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


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.


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