19 May 2017

Last Gasp: Crosses, Envy, and Mothers' Day

(well, that didn't last long, eh?)

I only go on FB anymore to check specific things: goat group, horse group, homeschool group, etc. I happened to see yesterday an article that two women whom are very dear to me, each in different walks of life, had posted, so I clicked on the link and read it:

(In googling to try to find the link, I've come across articles such as "Sorry about mother's day, my childfree friends", "Mother's day is the worst," and other such encouraging posts. That in itself is telling. Shouldn't we, as Catholics, be presenting something different from the secular world?)

Now, I seem to be alone in feeling this way; comments rave and praise this girl (whom I've never heard of before and know nothing about, so this is my first encounter) but I felt like I was slapped in the face. Maybe it was on the heels of receiving an email about a group petitioning the UN to abolish mother's day, as mothers are useless members of society - staying at home and raising children, when a childcare can do the same or better. Maybe it's on the heels of numerous health issues surfacing in the family, requiring major dietary and lifestyle changes (again). But this article made me feel like I should be ashamed of finding joy in mothers' day, in celebrating mothers.

Let me get some things really straight here: I know I've been guilty of saying these "platitudes" to single friends, with the best of intentions, not knowing what else to say. (Although, how reminding someone that God does indeed have a plan is a platitude, is a bit beyond me.) In real life, I am not very good at saying things. So, I'm sorry. But: I've been there. I married late-ish in my circles at 28 - nearly ten years after my first good friend's wedding. I spent many years lost, confused, in half-relationships, unsatisfactory jobs, yearning for children. The icing on the cake was when my much younger sister got pregnant at 18. All I could think was Why God? Why does she get a baby and not me? My relationship with my mums has not always been pretty. In fact for years, it was close to toxic, even, despite both of our best intentions. My mom lost her own mum to cancer when she was 9. There is lots of trauma and very complicated emotions about motherhood in my background, in my consciousness. I know *many* women who have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, some approaching the double digits. I know women who have had full-term stillbirths. I have friends whose birth stories would make you fall on your knees and thank the good God you are still a virgin. I have friends who have yearned and desired for years and years to marry and have children. I am not unfamiliar with the crosses of the childless, or of the various agonies of different states of womanhood and motherhood. And, most of all, I am with my whole self behind the idea of all women being called to different ways of motherhood. Absolutely! 100%! Yes! That is why Our Lord was gracious enough to give us Our Lady, Mother and Virgin. That concept is at the very core of the Catholic understanding of femininity.

So, all that said: Something about this article really hit me the wrong way. The irony is that she exhorts us mothers "not to bash people with our crosses" and "be more sensitive" to different crosses than our own - which, hey! I agree with! whole-heartedly! - and yet she tells mothers to shut up, basically, about our crosses because they are insensitive to those who want to be mothers. Honey, let me tell you a few things. First, yes motherhood has compensations, but it is damn hard. And you know what? Sometimes the sacrifices far outstrip any immediate compensations. They are dark years. There have been times when it has been sheer grace only that I have not walked out that door, because I have felt like I just can't take it anymore. So, I am not supposed to "complain" of that to people like you because . . . that is "inflicting" my cross on you and being insensitive to your suffering? It can be, I suppose, but maybe you, dear one, are clinging to your cross so hard that you don't have room to be sympathetic to someone else's. In short, dare I say . . . you are doing what you are accusing "happily married mothers" of doing. And you know what? There ARE compensations for being single! Like getting to shower as often and long as you want; to use the toilet without a conclave gathering outside the door or WWIII starting in the dining room. Like getting to stay out as late as you want, to go to parties, to go to the damn bar and have a drink. Things you take for granted. Those may seem trivial, but it is the trivial compensations that may mean the most, just like it is the quotidian grind that may be the heaviest cross. So: stop "bashing" me with your "cross" of single freedom - which is a real thing! It really is! - if you are going to lambaste me for struggling with my cross of motherhood.

Most of all, there is a name for this. There is a name for being unable or unwilling to rejoice (e.g., celebrate Mother's Day) in another's good (e.g. the blessing of children). It's a moral word, a perhaps not very pleasant four-letter world. Here, I'll spell it out for you:


Here's the thing: As much as this article seems to tout really good things, like tolerance and sensitivity and general magnanimity (who doesn't want to be "great soul-ed?!), that tolerance seems very one-sided and, to me, there is an undeniable streak of envy running through it, underpinning it. The condition of not being able to rejoice in the good of another, who has something that you don't have and want, is envy.
When I compare myself to all these mamas I know who are successful writers, bloggers, speakers, crafters, and see myself being able to do Absolutely Zero and writhe? Envy.
When I look at my body and see a flabby stomach and floppy breasts and yearn for my pre-baby body, for your pre-baby body? Envy.
When I seethe because I had to spend the cost of some damn Jimmy Choos on healthcare for my kid instead? Envy.
When you look at me and tell me to stop rejoicing in and complaining about my life because its hardships aren't yours? Envy.
When you tell me that my life is better because I have taken vows and have these four crazy children? Envy.

What about we flip some of the things she says on their heads?
Stop slinging bitter words about your absent/abusive mother to someone whose mother smothers and controls.
Stop complaining about your infertility to the mama who is bearing the cross of hyperfertility.
Stop raging about people who want to set you up when your married friend has not been on a childless date in five years.
Do you see where I'm going with this?

We all make mistakes. Very few people have the happy gift of having the right word at every right moment. I know I damn sure don't. I apologize to all of you dear beautiful single friends whom I've very unintentionally hurt with my clumsy tongue. It has hurt me tremendously to see your suffering and yearnings. I have held you in my heart and prayed for you, prayed for peace and trust and grace and all good things. I ask you forgive me my failings, as I have borne with yours, as we are all called to do in this broken beautiful Body of Christ.

05 May 2017

One Last Hurrah

Well, it's taken me this long to come to terms with a very self-apparent fact: I really have very little "success" as an online presence.
I have so much in my head, and this blog has, for over a decade, served to be a pressure valve for me when I feel like I really am going to lose my mind, or when I just can't find an ear that is *that* listening to tolerate my tirades. (It's not an easy endeavour, I fully realize and acknowledge!) However, the problem is, it doesn't really seem to matter much . . .
The alternate reality in my head, the one that plays at various volumes depending on the day, my exhaustion/frenetic energy ration, children tantrums/naughtinesses/etcetera, says that my words mean something to someone other than me, that my often-not-very-good photographs still can reach people, touch people, that, somehow, what I say or do or post can make a difference. Heck, maybe even can touch somebody's heart. But, the reality is that my posts seem more often than not to come off as sympathy bids, as whining, as pleas for help or affirmation or whatever. And, truly, this makes me cringe, because none of that is why I write, truly. As I said, it's mostly a pressure valve . . .
Some people can be horribly, painfully shy in real life and have a vivid, appealing online presence. Some people are damn lucky enough to be sanguine in real life and are able to carry that bright, butterfly personality through the screen. Me, not so much. As in real life, I seem to be woefully inept at conveying an accurate image of who I am, what I really want to say, who I strive to be. It's humbling, for sure. And it is, at times, horribly depressing to see what seems to be a virtual failure. In taking stock of all of this, and of how much time I waste on the damn internet, and how little fruit it seems to bear . . . well, I've kind of realized that this is not, clearly, where I am meant to be. That, whatever else I may accomplish, and too often that seems precious little, it will not be here. I have removed IG from the home screens on my phone; I have all but nixed FB; I scroll Twitter for news and articles and to keep somewhat abreast of current affairs. But, I am startling myself with the realization that the interwebs are not for me. That, if I have something to say, if I can ever make a success, ti will not be via a virtual reality. And heaven help me, because rarely has the actual reality been much kinder!
For the time being, however, I am striving, with much labor and agony and very slow progress, to complete a couple of *Very* long-running writing goals, and to be more present to my children, and heck, even to train my new horse. Whom I still love, by the by. ;) I am not doing nearly as well as I would wish in any of my goals, but one must start somewhere. So, as best I can, I start here, by saying au revoir. To be continued at some much later date, dear ones . . .



17 February 2017


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04 February 2017

My Name Is Love

Have you ever thought what you would be like if you had a different name? Would your personality be different? Your life experiences? Your taste in clothes or music? Names are powerful, one way or another - not necessarily life defining, but still powerful. Growing up, I hated my name. "It's a boys' name!" I would rail at my mother. And then, as various and assorted forms of "Jamie" turned out to be in the top 10 names of my era, "It's everyone's name!" I wished mightily that my middle name were my first name. I have always loved it: Elisabeth. Loved the "s" instead of the "z", loved the myriad nicknames and variations it offers. A name for each mood, says L.M. Montgomery's "Little Elizabeth" in Anne of the Island. But instead, the common could-be-boys name. It is interesting how self-loathing can be tied up with one's name, one's identity.
It got worse in college, when mass immigration became a thing, and colleges were sending letters to "Mr. Jaime Berger." In fact, at my first attempt at college, the orientation weekend had me actually listed in the boys dorms.
not spanish. not a man.
"ARGH!" sez I to my poor mother. "It isn't just a boys' name," she would tell me, "and it wasn't common when we chose it."
My dad would try to explain further: "It's French. Your mother liked it because "j'aime" is French for 'I love'."

And his words would spark further interior conflict, because especially as a teenager - hot damn, y'all, I was so consumed with the accursed 90s angst, the tail end of GenX and largely raised with the unenthusiastically-named "Generation Why". I dimly saw that we, as people, could be called to something more and greater, something beyond the burning absorption in self, beyond the anxiety and anger and tremendous confusingly painful ways of this broken world. Still, it eluded me. In darker moments, I resented being identified as "I love." What if I didn't want to? What if, like dear Michael Rosenberg, sometimes all I wanted to do is hate? And, perhaps most of all, how could I, my pathetic self, possibly live up to such a name? Still, I got to a point where I tolerated it, tolerated being called it because it was my name, that my mother gave to me.
Like most of my life, it was at college in Virginia that I began to get a glimmering of what it could mean, to have a name like that. I began to see it as a challenge, a calling beyond what I would have set for myself. I am an introvert in every sense and definition of the word - what if this name I bore, I thought, was the impetus to go beyond who I naturally am? To crawl past my weakest spots to find a new way? Where I am weak, He is strong, my Lord has promised. Maybe this place where love begins, where I have carried so much rejection bitterness disappointment disillusionment and pain - what if maybe, just possibly maybe, He wants to be strong there?
Holy moly, y'all. I can't even begin to tell you all the craziness of these last few months - but I don't need to because you have seen and experienced it all yourself. What has struck me most about it are two things: First, obviously, the INSANE fear-mongering that the media has been guilty of. All of it. Liberal, Conservative, Leftist, Traditional: very few voices of sanity are ringing in all of the hatred, scare tactics, slander, accusations that most of the media has been slinging about. (God bless the courage and determination of you few voices of reason.) All think they have firm grounds for their fear and hatred and accusations and poison-spewing. Which - Secondly, how we the people are taking this media-fed craziness - and I do mean Bedlam madness! - and going at it hammer and tongs. 
PEOPLE. Get a hold of yourselves! Just because you are typing your words onto a screen does not mean that they are not felt by the people on the other screens! Damn social media! It is so dehumanizing, in a world where we already are so torn apart. "Stupid car!" we say, shaking our fists and forgetting that the car has a driver, one who may be exhausted or sad or angry or really late or even more stressed out than we. They at least cannot hear our words, but when we spread these accusations - "Oh, where are you pro-life people now, on this immigration thing?" and "You're wrong if you think immigration is okay!" and "We'll all be killed and raped if we don't vet the immigrants!" and all these horrible wounding verbal knives we are using.

Now, let me get one thing straight before I continue here: Love, the true deepest Gospel Christian meaning of love, does not mean letting you do whatever you want. Love, like happiness, does not exist in indulging passions, following our vices, or otherwise overturning all of the natural order. The greatest Love means desiring the best for the other. Which is why Our Lord suffered and died, because He desires our greatest good, which is Himself. So: our greatest good is God, and it requires sacrifice. 

And I'll be honest: I'm still pretty shitty at loving. I lose my temper so very much more than I would like. I so often am ruled, still, by shyness and fear of others and the paralyzing tongue-tying anxiety. But dammit, I'm going to continue to try to do my best to love, which begins with respect. It means respecting the full humanity of my children, the full humanity of the women marching on Washington, the full humanity of the family next to me in Church, of the clerk at the sales counter, of the moms who don't talk to me and the friends who have appeared to abandon me. Because, dear people, most of us are so dreadfully wounded. So much of what appears to us as "hell in a handbasket" is done by people who are carrying so much pain and confusion and fear, and you will never ever EVER reach one of them unless you reach out to them with the love of Christ. Because that's what each one of us is called to do, even if you are not lucky enough to have my name. ;)  And we cannot do that unless we first determine to respect all people, even the ones calling us names. Turn the other cheek, pick up your cross, and offer love.

(If you don't believe me, read this. It's so awesome. Respect works. Fancy that.)

11 September 2016

Lover of My Soul

"You've got some kinda attitude, son," sez I to my oldest.
"Yeah, that's because I'm stupid," he said back to me.
"You are not. Don't ever say that."
"Why not?" (always)
"Because God doesn't make stupid people."

pregnant elderberry, reaching for the sky and weighted down with ripeness
But in the corner of my mind? There's the automatic "except me." Which is why I was not terribly surprised to hear his words, because he's so, so much like me: so terribly sensitive, so easily overwhelmed, so easily discouraged. And, just like his mama, he feels like everything is "my fault."

Which grieves the very inmost parts of me. Did he absorb my constant interior self-trashing through osmosis? How often has he heard those self-disparaging remarks that escape my lips without my even noticing I'm doing it? How often have the thoughtlessly cruel things about him blurted out, me hardly thinking about it and him cut, scarred? He doesn't hold it as a grudge against me, I know - though I've no idea why! - but how much have I contributed to him sharing in my daily, momently struggle of self-loathing?

volunteer watermelon
Chesterton it was who said that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. In my head, even in my soul, I know Christ died for me out of love, that I alone truly am worth every drop of blood that came from His Body. There are times when receiving His Body and Blood overwhelm my whole self, when I feel Him in the very depths of my being and I don't notice that my toddler is taking off her dress in the cry room. My "revert" to the faith was hard one, and my commitment to Christ has undergone trials of fire. He is mine, I know beyond all doubt. Lord, where else would I go?

Yet, even so, my interior dialogue remains firmly entrenched: You're no good. See how stupid you are. What an idiot. How could you think you would deserve anything else? There are whole books, I know, about reprogramming our self-talk and self-imaging. Books, though, can't change our hearts. They can't take those beliefs and experiences into our every-day struggles and make it real in the way you need it, friend, because the way you need it is different even from what I need. (Not that I'm decrying self-help books. If they have helped you - huzzah!) But the problem, I have come to think, is learning to find Christ NOW.

Right now.

This moment.


As I have said for the last couple of years, there is no particular reason that you, or I, are alive right now. And today of all days, we ought to bear that in mind. Some people that we assumed would be with us are not. Which means only that God has work left to do both in and through you. Do you believe that? Do *I*? In theory, of course! In reality? Well, I am beginning to suspect it is a cop-out. If I am a worthless failure, then I don't have to step up and play ball. If I "know" that I am no good, that people talk about me with condescending sneers, that I am not worth your notice or God's . . . then I don't have to try. I have already failed, so I already have an out for not getting the laundry done, not cleaning my house, not taking that walk . . .

Someone turned one!
This is getting far longer than I wanted, so: We are accountable for every moment. If we have experienced the love of Christ, then we have no reason - NO REASON - to shirk our duties, to accept failure, to settle for mediocrity in marriage or motherhood or whatever your vocation is. He calls us out of love, and asks only that we answer with joy and trust. So often, I do not. What about you?


07 June 2016

In which I Voluntarily Risk Making a Fool of Myself and That's Okay

it's been a really long time since i wrote. most of you know i had to put my horse down; i felt i should write about it and when i kept procrastinating, realized i really don't want to. i first started riding her nearly 25 years ago, and i have not the words nor the desire to say more. so here is what i want to say instead:

i used to be more musical than i am now. by which i mean: i used to devote more of my time to playing music. in college i had a passable (though not great) voice, and decent (although not exceptionable) guitar skills. most of all, though, i loved it, and i gave a lot of time to it. i wrote songs that i liked to play and other people often enjoyed to hear. one of my favorite things to do was to set poems to music. i still love it! i often putter around with melodies and rhymes in my head. i even still like many of the melodies i wrote all those many many years ago ...

so the other day i am driving back home from the "northern DC area" and into my head pops Yeats's achingly wistfully beautiful poem "When You Are Old", and i think how it is perfect for a song. having but two of the kids with me and both of them sleeping, i started messing around with the lines and rhythms and things, and i loved it. i loved it, and i realized anew how lazy i am with my music, and it's because i'm afraid.

here is something, though: life is too damn short.

too short to care much about "fitting in" or winning other people's approval. i cringe when i recall how much time and energy and tears i have wasted - WASTED - in the course of my life trying to earn or win approval and acceptance from people who just don't care so much about me. for whom i will never be enough. or for whom a single misstep is enough to elicit a stream of verbal vitriol and derail the whole friendship. or who "just don't have time" to squeeze in a visit. we all find time for the things that are important to us, for the people who matter to us. (listen, obviously we all go through seasons where we don't have time even to shower. i get it. believe me. i'm talking big picture here, not those hard hard moments of overwhelm and isolation we all endure.)

I'm done with that.

it is coming up on two years since Sarah died. one of the absolute greatest gifts she gave me was the belief that i had something to offer that was of value, that was good and unique and important. so much of my life i have allowed those experiences of rejection (and they've been real, and strong) to rule my general approach to people. i have allowed their rejection to define my view of myself.
here's another thing: there will always be someone smarter. thinner. sexier. funnier. wittier. livelier. richer. holier. calmer. more stylish. more together. more competent. more je ne sais quoi. there will always be that "inner circle", that enticing group, that really cool clique that attracts you so much.

Let It Go.

spend your time and efforts and talents with and on and for the people who want and value and need and appreciate you. let go of the social vision you're clinging to so hard, and find the people who love you for who you are. who won't take your likes and dislikes personally. who forgive and forget and embrace you with open arms when you mess up. who aren't "too busy" to let you into their lives.
those people do exist. stop chasing rainbows and let them in.

all of which is to say that i took a crappy video on my phone of this little melody i found for this little poem i really like, and i'm going to post it here. in honor of being who i am, of not needing to have all the skillz or all the whatever, i give you my little bird song. because not quite perfect, my friend, still can be good enough.

so, without further ado, my knee singing "when you are old":

02 March 2016

Growing Up

"Mama," announced my oldest son last week or so, "I think I'm old enough to go visit our neighbor."

We don't have many neighbors living in the country, and we've not made awesome headway meeting the ones we have. (Much to my frustration. I wish so much I were better at such things.) But our "next-door" neighbor across the field came and introduced himself right when we moved in, and he's awesome. He's 80 now, and still lives in the ~1100 sq ft house where he and his wife, who passed away almost ten years ago now, raised their nine children. Although in the winter we will go weeks without seeing him, he's the closest thing we have here to a grandparent, and the boys love him. He used to have an auto-repair shop, and he still tinkers on cars for friends, as well as his two vintage 40's-era autos.
"That's fine with me, but we'll have to check with him," I said. When we stopped to visit the other day, I asked him. "Oh sure, sure," he said, "That'd be fahn."

I've wondered vaguely on occasion when they, especially my son Finn, would want to spread his wings past our little fenced-in domain. I shouldn't be surprised it's "so soon"--well before I was his age, I was flitting around to neighbors, to the little gas station on the corner where the owner brought his dog to work, even walking to school--a good half mile, maybe more. I relished the freedom of those days, the freedom to explore and the security waiting for me at home. I'm sure some days we were gone longer than we were home, and I bless my mother for her "hands-free parenting" style because those memories remain bursts of sunshine, as fresh and daring and delightful now, almost, as the experiences themselves.

I called to check on them a bit ago, and they were happily pounding scrap nails into scrap wood. My brave adventurers are home now, and I confess: They are ready, I know, but I didn't realize how much it would stretch this mama heart. Help me have open hands, Lord, to let them be.