27 September 2012

When we seek relief

Of all the freedoms the mother of very young children surrenders, perhaps the most emptying is the freedom to grieve. A baby's smile must be returned. A toddler's manic, violent adoration must be reciprocated. They cannot understand another's sadness. A mother cannot close her door and bawl out her sorrow, scream at it or sleep it away. Is mourning selfish? Is even this another avarice of which she must be purged? Grief denied; who could imagine such a thing?

19 September 2012

My cloudy crystal ball

(Nothing profound. Just pep-talking myself a bit.)

I know that if it is granted unto me to live into my seventh decade of life, I will look back on these days, and I will think that every messy and exhausting and overwhelming moment was Totally Worth It. There will even be some things about these days that I will miss (a nostalgia that will, God willing, be more than adequately sated by means of the time I spend helping out with my grandchildren). I know this, because all the septuagenarians I’ve ever met can’t be wrong.

 (The tricky part, of course, is that I can’t see quite how I’m going to get from here to there…)

Also, if I make it to 70, I will in all likelihood smile with nostalgic empathy at the moms wrestling their toddlers in the pew, and I will talk crazy-talk to young mothers; i.e., “Enjoy them while you can! They don’t stay little long! It really does go fast!” I know that I will say these things, because all the septuagenarians I’ve met, even the most sensible ones, talk like that.

I just pray that I will be granted the grace to become my favorite kind of septuagenarian: the kind whose nostalgia is realistic enough to recall, even amid fond reminiscing, “I was just so tired all the time;” and “It was hard and I sometimes wondered how I’d make it through.” The kind who inquires with true empathy about Baby’s sleeping habits, who volunteers to be a warm body between the more volatile elements in your pew, who drops off chicken soup when everybody’s dragging around with a cold. What a precious, precious resource: a woman who has been there and done that, who has not forgotten that the investment required to make eternal treasures is heavy, and who is willing to continue investing herself after her intial tour of duty is done.  

(And I still totally respect the octogenarian who once told me, “I wouldn’t trade those years for a million dollars. And I wouldn’t give a dime to go back.”)

17 September 2012

Indelible character

After a acquiring a some comparatively high number of kids, one becomes a character. I consider this a benefit. It saves the public from my personality and makes socializing easy. All I have to do is be Mrs. Sowerby, Mrs. Quiverful, Mrs. Pike, Mrs. Weasley, Mrs. McBroom, Mrs. Gilbreth, etc. I don't have to have any other interests or features. The plot lines and conversations are all about the number of children I have and what my life must be like in that context. Straightforward, if occasionally a little embarrassing when one of those jokey characters shows up. Also mostly true.

12 September 2012


Recently several women have described themselves to me as failures. One was unable to breastfeed one of her children. One was unable to deliver her first child in the usual way, and followed the experience with an unsuccessful VBAC attempt. Another was unable to conceive a child at all.

Nothing has demonstrated to me more effectively my own impotence than my apparent success at each of these tasks. Boob Hell I survived, but my laughably excessive reflections on it leave me nothing but bewildered as to how I did so. The births of my children have revealed to me only a body beyond my control and a mind and heart full of weakness and sin. I cannot imagine using the verb phrase "I conceived." How could I claim agency for an event I did not even know was happening? It is inelegant, but I always say, "I got pregnant." That sounds more like the truth: that someone else was the effective force. If I have succeeded as a nursing mother, as a laboring mother, as a bio-mother, I have not succeeded as a person, for each of these successes has crashed out of me in an avalanche of resistance, resentment, fear, anger, and ungratefulness.

Maybe it is easy for me as someone who has nominally succeeded in these tasks, listed above in order of decreasing "controlability," to downplay their importance. I don't even exactly mean to do that, because the tasks are important. But their importance is not in some measurement they may grant of the person who accomplishes them. The important thing is that the baby gets fed. The important thing is that the baby gets born with minimal damage to mother and child (and when a C-section is the least damaging way for that to happen, my stomach is too weak to ponder the alternative). The important thing is that a woman receive what God would give her, whatever that is or isn't. The important thing is that a woman who is given the gift of motherhood make a good faith effort to do what is best for her child. At this she will fail, for goodness and faith are not natural to her.

All this failure notwithstanding, we must still be cautious. Success, real or apparent, is a dangerous gift, for it always tempts to pride, the chief of sins.

10 September 2012


Little has made me feel more at home in this place we've landed than having crazy rumors about me get back to me. The first major one I remember was soon after the birth of Baby 5. Scouts were sent to discover if I was, in fact, pregnant again already. No, I explained calmly, I am merely fat. I just had a baby.

Later, word came in from the street that I was going to be making all the pies for our church's sausage supper. The sausage supper feeds over 1000 people and requires approximately 80 grillion pies. I was pleased that someone imagined I would be capable of this.

A few months ago I learned of a belief that the lady who sits with me in church was going to quit her job and become my full-time nanny. It's a great idea.

Last week I received congratulations from someone who had heard I was expecting again. I congratulated her on receiving the news before I did. She was apologetic. I assured her it was a mistake anyone could make.

I have also heard various reports as to the number of children my husband and I are purportedly aiming to have. Some say seven, some say eight. I think I have even heard ten floated. Imagine my surprise when this very evening someone disputed a number projected by a third party on the grounds that fruitfulness was the relevant non-numeric. Imagine also the color of my face while this discussion took place around me.

I am not kidding at all when I say I am, overall, deeply honored to have become part of the local rumor mill. I find it hilarious and flattering to be a Person of Interest. It makes me feel like I really belong here. I can't wait to hear what I'm up to next.

09 September 2012

God has spoken by his prophets

It says, "thy belly is like an heap of wheat," not "thy belly is like an slab of marble."

Cuddle up!

06 September 2012

Not-Homeschooling 101

Knowing that our Adventures in Homeschooling have recently taken a detour (i.e., our two oldest are attending the local public school this year), Rebekah sent me this link, which instantly became my new favorite blog post on homeschooling.

Why? Just because someone else was “dropping out of home school?” No. Because Simcha Fisher wrote it so…freely. Because it is so matter-of-fact. Because it’s real, and it’s funny. But above all, because it feels almost entirely devoid of the sometimes-crushing guilt too often associated with homeschooling and/or not-homeschooling.

So much of homeschooling talk is so…ultimate. Final. Decided. Case closed. Homeschool or bust (even if it turns out to be homeschool and bust). We attended a statewide homeschooling conference a couple years ago, and I’m really glad that we did. We came home newly inspired, with tons of ideas and resources and encouragement. We crossed paths with some really wonderful people, and also with some people who are really militant about homeschooling (those categories of course not being mutually exclusive :D).

We’ve never been terribly militant about homeschooling. (Our charity of speech in this regard was learned partly of necessity, as a rare homeschooling/pastor’s family in small towns in which schools and teachers comprise important parts of community and parish.) Are there a lot of things that are ideal about homeschooling? Yes. Is homeschooling The Ideal? Perhaps--but our world isn’t exactly idyllic, and I’d have to put so many qualifying and explanatory asterisks after “Ideal” that the word would become, for all practical purposes, devoid of meaning.

Was sending our kids to school an easy decision? No. Heck no. But it could have been a lot easier, had I allowed myself, in the throes of the “gut-wrenching decision” (aptly described by Fisher in another hilariously true article that Monique recently sent me), to accept three simple truths: We began homeschooling because it was the best thing for our kid(s) and our family in that town at that point in our lives. Now we’re sending two kids to the community school just down the road because it’s the best thing for our kids and our family in this town at this point in our lives. Furthermore, should any of those factors change, this decision is immediately reversible.

Those statements sound so much simpler than the hopes and fears and prayers that cluttered (and to some extent still clutter) the mental space occupied by this decision. But that’s the honest distilled truth of our present situation, whether I like it or no. As Fisher wrote elsewhere,“The best advice I got about homeschooling? Do it one year at a time.” And, I would add, evaluate it one kid at a time. Boy, do I wish that more people on both sides of the homeschooling fence, even public school teachers, even people at homeschooling conferences, were wise and brave and kind enough to give and/or heed that advice. While I might still secretly envy stalwart homeschoolers’ twelve-year master plan, I must live in the reality of my family—these children, in this place, at this time.    

Whether we’re back at homeschooling in a year or three years or never, I pray that I will become wiser and braver and kinder all the while—confident (but not militant) about the educational choices we make for each of our children. And above all, confident in the mercy that covers my sinful shortcomings and in the grace that blesses my children in spite of my mistakes.

05 September 2012

More to life than Bad Mister SIN

Just because something isn't a chapter-and-verse sin doesn't mean it can't be ill-informed, in poor taste, against conscience, badly timed, impolite, inconsiderate, unhealthy, malodorous, unwise, and/or just not something a person behaving decently or circumspectly would do.