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.

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

Grace is everywhere

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

When I was fifteen, I very much wanted to be a nun tucked away in some quiet cloister in the mountains spending a life of contemplation and prayer. But if I did get married, I’d have ten well-behaved children, sew all their clothes, speak to them off and on in multiple languages (because I’d be fluent in like five of them, duh), and somehow still manage to chase my dreams of being a published author and wallpaper designer. And of course, we’d be living in a pretty little cottage in some foreign countryside. And I wouldn’t be frazzled and stressed. I would be the most peaceful and collected sweet dreamboat of a mother. I would actually somehow have my sh** together.

Well those potential futures were fun to idly dream about when time was hilariously ample and I should have been drilling myself on declensions and verb tenses. Needless to say I’m on a fast track to neither of those lives. Today, I spoke to my son half in English, half mirrored baby babble. I found a stain on my shirt that might be chocolate, might be poop. I have yet to change out that shirt. Or put my on contacts. Or get out of my jams. Oh and I definitely haven’t published a thing or designed any wallpaper.

I think if you would have given fifteen-year-old Dominika a real depiction of the mother she would become, she would have gone into mourning over the death of her imagined future self, and said in unison with a despairing Gerard Manley Hopkins, “AND WHAT DOES ANYTHING AT ALL MATTER!” But I’m at peace with all this.

There are certainly days when I’m not at peace with it. Days when it feels like my other dreams and ambitions outside of motherhood are increasingly slipping away. Days when I selfishly get frustrated that I actually have to watch my little adventurer like a hawk when just weeks ago his immobility meant I could get things done. Days when I question my parenting decisions because of all the judgment and expectations that seem to float around. Days when I fear having more children because of the fear of having more of these days.

But there’s a strange way in which this vocation of stay-at-home motherhood, which on one hand is so unlike what I desired, is, on the other hand, very much what I have desired all along. I wrote to a friend while I was pregnant that what I desired most about religious life when I was in high school was a quiet place to grow freely toward the light of God (Hopkins got me then too). And how in being pregnant, I got to be a quiet place for a new soul to grow toward the light of the world.

Since my son was born, more parallels between the cloistered life and this one spring up in little places. Like how being with him, really being with him and not being on my phone or computer, means contemplating beauty in places unlooked for: the grain of the underside of the coffee table or the delicious crunch of a plastic water bottle in his small hands.

Or how he shares with us the joy of simply existing in a community of love. Yesterday, before bed, we cuddled with him in our bed and our usually very uncuddly baby snuggled up to us and laughed and laughed anytime we did anything at all. He couldn’t handle us making faces at him or kissing him or even me just laying my head on his little belly. He just shrieked with the most glorious laughter over being with the two people he most loves and who love him the most.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of The Diary of a Country Priest: “Grace is everywhere.” Georges Bernanos’ novel is about the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a parish priest, and in the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a stay-at-home mother, these words remind me of how meaningful the achingly long moments of our days can be.

Grace is everywhere. Not just in religious communities. Not just in the life of the instagrammer whose feed most increases our jealousy. Not just in white washed minimalistic homes. If we look with eyes of love, we might see that transcendence abounds and beatific light washes over the crumbs and the messes and the crosses we carry.

My husband and I hope and pray for more laughing little babies, and with more, the days will get harder (and eventually I imagine easier in some ways), but right now I’m thankful for my quiet life with this one who forces me to be still and grow toward the light of God.

 

Grace is everywhere

more on the mystery of motherhood (or things you can’t prepare for)

motherhood-postpartum-poetry-reflections

I wasn’t prepared for the intense fleshiness and the intense poetics of it all.
For words witnessed by God and man, words of fidelity and love, to be made into the flesh of another human.
For body and soul to be crafted and to converge under my heart.

I wasn’t prepared to be assailed by a meteor shower of metaphors
for every flash of movement I felt within me,
for every red rippled mark that I found etched onto me,
for every glimpse I caught in reflection of that round and silent world I carried.

I wasn’t prepared to be struck dumb and made to submit a breathless fiat
as I was riven slowly and frighteningly.
But this sweet, damp, dark, purple thing emerged and I cradled him in my shudders and sobs and the room quieted in reverence.

And then I wasn’t prepared to have to learn to speak again,
because what words could I have found in the midst of such mysteries?
Conceiving and growing and birthing a child,
with sparks flying off the white hot welding of creation,
is, after all, close to something confoundedly divine.

But during the weeks of bathing in milk, in tears, in sweat, in blood,
and wanting so much to profanely kiss the scratched shower floor in gratefulness for the water that felt baptismal against my stretched skin and sore bones,
and during the weeks of awe over that small body hewn out of our bodies,
I remember how good it felt to say familiar, ancient words.
In that blurriness and bareness of newborn, new-mothering life,
They felt so whole, so nourishing
like daily bread.

more on the mystery of motherhood (or things you can’t prepare for)

Seven month sweetness

image

My little lion is seven months sweet and every time I touch his soft, tufted mane to my lips or am felled by his magnificent smile or hear a long string of onomatopoeias bubbling off his lips or watch him happily gagging himself on the legs of his best, his dearest friend, sophie the giraffe, I think I might die from joy. I love that we were all at one time seven months sweet.

 

Seven month sweetness

Four Mothers

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

 

This was meant for Mother’s Day but I like to consider of all May Mother’s Month. An ode to four mother’s I know and love:

Mamina

My mother always described growing up under communism as being gray and oppressive though as a kid, having been raised in America and then visiting Slovakia, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that. There were the greenest valleys under the bluest skies, the deepest forests out of which sprung up the most enchanting folktales, and the dreamiest hills topped with the most romantic castle ruins. But in my limited experience in adulting, I’ve come to realize some of the complexities of place and of personal happiness and that living in the mountains won’t solve everything as ten-year-old Dominika thought.

My mother left her parents and sisters to come here, a world away from her first home–a flat, tepid marsh covered in a patchwork quilt of gray highways and smokestacks. She got married, had a baby, and then had four more babies. She had to become a mother without her own mother and sisters to help. Now that I’m a mother, I find this unimaginable. Within a year of coming here, she suffered the loss of her father and had to grieve an ocean away from her family and without the consolation of witnessing and participating in those last rites and rituals the Church gives us.

But she gave me a beautiful childhood and my memories of growing up with my mother are of making homemade pizza with her, of taking trips to the library and having picnics, and of being picked up early from school every so often just because she thought I might need a break.

She’s the most joyful person I know. She finds hearts in everything, especially tree branches. She has few inhibitions about social decorum. She once walked into the St. Regis hotel for high tea with those disposable flipflops from a nail place because her nails were still wet. She will start dancing anywhere anytime if she hears a beat she can’t resist. As an adolescent, I found this all unbearable but now I find hilariously delightful and liberating. She always smells so good. So maternal. A mixture of perfume and housekeeping and love. She is closer to nature than anyone else I know. Prays more than anyone else I know. Preaches at her kids more incessantly than anyone else I know. And I’m so grateful she’s my mother.

Grandma

My father’s mother was a magnificent woman. My ideal woman. She was a nurse, a wife, a mother of seven children. When I think of her, I think of Arizona where she lived–sweet-smelling and full of warmth, adventure, and life.

She was so generous and loving with all people. She had over twenty grandchildren but still made each one feel uniquely loved. She would always tell people that I was a writer and that I would dedicate my first book to her. And I will if I should ever write one.

After she raised her children, she began hiking and hiked the Grand Canyon into her seventies. She traveled round the world making friends everywhere she went. When my mother once said that she couldn’t imagine her daughters getting married and having babies in their early twenties, my grandma laughed and said that having her seven children never stopped her from her achieving her dreams. And I needed to hear that. I so needed to hear that.

The last time I saw her, she was suffering from lung cancer. When I told her I was pregnant, she hugged me tight and told me she had to stay alive to meet my baby. But she passed away on the feast of the Assumption. Since her love for Mary was so great, the beauty of this was lost on no one.

I imagine now she is hiking through celestial canyons, canoeing down the Milky Way, and easily winning the saints and angels over to her friendship. (I readily admit that’s pretty dodgy theology but I think it’s safe to believe that Heaven is full of both adventure and friendship).

Stará mama

My stará mama. My mother’s mother. Another magnificent woman. Another one of my ideal women. She embodied the quote by Thomas Merton which I try to keep at the forefront of my mind in writing this blog and in living: “Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” 

After a life of toil, of moving away from her family to marry and live among strangers, of mothering four children, farming, living through wars and under communism, of working as a cleaning woman in a hospital, of building and making a home in the city alongside my mother’s father, of having two of her children leave for America, and then of being widowed, she lived quietly by the rhythm of her daily prayers and work. She maybe even more perfectly harmonized that balance between ora et labora than those in the cloister.

She loved her grandchildren and loved when we visited, but I imagine it was probably difficult for her to have rhythms upset by wild and wiggly children. I remember countless time being hushed and told, “stará mama spíííí!” while she was taking her daily nap.

The last time I saw her was when I stopped over in the motherland during my study abroad semester in college. There was plenty wonderful about the whole study abroad experience, but at that point in the semester, I was cold to the bone, didn’t remember the last time I had been hugged, and was tired of hearing a language that sounded like honking geese. And there my stará mama and my wonderful aunts were full of warm hugs with delicious treats up their sleeves for me. I lived like an eighty-year-old woman those two weeks. We woke up at 7am, took naps in the afternoon, said our rosary in the evening, watched an hour of television and went to bed by 9pm (me decked out in a Christmas sweater and my mom’s pajamas pants from when she was postpartum with my twin brothers because my stará mama deemed my jams not warm enough for May).

They were two of the best weeks of my life. I remember thinking that it was probably the last time I’d see her, and the sound of her rich voice carrying hymns throughout the house all day made my heart feel as though it would break from beauty.

My son’s godmother

When I had to choose a spiritual mother for my son, I immediately thought of this dear friend. We met during college freshman orientation and I didn’t realize then that becoming friends with her meant I was saying yes to an education in friendship. Just by being who she is, she’s taught me so much about what it means to choose (and keep choosing) a person for that “least natural of loves”.

Her earnest and infectious love for life reveals itself in a thousand ways particularly in the way that she gives gifts. During the process of wedding planning and then during pregnancy, I was pretty much just hoping all the time I spent crafting registries would pay off respectively in the forms of the pretty dishes I was coveting and the necessary but not gharish baby items I wanted. But this friend always seems to know what I truly need. As a wedding gift, she asked all the married couples she looked up to to write my husband and me letters with marriage advice. As a baby shower gift, she put together a stay-at-home date night kit replete with mini champagne bottles and chocolate.

And then there’s small gifts like when she brings me fresh cut rosemary. And then there’s the great gift of her conversations. I feel as though we have an on-going conversation that we pick up and leave off whenever we get together. A conversation on friendship, on vocation, on life dreams and goals that always leaves me high on hopefulness.

When I asked her to be my son’s godmother, she voiced her concerns about being his godmother and her vocation and how she might not be able to be physically present in his life. But I’m a great believer in godparenthood being able to transcend time and space and I don’t think the gift of self that she’s given me in our friendship will be denied to my child if her vocation calls her elsewhere.

And truly I feel that about all these women. I grieved with the passing of both my grandmothers that my son would never know them. But their gift of self is not bound by material limitations. There are two quotes that I find comforting particularly in regard to the death of loved ones but also in regard to physical separation of any kind. I would offer commentary but I really think they’re left best speaking for themselves:

“Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for time, because it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone.”
-St. Edith Stein

“But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
-Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

A happy May to all the beautiful mothers, physical or spiritual, from all time and space.

Four Mothers