Thursday, August 7, 2014

7QT: Still Reflecting on Edel Edition

This is actually a post I tried to get up LAST week but failed miserably and then I finished it on Thursday night and Blogger ate it and I cried and now finally it's here. Futility, thy name is blogging.

I have yet to really reflect on some of the bigger messages of Edel (Cathedral building, etc.), but the connectedness really stayed with me - the need for moms to break out of isolation and fear, to have camaraderie again with one another. This week, as we've been at my in-laws, I've really tried to let this concept settle in my head so that when I see another mom, I automatically see her for being MORE like me, rather than less. Turning that switch makes each  mom interaction into a potential affirming experience for both persons, instead of one where we approach one another with wariness or fear.

Despite this, I still have some definitely feelings about parenting. At least, I have feelings about how I should parent my child (since I think that's the only child I'm qualified to parent). I think there's a fair question there: how do you respect and affirm other mothers, but still honestly acknowledge (maybe even discuss?) your parenting differences? I tend to gravitate towards other women who parent like I do, but there have been a few friends that break the mold. Do you see yourself doing that - choosing friends based on parenting styles? Is that good/bad/neutral?

One of the best aspects of Edel, and one that has been really on my heart lately, is the space that it made for work outside the home moms. So often, in the Catholic world, that terms feels wrong - or maybe only reluctantly right. So devalued are women who stay at home and who mother, that we have gone 180 degrees and turned our backs on women who choose a different path. Yet we forget that some of our greatest female saints who were mothers, worked outside the home! St. Gianna Beretta Molla isn't going to be accused of being a slouch in the mom department anytime soon, and she was a doctor. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton became a nun and founded an order - while she still had children at home! We forget that God's calling is individual, and while we can discern that something would be wrong for us, it doesn't mean it's wrong for everyone.
I'm really praising God lately for that freedom to embrace what He's calling me to.

The other thing that has really been on my heart has been children and what a deep blessing they are. Could Edel have affirmed that anymore? Those babies there were so lovely and it was so wonderful to be in a space that affirmed their existence as an unqualified good. Seeing that many women there, all of whom believe the same and are living their lives in that way, made me realize that we are starting a revolution - a revolution of love. By God's grace, our children will grow up knowing they are precious to us, and to Jesus Christ. In a world that is eroding the dignity of human beings more and more each day, this message can be nothing short of transformative!

Another great aspect of Edel has been the posts that have come out after it addressing the crosses of infertility, sub fertility, etc. There was a good deal of Twitter conversation about the place of wives who are not mothers at Edel, and I think a valid question is, should Edel have sections of it geared towards women who are not mothers? But Danielle Bean provided another great take on this question in the first chapter of her book, Momnipotent, which was in our swag bags at Edel. Disclaimer: I did not want to read this book; I think the title is hokey, and the cover juvenile. I only read it because I ran out of reading material on vacation. And guess what? It's fabulous. 
The first chapter discusses how motherhood is the essence of womanhood, because motherhood is not necessarily tied to physical mothers. Incredibly powerful, and moving. Give it a read if you can! 

A truly mind-bending part of Edel was meeting bloggers IRL whom I had only previously known by their blogs. This was odd for me because I don't have an interest in meeting my favorite bands, authors, or actors. I went to Edel to meet - you. But it did reveal to me that the internet, as much as it is a great good and helps connections, can also increase objectification. To see that each of the 'big names' were real women - women with postpartum bodies, babies, wounds, needs - that was very important for me. It's easy to disconnect the words on the screen from the very real people who write them. I am hopeful that Edel served as preventative medicine against that. 

The big theme to all of this is adult female friendships. How do you make them - and keep them? I have a lot more to say on the topic, but it seems to me that most of these friendships are formed around a common activity (exercise, sewing, homeschooling). But do you require complete parity in friendships - same age, similar aged children, same faith, same interests? I don't think I could find even one person that has complete parity with me! (or is that narcissistic??) Some women even seem to have these large groups of friends, where everyone is friends with everyone else and hangs out regularly. How does this happen? 
Hoping crowd-sourcing has the answer here.

Post script on a personal note - we just returned from about a month's vacation and I'm sick plus work is looming over me. I'll be lucky if August doesn't eat me alive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Edel Revealed My Weakness (And Thank God for Twitter)

I am among the elite but happy few who went to the Edel Gathering this weekend. And I hate to admit it...but oh, y'all, it was hard

I really identified with what Nell said in her blogpost "I felt left out voluntarily. I missed opportunities to really meet everyone." That's exactly what I felt like: I knew I wasn't having the same amazing experience as everyone else, but I knew it was my fault, not anyone else's. I kept looking at everyone else and wondering, "how do they know so many people?" 

That I didn't have THE BEST TIME EVAH is hard to admit. Every time I heard one of the speakers talk about targeting our isolation as mothers, that the point of this event was to break down barriers, I knew the message was for me - but I just couldn't figure out how to actually do that. I knew these were my people, that I should be eating this up - but I couldn't. I was worried about Zuzu, I hated leaving her, and while everyone else looked so relaxed having left their no-doubt huge families, I was crazily checking my phone over my one 21mo that was a few blocks away.

Despite my own crazy neuroses, I had some great experiences. The talks were really fantastic, and I'm so glad I got to see Kelly do the most amazing rap ever. I got up the courage to talk to Crystal, who was very sweet, and I wanted to make Nell my BFF because she was so calm and her baby so lovely. Also, Hallie recognized me, so I'm pretty sure she studied everyone's blog ahead of time, and I got a blurry selfie with Jen (my only picture of the entire weekend - also a clue that I am freaking out). I had several other awkward moments: preeeetty sure I told Haley that people from north Florida were 'psycho,' which is normal Florida trash-talking silliness for me, but I realized was probably really insulting to her, so y'know, go me! Also, my only ability to talk to Jenny? Handing her a Sofie that had been lost and then blurting out that when I took my 2mo to Italy, the Italian women were all up in my boobs.  Very classy. Oh - in case you were wondering, Heather has an intense New York accent! Meeting her and hearing her voice forever changes how I read her blog (in a totally good way). 

My one claim to fame is that Marion asked me to sing karaoke with her. My other claim to fame? I SAID NO because I apparently have serious problems.

The other thing that allowed this crazy introvert actually break out? Twitter. I love Twitter, and through Twitter, I felt like I was part of the event still - I was tweeting under the #edel14 hashtag, and reading others tweets, and felt like I was getting to know certain people better. I made a ton of new connections this way, and it saved me from feeling 'out of touch' with the Conference, even though I was sitting right there. Through my paralyzing fear, I could still reach out - and so many reached back. It's why I'll never really give up on technology and live in a yurt (although the thought is never far from my mind).

The best part of this entire experience was probably that, as I sobbingly confessed all this to my husband in the middle of the Austin airport on Sunday, apologizing for making us spend so much money on a conference I didn't even make the most of, he looked at me very kindly and simply said "well you'll have to go every year until you have the experience that you need." Real love, ladies and gentlemen. I'm really glad I DIDN'T marry a normal person, who would've sputtered "I spent how much money to get you and me and the baby to Austin in the middle of the heat wave from HELL, and now you're telling me you didn't make the most of it????" 

So yes, Edel revealed my crucial weakness: that just when I am so close to feeling the love of Christ, I am too afraid to come close enough to actually let Him touch me. I want so badly to have a life-giving community, but I am so nervous that it's just not right for me right now - that I can't have it because I'm still nursing Zuzu and she never really sleeps; because I work; because it's too big of a time commitment; because I don't actually have anything in common, with anyone, anywhere. I know these are lies, and now that I see what a big impact they have on me, I'm hoping to spend some real time combatting them. Next year, I hope I will have invested in some online - and real life! - friendships, and that I'll have a very different experience. At least, you have it in writing that I promise I'll try! 

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.