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.

Notes on love and meatballs

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When I started dating my husband, I was one of those girls who is in love with love. The kind who craves and feels entitled to the most beautiful love story, the most beautiful engagement story, the most beautiful wedding, and the most beautiful babies.

But on the day my husband and I got engaged, we went to the grocery store. I don’t know why that detail always sticks out to me. I didn’t include it in when I told people our engagement story (I also didn’t include the fact that I was dreading telling my parents whom I didn’t think would be all that stoked that I was engaged at the age of twenty), but I always remember that we went to the grocery store and I was tired and from the moment we left the grocery store to the moment we pulled up at the church, I totally knew I was getting engaged.

The story I told people was all about how Joseph unintentionally chose October 12th to propose which was the Feast of Our Lady of Pilar and was just perfect and providential since in the early days of Jominika, I had prayed for our relationship at the shrine of Our Lady of Pilar in Spain. I told about how Joe liked that my ring had seven stones because it seemed a beautiful symbol: three larger gems for the theological virtues and four smaller ones for the cardinal virtues. I told about how sweetly nervous Joe was and how it reminded me of our first date. I told all the dreamy bits of our engagement story.

And yet, now I love that we went to the grocery store right before we got engaged. I love how ordinary that is when, at the time, all I wanted was the wondrously beautiful parts of love. But those things are a gift and not a right. And the ordinary things which our lives are so full of right now (read: sticky little hands and so much poop) are, in fact, part of something wondrously beautiful and larger than ourselves.

This year we attempted and failed pretty badly at saying a novena to Our Lady of Pilar. We said the prayers dutifully on days 1, 3, and 4 and missed the other six. On the actual day of our engagement anniversary, Joe got home late and went straight into CPA study mode. But I made meatballs and cranked up Dean Martin and danced around with Leo and a few times Joe snuck out of his study cave and danced around with us too. We agreed the meatballs were the very best meatballs we’d ever had and that they made for a perfect engagement-versary feast on an otherwise very ordinary day.

Sage and Ricotta Meatballs (adapted from this recipe):
-2tbs olive oil
-2lbs lean ground beef
-1 cup ricotta cheese
-2 eggs
-1/2 cup red wine
-1/2 cup bread crumbs (I toasted sandwich bread and threw it in the food processor)
-2-3tbs fresh sage chopped up (adjust for taste. I like pretty sagey meatballs.)
-2 cloves of garlic minced (I also like my food garlicky, so just use one or omit if you don’t.)
-2 teaspoons salt
-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-fresh grated parmesan or fontina
-tomato sauce (recipe below)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rub a 9×13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Combine the ground beef, garlic, ricotta, eggs, wine, bread crumbs, sage, salt, and red pepper flakes in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand until combined well.
  3. Roll the mixture into tightly packed, round balls. Place the balls in the baking dish in close rows. (They can be touching).
  4. Roast for 20 minutes.
  5. When the meatballs are firm and fully cooked, remove them from the oven. Pour the tomato sauce over them. Sprinkle the grated cheese over that. Return the meatballs to the oven and continue roasting for another 15 minutes.

Tomato Sauce
-5 tomatoes
-4 cloves garlic minced (I may have used six or so…)
-bunch of fresh herbs chopped (I used sage since that’s what I had on hand, but basil, oregano, and rosemary would all be good)
-1 cup red wine
-1 large onion chopped
-1 stick of butter
-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Use a knife to score the bottoms of the tomatoes with an x. Bring salted water in a medium saucepan to a boil. Add tomatoes and boil for five minutes.
  2. Remove tomatoes and pour out the water. Blend the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. (I usually chop my herbs in the food processor first and then add the tomatoes to the mixture).
  3. Heat a little olive oil in the pot. Add garlic and onions and heat until onions are translucent. Add tomato and herbs.
  4. Add red wine and butter.
  5. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted.

Some notes:

-Chop and mince everything possible in the food processor and it makes the process so much easier. With sauces and meat mixtures, you’re not looking for pretty.
-Serve with something better than barilla. That fancy imported pasta you never feel you can justify buying, a mound of hot, cheesy polenta, a bowlful of gnocchi. Just do it. It makes all the difference.
-I ended up with too much meatball meat and didn’t have any tomato sauce on hand when I pulled the leftover meat out of the freezer (which explains why the meatballs pictured above are sauce-less). I threw together some brown butter and sage for a sauce and grated a ton of cheese on top and it was almost as good. Almost.

Notes on love and meatballs

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None

 

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Spoiler alert for both Brooklyn and Master of None.

A while ago my sister and I left the babies with our husbands and went to one of those theaters where you can sip mojitos and gorge yourself on fried pickles while you watch your flick of choice. A truly indulgent, wholly recommended experience. We went to see Brooklyn, and even if there hadn’t been alcohol, greasy food, and the plushest of seats, the film would have still stayed with me long after I left the theater.

It’s the love story of an Irish immigrant named Eilis and an Italian-American boy named Tony, and it’s a simple, beautiful ode to the immigrants who built new lives in this country and, in doing so, helped build this country.

A few weeks after I saw the film, I binged the first season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s humorous but often dismal show centering on life as a millennial in New York. Watching the two of them side by side was like a comparative cultural study on young romance.

The first striking difference that caught my attention was how the leads meet in each. In Brooklyn, Eilis and Tony meet at a dance for the young Irish community–an event that is a means of providing a wholesome way for young men and women to foster friendships and courtships. There’s a good-natured priest chaperoning and the whole thing is completely devoid of drama. Afterwards, an innocently smitten Tony walks Eilis home and the scene is marked by their sweet conversation as they begin to get to know one another. In Anna Keating’s review over at The Catholic Catalogue, she notes how refreshing it is to witness a relationship unfolding unhampered by charmless technology there to complicate things.

The very first scene of Master of None depicts Ansari’s character, Dev, and a girl named Rachel in the midst of a hookup after having met at a bar earlier that evening. After the condom rips, they both panic and awkwardly sit in silence in the dark on their phones trying to find an Uber to take them to a convenience store where they can buy plan b for Rachel. When Dev insists on paying for the plan b pills, there’s a strange, inverted chivalry that stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned scene in Brooklyn. There’s more awkward silence in the cab and any dialogue they share painfully underscores how little they know or truly want to know one another.

Most excellently portrayed in both Brooklyn and in Master of None is the dilemma of commitment. Rachel reappears in Dev’s life several months after that first night. They eventually do date, have a long-term relationship, move in together, and talk about marriage. However, they’re both deeply fearful of marriage and have many inhibiting assumptions about it: that happy marriages are built on an easy love free of hesitation or fear and that saying yes to marriage means saying yes to a life of predictability and boredom. Ultimately, they are too scared to say no to other life possibilities, and so they are unable to say yes to one another.

In Brooklyn, when tragedy strikes Eilis’ family and she plans to return to Ireland for a short trip, Tony convinces her that they should get married. Despite her hesitations, Eilis happily agrees. When Eilis goes back to Ireland where nobody knows of her American marriage, she discovers that this place which previously didn’t offer her a hopeful future now does. She is forced like Dev and Rachel and all of us to choose between different possible lives. Unlike the characters in Master of None, however, Eilis has the courage to commit. And unlike in Master of None, there’s a lovely quiet implication that a good marriage is not boring and that people have a limitless depth to their being that makes committing yourself to one person an adventure in itself.

I think this excerpt from Carolyn Pirtle’s review of Brooklyn over at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal sums up well the tensions of having to make these life choices:

“What Brooklyn shows us is that, while it is possible to imagine a plethora of life scenarios in which one might be equally happy, it is also possible to choose—and not just possible, but necessary. For if you never say no to anything, you never really say yes to anything either. Saying yes to the one thing may mean saying no to all of the other things, but ultimately, it gives you the freedom to pour your entire self into prolonging that initial yes over the course of a life by affirming it over and over again.

And one more quote that I find apt and would like to share:

“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien

If I had to pick just one, I would whole-heartedly recommend Brooklyn as my movie night pick, but if you’re like me and enjoy thinking about cultural issues and social trends over a bowl of popcorn, I’d recommend both. Happy Monday!

Review: Brooklyn and Master of None