Faith, Family, & Focaccia

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


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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.

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Enoughness

The first week back from holiday travels left me a bit drained.

Actually, to be honest, it is not just the return to reality but also the two weeks of holiday that left me feeling out of balance. Or, perhaps the experience is better described as a distracting sensation of background buzzing that makes me want to shake my head, or maybe shake my whole life, to rid myself of the discomfort.

As I have struggled to find mental and emotional focus, it has become increasingly clear that this distress results from two strangely cooperating, though entirely opposite experiences: Excess and Lack.

Holiday Excess is a familiar theme.

Excess food – stretching my willpower and my digestion (not to mention my jeans).

Excess gifts – three different family celebrations leaving my children with the expectations that new presents should be offered every few days, and at least partially distracting them from satisfaction with the gifts themselves.

Excess luggage – to load into cars, and haul through airports, and cram into overhead bins while my aching back protests.

But the sense of overload merged discordantly with a suffocating sense of lack as well.

Lack of time – to just sit and talk and enjoy the people we travelled 3,000 miles to see.

Lack of home comforts – like my own bed, or a dresser full of sweaters I had not already worn twice in the prior ten days.

Lack of space – for the simple, restorative rest of solitude when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

It’s such a first world problem, I know, to complain about a two-week holiday in California with so many family members whom I love, but … I am a first world woman. The perspective to be able to recognize my privilege did precious little to actually resolve the emotional strain wrapped around me like a poorly insulating blanket as I stepped back into the cold New Jersey winter.

And that return brought its own sources of layered excess and lack. Excess of workload trying to pick up all the dropped threads of my two-week hiatus. Lack of hours in the day to give each task the attention is deserves. Excess of mess in my home after the luggage vomited its contents over every flat surface in the living room and the oozed around the rest of the house over the next few days. Lack of patience for my beloved family members who apparently did not consider this mess a problem, or at least not one they had any role in fixing.

Collapsing into bed each night this week I felt totally out of balance, with a body protesting its exhaustion and a mind already whirring with the to-do list for tomorrow. I needed rest and peace and centering, but even battling to fall asleep felt like a continuation of the tug-o-war. A few nights I whispered a faint prayer, but prayer for me is usually a discipline before it grows into a joy. And it’s hard to be disciplined when you are flailing your arms trying desperately not to fall.

Then came my return to weekly yoga class as I was praying (with or without discipline) for 75 minutes of blessed balance. That is I was incoherently muttering my prayer until I saw the teacher. It was not my beloved Suzette who has taught me the joy of breathing. No, it was Ruth, the G.I. Jane of community yoga. There would be no balance today. That is to say, Ruth would almost certainly push us to try some crazy arm-stand balance pose that would make me want to cry. But this class was not going to be a restorative, re-centering practice.

I wanted to just sit it out. I was tired. I was stressed. I was not in the mood to be pushed. But I have been trying to coast the kids on sticking with their commitments. Sitting on the lounge while they did their kids yoga class would be a little hard to explain.

So I did it. It was really hard. I was sore for three days after.

Something else has lasted even longer than my sore muscles however. That night I learned that balance might actually be about Enough.

The only way I was going to get through yoga that night was by doing Enough, and not too much. If I tried too much I was not just going to be waving my arms, I was going to fall on my head. So I didn’t. I pulled back.

It was so hard to do. I have always been an over achiever. I get far too much of my ego from accomplishments, and I have a driving need to be the teacher’s pet. Whenever there is an invitation to “challenge yourself” I try to take it. The encouragement at the beginning of class to “only do what is right for you today” never feels like it applies to me.

But this time, it did. It was humbling, but it was also balancing. Enough is a really solid place to stand.

I have tried to hold onto this lesson in the days that have followed. I have mostly failed. I said “no” to one request today, but “yes” to too many others. I still feel pummeled by Excess and Lack. I am still wind-milling my arms in a frantic attempt to avoid the plummeting fall. But when I have realized this, I have just repeated the lesson. “That’s OK. ‘Enough’ is hard. You can’t expect to get ‘Enough’ right on the first, or second, or tenth try. Just trying to do ‘Enough’ is Enough for now.”

And so I am writing this post – my one hundredth, a post that I had wanted to be beautiful, and poetic, and perfect – with a fuzzy head that doesn’t feel like I am really saying it all clearly Enough. But I am still writing, and praying, that maybe tonight my Enough will be a gift to someone.

The Christmas tree is still up, and giving mute evidence that the kiddos have a hard time locating Enough as well.

The Christmas tree is still up, and giving mute evidence that the kiddos have a hard time locating Enough as well.

 


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Perspective and Engagement – I’m guest blogging

Well, if any of you have missed my little reflections, you can thank Sabrina over and familyandfootprints.com for calling me back to the blogging community. She invited me to pen some reflections on my expat experience for her amazing blog over at familyandfootprints.com. You can check out the post here.

Also – it seems fitting that, on the day I publish my thoughts about the anniversary of our departure from Milan, Princess Imagination and the Gigglemonster decided to wear their old school uniforms to school. Apparently, they miss it too.

You can take them out of Italy, but they still have the clothes.

You can take them out of Italy, but they still have the clothes.


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Finding God Playing With My Son

Parenting has changed me in so many ways, and more than one of them has involved a deep transformation of my faith. It would probably take an entire blogging series to unpack what I mean in that sentence, so I am not going to try here. The one pseudo-explanation I will offer is this totally inadequate (though complicated) declaration: It is really hard to teach someone about God when the person you are trying to teach is stuck very solidly in the concrete thinking phase of intellectual development, while one’s own faith development has taken a more than thirty year and highly convoluted journey through rather fundamentalist thinking that nearly killed it, and left it simultaneously disgusted by self-satisfied certainty and still yearning for its comfort.

And so, it has been like the first breath of air inhaled by lungs released from some heavy weight, to realize that my struggling words are not the primary vehicle by which I am teaching my children, and particularly not my son (who is far less caught in his head than either me or his big sister). The relationship between words and verifiable truth is rather inconsequential to him. Far more important is the joy of the moment, especially if that moment involves connection.

As it turns out. I’m actually learning a lot about God from my son.


 

Finding God Playing With My Son.

 

If feelings could in color show

your face would paint a bright rainbow.

No mask of dim restraint you wear

and eyes’ communing thus impair.

 

No, as I gaze I see your soul

as though cavorting on a stroll

across the smooth and mobile skin

that God saw fit to dress you in.

 

And those communicating eyes

invite me to abandon lies —

of competence, or ennui —

that push others away from me.

 

Your smile pulls me, draws me in

where love is full, divisions thin,

to join in work where you employ

all efforts bent on building joy.

 

And when I step into that world

I find the Source, who has unfurled

a shining lens to cast out strife,

refract the light of Love in… life.

 

I’ve sometimes struggled recently

with my lack of certainty.

I’ve chafed at mystery and doubt

I’ve called for Truth to just come out

 

To show a face that I can know;

To answer questions here below;

To save me from the sting of words

in claims of Truth I find absurd.

 

But now I see, God made the choice

to speak in a sweet, giggling voice,

that in the QUESTIONS finds delight

more real than knowing what is right.

 

God is the one who here invites —

along with my pretending knight —

to know Truth as a little child,

imagination running wild.

 

There’s freedom in the world of play

that teaches me to live TODAY,

and in that living, to KNOW Love

that flows in laughter from Above.


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Dancing: Day 25 of the April Poetry Challenge

Thursday is little girl dance night. This means a bit of organized chaos for our family.

The chaos results from the combination of the location of Princess Imagination’s dance class (the town to the north) and the start time (6:30 pm), which turns a normally 10 minute drive into 20-30 minutes, during which the kids eat sandwiches in the car because there is no way dinner is going to get itself cooked, served, and eaten before 6:00. The commute is followed by 45 minutes of Mommy trying to entertain the Gigglemonster while simultaneously maintaining polite chit chat with the Dance Dads, and then the rush back home to get the kids into bed before Mommy’s dinner-less blood sugar levels dip into irrationality territory.

Despite the rush and the questionable nutritional balance involved in this weekly ritual, it is worth it for the smile on my daughter’s face when she comes rushing out of the dance studio after her class. She isn’t just happy; she is glowing.

This is despite the fact that half of the time it’s a nagging struggle to get her changed into her jazz clothes and into the car by 6:03. Dance is not her life passion. It is not what she was put on this earth to do. She is not even especially talented. (I know its sacrilege to say that about one’s own child, but I am a firm believer in only lavishing praise that is actually deserved, and she gives me plenty of opportunities to do that in other fields of endeavor – don’t even get me started on her math!). The first few months of the class I was wondering why we were even doing the craziness of Thursday nights. Watching on the closed circuit monitor she seemed distracted and unfocused during the class. She wasn’t really picking up the choreography, her timing was about a half-step off, and she nearly fell over every time she tried to pirouette. Exactly why was I paying through the nose to put us all though this once a week?

But then she comes running out of class and there is that bright fire in her eyes, I know this is the evidence I would offer to silence skeptics who don’t believe in heaven. It is right there – in the beautiful, brown mystery of her eyes.

She doesn’t care whether she is a good dancer, or whether she is learning the routine. All she knows is that she has spent 45 minutes dancing and it is more glorious than anything on this imperfect earth should be.

So now, Thursday nights are worth it not just for her, but also for me. Because I get to watch her dance, and learn what that really means.


 

Dancing Like a Little Girl

 

I want to dance like a little girl

free and happy in my own skin,

feeling nothing but the thrill of moving

through the space that hugs me,

as air becomes my joyful dancing partner.

I want to dance like a little girl

completely unaware of watching eyes,

unconcerned with looking graceful,

or sexy,

knowing that I dance not to impress, but to express.

I want to dance like a little girl

with a rhythm that erupts out of my soul,

and with a loose relationship to beat and time,

because the music is a friend

and not a task master,

a friend to join the play, not to set rules.

I want to learn to dance like a little girl.

and once I learn to dance like this.

I want to learn to live this way as well.


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Teaching Class: Day 11 of the April Poetry Challenge

My mom arrived for a visit yesterday, and was an instant Rock Star with my kids. Someone they love who has no dishes to wash, or phone to answer, and who could not be more delighted to sit and read twenty-seven books in a row!

Now, Rock Star is not my mom’s most natural persona, but she adapted well and soaked in the love, and smiles, and hugs, and exuberant attention. Then, Princess Imagination decided that it was time to play her favorite game. The result gave me a new appreciation for ways to teach my driven little daughter.


Teaching Class

 

When she grows up, my daughter wants to be a teacher

art

or maybe math

definitely grade school.

She likes to be in control.

She’s practicing already,

but her little brother is not a very willing student.

 

Gra’ma’s arrival means a happy partner in the practice classroom,

a student for her lessons,

who doesn’t bore the mini-teacher with distracting stories,

about the real-life classrooms she once taught,

or eight full years of teaching me at home.

Gra’ma is content to play the game.

 

Out comes the Easel, and the teacher-voice.

Perhaps she chooses math because this is Gra’ma’s subject,

or perhaps because her genes run true,

and numbers captivate her own well-structure mind.

 

Unfortunately, today she over-reaches

she can’t yet calculate below the zero line.

My eavesdropping ears tilt forward,

anxious for the sounds of six-year-old frustration,

when she cannot pretend to master all.

 

But somehow, there is only laughter

and a willing switch of teachers.

Gra’ma draws a number line,

begins a clear and helpful explanation

but

Princess Imagination doesn’t really want to learn

she wants to teach again.

 

So, a new lesson now: patterns

and Gra’ma sits and listens,

answers simple questions,

gives attention to the little teacher,

and as she does, teaches an important lesson by example.

The greatest teachers

are always ready

to learn.

 


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Slow-Motion Learning: Day 9 of the April Poetry Challenge

I had originally thought to title this poem “Slow-Motion Parenting” but it evolved into more than that. On the other hand, “learning” is a wonderful summary of the parenting experience, is it not?


 

Slow-Motion Learning

 

That moment

when you realize you are NOT going to make it through bedtime.

The children move around you like squealing blurs,

words tumbling out too fast for your foggy brain to comprehend,

although the petulant tone is clear – there is whining involved.

And you.

Just.

Can’t.

 

It’s not that you don’t love them.

I know this.

I know that your exhausted limbs would leap,

and punch,

and claw,

and viciously defend,

if some dangerous intruder suddenly appeared,

to threaten them with harm more immediate

than the tooth decay you warn will come if they don’t

BRUSH

THEIR

TEETH!

 

But when the danger is rather more camouflaged,

benign neglect,

your inattention…

Not such a threat, really.

And you are

so

very

tired.

Much, much too tired to respond with any speed

to urgent, so-called needs.

 

The only speed you are capable of is

Anger.

The frustrated words of rebuke leap from your tongue,

like burning sparks bursting from the fire

that has consumed all your last stores of energy,

leaving only a charcoal version of your self,

an effigy,

late victim of the parenting wars.

 

Until it’s finally done –

teeth brushed,

stories read,

nightlight illuminated,

prayers (grudgingly) said,

and the open door is calling you out of the child-sized bed,

offering you the blissful release of solitude.

 

Until the darkness ushers forth the tearful story,

the friend who was mean,

the sense of rejection,

the frustration that he didn’t get his way.

And you learn again the awesome power of child tears,

like those of the phoenix,

restoring your charred heart to wholeness,

to the capacity to care, and nurture, and show love.

 

You almost cannot recognize the soft, calm voice,

your own,

that calls you back into this clear, and present moment.

It speaks of patience,

and forgiveness.

“Be quick to listen,

slow to anger.”

 

And you know you need this lesson most of all.

Even.

Especially.

When you are so, so tired.