The First Christa
When I was in college, the president of my university gave a speech that made a lasting impression on me, about how we make choices, and that limits the other choices we can make. I appreciated it because it was really thoughtful and honest, like he was preparing us for adulthood: “You’re going to have to make choices. That’s great! How lucky you are to have choices! When you do make those choices, there are other choices that will no longer be available to you. That’s called growing up.”
I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve made a lot of choices. With that has come the bittersweetness of knowing (or wondering if) there are things that aren’t available to me anymore. It is bitter in the sense of grieving the loss of things that I thought might be – but aren’t. It is sweet because I have received what I wanted most.
Last night, Mike came home from dinner with a colleague we had both known in CA. He said that she had asked how I was doing, and that he had told her, “She’s busy being the first Christa.”
The first Christa! Ha!! There remain many fewer “first” or “youngest ever” opportunities for me. But Mike sees that I am trying to very carefully create a life that reflects my deepest values and to be the best mother I can be to Emma and Maggie, who have never had any mother ever before. I am trying to not waste a drop of this one wild and precious life.
Being named the first Christa is the best birthday gift I received this week.
And you are the first you! Congratulations!!! You must be so proud. ❤️
This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.
The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.
When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.
In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”
We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.
I was never meant to be enough for them.
The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)
As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.
A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.
There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.
That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.
And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.
If This Isn’t Nice
I’ve been experiencing some early midlife restlessness lately. The older I grow, the more choices I have made, and those necessarily limit the opportunities still available to me. It turns out that I’m not going to be the youngest person ever elected to Congress. (There’s still time to be the youngest person elected President, so stay tuned.)
However it also turns out that I do have a yoga practice. That was on the Person I Want to Be list that I made in my early 20s.
And tonight the girls and I ate dinner outside in the dark because it is the first warm night of the year. As we carried the candles outside, Maggie said, “This is the best day of my life.”
So there’s that.
Years pass and choices are made and possibilities change. Am I still becoming the person I wanted to be? Would I trade my four year old’s pronouncement, “This is the best day of my life,” for any other award?
If this isn’t nice, what is?
I like you just the way you are.
“I like you just the way you are.”
This fall, I framed several drawings that my daughters created when they were younger, like their first self-portrait and the picture of our family that our firstborn made when her younger sister was born. I hung them in the entryway of our house, along with photos of our family and a reminder: “I like you just the way you are.” What a declaration from that revolutionary, Mr. Rogers.
I want my daughters to remember, every day, that they are unconditionally accepted and loved.
Of course, the most powerful reinforcement won’t come from a sign by the door but in how I accept them and how I accept my self. Liking my self just as I am is hard work. I have never attempted anything more radical in my life. Yet it is also the easiest thing there is, because it feels so good and true to my soul. It feels like home.
My word for 2018 is mothering. Since I first saw “Pregnant” appear on a stick in a bathroom stall at a CVS, I have been becoming a mother. Not only to one and then two little girls, but to my self. Mothering is not just one day or one happening. It is not just “Pregnant” on a stick or when you push the baby from your body or first hold the child you have adopted or the first time you decide to be gentle with your self. Mothering is every day. As my body changes, as my children grow and increase their independence, I have to choose again to mother, to like and love and accept.
For me, for now, if I had to summarize mothering in one thought, it would be Mr. Rogers.’
I like you just the way you are. I like me, too.
A Light Shines
A light shines in the darkness.
It is for the rejected, the immigrant, the one in need, the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick, the sick, the hungry, the alone, the desperate, the dying, the broken, the weary, the grieving, the one making a choice when there is no good choice.
And the darkness has not overcome it.
“You are the champion of everything”
I’m Doing the Best I Can
“I’m doing the best I can.”
I have repeated this near daily since June, when I took on a new job with more hours – more weekly hours, in fact, than I had worked since having two kids. It’s a good project, and I’m glad to be doing it, but there may have been one or two or ten days that felt like running a race with only one shoe on. Or without socks. Or maybe I had on socks but they were dirty because the laundry piles in this house are everywhere.
Today in the mail, I got this lovely Emily McDowell magnet from a friend.
“You are doing a *&^% great job.”
It was accompanied by a note, written with marker on brown construction paper, “I’m sorry about the icky brown construction paper, but my kid won’t use it so I have to….”
I’m not sure which I appreciate more, the magnet (which I promptly placed on the altar in front of my desk (yes, I have an altar, don’t you?)) or the note (because if using the brown construction paper isn’t a metaphor for motherhood, I don’t know what is).
I do know that I love my friend and that she thought to send this to me and the holiness of the space we humans-doing-the-best-we-can hold for each other.
And for you, in case you need to hear it: “You’re doing a *&^% great job.”
This Is 36
Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.
I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.
During #thisis36, I became a full-time freelancer. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.
To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.
Parenting is hard. You know you’re going to unwittingly do something that messes your kid up, but you’re not sure what it’s going to be. There are many things that I’m not sure I’m doing right, but I know we’re doing our best.
On this Father’s Day Eve, Mike is downstairs dyeing Emma’s hair with kool-aid, something he helps her do every summer, at her request. When you have a dad who helps you dye your hair blue, everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok, don’t you think?
When I was in middle school, I was in a spelling bee. After the bee, my dad gave me a Precious Moments figurine – I collected them – that said “You’re A Winner” on it. He bought it for me before he knew if I had won or not. I had not. Didn’t matter.
Everything is probably going to turn out pretty ok.
And for those of us for whom it is not yet ok, I believe there is always a second chance to be fathered, by fathers who know better now or by friends or pastors or brothers, biological and the ones we meet throughout life. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end yet.
For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.
For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.
If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”
So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.
Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”
Much love, from my mama heart to all of you. xoxo
I’ve written before about how Nine Years Old feels like an important milestone. The realization of this began percolating for me earlier this year, as my oldest daughter prepared to turn nine.
Nine was when I began to experience anxiety. It was also the first year I remember feeling shame. A couple of kids in my class informed me that I was chubby. The kidney reflux that I had been battling since I was born flared up again, requiring several hospitalizations. The physical pain of the disorder was exceeded by the terrifying humiliation of the procedures to try to correct it. During this time, the bubbly, outgoing kid I had been grew quieter. I found myself unable to think of what to say to people my age. I was shy. By the time I was 13, the shame was so pervasive, it was hard to know where it left off and I began.
Last night, Emma joined a local basketball league and attended her first practice.
When I was around eleven, I tried out for basketball at my small private school. I didn’t make the team. I proceeded to try out for softball. I didn’t make the team. Nevertheless, I persisted, and tried out for cheerleading. I didn’t make the team.
When Emma asked if she could join the basketball league – anyone who wants can be on the team – I felt the tenderness of pre-teen Christa. My heart leapt at the chance for Emma to have what I didn’t have.
It brought to my mind two things: first, the amazing capacity of this life to give us do-overs.
I wish my parents had been paying closer attention to my desire to play sports. I would have never been an all-star, but I think with the right help, I could have made a team, or at the least played on a city league. I think that would have given me more confidence around my peers.
As pastors, my parents devoted countless hours to the church. They have both told me as I’ve grown up that they wish they would have spent more time focusing on our family and what we needed as kids and less time at church. They’ve apologized for that.
I know one day, I will have to apologize to my kids for something I wish I had done differently.
As I parent, I am so thankful to have the ability to call my parents up and talk with them about raising babies. There is such kind grace in being able to cry and laugh with your own parents. The laughing part is important. We laugh together at how hard and absurd parenting can be, and it makes the heaviness of knowing I will make mistakes at parenting – the one thing I most want to get right, just like my parents wanted to get it right! – more bearable.
I am thankful for do-overs. That, as parents and children and people, we get to keep loving each other until we get it right.
Second, thinking about trying out for the basketball team reminded me of my lifelong quest for coolness.
I’m smart. During middle school and high school, I took special summer classes just for fun. I graduated high school and college with a high GPA.
But what I wanted to be was COOL.
I wanted to be like the girls who played sports and were effortlessly pretty and always knew the right thing to say. I wanted to fit in. I wanted people to like me.
I married my husband because he is cool. He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. But he’s the kind of cool you can talk to. It’s cool beyond cool, because he couldn’t care less if he’s cool or not. He is himself.
And that’s cool.
It’s been in recent years that I feel I’ve “achieved” coolness in a way that no one can ever take it from me. Which is kinda funny, because in recent years I’ve become an in-my-30s mother of two who drives a minivan. (Not just drives a minivan. I love my minivan.)
For me, coolness means I feel comfortable with my self. I’m at ease with my self. This has a direct relationship with my shedding of shame in recent years. It doesn’t mean that shame doesn’t ever show up. Sometimes, still, when I make a mistake or am anxious for whatever reason, a voice whispers to me, “Should I be ashamed of my self?”
The difference is that now the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”
I hope we’ve given Emma what she needs in order to grow up feeling cool. To grow up feeling like she is alright, just as she is. Or maybe peace with one’s self is only found on the other side of a struggle. Maybe that is part of being human.
The weight of all of this sits with me. It is in my heart. Sometimes I sit in meditation, with outstretched hands, and I actually feel the heaviness in the skin of my palms. I don’t have any other answer but to be with it. With the weight of humanity. Of imperfections and failure and anxiety and shame and do-overs and coolness. To love the hell out of all of it.
Rumi wrote, “Through love all pain will turn to medicine.”
In the past few months, I’ve been dealing with age-related angst in a serious way for the first time.
“When did that start looking like that?!”
“Is this supposed to be happening so soon?”
I’ve found renewed solidarity and humor in Nora Ephron’s book I Feel Bad About My Neck.
Strangely, though, I would say my self esteem is higher now than it’s ever been (we humans are messy and full of contradictions), even higher than just five years ago when I would have considered my self pretty evolved in terms of self acceptance. Today I realized perhaps that’s because five years ago I was working at a yoga studio in Southern California.
Life tip: if you want to feel good about your self, don’t hang out with people who are habitually on juice cleanses.
Good Friday. We call it good because we know what happens on Sunday, but the first Good Friday was anything but. The weary world that rejoiced at Christ’s birth now groaned in grief at his death.
Growing up, the part of the Crucifixion story that transfixed me the most was the tearing from top to bottom of the veil separating the inner court of the Temple from the Holy of Holies, where God lived.
This is still the jewel I most cherish from my evangelical upbringing: that we can know God for our selves. There is no veil separating us from God. The pain of our humanity – grief and death – ushers us into a knowing of the sacred.