Sunday, December 8, 2019

On falling out of love with Christmas time

When I was growing up, I always loved Christmas time. I loved the songs, the special foods (okay, mostly just cookies, pies, and Christmas waffles - I've never been into turkeys, hams, mashed potatoes, etc.), the general sense of merriment and excitement from the adults. I loved the Christmas tree, the stockings, the joyful anticipation of Santa coming.



And now, when this time of year comes, I remember that, and I still want almost nothing to do with it.

Part of it is this - I grew up in a church and school that celebrated Advent - a hope-filled period of waiting and watching the four weeks before Christmas. To wait for four weeks together made the whole thing feel more magical when it arrived. Skipping this period of waiting as a culture feels like having dessert without dinner - all the sugar and very little of the substance. (I recognize the irony of this analogy, by the way, having said above that my favorite holiday foods are only cookies and waffles.)

Part of it is this - I have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. It's a lot different as an adult with two days off (which I am grateful for) compared to a child with several weeks off of school.

Part of it is this - I would be responsible for creating all these things: decorating, cooking extra foods, monitoring the children around a tree, hanging lights (or having Caleb do it) and most days, it feels like all we can do to keep everyone fed, clothed, relatively rested, and arriving at their destinations. We only recently added in teeth brushing for the toddler because until now, it quite frankly felt too overwhelming. You make time for the priorities, and many people busier than I make time to do Christmas decorating and the like because it brings them joy - and to them I say great! I am making time to write this right now because it brings me joy, so I fully support you.

A big part of it is this - the earth is rapidly being destroyed. It's groaning all the time, but it seems especially poignant during this time of liturgically hope-filled waiting. The first thing I think of when I see a beautifully wrapped present is about what a waste of precious, limited resources it was to wrap a probably not necessary thing in completely unnecessary paper or a gift bag. My children, who will most certainly have to deal with the consequences of climate denial and inaction, receive many thoughtful gifts (some even suggested by or purchased by me). It is my hope that providing a childhood full of messy play, open-ended toys, extremely limited screens, and lots of outdoor time will help them fall in love with the planet and think creatively to come up solutions to a drastically changing world. But somehow another obligatory part of childhood  in the world today is free plastic junk at every turn. And while I strongly agree that "[O]ne of the functions of preschools [or toddlers] in our society is not to use things, but to finish using things.", the amount of NEW plastic or other junk that arrives home when you have kids is a shock. And apart from the junk, even the things I carefully select come at a cost. I buy new clothes because it's easier than making time to go to a consignment sale. I buy new books to ensure my kids have a selection of books that features female, racially, and ably diverse characters. All of it costs something financially and costs something to the planet. Christmas trees, lights, decorations. 

Also, can we talk about Santa? I love magic and the way that childhood is a time when the lines of fantasy and reality are very blurry. But I have given or sat through a few too many child protection trainings to want my children to ever sit on the lap of a stranger at the request of a trusted adult. One of the only Christmas decorations I own are personalized stockings... I myself loved the magic of Santa growing up, but the whole thing makes me feel uneasy and unsettled.

Overall, I guess I feel like we - as a family and as a society - are already overflowing at the brims - too much stuff, not enough space, too many commitments, not enough time. We take that limited, not-enough space and we jam-pack it full of Christmas trees, Christmas trinkets, plastic stuff. It's a screaming holiday in an already too loud world. As the world gets louder, the holiday too must get louder to be heard above the fray. Sales are moved earlier, shop not just on Black Friday, but the whole month of November. Put up your tree in October, start celebrating the start of the winter season on November 1, even though it's still fall until December 21. Burn yourself out on winter cheer by January 1, and then complain about the weather for another three months.

And I fell out of love with Christmas time.

All of this, to celebrate a major religious holiday, one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. When we peel the layers back, none of that, at its heart, has much to do with sales or shopping or snow or Christmas movies, or holiday lights, or even Christmas trees.

Maybe what I fell out of love with, in the end, was the idea that to mark this significant celebration required jumping on board with the mayhem of the season. Maybe our traditions can include slowing down, giving only one or two gifts per person in a family, cutting out extra activities, sharing simple meals, and sinking into really being present with each other. Maybe we can listening to the beautifully haunting notes of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and pray them more fervently than ever before in the face of climate disaster, political instability, and the refugee crisis.

Let's slow down together.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

How to go shopping for clothes postpartum



  1. Wear your maternity clothes, leggings and a handful of flowy tops for many months - ten in my case. You lose weight, gain weight, lose it. Your belly dramatically changes shape several times, each fluctuation meaning that some maternity pants or leggings fit or don’t. Wonder if you should do a diet or something to fit in your old clothes. 
  2. Start an exercise program that emphasizes functional movement over appearance. Feel your strength grow.
  3. Reject the concept of good and bad foods in favor of intuitive eating. Pause and ask yourself “what do I want to eat?” And then eat it in whatever quantity your body requests. Yes, even if it’s nothing but pumpkin bars for 3 meals in a row. Practice trusting yourself. Release the idea of shoulds.
  4. Read a post shared by a friend reminding you that “Pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman”. Tattoo it in your mind. 
  5. Talk at length with you husband one night about how hard we all are on ourselves when we are a photo of ourselves that we don’t like. Everyone else sees us with our hair like that, with that in-between face, the way the lines appear around our mouths when we smile. And they love or like us and think we look fine/ great/ normal. But we limit ourselves to a specific look, with our hair just so, and only a handful of facial expressions that we deem acceptable. Why are we so hard on ourselves?
  6. Pause one day in the middle/end of a workout. Remember what your body has done, what unbelievable feats she has accomplished. Revel in them. For me, this meant overcoming a major back injury, growing, birthing, and feeding two children all within 4 years. I am filled with awe and I rest my hands lightly on my stomach in appreciation. Your body might not have done any of those things in the past four years, but I am confident that it has done some other amazing things. 
  7. Fill your mind with articles questioning why “attractive” for a woman means enduring discomfort and pain (tight pants, high heels) whereas men can be attractive in comfortable clothes. 
  8. Watch YouTube videos of a mom a similar size as you trying on clothes and looking amazing. 
  9. Realize you are tired of wearing too-small leggings and maternity pants. Budget money for clothes. Decide it is high-priority.  
  10. Go to store feeling excited to buy things that actually fit your perfect body as it is now. Perfect because it is your body and you don’t owe it to anyone to have it look any certain way. 
  11. Rules: shop curiously. What size fits me? What feels comfortable? What style do I like? 
  12. Remember that if your body has always been a certain size and is now different, your mind possibly hasn’t made that leap. My eyes gravitate towards things that would have fit me before having kids. Things that actually fit me look enormous. That’s okay. I haven’t been pants shopping in a long time. My memory is very good and is trying to help me by recalling what we did last time. I take it as a starting point and go up several sizes. 
  13. Jeans are the hardest for me, so I start there. I fill my cart with pair after pair. I let up and move to something easier- athletic clothes, and then to something easier - pajamas, and then the easiest - shoes. I want to yell to all the women around me “BEING PRETTY IS NOT THE RENT YOU PAY FOR EXISTING IN THE WORLD.” We need more of that message in our lives. 
  14. I try on nearly 40 things. I notice tags that say things like “Lifts and sculpts your assets”. I wish they knew that the tag that would get my attention is “These pants are comfortable and not too tight anywhere.” 
  15. I actively remain curious and suspend judgement. I am full of only admiration for my strong body. I find several high-waisted pairs of pants that fit and are comfortable. I’ve wanted to wear this style for a while now but was certain that my body type wasn’t "right" for it. Guess what? I don’t care any more. I will wear it because it makes me feel comfortable and happy. I find a pair of sweatpants that look so big they might belong to Caleb. They are my size. I add them to my “keep” pile.
  16. Checkout with your new clothes. Wear them and feel AMAZING. And comfortable.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Lightness

Oct 20, 2018
"When I ask people late in life to reflect back on when they were the happiest, they always bring up the years when their children were little. There was no sleep and no money. It was exhausting and kids were yelling and running around, but there was so much love. And where there is love, there is God." - Fr. Adam (paraphrased from my memory)

Caleb and I went on a retreat over the weekend to a monastery nearly two hours away. It is so, so hard for me to leave Sammy, even with loving grandparents and aunts that he adores, but we did it. And there was so much space and so much quietness that it was a little hard to know what to do with myself. Except that I knew exactly what to do with myself - sleep as much as humanly possible over the 24 hours we were gone. 

It's been seven years since I last went on a retreat - to give some context to that number, I was not yet dating Caleb. So a *few* things are different now. A small group of us sat and received wise words from a man who has been a monk for 40 years to help guide us into our retreat. 

Fr. Adam also shared about Mary and Martha - about how we often separate them and talk about how Mary was "holy" because she was sitting and contemplating and Martha was not holy, as she rushed about trying to complete housework. We try to separate them, he said, and it's ridiculous because serving God and serving your neighbor are two sides of the same coin. The sin of Martha, he continued, isn't that she was busy doing housework, it's that she was officious about it. (Officious: assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters.) There's a false dichotomy that's been around since the nearly the beginning of Christianity that there is the material world which is not and cannot be holy, and there is the sacred, which only exists in the spirit realm. But you can't separate service of God and service of neighbor. You can't say that only Mary was doing holy work. 

It struck me that it had been awhile since I had read the story of Mary and Martha, but as a busy mom, I identified with Martha a whole lot more than ever before. I was relieved to hear that her work was also holy, though her posture may not have been. 

I later reflected on this - every day there are so many routine task that I do, and each of these is usually laced with anxiety. Truly though, it is such a gift to be able to prepare meals for myself and my family every day, to pack food to send to daycare with my son, to have dishes that need to be washed and the water available to do it, to have clothes that have been lived in and need to be washed to remove the food or dirt or drool that seems to coat everything we wear. These are all acts of love - and where there is love, there is God. Could I stop being anxious or stressed about these task simply by deciding to view them like this? 

 I remember a few weeks ago at church, Sammy desperately needed me to hold him. I remained seated in the pews, his head snuggled up in my neck as I draped him over and around my 3rd trimester belly as we sang:

Come to me

All who are weary and burdened
And I will give you rest
Put my yoke
Upon your shoulders
It might appear heavy at first


But it is perfectly fitted
But it is perfectly fitted
But it is perfectly fitted
To your curves

For my yoke is easy my burden is light
My yoke is easy my burden is light


It's true, I thought. There are a lot of what appear to be heavy burdens literally hanging on me right now, but somehow it's not heavy. It's pure love. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Postpartum I

When you have a baby, there are a series of well- child checkups that you go through - 2 days after you come home from the hospital, 2 weeks after that, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months 1 year, 18 months, 2 year and then it becomes annual. At Henry’s two week checkup, he was closer to 18 days old. Caleb has gone back to work, as his employer didn’t offer any sort of paternity leave. He skipped nearly all of my prenatal appointments, follow-ups with the high risk specialists, and the hospital tour (all things I desperately wished for him to attend) so that he could save up a full two weeks to be home after the birth. I had hoped for him to come with us to the checkup, but he didn’t feel like he could, having just returned to work a few days prior. 
I was overwhelmed by getting out of the house at all, but we managed to do it. Henry, as usual in the car, instantly began wailing. My nerves snapped and I also began sobbing, wailing, screaming. I just wanted my husband along. I just wanted him to be granted time off without worrying about how we would handle future sick days (his, Sammy’s, mine). I hated everything about living in a country that parades itself (quite literally) as one of the best countries in the world when it can’t even take care of parents taking care of babies. I was over it. “Today,” I determined through wails, “everyone else is going to join my discomfort.” 

And so, we parked in the parking garage. I got out and scooped up teeny newborn Henry who instantly stopped crying. I on the other hand, was not about to stop crying. I was tired. I was bleeding (for those who may not know, women bleed for many weeks after having a baby). I was overwhelmed. I was sick and tired of being without my spouse in a moment when I needed him due to lack of cultural support. 
I wailed and sobbed through the parking garage, my sobs echoing off the walls. “I will not hide this common postpartum emotion in my car,” I thought. I decided to skip the elevator and took the stairs -careful to not rip my stitches, crying inside. As I walked into the office, I dared the people around me to see my tears and see my pain. “I dare you to look at me and see what new motherhood really is,” I thought. The nurses hustled me back into a room to wait for the doctor, who met my eye contact and was unphased by the tears. He reminded me to ask for help. He reminded me that I needed to get sleep. “Stay as long as you want,” he said. It felt good to be out of my house and in the world. I returned a few weeks later and we started reflux medicines that changed our lives and brought us a baby who could fall asleep (sometimes!) during a drive instead of screaming. 
So, if there’s a new baby in your life, know that one or both parents are probably completely overwhelmed. And maybe scream crying at various points. And if you’re a new parent - I see you. I am not afraid of your tears. I’m angry with you. You’re doing a hard and great thing. Sending you a virtual hug. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stream of Consciousness

Everything is hard and wonderful. Some days and nights are sleepless and some are full of sleep and naps. Henry suffers from terrible reflux and some part of me is usually wearing it. He is also miles of smiles now and it’s the best. Sammy strings together words to convey meaning: “I jump! Baby! I see? I see? Baby. Watch. Jump.” (I want the baby to watch me jump.) “Otto. Mama. Car. Home.” (Otto and his mom are going home in their car.”) “Mama funny!” (When I jump around the car after buckling everyone in.) “I up here!” (When he has climbed up somewhere.)

I bought new rugs and now I want to buy 100 rugs because they are so nice. I love to lay on them... any time I’m not actively trying to put Henry to sleep. Having a baby in the winter when everyone is sick is hard because you can’t go anywhere. And then you buy 736 things online after you just watched 7 YouTube videos about minimalist zero-waste lifestyles... oops. Special oops because paid family leave is still not a thing here. (But going back to everyone being sick, if you’re sick, stop, please stop going places you don’t HAVE to go.)




Feat of the day: I woke up 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for a doctor appointment. I made it there with both boys on time even though I missed the exit. I don’t talk about this NEARLY as often as I think of talking about it because I don’t want to gross anyone out, but Caleb is the best parent and husband ever ever. He is totally the quiet hero most days  in our home. And he has to go to work and not nap. Sammy is so smitten with him and so am I. Anyways he got us out the door on time. And my mom met us there. 

I have to start thinking about my return to work now. Part of me is thrilled - I love the work, my coworkers both here and abroad. And I love other job benefits such as the number of hours I will not be covered in spit up. Unfathomable! But good grief, 12 weeks is just not enough time. Around 6 or 7 weeks is when I just started to feel like I was in love with Henry.  Of course I loved him instantly and instinctively, but like anyone, it takes time to get to know him. Now I see him whip his little head around when he hears my voice, I watch him instantly go from fussy to burrowing in my arms, his body relaxing. He struggles with reflux and I read a study that showed that a parent’s touch can reduce the amount of pain a baby feels by 40%. He needs a lot of touch. He looks so much like Sammy and so different, but this week I’m starting to see glimpses of his own person. 

Sammy turns two soon. Sometimes I reflect back on his newborn days and it is amazing. It is sort of as if I have lived two different realities, that are somehow the same and totally different. 
Henry’s cheeks are so soft and his features so dainty compared to Sammy’s. And yet both perfect. 

Don’t be fooled by my twitterpated ramblings - this stuff is still so hard and I still swear several times a day. And yell. And sometimes slam doors. And sometimes want to slam my head in a door. And wonder if I can quit.... but also know I never would want to. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Transitions

Tomorrow marks a new transition for our family. Tomorrow, Caleb goes back to work and Sammy goes back to daycare. It's bittersweet really. The past two weeks have been FULL. I was worried about how Sammy would do, but he's done great. Henry is attached to me most of the time, and Sammy has even began to become worried when he comes into our room and doesn't see Henry in my arms or next to me. That's not to say Sammy and I haven't had lots of our own special moments together. We yell "HI DADDY" over and over from my bed during at least one nursing session per day. There was the time I was getting ready for a much needed "me-time" bath and Sammy came in and started taking off his shirt too, so he joined me. And even though I thought I needed time alone, it turns out I needed some good, silly toddler fun with my first baby. Or the afternoon when I held Sammy until he went to sleep in my arms and then I picked him up (breaking my weight-lifting restriction) and laid him in his crib.

Let's talk for a minute about fingernails - do you know how much easier it is to clip the fingernails on an almost two year-old compared to a two day old? Or change the diaper or pants on a cooperating toddler?

When we left the hospital, our nurse said that when we got home, our oldest was going to look older, and he did. It took us several days to remember that he was not a seven year old - he was just so big! so capable! so able to express himself!

We thrive on routine in our family, and eventually we found our staying at home routine - Sammy began to miraculously sleep in until 8 or even 9 each morning. Henry and I slept in one room, Caleb in another. Caleb was available if I needed him in the night, but was mainly in charge of Sammy's sleep. Henry and I stayed up late having nursing parties (#ClusterFeeding), and then stayed in bed until 10 or 11. Sammy's nap time moved to be later in the day. Friends and family stopped by mainly in the afternoons to hold Henry or play with Sammy or unload our dishwasher (bless you).

Sharing a pacifier
These were demanding and beautiful and precious and exhausting days together, finding our way as a family of four. There were hugs - so many hugs - between all of us all the time. There were tears - so many tears - from all of us except Henry who hasn't quite started making tears yet.

Most days in the evenings, Caleb and I would look at each other wearily and smile and high five, a sleeping Henry tucked into one of our arms."We're doing it!"

Tomorrow we will begin to find a new routine. And in ten more weeks, we'll find a new one again. Breathing, accepting, beginning again. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Preparations

“The closer you get to birth, the more your muscles are doing two separate actions: opening, expanding and relaxing, but still holding your body up.” My physical therapist expanded her hands and then brought them back together, illustrating the way my core muscles are working. My soul is doing the same thing, opening, releasing, creating space for this new little love, while also barreling through the list of things to finish up.

************
It’s exhausting to be this close to birth, physically of course, but even more mentally. My low back twinges, the baby moves and hits my pubic bone sending pain searing downwards, my abdomen tightens in a practice contraction, taking my breath away, and I am hyper aware. What’s happening? Is this it? There are a lot of passages in the Bible about keeping watch, and never was such a vigilant watch kept as in the last days of pregnancy.

************
I sit quietly in an all-day meeting at work. My phone rests in my lap, screen unlocked. As we discuss strategy and initiatives for the coming year, I breathe through a practice contraction once every 30 minutes for hours, keeping track on an app on my phone. I wait. I keep watch. I try to stay unattached. Could be something, could be nothing. That day, it turns out to be nothing.

************
"What are you thinking?" my doctor asks. I am thinking that this day arrived a lot more quickly than I expected. How is it already Thursday? Even still I am hesitant, aware of all the unknowns that surround all of birth. My options are induction at 38 weeks or a c-section at 39 weeks.  "I'm leaning towards an induction." I say. She comes back in the room after calling the hospital. "The hospital is all booked up next week, except for one opening on Sunday night." The wind is knocked out of me - that's 37 weeks and 4 days, and it is only three days away.

************
I call my doctor from the parking lot of the store where I stopped to buy diapers after our appointment. My voice is calm - after crying the whole way here, I have found the path forward. "I'm not completely attached to an induction." I tell her. "When you talk to the high risk team tomorrow about the induction, please get their opinion about what would be the safest option for the baby. My risks are probably about the same whether I get induced today or next week, but the baby's could change a lot." "I will," she says. "And I will advocate for both of you. I promise."

************


I stand at the bottom of the stairs and sigh. "You know you can take the elevator, " Caleb reminds me. "I know," I say, and then begin my slow ascent up, pausing in the middle to try and find my core muscles, thanking them for their contradicting actions.