Heart lifting

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Baby Abby and baby Guion, engaging in favorite activities. (Photo from a sweet baby shower.)

The joys of spring are so apparent that they’re almost not worth naming. I part the curtains with anticipation every morning, noting the growth of my long-nurtured perennials and the return of familiar weeds. We continue to walk every day, observing how quickly the trees shed their blossoms and mature, how insane the songbirds have become in courtship and competition. I walk slowly now, but I am still walking. This seems to be what counts.

I have always tended toward loving home and domesticity, but this instinct seems to have kicked into high gear, now that I’m nearly nine months pregnant. I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. My first instinct at any invitation is to say no, definitely not (much to my extroverted lover’s chagrin). I am staying put. I am waiting here, where I have been planted for the time being.

. . .

Perhaps one of the strangest sensations I’ve encountered, poised on the brink of motherhood, is the fact that even though I am reading copiously about babies and parenthood, I don’t know anything more than I did before. All of this knowledge hasn’t transformed into preparation or prediction. I still have no idea what it will be like. In almost every other realm, I can read dozens of books and walk away with at least some increased knowledge. This does not seem to be the case concerning child-rearing. It’s all still a grand mystery. Maybe it always will be.

These days, most people ask us, “Are you ready?” And I always say no, of course not. Who is ever really ready for this?

I skimmed an interview with a designer, a mother of two, who used this metaphor for the voyage from childlessness to parenthood: You lived on Earth, very happily, for many years. Then you’re packed onto a spaceship and sent to another planet. You can always see Earth from your new planet, and you know you can never return. Sometimes this stabs you in the heart. This other planet is very different and strange at first, but you come to love it. It has its own joys and pains and secrets and pleasures. You accept it as your new home, remembering Earth as a distant, fond memory.

. . .

To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It is to reduce the spread and simultaneity of everything to something linear, a path.

To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention.

When we make moral judgments, we are not just saying that this is better than that. Even more fundamentally, we are saying that this is more important than that. It is to order the overwhelming spread and simultaneity of everything, at the price of ignoring or turning our backs on most of what is happening in the world.

The nature of moral judgments depends on our capacity for paying attention — a capacity that, inevitably, has its limits but whose limits can be stretched.

But perhaps the beginning of wisdom, and humility, is to acknowledge, and bow one’s head, before the thought, the devastating thought, of the simultaneity of everything, and the incapacity of our moral understanding — which is also the understanding of the novelist — to take this in.

— Susan Sontag, lecturing on Nadine Gordimer, quoted in Brain Pickings

A woman’s ability to lead a full life

“For those who are troubled by America’s high abortion rate, the good news is that we already know what will lower it: more feminism. More justice. More equality. More freedom. More respect. Women should have what they need both to avoid unwanted pregnancy and childbirth to have wanted children. For motherhood to truly be part of human flourishing, it has to be voluntary, and raising children—by both parents—has to be supported by society as necessary human work. Motherhood should add to a woman’s ability to lead a full life, not leave her on the sidelines, wondering how she got there.”

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Katha Pollitt

Why I’m looking forward to being 50

Woman Seated in a Garden, by Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec

As I have grown, I have become very interested in the renaissance of life that occurs for women when they hit 50.

I see it often happening in this way. A mother spends the bulk of her young life caring for her children. Even if she has a job, for the most part, she is more intimately concerned with raising children because of the joint demands of biology and cultural tradition. This is not true in all cases, but the majority of women have to make life sacrifices in parenthood that men are never asked to make. Although I have seen exceptions to this, it seems to me that men may keep their hobbies and be fathers; mothers are not so lucky. A mother’s entire life is wrapped up in her children and she does not have any time to think of herself.

This was certainly true for my mother. I realized she didn’t have any time for herself when I was about 9. That year I was charged with writing the family Christmas letter. I went around the house and polled everyone on their favorite hobbies so I could write about what they did for fun. Kelsey told me about gymnastics; Grace told me about fashion and painting; Sam babbled about basketball, football, soccer; Dad played tennis.

I asked Mom what her hobbies were. “Umm… well,” she said, thinking. “Raising you kids?” I frowned. “That’s not a hobby, Mommy.” She smiled. “Well, I don’t really have time for hobbies.” And she didn’t. She didn’t do anything that wasn’t directly related to raising us, homeschooling us, and running her retail business. I think I finally made something up and wrote in the letter that Mom’s hobby was making scrapbooks. I was sad about this, even at the age of 9.

Mom, age 52. Source: Grace Farson photography

This why I find so much joy in seeing women become empty nesters. After 20 to 30 years of child rearing, these women finally have some time to themselves. If anyone deserves a peaceful retirement, it’s mothers. I imagine that it could often be a frightening stage of life, though–to have poured your whole self into parenting and then, suddenly, you are left home alone and wondering what your life calling is now.

My mom still has Sam at home, but he’s the strong, silent boy, and so she’s eased herself into early mothering retirement. Today, she has a plethora of life-giving hobbies. She is a prodigious gardener and her plots are the envy of the neighborhood. She took a beekeeping class and is planning on acquiring her first hive soon. She is becoming an amateur birdwatcher. She goes to daily yoga classes with her new set of friends, a group of similarly emancipated mothers. And it makes me extremely happy to see her doing all of these things; no one deserves time to themselves as much as my mother does.

I also think of my friend Catherine’s mother, Janet. Janet is a wonderful example of this life-after-50 renaissance. Janet went to law school after all of her kids had left home. She wrote a book about the dire need for conservation of Falls Lake. She turned Catherine’s old bedroom into a Room of Her Own and put a sign on the door that reads, “The Falls Lake Center for Social Justice.” She is fun, sassy, beautiful, and opinionated — and it is delightful to see her enter into this new stage of living.

All of this to say, I am looking forward to being 50. Not that I want to skip over the whole process of being young and raising kids, but I am excited about the freedom that American women are allowed to experience once they are middle-aged. One day, it will be good to be old, to acknowledge that my life is half over and not to balk at it, but to be gracious, to take heart in it.

Monday Snax

That is one fresh baby.
Welcome to the world, Leah Catherine! Dear friends Tara and Andrew welcomed this sweet baby on Saturday morning, just in time for Tara's first Mother's Day!

We had a full, busy, and sunny weekend and it was just perfect. I spent most of my weekend around dogs, which naturally made it a wonderful one; I had my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which I loved. I can’t wait to go back there and walk some more attention-hungry puppies! After getting home, I took a two-hour walk with my beloved Bo. The next morning, I walked our rector’s dogs with Mary-Boyce and then we all went to go see the newest addition to our community, Leah Catherine! Such a sweet baby and SO much hair! Tara looked amazing and we are just so excited to get to hang out with her and watch her grow up.

Snax with a bowl of perfect strawberries:

The Princess Party. This is about a week late now, but I just wanted you to appreciate all of the gorgeous details from Cate’s royal wedding-watching party. Didn’t it look amazing? I feel very privileged to have received an invitation. We had such a good, thoroughly girly time! (The Charlotte)

Rainbow Gatherings. I have an abiding fascination with off-the-grid living communities and I love photo series of these groups of people. Photographer Benoit Paillé spent a series of years with people from the Rainbow Gatherings, which happen all around the world. The people are so haunting and unusual; so many of them look like they might have lived a thousand years ago. (Behance)

Super-Secret War Dogs Are Basically Bionic. This is crazy. Titanium teeth!? Headpieces with microphones so they can hear and respond to handlers’ remote commands?! (Daily Intel)

A Mother’s Day Report Card. A day late, but this is still hilarious. “Helping me with math homework: Average.” (Passive Aggressive Notes)

A Mother’s Prayer, by Tina Fey. A hilarious but heartfelt prayer from the funniest woman alive.  “When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember her parents who cut her grapes in half and stick with beer.” (Peonies and Polaroids)

Best Countries to Be a Mom. Is anyone surprised that Scandinavia rocks this list, too? #1, Norway. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are also in the top 10. The United States is not. (The Hairpin)

Around the Farm. I’m not going to lie: This is kind of our ideal life. Fairytale, dreadlocked children in a tractor? Homemade biscuits? Chicks in a bin? Bring it on. (Farmama)

House G. A sweet house in the Netherlands that was once an old barn. I’ll take it! (Wolf Eyebrows)

The Art of Disney Animation. A collection of sketches and proofs from old Disney films; makes you appreciate the artistry behind those chirpy little films you watched as a child. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

The Man Repeller on Makeup. Ever since Catherine told me about The Man Repeller, I’ve been hooked. Here the main Repeller herself shares her favorite makeup products. I love her. (Into the Gloss)

Gypsy Queen Marina. The strong brow and the devil-may-care attitude! I feel like she wears whatever the heck she wants and manages to look fabulous all day long. (Tales of Endearment)

This Is How We Do It. All I want is to be invited to one of Brian Ferry’s dinner parties. How magical. You can almost hear the sparkle of conversation in his photographs. (Brian Ferry)

A Beautiful Hair Story. A photographer documents the daily regrowth of her hair after cancer treatments. (Design for Mankind)

Meet Riggins. My friend Megan just got a tiny kitten and named it Tim Riggins, after the Friday Night Lights rebel heart-throb. Well done. (Thoughts from a Nest)

Moms are the best

165/365
Trying on dresses for my wedding. Grace has a sad face because Mom looks hotter than she does.
Family visit
Hanging out with Windy at our place.

This Mother’s Day, I’m very, very thankful that Guion and I were blessed to have such tremendous mothers. Moms have the hardest job in the world and they don’t get thanked nearly enough for all that they do. When I reflect on all of the sacrifices they made for us, I am simultaneously in awe and paralyzed with fear. How is it possible that, one day, I could EVER live up to this example set for me? Moms, you’re unparalleled. My strong mixture of admiration and fear toward mothers drove me to my undergraduate thesis, which was on the role of mothers as artists in Virginia Woolf’s novels. I think about moms a lot. Even though I feel light years away from motherhood myself, I think about my mom and Guion’s mom and the young moms I am surrounded with here in Charlottesville all the time. Their day in, day out displays of surrender, grace, and mercy are astounding to me.

I think it’s also worth recognizing all of the single moms who might not hear a “thank you” today. Your job is twice as hard. Thanks for doing what most of us could not. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Mom, you know I don’t have enough words to express all that you mean to me. Most days, when I reflect on our childhood, I don’t know how you did it. You were a teacher, successful business owner, chef, chauffeur, and mom to four children–at one point, four children under the age of seven. That’s CRAZY. I love you and I’m so thankful for all that you did to train us up in the way we should go.

Windy, girls just don’t get this lucky with mothers-in-laws. Since I first met you, you’ve been so welcoming, gracious, and encouraging. I’ll admit, I was nervous; giving your firstborn son away in marriage is no easy matter, I am sure. But you’ve always made me feel like a genuine and cherished part of your family. Without your encouragement, I don’t think I would have pursued calligraphy to the extent that I have. I love our talking about our shared interests, whether it be calligraphy, reading, or merely swapping stories of colorful relatives. Thanks for your role in Guion’s life and mine. I love you!

Huzzah for moms. Can’t get enough of them.