Monthly Archives: January 2011

How motherhood has changed me.

Micha, isn’t that what you’re whole blog is about? Okay. That’s fair.

Perhaps this post should simply be titled, “How motherhood has changed how I watch movies.”  Or, “What’s just not worth it anymore.” Or, “How my husband and I had a big fight last Friday night after I made him turn off our Netflix rental because I was sobbing (yes, seriously sobbing) in the kitchen.”

I’ll say this: I’ve always fancied myself a thinker, someone who reads books or watches movies because I believe they’ll teach me something or speak to me in some meaningful way, or simply because I will appreciate their “art.” I’ve never been a movie buff, but I love movies and in my former days, I would watch the newest artsy-fartsy thing out there simply because it was nominated for an Oscar. I’ve never been afraid of movies. Scary zombies make me laugh. I didn’t have nightmares even after the lovely Ryan Reynolds turned cold-blooded killer in The Amityville Horror. I watched Poltergeist when I was probably way too young and survived.

So, I wasn’t prepared for what happened to me after August was born. I should stop here and add that I’ve always been an emotional viewer. I’ve seen Little Women like, 42 times and every time I weep when Beth dies. (Sorry to ruin it for you, Person Who Should Have Watched That Movie (and read the book, come on!) 17 years ago like the rest of us.) When Chris and I were dating, we saw a German film about a family that moved to Kenya and I couldn’t leave my seat for 10 minutes following the credits. I wept and wept over my love for Kenya and the people I had met there a few years before and my longing to eventually live there. (That’s another post, by the way.) But, my then-boyfriend was a little overwhelmed with my earnest emotional involvement in films.

But, back then, I’d watch anything with Chris. Thriller? Check. Political satire? Check. RomCom? Absolutely. Foreign? Heck yes.

Three weeks after August was born, I left Chris with the baby for an evening and went out with a friend for Vietnamese food and a French mystery/thriller. Tell No One is still one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. But I had a surprising (and aching) experience: I couldn’t stop thinking about my baby. There were really no children in the film, but there was one conversation when an older man spoke of what a parent will do for a child. I had a moment of panic. I needed to see my baby and make sure he was ok. I needed to leave the theater. I needed to get home. Right then. I’d been so proud of myself for going out so early in August’s life. I’d convinced myself that I could be a mother who didn’t have to be crazy or live in fear or hover obsessively over that boy. Suddenly, my fingernails were gripping the armrests and I was taking deep, convincing breaths. My baby is all right. My baby is all right. I stayed.

Movie watching has never been the same. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable anymore. It’s not just when a movie refers to (or shows) suffering children. I simply don’t want to see suffering in general. I don’t like thrillers. I don’t like anything tense. I’m sure I would appreciate the art in Black Swan, but it will never be worth it for me to ache through it. I’m aware of suffering, of mental and emotional collapse, and I no longer have any desire to watch it.

So, when my husband (who has been incredibly busy with work lately and hasn’t had much time to relax) announced that Friday night he was going to take a break and spend some time with me, I was determined to watch whatever Netflix movie was in our envelope, for the sake of a happy date night. He mentioned Syriana, to which I cringed. I’ve never seen Syriana, but I knew it was about the Middle East and oil, and therefore, it would have suffering. I looked at him skeptically. He read me the sleeve, which seemed political enough. Nothing too scary.

I was wrong. Thirty minutes in, I watched, horrified, as a little boy we had been introduced to, was about to be a victim of an electrocution in a pool. I knew it was coming. I shouted, “No no no no no no no no!” while Chris said, “Just go to the kitchen!” so I could avoid seeing it happen. But eyes are not all you need to experience a movie. And our kitchen is not far enough away. I listened to the mother’s screams until Chris told me it was over.

There are some images you don’t need in your mind. My mind is packed with enough Crazy that adding something like that scene into my deepest fears is not only unhealthy, it’s insane. My husband said, “Micha, it’s just a movie. It’s not real.” But I can’t feel that way because movies are real; they are stories of reality. The characters may be created, but the darkness they display is real.

I brewed my tea without talking until I cried. I cried and cried for that little boy and his movie parents. I cried for August and my baby. I cried for the children around the world who are victims of our greed and corruption.

My husband turned the movie off. And our cozy date was over. We’re seven years into our marriage. Every once in a while each of us experiences the shock of the other’s change. We grieve for a while over who the other used to be, the things we once shared. Chris and I once watched movies and discussed them over coffee and chocolate. We were young and childless and I was always up for an intellectual argument.

He sat frustrated for a while. “Was I ever really that fun to watch movies with anyway?” I joked to my husband. But we were both kind of sad. It’s weird to grow up, especially when it’s your normal that slips away in the process. So we watched an old episode of 30 Rock on Hulu. Almost the same…

 

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Ear Infection Friday

In case you didn’t know, it is possible to be a 31 year old mother and get an ear infection. In fact, it’s possible that your sinus infection might turn out to be the first ear infection of your life. And it’s possible that you may have ear infections in both ears at once and wake your husband up crying in the bathroom at 4 in the morning. (I’m weak. What can I say?)

They say that breastfeeding a baby can prevent ear infections, but I think that’s only for the baby, not the mother. So, tonight I am popping Amoxicillin and Tylenol and praying that I’m actually able to sleep when I lay my head down. I’m thinking that this must be some form preparation for Baby #2, who will need my tender love and compassion when he cries and pulls his ears. I promise, here and now, I will have compassion on that child.

Ear Infections = Worst Thing Ever.

That said, I don’t have anything to write tonight. So instead I’ll send you to a few interesting blogs I read this week:

Emerging Mummy: “In which I am a biblical woman” Great stuff.

Elizabeth Esther: “Books for your spiritual journey (my top 5 picks from 2010)” It includes Mary Karr’s Lit, which is probably my favorite read of 2010. I haven’t read the others but I’m intrigued.

Leslie Miles: “If We Weren’t Here, They’d Still Be” This is one of my husband’s favorite style blogs. He showed me this post yesterday when I was feeling sorry for myself. Seriously, some of the most incredible photos of animals I’ve ever seen. You have to look at it. Please. Trust. Me.

That’s all I have to share. (I haven’t read much online this week.) And I’m feeling pathetic and need to lie down. If you’ve learned anything from this blog post, let it be this: Please feel very, very sorry for the children around you who have ear infections. They mean it when they cry.

Love,

Micha

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Mommy Fundies

Yesterday, one of my favorite bloggers and authors, Rachel Held Evans, wrote a post titled: “Why Moms Sorta Scare Me,” in which she compared the current culture of motherhood to fundamentalism. She explained that as she, a happily married woman of 29, nears the age of baby-making, she doesn’t fear the idea of children, she fears the culture of mommyhood (especially as she’s seen it in the blogosphere).

“Having been exposed to the religious fundamentalism of Bible Belt culture all my life, I recognize the symptoms: the pride, the fear, the huddling together, the ostracizing of the ‘other.’ From cloth diapers to attachment parenting to vaccinations to sleep schedules, the fundamentalist sees parenting decisions not as preferences but as absolutes.”

Her entire post is completely worth reading. What I found most interesting, though, were the comments. As I write this, it’s 7 hours since she posted it and there are already 76 comments. Several of them are from women who have not had children who feel either ostracized or simply annoyed by that community. (I understand, I’m tired enough of hearing fellow moms talk about breastfeeding and preschools, and those things actually pertain to my life.) There were older mothers sharing their regrets for the parenting phenomenons they wish they hadn’t bought into (ie not rocking their babies to sleep in the midst of BabyWise’s heyday.) And there were both the moms and non-moms (and a step mom) all feeling judged in the church for varying aspects of their motherhood/non-motherhood. I was amazed how many emotions were stirred by one post.

What I found most disturbing though, was a thought posted by a woman with older children. She essentially said that she fears the day when Rachel has a child and her blog changes, becoming less interesting to all those not in her stage of life. Right now Rachel is politically and socially aware, a critic of the often absurd culture of Christianity on America, and always thoughtful. The thought that someone might actually be afraid that motherhood would make Rachel uninteresting really prickled my feathers. And then I stopped and wondered if, maybe, I’m less interesting.

Of course, being the completely self-absorbed woman I am, I had to have that thought, right? I never had a blog or tried to write a book in my days pre-children so I don’t know what kind of “writer” I would have been. And when I think logically about this woman’s comment, I recognize that of course I can’t help but be marked by my motherhood. But her comment made me really self-conscious. I couldn’t help but wonder how often you all (dear readers) are sick of hearing my complaints about pregnancy or toddlerhood or this “season of life,” (I know, I know, I love that phrase). And I know there are those of you out there who are not moms or even women and yet continue to read this blog. That’s a shocker in itself and I can’t believe (honestly) that I don’t drive you crazy with my inability to stop talking about motherhood.

But at the same time, I’ve never been the girl who wants to talk breastfeeding or attachment parenting or (it won’t stop lately!) preschools. I’d much rather discuss things that aren’t already filling up my brain all day long. (Then again, I was the girl in my twenties at dinner parties who tried to secretly stay in the men’s conversation when the “split” would begin to happen. Big generalization here: but their conversations were almost always theology or books or politics. It was only when it turned to sports that I purposefully joined the ladies’ conversation.)

All that to say, I understand. And though I don’t want to be the woman who used to be interesting before she became a mom, I have to be honest with myself about this stage of my life. My world is full of little ones. My head is full of decisions I need to make on August’s behalf, from what he will eat for lunch to how I will force him to sit on the potty to how I am loving and nudging him toward kindness and gentleness and justice.

What does that mean I’ve become? I hope it means I have more layers, that I can see the world in a kind of clarity I didn’t have three years ago before I had kids, even if having children has obscured my vision in other ways. And I hope that as I love-nudge August toward the man he ought to be, I will also become kind and gentle and able to have compassion on all the various “mommy camps” of the world, whether or not I’m aligned with them.

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Dawn, Day, Dusk, Dark

Yesterday I mentioned Scot Sherman’s sermon from this past Sunday. One of the stories he told in that sermon was about a man he had encountered who, in becoming serious about his faith, discovered Thomas Merton’s idea that prayer and contemplation should be something we practice at “dawn, day, dusk and dark.”

I’ve had that on my mind this week as I’ve thought about what it means to be at peace with the ways I can’t pray at this point in my life. I met with my spiritual director yesterday who reminded me that we have different tools for various seasons of our lives. I had been filling her on my attempt to gather baby gear via Craigslist (we left the big bulky stuff in Philadelphia when we moved). I had mentioned how big and cumbersome the baby jumper thing is but how essential it seems for the few months that a baby can fit in it. When August was between the ages of 4 months and 9, that jumper was the only way I could get dinner made every night. It was vital, for a while, and then he grew too big for it.

After a long conversation with Debby about the state of my soul, my exhaustion, my longing for meaningful communion with God, she reminded me about that jumper. She reminded me that even though I had a wonderful, meaningful prayer life that looked a specific way before I had children, that doesn’t mean I’m a failure until I get that prayer life back. In fact, it’s the opposite. God used that form in my life and now I’ve moved out of it. It was good, but I don’t fit in it anymore. It’s time to relearn how to pray. And this time, I should be learning as a 31 year old mother, who may have woken up early enough to pray yesterday, but whose son also woke up that early.

Debby had me stop part way through our time together and thank God for each and every thing in my life that I’ve been afraid is making me fail at following Jesus. I thanked him for my exhaustion, for my snooze button, for the fact that if I were succeeding in the sort of prayer life I want for myself, I would probably be viewing prayer as something I can check off every day. I’d be missing out on Jesus.

So, there’s Thomas Merton and his four D’s of contemplation. And there’s me. I’m not going to have the hour of prayer time that I once had. In fact, I began this blog because I knew and longed for the opportunity to re-learn prayer through the process of motherhood. In some ways I’m in the same place as I was a year ago contemplating this idea and feeling like a failure. In other ways, I’m so much more aware of my need than I was a year ago.

So, back to simplicity:

I want to pray four times a day. I want to pray grateful prayers, restful prayers. I want to remember that God is good and I want to experience him in that goodness. I don’t need to succeed in anything. I simply need to let my soul show up. Join me?

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Thankful Tuesday: Contentment

Sunday was my day of contentment. It was all I seemed to hear all day. Like one of those weird music videos where everyone all around you is mouthing the same word. (Maybe that’s just a freaky dream I’ve had?) Either way, it was exactly what I needed to see all those people mouthing.

My husband shared in front of the church about a ministry he’s been part of here in San Francisco. He’s been a sort of mentor/coach for another man making the transition from a local rehab facility to the working world. Chris is great in front of people. But I never get to see him speak all that often. So when he does I’m a nervous wreck. Sunday morning I said, “Are you ready? Are you nervous? Do you feel prepared?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Micha…I’m fine.” He was. He was perfect. Funny and interesting. Humble and genuine. Wise.

It’s funny how little I know, how frantic my spirit can be. In the sermon that morning, one of our pastors, Scot Sherman, spoke about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in the book of Matthew: light dawning in the midst of darkness. He spoke of darkness as our “moral confusion” and light as believing God when he says to us: “You are my beloved.” He reminded me that Martin Luther called believing our belovedness as “preaching the gospel to yourself.” I thought back to this last week, especially Friday, when I felt so incredibly pitiful about myself. What does it mean to preach the gospel to myself when I’m a pathetic pregnant woman, longing to write #FAIL after every attempt at meaningfulness in my day?

It means I speak what’s true: I am God’s beloved, not based on my health, my success at motherhood or potty training, my coolness, my ability to be well-read, my compassion, my worth in the lives of the broken around me. I am God’s beloved because of the gospel, because of Jesus Christ.

My amazing Bible study (YOOBS, we call ourselves. Don’t ask.) came over Sunday night to study 1 Timothy, chapter 6 with me. It’s a passage that mostly deals with the pursuit and love of money versus real contentment. I passed around computer paper and August’s crayons and made them all write: “Contentment is…” and “Contentment is not…” Then we filled out our pages with words and phrases. Kaili drew a picture of her stick figure self rooted and secure under the contentment heading. Her other self was frazzled and unsteady.

I can’t get that simple image out of my head. Contentment is so many things. But I know that for me right now, it’s rootedness, security. And that security comes not from my rest winning over my exhaustion, or my success as a mom giving me some sense of worth. No, my rootedness is going to come from my belief that God loves me in spite of my failures. More than that: He loves me deeply in the midst of them and holds me up because of them. Plus, he really is sorry that it hurts so bad to be pregnant.

Sunday morning we sang one of my favorite hymns of all time: “It is Well”

 

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

 

My life is not difficult, but I’m still a wimp. And today is Thankful Tuesday. So my prayer is this: let me be grateful that contentment is not a matter of circumstance. It’s a matter of rootedness and steady beauty.

I’m thankful that I need the gospel everyday: I am a failure but I am loved. I am loved. I am loved.  I am loved…

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Weakness and Acceptance

There’s a point in pregnancy when you suddenly think: “Something’s wrong with me!” Of course, the something wrong is actually the reality that a five pound human has invaded your entire body and you can’t get away from him. He shows up in how you walk (here comes Ms. Puddleduck), in how you react to the world around you (emotional crazy-lady!), in how you appear (I promise my nose is not this big in regular life), and in your inability to keep from shouting “ouch!” at the check out counter when baby human’s foot is trying to burst your appendix with his toenail. Being pregnant at 8 months is not for the faint of heart.

It’s good for me to remind myself of that, especially on a day like today, when I don’t feel normal. In fact, I feel like I can barely make it out of my house. My kitchen is a wreck. Crumbs from dinner are still on the dining room table, and after four days of intense potty training, I’m the failure-mom who’s happy to put her kid back in a diaper and let him choose his own life path. Who needs the toilet anyway? Surely there are other ways for him to be contributing member of society.

I come from a family that works hard. Have you ever heard my brother talk about his writing schedule on his blog? Dude works a full day of graphic design, spends quality family time with his kids, watches TV with his wife, then writes books from 10 to 12 every night. He’s at the gym by 6 training for triathlons and home to eat breakfast with his kids. My mom’s the same way. She is such a committed person of prayer that her early morning prayer time seems to move further and further back into the middle of night as she adds more and more in-depth Bible studies, journaling, and prayers for specific people groups in Sudan into her daily routine. She’s up for three hours before leaving the house at 7:30.

I say that to explain that I’m from a family that doesn’t require (or at least succumb to) much sleep. Napping is not for the responsible adult. And neither is sleeping-in. There are just too many important things to do. And when you know my family, you understand that such hard work has gotten them pretty far. Maybe not in terms of secular success, but at least in terms of contribution and kindness. My parents and brothers are regular folks who care for others, give their time away, and will spend all Saturday helping you fix your garage door/make your kid’s school play costume/ cover your grocery costs if you call for help.

That beauty is probably why I’m constantly battling my feelings of failure. I want to be superhuman. I want to give my life away. I want to write prolifically, despite my status as a mom. And I want to be a woman of depth and generosity and time for others. Nothing reminds me of my failures more than pregnancy.

I am weak. Every morning August watches me inhale my different asthma and allergy medications. He constantly asks me if I’m going to throw up if I lie down on the couch. Are his memories of childhood going to be of a weak, sickly mother, like those memoirs of children who grew up in damp, Irish households with one mattress? One of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn in my adulthood is that I’m one of those people who needs sleep. The second thing I’ve had to learn is that God loves me despite my needing sleep. I’d love to be super-human. And I’d love for my son to not need to ask me if I’m going to throw up again. But the truth is, I might. For no other reason than the fact that I’m that kind of pregnant lady: the kind who throws up at 8 months.

Last night, after a great day of small accomplishments and after feeling pretty good about my value based on those things, I hit a wall as I finished making dinner. I could barely keep my eyes open to eat. My husband promised me that if I just went to bed at 8, I’d wake up around 5 am and be able to dominate this blog post and get it up by the time August woke. Instead I woke at 6:45: groggy and full of yuckiness. I dragged myself through the morning, longing for something to make me feel normal, full of fear that the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy might be exactly like this day.

I don’t have an answer. I’m about to close my computer and sleep through the rest of August’s naptime. I’m not going to wipe the crumbs off the table, or move the load in the washer into the dryer. And after I nap, I’m not even going to walk with August to the library to return our movies that are due today.

But what I’m going to do (and what I’ve needed to do all day) is pray for the grace to accept myself as I am. On days like today, there are a million thoughts of what I should have accomplished by now with my life, thoughts of who I could have cared for if I hadn’t been so concerned with myself, thoughts of the beautiful thing I could have been had I only gotten out of bed earlier and prayed like I meant it.

Esther de Waal says that when a novice enters the Benedictine monastic community and presents his or her vows on the altar, he or she always prays, “Accept me, O Lord” (Living With Contradiction, 28). That’s my prayer today: “Accept me, Lord, exactly as I am. Tired and pregnant and full of self-pity. Accept me as a weakling who needs sleep, a short tempered mama, a failure of a housewife. Accept me a friend who longs to keep in touch but continually misses her opportunity. Accept my body in all its frailties and all its beauty. And let me be yours, despite the incompleteness of my soul.”

Somewhere in the midst of recognizing my own weakness, I may discover that there’s a balance to live into. I’ll go search for it, right after this nap…

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My Unintentional Techno-Fast

It’s been eleven days since I flew from Philadelphia to San Francisco. That also means it’s been eleven days since I had any contact with my phone. Through a series of unfortunate postal service events, it is in transit, (hopefully!) returning to Philadelphia soon, where it will be shipped back to me again. Of course, this would be the one time to know how to change my voicemail “greeting” or (haven’t we been able to do this since, like ’95?) check my messages from another phone. But, alas, I’m clueless. Honestly, I cannot figure out how to listen to the (probably) 30 angry messages on my phone.

And though it’s been very difficult to go through my days with no cell phone, or actually, no phone at all (Who has a land line anymore? We don’t.), I’m probably the best person in the world for this to happen to. I don’t love phone talking. And I don’t love the pressure of needing to return a call. I have missed two things. One is texting. I’ve constantly had moments where I needed to tell Friend X about goofy college dance song on the radio at Walgreens (for example). Those moments slip away and I totally forget to email about it by the time I’m home. I’ve also missed security. It really scares me to leave the house with August and have no phone in my car or in my hand. I’ve missed having a trustworthy phone line to 911, just in case. I’ve been keeping Google phone open all day on my computer, but a couple of times it hasn’t worked. In general, it’s scary to feel alone. Phones make me feel like I have a permanent friend in my pocket.

But losing that fake friend is also a lovely freedom. It’s wonderful to not have a little angry noisemaker in my pocket fussing at me all day long. It’s wonderful to not know what time it is when I’m playing with August at the park (yes, I really should wear a watch). It’s good to disconnect.

I knew when I was coming home that I would be arriving to a TV with no cable. We’d made the decision in December that it wasn’t a good financial decision to keep cable flowing into our happy picture box. It’s not that I don’t love TV. It’s just that I am the world’s most addicted TV type. I love to sit on my butt and stare at the thing. I love to flip channels. I love to waste away while images of pretty people flow in and out of my brain’s consciousness.

There was a time in my life when ridding myself of cable would not have clicked as a viable financial option. It was necessary, the way that a phone is or an oven is. But having a kid has changed that. I knew, of course, that TV watching is not good for little brains. So once baby August began stopping his play and staring at Matt Lauer like he was a yummy cookie, I began to second-guess my morning TV routine. After time, the Today show went off and was replaced with NPR in the kitchen. (Which, it turns out, actually gives you the news without forcing you to sit through awkward sexual jokes while the anchors stand in front of a crowd on “The Plaza”).

After morning TV was gone, I began to recognize how often TV was on in my life to fill the quiet, especially while I was home with a baby.  What did God want to do with that quiet? What was I missing when I turned on the noise? How could my time be used more fully?

Tonight, my TV is off. In my former life (two weeks ago) I would have been flipping through channels to find something vaguely entertaining (probably on the Travel channel) to set my eyes on. Right now, though, I’m listening to cars drive past our open windows. (Yes, it is nice to live in San Francisco in the winter, even though I gripe about the weather the rest of the year). I can hear my husband studying and shuffling papers in the next room over.

What does God have for me in the quietness of my being phoneless and at the mercy of Hulu? I’m not sure. But it almost feels like a miracle that I’m going to find out. A very gentle, quiet kind of miracle.

 

 

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