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When we were getting ready to go trick-or-treating on Tuesday night, my 2-year-old son was playing with one of his sister’s Disney princess figurines. He put a finger puppet monster on her head and said, “This is her Halloween costume.”

Two year olds can be quite delightful.

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Paul dressed up as a dragon (or perhaps a crocodile), Marie was Snow White, and Spencer and I were milk and cookies. We had fun visiting my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, then trick-or-treating with my mom in her neighborhood. Our trick-or-treating experience was short lived, however, as it was a cold night and Marie was tired out from a busy day at kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating, Marie said, “I have enough candy. I’m done.” We went back to my parents’ house to let each child eat a piece of candy and then we drove home. By the time we got home at 7 pm, Paul had fallen into a deep sleep in his dragon costume. He was so tired he didn’t even wake up when we took the costume off of him and put him in bed. So much for trick-or-treating with my tiny ones!

I have been thinking this week about the origins of Halloween and what it means to us culturally today. I’ve also been thinking about the various reactions to Halloween among those who profess the Christian faith. Our pastors in Portland thought that Halloween was a great opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a fun way, so they would decorate their whole living room in a different theme each year and act out a little skit for the neighborhood kids. One year it was a Peter Pan theme, and the next it was a medieval castle. One the other end of the spectrum, I know some churchgoers who won’t allow their kids to trick-or-treat or acknowledge Halloween at all.

I came across this very thoughtful article about the origins of Halloween on a ministry website. The name “Halloween,” actually comes from All Hallows Eve (meaning Holy Evening), the night before the Christian holiday All Hallows (All Saints Day). In the 9th Century, the Pope scheduled All Saints Day to be celebrated on November 1 to coincide with (and replace) the pagan holiday of Samhain. It was common for the church to place Christian holidays at the same time is pagan holidays — for example Christmas occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Over the years, traditions from Samhain and All Hallows Eve blended together to create what we now know as Halloween.

Personally I do not like horror films, haunted houses, or things that are creepy in general. Nor do I like to feed my children candy. But I do think that Halloween is an adorable opportunity for kids to dress up and create family memories, as well as a fun way to interact with neighbors.

And then I’ve been thinking about this too — Halloween reflects a need we all have to acknowledge our shadow side. If you read my solar eclipse post, you know I’ve been contemplating the human shadow a bit lately. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our world and in our own souls. In her book Rising Strong, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about the importance of integrating light and dark into our consciousness: “Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.” She also writes, “There’s always something foreboding about overly sweet and accommodating ways. All that niceness feels inauthentic and a little like a ticking bomb.”

We don’t have very good mechanisms for processing difficult emotions in our culture. Physical and mental illness, aging, and death, are all topics we steer away from. In the fall we are surrounded by death in the natural world. It is the time of the harvest and the dying away of the light. Halloween, with its imagery of ghosts and skeletons, is one way we acknowledge the season. And it is the one time when we as a culture face our own mortality and even poke fun at it.

P.S. What did the photographer say to the ghost?
You look boo-ti-ful!

 

 

 

 

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The ancient Egyptians believed that a solar eclipse was the work of a giant snake attacking Ra, the sun God. In Viking lore, it was the work of sky wolves, and in China, a dragon. It was a terrifying and mysterious event that the was fended off by drumming or throwing flaming arrows towards the sun.

In Eugene we experienced about 99 percent totality during Monday morning’s solar eclipse. My parents came over with pinhole viewers, and sunflowers from their garden. I provided Explore One’s SunCatcher Solar Eclipse glasses, purchased several weeks earlier from Fred Meyer at $1.99 a pair. First it looked as though a bite had been taken out of the sun. Slowly the day turned to dusk and the temperature dropped. The neighbor’s chickens started squawking and someone lit off fireworks. My husband called to share in the moment — and then quickly the moon’s umbra started passing across the sun’s other side.

Who knew that the moon’s shadow could create such a stir? Some 25,000 people flocked to prime eclipse-viewing territory in the small central Oregon town of Madras, staring in awe at the sun’s vanishing act before quickly rushing off to create a massive traffic jam.

For my part, as fairly major nerd and nature-lover, I would have liked to have seen totality. But I felt I made the right choice with my kids to keep things simple and stay at home. Maybe I’ll see it in 2024, when it passes through my mom’s home states of Indiana and Kentucky, and northwest Arkansas where I used to visit my grandparents each summer.

At any rate it was nice to have a break from the relentless political media coverage, which has exposed us to shadows of another sort. Thanks to our modern understanding of our solar system we no longer have to fear the moon’s shadow, rather we can appreciate it as a majestic and rare phenomena. The shadow of the human psyche is another matter. It is something we understand very poorly, and in this case, what we don’t know can harm us.

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[A person familiar with their own shadow side] “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.” – Carl Jung

 

All the talk of the eclipse, and the recent events in Charlottesville, have stirred up my emotions. The wonders of our universe. The horrors of human hatred. At one time I thought we lived in a post-racist society, but I see now that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All shadows and light, shadows and light. And here we are, caught somewhere in between.

Did you view the eclipse? What was your experience like?

 

Thanks to my mom, Alice Evans, for taking the photos at the top of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t been quite sure where home was for awhile. After Spencer and I got married we moved every few years to a new apartment, from Eugene to southeast Portland, to Beaverton, back to southeast Portland, and finally back to Eugene. We rented a month-to-month apartment in Portland for three years, just waiting for the next step as we continued applying to jobs that we hoped would offer more stability. Even when I was pregnant with our first child, and during the first year of her life, we continued to apply to jobs out of the area, ready to move whenever needed. We even considered an offer I received to teach 5th grade girls in Kuwait, before (wisely) rejecting the idea for logistical reasons.

I knew that we were not home, just in a sort of limbo.

As a mom, I couldn’t survive in this rootless state. I needed deep connections, support, and stability. Ultimately I decided I needed to return to the place that was foundational in my life, the city I had lived in from birth until getting married at age 22. Eugene.

I didn’t know how much I loved Eugene until we moved back. I didn’t appreciate how many places around town were integrated deeply into layers of my unconscious. Memories were everywhere. Going for a walk at the Arboretum, for example, transported me back to early childhood, when I was close friends with the daughters of the groundskeeper.

In Portland I had felt so far away from my past, having virtually no ties left to childhood other than my parents. I didn’t have siblings, and I was no longer connected to any of my childhood friends.

I didn’t realize that you could love a place, that a whole town could be your companion in the absence of friends. Eugene had been with me through so much, in a way that no human being ever had. In Eugene I had learned to walk, ride a bike, climb a tree. As a child, I spent hours in apple trees in my backyard reading books. I had climbed to the top of Spencer’s Butte countless times. I had skinned my knees on the blacktop at my grade school, and gotten covered with mud during soccer games. I had made best friends and lost them, fallen in love, graduated college, gotten married.

So it was that when we moved because I needed to escape the devastating isolation of my life as a mom in Portland – I found refuge not just in the support of my parents but in my hometown itself. I knew this town, and somehow it seemed that Eugene knew me too.

And slowly I returned to myself.

Still, it took three years before we were able to buy a house. Three more years of living in a month-to-month rental. First with one toddler, who quickly grew into a preschooler, and soon our son was added to the family. We were a family of four in an 800-square-foot apartment with a tiny concrete deck as our yard. It helped that we were near many nice parks in our southeast Eugene neighborhood. Still, I was thrilled when we began our home search last summer, and overjoyed when we signed for a house, a modest three-bedroom in a quiet southwest Eugene neighborhood, several months later.

We moved into our new house the week of my 33rd birthday. My family and I had finally found our way home.

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Spencer and I take a selfie after signing for our first house. So happy!

 

 

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Toddler to-do: Climb on top of princess car. Check.

 

I tend to view life in terms of to-do lists. Today: drop-off daughter with grandma, deposit check at bank, pick up prescription at Safeway, work on website design. Then, as time allows: laundry, dishes, straighten up living room, clean stovetop, scrub floors, straighten up and dust bookshelves.

I also have my toddler with me all day, as I do every day. So many of these things will be left undone, as they usually are. And even if I finished all of these tasks, there would soon be five more chores to take their place. The work of a mother is never-ending.

My mom’s magenta Honda Civic used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Every mother is a working mother.” I didn’t appreciate that bumper sticker at the time. I was in high school and frequently used that car to drive to social events. So I covered it up with two other bumper stickers, “Free Tibet,” and “Maybe if we ignore the environment it will just go away.”

Now I know the truth – every mother is a working mother, and it’s just as important of a message as the other bumper stickers. “Free Tibet” stayed on the Honda for years after the car was officially passed on to me, and received a few mild reactions. Waiting in line at the Canadian border crossing, someone yelled out “Didn’t you know Tibet is free now!” (It’s not.) Or, when I worked at a private Christian high school a co-worker commented on how the “Free Tibet” car was mysteriously in the parking lot again, as if it couldn’t belong to someone who worked there. (It did.)

Today I found an old notebook with to-do lists and notes from different times in my life. The first page has my honeymoon flight itinerary, a phone number for a travel agent and notes about our rehearsal dinner. Later I find job references, a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, sermon notes, and a workout schedule that was never followed. I find notes about many jobs I applied to unsuccessfully, as well as notes Spencer and I made before his interview with the first professional job he landed. A to-do list from a mystery Tuesday: underwear, mattress pad, painting hooks, money back? C & B, B & B, golf practice, Mollalla job application, call Bob, Bible study, wedding photos, laundry.

Apparently this notebook was lost in boxes or spare bedrooms but resurfaced recently as it has notes from 2006 and then 2015. I find To-Do Before Baby: organize bedroom, set-up chair, return used items to Toys R Us, set up swing, bolt Marie’s dresser to the wall, childproof sharp corners, childproof sliding door?, maternity photos?, doula?, baby shower?, register w/ hospital, tour maternity ward, spare key for my parents, taxes, teaching class, Marie b-day gift.

It makes me happy to think of life in terms of to-do lists. To be able to see the tasks that need to be done, and slowly work my way through them. I feel I’m making progress; I have a vision for how I want things to be and I’m taking the steps to get there. Some people call this “adulting.” Sometimes all the dishes and laundry and diaper changes, the bills and vacuuming, feel monotonous and relentless. But I’ve come to see that God is with me just as much in these every day, ordinary moments as He was with me in Africa or in the births of my children.

The extraordinary is present in the ordinary.

 

P.S. Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?

 

 

I was blessed to spend much of Mother’s Day weekend in the company of my mom, attending several events she organized as part of the 5th Northwest Women Writers Symposium. On Friday night we listened to  Reyna Grande speak about her experiences with crossing borders — the border between the U.S. and Mexico, which she risked her life to cross illegally at age 9, as well as the borders of culture and language that she continued to cross after arriving in Los Angeles. (I highly recommend her excellent memoir The Distance Between Us for insight into the Mexican immigrant experience). Ironically, Reyna’s speech coincided with Donald Trump’s appearance about a mile away.

On Saturday I attended a memoir workshop taught by Oakland-based writer and former Portlander Ariel Gore. Ariel is the founder of the parenting zine Hip Mama, as well as the author of several books including her recent memoir, The End of Eve, about caring for her mother at the end of her life. Or, as Ariel described her book, “it’s a comedy about domestic violence.” The End of Eve is also excellent; a compelling read that is both heartbreaking and funny. I was thrilled to attend Ariel’s workshop and enjoyed exploring the difference between external and internal narratives.

I’d meant to bring my new copy of The Essential Hip Mama for Ariel to sign, but I was cleaning up my child’s diarrhea right before leaving the house and ended up rushing out the door sans book. A lot of my time is spent cleaning up other people’s shit. I guess that’s motherhood for you.

Speaking of Hip Mama, I have a pretty hip mama myself. Not only does she organize this fabulous women writer’s symposium every year, she once rode all the way from Indiana to Oregon on the back of a motorcycle. She traveled all over the world while working for an international adoption agency – to Cambodia, South Korea, China, Romania, and the Ukraine. She now works for a feminist research center at the UO. But most importantly, she babysits Marie on Fridays so that I can get work done. Thank you mom, for all that you do as a mom and grandmother, and also for being one of my most loyal readers 🙂

I’m thankful to be living in close proximity to my mom, and it’s been special these past few years to have my grandmother as a neighbor as well. In an age of unrootedness and disconnected families, it feels counter-cultural to choose to be deeply rooted in my family and community.

I’m all over the place tonight..must get some sleep.

What are some things you love about your mom? And if you are a mom, I hope your day was a special one.

 

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My parents with Paul in Newport.

Exactly four years ago tonight I was in a hospital room in Portland, hooked up to an external fetal monitor, waiting for my life to change. I had the same feeling I get when I’m about to go on a trip somewhere – the excitement and anxiety of a new adventure waiting to unfold.

And it has been an adventure indeed. The process of becoming a mom was a bit like entering an alternate universe where the idea of an unbroken 9 hour night of sleep was the stuff of fantasy. A world where my body didn’t really belong to me. Now, with a son who’s just turned 1, I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the past 4 years and 9 months.

I’m not sure if these past four years have gone by in a flash or if they’ve crept by incredibly slowly. But I do know that I remember the time before motherhood now as if it were a dream.

Happy Birthday tomorrow to my sweet daughter. You are a fierce, playful, quick-witted, resilient bringer of joy. I can’t imagine life without you Marie. Last week we just finished our first chapter book read-aloud – C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. This evening as we walked down the hill to visit my grandmother, you ran through the cherry blossoms and shouted, “It’s raining cherry blossoms!”

And to dear little Paul who just turned 1 on Easter: We love you and are so thankful you joined our family. Paul with the gap-toothed grin and the curly red-gold hair. At this age you are like a little caveman wandering about our apartment, communicating by pointing. You know the signs for “more,” “all done,” and “please.” When you get mad, your fair skin turns bright red, and you also like to throw yourself down on the floor and cry. On your birthday we sat around my parent’s dining room table and everyone said something we appreciate about you. Except Marie, who said, “No, I don’t want to talk about Paul. I want to talk about Jesus, because it’s Easter.”

But I know the truth – she loves you. I’m in love with you both, and am looking forward to getting to know you more in the years to come. I’m praying that God will bless you both deeply, that you will be far from harm’s way, that you will be filled with a deep peace and love that overflow into those around you.

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.

I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.

The. Last. Flight.

It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.

But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.

I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.

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He claps his hands with joy on his 10-month birthday.

Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.

My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”

Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.

“Put your shoes on.”

“No.”

“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”

Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.

The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.

I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.

But I can be in love with the work.

Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…