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The Destruction of Womanhood: On Titles and False Justification

The Destruction of Womanhood: On Titles and False Justification

I have two boys and one baby girl. She’s not actually a baby, but she is the youngest and we still call her baby.

She is actually a feisty 18 months. A toddler. A young woman, if you will. A sister who is always looking for a place among the boys, a place where she can build and play catch, where she can run around with one hand raised, ready to destroy anything that gets in her pretty little way.

She loves necklaces and baby dolls too. She loves purses and shopping carts, baskets and hats (and so do her brothers!) But she’ll plop right down in the middle of any male bonding that goes on near her. If the boys shut their door before she enters, she will scream and bang with her fists until help arrives. She can’t open her own doors.

I, on the other hand, can open doors, but I have lots of difficulties with the boyhood that runs here. Video games, sword fighting, jumping and running, punching anything in sight, throwing, kicking, and yelling, are not in my blood.

I prefer a quieter home, one where we sit at a table and color. I would even take an hour of cutting and pasting. I have one boy who loves to cut and paste and color, but he gets caught up in his older brother’s pursuit of more intellectual things. Theirs is a battle of physical vs. visual, mathematics vs. art. Both boys play both parts well, but hardly ever at the same time. When convinced, they will sit and do almost anything, but this takes some serious convincing. Their sister loves art supplies. She loves to taste markers, dissolve cardboard on her tongue, and shake crayon boxes until every color explodes on the floor. This is why I always think twice about getting the art supplies out.

These are young children. They have great imaginations. They have great desires to try to do things they can’t possibly accomplish on their own. My 3-year old has recently started proclaiming, “I’m a creative thinker.” I’m not sure why he says this. I know we have commented on his creative inclinations, but I can’t recall ever telling him that he is a creative thinker. Still, he knows it and he speaks it.

Sometimes, when I am overcome with the desire for quiet, quick obedience, without the creative thought attached, I want to shout, “I am your mother! Do what I say!” On a few occasions, I have let those words slip, angry eyes bulging, I’m sure.

“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” ~Luke 6:45

Then, what is in my heart?

These are not usually words of love. They are selfish words.

I think I deserve to be obeyed. I think I deserve respect. I do, but it’s not my job to demand it.

The title of Mother was given the day I bore life in my belly, but it’s my job to live up to it, to show my children that a mother is kind and strong, creative and a good listener, a seeker of beauty, a teacher with patience, a learner always expecting, no matter what goes on around.

Before I was a mother, I was a daughter and a woman. These parts of me still exist but often feel crushed, like the sidewalk chalk that my 5-year old prefers to bang on the ground instead of draw with. Sidewalk chalk is meant for creation. It’s a tool, a toy, used for drawing. But my math and science boy wants to see what happens when you crush it. I know he’s just curious, in the same way that he’s curious about what happens to the light inside the refrigerator when the door closes.

This kind of exploratory habit is not in my nature, but I suppose it once was. Most children are curious beings, like the monkey George. Now that I know the answers (or I think I know the answers), wonder has become a nuisance. Now, I don’t want to stop to explore. I want to take the answers I know and I want to create something.

My children are young and don’t know the answers yet, so maybe it’s not that they are trying to destroy my womanhood, but to bring life back to the very core of me.

Perhaps every child brings the gift of relearning, of experiencing once again what it is about life that makes us who we are.

Perhaps every child brings the gift of relearning, of experiencing once again what it is about life that makes us who we are. (1)Since we are only discovered in the context of others, maybe my womanhood can only be truly discovered in a life of battles. Through the searching for band aids. Through the peeling back of packaging and the rubbing on of healing salve. Through the sticking together.

It’s not just the cuddles and the kisses, but the tantrums and the scraped knees that bring us life.

So, let me ask a question. When my kids smash their chalk or throw their Legos, what am I doing? How am I using my position of mom to give meaning to the same word’s title? Am I letting my own answered questions dictate the answers for my children? Or am I allowing them discovery, and at the same time allowing myself to continue learning what the word Mother means?

Words always have two meanings: the denotation (the literal definition), and the connotation (the positive and negative associations that words are given through cultural and personal experiences).

How am I forming my children’s connotation of the word mom? Is a mom someone who yells, someone who causes her own destruction, and therefore the destruction of her children and her home? Or is a mom someone who sees beyond herself and uses her words to speak life, her creative abilities to change the atmosphere of her home and generate goodness and love in the hands and voices of her noisy, fearless children?

How are you using your position of Mom (or whatever your title may be) to bring life to your home?

What Are You Listening To?

What Are You Listening To?

Last weekend I attended the West Virginia Writer’s Conference. It was the first time I’ve been away from my children overnight. And it was actually a two night stay.

Did I miss them?

I thought I would, but no, actually, I didn’t. And I struggled with that.

I know that when we leave our children, we should immediately feel like a piece of us has gone missing. Like we aren’t complete and that if we don’t get home immediately, we might die or at least not be able to sleep or function in some other capacity. (In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m being sarcastic. I don’t think we are “supposed to” do any of that.)

During my stay, I never stopped loving my children. But that brings me to another point. I’ve heard many moms say before that when they first held their newborn babies, they were overcome with love. Maybe they wept or shook or felt like they couldn’t contain their happiness so they burst out in smiles and laughter, surprised when others around them did not.

When my first son was born, I was not immediately in love. I was shocked. I was frightened. I was surprised. Who is this little person? Where did he come from? As if my belly had been growing a hiccuping watermelon.

My husband and I have discussed our initial parenting reaction at length and we think it has something to do with the aloofness of newborns. They can’t smile. They can’t laugh. They can’t do anything really, so it took us a few weeks to feel that immense love that so many people talk about. My second and third babies brought out earlier love, but I think that was due to having seen how lovely babies can be. By then I knew that babies eventually laugh and hug their parents. I knew that babies eventually do silly things like try to grab at mirrors, drink from cup-less straws and look deeply into your eyes as they gurgle on about who knows what.

On my drive to West Virginia, I had a lot of time to think. About 5 hours, actually, which is more time than us mothers ever have alone. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, especially since I had forgotten to bring my c.d.’s and my knock-off iPod, and it took me almost the entire drive to realize that I wasn’t scrolling through the radio stations, but the rental car’s presets. All I could hear from the speakers was fuzz and I thought that was just because I was in the middle of trees. Beautiful trees, though. The most beautiful trees and lands that I have ever seen. I wish I had photos to share, but because I was driving vertical and horizontal zigzags, I couldn’t manage to capture a single image.

Well, here is one image, but it’s not one that I took. It’s a free one from the internet. Pretty, isn’t it?

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At one point, I turned off the radio and silence entered the air. Then, some actual thoughts.

I thought, What are you listening to?

Even in silence, I was listening to something. The noises of tires rotating on asphalt. The whooshing of wind. The occasional swish-swish of my cell phone notifications.

I thought about the sounds of my  daily life.

When I drive around in my minivan, three children chatter on. They ask and they wonder out loud at me. They bring up philosophies of life. They tell me their failures and their successes. “Mom! Did you see that? I jumped so high!” “Mom! I hit that ball so hard!” or, “Mom, I wasn’t really good at that.” That last one comes from my 3-year old son who, today, told me over and over that he “wasn’t really good at” the spray ground, where he was continuously running to our towel to wipe his eyes of water drops. He was just playing in the water, like everyone else, but he apparently kept forgetting to close his eyes when he ran under the showers. “My eyes hurt!” He kept telling me.

What are you listening to?

I usually broadcast K-Love in my van, and it’s not because I like the music. In fact, though I love Jesus and I love worship music and I love hearing stories of God’s faithfulness, it is purely the positivity that I love in this station. There’s enough negativity out there already, and when I have the opportunity to control the words that are coming out of my speakers, I want them to be words of life.

I have started playing worship music in my house, all day every day, and I’ve realized that when I get angry, when I get frustrated, when I get worn out or overwhelmed at the demands of motherhood, the music keeps positivity from leaving. Even if my mind is reeling, I can bring myself back to calm because of the love that pours out through the music around me.

What are you listening to? Do you find that music helps keep you grounded at home, at work, or in your car?

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of jumbled up thoughts. It’s okay though. I’m pretty sure that’s normal. Having a life of one’s own provokes a lot of emotion, so it makes sense that having a second life forming in one’s belly would provoke a lot more thought and emotion, right?

I’m the baby of my family, six and a half years behind my closest sibling, and until my cousin started having babies when I was 12, I was the youngest of my entire, extended family. I was never around babies. Not ever. Most of my friends loved babies. They babysat, they volunteered to work in the nursery at their churches, they even took the “early childhood education” class at our high school (a class which might have been created out of a need to provide childcare for all of the teen moms that we had as classmates). But babies really kind of scared me.

I thought little kids were pretty cute, but to be left alone with one? Terror. My husband and I never really decided to have kids. We just decided to stop preventing it. We had a mutual dislike for all forms of birth control and a recognition that children enrich lives. I still believe they do, but in a way that I never would have imagined. It’s in a repetitive, yet somehow surprising, never-stopping, never sitting down, always go-go-go, kind of way that makes you peer inside your own heart and figure out why the constant jumping around and throwing of tantrums bothers you so much. (The answer, I think has something to do with the fact that I have a bunch of emotions and desires that I have not yet laid aside for the greater good of my children’s lives.)

In our case, removing birth control meant that I was pregnant within just a few months. I was somewhat thrust into motherhood, with few ideas of what it would really be like. I found that, when you’re pregnant, most people will tell you about their pregnancies, yet no one knows what it’s like to be you or to have your children or your spouse.

There is a piece of motherhood that is solitary. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on child-rearing, including a list called “Advice to Future Me” where I said, “My belly is like bread and now it is rising.”

It’s true. Bread-making and pregnancy are similar. In both, there is a growing specimen that forms itself and produces unseen things to make its boundaries expand, to make itself rise. When I was pregnant with my first son, I hadn’t made much bread. I think basic white and multi grain are all that I had tackled. Now, after three children and nine years of marriage, I have made bread with carrots cooked inside, with marjoram and chives. I’ve made baguettes, brioche, hamburger buns, hearty oatmeal bread, bagels, soft pretzels, focaccia, ciabatta, pita, and all kinds of pizza dough. Now I mostly make sourdough bread, from a starter that I created with only flour and water.

Two ingredients. Like my children were created from only my husband and me. But it’s not just ingredients that make. There are directions to follow. There is stirring and kneading to do. There is a feeling to knowing when the bread is right. There is waiting to be done, waiting until just the right moment when the oven is hot and the bread has been shaped, and it has risen again. There is an art to making bread, but there is also a chemistry. In my opinion, you have to have the desire for artistry first.

Today I am making brioche for our Saturday night hamburger dinner. This is actually the first time I’ve made brioche (though I did add it to my repertoire above), and it hit me, the line that almost every bread recipe gives: on a lightly floured surface…. 

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On a surface that has been sprinkled with a little extra of that one main ingredient. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour ensures that the bread does not stick to the surface as you form it. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour eases the transition from rising to proofing, from bowl to pan.

Aren’t you thankful that, even though parenting is hard work, we can lay down our parenting fears and trials, all our insecurities and hardships, on a surface lightly floured with wisdom from ages of mothers and fathers who have gone before us, a surface lightly floured with the knowledge that motherhood has been around for centuries, that babies have lived in dirt piles and grassy fields, without television and the internet, without air conditioning, without frozen meals, without Tulas and Ergos.

As we lay our parenting down on a surface lightly floured, our transitions become easier. While we are discovering our true form, we will remain intact.