Living the gritty poetry of love.

Processed with VSCO

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.

Processed with VSCOProcessed with VSCOProcessed with VSCO

Living the gritty poetry of love.

Hopes for Liturgical Living: Advent

I started this little series of how I would like liturgical living in our home to look like because two years into marriage and the rich, unfailing rhythms and traditions that I always imagined would be an effortless part of our lives are haphazard at best but mostly non-existent.

It’s the first week of Advent and this season has proved to be no different so far. Last week I bought an Advent calendar from Trader’s Joe and…that’s all I’ve got. And even though it was cute and cheap, I really think we can do better than just a piece of chocolate per day till Christmas. Here we go:

Food

I’m all about doing simple, sort of penitential meals during this season. Avoiding eating out as much as possible. Toast without toppings for breakfast. Soups for dinner that can be batch cooked and eaten all week. Less meat and dairy and more legumes and vegetables. I don’t want to be feasted out by the time the actual feast begins.

Wear

In my previous liturgical living posts, I’ve written about how I like the idea of wearing darker, more subdued colors during penitential seasons and brighter, cheerier colors during festive seasons. I think this idea can work here without having to create two winter wardrobes. Just having neutral basics and then darker scarves and accessories during Advent and brighter ones during Christmas. This probably sounds ridiculously trivial, but these are just my imaginings for a life integrated with faith in every possible way.

Another thought is donating warm clothes to those in need. St. Martin of Tours’ feast day is in November, but the tale of him sharing his cloak with the freezing beggar is a fitting Advent story to tell children. (Fun fact though: in the early centuries of the Church, a period of forty days of fasting before Christmas was celebrated starting on November 12th, the day after St. Martin’s feast. It was called Quadrasegimi Sancti Martini–St. Martin’s Advent.)

Work

I want to spend the first two weeks deep cleaning, decluttering, making our home generally more peaceful and ready for Christmas. And then I really like the idea of spending Gaudete Sunday onward making salt dough and cinnamon ornaments, popcorn garlands, paper snowflakes, and so on and then putting them aside until Christmas eve. As Auntie Leila says, Advent is for making.

I also want to give extra encouragement of a spirit of charity within the family during this season. I’m still not sure about how to tread the line of gift giving between materialism and giving and receiving out of love, but I think a good place to start is emphasizing that doing good works in secret for family members (like making a sibling’s bed for them or helping out without being asked) is just as much if not more a gift as buying them a present.

Leisure

This one is huge for me since I have a terrible addiction to distractions that eat up my scant leisure time but I am trying to cut them out this Advent and for all Advents in the future to make more time for resting and for prayer.

For children, I really like the idea of a wrapping books and letting them open one a day as a countdown each day till Christmas. Elizabeth over at In the Heart of My Home has a master list of books to read with your children during this season.

It is also my one true wish (and has been for the last five years) that Joe and I will learn a Christmas carol duet on the piano. And it is another ardent wish of mine that all our family members will put on a Christmas talent revue for the entire family one day. So I really like the idea of preparing for the Twelve Days by learning Christmas carols to sing or play on an instrument; memorizing a Christmas poem; putting together a Christmas skit; so that we might share those gifts with one another and with the newborn King rather than putting all the focus on material gifts.

And as far as keeping Christmas carols at bay until the Christmas season goes, I’ve found it’s not much of an issue once you realize just how many good Advent carols there are.

Prayer

All the usual: as much of the divine office as will fit in our daily lives, daily rosary etc. but extra things for this season:

Obviously the Advent wreath with prayers and Scripture reading. I also like the idea of adding evening prayer in here, singing an Advent carol, doing this Advent litany, and for the Octave before Christmas, “The Golden Nights”, adding in the O Antiphons–but you know I’m always unrealistically ambitious.

Then there’s the thirty day St. Andrew novena. (Starts tomorrow! Alarm is set and ready on my phone because I’m the wooorst at keeping up novenas.)

And of course there are all the other feast days that break up the quiet of this season and stir up excitement for the coming Nativity. We have St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th with treats in shoes and baking cookies over at the grandparents’ house. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th. Every year on this day, I want to make ultimate Mexican comfort food: albondigas and Mexican wedding cookies which look like delicious little snowballs–both perfect for winter.  And then St. Lucy’s Day on December 13th with cinnamon buns in bed, cuccia for dinner, and hymns by candlelight.

Most of all, I want to make time for myself to spend in prayer and reflection. I just ordered the Blessed is She Advent journal and there are a host of good books to read during this season. This year at the very least I’m going to try to revisit St. Athanasius’ beautiful work, On the Incarnation.

….

Other things around the Internet that have been inspiring my Advent brainstorming:

A Simple Advent Plan from Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee
Catholic New Year Resolutions from Kaitlyn at Lily and Mama
All the advent links from Like Mother Like Daughter
December Liturgical Living from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas

Happy Advent! Come, Lord Jesus!

Hopes for Liturgical Living: Advent

Links and life

Reading

1. I have no claims of saying anything intelligent about theology, but from what I gather, there is a lack of developed theology about marriage, which makes it all the more mysterious to me. I found this community and their vision super interesting. As far as I know, it wasn’t created by theologians, rather just regular old married people with high ideals for marital and familial love.

2. And then there’s the biology of marriage. So fascinating!

3. I loved this post from Leah Libresco about the boring, quiet rituals that sustain us spiritually. It made me think more consciously about what are the boring, quiet rituals that fill my days and reminded me of this excerpt from Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness:

“Ritual, how could we do without it? . . . Just as a husband may embrace his wife casually as he leaves for work in the mornings, and kiss her absent-mindedly in his comings and goings, still that kiss on occasion turns to rapture, a burning fire of tenderness and love.”

Eating

4. Lots of Trader Joe’s frozen Chinese food. I have a rule that if we’re going to watch an Asian film, we have to eat Asian food. In anticipation of going to see The Magnificent Seven, we finally started (and finished!) Seven Samurai.

5. Posting mainly because my mom asked for the recipe: the easiest, most versatile, and delicious buns you’ll ever make.

6. Not eating, but scheming about what my trademark food should be. Katherine’s always writing about things that have been latently brewing in my mind.

Et cetera

7. I’ve had my first Pax Paper purchases from people who don’t have any connection to me and that is thrillingly inexplicable to me! Particularly since only being able to work sloooowly in the naptime and post-bedtime cracks of my day makes me feel pretty faily at this small business thing. Pictured above are a couple Confirmation cards that I promised to have out weeks ago. They are coming!!

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary! We’re going to try to stop by our local Dominican parish, Holy Rosary, today for confession and a rosary. We’ll see if my squirmy companion cooperates.

Links and life

Life as a 10 month old

2016-09-12-11.57.16-1.jpg.jpeg

Some of Leo’s disposable diapers bear a hilarious legend on them reading, “I’m a busy baby” which makes me think of babies having agendas and trying to strike a work life balance. But he really is a busy baby.

We ask him, “What will you be?” A dentist when he shoves his hand forcefully into our mouths to discover what’s within. A tap dancer when we hold him over any hard surface and his feet paddle furiously against it. A contemplative monk when the stained glass at church absorbs his attention.

I wonder and wonder who will he be. What are the things he will say? What will our relationship with him look like in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years?

But he’s not waiting in some cocoon to transform into his future self. He really is busy being himself right now. And Leo right now is a wild and wondrous creature more bird or elf or monkey than human.

While his mother is caught up in her worries and distractions, he is meeting his world head on scampering away from grownups, flinging himself in different directions, falling over in boxes all the while chirping and babbling.

Except for diaper changes.

I’m pretty sure his gnashing and wails are just baby speak for a recitation of Helena’s monologue from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”:

O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment:
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?

 

 

Life as a 10 month old

Film Review: About Time

about-time-film-review-family-life

I’m pretty sure About Time, which follows protagonist, Tim Lake, as he navigates work, love, marriage, and family life with time travel thrown in, will convince any vocational on-the-fencers that they’re called to marriage. I watched the film just weeks before my wedding and it bowled me over into a heap of achingly blissful sobs. How could it not? It movingly and wittily centers on marital and parental love and it was only a matter of time before I’d be eternally vowing myself to a life of that.

Every time I’ve seen it since, it never fails to make me joyously reaffirm my marital vows–the highest of compliments for a film. But it doesn’t just flatly affirm the goodness of love, marriage, and family. It touches on something more nuanced that’s been on my mind ever since I first realized my changed identity as someone’s mother: the relationship of time and family life.

Here are a few things on that theme that stick out to me:

Parents are the keepers of time in their children’s lives

He always seemed to have time on his hands. After giving up teaching university students on his 50th birthday, he was eternally available for a leisurely chat or to let me win at table tennis.
All in all it was a pretty good childhood. Full of repeated rhythms and patterns. By the time I was 21, we were still having tea on the beach every single day. Skimming stones and eating sandwiches, summer and winter, no matter what the weather…And every Friday night a film, no matter what the weather.

about-time-family-life

These are some of the first lines of the film which opens in the loveliest way–placing us in the midst of a happy, idiosyncratic, imperfect, but love-filled family (in idyllic Cornwall to boot). When I begin watching this film I always think, “That’s what I want my family to look like.” But this life of repeated rhythms and patterns doesn’t just happen its own. Rather, it’s a parent’s responsibility to structure their children’s and their own time in a meaningful way.

I don’t think it’s too bold to say that parents are tasked with the reclamation of time as a sacred element of human life. Modern life sets upon us the pressures of instant connectability and a never-ending influx of information. We become sick with the glorification of busyness as work increasingly spills into personal life. Our children’s inner lives begin to dim when every moment of their lives is crammed with activity.

And so within the home, we must reclaim time for contemplation, for leisure, for recreation. And that atmosphere is precisely what the teas and the table tennis matches and the family dinners all create in the film. That’s why Christian parents, in particular, are meant to live out the liturgical year in their home both daily and seasonally.

Children teach us something about the nature of eternity

No one can ever prepare you for what happens when you have a child. When you see the baby in your arms and you know that it’s your job now. No one can prepare you for the love and the fear. No one can prepare you for the love from the people you love can feel for them, and nothing can prepare you for the indifference of friends who don’t have babies…Suddenly, time travel seems almost unnecessary, because every detail of life is so delightful.

about-time-family-life2

I’ve written before about the weird and wonderful stretching of the metaphysical confines of time and space in pregnancy. And equally wild is the baby’s actual arrival. Because you’re going about life linearly hitting different milestones and achievements and then this new, intense human being emerges (out. of. your. body.) and time feels as though it stops and everything is suspended in this new dimension of reality: slow and sweet and grueling and frenetic all at once.

The film does an excellent job of highlighting how having a child is both miraculous and commonplace.

The scene after Tim and Mary’s first child is born is a tender one and I love the choice of Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” playing at that moment. The name of the song translates to “mirror in the mirror” referring to an infinity of images connoting the profound transcendental weight that moments in time carry.

We then follow more commonplace, miraculous moments in Tim and Mary’s new life as parents that show how children only magnify the love of one’s community and offer more opportunities to come together, pause, and celebrate–a foretaste of eternity.

It is the ordinariness in our lives that reveals the extraordinary

We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.

about-time-family-life1

Director, Richard Curtis, got the idea for About Time when he was talking to a friend about how they would want to spend the last day of their lives.

“We just want a very normal day at home, giving breakfast to the kids… seeing friends, having dinner with the family,” he explained.

I love that this film is littered with scenes from ordinary life. Going on nervous, thrilling first dates. Waking up in the morning next to your spouse and playfully teasing one another about who is going to get the kids. Listening to your dad read you a favorite passage from Dickens. Coloring monsters with your three-year-old.

Time travel may be the plot device that the film pivots on, but it isn’t really about that. It’s about real time travel. That is, our travels through our days that are made up mostly of small moments in which we may forge love and kinship with one another. These moments make up the framework of our relationships and create a space in which we can delight in one another and be vulnerable with one another.

SPOILER

In one of my favorite scenes near the end of the film after his father has passed away, Tim has one last opportunity to visit him in the past. His father beats him at a game of table tennis and Tim asks him for a kiss goodbye. It’s a moment that moves quickly from hilarity to poignancy. They decide to travel back to a moment from Tim’s childhood where they walk along the beach and skip stones. The two of them have played hundreds of table tennis matches and skipped hundreds of stones together and these repeated ordinary rituals culminate in this last scene revealing an extraordinary love between father and son.

END SPOILER

about-time-family-life4

Do yourself a favor and watch About Time. Or rewatch it. And think of the remarkable ordinary moments of our days that we all too frequently let slip away unnoticed.

As Mary Oliver says, “Who needs poets if we just offer up to the world our attention.”

P.S. another to reason to watch: to mourn the fact that you don’t live in this house.

Film Review: About Time

For Father’s Day

Newborn fathers day

One morning, when little Léon was three or four days old, I woke up alone in our sunswept room and stumbled in my new fragile empty body out into the living room. There you two were calmly basking in the new light of the day listening to an adagio from Beethoven. And I cried and cried because how in the world is a postpartum mother supposed to deal with something so magnificent?

For Father’s Day