Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Reflection

The trinity is one concept of the Christian faith that has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around. God is three, and yet He is one. It's okay in a murky don't-think-about-it-too-hard sense, but then Jesus comes into the picture and has full on conversations with God the Father and they seem like two concrete and different people. The Holy Spirit is sort of there but not really because He is so amorphous and ghostly, and no one knows how to portray Him in paintings.

Then people use the vengeful version of God the Father for their own purposes and other folks use the sagely Jesus to serve their purposes and everyone thinks the Holy Spirit is there compelling them. Sigh.

But maybe, just maybe, it's not supposed to be about politics; about being right or wrong. Maybe it's about being human. Maybe the trinity is a lot simpler than I thought. I think I'm finally coming to terms with what the trinity means for me. I think I'm starting to get it.

I see it differently now. I feel like when the light hits my life just right, I can see God clearly. When I see the trinity in these fleeting moments, I see a reflection of myself, because God has created us in His image. I see myself at a crossroads as separate forces of my being pull me in different directions, show me different things.

I see God the Father in my role as a mother. I see myself pleased with the power of creation within my being. I see the frustration and goodness and love and fear and humility of being placed in this position. (And perhaps it is not being a parent for you. Perhaps it is your work or helping a cause that is near to your heart. The vantage point is overlooking whatever makes you feel accomplished and whole. It is wherever we feel powerful and humble and alive all at once.) It is hard but always worth it, because I am always in love. The truest love. The kind of love I like to think God feels for us.

I see Jesus in the face of my peers, in the deepest and best parts of my heart. He is one of us, the God that walked among us and understood us in a way we didn't think God could. He opened the door for love, for progress, for fulfilling the desire to live out a more connected human experience. He is the friend, the brother, the soul mate for our kinder parts. He is a love that we know from loving one another. He is the love we understand.

And the Holy Spirit? He is the love we don't understand. He is that indescribable feeling; the crescendo of emotion which weaves in and out of our hearts. He is humanity which knows no bounds. He is the compassion that we feel for strangers. He is the great love that fills our bodies to the brink of bursting. He is that quiet moment in the midst of our suffering where we feel reprieve. He is the mystery that makes life so beautiful.

And when I stand here and look at myself I see it all. I am the mother and child. I am the friend, the sister, the soul mate. I am a vessel for the great mysterious love that the world holds. I am a reflection of God, a small but beautiful version of the Holy Trinity.

At least that's how I'd like to see it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Love at a Teenage Wedding

It was a teenage wedding and the old folks wished them well...
It was a teenage wedding right around graduation time; a guy you played football with and a girl I went to dance classes with. One of the last times we'd all be together in our small dusty town. It was starting to get hot out and we were starting to get wanderlust. Lazy days and ditching classes. Long hikes in the foothills talking big dreams while the sun went down. All that talk about the wedding swirling around us like glittering flecks in a snow-globe.

We were getting ready for that big world on the other side of the valley and the wedding seemed like the first step towards being real deal adults. I went to Target and picked out a waffle-iron from their registry, wrapped it in pink-paisley paper and signed both our names on the card. It made you all sorts of nervous.

We were driving out of Dayton in your beat up truck, dressed in Hawaiian casual as the invitation prompted. That waffle-iron was looming between us, and you told me you never wanted to get married. I rolled my eyes when you weren't looking and asked you why. You went off about it being an institution and unnecessary for proving love and a bunch of other useless stuff. You could've just said it was the waffle-iron in the center seat and the fact that we were seventeen and you were scared and young and didn't want me getting wedding fever. Because darling, I knew all that already. 

So I was laid back and cool while I watched the bride stepping out of her mama's car like a big, tulle cream puff. And I didn't make you dance too much. And I didn't mention "us" that often. We watched hand in hand as the shirtless football player ran down the aisle lighting tikki torches and the guys discoed their way to the altar in flip-flops and the couple cut the volcano/surf-scene wedding cake. It wasn't all too grown-up in the end, and the waffle-iron disappeared in a sea of presents.

On the way home I told you I wanted to get married someday.

"Yeah, I guess someday I might want that," you said.

I smiled when you weren't looking and left it at that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Heaviest Piece of Paper

I am sentimental, but I am not a hoarder. I keep my keepsakes at a minimum. I have only three boxes: one for my marriage, one for my child, and one for the first 18 years of my life. My personal box has been condensed time and time again, purged of notes whose meanings I can't remember and ambiguous participation ribbons from the county fair. Very little schoolwork has survived. An art project here and there, a paper or two I was proud of, a few poems or short stories from English classes. It all fits in your standard Lisa Frank super-rainbow-penguin-sunset-extravaganza folder. The best of the best.

But there is one assignment that stands out among the rest. One piece of paper with a newspaper article attached to it. A mere two sentences, a bright red "A" at the top of the paper and two words from a teacher that break my heart.

It is the one thing I am truly ashamed of writing. And I cannot get rid of it.

I remember the assignment well. It was something we did every week in Bible class. We would be given a clipping from a newspaper and write a few sentences about it in terms of morality or spirituality or something of the sort. Put a biased spin on the news. It was ten percent of our grade.

My article was short; apparently the story was barely newsworthy. A man had broken into the home of a local gay couple and shot them to death. He was facing life in prison. End of story.

I wrote that the man who had murdered these men was wrong and deserved his sentence because he had broken one of the ten commandments by murdering. Murder is never okay, but (and even as I write it out again I want to shake my young self by the shoulders, tell her that she doesn't have to say what this teacher wants her to say) the gay couple was also wrong because they were living in sin and the Bible says being gay is wrong.

It is next to the second sentence, the one which in its naive way exonerates a blatant hate crime, that the teacher wrote "Very Good." He underlined it twice. He gave me an "A."

I could have wrote paragraph upon eloquent paragraph about how this man was misguided in his hatred, about how Jesus loved the sinners and embraced the social outcasts. I could have said that no one should be punished for love. I could have stood up for all the students who silently chastised themselves for being different, or as our teacher would say, wrong. I could have done the right thing.

But here's the big problem: I don't think I knew what the right thing was.

My teacher, this spiritual figurehead, a self-proclaimed God-warrior was not a man I admired. But up until a certain point in my life, I believed what he said, because he was my teacher and that was the way it was supposed to work. So while he taught us to hate in the name of God's love I numbly absorbed it, repeated it verbatim, got good grades. I didn't see the real life harm in it. I didn't actually see anyone getting hurt. 

I remember when it all stopped. One day on the blacktop when I heard him tell a friend of mine that she was less of a person because she didn't have a father.When I saw for the first time the sharp barbed edges of words uttered beneath the veil of Christianity. When I learned that I would have to decide right from wrong for myself. I started to get failing grades in Bible class and that was okay.

I kept that piece of paper. Every time I found it again, I wanted to throw it away, to hide it's existence. I wanted to burn it and throw the ashes in the face of that Bible teacher for all the gay students who endured his legacy of hate. Instead I tucked it away in the back of my folder time and again. I could not part with it.

I keep this piece of paper, its words weighing heavy on my heart every time I think of it, as a reminder of who I could have been. As a reminder that hate is learned. As a constant reminder that I cannot stay silent and keep my head down while people like my old Bible teacher are still out there raising generations of bullies and victims. As a reminder to myself: to dispel these messages of misguided hate, to remember Jesus as the true figurehead of my spirituality. A reminder to make a difference with love.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

All I Need

There are times when I think about my life in a larger context, about who I am beyond motherhood. I think about myself as a writer and what that will look like in the years to come. I think about becoming a student again, becoming a teacher perhaps. Sometimes I become anxious for my life outside these walls, on the days when Lucas doesn't nap and the house isn't clean and I'm not certain what's for dinner and it all seems so mundane. It's not often, but these moments happen. I get wanderlust. I get impatient.

A lifetime ago, you slept in the sunlight without a care.
But then there are these moments: where I sneak into his room in the middle of the night, before I go to sleep. Where I lean over his crib to get a better look at his face in the quiet darkness. Where I gently put my hand on his stomach and stay, feeling him breathe in and out.

And in these moments, I wonder how anything exists outside me and him and the darkness. How could there be more? Why would there be more? This is all I need.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers of Daughters

Sometimes, I think I might want a girl someday. Then I remember that I was a girl once, growing from a tyrannical toddler throwing tantrums in Disneyland, screaming out open windows that my mother was killing me -- into a door-slamming, wall-punching teenager who snuck out windows and drank at parties and had seriously terrible taste in music (Korn, anyone?). I think about how frighteningly full-circle that journey would be, and I decide the cute baby girl clothes probably aren't worth it.

I'm not saying I never want a girl. I do. . .maybe. . .someday. . .we'll see. But the prospect of having a girl is daunting, because I know what that experience looks like from the other side, and it is not all rainbows and sunshine and darling dresses. It's scary and horrifying and at some point I assume you just have to cross your fingers and hope your best was enough. Because you won't be getting any reassurance that you're doing things right, that's for sure.

But Mom, today I want you to know your best was more than enough.

You threw the best birthday parties, hosted the best sleepovers, went to every gymnastics meet or dance recital or choir performance or cheer-leading competition or Taekwondo event that I ever had. You drove me to school dances and bought me beautiful dresses and paid for overpriced hair updos and bought me ice-cream when Jimmy Diekmann wouldn't dance with me. You chauffeured me countless miles. You were there when I woke up. You were there when I went to sleep. You were always right there within arms-reach.

You were not thanked, but you never quit.

But being the supermom is the easy part, isn't it?

Because raising a daughter is more complicated than that. There is character that must be built, a confidence that needs to be instilled, a strength that must be taught. There are some things you can only learn by being raised by a strong woman, and thanks to you I have been so lucky.

You always had a quiet fortitude that I noticed from a distance. You carried within yourself a life that I did not know, that I may never fully know. To me, you were Mom and that was the wholeness of your being. But there was more to you than that, and even when I didn't know it I'm sure that I felt it.

Because I always wanted to know who you were as a person, as an individual. It was a curiosity not only for your life but for my own. In the process of deciding who you were, I was deciding who I wanted to be. At the time, I said I didn't want to be anything like you. I yelled it, I'm sure. But when it comes right down to it, all the important traits that make me proud of who I am -- I'm sure those traits come from you.

I watched you, and I saw the kind of woman you were, even if I could not put into words the opinions that were being tattooed to my heart. You embodied the strength that comes from seeing life at its highest and lowest moments -- a life that you did not allow to break you. I tried to break you sometimes, and maybe once or twice I did, but you were resilient. You were strong and self-assured. I saw it. I remembered.

You worked hard and you had passion for what you chose to do with your life. You did not settle, you were always improving. You lived as if your best was never enough, because you had drive. You worked 50 hour weeks and went to school and did that whole supermom thing. You never had to tell me who you were, did you? You showed me. I rolled my eyes at you, but you showed me.

You loved fiercely. You kept me close, and I hated you for it. I felt safe and loved, but I was so mad I couldn't see straight most of the time. I wanted you to let go of me, and I said every horrible thing you could imagine, but you never let me go. I was so anxious to go out there and make all the mistakes I could, as if I didn't have my whole life ahead of me to do just that. And sure I peeked into the abyss every now and again, but I could feel your hand wrapped tight around my wrist each time I leaned in for a closer look. Then I'd come home, and I'd seethe and glare and lock myself in my bedroom, because I knew I could never jump off the edge.

Then I turned eighteen, and I ran headlong into a harsh world. And sure for a while I only ate off-brand ramen noodles and off-brand golden puffs, but I survived because I was prepared. Because I learned from your example to be strong and self-assured and hardworking and driven. I adapted, I learned, I grew up. Even though I was young, I was ready to take on the world because you showed me how. Because that resilience a saw in you was within me all along.

I made it through college and accomplished a lot more than I ever thought possible. I got married and bought a house and gave birth to a son and graduated university. I owe a part of all of that to you, Mom. My accomplishments will always be yours as well.

I'm still young, and I've still got a lot to learn. I'm still making mistakes and growing up. There is so much life ahead of me still. But I'm proud of where I am right now. I'm proud of where I've been. I'm proud of where I'm going.

I am becoming a strong woman, because you were a good mother.

So, thank you. For everything.

I still don't have a clue as to exactly how much you did for me over the years. I don't know what it feels like to be the mother of a daughter. Maybe someday you'll tell me. Maybe I'll find out for myself. I am only barely figuring out what it means to be a mother at all.

But I imagine the appreciation in my heart for you will continue to grow through the years, because I'm seeing your journey through different eyes now:

"...And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


-Tina Fey, "Bossypants"

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day.

*If you've never read Tina Fey's "Prayer for my Daughter" you can read it in it's entirety on the blog I pulled it from. Or just buy the book, because I hear it's awesome. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

DIY Salt Dough Keepsakes

I have been dying to share these salt dough keepsakes with you all week, but I didn't want to ruin the surprise for any of my daycare parents who received them as Mother's Day gifts. But fear not, you can easily make these in time for Mother's Day (and trust me, you should).

I cannot get over how adorable they are or how unbelievably easy they are. Three simple ingredients + super pliable dough = a happy crafty mama. Plus these salt dough keepsakes are good for more than just Mother's Day. You can make them for birthday/newborn keepsakes, Christmas ornaments, grandparent's gifts, mom/dad birthday gifts. You can decorate with stamps or paint, use the dough make gift tags or paper weights or jewelry; the list goes on.

Use you imagination (or look to Pinterest for inspiration), because this recipe is awesome.

It is, in fact, a recipe for awesomeness.

Salt Dough Keepsakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup table salt
1 cup lukewarm water

In a stand mixer, combine all ingredients and knead with dough hook for 5 minutes until smooth and pliable. Knead for 2 minutes by hand. Roll out into desired thickness (about 1/4-1/2" is good) and cut out desired shapes. Press handprints/footprints into dough, write messages using toothpicks if desired.

Bake at 200 degrees for about 1-2 hours (depending on size/thickness). Allow to cool and harden. You can decorate using acrylic paint if desired, or spray paint (shiny metallic paint works great to bring out the handprints).

Notes: You can allow these to harden without using an oven, but it will take 3-4 days. A stand mixer isn't required, but kneading by hand will probably take around 10-15 minutes.The dough will keep in the refrigerator if you want to make it ahead of time. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Life Changers

Go ahead, ask anyone of any age who their favorite teachers are (trust me, it will always be present-tense). I guarantee they can name them without a second thought.


We all know why.

Because these people matter. Good teachers aren't just game changers, they are life changers. They are models of strength and wisdom. They guide us along the path to our dreams. They encourage. They demand. They inspire.

They show up day after thankless day. They show up with passion.

They chose this road, knowing it would be difficult and inhospitable. They chose it not for money or fame or praise. They chose it knowing that respect would not be given freely, but earned, and even then would be hard to come by. They chose to teach in spite of the struggle, the long hours, the haranguing of parents and students alike.

They chose it for you. Because they believed in you, even before they knew you. Because they knew you were good enough, even when you didn't.

Good teachers are not easy. They do not settle for your second best, your excuses, your desire to just get by. They don't want to hear why you can't. They want to show you that you can. They don't want to hand out good grades, but they do want to see you earn them. They want more, because they know you are capable. Because they want to see you succeed outside the walls of mere academia. Because they know your potential.

The best teachers are not always the favorites. They are the ones you butt heads with. The ones who are fiercely disliked. The ones who pull you away from the comfortable lull of things you already know.

The teachers who really matter teach more than just the textbook. They teach you about yourself. They reveal to you new depths of your character. They show you the long-armed reach of your true abilities. It is not an easy road, but they are willing to walk make the trek with you.

They aren't doing this for themselves; they are doing this for you. For every student who will grow stronger because they were challenged. For every child who grows up to be more than they thought possible. For every single one of you who will look back and realize that you truly learned something worthwhile.

Someday I hope to find all of the teachers who changed my life. To look them in the eye and tell them that they matter more than they will ever know. But today, to those of you I have within my reach, I want you to know that I appreciate what you have done for me and countless others. I want you to know that the love you have bestowed through teaching will span the world over and trickle through generations unknown. You are life changers, all of you.

Thank you.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Some Sweet Stuff

Is Monday here already? Yes, yes it is.

I hope you all had a lovely weekend. Ours went by way to fast, but was filled with great adventures. Heart-melting adventures, as you can see.

But Monday is here, so here's some sweet stuff to start off your week right:

  • Some dazzling super moon photographs from around the world (I am in love with the one of the super moon rising over Lady Liberty). 
  • One of the best mother's day gift lists I have ever seen via Monica Bielanko (take note, husband).
  • The best bizarre news stories you'll read all day, from the ever entertaining (I'm partial to the underground fun-time terrorists with a couscous maker in their politically confusing movie theater/lair).
  •  I was torn between sharing McSweeney's available nanny position or some Princess Bride lines suitable for critiquing freshman composition papers (obviously, I couldn't choose).
  • Martha's mother's day crafts are always gorgeous (though sometimes impractical, I'm looking at you decorative origami-esque placecards).

Let's have a good week, shall we?

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Artist

I have long looked forward to the day that Lucas would finally create something. The day when he would finally put a crayon to paper, instead of trying to eat it. We've tried this before, it hasn't worked out.

But today was different. I brought out the easel and he dove into the crayons. He grabbed the brightest blue there was in the tray and scrawled haphazard lines across the paper. He took out color after color and put them all to paper. Eventually I taped the paper to the floor, and he squatted over it to draw, and that seemed to suit him much better.

Mostly, he just dotted the paper but every once in a while the crayon would sweep across the vast white expanse. In the beginning he looked up at me each time, for the approval I was quick to give. But soon he didn't look up at all. He concentrated on the movement and the newness of it all. Perhaps today he saw a new depth of his power, that tremendous power of creation within himself. Because he had made something where there was nothing before. Because there was new color in the world, and it was all because of him.

And I realize, we must feel an awful lot alike in moments like this. While he looks at his drawing through lenses tainted with child-mind magic; I'm looking at his silk-spun hair and satin-smooth skin and breathing in that sweet baby smell he still has. I watch him work with wild abandon, and I am in awe at the power of creation within myself. Because I have made something beautiful where there was nothing before. There is new color in the world, because he is mine.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Love in a Shoebox

Our first, tiny apartment. You called it our love nest.
You know what you told me once, when that car alarm was going off in the parking lot again and it was the middle of the night and there were folks yelling outside and we couldn't sleep worth a damn? When we were living in that one bedroom shoebox where only one of us could fit in the kitchen at a time and we lived on spaghetti and Mexican popsicles? When the only furniture we had was a card table and that futon couch from K-Mart that bottomed out on you while we were watching TV one night? When we were packed into that small bed like a couple of sardines, always tripping over each other in the darkness?

You told me that this was how you knew we were going to make it. You told me you would always remember how happy we were, living in a one bedroom apartment in a crap part of town, hardly making ends meet and eating the same cheap dinner every night.  If we could be happy like this, you said, we'll always be happy.

If some drunk justice of the peace had stumbled into our room at that moment, I would've married you right then and there.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teaching my Son the "F" Word

Some parents never say the "F" word in front of their kids. Some use the "F" word recklessly in front of their children, without knowing the proper context for the word themselves. I know sooner or later my son will hear the "F" word and, quite frankly, I'd rather have him hear it from me first. I'd like to teach him the proper usage of the term before he learns it from a loud-mouthed, politically incorrect relative at some Thanksgiving dinner down the road.

I'm talking about the word "feminist."

Did this whole post just get a little more taboo?
I think it might have, and that saddens me greatly.

It seems like our society has this weird idea of feminism as being stuck in a realm of unshaven, lesbian man-haters. Feminism harkens images of angry bra-burnings and women who want third trimester abortions just because they can. It's a term reserved for extremists.

But, here's the thing. . .it's not. Not for me. Not anymore.

I grew up with that weird, skewed connotation of feminism. When I was younger, I thought feminism was against me, because I had dreams of a family, I liked baking pies and I thought dresses and high heels were pretty. I had traditional values, and that's not what feminism was about. Feminism was only for career oriented women and lesbian man-haters. That's the idea that was drilled into me all my life (granted, I did attend a Christian school with questionable worldviews, but still. . .). I never heard any of the women I admired or looked up to call themselves feminists, so why would I want any part of this feminist nonsense? Why would anyone?

Why, I wonder, did no one ever set me straight on this matter?

Because let's get down to business here: despite the taboo, extremist connotation our society has adopted as common truth, feminism is about equality for women. Period.

Let me start by stating that I am not writing this to bemoan our patriarchal society and act like I am so oppressed. I have been given a life of abundant freedom. I am well aware of my blessings. But in light of recent legislation being pushed in favor of taking away women's reproductive rights and some really unsavory comments made towards women by public figures, I think it's important to examine why more women don't feel comfortable speaking up for themselves.

I think part of it has to do with feminism being a "bad word." I think it has to do with the misconception that feminism is only representative of a certain type of woman, rather than it being a platform for all women. I think we are misguided in our use of the word (I know I was for a very long time). I think it's time we rethink our motives for being quiet. Because there are new trails to blaze on the path to human rights. There is much to be done without worrying about repeating history. It's not time to move backwards.

Now let's go a little further, let's confront my personal old misconception, by saying feminism supports my lifestyle. Feminism is all about stay-at-home moms who like to bake pies and put dinner on the table at a certain time every night and have dreams of big families and houses in the country. It's all about traditional values and living like a fifties housewife if that's what you want to do. It's about having equality, so you are free to make that choice.

I love my life, and I am happy with the choice I have made to stay home with Lucas. It leaves me feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. But let's go out on a very short limb here and say maybe not every woman dreams of staying home with babies. Maybe, some women don't even dream of babies at all (gasp!). I want every man and woman to live a life that leaves them feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. I know, that's not going to happen for everyone. But wouldn't it be nice to at least give everyone that opportunity, that freedom?

That's what feminism is about.

It's not about hating men. It's not about putting the wants or needs of women above men. It's about leveling the playing field, because the human experience does not fit the cookie cutter mold that our society once dictated. Because we are more than just men and women. We are individuals, and we deserve the chance to live out our unique dreams.

I want my son to understand feminism for what it is. Not what people think it is. I want to raise a man who will fight for a just world. A man who will support his peers, regardless of their gender or orientation, because it's the right thing to do. I want him to respect others because he views them as his equals.

I guess I'm saying, I want to raise a feminist. Or in other words, a good man.

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