mountains and horizons and kindergarten graduation

What I will remember is this.

Not the way he flashed our I love you sign when the principal told the kids to wave to their parents in the crowd.

Not the way he snapped his fingers all cool-jazz-like to the peppy beat of the classic kindergarten songs, a happy hipster belting out tunes about flowers and sun and roots and wings.

Not the way he asked twice (twice!) for his picture to be taken with a friend, our shy guy now hamming it up for the camera with his arm draped around his buddy.

Not the way his teacher teared up at end of the ceremony and my husband standing at the back of the room, jostling the tired baby, said to me later that’s how you know she’s one of the great ones, isn’t it? That she still gets misty after 25 years of teaching.

I hope I remember all that, of course.

I hope I remember the moments wrapped around the milestone.

But what I know I will remember is the astonishing sky as I drove away tonight. Heavy grey storm clouds peeling away in layers. A giant, jagged line of blinding white thunderheads rolling onto the horizon, so thick and startling that they seemed like snow-capped summits, like we’d been spun around and set down in the middle of mountain country.

imageI drove west, into the faux white peaks, nearly careening off the road twice because I couldn’t stop looking up and around. Couldn’t stop seeing the metaphor stretching out in front of me.

Because what rushed over me tonight in the wave of emotion I expected as a first-time mom at a first-child milestone was not nostalgia for the meaning of the moment or a preview of future graduations or the wonder at the baby becoming the boy.

It was the dizzying realization that a whole year had whizzed by.

While I barely blinked.

Older and wiser parents love to tell we new ones this head-shaking truth, that the years fly by and before you know it, they’ll be graduating from high school and I can’t believe how fast it went. I thought they said this because that is what you’re supposed to say. That is the natural voice of nostalgia. That is the happy satisfaction of having parented.

But tonight I kept driving towards those billowing clouds, mountains of white rising on the horizon. And I realized the sadness caught in my throat was because I knew that each staggering summit that seems to rise before my eyes today, daunting and towering and oh-so-important, will become like every other looming line of thick clouds before it.

I will pass through. A new horizon will emerge.

Time will keep rolling on, thunderous and true.

I wanted the years to fly by then. When I would one day be the mother of sprawling teenagers or beaming college graduates or wondering young adults. I wanted to look back then and see time speeding up, picking up pace with each passing year.

But I feel it now, the days peeling by under my feet, the months lunging forward like storm-swept clouds, a whole year whooshing away with the startling speed of a subway train that never even slowed down at this station, that is racing on elsewhere and I am left staring at the empty tunnel as its shadow shrinks behind to nothing.

What I will remember from tonight is this startling truth mirrored in billowing clouds. That today’s mountain is tomorrow’s horizon. That milestones mark what we cannot bear to see every day. That time is already racing by. 

And that it is a still-startling gift that I get to be here. That I get to love these children. That I get to watch a whole horizon of beckoning unknown stretching out before all of us.

And he took one more step toward it tonight. Right before my eyes.

 

the problem (and the promise) of mother’s day

I am a mother. Mother’s Day is not supposed to be hard.

Glossy ads and glittery cards tell me this. I am supposed to enjoy a light and easy day! Put up my feet and pamper myself! Delight my children’s affection! Bask in my husband’s gratitude! Eat breakfast in bed or indulge in sweet desserts or let the waiter offer me a mimosa on the house because…motherhood.

But the reality? It’s much more complicated.

. . .

Do you know who I think about every Mother’s Day?

I think about my mom, of course. I think about how she still has to pause before answering the supposedly simple question of “How many children do you have?” Because my brother died decades ago, but he is still her son.

I think about a dear friend who dreams of adopting, who has been another mother to my boys, who lost a baby to miscarriage. Because the world would not include her among those we celebrate with brunch or flowers, but she is more mother than almost anyone else I know.

I think about the baby we lost, the life so small that some would never consider it real. Because I am still that child’s mother, but no one sees his or her shadow behind the three bright faces of my living boys.

I think about women I know who have had abortions. Who suffered abuse at the hands of men who were supposed to care for them, or who made decisions that haunt them for the rest of their lives, or whose future families were forever shaped by what came before. I mourn that we do not have good ways for them to talk about their pain and grief and loss.

I think about couples I know who have been trying to conceive for years. Who hate the Hallmark holidays of May and June because they are bombarded with constant reminders that they are still not mothers and fathers. That they might never be. I wish we could remember to pray for those with aching hearts when we bless parents, too.

Every year on Mother’s Day I am tugged in opposite directions. I struggle with how to celebrate such a complicated day.

It is a problem.

. . .

Because Mother’s Day is also a day for the mothers of children who died. Who will not get a homemade painting or a Hallmark card this year or any spring day to come.

It is also a day for the women who wanted to become mothers but never did. The ones who will hurry out of church before Sunday’s final blessing because it’s too painful to stay seated while smiling women stand all around them.

It is also a day for the mothers of stillborn babies, miscarried babies, and children who didn’t even get a dash between dates on their gravestones, whose birthday was their only day on earth. The ones who carry the memories, generations later, of what might have been.

It is also a day for daughters who lost their mothers. The ones who still grieve decades later and who mourn the grandmother their children never got to know.

It is also a day for everyone who had a complicated relationship with their mother. The ones who felt failed or forgotten or forsaken by the one person that we assume was never supposed to betray them.

So whenever May rolls around, I try to hold space for all of these people. I pray for hope and peace to be theirs. I try to love the ones around me, those I have been given to mother and those who teach me how to mother. I try to remember the shadow side of every celebration. I pray not to make assumptions about other people’s lives.

This is the only way I know how to celebrate Mother’s Day.

image

Because when I think about what we want to celebrate on this holiday – and it is certainly worth celebrating – it is the love and compassion and generosity of the mothering spirits who have cared for us, whether mothers or grandmothers or aunts or godmothers or birth mothers or stepmothers or others.

And here’s the real rub. All those who fit this loving ideal? They would want us to include all those who are hurting and excluded, too. This is what they taught us to do. To live compassionately. To love deeply.

This is the only way Mother’s Day makes sense.

This is a promise.

. . .

This post is full of links (highlighted in pink above) to stories about the shadow side of Mother’s Day. Please take a moment to click and read a reflection or two, and share with someone who might need to know they’re not alone in their struggles.

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when you’ve done everything the wrong way

I sat there squirming in my seat, fingers cramping from writing too fast, frantically trying to scribble down everything she said.

Publicity must done be in advance of publication; six months minimum if you want anyone to notice; early early early is all that matters

A solitary Saturday, a workshop with writers, a warm cup of tea in one hand and a copy of a book I’d written in the other. I thought it had the makings of a perfect morning.

Instead my head spun as the expert kept advising about agents and interviews and networking and advance reviews. While the only coherent phrase I could conjure was that stupid cliché: drinking from a fire hose. Gulp.

When the workshop slammed up against the clock and skidded to a halt, I skittered out of the classroom before anyone else had even snapped shut their sleek laptops. I called my husband from the snowy parking lot, stamping my boots free of slush, trying to laugh it off: I guess I should have been here a year ago. Oh well.

But as I drove home, coaxing my scattered thoughts back into settled silence, all I could think was that it felt so familiar. That frantic sense of feeling so lost, so stretched, so overwhelmed, so far behind the game that had only just begun.

It felt like when I first became a mom.  

. . .

Maybe you are blessed with uber-confident friends, but pretty much every parent I know is convinced they’re screwing up somehow.

I used to think it was unavoidable in these blurry early years, when everything is brand-new and we’re all amateurs and our training is on the job.

So many small stumbles. The night I lost my temper at a sleepless baby only to learn he was cutting shining pearls of new teeth. Or the week I was convinced the toddler was misbehaving and it turned out he had a double ear infection. The days I hollered at one child and the culprit turned out to be the other one.

Mini mistakes in the long run. But in those sinking moments, it still felt like I’d failed the ones who had been entrusted to me. Like I’d done exactly the opposite of what they needed.

But as years passed, I started listening to all those older and wiser and calmer parents, the ones I hope I might become someday. Turns out they feel they’ve done plenty wrong, too. Too little or too late, too much or too long. What can you do but forgive yourself?

Rare is the sweet spot sensation, the celebratory whoop of having nailed it. More familiar is the fumbling, the floundering, the fudging of our own uncertainty under a thin but hopeful veneer. We’re trying. Tomorrow we’re going to try again. Most of the time, that’s enough.

Good things happen – to us, to our kids – either because of what we’ve done or in spite of it. Ditto for the bad things.

So this book stuff? It’s the same deal. Did I follow all the experts’ advice, did I do all the shoulds and musts and needs and have-tos, did I have any clue what I was doing when I first set out?

No. And that will be fine. It will be enough.

. . .

“You only know what you know,” the teacher tried to reassure me when I finally braved to raise my hand and ask what if it’s too late? “If the book came out in November, you can still do something. Probably.” What to do but shrug and smile?

I’ve heard the same consolation before. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t know in the past. For what you didn’t do. For choices you made not knowing any better.

Even when it feels like we’ve done everything the wrong way, that moment of realization can still be a gift: the clarity that we’re actually doing something right. Because we’re still going. We’re still doing, guessing, hoping, moving forward, waking up again tomorrow and starting again.

The way winds long – whether it’s parenting or faith or simply trying to live as human in the world. And we’re still on it. We’re still going. We’re still doing plenty right.

. . .

The baby woke at 4 am. I stumbled into slippers and padded down the hall to his room. When I opened his door, he quieted at the sound of my voice. I scooped him up from his crib and felt my way to the rocker. I nursed him as I dozed, then he stirred and I roused to change his diaper. Moves I’ve done thousands of times before.

Only once I’d settled him back to sleep and I turned back to the door to feel for the knob – only then did I realize I’d done everything in the dark.

It’s been that way for two babies now, this knowing how to night-parent by instinct. Moving through the darkness, not even a nightlight to guide my steps, yet doing exactly what I need to do: nurse, change, soothe, love.

If I’d told myself when I was a brand-new mom that I wouldn’t need bedroom lights blazing to figure out how to latch the baby on correctly or how to change a diaper without making a mess, I would have laughed out loud. Impossible.

Now I’m learning to find my way in the dark. No expert taught me that. But it feels just right.

image

the day after the first christmas

Here she is, only a day into motherhood. Her hands trying to figure out how to feed her crying newborn, human as he is. Maybe she has help from midwives who took pity on a poor girl far from home, no kinswoman of her own to care for her. Or maybe she feels so alone that her heart aches for her mother or cousin, sisters or friends, anyone who could guide her learning to nurse this baby, bring soft clothes to diaper him, serve her warm food for strength, help tend her healing body.

Here he is, only a day into fatherhood. His head still reeling from the panicked fear of not finding her a place in time, his face flushed from the shame of not being able to provide. He never dreamed any of this: witnessing labor only women do, caring for a wife he had never touched, staring while strangers showed up to a filthy stable to say they saw some sign of hope. And having to hold her in that darkest hour, the moment when the world split open between life and death and everything hung in the barren breathless balance of will the baby cry?

Here they are, only a day from the strangest night. Angels and shepherds and songs and strangers – everything foreign and far from what their familiar lives had known as truth. Here they are, together and alone. Starting parenthood smack dab in the middle of salvation history.

. . .

They hang in my mind today. As I nurse the baby in new Christmas pajamas, vacuum shreds of gift wrap from the carpet, scrub chocolate smears from holiday platters, haul cardboard boxes to the cold garage.

I wonder what they might have felt, worried, dreamed, laughed, cried. That first morning after.

It is dangerous to imagine ourselves into their shoes and stories. I know this. We call it isogesis. A technical theological term for that thorny tendency to read into the text with our own biases, agendas, presuppositions.

Safer and wiser to exegete. To keep a safe distance from the sentiment of the story, to let the author and the audience and the ancient context tell their own intended tale.

But it can be just as dangerous not to imagine. If we don’t let them come to life – messy, muddling, realest reality of life – then these far-off figures stay story characters, pastel pictures in soft light on smooth pages of children’s books. One-dimensional. Archaic. Dusty history.

If we don’t let her sweat as a hard-working mother, then Mary is only pictured in pious pose, swooning over the sleeping Christ child. If we don’t let him wrestle with fatherhood on terms he never would have chosen, then Joseph remains only the silent stalwart standing behind her in stained glass scenes.

If we do not let their stories leap to life with the dreaming minds God gave us, then their lives cannot become real to our faith. They do not struggle, stumble, wonder, wait, learn, love, forget, forgive. They do not grow into the people God asked them to become.

Her fiat changed the world. His faith did the same. What might ours do?

Here we are, only a day into a new Christmastide. How will we let ourselves be changed?

the blog book tour: day 6. molly makes do

Remember when I did that series on “start seeing sacraments,” trying to capture images of the seven Catholic sacraments in photographs?

Turns out I should have left it to Molly from Molly Makes Do.

Today’s stop on the Everyday Sacrament book tour is a gorgeous collection of quotes and images she compiled to show the ordinary holiness of her own life. And I’m so inspired by the glimpses of sacraments she gathered.

I first found Molly’s blog when I was writing an essay on the prepartum depression I had while pregnant with our second son. No one I knew personally had experienced this kind of depression during pregnancy, and I had felt desperately alone during those months of darkness.

When I discovered Molly’s words years later, I felt an immediate kinship to another mom who had written honestly about her own struggles with depression and pregnancy. Since then I have been awed and humbled by her reflections on miscarriage and wrestling with motherhood’s darker moments. All of which was wrapped up in my own writing in Everyday Sacrament, too. Making me all the more grateful to have Molly as part of the blog book tour.

Click over to Molly Makes Do to spend a few moments with her beautiful images, and be sure to check out her amazing ideas for Advent at home, too!

(And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the last stop in the book tour – can’t wait!)

the book blog tour – day 3: small town simplicity

Lydia’s blog is one of my absolute favorites of the whole blog-o-sphere.

Even when I cut back on blog reading, I always make sure to stop by Small Town Simplicity for her gentle words and peaceful encouragement, both for mothering’s hard days and the challenges of the Christian life in general.

Lydia’s voice is warm and welcoming and wise (I think she’s the next Ann Voskamp, honestly). And even though on the surface, our stories probably seem quite different – she’s a Lutheran homeschooling mom of six-going-on-seven – I feel like she is absolutely a kindred spirit.

In the best Anne Shirley sense of the term.

I’m especially grateful today for her perspective on how this book’s seemingly very Catholic subject – the seven sacraments – still resonated deeply with her as a Christian and a parent.

Today Lydia is hosting the Everyday Sacrament book tour with a review and giveaway. So if you don’t yet have a copy, click over to win one of your own!

(But I think you should stick around and soak up Lydia’s words, too. Trust me, you won’t regret this peaceful pause in your Advent.)

Next week the book tour will continue with four more stops, starting on Tuesday. Happy Advent-ing till then!

the blog book tour – day 2. surviving our blessings.

The title of Abbey’s blog sums up nearly everything that has been written about parenting small children:

SURVIVING OUR BLESSINGS

Yes, this work is wonderful. Yes, it is an incredible gift.

And yes, some days it is so hard it feels like pure survival.

I love Abbey’s reflections on life with four kids (including twins). Her writing on faith is deeply thoughtful and always offers perspectives I’d never considered. Since I work for an ecumenical institute, I especially appreciate Abbey’s ecumenical heart and encouragement to seek out our common threads as Christians. I’m so grateful that our paths crossed in this blogging world.

Right now I’m reminded of our “virtual friendship” each night that our kids tear into the Advent chain that she inspired us to start last year. And I always bookmark the ideas she shares for celebrating the liturgical year at home with little ones.

I’m so grateful to have Abbey hosting the Everyday Sacrament book tour today. Hop over to read her review (and enter her giveaway!) and don’t forget to follow her work at Surviving Our Blessings!

And tomorrow we’ll have stop #3 on the book tour – check back for details…

the blog book tour – day 1! random acts of momness

Ginny is one of my favorite friends on the Internet. (Such are statements that bloggers find totally sane.)

Even though we’ve never met In Real Life, I feel a deep kinship with her writing and thoughts on faith at Random Acts of Momness. I love that Ginny is hosting the first day of the Everyday Sacrament book tour, because she is always as warm and gracious in her words as I imagine she would be in person. Ginny is a mom of boys, a voracious reader, and a Jane Austen devotee – what’s not to love?!

Not only did Ginny offer wise and helpful advice when I was starting to write Everyday Sacrament – since she is a published author many times over – she was also one of the first people I reached out to after my miscarriage, since I knew she had written so honestly about her own losses. Until I started sharing my story, I hadn’t known many women in my life who had suffered miscarriages. I will never forget that Ginny took the time to grieve with me across the miles. Proof of how powerful our “virtual” connections can be.

Ginny’s writing is eloquent and thoughtful and funny and faith-filled. (Her books are fantastic, too: Mary & Me and Random MOMents of Grace have a special place on my shelf!)

Click here to read Ginny’s post and spend some time getting to know Random Acts of Momness if you’re not already following. Ginny came up with great interview questions to kick off the blog tour, so I hope you enjoy these today, too.

Tune in tomorrow for stop #2 on the book tour!

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 1)

I’m so excited for today.

Because today I’m finally launching something I’ve dreamed of doing for years on this blog.

Every day more people visit here looking for “prayers for pregnancy” than anything else. And I always wished I had more to offer them.

Especially for the heart-breaking searches: prayers for trying to conceive, prayers for an unwanted pregnancy, prayers for depression during pregnancy.

My dream is to have prayers for all of those searchers, and I am slowly at work on a bigger project around prayers for pregnancy – including prayers on infertility and miscarriage, and lots more Scripture.

But for now, I’ll be rolling out over the next nine weeks one prayer for each of the nine months of pregnancy. (All the prayers for pregnancy will end up here, too.)

Each prayer is inspired by one of the nine fruits of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

And the whole prayer series is inspired by Paul’s words that sum up the life of Christian faith:

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Because if we live by the Spirit, let these nine months also be guided by the Spirit, whom we profess each Sunday in our creed to be the giver of life. These nine months of expectation and preparation, wonder and worry, joy and hope. All of is it caught up in the Spirit.

So without further ado, here is the prayer for the 1st month of pregnancy.

A prayer for love.

Prayers for Pregnancy: Month 1Month 1:

God of love,
Our desire for a child
Was born out of love:
For you,
For each other,
And for this new life. 

In these first fragile weeks,
While the child within me
Is knit together in love,
Protect us both
And guide our growth.

Help me to remember
That this is how we love:
In the body,
In mystery,
In sacred surrender
To each other.

May my life be one of love,
And may my child grow
Into all that love has waiting. 

In love I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

(with thanks to the generous & talented Kendra of Catholic All Year for the beautiful memes!)

. . .

And if you’re not expecting a baby (and most of us aren’t!), I hope you’ll pass these prayers along to someone else.

In the meantime, here are some other places I’ve been writing lately:

a bouquet of incarnations for mother’s day

First, gather the flowers. 

At Mass a few weeks ago, my oldest boy leaned into my side while we stood to say the creed together. I recited the words on the projector screen, still prompting us with the new translation of the prayer after decades of The Version We Used To Say.

Absent-mindedly, I stumbled as happens so often, tripping over clumsy words that once were clear:

“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was born – dah! was incarnate! – of the Virgin Mary and became man.”

Without thinking, I rubbed the basketball of my belly in that unconscious instinct of expectant mothers. I thought about birth and babies and started to grumble about why we didn’t say “born” anymore, why the abstract theological was deemed better than the concrete physical.

Then I felt baby’s quick jab to my right side, sharp enough to make me wince. And I felt my son’s tired lean into my left side, heavy enough to make me shift my footing.

And I realized. Maybe incarnate was a truer truth.

. . .

Second, arrange the stems. 

Here’s the fact I forgot about incarnation: it was not a one-shot, abracadabra magical minute. Not the mysterious instant of the Spirit making a virgin Mary pregnant. Not the painful moment of pushing the baby into the world of cold and air.

If incarnation means God becoming fully human, that process took time.

Days and days of dark growth in the womb. Weeks and weeks of babyhood in his parents’ arms. Months and months of toddling steps and babbling words and bubbling emotions. Years and years of learning childhood’s lessons, adolescence’s growth, and adulthood’s maturity.

And she was helping to incarnate him through all of that.

Of course I understand theologically what we’re claiming in the creed. That the second Mary said yes and the divine light that was Jesus sparked within her, his life was fully human. I remember learning all the councils and heresies and theologians that fought to argue passionately for Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. I know why it’s essential Christian doctrine.

Yet I can’t help but think we lose sight of incarnation’s depth if we confine it to an angelic visitation or a virgin birth. I believe it was longer and messier and more exhausting. The lifelong journey that a mother’s love sticks around to see through to the end.

All the way to the cross.

. . .

Third, set in sunshine and water. 

How long does it take to raise our babies?

Is it the nine months we carry them within us, or the years we spend waiting for the phone call that will bring them to our door?

Is it the eighteen years of childhood that society (and sarcastic jokes) dictate we’re in charge of their upbringing?

I think of all the parents I know with adult children, how they still lose sleep worrying at night. How they still hope they’ll check in after a long trip. How they still pray for their safety and dream of their success.

If it takes us a lifetime to become fully human – to try and grasp the beauty and the pain of this mysterious, fragile existence – then maybe bringing our babies to the fullness of life takes years, too.

Maybe “incarnate” is a better word than “born” to wrestle our arms around what it meant for Mary to give her daring yes to a life that she never imagined. To a life that would change our own.

. . .

Fourth, drink in the blooms. 

If my boys ever offer me the chance to pick the book for naptime or bedtime (which rarely happens), I always reach for the same favorite.

mama saysMama says be good,

Mama says be kind,

Mama says the rain will come,

But still the sun will shine.

I found the book in our college bookstore when my first baby was brand-new, and of course I cried as I flipped through the pages. Mothers from cultures around the world teaching their sons life’s essential lessons.

Mama says be loving,

Mama says be caring,

Mama says you’ve done God’s will

every time you’re sharing.

To be blessed with one, then two boys to pull onto my lap and share this story – of course it feels like pure gift. There is so much suffering in the world, so many couples crying for a child, so many children who know too much pain. That I can sit in a sunlit corner and rock these small, safe boys in my arms means all my jumbled heart can pray is thanks.

Because motherhood is the work of incarnation. Of daring to partner with God in helping these children become fully human.

A truth which one short line of our creed speaks each Sunday, easy to skip over if you miss it:

“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”

And a truth which one children’s book states clear as a bell at its end:

Mama says help others, 

And be the best you can.

I listened to what Mama said,

And now I am a man.