Word to 2021

Normally I would have rolled my eyes at such a word, thinking it too trite, like a home decor sign that says, “Dance like nobody is watching.” Such a saying was clever enough to begin with, but now it’s just cliche. I looked at the word in front of me and considered rejecting it outright. I was using Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year generator. For those unfamiliar, it is a simple website that randomly picks a word of the year for its users, a word that is to serve as a theme or focal point for one’s year. In 2020 I chose my own word: detachment. It was kind of a hardcore word that ended up being very appropriate for 2020. This year though, I didn’t really have a strong pull to any word or theme, so I used the word generator. My word? Blossom. It sounded like the kind of word a middle-aged woman who is deeply unhappy about her life would choose at the start of her mid-life crisis. But then I considered that ‘Blossom’ seemed to be a great word to follow ‘Detachment’. After all, we do not seek detachment for itself, but in order to clear space for new growth.

I also thought about how I recently bought an online course on herbalism that I plan to start soon, and I’ve been imagining my 2021 living like St. Hildegard of Bingen, nearly cloistered in my home studying plants and making my own herbal remedies for common ailments. The word also seemed to support my desire to immerse myself in the real, as opposed to being immersed in the virtual. I want to make more time to nurture in-real-life friendships, spend more time praying, baking, reading books — both fiction and non — and also reading poetry, playing board games, spending time in nature, and puttering in my house. If anything will save our world, I’m sure it is real-life connections and being rooted in the Divine stream, not media consumption, doomscrolling, and internet fights. I don’t know what joys and challenges 2021 has in store for me, but I figure a flower can bloom in a pristine forest as well as from a crack in a field of concrete.

Do you have any plans, goals, or a word for 2021? What will you be doing to nurture yourself?

“They are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)

Work Cited:

St Joseph edition ofthe New American Bible Revised Edition. (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1970).

Woman: Icon of the Church

It was always there in the language and theology of my Catholic upbringing, but I never really gave it much thought, until one day there it was, fresh and new, a treasure hidden in plain sight. The Church is referred to as she, and she is called Mother Church. Scripture is full of references to Christ the Bridegroom, and his bride, the Church. Ancient iconography has depicted the Church as a woman. Theologians also speak of Mary, the mother of God, as the image of the Church, but perhaps it would not be wrong to say that all women have a share in this role as icons of the Church. In fact, it seems to me that the physical realities of femaleness reveal this spiritual truth: women are icons of the Church.

The Liturgical Cycle

Percentages are approximate. The times and lengths of each season vary slightly according to the calendar year.

Let us consider the Church’s Liturgical Cycle, that is, the Church seasons that order the year around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The first day of the liturgical year is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of Preparation, in which we prepare our hearts (and environments) for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas day is the first day of the Christmas season, but the whole season lasts a couple of weeks. After the Christmas celebration comes the season of Ordinary Time, or, as it is sometimes known, the “Growing Time”. So we prepare for Christmas, we celebrate it, then we grow.

Then the pattern repeats. With Lent comes another season of Preparation in which we prepare our hearts to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Easter celebration begins on Easter day. It is the liturgical high point of the entire year, and so we really celebrate for a whole fifty days, in fact. Pentecost is the concluding feast in Easter, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then comes Ordinary Time. This second Ordinary Time in the Church year is quite long, lasting almost the whole second half of the year.

The fertility cycle

Percentages are approximate. Exact percentages vary among women or among particular cycles.

One day, as I was studying a material designed to explain the Liturgical Year to young children it dawned on me that the liturgical calendar looks remarkably similar to a woman’s fertility cycle. And, in fact, my previous struggles in explaining and classifying the different parts of a woman’s cycle were clarified and resolved when viewed through the lens of the Church year.

Let me explain. We can separate a woman’s fertility cycle into three parts: the Early Infertile Phase, the Fertile Phase, and the Late Infertile Phase. The first day of a woman’s cycle is the first day of her menstruation. Physically, of course, this phase of her cycle is characterized by her menstrual flow. Interiorly, however, it is characterized by a heightened interest in reflection and reevaluation. She naturally feels pulled inward during this time and she wants to let go of unhealthy behaviors or thought-patterns that are not serving her well. This can be a powerful time of prayer with renewed clarity of her calling and her purpose. After menstruation ends some women have what we Fertility Awareness Instructors call her Early Dry Days. Not all women will have a time of infertility between menstruation and the start of their Fertile phase, as women with short cycles may go from menstruation right into their time of fertility. Therefore the Early Infertile Phase is typically the time of menstruation and it may or may not include some days between menstruation and fertility.

In the language of the Church, the seasons of Preparation are penitential, and there is a heightened emphasis on metanoia, that is a turning around to face a new direction. We are called to examine our lives prayerfully and discern what is holding us back from being who God is calling us to be. This is exactly what women naturally do during their Early Infertile Phase, and therefore I think we could call this time in a woman’s cycle a season of Preparation.

Following her Early Infertile Phase is a woman’s Fertile time. This is the time in which she is capable of becoming pregnant. Despite the fact that I have spent a significant portion of my fertile times avoiding pregnancy (and therefore abstaining from sex) the Fertile time has become a treasured season for me. It is the time when I feel my best. I feel energetic; creativity comes more easily; I’m brimming with ideas, and I’m ready to take on the world. Physically, a woman is most interested in sex at this time and wants to give her yes to a man (and she’s emitting pheromones that make her husband most want her as well), and this is also true in her spiritual life. She wants to be generous with what God may be asking of her. Like the Blessed Mother, she will more easily give her yes. Spiritually, it is the task of every woman who is in her fertile phase to discern how God is asking her to give life. Is she called to be open to physical life through the conception of a child within her? Or is she called to give her yes, and give life to the world through some other creative endeavor? Because a woman experiences peak creativity and energy at this time, physically feels her best, and is also capable of conceiving a new life, I think it is appropriate to call her time of fertility a season of celebration.

Previously, in my discussions and writings on the fertility cycle, I have always struggled to classify the Late Infertile Phase. What goes on interiorly? The couple of days prior to menstruation a woman feels more sensitive and vulnerable, but what about the ten or so days before that, when a woman is no longer fertile, but she’s not preparing to menstruate either? While the time of menstuation is certainly noticable, and the time of fertility is sort of epic the high point of the fertility cycle, what about after these times? In my experience I always just feel, well, ordinary. I’m not tired and super reflective, but not overflowing with creativity either. But perhaps that’s precisely it. Like the Liturgical Year, after Preparation and Celebration come the woman’s Ordinary Time.

The word ‘Ordinary’ though comes from the Latin ordinalis, which means ordered, but this understanding of the word is also fitting in regards to women’s fertility cycles. Like the Church calendar, a woman’s bodily calendar, and the pattern by which we are to live, has been ordered for her. In the Liturgical year, the second Ordinary Time lasts almost the whole second half of the year, and likewise, in a woman’s fertility cycle, her ordinary time (or Late Infertile Phase) is also almost the whole last half of her cycle. It would also be appropriate to call this phase in the fertility cycle the Growing Time because physically, the inner lining of the woman’s uterus is growing in thickness under the influence of progesterone and also, if she has conceived during her fertile phase, the new life within her is already growing, though she won’t know it until her missed period two weeks later.

universal church and domestic church

GreenCircleFractal

So in the Liturgical Calendar, the whole Church prepares, celebrates, then grows, and fixed into the body of every woman we see this same repeating cycle. Mother Church calls all her children to live by the rhythms of this cycle, this pattern around the life of Christ. Similarly, in my home, the Domestic Church, my family is pulled into my rhythm. My children all know that I have a “rest week” when I don’t have as much energy and my husband and children do some of my chores to allow me more time for rest and reflection. During my time of fertility they see me buzzing about full of energy and ideas (and maybe roping them into things), and then life is again ordinary.

My husband observed that a woman’s whole life also reveals this pattern. A young girl is in her Early Infertile Phase, a woman in her childbearing years is in her fertile phase, and a post-menopausal woman is in her Late Infertile Phase. Preparation, Celebration, Ordinary Time. My husband likened it to the self-similarity within a fractal, that is, the same pattern repeating at different scales. To be a woman is to enter into the lived experience of this repeating pattern, and hopefully, the wisdom that living this pattern inspires.

So it strikes me, if God has placed this pattern into the body of every woman from the beginning of humanity, and the Holy Spirit has placed this same pattern into the Church year, it must be important maybe even vitally important. God seems to be saying, “Pay attention! Something great and significant is here!” It seems to me that if the very physiology of women model the liturgical cycle of the year which is itself patterned around the life of Christ, then it is also true that women’s bodies, from the beginning of humanity have prefigured the life of Christ, and, from the time of humanity’s redemption on the cross we have modeled it. Christ is the blueprint for all creation and it is a singular gift to women that we physically image and model Christ’s pattern of redemption in such an incarnational way.

In its teaching on the Church as mother and teacher (and which I think could be applied to women as a particular image of the Church), the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

From the Church [the Christian] learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle (CCC, 2030).

As the Church goes, however, so go women. To me, it is no surprise that a culture that has decided it no longer needs the Church, her sacraments, her rhythms, and her traditions has also decided that it no longer needs femininity itself. In fact, so useless does our culture deem our way of existing in the world, that it routinely convinces millions of women to expunge our natural rhythm from our lives entirely. I believe it is one of the biggest tradgedies of the modern world that millions of girls and women have been convinced that their time of peak energy, creativity, and generosity that they experience mid-cycle is of no importance or use, or worse, is actually a burden and thus better to just be medicated away through chemical birth control. And on top of this, so many fail to recognize the dignity of women and girls in their full humanity and instead view them solely as a means of their own selfish gratification.

you are beautiful in every way, my friend, there is no flaw in you! (Song of Songs 4:7)

Woman, the culture in which you live might not understand or value who you are, but your Creator does. I am convinced that each part of your being is the result of a loving decision by the One who made you. Furthermore, your value doesn’t come from your ability to emulate the masculine pattern of living. On the contrary, it is your pattern of reflection and reevaluation, of celebration and growth that should be the model of a holy life centered on the incarnate Christ because you are a woman, bride of Christ, and icon of the Church.

The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.

O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven’s beauty has adorned her.

St Bernard of Clairvaux (CCC, 771)

Work Cited:

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2030.
  2. St. Joseph edition of the New American Bible Revised Edition. (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1970).
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 771.

Days With Kids and Toad

The toad was in the window well when my children found it. Thinking that it was stuck down there, they rescued it by letting it loose in the backyard. I watched my four year old chase it around for a while before he grabbed a stick. Worried for the safety of the toad I inquired why he had the stick. “Because I want it to fetch!” he replied. To M’s disappointment, the toad did not fetch.

The next day the toad was back in the window well. The kids rescued it again. The next day it was back. So we decided the toad lives in our window well and likes it down there. The kids named it Greg, and they check on it every day and play with it a while. I’ve begun to think the toad likes their visits because he’s stopped trying to jump out of their hands, and he doesn’t find a home in a different location.

Greg’s house, complete with toadstool sculpture, a couch, and a tent with a big leaf “tarp”.

Life has been more or less quiet in our house, but the toad seems to be providing some wholesome entertainment for all the children. As the news, the pandemic, and, ahem, presidential debates seem to be getting uglier every day, I find myself relishing the simple joys of home and family life ever the more, and, I must say, I’m enjoying the children’s daily reports on the toad much more than the news reports.

The children report on whether the toad is home or not, and they’ve all begun embellishing the toad’s window-well home. The fourteen year old added a sculpted toadstool and a small, homemade felt tent. She also dug a toad-sized hole in the dirt. The children must have filled the hole with water because later in the day eight-year-old N came running into the house to excitedly report that Greg was in his “pool”. Another day I noticed the children added a fresh pile of leaves to the well for Greg to sit under. N added a large black stone to the well. I think it is a little warmer than the other rocks down there and I see the toad warming himself on it sometimes.

One day eleven-year-old E was slowly walking her scooter around the driveway. I asked her to help me with the lunch dishes, and she replied she would just as soon as Greg was finished with his scooter ride! I looked down and sure enough, there sat Greg on the scooter being driven around the driveway. I’m not an expert on toad behavior, but the toad didn’t jump off, so I concluded he didn’t mind the ride.

We’ve also begun doing some research on toads. We found out that Greg is an American Toad, which is the only toad found in our area. Then we watched some videos and looked up a few sites to figure out Greg’s sex. We determined that Greg is female. Oops. The children now call the toad Greggy as they think that sounds a little more feminine.

N with Greggy

We’ve also learned that American Toads are slightly venomous. Their skin can secrete a substance that is harmful if swallowed, so the children know to wash their hands well if they’ve been touching Greggy.  We’ve also researched about what she likes to eat (prompting F to give her a worm to eat), and we’ve learned about what the toad will do in the winter. It turns out toads are facinating creatures. Greggy will dig beneath some loose soil and bury herself. As it gets colder, she will hibernate the winter away having buried herself below the freeze line. Cold climate toads and frogs basically make their own antifreeze to keep their blood and organs from freezing. Some ice will form on the skin of frogs and toads. Partially frozen, their heart and breathing will stop, but once spring comes and the ice melts, they “spring” to life again, and eat and hop and mate for another season. Frogs and toads do have a limit to the amount of cold they can survive, for some it is as low as 8° F. So I am not sure if Greggy will decide to winter in our window well or not,  but if so, we’ll probably add a thick layer of leaves to help insulate her against getting too cold.

I’m hoping Greggy will hibernate right next to our window so we can see her through the winter, but I’ll trust her to find the best spot. Until then, I’ll be enjoying watching the children lavish kindness on a toad, and I’ll continue hoping that more adults could show such kindness to one another, toadish or not.

Stepping Out in Faith

Stepping Out in Faith

I didn’t exactly hear Jesus’ voice saying to me, “Homeschool all your children.” Instead, I heard my husband’s voice saying to me, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year.” And the man never has opinions. He is the most laid-back, no pressure husband on the face of the earth. If I decide I want to homeschool the children, fine.  Raise the kids Catholic and do a bunch of crazy Catholic stuff at home? Fine. Load up the van and go on a 24-day roadschooling adventure? Fine.  He’s cool with it all. So if he actually has an opinion about something, I think I better listen and respect his desires.

Today is the first day of school. Like many people, I thought that this year would look differently than it does. I had planned to send two of our four children to school. My middle girl would be at school all day, and my four-year-old son would be at 4K for the mornings to give me time to focus on his two other sisters who would be eagerly homeschooling.

It’s a strange thing. Last year I had discerned that school was a better fit for one of our children, but I believe that the will of God can be discerned in the ordinary (or extraordinary) events of life, including in the input of those around us. So when I physically heard my husband say, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year” what I really heard, like the apostles when faced with 5000 hungry people,  was Jesus voice saying, “Feed them yourself.” So here I am, stepping out in faith, to give my best, and believing that the grace of God will make up for what I lack.

Making pizza

Despite some stress, there is also peace, because I believe that God always wills what is best for us — for all of us. So if it is God’s will that E be homeschooled, then it must also be the best thing for me to homeschool her, and the best thing for each member of the family. And when I say “the best thing”, I always mean that it is the best thing for our spirtual health and eternal welfare. Sometimes God’s will is definitely not the easiest, most relaxing, or the most comfortable. Sometimes God’s will brings us to our breaking point, but I believe that the cross transforms us, and we are better in the Resurrection than we ever could be before the cross, in life.

So, here I am, stepping out in faith and trust. I’m looking forward to the joys of this year and happy to have the whole family at home together, and I’m praying for the grace to be transformed through the struggles (like the stuggle of homeschooling a strong-willed child). Perhaps you will say a prayer for me as we begin this path for another year? And let me know if I can say a prayer for you.

“God leads us in the path of life eternal: let us give thanks and praise!” (“Morning Prayer”, Magnificat 22, no. 5, (July 2020)

Fall in Love with Your Today Self

“Does this account spark joy?” I ask myself regularly as I Marie Kondo my Instagram feed. If the account is one rant after another, I typically will not follow. If it is nothing but sales pitches, nope. Instagram is my happy place on the internet, relatively free from the fighting and drama of every other internet place. I also like to be inspired by Instagram accounts, but not made to feel like a failure, and that can be a fine line. Social media comparison can be a real challenge, but I’ve found that people who are great at loving and accepting their real selves, just as they are, encourage me to do the same. So below are three people I love to follow on IG because they really excel at loving their today selves, which definitely sparks joy for me. When I am tempted to lament that my home, my life, and my very self are rarely picture perfect, the example of these Instagram accounts helps me love my real self, just as I am.

Karianna Frey is one of those people that feels like a real friend, as we have followed each other for probably about a decade, but in reality we have never met in real life. Her handle is @kariannafrey and she recently posted a picture of herself on vacation. In the caption she did something I’ve rarely seen a woman do. She mentioned her height and weight. Frey is a taller woman who weighs more than 200 pounds. She also wasn’t sharing her weight to say, “I’ve lost this many pounds so far!” Nope. As far as I know she’s not working toward any weight-loss goals. She was simply sharing her real self in that moment and saying “This is me!” In a world that seems to always convince women that no matter how we look we aren’t perfect enough, it was so refreshing to see someone loving her body and feeling comfortable in her skin.

Another woman I follow is Amanda Martinez Beck, found at @your_body_is_good. Martinez Beck is the author of Lovely: How I Learned to Embrace the Body God Gave Me. She posts daily about fat acceptance and body positivity, and her frequent message of “All bodies are good bodies” is a reminder we could all use, regardless of our body size, but especially those who have internalized the idea that only thin bodies can be good. In her own words, Martinez Beck is a “fat girl”. She has a history of struggling with an eating disorder, and when she was able to embrace her today self, she was also able to see that for her, trying to achieve thinness was a goal that wasn’t in her best interests. Martinez Beck shows that self love isn’t one more mind productivity hack. Maybe adopting a more accepting attitude toward yourself will eventually spur you to work toward some goals, whether mental, physical, professional, or otherwise, but that’s not the point. The real objective is to get yourself to the point where you really understand that even if you accomplish all the personal goals you set for your life, you will still be just as worthy of love then as you are right here, right now. 

 Another woman I follow is Kristin Moras (@kristinmoras). Moras is open about the challenges of dealing with rosacea and acne. She sends a message of skin positivity and posts images of herself with makeup, and also a number of filter-free, makeup-free images. Again, her acceptance of her beauty and worth as a person whether her acne is covered or not, and whether she is having a rosacea flare-up or her skin is calm at the moment, is incredibly inspiring and encouraging. Seeing her image and messages appearing daily in my feed also helped make me aware of my own internal dialogue when it comes to my appearance and to notice the ways I often let images of perfection influence how I think about myself. I don’t think I’m quite at the level of self-acceptance as Moras is, but I have noticed some positive strides toward that. I’m working towards accepting myself as I am, flaws and all. When I can do that, I notice I am better at accepting the unconditional love of those around me too. 

I love that all these accounts show love and acceptance for themselves right where they are—today—rather than thinking that if and when they accomplish whatever personal or physical goal, then they will love and accept themselves. I’m no therapist, but it seems much more mentally healthy to me to love and accept ourselves right where we are, because the truth is that no matter what our present life is like, we are worthy of respect and we do have dignity right now. The way I see it, accepting your today self doesn’t mean that you can’t work toward goals, but it does mean that any goals are undertaken from an attitude of self love rather than shame. In my own experience, negative self talk never motivated me to accomplish anything, in fact it probably made me accomplish less for the simple fact that shame is never empowering. Furthermore, simply shaming myself for not doing something also prevented me from getting in touch with the real reasons behind any behavior. If, say, I had a completely unproductive day, telling myself I was lazy stopped me from asking questions to get to the root of things. Was I feeling overwhelmed? Did a number of things outside my control happen that just ended up derailing my day? Did I have unreasonable expectations about how much I can accomplish in a day in this stage of my life? Furthermore, self love can also help us evaluate our goals with an attitude of freedom, only choosing those goals that are really in our own best interests and letting go of goals that aren’t really serving us.

All of these women remind me to reorient my thinking about myself. Amanda Martinez Beck often explicitly says (and all of the above accounts portray) that our bodies are made for relationships, not perfection. That means that sick bodies, healthy bodies, and bodies of every age, size, ability, or state of imperfection can be in healthy and loving relationships with others. I’ve found that when I see other women loving their today selves, it gives me permission to love my today self too. And I’m beginning to see that when I can love me, I can allow others to love me too, because I’m made for relationships, not perfection. 

 

 

School’s Out For Summer

Well,  my family made it through our first ever year of school! My children in 7th, 5th, and 1st grade finished school in early June. We all learned a lot, and believe me, we are all ready for summer. We’ve also decided on our plans for next school year.

As I mentioned in a post earlier in the year, we chose a school with a blended learning environment. The girls went to school two days a week, and they did school at home three days.  Once Covid-19 hit my husband told me that I sure picked a good year to send the kids to school, haha. So then obviously we were schooling at home full time, which I was grateful the kids’ school was already set up for home learning, but what many homeschoolers were saying was true. Covid-schooling and homeschooling were definitely not the same thing.  Even with the strangeness of this year however, our first foray into schooling was largely positive.

I’m really really grateful that the school we chose exists in the first place.  Previously we had encountered some challenges in our homeschooling, but I didn’t see myself ever making the leap from unschooling to traditional, 5-days-a-week, 7-hours-a-day school. Traditional schooling just seemed so opposite of everything we were doing and such a radical lifestyle change for us that I’m not sure we would have ever made that leap. Thankfully though, this blended school is nearby and we could take advantage of open enrollment, which allowed us to try something somewhere between our usual approach and full-time schooling.

We learned surprisingly/not surprisingly that school is a good fit for our middle daughter. She was the one that we made go to school, and she was not happy about it, but she ended up really liking school. Although it makes me eat some humble pie, I see that she is just more motivated to push herself and learn more from a teacher who is not me. The only thing that wasn’t a fit for her was that at this school we still had to do school at home three days a week (and at the end, every day). She told me her ideal would be to go to school four days a week. Unfortunately her ideal four days isn’t possible, but for next year we enrolled her in our parish’s Classical, Catholic school. A number of little things seemed to confirm that this was the school for her, like the fact that all 6th-graders get ukulele lessons, and E already owns a ukulele and has had some lessons (and she’ll be in 6th grade next year). As a Catholic, I love that as part of school she’ll have adoration and mass every week, and Morning Prayer (or matins) every morning. In regards to one of her personality traits, E is also a natural arguer. It’s always been a part of her and I see that she just can’t help herself sometimes. It’s like she got two dominant, super-active logomachy genes. Hyperactive Logomachy Disorder. Is that a thing? Because if so, E has it. Luckily for her, she has a mother who has many fond memories of being on the Speech and Debate Team in high school and college, and so I’ve been counting down the days when she is old enough to be on a debate team, hoping it could help direct and refine that natural arguing streak. So I really love that when she’s in 7th grade at the Catholic school, she’ll begin taking formal logic. Next year’s school seemed to just have a number of things specifically for E, so between the Catholic school and my prayers to Saint Catherine of Alexandria to help me mother this strong-willed, choleric (but oh-so affectionate) child of mine, hopefully she’ll have what she needs to grow into the person she is meant to be.

When it comes to our oldest child, it was confirmed that F is a complete autodidact. F loves to study in-depth the subjects of her choosing and she often pushes herself to learn and grow in more skills. She just naturally sets goals for herself and pushes herself to achieve them. In the past, she’s had goals such as writing a book, designing and programming a video game, and learning the medium of water color and ink. Although being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder comes with its challenges, I think her drive, focus, and creativity are areas where ASD gives her an advantage. She wants to be homeschooled again next year, and so that is what we will do. This child complained a lot that she would learn better on her own and that memorizing things for tests only to quickly forget them and move on to the next thing isn’t education. (We heard this complaint ALL year.) While I agree with her, and she articulated a major reason why we never sent our children to school before this year, at the same time, I think it was good for her to try school and to have that experience. Although ahead in some subjects, she was “behind” in math, and so I’m grateful that we were able to close some of those gaps. Although I don’t believe that all kids have to learn the same things at the same time, if F chooses to go to college I think it will be helpful for her to not have the challenge of trying to catch up in this area. So I’m feeling more positive about where we are with math and that we are in a good place moving forward. Also, I think it was good for her to learn some non-academic things, like making friends and working in groups at school, and also that in life, sometimes there’s just some hoops to jump through to achieve one’s goals. If she chooses to go to Design school to be an interior designer, there will be classes she likes and classes she doesn’t. Likely for any career-path she chooses, she’ll need to do the fun, creative parts of it, and maybe some businessy, red-tape parts of it too. She chose for herself to go to school this last year and she is choosing to be homeschooled next year, and we are supportive.

For my sunny, easy-going youngest daughter, school was fine. There were no major loves or dislikes, but she would prefer to stay home next year, so that’s fine with us. It did get tedious trying to get N to do all her computer work at times, however, and so it’ll be nice to be able to choose work and tasks that makes learning fun for her, rather than having to do the tasks that the school gives us to do. I’m happy there will be more freedom in our homeschool next year with the ability to tailor schoolwork to her.

Also, our son M turns four next month and so, for the first time ever, we are sending a child to 4K. It is in the mornings Monday through Friday, and I think he’ll enjoy it. He’ll basically have story time, play time, and snack time, and learn songs about the weather and days of the week, and then come home,  and he’ll go to the same Catholic school that his older sister E is going to.

For myself, I’m glad that we’ve found a solution that works for our family. A few years ago I never saw myself sending my children to school, but never say never they say (especially when it comes to how one will parent). Today I see education with more fluidity and I’m so grateful that we live in a country and an area where there are lots of education options and that we are able to choose the best option for each child’s personality and needs and also the needs of our family as a whole. So here’s to a relaxing summer and hopefully another positive school year!

A Collective Grief

A Collective Grief

Recently I was in conversation with a friend. We mentioned current events, and she admitted that she had been feeling quite sad as of late, and even issues unrelated to current topics seemed to be surfacing and getting her down. For myself, having recently experienced my sixth miscarriage, and having supported a number of grieving women through pregnancy loss, her response (though having nothing to do with miscarriage), made a lot of sense to me. I recognized it immediately as grief. In fact, I would venture to say that our whole nation is experiencing a sort of collective grief right now.  Even for those who have not personally lost a loved one in the pandemic, who have not experienced economic upheaval, who are not members of George Floyd’s family, or who are not directly impacted by the events occurring since his death, may still be experiencing grief. Obviously it is a different level and kind of grief than those more directly impacted by these events experience, but it is a grief nonetheless. So I thought it would  be appropriate to share a few things I’ve learned about grief.

  1. You can postpone grief, but you can’t avoid it entirely. It’s not healthy to shove it down and pretend everything is okay. It’s also not healthy to tell yourself you have no right to grieve. Even though others might have it a lot worse than you, and we certainly want to keep things in perspective, likely every person in our country has lost a way of life and the loss of what they thought their lives would be like right now.  Obviously, Black, Indigenous, and other persons of color have a whole complicated set of emotions and reactions right now, but even White people are grieving. From my perspective, I’ve seen a number of White people losing their sense of innocence about the extent of racism and how much people of color still are affected by it, whether outrightly or through implicit bias. As Black people and other minorities spoke about their personal experiences of injustice and racism en masse, I saw a number of White people genuinely shocked and surprised. For me, I was surprised at White people’s surprise, but I wasn’t surprised by stories of racism. I myself would be incredibly shocked if any visible minority in the US has not experienced racism, but I would also guess that the darker one’s color, the more racism they have experienced. The point is, however, whatever our skin color, we probably all have a lot of complicated emotions happening right now, (some more complicated than others), but whatever they are I think you have a right to feel them. So, feel your feelings. It’s okay.
  2.  I’ve said this before, but I think I should say it again. For every new grief you experience, all previous griefs that have not been fully dealt with will come up and you will have the old grief added to the new. (This is why it’s really important to allow the grief to come in the first place.) Like my friend discovered, experiencing the hardships and losses of the present are going to bring up unrelated losses. I’m sure that, for a lot of people, tons of stuff is rising to the surface right now. Again, feel them, and try to deal with them in healthy ways.
  3. We’ve all been experiencing several months now of disruption, and that’s not even taking into account any kind of issues that we might have been experiencing before everything started. If there’s one thing repeated miscarriage has taught me, is that it’s okay to take a break from sadness.  Sometimes when we are deep in grief, in quick moments when laughter occurs or joy seems to be rising to the surface, we can be tempted to push that down too, feeling like we shouldn’t feel joy right now. Something that has been helpful for me, is to consciously allow both sorrow and joy, and maybe even to schedule both if needed. I’ve had times when I was grieving and all I wanted was to lie in bed and cry, but I had little kids to take care of, so I had to pull myself together and just do what needed to be done. Maybe I had a job to go to and I needed to not be a blubbering mess. In those times, it was helpful to schedule grief, that is, to actually set aside a time when I would feel all my feelings, and cry, and do what I felt I needed to do to mourn. At other times, when I felt like grief had settled over me and accompanied me wherever I went and whatever I did, it was helpful to consciously allow and even schedule joy. Maybe that meant allowing myself enjoy a gathering with friends for an evening, or even letting myself laugh while watching a comedy at home.

I’ve learned that soul-wrenching grief can happen simultaneously with soul-filling joy. One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other, and, in fact, in this life, those two usually go together and exist in the same moment. However, if we can allow ourselves space to feel our own feelings, process our thoughts, and to listen and try to understand the perspectives of others, I believe we will all be the better for it. Peace.

New Feminism is True Feminism

 

When people ask what I do, I typically reply that I’m a homemaker. However, I’m also privileged to walk with women and couples learning Fertility Awareness. I am incredibly grateful for having learned Fertility Awareness early in my marriage, and being able to teach others in its use is something that I love to do. I have many reasons why I love it, but one major reason is because I’m a feminist and I believe that Fertility Awareness is founded upon the ideals of respect and reverence for the female body and its use encourages an attitude of genuine self care for women.

In the 1960s, Dr John Billings began studying the female cycle, trying to understand its fertility cycle. After numerous studies and listening to the observations of hundreds (thousands?) of women, Doctors John and Evelyn Billings, along with the help of their colleagues, were able to set forth the first modern method of Fertility Awareness that, unlike the Calendar Rhythm method of previous generations, allowed real women to understand their individual cycles with great accuracy and to use their knowledge to plan their family size with great effectiveness. I love that their attitude was one of simply trying to understand what was, seeing the female body as good and healthy in itself, rather than trying to change or alter women’s bodies with an attitude of female inadequacy.

When it comes to artificial birth control, on the other hand,  its history is fraught with misogyny and racism. Dr. Ellen Grant, in her book The Bitter Pill describes how the first birth control pill was designed to be used by men, but because one male had slight shrinkage of one testicle, the whole endeavor was called off, and the pill was redesigned for use by women. In the first human study for the redesigned pill, three women died from it and all that was done in response was to adjust the dosage. The atrocities don’t end there. I’m not going to recap every cruel act that has been performed on women and particularly women of color in the name of birth control (I would need to write a book for that), but here’s an interesting article on the subject of the history of keeping birth control side effects secret from women (or even the knowledge of what the medication was designed for).

Unfortunately, the shady dealings of the birth control industry isn’t even relegated to the distant past. In the last 20 years several class action lawsuits have been brought against birth control companies. Yaz, Yazmin, Essure, Navaring, Orthoevra, and more have all been the subject of these lawsuits, due to the extreme side effects of death, permanent infertility, or various issues of permanent debilitation. In some cases, the product has been removed from the market, but in others, like Yaz, the FDA decided to simply add another warning to the birth control insert. When it comes to women making informed consent, I’m not sure the small insert goes far enough as many women don’t read them. As a Fertility Awareness Instructor, I help a number of women seeking to transition from the use of artificial birth control to a natural means of understanding and working with their fertility. When I discuss the fact that oral contraceptives were classified as a Group One Carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2005 for breast, liver, and cervical cancer, and that the risk of developing cancer is highest for women who use oral contraceptives for four or more years prior to their first full-term pregnancy, in my anecdotal experience, I have yet to have one client who says that she was informed of these risks. The typical response I see from women is shock and anger that no one ever told them this.

I believe that artificial birth control, instead of being women’s liberator as it is often touted to be, is quintessentially anti-feminist. The whole mindset of birth control is one that values external control of the female body and disdain for our natural processes, attitudes which are completely at odds with authentic feminism. Again and again the well-crafted narrative is that artificial birth control is worth celebrating because it has allowed women to succeed and achieve their dreams. As a woman, I resent the insinuation that my natural functioning is flawed or that I need to handicap my fertility in order to achieve the goals and dreams I have for myself, especially when it means that the price for career advancement or furthering education is living at less than my optimum level of health. Because, of course, hormonal birth control does not just cease women’s ovulation in a vacuum. It impairs her whole systemic functioning, and decreases women’s overall well-being. It affects vitamin absorption, mood, memory, energy levels, alters the actual size of her brain, and even affects women’s choice of mate. Furthermore, rather than demanding real respect for our bodies and fighting for workplace and societal changes that accommodate women’s needs, like paid parental leave, flexible scheduling, and more, we are encouraged to deny our legitimate needs, and even risk our health — anything so long as we get a seat at the coveted men’s tables.

Not only does a birth control culture not advance the legitimate rights of women, it, in fact, sets us back because it perpetuates a culture that ignores women’s needs (like access to medical solutions that treat disorders rather than mask them, for example). To me, fighting for access to contraceptives is like fighting in support of the cultural narrative and belief that women, in our most natural state, are inferior to men and the only way we can reach our fullest potential is to handicap and assault our biology. It is fighting for women’s “right” to damage ourselves in accommodation to a misogynist mindset rather than fight for the culture to accommodate and honor women’s essential needs, and recognition of our equality just as we are. It is fighting for people to pity those of us who (in their opinion) have the misfortune of being born female, rather than fighting for a culture of care and reverence for the dignity of being female. It fights for women bearing the sole burden of side effects when our natural biology is assaulted rather and advocating for a culture of care and support for the unique and authentic needs we have.

Artificial birth control was founded in misogyny and therefore it will never bring the liberation or the recognition of women’s equality that women seek. Furthermore, it seems like fighting an uphill battle to ask men to recognize our dignity when we ourselves do not accept and respect our own bodies or really even view them as equal to men’s. With Fertility Awareness, on the other hand, women experience the real liberation of working with our biology rather than assaulting it, and our partners are expected to do the same.

 

 

Striving for Sanity During Social Distancing

It was probably a year or more ago that I listened to a podcast while I stood at my kitchen sink washing dishes. I wish I could remember more than a couple key takeaways from it. As it is I don’t remember the source of the podcast, (maybe NPR?), the name of the person interviewed, or any other information helpful enough to allow me to actually find it again. But I remember the subject of the podcast and some of the content that really struck me.

The person interviewed was a psychologist who specialized in treating people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said a couple of interesting things that I remember. One, he told about a particular study that looked at outcomes for people who had experienced natural disasters. He said when a hurricane or something hits and then the survivors immediately get to work clearing debris, rebuilding, and doing all that physical work, they have better mental health outcomes than if they are told to just stay still for awhile. If FEMA comes in, and advises people to just wait until they can assess things and get a plan together and it prevents people from getting to work right away, (and the people have little to do but basically sit around and think and worry), they are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of the natural disaster. If they can immediately do the physical work of rebuilding their homes and communities, they tend to be much more resilient.

The second thing I remember from the interview, was the psychologist spoke about a moment of revelation he had while speaking with a client who was struggling with PTSD. The veteran was often triggered by various occurrences in life and was having trouble coping. As the psychologist was taking him through an exercise to help him realize that he is safe now and and no longer needs to worry about warzone threats, the man replied that he knows he is safe now. Intellectually, he completely realizes that driving in his car and going about his day he is pretty safe, but his body still doesn’t feel safe. The psychologist realized that his whole practice was designed to help people realize something that on an intellectual level they already knew. But simply knowing that they were safe, didn’t mean their body’s blood pressure didn’t still rise, their heart didn’t still race, or their adrenaline didn’t still skyrocket at certain moments. As a result of this new awareness, the psychologist began shifting his practice, which now includes giving his clients physical experiences of safety. He found that when the body could really experience safety while the mind practices what it knows, then his clients had great improvement in their PTSD symptoms.

So I thought of this interview again in light of the whole Covid-19 quarantines. One, we are all living in a situation of heightened stress and uncertainty, and two, unless we are healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, or a manufacturer or grower of an essential good,  most of us are being told to stay home and do nothing. So how do we keep ourselves sane?

For myself, here’s what I’m doing.

  1. I’m trying to stay informed enough to keep myself and my family safe, but I am not filling my feeds with minute by minute updates of all the misery in the world. I check in on news updates once a day, and otherwise I try to occupy my mind with what is right in front of me: my family and doing what I am able to do right now, which is spending time with them and building a safe and happy home for all of us. I’ve also had a number of coffee dates with friends via Google Hangouts. That social time has really been essential for me.
  2. I am trying to make sure I do physical work. I think doing something physical is really helpful in calming the mind. So I’m baking, cleaning, and tackling some household projects.

    Sourdough bread!
  3. I’m still limiting screen time. I get it. Sometimes you just need to turn your brain off. Fine. I just don’t want the cycle of my days to be anxiously reading all the corona updates, followed by escaping to Netflix, then repeating. So I try to break up the anxiety scrolling with some more nourishing and calming things.
  4. One criticism I have of the American culture as a whole is that we’ve been living life at an untenable pace, which we break up by using some mode of escaping, but do we really live a thriving life? And do we have real, soul-nourishing leisure? Put another way, do we, as a whole, live a life that we don’t need to escape from? So I’m making an effort to make time for leisure. I define leisure as something that is restful and also filling. I could binge-watch me some Tiger King. (I hear it’s great at getting your mind off of present worries for awhile), but if I don’t feel happier, more fulfilled after watching it, then its not leisure; it’s an escape. Real leisure is fulfilling and we leave such activities I think feeling more ready to take on the challenges of life, and our spirits feel nourished. We are living in trying, worrisome times right now, and we need to make some deposits toward our mental health whenever we can, and I think leisure is a great way to do that. For me, I’ve been dusting off my old piano music (and practicing some new music) and playing the piano daily. For you, it might be watching a quality film, reading a good book, painting, crafting, baking, building, or something else. Whatever it is, I think it should be a priority. Leisure is essential.
  5. I’m trying to do as the psychologist suggested: I’m giving my body experiences of safety. I’m baking bread that fills the house with its wonderful aroma; I’m lighting candles and listening to beautiful, calming music. I’m striving to make my home not just a landing pad, but a true sanctuary for us all.

I hope theses measures keep my family sane through all of this, help us grow as a family, and help us thrive and increase our resiliency to face whatever challenges will come. I’d love to know what mental health measures help you.

Keeping Your Kids Calm During a Crisis

Keeping Kids Calm During a Crisis

It just so happens that I have been re-reading one of my favorite parenting books in preparation for a talk I was scheduled to give at my alma mater next month. I don’t know if the talk will actually proceed as scheduled now, but the book, fortunately enough and so fresh in my mind, has so much excellent advice to parents on what and how much to share with your children about Covid-19.

The excellent book is titled Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. He has been a school counselor, researcher, and educator, and a family counselor. In the book, he discusses how he had worked with children living in refugee camps in war-torn countries who, with little surprise, exhibited many signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After this time, he then spent some time in a school with children in London, and began to see some surprisingly familiar behaviors.  Payne writes:

I had been trained to associate PTSD with very large wartime events, with life-changing traumas that leave their victims shaken in no small measure. My work over the last twenty years has taken me to many war-torn areas: Africa, Israel, and Northern Ireland, as well as to Russia and Hungary during and just after perestroika. I didn’t expect to find “War-torn” children in this relatively affluent area in England, but sure enough, that’s what I was finding. What struck me first were the similarities in the problematic behaviors adopted by these seemingly disparate groups of children. After so many instances of clinical deja vu, I couldn’t ignore my instincts. Certain of the symptoms and behaviors, I was becoming more and more convinced of the cause. And as I looked more closely at their lives, I realized that for both groups the sanctity of childhood had been breached. Adult life was flooding in unchecked. Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy  trying  to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviors that weren’t ultimately helpful. The children were suffering form a different kind of war: the undeclared war on childhood. (8)

Payne goes on to explain that the first-world children, though never having experienced the horrors of the refugee children, nevertheless, experienced such a consistent threshold of small stresses, and rarely dissipating, that they developed a form of PTSD, that Payne coined, Cumulative Stress Reaction, or CSR for short.

Nadia in tree (1)

The cause of CSR was too much. Children’s lives are often led at the same pace as adult life with too much information, too many possessions, too-filled schedules, and too few grounding rhythms. The rest of the book is dedicated to explaining how many families have been able to reduce or entirely alleviate their children’s behavior problems by implementing a program of simplification.

Although I recommend the whole book, the one aspect I’d like to discuss in this post is Payne’s advice to protect our children (and their childhoods) by being careful of how much information is presented to them. Payne describes how one couple was so proud of their “citizen of the world son” who was incredibly well-informed about the issue of climate change and seemed to be on his way toward becoming a little activist. Payne writes, “James’s understanding of global warming seemed to rival Al Gore’s. That much was apparent. James was also, clearly, becoming a very anxious little fellow.” (4) Payne advocates treating childhood as a sacred time to be safeguarded and protected which allows for the slow development of identity, well-being, and resiliency.

One aspect of children is that they exist so effortlessly fully immersed in the present moment. The younger the child, the more “in the moment” they are. However, not having lived life long enough, children don’t have the perspective of adulthood that comes with time. We may have learned that there are times in life that can be really challenging, but the difficulty doesn’t last forever and things can get better. Children may not know the human history of survival. They may not know of past generations surviving war, threat of starvation, plague, natural disasters, and all the other things anyone’s ancestors are sure to have experienced. For children, when the “now” is scary and uncertain, it can be so much more stressful than for an adult.

Mateo and cake

The solution then, is to protect childhood. Don’t give your kids all the information. Tell them what they really need to know. Obviously probably nearly every child in our country has been affected by the pandemic, there is a certain amount of information they need to know. Don’t lie to them, but don’t make them privy to too much information. They don’t need to hear about the coffins piling up in Italy, the numbers of people dying around the world. They don’t need minute-by-minute updates from the constantly-on news channel on how fast the virus is spreading and if its getting ever closer and closer to you or spreading there. Tell them the necessary information, but strive to make your home a safe place, safe from Covid but also safe from the stress of too much information.

In this time when so many adults must be feeling enormous stress and many must be facing the real possibility of losing their livelihoods, protect your children from these fears and burdens until they need to become informed of them. Confide your fears, worries, and stresses in other adults, and protect your children’s childhoods. Of course children will experience some stress—it is part of life—but by safeguarding childhood from the constantly encroaching adult world, we are actually wiring them for resiliency.

 

Work Cited:

Payne, Kim John. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2009)