Drowning in the miracles of motherhood

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All growing up, if you asked me what I was going to be, I’d answer without hesitation, an artist. Ever since I could hold a crayon, I’ve been drawing. Ever since I could talk, I’ve been telling stories. Ever since I could write, I’ve been committing those stories to paper. I believe that the finest artistic works are akin to worship, I believe the vocation of an artist is a holy one indeed, and I believe that beauty truly can save the world.

Now if you ask me what I do, I’ll answer that I stay at home with babies. I still hold lofty artistic aspirations, but reconciling art and motherhood is difficult even as it is beautiful. The miraculous nature of being a co-creator and steward of human life is one of the most artistically stimulating things that can upset your life. Yet, it is precisely the thing that makes the inner silence needed to be an artist difficult to come by. Every hour of my day I am on-call to a fussy, nursing newborn. Any time I start floating away on an inspired trail of thought I am stopped by toddler screams heralding needs rational or otherwise (if intelligible at all). Welcoming babies means it’s no more simply about fighting my deeply phlegmatic nature to show up and hack at my artistic pursuits whether I feel like it or not that day. It’s about having the luxury of the time or mental space to indulge in them at all.

Often I catch myself thinking about what my life would have meant if it was cut short. What would these years mean–mired in spit up and temper tantrums and me never having really cultivated my talents. And of course, this was not a purely hypothetical situation for so many women throughout history. I recently read that two of Jane Austen’s sisters-in-law die in childbirth after years of having back to back babies. Austen, herself, had the opportunity to marry and yet chose to remain unmarried and free to write novels. But what of any of those women who harbored artistic impulses? What of their ambitions outside of mothering that were laid to rest with them?

Losing your identity to motherhood is something no woman wants, and it is undoubtedly bad to cease to exercise necessary self-care or to permanently and unhealthily become a martyr to motherhood. Yet, despite my ache to fully realize the role of an artist, this losing myself to motherhood, this temporary dimming of my interests and shedding of my individuality, this drowning in babies and being incapable of doing much else, seems to be precisely what’s being asked of me right now.

When I look to another group of women seemingly relinquishing their individuality, I glean some wisdom about the limitations of my life as a stay-at-home mother of small children. Religious sisters revoke their individuality in dress and in name, accepting what is given to them, doing what is asked of them by superiors, becoming one in a sea of women tying their wills to unwavering vows. And the lives, particularly of cloistered contemplative nuns, appear to lack any individuality, freedom, or usefulness to the outside world. But contemplation, while not useful in any worldly sense, is a channel into the divine life of God in which a person finds herself most liberated and fulfilled in her identity.

As I said before, even as motherhood is impossibly immobilizing, it’s just as creatively and contemplatively stimulating. The wise look of my sleepy newborn. The emotional molting of my toddler. His little voice singing–a transcendental sound of hope to my anxious self. Being present to these wonders makes me want to transfix them in art, and perhaps at some point that will be my work. But right now my primary work is just to be present to them. Flannery O’Connor writes in her prayer journal, “I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.” This also seems an appropriate prayer for the woman struggling with her loss of identity in motherhood. Right now, I am meant to be hidden within motherhood, to contemplate without action, to push myself out of the way so that I may know God.

Whether I die young and this time, fertile in thought and dry in deed, results in nothing in the way of art, or if I live long, write much and write well to the glory of God, and even my children see me as something other than their mother, I hope I might still say that I was present at this feast, taking it all in, more concerned with being a witness to the great mysteries before me than validating my identity to the world.

Anyway Milton said it well four hundred years ago:

“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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Drowning in the miracles of motherhood

Living the gritty poetry of love.

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Have you ever heard the wonderful Van Gogh quote: “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”? I’ve seen it beautifully hand-lettered and then shared over and over again on the Internet. It’s the sort of quote that would make for the perfect caption under a bright and dreamy lifestyle family photo.

It also calls to my mind something that Joseph once said while we were engaged. He was having a conversation with someone who was encouraging him not to give up his dreams of writing poetry for a wife and family. He responded by saying, “Well, Dominika’s the best kind of poetry.” Of course it made me swoon to hear that (and still does!), but there’s a weight to it that has continued to resonate with me as I enter more deeply into the mystery of loving people.

Sometimes loving people really does feel artistic and poetic. Falling in love, getting engaged, walking up the aisle on your wedding day, holding your freshly born baby. Those moments are palpably transcendent. And even within ordinary days there are moments that feel sacred and extraordinary. When Leo visibly understands different words for the first time. When he wraps his tiny arms around my neck and squeezes with real affection. When Joe traces the sign of the Cross on his forehead when we put him to bed. Those moments are met with a happy fiat on my part.

But there are a lot of days that feel emphatically unpoetic. Many days, I fail again and again and wish that someone could relieve me of motherhood. When I’m trying to fix dinner and Leo’s clawing up my legs and whine-crying, I’m so quick to lose it and snap at him. Or when I slip into all-day social media scrolling because I feel like it just takes so much energy to be present with him, I become convinced someone else would do this job so much better than I would.

On this blog, I try to write about motherhood honestly and specifically in a way that means to show its sometimes sweet and sometimes stark but ever-redemptive beauty. I do this because so much of the language surrounding parenthood tends to be banal, an exercise in fear-mongering, and generally unhelpful for young people already feeling apprehensive about the commitments of marriage and parenthood.

However, I think it’s important to admit that sometimes the beauty isn’t perceptible and it certainly doesn’t feel redemptive. It really does feel like the trenches. It doesn’t feel like you’re valiantly marching under the standard of sacramental love. It feels like you’re swimming in exhaustion and hailed on by a multitude external pressures.

And at the end of the day, after failing time and time again and wondering just how much I’m messing up my child with my impatience and harshness, all I can do is offer up a reluctant and frankly pretty sucky fiat. It usually goes something like, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to get up in the morning and do this all over again. I just want a friggin break. So just make me want this. Because I’ll keep choosing it, but only because I have to.” Not really stuff of “Behold, handmaid of the Lord here” caliber, but I think God accepts and works even with my crappy fiats.

And I know He works with them, because eventually, in a calmer moment, I’m able to say with a little more grace than before:

“Now I accept the cross You have sent me, which I at first rejected, and I accept not having accepted it right away.”**

Then when I hold my sick child who cries if I move at all or look at him or dare to breathe, and I’m able to do it patiently even if I’m not feeling patient, I think it might even more poetic than when I beheld him miraculously as a newborn. When I let Joe give me a kiss when he comes home instead of swatting him away because I am so touched out by sticky toddler embraces, it’s perhaps more poetic than the kiss we shared on our wedding day.

I’ve barely been able to blog lately and I haven’t been able to write anything else. March has been the month of never-ending sickness for this aspiring-and-usually-failing-at-being-holy family (admittedly I’m generally the one dragging us down). But March also has ties to The Holy Family, since it contains both the solemnities of the Annunciation and of St. Joseph. Mary and Joseph aren’t remembered for the great deeds they accomplished in brazen acts of independence (deeds they could have been accomplishing if they didn’t have to take care of each other and baby Jesus, dang it.) They’re remembered for their humble receptivity to will of God even when that will involved fear and sorrow and the Cross. And yet, their lives have been lauded for centuries in poetry, art, and music.

It’s a good reality check for me to remember that writing blog posts or poetry about motherhood–writing poetry at all–isn’t comparable in real sense to actually living it. Great poetry might be recited till the end of the world. But really living the gritty poetry of love, living it well, even if it’s not remembered, endures eternally.

And I know several more years and children might make me look back and think a. I had ONE CHILD. One healthy, pretty easy going child. I had no idea what it’s like to really struggle and/or b. geez the death grip I had on my time and my right to a certain level of sanity was just not realistic and no wonder I was struggling.

It should also be known that I got a free chunk of babysitting this week (yes I was pinching myself the whole time) and wrote this from a cafe. Some people dream of traveling to Bora-Bora or the Amalfi Coast. I dream of traveling alone to Corner Bakery Cafe for a couple of hours.

**From I Believe in Love, a book that’s been invaluable in my daily life.

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Living the gritty poetry of love.

Weekly Edit

 

I’m changing this posting series yet again because I obviously have issues finding my groove with it. Get ready for an exercise in (nearly) infinite scrolling.

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Gifts from the Internet

…on motherhood. On being scared to have a family and to pursue your dreams.

  • I had written this post before I read this, but it reaffirmed all I felt. Your words matter. People who speak of parenthood as an inconvenience and complain about their children are incredibly destructive to single men and women who would consider a vocation to marriage and parenthood, just as people who speak of their families with joy and whose homes are full of gloriously chaotic life bear the most beautiful witness to that vocation. I’m so thankful for the mothers and fathers who have unabashedly shown their love of being a parent:

These parents see their children as creative, exciting, unique human beings, and enjoy watching them grow in their own way, in their own time. When their children are young, they don’t worry about what others think, about whether their child is “advanced” or not, about whether they’ll be a straight-A student. They don’t try to cover up the imperfect moments, or wish their kids would finally be old enough for daycare, old enough to go to school, old enough to finally move out. On the flip side, they don’t “vent” about their children constantly in public forums, complaining about their problems and issues. They recognize the fact that—just as it isn’t appropriate to do that in regards to their husbands, or sisters, or parents-in-law—it’s not appropriate to do with their children, who are also people with feelings and dignity.

Many of the women in my classes are particularly captivated by the idea that a major component of human happiness is the pursuit (if not the achievement) of moral and intellectual perfection…Like Aristotle, they are pursuing moral and intellectual virtues. And of course they are pushing themselves to reach concrete, worldly goals: to ace the MCATs, to write a really fine short story, to master ancient Greek, to play a Bach fugue with confidence and proficiency.

Yet…They sense that other activities and other modes of life offer a very different kind of good: Worship, poetic contemplation, and love are quintessential examples.

My students know that motherhood is more like these activities than it is like the pursuit of excellence. They sense that caring for others requires us to put aside (at least temporarily) the quest for achievement, not just to make time but to create space for a different mode of being. Worship and love: These require no particular talent or cultivation of the sort I have been describing. They are gifts of the self, not achievements of the self.

I don’t want to believe it — that parenting itself makes art hard, that you must always sacrifice one for the other, that there is something inherently selfish and greedy and darkly obsessive in the desire to care as much about the thing you are writing or making as you do about the other humans in your life. What parent would want to believe this?…

“but … Here’s the thing. Despite everything, I have to say that having the kids grew me up in a way nothing else could have. And basically, I needed ten years of mothering before I was like, Whoa, hey, this is what I’m meant to write. And now I’m working on a novel that I love and it feels like the kids gave me that by remaking me.”

Yums!

This was a delicious week.

First off, we started with a bang with our annual spring dinner party (which in keeping with tradition was ridden by both allergies and April showers). I pretty much love seasonal parties as they give me an opportunity to tick off recipes from my pinterest boards. My contributions this year were:

Other seriously delicious contributions were:

Then the torrential downpours called for more comforting fare so we got on a soup kick:

  • My sister made this parmesan soup. It’s the kind of thing that demands to be made again and again even though it’s definitely not the stuff of whole 30.
  • I upcycled the leftover aforementioned chicken into soup. Shredded the chicken, added stock, and cooked and added rice.
  • We had a bunch of vegetables just languishing away so I made clear-the-fridge soup on a mostly monochromatic green theme. Sautéed, boiled, and simmered celery, asparagus, and potatoes and then added scallions and a ridiculous amount of parsley before throwing it all in vitamix and then finishing it all off with heavy cream. Like doing straight shots of vitamin k.
  • On the same culinary color coordinating theme, I made a smoothie with these key players: almonds, flax seed, almond milk, yogurt, unsweetened shredded coconut, and a dash of almond and vanilla extracts.

Et cetera

Ever since one little boy succeeded splendidly at sleep training (in one night! You the real mvp, kid), the whole having free hours in the evening has me doing a happy dance come 7:30 every night. I’ve been celebrating with too much screen time:

  • Poldark. I can’t resist it with its vibes of both Downton Abbey and North and South. I’m getting way too emotionally involved.
  • Less than two episodes of Kimmy Schmidt. I’m just not as charmed this time around.
  • Grantchester which takes the cake for me. It’s filling the gaping void in my life that’s been around ever since I finished Foyle’s War and Rosemary and Thyme.
  • Stars Wars. I finally watched The Force Awakens so we decided to backtrack and start marathoning from the beginning. We just finished slugging through the first three episodes in all their cheesy glory.

……………

Happy Feast of St. George! Some recommended reading for the occasion.

Weekly Edit