I’m having one of those moments in life where everything feels on the precipice. Ordinarily, the not-knowing creates in me a lot of anticipatory anxiety, but, right now, I feel elated. I feel a sense of being at the top of a long awaited hill about to look out at the new vista. I trust that life will hold unanticipated disappointments and frustrations, to be sure. And, yet, I feel such a craving for new challenges and new perspectives. I feel as though I’ve spent the last several years paying into an account I couldn’t see with varying degrees of trust in the process. Some facets of this work have already shown their hand (our new home, the boysies growth and development, a deepening spiritual life, and a renewed commitment to my anti-oppressive activism & advocacy). But there are some new adventures just about to be revealed. And I am giddy and my belly is fluttery with the excitement of it all. I’m trying to breathe deeply into this moment and relish the sense of (momentary) accomplishment. And to get my head on straight for the hard work ahead. I love when I can just sit back and love the present for all of the surprises it contains! More soon…
The only sounds I hear right now are wind picking up outside and rain leaking through the roof and landing in a metal pot in my entryway. This relative quiet means that the rest of my family has fallen asleep together upstairs: a rare group nap in anticipation of a late Halloween night. I’m alone on the sofa with a thin blanket, and it’s cold in here. I could turn the heat up, but I’m struck by the not-unpleasant sense of porous boundaries, of the outside getting in. The rain, and the wind, and the cold. This is always true, I think. This fluidity. Walls don’t offer the kinds of division we pretend they do. But I’m not always as willing to see it as I am today.
I’m brewing a second small pot of coffee. The lunch dishes are still scattered on the table, and I’m trying just to notice this. Noticing is a big thing lately. Noticing how little I understand time, with its wild variations: fast, slow, racing by. Other wild variations are a big thing lately too: my mood, my wife’s kindness, all of our trust. I suspect that my awareness of these swings is an ironic product of being settled. We are all safe to feel the complexities. Of being a preschooler. Of being a toddler. Of being married (in happiness. in frustration. in resignation. in gratitude.). Of being parents of young people and all of the young-people needs. The too.many.things that we are, so that life is crowded even when it’s pared down and simple. And so we swing, all of us, right now. From euphoric love to resentment and resistance. From surety to restlessness. From desperate need to rejection. All of us, with the wild variations, and with time refusing to steady itself.
I’ve been wanting and wanting to write. Writing, though, is a kind of standing still, and stillness seems to be what life is most unwilling to yield these days. And yet. There’s a lot to say. When I think about this space, I can’t really think about readers anymore. This isn’t because I don’t still love the sense of community, or crave it. I do. But I’m unsure of what I offer that is worth receiving by anyone who isn’t one of us. And I’m not even sure what I mean by one of us. Maybe I mean the kids one day. Maybe I just mean me. Anyway, I can only write here as a keeping of some kind of record. For later. For when there’s time to stand a little more still and listen to the way things were when there wasn’t time to really hear. And if this space is worth something outside of that, then that something can stand on its own.
So, for the record. And anything else this might be worth.
The house. We’ve been in this house for coming up on two months, and we were right. It is right. We’re getting to know it. It is a creaky old house. You can’t move around here without everybody knowing about it. It has other surprises too, of course. Beautiful morning light. An expansiveness that must be about something other than square footage. A kind, inviting feel that has kept people here through the ages: it’s almost a hundred years old and we’re only its fifth family. Our pathways here are far from worn, but they’re being created. The fact of living here is no longer startling. And I’m in no rush to learn the secrets this space holds. I understand marriage enough now to let the complexity of this new undertaking unfold.
And the Birdie. Who is determined and willful and emotionally vast. Who is as physical as a high-speed train. And who is a nurturer: of me, of Bram, of his stuffed bunny, Henry. He has a sense of humor that the rest of us lack, and it sets him apart, and it makes us grateful. He is eager to please us. He delights in the world, and is every bit as watchful as his brother has always been, but less reluctant. He doesn’t love music yet, and he doesn’t always love books. He is affectionate as a cat is affectionate, which is to say: on his terms. For these reasons, he has made me work much harder than Bram ever did to figure out how he wants to be loved. But, oh, when he feels seen by one of us, he lights up. He is a small, radiant lighthouse. And he surprises me everyday.
And Bram. Bram, who studies life. Who burrows into it: all depth, that kid. Who draws for hours without a break. The same creatures over and over. Who wants to read the same long books until he’s mastered them. He does not live on the surface, and so surfaces startle him. School is still hard: not the work of it, but the light relational part. He is discomforted by the presence of more than he can process at once. He is every bit the storyteller that he’s always been, and the same narratives still drive him: good vs. evil. Americana. Love and defeat. I can’t imagine he’ll ever be good at small talk.
And happiness. Sometimes I think: this is what it feels like to live your values. To be happy, and exhausted, and bewildered, and broken, and flooded with grace. I think I’m happy because I’m made that way, and not everyone is, but I also work hard to live a life that is in keeping with what I sense to be true about the world. And that is work, but it also offers a contentment that I imagine (remember, even) is hard to come by otherwise. So: this class- and race-diverse neighborhood. A devotion to the mystery of liturgy. A commitment to using my spirituality in action. Food ethics. Marriage. Patient and positive parenting. Compassion. Grace. Love. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender. The rewards not of immediate pleasure, but of investment.
And God. A couple of weeks ago, I sat at a downtown, outdoor cafe, only a couple of blocks from St. Luke’s, with the best staff imaginable. And the sun was shining down on us and there was easy camaraderie and good food. And someone mentioned that winter is coming. And someone else said that the town’s only real shelter can’t meet our need. And someone else looked around and said isn’t it a shame to have all these buildings down here and all of them shuttered. And then: a conversation about resources. And J just finished a month long diaper drive: gathering 24,000 diapers, which is enough for 500 families for a week. Because diapers are expensive, and necessary, and not covered by any of this nation’s fiscal safety nets. And Sara Miles started the food pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco fifteen years ago this week. So, God. And Jesus. Christianity, to me, is never about charity. Never. It is always about remembering that we are all welcome at the table, and that means coming to the table and bringing what we have. And that what we have isn’t a reflection of who we are. It just is. So we give. And we take. And none of that makes us better or worse. All it makes us is God’s. And blessed, of course. And under obligation to one another not because we are more or less fortunate, but because we’re what we have of God. We’re what we have. We are as porous as my house is today. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell this story.
In the meantime, Bram will be Robin Hood tonight. Which is perfect for him, my small prince of thieves. And Lou will be Little John: his brother’s devoted fellow. And I will be Maid Marian. And J will be the Sheriff of Nottingham: no justice without the unjust. And our block will filled with trick-or-treaters from the neighboring streets, which aren’t so safe, and some of the neighbors here will bemoan this, and I will give thanks, once more, for the failures of boundaries. How they make us all more human. And tomorrow, guided by our liturgical calendar, we will celebrate the saints: sing their names in a litany that will take my breath away. And Monday we will honor the dead. We’ll put Emmett Ever’s ashes in the columbarium at St. Luke’s: at once a gesture of honor and of release. Her name will be etched in gold in a room whose smell I cannot describe but cannot stop loving.
And we’ll go on praying, and questioning, and misunderstanding, and being misunderstood. I am well over a third of the way through reading the Bible in a year. And I can’t be one of those people who wishes for my children’s growth to slow down because their growth is the most viscerally sacred thing I know. And I will keep wanting more stillness. And keep not making choices that would bring it to me. And I will stay grateful for this good and pretty life full of complex, beautiful, frail humanity.
One week from tomorrow, we will leave our little cottage behind. We will drive away from the place that both J and I have lived longer than we’ve ever lived anywhere else, and we won’t live here anymore. We will leave without a puppy-cat who moved in here with us, but with his sister. We will leave with two boys who were conceived of, conceived (mostly), and brought home here, and whose entire conception of home is these walls and floors and smells and colors, and this air quality. And this view. We’ll take E’s ashes with us, and the boy who isn’t Saul will still be turning three somewhere, and it will never matter to him that we’ve left the house that was once his home. After packing up with a good half dozen generous parishioners helping, we’ll drive our rented U-Haul one small mile away, to a modest and lovely house in a working- to middle-class neighborhood that has beauty, and that speaks to our values.
And then we’ll live there instead. With one chalkboard wall in the kitchen for meal planning and family notes and boysie creations. With the color of saffron on the other kitchen walls, and a mostly working fireplace, and original wood floors, and a finished attic with wide pine floor planks. With double the square feet we have now, and double the bedrooms, but nothing grand except that it will be ours, and we will be privileged to have it, and that alone is grand. We’ll paint the door the slate color of my wife’s eyes, and we’ll finally buy a sofa, and a low bed frame. And a college kid and his dad are making us a farmhouse table and two three-seat benches. Bram will find a big box of real Legos (given to us by another generous parishioner) waiting for him in his room: his first foray away from Duplos and into big-kid-ness. Big-kid-ness in a room that, I pray, he’ll get big in. The driveway has an old basketball hoop, so someday we’ll go to a store and come home with a basketball and that will be countless hours of our lives. Some other day we’ll have saved up enough money to finish the basement and buy a pool table, and that will be other hours. There’s a deep freeze in the basement, and a small canning room with perfect rows of glass jars, all of which is lovely in its simplicity, and its pragmatism, and the care that it implies. The people we’re buying the house from ran a small neighborhood church in the living room for five years, and though some of our perception of Christianity differs from theirs, the house seems to carry with it those hours and years of praise, and dedication to service, and love of God and community, and that feels like a gift to inherit. Today my mom texted to say that she’d picked up the first season of Life Goes On at a garage sale and did we want to borrow it. So maybe J and I will watch some of that as we muddle through whatever it means to leave and mourn – as four individuals and also as the animal that is one family – a set of walls that is jam-packed with memories. To let time pass. To get to know a house to whom we are strangers.
This little cottage knows heartbreak. Probably the new house does too. Certainly it does. Like this cottage, it was built in 1927. I like to imagine the family who built it. Their laughter and their failures and their frustrations. They loved this city of mine. Of theirs. I like to imagine the other ways in which our lives collide in spite of the years. The house holds all of those secrets, and I respect it for knowing what I never will. But I never imagined heartbreak when we moved in here, and that’s not true now. Instead, letting myself fall in love with a new home feels like a way of accepting what we’ll face inside of it. The suffering and the joy. The firsts and the lasts.
This cottage and this blog have been homes of mine for all these years, so it seemed necessary to honor the one I’ll leave behind in the one I’ll carry with me. Thanks for granting me the space to do that. Here are some photos of our cottage-dwelling boys by way of tribute.
Sometimes I say that my wife is a fan of clean starts. By that I mean that she likes the feeling of freshness that comes with a conceptual new chapter. For whatever reason, clean starts make me uneasy. I like the sense of connection that is a long, winding path with lots of sharp turns and curves and places where it circles back on itself. I like the sense of history. My own history. That of my boys. My family. My country (for better and worse). So though I’ve thought a couple of times about starting a new space that might more cleanly represent my current journey, the idea has never picked up any traction in my heart.
Breaking into Blossom is my journey. Loss, love, babies. The blossoming and the actual breaking, which is of course much more violent than I understood when we named this space. And though the way in which I’ve come to God this past year is staggering in its intensity (is certainly an awakening), God has been with me here and in my life all along, and my obsession with God has been a part of everything I’ve ever done, or written, or wanted, or held close, or let go of. Even looking back through the posts here makes that clear. So this space is still just about us. Our little family. But as the boys get older it becomes trickier to write about them so publicly. Their privacy matters more and more as their self-hood grows. So, though there will still be plenty of stories about our babies, the thread that I’m most at liberty to expose to you is my own journey, which of course has always been true. And some of that journey right now is my burgeoning faith.
Among the things I’m currently reading (and I’m reading theology and scripture and history as fast as my under-slept and rarely alone self can manage) is The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, in which Robert Louis Wilken explores the thinkers of Christianity’s first few centuries, uncovering what set them apart from the secular philosophers and scientists of their time. They were no less invested in a rigorous scholarly discipline, but, Wilken writes, “they did not argue that there is a God because there is order; rather, they saw design in the universe because they knew the one God. God was not a principle of explanation. In seeking God they sought to understand the God they already knew.” Later he adds: “by thinking and writing they sought to know God more intimately and love him more ardently. The intellectual task was a spiritual undertaking.” This mirrors my experience of God. My new forays into theology are driven not by a question of whether or not God is, but by a desire to understand what God is. I crave, of course, the structure and immersion of the classroom. I wish I could take coursework in theology – maybe another degree – which is absurd and wildly impossible. But my priest guides my studies with generosity, deep wisdom, and patience. And the benefit of not being in school is the ability to construct little syllabuses around whatever I want to understand. The matriarchs of Genesis. The historical Jesus. Vulnerability and Christ. I am a little obsessed with this painting (by Francisco de Zurbaran), and I might spend a month reading with it in mind. Post-PhD me is learning what it is to be a scholar with freedom, and though freedom has never been my thing, it is not without its graces.
But what I’m never far from is gratitude. Seeing the good, feeling thankful… none of that has ever been hard for me, but now my gratitude overwhelms me. And there aren’t even words to explain how blessed I am to have stumbled into a job that supports my family while also feeding and offering space for this awakening. It’s still almost impossible to believe that I’ve been given this opportunity. We were in trouble. We were committed to raising our kids the way we had been, but we couldn’t make ends meet for much longer on one salary. It’s a struggle that I know most of you know. To be offered something that so deeply feeds me, that gives me the flexibility to still spend lots of time with our kiddos, and that pays me well enough to afford great childcare for the hours I do need to be away. I just don’t know many parents who are offered such a gift as this job has been for us. So though I miss my babies immensely – miss being there for all of the hours – there’s little doubt that this is right for us.
All of this gratitude comes, though, in the shadow of our contemporary American race crisis. We are lucky to be a part of a church that urges us towards action, and certainly a community that does so. And I’m grateful to be married to an activist who is deeply invested in lending her energy to dismantling the white patriarchy. I take my lead from her – and from those around me – and struggle to find my way towards service with prayer and sorrow, which aren’t enough. So some version of this is what most nights look like around here.
But the boys, for their part, are mostly thriving.
Louis is in a grouchy place lately, but I remember this from around fifteen months with Bram. Teething, wanting to nurse all the time, being vaguely uncomfortable in his body. Less watchful joy than we’re used to seeing with him, but it feels like a phase. He is keenly aware of everything that goes on around him, and he’s the most determined little fella you could ever meet. The strength of his will is impressive and beautiful to watch, but also every bit as exhausting as you would imagine it to be. He is a life-force of energy and focus and intensity. But he’s also so much in love with all of us. He lights up with pride when we witness some feat of his, and though he’s constantly moving, he’s also still so at home in our arms. He is a wild, sweet, thoughtful child.
And Bram, at three and a half, is like a real, actual BIG kid. He is curious. He craves mastery and has the focus to attain it. He is still, above all other things, a storyteller. Books, music, folklore. He loves to learn, but his learning all has to come to him via narratives: novels, songs, history. He is deeply invested in our family’s spiritual journey. He loves St. Luke’s and our priest. He loves the space of the sanctuary and the ritual of liturgy. It seems as though my work there makes sense to him: he seems to take the fact that I would teach in that space, that I would serve, as a logical evolution of our days. And he wants to understand that which is sacred. A couple of weeks ago, he was praying in his sleep. He performs the fraction (the breaking of bread) with food at our table. He asks questions, loudly, during the liturgy. I mean, he’s still a kid, so he still gets restless, but he also understands what we’re doing there in an instinctive way that is interesting to watch. He loves to be outside, too, but he’s awkward on his bike or his scooter, which is maybe because we don’t focus on that stuff enough, but which also just seems about him. Even outside he wants to tell stories. To find Journey’s crayons. To be a construction worker. To be any of a hundred characters from as many books. He is happy and an absolute joy to be around.
And Jax and I are, of course, legally married. Which is difficult to believe after all of these years. The legal recognition is meaningful, and it has changed how I feel more than I thought it would, though I’m not sure how to explain that change. I guess it’s just nice to feel upheld in such a sacred and complex pursuit. To feel that our struggles and our growth and our defeats and our victories are all housed within a system that is at least marginally invested in our success.
I love Jax so much, and I still see how gorgeous she is (which is saying something when some days I barely have time to look at her). Marriage during these early years of parenthood is TOUGH, and we have plenty of rough days.weeks.months. But we are as much of an us as we’ve ever been, and that alone is profound and mysterious and sturdier than I ever imagined. So, my legal wife.
And my legal family at a little gathering in our downtown park, just a block from our downtown church, in our beloved city, celebrating our dignity and rights as American citizens.
And my angelic boys. Who (as parents have said through the ages) just flat out amaze me.
One week ago, Renee came to bed and told me that there had been a shooting in a church in Charleston. Several of our downtown friends were reporting helicopters and law enforcement engaged in a manhunt for the suspect. It wasn’t until Thursday morning that we understood the truth of the carnage.
Mother Emanuel, in the heart of downtown Charleston, is not a place I’ve ever worshiped in, but I did walk past it every day. For a time in college, I was a janitor at the public library one block away. I remember that on pretty days, the doors of the church would sometimes be opened onto Calhoun Street and you could hear music drifting outside. One of the victims, Cynthia Hurd, was a part-time research librarian (and colleague of my mom’s, also a CofC librarian) at my alma mater. Another victim, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, coached track at my rival high school. It’s very hard to not be in Charleston right now. When the full-story broke, my every instinct was to just go straightaway. The logistics/finances of spontaneous cross-country travel with two children under four are just too much right now. And what could I do? Witness, I suppose. Hug my mom and my friends. Grieve. Hold the space.
I moved to Charleston, South Carolina on April 17th, 1999. It was the spring semester of my junior year of high school. My first day of school was April 20th, 1999: the Columbine shooting. To that point, I had spent seven years in DC, four in Charlotte, two in Atlanta, and another four back in Maryland. I lived in Charleston from the age of 16 to 25. That’s still the longest I’ve ever lived in one city. My mom and many of our closest friends are still there. I graduated from high school and college there. I hit bottom and got sober there. I met and fell in love with my wife there. I learned all of the life lessons, heart breaks, and hard knocks of young adulthood in the backdrop of that very unique and picturesque peninsula. In the past, Renee has written eloquently here about her memories of Charleston. So to have this act of domestic terrorism happen in our former home has had us reeling this week. The nation is reeling, to be sure. It’s just so surreal to have the national media trying to unpack the pulse of a city I know so well. To feel so much a part of the community they are watching, and yet, not there at all.
Certain memories have been vividly resurfacing this week: I remember the confederate flag rally through Marion Square Park in 1999. I remember seeing participants with Klan memorabilia. I had never really seen anything so overt in its racism and hostility, though I came to understand over time that it was often more subtle racism that contributed to a larger culture of stress and fear amongst communities of color in Charleston.
I remember being shocked to hear a public high school history teacher referring, in class, to the Civil War as “the war of northern aggression.” It took a while to perceive the vast power of the so called “good ole’ boy” network. I remember the confederate flag flying at Bessinger’s BBQ in West Ashley. I remember when the local electric company forbid employees from parking work vehicles there at lunchtime because the restaurant was actively distributing pro-segregation literature at the checkout. I worked for a summer at the Palmetto Carriage Company, just around the corner from the ever-popular “Old South Carriage.” Wealthy white tourists clamored to see where the “real” slave market had been. They would cluck their tongues sympathetically (and, also, nostalgically?) while decrying the homeless and panhandlers poised around Market Street. Having been raised in racially diverse neighborhoods and schools, I was registering a different kind of racist, malicious ignorance than I had ever been exposed to before.
But I found my people there, too. And, in my queer community (both before and after sobriety), I found family and safety and camaraderie with men and women of color who were grappling with the complex intersections of their identities within the inflexible caste system of the south. My experience of queerness and gender nonconformity could never eschew my white privilege. Still, I learned the foundational tenets of my social justice activism and my anti-oppressive life work from living and working in and alongside communities of color in Charleston; communities suffering under the crippling expense of daily micro-aggressions and rampant gentrification.
Really, it makes sense that such terrorism should break across the bow of Charleston’s harbor. We’re at a frenzied pitch of denial and shame in this country. And Charleston is exceptionally poised to ache in the festering wound of its white supremacist history. But concomitant to the struggle, there is nowhere else I’ve been where the smell of jasmine can hang suspended in the air as you walk straight through it. There is no place I’ve ever been that can so awaken the sensuality of the human spirit. The weather, the language, the architecture, they all coalesce into a fully sensorial experience. I used to just walk the streets alone at night for hours…just aimless walking. I did this for years; it was my ritual of self-soothing and emotional regulation. And nowhere I’ve been holds such spirits. The whole city is deeply haunted. Over forty percent of enslaved Africans brought to America came through the port of Charleston. It is a city with a palpable wound that cannot heal. This is a living thing. This is something that, in my experience, most white people (myself included at different points) can choose to look away from. We can use our privilege to pretend that there’s some chasm between history and the present.
I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how “well” Charleston is responding to what’s happened, which is to say that folks haven’t taken to the streets in anger. But don’t be fooled, Charleston is the pinnacle of southern hospitality and it knows how to hash out its bloodiest conflicts out with a smile and a southern drawl. There’s much needed prayer and unity, to be sure. And I would venture that any community attacked in such a vicious way (and in a place of worship, no less) would rally around its city with a clarion call to heal. But the method by which that healing needs to happen will be a source of deep and painful division to come. Many feel that this was the tragic act of a mentally ill individual, but by deflecting our white culpability in the society that made this monster (and many others like him), we lose the catalyst for major self-reflection, empathy-building, and sustainable change.
I’ve heard some people say in the last few days that the issue of taking down the confederate flag at the statehouse is a distraction from the real work of combating systemic racism. And I can see their point; it is such a small step in the face of such an overwhelming violation. But it needs to just come down. Period. Take it down now. It should never have flown in the first place. Then we can move onto more substantive work.
We need leadership (locally, regionally, and nationally) that actually understands and acknowledges the truth of systemic racism in our culture. And we need healers in every place of life (streets, neighborhoods, places of worship, schools, and hospitals). We must conceive of ourselves as an anti-racist people actively working to transform our values and our structures instead of continuing to put our head in the sand of racist multiculturalism, colorblindness, and post-racialism (whatever that even means). And hand-in-hand with the work of anti-racism, we need sweeping gun reform in this country. That’s not even close to my wheelhouse, so I have no opinion on how it must be accomplished, but I know that it simply must.
Our priest sent out a note last Thursday concerning the Charleston massacre. In it he wrote, “murder, no matter how planned it may be, is essentially unconscious. Killing another is a refusal to look at one’s own pain and rage. It is also a refusal to be conscious of the other’s humanity. Biblical spirituality encourages greater consciousness and evil lives on the rejection of greater consciousness.” I am so disturbed by the fact of Dylann Roof’s having sat through the Bible study and prayer group for an hour before opening fire. And to not have been moved to change his intent: Stunning unconsciousness. I’ve had this Audre Lorde poem running through my heart when thinking about the betrayal of having welcomed him into their sacred space only to be turned on so viciously:
Memorial (Audre Lorde – 1950)
If you come as softly
as wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees.
If you come as lightly
as the threading dew
I will take you gladly
nor ask more of you.
You may sit beside me
silent as a breath
only those who stay dead
shall remember death.
If you come I will be silent
nor speak harsh words to you
I will not ask you why, now,
nor how, nor what you do.
But we shall sit here softly
beneath two different years
and the rich earth between us
shall drink our tears.
I still haven’t been able to quite capture the tenor of my heart here. My emotional landscape eludes my writing. As ever, I stand with Charleston and I am ready to do the daily work of living differently and healing.
Some of my favorite photographic memories of Charleston:
This might have been the longest I’ve ever gone without offering something to this space. I kept thinking I would write when there was time. I would write something thorough and compelling, something that summed up this crazy time of transition: how joyful it has made me and how heartsick it has made me. Something that might be of service to me (in the writing) and you (in the reading). I feel like I have about a dozen posts to write and nothing to say at all. Full/empty. Elated/leveled.
I want to write about this of-the-body baby and what it is to love a child whose temperament is so different from mine: the mystery, the fear, the worry, the thrilling fascination. I want to document how he belly laughs when we read Red Hat, Green Hat, and how proud he is of himself when he signs “more please” and we understand him. How determined he is. How his determination alone could move great cities.
I want to write about Bram and his intense mind, how it works. How like me he is and how differently frightening that is.
To talk about both our boys’ easy affection and how grateful I am for that every day. “Kiss is this,” we say, like Dinah from Dinosaur Kisses.
About how I had childcare five days in a row last week (which will be rare), and though most days it was only for a few hours, it still felt seismic to be away so much. To know they were here – each with their current struggles and joys – with someone who isn’t me. How privileged and entitled I feel, and embarrassed for being hurt by this shift when I’ve had over three years of mostly.just.home. When even now I’m home way more than I’m not. When I’m one of the lucky ones, and I don’t ever forget it, or almost never. And yet.
And my job. How I love everything about it except that it takes me away. That I leave now. That I leave, and that even when I’m here my head is working sometimes, and I listen less closely, and time moves faster, and I’ve accidentally let in a new element of busy and I’m not sure how to get it back out again. And most of you know this with so much more depth than I do.
But oh, the work. The work itself. The architecture of the space is just pretty. And the people are honest and devout and free with grace in a way that I wouldn’t have even believed possible. And the work is challenging and soul-feeding and dynamic in ways that use most of me (head, heart, spirit, body, artist’s soul that I’m not sure I even knew I had). And I sit down sometimes, which – after three and a half years of all-the-time parenting – feels deeply indulgent. I can read an article. I can pee when I want. I can get another cup of coffee and set it anywhere because no one will spill it and hurt themselves. I can walk into the sanctuary any time. Be alone in that sacred space. I do sacred work, which is so like the sacred work I’ve been doing these years – it is, it seems, another form of motherhood – but which is also expansive, somehow wide, with space to breath. Because parenting when they’re little, when it’s all the time: there’s no space to breath. But breathing this way hurts after all this time. I want it; I don’t want it. I am equal parts grateful and grieving. It’s feels like a betrayal. Like a gift straight from God.
For everything I learn (and there’s so much to learn. And I love every bit of it.) I feel the weight of what I haven’t learned about Bram. About Lou. About being a mother. I know plenty of men do this too, I do, but often lately I am just in awe of women. Of women, who have long had servant’s hearts. Who have served, and mothered, and given. I cooked Indian food for seventy-five parishioners this week. I am entrusted with the responsibility of helping young children know God. Understand not what our culture thinks of Jesus, but what his deeply radical message really was. And how to pray. And how not to neglect their spiritual selves. How to revere and also just enjoy. How to give thanks.
I write curriculum. I read from the Revised Common Lectionary. I read from the Bible. I read complex theology, and biblical history, and children’s books on prayer. I read them alone in the only solo office I’ve ever had. In the prettiest office. I read them with Bram, whose spiritual and religious curiosity seems boundless. I teach children about liturgy. Teach them to say the words they hear again and again, and how to love the power of the ritual: of offering another human bread. The body of Christ; the bread of heaven. What it means to say amen. I work in a building with wall-sized stained glass. With old pews and old crosses where people have come for generations. People who know things I’m too young to understand. There is little noblesse oblige: that old idea of charity that I dislike so much. It’s not about charity, but there is so much service. No locked doors. No stipulations to the help we give. Few boundaries on what we can offer if we feel called to offer it. I was built for this work. But that fact is strange, and unsettling, and confusing to process. And Lou says “bye-bye” when I leave with the sweetest (almost southern, almost feminine) voice. And it feels like every day now Bram says something that levels me in its comprehension. In its kindness and its depth. In its just plain seeing of the world.
Oh, and we’re selling our little cottage. You know me: I’ll probably handle that transition pretty gracefully, right?
Hello, gentle readers. We’ve been away for a few weeks dealing with some major sick and some major changes. I feel like I’ve shirked writing about four disparate posts, which I will now (probably not that successfully), attempt to coalesce into one:
Oh, the sick. I’m feeling at about 75% today, which in sick speak means that the skies have opened up, birds are singing, and I’m kicking up my heels. We’ve had a real fight of it lately. Louis first came down with some sort of RSV/flu awfulness about three weeks ago, which wound us up in the ER with high fevers that weren’t responding to medication. Subsequent to that, he wound up on his first ever antibiotic for persistent ear infection. And just like his brother before him, he broke out in head to toe amoxicillin rash on day eight of his ten day course. Fun. This was to be followed by another 72 hours of high fevers, sweats, and weight loss. Yesterday’s sick baby visit revealed a severe throat infection, a sinus infection, and an upper chest infection. They put him on a baby azithromycin, which seems to be working well. He’s back among the land of the upright and fussy today! All the while this has been going on, R has had four different bugs (72-hour stomach flu, upper respiratory virus, and two secondary bacterial infections), which have spelled eight days of fever. This was further complicated by the changes I’ll tell you about next. I also had a nasty chest infection (thanks, Zpack!) and Bram fevered for a few days and was out of school this week. I detest being sick. Having sick babies makes me a kind of anxious parent that I am loathe to be. I will be so grateful to have us all back to total health very soon. And I am feeling so much love and compassion for the many parents in our lives whose health cannot be counted upon to rebound quickly (theirs or their children’s). We are a very lucky family (in so many ways).
The wife I should have been during the sick:
I’ll try to do better next go around, which, I pray, is a very long time from now.
So, to the changes underfoot. We have good news! R got a new job! I’m sure she’ll like to be the one to tell you all about it, but I’ll give a brief run-down. We’ve been attending a church that we simply adore for about six months now. This comes after many years of trying and failing to find the right long-term spiritual home for our family. Very recently, an opening came up for the job of Formation Minister at the church, and R’s hat was quickly thrown into the ring. At this point, it’s a thirty-hour/week one-year commitment. However, it has the potential to become a permanent position, which we should know more about over the coming year. The work is rewarding and will really tap into R’s amazing skills as a teacher, a scholar, and a community-builder. The hours are very flexible, so R will still be the boysies’ primary caregiver (with some additional in-home care). And the pay will make a massive impact on our family’s financial picture, which will give me the gift of discernment as to my next career move(s). It’s all come about very quickly, though, and in the midst of the aforementioned sick, so it’s been a deeply intense and exhausting couple of weeks. I am so very proud of my smarty-pants wife. I just know that she’s going to rock this opportunity and that the church is lucky to have someone so talented in this role!
In the midst of all of this, our beloved Bluebird turned one on March 23rd!!! He’s nearly twenty pounds of sweet, grinning, snuggly energy. I swear this child just hurls himself into every experience in life. Whether it’s almost taking an eye out going in for a hug, racing his brother up the stairs, playing “what happens if I poke the cat here?” or “how many nondescript items from the floor can I fit in my mouth at once?” (his personal favorite), he’s always living his life fully present and engaged. It’s been hard to see him who is ordinarily so rambunctious and opinionated be so muted by illness. I’m glad to see him feisting back up again! We kept his birthday low-key this year and enjoyed a series of fun family outings just the four of us (the museum, a special lunch, and frozen yogurt).
Happiest of birthday, our gorgeous Louis Nathaniel!
In the big brother Bram department, things are going quite well. He’s recently begun to spontaneously read and write. While we’ve certainly been working with him on the underlying skills (along with his preschool teachers), the actual execution of the process has been like the flipping of a switch for him. It’s an amazing thing to watch unfold. He’s also been singing with a small children’s choir at church, which he loves. And he’s is still nursing about once a day (sometimes twice, sometimes none). I could never have expected to still be nursing at three years old, but the farther along we’ve gone, the more I can see that, for us (everyone totally needs to decide what’s right for their family), this is a relationship that needs to end on mutually beneficial terms. I trust that he’ll know when it’s the right time. And if that’s too long for me, then there are ways to encourage closure for the both of us. Still, it is so cool to see how nursing has evolved to fit into his big-kid persona. I think nursing is a real touch point for him still, like an old friend. I am grateful and blessed to be able to still provide that comfort to him as he grows and changes on every level.
He loves “milky pads” (the washable nursing pads that I wear). They are like a nursing prize to him and he’ll carry them with him throughout the evening after he’s nursed. I caught this picture of him working in the yard last night with his “milky pad” in his back pocket.