Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

2019 05 12 Caden Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

+++++

Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





My Own Search for Sunday

The last day at our old church, not one month ago, I left the group of volunteers I led with these words from Rachel Held Evans’ blog:

“When writing about her troubled marriage, author Glennon Melton wisely avoids telling other women what to do, and instead puts the choice this way:

‘Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard. And both roads can lead to redemption.’

The same is true for church. There is no single road to redemption.  And there is certainly not a straight one. As novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, ‘grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.’”

As excited as I was to find our new church, this volunteer position - these volunteers - were the reason I stayed for so long. I spoke these words with a slight catch in my voice as I told everyone I was leaving, that we had found a new church. These words helped reassure me, helped give me the strength to leave.

Just five days later, I learned that Rachel Held Evans was admitted to the hospital and had been put in a medically-induced coma.

This past Saturday, my social media feeds became plastered with her image after she passed away.

+++++

At our “old” (read: just two months ago) church, I was in charge of the 30 or so volunteers in the birth-Kindergarten children’s ministry area. I filled snack cups, checked nametags, paged parents, sent out reminder emails, and led huddle for our group, filling them in on announcements and coming up with some sort of inspiration for the hour.

The night before my last day, I sat with my laptop and a notebook, searching for the words to tell my group I was leaving. How did I tell them we’d found a different church? How did I tell them I just couldn’t stay here anymore? It didn’t take long for me to search Rachel Held Evans’ blog, to scroll through the archives and find the one titled “Life After Evangelicalism”. It was there I found her (and Glennon’s, and Marilynne’s) words to sum up my decision.

It was Rachel’s words I so often turned to when I couldn’t find words of my own. When my own brain was in tumult, she projected clarity. She was a writers’ writer and a thinker’s thinker; someone who could harness into words what felt trapped in my own head.

2019 05 09 Book 01.jpg

I’d read Searching for Sunday a couple years ago, about her own journey through and with and out of the evangelical church. Of course she had the words to sum up my decision to leave.

+++++

Maybe I should back up to the whole “we left our church and found a new one” part. It’s a decision that may seem sudden to those on the outside. To me, it’s a long-overdue change. It’s a decision I’ve been wrestling with for at least two years, if not longer. To say it has consumed my thoughts is an understatement.

It was a whole host of factors; far more than I can go into detail with here. It was the lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was not seeing women in the highest positions of leadership, or even quoted from the stage. Along those lines, it was the realization that the faith leaders I turned to (Glennon Doyle, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr) were never mentioned; it was always men (James Dobson, Henry Cloud, John Piper). It was never discussing social justice, or really anything out in the great, wide world outside the church walls. (Refugees? Immigrants? Hurricane victims? Anything? Nothing.) It was the fact that the messages had gotten so repetitive - literally the same exact stories repeated two, three, four times, so often I knew the punchlines and could repeat them myself - that I got virtually nothing out of going to church. And by the way, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? (Yes. Next. Can we talk about something else, please?)

Then there was the 2016 election. To learn that over 80% of white, evangelical Christians in this country had deemed Donald Trump worthy of the presidency felt like the ultimate betrayal. To go to church and feel like a stranger. To feel like the church had completely abandoned everything I thought it stood for. To wonder where all the people were who felt the way I did - surely they were out there, weren’t they?

I talked it over with Tyson for more hours than either he or I can count. Bless him for listening to my constant dialogue of “do we stay or do we go”. I’d thought about and written out pros and cons lists over and over and over again.

I became hostile to church. Volunteering was the only thing I enjoyed anymore. More often we sat towards the back, me with my arms crossed, eyes narrowed, ready to pounce and critique anything and everything the pastor said.

I knew enough to realize this was an extremely unhealthy posture towards a church I tithed to, a church where I led other volunteers, a place I had called my own.

In March of this year, finally, I decided it was time.

“We have nothing going on this weekend. Let’s check out this other church,” I told Tyson. He was game, along for my existential faith-crisis journey. He was probably relieved.

So we did.

+++++

To walk into a new church (a UCC denomination) that first Sunday was a little like stepping into my past. It was much smaller, sure, but the pews, the hymnals, the altar were all familiar from my Catholic upbringing. I was hopeful but guarded, running through the checklist of requirements in my head.

The pastor kicked off with an announcement about helping the flood victims in Nebraska and Iowa. (Acknowledging the world outside this church: check.) He talked about caring for refugees and our broken immigration system in his sermon. (Social justice: check.) The Lord’s Prayer, printed in the bulletin, allowed us to call God a name of our own choosing, whether Father, Mother, or God. (LGBTQ/allowing for other genders: check.) The choir sang “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. (Broadway music: BONUS!)

Tyson turned to me with a smile on his face when the service was over, “They couldn’t have put together a church service that would have resonated with you more.”

And just like that, we’d found our new church home.

+++++

This church change is now tangled up with Rachel Held Evans’ death in my head. Her death lends a sadness to this time, a time where I’ve been feeling alive again, energized (maybe like never before) by the church. I needed her words to transition me out of the evangelical church world. I needed her encouragement - her own “searching for Sunday” journey to help me along in my own.

(Of note: the pastor at my new church acknowledged her death this past weekend. I’m certain our old church did not.)

Rachel Held Evans ended her post, “Life After Evangelicalism”, with these words:

“You are not alone.

There is life after this. There is faith after this.

Hold on.”

That seems as good a way as any to close out my tangled emotions on her death and our own church change.

There is life after this. There is faith after this. Amen.

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

2019 04 23 Me All Playtime 02.jpg

READ
A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Searching for Sunday
I’ve written about these before, but today I post them as a tribute to Rachel Held Evans. She has been an essential voice in my faith journey and to hear about her death this past Saturday was beyond devastating. (Such unwelcome news in sharp contrast to the sunny t-ball game I was watching; opening Instagram to post a t-ball photo only to find Sarah Bessey’s announcement at the top.) I had begun re-reading Searching for Sunday within days of learning Rachel Held Evans was in the hospital; I’m working through A Year of Biblical Womanhood now. I plan to read through Inspired again as well, and to tackle Evolving in Monkey Town for the very first time. It’s my own (very) small tribute to the life of a woman I loved and respected so much from afar.

And Now We Have Everything
While I enjoyed this memoir, what I think I loved more was this article inspired by the book and how we need more “memoirs of regular lives”. The book chronicles the author’s unexpected pregnancy and transition to new motherhood in some of the most real terms I’ve ever read. It’s relatable primarily because the subject matter is so ordinary - and it’s the ordinariness that makes it so vivid and real.

The Man Who Ate Everything
This book was a joy to read. I love everything food-related, and Jeffrey Steingarten talks about food so brilliantly as he bounces around from one food obsession to the next, from sourdough bread to french fries.

Almost Everything
I saw someone once describe Anne Lamott as a “feminist C.S. Lewis”, and that sounds about right to me. She tackles faith and hope and the actual logistics of life with such wisdom and humor it’s hard not to love her. In this book she gives us a reason to hope and reminds us of the good things in life. It’s a perfect book for the time we’re in. (P.s. She recently got married for the very first time and I just love everything about it so much.)

Walking on Water
Speaking of feminists, I think it’s safe to call Madeline L’Engle one after reading her thoughts on so-called “Christian art” in this classic book. As a writer, this is one I will continue to return to. She cuts through much of the lame ideas surrounding Christian art and I’ve been quoting the line “If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject” every single chance I get.

Belong To Me
This novel was a re-re-read for me. I needed something easy and uplifting and this book is it. It chronicles three neighbors and how their lives intersect through family dynamics, death, grief, parenting, and societal standards. Any book that makes me fall in love with the characters is a book I’m willing to come back to over and over again.

The Middle Place
This is Kelly Corrigan’s memoir of her journey with breast cancer and her father’s simultaneous journey with his own cancer diagnosis. I really don’t know how to describe her writing: she’s real and raw and funny and bares her whole self to us. This book is about life and death, sickness and health, of being both parent and child at the same time. It’s wonderful.
Lift
I read this while waiting for my hold to come up on The Middle Place. It’s an easy yet complex, funny, wonderful memoir of motherhood. I read this short book in one sitting and wished it went on far longer. Basically Kelly Corrigan is the writer I want to be when I grow up.

When Breath Becomes Air
I’ve been hearing about this book since it was published in 2016, and now I know why. This memoir chronicles Paul Kalanithi’s late-stage cancer diagnosis just as he is on the verge of completing medical school (specializing in neurosurgery). He quickly goes from doctor to patient, then back again. It’s a fascinating snapshot of his life and the process of making life decisions in the face of death. The book certainly feels unfinished since he ultimately passed before it’s completion, and left me wondering what else he had to say. His widow’s epilogue is both a beautiful and heartbreaking way to end the book.

Multiples Illuminated
I’ve been wanting to read this collection of essays for awhile - it’s so hard to find anything multiples-specific! It was fine; like most essay collections, some were written much better than others. In the end it was relatable for me and left me wanting to write more about my own motherhood journey with twins.

Delancey
I guess I was on a memoir kick for the past two months or so. I can’t remember where I first encountered Molly Wizenberg - possibly through her blog, Orangette? I was hooked on her voice, but somehow this book got pushed to the back of my reading list. I finally got to it and loved reading about her journey in opening a pizza restaurant with her husband. (Warning: you will be craving wood-fired pizza throughout the entire book.) It also made me absolutely never want to open a restaurant.

WATCHED
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
We’ve been working through this one for a couple months now. It is delightful. This is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and the dialogue (while sometimes overly-scripted) is fun and witty. I wish it would delve into Mrs. Maisel’s role as a mother more (really those poor kids seem like an afterthought, why are they even there?) but the show is so entertaining I’m willing to look past that.

Knock Down the House
This documentary focuses on four women taking on Democratic incumbents in primary races - most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s clear from the beginning that she has the kind of charisma and intelligence people are drawn to. It’s a well-done look at their races and reasons for running. I didn’t need any more reasons to cheer on AOC, but this definitely gives me a fuller picture of her own political journey.

LISTENED

The Liturgists Podcast
I know, I just linked to them last time, but combine The Liturgists with Richard Rohr and I am ALL. IN. There are two parts. It’s long. I’ve already listened through them both twice. It’s so much food for thought based on Richard Rohr’s new book. I love him so much. Just listen and then find someone to talk to about it.

On Second Thought: The Trevor Noah Podcast
People, I literally downloaded the Luminary app purely so I can listen to this podcast. For anyone who’s watched his “between the scenes” clips from The Daily Show, that’s what this podcast reminds me of. Trevor Noah talks about news in such a smart, fresh, entertaining way. In the first episode, he brought in Tiger Woods’ own memoirist to talk about Woods’ recent Masters win. I don’t even care much about Tiger Woods, yet the conversation was fascinating.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream

This will be the fourth recipe I’ve posted here. So far I’ve shared one stew, one cake, one pasta.

Is it too soon for more pasta?

In our house the answer would be no, so that’s what I’m going to go with here.

I’ve never been much for tomatoes (except in salsa, bruschetta, or ketchup form). Marinara sauce has always made me gag a bit. Just ask my mom who used to roll her eyes at my request for plain noodles and meatballs on spaghetti night.

I’ve come around a little in recent years, though my favorite pasta sauces seem destined to always be cream-based. This one, despite a decent amount of heavy cream still feels light - not filling. Perfect for spring.

I first became aware of the idea of seasonal cooking when we were newlyweds living in Madison. Walking around the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings is still one of the things I miss the most. Especially if we could re-live the Saturdays of our pre-kid days, where we could sleep in, roll out of bed, take a lap around the farmer’s market, and return home to make up an omelette or breakfast hash with whatever fresh goodies we’d found that day. (And all served up with a side of hot spicy cheese bread.)

Spring is still the season that eludes me the most as far as cooking goes. I find it difficult to pinpoint the flavors of the season. Summer tastes like cold watermelon and burgers off the grill, fall is everything pumpkin and apple and cinnamon, winter is heavy with soups and stews. But spring? Usually when the first warm stretch hits I’m ready to crank up the grill and find the juiciest watermelon I can find, even if it is April and only 50 degrees.

Spring is lighter, I’m finding. More nuanced. It’s the flavors of ham and peas you see here. It’s all things asparagus and baby greens. It’s some early strawberries if you’re daring. It’s rhubarb, which I’m still learning to like.

Short of strolling around the farmers’ market like we used to, this is about as spring-y as it gets from our local grocery store.. Though I just discovered by adding the link above that you can now order hot spicy cheese bread by mail. Maybe we can recreate a piece of our farmers’ market glory days this weekend after all. This could be dangerous.

2019 02 28 Dinner 02.jpg

Pasta with Prosciutto, Snow Peas, Basil, and Cream
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Depending on which kid this is in front of, they admittedly don’t eat much of the snow peas or prosciutto. I usually serve it with a salad and a handful of grapes, so at least they’re eating something fresh with their cream-covered pasta topped with “sprinkle cheese”. Adapted from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box orecchiette pasta

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 2 shallots (if big) or 4 shallots (if small)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/4 pound prosciutto shank, sliced thin and cut into narrow strips

  • 1/2 pound snow peas, ends trimmed and chopped if large

  • 1 -1 1/2 cups cream

  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan plus more for topping

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. dried basil

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Cook pasta according to package directions.

  • Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes until they just begin to soften. Add garlic and saute for a minute more.

  • Add prosciutto to pan. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • Add snow peas and continue to saute for 3-4 more minutes. Stir often so they don’t stick and don’t cook for too long - the peas should still be crunchy.

  • Add cream and just bring to a boil. Add Parmesan and stir until it’s melted and incorporated, then turn the heat to low. Add salt and pepper to taste, and basil. Let the sauce just barely simmer over low heat while you wait for the pasta to finish.

  • Drain pasta and toss with the cream, prosciutto, and snow pea mixture. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and devour. Smile, because surely this is what spring tastes like.

NOTE

  • The original recipe calls for snap peas (which I can’t stand). I much prefer the lighter, thinner, snow peas to their thick, bulky cousins. If you’re less picky than I am, however, feel free to sub snap peas here.

  • I’m not really sure how much basil I use. I never measure it out. This is an educated but conservative guess - I’m pretty positive I use more. Add basil to your own taste, but don’t be shy. And if you’re one of those people who manages to have fresh herbs around please go for the fresh stuff.

I Don't Know How You Do It

I pulled up and parked in my favorite lot: the side mall entrance. There were usually plenty of spots available, especially mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. A couple of afternoons a month I would take the twins, then babies, to the mall to walk around. If I timed nursing just right I would have about an hour and a half to spend there. Fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back meant I would return home in time to nurse them again. (Because nursing twins in public is a whole other level of stress, y’all.)

The mall was the perfect spot to stretch my legs while I pushed the stroller, especially with the chilly spring weather outside. I liked to look at the sale racks at JCrew and Banana Republic, though we didn’t really have the money to buy anything. Instead, I’d treat myself to a consolation pretzel (cinnamon sugar) and lemonade from Auntie Anne’s, then sit on a bench and hope the babies wouldn’t cry because we’d stopped moving.

On this particular Tuesday, I hauled the frame for the double stroller out of the trunk of our Prius, released one carseat and strapped it in, then another. I threw the overstuffed diaper bag over my shoulder and headed to the entrance, pushing the handicap button to let us in.

Nothing happened.

I pushed it again, harder this time. And again, at a slightly different angle.

The door didn’t budge. I stared at the door to the mall entrance, now my enemy. I shoved the diaper bag higher up on my shoulder and pulled the door open, balancing it with my legs splayed while I pulled the double stroller inside. Once in the vestibule I pushed the button for the interior door. It didn’t move, either. I glared at the second door. We were basically trapped since the in-line double-stroller took up the entire entry from door to door. I sucked in my stomach, moved around the stroller as best I could, and managed to open the door a few inches before it hit a stroller wheel. I scooched and inched my way in, wiggling first the stroller, then the door, until we made it inside.

I pushed my hair out of my face and looked around at the bright lights inside the department store as I caught my breath. My enthusiasm for this outing had waned during the whole door debacle. I was startled when I realized a woman stood next to the rack of shirts beside us, staring down and smiling at me and the babies.

“Twins?” she asked sweetly, “I don’t know how you do it!”

Well, I thought, I sure could’ve used a hand with the door. Had she been there the whole time? I felt annoyed at her, at the malfunctioning doors, at the fact that no one had come to my rescue. Bothered that she probably wanted to stop and coo at the babies, taking up my precious non-nursing time.

I’m sure I gave her a faint smile, though I know I had absolutely no response. I heard this often. And every time the answer that popped into my head was because I have to.

+++++

"So what's it like to have twins?" is something I’ve been asked dozens of times. It’s diminished over the years, after we added a third to the mix and I was no longer accompanied everywhere by two babies in carseats. More often now I’m asked if my kids are triplets.

I never knew how to answer the question. What is life with twins like? I have no idea. Exhausting, I guess? I might as well ask you what life with one baby is like since that’s something I’ve never known. The concept of one baby is as foreign to me as multiples is to everyone else.

I would usually shrug, give a little laugh, and say something like, "Well, it's all we've ever known!" Or, the ever-vague answer of “busy!” Which was true, if not detailed.

However the conversation went, it was often followed up with the whole “I don’t know how you do it!” thing. I got it from everyone: grandparents, baristas, friends’ spouses. I never knew what to say to this, either.

And maybe I never needed to say anything. Maybe my postpartum hormones were working in overdrive while my sleep-deprived brain tried to make sense of the process of engaging in adult conversation. But every time I heard, “I don’t know how you do it!”, it bothered me. It implied I had a choice.

+++++

And what choice did I have? Quitting my job was non-negotiable, for starters. There was no money to put two babies into daycare when the cost of daycare would have eaten up my entire paycheck. Then there was the state of my mental health - I couldn’t wrap my head around working all day and coming home to (literally) take care of two babies all night. When you factored in the cost of formula, disposable diapers, take-out, and the value of both Tyson’s and my mental stability, the decision was clear.

At night when one woke up to nurse, so did the other. Neither Tyson or I had a choice then. He would rock a baby while I nursed the second. We were the definition of two ships passing in the night while we wore a path in the upstairs carpet, each walking back and forth with a fussy baby, sometimes for hours at a time. While friends of ours bemoaned having to trade shifts at night and couldn’t get more than a three-hour stretch of sleep with their one baby, I bit my tongue. The idea of “shifts” didn’t exist in our house. If one was up, everyone was up.

After the very early days of pure survival, I began to leave the apartment again. By the time they were three months old, this was a necessity. I couldn’t breathe in our tiny space day after day. “I don’t know how you do it!” people would say when I showed up to a social outing with two babies in tow. Do you really expect me to stay home all the time? I would think.

+++++

Lest I sound ungrateful, I do realize this was intended as a compliment. It just always seemed so vague. “You’re such a good mom to those babies!” would have been more helpful - at the very least it would have been an easier compliment to respond with a smile and a “thank you”.

The thing was, I didn’t really want people to say anything to me when I was out with the twins. Anytime I was stopped I could only think this person was taking up the precious little time I had without a baby attached to my breast. What I wanted more than anything was help. I craved acknowledgement, to be seen. For people to understand that this was hard. That’s what they were saying to me after all. “I don’t know how you do it...because it’s so hard” is what was implied each and every time.

2016 08 09 All Me Target 01.jpg

But I didn’t want them to wonder how I did it. I wanted them to let me go ahead of them in the checkout line. I wanted them to ask how they could help, not just wonder aloud at how hard my life must be with two small babies to care for.

I didn’t want them to wonder how I was able to nurse two babies. I wanted them to entertain one while I nursed their sibling at the library.

I didn’t want my friends to wonder how I got out the door for a playdate. I wanted them to pick up an iced vanilla latte for me on the way.

I didn’t want a stranger to marvel at my ability to get through the door. I wanted them to hold the damn door.

+++++

Hearing “I don’t know how you do it,” taught me what I actually needed - what any mother needs in a difficult stage in her life.

She needs someone to give her a gift card for coffee when the toddler melts down in the middle of aisle 11.

She needs someone to watch her kids for a couple of hours so she can take a nap.

She needs someone to drop off dinner on Thursday evening, just because she’s a mom of young kids and it’s Thursday.

She needs someone to say “let me help you with that” while she loads bag after bag of groceries in the minivan while also herding small children to their carseats.

She needs someone to give her a nod and a smile, just a little bit of encouragement to get through the day.

She doesn’t need anyone to wonder how she does the work of nursing, changing diapers, sweeping up crumbs, tackling mountains of laundry, and getting up night after fussy night. We’re mothers.

It’s what we do.

+++++

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."