Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Beauty and the Mother

Greetings from Aruba, friends.

Sunset last night

Tom, Jen, the babe, and I all jetted off yesterday after a weekend of hard work at the Steubenville Youth Conference in Orlando, FL. It was a longer flight than I realized (4 hours), but I guess that's what happens when you're 19 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. Quick jaunt to Caracas, anyone?

We got here around 3:30pm yesterday, and by 4pm, were in our suits, exploring the grounds of the hotel. Zuzu stared at exotic birds and chased after several iguanas - I guess my Florida girl has no fear of reptiles. We hung out at the pool for a while, before having dinner and then going for a post-dinner ocean swim. Why not? We're on vacation.

Loveliness courtesy of Jen

I grabbed Jen's camera and started snapping away - images of Jen, Zuzu, and Tom frolicking by the ocean. Passerbys smiled indulgently, and I realized the scene looked the opposite of what it was: I was the friend taking pictures of the family. But as I've reflected with Jen before, I like it better taking pictures of her with Tom and Zuzu - because they look like what I think a family should look like. For me, Jen looks what a young mom should look like: her silhouette is slender, no pouching tummy, or big thighs. The images with her in them, silhouetted against that Aruba sunset, were almost like make-believe for me: this is what my family should look like. 

Jen and Zuzu have a kiss

But then Zuzu asked me to get into the water (which I'm not going to do with Jen's very nice DSLR camera). And I knew Jen or Tom would take the camera and then take pics of me, and they wouldn't look the way I think they should look. I thought about all the pictures of my mom and I from when I was young, and I revisit them again and again because I think she was (and is) so beautiful, so young, so my mother. But would I love my mother any less if she looked any differently? I love my mother for who she is, for who she's always been: she's beautiful because she loves me. Zuzu thinks I'm beautiful because I love her - love refines, love makes beautiful. 


I can choose to show her that I believe in the lies of the world: that only certain people deserve to have their pictures taken, that we should be ashamed of bodies that are different, that fear should motivate how we feel about ourselves. I can show her that there should be a division between women who 'fit' the stereotype and those who don't, I can use phrases like 'real women' to devalue others' bodies, striking back in my self-consciousness by declaring thin women to be 'fake.' 

Or - and this is a big or - or I could choose to show her what God believes about beauty. That beauty, although it exists as a concept, objectively, is also something that exists in actions, in our souls, in who we strive to be. I create beauty, and I am beautiful, in relation to how much I love. 



I still believe Zuzu will look at these pictures when she's older and think I am beautiful. I will work to convince myself of this too; to conform my mind to the mind of Christ. To believe that beauty is about who we are as much as what we look like. 


Be beautiful, be loving, be Christ to your family today - and take some pictures to remember it all. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

When Modesty Hurts Ministry

As the modesty wars rage on, I watch mostly passively from the sidelines. I have an innate sense of what I feel is appropriate for Zuzu to wear and a decent sense for myself, and since those are the only two bodies under my purview, I let the rest go (unless asked by someone).

But I am in charge of the high school youth outreach at my parish, and that means I work with a lot of teenage girls in a variety of situations - Mass, weekend trips, service opportunities, and because we are on the coast, beach days. I have given talks before on chastity and modesty, but it never really seems to sink in for most of them. So for any parish event, I send out rules: shorts/skirts must touch your knees, no bare bellys, etc. and for water activities, one pieces only. This seems the responsible thing to do and lately, I have had to send out more reminders as our weather gets even hotter and the fashions become more microscopic.

But as we go into the third week of summer, I'm realizing something: my teen girls, usually so involved and dependable, are disappearing. My beach days are usually just my family and a few friends, with me fielding texts from normally sun-loving teen girls giving half-hearted excuses about why they can't come. As they disappear from water events, they're slowly not even coming to the other events I could count on them for - Bible studies, movie nights. I have been scratching my head wondering "Why aren't they coming to events they suggested we have??"

Just about a month ago I had a conversation with two sisters in my program that I'm very close to; they were telling me they didn't own one pieces, and I suggested they go buy them. "But they're all grandma suits!" they complained. I scoffed and pulled up Nordstroms website, eager to show them the vast array of cute, sporty, or retro one pieces that proliferate our modern market. As we scanned through a variety of cute options, I realized suddenly how expensive they all were. While some of these kids have parents who would buy them a $50+ swimsuit, most do not - most of them I'm helping find work, for pity's sakes. Why would I think they could go out and spend $30, $60, $100 on a swimsuit that will set them at odds with their peers, when they already have one they like?

I realized that the message I was sending when I made modest attire a requirement for average activities - not Mass, but daily events they could do with any group - is that I care more about what they're wearing than I do about spending time with them. Relational ministry, which is what we practice, is the idea that we must care about teens in all aspects of their lives: attend their sports games, remember their birthdays, encourage them academically, get to know their families. I am not sending the message that I care about them, when all my invites come with conditions and wardrobe requirements: I am putting up barriers to knowing me and being more involved with the parish ministry that is geared towards them.

Really, at the heart of this, I am putting the trappings of conversion ahead of the actual conversions of their hearts. What I want is for them to appear to care about modesty, more than I want them to internalize the idea that they are precious and beloved of God, someone of infinite value and worth. Yes, I think it's possible that some of them might experience greater freedom in dressing modestly and therefore, might begin to have a change of heart. But it seems that for most of them, if they can't be accepted for who they are right now - even the parts I might not approve of - they're willing to stay clear of me (and the parish) entirely.

Do I want my teens to be modest? Absolutely. I also want them to be honest, chaste, humble, kind, selfless and on and on. But Christ doesn't make any virtue a required prerequisite to be in His presence, so I shouldn't make modesty the prerequisite to be in mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

7QT: Vacations ecetera

Currently the Zuz and I are on a trip visiting my friend Colleen in Pittsburgh. Let me tell you, for all I love my home state, nothing beats summer up north! It reminds me of every other northern state I've ever loved: Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia. Soft breezes, chilly nights (and sometimes days too!), and soft grass. What's not to love? 

Speaking of soft grass, I was telling Tom how much I love the grass outside of Florida - it's soft and walkable (albeit usually slightly damp). Contrast this with the grass in Florida that is poky and terrifying, usually hiding some sort of obnoxious bug that can kill you. Tom and I were reminiscing about laying about in the soft grass in Indiana and even, Alabama, during our courtship years. Lots of that time laying in grass was also spent making out - so now we call soft grass Make-out Grass. 
(sorry for that overshare, family)

I have been following two stories lately of women who were widowed at very young ages (29 each). I'm 29 now, and married. They both were very happy in their marriages; one loss was expected, the other was sudden. They are both devastated. 
I feel so often that I am in a fairy tale marriage. True, there's no castle and my singing does not beckon woodland creatures, but my husband is a prince among men. God has been bringing to mind, repeatedly, how blessed I am by the marriage that I have. 

How does your family work vacations? Do you vacation with other people, just your family, with extended family? Do you only drive, fly, what? We can't go on trips when others can (Christmas holidays, Spring Break), so our summer is jam-packed with travels. This summer in particular is very full, and I am happy to say on several of these trips Jen is able to come! We love traveling with her and with our families, mostly because we like it all to be a party. I am very excited that I'm headed to Edele, Aruba, and Valparaiso this summer!

This is how I feel about vacation, but less blurry

Looking for the perfect summer dessert? LOOK NO LONGER! This cobbler recipe is fantastic, used with any kind of fruit. I've made it twice now - both times to rave reviews!

One of my favorite things about the internet is the connections it can bring about. When I saw on Insta that Dwija had had her baby, I hollered up to Jen that John Charles Borobia was here - and she squealed like it was news about a person we've actually met, not just stalked on the internet.  Even though it's weird and I'm mostly on the fringes, I really love this 'virtual village' and the community that I feel a part of.

Thank you all so much for your kind words, messages, cards, and calls about the loss of Louisa. I really appreciate it more than I can say. I have found myself processing this loss much differently than Francis, not surprisingly, so I might write less about it...or not. :) Thank you, in advance, for your patience.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Another Naming

I have dreamed of a big family since I was a little girl: ever the ardent reader and scribbler, I was always writing wild fantasies about loving but chaotic families with 6, 8, 10, 20! children. There were always at least one set of twins, a mom and a dad who were poor but desperately in love, and plenty of drama.

As an adult, the dream hasn't died (well, maybe wee small deaths - I do want less drama...and maybe a bit more money, lets be honest). Ever since our wedding night, with every hope of a new baby, I have dreamt of the perfect names for the eternal souls sent to me. I weigh each of name carefully, considering all the possible combinations and all the great significance, both familial and faith-wise. I whisper them aloud, secret little prayers, with all a mother's hope attached to each one.

I dream of monogrammed towels, nicknames lisped by siblings, their name on a welcome home banner, a church bulletin announcement. To have the authority to name a child - I feel so connected to the first parents, to Adam and Eve, who named every creature. Isn't my child as new as each newly created creature? What a marvel, to name a precious new baby - to call them out of anonimity and place them in the family of God.

But I've only had the honor once. One precious time, one sweet name that I lovingly say so many times a day.

Now twice I've had the sorrowful honor of naming two new citizens of Heaven.  My first pregnancy was also my first-born into Heaven and I've no doubt that the banners there heralded his name with no less joy than our home would have: Francis Marian. This past week, our newest child entered into her Father's House - after three weeks where I was planning for her to enter mine.

I can't bear to name her, yet leaving her without a name is also breaking my heart. Another name to ask the intercession of, to jolt when I hear at the playground, or sadly read on a birth announcement; to murmur 'no' when people suggest it as a future baby name. Another name to love and never use as often as I'd like, to never cheer on at each new milestone, or get to mention in casual conversation. Another empty place at my table. How do I explain to people that my home is now missing two children? That I should have three names to rattle off when I tell of my family?  How do I feel this loss sincerely, without feeling crazy for mourning those I have never met?

The new baby is Louisa Frances. At our bedtime prayers, Zuzu always shouts "BABY" as the first person to pray for, which we taught her to do when we first learned of our pregnancy. Now it's painful, so tonight I worked with her to say "Louisa," which is for some reason less painful. It's precious to hear her say "oo-ee-sah?" Would've been precious for years.

So that's our naming again. Louisa Frances joins Francis Marian and the countless other innocents in Heaven. May their prayers gain their Mother the virtue needed to see them again.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#YesAllWomen and #Grabbed

Recently, two hashtags have become rather big and I have followed both with keen interest. The first, primarily in the UK, was #grabbed, started by Everyday Sexism author Laura Bates.  She uses it to document first-hand accounts of unwanted sexual touching by men on women (which is assault in the US, by the way). The second, #YesAllWomen, is primarily in the US and was started in response to the shootings in Santa Barbara, when it came out that the perpetrator may have lashed out due to anger about being rejected by women. This hashtag has morphed, and is now either women explaining why we still have feminism or gender rights, or else telling their first hand experiences with sexual harassment.

If you're not on Twitter, or up on these sorts of things, I'd like to explain why I think both of these hashtags matter - especially for those of us who are people of faith, and who are raising children.

A lot of people I follow, conservatives especially, associate the hashtags with liberal 'victimhood' and are deriding it as more feminist man-bashing. But I want to really expand the conversation: even if it was started by those with politics you'd disagree with, what it is bringing out is far more important. It is bringing out story after story of common every-day sexual harassment. Far from the almost-voyeuristic depiction of stranger-rape that is broadcast across America every night via shows like Law and Order: SVU, these stories are showing us that harassment and assault is more common, which is to my mind, more insidious.

Women report men grabbing up their skirts on city buses, being explicitly propositioned while walking down the street, and being unable to repel a man's advances except by leaving or pretending to have a boyfriend/husband. What should concern us isn't that this is painting men in a bad light, but that this is happening to people: that women are not being protected enough to go about their daily business and that there is apparently a wide swath of men who are not being taught how to treat women.

I realize that if you are a woman who does not experience this, it is very tempting to dismiss this as only happening in isolation to other women - or worse, not really happening at all! "Please," you think, "maybe this happens to women who go out to shady bars, who dress inappropriately, who are in a bad area. But not all women!" I get it; I don't experience this like I did when I was young: I'm fatter, wiser, and live in the suburbs! I don't take public transportation, I am rarely out late, I mostly dress conservatively, and most of the time, I am at home with my child or at work in my office (and I work in a very pro-woman environment, thankfully). But I want to assure you - this is happening. It's happening to women who are in an office workplace, walking down the street in jeans, sitting at a bus stop in a popular crowded shopping area. This is not someone else's problem; it's yours. Because any act of injustice should strengthen our resolve to do what we can to right it - as Catholics, as people, as women.

What should be stunning is the degree to which these experiences seem common across boundaries.  All over the developed and civilized world, women are being treated as sexual objects by men: no matter how we look or dress or behave. Read these hashtags, read the accounts of women, and realize that the large majority of women live or have lived with on-going sexual harassment by male strangers or coworkers or friends. The causes of this reality I cannot begin to speculate on - better people can do it with much more grace - but I think we should use this massive truth-telling spree to think about how we are forming our young men and women.

For those of you with young boys, I hope you educate them early and often that they must be respectful of another person's body. Please instill in them chivalry: that many women are indeed weaker, physically, than most men and that they should be aware that their strength can quickly become intimidating if used indiscriminately. Masculine strength is something we are badly in need of in this world - tell them that! But teach them that the strongest man is the one with the most self-control (I think Leila Miller said that);  that they are not truly free if they cannot control their own actions. Teach them that they must respect all people, regardless of dress or behavior, because that is what Christ calls us to do. Don't regularly talk about how women dress inappropriately, etc. - they will know that by how you dress yourself and how you tell them to dress. Call attention to positive examples rather than negative! Help them to train their eyes to look at girl's faces, to speak to them kindly, to never engage in talking down of any person behind closed doors. Gossiping among faithful young people is as dangerous and unfortunately, often common, as it is among their parents - help fight that, because it dehumanizes and disrespects a child of God.

For your girls, please teach them from a young age that their 'no' should be respected. Always - from the time they are young. This means on the playground, don't tell them the boy who overpowered them despite their protestations did it "because he likes you." That may be how young boys are trying to express affection, but it's never too early to teach appropriate behavior - not by suing or getting anybody kicked out of school! - just by gentle explaining and repeated reinforcement. As they get older, commiserate with their experience and knowledge, explain to them expressly what is wrong. A lot of men took advantage of me as a young girl because I didn't realize precisely what was wrong - borderline inappropriate behaviors became more aggressive because I hesitated in my confusion.

I also will say, that I do not think it is wrong to teach young girls modesty. Modesty - both physical and emotional - is a help not only to the young woman, who is protecting her body and her heart, but to those who are losing their battle with concupiscence. Now, we lock the doors on our houses not because we feel our houses are shameful, but because they are valuable - and not because we think everyone is a robber, but because we don't want to issue open invitations to rob, either. Dressing in a manner that is seasonally appropriate but still being conscious of how precious we are is always necessary for girls. WHAT ABOUT BOYS, some of you are shouting. Yes, of course, boys - but usually less of a struggle for boys since society doesn't market them clothing designed to make them sex objects, but rather to be cool dudes doing whatever they want to do (video games, skateboarding, etc.). It's just harder with girls because our consumerist machine makes clothing to perpetuate men seeing them as sex objects.

I realize that this conversation can make some people feel paranoid or upset generally. I don't think the point is to raise our children in an atmosphere of fear; to the contrary, they should feel brave and strong in doing what is right. But I do not think being naive on this subject helps. Please don't think that your lifestyle protects your children - or you - from other's sins. The point isn't to live in fear, but to be conscious about the fact that our society is quite warped in its thinking about sex and it's no surprise this is showing up in relationships between men and women all over. Being smart about these issues is not political; it's just necessary at this point.

PS I hope it goes without saying that I don't really identify as a feminist, since I see the 'feminist' movement as it is called, responsible for more or less the downfall of the family. I advocate for the dignity of persons, male or female, in any case where it is being violated - in other words, I'm Catholic.

Friday, May 2, 2014

7 Quick Takes

I ordered a new veil for Easter (which I ordered during the Easter season obviously...not at all in time for Easter Sunday), and it's here! I love the weight and feel of it, and am excited to not always look like I'm in mourning (since my other one is black). I know there are no rules for veiling really, but any other fellow veilers out there wanna weigh in on how you choose which color to where when? 

I have completely given in and serve Zuzu ketchup with everything. Well, not entirely true - sometimes I serve her mustard, olive oil, or pasta sauce - but she HAS to have "dippy" for every meal. I'm glad I didn't promise out loud that I'd never do that. 

I want to know how it is that a random collection of items always ends up on my floors.  Nothing that makes sense, mind you! Just random items from around my home collect in odd places. As I type at the kitchen table, there sits around my feet: a 3-hole punch, a baby spoon, one orange crock, a silicon pastry brush, a pasta spoon, a pair of broken headphones, and a kitchen towel. On the other side, is a used cloth napkin and a fold-up yard stick. By my door is a bib, a book, a hair tie, and some exercise shorts. 

To be clear, I have used precisely none of these items today. I am interested in mounting secret cameras in my house and watching the tapes in fast forward so I can see how it is those items get picked up and then dropped there, all together. This could be a breakthrough in documentary film making. 

Which segways nicely to my next point: I AM A HORRIBLE HOUSECLEANER. I was going to write an entire post and ask for your help, but it was too humiliating to be honest about my struggles keeping (a very small house) for all of three people. 
You excellent housekeepers out there, share with me your wisdom! Do you have a cleaning schedule? How do you achieve it with littles running about? Do you give up nap time blog reading for productivity? And if so, how can I not do that and still have a clean house?
I'm dying to know.

My husband is gone all day today with the car (we're a one car family) and so I was automatically in a huffy mood to start my day. I kept trying to hit my mental reset button, but it just wasn't working. All this to say, those of you whose husbands are usually gone all day, I have nothing but respect. I fled to my neighbor's house for reprieve because for some reason, doing nothing at another person's house is pleasant for Zuzu, but hanging around our house induces wails and whines of unprecedented proportions. 

Did you husband ever tell you "you're not my mother, why should I get you a Mother's Day present"?  Mine did - the Mother's Day I was pregnant with Zuz. I was furious - but apparently, not alone. My neighbor reports her husband did the same thing. In retaliation, she hasn't bought him a Father's Day present since - and I think that was twelve years ago. (Hell hath no fury ecetera)
So Mother's Day is decidedly low-key around here. What does it usually look like in your house - or do you scorn it with the same fire that Valentine's gets these days? 

Update: There is now a robe sash and two mismatched socks added to the random pile by my bedroom door since I started writing this. The exercise shorts are gone.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Five Anti-Favorites: On Living in Florida

I'm acting as anti-Hallie here...giving you not 5 Favorites, but 5 Least Favorites - of living in the Sunshine State.

Because it's May and the high has hit 90 for three days in a row.

As most of you know, I grew up in Florida. I'm a Cracker. Being raised here is a unique experience: I saw snow for the first time when I was twelve. The term 'skiing' is associated in my head with bathing suits, not snow suits. In high school, I sported permatan - mostly from walking to class in my outdoor high school (think like an outdoor mall).

Now, as an adult who's come home, I'm finding a whole new - more challenging - aspects to Florida living. Granted, I am still pleased about many aspects - we really only needs one season in our wardrobes, we can go to the beach more or less every day of the year, I could still have permatan if I wanted to - but now there are other things that make living in the sunshine state uniquely painful.

1. Serious weather (weather-related wardrobe) envy. Every year, round about September, we have to endure articles, magazines, Facebook posts, ecetera about impending Fall weather. Pumpkin everything! Leggings and boots! Sweater weather! Hot cocoa recipes!
Yeah, throw all that on your cozy log fires because we live in hot hot paradise. There will be no fall chill in the air or beautiful changing leaves! No snow! Piles of lovely plaid blankets are useless here, as are all those dang songs about letting it snow. And Halloween costumes?  There's a reason I went as a belly dancer for several scandalous years - no, I wasn't a junior Mata Hari, but just a very heat sensitive tween.

2. Insane bugs. I joked about roaches the other day, but they are no joke. In Florida, our bugs are so big they have faces. We have grasshoppers the size of locusts. Palmetto bugs (I can't bring myself to link; they are huge roaches that fly). Rats that live in palm trees. Fire ants - or worse. The thing about these bugs is that everyone has them - they're not a dirty house thing, or an old house thing. They're a Florida thing. If you don't want to shell out serious bucks to have some dude in a hazmat suit come to your place and spray toxic chemicals around, then yes, you will have to make peace with finding roaches in your dishwashers several times a week.

3. Seatbelts of death. You know how you jump in your car during wintertime and quickly turn it on, revving up those great seat warmers if you have them, waiting for the heat to toast your buns? Well, imagine you left those seat warmers on high with your car in the baking sun, maybe on the actual sun, for like a week and then got in wearing shorts and a tank top.
That's what it feels to get in your car in Florida 11 months out of the year. God help you if you have children, because they will - from the time they can talk! - shriek "HOT HOT" every time they get in the car, and make you feel like a horrible parent.

4. Insane humidity. I'm not even complaining for the sake of my hair (who pleads its own case every time we walk out of the house without professional styling). I'm complaining for the sake of anything that is supposed to be outside - patio furniture, hammocks, the siding on your house. Apparently, one of the benefits to living in Florida is all this outside time you're supposed to get. Well, everything you want to sit on outside has mold on it, or if it's a cushion, has a general spongy wetness that seeps up and onto your legs and behind.
Also, on the days where it is actually below 80 and breezy, you want to leave your house open, right? We do that (mostly because we are always trying to save on AC costs) and now one of my chores is scrubbing mold off of our TILE and the backs of our dining room chairs and oh yes, all of the 10,000 books we academics own.

5. Bikini-ready, 24/7. I probably didn't think about this in high school when I was, for the most part, bikini-ready 24/7 (because back then I didn't know Jesus or a swim burqas). But Florida is full of exercise buffs, who are always outside in the blasted heat keeping themselves ready to prance around half naked. It's more like a state of perpetual paranoia for me, where I realize that at any moment I could be asked to show up somewhere in my bathing suit - and I ponder the condition of all of my body parts that I must either bare to the sun or squeeze into lycra.
Sometimes, I just long for the comfort - and converge - of a snowsuit.

So to those of you in Minnesota who just got snow at the end of April, I am sorry. But at least you don't have to worry about shaving every day of your life.