Posted in family life

making space for beauty

Aubade (who loves all things sparkly and frilly and fancy) discovered today the few formal dresses I have saved over the years, and convinced me to try one on. She was really rooting for the wedding dress, but putting that one on is not a one-person endeavor, so I ended up in a navy blue full-length gown from high school.

I am still surprised I managed to put it on; my ribs are definitely wider post-pregnancies. And it felt far more elegant than I remembered, which was nice. But the best part was when I walked out wearing it and Aubade was overwhelmed with delight that Mommy was wearing a pretty dress like she was and Limerick ran to me instantly to exclaim over the dress and claim a hug. I was reminded of the time my mom dressed up in the most gorgeous burgundy outfit with sheer sleeves for a fancy event with my dad – how I thought she was just the most glamorous and beautiful person I’d ever seen, and how it made me so happy to see her so beautiful, like my heart swelling inside me. And now somehow I found myself in her role in the cyclical drama of life, the mother instead of the child, the familial archetype for human beauty as well as human nurturing.

I’m still figuring out where it comes from, this child’s joy in seeing their mother beautiful. I remember feeling it quite strongly; I could tell my children felt it, as they demanded I not change back into normal clothes even when I had to do dishes and get ready for work; but I’m not quite sure of the source. My guess is that it has something to do with the overflowing love a child has for their mother, because when a person loves someone else they delight in that person’s beauty.

And knowing my children have this deep unconditional love for me, as children typically do for their parents, makes me want to be beautiful in character and not just in appearance, to be truly worthy, somehow, of this love pouring itself out for me for these short years of childhood. If it takes dressing up more frequently to remind myself of this, then (despite my love of the comfortable and casual) I am all for it.

Posted in family life, musings

getting through a bad day

Sometimes motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Sometimes I wake up already tired, already touched out from a night of nursing a sick baby, already talked out from a friend’s birthday party the day before, wanting to do nothing but bury my head in a pillow (or maybe a book) and isolate myself from the world around me until my equilibrium has sufficiently recovered. As everyone knows, of course, parenting doesn’t typically allow for such unplanned luxuries.

Sometimes every interaction is a battle not to yell or speak harshly. Sometimes the worst part of me wants to scream until everyone feels as awful as I do. Sometimes I can’t even handle the baby sitting on my lap with a book because I’m so sensorily overloaded that my skin crawls at the touch. Sometimes I pray for peace and gentleness and stumble again into anger the next minute.

Sometimes I look at my child and the tears in my own eyes – at my own imperfection, at the horrible way I’m acting – are mirrored in theirs.

Somehow we make it through the day anyway, with lots of apologies along the way. We get outside, if we can, and the calming influence of the outdoors leads to laughter and connection and positive strength. We read our bedtime books and the kids still ask for their “Pookie kisses” of Sandra Boynton inspiration. I tell them what I saw in them that made me proud, and apologize again, and we snuggle to sleep. And at last, the closeness of their bodies to mine can be felt as love by even my chaotic mental processor.

And I remind myself that these bad days are few, and that tomorrow is another opportunity to be compassionate, gentle, self-controlled, loving, present, and joyful with my children – to put in again the hard work of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully do a better job of it. I will fail, and the kids will fail, and I pray that we will in our failures learn both to be humble and to forgive, both to self-advocate when we are overwhelmed and to serve unthanked when we see others overwhelmed, both to grow closer to God who is alone perfect and who gives unending grace and to grow closer to each other even as our sin threatens to tear us apart.

Posted in sqt

seven thoughts on motherhood

Today I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the weekly Seven Quick Takes – head over to read the rest of the posts! And if you have time, catch up on Kelly’s May blog series highlighting different titles of Mary from around the world; it is undeniably worthwhile, simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and convicting.

  1. I first learned what it was to be a mother from watching my own mother. There’s a theological term kenosis which describes how Jesus emptied Himself out in accordance with His Father’s will out of love for us – and I think the commitment, self-giving, and love my mother shows for her children is a human reflection of that quality. If one of her children is sick, she will offer to help even if she hardly has five minutes available in the day. If one of her children suffers from physical illness or emotional pain, she suffers too, and wakes in the night to pray on their behalf. If one of her children makes a decision that confuses, hurts, or disappoints her, she responds with a genuine desire to understand, constant forgiveness and unconditional love.
  2. I also learned from my mother that mothering is not limited to one’s own children. The posture of provision, nurturance, patience, and love can be extended to almost anyone – and she lives and has lived it in so many ways: with her struggling students as a professor, with other homeschooling families as a mentor and veteran, with kids at church, with her brother and nephews, with anyone who has ever entered the doors of her home, and more.
  3. Motherhood is one of the hardest and best things in my life. Perhaps more than any other experience, it has given me a desire to truly strive for holiness and sainthood, while never failing to expose the weaknesses and sins that make me dependent on the grace of God for that holiness.
  4. In addition to my mother and my own experience of being a mother, the person who has taught me the most about motherhood is (unsurprisingly) Mary herself, Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Ever since Limerick was born I found myself being drawn to her – finding peace in prayers inspired by her, finding comfort in sharing my struggles with her, asking her to lead me closer to her Son. And in every situation where I have turned to her – in labor with Aubade, in the depths of my postpartum depression, in the daily turns of life with young children – she has responded by opening and softening my heart to God, and by increasing my desire for and faith in Him. For Mary, motherhood is about bringing her lost and hurting children to their Savior and Healer through a relationship of love, compassion, hope, and connection.
  5. A mother will never desert you, never give up on you, never stop loving you, and never stop praying for you. She will probably never stop teasing and/or embarrassing you either, of course! But this persistence and constancy is but an echo of God’s maternal love, according to Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, yet I will not forget you!”
  6. If mothers are awesome, grandmothers may be even more so. I have to mention my own mother again here 🙂 because if it weren’t for her wisdom and support as the grandmother of my children, my journey through motherhood would be much more difficult. As it is, my children reap the full benefits of her experience and have a huge amount of extra love poured into them. We watched a documentary this week in which an elephant baby became stuck in deep mud, and her panicked first-time mom was just making things worse attempting to dig her out. Things were looking bad when the elephant grandma noticed the situation, pushed the mom out of the way, and helped the baby out. It just seemed so emblematic of every great grandmotherly relationship! Grandmothers are crucial to passing relational knowledge and experiential wisdom down through the generations.
  7. Here’s an amazing quote – succinct and powerful – from St. Edith Stein to wrap up. “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (The Significance of Women’s Value in National Life). There you go. That is what we do, fellow moms – that is why we pour ourselves out in all the little and big things of each day with these children we’ve been given, that we might nourish, protect, and bring to development the intrinsic humanity within each of them.

Don’t forget to head over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – first week home

It’s been a long time since I remembered about the Seven Quick Takes link up far enough in advance to write a post for it! This is a good week for it, too, since it was my first week as a (mostly) SAHM…

Also, after writing these I realized that every point on the list can serve as an example of some autism characteristic. I suppose it supports the argument that autism is an integral part of who an autistic person is – informing their strengths, joys, temptations, and weaknesses. Bonus points if you can name the trait that is on display in each quick take 😛 Continue reading “{SQT} – first week home”

Posted in family life, musings

fear of change

After eight years of working in a genomics research center, I’ll be transitioning to being a stay-at-home parent a week from now. Technically I’ll be working eight hours a week, in a sort of consultant role, which will keep me connected to the science – but it will still be a big change. It’s what I’ve been wanting ever since Rondel was born almost four years ago – but as it approaches, I find myself becoming more and more anxious.

I like my job, and I am good at my job. My supervisor respects me and my opinions; the researchers who rely on the services our facility provides respect me and my scientific knowledge and experience. I know what types of problems are most likely to arise, and I have tools and strategies for troubleshooting them. And I know that if I put in time, effort, and energy, I will have a successful outcome.

To be totally honest, I really like having the respect of other professionals whose opinion I value and who do innovative and important research. It gives me self-confidence: I may be a complete wreck if I have to call my doctor to schedule an appointment, but when I sit down with a researcher to discuss their experiment and figure out the best plan for them to take moving forward, I am completely at ease. It also gives me a sense of identity and self-definition: when acquaintances ask what I do, I can tell them about the science and feel that I’m doing something of worth, something that uses my talents and gifts, something beyond just staying at home and cleaning and cooking like any other person could do.

At the heart of my nervousness about the transition, then, I think, is a fear of losing that respect and identity – of becoming part of the crowd, no one in particular, no one with any valuable skills or gifts to offer my community. When I spend time with other moms, I feel so inadequate in the areas they are gifted in: my home is rarely clean, laundry and meals happen on an as-needed basis rather than with planning, small talk eludes me, playdates terrify me, schedules and extra activities overwhelm me, my children are dirty and wild. My mind is usually lost in a book, or an idea, or a project, instead of focusing on the people around me. I say nothing and feel isolated, or I say too much and still never manage to connect with anyone else. I simply don’t have the skills that these other women have, and without them, I’m not sure where I can fit in or belong in the mom world (especially the homeschool mom world… those women are so organized that I give up just at the thought of trying to be like them).

In the workforce, in academia, where everyone is a bit weird and everyone is valued simply for the expertise they offer, I knew where I fit in and I knew how I could flourish.

In this new world, I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to flourish – and that in my lack of flourishing, I will stunt my children’s future as well.

I’m not going to let my fears make a decision for me, when I believe on principle that a self-directed education is ideal for children, and when I observe pragmatically the stress that a classroom environment would add to our family life. I’m going to choose to let my love for my family be the motivating factor here instead!

But I’m still afraid.

Posted in family life, musings

waking in the night: a meditation on love

I lie on the low bed in the darkness, and my baby curls against me, resting her head on my soft chest and stomach (the stomach I resent when I try to dress for adult life but which functions so perfectly as a cozy baby pillow). Our breaths are the only sound, her faster, shallower breaths a counterpoint to my deep and steady rhythm. I slow the pace of my breathing to guide her into sounder sleep, hoping her body will follow mine. She is warm and solid next to me, tangible physicality grounding me in embodied reality and relationship. There are books I wanted to read, projects I wanted to work on, chores I ought to take care of, but I stretch out this moment much longer than necessary. There is such immense privilege in being the one whose presence can calm her fears and dry her tears; there is such wonder in being able to soothe and comfort another when I cannot do so for myself. I recall her newborn months, when I sat in the hospital rocking her, deep into the darkest depression I have yet experienced, and yet somehow able to calm and comfort her anyways.

Maybe none of us can completely accomplish that for ourselves; maybe consolation and peace are gifts we can give to others better than we can create them for ourselves, and which we must in turn receive from others if we are to experience them fully. My baby cries out for me to come to her and restore her to peace, to console her in the loneliness of the night; we grow, and become independent, and pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency and strength, and we stifle our own cries in the darkness. Maybe we have cried too many times into an unresponsive void, and have decided we don’t want to risk adding the pain of rejection and worthlessness to the burden we already bear. We forsake the openness and vulnerability of our infancy, protecting our hearts – and closing the door to the fullness of comfort and peace that only comes through the love and presence of another.

I come to my babies in the night, though I may be exhausted or frustrated, because I know the pain of crying when no one hears, and I don’t want that pain to be theirs. I lift them in my arms, my little ones wakeful and sad for reasons beyond their ability to explain. And in the teary eyes wiped on my shoulder, the little head laid against my chest, the arms wrapped around my neck, I receive gifts just as powerful as any I give: love, meaning, and worth. They remind me of my own need for love and connection even as they show my my own power as a giver of that love and connection. However weary I may be, all the sleepless nights, all the hours pacing and rocking and snuggling, all the worry and time and energy spent, are nothing compared to what I have received simply be being their mother.

Posted in musings, poems, quotes

success

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.

In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?

When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?

Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?

I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in family life, musings

a bedtime routine

Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little boy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.

Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.

But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.

I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and I feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.

Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.

Posted in family life, sqt

{SQT} – seven stories about my mom, for her birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I didn’t get to see her. We’ll be celebrating tomorrow though! My mom has always been one of those people who makes special days (like birthdays and holidays) really feel special and significant, so for her birthday I wanted to write a little bit about her, and some of the memories I have of her through the past twenty-odd years. Because it’s also a Friday I’ll give you seven snippets and link up with {SQT} at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

  1. I don’t have an earliest memory of my mom. She just always was, and always was making life good, in unseen, taken-for-granted sorts of ways, all through my early childhood. So nothing specific stands out in my memory, unfortunately.
  2. I do, however, remember how much she loved to garden in our home in Pennsylvania – how she had strawberries and peas along the fence, and tiger lilies all along the back so she could see them from the back porch or the kitchen window, with soft mossy patches around them. I remember how excited she was the year she planted blueberry bushes, and how we hoed the ground together to make it ready for their tender new roots. My love for gardening largely comes from those early memories of her making our small yard beautiful and fruitful with life.
  3. Hmm, there was also the time when I stepped on a bee as a toddler and couldn’t explain what had happened, my mom thought I had broken my toe and took me to the ER, and was rather frustrated with me after the X-rays when the whole situation was finally explained. I remember feeling rather confused and small, just caught up in the whole event without really understanding what was going on. She was just being a caring and slightly over-anxious mom 🙂 Have I struggled with her worry? Of course. Has it helped me in countless unexpected ways? Also of course.
  4. Many of my best memories of my mom take place in the kitchen, either cooking or cleaning together. She taught me how to bake bread, crack eggs, and prep a raw chicken; she taught me fractions with measuring cups; she showed me how fulfilling and meaningful it can be to do everyday things well for the benefit of the people we love. We also had a lot of fun – for instance, one day for lunch we made pancakes and stacked them up with brown sugar and butter like they did in the Laura Ingalls books, assembly-line style, and then devoured them joyously. I still remember our excitement, as kids, about getting to do that!
  5. My mom is not a sensitive person, and that served me well growing up. I could argue, complain, protest, debate, attack, be moody, speak sharply, and know that she would be able to let it go, not take it personally, and keep loving me. It wasn’t that she made me think my bad attitudes and unkind words were ok – but she always made sure I knew that I was ok and loved, even when my actions weren’t acceptable. She often said that she wasn’t empathetic or compassionate, as if those were her weaknesses, but I think that her thick skin and realistic attitude were great strengths in her parenting and allowed her to love her thin-skinned, sensitive children well. She neither gave in to our emotions nor allowed them to hurt her. Or rather, as I see now that I am older, she didn’t allow that hurt to change how she loved and cared for us, and she didn’t let us see the hurt because that is usually too great of a burden for a young child to carry.
  6. My mom filled our lives with books. She would read to us, she would read the same books as us and talk about them with us, she would leave books scattered around the house for us to find and read, she would give us books for every holiday, she would take us to the library every week – books of information, books of stories, books of poetry, picture books and chapter books and classics, all had a place in our home because of her efforts. I wouldn’t be who I am today without those books, and I will always be grateful for that.
  7. Now that I’m a mom as well, I see my mom with new eyes. I see the love and pride and fear in her eyes when she talks about my brother’s illness and future. I see the boldness it takes to be proud of her children even when their accomplishments are invisible to a world that sees only their struggles. I see glimpses of the vulnerability that she has always hidden so well, the tears that come equally from seeing her children create something beautiful or from watching them suffer in the fight with their internal demons. If having a child means having part of your heart live forever outside of yourself, as the quote has it, then part of my mom’s heart is with me, and my sister, and my brother, and I suddenly feel as if I ought to treat it gently, and with great reverence. It was this heart that showed me how to love, and taught me how to live, and which still treasures me in its embrace.

I love you mom, on your birthday and every other day. You were and are an amazing mother to me, and now you’re an amazing grandmother to my kids as well. I could never thank you enough for everything you have done and are doing for me.

Posted in sqt

{SQT} – my first week back at work!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum again this week!

Well, maternity leave is finally up and I’m back at work. Which honestly I’m very happy about, as much as I love motherhood… I just do a lot better when I have some time away from the kids to be task-oriented and rational 🙂 So in that vein, here are seven things I’m grateful for in this first week back!

  1. I’m thankful that my job has such great benefits. Our insurance has covered us through the pregnancy, birth, and Aubade’s two hospitalizations, and getting to take 12 full weeks of paid maternity leave is a huge privilege (at least here in the US). The time to heal, both physically and emotionally, without financial stress, is such a gift.
  2. I’m thankful for the flexibility of my schedule! My supervisor and team have been incredibly accommodating of my attempts to work around my husband’s and my mom’s classes (so that one of us can always be with the kids), which can result is some pretty strange hours, and I’m very appreciative of their understanding. For the rest of this semester I’ll be working four afternoons and one full day (I only work 30 hours a week), which leads me to the next item on the list:
  3. I’m thankful that I still have mornings with the kids. Two days a week I don’t have to leave until after lunch; the other two days I leave mid-morning. So that means I have two days to go out to a park or splash pad without having to rush home or be out in the heat of the day, and two days to play at home and do crafts/cleaning/baking/other activities. It’s a good balance, and a great way to start the day. In addition, it means I can still make it to the church moms’ group on Wednesday mornings! I get a chance to talk with other moms, and the kids get a chance to play in an unforced, unstructured way at a park with other kids.
  4. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to bike to work again. I biked back in 2013-2014, after Rondel was born until I was about 13 weeks into my pregnancy with Limerick, when the onset of summer and a miscarriage scare persuaded me to stop. For some reason, I never started back up, and I’d been missing it. So I bought a new bike (my old one had been stolen) and didn’t give myself the option to chicken out! It’s six miles one way, so it’s a bit tiring given that I haven’t been doing any exercise at all for a long time now, but there’s something unbeatable about the wind in my face, the sun on my arms, the smooth whir of the tires on the asphalt, and the feeling of strength in my legs as the miles go by. It leaves me feeling joyful, energized, and empowered, and I can’t complain about that even on days when I’ve got a headwind both ways 😉
  5. As a corollary to biking again, I’m thankful for a relatively distraction-free time to pray – namely, the hour every day that I’m on the bike. No one is talking to me, I can’t read a book or use my phone, and no one is around me to notice what I’m doing and make me self-conscious. It would be so hard for me to carve out that much time in any other way, and it is so good to have a chance to just be with and talk to God. And if I don’t have anything on my mind or don’t know what to say, a round trip is just about the amount of time it takes me to pray through the Rosary, and it’s hard to go wrong spending an hour meditating on the events of Jesus’s life.
  6. I’m thankful also for my coworkers. My supervisor is absolutely wonderful – intelligent, visionary, adaptable, and pragmatic; he never micromanages, never gets angry about a failure or mistake, always provides opportunities to learn new skills and stretch our abilities, and always listens to and considers our input. My teammate is also great; after a rough period when we were figuring out how to work together, we’re settling into a good rhythm. He is one of the most dependable and hard-working people I know, and he has good lab hands in the bargain so his work is typically impeccable.
  7. Finally, I’m insanely grateful for my husband. My return to work puts more pressure on him, as a lot of his time is now filled up with the kids and his studying has to be squeezed into odd hours or pushed back late into the night. But he still manages to be kind, compassionate, and servant-hearted, even when he’s exhausted and stressed and the boys are waking him up again at 2am. He’ll hold that wakeful little boy in his arms and get him a drink of water and speak words of peace and love to him so that he can go back to sleep, and never complain about how tired he is or speak sharply out of exasperation. He keeps up with the laundry, washes dishes, and feeds the kids nourishing food, and never criticizes me or complains to me if I don’t do as much as I probably should, or if I do something that annoys him (like forgetting to put a new toilet paper roll on the holder… haha). And I know he will be there for me if I need a listening ear or practical advice.

All in all, I’d say it’s been a good first week back, at least for me… it probably was a bit more rough for my husband and the kids, but someone has to pay the bills and I have the blessing of loving the work that I do.