Category Archives: ponderings on womanhood

She is Her Own

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I love taking walks downtown with her in the wrap. I get a coffee, we hit up the library, and we enjoy the sunshine. Trust me, she likes it more than it seems…

I’m not good at using stolen moments. They creep up on me unannounced and suddenly she is gazing entranced at the moving ceiling fan or sleeping soundly in her narwhal swaddle. I’m never sure how long they’ll last, and too often I fill them with scrolling through various websites rather than doing soul-feeding work or soul-soothing rest.

[Like right now, for instance, the baby has been sleeping peacefully in her bassinet for nearly an hour. As soon as I start typing, it’s as though she hears the clicking of the keys and thinks: This is no good. I should definitely be hungry now.]

[Twenty minutes, one bottle, one huge burp, and some intense spit-up later…]

There are so many times that have been absolutely lovely these past few weeks. I can’t explain what an immediate change came over me when she smiled for the first time. Suddenly I was no longer an unnoticeable feeding machine. I had become a Being with whom she wanted to communicate (and by “communicate” I mean beyond the sweet whimpers of loneliness and the screams of hunger). Suddenly it was much easier to get up in the middle of the night when I knew she would look up at me with the darling love of a tiny baby. And then she started with the smallest of “coos” and I was hooked.

And yet.

There is a lot of repetition. Feed, burp, clean spit-up, change diaper, repeat. Over and over I am forced to learn patience and perseverance.

[Once, the baby was screaming for food before I could get to her. Her grandmother leaned in and said, “Patience, Evangeline, it’s a fruit of the Spirit.” She will not learn patience from me, that’s for sure. Perhaps we will learn it together.]

There are times when I feel bored. This, of course, makes me feel deeply guilty, as though boredom means lack of love. I immediately cuddle my baby to assuage my inner judge. She smiles at me even now from her inclined pillow, and I am reminded that she is perfectly content. We are living alongside each other. She looks around, flails her arms, smiles, and I am able to write and try to remember our separateness as truth and gift.

We are forever entwined, but separate, and this is both terrifying and liberating.

I realized not long after she was born that I was in for a lifetime of walking a tightrope of worry and love. I am no longer responsible for only myself. This little one depends on us for everything, and the thought makes me lose my breath.

But then I remember her autonomy. Her dreams. Her future.

They are not mine.

They are hers to dream up, to build, to live.

She is her own.

I may be overwhelmed at times with the mundane, but I am blown away by the miracle that is this young one who is both of us and neither of us at the same time.

5 Reasons I’m Ready for Motherhood

Look how cool, calm, and collected I seem. And I’m sure Sarah was not as distressed as she appears…

Three and a half weeks — the new amount of time I have until March 14th. I know it could be any day, really (March 14th is an arbitrary date designed to give me some planning ability, most of which will be thrown out when the real day arrives), and this is both exciting and nail-biting. Every weekend, we tick things off dresser, changing pad, bookshelves, pack-and-play, and it makes me happy in this new, strange way. As if, on this new planet of coming-motherhood, I am actually going to be able to see a problem/need, and fix it. My life is not a free-for-all, but rather, in some ways, I will still be able to do what I need to do to live a happy life.

Because I promised my husband — and because I think it will be a helpful, cathartic experience for me — here are five reasons I AM ready for motherhood (some just as humorous as the reasons I’m not…)

1.I can tell a good story. Not only that, but I can read a good one, too. When I was in second grade, I would put my little brother down for a nap after lunch (one of homeschooling’s lesser-known-perks). We’d go up to his bedroom, and I’d read him stories before he fell asleep. Sometimes, this looked more like playing/jumping on the bed/not really getting ready for a nap, but mostly what I remember is learning how to read to a toddler.

Fast forward to the five-year-old girl who stole my heart in my early 20s. We spent long summer days swimming in the pool then drying off in the sun, and each time she would say, “Catherine, tell me a story,” her strawberry-blonde hair hanging in thick wet strings down her back. It was easy at first, but then I began to run out of material (she demanded true stories, ones I had lived, so imagination was no help). I needed direction. “Give me a category,” I started to say, and amazingly, this worked. She’d think for a minute, her forehead furrowed, and then say things like “Animals!” or “Cake!” or “Spiders!”. Somehow this was just enough guidance to get my wheels turning. I don’t think there was even one time I didn’t have a story to tell, and now I know what to do if my little one is as inquisitive and story-loving as she was: Give me a category, I’ll give you a story.

2. I learned how to fold the Marie Kondo way. This is no joke. I watched a few episodes, was annoyed with most of the people, and came away with some amazing folding techniques. I don’t know what it is about seeing my underwear, socks, and camisoles neatly lined up in accessible rows that makes me think I’ll be able to conquer this laundry-phobia. It’s so less daunting to look and see that I have four pairs left (read: four days until I HAVE to do laundry), then to scrounge around, wonder if there’s anything clean, and be unsure about how long I can wait. Even the smooth rows of off-white diaper liners are bringing me hope (but have you ever tried to fold baby socks? what is the point?).

3. I own a car seat, a diaper bag, and I will soon be in possession of roughly 24 cloth diapers. I’m pretty sure all you need to bring your baby home is an installed car seat, so I’m a bit ahead of the curve with a diaper bag and soon-to-come diapers. I even have two boxes of wipes, a breast pump (my least favorite, least exciting, and most terrifying product to-date), and various other accoutrements. I have a sweet stuffed bunny from my city-friend (if you’ve been reading this long enough, you might remember her and her many words of encouragement), a string of handmade felted bees from a work friend who knows me better than I’d thought, and other darling and necessary items that make me excited to usher a new life into this challenging and beautiful world.

Photo: Leighanne Evelyn Photography

4. Gabe. At first, this was tossed around for a good laugh between us as I was coming up with five reasons. And then it became the most important. Apart from my God who gives me strength and peace, it is Gabe who makes me the most ready to be a mother. I’m not one for public displays of love for my husband, mostly because no matter what picture I post or what words I string together, nothing really explains our relationship. Nothing can really describe what it’s like to know there is someone who will always have my best interests at heart (and now the best interests of our child). There is someone (other than my mother) who will listen to me as long as I need him to without seeming exhausted (I said seeming…).There is someone who doesn’t get angry at me when I roll over a thousand times while he’s trying to sleep, someone who makes me dinner when I’m just too tired after work, someone who is looking forward to days and evenings when it is just him and our baby because I have choir or work or what-have-you. There is no twisting his arm with this man, and I am so grateful.

I didn’t think I’d ever find a place to use this hilarious photo. I can’t help loving it. I call it: “Overlooking the Estate.” Photo: Leighanne Evelyn Photography

5. I have people. There has never been a time when I was left on my own. The grueling hours of reading, writing, and singing in the practice room that came with college were always accompanied by other similarly-worn-out friends who were more than willing to go to a coffee shop and work while simultaneously chatting and sipping London Fogs (or the occasional chai). When I look back on those days, I remember the dark feelings of I’m not good enough, I’m faking this, what in the world will I do when I graduate? Now I wonder if my actual days were as trying as they seemed — without even a car bill at the time, in some ways, I was freer than I will ever be again. But I felt heavy, I was scared of the unknown, and people were there.

Then came the years after college, a blur in many respects, but people were there. They listened to my wonderings, fears, dreamings. We journeyed through years of dating (still one of my favorite topics), career-searching, and city-hopping. They gave me advice, took my advice, and I’d say my early twenties were the years of my biggest transformations. My people taught me how to love better, how to fight in a healthy way, how to sit down at the island of a mature, beautiful woman, pour my soul out to her, and gather her wisdom like pearls. They taught me how to not be afraid to ask for help. I know how to say “Things are not okay, I am not okay,” but then also how to respond when they, too, feel untethered.

And now, in the beginnings of my marriage and that moment right before change comes, I know I am not alone. My family reminds me they are always there, that there is nothing we can’t figure out. My friends hug me when I’m sad and then make me laugh, reminding me that not everything is as serious as it seems. I wasn’t quite sure what my fifth reason for being ready would be, but without a doubt, it is the people in our lives who have made Gabe and me who we are. Why would our baby be any different?

Adventure

Adventure is a loaded word. I hear it tossed around by high school students who long for an absence of parents and a presence of new. I hear it dreamed about by people my age, seeking change, purpose. I hear it whispering in my own mind: Find an adventure before you get stuck.

The adjectival form of adventure is adventurous, and there are two definitions:

1. inclined or willing to engage in adventures.

2. full of risk; requiring courage; hazardous.

Of course, we’d prefer the former rather than the latter; to be considered one who were “hazardous” would hardly lend itself to warm feelings of comfort or trust.

But to be thought of as “willing to engage in adventures”? This may be the tallest idol of modern humanity.

~     ~     ~

I spent hours writing the script to “Little House in the Big Woods,” the first play I ever wrote. I learned to type on my family’s first computer — a huge Gateway that arrived in multiple boxes with black and white splotches like a Holstein cow that were so large my little brother used them to build forts  — and I agonized over every detail. What would Laura have actually said? What was that thing called they used to make butter again?

I agonized because I was obsessed. I dreamed of the prairie with its sea of gold and the endless sky, the idea of which both scared me and filled me with a deep tingle of excitement. Because I was only seven and too young to embark on a journey cross country on my own, I collected books. Every birthday, every Christmas, I would ask for the next book in the “Little House” series, hoping somehow to absorb Laura’s gumption, Mary’s kindness, and Pa’s fearlessness.

Instead of traipsing across Kansas, I learned to knit socks and sew dresses.

Instead of going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, I canned tomatoes and made a terrible ginger/brown sugar/vinegar drink.

Instead of breaking through the ice of the water bucket every morning to wash my face, I raised a flock of chickens and planted an herb garden outside our kitchen window.

I never did see the prairie, but I can make a mean cabled sweater.

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Sometimes, when people try to describe you, they find a word that, on the surface, might be benign, but when applied with just the right pressure makes you feel worthless.

You’re just not adventurous enough.

No one had ever said that to me before, and I shot back with all the reasons I was, indeed, adventurous:

  1. I studied abroad!
  2. I took a job I never expected to take, I put my heart and soul into it, and I’m good at it!
  3. I got my master’s while I worked, juggling both with slightly less agility than a hippopotamus!
  4. I routinely took a risk to trust others and love them, to fight back my fear of being open!

And as I said these things, the biggest one was this:

5. I stayed home. (This one did not seem to have the exclamation point.)

Because here was the crux of the issue: while so many had moved to Italy or California or D.C., I had moved home.

My risk was trusting that this new and un-sought-for path was the right one.

My risk was trusting that the work that needed to be done in me could be done from the comfort (and challenge) of living with my own parents.

My risk was hoping someone would love me and see me for the adventurous young woman I am.

~     ~     ~

As I enjoy the days of summer with all the planning for fall they bring, I have already become more contemplative. I’m awaiting (or moving toward? or eagerly looking forward to? or unbelievably scared of and excited for?) marriage to a man whose very calmness is shocking to me. He does not worry about being adventurousinstead, he sees all of life as something to challenge and grow and shape him.

I’m entering into a family that embraces forms of newness and oldness and all that’s in-between. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be one of them, and they have things to learn about me. So far, we’ve done so over a shared love of Mary Oliver, the ocean, God, and music.

Marriage is no more an adventure than singleness.

Working through life with your blood family is no less of an adventure than gaining a new family, and crossing the prairie in a covered wagon is no more of an adventure than staying home and breaking your back to make this life work.

You can cross the world with a trembling soul.

You can climb a mountain just to prove someone wrong.

You can drop everything and start over, but instead of running towards something, find that you’re just running away.

But you can also stay with the familiar out of fear, and that’s no better.

It isn’t what you do that makes you adventurous, it’s the spirit with which you live every moment.

[Photo #2 credit: Gabriel Knell]

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Change is Good

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Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

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I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

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Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

~     ~     ~

On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in: this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do, and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

~     ~     ~

Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista — the same man who took my order all last year — smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine — she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.

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A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.

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Who Am I?

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We play this game in class with the last few minutes on Fridays. I call it “Who Am I?” but really it’s just “20 Questions,” and only sometimes do I make them choose Greek and Roman mythological characters. One student leaves the room while the rest of us decide which person he or she is.

They love making boys goddesses and girls gods.

And so we’ll choose a character and call the exile in. He or she will commence asking yes-or-no questions until eventually it becomes clear who he or she is supposed to embody.

The thing I keep noticing is this response from the rest of the students.

Let’s say it’s a girl, and she only knows that she’s from mythology, she’s male, and she’s not a god. Her next question might be:

“Did I defeat a lion?”

Every time, the rest of the class guffaws in disbelief.

How could you ask that question?

OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Oh my gosh…!

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until this week.

While one student stands ignorant in front of her classmates, the rest of them can only function with their knowledge. They’ve forgotten (in the span of about .65 minutes) that not everyone has the same information they have. This student asks “Did I defeat a lion?” with less knowledge than they have, but with enough to wonder, hmmmm…maybe I’m Hercules…

Student: “Did I get punished by the gods?”

Chorus: “HAHAHAHA!”

Student: “Did I become an animal?”

Chorus: “WHAT?!”

After a few rounds of this teeheeing and finger-pointing, finally I stood up.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “you have to remember that she doesn’t know what you know. Her questions make complete sense because she doesn’t know already that she’s Theseus. The question only sounds crazy to you because you already know.”

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I have this vision of something big and grand that would open high schooler’s eyes to the great wonderful world. I have this idea that our faith is too small, too cultural, and that to get these kids out where Christianity looks different but transforms just the same is part of my job.

I look at my students, and I want to dump every ounce of experience and wisdom I’ve gained through trial and error into their beings so that they don’t have to do it themselves.

I wonder how parents do it. How do you watch these little half-yous-but-not-at-all-yous walk the earth and not suffocate them? How do you let them function in their ignorance? And it isn’t ignorance in the negative way, so much as it is a stage.

You can’t force experience.

RIght, you can’t, but what is experience if not created?

How do you not expect your children, your students, to be in the same place you are?

I am constantly reminding myself that I function at a different level than these young minds and souls I teach.

They don’t know who they are.

They walk into the room, and they don’t know who they are, so their questions, the way they interact, might seem strange to me, the one who has just a bit more knowledge.

The one who progressed smoothly (and not so smoothly) through the stages of growth to arrive at a non-arrival where things are still being worked-out.

Even people all the same age are not in the same place. Whether it be actually (some are married, some are single, some have children, some travel the world) or just internally (some feel confident, some love their jobs, some long for more, some have faith that pumps life), we are all spinning on different trajectories.

And that’s okay.

I will never have the calmness of my high school friend, who, when I asked her, “What do we have to look forward to?”, said:

“Well, I’m a pretty content person. So I don’t know what to say.”

That will never be me.

We’re spinning different stories, but we’re both playing our own games of “Who Am I?”.

[Random Thoughts on the First Week of School]

I think I would like teaching a whole lot more if I could wear yoga pants.

It would be easier to get up in the morning if:

1. I saw the sun.

2. I smelled coffee.

3. This jumped on my bed:

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Or this:puff

I still don’t like Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes. I keep trying every fall, but I just don’t.

Taking grad school classes reminds me what it’s like to be a student. And reminds me that most of my students probably didn’t do the reading.

Colored pens make grading a little more bearable.

My ivy plant survived the first weekend in the classroom. So far so good.

The last swim of the summer happened Saturday. The water swept me through the mouth of the river and a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched the lightning touch down, and I tried not to be too sad about the end of summer.

I finally got different colored expo markers.

My students keep asking me questions about dating.

[Walking the line between teacher/mentor/friend is TOUGH.]

I tried not to drink caffeinated coffee in the morning. I regretted it. So did my students.

I’m getting to the point where I know ahead of time what my students will struggle with. I say something: “So, this is dative of possession. You just have to switch the nominative subject to dative and the accusative direct object to nominative and habet to est. Got it?” No, they don’t got it, obviously, and a class period and a half later, we’re starting to make a little progress.

I go to sleep thinking about how to have a better class. I dream about answering grammar questions.

I leave small group early because I’m that old.

Year three is off to a good start. Still looking for a used couch so my room can feel more like an English classroom, so keep an eye out.

Here’s to fall and apples and cinnamon and hot tea.

Makeup and Growing Up

They came down with their faces covered in makeup.

Pink blush smeared across their cheeks, gray eyeshadow swiped along their eyelids, and even through their pride, I could see that the gooey pink lipgloss was already annoying them.

They’d never admit it.

The thing about babysitting is that you learn a lot about parenting. You learn a lot about loving the right way — and the wrong way. You learn the art of blocking your ears to whining because if you didn’t, you’d probably flip your lid.

You also learn when and how to live out the theories you worked so painstakingly to create for the past however-many-years-you’ve-lived.

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[Now that’s some little-girl makeup I can get behind. Photo: Jean-Paul Gaillard]

I knew a boy in college whose earnestness was unsurpassed. He chose his words carefully, he chose his theories with the heart of someone who cared almost too deeply to survive this world. He had all these ideas.

But he didn’t know how to live with them, really.

His desire for equality was constantly bumping up against reality, against young women on campus who didn’t understand. Why doesn’t he hold the door for me? I’d hold it for him!

Once we talked about high heels. He told me I should never wear them, that they were used to make women vulnerable, that it was all about “The Man.” I laughed and said, “Well, I like the way I look in heels. I don’t care what men think!”

“But you should!” he said, sounding concerned. “That’s the problem: everything is defined by what men think.”

And while his theories were right and his heart was right, I did look pretty good in a pair of heels and I continue to throw on a pair when I so feel like it.

Theory vs. Reality.

~     ~     ~

And here these girls stood before me with faces shining (although perhaps less-so due to the powder they’d covered them with). My mind raced to all the implications:

UGH MAKEUP

I hate it. Even though I use it. I hate it.

She’s only seven.

What is WITH this culture that makes young girls so obsessed with how they look?

And this will lead to more makeup and tight clothes and endless dieting and weird walks and hilarious but awkward flirting and…and…and…

I took a deep breath.

I looked at their smiling rouged-up faces, and I said,

“Looks like someone’s been playing with Mom’s makeup.”

And they giggled and ran up the stairs.

Maybe someday I’ll talk to her about looks and culture and men and living fully.

Maybe someday I’ll teach her how to put on blush so she doesn’t look like a clown.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to show her that she is as beautiful when she is telling me a story as she is when she’s wearing that fluffy floral dress.

But today she is seven and she has a friend over. Today she is playing at adulthood and laughing.

Today is not the day.

Countdown to Today

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[All photos are from the Bachelorette/s. It’s called “Cath didn’t take a single picture at the bridal shower”. Also, the blur effect is all the rage.]

I can honestly say I was scared.

This is the first wedding I’ve ever been in, and the idea of throwing a bridal shower freaked me out.

I’m not organized enough!

I don’t know how to decorate!

I also am not too good at cooking/baking!

I also am not too good at sitting at four-hour-long parties!

LOGISTICS!!!

(Clearly there are a lot of things I’m not good at.)

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[I dared Beth to send a picture to Joel…of her removing her engagement ring before we hit the town. She did, but he didn’t freak out. It’s like he knows her or something.]

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. The Matron of Honor, while in sunny California, delegated jobs to each of us. I was so grateful because without clear purpose, I’m like a chicken with my head cut off.

Or like me on caffeine.

The girls in charge of the food did a phenomenal job. I grew up with them, and if their family does one thing well, it’s throw rockin’ parties. I’ve never left their house hungry. There was strawberry-rhubarb pie, scones too numerous to count with homemade whipped cream, homemade chocolate fudge, finger sandwiches, cookies, specially-made cake, and tea (because it was, of course, a tea party).

(I stole the best idea from a bridal shower in April: the bridesmaids opened all the envelopes before passing them to the bride. I saved So Much Time and everyone thought I was a genius. I took the credit.)

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Best part of the day? Probably asking the bride questions that the groom had already answered…his sister and I (good friends from high school) got the biggest kick out of the answers (“What’s the best meal she’s ever made you?” “Ummm…tacos?!”), and it didn’t hurt that for every wrong answer, a piece of bubble gum was unceremoniously shoved into the bride’s mouth. It’s hard to stay dainty when you’re drooling.

All-in-all, I was very pleased. Even the mother-of-the-bride emailed us, thanking us for a wonderful shower.

I leaned over to S, my partner-in-decorating-crime, and whispered, “Now we know what to do for the next shower we throw together.”

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As the guests left, we bombarded them with homemade tea favors shipped up from dear friends in Arizona and

North Carolina. I slipped in honey sticks and everyone left saying, “See you in a few weeks!”

Realizing I can be a bonafide young woman who throws lady parties.

I don’t want to get too good at it, though, ’cause then y’all will be knocking on my door.

~     ~     ~

After bridal showers come bachelorettes. Not only did we have a fun night dancing (where I broke it down on the dance floor, drove through the city in a SUV taxi, and got everyone safely home by 12:30PM), but we also had a “grown-up bachelorette.” We ate dinner and then walked down to hear live jazz and eat dessert. I had foolishly worn a maxi dress in 90 degrees, and I was regretting it now, huffing and puffing down the sidewalk.

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[See the trumpet player in the background? He posed perfectly.]

I ate this delectable hazelnut gelato with homemade whipped cream.

That was just two days ago. A mani-pedi, panera date, rehearsal, and rehearsal dinner later, here we are on Friday, June 27th, 2014.

My college roomie, my gym buddy, my Starbucks friend, and my loyal recital partner, it’s your big day.

I said I didn’t think I’d cry, that I’d be brimming with smiles.

But the thing is, I’ll probably cry, because the way he looks at her – his eyes soft and his grin unstoppable –  is enough.

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[Just wait for pictures of the wedding. It’s gonna be a partaaay.]

Dear Daughter

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There aren’t many things more beautiful than a sun-filled day on the lake. The water — warm and clear to the bottom — lapping on the rocks, the wooden dock swaying, the call of loons echoing off the trees. Catching sunfish and showing me proudly, your hands too tender for the sharp scales.

I hope that you know this. I hope that you have long stretches of summers that feel endless.

Because it won’t be long — maybe seven, eight, nine years — before awareness is awoken in you, and you begin to doubt.

You will feel pressure, daughter. Despite my deepest desires, you will feel pressure from me.

I will want what’s best for you. I’ll encircle you with my arms and sing softly against your cheek. But I will also push you, I know this. I will want you to be bold, to be strong, and even though these are good things, pressure is crippling. Forgive me.

It won’t be only from me, born of love and care so deep I can’t fathom it at twenty-five years old.

You will feel pressure from the world. I still feel it, in my adulthood, but I can tell you honestly, it gets better. It gets lighter. And slowly you find you don’t care quite as much as you used to.

For years, though, be ready to hear those whispers from inside you.

I need to be more beautiful. I need to be smarter. I need him to look at me that way. 

I need to be the best.

And even though I feel extremely inadequate to give this advice, darling, because I battle it daily, I know in the core of me that these words are poison.

You will love a boy with your whole heart, and he will not love you back. Or he will, maybe, but not the way you want him to. The thing is, it isn’t like the movies. He won’t mean to hurt you and not even a little part of him will enjoy knowing he caused your pain. In real life, good people hurt us more often than bad people. You might try to paint him in black, but someday you will know: he is good and you are good, you just aren’t good for each other.

I ache for you even now, years before I’ve met you, and I wish I could spare you the ugliness of this world. There’s no such thing, though, as ‘perfect’ — whether in the world or in one human being — and if I want you to fully experience the cherry-popsicle-licking, day-long swimming, cribbage-playing joy of an August day in Maine, I need to be willing to see you get hurt. I need to be willing to let you battle those voices on your own.

Because it isn’t for the prettiest or smartest or funniest that the moon is lassoed.

He has already called you blessed. He has already named you His own. You dazzle Him with who He created you to be, and if you dazzle in Him, every nick and scrape and bruise will be healed.

True beauty is an overlapping of deepest pain with deepest joy.

The moon’s already yours, baby. You just gotta ask.

Love,

Your Someday-Mama