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.

Wednesday’s Words

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Last week was staycation thus the blogging silence, but it was a heavy-hearted one with all the turmoil in our country. I found this to be a good reminder that even when you’re at a loss for words and just hold your baby and quietly pray for peace, it’s okay to delight in the slobbery kisses he plants all over your face.

Painting: Vase of Roses, Henri Fantin Latour, 1872

Wednesday’s Words

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

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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

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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

To be a mother is to ache

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I wanted to be a mother.
I wanted soft skin to nibble on,
warm, small bodies to wear in lovely maternal wraps,
eager, young hearts to teach to love the true, the good, the beautiful.

I just didn’t want to be so achingly tired.
I didn’t want my dreams to be dashed.
I didn’t want my body to be irrevocably altered.
I didn’t want my time to be reduced to nothing.

I thought of woman after woman
surrendering their bodies and lives,
doing these common acts of
carrying and waiting;
most now buried and turned to dust;
their stories forgotten though
they bore and bear history forward.

When I looked at that plastic stick,
it’s two lines rechristening me:
mother,
I didn’t realize what giving my body for
the tiniest of lives would mean.

That to be a mother is to ache, to be dashed, irrevocably altered, and reduced to nothing.
But then to be remade.

Until I unworthily waited for and carried the weight of life,
I couldn’t fathom that for a person to be a whole universe for a person is to defy time and space.
To grow great and magnificently spherical with a wild changeling;
with a momentary rosebud, tadpole, whirlwind, pugilist but always
person fated to be an
immortal horror or everlasting splendor
is the most unbearable and beautiful
mystery.

To be a mother is to ache

The things they don’t tell you

 

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They tell you it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. They tell you how mundane and unfulfilling it will be to be a mother at a tossed-away age of twenty-three.

But they fail to tell you about those wondrous, fleeting gifts you will be given:

How his earliest self will seem almost otherworldly as he moves in frail slow motion and stares with calm contemplative eyes.

How his newborn cries will sound like the bleating of a lamb and how his hair will remind you of a baby bird’s feathers.

How when you bring his tiny body up against you to burp, he’ll start suckling innocently and delightfully on your shoulder.

•••

And for all the trials you are set to face, they tell you “this too shall pass”, but they don’t tell you how many things must pass before you understand that to be true.

The waves of tears and nightmares. The anxiety that pulls you in a hazy half-asleep panic to find him and touch him and make sure he is alive.

The excruciating cries in the early morning as air works through the tight maze of his intestines.

The frantic fearfulness you feel each night as you descend into a deep sleepless abyss.

The agony of latching him, tiny-mouthed and tired onto your raw, red breast.

•••

They tell you that your life will never be the same again. That it’s monotonous and messy. They offer these words sympathetically as if you are willingly choosing a promethean fate.

And perhaps you are.

To have the ever-growing weight of another person attached to your chest and to clean his soiled self again and again as a consequence for bringing his eternal soul into the world might be appropriately likened to being chained to a cliff side and having a vulture come peck at your liver over and over again as a consequence for bringing Olympian fire into the world.

•••

They tell you to pursue your dreams and live your life first. As though it will be extinguished rather than transfigured.

They are right, though, in implying that birth is a death.

At an hour unknown, a cleaving of bodies and the emergence of a little soul out of the dark into unbearable brightness.

A day that stands as a door to daily death for your once sleepy self. A day, a door to newborn, new-found life as someone’s, some whole person’s mother.

The things they don’t tell you