Time to fly

Last Wednesday, I bid farewell to a job I loved. It was my dream job, the job that combined my passion for words with my deepest held beliefs, a job that rattled and refined that faith, a job where I encountered the Divine in the voices of others. It was more than a job, it was a call.

This call sent me to Budapest, Boston, Johannesburg, Houston. I met Lutheran parishioners, pastors and neighbors on the margins — some who fled their homes to find haven in the U.S., some still searching for a home in this country. I heard hymns of praise and songs of lament. I witnessed ministries that fed bellies and souls. With my trusty laptop and reporter’s notebook, I captured it all, being careful to record the truth, no matter how inconvenient. When I sat down to craft a story, each line felt like a prayer. The work tethered me to hope.

Most days, I worked from the office. Pre-pandemic, I had a cube with a view of the courtyard, my space nestled next to five of my favorite coworkers. I met dear friends here — kind, talented people who laughed and cried and did excellent work alongside me.

This is also the place I worked when I became a mother.

All in all, I spent nine years stewarding sacred stories for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — years of listening and telling, growing and becoming.

There are occasions in life when you look around and realize that the tidy nest you built no longer fits, and you’ll need to leave in order to fly. After much prayer and discernment, I resigned to pursue my vocations as a mother and a writer.

There will be time to reflect more, to announce what’s coming next.

For now, I’ll close with this: It was an honor and a privilege to play a role in making known the immeasurable love of God.

Saving daylight — with him

Sunset photo by Hoang Loc
Photo by Hoang Loc

Whenever I replay it in my mind, the scene starts here: Me at the rear car door, hovering. Him with his head craned back, stalling.

“Mommy,” he starts.

“What Jack?” My words are staccato. My toes aren’t tapping, but they might as well be. I’m sandwiched between my three-year-old and the daycare parking lot, the end of one workday and the start of another (Evening Mommy). What I want from him is complete compliance. What he wants, I think, is the same thing he’s wanted since day one of daycare when he rejected all of his bottles — to act in complete defiance.

“I see the moooon!” 

“Where, honey?” my voice softens. 

His pointer finger shoots up, his voice rises, “There! There!” and I follow his gaze to the crescent moon, barely a fingernail clipping, hanging low in the cerulean sky.

“It’s so shiny,” he remarks. And he’s right — it is. We linger, eyes up, heads tipped back, suspended in time. When I finally buckle Jack into his carseat, I thank him for making me notice the beautiful moon. He beams proudly. 

Now in the driver’s seat, I press the ignition button and notice the dashboard clock reads 5:55 p.m. Classical music floods the speakers. I punch the radio off. I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing this wrong — motherhood. That I’m missing out on most of it, the wonder and joy of my son being three, because I work. This hunger for what I can’t have — a different life — wakes with a grumble.

What if all I’m getting is just a measly sliver of the moon? What if all I’m giving is waning light?

“Mah-AhhM! Why are you not moving?”

“Sorry honey,” I say, my voice faltering. I don’t turn around to face him. Careful as ever I check the backup cam, reverse, signal and merge onto Pulaski. Pulaski divides a crowded, crumbling cemetery; tonight the western sky above the gravestones blazes with magenta and persimmon fading into blue. I want to slow the car to a crawl and gape, maybe turn into the cemetery lot to take in the horizon.

Eyes back on the road, I exclaim, “Look honey! Look to your right!”

“What, Mommy?” 

“Honey, there’s a sunset,” I say, motioning toward his window.

“It’s a rainbow!” Jack shouts with glee. Jack loves rainbows, and I hold this fact tenderly, knowing there may come a day when someone tells him it’s not acceptable for a boy to love rainbows. I hope he keeps loving them all the same.  

“Sort of,” I chuckle. “The sky lights up with all kinds of colors when the sun goes down. What colors do you see?”

“I see orange … and pink… and blue…” he trails off.

I glance back at Jack, eyes wide and smiling. I will tell him this, I resolve, that boys shouldn’t be ashamed to love this beautiful world with an open heart.

At Foster, I turn right and drive straight toward the sunset. The skyscape shifts to peach and lavender; the fading light silhouettes a crop of trees in shade. I recall a stanza from John Mayer’s song, “3×5”:

Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when
I’m in the mood to lose my way
But let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
It brought me back to life

“What do you see, Mommy?” Jack’s view is a bit obscured now, and I have the better vantage of the sunset. 

“Hmmm… I see new colors — peach and lavender and blue darkening above us.”

I hear him sigh and add, “Almost home, buddy.”

Pulling onto our street I realize Jack and I only have a few more sunsets to watch on our commute home before the light patterns shift. Daylight Saving Time is coming.

For the next three days, Jack will ask me about the sunset. Together, we’ll delight in bright hues painted across each evening sky.

A week after Daylight Saving Time, everything will be different. Daycare will be closed. I’ll receive a mandate to work remote — effective immediately. The social distancing and lockdowns will begin. The grocery store shelves will be picked over. I’ll call my elderly neighbor, my grandmothers and my parents, ending each conversation close to tears. I’ll cling to my husband’s frame in bed, mind churning over the COVID-19 pandemic, body starved for sleep. I’ll hold my head in my hands, stomach knotted with worry, and pray. My son will watch and mimic my motions.

I’ve read that three is when memory begins to form in children. Later, I’ll wonder if Jack will remember any of this — the food rationing, the “staycation with Mommy and Daddy,” the world as we used to know it turning. I hope he’ll remember learning to play Go Fish on the living room carpet, games of tag in the backyard, homemade bread, long baths and daily FaceTime with his grandparents. I hope he’ll remember relishing those sunsets from the car, a fleeting ritual, but one that brought us so much joy.

Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words

For the time being, I park the car in our garage, blissfully unaware of the changes to come. Hands busy fixing supper, I wonder:

Am I missing out on moments with Jack because I work too much?

Yes.

Can I still teach him how to savor the light?

Also yes.

Much later, when the pain overwhelms, I’ll return to that night and embrace its delicious normalcy. Old, insignificant worries. A new resolve. My son forever pointing me to beauty — light.

And here, maybe I can save this sunset for us, and maybe my son will read about it someday, when he’s in the mood to find himself in words.

Image by Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy

I wrote this part as part of a blog hop with Exhale, an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. To read the next post in this series, click here.

Contagion

Your hands are raw from multiple washings. 

In the span of three days, your inbox was flooded with warnings: “School Health Update”; “Office Closure”; “Parenting in the time of Coronavirus”; “Coronavirus in preschoolers: Symptoms and what you need to know.”

This is the one that scared you: “Coronavirus updates: More lockdowns are starting.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade, March Madness, Church last Sunday — canceled. Daycare is closed. Work is remote until the month’s end. You suspect this will last longer.

You watched the virus numbers climb all weekend. The tone of the news, containment measures grows more urgent. Your stomach churns. You call your elderly neighbor and remind her you are here to help. You call your mom, desperate for the sound of her voice.

At 6 a.m. on Monday, you went to the grocery store wearing plastic gloves. With shaking hands you filled your cart to the brim with dry and frozen goods. There was no toilet paper or bleach to be found. You threw out your gloves afterwards, wiped down your car, washed your hands with scalding water. In the kitchen, unloading groceries, you break down. 

You think of your Dad, a grocery store manager, and all the other grocery store workers. The doctors, nurses, government workers, police officers. The homeless population here, and elsewhere. The vulnerable elderly — your grandmothers, both in their eighties. You bow your head and pray.

Your book club just read Emily St. Mandel’s, Station 11. In it, a virus much worse than this one wipes out the majority of the world’s population, effectively breaking down society. You believe that won’t happen, not with this virus, but the similarities are eerie. And yet Station 11 is a hopeful book, featuring a vagabond band of actors and musicians who travel from town to town spreading cheer. The troupe’s motto: Survival is insufficient.

Your thoughts keep circling back to it.

You know what we’ve forgotten: we rely on each other. 

You do your part to stop the spread, but keep your humanity. You stay home, disinfect surfaces, donate to others, contact your loved ones. You wash your hands again and again and your preschooler’s hands, too. 

You know that so much of this is out of your control. That you are dust. To dust you shall return.

You control what you can. Your fingers tap tap tap, heat up the keyboard, tell a story that’s still unfolding. You hope putting your fears down will make you less scared. You come home.

You look out at the empty streets, witness the neighborly care that’s unfolding. You are not alone.

Jesus Christ, Advent and the grace of Christmas radio

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The digital clock on my dresser flashes 7:55. Late, we are going to be late. I sprint across the hallway, snatch socks and deposit them at my son’s feet. “I need you to put these on now.” “Nooo! I don’t wanna,” he screeches, folding his arms. The last thing we have time for is a standoff before school. I crouch to his level and grit my teeth. “You need to try because you are a big boy now and I cannot do everything for you and we are running late.” I say this in my mom-means-business-voice.

He puffs his lip out. “Mommy, you do it!” To which I cry out, “Jesus Christ!” Not my finest parenting moment.

Then: a whirlwind of tears and apologies, a quick sock tutorial, shoes, hats, coats. My heavy sigh as I lock the door. The dashboard clock reads 8:10. Late.

It’s December, a time when moms are supposed to be merrily gift shopping, addressing holiday cards and executing traditions. Our tree’s lit and we even baked Christmas cookies, yet I can’t shake the feeling that I’m running behind. That I don’t measure up to the other moms. I don’t have enough cheer to give my kid. (He’s never met Santa; our holiday budget’s tight.) Christmastime, it’s magical and a rush. I hate rushing.

My son does too.

I turn on Christmas radio as I back out of the garage, but I’m not really listening, too busy mind mapping all the mistakes I made that morning, ways I could have been more prepared.

While the masses deck the halls and check their lists, the church observes Advent, during which we assume the posture of expectation. Advent, with its moodiness and calls for repentance, is incongruous with the holiday hustle. I like this about Advent.

At the stop sign, my son shouts, “Mommy! Mommy!” “What honey?” I answer. Light snow falls, lining the trees and streets. I hope it sticks. “It’s a Christmas song,” he says, bobbing his head.

My ears register “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” “Oh!” I say, stunned by his sudden cheer, the mercy of fresh snow and forgiveness. “Fa-la-la,” he adds, beaming. This does not even go with the song.

Jesus Christ, I think to myself, smiling. That’s who Christmas is all about — the gift of a child, born to save us from ourselves.

Banana bread, gun violence and facing the daylight

He just wanted banana bread. Eager to please and to get us out of the house, I obliged. 

We sat side by side in a bustling Starbucks, stealing a moment together before work and school. My son slurped apple juice and nibbled at his bread. I sipped my coffee, barely tasting it. Eyes glued to my phone, I scrolled and scrolled for answers I knew I wouldn’t find. 

Irritated, I looked up. That’s when I noticed my son staring down every visitor walking in the door. Morning sunlight framed his sweet face and curious blue-green eyes.

Before I could smile, the door swung closed and I took a breath. What was I thinking bringing him here? It’s not safe here. It’s not safe anywhere anymore. 

Last Saturday somebody strode through the doors of a Walmart, gun loaded with hate. A Mommy and Daddy died shielding their baby from his bullets. 

A day later, news broke of a second shooting closer to home, then word of more violence in our city. Blood-soaked, lifeless bodies on linoleum tiles and hot pavement. Lives cut short. Hundreds of families shattered forever. With trembling hands, I balled up our trash and swiftly rose.

“Jack, we’re leaving now,” I announced.

“Uppy, uppy!” he pleaded. And even though he’s perfectly old enough to walk himself to the car, I didn’t hesitate. I hoisted him in my arms, busting outside.

I punched the start button on the car. Elmo’s upbeat alphabet rap blared through the car stereo, but I couldn’t stop thinking of Brian Bilston’s poem “America is a Gun”:

England is a cup of tea. 

France, a wheel of ripened brie.

Greece, a short, squat olive tree.

America is a gun.

I gripped the wheel hard. I don’t know how to tell him why we rushed out or why, a week later I won’t bat an eyelash when I bring him with me to get groceries. 

America is a gun. The sentence tumbled around my head as I turned into the Montessori parking lot. The need to offer my son an explanation pressed on me and I took my time unloading him from the car.

More than anything, I want us to live in a place that reflects the values he’s learning in school and at home: That there is more than enough for us all, if we share. That everyone deserves to be treated with love and kindness. That we all have a right to live — without fear. How can I tell my son those ideals have been compromised by our nation’s leaders? And fellow citizens? 

I don’t want to shield him from the violence of the world, but the need to shield him from crippling worry feels more right. 

After lacing up his shoes, this is what I did: I bent over and kissed my son’s cheek, twice. Then I repeated our weekday morning benediction, “I love you buddy! Have a good day!” before he entered his classroom. And, with a prayer for peace pounding in my tender heart, I opened the door and stepped out into the daylight.

Adventures in toddlerhood

DSC_5408-2Hilarious. Frustrating. Joyous. Alarming. Welcome to our adventures in toddlerhood.

Ever since our son Jack turned one it seems time–and Jack himself–is in overdrive, slowing only for the occasional skinned knees, tantrums and snuggle sessions with mama or daddy. At 17 months, Jack’s scaling furniture, testing boundaries, chasing the dog and uttering words (“No!” and “Daddy” are current favorites).

Each day he’s becoming more independent and fleet-footed. Although I can’t really call myself a new mama, I continue to be newly amazed by all the changes Jack’s experiencing on a weekly and even daily basis. After returning from a recent five-day work trip, I couldn’t believe how tall our son looked. (Did he grow an inch while I was away?!)

More and more I’m realizing that if I don’t stop to capture these moments here, I might not remember them as well. So I’m writing a snapshot of this moment in time for our family, and also for everyone interested in what’s new in our world. Some observations…

Jack’s motor development has grown leaps and bounds.

Whenever we’re at home, he’s constantly trotting back and forth from the dining room to the living room to the playroom and back. He’s so fast, if we’re not careful, we can lose track of him in our house and once discovered him standing on the couch, which was funny/frightening.

The playground near our home is one of Jack’s favorite spots. Running to and from various platforms, sliding, playing in the nearby dirt and grass, and sitting on the firetruck are his go-to activities. He also enjoys interacting with neighborhood children who play there. Seeing him smile at and play with others melts my heart and makes me glad Jack’s building valuable socialization skills at daycare.

We had one injury scare–Jack konked his head on the sidewalk a month ago (we iced it; he was fine)–but I know given his age we’ll likely see more. I dread this, but I’m trying to accept this is just a part of parenthood that makes me very uncomfortable. The lack of control, the knowledge I can’t protect Jack from everything, it’s … terrifying.

Toddler communication is fun! (And it can also drive me crazy.)

Though our precocious, willful toddler quickly mastered and loves the word “No,” one day after daycare we discovered Jack can shake his head “Yes!” Awesome! The occasional affirmative head nod from him is a fun treat and balances out his endless (frustrating) refrain of “No.” More and more it seems like we’re understanding each other better and I just love that.

Other words and phrases we hear on a regular basis: “Bubbles!,” “Shoe,” “Mama!/Mommy!,” “More?,” “Woof-Woof,” “Where’d you go?” or just “Go?” He recently learned our dog’s name, “Gus,” though his pronunciation sounds a little more like “Gu-uh.” I’m looking forward to later this summer, when Jack turns 18 months, as our pediatrician said we could look forward to a “language explosion” at this age.

Also on the communication front, I was fascinated to discover Memorial Day weekend that Jack will respond to requests from his dear great-grandma. At her house, she’d suggest Jack pick up a toy and bring it to her or to me. Most of the time, he actually listened to her and followed directions! I was beside myself in surprise and delight.

Sleeping through the night and other pipe dreams.

I covet the day our son finally naps and sleeps consistently. Parents of older kids, is this dream unrealistic? Jack was sleeping through the night around 11 months but because he’s been so sickly we’ve struggled with consistency for the past half year, having relapses in sleep health whenever his poor little body was unhealthy. Sickness would come, we would adjust our nighttime response and routines to care for Jack as best as we knew how, then he would get better. In that time night-waking would become the new normal and getting back to our old normal was always a struggle.

I never know what to write about handling sleep because I feel very conflicted about it. We’ve tried a variety of techniques–cry it out, rock it out, “no cry” sleep solution, etc. and to be honest, I’m not convinced there is one “sleep solution” even though books and expensive sleep coaches say otherwise.

Ever since Jack came down with the dreaded hand-foot-and-mouth virus, which took a toll on his little body, his sleep regressed. That was over two weeks ago and although Jack is healthy again, his sleep continues to be inconsistent. We continue to deal with this in the most gentle way we can manage. Poor buddy (and poor us!). We will get there… until the next sickness strikes. In the meantime, prayers appreciated.

Behavior highs and lows.

High – I love how complex Jack’s play and make-believe is becoming! He’ll sit by himself and play with his pretend kitchen, stirring toy car “soup” and popping fabric vegetables and blocks in the oven. He also loves rearranging his toy furniture across the house. Yesterday I found his “Jack” arm chair from Pottery Barn propped up against our master bed and paused. I wonder what’s going on our little interior designer’s head!

Low – One of the big things I’m dealing with right now is Jack testing his boundaries. He is sweet as sugar one moment, then angry the next when he doesn’t get his way. Jay and I sometimes joke that our willful little boy is a little tyrant prince. Just today we were clearing dishes after dinner and I grabbed Jack’s milk cup from his high chair. Instantly he became furious we took it away (mind you, it was empty). Cue: Screaming, laying on the floor, and shouting “Noooo! Mine!”

Friends, is this normal? The twos are supposed to be terrible and three-nagers are a thing, but I thought we had some time before things got this hairy. Or perhaps you’ll say that’s tame compared to what’s next…

High – Jack is finally showing more of an interest in reading! Praise be! He will actually fit into this family of bookworms… 😉 Current favorites are Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and Little Blue Truck. There’s always so much joy and laughter during story time. I can’t wait to continue to share the fun of storytime with him and he grows older and understands more.

Low – Sometimes when we’re walking Jack doesn’t want to hold my hand anymore. I guess this is a good thing because it’s a sign he’s developing independence, but it makes my heart hurt. Watching him grow up is bittersweet.

My no. 1 lesson

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed being a toddler mama, and I’m so grateful to have Jack in my life. Working motherhood is tough, but it makes the moments I have together with my family all the more sweeter. I want to savor every part of motherhood–laughter, tears, hugs and kisses–this is what it feels like to be fully present in this life.

I’ve noticed past six months have been so different from the first six months of Jack’s life. Last year, before and after he was first born I read parenting books and called on friends and family for parenting advice. Of course I called the pediatrician a lot too. This year, I’m doing less asking and more trusting my gut instincts related to parenting. I may be calling the pediatrician just as often but I’m definitely calling on myself more to make tough decisions based on information available and importantly, what is congruent with our family values.

The more I lean into love, grace and kindness as a parent, the more I see it reflected in the little person I’m helping raise. The no.1 lesson I’ve learned parenting a toddler is to be present and to trust myself.

Snuggles, spit ups and what’s surprised me most about motherhood

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. This probably sums up parenthood or at least life with a newborn pretty accurately. You have good intentions: you make plans, get excited about said plans, and then? Baby has other plans. Your plans go out the window.

Fixin’ to eat dinner at 6? Think again. Dinner’s at 9 and it’s cold stir-fry eaten standing up in the kitchen, staring off into space with a side of cheez-its because you forgot to eat lunch today (again) and you’re still hungry.

Want to go for a family walk with your dog and try out your new stroller? Once you’ve set everyone and everything up, baby will have an epic spit up and you’ll be back in house cleaning baby and the stroller and before you know it, it’s dark out and the opportunity to walk has passed.

Other parents I knew warned me through sly smiles that I, the perpetual planner, was about to get a reality check once baby showed up. In fact, I’m about to get interrupted by my crying little buddy so hold that thought.

::: Feeds, changes and snuggles baby :::

OK, I’m back.

Life lately is a pattern of feed, change, play and snuggle baby to sleep on repeat, then squeezing in chores and emails and texts and showers and eating (and mindlessly checking Instagram—note to self: cut back on that) while Jack naps, which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours long. All the while, time passes. Hours melt into days and days into weeks and suddenly it’s been a month and my baby boy has grown and changed before my eyes.

Tiny Jack who used to fit into newborn onesies and sleep all.the.time is now wearing three month onesies (at one month old?!) and is awake and lucid for much longer stretches. I can’t wait until he gives us his first social smile, until he crawls for the first time, until says his first words and yet I want time to sloooow down because sooner or later I’ll have to go back to work. Honestly, I’m dreading it.

Maternity leave has been such a gift, and I’m savoring every moment I can, grateful to bond with my son mornings and afternoons when I’d typically be at the office. There is nothing quite like holding Jack tight and breathing in his baby smell while rocking him to sleep in his room. It feels like a tiny bit of heaven on earth.

To my parent friends: You were right, of course. My best laid plans are often undone by my son’s “plans.” I did get my reality check but I’m surprisingly OK with it. Motherhood has helped soften my rigid desire for order and allowed me to embrace chaos. The chaos didn’t surprise me—because you warned me about it—but there were plenty of other things that did surprise me about parenting a newborn, perhaps the biggest being the incredible range of emotions I’ve felt since giving birth to Jack.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that once you have children all your highs are higher and your lows are lower. Hey Pastor Hardy—you were right. I get it now. Not only am I more emotional due to hormones, but the fierce, mama bear love I have for my son is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Also I get frustrated a lot more than I once did, sometimes for no particular reason, just EVERYTHING because being a parent is so damn hard.

I get sad too, really sad. Sometimes I cry for no particular reason, or when I remember Jack’s birthday, which was terrifying and traumatic and nothing short of an act of God.

The first night Jack slept at home, actually the first few nights, I “slept” next to his crib, on the floor, waking up every few minutes to check if he was still breathing. I think I finally wore myself out enough to fall asleep only to be woken up by his hunger cries. I was so exhausted but so relieved he was alive I ran on adrenaline those first few days. My heart was so full of gratitude that my baby boy was safe at home with us.

Jen Hatmaker has a lovely blog about parenting, “I wish someone would have warned me about these BIG FEELINGS,” that I read hungrily and eagerly at the start of motherhood journey thanks to a tip from a fellow mama.

In it Jen writes, “I wish I would have known how new babies make all feelings MORE (and this from a girl who was already fairly high on melodrama): more thrill, more love, more anguish, more adoration, more fear, more gratitude, more doubt, more crazy. … A newborn takes your heart and mind, squishes them into pulp in her fat little baby hands, and turns you into a woman face down in despair over a Subaru commercial.”

Me too, sister. Me too. Those BIG FEELINGS? Yes, that’s exactly what surprised me the most about becoming a mother.

There have been, of course, other parenting surprises, both delightful and distressing, along the way.

Distressing:

  • Baby cues are super hard to read, it turns out
  • Learning to breastfeed correctly nearly drove me insane
  • Trying to get anything done—laundry, eating food, showering—is near impossible with a newborn, and even when you get said task done you’re too exhausted to really appreciate it
  • I often wonder how anyone even takes care of a baby and works at the same time and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if I’ll ever lose the baby weight and this new little pooch around my waist and if I’ll ever be able to do crow pose or attempt a handstand again and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if my child will grow up safely and think of all the possible ways he could die and desperately wish I could stop worrying because that’s what my mom used to do (Mom, I get it now!) and that also gives me major anxiety.

Delightful:

  • Parenting baby is fun! I GET to sing and read books every day (two of my favorite hobbies)
  • Baby coos, baby expressions, baby snuggles = the best
  • Baby is the most adorable creature in the world and I could look at him all day
  • Also, other people(!) want(!) to visit baby and see pictures of baby on the Internet
  • My adorable dog gets along with my adorable baby, thank God
  • My son is a good sleeper… for now
  • I’m falling in love with my husband over and over again as I watch him parent our son.

But *the most* delightful surprise about motherhood, for sure, is how much love is in my heart, in my home, right now. Being a mother is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for the privilege.

Fellow parents/caretakers out there: What surprised you most about parenthood when you first brought baby home? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

What I hope to teach my son

In my third trimester of pregnancy, I’ve struggled to sleep through the night. I know this is par for the course, but the experience has been absolutely maddening and exhausting. The silver lining in all of this? 3 a.m. is a really great time to write and tackle random projects and catch up on reading. Still, third trimester insomnia is just the WORST. Interestingly enough, this past Tuesday night was the deepest I’d slept since the night of Nov. 8, when the results of the presidential election became clear. And ever since Nov. 8, I’ve been feeling a deep, gut-wrenching sense of despair about our country’s future, especially as an expectant parent.

100816_ejbaby_207
credit: Will Nunnally

Maybe you’ve felt it too, or maybe you reacted in the opposite way. Maybe for the first time in a long time, you finally felt hopeful for the U.S. You are ready to chart a new course with a new president at the helm. Regardless of where we all fall on the political spectrum I’d like to think that what unites us, as our outgoing president put it, is our shared sense of decency.

I’d forgotten about this, too distracted by sharp political divides, distrust of the media and bizarre tweets from the president-elect (can we all agree that this is not good?). I’d lost sight of the audacious idea that makes our democracy work: that “for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.” We may not agree on policy or process, but perhaps we can agree on shared values, like education, healthcare, family and work? My heart longs for this to be true.

Tuesday night came and President Barack Obama’s remarks inspired me and restored my belief that ordinary U.S. citizens like you and me can be a force for good in this country, in this world, after weeks of feeling otherwise. He convinced me of that, and for the first time in a long time, my anxious, pregnant mind–and body–felt release. So I slept.

For a while I’ve been asking myself: How can I be a force for good, when on the precipice of this new, all-consuming stage of life?

Then the (obvious?) answer then came to me. I can be a parent. Parenting is a political act. What my husband and I teach our son will matter.

We’d discussed this over Thai food last weekend, compiling a list of values we hoped we’d teach him. As the conversation progressed, our list grew to a size that was daunting, much like the responsibility of raising a child.

“Had we forgotten anything? Were we up to the challenge? Would these ideas even stick?” I worried. Surely there would always be something more to add or amend, but this conversation was a good starting point for us. What follows are a couple highlights from our talk.

When I think about the future, what I hope to teach my son is this: that now, more than ever, truth-telling matters. Honesty is the first value my husband mentioned during our dinnertime discussion, and it’s an important one to focus on as we navigate an era when the truth seems illusive, reason and science are questioned and politicians deny the unflattering things we’ve seen them say and do in order to save face.

Telling the truth isn’t always easy; often it requires great courage. But lying doesn’t just wrong others, it also eats away at our souls. Embracing honesty sets us free from the invisible walls we build up around ourselves and allows us to authentically connect with others. 

Another value we spoke about was equality. It’s a value outlined in the constitution and the creation story, something that seems so simple in theory yet in practice is radical and countercultural. It is the thrust behind feminism, #blacklivesmatter, LGBTQ rights–human rights–and so on.

I hope to teach my son that every person deserves to be treated equally and with dignity, no matter her/his skin color, religion, gender, class, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation or any other category s/he might fall into. 

In his farewell speech, Obama spoke pointedly and poignantly about race, and all the other differences that divide us. He quoted Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I know my son will be born with certain privileges, and I will work fiercely to teach him to empathize with others different than he and to be concerned with human rights.

There’s so much more I want to teach my son. I hope to teach him the value of listening, sharing, hard work and play.

I’ll teach him that this world is full of wonder, beauty, hope and joy–also sadness, ugliness, corruption and hate.

I hope to instill in my son a zest for curiosity and creativity and movement and stillness.

I hope to teach him the importance of relationships and friendships and family and community. 

I hope to teach him how to identify his emotions–happiness, sadness, envy, anger–and feel them without judgment.

I hope to teach him about kindness and selflessness and unconditional love, the breathtaking, powerful kind of love we don’t earn or deserve, we just receive.

I hope to teach him about my deep faith, the cornerstone of my values. 

And more.

When I started writing this post, I was feeling hopeful. And as the week progressed, I felt sad again, and then all the emotions: afraid/nervous/excited/unhinged. I am, once again, restless with anticipation for the birth of my son.

I’m currently praying hard to tap back into that hope I felt Tuesday night. If I can teach my future son a fraction of all I desire to share with him, perhaps I–he–we can be a force for good in this world.