Parenting Through Brokenness and Insanity

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We attended the open house for the twins’ school next year. They will be in kindergarten. How this is possible, I have no idea, but we’re here. I’m trying to enter into this season with presence and honesty, even though I kind of feel scared shitless.

Because I feel like they’re slipping away from me already.

I know – I’m being a little dramatic. They’re not even five. But there are days when I feel like I have zero influence on their lives. Because either I’m repeating myself a dozen times before they respond or listen or they are doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. 

One morning last week when I dropped them off for preschool, I made a rookie mistake. Heaven forbid, I open the doors or allow anyone else to open the doors, but as we walked in with another family, I saw their littlest reach for the door bumping into Desmond as he grabbed the door handle. So I told Desmond to let Colin open it for us.

Hell hath no fury than an almost-five year old who is deterred from this task.

I watched him have his meltdown and waited as he stomped his feet and screamed through his tears, “I. Hate. School!!!” I said to him, gently, “You don’t hate school. You’re frustrated with Mommy for asking you to let Colin open the door.” He responded with more shrieking, stomping and pounding the air. Finally, I was able to convince him to help me distribute the Valentine’s Day cards to all his friends’ cubbies. We were doing so great, and he was starting to forget the door.

Along comes Ozzie, our youngest.

These two together are a constant train wreck on the verge of happening. Ozzie starts shoving and goading Desmond, which makes him cry even more, of course, and it’s totally derailing whatever progress we’re making with the cards. Finally, Oz punches him, and then I yell at Oz and shove him aside. He falls to the ground and cries like I’ve committed the ultimate betrayal. Et tu, Mommy? 

I’m done. At this point, I leave the rest of the cards on top of the cubbies, throw the lunch boxes in the fridge, and stomp out. Desmond tries to follow me and I say very firmly, and in a not-so-Happy-Mommy voice – “GO TO YOUR CLASS.”

He cries, and turns around.

I get in my car, drive off, and cry at the stoplight.

I know, I’m being a little dramatic. But, they’re about to go off to school-school. I feel like I’ll blink and the next twelve years will be over, and all they will remember is how I yelled at them and left them at school today with my voice in their ears void of any loving support. I know, I know – we all have our days. I know we all have our exhaustion. I know we all have moments where we just can’t hold it together even for the sake of our kids.

One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one's secret insanity and brokenness and rage. ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First YearClick To Tweet

My mother was never this way in public. She was the prototypical Tiger Mother – hardcore piano lessons, school was the be-all-end-all, and Lord, Lord the emotional manipulation, the screeching and the wooden spoons. But, she was somehow able to keep it together when we were outside of the house. She never raised her voice to us, she never shoved us, and we were never just dropped off in anger or frustration.

Sometimes this patient demeanor would translate into a muteness and reserve. When she didn’t speak up or if she was reticent to participate in conversations with the other parents, I would feel annoyed. Why is she just standing there staring? I would ask myself as I observed her with the other kids’ mothers.

I wonder, though, if being an immigrant had anything to do with her voice when we were out on the playground or at school together. She has always struggled with the language, but it was more than that – she wasn’t comfortable or familiar with the culture around her. Perhaps she felt the depth of her foreignness when the mothers around her chattered about pie recipes or the latest visits with the in-laws. I began to see the origins of that smile she would automatically paste on her face whenever we were out together. A smile to express listening, but one to also cover up the straining-to-understand, and I could almost feel her heart and spirit were somewhere else, on a different shore.

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It's a sign of bravery.  Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherClick To Tweet

When I look at her now as I stand on this side of motherhood I realize how brave and strong she was with us. How some of that not-so-secret insanity and brokenness and exhaustion we saw glimpses of in the home – what a burden that was to carry for our sake. How she must have carried it alone in so many ways – holding it in private and out there. How grateful I am for the community of mothers and teachers and schools and childcare workers and babysitters and my spouse around me who get it and help me to keep parenting through it all.

I doubt the kids will remember the moments I lose it with them – the screaming, the frustration, and the stomping away, but I will remember, I think. But, I’ll remember the grace, too. I’ll remember the ways my mother kept on, and I’ll remember the ways the kids keep on, I’ll remember how when I picked them up from school, they came to me with squeals and laughter, squeezing my neck, they ran to me as though I’d been away for days and that morning nothing but a wisp of a memory.

I Love Being A Soccer Mom

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Never in a million years would I ever-ever-ever have imagined I’d say this out loud:

I love being a soccer mom.

But, wait. Soccer moms are put-together suburbanites. With perfectly bobbed hair, and outfits that look thoughtful even if technically activewear. With a roast chicken ready for dinner by the time their husbands walk through the doors. With children who are clean and smell like vanilla cookies. With homes that are immaculate and shiny. With mini-vans and yoga classes and music lessons.

Except I don’t know a single mom that is actually like this when I think about it. Maybe one. Or two, at the most. But, hardly any.

I wonder if the era of venerating the likes of June Cleaver and Carol Brady is over? Because these days I see more moms (and dads) out and about with their kids in leggings and sweats, tshirts covered in breakfast and toothpaste, and the most remarkable bedhead. Only a pillow and a restless night of sleep with a toddler across your face could create that kind of coif. When I look around it seems like many of us have for the most part stopped worrying about upholding some illusive ideal surrounding looks and parenthood. Not that you all don’t look good – I mean, you do, you all are really beautiful people – but the image of put-togetherness seems less of a priority. I feel it in the way my eyes flicker up to meet the quick glance of the mothers and fathers at the library or children’s museum like a silent fist-bump: I see you. It’s about solidarity and survival. Anyways, we likely – at least, I, – save the energy and effort that goes into brushing my teeth and hair for the rare occasion we go out in the evenings with friends or the significant other, and dress as if it’s 1999, and we are still in college, our lives and children not even a twinkle in the night full of jello shots and beer pong.

Sigh. I’m so glad those days are over. Jello shots. Gross.

“Mostly good is enough. Mostly good produces healthy kids who know they are valued and either forget the other parts or turn them into funny stories.”
Jen HatmakerFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

Because, honestly, I seriously love being a soccer mom. I am ready to embrace it. You know, the kids are at an age where they are just learning and doing so much. The amount they figure out each day grows exponentially. We can hardly keep up with them. One minute they’re crying that they can’t take the lids off of the markers. The next minute they’re channeling Picasso and Monet with all sorts of mediums, not only markers, but glue and tape and scissors (mostly, supervised).

And so, this is what a soccer mom means to me. It means loving their stage of life right now.Click To Tweet

It means loving watching them run and kick and do the worst jumping jacks ever with Coach Keelan. It means loving watching the kids learn to play the piano, and actually sit longer than five minutes to pound out a couple of stanzas with Ms. Susan. It means loving seeing her absolute delight when she finally figures out how to do the monkey bars by herself and he feeds the dog and lets him out on his own initiative.

Who are these people?!?!?

Being a soccer mom means for me loving learning what it means to have children, and be a child. Because what they’re doing is changing and shaping me, teaching and transforming me on a regular basis. It means seeing differently. It means loving hard. It means learning how to receive and welcome. It means being okay with mistakes and failing gloriously.

It means a little bit more proximity to that elusive, but wonderful kingdom. Click To Tweet

I love it. I love it all. I mean, I am so unbelievably exhausted and I still yell and shout and get totally frustrated at their insanity, but I love it.

I love being a soccer mom. I really do. You all are my witnesses – I said it. I love it. Now I just need a minivan.

Ordinary Effects and #WholeMama

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The crowded Starbucks.

We’re crammed together at a table of refurbished wood dark but glistening with the reflection of a hot summer morning sun. He took the lid off his coffee cup and I keep staring at the steam that swirls up in front of a backdrop of windows facing out to an impeccable suburbia. A dense forest of trees and cars that rush by in a blur – stillness and speed having a disorienting effect on me as I sit in my own clash of buzz and quiet.


The ordinary is a thing that has to be imagined and inhabited. It’s also a sensory connection. A jump. And a world of affinities and impacts that take place in the moves of intensity across things that seem solid and dead…The vagueness of the unfinished quality of the ordinary is not so much a deficiency as a resource, like a fog of immanent forces still moving even though so much has already happened and there seems to be plenty that’s set in stone. This is no utopia. Not a challenge to be achieved or an ideal to be realized, but a mode of attunement, a continuous responding to something not quite already given and yet somehow happening. 

-Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart.


Rereading this book on the ordinary again and it’s fitting for numerous reasons, one of which is that it is the #wholemama theme this week. I chose ordinary as my One Word for the year in 2013:

So that’s what I’m going with for this year – 2013. Paying attention to what seems small and insignificant. Gazing at what is normally around me instead of passing it by. Being present in the mud and muck, the water, the laughter, the skies, the bite of a cold wind, the pink of a child’s nose and cheeks, the fleeting thoughts and difficult-to-describe emotions. Embracing the ordinary. Leaning into the ordinary. Growing in the ordinary. Looking out for the ordinary and how it might lead me to kneel at God’s feet, kicking softly in that bed of hay, covered in dirt and cow hairs, his blankets and swaddling loose, and the sound of gurgles and slow blinking…to kneel before God-Incarnate over and over again. It makes sense…to approach God’s very first human throne I would be led there not by a burning bush or even a choir of angels but by something as ordinary as a star and a road.

It’s strange to think that a word can continue to summon meaning and necessity.

Kathleen Stewart writes about her project: “[It is an endeavor towards] speculation, curiosity, and the concrete it tries to provoke attention to the forces that come into view as habit or shock, resonance or impact. Something throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; a something both animated and inhabitable.

The ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences…They’re things that happen…in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like something.”

Sometimes my body rebels against the ordinary. I keep thinking that I can, will, should pursue the sensational and magnificent, and the continuous trek I make to the refrigerator for juice-apples-cheese-carrots all day long seems lacking in any kind of glamour.

Is it the ordinary that my insides revolt against ... or I wonder if I fear getting lost in this banal routine?Click To Tweet

I think of Kathleen Norris and her spiritual discipline of folding laundry. And Brother Lawrence who discovered a kind of peculiar gratification in washing dishes. At least a few times a day I almost touch on it, too, my hands plunged into the soapy water and the rhythm of scrubbing and rinsing and organizing. A baptism over and over. The steady hush of towels and tiny t shirts and shorts increasing in stacks all around me. But, it’s those socks that wrench me out of whatever tranquility. I can never find all the socks.

 ***

The ordinary is the stuff of our lives – it doesn’t arouse feelings of momentousness and relevance. The conversations around me about kitchen renovations and the distance between the refrigerator and island that make me feel like I might lie down in the drive-thru here at the Starbucks … it is everyday life. It simply is. And when I go back home to the continuous push-and-pull of children needing something and everything … same thing – it simply is what it is. And the ever present choice in front of me is to either try to escape it with meaningless pursuits of attention from the wider world or I can bear down and clutch that reality in my fingers as though it is a dandelion blowing away in the wind.

Because it is.

It’s not to say that escape periodically isn’t ok – we need a respite – a break – a change in scenery. But all these moments can be occasions to make meaning. To make beauty and art. To make music. To see and receive more.


The Christmas Spirit is that hope
which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful
and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce
and all the inn doors slammed in our faces
and all the dark nights of our souls
that with God all things are still possible,
that even now unto us
a Child is born!

I want to experience that hope, that tenacity, that radical possibility in the midst of the ordinary this year, and to share that experience with others.


Part of #WholeMama this week as hosted by Esther Emery. Lovely conversations!

Whole Mama

Anna, I See You

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My eyes are squeezed shut in the mornings when I hear her pad softly into my room. She’s always the first one awake. Always. Like clockwork, just before 7 am, her bladder awakens her, and after she is done with her business, she climbs quietly into my bed and puts her face right next to mine. I pry my eyes open and the tip of her nose is pressed lightly against the tip of mine and there’s a smile that stretches across that gorgeous face. Without my glasses I’m almost blind, but at this range I can see the perfect sang-ah-pul on her eyes. Her dark lashes seem to reach out to me.

“Good morning, mommy,” she whispers quietly, and I say, “Hi, beauty, did you have good sleep?” She nods at me, and says she’s hungry.

I roll out of bed with a sigh and a thud; my feet land on the floor. And off we go.

The rest of the day I feel like I’m running up and down the stairs beating the same path from my room to their room to the laundry to the kitchen back to their room and so on and so forth. The kids need apple juice. I need to pee. The kids need socks. I need to wash my face. The boys want their damn ninja turtles. I need to put a shirt on. The girl wants a scarf to tie her baby doll to her back. I need to find my glasses. The baby boy wants to have a dinosaur shirt like his big brother. Where’s my coffee? I run around the house looking for that cup of salvation. There it is. It was on the dryer. The girl needs socks. I need my shoes. The kids need their lunches. I need my phone. The kids want to watch Rescue Bots. I need them to get in the freaking car … right now and sit down and put on your seatbelts!

Did I brush my teeth? Shoot. No. 

They go to camp or school for a large portion of the day. And my mind is in a daze as I try to organize a to-do list, and then sit exhausted from that task alone. After stopping for errands and writing emails in between I pick them up and we come home. And it’s that same trajectory as soon as we walk through the front door. The kids need juice. I need to pee. The kids need socks. I need to send an email. The kids want a show. I need to make a phone call. Then Anna wants me to come to the bathroom with her.

As I stand and wait for her I am looking at my phone again. Reading a blog, maybe. Looking through Instagram. Tweeting a random thought. Or honest to God staring off into space to try to remember that thing I forgot from a minute ago. Or maybe just looking at the wall and wishing it was a happy hour bar. She gets up to wash her hands and sees herself in the mirror. And she sees me, too.

Mommy, do you see me?Click To Tweet

She will say this to me often throughout the day. “Mommy, do you see me? Because I see you.” Lately there are (more) times (than not) when I am short with her and say, “Yes, Anna, of course, I see you” or I snap, “Anna, stop asking me that question, and get in the car,” or “Anna, hurry up and finish going potty and wash your hands.”

It’s been a hard month.

I’ve been snappy and short, impatient and inconsiderate, absent-minded and absorbed. But. Those moments that I see Anna, and our eyes meet in the mirror, I realize her needs are actually really pretty uncomplicated. Juice and socks are helpful. Ultimately though she just wants me to see her.

Seeing is loving when it comes to parenthood and childhood. Click To Tweet

As she grows older I know that she will have to deal with judging eyes, skeptical eyes, diminishing eyes, a gaze that might look at her and see an object (and I swear to God I will kill anyone that dares to see her as anything but wonderful). So I want her to see me seeing her.

It hits me that my needs are pretty simple. Coffee, yes, absolutely, without a doubt. And chips and salsa. And maybe 70 degree weather.

But all I really need is to be seen by her, too.

The Case for Women: Nan-Hui, Purvi, Rekia, and Caitlyn

The Case for Women: Nan-Hui, Purvi, Rekia, and Caitlyn

We’ve entered that stage with Anna. The season where princesses and fancy dresses are the driving force of her life. Headbands with boys. Pink. Oodles of pink and purple and flowers and butterflies. And Frozen is on almost once a day.

I suppose we could have done much worse. At least it’s a story about female empowerment and the love between women and sisters. But I can’t help but think about the state of women today – the fantasy and reality. The stories of real-life women, everyday women, ordinary and regular women, and then namely the women of color who have been served with major injustice makes me wonder if I should still burn all notions of Disney princesses to the ground.

In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn. -Octavia Butler

Think about these stories as of late:

Earlier this year , the state of Indiana sentenced 33-year-old Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison on charges of feticide – an act that causes the death of a fetus – and neglect of a dependent. She received a 30-year-sentence on the felony neglect charge, 10 of which were suspended. A six-year sentence for feticide will be served concurrently. Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge. Reproductive rights activists are outraged. “What this conviction means is that anti-abortion laws will be used to punish pregnant woman,” says Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Nan-Hui Jo (조난희) is a loving single mother, undocumented Korean, and survivor of domestic violence. After fleeing to Korea with her child to escape her abusive partner, she has been charged with “child abduction.” Nan-Hui has been in jail for over nine months without bail. Upon her arrest, her six-year-old daughter was given custody to the child’s father.

On March 3rd, she was found guilty of “child abduction” and is awaiting her sentencing on April 28th. Nan-Hui now faces possible felony charges, indefinite detention, and/or deportation, resulting in permanent separation from her daughter.

Nan-Hui Jo has been criminalized because she is an immigrant, a survivor of domestic violence and the fierce protector of her daughter.

Likewise Rosa Martinez Duarte, a mother of 4 who is a victim of domestic violence, is likewise facing deportation.

Rekia Boyd was fatally shot in the city’s Lawndale neighborhood in 2012. The shooting occurred near the intersection of 15th Place and Albany Avenue as an off-duty Chicago detective stopped to look into a “disturbance” that reportedly involved a group of people gathering near Douglas Park. According to police, after the detective stopped and announced his office, a man — Antonio Cross, 39 — allegedly advanced toward his car with a gun in hand. The officer opened fire from his car, striking Cross in the hand and Boyd, who was standing nearby, in the head.

Have we come very far? We might be able to say, yes, in general, but when I look for shining examples it tends to be narrow and specific. White. Educated. Cisgendered.  Suburban. Economically viable.

And then there’s Caitlyn Jenner. I’m so happy for her debut, and despite the negative response from the insanely Christian Right, which I won’t totally go into how enraged I am at the vitriol they spew in the name of God – I am overjoyed by the expression of support and encouragement. By people of all walks of life. There’s hope. But, Jon Stewart reminds us that there’s still work, when it comes to the treatment of women. The media’s focus on her appearance reminds us that perpetual objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies is oppressive to women:

“Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about,” said Stewart on Tuesday’s episode of “The Daily Show,” mocking the media’s focus on Jenner’s appearance and calling out coverage that became immediately disparaging to other women.

“Okay, I have to ask the most important question: Does she have a better body than Kim Kardashian?” was a comment in one broadcast, while, “Do you think Caitlyn is actually hotter than Kris [Jenner]?” was said in another.

“Look, we want to give a woman a compliment here. We just need to make sure another woman gets taken down a peg in the process,” quipped Stewart. The comedian also called out slut shaming over Jenner’s outfit and questions over the use of air brushing on the photo before eventually ending the segment with a sincere message from the heart:

“Caitlyn Jenner, congratulations. Welcome to being a woman in America.”

Even further, Laverne Cox reminds us there’s other work, too, and it’s equally if not more compelling. There are still young people who are at risk every single minute of every single day. There are trans people of color who are on the verge of losing their families, their homes, and their lives. There are trans people who are constantly trying to be who they are despite the violence done against their bodies. I can’t call myself a feminist if I’m not advocating for all women to find dignity, value, and life. And I fee this all the more acutely as Church struggles to make space for all – conforming and nonconforming to whatever societal or “biblically-mandated” convention. 

I have a feeling that for the few readers of the blog I’m preaching to the choir. But as each day goes by, and Anna gets older, I am more and more convinced that a queer of color perspective is necessary to my writing, ministering, organizing, parenting of not only her but of Desmond and Ozzie, too. I want Anna to feel free to love and be a princess but I want Desmond to do so, too. I want Anna to play with trucks and building sets, and not girls’ building sets. I want Ozzie to play with ninja turtles and wear sweaters with flowers because he chooses it. I want them to know and love their bodies in whatever manner they deem fit because their bodies are their bodies. Bodies matter. All bodies matter. Because it’s about acceptance – that they know they are accepted no matter what, and that we in turn are called to love and accept others. Full stop.