written in community during renee long’s write for joy challenge
Now that Iris is going to bed and staying asleep for longer stretches, I have started sewing again at night and on Sundays. Lyle put in a tile floor and baseboard in the downstairs office, and it’s now a pleasant place to work, with a baby gate in the doorway to keep tiny hands from getting into sharp or spillable things. It feels good to pick up projects I’d put down in late pregnancy. I’m feeling the pull of spring’s energy and wanting to make a fresh start, so I’m taking stock of the fabric I have and the projects I had planned. I want to finish the projects I like, decide which ones to let go of, and offer the extra fabric in our neighborhood Buy Nothing group. I realized recently that I feel less motivated to sew when I have too many projects in the queue, or unused fabric sitting around with no plan for it. So I’m setting a goal of September 1st to either use it or lose it. For fun and accountability, here’s what I made in 2020 and what I’d like to make in 2021.
Tiny mice in a cigar box house! I absolutely loved making these for my friend’s son Henrik. This pattern is superb. I nested them in a little cigar box with a quilt and pillows made from scrap fabric. They sleep in their little box under his bed. This just delights me.
Cloth napkins in beige calico quilting cotton. I just whipped these up last weekend to add to our basket. We use these every night at dinner and the kids like setting the table.
Flannel cloth wipes. There is something so satisfying about making a stack of these multi-purpose squares! I just cut two squares about 4×4, sew right sides together leaving a gap to turn them back out, then stitch again around all four edges to catch that gap and provide some durability. We keep a basket next to the kids’ sink for drying hands, and a basket on the changing table along with a thermos of warm water for wipes. They go into a lidded 5 gallon bucket in the hallway, and a few times a week I wash them with kitchen rags, on hot with bleach and an extra rinse.
Pink fleece poncho for Sky. I used this Simplicity 8428 pattern but it didn’t turn out quite how I’d hoped. I originally sewed it as a cover up for before/after ballet class (it even has little ballerina buttons at the collar!) but she only got to wear it a few times before classes were canceled due to Covid. It turned out to be a fun layer for spring weather. (I’m not sure why Robin is so sad in this picture!)
Mermaid dress for Sky. I measured and remeasured and it still came out too large for her! Hoping it fits this summer. This was a pattern we picked out because she wanted to wear a sleeveless dress. We compromised with a “cold shoulder” design.
Rocker Trapper Hats for the family. I thought these were awesome but so far only me and Robin wear them! Sky and Lyle think they are a little too goofy for regular use. I love mine! First time sewing a hat.
Pencil rolls for Sky and her cousin Ella. I loved this tutorial– so easy! Used scraps from the mermaid dress project.
Circle skirts for Sky, Juniper, and Ella. I used this basic pattern and this tutorial to get the sizing right, then this tutorial to learn how to make a round hem using bias tape. Sky loves her two skirts! I made them in a blue print with fairies, and a light blue with popsicles. They used a ton of fabric but since she gets so much wear from them, I don’t mind.
Lots and lots of masks! I used this video tutorial. Originally I intended to make batches of 25 for Sew to Save, but each time I got started on a batch I ended up giving most of them away to friends and neighbors. This design with adjustable ties isn’t for everyone. I’ll admit I usually reach for an easy to wear one with elastic myself, but it was a great option when there was a run on 1/4 inch elastic at the beginning of the pandemic.
Bookmarks. I made monogrammed bookmarks to go with books as gifts for Christmas. I had fun using up my linen scraps and trying out the embroidery stitches on my sewing machine.
Made by Rae Ruby Tunic in linen. I love this so much! I got a lot of wear from this in the summer before my belly got too big. Unfortunately it’s not nursing-friendly, so it will likely sit in my closet this summer. I just love this print.
- Butterick/ See & Sew Long nightgown in sparkly unicorn flannel (for Sky). This needs to get done ASAP because it’ll be too hot to wear otherwise. I planned to finish this for Christmas, and almost have the bodice done, but got stuck on the part where I need to attach the shoulders to the bodice.
- Two Afternoon Dresses by Jennifer Lauren Handmade in quilting cotton prints (for me). I have two pretty prints I bought to make shift dresses last summer, at 2 yds each. I settled on this pattern because it looks relatively simple, and nursing friendly. BUT it calls for more than 2 yards. I’m hoping I can piece the remaining fabric together with some contrasting cottons. If not, it has an option to shorten into blouses. I’d love to finish these by July.
- Miniature cats and cigar box house using fabric scraps (for Sky). I’d love to get this done in time for her birthday June 3rd! I meant to make them for her in September when I made Henrik’s mice, and then got busy with homeschool and horrible pregnancy nausea.
- Matchbox car play-and-carry roll using fabric scraps (for Robin). Hoping to finish this by Sky’s birthday, too.
- Short nightgown in fairy print flannel (for Sky). I’m looking for a super simple (and free!) tutorial or pattern for this print. This could happen later.
- Diaper covers in blue floral PUL (for Iris). I’m using an out-of-print Babyville pattern. Putting this low on the list, but hoping to get done before end of summer, so I can return the button pliers to my neighbor! I have had them for way too long.
- Flannel storyboard figures for two stories. I had such lofty ambitions of making a bunch of figures for our little preschool co-op. I checked out a wonderful book from the library with patterns, songs, and stories, but between pregnancy and newborn days, it never happened. It almost hurts to look at the big box of felt I ordered. Setting the bar low will hopefully get me to just make something already.
Rewards for finishing above projects:
Forager Vest by Sew Liberated. Big pockets! I wear my parka with roomy pockets evrey day, and have so many useful things in them like chapstick, tissues, a notebook and pencil, my pocket devotional, masks, etc. I need something similarly utilitarian for the warmer months.
North Country dress from Taproot.
Fabric to use or give away before purchasing any more:
- Cream sherpa (1.75 yds). I bought this to line the Trapper hats, but had to buy more than I needed to reach minimum purchase.
- Lemons on blue background (2 yds) quilter’s cotton. I LOVE this Geranium Dress pattern from Made by Rae and haven’t tried it yet.
- Odds and ends of yellow and white polka dot seersucker. I can’t really tell how much I have here so will try to piece it out with a pattern for a summer tank, or a shift dress in this New Look pattern I’ve sewn before for Sky.
- White background with red pin dots (1.5 yds) and white background with blue pin dots (2 yds). I have an apron-style dress pattern from Butterick that can also be made into a top and bottom set. The size only goes up to 5T, so it may be something for Iris or for a friend.
- Blue and pink calico print (2.5 yds). It’s too busy for clothing, so I’ll probably use it to make more cloth napkins for gifts. This is an easy project I can do while listening to a podcast.
- Navy blue linen blend (1 yd @ 52″ width). Not sure what I could do with this.
- Botanical linen (1 yd) left from tunic project. I might make an apron.
“I’m going to the library, who wants to come?” I call into the yard, jingling the car keys.
“I do! I do!” my big kids yell, racing to climb into their carseats.
“I want to get my noodle book!” Sky says excitedly, thinking of the next Noodlehead graphic novel waiting for her on the holds shelf.
“I want anudder race car book,” Robin adds.
I smile at my children’s excitement, even though it makes me a little sad, too. Pre-pandemic, a trip to the library was much more than a quick ten-minute drive to the curbside pickup. We used to spend hours at our local branch a few times a week, chatting with friends at story time and adding books to our bag until it overflowed. Sky loved to choose a few I Can Read books and sit on a stool in the corner by the window, looking at the pictures while I chased Robin through the stacks and retrieved my holds.
Now they don’t even get out of the car when I park in front of the library. I pull my mask on over my eyes, turning around in my seat to ask if I’ve got it on right. They laugh but tell me to hurry and get their books. At the library window, I try to say my name as clearly as I can through the fabric, and the librarian returns with our stack– the noodle book, the race car book, some books on ballet, an Eye Spy book, and Upstream and Coming Full Circle for me. I try to smile with my eyes as I thank the librarian and say goodbye.
My kids want to hold their books on the drive home, and when we get there they both hurry inside, sit on the couch, and start reading. Like so many other times in this past year of closures and absences, I find a small win to celebrate.
They are still delighted by books. They still love the library enough to want to be in close proximity to it, even if they can’t go inside. We’ve lost the wonderful experience of wandering through the aisles and choosing whatever looks interesting that day, but we’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the books we carefully choose, place on hold, and then wait for. We check out fewer books, but we keep them longer and savor them more. It makes me happy to see that books seem to matter to my kids as much as they’ve mattered to me since I was their age.
I remember my mom taking my sister and me to the library before we could read. I remember the way it smelled– a mix of the big eucalyptus trees outside, the ocean air, and that unmistakable book smell all libraries have. There was the crinkling sound of the books in their library jackets, the light pouring through the huge windows in the fiction room where my mom browsed, and the freedom she gave us to wander wherever we wanted as she chose books for herself. I loved gathering my own stack of books for the week.
Reading has always been tied up with the thingness of books, and the place where books are, but during the long stretch of time when there was no hold service, I bought an e-reader so I could check out e-books from the library or buy them from our local booksellers. It’s made it possible for me to read more during these early months with a newborn. It’s small and light enough to hold while nursing Iris or wearing her in the sling as she naps. I can even read in the bathtub. It’s also making it easier for me to take notes as I read, because I can add digital highlights and then transfer them to a word document later.
As a child and later as a teen and young adult, I read for hours. As a mother, I probably spend more time reading to my children, but I try to make sure they see me reading my own books, too. “Are you reading in your mind, Mama?” Sky asks me. She’s not quite reading on her own yet, and I’m excited for the day when she discovers the pleasure of reading to herself.
Reading connects me to the world outside the borders of home and children, and the person I am in addition to “Mom.” It keeps me grounded and makes me more receptive to ideas for poems and essays. I read before I could write, and I think it’s part of what made me a writer. I know it’s made me who I am today, and I can’t wait to see what role reading plays in my children’s lives as they grow.
There’s something magical about a live performance. It’s in the anticipation, the not-knowing what will take shape in the meeting space between performer and viewer. It’s in the expectant hush in a crowd just before the lights go up, and the electricity you can still feel as you leave the venue, noticing all that the performance stirred up inside you. In these endless pandemic days, it feels like another lifetime when Lyle and I would go see live shows regularly. Even with small children at home, we used to make an effort to hire a babysitter, get out of the house, and take in a concert, play, or reading, at least a few times a year. I love being in the audience, participating in the excitement of creative exchange.
But actually getting up on a stage and performing? That’s a tall order for an introvert (albeit a very social one) like me. I am uncomfortable being the center of attention. Growing up, I played small roles in community theater (a fuzzy lamb in Charlotte’s Web, an orphan extra in Annie), and sang soprano in choir. I loved being part of the electric spark of live performances– but only when I could disappear into a crowd.
Fast-forward several decades to college, when I hosted author events at an indie bookstore. I would carefully prepare an introduction, practicing all week before getting behind the mic to tell the audience about the writer and writing they were about to hear. It was a tiny bookstore, a tiny crowd, yet no matter how much I rehearsed or how many pep talks I gave myself, my hands always shook holding my notes as I read. I felt embarrassed by this visible evidence of my nervousness, but also determined to keep putting myself in front of a crowd in the service of something I loved.
And I really love the power of the written word.
This Saturday, I’m participating for the third time in Ruminate Magazine‘s Happenings: a week-long fundraising event in which Ruminate contributors go live on the Internet to create art on-demand for ticket-holders. (Get yours here.)
The first year, I felt simultaneously intimidated and honored by the email invitation then-Poetry Editor Kristin George Bagdanov sent, asking me to show up and offer some “spontaneous ruminations.” I loved and respected her work as a poet and editor, and felt humbled that she would invite me. I thought about all the ways I’d felt supported and inspired by Ruminate in the five years I’d been writing for them, from the personalized way their editors engaged with my work and communicated with me, to the intentional ways they invited me into a deeper conversation with other writers and readers.
And I thought about how good it would be to push myself outside my comfort zone and invite viewers to share in the creative process. I was genuinely curious: what would it be like to write for others, in front of an audience?
Terrifying! said a tiny voice inside. This is a terrible idea!
But a stronger voice said, This is an amazing growth opportunity! DO IT.
I sat with the terrified voice for about 30 seconds before responding, “YES.”
The truth is, as I’ve grown in my craft, it has become less and less important that I feel a little scared about making a fool of myself, when I’m sharing my love for the creative spirit– that thing that makes your hair stand on end when you see a painting, hear a song, or read a poem and feel this sense of, “That’s me. I’m connected to this. I’m part of something bigger.”
I’ve learned that even though I almost always feel anxious before getting up in front of a crowd, whether or not I can see individual faces, as soon as I begin reading a poem, all of that dissolves away. In connecting to the power of poetry, to the compelling magic I’ve been drawn to since childhood, I disconnect from my attachment to this tiny version of myself. And it’s such a relief.
Maybe that sounds grandiose or strange. I’m not even sure I’m very “good” at performance. It doesn’t really matter. What matters to me, and why I’ve continued saying, “YES”– to Ruminate‘s invitation each year, and to other opportunities to grow as a writer– is that there’s always more to discover about the creative spirit, when I choose to use my gifts in the service of something I love.
I still feel scared. I’ve never used Instagram Live, the platform Ruminate has chosen for this year’s Happenings. I now have three children, including an 8-week old, and it’s going to be hard to carve out even one hour away from them this Saturday. As much as I know I’ll enjoy myself during that hour of creating, I’m also really looking forward to 11 am, when it’ll all be behind me, at least for another year.
And, I’m also excited to see what happens this time. To have the experience of showing up in front of a blank page, tapping into poetry-mind, and being surprised by what I find out as I write. Though I don’t know yet what I’ll write, I know the creative spirit will meet me, as it always meets us when we take a risk and just show up.
I hope to see you there!
Once there was a child grown
on the edge of fields where she fell
in love with the smell of chaparral and sage,
gravel-pilfered crater of an old volcano,
lake calming the blight
of quarry, alluvial clay and silt
hardened into trails, in grasses
left unmowed, where the dog
rummaged for rabbits. The houses
came closer, coyote tracks patterned
the yards, remnants of night’s
near howling, and once, a memory:
leaving the sensible
streetlamps, the child went
with flashlight and family
to lake’s edge, searching the beam
for a clutch of mallard ducklings
they’d released that day,
after days of keeping the dog indoors,
watching for mother duck
who never showed, ushering soft
peeping into a fruit crate, mistake,
or was it, sending them out un-
mothered, unwild? Still
now, decades on, the child-not-child
feels the lake settling, rising
in the midst of that dwindling
open space, the stars hemming the place
where streets ended, the clicking of bats
overhead, the crickets
sewing themselves to sleep, the dark
lake-not-lake holding them
somehow at home. To carry that
back in the empty box, thumping
the sides of her mind, its subdivisions
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “280 Words.”
We welcomed our third baby, Iris, a few days before the new year. With an active 5-year-old and a busy 3-year-old in the house, the newborn stage isn’t exactly new to us, but it’s so easy to forget about the stage your child just exited as you focus on the new challenges at hand. There have been plenty of things I’d forgotten about pregnancy, birth, and the early post-partum/ teeny-baby weeks.
Somehow, Iris is already one month old. Time is flying, and the days are full, so I wanted to get some notes down before some of these realizations slip away into the blur of our baby’s first year. It can be an intensely stuff-laden time period, so while I’ve mostly linked to stores in this post, it helps your wallet and the environment to check your local consignment store or Buy Nothing group before purchasing something new.
his is my first post experimenting with Amazon affiliate links, a step I’ve been wary about up until now. That means that if you see something you like here and use one of my Amazon links to make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage. Maybe, like me, your Amazon purchasing has sky-rocketed during the pandemic. While I still try to buy locally as much as possible, particularly with books, I’m also trying to give myself a little grace on this front during a challenging season of motherhood.
UPDATE: June 7. Since publishing this post I have become more aware of just how damaging Amazon is for bodies and small business. I’ve canceled my affiliate account and replaced all Amazon links in this post with direct links to businesses. I felt a little wary about becoming an affiliate in the first place, but I had fallen into a routine of heavy reliance on Amazon during the pandemic, and since so many bloggers I admire use affiliate links, I wanted to try it. I’m now taking baby steps toward actively resisting Amazon. This is not to shame anyone for their consumer choices or blogging choices: for many of us, there’s simply no alternative, and that’s part of the problem. Similarly, the Internet has transformed the way writers are compensated for their labor, and I don’t begrudge ANYONE making a little extra money for their family by linking to things they love and recommend. This is the choice that makes the most sense for me.
Below you’ll find my favorites for parents and baby, plus a section at the end for fitting three car seats in a smallish car.
- Invest in a few good pairs of leggings and overalls. For me, most maternity pants with panels just didn’t stay up. Remembering my irritation with all pants in my previous pregnancies, this time I bit the bullet and bought two pairs of Storq leggings. They were worth the extra money because I never had to yank them up, and they haven’t pilled or snagged. I liked them so much I also bought a pair of overalls and a nursing caftan (on sale!), and all four items are working well postpartum.
- Maternity jackets are worth it. I love this coat because it has zippers on the side, so it doubles as non-maternity wear. I wore it unzipped during the third trimester, and it’s large enough now to wrap around Iris in the Moby wrap, or zip up the sides for a cozier fit. With my son I wore a vest similar to this, but had given it away thinking he was our last baby. Either way, a roomy outer layer is helpful for fall and winter babes in colder climates!
- Look for maternity tops with buttons or flaps. During pregnancy, I bought a bunch of tunics and t-shirts that don’t work for nursing, and so have had to buy additional nursing tops and pajamas. Whoops. In hindsight, I wish I had paid attention to whether the maternity items I bought were nursing-friendly! I love these jammies. For me, it has been worthwhile to have 6-7 nursing-friendly pajama tops because nursing can be messy, and who has time for more laundry with a newborn in the house?
- Yes, you do need slip-on shoes. I was so tired during the third trimester, the thought of buckling or tying my own shoes made me weep. I got these cute Target leopard-print slip-ons on impulse when buying diapers, and I LOVE them. They’re helpful postpartum because I can get them on while baby-wearing without having to bend over.
- Opt for gentle postpartum support. Iris was born “military presentation,” (such a weirdly inappropriate name for the position of a baby being born) so I got a referral to a physical therapist. On her advice, I stopped wearing my lovely womb wrap (which is easy to tie too tight, and can also be a bit cumbersome) and instead got a pair of these Target leggings and this gentle belly band. I love both. It can be worthwhile to see a PT early on to get advice tailored to your specific post-birth anatomy. I wish I had done so after my previous births. Apparently the ever-popular Velcro Belly Bandit type supports can be too restrictive in the immediate postpartum for some people, especially if you don’t have much abdominal separation. You want support, but with enough flexibility to let your organs move back into place. (The pregnant body is amazing.)
- All the breastfeeding stuff. Some breastfeeding people just tend to be more prone to plugged ducts, and unfortunately I seem to be one of them: by this time postpartum with my son, I’d already developed mastitis. This time around, I am trying to be proactive about prevention. I take Wish Gardens’ Happy Ducts tincture several times a day when I feel a plugged duct developing. Iris is going on two nights sleeping in her Sleep Pea swaddle in the bassinet, but I bring her into our bed around 3 a.m. to co-sleep. I alternate sides of the bed so I don’t squish one breast more than the other. I tend toward oversupply and leak a lot in the first few months. Disposable nursing pads always ended up sticking to me and being a soggy mess, but these reusable shaping nursing pads keep me dry and hold their shape after multiple journeys through the washer and dryer. I’ll also put in a vote for having MANY sleep bras (I like Majamas) and multiple large water bottles and burp cloths. Leave full water bottles and clean burp cloths all over the house so you’re never far from hydration when you sit down to nurse.
- Be flexible and open-minded on sleep. Have multiple options in mind, and don’t be afraid to try again later. With our first baby, we tried swaddling and putting her down in her bassinet for a few nights early on. When she screamed and cried, we figured that was that, and never tried it again. We ended up co-sleeping for far longer than I wanted to, and felt like we had no choice but to sleep train when she hit the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. (I didn’t even know that was a thing. Rookie mom mistake.) The second time around, we got a little braver and tried different things earlier. We even returned to previous strategies before we found something that worked for our son. (A Magic Merlin suit.) This third time, we’ve started introducing her to independent sleep from the get-go. She’s sleeping in her bassinet in the Sleep Pea swaddle as I type this, and I am fairly giddy with hope. TL;DR: Every baby is different, there are lots of different ways to help babies sleep well and safely, and it’s okay to do a mix of things until you find a rhythm.
- Pajamas forever. Iris is our second winter babe, and this time I know there’s no reason to change her out of footie pajamas. Except maybe a super cute photo op. That said, I prefer footie jammies with snaps for 0-3 months, and zippers around 4-6 months: zippers are much easier, but they bunch up and hit baby in the chin in small sizes.
- Try and use several types of baby carrier. Being able to “wear” Iris means I have more options for getting her the sleep she needs when I need to chase after my little 3-year-old escape artist. I like using a soft wrap carrier like the classic Moby or Baby K’tan for the first six months, and a more structured carrier when baby is bigger and has better head control. We have an orange woven Chimparoo Trek that we used for our first two babies, and I love its simplicity. Also, different body types feel more comfortable with different carriers. My husband, who has a long torso, really loved the Lillebaby structured carrier with our son, but it was waaaay too long for me. Likewise, he couldn’t fit into the Baby K’tan carrier I loved. This time around, we both love using the Moby wrap. Having multiple carriers can get spendy, so check consignment for used gear. Carriers tend to be used so briefly that most used ones still have a ton of life in them.
- Cloth diapering doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Plenty of folks get intimidated by cloth diapers and never try it. There are good reasons for this: it can be expensive to invest in the quantity of diapers needed to cloth diaper full-time, and you need enough bulk in order to launder them effectively. It can be time-consuming. It takes time to find the style you like best. The good news is, you can cloth diaper part-time and still get the benefit of reducing your impact on the environment, and saving money in the long run. (And, babies with fluffy cloth diaper butts are so cute.) Depending on where you live, you can also outsource the laundry! We use Tidee Didee diaper service, which picks up our used pre-folds and drops off a clean stack once a week. We have 6-7 covers in different sizes (these and these are my faves), and we just wipe them out between changes and wash them with our towels once or twice a week. I do a hot wash with bleach and an extra rinse. We use cloth napkins at meals, and rags for cleanups, so we’re used to doing regular towel loads. This time we’re trying out cloth wipes as well, with water from an insulated pump thermos on the changing table. We also use disposable diapers and wipes. No big deal. It doesn’t have to be black and white.
Bonus: A Word on Carseats and Fitting 3-Across
We have a 2015 Honda CR-V, and figuring out a safe 3-across has taken a lot of effort. During the pandemic, safety events and carseat clinics were canceled, and stores stopped allowing families to try floor models. I read blog posts from the Carseat Lady and Carseats for the Littles, and joined several Facebook groups to get advice. Many posts and commenters insisted that the 2015 CR-V has overlapping seatbelts, and therefore can’t safely accommodate a 3-across. Turns out, this isn’t true for all 2015 models, including ours– but it’s still tricky.
After many emails and phone calls, we found a carseat technician at a hospital safety center who was able to counsel us over email, then follow up with a socially-distanced fit check at the hospital. We settled on two Baby Trend Troopers and our Graco Tranzitions convertible carseat. We put Robin, our 3-year-old, forward-facing in one Trooper on the passenger side, and Iris, our newborn, rear-facing in the second Trooper in the middle seat. Sky, our 5.5-year-old rode in the Graco in harness mode behind the driver. This was technically safe and possible– but in practice it kind of sucked. It was really hard to get the Trooper to adjust down small enough for the baby, and with the seat in the middle, it meant a lot of awkward wrangling– usually in the pouring rain while all three children wailed.
Onward to our next attempt, which is a Chicco Fit2 infant seat for Iris on the passenger side, Robin in the Trooper behind the driver, and Sky in the middle in a RideSafer travel vest. (The vest is great because Sky feels like a parachuter in it, it can be used in cars and planes, and it eliminates the need for a booster. Great for carpooling or two-household families!) This is a little better because I can load Iris into her seat indoors and just click her in– but Sky feels a little cramped in the middle of two car seats.
After all that, three new carseats and one travel vest later, we are somewhat reluctantly looking into buying a used minivan. It’s not that we have anything against minivans, we were just hoping to avoid the expense, and thought we’d save some money by investing in the right car seats. Oh well!
UPDATE: We bought a used Sienna minivan and it is an absolute dream. Now using a Trooper and an Evenflo Big Kid high back booster in the back row, with the baby in the Fit2 in the drivers’ side middle row.
My 5-year-old loves Valentine’s Day. What’s not to like? Hearts, cards and coloring, plenty of gluestick and stickers, pink and red, cupcakes, and candy. Pretty much all of her favorite things. Much like Target and Walmart, she has been preparing for this since, oh, the day after Halloween.
It’s too bad her mom is something of a Valentine’s Day scrooge.
In my defense, I think it’s a lot of pressure to put on one day. I love my husband, but planning and getting dressed up for A Romantic Date is just a recipe for disappointment for us. Not because he isn’t romantic, or because we hate flowers and chocolate. I am a huge fan of flowers, chocolate, and said husband. And for the record, at this point in what feels like a decades-long pandemic, we’d love the chance to have a kid-free conversation somewhere clean while wearing unstained clothes. In terms of my marriage, it’s the prescriptive nature of the Valentine’s Day formula that gets to me, because what makes us feel connected as a couple, what leads to feelings of happiness and “being in love” fluctuates so much from day to day and year to year.
I’ve long felt this way about February 14, but I’ve felt it especially keenly this year, when the news has been rife with escalating hate and hostility. Early on in the pandemic, our church began calling the practice of wearing a mask and staying six feet apart compassionate distancing, emphasizing how these seemingly-small habits are about protecting others as much as they’re about protecting ourselves. For me, it’s this shift in terminology that encapsulates the heart-change our country desperately needs.
It’s the narrowness of the Valentine ideal of love that feels woefully inadequate. I need– and maybe as a country, we need– to honor so much more than just romantic love. And I need to honor it for more than the space of a day. So this February, I am going to try to intentionally spend time each day reflecting on and practicing the kind of selfless, active love Jesus came to teach, the love that shows up in the bible as agape: “the love of God for humankind and of humankind for God.” And to keep from taking myself too seriously, I’m inviting my kids to join me, and I’m inviting you, too.
I recently finished reading Bishop Michael Curry’s book Love is the Way, after getting hooked on his “Way of Love” podcast this fall. The Way of Love is a set of practices the Episcopal church developed under Bishop Curry’s guidance, meant to help modern Christians follow Jesus in today’s world. The practices have been incredibly helpful to me, as an Episcopalian who feels like I’m always just starting out, just barely beginning to know Jesus. In this season of sleep deprivation and young children, where it feels like we’re always hovering just on the brink of chaos, I’ve been clinging to a shorthand from Bishop Curry, via Martin Buber.
How can I practice following Jesus– how can I practice agape love– in such a way as to move “from me to we”? How do I move toward I-Thou in an I-It world?
To put this into a framework my 5-year-old and 3-year-old can understand, this month we’ve been talking as a family about “big Love” at the dinner table. Lest you think we’re getting deep over here, let me assure you these are quick conversations. My son eats a few bites of dinner, I get a few words in edge-wise, and then he’s off on his usual, exasperating mid-dinner mad dash around the living room, naked. Sigh. This is why kids are the best spiritual teachers for moms like me who tend to let Pinterest get the best of them.
Nevertheless, here’s what we’ve come up with. Paraphrasing the Great Commandment in Matthew, we’ve talked about how Jesus says the most important thing we can do is to love God with everything we’ve got. And the next most important thing is to love ourselves and other people, plants, and animals as best we can. This includes even people, plants, and animals we don’t like very much. (Jesus doesn’t mention plants and animals but to me the spirit of the verse is there.) Then we asked our kids what kinds of things they’d like to do next month to celebrate that kind of love.
We’ve talked a lot about Mama Earth as a family, to cut the whining about things like using both sides of the paper and walking instead of driving to the library. So my daughter immediately suggested that we pick up trash and make some art out of things in the recycling bin. “And mama, you don’t have to wait for one special day to take care of the earth,” she exclaimed earnestly. “We can do it tomorrow!” (Be still my over-achieving heart, something I said sunk in!) I wrote her ideas on the list, and added a litter-picker to my Amazon cart (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while anyway.)
Here are some of the other ideas we have. A fellow writer recently introduced me to the idea of “floor and ceiling goals,” so I’m dividing this into bare minimum practices and more aspirational ones. (We’ve got three kids under five, I am barely sleeping, and my word for the year is grace. I will be happy if we manage even one of these. ) Please add your own ideas in the comments, and let me know if you decide to practice a whole month of Love, too.
Give thanks to God before dinner
Practice using our “reset” buttons when we hurt or yell at each other
Try out a self-compassion meditation for kids with Headspace
Make and mail cards to people we love
Paint rocks with hearts, prayers, and encouraging messages; hide them around the neighborhood.
Share some of our saved sunflower seeds with our neighbors
Read about a plant or animal that scares us and see if we can appreciate something about them
Take a walk at the pond near our house and pick up trash
Learn about a new non-profit and make a donation
Bring food to All Saints for our neighbors who are hungry
Read books, sing songs or learn poems about loving ourselves
Practice one new habit to take better care of our bodies.
Write in our prayer journals together (Sky has this one; I have the “forgiveness” version of this one)
Practice praying for our enemies/ sending them lovingkindness (personally I want to spend some time praying for and learning about folks on the other side of the political divide)
Try to do something kind for someone in our family each day
Leave a chalk message of love on a sidewalk near our house
Set up and fill our Little Free Library with books (we have a kit ready to go, but this feels waaaay ambitious, and I’d be delighted if it happened this month)
Choose and give away some possessions in our Buy Nothing group
With kids in our pandemic pod, make and mail a big thank-you card to Governor Kate Brown
Learn about animals, plants, or people who are struggling and make a list of ways we could help
Send some flowers to friends we know who are sick or sad
Make a map of the garden we want to plant this spring
Practice one new habit to take better care of Mama Earth
Find ways to thank the people who help us– doctors, people who deliver groceries and packages, our priest
The sunrise is red through the blinds and somehow the baby is four weeks old.
There’s no margin between days. Instead the sound of feet running down the hallway, the door creaking open and two small voices saying good morning in the dark. Someone reaches a hand into the quiet nest of the bed and the baby stirs next to the mother, stretches and curls tiny arms and legs, and someone trips on a twist of clothes on the floor and hits their head on the bed’s edge and now they’re howling. It’s seven in the morning, as loud with need and newness as seven the night before.
The sunrise is red but the day will be dark, low with clouds and the threat of snow. They will all be in the house again together, and now the father is grinding coffee, and the five-year-old is spinning and jumping across the floor, a slept-in tangle of hair at the back of her head. She approximates ballet moves from a video lesson emailed each week– a teacher she’ll never meet, classmates scattered across states–What does échappé mean, mama? Watch me, watch this!
There’s no margin between days and the mother rubs sleep from her eyes, tries to access the part of her brain that once knew French. She holds her third baby to her breast with one hand while the father puts a cup of coffee in the other hand. This is love’s language– a cup of coffee, a look exchanged.
The sunrise is red and the father is tired, but he picks up the middle child so he can see, too, this boy too suddenly big beside the new baby, whose feet move too fast for the rest of him, who says I fell down every night when they recount the day’s roses and thorns. Why it have those poky things, mama? he asks in the yard, little eyebrows furrowed at the one pink bud on the bush. Why does every sweet thing come with some pain, why does sun make shadows, how does the year behind us still trail its weight into this one?
There’s no margin between days or years and the baby was born at the threshold of both. The mother knows her own tendency to will time forward, tries to root herself down into this day, its shapes and sounds.
Somehow the baby is four weeks old and there will never be another first month with a baby again, each first becoming one last time. Soon enough she’ll sleep, and she’ll sleep, and he’ll sleep. They’ll have conversations longer than a minute. He won’t always fall. She won’t always dance in the living room.
The sunrise was red and later the first flurries of winter came down. The kids put on boots and gloves and woke the baby, whooping and shouting in the yard, and it wasn’t enough to be snow, not really. It felt like rain but lighter somehow, and it left little prints in their hands.
The baby sits heavy in my pelvis. Her heels and fists roll under my skin, her head burrows lower, her toes press against my ribs. There is enormous pressure. Eating is a problem. Some nights I can’t hold onto my dinner. I choose between eating and sitting upright on an ice pack, or skipping dinner so I can lie on my side and relieve some of the pressure. My sleep is broken, my dreams vivid and often frighteningly focused on death– apparently not uncommon during the third trimester.
They don’t tell you how close birth and death become within the body of a pregnant person. Pregnancy holds us in a layered experience of beginnings and endings, whether at the literal level or more figuratively, with the death of control over your own body, the end of your old identity and its transformation into a new one. This third time around, I know there is no way to give birth to another person without being changed myself.
In these last weeks before birth, the baby’s body has nearly taken over mine. I can feel myself drawing inward. My thoughts have trouble adhering to anything that isn’t about this impending birth. Approaching labor feels like entering new but familiar country– a passage I navigate alone, even though I’m accompanied by and accompanying a brand new life, even though I feel God’s nearness.
My 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter is more curious this year about who Jesus is, how God could come to earth as a child. For the first time, she is feeling out the deeper meaning of her favorite holiday. We are slowly making our way through The Jesus Storybook Bible, and she has lots of questions about God’s character: Why would God bring flood? Why would God ask Abraham to do that?
As we move out from the simple warmth of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” and into more complicated territory, I find myself feeling grateful for my own experiences of questioning, of having my faith shaken. I try not to tie everything up in a bow for her, but instead admit the places where I also feel stumped, while still helping her understand that she is held and loved. This is tricky stuff. As we look at the Old Testament stories together, I’m careful to draw her attention back to the arrival of Jesus, to show her the ways that all of these stories are Advent stories, anticipating Christ’s coming. But Christ’s coming contains within it Christ’s life, death, and resurrection– the whole story of Love’s struggle to be born in us.
Meanwhile, my nearly-three-year-old son is busy exploring the shapes of our nativity set as we unwrap one each night. Sometimes he goes to sleep clutching a tiny plastic lamb. Sometimes I find a miniature Joseph in the seat of a toy helicopter on the bathroom counter. Listening to the nightly story of the little bear following the star, or trying to blow out the Advent candles as I light them, my children are doing what children do. They are making sense of this new mystery with their hands and feet, their eyes and ears– with their bodies.
Our Creator came to us in a body, and worked out our salvation in a body. He experienced birth, growth, fear, anger, joy, sadness, love, suffering, and death. Faith can easily become something we do just with our thoughts, and I’m grateful for the ways the liturgical year and the Episcopal tradition invite me to experience faith in my body. This Advent, worn out by a challenging pregnancy, I feel more than ever the paradoxes of this difficult year– its unexpected gifts alongside pain and grief– and with increased intensity, my longing for hope.
This is the third time I’ve been pregnant during Advent. The first ended in miscarriage, the second brought us our son, and this third time we are expecting his little sister. Expectation, anticipation, waiting– these are vulnerable states of being. Along with the births of my two children, I have expected and anticipated and then lost two little lives, and I am not “over” them. They have become part of me. I carry those wounds in my body and have come to understand the lack of resolution as its own kind of healing– as a place God enters and redeems, over and over, as the years pass. My active, earthside children run and play and fill me to bursting with love, with gratitude for the privilege of mothering them. I kiss their soft, round cheeks and hug them close. Along with these deeply satisfying experiences in my body, the experience of losing their two siblings is also part of my faith, this lifelong process of getting to know God.
When I started thinking about writing for this month’s theme, “tethered to hope,” my mind filled with images of that word tether. I could see the rope my husband uses to strap lumber and tools to his truck, the promise of useful things his hands can make to help us. I could see an astronaut floating in the terrifying vastness of space, tethered to a shuttle by a slim cord, the only hope of a return to earth. And I could see the umbilical cords that connected me to each of my babies, and my son’s curious gazing at his belly button, the mark that first tether left on his body.
These images tell of security, safety, connection, promise. But a tether can be troubling, too. It can be a chain that keeps us in places where we don’t want to be. In reading through the book of John recently with my prayer group, we found ourselves pausing at two little verses, where the disciples are struggling to accept who Jesus says He is. Some of his followers have begun to desert him, and Jesus asks the Twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69, NIV)
Once you know that truth deeply, with your whole being, it becomes impossible to walk away. That can be both freeing and terrifying, especially when our human minds fail to see when we have misunderstood something about God’s character. My prayer group talked about how each of us has come to a place in our faith where we felt trapped by it, tethered to a truth that can be difficult to grasp, yet alive. And we each described feeling like Jesus was holding onto us, even during times when we felt angry, hurt, lost, and confused by our faith. Even when we felt like giving up. With the loss of my first baby, I remember confiding in my pastor that I felt strangely imprisoned by my faith. Having only recently returned to church after long absence, I felt suddenly trapped inside of a new/old truth. I could not let go of it, and it did not seem to want to release me, yet I felt utterly confused about its author. God the Good Father exists and is in control, and his children experience terrible suffering in this world.
This remains an unsolvable equation for me. Through loss, God shows me that instead of trying to solve the equation, I can rest in the assurance of God’s love. I can look at the ways God has brought healing, has written the Christ story inside of my own story. From out of pain and loss and death, God grew in me greater empathy for others’ suffering, deeper awareness of God’s presence, stronger relationships with my partner, my family and friends.
I am careful not to place these things on either side of an equal sign. The liturgical year is so meaningful because it is cyclic, because in our bodies we continue to live out the mysteries of the Christ story. It is both solved and unresolved. We are always somehow waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for His resurrection, and waiting for His return– even as we mark and celebrate the fullness of these things.
In this Advent season of 2020, my kids keep me connected to joy, even as I acknowledge the devastating losses this year has brought us all. Every morning, my daughter moves the snowman to the next pocket on her Advent calendar, and asks me, “Is it solstice yet?” She is thinking of winter, of hot cocoa, snow, and sledding.
In this hemisphere, Jesus comes at the peak of the year’s darkness, when the earth tilts furthest from the sun. Hope comes to us in the middle of the longest night. In 2020, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic, and an end to this very long night is still uncertain. It can feel painful to remain tethered to Hope, to all that God promises, when so much is unraveling around us. Advent teaches us that this is exactly where Jesus meets us– not in our picture-perfect Christmas cards, not in our matching jammies or gift-buying, not in our untroubled certainties. Jesus meets us outside of the limits of town and faith, in the stable of our brokenness, and He promises restoration and redemption.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Tethered to Hope”.
I’ve been writing down notes on little scraps of paper about the sweeter things I want to remember from the past 9 months. This pregnancy, which has overlapped with the strange liminal time of the pandemic, has been full of discomfort– but not without joy. These notes are part of my prayer to remember to savor this time, just as it is, even though it is not what I had hoped it would be. Great joy is often made up of the smallest, simplest things.
Raspberry Zinger iced tea. It has helped so much with nausea and hydration. I hope I still like this after the baby comes. I put two tea bags each in two quart-size mason jars and let them sit until they’re cool enough to touch, then pour them into a pitcher I keep in the fridge.
Lyle bringing me breakfast in bed every. single. morning. It has helped with the nausea and just made me feel so loved and cared for.
When Sky and Robin started calling the baby Peaches. Robin loves to nestle next to me in bed, put his ear to my belly and say, “What you DO-EENG in there Peaches?” He doesn’t stay still long enough to actually feel her kick under his hand. But Sky has become very expert, feeling for baby’s foot like a serious little midwife. She laughs out loud whenever the baby moves. To her it is brand new magic each time.
My Zoom baby shower! It filled me with so much joy and love at a time when I was feeling very low. And it restocked our nursery with much-needed items we had given away once Robin (who we thought was our last baby) grew out of them.
Taking walks around Salish Pond near our home when the weather was nice and I was feeling well enough. Getting to see my big kids explore together.
My kids playing nicely together for longer stretches of time. Where before this was sporadic and short-lived, they’re 9 months older now and they’ve learned a few things about resolving squabbles, apologizing, and what kinds of games they like to play together. It’s really reassuring as we approach the time when Mommy will be much less available to referee their fights or make suggestions for their play.
Homeschooling Sky and watching Robin’s curiosity bloom. I love having plenty of space for them to create. It is so sweet to see them busy with projects at their little tables.
My friend Stephanie’s incredible support. This woman watched my kids for eight hours on the day we moved to our new home, after gathering and delivering piles of moving boxes she spotted on her Buy Nothing page, and also spending several days painting over wallpaper with us. She has sent me encouraging texts as well as satisfyingly snarky ones acknowledging how crappy pregnancy can be. She is currently filling our freezer with meals. Along with her own two kids and two brand-new puppies, she’s watching my kids so I can rest. And she’s on-call to come scoop them up or stay with them when I go into labor. And probably a kazillion other tiny things my weary mind is forgetting in this moment. This woman’s heart and her friendship make me cry happy tears.
Enjoying a fire in the fireplace at our new home. The kids are mesmerized by it, though we really have to watch Robin, who seems destined to become fire-obsessed like his daddy. I especially love sitting by the fire with Lyle after the kids are in bed, dreaming together of who this little girl will be, and what it will be like to have not two but three wild kids in our home soon. This fireplace, this home, and this family have been dreams of ours for so, so long, and it feels so good to enjoy them.
Reconnecting to my church community through Zoom morning prayer and virtual church services. They have been praying with me through all the ups and downs of this season. Their love and humor, and their powerful prayers, have helped me get through it.
Lots of snuggles with my kids. Nothing like “morning” sickness to make all-day-jammies-and-movies a new tradition.
Knowing Sky is going to have a sister. She is already talking about what she wants to teach this baby girl. I grew up with an amazing sister and I’m so happy Sky gets to have one, too.