Faith, Family, & Focaccia

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


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Birthing Truth: Day 17 of the April Poetry Challenge

For some reason the Gigglemonster  has been wanting me to tell him

“the story of when I was born, Mommy!”

This is a fun story to tell, of course, because it is such an intensely happy memory and it only gets better in the light of the delighted glitter in his eyes as he hears about his welcome into this world. On the way to school yesterday morning, however, it got a little tricky because he kept wanting more details. Plenty of such details exist — his was a nearly 22 hour labor — but those aren’t really details that are appropriate to tell my four-year-old. He wants more of the “Daddy’s eyes were full of happy tears” details, not the “Mommy used a lot of swear words Daddy had never heard her use” details.

Thankfully the drive is quite short so I made it out of the car without frustrating him too much by my non-responsiveness to queries about

“but how did I get out of your tummy, Mommy?”

All the same, the interchange has me thinking about what I will want to tell him once he’s really old enough to hear.


 

Birthing Truth

 

Someday…

I will tell you the true story

the full story.

But this kind of fullness cannot be contained

in four-year-old words.

Right now I speak only of joy,

of smiles

and happy kisses

and wiggling baby body clasped in my arms for the first time.

This is all true – one of the truest moments of life –

but the birth of that truth is

so

much

fuller.

Full of nine months of expectation,

whose waiting time was filled with growing, and dreaming, and wordless lullabies of love sung from my heart’s beat to yours;

but also full of aching, and discomfort, and fears of all the what-ifs that stutter through a mother’s chest to interrupt gestation’s rhythm.

Nine months of connection formed in darkness,

of intimacy without words

of sensation that reshaped my life, as much as it was shaping yours.

This is a fullness so much bigger than a distended belly can contain;

a fullness you cannot yet understand.

And then, of course, there is the pain.

the gripping,

suffocating,

all-consuming pain

of bringing into light the beauty formed in darkness.

It is worth the struggle, of course,

that is part of the fullness of this truth,

but that great purpose cannot negate the pain.

The Oh-my-God-I’m-going-to-die-

my-insides-

all-my-secret-mysteries-

are-being-expelled-by-the-force-of-this-contracting-birthing-

AGONY.

In those moments of excruciating, time-has-stopped slowness

it seems so far from true

that life can come from something that feels like dying.

And it is so clear

the only clear thing in the haze

that it is unfair!

Unfair that at the end I have to work,

to grab my knees and push,

expel the source of all this joy turned pain.

There is no choice.

You won’t return to your true nature

transform again from pain to joy

until I push you out,

share you with the world,

loose the secret, solitary bond.

 

And this is why, someday, I’ll tell you the full truth,

why I will let the story come – like labor pains – in surges of discomfort, even pain.

The story of how truth cannot forever live in the dark silence underneath your heart.

The story of how love held tight inside is both sacred and distressing.

The story of how birth requires suffering.

The story of how letting go can usher in new life.

These stories are important

Because someday you will need to know how

exposure

separation

pain

release

are all part of this transforming life.

 

 

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Lion Kisses: Day 8 of the April Poetry Challenge

Yesterday was one of those sweet gifts in parenting when I had the time (took the time) to just stop and enjoy my son, letting him take the lead in play.

Such sweet inspiration…


 

Lion Kisses

 

“Roar and wrestle on the bed,

but always let me pin

you down, and Mommy, when I do

then toss me up again.”

 

A playful squeal, my cublet’s roar

collapses into giggles.

I answer back with joyful sound.

embracing his sweet wiggles.

 

A joy so pure, it nurtures me

and teaches me of love –

of sweet surrender, perfect trust

and what is born thereof.

 

A closeness that speaks not with words,

declaratives or wishes,

but rather beating heart on heart

and lion belly kisses.


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Imaginative Freedom: Day 7 of the April Poetry Challenge

Apparently the Gigglemonster inherited more from me than his brown eyes and his extreme sensitivity to tickling. He is clearly also a born story-teller. He loves to hear stories; he loves to act them out; and most of all he likes to create them out of the quirky delightfulness of his own imagination.

This penchant is most frequently displayed when the current reality does not line up with his preferences. It’s not that he is a LIAR exactly, but more than he has a complicated relationship with the truth – it is just so confining and uninspiring. Much more fun to explore the realm of possibility, where history can contain any experience his little four-year-old mind can dream up, and where his sister’s ever practical correction can’t intrude with withering assertions “that never happened!”

I can’t wait to start reading the stories he will write in a few more years…


 

Oh, To Be a Ghost Grown-up

 

“When I was a ghost grown-up…”

that’s my son’s standard introduction

to imaginative tales of things

he’s never done.

Professions he has never worked (a knight, a dentist, a mythbuster),

places he has never been (the moon, a pirate ship, Erendell),

lives he has never lived (dangerous, exciting, magical),

all breathed to life with the strong force of his boundless storytelling.

 

It is a carefully selected self that bars all contradiction.

A ghost cannot be seen,

so who can witness to its absence?

A grown up – in his 4-year-old belief – suffers no limits,

there is no one to say “No” where grown-ups have a will to do.

And so, these stories too can grow without constraint,

an outlet for a mind that yearns to live each moment to the very tip of thought.

 

I’ve heard of epic battles he has fought and won,

of ten motherless children he has raised with love and care.

(each has a name, if an unusual one).

I’ve marveled at the complicated web of tangled powers and desires that his mind evokes.

I’ve ached to see frustration in each tale of loss, of failure, or of woe.

I’ve learned to listen for the dream, the cherished hope

that needs this outlet for release.

To ponder how to keep him safe

while also giving room for dreams to grow into reality.

 

And… I have wondered.

Just what would it be like to be, myself, a “ghost grown up”?

No limits to contain my mind or will,

no drudgery of trapping practicality,

no fetters of responsibility to hold me to the one life I have chosen.

But… no reality either,

to make my life the fragile, precious, messy, beautiful mix of love and boundaries,

that grows each day,

even within constraints;

and with no dreamer boy to hold – fixed to the ground – while I listen to his wondrous tales

take flight…

20140407-143036.jpg


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Share Day: Day 3 of the April Poetry Challenge

Today’s poetic effort is in the vein of narrative free verse. Hopefully the source of inspiration will be evident.


 

Share Day

 

“It was so exciting! I just can’t sleep!”

My sweet, calm daughter

normally so tranquil, so contained,

now wriggling and bouncing in her bed,

animated by memory.

 

The source of this ebullient agitation:

Her Share Day.

The class calendar marked with her name,

calling on her to rise and carry up the chosen, precious object.

“My Favorite Book”

 

She didn’t tell me her selection,

not until we were rushing out the door,

lunch bags and jackets trailing from lazy child arms,

keys slipping in my fingers as I rush to lock the house, unlock the car,

transport us all to each our destination.

 

 “Do you know what I’m going to share?”

A gleeful grin expands her face,

and, finally, tired eyes glance down to see the book gripped to her chest,

embraced with pride.

My Storybook Bible.

 

Two instant, instinctive, counter-acting thoughts.

 

The happy one beams out,

full of pride and joy

to know this precious book merits for her the singular title:

Favorite.

And even more to see the light

that shines our from her eyes,

so eager to share her love, and God’s, with others.

 

But parallel thought retracts,

trained by fear and pain,

by knowledge of how this book’s singular claims are oft received:

Judgment.

Descriptor both of content and of those

who speak with public voice of finding light,

those eager to share their words, or God’s, with others.

 

What will they think?

The parents of a class whose diverse names and faces I do celebrate,

the chance for her to see and learn from differences.

But will this difference be allowed to teach?

If children bring home tales of Bible stories read aloud

will some complain of violated boundaries, church and state?

Or… will they think that I am a sneaky proselytizer,

indoctrinating six-year olds, my own and through her theirs?

 

My own memory awakes, asleep now twenty years,

presents a shaking scene:

A High School English class; an assignment –

present an object that represents yourself.

I, my worn Bible in my hand, stand to face the stares,

the sneers, the cynical questioning of those who thought me fool.

I held that book because my faith was central to my core, my sense of self,

but also because I felt compelled to stand against the tide,

to prove my faith as genuine to evangelical satisfaction.

“Blessed are you when they revile you…”

 

But this is not her reason,

and I must divorce my own complicated story of love and pain,

both found within the pages of this book,

from how I let her write her own, new story.

Her reason is so much simpler,

just the natural child’s joy of drawing near to God in story form.

And so…

I do not question,

do not try to guide her steps away from pitfalls in the quagmire of pluralistic culture.

This is her share day, and the story must be hers.

 

Now she has shared,

all unaware of culture wars and bigotry,

without cold words of caution to quench the bright light shining from her eyes.

And now, when it is over, hours past,

she is bouncing on her bed, alert with joy.

“It was so exciting! I just can’t sleep”


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Morning Haiku: day one of National Poetry Writing Month

So, April is National Poetry Month. In our wonderful digital age this means, of course, that a community has organically sprung up to write and share poetry this month: National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo. The idea is to write a poem a day all through April.

My efforts during November for NaNoWriMo (1 novel in one month) fell dismally short, but I’m blaming that on the fact that, you know, I was in the final stages of preparation for an international move. Add that excuse to the fact that my life at the moment seems to be naturally generating a lot of poetic outbursts with little or no encouragement, and I feel fairly confident that this time will be different. Plus, I’m starting out easy. My first offering is the haiku that sprang to life yesterday morning when Princess Imagination burrowed under my covers in the blessed moments before we had start the day.

sleeping Princess

Waking-up Song

Mommy, can we snuggle?

Will you hold me warm and close?

BEST ask of the day.


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Made-up Freedom: On Why Both I and My Daughter Need Me to Break the Chains of Beauty Ideals

At church this morning our adult sunday school was discussing various approaches to the Lenten fast (the practice of either “giving something up” or committing to some new discipline for the 40 days of Lent). I won’t rehearse the whole rich discussion here, but one particular idea struck a chord with me.

It was the story of a mother with two young daughters who gave up looking in the mirror.

I think some of our group members found this idea a bit strange as a way of preparing one’s heart for Holy Week, but I immediately knew this was a profound thing to do, as both a woman and as a mother.

First, as a woman:

One of the major implications of this decision immediately struck even the men in the group. “How would she put on her make-up?” I think all the women probably knew the answer to that question: she couldn’t. To say nothing of the likelihood of serious eye injuries from wildly waving mascara wands, there would be no point in the effort. Without a mirror, any make-up application would be virtually guaranteed to be disastrous. Better to go bare than to risk lopsided cheekbones, wobbly lip color, and the dreaded poorly blended foundation line along the jawbone. Obviously, the woman in question is going without make-up for these seven weeks.

This drew my mind to the no-make-up internet trend of the past few months. It’s a theme that suddenly started popping up in my Facebook feed around early February. First there was the cancer awareness challenge. The idea was to invite (i.e. challenge) friends to post a no-make-up selfie to their own FB wall and then make a donation to help fund cancer fighting research. Unfortunately, the donation part got a bit scrambled (I had to do a bit of research off of Facebook about the point of the whole thing to even hear about the donation element), but there were sure a lot of bare faces in the newsfeed. I supposed that even with the missed opportunity, the effort was still positive since it came with a general celebration of embracing one’s inner beauty without the façade.

Then, there was the frighteningly powerful Sacred Scared series on Momastery, which hosted 10 guest bloggers sharing, in short but compelling confessions, the deepest fears that they had to face in doing work they feel called to do. As if the stories weren’t exposing enough, they also had to post a make-up free picture of themselves. The idea was the kind of vulnerability that strips fear and self-doubt of its power and encourages us all to be real and carry on even when we are a mess. I’ll be real and admit that many of the posts had me in tears (even in awkward public places like restaurants).

Finally, I clicked on a link to a hysterical Tedx talk by Tracey Spicer, who catalogued all the crazy things women do to enhance our appearance, cited statistics on the thousands of hours this steals from our lives, and then proceeded to “strip-off” the make-up, the bouffant hair, the figure-flattering dress, and the three-inch heels to encourage a new wave of feminism that will reject society’s unfair expectations for women’s appearances.

I nodded my head, and laughed at the absurdity, and for about a day and a half I was feeling pretty proud of myself for the simple reason that I’m not addicted to make-up. I spend far less than the reported average of 27 minutes a day on personal grooming, and at least half the pictures taken of me in recent years have been make-up free since most days I never put any on. Time for a little gentle pat on the back, Serena. Wow – You’re so liberated from societal pressures! You avoid so much wasted time! You’re so much more honest about how you really look than the average Western woman

Then, I realized two things:

  1. The fact that I wear make-up only infrequently has not been an intentional moral decision, nor has it marked an effort to reject repressive social pressures. Instead, it has resulted from a combination of historical forces and competing priorities. Historically, I never developed the make-up habit because a) I like my sleep, and b) I had good enough genes (at least through my 20s) that I could get away with leaving with house with the same face I rolled out of bed with. Then, with my thirties came motherhood, and while that took care of the roll-out-of-bed-looking-decent condition it also sapped any motivation or time I might have had to suddenly introduce a beauty regime. What woman in her right mind is going to suddenly start devoting 27 minutes a day to moisturizing/exfoliating/ manicuring/straightening/applying/etc., when her sleep is suddenly cut by 30% and is coming in 2-3 hour chunks if she’s lucky, and her days offer the glamorous merry-go-round of diapers, and temper tantrums, and mealtime arbitration, and sometimes precious cuddle time reading Frog and Toad is the fort made of couch pillows and dubiously clean sheets? Sorry – the chances are that my sweater will have child-snot stains and my hair will have pudgy (and, very likely, sticky) fingers tangled in it before we leave the house, so fancy make-up all seems a bit pointless to me.
  2. I went ahead and took the Facebook selfie… and was horrified! Toward the end of the campaign, a friend challenged “all her friends” to post their all natural photo and I figured why not? It won’t be that different from all my other photos, but for that very reason there’s no reason to avoid it, right? Wrong! I thought I’d take the picture under the bathroom mirror light, since so many of these “no make-up” photos seem to be so poorly lit….I quickly realized why. By the seventh take I also realized that my eyebrows are bizarrely unbalanced (i.e. call for professional help IMMEDIATELY), that my skin is BOTH dry and shiny, that those laugh lines I’ve been glimpsing are actually deep canyons running from the edges of my nose to my jaw line, and that I REALLY CANNOT GO OUT OF THE HOUSE ONE MORE TIME WITHOUT MAKE-UP!!!!!
I really didn't want to, but here is the photo - I deleted all the no-smile ones. Couldn't handle them!

I really didn’t want to, but here is the seventh photo – I deleted all the no-smile ones. Couldn’t handle them!

In other words, my self-satisfaction is completely unearned. My blasé attitude toward make-up is not a reflection of my acceptance about how I look or my deliberate decision to reject societal expectations. It’s just a reflection of laziness and inattentiveness to just how far I have drifted from those expectations in the last 10 years or so.

Which gets to the real point behind all this clamor for exposure of make-up free selves, doesn’t it? The point is not just to get real, but to accept real. To not require BB creme perfection and thick eyelashes and sleekly styled hair as the minimum standard of beauty. To know that we do not look like the movie stars and supermodels, and that we never will, and to be OK with that. To reject the fear that we will be found deficient by society, or friends, or even ourselves. To look in the mirror and see not every little imperfection, but rather the perfect capacity to be the child of God we were created to be.

If that is really the goal, then giving up the mirror would not actually be very helpful for me, at least not at the moment. Giving up the mirror while still trapped by my desire for physical beauty would just be a way of hiding from my fears about how far I fall short. I need to deal with this demon of expectation because it is eating up my self-worth. It is obsessing about every pound of “moving weight” that I am not shedding. It is dragging down the corners of my mouth as my eyes follow the so-called laugh lines. It is pondering what wastes of time and money might help me reverse the clock. It is a dark, heavy, weight that is pulling me down. If I am going to be the woman I want to be, I desperately need to deal with my own fear of unpretty.

I also need to deal with it as a mother:

Perhaps the most poignant moment in Tracey Spicer’s Ted Talk is her recollection of a question her seven-year old daughter frequently asks her: “Why do women wear make-up, but men don’t?”

Reportedly, her daughter asks her this as she is standing watching Spicer don the required mask for televised appearances. It’s an inevitable question, because daughters watch their mothers. They watch them when they are going through their beauty regimes. They also watch them when they just frown at the reflection, or give their face a momentary lift with a finger tugging up beside the eyes. They watch and they learn that a woman’s appearance matters.

I have an amazing and beautiful daughter. She is six years old and most of the time she is blissfully unaware of how she looks and how other people react to this.

When Princess Imagination smiles, her eyes just shine.

When Princess Imagination smiles, her eyes just shine.

But, even at six, this is starting to change. She has begun to stand in front of the bathroom mirror, posing and trying out different hairstyles. She has begun to anxiously ask me for fashion advice, although she has always had a fiercely independent sense of style. A friend gave her a cheap set of make-up and she has begun experimenting with enthusiastic, if unappealing, results. She wants to make herself pretty.

What kills me about this is not just that she feels like any intervention is needed in order to be more pretty, and it is not even that she is starting to waste all those thousands of hours that American women throw away on beautifying efforts. What gets to me, what terrifies me, is the suspicion that she has already accepted the lie that being pretty is what makes her valuable.

I don’t want to be an anti-society shrew who prohibits my daughter from playing with make-up or sentences her to hair cuts at the Mommy Salon until she’s old enough to pay for them herself. I know that all the pretty-play is part of the fun of being a little girl, and I’m OK with that. Really, I am.

I just want her to know that her value has absolutely nothing to do with what she looks like. I want her to know that it is the sweetness of her soul that draws people to her and that it is her identity as God’s beloved, chosen creation that gives her all the worth she will ever need.

And I’m worried that I am teaching her that with my words only, but not by my example. Because, when I look in the mirror, I see someone who cares far too much about the image looking back at me.

I’m not entirely sure what to do about this, but I know I must do something. And I know that this something will need to last a whole lot longer than the 40 days of lent. But I have a hunch that lent might still have something to offer me in this challenge.

One of the most important realizations our group came to this morning was that “giving up” was pretty meaningless on its own. Simply removing something from our lives for the requisite 40 days is not transformative in and of itself, unless it that vacuum is replaced with something else. I have tried this before in other contexts. I have “given up” chocolate, or Facebook, or complaining, and instead committed to replacing the time I would have given to those things to prayer.

Prayer actually sounds like a pretty good place to remember the source of my worth and identity.

Lord, have mercy.

 


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My Mother’s Kitchen Ceiling: Memories of Quiet Love

Today my mom celebrates the completion of another year. 25,933 days of life, most of which have garnered scant attention from me. I think, perhaps, that has always been one of the most generous gifts she gives me as my mother: our relationship has never been primarily about her. Mostly it has been about her giving me the care, support, resources, faith, confidence, and love to lead the best life I can live.

But, for today at least, I want to celebrate her. I want to acknowledge what she has done for me and just why she is the kind of mother and person who is worth celebrating. Happy Birthday Mom!

My Mother’s Kitchen Ceiling

*

I remember the ceiling in my mother’s kitchen

the bumpy surface of mid-century construction

random bits of plaster

shapes in silhouette

that take form in the imagination of a child.

*

My favorite shape was an oblong patch

off-balanced by a bulging side.

My mind’s eye saw there expectation,

a mother waiting for the life inside to soon burst out,

cradling love, protectively, with a sheltering arm.

*

Over the years I spent hours staring at that form,

because it looked down on the sink where my Mom washed my hair.

Lying on the counter,

my back pressed against peeling formica,

I would passively, unthinkingly, accept this act of care.

*

I didn’t like water in my eyes

*

So, Mom would clear the counter for my ever-growing body to stretch out.

She would cradle my head in one hand while testing the water’s heat on her own fingers,

and she would wash my long, thick, often tangled hair

while I stared dreamily up at the ceiling,

letting my imagination explore familiar, abstract shapes.

*

I remember so many ways she made space for my mind to explore:

books she read to me and asked me to wonder about;

projects she created for me to practice my creativity;

time she gave me to play, to learn, to explore

with the confidence that grows when a child is not constantly corrected,

told the right way,

told to follow the rules.

Of course we had rules in our house,

but only the necessary ones to keep us safe and healthy,

the rules to help us grow in care for others and our world.

Not rules to make her job of mothering easier.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever complaining about her lot in life;

how tired she was;

how she never got a break;

how her back hurt.

I don’t remember hearing any of the complaints my children echo back to me.

A witness to how much I must complain.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever interrupting my long, hard-to-follow child stories/

or her not having time to listen/

or her demanding that I wait until she was free to hear/

in painstaking detail/

about my latest discovery, or hurt, or question.

*

What I don’t remember is her distracting me with mindless activities so that she could do her own thing.

No television babysitter,

or “why don’t you go color in the other room,”

or “if you’re bored, I have a chore for you,”

just to keep me busy

so that I wouldn’t bug her as she cooked, or cleaned, or hung-up laundry.

*

What I don’t remember is her ever worrying about money –

although I know she must have done so –

in the lean years when we wore hand-me-down clothes

and got surprise gifts from “Angels Anonymous” to replaced the sagging, stained, green thrift-store couch.

She always found a way to put a full meal on the dinner table,

and if I complained about the frozen lima beans

she never heaped guilt and shame on my plate

by telling me it was all we could afford.

*

I don’t remember her complaining.

I don’t remember her being too busy for me.

I don’t remember her feeding me distractions.

I don’t remember worry.

But I remember the ceiling of my mother’s kitchen,

and I remember the space to dream.

It is a good memory.