On Fear and Babies

 

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So I’m pregnant again. YAY!

I knew this baby was supposed to be here.

My husband and I were planning to wait another month or two before trying to conceive our second. We had a lot of reasons, but none of them were incredibly convincing (obviously). Then at the beginning of February, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were supposed to welcome someone new into our family.

I felt a little frantic about it at first. I’d turn the phrase “mother of two” over and over in my mind. I would imagine myself introducing two children to new friends, and hypothesise the most efficient way to get two children in and out of their car-seats. 

I started lingering a little longer over lunchtime with my son and treasuring the sweet looks we shared. I lapped in every detail of our life together in our little cloister- just he and I at home while his dad is at work. I would take some extra deep breaths during our little family hugs before bedtime, because the feelings of joy and contentment were so strong that I instinctively expected them to have a smell. I reveled in our good good life- and I knew that someone else was supposed to be living it with us.

This possibility was just as scary as it was the first time.

I don’t have a way of knowing when I am “ready” for big changes. I never have. I’ve never been able to talk myself out of fear, or plan less risky paths around life-changing obstacles. I’ve never had the option to wait until the fear subsided before I needed to make the next decision.

Here at 26, I have learned to jump through the fear. Not in spite of it, but out of compassion for it. I’ve decided to let fear abide in my life, quietly and within firm boundaries, while I go about the work God lays on my heart each season. I’ve learned to say, “Welcome back, Fear. I’m sorry you’re so torn up right now. Here’s a comfy chair and a cup of decaf- try to relax if you can, I’ll check in on you later.”

While I can never tell if I’m ready, with quiet reflection and brutal honesty, I’ve always known when the time is right for leap of faith. If I don’t know exactly what to do, I take it as evidence that I don’t need to do anything. So the fact that, all of a sudden, on a random Tuesday I knew without a doubt that someone was missing from my already perfect family, was all the convincing I needed.

By God’s mercy, getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby was pretty uncomplicated last time, and is shaping up to be so this time as well. I’m growing, the baby’s growing. I’m still at least a little bit scared every single day, and that’s normal for me. In 15 years of trying to suss out God’s plan for my life, the best leads have followed knowledge, truth, and abiding peace. Fear has never been more than a quirky and unreliable side kick.

On The Mountains + Motherhood

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“Where are you? How do you feel? Where is the light? What do you hear? What do you smell? What’s going on in your heart at this very moment in time?… Are there any stories floating in the air?” – Ashlee Gadd of Coffee + Crumbs

When I read this prompt, I wanted to be on a hike- leaning against a rock catching my breath in front of a gorgeous mountain meadow. I wanted to notice rare flowers in a field that’s never been walked through before. I wanted to write about how the dewy grass would feel on my swelling hands, and describe a morning light as is broke on fragile wilderness.

But then my son dropped the glass jar he was holding- not hard enough to break it, just hard enough to startle me right down to my bare feet where they’re curled beneath me. Here. In suburban Indiana. A stay at home mom. Catching my breath on a new chair my husband and I just bought for our bedroom, trying to notice and narrate what I notice.

And feeling a little bummed that God chose this moment for this exercise, instead of when I was taking my son on a crisp walk, or meeting another inspiring mom for a play-date, or going out on a limb to meet new people. Why did He place me in my musty bedroom for deep breathing instead of the mountaintops or river banks I once frequented?

 

Then my toddler’s carefree babble floats above my discontented questions. And he glances up just in time for the still rising sun to catch his eyelashes as it slides through the broken blinds. And he is my untouched wilderness. And this is my mountaintop.

The Deciding Voice

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The newborn period didn’t feel that intimate for me. Mostly because of all of the flat out in-love-with-my-baby relatives and friends who were near at hand to love on and hold and praise my new son as much as they possibly could.

My new baby brought out the visitors like nothing else could. And that’s how it should be. My son has a gaggle if wise, funny, and wacky relatives to learn from, fall back on, and laugh with. And I’m glad he started to get to know them as soon as possible.

But at the same time, all the people around made parenthood seem like something we did by committee. The most lovingly delivered advice felt like a snapped correction. When another mother shared her perspective, it would more often feel like she was trying to shift mine. The company and the advice piled up in my mind to make me feel distant from my son, because it looked like so many other women could be better mother to him than I could.

When in reality, the thousands of daily choices I make (and continue to make) for my child are entirely up to my husband and me. Breastfeed or don’t. Sleep when the baby sleeps or don’t. Schedule or don’t. We have the deciding voice.

We are the ones standing before God someday- talking through the good, bad, and ugly. And I know He’s going to ask about these early days. And I don’t want my reasoning to be that we were trying to make someone else happy or comfortable. I really don’t think that’s a strong enough foundation to build a family on.
I want to say confidently to the Father who loves me, “We prayed, we learned, we loved You, and then we went with our gut. Amen.”

On Manipulation and Maneuvering

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I used to think parenting had the same basic principles as Chuck-E-Cheese. I thought if I played the games right, and stuck to an efficient strategy, I’d earn enough tickets to cash them in for a healthy, even-tempered, intelligent child. I would study other moms’ actions like game-day footage. The more desirable I thought their childrens’ behavior was, the more I analyzed her play.

Unfortunately, I started noticing a lot of conflicting maneuvers. This mom co-slept, and that mom had her kiddo in their own room at 6 weeks. This mom breastfed, that mom formula fed, and that mom over there fed her kid breast milk from a bottle. All of their kids were healthy, attached, and pleasant to be around. Damn.

If there was one right way, the right choices would be obvious. If there was a proven best parenting method, I wouldn’t need to bother with discerning my own strengths, gifts, and passions. If there was a prescription to make me supermom, I wouldn’t have need to wonder about what kind of mother I could be.

But there are a hundred different ways for a well-meaning, intelligent, loving mother to raise a happy and healthy kid. My parenting decisions are much more about who I am and what I value than who I’m trying to manipulate my children into being.

Because here are the facts: Practically, the outcome of my day to day parenting decisions can’t be guaranteed anyway; I can only control the way I parent- not the way they receive it. Emotionally, this is how I can give my all to motherhood while also keeping my head above the water (most of the time). Physically, this is the style of parenting I think I can sustain while welcoming however many kids God wants to send my way. Spiritually, this is the path Jesus set aside for me (and only me) to get to heaven; and turning from the concrete reality of God to worship the shadowy idol of perfection is probably the only actually bad choice a loving mom can make.

“A Writer”

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I really hesitate to call myself a “writer.” Even hypothesizing about doing so triggers the middle-school girl who lives in my brain. She wrinkles her nose, crosses her arms, and hisses through her teeth, “Don’t be arrogant. This doesn’t make you a ‘writer.’” She isn’t exactly sure what constitutes a “writer”, but she’s sure this isn’t it.

I don’t want that middle-school bully to catch me thinking I have an idea worth taking time to explore, nurture, and share.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve let her convince me that I owe it to the world to be as low-maintenance, predictable, and efficient as possible- and writing has never been any of those things for me.

I can easily share that I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was little, but talked myself out of it step by step until I decided to invest in a career path that came more easily to me. That seems like a very safe narrative.

But these sentences feel dangerous somehow: I’ve written in fits and starts since I was in high school. I’ve never had the discipline or courage to stick it out before. And I’m not sure if this time will be any different, but I’m going to try again.
I’d much rather admit that I gave up when it got too hard, than openly commit to trying again.
And thinking about how long I’ve shied away from this because of that idiotic logic makes me red-faced-yelling-mom mad.

It’s exactly the kind of logic a middle-school girl would dream up. and writing is a grown ass woman’s work. Writing is throwing all of your mental power at one feeling or concept- turning it over and distilling it for hours. Maybe smacking it around a little. Agonizing over synonyms. Only to produce a single sentence that 99.99% of the world will completely ignore.
It’s exhausting. It’s hardly ever perfect. The vulnerability of it is stomach-churning. No matter how many times I do it, it doesn’t get any easier. It requires discipline, clarity, and loyalty to your narrative.
I hesitate to call myself a writer because I don’t know if I will ever have what it takes. But the struggle is much more between me and my inner critic than anything else. And I think I can take her. Because I think I’m a writer.

To my Mama- The Church

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To my Mama- The Church,

What a year. Between this Mother’s Day and the last… yikes. You’ve looked better. This year saw another round of scandals, countless articles detailing how you are responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world, & statistic after statistic mathematically proving that two generations of your faithful would rather be motherless.

So, mother to mother, do you ever doubt yourself? Because I do.

When your child pushes you away and runs to someone else, do you find it almost impossible to believe you are a Bride of Christ? I do.

Do you feel ever like a bad mother? Especially when your kid is messing everything up and as hard as you try, you can’t stop them? Because I do sometimes.
Do you ever wonder if God made a mistake, & He should have entrusted your children to a better mom? I really do.

What I’m saying is: I think after a year of my own mothering, I understand in a small way how it would feel to be you, & I want to reach out with a few lines to say “thank you, mama.” Thank you for standing through hostile empires, schisms, wars, disillusionments- all of it. Thank you for staying One, Holy, and Apostolic, even when your children DO NOT (and then blame you for it for centuries).
Because I’ve needed you. Here, in my lifetime, after you’ve withstood the worst Hell had to offer for 2000 years, I’ve needed you & you’ve been here. I’ve needed food and you’ve given me the sacraments, I’ve needed strength and you’ve been a vessel of God’s grace, I’ve had questions and you’ve met every one without blinking. I’ve said, “I’m sorry” and you’ve said “may God grant you pardon and peace.” You meet my suffering with your own. You meet my tired feet with your humble servants. You’ve meet my loneliness with your messed up, wounded children and they’ve changed my life for the better.
Mama, I’ve needed you, and you have always been there. And I’m pretty sure that’s the best thing a mom can do. So thank you.

Mornings with Mom

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When I sneak out early enough to meet it, morning folds itself around me like my favorite blanket.

My son is still sleeping, and I can feel the fragile stillness heavy around me as I pad toward the kitchen (the essence of stealth) and wince as I *click* push the coffee process bubbling and steaming into motion.

My hand-me-down wing back chair is waiting for me with an oversized pillow from a best friend and a big image of Jesus’ mom draped over the back. She has her arms open as if to welcome me, “Come hide with me, daughter. Come cry out in silence with me.” Hidden in the folds of a grey still morning, curled up on the in the arms of the First Disciple- I feel soft and pliable. God invites me through His Mother to present myself to be moved and changed by His love.

As a mom, especially because I don’t work, I often feel benched, buried, or lost behind the needs of my family. But when I invite the Holy Spirit to influence me, I’m saying quietly and confidently, with His mom as my witness, “the importance or magnitude of what I’m doing doesn’t make it worthwhile, God, You do. I don’t want to pour myself out today, but for You I will.”

A Marathon + Motherhood

 

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I experienced a profound change in perspective when I watched my brother-in-law run a marathon.

As we pushed Tripp’s stroller up alongside the racetrack my sister-in-law warned us, “don’t say, ‘you’re almost done’ because he isn’t, and that will ruin the rest of the race.”

I’ve been turning that phrase over in my mind ever since.

I unconsciously believed motherhood to be a virtuous detour from my highway to success. I had been trying to make peace with these few years in the slow lane while I drummed my fingers on the wheel, willing the miles between baby and big kid to pass faster.// It still feels like that a lot of the time. But the fruit of my trying to make peace with a garbage platitude like “it’s almost over,” especially when it comes to my vocation, is always depression. The fruit is a constant low-to-moderate-level of stress right under the surface that explodes every now and again out of nowhere into “I hate my life right now!”

After exploding, I take a deep breath, tell myself it would be over in a few years, and reset the timer. 💣

I don’t want to tell myself it’s almost over anymore. I don’t want to low-key hate my life right now. I want to be someone worth being right now. Because this is my most important work- I’m doing it right now. Stay at home motherhood is a job I chose after a heap of prayer. This life of laundry, tantrums, cuddling, and Paw Patrol is my road to Heaven.

This house, and this family- this is all of it. All the grace and glory God has for me is right here. And as soon as I throw this away, I throw all the grace out with it.

The difference between, “I’ll get through this and back to my real life soon,” and “how do I unveil the grace of this new normal?” is actually life changing.

In my life, unveiling the grace means I have to place my mental health in front of my perfectionistic expectations by having compassion on myself, making space for things I’m passionate about, and fostering friendship. It means praying every day and combating thoughts like “I can so I should,” with a forceful “I’ll wait to see if God will bless that idea before I break into it.”

Mother This Way

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Eddie and I used Parent Directed Scheduling and Baby Led Weaning. We cloth diaper, eat organic foods, and only recycle about a third the time. I use some Montessori methods around our home and I’ve disinclined Tripp for several months now. We read a lot of books and watch a generous amount of TV.
My mom friends and I are about 25% synced when it comes to parenting. And sometimes that makes things a little uncomfortable. Is her way better? Is that why her kids are better behaved than mine? Is that why she seems happier/more enlightened/more attractive?

The easiest response is “no, live your truth.” But the candid answer is “…maybe? 🤷🏼‍♀️” Maybe if I made some changes, my kid would listen to me better. Maybe is I let go of that rule, I’d be more easy going. Maybe if he watched less TV, Tripp would know more words by now. Maybe.

But God doesn’t work through my “maybes.” He doesn’t sanctify me with a “maybe.” Maybe is like a hungry, grumpy toddler in the sanctuary of my heart- disruptive and distracting. The wondering stomps my joy into rejection. The comparing yanks my focus from truth to confusion. The maybes whine in my ear while I’m straining to hear that still small voice, “Darling, I made you to mother this way.” I get energy from using clear language with myself. I thrive when I hold up a few basic truths about who I am, and push the rest of it back toward the playground. I hear God’s voice most readily when I’m grateful for the heart he’s given *me* (instead of coveting the heart he gave her).

Still Got It

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Sometimes when we’re home alone with no plans and the neighborhood is super quiet,
it is super obvious to me that the rest of america is at work or school while we’re kicking it in the backyard.

I don’t always feel great about being a stay at home mom. In fact I resent it a lot of the time.
I’ve always considered myself very nuanced and edgy and, let’s be honest, housewifery is the least edgy or nuanced thing a woman can do.
But today, sitting in the sun listening to the birds chirp, while capitalism whirrs seemingly a hundred miles away, I feel outside of and contradictory to a system that a lot of people made me feel was mandatory to my worth and potential.
And I whisper to myself, “you still got it.”