Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.


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Growing


My baby girl will be ten years old in less than two weeks. That is both wonderful and hard. That’s what poetry is for, right? 

Oh beautiful ache

that stretches with my children’s growing limbs

that curls around the need to hold them close as nursing babes

but sighs with painful joy to see them reaching out for life. 


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Relative Gratitude?

[warning – do not plan to enjoy thanksgiving leftovers while reading this post. It involves plumbing problems…]

The last few days have not delivered the Thanksgiving break I was planning on.

I suppose I had some warning. This past Sunday, when a load of laundry flooded the basement due to a blockage in the pipes, it was a foreshadowing of the dangers of home ownership. But an evening visit from the Joe the plumber (his real name), and a few hundred dollars later, it was supposed to be fixed.

Three days later Joe was back. More laundry. More water all over the basement. He diagnosed a blockage in the septic tank. That would be a few hundred more dollars, and we couldn’t get anyone out until Friday, but it was still a manageable crisis. It seemed that only large amounts of water were a problem. We could still wash dishes, flush the toilet, even shower. We could make it a few days without doing laundry.

And I really needed that to be the solution because I  didn’t have time for any more significant disruption of the household routine. Work has been so overwhelming lately that I regularly have to fight back panic tears if I let myself think past just the next urgent task. And then…Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving. I discovered fresh turkeys and focaccia stuffing when we lived in Italy, and I am now embarrassingly proud of my Thanksgiving spread. I wasn’t cooking for a crowd this year – just my own little family and a dear friend from church – but still. It’s Thanksgiving, and that means The Works.

And I was already facing one challenge to this plan: a pesky little degenerated disk in my fifth lumbar region. It has been acting up off and on over the past few months. In recent days even the minimal exertion of 5-10 minutes standing on the hard tile floor in the kitchen prepping the kids’ school lunches leaves me with lower back spasms that take my breath away and make the task of holding back those stress tears a whole lot harder.

But…Thanksgiving.

I defy anyone to successfully prepare a full turkey dinner without spending significant time on their feet. So, I bought a second gel-cushioned kitchen mat, said a few prayers, and started basting.

A couple hours in I could tell I was going to be hurting pretty badly by the time we sat down to eat – but that wasn’t the worst part of the day. That came when Princess Imagination yelled up from the basement. “Mommy! You need to get down here right now, there’s a big problem!”

I hobbled down as fast as my gimpy back would allow. This time the backflow was from Tyler’s shower. Ugh! I guess this problem is bigger than we thought. At least the septic people are coming tomorrow. Tyler might have to rinse the conditioner out of his hair with the garden hose (thank God for the unseasonably warm weather), but the septic flush would fix everything.

Looking back, I’m glad we were still under that delusion during our Thanksgiving celebration. We had a lovely meal with our friend, and we even washed up all the dishes – cautiously –  without catastrophe. My back was definitely hurting, but I hoped that a good night’s sleep with good supportive pillows in strategic places would do the trick.

Then came Friday. I woke up to intense pain. And by pain, I mean that it felt like a metal clamp was slowly tightening on my lowest vertebra.  Even sitting completely immobile hurt. But try telling that to two enthusiastic little bundles of love hopped up on no-school-holiday-weekend-time-to-decorate-for-Christmas excitement. The fifth or sixth time one of them jumped on me in an overflow of glee there were more than a few angry words.

And then the septic company came, flushed the system, and concluded that “No. There was no blockage in the tank. Your problem is in the pipes.”

Re-enter Joe the Plumber (I swear that really is his name). Some trained listening, some experimenting, and we had a third diagnosis. Somewhere between the exit from the house and the septic tank, the pipe was compromised. As in – it will cost $3,000 to replace it.

But not until Saturday. It was a full-day job and it was after 3:00 in the afternoon.

I was very aware that it was after 3:00 in the afternoon, because I hadn’t used the bathroom since the night before. We were in a strictly no-flush situation and our two little ones needed the full remaining toilet capacity.

Now, in the long-term the $3,000 is going to hurt a lot more. But in the moment, my bladder was competing with my lower back for which could crack my pain threshold first. Which meant that I needed to venture out to find a public bathroom…on Black Friday…with a spasming back…not having showered since Wednesday morning.

As I tottered to the car, I was not in the most thankful mood.

Then I turned on the car, and NPR was on the radio with a story about Syrian refugees.

Perspective.

I was suddenly aware of the relative irrelevance of the hardships of my week. But more, I was suddenly also aware of just how hellish life is for the millions of people living for months on end without modern plumbing.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees there are more than 4 million Syrians registered as refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and North Africa – 4 million mothers, fathers, aunts, children – most are in refugee camps.

I have been hearing these numbers for months, and the numbers are overwhelming, but also a bit emotionally deadening. My mind and heart can’t grapple with the concept of so many people fleeing for their lives. The pain of that imagined fear is too much. I can’t simultaneously think of them a people with the same kinds of physical needs that I take for granted being met everyday.

Until just a few are not met. Until my dishes pile up in the sink because I can’t put any water down the drain. Until I have to plan my bathroom breaks around trips out of the house. Until I am conscious of the grease in my hair walking into a coffee shop to buy an over-priced latte as an excuse to use the facilities.

Then I am aware just how quickly we humans can feel dehumanized by the loss of running water. Just water. I still have heat, and shelter, and a freezer stocked with ice packs for my aching back, and every other comfort money can buy. All I lost was water for a few days, and I feel just a bit subhuman. A day that I have been looking forward to – the decorate for Christmas day that was supposed to be a special togetherness time for my family – was marred by stress, and snapishness, and impatience. A little physical pain, and a disruption of our domestic conveniences, and the spirit of patience, love, and joy that is supposed to characterize this season was palpably missing from our house.

Just one, temporary thing can make such a difference.

And more than 4 million people have lost everything. Perhaps permanently.

The moral of this story is supposed to be how I have been reminded to be thankful for all that I have, but honestly that feels rather shallow. If all I learn from the devastation visited on 4 million of my brothers and sisters is to be more grateful for the incredible bounty in my life, then I am a callous and self-centered beast.

Their suffering is not about me. It is about them. I don’t know what I can do about it, and that is a heart pain that weighs heavily on me. But I do know one thing.

I know I can think of them as fully human. I can recognize that the relative safety of a refugee camp is not a solution to their problem. I can reject any narrative that says I shouldn’t care. And I can keep caring until every man, woman, and child has a home again. A real home, with running water.

 


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Suicide Prevention Reflection

I don’t know if it is a sign of my healing, or of my current stress level, that World Suicide Prevention Day passed almost without a second thought today (or – technically – yesterday). Given the way that my father’s suicide when I was not quite grown has shaped my life, that relative inconsequence certainly means something.

Since I am still up, however, I don’t want to let the day pass without any notice, and so I am re-posting the piece I wrote shortly after the world lost the tortured light that was Robin Williams.

Suicide is complicated. It is wonderful to have a day of awareness, but Facebook memes and one-day attention efforts are not enough. When we talk about suicide, we need to really talk.

So this is my contribution to the conversation:

Absolutes and Vulnerability


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Balance

They tell me I’m supposed to find a balance:

between work and play

between rest and responsibility

between activity and contemplation

between care for others and restorative care of self.

And

sometimes all this balancing just feels like one more task I must perfect.

Or else,

all the delicately balanced weights will all come crashing down.

But perhaps

the goal is not the static stillness of a balanced scale.

Perhaps the object I must balance on is actually a swing,

and my task is to kick out my legs,

and enjoy the ride.


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Moving at Shutter Speed

This past weekend my little family got together with an old friend and her camera.

The friend is Sabrina Norrie, and the camera is a new off shoot of the website she began as part of her little family’s adventure of living at their own pace – a pace that lets them really experience the world they are moving through.

I scheduled this “family photoshoot” on a bit of a whim… because it looked fun, and I love pictures, and because it was a chance to get some great post-able snaps of my kids while also getting to see Sabrina for the first time in close to a year. That time lapse in our friendship a reflection of the pace at which my family generally moves – a rushing momentum so full of activity that it often precludes moments to just stop and experience… or connect.

While not much thought went into the decision to meet Sabrina at the park that afternoon, some thinking has come out of it – in addition to some really beautiful photos. [editorial note – this endorsement is completely unsolicited, but if you live in the New Jersey area, I highly recommend Family + Footprints!].

For an hour, the task at hand was to slow down long enough for the camera to capture our connections. There is real beauty in that slowness – a beauty that is capture in the pictures, but more in the recognition is has brought to my soul.


Moving at Shutter Speed

Before

The hurry of preparation layers on the daily pace of rush:

fights over clothes, and brushing teeth

attempts to corral childhood attention

to tune young minds and hands to tasks at hand

and set their expectations for the coming hour.

This extra step is meant to smooth over the wrinkles of a disconnected life,

to make it somehow shimmer with ephemeral beauty,

just like the colors that I layer on my face – a camera-ready mask.

Then we arrive

The sunset light is playing in the gently curving trees

a game that breaks the ice of shyness for my tinies

they understand these rules

without my adult explanations.

We’re here to play.

And so we are, although my instinct still is to direct:

“perhaps the posed shots first…

or we will never pull them back.”

So sweet young hearts comply with Mommy’s worry.

But

they bring the play along as well

and sing a bright duet of giggles mixed with camera clicks.

And as bright smiles and warm sunshine melt my cold perfectionists’ mask

I laugh as well.

The wrinkles might show through,

but so does Joy,

the joy that comes with slowing down enough to

just

sit

in this moment

and let the laughter linger on my lips

for long enough

to let the camera

and my soul

join with my family’s song

played in the meter of

slow-motion shutter speed.

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Mother to a Butterfly

butterfly smileI actually wrote this poem a few months ago. That particular night, however,  I did not have the emotional energy to post it, and since then the Princess and I have been sailing pretty smooth waters, so it has felt less relevant.

Today, however, it feels very authentic. It’s not that her behavior was so very unreasonable. She was justifiably frustrated about Mommy and Daddy working through virtually the entire snow day, while she and her brother had to entertain themselves. (By the way, I have discovered the downside of having a job that let’s me work from home).

Then at the end of this long, somewhat boring day, after Mommy had finally shut down her computer, Princess Imagination didn’t get to do her “show” at the exact moment she wanted to and she lost it. She’s seven. I understand.

I understand how she felt, and I also understand that sometimes my understanding doesn’t help. Sometimes she doesn’t need me to tell her that I understand. Sometimes she needs me to tell her that she is making poor decisions. Sometimes she needs my patience to sit and wait for her to work it through herself. And sometimes waiting for her to get over her fit of temper is so…damned…hard.


Mother to a butterfly

 

This smooth, hard floor is scraping at my patience

exposing an apparently raw nerve,

the urge to Just…Get…On with this damned metamorphosis.

This silent sitting nearly breaks my will

not hers, as I suppose I’m hoping for.

Resentment at this stasis brings distressing will to break.

But, staring at that fragile, frame curved in

around her anger, pain, thoughts I can’t read

I know cocoons must open from inside, I can’t break in.

And so I wait, exhaling stuttering prayers,

an incoherent hope that I won’t fail,

that love can still me long enough to give her time to grow.

Because, whatever started this display,

I know that what she needs is not my words,

but presence, that can prove I love her – butterfly or worm.

And then, soft miracle for both our hearts,

two quiet words, “I’m sorry” as she moves,

bright wings, unfurled now, curving around me; I get to see my butterfly reborn.