Paradise

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My son is flying a pretend airplane, and I am riding along as a passenger. He calls back to me,

“Okay, Mama. Where do you want to go next?”

Tahiti, I tell him. Or Bermuda. The Bahamas, perhaps, or Hawaii. Somewhere warm and sunny, where I can lay on the sand and burn my pale Irish skin to a crisp. Somewhere I can dip my toes in warm water.

Somewhere far, far away from here.

We are in the deepest drifts of winter at the moment. The mercury struggles to rise into double digits most days, and ice forms along the inside of my windows. The sun stretches, rolls over, and falls back asleep without ever reaching the top of the sky. Wool sweaters, which seemed cozy and snug a month ago, are now itchy and smothering.

The world is a mind and finger numbing cold.

I feel guilty, these days that we are cooped up inside with each other day after day, telling myself that I should be relishing these moments. We should read stories, build forts, sip hot chocolate and fill up coloring book after coloring book. Instead I listen to the sound of the heater humming and pretend it is the ocean waves pulling me to paradise.

This is the part of the essay where I should talk about how I come to my senses and realize there is no place I would rather be. I should say that being at home with my children, day after day, is paradise.

But there are places I would rather be – at the playground, on a warm summer day, in college, going to one of those parties I never went to because I was always on the phone with a long-distance boyfriend, in the future, when I am an empty nester and travelling to Argentina, Ireland and Australia, in a coffee shop, where I can finally find some peace and quiet to get some work done.

Right now, I am in none of those places. I am where I need to be, where others need me to be.

One day, I will travel back here in my daydreams. I will wish for cozy snowy afternoons, and the sound of my toddler yelling, “How many more minutes until naptime is over?” (As many minutes as it takes me to finish this essay.)

A house full of cabin fevered toddlers might not always be my idea of paradise. But I will try to leave behind some good memories for the return trip.

Solstice Child


My second son was born during the summer solstice. He first opened his eyes in a world with lasting days and vanishing nights and has believed that is how it should be ever since. He fights sleep just as hard as we fight to stay awake the mornings after long nights convincing him to close his eyes. Rarely does more than a day or two go by without a middle of the night call for assistance. 

I go to him, rocking his long body which now having grown for two and a half years cannot snuggle on my lap as easily as it once did. He tosses and turns, unable to get comfortable, but fearing the solitude of his own bed. All the methods have failed us – coaching, crying, co-sleeping have each resulted in a child who wants thad be rocked, and rocked, and rocked to sleep. 

After his restless nights, he wakes early. Before the sun has pushed back the night he has climbed into our bed, pulling back the covers and yelling, “it’s morning!” in his exhaustingly sweet voice. 

I walk through the night, praying for sleep, and my husband rises early with the babe, praying for night to come again quickly. 

He won’t always need me like he does now. It is the curse of parenthood – the days that you know them the least, they ask so much from you. And when you begin to understand, they start to pull away. 

There will be days, years from now, when I hope he wakes me in the middle of the night. When a monster chases him and he cannot run, I hope I hear his call. When the classmate he likes tells him the feeling is not mutual, when his designated driver cracks open a can, or when the darkness of the night threatens to crush his soul, I pray he calls to me. And I will tell him no matter how dark the night, the sun has never refused to rise. 

My son was born for the daylight. But for now, I do wish he’d sleep. 

Talking about family on Mamalode

Merry Christmas! Are you getting together with your own wonderfully weird family this week? If so, be sure to check out my latest article on Mamalode!

But nevertheless, gravity and the desire to eat turkey beside the person who slept in the top bunk growing up keeps pulling us back together.
Families are all alike in the best and worse ways—their ability to share joy and inflict pain is unparalleled. They grow, divide, conquer, and multiply. They are our own.

If you’ve been to one holiday family party, you’ve been to them all.” On Mamalode. Check it out, and happy holidays!

Peace on Earth

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When I was a girl, my favorite doll was Molly, of American Girl fame. She lived during 1940s, sharing stories of life growing up while her father served as a doctor overseas. I was fascinated with the second World War from them on – not so much the battles and movements of troops – but with my (perhaps too romanticized) view of life on the home front. The idea that everyone fought for the same goal, that they strived and worked together, captivated me.

Now we live in a time when we seem to be hung in a perpetual mid-state between war and peace, never certain about the direction the world is hurtling to. And yet there is no collective will to achieve the same goal – we fight amongst ourselves more than ever. The next year will bring more uncertainty than any in my lifetime has before, a fate I would perhaps been willing to ignore before becoming a parent. But now as I walk with my children in to a new future, I hold them close, and pray for peace on earth.

It has become a glib saying over the years, scribbled in a glittered pen across Christmas cards and tossed in the trash a week later. December, in the years since I have become a parent, has seem to have a dark shadow hanging over it as we enter the holidays – Sandy Hook, terrorist attacks in Paris and Berlin, in churches and mosques all around the world, compounded by the every day pain of loss and loneliness so much of us experience. It makes me feel disingenuous, singing songs of peace and joy when a bedraggled world shows us anything but. I wonder if families hanging doves on their Christmas trees and lighting candles in their windows in the midst of world wars felt as if they were lying to themselves, or if their actions were a desperate prayer.

Because, I suppose, that is all that Christmas is.

It is a story of hope born during the years of a despot. It is a story of hope persecuted and reviled. A story of peace on earth, a peace delegated to us to ensure.

For most of the Christmas season, I find myself humming David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Peace on Earth.” It wasn’t until this morning I realized that the lyrics were not, in fact, “Peace on earth, Goodwill towards men,” but rather, “Peace on earth, can it be?”

Can it be?

I suppose we must all decide how we want to answer that question this year.

 

“So What Do You Do?” An Existential Crisis

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The request was simple, but it was enough to send me into an existential crisis.

“Can you type up a quick bio? We want to add you to the staff page on our website,” the e-mail from my coworker read.

I had just begun to dip my toes into the workforce after two years of staying at home. I was barely ankle deep, just working from home for my former employer, a few hours a day on nights where my kids mercifully went to sleep at a reasonable hour. I hadn’t really even thought of myself as “working,” rather just making a little money with a side gig. It shouldn’t take too long to type a paragraph about myself, I thought.

I took a crack at it.

“Jackie is a stay at home mom to two toddler boys. Her specialties include applying sunscreen to moving objects and taking showers while simultaneously answering pressing questions such as, “why do I have a nose?” Her hobbies include discussing politics on Facebook while rocking her two year old to sleep, who yes, still needs to be rocked to sleep. Jackie’s most recent accomplishment is drying herbs in the microwave because she saw it on Pinterest and it looked intriguing, a task which took three hours and saved 35 cents.”

Accurate, but not professional. I sighed. I didn’t know how to begin the paragraph: “Jackie is…” I wasn’t exactly sure what I was anymore. For two years, I had done virtually nothing but be a mom every moment of every day.

I had left my job after the birth of my second son. He was a month premature, and my oldest had recently been diagnosed with multiple food allergies. The thought of sending them both to a daycare that would eat up the vast majority of my paycheck just didn’t compute. This new path had taken some getting used to, as I had always loved my work and missed having an identity outside of my children. But eventually the arrangement grew on me, and I began to appreciate the control over our lives staying at home gave me.

Second attempt:

“Jackie has worked in the field of policy for the past five years, if you ignore the fact she has stayed at -home for the last two of those. She graduated with advanced degrees in fields that most people would consider fairly useless, but were occasionally helpful on trivia night at the local bar. Her areas of specialty include economic insecurity, food insecurity, and insecurity in general about being a stay at home mom.”

When my former boss asked if I could work on a project for them, I jumped at the chance. It felt good to be working again, although it added a degree of busy-ness to our lives. I liked the idea that I could answer the question of “do you work?” with a yes, even though I wasn’t sure that was fair to say when I was only at my desk a couple hours each night. There were other rewards as well, however.

“Mom! Can I have honey nut cheerios?” my oldest asked as I started to head downstairs to work on my computer. I thought about it. He hadn’t had snack after his naptime, but it was also getting close to dinner.

“I dunno, kid. Ask your dad. I’m off duty,” I responded and quickly shut the door behind me. No negotiating, diapers, or mopping up gallons of water that were “accidentally” splashed out of the bathtub tonight.

Third attempt:

“Jackie is a freelance writer, and has been published online multiple times, much to the surprise of people close to her, which she is not sure if that is a compliment or not. She writes about a variety of topics, all of which seem to center around parenting, mothering, being a mom, and raising children. Her most recent publications actually include sites other than her Facebook wall.”

In one sense, I had been working a bit for the past year, freelance writing articles for parenting websites in the afternoon while the kids napped. I kept a running tally of how much I had earned, and one year of feeling like I was doing nothing but taking care of the kids and writing, I had yet to earn as much as my husband made in a week. But I liked the balance it gave me – the opportunity to have a voice, to contribute more to our savings than the loose change I found in the laundry.

And yet I still struggled if I could even introduce myself as a freelance writer. I squeezed in writing when I could, but that was far from spending hours a day crafting beautiful and moving prose that would land me in magazines and journals that belonged to the realm of Actual Writers.

I kept staring at the screen. I didn’t know how to answer the question of who I was, and what I did, but typing up ridiculous drafts seemed to help.

Before I had children, I suppose I always assumed I would stay at home. This was not a particular plan or even a dream, however, rather it was simply my experience of motherhood – most mothers in my family, my own included, stayed at home. It was all I knew, and it seemed like a reasonable path.

At the same time, I pictured a career. The field changed depending where I was in my education, but I always assumed I would be working, possibly in academics or doing research somewhere. I never imagined quitting my job to stay at home with children, because in my mind, these two futures existed in completely separate realms and I had never truly considered how they would play out when the time came.

When I found out that I was pregnant the same week I finished graduate school, the paths crossed rather forcefully, making me finally sit down and think about what I wanted out of my career and family life. At times, staying at home felt like a failure, like wearing a sign that said, “I couldn’t figure out how to do it all.” Now that I was working part-time from home, it was an opportunity to have a foot in one world and a toe in the other.

There is a part of me that wishes I had thought this through earlier in life, figuring out earlier what the best way to balance work and family would be, despite the fact that as a feminist, the idea of telling a young girl, “Pick a career based on what your future family prospects!” makes me shudder. The other part of me realizes that detours are okay, and that my biography can have multiple first drafts before settling on a finished version, or at the very least, an opening paragraph.

I eventually typed up some mumbo jumbo about my academic background and areas of research experience. I didn’t mention that I had been a stay at home mom for the last two years. It wasn’t really relevant information, although part of me felt a bit disingenuous leaving it off. I could be many things – mother, worker, writer – sometimes at the same time, and sometimes not.

I’ll figure it out as I go.

Directions for Pacifists

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Pacifists should not sit still in solemn protest.
They should instead be marching, walking always towards freedom. The journey is long and staying in place will not get us there.

Pacifists should not be afraid to raise arms.
They should raise their arms high, and in doing so, hold those who are hurting. They should wrap their arms tightly around those in need of protection, and those who are alone.

Pacifists should not be silent.
Instead, they must lift their voices, for when words are your only weapon, you must use them loudly and frequently until you are heard. If the voices are still and soft they must join together, because a chorus is the only way to be heard above the din.

Pacifists should not boycott those who disagree with them.
Rather, they should sit at the table beside one another and join in conversations. It is too rare that minds change on their own, and even more unlikely that they change whilst being yelled at from afar.

Pacifists should not chain themselves to trees, gates, or barricades.
It is better to chain ourselves to each other, and to realize that our liberations and our lives are bound together.

Pacifists should not go on hunger strikes.
The hunger for justice has already burned through their bodies, unquenched by anything but liberty.

Pacifists should not run away from conflict.
Instead, they should run toward it, and quickly. It is easy to remain on the sideline of fights that do not involve ourselves, but in doing so, we often find ourselves standing on the side of the oppressor. Work dilligently, instead, for another’s right to life, water, religion, and love.

Pacifists should not be still.
Action after action is the only thing that can topple the tyrant of complacency.

Too often it is easy to confuse pacifism with isolationism, or to pretend that being unaffected by violence is the same thing as being at peace. We cannot remain still, silent, and passive in the fact of injustice, but rather lift our voices in a cry for solidarity, march towards a better future, and one by one move the mountains that lay before us. Our support must not be in spirit, but in body, and our beliefs manifested as actions.

We – the pacifists – must act.