Category Archives: Motherhood

On Sweetness and Mother’s Day

Copyright © 2012 Erin Molloy Photography

It’s Mother’s Day morning and last night was one of those up and down kinds of sleeps. Chris and I are at the stage where we go to bed in the unknowing: will the boys sleep all night? Will they wake four times? Last night August had to pee, then he couldn’t go back to sleep. Then he still couldn’t go back to sleep. And, then he really couldn’t go back to sleep. Each trip to his room, I found myself accidentally kicking my leg against something: a laundry basket, a couch.

By 5:45 when Brooksie was crying, I was so fuzzy and frantic (my usually style of mid-night waking) that I literally ran into the doorframe in our room. I slammed my cheekbone loud enough that Chris jumped up and I moaned and fell back on the bed. (He went to check on Brooksie.)

So, sleeping in on Mother’s Day morning is not only called for, it’s fitting. I’m sort of a mess this morning, what with my bruised cheekbone and puffy eyes (I accidentally got cucumber juice in them while cooking Friday night and they don’t take kindly to cucumbers. Remind me to tell you a great story about that sometime.)

I’ve been reading in bed with coffee by my side, brought to me by Christopher in my favorite bright red mug. And my boys are in and out. Brooksie loves to waddle in and gaze flirtatious and mischievous at me. He raises his eyebrows, makes a serious face, then smiles and almost laughs and waddles away. So far during my reading time, he has come in to find a waded up receipt (which he played with for five minutes, carrying it back and forth from my room to the kitchen), a green pen (from which he couldn’t remove the cap, thankfully. He used it to “comb” Ezra the Super Cat, who will take any form of attention he can get, even when it involves a green pen in the hands of a one-year-old.). Now, Brooksie is back in the room bare-handed. He walks to the side table, shakes the lamp a few times while I remind him how that’s not a good idea. And then he’s pinching his pointer and thumb together and touching the table. He’s amazed with this development, that his fingers can gather and make a cone of sorts, that he can push them against the table and experience some sort of finger-sensation. He looks at me and smiles. Then he opens his hand and looks inside at his palm. He does some assessments. He’s happy with what he sees. His palm is good, he decides. Then he’s out of the room again. Off to something new.

Soon, Chris calls me to the kitchen where my favorite meals is being served: Eggs Benedict (and I promise my love for the creamy sauce has nothing to do with my love for the saint). Chris makes it for me every Mother’s Day, every birthday. Homemade hollandaise stirred perfectly over boiling water. Today, though, the lemon is moldy and there is nothing Chris can do to replace it. The sauce doesn’t congeal and it doesn’t help that August is crying on the couch. (His morning show on Netflix has been buffering for ages.)

So I enter the kitchen in my pjs, hair in a pile on my head, cheek beaten by the doorframe, eyes puffy from the Cucumber Incident. August is crying about the lack of “Busytown Mysteries” and my husband hands me a mimosa, because that’s just the sort of thing he does. And I think how all of it is perfect: the uncongealed hollandaise, the frustrated three-year-old, the baby astounded by his own hands.

We sit at the table to pray and just before we bow our heads, August whispers to Chris across the table: “Should we get Mama’s flowers?”

“Let’s pray first,” my husband says. And they do, thankful for me.

Then they slip away and return with orchids in a vase. August choose them, he says: yellow, my favorite color.

And on the card: A list of questions Chris asked the boys (of course only one of them could answer):

  1. What is you favorite part of Mama? A: Leaning on her belly.
  2. What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy? A: Play cars
  3. How do you show Mommy you love her? A: This answer is acted out: He squeezes the chair with his arms.
  4. What do you want to say to Mama? A: Thank you
  5. For what? A: She lets me get frozen yogurt even though I didn’t get it for my dessert

Also this morning, during the lazy coffee drinking in bed, I read words about sweetness in Lauren Winner’s book Still. They’re the words of a twelfth-century Cistercian named Baldwin of Forde. He says:

“Jesus is sweet…He is sweet in prayer, sweet in speech, sweet in reading, sweet in contemplation, sweet in compunction, and in the jubilation of the heart. He is sweet in the mouth, sweet in the heart, sweet in love; he is the love of sweetness and the sweetness of love…Those who have tasted of him grow hungry, and those who are hungry will be satisfied and the sated will cry out the memory of his abundant sweetness.”

And I think: Is there a better word for this moment, this time in my life while these babies learn to be themselves and my husband loves me better and better, while all at once I feel so young and still so rich with age? Sweetness.

Oh, Jesus, we cry at the memory of your abundant sweetness.



Filed under Motherhood

A ‘Mother Letter’ for the Mamas

Dearest Mamas,

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Emily (one year ahead of me in the baby-making) gave me a piece of advice: Have grace with yourself, she said.

She was talking about those first moments when I’d hold his tiny squirming flesh to my breast: When I expected fireworks of passionate mother-love and instead felt afraid, overwhelmed and happy, exhausted and adrenaline-rushed. She said, “Don’t expect the love you feel in that moment to be enough. You love your kid as you learn them.”

Have grace with yourself.

I carried her words over into those first weeks and months of exhaustion. The long nights, the moments of fury at this little thing whom I loved desperately but who was wreaking havoc on my brain and my body. I learned to have grace on myself when my friends were reading their 4-month-olds books for 30 minutes a day and helping them progress in their development and I still felt like it was all I could do to get my baby to sleep and eat and stare at me every day, much less be faithful to my calling and career.

Grace: Such a word for such an act. It’s love, yes. But it’s love that offers free kindness, freedom, acceptance. Jesus gives me that kind of reality. It’s not an act that allows me free reign to ruin myself. It’s an act that draws me in with loving kindness, that sets me up to use my gifts and my heart and offer to the world what’s good that’s already been placed into my hands.

Have grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority?

Have grace with yourself.

When it’s your kid who is screaming on the airplane. When every person around you seems to think they know the answer. When you determine to trust your instinct despite his rage, despite your tears and the bite marks and the passengers who are tweeting about the horrible child and his incapable mother they were stuck with on the flight.

Have grace with yourself.

When every one at the park is obsessed with getting their almost-two-year-olds into language-immersion classes, when your friend’s three-year-old already knows how to read, when your strong-willed child is achingly sweet at home but yelling at the Sunday School teacher at church. When you’re afraid no one but you understands him.

Have grace with yourself.

There may be a day when someone you love questions your parenting choices. There may be a day when you stare at your tear-soaked face in the mirror and ask, “When my kids grow up, how will they remember my failures?”

But motherhood is not a series of situations that have a wrong and right answer. It is a relationship. How many times have I described Jesus that way to one of the high school or college students I’ve ministered to? Jesus is not religion. He is relationship. Engaging with him requires our hearts and our minds and souls and our strength because it involves living, not simply rule-adherring.

Have grace with yourself, Mama. This thing is complicated. You will hold that newborn and you won’t know how to love him but you will and you will wonder is this enough? and it may never be but he needs you any way.

See that’s the secret: You are his only mother. The only mother he will ever know. He loves you desperately. He needs you to love him back, to gather him when he crumples, to jump in the pool when he sinks, to snatch him up when the other kids are picking on him, to trust yourself to know when to protect and when to let him find his way.

So gather her and love her. Laugh and cuddle and read and make choices. And trust that in spite of your imperfections, God is making all things new: even you, even your child.

There is refreshment in that grace: the chance to begin every day, the chance to learn and change, to stick by convictions and let some of them float away on yesterday’s balloon. You don’t have to be the same mother you were last year. You are being refined.

Once, another friend said: Stop being so ferocious with yourself.

I’ll say the same to you, friend. God has given you to your child and your child to you. And every gift you own combined with the strength of God’s Spirit is enough to do this beautifully.

You may not be the mom who speaks two languages in the home. You may not perfectly balance work and mothering. You may not feel secure in the complexities of discipline and correction. You may receive every kind of judgment over the way you sleep-train your baby.

When it’s all too much, promise me this: Walk your stressed little (okay, let’s be honest, probably not-so-little) hinny to the bathroom, look in the mirror. Breathe deep. Look in the mirror again. Imagine Christ’s hand on your head, let his peace wiggle in to those brain wrinkles. And say: “I am loved. I am loved. I am loved.”

Because sometimes, Christ’s love is the only thing that gives us strength to love completely the little ones who have been given to our care.

Linking up with The Mother Letters ProjectRead about it then join your “Mother Letter” to the conversation. And get your copy of the Mother Letters ebook here.


Filed under Motherhood

{Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

“If parents who are from the nobility want to offer to God in the monastery one of their children, who is too young to take personal responsibility, they should draw up a document like that described above and, as they make the offering, wrap the document with the child’s hand in the altar cloth…

Poor people may make the offering of a child in the same way. If they have no property at all, they simply write and offer the child with the document in the presence of witnesses.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 59

What does it mean to offer a child to the work of God?

When I first read this chapter two years ago, I was taken with the image of a child’s hand grasping the document written by his parents, promising him to the community, to the life of monasticism, and making a covenant he can’t possibly understand, his hand wrapped in the altar cloth.

Of course, the thought of what parents chose to do in the 6th century—offering a child’s life to a monastery, giving up rights to that child, both as a kind of tithe, but also as a way to feed less mouths and gain religious “approval” (from God? from the church?)—is disturbing. From our free-thinking, individualistic society, we can’t possibly grasp the culture of the Benedict’s time, what it meant to live in poverty. Or, what it meant to live under the authority of the church.

So I won’t really go there. When I read this passage, I just kept seeing my boys holding the life (the promises) my husband and I are writing for them, their boy hands wrapped in the altar cloth.

Both my boys are blankey types. They would prefer to have their blankets with them wherever they go. Although August is able to go to school and church without it, if there’s a new, scary event happening for him, you bet his “Bup” is in hand and it’s the only thing keeping him from an emotional breakdown. Brooksie has loved his blanket since he was five months old and every time he sees it, he throws his body into it, rubs his face in it.

You know I’m moved by images. Sometimes I stare past the moment I’m in with my kids and I see the eternal: Those two boys crawling and falling onto the couch cushions, laughing and rolling; the three of us on the rocking chair: August hugging my neck from behind while Brooksie sits in my lap and holds the book. What am I writing for them? What is the commitment I’m offering the Lord on their behalf?

Last Saturday night while Chris and I ate dinner at some supercool hipster French bistro (records playing through the speakers!), we talked about the boys, and I whispered across the table the secrets my heart prays for them, what I hadn’t mentioned to Chris till then. I’m convinced that we are always writing the document, this desperate offering to God on our children’s behalf.

The question I’m asking myself is what promises I’m making with the life I’m living in front of them. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people? Am I teaching them to live in fear of the approval of others?

This is picture I keep seeing: As their little tired bodies lie back against their sheets, as their eyes roll backward, their cheeks relax, as they sink into the secret place their minds go in the darkness, they hold in their hands the words I’ve written for them that day: the commitment I’m making on their behalf to the God I serve. And in their hands, the blankets they love, wrapped around their hands, like altar cloth.

See, on the altar is the sacrifice, the grace offered from a merciful God. Yes, each day I write for them a future: some of it sweet and good; some of it broken and failing. But covering their hands, covering my attempts at mothering, at committing those sweet lives, is the grace that covers my hands as well, my tired body pressed into my sheets at the end of the day, the future my parents wrote for me and the promises I’ve made and broken and continue to walk in. All of it grace; all of it wrapped around our hands.

All of it sealed on the altar where Jesus breaks and pours out again and again.


Filed under Motherhood

Guest Post: The Creaking, Squeaking Altar that Moves

I’m thrilled to interrupt our regularly scheduled Thankful Tuesday to bring you some words from one of my favorite bloggers, Megan Tietz at SortaCrunchy. I consider Megan a kindred spirit and I have been so moved by her story of those early months of motherhood, which she is sharing (along with her co-writer, Laura Oyer) in their new book Spirit-Led Parenting. We are honored to be a sweet little stop in their Spirit-Led Parenting blog tour.

It’s battered and squeaky and hopelessly un-chic, but still I can’t bear to part with it.

It sits by itself all day, hardly touched and rarely sat upon, keeping a watchful eye over the playroom. That old gliding rocker and I go way, way back, and to most everyone else, it’s just a piece of furniture past its prime, but to me, it is a holy place.

My altar from long ago.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Dacey, I would sit in that rocker in her room, reading my Bible and praying out loud and covering my ever-growing expanse with words of prayer and hope. It was during her pregnancy that something nearly unbearable happened in my family of origin, and that was the first time I knelt in front of that chair (knees and ankles creaking more loudly than the joints of the glider) and poured my heart out to God.

That was the first of many times that plain old rocking chair with the country blue upholstered fabric transformed into a holy place, a quiet sanctuary where I met with God.

Time passed and she was born and then I began to view that chair with a growing sense of distrust. Less and less often was I pouring over pages of Scripture and more and more often I was studying the pages of parenting books, and consistently they were warning me to stay away from the rocking chair if I ever hoped to have a baby who displayed perfectly independent sleep habits.

No matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t get my baby on the program. I couldn’t get myself on the program because the program required me to leave her alone in her crib, even if she cried. And I just couldn’t. I would gather her up in my arms, collapse down into the waiting arms of the rocking chair, and apologize to God for failing Him and her once again.

And so continued my long sleep walk shuffle through the earliest weeks and months of motherhood. I could keep it together during the day – most days – but at night, I was awful. She would awaken to nurse and I would slam down the crib rail before I lifted her out. I was so furious that she wasn’t sleeping through the night and I was furious at myself for not being strong enough to get her sleep trained.

But one night, He rescued me. He rescued both of us, really. God stepped into my pain and hopelessness and despair and lifted my chin.

If you are up anyway, why not pray?

Isn’t it amazing how we try to make things so complicated? Isn’t it incredible how His Voice is always so clear?

And so that rocking chair became a long-term altar, a standing appointment set by my infant daughter that allowed me to know God in the deepest, darkest hours of the night. I would hold her, nurse her, rock her, and pray. Miles and miles we rocked and words tumbled out and in the still, still quiet, I would listen.

I am Southern Baptist from conception until now, so it never occurred to me that I was dipping my toes into the pool of monasticism. I didn’t consider it a ritual at the time – hardly! It was more of a lifeline, a sliver of redemption for my perceived failures. And it was the time I spent with God in that rocking altar that prepared my heart for the message of Spirit-Led Parenting.

It took me nearly a month to write the chapter on infant sleep, so close to my heart and so scarred in my mind are my thoughts on the matter. The passage of time allows me the clarity to know that if it weren’t for those sacred meetings with God in the night, this book would never have been written. And so I want to share with you a short passage from the book that captures, in some small way, what I learned in that season of life:

For in the practice of nighttime parenting, we allowed ourselves to be molded by God’s ever-present hand. We believe the specific reason God led us to view nighttime with our babies differently is because as our Father, He wanted to attend to our specific needs in that moment in life. In the stillness of the night, as we fed our babies, He nourished us with His presence and His word. By the subtle glow of the night light as we changed diapers, He changed us, allowing us to see that through Him, we could be more than we ever thought we could be. As our feet tread miles of footfalls, muffled by carpet and shhhhhhhh, He sang over us words of comfort, hope and surrender.

Thank you so much for allowing us to share our hearts and message with you today. Please join us as we continue our blog tour in the upcoming weeks:

Spirit-Led Parenting is the first release from authors Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. Megan writes about faith, family and natural living at SortaCrunchy and lives in western Oklahoma with her husband and two daughters. Laura blogs her reflections on the real and ridiculous things of life at In The Backyard, and makes her home in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and son.

rocking chair image via TranceMist


Filed under Guest Post, Motherhood

A Letter to my second-born son, on his first birthday

Brooksie, this year has taught me a lot of things about being a mom, about making a family out of individual people, about cultivating joy in the daily and in the difficult, about brothers and their fathers and what it might mean to raise a boy into a man.

You are named after two second-born sons. My brother and your dad’s brother. I like to think you’ll be taking the best of your namesakes: Brooks’ humor and tender-heart, his compassion for the unloved and his commitment to friendship; Andy’s bright mind and his passion for using his brain to create, his kindness and sensitive spirit. Your second name (the name we call you most of the time: “T-Rexy” as your cake will say at your party or “T” as we call from across the room) was given to you by your big brother, long before we saw your face. So many brothers surrounding you, little guy.

Really, it’s your brother who is teaching you most about the world. How to pretend, how to receive a good story, how to run, how to laugh, how to eat heartily. And it’s that same brother who is teaching you the injustice of the world: that sometimes you get knocked down for no reason at all, laughed at, told on. Sometimes you are the bugger and sometimes you are the one being bugged. I’m convinced younger siblings know a lot more about the world by the time they get to kindergarten than older siblings. In some ways learning early makes it easier, I hope.

Yesterday morning, when you woke up on your 364th day of life (ok, 365th, it was Leap Year)–that last day before the world gives you a number to define your life’s span, your development–you woke up angry and hungry. Your dad picked you up out of your crib and you signed “eat” and grunted. Then I walked in the room and you reached for me, signed “eat” again and hit me in the face. Your dad said, “Oh no, T! That’s mean.” And I said, “Owww, baby,” and you frowned the sweetest sad face I’d ever seen and stared at me. You’re learning that you can hurt people. You’re learning that your choices have consequences. And you know how to love me, how to love your brother and dad.

Tuesday night, after I got you into your pjs and you kissed your dad and August, you and I went into your room, where I nurse you before bed in the dark. Behind the whoosh of the sound machine, you could hear the faint giggling of your brother and dad. They were on the couch tickling each other and wrestling. You nursed like normal for a minute or so until you realized what was going on, what you were missing out on, and you let go of me, sat up, grunted and got yourself onto the floor in your dark room. I watched you in the glow of the night light make your way across the room in your stiff legged baby walk, open up that cracked door and leave me for the party. You walked all the way to the living room and found yourself welcomed into the pile of boys.

That’s what this is, my love. This is the welcome into boyhood. It’s a small one, but one that acknowledges that you, my (so-far) laid back, left-handed, tender-hearted, quieter but people-loving second born, are an independent soul. I’m still here. I’ll be your mama for a long time, but I know what happens to little boys when they discover how to jump on their daddies, how to roll around on the floor with their big brothers. I know about growing up.

So today, I’ll try not to be the weepy woman you’re used to. Today is for celebrating. Your feet have hit the ground and you’ve got a lot of world to explore, baby.

Happy first birthday, T.


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Welcomed into the Story

When I stood on the second row at Jamie’s church last Sunday and watched her baby girl’s baptism, I was a little teary, mostly because Jamie is one of the dearest friends of all my life. She was my maid of honor and I never imagined I would live close enough to her to watch her baby grow, to be part of her kids’ lives, for our little boys to love each other as much as they do. Being able to be present for Eliza’s baptism was grace to my heart.

And then we blessed that sweet baby with these words.

Eliza, we give thanks that God has claimed you
with an everlasting love that will never, ever let you go;
and we will never let you forget that!
We rejoice to welcome you as our sister
in the family of Christ.
Our story is now your story:
you have ridden in the ark with Noah;
you have passed through the sea with Moses;
Christ’s death and resurrection for you is at work in you,
transforming you into the image of God.
Grow with us in grace,
confess Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share with us in his royal priesthood.

There is something so deep and rich and moving about all of us being part of the story of Christ. And there is an honor so mysterious and breathtaking that we would ever have the right, the privilege, to welcome another dear soul into that fabric in which our lives are already woven and patched and restored.

Really, the greatest joys of my life have been in telling the story and welcoming others into the story. That’s why I loved ministry to high school kids. I loved telling them that there was room for them here in the story of Christ, there was forgiveness and acceptance and grace for them just as they were.

And now, how often to do I forget when I’m snapping at my boy for waking up his brother, when I’m frustrated about whatever super important thing I forgot back at the house, or when the ecosystem of my home feels entirely out of whack, that I have been privileged to tell the story and invite my children into it? It feels so easy to forget that this is their one childhood, that what happens today is shaping who they become, how they relate to the world, how they understand love.

My story, our story is now theirs. I’m asked to offer it to them as we live our lives together, as we walk along the road, as we lie down and as we rise. God has already claimed them with an everlasting love. My job is to make sure those two boys never forget.

My job is to invite them to grow with me in grace. And, boy, do they see my need for grace sometimes. So, my prayer is that in my home I would live as the welcomer, the one who always, in love and deep grace, offers my boys a place at Christ’s table. And in doing so, may I never forget that Christ offers me a place as well…


Filed under Motherhood

Julie Bowen and our Bellies

Last night was a sucker punch of bedtime crazy. My screaming preschooler woke his brother up twice between the hours of 8 and 9:30. I was back and forth to them and finally finished bedtime at 10:30, three hours after it had started. I’m still at my parents and felt sorry for myself. So I poured a bowl of M&Ms and sat in the bathtub talking saltily to my husband on the phone until I finally said, while staring at my “smushy belly” (as August describes it adoringly), “I can’t talk anymore. My belly’s too huge.” Because, of course, that’s a good reason for hanging up on your husband.

That’s why I don’t have a new post, but am sending you this throwback to the early days of Mama:Monk. (Like, 2 whole years ago!) It’s a reminder to me that I do love my belly. Because I do, even as I stuff it full of M&Ms.

* * *

Sculpture by Sigrid Herr via Sarah Bessey on Pinterest

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a link on Twitter to an article about a photo of actor Julie Bowen breastfeeding her twins. There was some fuss made about her desire to show the photo when she appeared on The View. The talk show made a decision not to display it, which had some breastfeeding advocates up in arms about our culture’s willingness to display breasts when it comes to sexuality but hide from them when breasts are actually being used for their intended purpose.

I was drawn to this story, first of all because to me Julie Bowen will always be Carol Vessey, the beautiful, unrequited love of Ed from the TV show of the same name in the early 2000s. Ahhh. Those nights of watching Ed in my Abilene apartment on an uncomfortable couch with Molly and a Papa John’s pizza. Cue nostalgic music.

I was also interested in seeing the photo (I’ll link to it here instead of posting so you can choose whether or not you want to look at it) because I believe in breastfeeding. I’m one of those crunchy types who breastfed as long as possible and then cried for days when I stopped. I loved it. I didn’t just love how it connected me to my son in a way that no one else in the world could connect; I also loved how it connected me to the billions of women who ever lived on this earth and fed their children. In our modern life, we have changed everything about how we exist. Electricity, technology, fashion, food. Our lives look nothing like the lives of those who lived 300, 400 years ago. But, we all breastfeed the same way. Mouth to nipple.

Something I didn’t expect though, in seeing that photo, was the link on The Huffington Post’s site to Julie Bowen in a bikini. She is obviously fit. Her muscles are defined. She’s a tiny thing. And I, unlike all 124 people who commented, was grateful to see that her stomach was no fake Hollywood, post pregnancy belly. Her belly button is stretched, her skin is loose. In short, she’s the mother of three (including one year old twins) and it shows.

I read the comments in shock at the general hate readers had toward this woman’s body, as if she had done something sickening to them, as if she and her 120 pound frame were walking around bikini clad in order to cause massive in-mouth vomiting wherever she trod. Readers felt lied to by her small, clothing covered body on Modern Family. Whatever they had imagined of her, the reality was more than disappointing.

Glancing at those comments stung me. I know, I know. I’m not naive about our culture’s obsession with body perfection (meaning: skinny and taut at all costs, despite age or life situation). I know that our society is full of Kardashian watching, porn obsessed, image hungry IPad users. But really? Does my culture despise women that much?

Are we so afraid of women actually looking like their bodies have done something miraculous? Look, I’d love to have the flat belly I enjoyed at age 17 (it was downhill after that) and I’d love for my belly button to be its cute round former self. (Wide and wrinkly with a stretched piercing scar doesn’t do it for me.) But, look at what my body made! He’s a person. With a brain and emotions and an intense love for dinosaurs and shooting hoops.

And so I will honor this belly, which did not cooperate with the intensive two month Crossfit training I put it through last year, which will never snap back to its pre pregnancy tight-skinned glory. And I won’t apologize. I’m a thirty-year-old woman who has earned a stretched belly button.

And, friends, I hope that as I get older, I won’t complain about this body to my kids, that I will somehow be able to teach them that there is honor and joy in aging, that we earn the imperfections we carry with us just as we earn our scars and every memory attached to them. I hope I can teach them that boobs are not just sex symbols and that breast-feeding is not gross or embarrassing. I hope they believe that their value is larger and deeper than whatever 124 online commenters may have to say about their flaws.

This is a freakishly broken world. I hope we can live out an honest and authentic beauty in the midst of it.

Here’s to our bellies, ladies.


Filed under Motherhood

A little SAHM math equation

You may be shocked to hear this, but sometimes I feel like a loser for being a stay-at-home-mom. (I’m sure you’re not shocked.) Somedays I have greasy hair and wear my pjs until lunch and feel like I’ve got to get a grip quick. Sometimes I think about the working world with an idealistic longing for adult conversation and a feeling of accomplishment and an opportunity to wear smart suit jackets and these shoes (don’t you love using “smart” as a clothing descriptor?). Sometimes, I hear a mean voice in my head saying that my husband pays for everything and I sit around in my pjs eating sick-looking valentine cupcakes that taste really awesome.

I have a super smart friend here in Austin named Meghan. She’s new in town as well. She’s an attorney and she’s new at her firm and  has been expected to work obscene amounts of hours. She has a two-year-old. We were talking about our completely different daily experiences with motherhood: how she’s balancing her demanding working life with her mothering life; how I’m learning to be grateful instead of guilty for my life at home. Meghan used to stay home with her son during his first year. She struggled with the same sense of  guilt: Was she really contributing to her family? What was her value?

She had a friend who spelled it out to her like this:

If you were to hire someone to provide the same level of care for your child, a nanny who worked 10 hours a day playing, cleaning, getting him down for a nap, feeding, teaching, reading to him…what do you think that would cost you? You do have a job.  

I’ve been thinking about that myself. If I were to hire someone to care for my two children with the level of care and dedication and commitment I have, for a ten hours a day, seven days a week, I could be shelling out $50,000 a year. Then add taxes.

That’s $3,000 a month.

I may not be bringing any cashy cash into the home, but I’m starting to think of myself as someone who provides. I’m not just a greasy haired jammie wearer arranging playdates. I’m a provider.

Of course I believe my work is important. There’s a reason I chose to stay home and there’s a reason I continue to. But, just in case you stay home and you’re like me and have days where it feels like your life at home is something that smarter women laugh about far away behind their executive desks, while wearing “smart” suit jackets, I hope you’ll sit down and do some math and determine how much money you would have paid someone else to do your job today.

Sometimes, those of us SAHMs need to think of our time at home as a real job. A real job allows breaks and rest and conversations at the water cooler. A real job has a stopping point. If you feel like you don’t get a chance to take a breath. If you don’t feel like you have someone after those ten hours of work to share the burden with you. Why don’t you pull out the calculator, friend?

Stay-at-home-mom, I’m not saying you should become crazy about your invisible salary. I’m just saying you should give yourself some grace and, if you have a working husband, so should he.

Working mom, I’m talking to you, too. You should give yourself some grace as well. You work hard and then you come home and work hard. If I had my way, you’d arrive home to sparkly bathrooms and already prepared healthy meals every evening. But, I hope you remember, you’re being asked to work two jobs. Give yourself a break if it’s all a bit hairy these days.

And now I’ll just link to these shoes one more time, because, come on.


Filed under Motherhood

{Practices of Parenting Carnival} In Which I Believe in Family Dance Parties

My family had one living area in our three bedroom ranch house. It had a shiny brick bench in front of the fireplace. It was a perfect place for a stage and served as one pretty faithfully for this girl obsessed with her own performance skills. Most of my best moves were done while I happened to be alone in that living room, Amy Grant’s newest cassette on the tape deck and my back to the audience, arms rising at my sides, hands jazz-spread. I only turned around to sing the words at the last possible moment, “Angels Watching Over Me!” belted to the couch full of stuffed animals.

By that point, I was alone in my performances. I was the youngest and my brothers–three and five years my seniors–had long moved on to the more important things that 12-year-olds and 15-year-olds think about. But, long before my solo career, we performed as a trio, late (at least it felt late to me) Saturday nights, with Mickey Mouse Disco on the record player, my parents moving around us for what felt like the entire record: just us dancing and laughing and singing at the top of our lungs. It was 1984 or 1985 and I was five. My brothers were heroes even then, skinny goofballs with dances I’d never seen before (they’d learned them at school, no doubt). I was mesmerized by those boys, but we were still equals in our shared home, raised one at a time onto our father’s shoulders while my mother gasped in fear. And running from one side of that room to the other where a pile of pillows and blankets made for a perfect diving pit.

That’s what I think about when my boys are cozied into their jammies, the baby scooting along the coffee table in his little footies, the preschooler running from the door to the carpet for a knee slide (how does every boy instinctively know how to knee slide from the moment he turns three?).

See, I’m imperfect. And, even more shockingly, my husband is not quite perfection either. And there are days when all I’ve been is the worst version of myself: snappy and frustrated and envious of all the people in the world who have perfect children (it’s only on those days that I think perfect children exist somewhere). I have yelled when I didn’t want to. I’ve cried on the toilet. I’ve eaten an entire bar of dark chocolate during nap time. And I’ve found myself rolling my eyes at the pile of laundry as if it’s the laundry’s fault for existing.

It’s on those days that I absolutely must turn on the music after bellies are fed and teeth are brushed. I know, you’re not supposed to rile your kids up before bed. I know, it’s supposed to be time for quiet and gentle nudging toward sleep. But, sometimes, your husband gets home from work and you stuff pasta into everybody’s bellies and you find yourself sitting on your bed asking God to remind you that your life is the most beautiful of all: That your life is a miracle of grace. That these children came from your body…but before that, they were secrets in the heart of God. That your husband just showed up that night in Ithaca, New York. He just showed up at that random house you visited with your barely-friends before the acapella concert and he walked with you up the road, in the dark, both of you bundled under sweaters in November night. And in that reminder of grace: your body sitting on the bed is filled magically with light, as if you were finally your true self for the first time that day. The boys are whining in the bathroom, getting their teeth brushed by that man you loved first that night in 2002 and now you see him scrubbling their teeth, his eyes older, his jaw stronger and better than before and you know it’s time.

There’s only one thing to do:

Find the Katy Perry Pandora station. Hit play. That’s when August runs from across the room and dives and you dive with him. That’s when Brooksie rides on your husband’s shoulders and you gasp a little and then release your breath and out of your mouth comes all the lies you believed that day: about your worth, about what’s lacking.

And here, right here, this moment, when Usher is singing about the dance floor and the baby is squealing, you recognize the truth. And you spin in it holding your son and you both laugh because all is forgiven; all is new.

Linking up with one of my very favorites Sarah Bessey at Emerging Mummy for the “Practices of Parenting Carnival.” (And using her signature, “In Which…” style in her honor.) You should link up too!


Filed under Motherhood

For Brooksie, upon his turning ten months old.

You turned ten months old last Tuesday. Almost every other month of your living, we’ve celebrated the 16th with a photo and a little “Happy X month birthday, T-Rexy!” This time, I didn’t even notice. I was waiting all week for the 19th which, amazingly, I thought was your 10 month birthday. It didn’t even occur to me until the night of the 18th that you were born on a 16, not a 19. Oh, honey, I’m sorry you’re the second born. I’m afraid it will always be like this, my love. I’m not so good with details.

Yes, we call you T-Rexy. And we have since long before you were Brooks. You don’t know which is your real name. You answer to both as though it were normal for a baby to have two names. I rarely even consider the fact that I call you by the nickname of a dinosaur (your brother named you in the womb, in case that isn’t clear). T-Rexy is just who you are. So, when I shout across the room as you’re going for the safety plugs in the electrical socket…again, “T! No, no!” you respond with a the devious look of a child who of course plans to go for the pluggy thing again. “T” is your name most of the time these days. T-Rexy is second. Brooksie a close third. Of course, I try to control the “T-Rexy” calling in public. It’s a little confusing for people.

Right now it’s Saturday afternoon. Your brother and dad fell asleep together on the couch. Both are in heaven. I lay you down in your crib and seconds later you’re standing and screaming from your room. You’re not having it today. I rescue you, along with your “bup,” what August calls his blanket which is now what we now calls yours as well, and we rock together in your room, your face pressed against the blanket and my chest, your hiccups slowing into the rhythm of my rocking. Usually I sing old hymns to you in moments like this, but today Gerard Manley Hopkins is whispered from my tongue: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” I say. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”

I move from that into Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet (1928),” the one that sits framed in front of my kitchen sink: “I am in need of music that would flow / Over my fretful feeling fingertips, / Over my bitter-tainted trembling lips…” Babies always know good poetry. It’s in your souls still (it having been such a short time since you lived in the Secret Place where all the Art is held waiting…)

Your eyes close, your heart beats with the rhythm of the poets. I pray for you, the secret prayer God has shown my heart for yours. See, I know a whisper of a truth that I can’t speak aloud (not even your father knows), of what your life may be and how you may see the world. Don’t misunderstand, it is hardly a prophecy, just a knowing pressed into my heart. A hope of why your life has come to this world, why you have come to me, what I am instructed to teach you. I whisper it always into your crib in the dark, when I pray for your life. I whisper it before I say: “Let him love the things that You love. And if he wanders far from You, may he always come back home.”

I didn’t take your picture when you turned 10 months old, Brooksie: your long body wrapped in 18-24 month clothes, crawling under the coffee table and crying, stuck, until I pull you out. You pushing that little wooden cart with your unbalanced feet, working those round foot pads into workable walking tools. Your hands signing “More! More!” in the high chair while your mouth makes the sound for “bread.” “Behhh!” you say. “Behhh!” And I offer you what I can, often a little too late, a bit too rushed, a tad distracted. But you meet my eyes and remind me that we belong together, you and I.

I whisper it to you in the rocking chair…

“There is a magic made by melody
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.”

-Elizabeth Bishop, “Sonnet (1928)”


Filed under Motherhood