ask questions, listen well and long.

May you be overcome with curiosity from an early age and feel freedom to find out where the rabbit-hole leads. And, may you know that in this life you have a True North, watching and cheering, waiting to hear all about it.

Live, babies. Live your questions and answers. I can only see God smiling over you.

 

Inspired by Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice.

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accepting help with open hands

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to fear.

Because of our daughter Aimee’s history, she has some developmental delays–enough to qualify for Early Intervention services. We’re grateful, of course, that these services are available (not only that, but licensed, caring professionals come to our home, at times we choose, and we don’t pay a dime.) But I’ve noticed something about my daughter’s therapy appointments: I tend to be tired and sad afterward.

I’ve struggled with how much of this to share, because Aimee’s story is her own to tell. My hope is to tell the truth about my experience, while protecting hers.

2012-07-07_14-01-40_245July 2012

Over and over, my husband and I have been reminded that Aimee is on her own schedule and she’ll reach milestones when she’s ready and so we try to keep faith that things will happen when the time is right. From the time she came to our home, tiny and fragile at six weeks old, to now, we’ve navigated a tricky balance between gently pushing her forward and pausing when her cues prompt us to.  When she took her first steps and pointed to the dog magnet and found her nose, we cheered a little louder and clapped a little longer than with our other children, because she had to work harder, and longer, to get there.

Still,  fear casts a shadow over whatever milestone is supposed to come next.

Fear provokes a helpless, anxious response to the big questions: Can I accept any outcome, while continuing to work for the best possible outcome? How will my daughter be treated in life? What will school be like? Will her heart be broken by careless words?

Will those careless words be mine?

photo (2)September 2012

Since we recently moved to a new state, we’ve been establishing care with a new agency, and that means meetings, assessments, and interviews. Last week we did what’s called a Routines Based Interview– a tool used to outline the activities of a typical day and find any areas of concern or potential for improvement. This sort of thing stresses me out, to be honest. It feels invasive and intimate (because it is) but at the same time I know it’s for my daughter’s good. It’s a first step for the therapists, to direct their focus.

Part of the interview was to identify our support network–all the people in our lives who interact with Aimee in some way. The last time we did one of those was in New Mexico, and let’s just say the page was full. Church, friends, neighbors, babysitters, day care, social workers, therapists, grandparents–we don’t have some of those resources here, and it takes time to build up the sort of support network we had before.

One of the interview questions was “when you lie awake at night and worry, what do you worry about?”–ironic because it caused that very thing. That’s what Early Intervention does though: it brings to light things that may not be noticed otherwise, and it’s a good thing because that’s the first step to any sort of change. And this particular exercise helped me to realize that I was carrying the burden of responsibility for making things happen.

Throughout this journey, I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not the one in control. I lay down the burden, but I’m quick to pick it up again.

20130621_122039June 2013

I spent some time with my fear: praying, journaling, airing my thoughts out loud with my husband. He has many of the same fears, and shared how he handles them. In stillness, I was able to see myself clenching my fists tightly when it came to Aimee’s care. I realized that I have some discomfort with the “special needs” label. No one wants their child to be labeled, of course, but this had more to do with my own bias. Deep down, I was angry about it.  During the foster-adoption process, there were so many unknowns that I simply started filing them away in the back of my mind. It hurts to bring things to the surface, and so I’ve been in pain, but it’s a pain with a purpose. Like childbirth.

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The next time our therapists came over, Ricky was able to stay home for the morning. He wrangled Silas while I talked to the Early Childhood Educator and Speech Language Pathologist about their findings from the interview. Together we came up with some practical, helpful ideas and a manageable plan to implement them. We all sat on our living room floor and read books, practicing pointing and naming, singing songs and laughing at Silas and Aimee’s antics. I noticed, surprised, that I felt light and hopeful. I had put the burden of Aimee’s well-being down, and opened my eyes to the people around me who are working for her good as well.

The interview served two purposes: helping us to figure out the next steps for Aimee, and helping me to let go of some toxic baggage. The first was the intended purpose, the second I’m taking as a gift. We can’t care for children well without caring for ourselves too.

IMG_6917October 2013

The mood’s been different around here since then. My energy to parent creatively has been renewed. We’ve been painting, and playing dress-up, vrooming cars around on the floor, having spontaneous dance parties, building train tracks and reading under blankets–all things I long to do with them, all things I find incredibly difficult when I’m burdened down. I find myself more like the mother I want to be, because I’ve accepted help–externally and internally.

Making myself vulnerable to outside help is a really uncomfortable process. It involves shedding light on my insecurities as a parent, and admitting that I don’t have it all together, that truthfully I’ve been struggling to find balance ever since adding a third child to our family.

It takes bravery to show up for our real, everyday lives.

I want to write on every mirror in the house: ASK FOR HELP. And when the help comes, let it in. Internalize it. Open the fists, see the good that’s all around.

20140119_155001January 2014

I’m still unpacking my fears, but I’m determined to remind myself daily that I’m part of a team. It’s not all up to me. This frees me to focus on our precious Aimee–to notice her curiosity, unique personality, progress, setbacks, and downright cuteness– and just be her mother, her advocate, her cheerleader.

So thank you, pain. Thank you, discomfort. There are beautiful things to come.

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minutes and hours

Those stinking January blues descended here in full force last week, and my first response was to regret that I hadn’t done enough to stave them off. After all, I’d given in to my homebody tendencies too many times: weighing the energy it takes to go out with a one and three year old against the ease of just staying in and nearly always choosing the latter. I’d read too many serious books, and indulged in too many cups of coffee and not nearly enough glasses of water. All the usual signs of trying to comfort myself, followed by all the usual reminders that I need more.

The sun shone just a certain way some days and I started to think about Spring. I called my mother to ask if she thought it was too late to plant bulbs. Ricky was gone for six days, and I surprised myself by not turning into a total heap on the floor. I made good use of the Yes prayer during those days, most assuredly.

Still, I started to dread another day indoors, trying to set a cheerful tone and resisting the urge to pull the curtains shut. Tired mornings even after plenty of sleep. I get this way, in Winter. Do you?

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One day, Silas was wiggling around as I changed his Pull-Up, and I asked him to be still. “Just a minute, sweetheart,” he murmured, rolling his train along the side of the table. Something inside me was hibernating, and in that moment it stirred a bit. Sweetheart.

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On Tuesday it snowed again; magical because of the babies’ excitement. I did a lot of looking out windows and it felt like a metaphor for my life right now. I watched Nicky run in his clunky boots to the neighbor’s house to play with Legos and swords, I watched Silas and Aimee turn their faces up to catch the flakes. Aimee’s lashes were white with them. I watched, and it was all I could seem to do. The minimum things: laundry and dinner, were heavy.

In that heaviness I tried to remember: if I were someone else, I would give me a hug. I was full of questions as I tried to scrape my tenderness together into an evening meal. This song played in the background. Where Grace is found, is where you are. The image of God as a tired-but-trying mother hen, longing to gather chicks under wings, came to mind. I imagined myself being gathered there willingly, gladly. Cared for as I navigated the rhythms we all do: freeze, thaw, sleep, wake. Learn, relearn, teach, relearn. Every hour I need you–no truer words exist for me.

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The weekend came and I did some helpful things: a text message to our lovely babysitter, a dinner out, a long cold walk around a frozen lake. I seem to be better at caring for myself when I remember how deeply cared for I am. As another week begins, I remember this.

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Like a Child

Today I’m grateful to be sharing a guest post from James Stambaugh. James and his wife, Deborah, are dear friends of ours and some of my favorite people  to talk with about theology and its tangible effect on our lives, usually while drinking something interesting. We don’t see them nearly enough, and as I always learn something from our conversations, it’s a treat to hear James’ thoughts on the decision to baptize their son Edmund as an infant, and the ways children teach us how to approach God. 

Baptizing my son as an infant was a difficult choice.  I mentally accented to the doctrine.  I read the pertinent theology.  My wife and I worked through the information given to us by our parish, and met with the Christian education director.  We set a date to have Edmund James baptized, and chose godparents.  But there were complications.  These decisions are rarely only about theology.  Christian practice is messy.

Psychologically, it was hard to overcome twenty years of being told that infant baptism was wrong; that a person must choose for his or herself to be baptized.  I was baptized when I was nine after making a public profession of faith in Christ.  I don’t exactly remember choosing anything.  I remember it though, cold water on a January night, and value the memory.

The Anglican tradition, which I came to in young adulthood, affirms the value and the choice of baptism for older children and adults.  Since I began attending the Episcopal church I have seen many persons “of riper years”—as an old Prayer Book called it—get baptized, and it is always beautiful.  But, infant baptism is the normative practice of our church.  More by intuition than by dogmatics, I felt it was right for my son.

Some of our close family warned us before Edmund was born never to let them know if we baptized him as an infant.  They acted as if just knowing of an infant baptism in the family would cause too much shame and disappointment to bear.

My wife and I were faced with a decision between what we felt was right and what was normative in our faith community on the one hand, and what we were taught growing up and what our family wanted us to do on the other.

In the end, we went with our gut.  We brought our child to the font.  We promised in front of God and everyone to bring him up in the Christian faith, and help him to grow into the full stature of Christ.  We spoke the ancient words of the baptismal covenant, and our voices were strengthened by the voices of the whole congregation.  The priest poured water on his head, and anointed him with oil.  We received the light of Christ: a candle burning with Pascal fire.

That was two years ago.  Edmund is almost three.  Most Sundays we take him out of the nursery in time for Holy Communion.  He calls it “Jesus bread time.”

He points to the colors in the stained glass, listens to the rumbling organ, and says parts of the Lord’s Prayer—mostly just “Our Father” over and over.   Then we line up to go to the altar rail.  When he was younger we would take the wafer for him, break it up, make sure it all ended up in his mouth, but we don’t worry too much about that anymore.

Now Edmund kneels by himself.  His chin rests on the top of the wooden rail polished by a century of communicants.  He reaches up, palms open; absolutely committed to expectation.  He wastes no time shoving the whole wafer in his mouth.  He smiles as it melts on his tongue.  Once he grabbed the priest’s vestment as he walked past, and asked, “more please.”  The priest gave it to him.  Another time he begged a piece from the man kneeling next to him.  This man broke his wafer in half and gave it to my son.  As a member of our congregation, that gentleman also made a promise the day Edmund was baptized, and he took it seriously.

Edmund feasts on the Sacrament with unadulterated joy.  When he breaks free of my grasp and runs to the rail giggling, I see what Jesus meant when he told us to approach His kingdom like a child, with innocence, joy, and expectation; with careless laughter.  At the rail, receiving the Eucharist with Edmund, I know that baptizing him was right.  He is a member of the Body of Christ and participates in the life of the Church in his own, completely legitimate way.  And who cares that he approaches donuts in the fellowship hall the same way? [1]

Edmund is teaching me that children intuitively understand the Incarnation.  They make no distinction between sacred and profane, between spiritual and material.  They worship just as truly with sticky hands full of cake as with prayer book and hymnal (though the combination of all three is not recommended).

Some will still argue that children cannot worship, or be baptized, or take the Eucharist because they don’t know what they’re doing.  But do any of us really know what we’re doing?  Regardless of how ripe in years we are when it happens, we are all infants at baptism.  The extent to which we think we are spiritually mature is usually inversely related to how mature we really are.  If we do not approach the Sacraments as a mystery—with the spiritual discipline of expectant unknowing—we are in grave danger.  Children don’t have to worry about that.  God grant me grace to be like them.

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James is in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest and will be attending seminary in the fall of 2014.  Right now, he lives in Albuquerque, NM with his beautiful wife and darling children.  He occasionally blogs at cynoceph.wordpress.com.

[1] Who can deny the sacramentality of coffee hour?

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Sabbath

At present we hear

only the sound of

hush, hush, hush

and so take our joy

in things like warm red wine, like

a blanket and socked feet touching,

in the hours-long nap the babies have settled

into, in choosing which song-words to teach them

this season.

All is as it should be, nothing to fix,

nothing to re-arrange.

Nothing to do except lay my head on your shoulder

as the snow parades down and we applaud its perfection.

Stop, rest, wait.

Come evening we ladle out a slow-cooked dinner, clink

water cups all around,

and light the second candle.

Fill us with good things, I breathe.

Today is for hush and glow.

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