Category Archives: Articles and columns

The terror and treats of parenthood

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It’s that time of year when it’s possible to be anything you want to be. A pirate, a ninja, a clown, a queen: Halloween lets you try on any role for a night. Buy a costume, apply some makeup, and your new identity is complete.

As a mom, it’s fun to see the kids get so excited about the possibilities of Halloween. I think back over my own life and recall the parade of identities I assumed over the years, including a cowgirl, a princess, Mickey Mouse, and – in college and my 20s– a gypsy (always the easiest costume to cobble together at the last minute).

It’s intoxicatingly fun, the chance to be someone else for a night. And it’s so easy to assume a new role, knowing it’s temporary and just for a lark.

It’s the opposite of real life, where our roles involve a serious investment of time and energy. This is certainly true of my roles as teacher and wife. It’s even more true of my identity as a parent.

When my oldest son was born eight years ago, life as I knew it changed forever. It didn’t take long before l knew that my new role – a mother who cared for a tiny newborn, who got up multiple times a night to feed him, who wandered around smelling of spit-up – was the most all consuming one I’d ever known.

Parenthood is a commitment like nothing else. It’s not a role you can wear once and discard, like a costume. You’re in it for the long haul, forever (as my mom says, you never stop worrying about your kids). It’s an identity that may feel a little bit uncomfortable in the early days. It may feel like you didn’t get a chance to try it on first, or that maybe parenthood is not as good a fit as you thought it would be.

But the amazing thing about parenthood is that, as the old maxim goes, God doesn’t call the ready; God readies the called. What I didn’t know about babies would have filled a library, but with the grace of God and the help of experienced parents, I got to the point where I could spend a day alone with my baby without fearing I’d make a parenting error that would scar him for life.

And when I look back over my life, parenting my kids is something I’m proudest of: Not because I’m doing a brilliant job (goodness knows I mess up often), but because I began with such a knowledge deficit and somehow managed to reach a baseline level of competence. That role as a mom, which felt alien and downright scary at times, is one that I wear like an increasingly comfortable sweater.

And the best news – the most important bit, really– is that there is such unique joy that comes from living this role.   Seeing your baby smile, feeling a little hand slip into yours, walking two excited superheroes around the neighborhood on a night dedicated to terror and treats: these little moments can overwhelm you with feelings of happiness and gratitude.

Yes, parenthood can seem downright terrifying, especially at first. But with grace and God, we grow more at home in the role. And it doesn’t take long to learn that there is no treat half as sweet as the love of a child.

This article first appeared in Catholic San Francisco.

Smartphones and daydreams

William Wordsworth

I have to give William Wordsworth credit for writing some of my favorite poetry ever.  I also have to thank him for inspiring my latest column, which is about an all-too-common struggle.  Maybe you can relate?

I have very few stare-off-into-space moments these days. Nearly every minute is filled with something claiming my attention. I can’t blame this entirely on my two young kids, nor can I blame it on the teaching job that claims vast amounts of attention 10 months out of the year. These are factors in my busy-ness, yes, but there’s another, more insidious force that always seems to fill the empty spaces in my life.

That force is the Internet.

Earlier this year, my high school students and I were reading William Wordsworth’s famous poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” In the poem, the narrator recalls walking alone through the countryside and coming upon a lakeshore covered with thousands of daffodils. In the last stanza, he says that when he finds himself “in vacant or in pensive mood,” the memory of those daffodils comes back to him, filling his heart with pleasure.

I’ve read and taught this poem countless times, but this year, the words “in vacant and in pensive mood” struck me anew. Is there a better way to describe daydreaming? Wordsworth perfectly captures that state of not actively thinking of anything else, not actively doing anything else . . . just being open to wherever our thoughts lead us.

And it hit me: I am rarely in a vacant or pensive mood anymore, because there is always something to fill those empty moments. It’s a small rectangular something that I carry in my purse.

You can read the rest of the column at The Catholic Spirit.

What we say and how we say it

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From my latest column:

My mom has always been an exclaimer. When she sees a beautiful flower she immediately voices her delight, punctuated with an almost audible exclamation point. “Look at that rose!” she’ll gush, bending in for a sniff. “Gorgeous!”

My dad is also quick to share his enthusiasm for awe-inspiring things. I remember car trips as a teenager where he would play and replay his favorite song from “Les Misérables,” exclaiming at the singer’s ability to hit and sustain a high note. “Listen to that! Amazing!” he’d say every time.

These memories make me smile. They also invite some personal reflection: Now that I’m an adult myself, what inspires me to speak in exclamation points?

 

You can read the rest at Catholic San Francisco.

Mary and the movements of a parent’s life

Albin Egger-Lienz, Madonna and Child

Albin Egger-Lienz, Madonna and Child

If your default image of Mary is of a woman standing still, arms stretched out like you see in the statues, then you might like my recent column Mary and the movements of a parent’s life.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mary has more than just one pose and one look. Her life as the mother of God involved a wide range of experiences, from the happy to the harrowing. Since becoming a mom myself, I’ve discovered that there is a Mary to correspond to nearly every moment of a parent’s life.

There’s the Mary of the Annunciation, a surprised, probably scared young woman saying “yes” to the unknown. That Mary speaks to my own experience of starting a family. While I was thrilled by the positive pregnancy test, I also knew I was saying yes to something that would challenge and stretch me in ways I could not possibly anticipate. Does Mary understand that combination of excitement and trepidation? Absolutely.

There’s Mary on the road to Bethlehem, hunched over on a donkey and searching for a place to shelter for the night. She’s the Mary who had to roll with the punches, who had to adapt quickly in very trying circumstances. I’ve never had to give birth in a barn, thank goodness, but when a cancelled flight meant I had to spend the entire night in an airport with a nine-month-old, I learned a lesson in How to Cope When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned. (I didn’t handle it with Mary’s aplomb, but I’m learning.)

You can read the rest at Catholic San Francisco.

The Annunciation was just the beginning


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This is a statue I bought in 2002 in Lourdes, France.  I’ve always loved it for its simplicity, and for Mary’s posture.  The sign in the shop said that it was called The  Annunciation, and it certainly captures that moment when a young girl from Galilee opened her heart and said, “This wasn’t the future I planned to have, but okay.  I’ll take it.”

But Mary’s life involved more than just one moment of decision.  Her life must have been a constant process of discerning, of adapting, of deciding how to proceed, of listening for the voice of God in confusing moments.

Two months ago, the folks at Charis Ministries — a Jesuit ministry dedicated to helping young adults recognize God in their lives — asked me to write a reflection for their May newsletter.  It’s about Mary and Ignatian spirtuality.  Here’s an excerpt:

If you read the Gospels with an eye for what Mary experienced, it’s clear that even once she’d embraced her vocation, the periods of uncertainty kept on coming.  Time and again, Mary faces situations where there are more questions than answers.   She’s about to give birth, and there is no bed available in town.  Her teenage son is lost for days.  As an adult, her son gathers powerful enemies at every turn.  He is arrested and beaten.  He lies dead in a tomb.

Throughout Mary’s life, she faced many challenges that she could not have predicted when she signed on to the job.  She is a good reminder that identifying your vocation is huge, but the work doesn’t end there.  In the course of living our vocations, we constantly find ourselves doing mini-discernments in situations when there is no obvious answer on how to proceed.

You can read the rest over at the Charis Ministries page.   (And while you’re there, be sure to check out their retreat offerings and other spiritual resources.)

Happy  May!