Saturday, December 27, 2008

Baby Essentials

Pregnancy junk mail is sneaky, even more than its instant credit card and retailer coupon cousins. While credit cards or too good to be true discounts appeal to our more selfish instincts-- more money, more stuff, more consuming-- mommy mail often masquerades as earnest advice for confused newbie parents. My recent Baby Depot mailer promised to tell me what I really needed for my new baby....and conveniently they had all of it in stock for 60% off the regular price!
The list was as follows

  • changing table
  • crib
  • crib bedding
  • dresser
  • rocker or glider and ottomon
  • infant car seat
  • travel system/stroller
  • play yard
  • bouncer seat
  • stationary exerciser
  • swing
  • bottles
  • breast pump
  • nursing pillow
  • high chair
  • bath tub
  • receiving blankets
  • basic body suits
  • layette
Phew! No wonder some estimates state that new parents are going to spend three to five thousand dollars preparing for their bundle of joy....not even including prenatal care and delivery. First time parents, who more and more frequently have waited until later in life to have their children, are easy prey for this kind of money trap. Who doesn't want make a well-prepared comfortable nest for their newborn?

Don't get me wrong....I'm all for nesting. Readying the home for the baby is an enjoyable aspect of pregnancy, and necessary too because of course the baby needs things. But don't let a baby store tell you what those things are. Before you shell out two hundred dollars for a bedding set or a thousand dollars for a crib, ask yourself if it is really going to benefit your baby or just your idea of a fairytale nursery.

When my daughter Ember was born, we didn't have much money to buy all the things we were "supposed" to have, and neither did we care. The church shower provided us with most of the essentials, and we scrounged thrift stores for a few pieces of baby equipment that we thought we'd need. My parents loaned us the cradle they'd used for me. Ironically, most of these items were never used. The stroller sat idle because we'd discovered the joys of babywearing, and the cradle was empty because we also figured out that co-sleeping worked best for an all-night nurser. She didn't like the baby swings, having figured out that the Mommy Swing-- snug in her pouch-- was much more to her taste. We fashioned a homemade co-sleeper out of some tubs and the top of a pack and play but most of the time she ended up in the bed. We never had matching bedding because so many of our friends had given us beautiful handmade blankets that it was more fun to use them all than just one or two. We used the baby tub twice then decided that the sink or a shared bath with Mommy or Daddy worked much better. The "changing table" turned out to be wherever was handiest to lay the changing pads.

I never felt deprived of what I needed to mother Ember, and she certainly didn't seem to notice that she was missing quite a few of the "baby essentials." I'm not saying that every parent needs to make do with as little as possible, or that every parent will need the some things. For some, a crib or a baby swing or a stroller might be absolutely necessary. All I'm advocating is a bit of mindfulness in the process of preparation.

As I said, everyone's "essential" list will be different but if I had to come up with one here's what it would be. I'm an at-home mom who intends to exclusively nurse so my needs are somewhat different than a working or bottle-feeding mom. I'm also omitting the obvious such as clothes, blankets, diapers, etc.

  • Some type of soft baby carrier, be it a sling, pouch, wrap, or mei tai. The one thing I could not live without.
  • A boppy or some other type of nursing pillow
  • A baby seat
  • Swaddling blankets
  • La Leche League's The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
Certainly, every expectant mom should have fun feathering her nest, but ultimately, remember that your baby wants you. Mommy's breasts, Daddy's warm fuzzy chest, lots of holding and kissing and snuggling. If you can give them yourselves, even during the dreaded all-night cry sessions or four a.m. feedings, you've given them what they really need.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Weaning Path

If I say it very softly, maybe my daughter won't hear-- she's weaning.

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided that we would attempt to wean Ember at night, to prepare for the nighttime nursing marathons that no doubt will arrive with the new baby. Tandem nursing during the day was always on the table, if that's what she wanted, but I was surprised and delighted at how much she took charge of the process.

I say she because while I've encouraged her and led her down the path of weaning, she's the one who's made the decision. At first it was a few less nursings during the day-- after all, there are so many things to do-- then it was a few less at night. Nursing to sleep, whether at nap or bedtime, was the last to go, once she discovered how much fun it was for Mommy to make up stories about horses. They are our special stories, told only when it's time to go to sleep, and most of them end with Baby Horse being tucked into bed or snuggling up with Mommy and Daddy Horse. She loves it.

I thought I would be heartbroken when she stopped nursing, but instead I'm pleased at how naturally it's gone and how she's chosen other forms of closeness in its place. Physical contact with the "na nas" is still important to her, and we snuggle or cuddle often during the day. At night she often reaches for them if she's waking from a nightmare, seeking the reassurance she needs to fall back to sleep. Instead of emptiness, I feel great satisfaction that we've journeyed this long together as mother and nursling, and now she's changing roles to independent big sister as I prepare for another hungry little one.

Once I wasn't sure whether or not I believed that child-led weaning was a reality. I'd read about it and the concept rang true with my mothering instincts but so many other mothers I knew talked about deliberate and artificial weaning processes. I didn't want that for Ember but wasn't sure if I was just being idealistic. As it turns out, I didn't have to pry her from the breast. She's letting go, as she's ready. Since the "end" of her nursing, she's nursed once during an illness, and I'll nurse her again if that's what she asks. Weaning is a path not a one-stop destination. I thank God for every single nursing-- even the ones that made me cry, gave me chapped nipples, woke me up every hour of the night. I thank Him for the chance to do it all over again with my second child and for the blossoming of my first, from newborn all the way now to little girl.

Weaning, just like breastfeeding, is its own gift, given in its own time. It's a path I can say I'm happy to walk without knowing exactly where or how it's going to end.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Out of The Cave

It's been quiet around here because I've spent the first three months of my pregnancy in hiding. If I could have holed up in a dark, secluded cave for the last twelve weeks, believe me, I would have! But of course, there is still a house to tend and a toddler who needs her Mommy, pregnant or not.

Since this pregnancy was deliberate-- not only planned but longed for-- I thought it would be smoother than my first. After all, I wasn't a surprised rookie. I had been through morning sickness, fatigue, the whole nine yards. No sooner did I put down my positive pregnancy test did I plan my pregnancy strategy in detail-- I would soldier on, making sure to keep the house together, exercise daily, restrict my diet, and spend extra time teaching Ember all the things I wanted her to know before the baby got here. I bought sewing patterns for maternity clothes and infant clothes, determined to make my own pregnancy wardrobe as well as the baby's layette. I would be a Uber-Capable Mom!

A week later, I was on the couch, convinced I would never move again short of flood or fire. I couldn't drink anything but bottles of water tinged with ginger ale and didn't want to eat anything that wasn't a carbohydrate. The exhaustion surprised me with its sheer....exhaustiveness... as I often found myself unable to function longer than thirty minutes without collapsing on the couch for a cat nap. I didn't remember being that tired with the first pregnancy but then again, I didn't have a toddler. (Ember, for the record, was heroic. She tucked her baby doll blankets around me when I was tired and patted my head or my tummy. Once she learned what my anti-nausea drops were, she'd bring me one every time I started to gag. I couldn't believe that my two year old little girl was mothering me.)

As for my sewing plans, I found that I could even look at material or yarn without getting sick. My husband had to pack all my craft supplies away in the garage, where I couldn't go anyway due to the smell of the cat's litter box, which is practically mustard gas to my pregnant-lady nose. Ah, maternal bliss!

But the most unexpected and difficult aspect of the trimester was the emotional upheaval that caught me completely off guard. In my first pregnancy, I was actually less emotional because I was no longer on birth control pills (which made my hormones wonky) and I expected little to no change with the new baby. Wrong. I found myself smack in the middle of a completely irrational depression that stuck to me like a rock in my chest no matter what I did. It didn't make sense, I told the Lord. I wanted the baby. I was amazed and grateful for His timing and for the new life in me. I had family support and a network of fellow moms who all would help me in any way I needed. More than that, I had the Holy Spirit and His daily grace to sustain me. Why couldn't I shake the black dog on my heels? The experience was very similar to my post-partum depression after Ember's birth, which was hormonally influenced and disappeared once my body got back into sync. I hadn't expected to face that battle again until after the baby, and certainly not for an entire three months!

Sometimes we can't lift ourselves out of a valley. We have to walk on through, stubborn in our faith that the path we are on is right even if everything about it is going wrong. One part of me knew that I had to do whatever I could to order my thoughts then just grit my teeth and get through the days until my body worked out the hormones. Another part of my was disgusted at my failure to live up to my self-made idol of Capable Mom that I'd fashioned at the beginning of the pregnancy. Capable Moms do not crouch in the stall of the church bathroom sobbing for no apparent reason! They keep up their exercise programs and count their calories! They spend their first trimesters in a state of calm resolve, dealing with the physical and emotional upheaval with one hand behind their backs!

God let me beat myself up for a while (I insisted) before He put the question in my mind-- whose standard are you using to judge yourself? What you think other moms expect of you? What you think will give you the most control or pride in your ability to keep juggling all the balls? What about what He wants or expects of me? His yoke is easy and his burden is light, a far cry from all the rocks I piled on my back only to be confused when I couldn't carry them. I gladly exchanged my idea of a perfect pregnant mom for a simpler, more God-honoring goal: do what I can with each day and no more.

Now that I'm into my second trimester, the clouds have definitely started to clear. My body is settling into the pregnancy, physically and emotionally, but more importantly, I've gotten rid of the idea that I am the one in control of all of this. Pregnancy and birth, more than anything I've encountered in my life so far, demands surrender. I can cling to my illusion of control but God brought this life into the world and He's the one growing it every day. In His way, not mine. It is the same for the birth-- I can plan and hope and work towards a certain labor but only God knows how He wants this baby to come into the world. And what He choses will be best. Why do I keep having to re-learn that simple truth?
My job is faithfulness in walking the path, not steering the course. Every time I take over the map, I end up lost.

So it's out of the cave, back to the fresh air and sunshine. I don't regret my time there, or what it's taught me. I'm happy that I can now eat oranges without getting sick, go for a walk with Ember without collapsing on the couch, and look at the day with hope in my heart and strength in my bones. Because it's not about my strength anymore. What freedom! Who knows, I may even knit something.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Labor of Love

My two-year old daughter is out on a walk with her Grandma and I'm spending my few precious moments of solitude making a pumpkin bag for her first Harvest festival. The pumpkin print is making me sea-sick, thanks to my pregnancy nausea, and I'm not sure why I'm doing this when I can be curled up on the couch reading a book or-- wonderful thought-- sleeping. It's not like we're short on tote bags or old grocery bags around here; she'd be happy to lug anything around the festival as long as it was filled with candy. I wonder, for a moment, why I'm doing this when she isn't even old enough to appreciate the difference between a special Mommy-made treat bag and a Food Lion reject.

The answer is the same as so many other aspects of mothering--- it's a labor of love. We gift our children with so much of ourselves and our time but we don't expect them, in the young toddler years, to be overtly grateful. At least not in so many words. Our delight comes from their delight; our joy from their joy. Ember's smile when she sees her "candy purse" will be worth the half hour of rest I gave up to sew for her. No question about it.

I was pressing the seams in the finished tote bag when I realized that it's the same with God. When He gives our family something good-- a raise at my husband's job, a pregnancy after months of prayer-- I instantly worry that He'll take His blessings away if I don't "keep up the hard work" required to deserve such gifts. But He doesn't work like that. He gives good things to His beloveds for many reasons, one of which I believe is simply to see us smile. As with a mother and daughter, our joy is His joy. We're not toddlers--- we should know how to be grateful-- but even our most sincere gratitude is insufficient compared to His overwhelming goodness. Rather than diminish His kindness by expecting it to come with conditions, we should rejoice in what He has given.
It makes His heart glad when we bask in His lovingkindness.

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gifts!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


A little over a month ago, I wrote this poem...

Empty Nest

come, little soul,
rest in my womb.

leave off now
your long journey of skies,
dwell on my bough.

my branches are sturdy,
my nest
is warm with birch bark,
with pine needles and stolen yarn.

i will nourish you with breadcrumbs
i will warm you through snowfall and wind,
i will cradle you with evergreen.

i will be your shelter
and you

my promise of spring.


Now my womb is indeed become a nest, my prayer child a
tiny flesh and blood miracle, and my heart an overflow of joy.

Sleep well, my little bird. Sleep in peace and grow strong.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


She is like the tide, moving in cycles through my day; our moments of laughter or discovery are shells that she leaves on my beach, one after the other. I am like a toddler running from one to another with a basket, convinced that every one is more beautiful than the last. Someday the beach will be empty and she will be collecting shells of her own but for now I walk in amazement at the beauty each days brings to my feet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unwearable Dresses and Other Possibilities

I have on my kitchen table, at this very moment, an absolutely adorable, completely unwearable dress.

It started innocently enough.
A generous amount of leftover corduroy in royal blue kept winking at a pile of leftover decorator fabric in a simple blue and brown floral motif on beige. The decorator fabric gave it a come hither look or two and before I knew it, an idea for a retro-inspired jumper popped into my mind. I was even going to wear leggings under it, for crying out loud. I sketched and measured and constructed my little heart out, surprised that the entire process was going so smoothly, since it was my first adult dress.

My surprise was to be short lived. When I sewed up the last seam, snipped the thread, and tried my masterpiece on for the first time, I discovered a catastrophe. The bust was much too big, while the rest of the dress was much too small. I looked like a cross between an ill-dressed hooker and a potato sack.

My heart is still broken. Those two fabrics are so perfect for one another, and their ill-fitting end so tragic. Practically Shakespearean. My initial impulse was to deposit the whole thing in the garbage but I resisted the destructive urges and tried to re-vision my creation. Maybe I will be able to turn it into something I can wear. Maybe it will become a dress for Ember, or even a purse. If all else fails, I can make a scrap dress for her baby doll, who isn't picky when it comes to fit. With failure comes liberation, because new possibilities emerge from the scrap heap of my old plans.

Of course, my creative philosophizing always spills over into other parts of my life. Lately I've been feeling a bit like that dress-- out of proportion, busting at the seams in one part of my life and hopelessly inadequate to fill others. Thank God that he doesn't ditch me because I'm not yet a perfect fit. No matter how much I try to measure out my life, His design is always beyond my calculations yet somehow always exactly what I need. Like my gloriously abysmal dress, potential is inherent even in my current failures. I don't have to stay mis-matched. Every day I can seek to align myself more and more with the pattern God has laid before me. Sure, it hurts when he cuts but he keeps me stitched together and never leaves me dangling by a thread.

Had enough sewing analogies?
Me too. I'm going to nurse my bruised creativity in a cup of hot chocolate. The fabric will still be beautiful tomorrow morning and by then I'll have thought of five new ways to show it off. Long live unwearable dresses! Long live possibility!

Long live grace.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How I Miss You Now

How I Miss You Now

Not with burning,
not with that ache in my skin,
the feeling that part of me has been
wrenched out to exist elsewhere.
Not with longing,
nights restless under a full moon
in my solitary bed.
Not with grieving,
not with the lean grayhound of
loneliness stalking my steps.

These things I knew before
you became my flesh and bone.

Now I wait for you
like the shore waits for evening tide,
knowing that the water receding must
rush back to cover the sand.
Now I look for you
as a far-flung planet looks for its sun,
spinning in undeniable orbit.
Now I rejoice at your absence
for the returning makes your face all the more
lovely, all the more mine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In Other Words: After Communion by Christina Georgina Rossetti

After Communion

Why should I call Thee Lord, Who art my God?
Why should I call Thee Friend, Who art my Love?
Or King, Who art my very Spouse above?
Or call Thy Sceptre on my heart Thy rod?
Lo now Thy banner over me is love,
All heaven flies open to me at Thy nod;
For Thou hast lit Thy flame in my a clod,
Made me a nest for dwelling of Thy Dove.
What wilt Thou call me in our home above,
Who now has called me friend? how will it be
When Thou for good wine settest forth the best?
Now Thou dost bid me come and sup with Thee,
Now Thou dost make me lean upon Thy breast:
How will it be with me in time of love?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


It is a raining outside and I am waiting for a baby. I say the same thing almost every day, it seems-- it is sunrise and I am waiting. It is sunset and I am waiting. It is another full moon and, as always, I am waiting for God to bring our efforts at conception to fruition.

I'm not actually very good at waiting but it's become so much a part of my life the past year that it's not so much an action as a state of existence. Like the weather, which currently is pouring and roaring in a classic summer thunderstorm.

It reminds me of a day like this two years ago, when I sat on my front porch thoroughly past my due date and thoroughly tired of my pregnancy. The thunderclouds darkening the sky and the wind in the trees hinted that rain was on the way and as restless and hot as I was, I couldn't wait. I decided to sit on the porch and watch the storm. The wind gusted promisingly, thunder rumbled, and heat lightening flashed. No rain. The humidity, already oppressive, climbed until the air itself seemed to be swelling, inflating to bursting point. I remember sitting in my rocking chair thinking this is what waiting for my pregnancy to end feels like. All the signs that I was ready for labor without actual labor. I felt ready to burst with anticipation and yes, frustration. But then the clouds burst and the rain came, loud and merry, rattling the tin roof of my porch and filling the earth with delicious coolness. I laughed, patted my belly and reminded myself that God was the one to bring both rain and babies alike.

Now, two years later, I again feel swollen with longing. After a year of trying for another child, I can't tell that we are one bit closer to a pregnancy. I know that God is perfect in His timing but I also, pessimist that I am, wonder in my darker moments if He is ever going to end this waiting. The thought crossed my mind today that perhaps I should give up. It is as if all our efforts and prayers, desires and frustrations built like humidity in my soul, oppressive and heavy. I needed the clouds to burst, needed something to give way.

The thunderstorm this afternoon found me again on my front porch, this time watching the downpour with my daughter Ember. We took advantage of a lull in the rain to explore the puddles in our driveway and the miniature waterfalls dripping from the gutters. A cool wind blew away every trace of the humidity that had marked the morning previously and as I watched Ember splash, my own heaviness lifted. Yes, I am waiting. I am not waiting alone. I already have one priceless gift from God, and my life is filled with all the blessings and challenges of parenting-- as well as moments of sheer puddle-splashing joy.

As long as there are days of rain to break the humidity, daily joys to break the longing, I think I stand the wait a little longer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Freewrite No. 3

It's the kind of day in which during my daughter's nap polite thunderstorms settle in above my house. No downpour here, no wild lightning and tropical wind-- just a steady hum on rain on the tin window awnings and self-contented thunder rolling around in the clouds like a dog in tall grass. Really, I almost feel it's rude not to open the windows and invite the storm in for tea but who wants to mop up after that? Think of the carpet, after all.

I'll settle for a blanket over my lap, mug at my hand, and my pen dancing across the page in the hushed gray afternoon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chicken, Casserole, and Other Comforts

Yes, it's been deader than week old roadkill here, between a most inconvenient bout with pneumonia followed by my father's knee surgery. I've been trying out my Florence Nightingale skills during his recovery, which has left me little time to blog but lots of time to think. About family, community, comfort....and casseroles.

This little thought-worm started chewing its way through my brain when I heard a woman in my Weight Watchers group mention that she was having a hard time sticking to her food plan while her daughter was in the hospital. I have never been one to randomly offer food to strangers but for some reason I knew I should offer to bring her a dinner. God pokes us at odd times, in odd ways. Her daughter is the same age as mine, and I could only imagine how I would feel were it Ember in a sickbed. Cooking a meal for her wasn't just about food but about extending my domestic sphere, temporarily, to include her and her daughter. A small, tiny bit of homemaking in the middle of a hospital corridor.

So I brought chicken, along with the requisite side dishes, not entirely sure what to expect. I worried I'd seasoned it wrong or forgotten the napkins or some other such nonsense. Certainly I wasn't thinking about her reaction which was perhaps why I was so blown away at how much she was moved by the meal. She seemed genuinely touched that someone would cook for her, which made me realize how rare this type of hospitality is in our society.

Perhaps my urge to offer comfort food in a crisis can be pinned on my grandmother, a bona fide Arkansas cook whose pies sold out around town and whose biscuits and gravy will probably be served for breakfast in heaven. Women from her generation didn't send Hallmark cards; they sent casseroles. And pies, and homebaked breads, and roasts....and you get the idea. Whether the occasion was joyous or solmen, whether the recipient was family or friend or simply a neighbor in need, these women rolled up their sleeves and cooked.

Until now, I never realized the value in what they were doing. When the feminist movement ousted women from the kitchen and into the workforce, domestic gifts-- such as comfort casseroles-- were dismissed as artificial and silly. The stereotype emerged of an overly hair-sprayed woman bringing a rock-hard tuna casserole to a grieving family, expecting her food to be a panacea for all their ills. It was portrayed as naive, even silly, for a women to put so much value on mere food. Perhaps domestic women, with nothing else to offer, had to make do with such poor gifts but liberated women could give a real gift with the financial resources they had at their disposal. I bought into this image, as did many women of my generation.

My first glimmer that this might be a skewed image came in the first week after the birth of my daughter. I was flat on my back, hormonal to the point of insanity, sleep-deprived....and starving. My husband, bless his heart, made me toast. A woman trying to breastfeed a newborn cannot survive on toast. It was the evening meals brought by the women of my church family that nourished my body and encouraged my spirit. Each meal bore the unmistakable imprint of the home where it was prepared, and each meal served its purpose-- not as a cure-all but as a stepping stone towards normalcy. The practical needs of daily living do not stop even in the midst of the most life-changing events. Even to meet those needs for one night is a gift, for it allows those in the midst of change to focus their finite energy where it is most needed. I came away from those meals with a profound gratefulness and a desire to show other women the kindness I had received.

My second encounter with the blessing of shared meals came after my father's surgery. Again, the gift of food brought my family into a sphere of domestic care that edified our souls as much as it fed our stomachs. To know you are not alone in a crisis, to know that at the end of a long day there will be a hot meal waiting for you-- these are not trifles, no matter how much our society portrays them as such.

Of course, a meal given out of sheer duty can be stripped of its power. Of course, we need to make sure we provide something more than yesterday's spaghetti. This does not mean that we need to aspire to five-star gourmet cuisine, simply that we put thought into the preparation of the meals we intend for ministry. The real beauty of comfort food isn't that it is high-class or expensive or elaborate, but that it comforts. Every woman has the potential to give that gift, in a way that is hers alone. Every time she does, she serves not only those receiving the meal but also her own family, and most importantly Christ Himself.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Making and Mending

A long-awaited new sewing machine arrived at my house for my last birthday, and it has opened a floodgate of creativity. While sewing has its usefulness in any domestic arsenal, my love-affair with fabric and design goes back to high school when I would design my own prom dresses and have them tailored by a seamstress who was a family friend. Together we planned my first prom dress, my college wardrobe, my wedding dress, and my daughter's summer clothes. Now that I have my machine, I can figure out how to make such wonderful things myself. As soon as I get down sewing in a straight line.

Making things, whether it's with fabric, yarn, or words, lights my fire. I can work for hours barely noticing the time, happily absorbed in creation. In my pre-momma days all it'd take was a cup of coffee and I could write until the birds started singing and the sky turned blue. Even now, when I know I have to be up with my daughter at seven, I often find myself staying up late to finish a few more rows of knitting, a little more of a sewing project, another paragraph of a story. The half-finished skirt on my kitchen table calls to me even now, well past midnight.

But there is another side to sewing-- and any other creative venture-- that is not so exciting. Skirts rip, shirts lose their buttons, pants wear holes at the seams. Mending these things takes time and concentration and doesn't usually inspire flights of creative passion like making things does. But at the same time, once I drag out my needle and thread and sit down to work, the often simple repetitions of mending hold different possibilities. My mind settles into a meditative state, contemplating the things of the day stitch by stitch. The whole process leaves me with a satisfaction that isn't nearly as flashy as raw creativity but sweet all the same, like chamomile with honey.

And it was while staring down the large pile of damaged clothes awaiting me that I realized the contrast of making and mending extends beyond garments. The same dynamic shows up time and time again in our lives. We fall in love and our entire being is dizzy on the wings of endless possibility. We marry and smile with anticipation at the prospect of forging a new life as one. We discover that a baby is on the way and our souls rejoice at the creation of new life. This is making, in all of its flushed splendor. But lovers quarrel, and grow familiar. Domestic bliss turns out to involve a great deal more dish washing than we initially planned and no matter how many times we make our husbands dinner they are still hungry the next night. The nerve. Even our little bundles of joy quickly reveal that they are one hundred percent human and require constant shepherding. Life seems to hold a great deal of mending, everywhere we turn. How do we keep from growing discouraged?

By remembering, just as with clothes, that a stitch in time really does save nine. The work we pour into our marriages, our homes, and our children may seem repetitive and at times dull but it's these little daily efforts that the things we love most in good repair. A meal, a made bed, a changed diaper....all are stitches that hold together our families. If instead of resenting these routines we allow ourselves to settle into the satisfaction they can bring, we are wise. After all, God knows when we need the sparkler-bright excitement of a new adventure. But he also knows that what we need even more regularly is the chamomile and honey sweetness of a common job done uncommonly every day.

Here's to every woman who is tailoring a home-- may your needles be swift, your thread strong and may your well-mended family praise you in the gates.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Coming Unspun

Recently, I've been systematically destroying a sweater I knit last winter.

In knit-speak, such wanton unraveling is known as frogging, because you "rip-it, rip it" (ah, knitting humor) until your faulty project is yarn again. It's a cute name for what can be a painful process-- all that work, hope, inspiration, and time unraveling like it never existed. I first condemned the sweater to frogging back in January and only now, in May, have I executed the sentence. It took me that long to get the nerve.

But about one sleeve and half a torso into the deconstruction, I realized something. The whole process didn't pinch nearly as much as I thought it would. I was actually finding something relaxing, deeply satisfying-- even fun-- at watching my hopelessly mucked-up sweater transformed back into soft gray skeins of woolly potential. I could make anything from the reclaimed yarn, and my next sweater would be even truer to my vision because I knew what didn't work.

Lucky for me, last night was a two-for-one special on epiphanies because I've been struggling with something very similar concerning my writing.

Over the past months, I've been re-examining my long-held writing goals and aspirations in light of my real-world responsibilities. I have a daughter who's almost two and insatiably curious, a house that refuses to keep itself clean of its own accord, and still only twenty-four hours in a day. Fifteen, really, because my intelligence and creativity nosedives after nine p.m. My previous vision of my writing just doesn't fit anymore; like my poor, malformed sweater, it isn't functional for my current needs.

So I'm unraveling it too.
Slowly, with a grimace, I've been taking apart my preconceptions of what writing should mean for me right now. Now probably isn't the time to write my masterpiece of American literature, or try to launch my grandiose writing career. I really don't know if I should even worry about submitting at all at this point. I'm breaking my dreams down to raw material-- a love of words and their
possibilities-- and finding joy just in exploring that richness. Just like with frogging my sweater, I've discovered there is a satisfaction, even a peace, at transforming my writing from a frustrated mess to a ball of potential.

I can write anything from here. I could even write nothing and my words, my story-children, would still be there waiting when I came back.

Here's to coming unspun. In our knitting and in our lives, sometimes it's exactly what we need.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Freewrite No. 2

I like walking in the early morning
when the sun is fresh and the breeze cool,
when the humidity is not yet sticking to my face and arms like flypaper,
I like passing coin laundries and coffee shops, watching the
big money people drop their dogs at daycare, watching the
pocket-change people wait for the bus.
I like the smell of honeysuckle and the exasperated horns of the morning traffic
to which I am immune with my stroller and tennis shoe freedom
I like my daughter's bare feet and pink toes
and the entire day stretching before us, like the sidewalk,
one uncluttered line of potential not yet criss-crossed with detours and regrets.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And Yet Another One...

You Are Teal Green

You are a one of a kind, original person. There's no one even close to being like you.

Expressive and creative, you have a knack for making the impossible possible.

While you are a bit offbeat, you don't scare people away with your quirks.

Your warm personality nicely counteracts and strange habits you may have.

Random Quiz Results

Admit it, you all love the occasional online introspection and amateur head-shrinking all at the click of a mouse.

Apparently, I am

Your Thinking is Abstract and Random

You are flexible, adaptable, and creative.

There's many ways that you can learn - and you're up for any of them.

You relate well to other people, and you do well working in groups.

You can help people communicate together and work with each other's strengths.

You don't work well with people who are competitive or adversarial.

You prefer to work toward a common goal... not toward conflicting goals.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scrubbing Couture

Once in a while, I realize that there's this whole other plane to domesticity of which I am rarely aware let alone part. Like when I visit Martha Stewart's website, out of morbid curiosity, and find a Valentine's feature on how to make handmade paper envelopes for distributing your home-baked, hand-decorated cookies.

What amazed me was the thought that there were housewives out there who had time not only to bake and decorate gift food but to handmake individual envelopes for them. Are there stay at home moms out there with that kind of time? Apparently. I would love to meet one....I have a few chores she can help me with in her free time.

I was equally amazed, as I browsed a magazine in the doctor' office, that you could purchase designer cleaning items-- rubber scrubbing gloves, dustpans, mops, scrub brushes-- in a bewildering array of modern colors and styles. And darn it, some of that stuff is cute. The bright blue rubber gloves, with their bold floral cuffs in a contrasting retro print, were so obviously a symbol of Ultra Domesticity that I felt a bit guilty for sneaking a look at the price tag to see if I could afford them. Ten bucks for a pair of rubber gloves is certainly beyond Walmart prices but not unreasonable. Perhaps the Martha Stewart woman wears these sort of gloves so her hands aren't rough for all that delicate paper she uses in her handmade envelopes.

All of this got me thinking.

Is it so wrong to want to bring beauty into the more mundane aspects of homemaking? The Martha Stewart Syndrome, embodied by the envelope-making house goddess I describe earlier, is really just a hyperextension of a good idea--- that everyday tasks deserve a bit of the extraordinary. Ms. Stewart has made an empire by commercializing that concept and creating a cult of the domestic where perfect women fill their perfect homes with exquisite creations that display their feminine prowess. Think Stepford Wives and pink angora sweaters. This stereotyping of the feminine role is just as damaging as the
Power Woman myth or the Sex Kitten myth or any of a dozen distortions of womanhood society thrusts in our faces.

But I really did like the cute scrubbing gloves. Does this mean I'm one step away from become a pink-sweater drone?

I don't think so.

Because, like I said above, the everyday truly does deserve touches of the extraordinary. Those of us who labor at home face any number of routine, mundane tasks daily. Dishes need washing, floors sweeping, clothes laundering...the list goes on. Even the most motivated house-cleaner-- which I am not-- has to admit there is something rather plain about dish soap and mop buckets. So why not infuse a little beauty into the process? Will cute scrubbing gloves remove my dislike for cleaning the bathroom? Not entirely but it will give me a bit more joy in the process. Will a mod-striped dustbin inspire me to dance Cinderella-like with my broom? I doubt it, but the artistic part of me will sigh happily when I see the colors.

When we take time to elevate aspects of our housekeeping routines, we elevate our attitude towards those routines. It could be as simple as picking out a cooking apron in a fun print that you wear each time you prepare a meal--- not only do you spare your clothes but you've created a small ritual for yourself, a tiny space for beauty to inhabit part of your day.

Certainly, moderation and common sense must be a part of this incorporation of beauty. It's all too easy to be swept up in our consumerist society's notion that being is the same as having. The things we use in our homemaking do not, in and of themselves, define us as homemakers. Nor will they give us a heart for tending our household. As with anything in life, a right perspective is important.

We all could benefit from small, deliberate acts of beauty in our daily routine. Maybe for one woman this means flowers on the kitchen window; for another it may be a little bit of lip gloss even though only a toddler will see it. Deliberate beauty could surface in way a wall is painted or the color of a pair of curtains.
It could even be found in a pair of bright blue, retro print scrubbing gloves.

Which I still just might buy.

Oh, and the gloves, among other interesting household items, can be found

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Freewrite No. 1

Driving down the edge of the storm:
ogre-faced clouds grimacing from the south, wind devils spinning circles in the tops of the trees. Tornadoes are afoot, pouncing on small towns like cats after a mouse, unaware they are tearing through the china cabinet. Rain slithers under the dark sky,
but I am safe
behind my glass, tourist to a downpour.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Evening Litany

Thank You for the food we share
Thank You for the hands that break the bread
Thank You for this shelter from the cold.

Thank You too for those we love
Even when it brings us sorrow
Thank You for the joy of hearth and home.

Thank You that You call us friend
Thank You that we know You
not as myth or legend but our Father
why should we be called Your children?

Thank You that You chased our hearts
Thank You that You poured Your life out
That You that we are made part
of Your very flesh and blood.

Thank You for the living Body
all the saints as one before Thee
Thank You for the family of faith.

Thank You for Your soon return
until then our hearts are yearning
Thank you for the life that has no end

As we go now into night
we lift up these praises to You
Father, Lord, Redeemer, Savior,
grant us peace till morning's made new.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Nothing Special

Over the past century, our society has undergone a radical transformation in world view with the rise of secular humanism and all its philosophical baggage.

This is news to no one.

What's interesting about this shift in thinking is the practical impact it's had on our culture's view of ourselves-- human beings, that is. Philosophically, we are told that we are the product of random chance, sheerly biological entities who just happen to be inhabiting this planet for the past two millenia or so. We are told that there is no real right or wrong, so we cannot truly condemn the actions of another no matter how offensive to us. Pedophilia is just another form of human sexuality. Murdering an unborn human being is an exercise of female choice. Even such tragedies as terrorist bombings and even the Holocaust are "contextual"-- they are wrong to us but to the participants, in their time and place, the actions were what was right to them.

Philosophically, the value of human life is no more than that of any other animal--- important, perhaps, given the circumstances but also just as easily dismissed under other circumstances.

But ironically, this is not our society's practical stance towards humanity. While our culture's attitude toward the value of the human shows the negative influence of modern philosophy-- just visit an abortion clinic-- overall the dominant attitude is that human lives are intrinsically worth something because they are human. Many object to the war in Iraq due to the human cost, both military and civilian. Thousands protest the Bejing Olympics due to the way that country has treated human beings in Tibet. And it's not just about global or national issues-- such institutions as welfare and child protective services are in place because our society thinks that a jobless single mom or a battered five year old are worth the money required to care for them. We lock up violent people so they won't do anyone else violence. Sometimes we even kill them.

It's an everyday tension between what the scholars say is true in theory and what regular people on the street believe in pratice. Even academics will rarely come out and state the full conclusion of the amoral values they claim. But once in a while, someone thinks secular humanism through to its logical end and has the guts to say where our modern worldview really means.

And interestingly enough, such logic comes from an alien hunter.

This article discusses the so-called "failure of the planet of the Apes hypothesis" which is the brainchild of Charley Lineweaver, a scientist with the SETI Institute. These guys get paid to scour the universe in search of intelligent, human-like life but Lineweaver had an epiphany. What's the big deal about being human anyway? He thinks we're making a mistake by "assuming that there is something about humans that is unique or special."

Finally-- someone acknowledges the elephant in the secular humanist living room. Any hard look at modern philosophy (or post modern, or post-post modern or what have you) will show that it gives no reason why we should care about human beings at all, other than self-preservation and species preservation. Any decent behavior is just a construct, a leash to keep back the animal that wants to rip out the throat of the guy who cut us off in traffic.
But here's the thing-- people don't really want to believe that. We want to believe that we special, that we are unique. That something intrinsic to us beyond simple biology makes us different than Joe Amoeba.

Cue the truth.
When the benevolent mask of secular humanism slips, we should be there to point out the gargoyle beneath. Ignore the disdain of the smug college professors in their academic towers, forget the scientists with the impressive white coats and clipboards-- they've already decided we're retarded, or insane, or both. We truth-bearers in a truth-forgotten world want to reach those people on the street who are finding that amoral worldviews are awfully empty beneath the promised freedom. We can tell them, on an individual basis, that their suspicions are right. We are of eternal value. We are hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind works of art.

If we say it in humility and boldness and compassion, if we say it enough, people will listen. So stop reading and go do something about it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ten Things Learned In the Trenches

I think of laboring like parachuting. You can read about parachutes, take classes on parachutes, practice the correct way to put on your suit and the right way to pull the cord....but you won't really understand parachuting until you're falling through the air. Also, if you lined twenty people up and had them jump out of a plane, each of their experiences, while sharing common aspects, would be unique. The birthing process goes through the same stages for every woman but is at the same time highly individually. A woman in a naturally progressing birth process, for example, will labor differently than a woman in an induction or other situations. But there's something we all have to share with each other hopefully to make the process a little less scary.

In that thought, this is what I learned from my free-fall.

10) If you can, eat a really good meal at the beginning

When my childbirth instructor, Claudia, gave me advice for preparing for the induction, she told me to make sure I ate a high-protein breakfast. We're talking about three or four eggs and a bit of toast with juice....something to give energy and strength for the laboring process. Common medical knowledge encourages women to labor on an empty stomach but you're going to need fuel for the hard work of laboring. Eat whatever is comfortable for you. If you start labor naturally, you probably aren't going to plan a meal beforehand but you can, at the beginning of labor, eat something nutritious to help you build energy reserves. Listen to your body.

9) Bring a pillow or two and blankets.

Hospital rooms are even worse than hotels when it comes to comfort. The pillows are pathetic and the blankets are inadequate. Bring your own pillow-- one that is washable, no heirloom feather pillows please-- and use it to help you get into comfortable positions during labor and in recovery. You can also consider bringing a nursing pillow to ease the awkwardness of early nursings. The same rule goes for blankets-- it's good to have an extra one but make sure it's one that you can wash if necessary. I'd recommend one of the inexpensive fleece blankets you can buy for as little as $ keeps you and your little one warm and is very durable.

8) Don't be afraid to make noise when you labor.

Society loves the ideal of a placid, docile, passive birthing woman, one who doesn't make much noise and doesn't argue with the Doctors Who Know Best. It's one of the reasons why drugged labor is so popular; it's much quieter.
Real birth is noisy. Sound is a release, one that can help you deal with the pain of a contraction, but don't choose panicked, high-pitched sounds that will make you tense. I had a repetitive moan that I used during contractions--- actually I said "out, out, out" in a rhythm that I found soothing. In combination with breathing, the sound helped me stay calm and focused. Figure out what works for you and don't be afraid to use it, especially during pushing. You're pushing out a baby not taking tea.

7) Ask questions.

Along with preference for a quiet birth, society likes a docile birthing woman, one that goes along with whatever the doctors or nurses recommend. Your doctors are your birth partners, not birth generals. They are there to help you through the birthing process and, if necessary, step in the event of a crisis. You certainly can question or refuse any non-necessary intervention about which you feel uncomfortable.

6)Have someone who can say no for you.

This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. When you get going into labor, and especially when you get into transition, you aren't going to be the most rational you've ever been. It's usually at the point when you're tired and in pain that well-meaning individuals-- be they doctors, or nurses, or family members-- suggest pain medication or other interventions that may not be in your birth plan. Have your birth partner-- whether it's your husband or someone else-- designated to refuse things you don't want. Decide ahead of time what your criteria will be for interventions-- under what circumstances you would use them-- and have your partner stick up for you when you're immersed in birthing.

5) Limit the number of guests or observers.

My instructor Claudia said something to the effect that every additional observer you have, besides your partner and hospital staff, adds ten minutes to your labor. I don't know whether or not that's true for everyone, but you aren't a circus attraction. Labor is done best when it's as private as possible, and that may mean kindly telling friends and family to pace the halls. If you want family members or friends present, that's okay, but make your choices wisely.

Have relief support lined up to give your husband a break.

While you don't want a crowded labor room, you do want to have someone lined up to support your husband while he's supporting you. This could be a professional doula or a family member or friend-- just as long as someone is designated to give him a chance to grab a soda and sandwich or a bathroom break. Also, some husbands have trouble with the messier parts of birth and there's nothing wrong with having someone who can step in if he gets overwhelmed.

Remember that your birth plan is flexible and doesn't determine the success of your birth

We touched on this in the last post but I want to reiterate that the goal of birth is the baby in your arms not a perfectly executed birthing plan. Even a textbook natural labor may not be exactly as you planned. If circumstances require interventions that you would have preferred to avoid, such as induction, medication, or even a c-section, keep your focus on the destination-- your baby.

2) Keep your baby with you after

Some hospital staff get downright hostile to the thought of a mother actually keeping her baby with her after labor rather than letting the newborn spend hours in a hospital nursery. The hours after birth are important not only for bonding but for establishing milk flow, and both are accomplished by keeping the baby with you and allowing them to nurse on demand. A hospital does not have the right to take your baby to the nursery against your will. While you may concede to leave the baby in the bassinet when they are sleeping, since many hospitals have an aversion to co-sleeping, you can fully insist that the baby be left in your room. You will have to be vigilant; even after my husband and I made it clear that under no circumstances was our baby to be in the nursery, the nurses still tried to keep the baby on the grounds that they knew what I needed better than I did. My husband ended up accompanying our daughter to the nursery for any necessary procedures and then accompanying her back. Don't be afraid to be insistent.

1) Trust that God is in control

No matter how crazy your labor gets, God is directing your path and your that of your baby. You can cry out to him for strength at any time-- even if it's a wordless moan-- and He will come to give you strong and sure aid. When it came time to push in my labor, I couldn't feel much due to the epidural and subsequently couldn't use the pushing techniques I'd learned in class. At the final moment, my body and spirit were absolutely drained and I remember calling out to God, silently but with all my soul. At exactly that moment, a primal, indescribable strength filled me and I was able to deliver Ember. I am no mystic, but I do know that God is with us through our labor and is our greatest comfort. There are no atheists in foxholes and delivery rooms.

So there. That's what I've learned, and it may be totally irrelevant for your labor. But then, it may help you just a little, which is my hope.

Happy parachuting!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baby In Waiting

I was going to write about meatloaf today. Really.
But, Dear Reader, you are spared my musings about meat because something much more interesting has come up. One of my friends in South Carolina (shout out to Felicia) is mere days away from birthing her baby girl Abigail Jane, and she asked me about my experience at a birthing center. Birthing my daughter was simultaneously one of the most joyous and frustrating events in my life so far, which means I am going to blog about it. Saw that coming a mile away, didn't you?

BIrth, like weddings, first kisses, and many other social milestones, is a loaded pistol. We supply the ammo, in the form of expectations and aspirations for what the experience will be like, and hope it goes off in the direction we planned. Bullseye! A dream come true! Take a wedding. Sometimes we get so excited with the fulfillment of our own personal fairytale that we don't stop to ask where exactly we got our idea of what that day should look like. What do you mean I can't have a hundred doves released in unison at my exit, each bearing a single long-stemmed red rose in their beak? The wedding industry makes billions of dollars off women who buy into the pre-packaged fantasy of the Perfect Day and then spend the first five years of their marriage paying for it.

Birth dreams are even trickier. We have nine months to plan-- and sometimes panic-- for the arrival of this brand new person who is entirely dependent on us to make sure they get through customs okay. Sure, we know we have midwives and ob-gyn docs and husbands and family and friends but when the rubber meets the road, we're the ones pushing the baby out on D-Day. (Delivery Day, of course). The pressure is on to have the Perfect Birth, one that occurs without a hitch, without any messiness, and, for many women, without any pain. Dominant social and media images reinforce this fantasy with the In Depth Exclusive World Features of celebrity mothers who pose for glossy magazine covers, cooing over their angelic babies. They are graceful. Elegant. Thin. They speak in glowing terms of their Birth Experience and leave me wondering if they were actually even there for their own labor.

For those of us who see through the obvious birth propaganda, the Perfect Birth dream can be even sneakier. As you plan and prepare, the temptation is to focus on one certain type of birthing process as The Way the baby absolutely must be born in order for the birth to be that mystical, magical experience we've been told it should be.

My hopes for the birthing of my daughter were formed based on extensive reading I did about natural childbirth. I wanted to be strong, aware, and actively participant in my labor. I knew it would hurt, that it would be messy, and exhausting. I was okay with that. I didn't want to tear. Above all, I did not want medicine, whether for pain or otherwise, or any other unnecessary medical intervention. My husband and I chose to work with midwives that operated from a birthing center within a regular hospital, thinking at the time it would offer the best of both worlds-- midwifery service with a neo-natal unit just down the hall in case of complication. We took a natural childbirthing class. By the time the end of my pregnancy came, I was ready for anything--- except the news that the midwives wanted to induce my labor due to their concerns over my ability to deliver a large baby.
Looking back, I should have refused. Medically, both the baby and I were fine. I knew in my gut that I could have the baby just fine but I was a first time mom and they were the Professionals. We agreed to the procedure on the assurance that they would start with the least invasive methods of induction.

We showed up at the hospital, bright and early, with my suitcase full of all the labor helps I'd learned about in class-- music, castor oil, washclothes for compresses-- only to be met by a doctor and a nurse who did their best to convince me of a c-section. I could have thrown my bedpan at them. When my husband and I refused the c-section, they started me on pitocin, a common labor-inducing drug that is certainly one of the more invasive induction options.

Even though my childbirth instructor had told us that induced labor almost always required pain medication due to the severe intensity, we decided to hold off as long as I could and try to manage the pain using the techniques we'd learned in class. Of course, I couldn't use most of them because I was strapped to a bed full of machines-- none of which I wanted but at that point had no option. After several exhausting hours, the nurse informed me that if I didn't have the baby within a few more hours, the doctors were going to do a c-section on me whether I wanted it or not. An epidural, she said, would speed up the labor and allow me to still give birth vaginally. I agreed. Just before the labor deadline, I started pushing-- completely numb mind you-- and ended up with a third-degree tear. The last shred of my Perfect Birth Experience disappeared.

But I was holding my daughter. The moment I felt her head begin to emerge, as I pushed, all I remember is crying out my baby, my baby, over and over again. I didn't care how she got there; she was in my arms, already looking to nurse. I lifted her to my breast, awkwardly, and whispered her first Bible verse in her ear. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotton son....

As happy as I was to finally have my daughter, the deep-set disappointment in my birthing experience lingered. I felt inadequate, somehow a failure as a woman for not being able to follow my natural birth plan. I wondered if I was weak and spineless for not insisting on what I felt was best. Then it clicked...
no birth experience is perfect. I was holding onto my Perfect Birth Plan so tightly that I'd forgotten that God, in His sovereign grace, had a plan of His own that was far superior. He knew exactly the steps needed to bring Ember Rose into the world at the time He saw fit, in the way He saw fit.

So to Felicia, and anyone else with a Baby in Waiting, I'd say this-- certainly dream, certainly plan, certainly hope for the best birthing possible. But at the same time, rest assured that God's planning too, and be aware that His plan may look different. The birthing process, while important and beautiful (yes, I mean beautiful, even in the midst of the mess and the chaos), is just a journey. It's the destination that is really the point.

Tomorrow--- Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before The Trenches, and other thoughts on laboring.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Some Sort of Introduction

New blog, first post.

::listens to the crickets in cyberspace::

Why does starting a new blog always seem to be so formal? As if all of the cyberpeople are lined up, in suits and dresses with big flower hats, waiting for me to hurry up and cut the virtual ribbon so they can hit the cake and punch tables.

Disturbing the Universe
is all about books, Domestic Dissident is more about what's going on in my head about life, especially life as it pertains to keeping a home and raising my daughter. Also expect lots of random stuff about yarn and other things knitting. What could homemaking and mothering possible have in common with dissidence? A dissident, in any culture, is one who questions normalized trends and chooses a path that is deliberately different or in opposition. That's what I'm doing, and although it may not seem that washing dishes or making peanut butter sandwiches sounds edgy, godly femininity is a radical choice in our culture, one that I'm proud to make. And occasionally blog about for anyone who is listening.

All right, cyberpeople. Speech over.