About Me, motherhood, pregnancy, self care

Pregnancy and body image

July 19, 2017

I jokingly posted on Facebook yesterday about my enviable willpower at the grocery store involving a regular sized Snickers bar. (Spoiler alert: I ate the whole thing.)

Truth be told, pregnancy is a time of life for me that is is fraught with peril over food choices and body image, old issues creeping to the surface like so much first trimester acne, erupting in formerly smooth spots where I’d have sworn only a few months ago there were no lingering scars, that I’d successfully exorcised these particular demons.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. For my thin and not-so-thin friends alike, there is something uniquely vulnerable about child bearing, about your body becoming not-your-own in a way that is so radical and externalized, inviting commentary and observation from the outside world as it does. It doesn’t seem to matter if a mom is 120 or 190 pounds when she starts growing that baby; it can be jarring whether you’re moving from a size four or a size fourteen.

I used to roll my eyes when my really skinny friends complained about topping out at their full term weight that was within spitting distance of my “healthy” (or at least, typical) before weight. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that even my objectively beautiful friends have their own issues, and that few are the women who stand before a full length mirror fully satisfied, for better or for worse. My girlfriend with the enviable self control at the appetizer tray and a 27 inch waist hates her hair and her nose. She thinks her arms are too big and she wishes her c-section scars could be erased.

When I look in the mirror and see a stomach wrecked by life-giving love and arms that my dad once jokingly dubbed as “baby cranes”(you know, for hoisting babies. All my sisters share this gem of a family trait.), I know I’m looking through eyes that some have admired for their shape and color, past a nose I’ve been told is perfect, pursing lips that are just the right fullness and look great with color on them.

Fresh faced and 27 years young at 35 weeks along with Joey. Still enormous. #shorttorsoproblems (he was born at 37 weeks, 1 ounce shy of 9 pounds)

So it doesn’t seem that all the objective beauty in the world can quite make up for the perceived subjective flaws we all see in ourselves. And for me, the unique spiritual/emotional/physical triple punch of pregnancy is prime time for all the self loathing. My belly is cute, but only with help of the right shapeware. After 5 pregnancies “firm” is not a word that can be accurately applied, at least not at 4 months along.  My skin doesn’t glow, unless the adolescent eruption of redness counts for at least a nice change of pace. And worst of all, as I see the numbers creeping upward on the scale week after week, my resolve to treat this body well melts away like the dregs of a Dairy Queen blizzard, leaving behind a sticky, high fructose corn syrup mess of regret by 8 pm most nights.

If I’m going to gain weight anyway, I reason, it’s hard to not slip into a YOLO mentality where MSG is concerned. I can’t explain why my pregnancy cravings have more to do with processed chemicals than any real food, except that it’s stuff I’d only rarely “let” myself eat during normal life, and that pregnancy feels like a kind of free for all so what the hell, I shrug, eating the stupid chips.

I struggled with an eating disorder from age 15 until about age 26, more than a decade lost to a vicious cycle of binging and purging. When I was a 2-practices-a-day competitive swimmer and track athlete it was easy enough to mask the damage being done. I think that I even attributed some of my svelte body to the behavior, not realizing that I was wrecking my metabolism in the process.

Now, half a lifetime later, some of those same feelings surface again each time that second little pink line shows up. If I can keep the first trimester gain below 10 pounds I consider it a victory, knowing that I’ll be limping across the finish line at 40 weeks having gained about 40 more pounds. I’ve had pregnancies where I exercised 6 days a week, limited carbs, even maintained a running schedule into the third trimester, and every one of my children has come bearing the gift of a 50 pound weight gain.

This most recent break between Luke and Cinco Bing was our longest lull between babies, and so I didn’t just shed the baby weight from his pregnancy, but also the excess that was still hanging on from his 3 older siblings, for a whopping total of 65 pounds lost.

What I can’t explain is why I don’t feel ecstatic about that. Even if I gain my usual 50 this time, I’ll still be 15 pounds shy of where Luke the giant Duke took me. But the thought of gaining the 50 pounds again is mentally crushing. The memory of rolling over in bed with a huge, distorted abdomen pulling on my lower back, trying in vain to find a comfortable sleeping position. The 16 months of careful dieting and exercise it took to get back to a manageable number. The fact that I’m older than I’ve ever been for this pregnancy, that I’m tired, that the mere thought of having to try to lose that weight again only to have it (very likely) come piling back on if we ever welcome number 6.

The hardest part of being open to life for me is this radical, bodily loss of self. It’s not the sleeplessness, the financial strain, the emotional toil or the creativity required to keep 4 other humans alive. So far, at least, it’s this: that my body is not my own, and that I have no realistic hope that it will be for quite some time. And by the time I get it back, it won’t be something that I’m all that thrilled to have autonomy over again.

Do I feel recklessly selfish admitting this? You betcha. Call me a selfish, self centered millennial who wants to look good in pictures, but I hate the way I’m being called to give myself away, piece by piece, until there’s nothing left but the knowledge of having loved and having been loved. I feel like the Velveteen friggin rabbit, and it should fill me with sacrificial joy and satisfaction but mostly it fills me with resentment and dread.

8 months postpartum after number 2, I remember thinking I was soooooo fat in this picture.

Because I still want to be of this world. I still want to be pretty on Instagram. I love when people raise their eyebrows and tell me I don’t “look like” I’ve had four kids. I want all the accolades that come with being thin and fit and pulled together, and I want to offer a living sacrifice made of something other than my literal, actual body. Pretty much anything but this

And that’s just not how it works.

Most people won’t look awesome after more than 2 kids. Which is perhaps why many women (not all – please don’t mistake this for obtuse ignorance of infertility, I beg you) stop there. And those women who do look like petite tennis players after birthing 6 strapping boys? Would probably have looked that way anyway, babies or no, because genetics.

I have to learn the balance here. Which is perhaps why God has given me yet another amazing little life to nurture, the lesson having been not fully grasped in a haze of Doritos and prodromal labor 4 times over. While my body is a gift that I am invited to freely give, it will be taken from me whether or not I cooperate willingly. And I sometimes think I’m self-sabotaging with the poor eating habits and indulgences spanning 10 long months because “the weight’s gonna pile on anyway,” which is accurate enough, though a pound of roasted sweet potatoes is probably not equivalent to a pound of potato chips, all things being equal.

Leaving for the hospital in early labor with Luke. I can’t even.

How then, to gracefully, willingly, joyfully give myself away this time? Entering into a spirit of real self gift, not resigned fatalism and death by chocolate.

I don’t know the answer. But I know that God has some healing here, in this place that is so deeply wounded, torn open afresh by the gift of another new life.

Yes, I will probably still gain a ton more weight than my doctor would like to see. And no, I’ll probably never have a celebrity pregnancy invisible from the back and erased by 8 weeks postpartum. But I can change my attitude. I can beg Him to change my heart. I can enter into this time of waiting and preparation with open hands, asking the Lord what He wants to show me about the broken ways I see myself and the broken relationship I have with my own body, hoping that even for a grand multipara of advanced maternal age, there is still hope for reconciliation.

I wanted to put this all out there in case I’m not alone, in case there are other women who struggle in this way, who aren’t completely thrilled with their bodies – babies on board or no – and who are still walking along that road of recovery, hoping for an eventual miracle: to not care about food, and to be at peace with their bodies.

I don’t have the answer, but I’m glad to have been given another opportunity to get in the ring and fight.

I don’t want to wake up and be 50 years old, still filled with self loathing over the reflection in the storefront window. I want to be healed. And I want to believe that things can be made new in an area of my life that feels, frankly, unredeemable.

But He makes all things new. Even, I want to believe, tired old moms with teenage insecurities still clinging tightly like spandex on hips.

About Me

ketchup

July 17, 2017

Hey, would you look at that, two whole weeks, huh?

I can always look back and pinpoint major and minor crises in my life by glaring gaps in the ‘ol online record, particularly in the summer time when things tend to get more intense. (No shingles to report thus far this July, praiseyouJesus). Just, things have been a little raw. All the house hunting and contract signing and then, oh joy, signing more termination paperwork after a big bummer of an inspection this morning because, you guessed it, the F word. Foundation damage.

We seem to have developed an uncanny knack for turning up homes who are literally considering sliding off their cement pedestals, and at this point I’m thinking I should reach out to Joanna friggin Gaines and offer to partner with her in identifying fix uppers in the Denver metro area just in case she ever gets the itch to expand beyond scenic Waco.

Joanna, girl, I’m here for you.

So life has been a little hectic. I’ve also had to come to grips with the reality that this time – and whether it’s pregnancy alone or just a big old pot of circumstance soup, I can’t rightly say – I seem to be wrestling with prenatal depression which is some of the fun of postpartum depression but without the added challenge of sleep deprivation. So that’s been fun. I’m feeling better now thanks to lots of babysitting and a wonderful, compassionate and responsive doctor, progesterone, and more sleep and I’m so, so glad that I have air conditioning and live in America. With a minivan. Because as far ask pregnancy goes, those are the trifecta of luxury if you ask me: medical care, minivan, climate control.

I’m really bummed about this most recent house, and while I’m trying to channel that deflation into gratitude that we didn’t buy another POS that needed 50k in repairs, I’m really, really tired of driving all over God’s congested creation looking at crackhouses with my four darling offspring in tow, so I’d love your prayers. (And if you have snarky comments about what idiots we were to sell our last home in this market, you can go ahead and keep those to yourself. Or face the wrath of Twitter Jenny who is far less magnanimous than blogger Jenny.)

If I were to step forward 5 years in the future for even an hour or two for a glimpse of what might await our family down the road, I’m sure I’d come crawling back to this particular moment, throw my arms gratefully around this particular cross, and be completely at peace. So I’m trying to go there imaginatively and remind myself it’s temporary, it’s temporal, and it’s oh-so-preferable to any number of other sufferings and situations so many families find themselves in. Also, Jesus I trust in you. Really, I do. Help my unbelief.

In addition to the aforementioned babysitter (two sisters who’s mom is a blog reader and reached out with the suggestion – God bless the entire H family forever and ever amen) I have the two big boys headed to “saint camp” next week and have been trying to do at least a couple of fun activities (library or pool – basically Vegas) every week. Last Saturday we took the kids to a small time, tame little amusement park outside of town called Heritage Square where I proceeded to ride every ride defying my gestational situation in a flagrant display of Kendra-style maternity, and it was wonderful. Also wonderful: my terrified not-quite two-year-old who was somehow vetted as tall enough for the Tilt a Whirl. It will live on in his mind as either the most terrifying or seraphic experience of his brief 23 months ex utero. The expression frozen on his face at the duration of the ride was hard to read.

(Forthcoming topic: “things you’d never do with your firstborn, volume 1: amusement park rides and the 5 10 second rule”)

Luke is very helpfully trying to potty train himself by tearing his diaper off wandering around stark naked. I am grateful that all our surrounding neighbors work full time and/or are allergic to the outdoors. So far we haven’t had any biohazardous situations precipitate from this behavior, but there’s always tomorrow. I think if I really wanted to potty train a 23 month old I probably could? But I’ve never had lasting success with anyone under 3, so I feel like adding to the current load of life would be, how can I put this, unspeakably stupid? Plus, won’t he be regressively finger painting the walls with poop when the new baby comes at Christmas?

School starts in just over a month and I have all supplies (and supply kits – glory!) ordered or purchased, including back-freaking-packs and water bottles. The uniform orders are starting to trickle in and Evie’s plaid jumper is the cutest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. I almost wish I’d sprung for the optional Mass day tie. Swoon. I just finished my favorite (to date) Rosemund Pilcher novel, “Coming Home,” and the first half is set at a boarding school in Cornwall and oh, if only I had to buy her a smart little beret and some tweed outerwear too.

Oh, one last piece of housekeeping: I’m (finally) starting a podcast. I’m just starting to record episodes this month so we’ll see when things get up and running, but I’ll keep you guys in the loop. I know sometimes it’s easier to listen to stuff than to read, and that some people (horror) DON’T READ AT ALL, so it’ll be a fun new demographic to reach. Expect kind of the same stuff I talk about here: motherhood, bioethics, moral theology, current events, maybe a little politics and some cultural trends. Speaking of podcasts, I had the pleasure of returning for a chat with Haley and Christy over at Fountains of Carrots last month and we had a lot of slightly irreverent fun talking about NFP. Go forth.

Here’s to another Monday on the books.

(what I’d like to do with a gluten free 40 if not for bebe on board.)

 

Abortion, Bioethics, Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, euthanasia, guest post, Parenting, Pro Life, Suffering

On Charlie Gard

July 7, 2017

(I’m honored to introduce today’s guest author: JD Flynn. He is a husband, a father, a canon lawyer, and a great friend.)

In the middle of the night, when she was just six days old, our daughter Pia went into cardiac arrest.  Twice.  Pia was in the hospital already, and so doctors and nurses rushed into the room and saved her life.  Twice.  It was terrifying, and we were powerless.  Pia is alive because of the Providence of God, and the medical care she received.

There are, doubtlessly, some people who might have asked if saving Pia’s life was the right thing to do.  Pia has trisomy-21, the chromosomal defect known as Down syndrome. And the day before her heart stopped pumping blood, Pia had been diagnosed with a rare and untreatable kind of cancer.  We didn’t know whether it would run its course, develop into something worse, or end her life.  We accepted this prognosis, and we knew that her diagnosis would lead to suffering.

There are, I’m sure, some people who might have thought that a disabled girl facing a battle with cancer would have no meaningful, worthwhile, or comfortable life.  People with Down syndrome are aborted at staggeringly high rates, in part because of a false compassion that believes their sometimes-difficult lives are not worth living.  Three years ago, some ethicists began suggesting that aborting children with Down syndrome is a morally virtuous—and ethically normative—thing to do.  And the euthanasia of sick and suffering children—children facing battles like cancer—is also becoming acceptable in many parts of the world.

I shudder to think it, but there are doubtlessly people who thought that a sick and disabled little girl, like our daughter, would have been better off dying that night.  That her suffering wasn’t worth it.

But doctors saved Pia’s life anyway, because saving lives is what medicine is all about.  Pia has Medicaid: the government paid for her treatment because supporting families in need is what government is supposed to be about.

Today she’s four.  She has endured a lot of suffering.  But she is also the most joyful person I’ve ever met.  And we, Pia’s parents, don’t see “Down syndrome” when we look at her.  We don’t see “cancer.”  We see our daughter.  We see a person, not a calculation.  We can’t help that: we’re her parents.  We would have done anything possible to make sure she lived through that terrible night.

Charlie Gard’s situation is not the same as Pia’s.  Charlie Gard will almost certainly die, and soon.  But I can imagine what his parents might be feeling right now.  They don’t see Charlie as a media sensation, the center of an international debate over human and family rights.  They don’t see him as a tragic medical phenomenon.  They don’t see him as the sum of a dispassionate calculation of suffering, usefulness, and “quality of life.”

Charlie Gard’s parents see their little boy.  They see his mother’s nose, and his father’s eyes.  They see a baby they just love to be with.  They see, maybe, a gift from God.  And they’re hoping that someone—some doctor or scientist– will rush into the room, and save Charlie’s life.  They’re willing to do anything—to go the ends of the earth—to try to help their little boy.

The treatment Charlie’s parents hoped to try had very little chance of success.  But they wanted to try.  Not to become culture-warriors or advocates for parental rights.  Just to save their little boy.

The court did not support Charlie’s parents because, in the words of Charlie Camosy, they “do not think Charlie’s life is a benefit to him. They think it is in his best interest to die.”

Charlie Gard’s parents are not allowed to try, because powerful people think that the life of a seriously disabled boy is not worth living.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote that the culture of death is “a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life.’ is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States.”

Charlie Gard is the victim of a “conspiracy against life.”

Doctors, governments, and courts which can look at parents like Charlie’s, and judge that they must give up the fight—that dying is in the best interests of their suffering little boy—have lost their humanity.  They’ve forgotten, or rejected, that even difficult lives are gifts worth protecting, supporting, and saving.  A case like Charlie’s reveals the inhumanity, the callousness, and the dictatorship of the culture of death.

Charlie Gard will likely die soon, and we’ll move on to some other media sensation.  Some other tragedy will show up in our Facebook and Twitter feeds.  We’ll read think pieces about something else.  But Charlie’s parents won’t move on.  They’ll mourn their son, whom they know in a way that no one else does, and whom they love in a way that all of us should understand. And they’ll wonder why, as their son lay dying, no one rushed in to help them try to save his life.

(Find more of JD Flynn’s writing here.)

Charlie Gard. Photo: Facebook, Charlie Gard’s Fight.

 

Uncategorized

Discarded topic ideas + random musings on pregnancy and baby names

June 27, 2017

Are jeans tucked into tall boots coming back this fall?

Does anyone out there really meal plan?

If I do this prenatal barre workout DVD every day for this whole pregnancy and stay off the Doritos, could I only gain 39 pounds instead of 55 this time?

Do my kids notice I don’t technically “cook” dinner most nights of the week? 

When is someone going to offer me a contract for my design book? My aesthetic is prison minimalist chic + crayon pieces. Will include tips for stuffing a garbage bag of goodwill donations into every available closet and never allowing your children to take more than 4 toys out at one time. Bonus material on cultivating gratitude for a single shoebox filled with Legos and making crafts of out (recycled, natch) aluminum foil.

My baby bump progresses from nonexistent to charming to alarming rapidly, from about week 19-23, at which point I start fielding nervous comments about how soon my due date might be. Do I embrace the micro belly and style it accordingly while it’s still cute, or hide it as long as possible in advance of the inevitable “hope there’s a doctor in the house” comments at Costco starting around month 7.

Baby names your husband hates/won’t seriously discuss. (Also, why won’t most guys even get serious until trimester 3? Why can’t they understand we lie awake at night matching first and middles and imagining whether or not a monogram will be offensive if configured “southern style” (Last name letter big and in the middle) vs. traditional? And they wonder why we’re not sleeping better…

A few of our “no go” names that are simply too wild/not doing it for my better half: Imogen (fine, that one’s wild, I’ll admit it), Vera, Vianney, Siena, Roman, Clairvaux (honey those are places, he pleads with me. Wrong noun type), Francesca (actually we both love that name and love St. Frances/Francis but can’t give the little darling the initials FU, can we?) Reid, Blaise, Marjorie, (<—he may be persuaded on this one on “family name” grounds), Azelie, Karoline (w/ a k is too wild for bae), Giuliana (though I guess we mutually vetoed this one based on how it sounds with our last name slash intractable whiteness), Gianna (family name already in use. Single tear.) Marin, and Maris.

See how my raw edginess is being repressed? For the record, current sibling line up is: Joseph Kolbe, John Paul Francis, Genevieve Therese, and Luke Maximilian. So in his defense, I guess we have fairly conservative sounding names thus far. No Clementines or Cyrils are getting into this lineup any time soon.

How do you decide on baby names in your family? Our rules/pattern seem to be: a saint we already love/have a devotion to + perhaps a family name. (Though only Genevieve is a family name so that doesn’t seem to be an actual rule.) Basically we’re out of saints we have strong devotions to whose names we also love. Our other special heavenly buddies have kind of boring or unusual sounding names: Angelica (for Mother A. Being a little presumptuous here) Joan, Anthony (though we’ve considered Antonio even though said baby might one day hate us for it) Catherine, Julia, Rose, David (daddy doesn’t want a junior though), Benedict, and Pio.

And just like that the ‘ol babysitting clock has ticked down to zero. At least I made some minimal inbox progress before regaling you all with my internal monologue. Viva la Tuesday!

made this instructive screensaver for myself a couple month ago with Luke’s help (quote is from the book “Holiness for Housewives” which I haven’t read but which I have shamelessly cherry picked.)

About Me, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Homosexuality

Love me enough not to leave me there

June 26, 2017

My college years were wild. They could have been worse, but they could also have been a whole lot tamer, which is always thrown into stark relief when I swap stories with my FUS pedigreed husband and fellow alums. You see, I did 4 years at CU Boulder before I transferred to Steubenville, so I had a sort of best (and worst) of both worlds college experience. Drinking, drug use, promiscuity, partying that bled into academic pursuits and, kind of, um, annihilated them? Check. And then. Festivals of Praise? Homeless ministry? Serving with the CFRs in the Bronx and praying at the abortion clinic in Pittsburgh? Also check.

It was a wild 5 years of undergrad, spanning a diverse and confusing range of experiences and friendships. And while I used to wish I could go back and erase certain chapters (especially from my junior and senior years at Boulder) I have become acutely aware that these encounters shaped me, too, for better and for worse, and that there are specific parts of my story that are relevant to other people I encounter precisely because they are relatable. I have no hope of ever ending up a St. Therese or a St. Dominic Savio. Best I can hope for is St. Augustine or St. Francis Xavier. (ha!) A little world weary, and a little too familiar with precisely what it is “the world” is struggling with.

I had some friends who were also Catholic or some other Christian denomination during my darker years, and many of them were lovely people who I had fun with. But they didn’t call me on. They saw no tension between the faith I professed on paper and the life I was living in reality. I was fun, and besides, we were living similar variations of the same story. We justified each other’s crap, to put it very mildly, and we demanded little from our relationships with one another beyond exhilarating company and tag teamed bar tabs.

There were a few other friendships, too. Not close ones, more acquaintances, technically. But these handful of beacons stood out in a time of seemingly impenetrable darkness and remain in my memory, even now, 15 years removed from the experience, shining monuments of hope and encounter in a dark and confused period of my young adulthood. The FOCUS missionary who called me every month to invite me to Bible study. Who still smiled and made conversation when we crossed paths on campus, even as I rejected invitation after invitation. Who stopped to chat in the street on the morning of her engagement, effusive with joy, dropping the yet unheard phrase “Theology of the Body” like an explosion into my curious brain. The kindly RA who lived down the hall and who would always wave to me at Mass the weekends that I made it there. The welcoming and non judgmental regular patrons of the Catholic student center who moved aside and let me awkwardly crash their (sober. astonishing to me at the time) movie nights, making room on the ratty couches for a cynical party girl who’d sworn off the bar scene for a month and found herself with a wiiiide open social calendar.

These were the people who invited me to consider that there was perhaps another way to live. These were the people who gently, mercifully called me to something more. They didn’t shout me down for the way I’d been living. They just opened the door and invited me in.

I think this method of genuine encounter is what is so desperately missing in the world. The Jesus eating with tax collectors and chatting with prostitutes mode of being. We lose sight of the necessity to encounter the other where they truly are and to then invite them into something more. To love them enough not to leave them there. It’s so easy to focus excessively on the feel good “I accept you how you are” and to drop the “and I love you enough to tell you the truth” ball. It’s equally tempting to forgo the acceptance/meeting phase and jump straight to Defcon “this is why you’re dead wrong.”

Neither way is Biblical. Jesus encounters and calls to conversion. He never separates the two. We live in a culture obsessed with being “tolerant” and “openminded.” But my tolerant friends were content to leave me paralyzed, on my mat, not costing them anything except maybe another round of Jaegerbombs. And in reality, maybe they didn’t – or couldn’t – realize how sick I was. How sick we all were. I was a stock character in their own dramas, as they were in mine. We were all of us hurting, medicating away some pain, covering up some insecurity or wound with a mode of being that allowed for numbness and oblivion.

The second kind of friends were the full package variety. They encountered and called on. They lifted up my mat. They opened their doors and offered a seat at their tables and looked me in the eye and said, in so many words, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

This is what real acceptance looks like. Not empty platitudes and affected camaraderie, but authentic, intimate encounter and acceptance. Something that cost us each something. It cost me my pride and my lifestyle. And it cost them their comfortable existence and their hospitality.

And we each gained immeasurably more than we could have hoped for.

But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Luke 5:19

I read this powerful testimony from a small group of friends who attended San Francisco’s gay pride event over the weekend and practiced an authentic and humble ministry of encounter there, meeting, welcoming, not judging … and being willing to lift the mat. Worth the click.

About Me, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, reality check

Life in the HOV lane

June 22, 2017

(Thanks a million for the outpouring of kindness yesterday. Undeserved and overwhelming.)

Since my vehicle is almost always highly occupied, I enjoy the perk of the far left lane when cruising some of Denver’s increasingly congested major highways, a privilege I can thank my numerous children for.

This morning found me boldly venturing to the nearby splash pad with zero snacks or sunscreen (which I applied before we left the house and will be patting myself on the back for all day long), the full crew clad only in swimsuits and sandals and no thought for the return trip home because I live on the edge, where I proceeded to only mildly helicopter from a bench perch while the splashing commenced. I had some time to reflect on how different mothering a larger family looks and how much more sustainable, if only based on sheer exhaustion, this version of me is. I made a mental note of this as I changed a filthy diaper in eyeshot of the woman sharing my picnic table perch who beat a hasty retreat to an adjoining bench, realizing that perhaps my standards, in some categories, have slipped too far.

Here are things I no longer do as a mom.

I don’t worry about structured play time/crafts/activities. I was never super into this to begin with, but there were definitely a few ill fated Pinterest crafting sessions when my older boys were toddlers that ended in glittery tears. I don’t even buy art supplies any more, save for the requisite twice yearly crayon and marker restocking. Maybe this makes me a monster. Maybe it makes me a genius. But when my kids want to get artistic, they have to make do with paper and crayola and that’s about it. It’s amazing the things my especially artful 5 year old has crafted from scotch tape, tin foil, and ziplock bags. Life finds a way.

I also don’t really do activities yet. Library story time, sports, lessons, etc. It’s just not the right time for us yet, and nobody is clamoring for it, so why rock the boat? We’ve had a couple rounds of swimming lessons so some people are approaching water competency, but apart from that I can’t think of a compelling reason to further complicate our schedule until it’s necessary.

Cook real meals. Sort of. 80% of the time it’s some chicken/veggie/starch encore or breakfast for dinner. Lunch is turkey, hummus, pb&j and carrot sticks. Breakfast is oatmeal or bacon and eggs. Nobody’s hair is falling out yet.

I realized a couple years into motherhood and marriage that I actually don’t enjoy cooking, and even less so when half the crew is rejecting the entree night after night. So I perfected a dozen menus that I can cook from memory and with zero motivation (chili, soup, curry, chicken parm, burgers, korean beef, fajitas, etc.) and I just…make those. Over and over again. I honestly prefer laundry to cooking and would rather be folding clothes than working on a new recipe, so I figured until I get an aspiring Julia Childs coming to me wanting to test their wings, our cuisine will be simple and our evenings will be more peaceful.

Let my kids play with screens. I have more street cred here (and they have definitely noticed) with my dumbed down smart phone, and they know there’s nothing interesting on there but maps and the camera. We don’t have a tablet and we have a strict no video game policy until further notice. Our 6.5 year old would happily play 4 hours of Minecraft a day, he has let me know in no uncertain terms, but not in my house, buddy. I don’t care if I’m socially hamstringing them (fairly confident I’m doing the exact opposite) or if it’s just delaying the inevitable addiction that humanity is now all but doomed to (but at least their brains will develop for a few years first), or if every other kid on the block has their own iPad.

They get an hour or so of tv most days, but they’re limited to PBS kids or maybe something on Netflix if mommy is willing to lend the laptop. It’s been a good transition to scheduled programming via PBS where they have one choice during any given time slot, because if it’s not a show they like, they just don’t watch it. The grownups in the house only watch tv/movies once or twice a week, so it’s easier to enforce behavior we’re already modeling. It’s not that we’re particularly virtuous is this area, it’s just that without Downton Abbey or Madam Secretary to look forward to on Sunday nights, we don’t actually find anything worth watching. Football season is another story, however.

Care about what other people think. My tolerance to this was already pretty high when we moved back from Rome, because after navigating the city bus system with two toddlers I felt like I could pretty much handle anything. And since I’m home most of the day by myself, if I cared what a circus parade we look like when we’re out and about, I’d basically be a hermit. But I don’t care. And when Dave is home at night or I get to go out by myself, the last thing I want to do is grocery shop. Let all of Costco stare, I don’t care. I’m too distracted by the hunt for where they moved the La Croix to this week to notice if anyone is looking at us anyway. And when the “you’ve got your hands full” comments start coming, I just respond blandly and mildly with “yep.” or “Sure do.” and maybe since it’s Denver and there are plenty of free spirited weirdos around, nobody really seems all that gobsmacked honestly. Or maybe I’ve reached the magical number of no comment.

Feel bad about making siblings share/play together/serve each other. As an oldest child I am mindful of not wanting to burden my firstborn overly much, but as he is a sanguine boy and not an overachieving choleric female, I think we’re in safer territory. We frequently ask the kids to do things for us to help serve a younger sibling, whether it’s running for a diaper, reading a book to someone, or pointedly including your sister in your game because you can’t say “no girls allowed” when she’s the only girl, punk. But nice try.

They also share rooms and toys and clothes (gender permitting) and have few truly personal possessions. There are a coterie of stuffed lovies which are true private property and thus sacrosanct, but otherwise, the booty is communal, and must be respected as such. When birthdays or Christmas roll around, the new gift is given with a 48 hour grace period before sharing will commence. Usually they void the 48 hours on their own accord and freely offer their new treasure to their siblings to experience as well, because (I tell myself) they like to share. Or they’re at least very used to it.

I can think of a handful of other less virtuous achievements, mostly involving not requiring people to get fully dressed most days (ahem, Luke) and cleaning lots of things using diaper wipes, but I think you get the idea. More kids is more work, but it’s also more streamlined. There is less stress (most days), more joy, and there are much, much dirtier floors.

What standards have you found “adjusting” as you’ve grown into your motherhood gig? Does anyone else let their one year old eat cold hot dogs straight from the fridge? Asking for a friend.

Catholic Spirituality, pregnancy, reality check, Suffering

In which there is no hope

June 21, 2017

“The Russians have a saying: ‘The only whole heart is a broken heart.’ And I think what they mean is that when our presumptions about ourselves, about what life means, our aspirations for self-satisfaction, our concepts of success—whatever those may be—are shattered, whenever we experience defeat, defeat, radical defeat, in which there is no hope: THAT is the moment of potential beginnings of the real. We are called to go deeper and farther. This is our Lord Jesus on the cross. This is the genesis of the power of Christianity. The power of Christianity begins in absolute weakness. Weakness. Weakness on the cross. The defeat of everything. This is a story. This is a very big story.”

—Michael O’Brien, talk given on 12 June 2017 at Loyola New Orleans

I read the above quote from one of my all time favorite authors (get on it Christy, your book report is due soon) and that line in particular jumped out: “in which there is no hope.

I fall for the magical thinking version of Christianity again and again. That because I’m praying and because I’m trying life is going to come up roses. And if I’m oblivious enough to, um, pretty much all of salvation history, I can usually work myself into a pretty good pout when things do not, in fact, go according to (my) plan, are not clipping along at an efficient and satisfying pace.

But then I remember that God let His own mother give birth in a stable. That all of his best friends were brutally murdered, save the one who maybe died alone on a desert island. And I am struck anew by the radical otherworldly nature of the God I claim to know.

I don’t know Him all that well, after all.

I’ve been returning to this Mother Teresa quote lately, that “God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” It’s haunting me, and it seems applicable in nearly every situation I can conjure up.

This summer feels impossible. My oldest kids are old enough to be somewhat autonomous and yet also old enough to know that mommy lying on the couch for much of the day and smearing peanut butter on tortillas for sustenance is no way to live. I want to be joyful and present and available and grateful, but more days than not I am selfish and self pitying and nauseous and oh so sick of piling little bodies into car seats for yet another house showing.

Every time we submit an offer on a house that gets rejected, I feel it like a physical wound. Like God is turning His face away intentionally, blind to our needs and indifferent to my pain and rising panic. As I watch my waistline slowly expand with the surprising miracle of another new life, I mentally calculate how many weeks pregnant I’d be if this house goes under contract. Now this one. Now this one. The weeks whittle away towards an imaginary deadline and I panic, imagining the worst case scenario of living in my in-laws basement, of our generous friends coming back Stateside and needing their house back asap. Of the median sold home price in the Denver metro area rising another 10 percent between June and July, like it did from May to June.

I have very little trust in God right now. In the most melodramatic and hormonally fueled overstatement, I actually feel completely abandoned by Him.

So faith right now is an intellectual exercise. And don’t think for a moment I’m not ashamed that it is the mere removal of material comforts that has me here. I am ashamed. My kids are healthy, my husband is wonderful, we’ve been given a beautiful new soul to care for, and we have the most supportive and loving family and friends anyone could hope for. And I’m utterly undone by the relatively minor detail of not being able to find somewhere to live.

And it’s this: there is no room at the inn, and Christmas is coming sooner or later.

I’m clinging to the premise that when there is no hope, where there is only weakness, Jesus is getting ready to break through.

I don’t know what you’re dealing with right now in your life. Maybe a hurting relationship, a hard diagnosis, some sort of seemingly impossible situation. Dare we believe that in these moments of dark hopelessness, however objectively challenging or actually fluffy they be, the One who is hope is standing on the other side, ready to storm the breach?

 

I can’t say enough how embarrassing it is to find myself here. Not because I’m smarter or should know better, but because it is revealing to me how weak and self centered my faith is, and it’s humiliating.

It’s humiliating to admit that I see God as a kind of benign genie who grants wishes based on performance. It’s humiliating to think of Christians being martyred for their faith 6,000 miles away while I cry into my decaf over real estate. It’s humiliating to realize that I’m actually not willing to drink this cup, Lord. Because it isn’t the one I ordered. 

I don’t have a neat takeaway for any of this, just that it’s raw a hard and stupid all at the same time, and I’m sure it’s the pregnancy hormones and the heat and good old fashioned human weakness, but it’s embarrassing just the same.

I don’t trust you, Lord. And in spite of my treachery, You never let go. You are silent but you haven’t withdrawn your protection. I can’t feel you but I can see proof of your provision all around.

Whatever you’re facing this summer, know that you’re not alone, and that there are no perfect Christians walking around with unshakable confidence convicting their souls at all times. Reading through St. Faustina’s diary the past few months has demonstrated that to me in spades. If Jesus literally appears to you after communion and you’ve still got trust issues, then Houston, we have a problem. And we might actually be the problem: fallen, fallible human hearts afraid to trust and prone to fickle faltering.

Oh well, He loves us just the same. St. Peter, St. Faustina, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Joseph, and you and me. If He is the constant sun, I am the toddler screwing my eyes shut and crying because it’s dark.

God, please open my eyes.

The gorgeous patio from our AirBnB in Ventura. (Hello, remember that trip to California last month? Love, God.)

About Me

Promotions and provision

June 15, 2017

What’s better than a champagne toast at midnight on New Year’s Eve, you ask?

How about an epidural?

Go ahead and leave the button where I can reach it.

The countertops and sink are literally invisible under breakfast dishes, I’m letting the not-quite-two year old nap dangerously late into the afternoon, and the basement is filled with the happy/destructive sounds of children at play who are mercifully far from my line of vision. Which means yes, we’re upgrading to a family of 7. Baby Bing number 5, headed your way December 31st, 2017. And no, that mini van poll on Facebook the other day was not a purely intellectual exercise.

Now that I have ultrasound evidence in hand, I can breathe easy that Cinque Bing is indeed traveling solo, and so perhaps our 7 seater Honda Odyssey will live to ride another year. Or two. Really depends on finding some skinny carseats for that back row, and training Evie to self buckle by Christmas.

Was this baby planned? Sure, by God. And yes, we have a vague idea of what causes that. Are we happy? Very. The feelings of overwhelm lasted a day or so for me, and were alleviated hugely by our wonderful parents (both sets – we’re blessed beyond belief) and our siblings who have pitched in with babysitting help and general morale boosting during what has been my hardest first trimester. But I don’t barf, so how can I complain? I can’t.

This will be our longest gap between kids (2.5 years, thanks Marquette!), and I thiiiink I’m having another girl because I feel so terrible, which was how I felt with Evie. Also, I haven’t really gained any weight, which was also how it went down with her. At least in the first 20 weeks. Cackle. We aren’t planning to find out the sex because the anticipation helps me endure the home stretch, and also because I enjoy shocking strangers by not knowing the answer when they ask “boy or girl?”

While I’m not showing yet (thanks, constant nausea), I’m comfortably rocking these under belly maternity jeans with stretchy elastic side panel things that I was certain were a terrible idea, only to find that they’re really, really comfy and really, really effective at taking any hint of pressure off a midsection that does not want to be touched at all. Also, vv on trend, which is important when you’re gearing up to be a grand multipara of advanced maternal age <— my new fancy official title as I will turn 35 about a week before bebe debuts.

Some thoughts. Pregnancy is hard, but it’s less hard when there are lots of other small people running around needing stuff from you. I’m tired allllll the time, and I’m climbing into bed at 8 some nights, about when the kids are down(ish), but I still think I’m less tired than when I was 28 and pregnant with Joey working full time behind a desk.

We are so blessed by our uncompromisingly pro life community of family and friends. We have not been met with a single negative comment, only overwhelming joy and excitement and support. So even if somebody should say something ridiculous in Costco 5.5 months from now, I have an expansive 3 months of goodwill and good cheer to bank from. Our school principal hugged me with tears in her eyes when I told her we were going to need to talk tuition discounts. Our doctor spent 20 unhurried minutes on my first ultrasound this morning, just because “I love seeing that first glimpse of these little guys, it’s just so awesome every time.” Both sets of grandparents are over the moon.

In short, we are abundantly blessed, and I’m very aware that to whom much is given, much is entrusted. Which is probably why I’ve been able to continue to write about fun stuff like NFP during these past few months, even while feeling like a grade A slug.

For those of you who don’t receive this kind of support and joy and encouragement when you announce a new life, who perhaps struggle month after month hoping to conceive and hearing “no” over and over again, enduring silent judgements and suffering a quieter martyrdom, please know this: you are my real heroes.

We’ve been immensely blessed by the presence of this baby, even in the midst of a kind of crazy season of life. And by crazy I mean living in a friend’s (mercifully empty) house in another city, commuting an hour to work/school(until last week) and our parish, and driving 4 wily kids all over Denver for about a dozen showings a week. And yeah, we’re having a baby.

But I’ve found, remarkably, that the baby is actually the bright spot in the chaos of a season of unpredictability, which either makes me crazy or makes the world very, very wrong about what actually constitutes “ideal circumstances” for bringing forth new life.

And hey, if I haven’t answered your email promptly, it’s probably because I’ve been lying flat on my back tossing unwrapped popsicles out the back door and counting down the minutes to 6pm.

Sweet little baby, we’re so glad you’re here. Welcome to the circus.

Different pregnancy, different baby, same cravings. I’m nothing if not predictable.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, motherhood, prayer

A mom who prays is a mom who stays (sane)

June 13, 2017

Sometimes I write posts for myself which is vv old school blogger of me, if you stop and think about it. Online journaling. But this is one such post, a reminder that hey, self, you need to up your game here, and if someone else out there gets something from it, brownies.

Summer is upon us. That glorious, unstructured, unfettered and creative expanse of bliss and memories and popsicle stains on rash guards and sunburns and piles of mysterious wet clothing everywhere. Everywhere.

The first week passed thusly. Me, relieved of carpool duty and much obliged, gracefully relinquishing the remote control for “just one more episode of Nature Cat” (why not?) and the kids, angels all, rejoicing in their togetherness and staying in various states of undress for much of the day. Around the middle of the second week, no schedule or system yet on the horizon, we all began to feel a little…on edge. The constant inflow of Red dye number 5 and the damp cling of neoprene fabric starting to chafe not just at skin but at psyches. I kept looking around waiting for someone to come and give us a shove in the right direction before realizing, as always with a bit of a startle, that it would have to be me.

I don’t know why it’s harder to play the role of competent adult in the summertime, but I imagine it has a lot to do with ingrained pavlovian associations of summer + freedom. But freedom for is a different animal than freedom from. Yes, we are free from the drudgery of carpool and the frantic tap-dance of 6 am lunch-and-breakfast assembly. But we are not free from a nominally appropriate human dress code. Not day in and day out, at any rate.

Pulling myself mentally together, I marshaled my limited interior resources and admitted that the worst part of the current state of affairs was surely mom’s lack of peace and recollection. Sure, I was getting more sleep in the mornings (and the essential nature of sleep CAN NOT BE OVERSTATED), but I had traded away my quiet coffee+scripture ritual in so doing, and failed to replace it with anything much of substance until long after bedtime. We have been attempting with moderate “success” the family rosary/decade for a few weeks now, and that has proven to be a winning group devotion. But it is not sufficient for filling mama’s deeper adult tank, not on it’s own.

Daily Mass was a staple during the school year, to the degree it could be achieved on the days with just the younger two kids home. Daily Mass with all four, in Luke’s current state of nascent two-ness, is … intimidating. The nearest parish is a welcoming and kind place, staffed by earnest and indefatigable “greeters and seaters” who very much want my entire brood to sit in the front row, but is one of those architectural disasters that beckons screaming toddlers to escape at full tilt down the gentle 25% slope leading towards the altar. Don’t ask me how I know this.

So that leaves…a void. A gaping expanse of spiritual nothingness between a quick morning offering, a glimpse at the daily Blessed is She devotion + Mass readings, and a seemingly endless expanse of long, hot daylight hours between me and God connecting.

But when I don’t pray, I am the worst mom ever. (When I do pray I’d still only give myself about a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I digress.) So I have to figure out a way to get more prayer time in. For that, I turned to some more experienced moms and to a priest friend who does a lot of spiritual direction for women. Here are a few of their suggestions, plus a few things that have worked particularly well for me in my current state of mild chaos:

“Pray while you work out.” I have never been a fast runner, and that works to my advantage in this instance, as staying under 5 mph on the treadmill is generally not mutually exclusive to praying a rosary. I bring my kindle to the gym, but I tell myself I can’t turn it on until I’ve said a rosary first. It’s not deeply contemplative prayer time, by any means, but it’s better than nothing.

“Adoration. As often as you can make it, and ideally alone.” I love stopping by with my kids for a 3 minute strafing run on the perpetual adoration chapel at our parish. Most of the other adorers think it’s adorable (I tell myself) when Luke screams “JESUS!!!!!” while clawing his way desperately out of my arms to get to the monstrance, and I know it’s important to familiarize them with the Blessed Sacrament from an early age. But again, it ain’t quality time. When I can go for a half hour or an hour alone, it’s heaven. Even if I mostly just doze in the pew and kind of “sunbathe” in His presence. It used to bother my formerly busy intellect that I couldn’t conjure any decent mental prayer when I finally made it to Adoration as a mother, but now I just accept that He wants to saturate me with graces and allow me a space to rest with Him. It’s wonderful.

“Get up before the kids and spend 20 minutes with the Lord.” Easier said than done, depending upon the season of life. If I’m pregnant or nursing, fugaddaboutit, Otherwise? It’s always worth the effort, even at the cost of sleep. During this past Lent I started doing it as a penance and it quickly became the best and most important part of my day, wouldn’t you know it?

This one from Fr. J: “Make an offering of your daily tasks continuously to the Lord.” Write out a sign and put it up in the kitchen, or wherever you spend most of the day, that says “I offer you this…” and refer to it over and over again throughout the day. “Lord, I offer you these dishes. This meal prep. This diaper change. This admin task. This hard phone call. This parental referee session.” We also talked about the reality of sort of “banking up graces” for particular children during their little years to access during their possibly more challenging later years. As in, “Lord, I offer you this load of laundry for so and so, who wet their bed again last night. I pray for their vocation, for their teen years, for their future spouse.” I loooooove the idea of banking up graces garnered by weathering toddler tantrums and potty training woes for that particular child’s future, and for our ongoing relationship. I’ve actually come to cherish? Maybe too strong a word. But…appreciate those opportunities for grace when a particular child is giving me hell (or not sleeping which is the same thing) and I’m like, “thank you Jesus for the opportunity to suffer a little bit for this child now, please apply these graces when they will most desperately need them.

Puts the stomach flu in a whole new perspective, anyway.

Finally, “go on a silent retreat.” I’ve heard this from so many experienced moms, many of whom have larger than average families and who make an annual silent retreat sans kids. They tell me it is essential to their ability to parent their children, and has become a critical component of maintaining their relationship with Jesus in the midst of the hard investment years of parenting. I’ve yet to take this advice, but I’m eager to put it into practice.

I love that the Church has saints from every walk and station of life, and the longer I’m at this mom gig, the more amazing mother saints I seem to run across. I read quotes like these and I’m like, great, somebody gets it. And it’s not mindless or meaningless, all this domestic duty.

“God walks among the pots and pans” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” – St. Frances of Rome

“I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect” – St. Zelie Martin

“Why do you not succeed in doing good? It’s because you do not pray enough” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Catholics Do What?, Marriage, NFP, Sex

What I learned from the NFP survey

June 9, 2017

A lot of people are hurting, and a lot of people feel alone. That was easily – overwhelmingly – the takeaway from all the discussion we’ve been having around here about NFP. About the failure to learn NFP adequately. About the failure to talk about NFP realistically. About the lack of community, of resources, of support, of success…

And it doesn’t surprise me. We live in this world, all of us, and we are all to some degree impacted and informed and undone by the ravages of the sexual revolution. Even if you’ve never used contraception, even if you live in the most amazing and supportive and life-affirming Christian community on the planet, since you’re still a citizen of planet earth in 2017, chances are you’re still deeply impacted by what the world believes about sex, and to a certain degree, how that has shaped your own beliefs.

I expect NFP to work a lot like (wink, wink) Church sanctioned contraception sometimes. And so it’s shocking sometimes, more shocking than I care to admit to you here, when a pregnancy test turns positive. “But I did the math. We used the right days. I knew exactly where I was in my cycle.”

And yet. Sometimes God overrides the system. So that’s hard. But it’s hardest when I’m fixated on the (false) notion that I am in complete control of my fertility. When I forget that in our marriage vows I gave that over, too, along with my freedom to walk out the door when things get tough, my options to look elsewhere when the road gets rocky.

NFP is not natural contraception. It’s dangerous for us to equate it as such, touting that “97 percent effective when used perfectly” stat, and I think that’s what can get us so frantic over the “failures.” Because while we’ve been trying to make it attractive enough to convince people to use it, maybe we’ve lost sight a little bit of the reality that it’s hard. That it will always be hard. That it will always be less convenient than popping a pill or putting in a diaphragm. That it will always require a degree of sacrifice. That it, in fact, means something entirely different from contraception. Instead of self indulgence, self denial. Instead of self gratification, self mastery. Instead of wild spontaneity, meticulous discernment. (This while a couple is hoping to avoid a pregnancy. If a baby is what you’re hoping for, then by all means, get spontaneous).

What I’m trying to say is that I think by selling NFP as an easy! natural! beautiful! alternative to the sexual stupidity of the culture at large, we’ve done a disservice to the couples who are actually brave enough to use it. I know I’m not alone in having my “divine vending machine” concept shattered by being blindsided by surprise pregnancies, the utter failure of the notion of “child spacing by breastfeeding,” and the particularly cutting blow of post partum depression.

But, God, I’ve wanted to say. Have said. I’m playing by your rules. I’m trying to follow your will. Why is it so hard? So painful? So lonely?

And He points me to Calvary.

He points to the Cross, that gentle yoke if I shoulder it alongside Him, and whispers I know you better than you know yourself. I know what will make you whole. I know what will make you holy.

And it doesn’t feel good.

It doesn’t look so good to the outside world, either. It looks like a mess. It looks life failure. Like struggle. Like all hope is lost and all was foolishness.

But then. The Resurrection. That impossible reclamation of all that was lost. The undoing of reality. The rejection of what was sensible and practical and possible.

God’s ways are not our ways. And if this is a difficult thing we wrestle with in our marriages, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing it wrong.

I am happy to have sent along all our frustrations, suggestions, pleadings and prayers to the USCCB convocation, and I do hope the working group finds a lot of gold in what I mined from your comments. But l am also praying for all of our hearts to be transformed – clergy and laity alike – by Jesus. By His plans for our marriages, and perhaps in ways that diverge radically from our own.

Unrelated photo of my center console: the champagne of mom beverages.