Tag: Love

16May

Curse-Word Hymns

One of the best things about road-tripping with Dan is getting those long, uninterrupted miles of time to talk. Early in our relationship, I worried that we’d eventually run out of things to say to each other, and I suppose there’s some validity in that. After all, we live together and work together and can pretty much catch up on each other’s news over a three-minute espresso break. Our day-to-day interactions tend to cluster around the present though—how work projects are going, what to do about Parenting Challenge #5,000,008, which brand of toothpaste is on sale at the grocery store, who’s going to take one for the team and vacuum—and while these are all incredibly glamorous and sexy topics to be sure, they don’t exactly cover the scope of human communication.

In eleven years of marriage, we haven’t left many conversational stones unturned, but coming back to them is always a new experience. I’ve changed so much in the past decade. My views on any given subject are liable to be 180º degrees from what they were when we first talked through it, and part of me feels guilty over that, as if I got Dan to choose me based on false advertising. His love has proven to be expansive though, more than enough to cover all the different iterations of me. Through Dan’s unconditional fondness for me, I’ve been able to grasp the idea of a spacious God… and that’s where one of our road-trip conversations led us last weekend.

We were talking about how people commune with God, and I confessed that no matter how much I’ve tried over the last several years, I just cannot get my soul to click with religious music anymore. Christian bands, worship songs, pretty much any churchy phrases set to chords chafe at me like an outgrown hat. This makes me sad sometimes. I remember what it was like to agree with my heart and my vocal cords with the sentiments of an entire congregation, to float out of my body on the strains of communal devotion. I don’t have that anymore.

But talking with my husband about it helped me re-remember for the umpteenth time that I don’t have to fit in a mold to love and be loved by God. I don’t have to speak or think or vote like a stereotypical Christian (whatever that might be) in order to align my life with Jesus. I don’t have to accept traditional spiritual practices as the only way. And I don’t have to connect with “religious music” to have a religious musical experience. In the end, this thrills me far more than it saddens me. Finding God in unexpected places makes spirituality real to me in a way that predictable experiences never do, so if God is meeting me through rap rather than hymns, I can only take that as proof that my ever-changing self is still very much covered by love.

I haven’t done a Non-Churchy Songs for the Soul roundup in a while, but today feels just right for sharing eight more unconventional tracks that are pulling at my soul-strings these days:

1. Glósóli by Sigur Rós
I can’t watch this video without crying. I know that drum-beating rescuer with the kind eyes, don’t you see. This is the story of Jesus… and of the tremulous hope, the rag-tag trust, and the dizzying joy of freedom that have become my story too.

“And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are, Glowing Sun,
And here you are…”

2. Rambling Man by Laura Marling
All of Laura’s songs are poetry, but this one in particular folds me into a higher mindset. It’s introspection and self-evaluation and a determined authenticity, and the video above should give you a clue as to how I interpret the rambling life.

“It’s a cold and a pale affair,
And I’ll be damned if I’ll be found there.
Oh give me to a rambling man,
Let it always be known that I was who I am.”

3. Starting Over by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
I have proven myself incapable of doing anything but sitting up to listen when Macklemore’s on the stereo. This track is one of the best biographies of grace I’ve ever heard, and it always makes me grateful for the hard, beautiful work of being human together. (Just a heads up that this song involves decidedly non-churchy language.)

“We fall so hard,
Now we gotta get back what we lost.
I thought you’d gone,
But you were with me all along.”

4. I Want to be Well by Sufjan Stevens
I’ve posted this song before because it so fully expresses my gut feelings/thoughts/prayers when PTSD yanks my breath out from under me. (Note: The following does not involve polite language either.) What comes to mind when I listen to it is a question from the Bible that Jesus asked a lifelong invalid: “Do you want to get well?” How many times had that man wailed to God, “I’m not fucking around”? And to learn, after all those years, that neither was God…

 “I want to be well, I want to be well,
I want to be well, I want to be well.
I’m not fucking around, I’m not, I’m not,
I’m not fucking around.”

5. Me and God by The Avett Brothers
Now, you know I’ve got to love anyone who admits to using curse words when they pray. (See: previous two songs.) I can still remember what it was like to read in the Bible, of all places, that God just wanted our honest, simple selves—no church-sanctioned polish, no middle men on pedestals, just us. The relief of it still makes me grin wide.

 “Well I found God in a soft woman’s hair,
A long day’s work and a good sittin’ chair,
The ups and downs of the treble clef lines,
And five miles ago on an interstate sign.
My God, my God and I don’t need a middle man.”

6. When Death Dies by Gungor
I’m fudging my own rules to include this self-proclaimed Christian band on the list, but I’ve never heard a beat-boxing cellist at church, so I think you’ll forgive me. This song is everything I believe about heaven, everything I believe we get to dream of one day.

 “Where it comes, poor men feast.
Kings fall down to their knees.
When death dies, all things live,
All things live.”

7. Bible Belt by Dry the River
This is another one that speaks directly to my experience growing up under fundamentalism. It’s sad and beautiful and ultimately shining bright with the hope that comes of bravery and companionship. And if I said that Jesus was the one waiting for me on the 5:45 to whisk me away from the Bible Belt, would you believe me?

“Cause we’ve been through worse than this before we could talk.
The trick of it is, don’t be afraid anymore.”

8. Take Up Your Spade by Sarah Watkins
Sarah’s always had a way of making life sound uncomplicated and pure, and this little hymn to new days and new grace helps get me out of bed when the morning dawns heavy. Plus, that’s Fiona Apple singing with her. Perfection.

 “Shake off your shoes, leave yesterday behind you,
Shake off your shoes but forget not where you’ve been,
Shake off your shoes, forgive and be forgiven;
Take up your spade and break ground.”

What about you? Any songs been tugging at your soul-strings lately?

Previous roundups:

Sweaty Horns, Cracking Voices

Reggae and Redemption

Upside-Down Art: Jaw Harp Jam

27Mar

I Am Not an Abomination, and Neither Are You

When I was a girl, I believed I was fundamentally wrong. The exact term that rings in my memory is “an abomination to God.” An abomination. I didn’t have any context for that word outside of the Bible—in fact, I’m not sure I do even now—but I understood that its five syllables shook with the intensity of God’s disgust.

I gave proud looks.
I was deceitful.
I pushed back against rules.

I’d memorized verses declaring each of those things an abomination, a detestable affront to God, and over time, the word worked its way past my actions and straight into my identity. I didn’t try to be proud, see. I couldn’t help it; my entire theology was based on micromanaging myself toward perfection, and any time that I succeeded, my natural reaction was pride. I didn’t have many grounds to feel good about myself, but if I was managing more holiness than someone else in a certain area, my mind latched onto smugness like a drowning cat to a piece of driftwood. Pride wasn’t my choice; it just was. And that made me an abomination.

The same went for my deceitful and rebellious streaks. Lying and hiding were coping mechanisms for me, my body’s only strategy for self-defense. Rebellion was likewise instinctual; I never flouted rules, but I endlessly wrestled with the ones that suffocated me, trying to find loopholes through which to breathe. I was born with a question mark tattooed on my soul, and I believed the only reason God didn’t smite me for it was because Jesus had him on a choke chain.

There is a fiercely painful dissonance in believing that the one who made you is repulsed by who you are. I don’t think this is a sensation unique to my experience either. Mainstream Christianity teaches that we are born with a “sin nature” that God cannot abide, even though God is the maker and creator of all, and that we must perform series of steps to effectively hide our depravity from him before it is used as grounds to condemn us. I have heard thousands of sermons over the years to that effect.

Believing this way, that God considered who-I-was an abomination, stamped the dark impression of guilt onto my every waking moment. Not even those times of smugness when I was particularly rocking at righteousness could blunt my impression that God was gagging in my direction. I ricocheted endlessly between self-loathing and pride, my psyche working overtime to protect me from my theology. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out that this was a nightmarish way to live.

All the same, I had it easy in one regard: Nobody ganged up with God against me. If anything, I was praised by other Christians for striving so hard after holiness. Not once in my life has a group of people discriminated against me over those parts of myself that the Bible calls abominations. If I have ever defended my identity, it’s because I’ve wanted to, not because I’ve been under attack. I find instant acceptance in most Christian circles despite the ways in which my habits diverge from accepted biblical standards, and fellow believers’ open arms have strengthened the faith that I might have abandoned long ago without their support.

Not everyone is so privileged.

Among all the “abominations” listed in the Bible, from telling lies to eating shrimp to stirring up conflict to shedding innocent blood, the evangelical Christian community has picked out one on which to concentrate its outrage. You already know which one. You can’t help but know it. It’s on Saturday night’s news and on Sunday morning’s PowerPoint and on legislative drawing tables around the world. It’s the mountain on which we are willing to let others die.

This week, evangelicals became so incensed over World Vision, a humanitarian aid organization, expanding its hiring policy to allow married gay Christians that thousands of children lost their sponsorships. Let me put that in other words: People who claim to follow Jesus stopped providing nutrition, education, and health care to impoverished children in order to make a theological point.

Just before getting into bed last night, I saw that World Vision had reversed its decision, caving after two short days of uproar. The news settled on my heart like a boulder, and I lay awake for a long time exploring the contours of that weight. Being a Christian has never made me so sad.

I know what it’s like to feel that God despises my identity but not what it must feel like to have millions of fellow humans joining in. I can’t imagine having even just one person so repulsed by who-I-am that he or she would withdraw help from a child and call it my fault. I can’t imagine trying to reconcile my faith with my orientation only to have a nation of heterosexuals shouting from every available platform that I was choosing deviance. I can’t imagine having my heart and soul and talents rejected outright by the Christian community due to an inflexible interpretation of a few select Bible verses.

Can you imagine it?

I’m positive that the sorrow I feel today is a pale shadow of the pain my LGBT brothers and sisters are experiencing this week… this month… this lifetime during which they will be dragged again and again into a religious culture war in which everyone loses. Other writers have already made the points that bear repeating this week (see Rachel Held Evans, Jamie Wright, Jen Hatmaker, Erika Morrison, Nish Weiseth, and Kristen Howerton), and I know better than to think I can singlehandedly change popular doctrine. I do think it’s important though that I lend my voice to the discussion—if nothing else, so that my own LGBT friends will know that they’re not the brunt of every Christian’s theology.

I am grateful all the way to my bone marrow that my view of God did not stay rooted in that oppressive past. I still read the Bible but with very different eyes. Jesus is real to me now—unconditional love is real to me now—and through the clarity of that love, everything I once thought about religion is up for grabs. Except the view of a single human soul as an abomination. That’s not up for grabs. That’s just straight-up gone.

26Feb

Judge Not, Lest It Be Legalized

I had planned to work on my next installment of Open-Source Parenting this morning, but my attention keeps being pulled on a single thread away from our own small family, across the ocean, and straight to the heart of Arizona.

I’m doing my best to understand both sides of the debate being waged right now over Senate Bill 1062 (which some frustrated groups are calling the Anti-Gay Bill). I’ve read the text of the bill itself as well as arguments by intelligent and well-meaning people on both sides of the issue, and I have some thoughts of my own that I’d like to share. First, though, if you’re not familiar with what’s going on, here’s my completely non-professional, non-expert recap:

Last Thursday, Arizona Senate passed a bill that exempts individuals and organizations from “any law” (yes, you read that right) that prevents them from using their property in accordance with their religious beliefs. The text of the bill stipulates that that these convictions do not have to be “compulsory or central to a larger system of religious beliefs” (i.e. – as long as you believe it, it counts). The bill does not mention sexual orientation at all, but Arizona policymakers claim that the bill was drafted in direct response to an anti-discrimination lawsuit won—wrongfully, they believe—by a lesbian last year. Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has until the 28th to veto the bill if she chooses; otherwise, it will become law.

Everyone, it seems, is in an uproar. People on one side of the debate (which isn’t cut as clearly along party lines as you might think) argue that this bill will protect religious freedom while those on the other side see the bill as taking freedom away. I’d like to believe that this law would only be used to enforce things like a venue-owner’s right to turn down a group of Satanists who want to use the facilities for their necromancy party. That sounds reasonable, right? But let’s be honest—whether or not the bill refers to homosexuality, it is setting a new precedent in the LGBT debate.

Unless the governor vetoes the bill, it will soon be legal for Arizona restaurants to turn away gay individuals (and presumably even those who seem gay, as we are dealing solely with beliefs here). Based on sexual orientation alone, someone can be blocked from entering a movie theater, a civic council meeting, even a town square. Doctors, policemen, firemen, and social workers would be within their rights to refuse service as long as a “religious belief” is motivating them. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that hate crimes could be upheld in court.

Do you see how scary this is to me, this carte blanche given to individuals to exert something as subjective and unverifiable as belief over the law?

It’s easy for my mind to jump straight to other religions, to those whose belief systems go contrary to my sense of ethics, to all the vague possibilities of horror that a practicing jihadist could wreak under the protection of SB1062. I’m only qualified to speak for one religion though—Christianity. I’m quite familiar with our Bible, with what is described in its pages as sin. I have not seen the part of the Bible that requires us to judge, shun, or otherwise discriminate against those who sin, but many Christians feel differently, and based on the Bible alone, here is a small sampling of the people on whom Arizona Christians will have the right to turn their backs:

  • Anyone divorced (unless for reasons of infidelity) or remarried following a divorce
  • Unwed mothers
  • Couples arguing with each other
  • Misbehaving kids
  • Anyone with a credit card balance
  • Anyone with a tattoo
  • Women wearing boyfriend jeans
  • Anyone out or about on a Sunday
  • Overeaters

You get the point. By claiming the Bible as their witness, Christians can justify discriminating against pretty much anyone they want to. Actually, let me rephrase that. If this law goes into effect, Christians will be legally able to justify discriminating against pretty much anyone. I make that distinction because whether or not the government says it’s okay to kick a gay couple out of your restaurant, that doesn’t mean God says it’s okay.

Those sins listed in the Bible? The ones from which we pick and choose our preferred ammunition against those different from us? They’re meant to point us inward, to direct us back to the territory of our very own hearts where we can then work together with God to address our particular brands of un-love. (It is also worth noting that there are many “sins” referenced in the Bible that are limited to the cultures and circumstances of its original audiences. No matter how literally Christians may claim to read the Bible, very few still believe that eating pork or wearing jewelry are wrong.) If you’re interested in reading more about sin and Christians’ misplaced sense of duty in the “culture wars,” I highly recommend Micah J. Murray’s post from earlier this month.

Here is my stance, based entirely on what I’ve come to believe about God and my role as a citizen of humanity: My job is love. Period. It is neither my responsibility nor my right to judge my fellow humans as less worthy than myself. (In fact, Jesus had some pretty strong words against judging.) If you believe differently than I do, if your identity or choices do not line up with my own moral code, even if you’re straight-up my enemy, my job is still to love you.

And I want to be clear about something: Saying that a discriminatory action is made “in love” does not make it so. We love each other through our actions, not our semantics, and refusing to serve someone because they burden our religious sensibilities is about as unloving a gesture as we could make no matter how we try to spin it. What’s more, I would argue that those of us who follow Jesus are especially bound to kindness through the example of his life. How easily do we forget that Jesus spent his time on Earth serving the morally reprehensible? How easily do we skip over “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone?”

My heart is heavy today for Arizona, for the states considering similar ballots, and for all the people who will end up caught in the cycles of judgment. Every time that I think the American civil rights battle is well and truly over, something like SB1062 comes along to prod it back to life, and I realize just how far we still are from treating everyone as an equal. Yes, I care that we have religious freedom, but I also care that our freedom not be at the expense or to the detriment of others. I care mostly deeply that those of us who follow the Bible not twist its message into a weapon against the very people we’re here to love.

If you don’t agree with my stance on SB1062, that’s okay. I still respect your opinion. However, I hope you’ll carefully consider that our rights and what-is-right don’t always match up… and that the freedom to judge others’ worth for ourselves and treat whomever we want like a second-class citizen might not count as freedom at all.

25Feb

Cappuccino On The House

Now that we’re on the other side of the holidays and [nearly]never-ending head colds, we’re settling into a pretty great morning routine here at Casa de Bassett. Dan gets up first—how early, I can never bring myself to ask—and then brings me a cappuccino sometime in the 6:00 range. I spend the next hour and a half filling my soul up to the brim with reading, journaling, and music, just me in the pre-dawn lamplight. (A note: If I skip this part of my day, I feel disconnected from myself and God and basically just turn into Gozer the Gozerian until nightfall. As much as I might think I like sleeping in, nothing beats this early morning routine for making me feel human.) I then help the girls get ready for the day, and Dan walks them to school around 8:00 while I work out. After breakfast and various concessions to hygiene, we disappear into separate rooms, he to the office to run his business, me to my writing nook to tease words out of hiding, until school pickup and lunch with the girls.

My afternoons are usually spent wearing my other hats—mom, housekeeper, errand-runner, book-keeper, friend—and then Dan and I get the evenings just for us. The mornings are what I wanted to talk about though. More specifically, the 6 a.m. cappuccino part of the mornings.

Those coffees that Dan delivers, steaming hot with the perfect sprinkling of raw sugar, are what get me out of bed. No question. My sleep-drunk brain has the willpower to hold out against alarm clocks and knocking on the door, wakeful children and good intentions, principalities and powers and everything really except a delicious source of caffeine set within arm’s reach. After 10½ years of marriage, this is an established fact.

And yet… morning after morning, when my husband’s whisper and the scent of coffee tug me toward consciousness, my gratefulness is quickly superseded by guilt. The blunt truth is that I don’t feel I deserve his kindness. At 6 in the morning, I haven’t had a chance yet to make up for yesterday’s relational blunders, much less the weeks and years of marital TLC received on the house. The only strings attached to my husband’s sweet gesture are of my own invention, but I can invent some real humdingers when it comes to guilt and what-I-deserve.

In this kind of situation, the kind in which my brain translates love into liability, the Shoulds are especially eager to bolster my neurosis with their shackle-heavy logic. You should feel bad, they explain. You should be doing more to deserve a husband like yours. In fact, you should be the one bringing him coffee in bed instead of snoozing away expecting to be served. (Ever thought about trying that “helpmeet” label on for size?) You should require less sleep, less handholding, less of your husband’s valuable energy, and certainly less caffeine. No proper wife would rely on room service each morning. You should be ashamed of yourself.

And I do feel ashamed. I blush red-hot anytime my morning coffee comes up in conversation, sure that everyone is now wondering why Dan chose to marry such a lazy-ass diva slug. I indulge in a masochistic round of criticism every night when I purposefully don’t set my alarm. I’ve even tried talking Dan out of making me coffee ever again, but he’ll have none of my self-recrimination. “I do this because I love you,” he says. “End of story. Besides, do you have any idea how hard it is to make a cappuccino and bring it to the bedroom?”

“Something on par with Hercules slaying the Hydra and then rolling it Sisyphus-style up Mount Olympus while an eagle feeds on his liver?”

“Uh… no.”

Unfortunately, since Dan refuses to stop coaxing me awake every morning with a mug of dark-roasted excellence, my only option is to accept his loving gesture as such. This is hard, folks. I don’t know if it has more to do with my personality or with the tit-for-tat theology of my childhood, but I cannot easily wrap my brain around the idea of gift. Instead, I keep grasping at the concept of fair, an even slate in which nothing is owed and favors are performed in equal balance.

This is so not the way of love though, and I know it. When I’m able to pull my perspective back from the limits of my own small experience, I can see that this is how the world was always meant to operate—with selfless intention, with joy in the giving, with the extravagant grace that shows fairness to be a miser by comparison. In this world, the fact that I am loved is a songbird ready to soar on a breeze or a tune at any given moment. No strings attached.

Gift is a concept I’m working to comprehend, and I may not fully grasp it this side of heaven. For better or worse, I will always have this brain to contend with, and this brain can’t easily remove “deserve” from its vocabulary. I have ample opportunities to try though; my husband and his string-free 6:00 cappuccinos are seeing to that.

30May

Django, Djesus, and PreDjudice

Last night was an accidental movie night. By this, I mean that Dan brought in his laptop and tablet and an impressive tangle of cables and I brought in my ironing board and iron and an impressive pile of shirts, and we sat down on the sofa to sip a drink before getting on with our evening’s work and forgot to get up until three hours later when the closing credits of Django Unchained rolled on.

Now, I’m a sucker for a good Tarantino film (our last accidental movie night can be blamed on Grindhouse being aired in English on Italian TV; how were we supposed to pass up that bit of magic, I ask?), and Django was every bit the ride from subtly intriguing to laughably outrageous that we expected. Still, I sat heavily on the sofa cushions when it was over, feeling like the breath had been knocked out of me.

It’s the subject of slavery, see. I’ve read plenty of books and seen even more films about it, but at a certain point, I just can’t maintain my protective distance any more. The tragedy of humans buying and selling other humans, stripping them of rights, and abusing them as they would never mistreat their in-animate property seeps into my lungs and steals the breath right out of them. If this were an isolated blot on the timetables of history, I could look at it more objectively, but the fact is that we humans, when given the power and the cultural approval to do so, willingly abandon our humanity.

I was born and raised in one of the original Confederate states, and while pushback against the Civil Rights Movement had pretty much dissipated by the time I came along, racism was—is—still alive and well in the South. Today’s racism doesn’t have the theatrical stamp of white hoods or riot gear; rather, it’s a stream of superiority running so silently through the community’s perspective that we don’t even realize it’s there. We don’t identify what’s really going on when we describe the black family across the street as “uppity” for driving a shiny SUV and the black family two doors down as “freeloaders” for relying on Medicaid. We don’t realize how frequently we use race to explain why something is distasteful to us—“Oh, you know, Mexicans and yard care…”—or how our assumptions about others’ income, education, personality, and reliability are fueled by prejudice.

I realize that this is a deep, complex issue that can’t just be laid out and then neatly wrapped up by a middle-class white girl with a blog. I have no love for debate and no desire to shame the people I grew up with over a bigger cultural issue. That said, one glaring realization stands out to me in the emotional aftermath of Accidental Django Night: The reason that traditional slavery no longer exists in the United States is not that we’re a more enlightened species now; it’s that brave people over the last two centuries fought and sacrificed and took unpopular stands and often risked everything to get one human right after another passed into law. 

Even worse, we’re still not there, still not to the place where all people are granted equality regardless of skin color or income level or sexual orientation or religious conviction. Straight, wealthy white Christians (of which I am one, I know) still control almost all legal and educational decisions for the country. Human traffickers still sell and trade lives within American borders. Hate is still harnessed everywhere from courtrooms to first-grade classrooms, and it makes me wish sometimes that I could just shrug off this broken human condition like an ill-fitting coat. I don’t want this bloodline of oppression and exploitation any longer.

In the end, though, this is a fundamental part of my faith. I have problems with many, many tenets of mainstream Christianity, but the concept of depravity is not hard for me to swallow. It’s only too obvious throughout the pages of history books and newspapers that humans, left to their own devices, turn into monsters. It is also obvious to me that without a higher power inspiring and nudging us along, we have little reason to fight our shitty inclinations. While I don’t believe that this higher power is limited to the straight, wealthy, white Christian God often portrayed by pastors of the same demographic, I do believe in a God who helps us rise above our natures. We supply the self-awareness and humility, [s]he supplies the soul-therapy.

Jesus talked extensively about the realm of heaven here on earth, heaven’s subjects administering healing and kindness and justice and grace, and I love that idea of operating within humanity as a citizen of something beyond. The flawed thinking behind travesties like the Crusades and Westboro Baptist Church is that our mission as Jesus-followers is to overcome others when in truth, our mission is to overcome ourselves—to ascend beyond our cruel and self-preserving instincts into the upside-down beauty of regarding each other as more important.

Granted, this mission more closely resembles salmon flopping up waterfalls than it does the calm spiritual levitation that last sentence might have implied. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and teeth-grittingly hard work not being an asshole (can I get an amen?), and considering how assholery begets assholery, there’s plenty of two-waterfalls-forward, one-waterfall-back action among those of us who interact with other humans. Still, overcoming my biological dark side is worth the manic fish routine to me. I’m willing to continue trying, continue aspiring to a perspective based on love because I believe with all my heart that it can change the world.

It might not be the reaction Tarantino was going for, but there you have it.

17Apr

On Mothering Grown Women Before They’re Grown

My girls have a good dad, no doubt about it. He teaches them how to throw the Aerobie and ask good questions. He sits cross-legged on the rug to build LEGO police-station-chemistry-lab-recording-studio-princess-schools according to request. He turns up the Dropkick Murphys loud when Sophie’s in the car and gives Natalie special computer programming assignments (pretty much everything about our girls’ personalities can be summed up in this sentence). He knows what makes them tick, and he encourages streaks of independence that I’d never even noticed. He fosters their creativity, respects their privacy, and displays their construction pencil holders in his office. All girls should be so lucky.

My girls have a good mom too. The Law of Self-Deprecation says I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s the truth, and I know it. I tie three sets of aprons and show the girls how to measure and whisk and roll cookie dough in cinnamon sugar. I instigate Jamiroquai dance parties in the living room, tickle-chase escaping fugitives, and read Roald Dahl aloud before bed. I teach Natalie about story arcs and Sophie about “c-a-t,” and I tell them they’re beautiful every single day. Dan and I aren’t perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, but our girls know we love them and like them and want them around. We’re doing a few somethings right.

But there is one aspect of parenting girls in particular that moves me to contemplate tequila as a valid breakfast option. For all the positive things Dan and I are teaching our girls about themselves through our attention and encouragement, I am also teaching the girls about themselves by how I treat myself, and I can tell you, the message coming across from me to me is rarely of the positive variety.

While it’s easy for me to focus on the features that make my girls inside-and-out beautiful—Natalie’s midnight blue eyes, Sophie’s whole-body smile, the glimmers of kindness and joy that light each of their demeanors like a personal aurora borealis—my filters tune to the negative when I look at myself. I only notice the stray eyebrow hairs, the unflattering curves, the tired slump of my shoulders, the frustration that flares up like lava bursts. I don’t see anything worth celebrating or encouraging in myself, and this would feel pious and admirably ascetic if not for the fact that my girls are absorbing my brand of womanhood like sponges.

Their eyes go round as they watch me sweep on my mascara, and I remember that same combination of curiosity and awe from my own girlhood while I watched my mother dab on moisturizer and replace it in the mystical realm of grown-up toiletries under the sink. The secrets to my future self lived under that sink. Tucked among the perfume bottles and tampons, womanhood whispered to me about beauty and strength and sensuality and fragility, and it had my mother’s voice.

Now it has mine.

In the contours of my figure, my daughters glimpse the trajectory of their own bodies. In my speech, they catch inflections and sayings that will one day trip off their own mama-tongues. Each of my habits is a clue to their own approaching adulthood, each of my mannerisms a point on the map, and like it or not, I’m their first lesson about how to be a woman. Good God in heaven.

I never anticipated mothering grown women before my oldest finished second grade, but here we are on this express route to the future, and when I seethe with impatience over my own limitations, I’m teaching my adult daughters that they don’t deserve grace, and when I mutter into the mirror about my physical imperfections, I’m telling these one-day women that they are not beautiful just as they are, and when I ignore my own needs to the point of burnout, I’m showing them that self-care is not a priority. My soliloquies are their screenplays, and the implications knock the breath right out of me.

I feel like this shouldn’t be such a big deal. The solution is as simple as treating myself the way I want my girls to be treated—with gentleness, compassion, joy, and the occasional spoonful of Nutella. Everybody wins, right? Except that I’m me, so nothing is ever that simple, and the reality is that I’m far more comfortable with self-deprecation than I am with self-care. I’m good at listing my faults, grimacing at my reflection, and jabbing unkind sentiments into the soft belly of my mind. They produce a kind of half-vindictive, half-vanquished satisfaction. Tenderness though… it has always felt like a guilty pleasure, emphasis on the guilt.

Somewhere along the years, I picked up the notion that any scrap of kindness—even within the privacy of my own thoughts—must be earned through perfection. Patience and rest must each be purchased with intense stretches of achievement, and if I want that spoonful of Nutella, I’d better be sporting rock-hard abs. It’s my own personal works-based religion. I follow it like a spiritual devotee too. I’m so familiar with the liturgy of criticism that its sting almost feels like comfort by now, and the idea of psychological freedom is not enough of a motivator for me to revamp my self-image.

However, the idea of my daughters’ psychological freedom is. I’m almost angry that this is the answer, that I have to be comfortable in my own skin in order to raise daughters comfortable in theirs. I’d much rather refer them to a stack of self-help books or start a therapy fund, anything other than having to lead by example. I don’t want to have to spelunk the messy dark of my own emotional history to find the reasons why I can’t smile when I look in the mirror. I don’t want to march into shame’s territory and fight to win myself back.

And it’s not like my girls will be doomed to a future of bitterness and self-loathing if I don’t figure this out. They’re already thoughtful and resilient individuals, and part of their growing up experience was always going to be figuring out who they are apart from their parents. I would be either very arrogant or very naïve to assume that they are my carbon copies, destined to play out my own life choices.

Using their individuality as an excuse to avoid doing the hard work on myself is a cop-out though. Even the most curmudgeonly gatekeepers in my mind know deep down that learning to love myself is worth the struggle. It’s worth working through profound discomfort in order to make my daughters’ first perspective on womanhood one of kindness and joy and wholeheartedness. It’s worth charging back into that formidable battle against shame in order to give them the gift of a mom who’s happy to exist as herself.

(Yes? Yes.)

I’m writing this from the entrance of the emotional messy cave—no answers at all, just a few half-baked ideas and a significant amount of trepidation. I’m perplexed as to why it should be this hard to start seeing myself a little more as a unique and valuable human worthy of love and a little less as Jabba the Hutt, but the Real Beauty Sketches video going around (have you seen it yet?) proves that I am not alone in holding a distorted and negative view of myself. We women are masterful at finding fault in ourselves. Glossy cover models and online mommy wars prey on our insecurities while religious pundits promote our inferiority. We react by judging each other in a misguided attempt to boost our own statuses, and it’s no wonder that so few of us can fathom the idea that we might be worthy of celebration or admiration or love.

What I can fathom, however, is that my precious little girls are worthy. They don’t have to do a single blessed thing to earn their lovability; they are themselves, and that’s enough. I cherish the ways their minds work, their bodies are taking shape, and their hearts expanding, and I dearly hope that they can grow up seeing themselves through the same lens of happy awe that I do. It bears repeating that they are themselves, and that’s enough—enough to warrant compassion and respect and appreciation and understanding and spoonfuls of Nutella and a personal cheerleading squad and full-out, unconditional, never-changing, no-holds-barred love—

and if my girls are worthy just because they are who they are, then it’s time I accept as truth that I am too.

24Dec

Adieu, 2012

The year is puttering to a stop. I see it in the drip-dried sky, its color and energy already spent on younger days, in the slow topple of routines as we roll into this final holiday stretch, in this gingerbread haze clinging to the silhouette of bare branches. We’re saying our final goodbyes to 2012, and I’m eager for whatever’s next, for the wide empty margins of an untouched year.

But first, there are snickerdoodles to be eaten, fuzzy Christmas Eve pajamas to be unwrapped, and stories to be read in a family heap on the couch… snowy trails to conquer and resolutions to dream up, husbands to kiss and little ones to snuggle under a rain of fireworks.

Wherever you are and however you’re spending this last week of 2012, I wish you warmth and peace and a treasure trove of golden moments lighting your way forward.

~~~

P.S. – Because, how could I not?

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