To the Cougar at the Pool


Let me get this straight.

You really thought you were going to bring your perfectly make-up’d, perfectly coiffed, cougar self to the club on a holiday to lounge in the pool, flirt with the lifeguards and keep your hair dry?

Lady, you had one too many organic agave margaritas. There is a reason the rest of us are wearing ball caps. We all have salon hair. We all have dreams of keeping it safe.

It’s a pool full of water and kids though. The hats are really only a gesture, so that we can tell our stylists without sinning that yes we did take steps to protect the weave.

When you waded in with your drink in your hand, what did you think was going to happen? This isn’t Vegas. There were four babies in swim diapers. Water in your hair was the least of your concerns.

But no. You huffed and puffed in annoyance. You dropped an f-bomb or two. Most of the ball-capped mamas rolled their eyes at your expecting to stay dry in a pool and shooed their kids away from you.

It says something about you–and it’s not nice–that you are willing to be rude to kids, counting on the fact that their moms won’t confront you.

It must have surprised you to learn that sometimes, a ball-capped mama with her third vodka-poolwater-tonic in hand will witness you giving her kid and his friend the business along the lines of “You need to stop splashing. I already told you to stop. I’m not going to tell you again.”

She will get up from her seat at the table and grab a water cannon. It’s not hers but that doesn’t matter because she is going to war for all the mamas. You’ll see her coming and harden your face for a “chat”. She’s not coming for words. She’ll walk down the stairs into the pool next to you and load that cannon. Then she will hold it in the air like the freaking Terminator and say “What are you going to do, Gino?”

You won’t know–how could you–that this is a time honored challenge in her family. You’ll look confused as you wonder who she’s talking to. It’s hard to tell through her sunglasses under her hat brim.  Maybe Gino is that big guy across the pool laughing out loud. She waits for an answer. You’ll decide that your hair is not worth the mystery. You’ll get out of the pool.

Good call. Gather your things and leave with all the dignity you can muster. And next time remember: family-friendly pools come with a 99% chance of wet hair.

So bring a cap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Darkness Into Light

It’s true that when it rains, it pours.

Or maybe in the midst of great loss, when we are at our most raw and vulnerable, we feel things with greater clarity but less coping skills.

I don’t know.

But I can tell you that in this month of sorrow, life has gone on. Annie graduated Pre-K, which means come the Fall, I’ll have three kids in all day school, three kids doing homework, three kids playing sports.

I made a major job decision that requires 150 hours of licensing.

And two weeks from now, I am in charge of Vacation Bible School, a function of my asking the director of ministries at our church “Hey, why don’t we have VBS?”

“No one to run it, ” she said. Then she crossed her arms, raised an eyebrow, and waited.

That’s worth a reflection. Months and months ago, God told me to say yes to VBS, even though he knew that at this very moment, my heart would be broken. I am on the lookout for why. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there and God will do the rest.

Which leads me to this post.

This is our third Spring in Oregon, the place we believe we were called to move. The previous two Springs have been pretty and worthy of note.

But this Spring? This particular Spring that has been so, so hard?

This Spring has been MAGNIFICENT.

The sound of the wind in the leaves outside the kitchen window.  The tulips and hyacinth that surprised us in April. The tree that leaved into a giant sentinel in the backyard.

The lemon balm that sprouted in the garden area, good for stress and anxiety.

The green hills and full creeks. Fields full of calves and lambs. Poppies. Dogwood. And sweet Mother, the roses.

Can I tell you how Sue loved her roses?

I didn’t even realize how much I was relying on the nature around me to soothe my heart until Saturday, when I was sitting at the winery five minutes from my house and this view brought me to tears.

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And then I thought about how many times in the last few weeks, Gabe has said “Mom, it is so pretty here.” Or Annie has picked some lemon balm and walked around the house, breathing it in. How the girls headed out to the backyard with their friend Sarah to cut fresh bouquets of roses for our families.

All of those things bringing simple and pure joy.

This Spring has sheltered and fed and lightened us, a bountiful grace for which I am thankful.

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This was filtered using Prisma, which is why it looks like a painting instead of a picture

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You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. 

Psalm 18:28

 

Sorrowing

 

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My second mom died. Her name was Sue. I introduced her to you once.

She died on Mother’s Day, with her son by her side. It was sudden and shocking and we are bereft.

I feel like a rat trapped in a maze. Life needs to be lived, so I get up in the mornings and I live it on that very specific plane of existence where laundry gets done and kids get picked up and dinner gets cooked. But then I’ll turn a corner and bam. I hit the wall of her absence. And it hurts.

Two days ago, it was when Annie got her haircut and I started to send the picture to Sue, who is her godmother.

Today, it was five seconds ago when I typed that sentence and used the word “is”.

I remember this from when my grandparents died in the car accident. Hitting the wall of grief. I know that as time passes, the walls get padded, and hurt less. And that one day, they won’t hurt when I hit them. They’ll send a cascade of love and gratitude over my heart, that I knew her and loved her and was loved by her.

But not yet.

The walk through grief is just like any other journey. No way out but through. And something else: the amount of pain in the hole she left in my heart is directly proportional to the amount of light she was in our lives, and will be again, once we get past this part.

In the meantime, we do the sacred work of sorrowing.

The Bustle in A House

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –
                                                                                                      Emily Dickinson

 

 

The Mom Gets in the Pool*

*With a tip of the hat to Allison Tate’s “The Mom Stays in the Picture”

If you don't get in the pool, you can't hurl your one year old across the pool. But look at her face!

If you don’t get in the pool, you can’t hurl your one year old across the pool. But look at her face!

Yesterday I spent four hours at the official opening of the neighborhood pool, which we joined for the summer. There were at least 200 people at this party.

You know how many moms got in the pool over the course of four hours?

Six.

At one point I counted the number of moms wearing suits: 15. Every other mom in the joint was wearing regular clothes, huddled up with a friend or hunched over a phone while their children frolicked with dad. Or alone.

This was not a weather issue. It was gorgeous. A high of 81. I spent the whole time in the sun with SPF 50 and hardly got any color.

No, I’d bet my bathing suit top–a significant bet, trust me–that it’s more of a bathing suit problem.

And ladies, let me be clear. I HEAR that. Me and bathing suits go way back and not in a friendly way.

But that will not stop me from getting in the water, for three reasons.

1. I’m a So Cal girl and I love the water more than I don’t like the way I look in a swimsuit.

2. I gave birth to three children who are half fish.

3. Two of them are girls and I would rather poke my eyes out with my big toe than make them feel that only women who look the “right” way or wear the “right” size deserve to be seen in a swimsuit.

Sometimes, I can can rock the suit out of the gate. And other times, like today, I take a deep breath and fake it til I make it. Today that moment was when another mom leaned over and said “I am so glad that you swim. So many moms don’t swim.”

Dana pointed out a long time ago, it’s really true that nobody’s looking at us.

I mean, they may have been looking at me when I was screaming, laughing, splashing with my kids. Or doing the Chicken Dance on the pool deck—that’s because I do a mean Chicken Dance.

But they aren’t looking at us like that, like “Who does she think she is walking that fat a** all over this pool?”

Not the nice ones anyway, and who gives a flying fig what the mean ones think?

Your children will love it. When you get your hair wet, and do cannonballs and partner up for the water balloon toss. You’ll be that mom, the fun one. And if you think they won’t remember, they do. I do.

My mom got in the water with us and played hard. You ain’t seen nothing in this world until you have seen your mom come down a water slide head first and shoot through the inner tube hooked on the end.

I can’t tell you what she was wearing or how she looked in it.

But I can see the grin on her face and hear her scream as she hit the water. WHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

So what if this summer, we made a pact to do it differently? And what if I could promise you that all of the following are true:

The kids are waiting.

The suit doesn’t look as bad as you think.

Your hair will recover.

And you know you want to.

So let’s all stand up. Take off our t-shirts.

And be the moms who get in the pool.

Puritanical

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First, a little History of These United States That You Don’t Often Hear in History Class.

There was a reason the Puritans were not welcomed in England.

It’s because they were craaazzzzy. No really. Go read the source material, or just grab your kid’s 11th grade lit book. Start with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Then do some research on how they ran their colonies. If you didn’t look like them, think like them, speak like them and most of all believe like them—they ran your ass out of town. Like, way, way out. Maryland, almost 400 miles to the south, was the first solidly Catholic colony for a reason.

We have crafted a giant pageant around the First Thanksgiving, and we like to link our commitment to the First Amendment to the persecution of these “refugees”.

But the truth is, their brand of oppressive, Old Testament Christianity totally ignored the love of God embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus His son.

Plus, they were scared all the time. All. The. Time. Even before they landed at the start of winter in a barren land. For their sheer ability to survive their own stupidity, we might owe them a debt of gratitude. But mostly I think it’s interesting that a people so devoted to the Bible were terrified of life. Maybe they never read the second half.

They had a nasty way of branding everything that wasn’t like them as “of the devil”: women who didn’t follow the rules, the Natives, people of other Christian faiths, notably the Quakers (the Quakers, for goodness sake), later immigrants from England. It was a horrific approach if you think about it, to not acknowledge and tolerate disagreement, but to assign evil intent to everyone and everything that didn’t fall into their very narrow line.

They invented the fear of the stranger in the village that is fundamental to our American psyche. The woods are haunted, only the devil goes bump in the night and we have never welcomed the immigrant, quickly forgetting from whence we came and instead stomping on our own borrowed shores like a two year old screaming “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

They lived by a convoluted version of “freedom”. They came here to be free to practice their extremely controlling and authoritarian religion. Certainly, no one was “free” within their communities—there were very strict social expectations, most of them oppressive. In essence, they travelled over the ocean to a new land for the freedom to practice their particular brand of oppression.

It didn’t work very well. Within 50 years, the debacle at Salem, where 19 innocent people died for greed, power and pride, proved that they themselves were the evil walking the new world. Not all of them, of course, but as a group of people, they left a scar on this land. Their gift to us, 300 years on, is a stubborn insistence that we know best and no one else can tell us what to do.

Some would argue this is not a gift at all.

History is cyclical, and over the life of our nation, we have at times lived again under the shadow of oppressive public religion. So I say this to my Christian brothers and sisters who want to us believe that somehow, our Christian faith is under fire—Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

We need to check our hearts and make sure that what we really want is freedom, and not the freedom to practice our own brand of oppression.

In case you aren’t sure what I’m so worried about, here’s a list of interesting reads:

Adoption groups can legally deny non-Christians

Oklahomans vote to constitutionally protect the death penalty

Best and Worst states to raise children–Bible Belt is LAST

Six States with the most people living in poverty (also mostly the Bible Belt)

Infant mortality rate highest in Bible Belt

 

Why I’m Grateful for My Breakdown

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Today is World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day.

Inspired by Dr. Christina Hibbert, I want to tell you about the good that severe postpartum anxiety has wrought in my life.

I had a day five years ago when I thought the only way out was OUT.

That was my lowest point. But was also my saving grace.

Because of my postpartum breakdown, I reached out to Postpartum Support International and found an awesome counselor who encouraged me on my first visit to use prayer for healing. She’s not a Christian counselor,  just a very wise and spiritual woman who met me right where I was and suggested that the Holy Mother may be a place I could turn for help. My relationship with Mary was ambivalent for lots of silly reasons in hindsight, but now I have a nurturing and peaceful devotion to her that feeds me as a mother and wife.

Because of my postpartum breakdown and my awesome counselor, I finally realized that fear was an emotion that ruled too much of my life. It manifested in my OCD and anxiety, an intense desire to anticipate and control outcomes. I was spending so much of my life trying to get in front of the next big (mostly imaginary) disaster and missing the little way of St. Therese of Lisieux, who believed “that the people of her time lived in too great a fear of God’s judgement. The fear was stifling and did not allow people to experience the freedom of the children of God”.

That was me. Bigly. And when I decided not to be that scared woman anymore, it left a HUGE hole in my spiritual life. I had to admit that I believed more in fear than in God’s love.

I have since fixed that little problem right there.

Because of my postpartum breakdown, my awesome counselor, my new commitment to the Little Way and my own God-given big mouth gifts, I decided that the whole shame-filled not talking about it thing was bull-hunky. I ended up on this path at the right time thanks to bloggers like Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker, who were telling everyone that we had to tell the truth or it would kill us. Also Richard Rohr, who knocked me out of bed one night with this line: “If we don’t transform our pain, we transmit it.” I thought about my extensive family history of anxiety and my girls and the hereditariness of it all. I knew I had to shine a light, and that if I brought my mental health out of the dark, I would transform it.

So I told it, to everyone who asked (and some very tired looking mamas slumped in the corner of the playground at the mall who didn’t, but this whole Shine the light thing is not an exact science and better safe than sorry).

Because of my postpartum breakdown, my awesome counselor, my new commitment to the Little Way, my own God-given big mouth gifts and my light-shining, I found myself sitting on a hill at a park during a 4th of July celebration exactly one year from my own breakdown talking to another broken mama on the phone—from 150 miles away. I found myself pulled aside at church for a conversation about a new mama who was hallucinating and no one knew who to call.  I have given the phone number of my awesome counselor to at least five women in her service area. I supported a new grandma through getting her daughter admitted for psychosis. And just three days ago, I watched a new mama’s tired eyes fill with tears because nursing is kicking her ass. Then she was embarrassed because it was brunch for God’s sake and we don’t talk about these things at brunch, right?

And I said WHY YES WE DO! We talk about these things right the heck now because that’s what you need! So let’s get dessert and maybe another drink and you can tell me everything. (I stole this idea from the second Sex and the City movie where Miranda makes Charlotte do shots over how hard it is to be a mom, which was a way more brilliant scene than anyone probably realized.)

I wasn’t that woman before. Now I am. Better.

And for that, I am grateful.

“If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.”

Forgiveness, Warsan Shire

 

Today is Yom HaShoah

Night

One year when I was a 10th grade teacher, my colleagues and I built a heck of a unit around Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

We were so proud of that unit as we planned it. The novel was the centerpiece. Then there were ancillary short stories, movie clips from Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, The Devil’s Arithmetic. We wrote quizzes and essay prompts that mimicked the exit exam. We made photocopies and lesson plans and a culminating project. We prepared profiles of real Jews who had experienced the Holocaust to pass out to the students, and on the last day, we would tell them if their person survived or died. We stole that idea from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

We made it as thoughtful and authentic as we could. Then we set out to teach it.

That first year, I was pregnant with Gabe and I skipped the part with the babies. I skipped a lot of stuff that year, because I just couldn’t.

The second year, I made myself sit with it. That was the first year I got a parent phone call about the book, a mom concerned that the story was affecting her student too deeply. Does it have to be THIS book? I was right there with her. I didn’t skip the part about the babies and I had a baby at home.

I also had nightmares.

The third year, I was pregnant with Kate. This was the year we decided to mix up the movie clips, so I sat at home one Saturday and watched The Pianist and Sophie’s Choice, back to back.

Keep the baby quiet.

A son and a daughter. Choose.

I didn’t sleep for two nights.

That year, I cried when I read the part about the babies. I cried when I read the part about the hanging. I cried when we watched the clip in The Devil’s Arithmetic where the mother refuses to leave the baby she has birthed in secret and they are sent together to the gas chamber. I hugged the student who laid her head down on the desk and sobbed. I didn’t write referrals when kids said “That’s fucked up” in class or when a young man stood up in class, threw his book across the room and said “This book is fucking stupid” after we read the part where the son steals food from his own father and leaves him to die.

But when the unit was done, I asked to be transferred out of tenth grade. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Last week, I saw a picture on Facebook of a teacher friend. Her students were all crowded into a small space—the size of a boxcar. She was standing on a desk over them, reading from the book. They’re still doing it, I thought. God bless them.

I get how this sounds: Like we’re all snowflakes who can’t handle the truth, melting at the first suggestion of genocide. Protect the children from this history. Teach it to them, but don’t teach it, teach it. Don’t read about ten year old boys taking three hours to die from hanging while other ten year old boys watched. Don’t talk about babies ripped from their mother’s arms and thrown alive into a bonfire.

We’ve come so far, that mom told me. Do they really need to be exposed to the horrors when we’ve made sure as a society it will never happen again?

There it is. That right there is why we taught the book in the first place, why we built such a confrontational unit, why we created a place for the kids to sit in the bald faced truth of what happened.

The danger of being 80 years away from something is that we think we have the luxury of choosing to pass the information on or not.

We don’t.

Look around the world today. Hatred lives. And not just There. Here. So high school English teachers all over this nation pick up that book every year and walk through the horrors of the Holocaust with a new group of students so that the kids will know.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Day of Remembrance. We can remember the victims of the Holocaust and pray for the peace and repose of their souls. We can ask forgiveness in the name of our ancestral family and friends who did not know or did not do enough. We can pray for generational healing.

And we can all make sure our kids know—at whatever level is appropriate for them—that when we don’t love each other enough, when we don’t remember that there is no such thing as other people’s children, when we see the world as us vs. them, we invite Evil to walk among us.

Resources for parents and teachers

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Museum of Tolerance