Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mothering in the Age of the Comment Section

In case you are new around here, a few months ago, we filmed a video interview for Gerber (the baby formula, not life insurance). Some friends had pitched our family story to Gerber, and after we were selected, they showed up with a full camera crew, which was very exciting and quite the curiosity to our neighbors. Holding my cute three month old Isaiah, I spoke for just a few minutes about our lives, about mothering, and about feeding formula to our son Caden, who is four now, but had open heart surgery when he was born.

Last week, Adam told me not to look at them. But of course, that only piqued my previously mild curiosity. So I hopped over to the Gerber facebook page to see our video, which now has over 1.2 million views. First, I notice all the mad faces, 56 of them (never mind that there are 1.9k likes). Then I scroll through the comments, aghast at the anger and vitriol aimed mostly at Gerber, but also at me and my family. Breast is best, they chant. Followed by cries of emotional manipulation and exploitation. And queries into why in the world I wouldnt have breast-fed Isaiah, since after-all he wasn’t the one who had open-heart surgery. Strangers defend me, and then get attacked, because they are obviously formula-feeders. Also, I clearly just wanted to get that check.

I scroll and scroll, occasionally liking the (rare) kind comment.

My fingers itch to defend myself. I want to explain how I painstakingly pumped every three hours for 4 months straight for Caden, so he could get breast milk through his feeding tube (and yes, also formula for extra calories). And how I breast-fed him for four more months, even though doctors thought I probably couldn’t. I want to explain how I DID, in fact, breastfeed Isaiah for almost eight months. I just also gave him formula sometimes. To announce that my check was actually quite small, that we didn’t even get a life-time supply of Gerber. To ask commenters to please re-watch the video because I carefully stated that the #formulaforhappiness is different for everyone. Because every baby, every momma, every family, is different. With different needs, capabilities, and limitations.

But even if I did defend myself, responding to every comment with thoughtful and gentle rebuttals, I’m not sure that would change anything or anyone. Because what I hear most clearly in the seemingly never-ending string of comments is a whole lot of pain. And isolation. And mommas who hope they are doing the right thing, but aren’t entirely sure and so turn to the Gerber facebook page (of all places) for confirmation and validation. Sometimes putting someone else down makes you feel better, or that’s what my mom always told me when I was getting bullied in school.
The funny thing about this whole Gerber-video-drama, is that I thought quite intently about what I should say when interviewed. The message impressed into my heart was the very same one I need right now, sitting here feeling slightly cyber-bullied and sad. A gentle reminder that every story leans different, and mothering is hard because it’s hard, and also because we never feel quite sure we are doing the right thing. That it ultimately comes down to loving our kids and helping them know they are loved (no matter how they’re fed), so they can love others out of that belovedness.

Honestly, I doubt my parenting at least once every single day. I am exasperated and respond the ways I wish I wouldn’t, or lay in bed at night bemoaning all the ways I failed to connect with my kids, who grow up faster than I would have thought possible. So the last thing I need, or any of us needs, is more people reminding me of how I’m doing it all wrong.

What I DO actually need is a village, friends and family and neighbors that support and help and carry one another through the hard and holy role of mothering. As more and more women find their village online, how can we support each other? How can we make the internet, and even the comment sections, a more gentle place where we celebrate and learn and grow together? Disagreeing on things, of course, but nevertheless loving and celebrating all the different ways we live our lives and care for our kids.

Or maybe Adam was right, and I should just stay far away from comment sections. Maybe instead, I should sit on the front porch, call my friends, or text my sister. I should stop defending my choices and start living them with the understanding that I am doing the very best I can as a perfectly imperfect mommy.

Monday, May 23, 2016

On the Other Side of the Camera

I'm a photographer. And a writer. I don't declare either of those things often enough to believe them, but I suppose they are true. Nevertheless, I tend not to get nearly enough pictures of myself with the kids. Or of our whole family. I have more than enough pictures of the cutest baby ever, along with his big brother and sister. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of pictures of my kids in various states of candid and posed. But since I don't tend to let myself venture to the other side of the camera very often, I really treasure these sweet shots my amazingly talented friends Carrie and Megan took at my little sister's wedding last weekend.

 
Try not to freak out about how cute my kids are, or how talented my friends are. It's fine, but seriously.
Also, I am sharing these here mostly because I am currently completely at a loss for the best place to share and way to print/store/etc my family photos and such. I mean, I can only have so many pictures on the wall before I run out of space. And none of y'all want to see ALL the pictures I take, that would be absurd. But what, oh what, should I do?! Any suggestions are welcome. 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When my baby sister gets married

This weekend, we celebrated the wedding of my baby sister (Emma) and her husband, my now-brother Sean. Not only was I able to celebrate with extended family who flew in from all corners of the country, but I was privileged to read something I wrote at the ceremony, and take a few pictures of the beautiful couple after their vows.

Here is what I said, only a snippet of all the words I could have penned (typed?) to capture their love and talent and adventure and beauty:
Emma and Sean’s love is ordinary, I suppose. More beer and pizza than champagne and caviar. And this, of course, is what makes it so extraordinary. In a world prone to shouting ever-louder and always clamoring for more, there is beauty in the small quiet life lived hand-in-hand. In the not-small brave act of moving all the way across the country alone, together.

Emma and Sean are beautiful people, both of them, particularly the way they live out their giftings into precisely how they have been shaped. They spill that beauty and life onto all those who are lucky enough to cross their paths. They make each other better, reflecting beauty back and forth in dazzling arrays. The lines worn in the kitchen tell of their dance, of the myriad twinings of their lives. They have lived enough life together by now to know all the ways that wisdom and love can be most often found in sharing food across the table, breaking bread together, sharing bites of heaven.  

Emma and Sean: my prayer for your lives and your marriage is that when the world flattens you (and it will, it always does), you will know all the ways the pounding and kneading makes you stronger, lighter, and even, daresay, more delicious. That when you struggle under the weight of becoming, you will always let forgiveness and light do their mysterious work of rising. That you will know all the ways the world is full of Great Suffering and Great Love, not either/or but both/and. That your hearts will bind tighter together with every heartache and each joy.

May you know the holy gift of simple presence. Of sitting quiet together or eating pizza and drinking beer together, through all the deepest pains and greatest triumphs that life brings your way. May your family circle grow ever-wider, and the paths you blaze bring you ever-closer to home, wherever that may be. May you always bring out the best in each other, and even when you dont, may you love each other just as fiercely for it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Must-Reads/Listens

What it comes down to here is a general overwhelm with all of life. On mother's day, I saw lots of husbands and such who posted "she makes it look easy" about their wives taking care of all their children. And I realized a fundamental truth about me and my mothering, no one will ever say I make it look easy. In fact, it's quite possible that I make the whole thing look more difficult than it should be. Its all a part of my plan though (obviously), so I can always tell the teenagers hanging around: this is why you shouldn't have kids yet. 
This sense of overwhelm is why I haven't written much (ok anything) lately, and why at writing group tonight I will have nothing to share. Sigh. I did, however send out an email newsletter because there are some stories that don't seem like a good fit for public forum. I've had a few people tell me they didn't know I had an email newsletter (communication is not my strong suit), so if you'd like to go ahead and sign up to hear the stories we hold closest and most honestly, you can do that right here. I'll resend this month's newsletter in a couple days to any new subscribers. 

If you want a little peek at the story, and what our newsletter is about, here's the opening paragraph: 
The yellow porch swing creaks, dingy with grime and pollen; and the once-bright pillows fade in sun and rain. I swing slow and cup my favorite mug close, trying to pretend I like drinking coffee without flavored creamer. English Ivy spills over onto our front porch; once charming, now ominous as it crests the top of the wall. Like a too-big wave breaking deadly onto the shore. Like snakes slithering up the side of our house en masse. I shake the imagery, setting down my coffee to clip a single bloom from the peony bush Adam planted two years ago. Last season, I missed blossoms completely; this year I walk around the house every day to check their progress. Finally, one bursts into deep fuchsia bloom and I breathe in its perfume before reluctantly heading back inside where five children under the age of seven sleep right on the edge of waking, two of them tucked in a twin bed under the arms of their twenty year old momma, whom we have known for nearly ten years now.
Since I've done such a terrible job keeping y'all updated on our lives, here are (as an apology?) some of the things I've read and listened to lately that I would highly recommend you also reading/listening to. Oh and also many pictures. Many many pictures.

I've already recommended two of these podcasts, but since my recommendation there has been episodes I love love love and think you should all listen to (also, one other podcast that I'm newly obsessed with).
On Being: with Michelle Alexander
Nomad Podcast with Wayne Jacobsen - What Kind of Church is Jesus Building?
There Goes the Neighborhood (9-part series on gentrification in Brooklyn. So fascinating and well-done).

Also, we had our football championship and I couldn't love the cookout in the park anymore. Seriously, love. 
And a few must-read articles from around the web the last couple weeks. 
*An NPR series that asks the question: Can more money fix America's schools? So interesting, I've only read the first two installments so far - but sharing here has reminded me to go see if there are any more!
*In Defense of Clutter - Christianity Today
*Death by Blackness - Shane Claiborne.
I think we can all agree that this wouldn't be a post without a link to things you should read if I didn't point you to at least one thing my friend Shannan has written lately. This time it's this one on Going Home (don't miss the very last line! Love). At this point, y'all should just go ahead and read everything she writes. 
This article by Addie Zierman asks the questions about the role of introverts in Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. And it struck a cord with me, because I have been feeling the need for much more quiet lately, quiet that feels nearly impossible to achieve in living my life on the margins and in community.
 


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bearing Witness

Raphael was just shot and killed.
I get the text message from Adam as I pull out my phone to switch on airplane mode, squished between two strangers on a nearly-empty flight to Chicago.

I text questions furiously with few answers, before dutifully switching off my phone as the plane taxis to the runway. Finally, trying to distract myself, I read Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. She writes poetry-prose about her husband’s death:

It’s a fact: black people in this country die more easily, at all ages, across genders. Look at how young black men die, and how middle aged black men drop dead, and how black women are ravaged by HIV/AIDS. The numbers graft to poverty but they also graph to stresses known and invisible. . . And so the black artist in some way, spoken or not, contends with death, races against it, writes amongst it . . . Survivors stand startled in the glaring light of loss, but bear witness.
We realize this flight is quite empty, the stewardess announces over the intercom, but please don’t switch seats until after take-off. Weight balance is most important during take-off, especially on such a light flight.

During takeoff, however, my seat mates fall asleep and I don’t want to wake them to move, so I try to type quietly and without jostling my arms, my laptop partially closed to fit on the small table folded down from the seat in front of me. We bounce over clouds, and my stomach drops again and again.

I sit here in this tiny airplane seat (seriously, have they gotten smaller?), helpless against this loss. And so all I know to do is bear witness. This witness-bearing to his life is not quite my job; nor even should it necessarily be my privilege, considering how little we knew Raphael. But I am desperate for the world to know the ways he made life bright. For my friends to understand all the boys in our neighborhood, to know the ways they carry light and life, along with the weight they shoulder and the ways they are shaped by the landscape they walk as a young black male in this country.

Though we have lived in our neighborhood five years now, we strangely only just met Raphael this past basketball season. His younger brother has played on our football team for years, even before he was technically old enough. He is the smallest one on the team those first years, but athletic and fast, and his mom tells us the football games in the park are the first time she has ever watched him play. This season he is one of the largest players on the team, and I cajole him back onto the team when he quits every time we lose.

I am bouncing Isaiah when Raphael first knocks on our door. I swing Isaiah to my hip, and answer without checking the peephole, surprised when I don’t know the young man standing on the other side.

Good morning ma’am, he says, is Mr. Adam home? I smile and tell him Adam’s at the office, asking what we can do. I would like to play basketball please, he says politely.

Oh we would love to have you I exclaim, always overly eager when meeting new neighbors. I direct him to Adam’s office, pointing him the back stairway visible from our front porch. Thank you ma’am, he says. I am surprised to hear my mother’s voice coming from me as I scold him for calling me ma’am: I’m not that old, I tease. Yes ma’am, he responds, then laughs when he realizes what he’s said.

Raphael shows up that season for every game except one. Every week, he’s a few minutes early and turns down my offers of food, sitting on the green lost-and-found box by the front door (yes, we have a lost-and-found box at our house, mostly full of smelly t-shirts and shoes discarded before or after sporting events, which I wash and stack in the large box, hoping they will find their way back to their rightful owners).

What school do you go to? I ask Raphael one week. Oh I dropped out ma’am, he tells me (his use of ma’am a habit we haven’t quite been able to kick), but I’ve received my GED and now I’m working, he continues: Oh and I’m sorry I missed last week’s game, I had to work.

We never quite dive below polite answers, and now we will never get the chance.

Adam and I have forewarned each other, just a few months ago: its only a matter of time before one of these funerals is for one of our boys. I am frustrated at this inevitability, at my inability to help, at the inadequacy of words. I want to somehow do justice to who Raphael was, to who he was becoming, before he fades to the background as another statistic, another life lost to bullets strewn across pavement and lives.
I return to my book, looking for light even as my seat-mate lowers the shade against the brilliance of sun reflected on white clouds, scattered over patchwork brown laying beneath us like a quilt:

Art replaces the light that is lost when the day fades, the moment passes, the evanescent extraordinary makes it quicksilver. Art tries to capture that which we know leaves us, as we move in and out of each other’s lives, as we all must eventually leave this earth. Great artists know that shadow, always against the dying light, but always knowing that the day brings new light and that the ocean which washes away all traces on the sand leaves us a new canvas with each wave.

I write as revolt against his death. I write to find the light, to acknowledge the loss, and to carry gently the weight and honor of encountering the life of Raphael. Even without knowing the details surrounding his final moments, carried through bluest skies on silver wings, I settle deep in the knowledge of the Father's tender mercies through every unspeakable tragedy. I stubbornly believe in the grace and beauty of holding close to the brokenhearted, of breaking my heart alongside theirs. Because I don't have answers as often as I allow myself to widen in pain that mysteriously births new life, new mercies that rise on the gentle and fierce tides of life and death and every sacred moment between. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Favorite Podcasts (and many, many pictures)


I have been really bad at updating things around here (shocking right?), so I thought I should pop in with some links to my favorite podcasts. A big part of the reason I have no time to update is all-the-work-days, which have been consuming my time, but which also mean I have some car-riding time in which to listen to podcasts (the only time I usually actually listen to them is when I am in the car by my lonesome, which is a rare occasion indeed).


So for now, a few of my favorites (hopefully some new ones for all) that come highly recommended (by me, mostly).

* Nomad Podcast: I love their takes on faith and church in this podcast, and I especially enjoyed this episode where they interview Jamie Arpin-Ricci who does inner city ministry in Vancouver.

* Serial, Season 2: I adored season one of Serial (along with the rest of the world), but I was having trouble getting into season 2. My friend Sarah encouraged me to stick with it, and I'm glad I did because the farther into it I get, the more I am fascinated hearing about the army strategies in Afghanistan for community development and the ways we need to be rooted in a place for the long-term in order to bring about any lasting change.

* On Being: I love almost every single interview Krista Tippet does here, but I especially enjoyed this one with poet Nikki Giovanni and this one with Martin Sheen (because who knew he has been arrested so many times as an activist?!)

* The Liturgists: I feel like their latest episode, Black and White: Racism in America, is a must-listen.

* Osheta Moore's Shalom in the City (especially the one with my girl Shannan Martin, and the one with my friend Megan Tietz, both of whom chat about things close to my heart).
Also, it's Five8football season again, and Tuesday nights at the park are my favorite time of the week (come join us! I highly recommend bringing a picnic).

Two last things: 1- I will be going to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids next week, anyone else going to be there? and 2- I am going to try and send out our third family newsletter this week if anyone is still interested in signing up for that!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Formula for Happiness

Remember how I mentioned that some friends asked us to film a Gerber commercial? Luckily, we already actually used Gerber formula (to supplement breast-feeding), so we could say of course without any misgivings.

Well, once said commercial was finally posted by Gerber (on their Facebook page, not on TV), I knew I had to share it here with all you lovely folks because you have been, and continue to be, so encouraging and excited with us for all of it. It is an honor to see my sweet little family represented so carefully by our friends who filmed it, and by Gerber too.

Also, for the record, at one point they told me: maybe less sarcasm #thestruggleisreal.

Enjoy!

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