It’s the big literary news this week – Atticus is a racist.

In Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to the beloved 20th-century classic To Kill a Mockingbird that was just released this Tuesday, Atticus Finch is revealed as a bigot. Really? Atticus, who so honorably defended the black Tom Robinson in a rape trial? Who in fact endangered his family by being willing to stand up for an innocent black man in small-town Alabama? Who has become as much of a cultural icon as a literary character ever could be?

This is rocking the world of many an English teacher.

Atticus was on my list of top 5 boy names for my son, born in March. It’s grown in popularity in recent years, and as a writer/editor/Mockingbird fan I couldn’t resist considering it. In Mockingbird, Atticus is a great father, a great lawyer, an all-around great guy.

So why has Harper Lee (and her publisher) decided to shatter our perceptions of him now after so many years?

Yes, perhaps the 89-year-old author is not making the best decisions. Maybe she just needed the money.

I haven’t read it yet, or even obtained a copy. But maybe it works. Mockingbird is told from the point-of-view of a 6-year-old girl who hero-worships her father. Watchman takes place some 20 years later, and is told by a third-person narrator.

A 6-year-old girl is not a very reliable narrator.

But we bought into it. We wanted to, needed to believe in Atticus the hero. We wanted him as our father. And now he, like so many other heroes before him, has turned out to be deeply flawed.

It’s fiction, but the thing about great fiction is that it teaches us something important about life.

And what about my son? We didn’t name Atticus. My husband, who is not a book nerd and couldn’t care less about this whole conversation, nixed it immediately. Instead we named him Paul, after the grandfather I never met and the apostle who wrote a good portion of the New Testament.

Paul the humble. Paul who was a real hero and not a fictional character, and who was always honest about being deeply flawed, referring to himself as “less than the least of all God’s people” (Eph. 3:8).

Maybe we could learn something from him.

The day he was born.

The day my son was born.

Hugs

Hugs

Books: Just finished reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Her research is so fascinating and helpful. If you’re not familiar with Brene, check out her viral TED talk.

Movies:  My daughter has been watching and re-watching Disney’s Peter Pan this week. I haven’t seen a movie for grown-ups in awhile.

Television: For kids, we’ve been loving Octonauts – full of facts about sea creatures. Did you know that sometimes whales are born as albinos, and if so, they can get sunburned?

Work: I’m just getting started on a new travel writing project, writing short online travel guides. Hurray! And I’m beginning a volunteer job as publicity chair for my daughter’s preschool.

Parenting challenge: Potty training. Caring for a baby and a high-maintenance 3-year-old who doesn’t nap. Not having a backyard. Determining if my daughter is allergic to dairy/lactose intolerant.

Gratitude: Baby brother laughed for the first time the other day!

Looking forward to: A free ukulele lesson in the park for my daughter next week. Also taking her to the symphony in the park later this summer.

Today I found a note to myself that I wrote on December 31, 2009. Apparently I had intended myself to read it 10 years later, but 5 and a half years seems good enough.

Dear Ursula (me),

You should now be 36 years old. That means a lot has happened since I wrote this.

I am now 26, happily married for 3 and a half years, living in a nice apartment in Westmoreland and teaching 4th grade. I wonder if I will still be teaching in 10 years? I just hope to be happy in my job, whatever it is.

Also, I hope to still be happily married and have 2 or maybe 3 children. I hope that Spencer will be happy in his job. I hope we own a house.

Most importantly, I hope that God remains at the center of my life.

I think I should write back.

Dear 26-year-old Ursula,

So much has happened in the past 5 and a half years that I can hardly relate to the childless version of myself. I wish you would take a little more advantage of your childlessness. Go to Seattle for the weekend. Go to yoga. Take an art class. That’s cute that you like the Westmoreland apartment. I guess it did have some hipster appeal, with its proximity to Papa Haydn and the neon glow of the Yukon Tavern sign visible from the bedroom window. Soon you’ll find out about the horrible mold problem – really you should just move now.

Teaching is fun though, right? I’m not sure why you took a job that paid so poorly, but then again, I know you were excited just to have a teaching job. And fourth grade really is a great age to teach. I’ve now been married almost 9 years, have two sweet and sometimes challenging children, and am occasionally working as a freelance writer and editor. I do love being a mom and a writer and editor – I just wish I were able to get more consistent work. I am keeping my teaching license and may still go back to it at some point if the right job opens up.

My goals for the future remain much the same – be a good mother and wife, be happy in my work, keep the faith, be financially secure and own a house. Make meaningful memories.  Have fun. Do good deeds. Overflow with joy.

Love,

Me

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t babysit much as a teenager, but once I babysat two sisters for an entire weekend. They were super easy and sweet elementary age kids, but still I thought a whole weekend seemed a bit relentless. You know what’s really relentless? Being a stay-at-home parent.

Today was hard. It was raining and I was without transportation, so I was stuck in my 2-bedroom apartment all day with my newborn baby and my sassy, firecracker 3-year-old who refuses to potty train or take naps. I questioned my sanity frequently throughout the day. Thank goodness for streaming Netflix. I was able to stay fairly patient with my sassy girl, and only told her she was being annoying once or twice.

If we lived in France where they have free government-subsidized daycare, I would probably not be a stay-at-home mom. I would wear professional clothes and work in an office and spend my day talking to adults. But we don’t live in France, and in spite of my master’s degree, I’ve never been able to get a job that pays a living wage. So, here I am – doing the most meaningful and important and underappreciated and relentless job there is.

Yes, it’s a blessing to be a mother of two, and to get to stay at home with them – but it’s also really really hard. I’m reminding myself that the first few years with my daughter were very difficult, and then I felt really happy after she started going to preschool last fall. It gave me just enough space in my life to feel like I could do the things I needed to do to take care of myself. I know that in 2 years and 3 months, she’ll be in full day kindergarten and my baby will most likely start preschool. I imagine that somewhere during that time she’ll agree to use the potty. Life should start to be easier again then. That’s a long time, but in some ways, it’s a short time.

It’s the longest shortest time.

 

Dear Blogiverse,

Since becoming a mom three years ago, I’ve entered a whole new world of expectations for women. In my pre-mom days, my personal goals mostly had to do with my career – if I felt bad about myself it was usually because I wasn’t meeting those goals. But I’ve found that for moms there seem to be a lot of cultural guidelines that determine what makes a good mom – and a whole new list of things to feel insecure about. People seem to think that a good mom:

– Keeps a moderately clean house

– Cooks healthy and tasty meals for the family

– Is thin and beautiful without being too sexy

– Puts the needs of her family before her own needs

– Has a well-kept garden

– Excels at crafting in the form of sewing, knitting, jewelry making, etc.

What’s the deal with the crafting part?  I don’t mind working on a craft that someone else has set up, but I don’t have any Martha Stewartish expectations. I made snowman cupcakes one day around Christmas and they looked nothing like the picture in the book. But who cares? They tasted good.

I’ve noticed that women can have a weird sense of competition around their crafting abilities. Is this true or is it my imagination? Shouldn’t it just be something you do for fun?

Maybe I just don’t really understand women, because my husband has been my best friend for the past 11 years or so. Do I need to become more crafty in order to fit in with the other moms?

Sincerely,

Uncrafty Mom

 

 

 

 

I decided that Friday during the week of spring break was a good day to have a baby, and apparently my son agreed. On Thursday night I went to my prenatal swim/water yoga class and when I mentioned I was 39 weeks along, our instructor said, “Maybe you’ll have your baby tonight.” I said I’d prefer to get some sleep first and then welcome the baby into the world the next morning.

And so, I woke up around 3 am with contractions and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on for the past month or so, so I waited awhile to make sure the contractions were consistent before disturbing my husband. I woke Spencer up at 4:30, and we called our doula at 5, because I just felt like it was rude to call someone before 5 am unless absolutely necessary. My contractions were a little uncomfortable, but doing hip circles and figure eights helped relieve the pressure. Our doula came over around 5:45 and I called my mom at 6 so that she could come watch our almost-3-year-old.

We called our CNM, and she thought I was still in early labor and that it would be a few more hours before we would need to head to the hospital, since I seemed very calm. So my husband decided he would take a nap. About 15 minutes later I told him, I’m ready to go to the hospital now. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to have a second unmedicated birth, since the first time ended up being a bit, um, traumatic. I just wasn’t in the mood, you know, like how you’re probably not in the mood to go run 20 miles right now. I wanted to make sure we got there in time for an epidural. We arrived in the triage room around 8 am. And when the midwife arrived and checked my cervix, I was dilated to 7 cm. Everyone was surprised because I was handling it so well.

When we got moved into the delivery room about 15 minutes later, I mumbled something about getting an intrathecal. “There might not be time,” said the nurse.

“I either need pain meds or I need to get in the bath tub now.” The midwife checked my cervix again and this time I was at 9 cm!

“What do you want to do?” she asked me. “We can try to get you an intrathecal if that’s what you want.”

I knew that would take awhile and there wasn’t really time. I needed pain relief immediately so I got in the tub. The warm water helped me make it through the rest of transition, although the contractions were still very intense and left my whole body shaking.

“Ok, you’re pushing. You have to get out of the tub now,” said the midwife. “There’s no room to deliver in here.”

I didn’t want to move and lose the only pain relief I had. With my daughter’s birth, pushing lasted about 45 minutes and was excruciating. I reluctantly got out and moved to the bed. “I’m scared,” I said. Like, I would almost rather die right now than repeat what I went through before.

I got on hands and knees on the hospital bed. Last time I’d been on my back and I knew I didn’t want to do that again. I knew this would be over soon-ish. There was some screaming and tears involved, but the midwife kept calmly reassuring me that my baby was helping me with this birth, and I think he was.

Just a few (intense and difficult) pushes, and 11 minutes later – less than 2 hours after we arrived at the hospital – my son was born! I held him in my arms and said, “Welcome to our world.”

The women are crowded into the dressing room, peeling wet swimsuits from their rounded bellies. An unusual cross-section of women – a technology specialist for the school district, a yoga teacher recently moved back home from life in the tropics, a couple of my high school classmates. One woman, 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, is in the middle of a divorce from her addict husband. “It’s better this way,” we assure her. She is stoic, accepting the way things are.

A set of pregnant sisters has come to swim class tonight. “Are you excited that your sister is pregnant too?” one woman quietly asks the older of the two.

“No,” she shakes her head. “But I’m coming to accept it. I’ve been planning my pregnancy for years – hers wasn’t planned. She always gets all the attention, being the younger sister.”

While pulling on clothes over still damp skin, a woman says her husband’s afraid she’ll turn in Regan from The Exorcist during labor. “Hmm,” I say, from the vantage of my second pregnancy. “Are you planning for a natural birth?”

She says she is, though she’s decided on birthing in the hospital rather than the associated birth center. “I need a big room for all my friends,” she says. “They’re weird so I don’t want them hanging out in the waiting room. Some of them have been to one too many Rainbow Gatherings.” She laughs. “Plus, where would they smoke in the birth center?”

“Hmmm,” I say again. I want to say that her friends certainly won’t be smoking in the hospital’s maternity ward, but I just smile and nod.

My first night in class there was just a small group, 5 of us, and one of us expectant mamas cried as she talked about the C-section that was scheduled a few days away for her breech baby.

“I just don’t want to be cut open,” she said.

But aren’t we all about to be cut open, our hearts exposed, in the process of bringing a new life into the world?

We think we are preparing for the marathon of labor, when really, it’s the parenting that we should be saving all our strength for. It’s parenting, more than giving birth, that’s the test of a lifetime.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant with my second child.

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