Monday, September 18, 2017

On Burning the Boats

In the Spring of 2007, Aaron and I had been dating for just a few months. He was so handsome and I was so smitten. One weekend before classes ended for the summer, he came up to my parents' house with me. He got a call letting him know he was being considered for an internship in Cincinnati. In the typical doe-eyed, college-romance way, that felt like 500 light years away (which is outright laughable now after having lived in Arizona.) When he got that call, I decided what I always decide in hard moments: I was going to Suck It Up and Face Reality and Be Strong and Do The Hard Thing. So I looked at him and said - dude, we should break up. Cincinnati is too far away.

What I remember most after that moment is that I went to the kitchen to get a drink of orange juice, and my Mom asked me something innocent like "what's up" and I said something innocent like "not much" but I felt like I couldn't fill up my lungs. It was like walking through sludge. What had just happened? This was terrible! I don't want to get a cup of juice while not dating Aaron. I don't want to make small talk with Mom while not dating Aaron. I don't want to do anything while not dating Aaron! Cincinnati is just a hop and a skip, right? Why did I think it was so far?

I ran back to Aaron and said "nevermind;" and while I assume he was a little alarmed at my neuroses, he said "ok." And we never really talked about it again. (He didn't end up taking that internship - but I got an internship that next fall in Colorado for five months. What star-crossed lovers! We survived. My journal from that period is virtually unreadable, guys.)

I thought about that story again recently because it is exactly what I've done, over this past year and a half, with Jesus.

I don't want to belabor the emotional and theological windstorm Naomi's birth sent me through. I've written about it and thought about it enough. But for the purposes of this story, the practical output of it was - especially in those early months after she came to meet me - that every night I prayed like this:

"God, please keep Naomi safe. Please let her sleep well. Please let her live through the night. Please help me help her."

And, this critical last part:

"God, if you take her from me, I will leave you."

I meant it, and it was important to me to tell Him. I wanted to be honest with Him. I wanted to prepare for the worst. I didn't want to be surprised at how I'd react if it happened. I didn't want to surprise Him, either.

And then, everything was different anyway - my news writing assignments became agonizing. Babies WERE taken from mothers. People hurt babies on purpose; people hurt babies on accident. Babies had cancer, sons and daughters joined the military; everything was agony. Every parent has felt this terrible emotional awakening, I'm pretty sure. (This is why moms can't watch Game of Thrones. That metal-bound torture victim underneath the castle walls is someone's SON, Mr. Martin. Tone it DOWN.) So my prayers, rather slowly, turned into this:

"God, you took those babies. I want to leave you."

And I did. For an afternoon here or an afternoon there, I would pretend I had. I would practice saying in my head "I used to be a Christian." I would guiltily study my hands during worship at church on Sunday, being careful not to sing words I wasn't sure I meant ("whatever my lot, You have taught me to say it is well with my soul.") Those moments never felt right, but I was trying them out. I was putting on the skin of a non-believer; poking my head out of my life to look around. What was it like?

Those moments felt freeing when I was pissed. When I read another terrible news story or heard another struggle from a friend, I felt liberated. Cocky, even. Ha! At least I don't have to explain this away on God's behalf, I thought. But I did notice something a little odd - I still wasn't looking at these situations from the lens of a person who doesn't believe in God. I was using the lens of a person who does; but who just thinks He's terrible. A God I wasn't going to waste my time defending or worshipping - because, frankly, in those moments, I couldn't figure out why I would.

There were some moments and friends that offered me alternatives, mostly in the form of a god that is powerless against bad things, cries when I cry and wouldn't ever really let anything terrible happen. (This perspective always left me sweating, worrying - wouldn't it be worse to have a god who's not in charge than to have one in charge who does inscrutable things sometimes?) Or there's the worldview that pretends everyone is basically good, and anything bad that happens is just, I don't know, a bump on the road to Harmony. (This also left me sweating, because if the people in these local news stories who hurt kids in the way I read about - if they don't burn in hell, constantly reminded of what they did, I don't want to live in that world, either.) But soon I came to a realization:

I would rather reject the real God than accept a fake simulation of Him.

Once I got there, I had a decision to make. Or, I thought I could make. But something else started happening.

As the hormonal haze that marked the beginning of my motherhood has mercifully receded, I've discovered something else about my faith: it's stubborn as hell.

Every time my heart grabs wildly for something to hold on to - whether it's comfort, or the assurance that someone who did something terrible WILL pay - I find Jesus there. When I'm reading with Naomi on my lap and I don't know where to put that joy that feels like it's going to break out of my body, Jesus is there. Every confusing question I find, every time I look hard in the mirror and wonder what kind of life I want to have, Jesus is there. And not just Jesus - I find people in the Scriptures who've asked all the questions I have, or felt the frustrations, or been pissed like I've been pissed, and who've still found a Just and Faithful and Good God. Just like Jesus knows what it is to be human, our forefathers (and mothers) know what it's like to serve an unbelievably frustrating and confusing God from the depths of tragedy and the height of joy. These fathers and mothers of my faith lost their families; they lost their heads and they spent years in prison. They cried and kicked and screamed, and they tried to count it all joy, because they had seen a man rise from the dead and tell them that they could, too.

I can't let Him go. I don't want to get a glass of orange juice without Him, I don't want to make small talk without Him; I sure as hell don't want to raise my daughter without him. I don't think I could if I tried. He is in my bones and blood; in my mind when I'm not quite awake but find myself praying for help, or when I'm frustrated beyond belief and grasping for empathy. He is real, and thank God I have spent years knowing that and growing in my knowledge of that. Because now, when I spend days realizing the cost of it (that I could lose everything - my baby - and still be called to worship the One in Charge) I come to find it's worth it. It has to be, because I don't have a choice.

Pastor Frank said in his sermon a couple weeks ago (goodness help me, I can't stop listening to Redemption podcasts. There is no substitute for a Frank sermon) that "mature faith has burned the boats." (He was quoting another author, so don't give him too much credit.) Mature faith has given up on all other options. It's on the island, with no escape, with enough confidence and holy recklessness to burn the only point of return. There's no going back.

I've burned the boats. Thank God.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Honey, This City Isn't For You."

Last weekend, with great solemnity and ceremony, I relocated my aloe plant from the landing on our stairs to our deck outside. To get some sun, because I'm pretty sure it's dying. (I always kill the ones that are supposed to be low-maintenance. And the needy ones are thriving. This is probably a metaphor about me? Is it?) Anyway, this afternoon I was patting myself on the back for my steely resolve in the face of cruel nature and science, etc.; sacrificing the feng shui of my staircase landing all in the name of abundant aloe life, and then it starting pouring rain. It went from zero to Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm in .5 seconds and I was powerless at my kitchen window. That rain is gonna kill my aloe now. Aloe drowns in the rain.

We live about a mile from downtown Columbus. I can see the skyscrapers from our third-story window, which sits just opposite the Naptime Treadmill 2017 (as we affectionately call it around here, because it is almost exclusively used during naptime). On pretty regular occasions, especially during rush hour when the highways are clogged, I find myself driving through the middle of the city. (Columbus has a really strange number of pizza places. And hot dog places. And grilled cheese places? We have a grease problem.) Anyway, right now on every major city lamppost downtown, there are giant signs heralding the Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade and Festival in a couple weeks. The signs have been up for over a month now. They're city signs, on city lampposts. With a great font.

I see them every time I pass through town, and a couple errands ago I realized I hadn't quite put my finger on how they made me feel. Because I was definitely feeling something, but I didn't know what. The easy answer would be anger. Taking a quick inventory of my college years would lead right to that conclusion. I was an angry little freedom fighter back then - everyone was out to get me and everyone but me was WRONG. But the signs weren't making me angry.

Was it sadness? Melancholy? Tenderness? Fear? Confusion? No. None of these really fit.

It was loneliness.

They make me feel lonely, is the thing. Like my own city doesn't want me. Because I'm not proud of our cultural obsession with sexuality, or the way we reduce people with same-sex attraction to a single identity, or the way we bully people - via Twitter, via legislation, via lawsuits, via church pulpits, via podcasts, via blogs, via books, via boring ol' peer pressure - into accepting, celebrating, and promoting the idea that we're powerless in the face of our sexual desires, that we can be happy as long as we get to do whatever we feel like doing in any given moment, and that marriage isn't a True Immovable Thing but can be whatever we want it to be, and that marriage only exists to make us happy. In fact, I don't like that we do that. I don't think homosexuality is an identity. I don't think it allows people to flourish. I don't think it's good for hearts. I don't think it's the way God sees us. And for that, my city doesn't want me.

(A few weeks ago I met a woman for coffee who does some local freelance writing. I was hoping to pick her brain on the ins and outs of  the freelance landscape around here. But when she asked me what Aaron does for a living, and I told her about his nonprofit, this happened:

Her: "Honey, you don't want to write for any Columbus publications."
Me: "What? Yes, I do."
Her: "...it's a very progressive city."
Me: "...ok?"
Her: .....
Me: .....

Me: ... "Do any of the publications cover the news? Because that's what I write, and that's what I read in them. I don't see a lot of opinion pieces... and I'm not qualified to write opinion pieces anyway."
Her: "I just don't think you'd want to write for them.")

Loneliness. (With a dash of injustice, bc: WTF?)

BUT.

I feel strongly that I will really screw this whole thing up if I start to focus on whether, or how, I'm being wronged. That would be fruitless and self-serving and, frankly, boring as hell.  What I'm hoping to do is maybe use this to try to understand better the other people who have felt like this. Maybe for a long time.

I'm thinking of African-Americans who were (and in many cases still are) treated as unwelcome in their own cities. At water fountains and schools and restaurants and on certain streets and in certain neighborhoods or jobs or clergy positions or city councils. Or men and women without washboard abs and straight white teeth who don't see anyone who looks remotely like them on any billboard or advertisement anywhere. I guess I've spent most of my life, thanks be to God, feeling pretty represented. Pretty included. And now I'm starting not to feel that way. It's sad, and it makes me feel lonely, but maybe it will make me wiser. And help me remember that suffering - even on this little level - isn't The Thing To Always Be Avoided. And that it arguably doesn't do me too much good to feel perfectly at home in a world where sin is still pouring like Apocolypse Now: Rainstorm.

Because aloe drowns in the rain.




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Swimming Naked

There's a guy in Australia who hosts a nude swim every year. At first I assumed he was a perverted weirdo, but I saw an interview with him and changed my mind. He said he does it to force people to think about their priorities. He said people usually only re-evaluate their perspective when one of the terrible "d's" happens to them - death, disease or divorce - and he wanted to create a positive situation that would yield the same positive results. It sounds crazy, but I actually think it's totally plausible that plunging naked into the freezing Australian ocean surrounded by a whole bunch of other naked weirdos would give me a broader perspective on life and its many challenges. (I could probably argue that the people who sign up for something like that in the first place probably aren't the people who need it, but I don't want to be a downer.)

Anyway I think I have the opposite problem. I think it's from writing the news.

Before I go on, a word to pre-child me and anyone else who has an eyeroll at the ready for the next person who talks about how "becoming a parent changes you":

Becoming a parent changes you.

Like, I don't think it makes you morally superior, or even more wise. You're not a bad person, or weird or selfish, if you don't have kids. You can still experience deep, meaningful and fruitful human emotion. You can still teach others, and have passionate feelings. BUT.

The Maria Baer before Naomi was a different Maria Baer, with shallower fears, less weighty daily concerns and more inward focus. I wasn't worse, but I was different, and less emotionally stretched. My love wasn't as deep and my fear wasn't as wide. I didn't know how to prioritize stressors the way I do now. (An aside: this literally makes me feel like a Completely Amazing Person on a daily basis. Do you know this feeling? My kid is crying, I just spilled coffee on my shirt, someone's knocking at the door and my phone is ringing. What do I do first? Tend to the kid. Then door, then phone, don't worry about shirt. This is a small example but it's hard to quantify how empowering these kids of little stress pop quizzes are.) My point is I am different now and probably slightly more wise. This is not an opinion or a moral judgment, it's just a fact, and it's emotionally mature to accept it without getting defensive (still talking to my pre-child self here) and move on.

A few weeks ago I wrote to my pastor in Phoenix about how guilty I felt for singing "I Surrender All" at church on Ash Wednesday knowing full well that I very much DON'T surrender all, because I don't surrender my daughter. If God pulled an Abraham-and-Isaac thing on me, I don't even have to think about it; I'd say no. I just would. It troubles me to say that, and confuses me because I don't know what it means about my faith necessarily, but I do know it's true.

Anyway my pastor said (among many other things, which were a great help) that when God told Eve that there would be pain in child-bearing after the apple incident, THIS is what He meant. All of this. Not just the contractions the breathing and all that, but the fear, and the desperate and terrible love. I feel like a broken record. (Having a child has changed me and I am still dealing with it).

Writing local news roundups every night has exacerbated this. All these car accidents, tornadoes, mothers arrested for neglecting their babies, heroin overdoses at 21, accidental fatal gunfire, sexual deviance, teachers abusing students, men robbing convenience stores at knifepoint, drunk driving accidents - It's salt on a very fresh, confusing wound that I'm still tip-toeing around, staring at from different angles and trying to parse. What is this fear? Is it real or exaggerated? Is it wisdom or irrational, hormone-induced anxiety? Am I living with a wise, much-sought-after "eternal perspective" ("life is short") or just paralyzing myself with fear and worry ("Oh shit, life is short!")

Pardon my irreverent French, but John Piper is an asshole about this. Remember when he started a Twitter controversy (remember when it was possible to NOT start Twitter controversies?) after the deadly tornado in Missouri by tweeting something about how it was all part of God's plan? He said it much more aggressively than this. Lately I've been reading a book of his called "Don't Waste Your Life." I bought it at a conference and will sheepishly admit I was drawn in by the title. I was secretly hoping it was going to be a nice, comforting little treatise on how accepting the Gospel means you could never possibly waste your life, even if you're a newly staying-at-home mom still trying to figure out how to spend her time. (If I spend the next 15 minutes doing the dishes, will I Regret For The Rest Of My Life that I didn't spend those 15 minutes with my too-rapidly growing baby? Don't they make flowery instagram memes about this? And if I don't do the dishes, won't it annoy me the next time I go into the kitchen, and the time after that, and eventually we won't have any dishes to eat on? How the hell do I make this kind of decision?)

And I guess the Piper book does essentially say that (the Gospel thing, not the dishes thing) but it's just so... mean. I finish each chapter thinking "why are you yelling at me, John Piper?" I'm paraphrasing here but I'm pretty sure there's a paragraph that basically says "if terrible things happen to you, who cares! You shouldn't, because Jesus is eternal."

The odd thing is, in the same season as this fear has been swirling around me, my life has gotten really deliciously small. Like, the kind of life I always wanted. I wake up in the morning slowly. My girl and I eat breakfast. I make coffee, she plays. We sit on the back porch and talk about the weather and the new flowers blooming. Maybe we take a walk to the park. I sit at the piano for a while. We read books. She naps. You get what I'm saying. I'm still reading and writing and seeing other adult friends and cooking fun things and running on the treadmill and everything. But I'm not stressed. I feel really present.

And in all those same moments, I'm also terrified. I realize some folks need to jump naked into the Pacific be reminded of what's important and to find the encouragement to stop spending so much time on frivolous things. My problem is the frivolous things aren't fun anymore because I'm too consumed with the frailty of What's Important.

Sometimes I feel like I can't win. This is why I like reading fiction. (And drinking wine.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It's Cramped But We're All OK: October 2016

The setting: an apartment that's too small. The characters: A woman and her dog, mortal enemies by the cruel providence of a cross-country move and an unsold house, that's now been sold but wasn't by the crucial moment of moving, necessitating this in-between "homestead" that was definitely made for one person, or maybe two, but certainly not two and a half, and a dog. The dance: the woman and the canine try to avoid each other but cannot; his fur flying everywhere, into socks and shoes and drains and newly cleaned counters and drawers; his dumb dog butt taking up the entire hallway as she attempts to bring out the laundry basket and doesn't see him below her, causing her to stumble, he screeches, pride wounded, but no wiser about stashing his dumb hairy self a little off to the side next time. Her toe is stubbed; temper rising melodramatically.

It's cramped in here.

My other little creature is slowly learning to talk, and more quickly learning how to manipulate me with her little whimpers and huge blue eyes. She started saying "mama" this past week and I'm absolute toast, all my determination to help her "learn to go to bed on her own" out the window because the second I put her down and her tiny, sing-songy and terribly dramatic little "mama"s start floating down the (too-short) hallway to the (cramped) couch I'm up and back in the bedroom, picking her up for a long rocking sesh. How could I deny the "mama"s?? YOU try.

Our old house sold almost immediately after we got here, and that is such a gift. We've saved so much money and angst. On top of that, we found a dreamy little brick house in the neighborhood to top all neighborhoods (library and giant historic bookstore within walking distance), and there's plenty of room for both woman and beast (and husband and babe) and even more, and we close on said storybook house at the end of this week. Lots to be grateful for, sighs of relief to sigh and hands to high five and gratitude journals to fill (who actually does this?)

Still, it's too cramped in here.

I miss my friends. The ones who would cry tears of joy with me at the "mama"s (and who did, honestly, over the phone, but it's not the same). I miss the ones who make us carnitas at 9 pm, patiently waiting for my evening run to finish and for us to zip over in our pajamas with wet hair and huge appetites and hearts convinced we deserve a weekday night beer (or three) with our Mexican pork. I miss the ones who run into the Church building Sunday morning, faces lighting up when we see each other like it's been more than four days, talking too loud about how we love each others' outfits and how work sucks and isn't this summer way too hot? I miss the ones with the cutest babies who watch the garbage men and love donuts and in fact, shall we stop over to Bosa and pick up a dozen on this lazy Saturday morning?

My days now are somewhat formulaic, and the formula is actually full of ingredients I like: coffee in the morning, an episode of something funny on Hulu while baby bounces in her little playset, then we eat (sweet potatoes are YES, JUST THE WORLD-EXPANDING SNACK WE WERE WAITING FOR), then we read books and play just before our nap while Mom e-mails and writes and reads, and then we cook dinner or go to the park or call desert friends or write sad letters to desert friends. These are all lovely things, but they're lonely too.

Our best friend is off at meetings during the week, driving everywhere and making friends and charming the pants off anyone who looks at him for more than 15 seconds, including your humble correspondent who doesn't get to hug his neck enough these days but loves counting down the hours until she gets to.

It's too cramped in here, both apartment and brain. We miss our friends but love the autumn, and we're so grateful for this apartment because so many mamas and babies and charming men and annoying dogs don't have a place to lay their heads, but we want more space and to be able to find all the cutlery. And now you're up to speed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Going

Baby Baer had a doctor appointment the other day, at a pediatrician's office in the same compound as the hospital where she was born. My room in the maternity ward overlooked a patch of green grass and a bike path that weaves through the campus, and seeing it again sucks the air out of my lungs. It's a good feeling, sort of - a happy memory, certainly - but jarring. I can't believe she started life in that building. Isn't that a strange thing to think about? That she wasn't breathing air and then suddenly she was, and it was inside those four walls? How could it be a real, physical place and not some spiritual fifth dimension?

That's also the hospital where I found myself a few months after moving here, with side-splitting stomach pain that we soon found out was an ulcer. I also went to that hospital for outpatient physical therapy back then. I've visited a crop of fresh new babies belonging to various friends there.

It's weird to get nostalgic about a hospital, but I guess this is where we are.

These last couple of weeks in Phoenix feel like this: I feel like my heels are dragging a valley through the burning asphalt. I feel like if you listen closely enough, you can hear my proverbial breaks squeaking. I don't feel ready to leave. I don't want to leave.

I used to blog all the time about the weather here. It's too monotonous, certainly too hot. I never quite adjusted to it, though I learned to cope and hate the summers a little less. (This one has been a doosey though - carting a gradually heavier carseat and drooly baby everywhere you go in the 115 degree heat is... grumpiness-inducing. No matter how scrumptious said drooly baby is.) And truthfully, I feel a little sheepish having so much emotional trouble leaving. I know the impression I gave my family and friends back home was that I hated it here and was desperately homesick for Ohio. That was true for a long time. But then we steeled our resolve and found a beautiful church and a book-of-Acts community, and by the time Aaron suggested we buy a house I didn't even blink. We made a home here.

Part of this is that I simply hate change, like most humans do. It's really unsettling to be sitting here in my living room, with gray morning light coming through the windows like it does every morning, and Jethro the dog lying on the rug waiting to be let outside, and the air conditioning humming and my clothes in the closet and groceries in the fridge and laundry that needs done and then realizing: in about a week and a half, none of this will be. We'll be in another place.

But part of it is also that I love it here. Our routines, favorite dinner joints, book stores, coffee shops. And the people. Mostly the people. Forever the people.

On Sunday I got a tattoo with three of my closest friends, a little prickly pear cactus with a bloom on top on my left wrist, and not to be dramatic, but let's be dramatic about it for a second: it feels so appropriate, like acknowledging that Phoenix dug itself into my skin, and that I'll wear it forever, along with these people, and the desert, and that it hurt while it happened but it was so worth it, and have I overdone the metaphor? You get what I'm saying. Pain, permanence, beauty.

I really should be packing instead of ruminating, but my talents favor the ruminating and isn't packing what husband's are for? Moving is the worst. Just this moment I came face to face with the reality that I'm about to have to bubble-wrap every single dish in my kitchen cabinets. This is cruel and unusual.

Once in my more dramatic days (clearly I've overcome that vice) I wrote this quote on one of my journals in mult-colored gel pens, as one does: "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." It's something Nelson Mandela said. I know it's not perfectly representative - Columbus and Ohio have certainly changed, and I'm not returning exactly as I've never lived in that particular city. But I'm a little afraid of what I'll find out about myself when we get there. What if I'm not as adventurous as I always thought I was? What does this move mean about me?

Sometimes things don't mean things about you. Sometimes they just are.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

God as Mother

We're about four months into baby Baer's little baby life, and one of the best parts about that is that she finally feels solid. Like a real, chubby, happy little baby who I'm not terrified of anymore. I don't think I realized how scared I was of her at first - they're so LITTLE, and so DEPENDENT, and light as a feather and sleepy and quiet and unable to tell me what they need. At least mine was. Now she's awake, with lots to say, lots of whining, and just now starting to grab at toys and things. She grabs my shirt in the exact same place every time I feed her and we settle in. She likes her elephant rattle. We take naps together. Heaven.

A couple of weeks before I had her, after I had started my maternity leave, I met one of my best friends for coffee at Lux. It was very much a "my-new-life" moment for me; yoga pants and a sweatshirt at 10 am with nothing to do afterwards. I loved it (but also hated it, because of the giant baby pressing on my internal organs, etc. I feel like we've talked about this before.) Anyway, this friend of mine is also a coworker, and she works in the department of our ministry that organizes our overseas missions. She primarily works in Ethiopia and Ukraine.

She was telling me about a community in Ethiopia that - for whatever reason - seems to have a  preoccupation with Mary (the Mother of Jesus.) They're not practicing Christians, per se, but they treat Mary almost in an occult way - building shrines, believing she'll do them harm if they speak ill of her, etc. It made me think about my relationship with Mary, which I don't mind telling you has been a little... strained? for a few years now.

I grew up Catholic, named after Mary and always feeling like I had a special relationship with her. Lots of rosaries said, lots of prayers with her and thinking about her and hoping she was watching me especially, and helping me. Eventually my theology on that was challenged, and when I combed the Bible for some answers I started feeling like maybe I misunderstood who she was. I broke up with her, really. For a few years I tried not to think about her at all - pendulum swinging too far the other way and all that - but now I'm at a place where I feel ok accepting that she is special; that she made an incredible sacrifice, is a wonderful and beautiful example, and meant a lot to me in my childhood. I still look up to her. No more rosaries, though.

But my point is that this conversation with my friend got me wondering what it is about Mary that has this Ethiopian community so enraptured, and was it the same thing that held my heart and my attention as a kid? I think it's partly this: that we naturally seek the love of a Mother. And that the picture we have of God as only a masculine Father is incomplete. (If both male and female are made in His image, does He not have both male and female qualities?)

This thought came crashing back into my consciousness one night after feeding baby Baer. (As an aside, I think that's how I can best describe the hormone storm of post-partum life as I've lived it: rushing, unpredictable thoughts. Some good, some beautiful, some sad, some scary, some weird, always unexpected and very quick.) I was looking down at this girl, and my stomach was warm, and I couldn't believe how I felt about her. That I'd never ever felt about anyone like I felt about her, and how it hurt me, in a good way. I wished so much that she would wake up so I could tell her how incredibly much I loved her, and how there is nothing she could do that would make me not love her, and how wide and deep and aggressively I loved her, and I wanted her to understand me. She was dozing off on me, there in my rocking chair, and an old hymn we used to sing at mass came into my head:

"I heard the voice of Jesus say
'Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, o weary one, lay down
Your head upon my breast."

And! Then! I had this thought that made my heart and mind go wild: is this feeling, the way I feel about baby Baer, the way God feels about me? I had never, ever considered that. Never felt it that way. But if He is our Father, and our Mother, then yes, I suppose it is.

I started mulling this over and found more questions than answers - in a very honest moment I wondered, if that's true, where are my sonnets? Where's the poetry, the exclamations of love and beauty over me? Because that's the compulsion I have when I look at my girl - but that's not how the majority of the Bible reads to me. It's a lot of story-telling; some (a lot) of it violent; and letters from apostles giving lessons they've learned. It's much more than that, but it's not the shouting-love-from-the-mountaintops prose I would've written.

Still, I think my understand of Jesus' love for me started to change in the rocking chair, and it's still evolving. If God is my Mother, too, that means a thousand new things and a thousand times more powerful of a love than I pictured before.


Friday, May 20, 2016

My Invincibility: A Realization

The subject of this post is: I can do anything. This includes (but is MOST ASSUREDLY NOT LIMITED TO) birthing a baby, which if you'll recall from my last post, was a bit in question.

My perfect little peanut butter daughter came into the world on April 15, about 36 hours or so after writing my last post, which just brings a smile to my now not-pregnant self. I'm super stoked that I didn't turn out to be the one woman in the history of all mankind post-Adam and Eve to remain pregnant until the coming kingdom, but even more stoked that my girl is here and she seems to like life. That is just the best.

Now back to me telling you (and myself) about how I can do anything. This will seem like a rather insignificant story, perhaps. But it isn't! You must believe! Come on this journey with me!

A couple of weeks after she was born we took baby Baer to a fund raiser, featuring a fancy hotel ballroom, plated dinner and a Fox News correspondent, if you can believe it. We were determined to do it. We strapped her to me in her little wrap (kudos to the inventors of this contraption; you, I assume, can also do anything), put on maternity dress pants much to our lingering chagrin (SO MANY WEIRD SHAPES happening to my body right now) and a pair of earrings and hit the town.

Was it a crazy thing to do? Maybe, but please remember that I can do anything, and consequently I can also do anything I want; which in this case was to get out of the house. Presumably baby Baer wanted this too - plus, I could finally stand upright after the delivery. This wasn't going to go to waste. So we went, but about an hour and a half into it we realized the event was going to go longer than expected, and I was faced with a Great and Powerful Dilemma, surely faced by many but unexpected by me up until this point: she needed fed.

If you're one of those gentlemen or ladies who can't handle breastfeeding talk, earmuffs please. I'm not going to lecture you on the harmful American sexualization of breasts and how you need to get over it already, because honestly, I don't much care, and I also respect your decision to look at/read or not look at/read anything involving boobs given your level of comfort/discomfort. This is a blog for another time but to reiterate: I'm not sure I care, and I respect you. So if you're uncomfortable, earmuffs. Or the earmuffs equivalent for reading? Open a new tab and shop for something on Amazon Prime. Then come back in ten minutes.

OK FOR THOSE OF YOU STILL WITH US, I had to feed baby Baer, and for the first few weeks postpartum that shit was PAINFUL. Some ladies will say - it shouldn't be painful at all! Which is very confusing. Others will say yes, it will hurt a little at first, which is also confusing. It turns out that both are true. I assumed the pain I was experiencing was soreness, but after about three weeks when it wasn't improving and in fact was getting worse, I realized my babe and I were doing things wrong. We worked together on it, consulted some friends who also have boobs and babies, and we figured it out. Hallelujah. It still hurt a little bit, and every feeding sounded like high school gym class ("take a deep breath! We can do this!") but eventually the soreness wore off.

At the time of the fancy fund raiser, however, the pain was still VERY MUCH HAPPENING and very real and very anxiety-inducing. So the Great and Powerful Dilemma was indeed great and powerful, because was I going to endure that pain in public? Where could I go to do it? Would the baby be up for it?

I decided to give it a try, with my husband's full endorsement that if it didn't work, we could head home. That would be disappointing, I thought, but maybe necessary.

I found a private family bathroom. You know, one of those ones with just one room. This was a victory, but immediately upon entering I realized the air conditioning didn't ventilate in this one room. An obstacle, sure, but not unsurmountable.

Earmuffs again, boob-a-phobes - I was still at this point unable to feed baby without pretty much taking off all items of clothing from the waste up. This feels very vulnerable to do, but nevertheless, I did it, right in that family bathroom. I washed my hands. I set the baby on the changing table. I got situated. We started our sweet little ritual. OUCH IT FREAKING HURT.

Then, a perfect storm came upon us. It started to get really hot in there. SO HOT. In Arizona, in the spring and summer months most especially, it is absolutely imperative that every room has air conditioning ventilation. Imperative. That's why I'm introducing legislation to make it a capital crime not to (just kidding, but I did find out this week that the state legislature passed a bill saying school students are allowed to eat their own vegetables that they grow in their own gardens, which is vexing, to say the least. Not the vegetables; the fact that this bill needed to be written and then needed to be passed. I digress).

Anyway it started getting really hot. Then, another thing happened - people started knocking on the door to get in. At first it was just a polite knock, then they tried the handle and realized it was locked. Then the knock got a little more aggressive, which told me it was not a new full-bladdered person but instead the same full-bladdered person who had knocked a minute ago, and he/she was getting impatient, and even more full-bladdered, probably. This caused a small amount of stress that soon began growing.

Then, baby started really hurting me. I mean you guys, it HURT.

Suddenly I had a moment of perfect clarity. Total and perfect clarity - unlike any other moment I've had in my life up until this point. I'm not kidding about that - I know this is a small situation - but throughout parenting for five weeks (five total weeks!) I've learned that small situations can be really Big Lessons, and this was one.

I saw my two decisions in front of me, and neither held any particular moral weight, which is a very large accomplishment for me. I could give up trying to feed her, get packed up, leave the sauna family bathroom and let Angry Knocker in, and go home. That would be ok. Or, I could keep trying, let the Knocker battle it out in the regular many-stalled bathroom down the hall, accept that I was going to get a little sweaty, and just keep going. That would be ok too. Everyone would be ok.

I looked at it objectively, decided I didn't really want to get home, that the baby was still getting fed despite the stress, and I kept going. We got a full feeding in. I ran my hands under cold water afterwards and wasn't so hot anymore. The person stopped knocking. We went back to the dinner.

This is the point when I realized I can do anything. And I did! I did do anything. I birthed a little baby girl. I endured a really painful post-birth infection, and lived to talk about it. I fed her in a public restroom when it really hurt and people were mad that I was monopolizing the room. I looked at a situation with more than one option, chose one of those options, and didn't feel guilty about it. I have a feeling that is going to be a big part of motherhood and I'm real, real glad I did it somewhat successfully once. Now the next time a similar situation happens, I'll hopefully be able to do it again, stress-free.

Now I have to ask the question that's plagued me since I started this post about 20 whole minutes ago: is this now a mommy blog???? SAY NO!!!!!!!!!