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Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Feel Pretty: Family Origins

My mom had a very short window to pick outfits for me. As soon as I was cognitively possible of having an opinion, I had one about what I wanted to wear. And it was never the cute thing that matched. Never. So my mother, full of wisdom, filed this under Battles Not To Fight. And I'm glad she did because I think that decision probably encouraged my artistic nature even more than the dozens of formal art classes I took growing up. Unfortunately, another battle she chose not to fight that I wished she had was making me brush my hair. Kindergarden through, oh...8th grade were ROUGH ya'll. Hashtag cowlicks. Thank God the flat iron was invented by high school. But all my growing up years my mom pretty much let me wear whatever I wanted. Certainly I was given boundaries in regards to modesty and age appropriateness, but as far as style was concerned I had complete freedom. And I'm sure there were days I came out of my room and my mom thought what in the name of sanity is my daughter trying to pull off SOMEONE SHOULD TELL HER. 

But she never said it out loud.

As I reflect on girls and clothes, I think our mom's have a bigger stake in all this than we like to think as independance craving succubi also known as teenagers. I think our mom's are on the front lines of instilling either confidence or insecurity. And I think mine helped instill me with confidence because the things she ascribed praise or value to in me weren't related to the way I looked. In fact, talking about one's appearance- the clothes you wore, the shape of your body, the state of your face or hair- these things were never a narrative in our home. My mom has never said anything derogatory about my body, and I've also never heard her say anything negative about her own body. I think this was a trend in our house because of the influence my grandmother had as well. 

So lets take a Generational Fashion Recap:

June Saling.
Thespian. Mother of 10 CHILDREN. Kindergarden teacher. Free Spirit.

This is her with her girlfriends on the beach. Aren't they adorable?!?!

This is her on her wedding day. Also adorable.

This is her from my childhood.

So obviously after all the kids, fashion is maybe not a Top Shelf Priority. Also basically anything of value my grandmother ever had she gave away if you needed, wanted or were even mildly interested in it. She held on loosly to all things of this world. So while I wouldn't initially describe her as one of my style icons, I think she had a huge influence in my self expression. She was a storyteller and actor and never batted an eyelash if I wanted to go out with her dressed as an absurd character (who also insisted she call me by my character's kroger...) One of my huge debts of gratitude to my grandmother is that I feel like she gifted both my mom, and then me as a by product, with our weddings being exactly what we wanted. My mom carried a bundle of wheat down the isle for crying out loud. I've observed many times the opposite happens: mom didn't get the wedding she wanted because her mom wanted things a certain way because her mom wanted things a certain way etc etc... With June? Free Spirit + TEN CHILDREN= oh! you're getting married to a great person? Spectacular! Ask me how many craps I give about what color your bridesmaids dresses are.

Karen Lasley.
My mom has always been a pretty trendy lady.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C 

But she's also incredibly practical and frugal. Pretty much everything I wore growing up was a hand me down or from a consignment store. She still shops a lot at Walmart even though she could afford more expensive clothes because why pay more money if you don't have to? I didn't even know what a name brand was until middle school. This has been huge contribution to my personal style because I spent all my time trying to create a certain vibe rather than having to have whatever the IT thing was. I remember when Abercrombie and Fitch was the place to shop. When I finally made it in there I hated it. I could not bring myself to like these boring overpriced clothes. Not to mention the smell.

My mom has always styled her hair and worn make up, and I observed her doing these things growing up, but it was never our main source of bonding because I was a comfort loving tom boy who wouldnt sit still to let my hair be brushed. I never felt like "this is what you need to do to be a lady". So my mom's greatest style influence on me is that clothes and make up are fun, but not the primary thing that defines who you are.

Megan Shaffer.

I really liked Annie and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a lot as a kid.  So I spent most of my time trying to look like a homeless orphan.

 You know how children's clothing no longer has tags? That's because I threw such colossoal Hulk Smashing fits about tags torturing me within an inch of my life that it was heard the world over. If only jeggings had been a thing in 1987 I would have LIVED in those elastic waist bands. Not very far into my Homeless Orphan Phase I discovered that there were homeless people who got to wear layers and layers of scarves and long necklaces and buckled boots and way too much eye liner and carried tambourines and went on adventures. Thus began my Gypsy Pirate Homeless Orphan Phase.

This style evolution was timely with the 90s and my adolenscence because along with a bad attitude, feeling of no one understanding my plight as a teenage female, and the background of being inspired by fashionable homeless people- now I had Stevie Nicks, The Cranberries and Empire Records as inspiration. So I transitioned into the Grunge Hippie Phase. Velour sweatshirts, dozens of necklaces- long AND short- chucks, and way too much eyeliner. I just wanted a boy with a butt cut and skateboard to like me. (sidenote: at the time my now husband was rocking socks with Tevas, basketball jersies and sport coats. So glad we didn't meet in middle school)

High school was pretty uninspiring. We wore uniforms, I felt insecure, and so I played it safe and basically wore boring average trendy stuff. In college I went to music school and felt a renewed excitement in getting dressed. I discovered fashion photography. I lived in Nashville. I performed a lot. It was a great environment to be experimental with your attire. It was a ton of fun. I wore a lot of different stuff. And hair colors.

Since then, I've been fortunate to have occupations and environments that lend themselves to bringing back that little girl in love with gypsies and spies. Now that I have two children I don't typically spend much time thinking about what I'm wearing other than can I nurse in this, and how well are my bangs covering my bald spots? But the themes of endless patterns and a love of eye liner and an aversion to matching have hung in there. I rarely wear jewelry anymore cause its forever getting broken or chewed on. Thankfully I have a nose ring and tattoo as permanant accessories. I have finally after almost 30 years added foundation to my make up routine because I think your skin just dies and turns green from the lack of sleep and nutrition you recieve while your children are young. If I've been particularly sleep deprived or am feeling particularly sassy I might even throw on red lipstick. These days you will most likely see me in varying forms of this outfit depending on the season.

If attempting Especially Fancy I'll switch the denim for floral. Note: extra level of fancy employed by adding belt just for blog/vanity purposes 

By retirement age I aspire to become some combination of Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant. But that would probably involve wigs due to my insufferably frail hair so realistically hoping to land at Judi Dentch.

Ireland Shaffer.
Climber. Lover of anything bedazzled. Surprisingly great in heels at a full on sprint. Totally into swords.

One of the things my heart dearly longs to pass on to my daughters in regards to their interaction with clothing and makeup is freedom. A freedom to use it out of their own imaginations and a freedom from it. I pray they would know the are perfectly created and are in no need of any improvement. My prayer for myself is that I would not hold tightly to my preferences- which I am already being forced into since my first born only has eyes for pink and purple and sparkles. For this week's photo shoot I let Ireland choose the entirety of her wordrobe.

Not a great variety of color. High emphasis on accessories. Teddy Bear Slippers. But my favorite was the make up. She gave specific instructions as to what colors went where. My favorite is the purple on her nose. She even said "momma don't use black on my eyes like you do, I don't like black." And while I'm not planning on letting my 3 yr old put on make up to leave the house, I'm totally not offering any corrections to her vision. So if you see a 15 year old Ireland rocking out a purple nose, I hope you give her a thumbs up.

If you want to perruse the interweb for more imagination based make-up tutorials I highly recommend checking out I mean, there's a post on how to do your make up like Smaug from The Hobbit. It doesn't get much better.

Next up: Found in Nature

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Feel Pretty: Intro

 Someone asked me recently if I could live in any time period in history, what era would I choose? Admittedly my first thoughts were of many good options...but my immediate next thought was- there aren't many years over the course of human history that a woman was viewed as more than property. And even after men decided we could be educated or marry who we want, there still are even fewer years where women were considered more than second class citizens. Lord help them if they weren't rich white girls. So my answer was now. I want to live now; I have access to all the clothes I could imagine but I can vote and get paid a fair wage. (Most of the time)

 Before I had children, before I got married even, I prayed for sons. Boys just seem more straightforward. Girls? Riddled with complication. Maybe my anxiety comes from an awareness of my own complicated existence in this world. Raising women definitely tops my list of anxiety triggers. But a theme of my life is God forcing me to face my greatest fears and meeting me there with faithfulness.

So of course I've birthed two girls.

And obviously, I'm mad about them. I don't want to hand them back in for boys. They are so lovely and interesting and unique. But as I ponder their future...this world in which they will grow and learn how to become women...sometimes I freak out. Of course there are a myriad of topics lining the Freak Out Shelf. But one word I keep honing in on is identity. Who is Woman. What does it mean to be her.

Knock knock. Who is it? Oh hello, its the neighborhood courier handing me the list of the 3928746598367918275698 different things the world at large tells us what it means to be female.

How to dress, How NOT to dress, Hair, Make up, Body type, Occupation, How to interact with men...Between the reality tv, self help books, and Oprah spin off shows its enough to make a girl wanna quit.

(throws list at Freak Out Shelf, runs for the hills screaming, burning ill-fitting Target bra on my way.)

 That could be the end of the story. We could all hide in the forest of feelings holding hands and rocking back in forth in a catatonic state until someone actually figures this all out. No? I'm the only one who likes to rock during panic attacks? Thankfully we have something more helpful than avoidance or escapism. We have Jesus. And he didn't give us a dress code, or a 5 step plan to thigh gap.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
Psalm 139:14

 This reminds me that I can raise my daughters with hopefulness. And joy! Because they are wonderfully made by a super creative and expressive and colorful God. The shape of their cheeks and the twists in their hair, the timbre of their voice when they tell a great story, the flexing of their muscles when they climb a tree, the (eventual) wrinkles beside their eyes when they smile widely- all these things make the world we live in a more beautiful and interesting place. And they cause me to rejoice in my God. These are some of the things I want them to celebrate about their womanhood the most. And my prayer is that it too will cause them to worship the God that made them and find their worth and approval in Him alone who finds their worth imessurable. But these things are a lot more difficult to communicate. Its a lot easier to put a pink dress with ruffles on them, and a bow in their hair and say "oh you are SO PRETTY!"

Here's the tension that I live in: I am no philosopher, but just as an observer of my kind...we like to decorate ourselves. There is a wide variety in the way we as people and particularly women like to decorate ourselves- but its a thing. And while there are certainly perameters of propriety in regards to age, culture, etc...there's no reason to moralize things like: color. Or fabric. Or pattern. But we DO. All the time. We are constantly making concious and unconsious declarations about what is good or not good for girls to robe themselves in -even well outside the issue of modesty. So lets take a deep breath and look at the world around us. Look at bird feathers. Or water. Or a sunset. Look at the freaking human eyeball IT'S AMAZING. There is such a variety of expression of the beauty we see around us and yet we are all freaking out about the same Target T-shirt and what that says about our value as a woman.

So here's my present plan: I want to explore this big wide world of fashion, art, and accessorizing. And I'm going to do it with my older daughter. She's 3, but she already has a strong opinion about what she wears and an interest in make up. So we are going to go on scavenger hunts, and look and paint and fashion photography and play dress up and take pictures and just see what turns up in our imaginations. Then we will document our findings and share our thoughts with you. Hopefully on a regular basis.

Stay Tuned. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

On Food Righteousness and Generosity

I have to warn you. This post will not be written in list form. Nor will it contain any hyperbolic memes nor gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch sardonically tying his shoelaces. (although lets be honest, the latter probably makes any blog post better right?)

So if I've already lost your probably need to read more novels.

I would like to talk about food. I would like to talk about how talking about food, particularly on social media is STRESSING ME OUT. If I see one more article talking about how I'm poisoning my children unless I move to Canada and start letting woodland fairies bring me all I consume I will probably have a panic attack. Maybe I already have.

Its important what we put in our bodies. We are image bearers of our creator and our bodies are sacred places for his spirit, meant to be treated with care. Its important to understand how what we consume affects the economic welfare of farmers and the earth we call home. I'm thankful to live in a time where I have easy access to lots of research on how to take care of my body, and farmers and the earth and all its inhabitants. I'm glad to know who Monsanto is. I want myself and my loved ones (and the world at large really) to have the best quality of life possible and reduce health care costs and take care of the environment. I deeply care about all these things. And true talk? It has made me a little self righteous. It has made me turn my nose up at people in the McDonald's drive thru. It has made me speak with condesention to others when trying to share this elitist knowledge I posses about food. And its not ok.

For the whole first year of my daughter's life she was breast fed, ate no grains or sugars and was given a great variety of only organic fruits and vegetables. During her second year of life my husband had major back surgery that effected his ability to work and I got pregnant with our second daughter and our financial world sort of came crashing down. We could no longer afford to buy all the local organic foods we once did. In fact, we couldn't even buy enough fruits and vegetables to last thru the week if I didn't ration our portions or just choose not to eat any myself. The first few months I had a lot of anxiety over how our diet was forced to change. There was a lot of toast. And peanut butter. And peanut butter on toast and various combinations of the above. But you know what? Never once did we go hungry. Never once did I not have food to feed my family. We have eaten a lot of stuff we didn't necessarily want to, or that wasn't particularly healthy, but never in our lives have we experienced the pain of hunger. Much of that is due to the generosity of friends and family sharing meals with us. Were all those meals hormone and antibiotic free? Definitely not. Did some of them involve processed foods? Absolutely. But the Lord, very lovingly and very painfully rearranged my heart and taught me and my family gratitude and generosity. Even in a year of great hardship we have experienced so much generosity and had the opportunity to be generous. I hold onto what I have much more loosely. I don't feel the need to impress people with my culinary credentials.

I keep thinking about the apostle Paul and the culture clashing fires he had to keep putting out about food. And his were probably harder and more sensitive a topic because they involved food and religion interacting. He talks about it in I Corinthians 8.

1"Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know"

We think we're all experts on food. Paleo, Vegan, Westin Price, etc... And it puffs us up, and yet we don't know as we ought to know because the funny thing is we're lacking in the quality of omniscience. And in our quest to discover a "perfect" dietary dogma to adhere to we will continue to come up short because all is touched by the curse. Not even that 200 square mile patch in Canada where the fairies live is completely untainted. We all are gunna die regardless of whether we ate animals or not. Or saturated fats. Or chia seeds.

Back to the part about love building up... Certainly we can love people well by helping them live healthy lives. If you have a friend who eats Cheetos round the clock it would be totes loving to buy him a bag of apples. But sometimes our incomplete knowledge that we arrogantly forget is incomplete distracts us from serving/loving others well by opening our table to them without judgement. 

Are you passionate about food? Cook an awesome organic local fair trade meal and invite some poor college students to your house. Are you a poor college student who only has access to a microwave and a mini fridge? Grab an extra pack of Easy Mac and share it with somebody. Are you a Christian? Blessing people with a meal is one of the most significant ways you can share Christ's love. And just maybe, while we sit at a table together, a conversation will spring up organically (see what I did there?) about how if we all chipped in 5 dollars we can move in with the fairies in Canada.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Birth of Luna Holiday

Ah labor. I don't know why I thought it would be remotely similar to the first time. I was anticipating some differences (and praying to God it would be shorter this time), but the ONLY similarities between my daughters births were that a baby exited my womb via my vagina. 

My first born daughter was 10 days early and made me work hard for nearly 24 hours to get her out. My second daughter, much like her father was in utero, did not seem to be in a hurry to leave her cocoon of serenity. I was not prepared for this. Since I had the old adage "first babies are typically late, and second ones come a little sooner" floating in my head, and since my first baby was already early, I was ready for showtime at 38 weeks. Both my doctor and my doula booked their vacations for just a couple days before my due date because we were ALL expecting this wee gal to be early. We were wrong. 

In addition to superstition, gut feelings, and anecdotal evidence fueling our confidence in an early delivery I was 3 cm at 38 weeks. Then 4 cm at 39. I kept having weak sporadic contractions. And this girl was LOW. My waddle turned into some strange combination of limping and a slow motion gallop. Someone at the grocery store told me I looked "like I had a hitch in my giddy up." Yes sir that would be the human inside me bruising my pubic bones. It makes you walk weird. At this point I'm kind of in a constant state of freaking out. Every tiny sensation in my midsection starts my heart racing in anticipation. I have cleaned and rearranged all that is possible in my house. And I'm also freaking out because I am literally days away from neither having my doctor nor my doula (who also happens to be my best friend) present for this birth. I didn't feel like I couldn't have the baby without them, but I really really really didn't want to. So we went into Let's Try To Start Meg's Labor mode. I did everything. I'm not even going to make a list for you. And I kept dialating. Almost to 5 cms with NO LABOR. Dirty tricks. Its also frustrating to be in a constant state of is my labor Because people almost look disappointed to see you. 

We get to the night before my doula bestie is leaving the country. She comes over and spends some time with us. She keeps telling me "you look labory". I felt labory. After several hours we have a good cry and say our goodbyes. I was devastated. Not just because I wanted her there holding my hand and telling me I'm awesome when my contractions are rocking my world, but because she was going to be gone a month and wouldn't get to meet this girl for a whole month. I go through the same process with my doctor. I see her the day before she leaves. She looks at me very intently and says "I just have this feeling I'm going to see you tonight!" Wrong again. 

I sort of felt left out at sea. (ok thats a bit dramatic, but I have a flair for drama and I'm pregnant here so its dialed up a few notches.) I love and trust all the doctors in my practice to respect my wishes and get me and my baby through safely. I love and trust my amazing supportive husband who is a pro at this point helping me through the birth process. But when you spend 9 months preparing and dreaming with certain people only for them to not make it to show time, its discouraging. 

then comes my due date. At this point I feel like a handicapped hippopotamus. I want my labor to start on its own. I'm willing to wait it out, but its hard to imagine functioning for another possible 2 weeks. If you've never had to take care of a rambunctious 2 yr old while you're 5 cms dialated let me assure you, it is not pleasant. I had been toying with the idea of having my water broken. I was nervous about it. I did not want to be put on the clock and start an intervention landslide that ends in an unnecessary c section just because I was impatient. I knew I could birth this baby without intervention, and that was my desire. I really wrestled with this decision. I talked with many midwife, OB and doula pals and verbally processed at my husband to the point of his utter insanity. In the end, we did decide to get my water broken.

It was surreal to walk into the hospital NOT already in active labor. And in the middle of the day. I begin to feel a little trapped thinking of being in a hospital room for hours upon hours. However the nurses taking care of us were super laid back and friendly so as long as I have this baby by shift change I wont be too annoyed. Checking in goes super fast. It was only minutes of waiting before the doctor came in to break my water. 

And then, it began. 

Like, instantly. Like the doctor closed the door, I got out of bed to look out the window and BOOM. A contraction. A legit stop me in my tracks contraction. My husband starts timing them. The next one in 3 mins later. Then 2 mins. And that's the longest breaks I got. I immediately have to mentally shift my focus. This race is going at a much different pace that anticipated. I hop in the shower and hold blasting hot water right over my belly. It is a relief and helps relax me but I'm super uncomfortable sitting on the hard shower seat and sorta feel like I need to grow a third arm to brace myself. After the fact a friend mentioned taking the yoga ball into the shower which I did not even think about. Learn from my mistakes: take the yoga ball in the shower. I decide to get out. Its too fatiguing to hold myself up with one arm and hold the shower head with the other and remember to breathe and junk. Like my first labor my contractions stay under my belly. So I decide the best plan of action is to lay on my side and stretch my body out as much as possible. This was a good decision and a comfortable labor position for me. I'm taking the time to say this because I feel like so many natural birthers are all like "stay out of the   bed! The hospital bed is like giving in to The Man!" Listen, if you wanna lay in the hospital bed while you labor- Do It. 

I feel like mere minutes pass and I start puking. I'm unable to hold my head up. I'm gripping the bed rail as my contractions double and triple upon each other and my body feels like its rising in the air with the pain. I have a thought: am I in transition? I just got started! I have a second thought: I'm not giving the birth photographer very good shots of how awesome I'm laboring right now. Yes, even in the midst of the hardest work I've ever done I managed to be vain. 

Apparently thoughts are all I have in the form of communication. I am nearly silent this whole time. And yet my husband is responding to my needs as I think them. Because he is awesome and knows me so well. He picks up on the fact that I seem transitiony and we have a non verbal conversation where he asks if I want the nurse to check my progress and I say yes. 
The nurse comes in. "You're almost at 8 centimeters! Great job!" 
8?! I look at the clock, not much time has passed. Just over an hour. Hopefully that means I don't have 8 more hours of this cause SHIT this is hard. Soon after the nurse leaves I think "man I REALLY want to poop." This is not surprising. It had been a while since that blessed event had occurred. TMI? You are reading a birth story you know... My contractions are so close together I don't think I can manage walking to the bathroom. But I have GOT to poop. At this point whatever modesty and propriety I have left are out the window. Imma just poop right here in bed and the nurse can take care of it. Lord knows they've done it before. So I attempt. Upon attempting I realize- oh. That's a baby coming out. 

Once again Justin reads my mind or hears me start pushing and gets the nurse again. It has been 20 mins since the last time she was in the room. She confirms it is indeed Go Time, which is good because I can not stop pushing. This is not like my last labor. I feel like my body is expelling this kid outside of my control. Thankfully the Doctor is right behind her and nearly as soon as everyone is suited up out comes Second Daughter. I think I pushed twice. Labor time: 2 hrs, 15 mins.

And the initial wave of emotion was actually laughter and disbelief. We just GOT here! I'm not exhausted! The sun in shining! Thank God that's over. 

Everyone leaves. The room is peaceful. The light is beautiful. My daughter nurses. My husband calls family to report the good news. I feel wide awake and exhilarated. I know I my energy will tank and I will feel the pain soon but the first moments after labor are incredible. I may never jump out of a plane or scale a mountain but having babies fulfills my need for adrenaline. I'm so thankful for the Lord's goodness to grow and bring life through my body. It is a humbling miraculous thing. I'm thankful for the wonderful care I received from my husband and the nurses and doctor who gave me the supportive space I needed to give birth. I'm thankful for two healthy daughters. I'm thankful for how having children reminds me of my own smallness and dependence on my good God, the giver of life. 

Photos by Ashley Revell

Monday, March 25, 2013

Suffering, The Gospel and The Blues.

It wasn't until college that I first threw myself open armed into American Roots Music. Particularly that of African American music traditions, and most specifically what we know as blues music. I think if I were truthful I can say that by the age of 19 I'd faced pretty minimal suffering. Not that I grew up in a bubble, but as a middle classed white educated female who's parents were together and alive all my growing years, that puts me ahead of most the world. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. I never wondered where I'd sleep at night. And yet when my ears were first pricked with the wailing sounds of blues musicians I thought there is something truer about this music than my life right now. And I wanted to know this music. I wanted to sing it, and I wanted to be truthful with it.

I didn't know what I was longing for.

Morning rain keeps on falling
Like the tears that fall from my eyes
And as I sit, in my room, staring out at the gloom
That's the rain in the same old blues

-Freddy King, Same Old Blues

My whole family is mostly tone deaf. Some completely so, and some with just enough God given auditory sense to stumble through a well intentioned rendition of Happy Birthday. Only my Father's mother, whom I never met, was blessed with a singing voice. In my family we've got athletes and stock brokers. We have some other creative people, but no musicians. None. My poor parents. They nurtured their alien song bird of a daughter the best way they knew how, taking me to musicals and buying me Amy Grant cassettes. When I became serious about singing and really wanted to study and grow into a legit vocalist I felt extremely frustrated that when trying to learn a Celine Dion tune, the results were less than pleasing. I'm not a pop singer. I didn't know it at the time, or that there were even other options, but my voice doesn't do those things. I was really pissed about it. But I also didn't feel connected to what I was singing either. Even with a lot of music I sang at church.

Back to college. Freshman year my boyfriend (now husband) bought me my first Gillian Welch and Freddy King albums. And while I didn't immediately have a deep spiritual connection to these records I did think- man that is COOL. I want to sing songs like that. So I started trying. It was pretty pathetic. Like I said, suburban white girl. My frustration grew. I really felt like giving up a few times. I wanted there to be a story in my voice and I didn't feel like I had much of one. I was painfully aware of my youth and inexperience. It showed in how I sang. So I decided to learn other people's stories.

I spent most of my college years learning everything I could about American Roots Music. And when you get down to it blues music was born out of suffering. It was born out of slavery. How in the world should I be allowed to sing these songs? I really almost drove down to Mississippi one weekend to find a cotton field so I could sing an old spiritual and sweat and feel my fingers bleed and long for heaven in a way I didn't understand yet. I felt a deep responsibility learning this music. Its history is rich and fraught with peril.

Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' to my home on the other shore

Mother and Father stand and cry
Mother and Father stand and cry
Mother and Father stand and cry
Lord have Mercy my child is dyin'

- Goin' Away, performed by The Staples Singers

One of the things my daddy always told me about the way his momma sang was that she sang from "deep down in her gut". And he'd put a hand over his belly every time he'd say it. What I really want to do now is spell out for you the physics of what is going on when someone "sings from their gut". I wanna tell you all about how the sound is vibrating and why Mahalia Jackson's vowel placement is perfect. But I really almost feel like it's better to say she sang from her gut. When some people first hear Bill Monroe or Robert Johnson they don't get it. Their ears aren't tuned to that ancient musical language and it sounds messy. I had a music professor spend a whole class on how Robert Johnson dropped measures because he wasn't a trained musician and I wanted to punch him in the face. Cause that's not the point. All the old timey artists were fantastic musicians but that's not the point either.

The point is that this music speaks of the human experience of suffering better than any other art form in my opinion. And there is an old magic to the way the melody dances with the lyric; each complete in the other like a beautiful marriage. The notes are like a hollowed out tree being bent by a windstorm. And the words riding the backs of those notes are telling you about life, love, and death.

Death don't have no Mercy in this Land
No Death don't have no Mercy in this Land
He'll come to your house, and he won't stay long
You'll look in the bed and somebody'll be gone
Death don't have no Mercy in this land 

-Death Don't Have No Mercy Here, Reverend Gary Davis

Maybe you don't wanna listen to songs about dying. Maybe you wanna listen to Call Me Maybe cause it makes you forget about dying. But it's inevitable my friend. Someone you love will die. You will die. These bodies gon' wear out, or be taken before they do. Do you have a song to sing about that? Greater still, where is your hope for dealing with death? Where is your hope for your own parting from this world? As a Christian, I believe that because of the suffering of Christ on my behalf, death does not have the final say over my life. It is not the final field hollar. Jesus died and rose again in my place so that when my body leaves this earth there will be an end to my suffering. That is a good hope. In the past decade since that 19 year old girl first heard The Staples Singers I have experienced a little more of the darkness of this world. I have lost people I love. Some young and some old. Most closely and recently my Daddy, who passed away a few weeks before I gave birth to my first daughter. We've had friends get divorced. We've seen babies die. Too many babies. We've lost jobs and had health issues and seen friendships end. It hurts. Its hurts really bad. My hero, and my Christian sister Mahalia Jackson describes the blues as "being in a deep pit yellin' for help." I think that's why I love and need the blues so much. I have this freedom to be explicit with my hurts. To be graphic with my need for help, and to make you hear that in the way that I sing. Because I'm not crying out to thin air, but to a living loving God who gives meaning and promised relief to my trials. The simple plea heard so many times over in blues Lord have mercy is no longer a black-culture colloquialism for me. It is the singer's song, it is me, from a deep pit, yellin' for help from our God. This hopefulness is laced throughout the blues story. A bluesman wails a lament to stay hopeful, many times hoping in Christ. Many songs were written and sang as a community sharing suffering together reminding one another- you are not alone in this trial. I now know what that is like too. I'm so thankful for the community I gather with every sunday and throughout the week to sing songs about our suffering, and the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ and the hope that we have in him.

One of my first favorites on that Gillian Welch album is an old timey song called Orphan Girl. I liked the way it sounded. It was cute. It made me feel like I was walking down the street in O Brother Where Art Thou? Its a little more relevant to me now.

I am an orphan, on God's highway
But I'll share my troubles, if you'll go my way
I have no mother, no father, no sister, no brother
I am an orphan girl

When you lose a parent... even if they are very old, and even if you are very old, you feel that deep horrible permanent sense of abandonment. I often think about how I would feel if my mom suddenly died too, and I would feel like an orphan. Utterly alone. Even if you're a grown up you just want your mommy and daddy. Always. Yet you know you will lose them. They are not yours to keep.

Blessed savior, make me willing
walk beside me until I'm with them
Be my mother, my father, my sister, my brother
No more an orphan girl

I realize most of these lyrics may not sound like Shakespearean poetry to you. My hope is that if you're obedient to my wishes you will LISTEN to all of them as well. (look! I provided high-tech links) These words are the simple, gut wrenching cries and moans when words won't really do. You must listen to them, and listen more than once. There is magic to be found in the nuance sliding painfully in between each note. You must sing the words over and over because each time you sing them the meaning deepens. I hope you will listen. I hope you will find your song to sing. And I hope its in the arms of Jesus.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Whoa there tiger.

So with babe number two only a few months away I'm starting the process of getting myself pumped up again. For me, since I find the child birthing process amazing and have a toe in the hippie pond this involves reading lots of Ina May Gaskin, and looking at pictures of women giving birth in a plastic blow up tub in their living room. This sort of thing is encouraging to me, it makes me excited. The other day I was looking through a bunch of beautiful birth and breastfeeding photos on facebook and I "liked" several of them. Then I freaked out cause I'm a mega people pleaser and I didn't know if by "liking" these photos they'd pop up in your news feed and somehow offend you. Maybe you had a c-section. Maybe you wanted to breastfeed your baby and you couldn't. And seeing those photos was a painful reminder. Maybe you're 17 and all this stuff is freaking you out. Or maybe, and what I think is often the case, by seeing me "like" those photos you immediately feel a judgement being placed on you by me, or a collective group, or something even more abstract because I, we, it made different choices than you. And People Pleaser Meg does not want you to feel judged because I want us all to gather round the campfire of motherhood and snuggle. But I also don't want you to feel judged because I'm not judging you! I don't actually spend any energy thinking about the decisions other mother's make for their labor and delivery unless they are a friend and have invited me into that decision making process. And I hope and pray that my life and words and actions reflect that. But I have lots of momma friends that I only interact with on facebook. Who may only see the Granola Hippie Earth Momma pictures I've "liked" and that's the whole of their impression. Which is then filed away with all the other positive or negative interactions they've had from that camp. Or vice versa.

I'm feeling a mixture of sadness and frustration over this phenomenon, particularly in the realm of social media. I do realize that there are actual battles worth waging for women's rights in birthing and I'm thankful that there are people out there to fight them but I'm just the girl over here wanting all the momma's I know to calm to heck down a little when speaking to one another. Cause I think our words to one another as mothers are some of the post powerful tools of support or discouragement available to us. And people have strong words and strong opinions about this stuff. You have people staging breastfeeding flash mobs that actually do involve a great deal of intentionally flashing as a reaction to the people who hunted down my sweet momma while she was breastfeeding me in a dark corner with a cover to make sure she knew they thought what she was doing was disgusting. You probably all justly think both these scenarios are a bit ridiculous, but these are the stories that make it onto ecards with witty blanket statements and a dramatic photo and that's how we form our opinion of nursing publicly.

I have been very blessed to have felt nothing but love, support and helpfulness from the mother's in my community who have a variety of perspectives and experiences regarding child birth. It was because of this support that helped me make the decisions I did about my birthing experience, which was a good one. I've shared that story in an earlier post, but I'd like to share the journey to getting there.

I had never even heard of "natural childbirth" until the year before I got pregnant. I didn't know that you had the option to have a baby without being hooked up to anything, that is was possible to just do it with your body. What I did know is that an epidural was a giant needle inserted into your spine which rendered you committed to a bed for unknown hours. I hate needles more than anything in the world, and if you've spent more than 5 mins with me you know I am the most fidgety person alive. So the thought of having to deal with a needle in my back, an IV in my hand and maybe some tubes up my pee pee hole all the while not being able to move sounded like my own personal version of hell. But I didn't know I didn't have to do it that way. Thankfully the first nautral birthing momma I met is maybe the most laid back lady on the planet and simply let me ask questions and explained to me why she wanted to have a natural birth and I did not feel stress or pressure or judgement of any kind. What may have also been helpful is that I was not pregnant at the time, nor was I thinking about being pregnant anytime soon so that relieved a layer of pressure as well. I'm thankful I was able to start thinking through these decisions and learning about the birthing process well before conceiving a child. When I first learned the work involved in having a natural child birth I didn't think I could do it. It sounded kind of like torture that you only survived if you mastered meditating while standing on your head on an excersize ball, or were really good at yoga or something. But being stuck in a bed sounded equally awful. Ok, so I get to choose between two terrible options. awesome. But the more I talked to women about birth I heard the excitement and joy in their voices when telling their stories. Even through the hard parts. That it was work and painful and exhausting but it was good and fulfilling work. I don't like working hard. I like the easiest means to an accomplishment. So breaking down some of my fear issues was a really good and healthy process for me to take in regards to childbirth. It helped me grow in other areas of my life. It was the right choice for me, and I had a great birthing experience. I also gave birth in a hospital with an obstetrician. I think midwives are the bomb but my insurance and the state of Kentucky prevent me from using a midwife so I decided to find a really awesome supportive ob. And I did. She is my hero. So when I hear people talking about all ob's like they're evil scalpel hungry control freaks I get really upset cause have you met every ob in the history of the world? I didn't think so. I also get mad when people think of midwives as being uneducated or inexperienced, which is equally ignorant. I chose a hospital over a home birth, not because I think home births are inherently dangerous but because frankly, I'd like my blood clots and amniotic fluid to fall on someone else's floor. I was thankful to have the postpartum care at the hospital (even though they are loud, unattractive and you have to deal with an occasional mean nurse) and return to my clean cozy home. Now a birthing center? That would be my jam right there. Sigh, one day I hope!

Similarly with breast feeding I had not only an awesome lactation consultant and awesome helpful nurses but I had mom friends calling and texting me every day for the first several weeks asking me how I was doing and if I had any questions. I had friends come over and watch me nurse and help me find a good position and watch to see if my daughter was latching correctly. And telling me I was doing a great job. I needed that every day!!!

While I have been amazingly blessed by encouragement, I have also experienced the sting of hurtful words as well.

"oh, you're giving birth at Norton Suburban? Oh gosh...well, I mean you know everyone is going to be really awful to you since you're going natural right?"

"you're going natural? that's so crazy, you know how bad that's going to hurt and how miserable you'll be afterward that you wont even want to hold your baby right?"

"I mean, that's great you wanna breastfeed but you know your boobs will be gross when you're done and you'll probably never enjoy your husband touching them again."

Talk about someone popping your balloon. Thankfully I had enough knowledge and support to combat these negative thoughts, but many people don't.

So, I bring to you my quandry. I feel passionately about this stuff. I don't feel as passionate about who you vote for frankly, but I feel passionate about mothers being empowered to make choices regarding their births because they had education and support. I want to show you these pictures of a mom's face finally seeing her baby after 27 hours of labor and say look how beautiful that is!! And not have all this grouchy subtext of you wondering if she had an epidural or not before you decide its beautiful. But lately I've been driven to hold my tongue more often because I'm afraid of offending someone. And like I said, I'm no activist. I'm not going to call any hospital CEOs (are there CEOs at hospitals? I don't even care) or my senator to try and do a thing. But I care about the way we talk to each other. As mothers. Because that's powerful. As someone who is pro-natural birth I want to be able to dialogue with expectant mothers who invite me to about what their options are. I want to tell them that the woman's body is this incredible life giving vessel that was created by God to bear children and that they can go into their labor with that mindset and be at peace regardless of what medical intervention is or isn't used. And while these bodies we have are amazing, they are also affected by the curse and because of that, birth is not always this beautiful experience we want it to be. Sometimes it is survival and thank God it is 2013 and there are life saving procedures we now have access to.

How does our desire to educate and support turn into prideful combative mommy wars? How can we better serve the expectant mothers in our community? How can we be honest and bold with our passion for childbirth and still be sensitive to women who have either chosen to, or had to have medicated or surgical births? What have you found helpful and hurtful? This is me opening the dialogue.

Tell your story.
Ask your questions.
Share a fart joke so we can all lighten up.
Encourage a sister.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Awake you have a kid

Ah Sleep. Remember when you and I would have long blissful uninterrupted intimacy for like, 10 hours in a row?  Me too.

In fact, before having a child, I was a bit of a sleep worshiper. Often, shortly after my day had begun I would think longingly of curling up with my down comforter and snoozing till my heart's content later that evening. You can call me an old lady but I don't care. I like sleeping. I have a comfortable bed. 

I've also dealt with a bit of anxiety in my time, which often robs one of sleep. There's been many a night I have lain awake, heart pounding over who-knows-what, counting the minutes as they slipped through my fingers. Which made me a little possessive and regimented with my sleepy times. (didn't know you would get an inside look into my crazy control freak tendencies with this blog post did you? Bonus points for you.) 

Then I got pregnant. 

I feel like one of the biggest topics among the Already-Have-Kids people and the About-To-Have-Kids people is the baby-induced insomnia you will have to endure, and the 400,000 different systems and 5 step plans and books that will help you escape that insomnia as soon as possible.This all really freaked me out. Not only because I didn't know how well I would function on this new level of sleep deprivation, but also because I knew I would have to lay down my golden calf of repose and learn to let the Lord be my rest. And I was afraid because I'm a rule follower. Rules make me feel safe. If I follow systems and rules I feel like I'm winning. But in reality, God is in control not me and his approval of me is not based on how well I follow rules but rather based on the merit of Christ who bestows epic amounts of mercy and grace upon me. Really, an all around better deal than me freaking out about following rules. Keeping this in mind, I knew if I read a book on how to get my baby to sleep through the night it would become law in my heart and I would be frustrated and embittered toward my child for not following these sleep-laws to a T. This was obviously, the opposite of what I desired to feel toward my child. 

So I decided not to read books. We were gunna wing it. We also hadn't decided what our sleeping arrangements would be. This is another hot topic in the parenting world. I knew I wanted to nurse, so I figured my kid would be in a bassinet or co-sleeper or sock drawer for the first couple months and then we'd see what we felt like doing then. One step at a time. I can handle that. I heard that newborns like to nurse every 5 seconds so I sort of prepared myself that my body and rest would not be my own for 2-3 months. I would be sharing them with my child. And I prayed that the Lord would replace my anxiety and selfishness with joy. I didn't want to look back on those first months and only remember frustration even if it was the hardest thing I ever did.

And then my daughter arrived!'t as bad as I thought. She nursed well, but not too often, and nursed quickly. She never had her days and nights mixed up. She had "The Witching Hour" cry time, but no all night scream fests. And she was sleeping for 5, 6, sometimes 7 hour stretches pretty soon. I couldn't believe it. I also wanted her to be with me every second. She slept in my arms, or on my chest every night for the first two weeks. Not because she wouldn't sleep anywhere else, but because I didn't want her to. My physical touch love language was overflowing. I'm pretty sure a unicorn burst out of my heart at some point. And so two months past and both my husband and I couldn't imagine her sleeping in another room. She slept great in her bassinet next to our bed and we slept great and everything was great. And once you're out of the newborn stage you're out of the woods right? Well...maybe for people in books.

All of a sudden at 5 months she started waking up more. I was bewildered but not completely undone. Teething had begun. Teething is bad business, and there's just no other way around it. So we cut a tooth and then went back to sleeping good. But there was this place in the back of my mind that was sort of tickling me with shame. She's FIVE months old. Shouldn't she sleep in her own room now? What will people think they knew she still sleeps with you in bed sometimes? Am I ruining her for life? No one was telling me these things out loud but you just hear them whispered in the wind of the mommy dogma we make for ourselves. In a facebook status, or a blog post, or a commercial, or even a conversation with a stranger at the grocery store. "How's she sleeping?" Don't you dare answer "not great" because then you will probably get unsolicited advice or possibly feel like a failure even if you don't. So because of the voices of shame in my head I decided to put my daughter in her crib for the first time around 5 months. She did fine. I did not. I sobbed. I hated the monitor. I was so used to her little noises right next to me they sounded bizarre and exaggerated on that awful machine. I tried for 3 nights. I was getting less sleep than when she was next to me because I was wide awake and sad. So I had a melt down at my husband

"I just want to go get her and bring her in heeeeeeerrrreeee" (snots all over husband's shoulder)
"well then go get her and bring her in here."
"but I caaaaaaaan't"
"um, why?"
"becaaaaaaauuuussseeee" (very sound logic, right?)
"...babe, if you wanna go get her, go get her. I'm happy for her to sleep in here with us."
"really? ok."
So she moved back into our room in her bassinet. And sometimes just for fun she would get in bed and snuggle with us. However this is still not the end of this tale. My baby was still not sleeping through the night consistently. Sometimes she would, sometimes she wouldn't. And of course there's about 457 transitions you travel through that first year... teeth, gas, growth spurts, unswadling, teeth... so I kept reminding myself not to lose hope and not to feel like a failure. Around 8 months my daughter started sleeping in her crib, in her room. We were all ready. And it was not a difficult transition at that time. But still, we would go through these periods of good sleep and bad sleep. But she wasn't a year old yet so I wasn't worried about it. Then she was a year old. And she was still waking up a few times a night. And after a particularly bad string of nights I went through the teeth-tummy-fever check list in my brain and upon realizing none of those applied I kinda unraveled. I don't know why I was holding onto that First Birthday as a beacon of hope but I realized I was. This was suppose to get easier, not harder right? And all those voices crept back in. Your baby is a year old and doesn't sleep through the night? You're still NURSING her at night?! Oh sister, your baby will never learn to sleep on their own. Here, let me give you this book...

So, after talking to my husband (who sleeps through everything including hurricanes, rap music blaring from cars right outside our window, and screaming daughters) we decided to try letting her cry at night. I am not planning to wean in the near future, but I had heard night weaning was a thing, so I thought we'd try. I told myself to give it a week. You can survive anything for a week. The first night she screamed off and on for hours. And as I lay awake listening to her scream I realized that if I was committed to sleep training her I would need to give up co-sleeping altogether for a season and possibly forever. No more morning snuggles. No more naps together. I felt very sad. So I prayed that the Lord would search my heart and give me wisdom. And I realized that I felt compelled to let my daughter scream because of shame. I did not feel so sleep deprived that I could not function. I did not feel resentful toward my child. It is not easy to get up 2-4 times every night to nurse and rock a baby for over a year but it is something that I have decided to do because its what is best for our family. So if you wanna label us, you can call us part time co-sleepers. We're cool with that. We're also cool if that's not what you do. Cause everyone's family and babies are different. Maybe you're a momma who's 9 month old wants to nurse 5 times a night but you don't realize other people's babies do that too. Or maybe you're babies sleep like its their super hero power and you think I'm a weirdo. That's fine. Just don't recommend a book to me. I share this particular journey with these particular details because there can be a hideous value system that mothers build around each other's parenting decisions. And for mothers with babies, SLEEP is a big one. There are many shoulds and should nots out there that can be very discouraging. But our righteousness is not built upon our ability to get our babies to sleep. Or where they sleep or how long they sleep. It is ok if your baby does not go to bed instantaneously and independently at exactly 8:03 each evening. And it is ok if you did not cross stitch your baby to your bare bosom so they can nurse continuously until they are 17.  

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us..." Galatians 3:13

I am not bound by living up to other's expectations of me and my child. Even greater still, I am not bound by living up to my own expectation of me or my child. Neither are you. If you had asked me when I was pregnant if I was planning on co-sleeping I would have said "I have no idea, but probably not." But this is where our journey took us. And I'm glad of it. I'm still taking one step at a time. Maybe we will night wean, maybe we'll co-sleep still she's two. We'll see. One day my daughter will be in high school and I'll be dealing with boys and alcohol. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. But dear goodness have I been gifted with undeserved joy over it. For these few, fleeting, sweet and difficult moments of my daughter's life, I will drag my ass out of bed at 2:37am (and, midnight, and 4:17) and stare at her perfect sleeping face. And listen to her tiny breaths. And feel her hands absentmindedly smack me in the face. And lean in to the Lord to sustain my sore and tired body through one more day.

With a cup of coffee.