Six Spring Considerations

Forsythia remind me of my grandmother who died when I was a little child. I suspect that my mother at some point (or multiple points) must have said, “Forsythia were Nana’s favorite.” Or perhaps she said, “Forsythia are my favorite” and several memories merged into one impression as they are prone to do. “They’re the first sign of spring,” someone said. Or maybe that’s just what I said to myself.

This jewel in DC’s spring floral crown, the cherry blossom, is a family favorite in spite of its moodiness, or perhaps because of it. “It looks like a weeping willow!” Ms6yo exclaims, affirming her father’s declaration that this particular specimen is one of the prettiest on our neighborhood walks. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival has been cancelled in the name of physical distancing. I’ve only been once or twice anyway. “Locals don’t go to the Cherry Blossom Festival,” my mother used to say. As a local, I follow the directives of my local mother. But there’s nothing in local DC doctrine that precludes us appreciating the flowering trees in locales other than the Tidal Basin on a specified weekend and perhaps especially on these days when flowering tree appreciation can be practiced a safe distance from our neighbors. This time three years ago, we were appreciating the cherry blossoms/ “sakura” in Tokyo, Japan, where my dad went to medical school before following a near-direct latitudinal line to DC to complete his training. Locals don’t go to the Cherry Blossom Festival, but apparently admiring the pink blossoms with the charming, foreign doctor from the hospital where you both work is not against the rules. (Or, if it is, photographic evidence indicates that my mother was a rule-breaker.) No doubt, they had much to talk about as the original trees had been a gift from the Japanese government, which had also gifted my father a scholarship to attend medical school. I have much to thank Japan for.

Is this the specimen to which the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas referring? I am struck by how unseasonal it feels to be talking about Pear Trees right now. I have nothing else to say about this tree or its flowers.

The Tulip Magnolia possesses larger petals and potential growth than the Cherry Blossom, which overshadows it only in name recognition. I love this tree and the way it reminds me every spring that we really are south of the Mason-Dixon here. As the saying goes, “DC combines the congeniality of the north with the efficiency of the south.” I’d heard this characterization before, but it was only when a Midwestern transplant to the east coast said it after I had introduced myself as being from DC that I realized just how mean a thing that is to say, on par with “no one is from DC” after you’ve just said you’re from DC. Does this look like a swamp to you?

The girls call these ones “blue bells” (which makes me think they’ve been reading too many victorian diaries or poetry) and collect the errant ones to place in fairy houses. An offering for fairies or bait? I’m never quite clear. Nor are the fairies. Gardeners and botanists call them the more luscious “garden grape-hyacinth“, which unfortunately sets one up for an inevitable disappointment of inedibility. I have no memory of substance with these little wine cups hanging as if from bar rack (a familiar sight from my childhood at the family restaurant) to say about these ones as I do not recall them from my youth.

I thought this might be the resurrection of a dead hive, but my husband insists these are robber bees. Ours absconded (ok, they died, not their fault) some time ago, and as such I think “scavenger bees” would be more generous and more accurate for these honeybees visiting our hive.

Feast of Saint Joseph

Today is the feast of Joseph. It is also the day that Italy surpassed China in the number of COVID-19-related deaths. Still, we celebrated Saint Joseph, as best we could, with pasta and bread crumbs approximating the sawdust at the feet of a carpenter.

My paternal grandparents were from China. Poor (and perhaps seeing the writing on the wall?), they left far before even my father was born and before the revolution. We have no known ancestry from Italy. Still, “celebrate everything,” as our pastor instructs. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of Italy and my husband’s confirmation saint. As a father and husband, he has a particular devotion to this quietest of biblical figures.

This morning, I dared to venture out to the grocery store for provisions for my parents including ingredients for a linguine dish on the recommendation of my mother’s Sicilian friend. By default, all Catholics are some sort of honorary Italian. After Mr 2yo fell into his afternoon nap, I beat eggs and sugar and flour into a warm, shiny submission on the stove top. The girls injected pastry cream into these puffs of baked dough to form zepolle de San Giuseppe (aka much less romantic sounding “cream puffs”). Were our Italian counterparts doing the same from their confines of their homes and to prepare their altars to Saint Joseph, loaded with treats and sweets that would not be shared in the way that they were meant to be?

Music by Ms6yo.

This time last year, we made cream puffs and rice fritters for a Saint Joseph altar to share with our small community of faithful at our daily mass. But this year? Verboten. (Pray, you’ll pardon me for mixing cultures in these trying times.)

We had let Saint Patrick’s day slide by with nary a “pray for us” in spite of the fact that we are Irish “on both sides”. Like many of these days, this Irish feast slipped by us before we could catch it with a shot of Jameson or a pint of Guinness. We now know that these days call for preparation and forethought but we hadn’t yet learned that lesson before March 17. Before March 17, we still thought that we could run out to grab a corned beef and a trip to the beer and wine store (this is still Montgomery County, after all) wouldn’t mean quite as much hand sanitizer.

Saint Joseph. Pray for us!

The Visitation

Yesterday morning, I prayed the tail and the first decade of the rosary on an app on my phone. It was a Monday, so the joyful mysteries were the prix fixe, and the first is “The Annunciation”. For lent, I’ve been praying all five decades once a day which, for me, has meant lying in bed at the end of the day, trying not to doze off between, or during, Hail Marys. Most nights, there’s the inevitable near slippage of the phone out of my hand, the jolt awake. “Did I already finish this Hail Mary? Well, better do it again, just to be safe.” Which is, of course, ridiculous and not the point at all. I’ve heard it said before that if you fall asleep while praying the rosary, angels will finish it for you. I hate to bother them. The rosary doesn’t have to be prayed all in one sitting — or in one “lying” in this case — so I figured a decade here or there through the day might mean fewer opportunities for the phone to slip from my lazy fingers and topple onto my face. My phone is not light, but no one ever said praying the rosary was without danger and risk.

Later in the day, an old friend called from his truck on his way to work where he lives in upstate New York. He practices Zen Buddhism and so, over the phone, he shared some of his experiences with meditating using Ko-ans. At one point during our conversation, I laughed. I had thought, I explained to him, that Zen Ko-ans were sort of parallel to the mysteries of the rosary. “I was wrong,” I told him.

Ms10yo said to me today, “It doesn’t even feel like lent.” I asked her if she meant because we were staying in and social distancing. We haven’t been to mass in a few weeks. “It’s like we gave up mass for lent,” I told her. She laughed. “Which is totally the opposite,” she said. But maybe this time is even more “lenten” in some ways: giving up so many “things”, even mass, to rely on each other and what we have present in our own homes. Do we need a ko-an to see God? Do we need mass to know him?

I consider the alternative to praying the rosary before falling asleep; to spread it out during the day so that I’m not fighting sleep. But I also consider, “what would I do if I weren’t praying the rosary in my bed at the end of the day.” Would my mind be racing, reviewing every interaction I had during the day? Trying to find the meaning behind two tweets I’d stumbled across. Would I be forcing meaningless words and phrases into awkward patterns of meaning? Would my mind be working, overtime, deep into the night to make sense out of fear or other senseless emotions and experiences. Better, I suspect, to consider the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and the messenger angel who spoke them. Better to picture two cousins, John and Jesus,: one pouring baptismal water over the head of the other. Better, even, to contemplate the pillar and what was perpetrated there.

After I hung up the phone with my friend in New York, my daughter’s Godmother texted me. She would be working from home for a while. She asked for prayers that her and her room-mate wouldn’t kill each other. “I’ll be praying the second joyful mystery later today,” I texted her. “I think The Visitation might be an appropriate decade to offer for you and your roommate.” In The Visitation, Mary learns that her cousin, Elizabeth who is “advanced in age”, is pregnant and she quickly makes her way to take care of her. Elizabeth and her son, John, know who Mary carries in her own womb as soon as they see her. “I’ll pray that you guys get a little Mary-Elizabeth vibe going between you.” Not that I hoped both of them would become pregnant, but that they would take care of each other in the way that the two biblical cousins did. Hail Mary, indeed.

Ten Tips for Thriving Through School Closures: Lessons from Homeschooling Parents

The man delivering these saw me take a picture and said, “Not the same.” And we laughed and laughed.

1. All human beings, including kids, are hard wired to learn. Every single person is made to take in their environment in whichever way or ways they can and to process their experiences. That’s all that learning is. I used to be a classroom teacher so I’ll let you into a little (actually, big) secret: everybody learns. The biggest, hardest part of being a teacher is allowing this process to take place naturally. Sometimes this means getting the right resources into their hands at the right time and sometimes this means protecting them from standardized testing and other barriers that traditional schools and society places in between them and authentic learning. Whatever it is, the hardest part of being a classroom teacher is negotiating the education system for our students. The easiest? The learning. Kids do it without any help from anyone. Curiosity is innate. Actual learning requires no work (zero! zilch!) on the part of the teacher. So no matter what happens during this period of time when the schools are closed, I can guarantee your kids will be learning.

2. Listen to your children. They will figure out a way to communicate their needs to you but this becomes much easier if they have a willing and eager listener. They will tell you what they want to learn and even how they want to learn it.

Learning can be messy. But it doesn’t have to be.

3. You can always throw out the curriculum. At the beginning of our second time around starting homeschooling (we sent the two older kids to Catholic school briefly) we bought two curricula, one for each of our kids. When it was shiny and new, it was all very exciting. It eased some of our stresses and concerns around “are we doing the right thing?” However, it stopped working for us a few months in. The material was too out-dated. Some of the ideas being taught were illogical and inaccurate. And our experience with the “support staff” showed that they were not interested in working with families to improve or make changes. It was starting to take us more time to “undo” the problems than it was to actual teach the material. We continued to use those bits and pieces that seemed to be working but for the most part, we tossed it (which was painful given how much money and time we had already spent on it). You will possibly have access to a curriculum while your children’s school is closed. It might work for you. But it might not. It might work really well for your children’s teachers and for your children in the context of that classroom. But it might not work for you and our child at home. That’s fine. Just put it aside. There are infinite other things and ways and ideas and topics to learn out there. Jump in.

4. You are an expert on… something. We both have advanced degrees. We’ve spent a lot of years (and a lot of money!) in several different institutes of higher learning, some of them are “prestigious.” But these degrees haven’t helped one iota in getting to know the one subject we have had to learn inside and out in order to successfully homeschool: our children. This is an opportunity to become an expert on your children, to learn everything you can about them. And vice-a-versa. You are an expert in your own life. You might also be an expert in all sorts of other areas, but believe it or not, you have made it this far, surely you’ve had some experiences and learned some things about life along the way. Your kids want to hear about those things. Just the other day, Ms10yo overheard Eric and I talking about the newspaper where I worked briefly. “You worked at a newspaper?” she exclaimed. “Why haven’t you ever told me this?” She then had a series of questions about what I did and what it was like. I think I worked there for maybe nine months, definitely less than a year, so it wasn’t exactly life defining, but, to a 10yo, it was eye opening for her to hear about it. And especially coming from her mom. Which brings us to….

5. Tell stories and read aloud. My parents live about eight minutes away so we see them almost every day. They are a crucial and integral part of our lives and therefore homeschooling. The other day, I overheard them in the kitchen while I was watching Mr2yo. My mom grew up in the city (DC) until she went to boarding high school in rural Pennsylvania where she was taught by nuns, one of whom she knew from her elementary school in DC. It was my mom’s job to go outside to ring a bell at meal time. One day, she took her bell outside to ring it. As she looked out over one of the surrounding fields, my mother saw some sort of creature near the edge of the woods. She was horrified. She ran inside, put her bell down and rushed down the stairs to the safety of the school community. As she rounded steps into the dining hall, the nun who knew her from her childhood in the city saw her, “Chris,” the nun said, “Calm down. It’s a groundhog.” Unbeknowst to my mom, this nun had watched the whole thing and knew that my mom, as a city kid, would likely be freaking out over this large (but not of an unusual size) rodent. Ms10yo sat with wrapt attention listening to this story. It’s not unusual for her to ask (nay, demand) stories from my mom. Kids love stories. Tell them. And if you feel like you don’t have stories at your fingertips, read them to your children. Even until as old as the 8th grade, children can comprehend aurally far above their grade level or what they can comprehend when the read. Even when they can read to themselves, they still love to be read to and they still learn so much from listening to these stories and being read to.

6. Technology can be social too. And with this period of social distancing, we are going to be relying heavily on technology to keep us in touch with friends and family. We also got a Nintendo Switch this Christmas and, to my complete and utter surprise, it is much more social than I thought it was. It’s basically a story that the kids are a part of. They share ideas with each other and with their dad, they negotiate. There’s a lot of learning that goes on. The last time we went on an airplane trip, we gave the children a lot of free reign over their screen usage whilst on the plane. Afterwards, their eyes were blood shot and they felt head-achey. “Wow, that’s the last time I’m watching a screen for that long without a break.” Even kids have alarm bells that tell them when they’ve had “enough.” Part of parenting them is teaching them to pay attention to those internal signals. But they have to have these experiences in order to learn when they’ve “overdone” it.

7. Any sort of change to the routine of school but particularly one that is caused by something as potentially scary as a virus or disease can lead to a lot of stress and fear. Children hear much more than we give them credit for. So they have a small amount of information combined with their big, active imaginations and this can all lead to a lot of fear, stress, and overwhelm. So how do we mitigate this? Honesty. They can handle a lot more than you think they can. But being honest about what the situation is can help them tame their imaginations. Let them express what they are feeling and their fears in a productive way. Some kids will want to write. Some talk. Some will want to play. Or sing. Or run around outside. Or create something. Ours made their coronavirus video. These forms of expression also allow them to feel in control in a situation where they might particularly feel like they have control over nothing. Let them ask their questions and answer honestly. Which brings us to…

8. Three of the most powerful words in homeschool and in life: I don’t know. The other day, I was sitting outside next to the girls where they had set up some quilts and blankets on the ground and were reading and listening to podcasts in the sun. Ms 10yo turned to me and said, “Mom, when was the Berlin Wall torn down.” It turned out she was reading a book that took place in Eastern Europe. “Uhhhh,” I thought for a moment. “1992?” But I wasn’t sure. Fortunately, I had a small computer in my hand at the time so I looked it up. 1991. “I was a year off,” I told her. “So you were alive when it came down?” I told her yes, I was alive, suddenly not feeling very old, but feeling like I had, through her eyes, an impressive amount of life experience. We are lucky in that we can double check these sorts of questions and curiosities. But, when we can’t, or when we aren’t sure, it’s fine, in fact it’s a really good idea to say to your children, “I don’t know.” Write it down to find out later. Whatever you end up doing with their questions, don’t worry about if you don’t know answers to everything. It is far more of a comfort for them to hear an honest, “I don’t know” than to sidestep the question or to make up an answer.

9. I’m sure that suddenly having a few weeks where your children are home from school feels pretty overwhelming. Like, “what am I going to do with them?” But here’s a thing that I have found to be true about homeschooling: Social distancing is an opportunity for family closeness. Our children won’t be this age forever. They will all grow up and grow more independent and perhaps distant from us. Homeschooling has ended up being a gift for us and our family. And I hope that this period of “social distancing” proves to be the same for you and your family.

10. One of the biggest surprises in homeschooling: our kids actually enjoy their time with us. In spite of what sellers of toys and games and stuff might want us to believe: we are enough. Turns out, we’re not the boring losers we thought we were. And neither are you.

Stop Motion Video: “Coronavirus”

Ms 6yo and Ms 10yo made this stop motion video today. Because Eric is a scientist and has studied viruses, many of our conversations these days are about the SARS-CoV-2 (corona) virus. Obviously, as homeschoolers, not much about our day-to-day changes with something like this. A few things have been canceled, which disappoints the girls, so we are trying to help keep things in perspective. They know that children (who otherwise are not immune-compromised or in certain risk groups) aren’t as impacted as the elderly. And we try to explain that by not participating in certain activities, by “socially distancing” ourselves, we are trying to limit the possibility that we carry the virus to others. This article here explains a bit about how this particular SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to be most contagious before symptoms ever appear and this, in part, explains how it is spreading so rapidly.

As they were making this video, I overheard the two of them chat a bit about the virus and the fears and concerns they had. (Yes, they talked about dying. Briefly.) Learning about something — and talking about it with a trusted companion — seems to take away some of the anxiety around it. And certainly, I am noticing how the act of creating something — even in the absence of a companion to talk about and give voice to anxieties and worries — is therapeutic in a way. Unlike creating a stop motion video that is sort of a public service announcement, knitting certainly has very little to do with this current virus, but I still find myself doing it — as if participating in something (anything!) creative gives me much-needed perspective in these unusual times.

Four Family Friendly Things to do on a beautiful sunny day in Montgomery County during a potential epidemic

A fairy might move in here. Fairies don’t care about you. They just want to use you for your yard and natural materials.
  1. Let the children make fairy houses. They are going to do it anyway. They will search the yard for materials, assess their resources and needs. They will experiment with different construction and design techniques. They will negotiate with each other and their younger brother as he threatens to stomp it all out, delicate little early spring buds and all. They will tell each other stories about the houses they are making and who will live there and why and what the occupants will do. They will learn in spite of you and perhaps even to spite you.
  2. Watch a tree being trimmed in your parent’s neighborhood. When the company contracted by the county to remove trees finally shows up to take down a tree, watch the process, sipping pomegranate juice and eating peanut butter crackers from the safety of their deck, one child in your nap, red juice stains covering his mouth and shirt and pants. Do not try to understand why the crew of three appears to be trimming a tree that looks healthy while leaving a dead, dried out hole of a tree (pockmarked with neglect and the scars of disease, precariously leaning into a fence that will not hold it up against the next stiff wind) untouched next to it. They might be cutting down the wrong tree. Still, they move with such complete confidence and ease, wielding a chain saw and ropes, harnesses and a wood-chipper that roars to work on cue. Such competence in a storm of incompetence is a shocking sight to see. It might be a while before you see it again.
  3. Knit their socks while they play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Because you still can and they still can. And because the socks have already taken you weeks to finish and now spring is almost here when they will barely wear clothes much less shoes much less socks.
  4. Consider over a dinner of leftovers whether the availability of SARS-CoV-2 tests at this point and time in your county, in your state, in your first world country is sufficient and acceptable. (It’s not.)

Faith Renewed Part 2

Two weeks ago, this blog post blew up. OK. Blew up is a relative term. As I checked my stats through the day, the view-meter kept climbing upward. Prior to this day, the views on my posts were in the single digits; but here they rapidly climbed into the tens. It was a heady day and completely outside of my experience. It turned out that someone had shared my post on Metafilter, a community that I had previously been unaware of. Who had posted my blog post and why? How had this person even found my blog?

Found bible quote.

I had written the post after an unequivocally bad day on the world wide web, specifically on twitter that had me seriously considering just taking down the blog, the twitter, the instagram. It had been one of those sort of, “well, I might as well write and post this because I’ll probably take the whole thing down anyway,” sort of moments. The day before I had used my twitter account to post a picture of people walking down the sidewalk-less street in my neighborhood. I tweeted the photo at the county council representative for this neighborhood and included a comment about the lack of sidewalks and other pedestrian safety infrastructure in my neighborhood. It was not the first time I had been in touch with local officials about these issues, but it was the first time I had tweeted about it. The representative responded very quickly, which I was initially felt good about. Maybe twitter really is the way to bring attention to these issues in our communities and to get this basic needs met! He asked me to send my details — name and phone number — in a DM so that he could look into the situation. My conditioning about not sharing personal details with people on the internet is apparently strong enough that I hesitated for a moment, but then I thought, “this is the county representative and he needs my information in order to follow up on what I’m talking about. What could possibly go wrong?” I know. I’m probably incredibly naive. Or certainly so. In the course of DMing with this representative, someone in his staff responded with a public tweet which included my last name (which was not previously associated with that twitter account) and an image showing an identifiable intersection in my neighborhood.

My heart was pounding in my ears. I immediately commented, pointing out that my personal information had just been posted in a public tweet and then told the representative via DM that someone (I didn’t know who it was yet) had just posted my name and a picture showing the neighborhood where I live . He said that he could have that person take it down and also went on to explain why it had been posted. As I sat there DM’ing on my phone, I heard my daughter sitting next to me say to her sister, “Wow. Mom is really mad. I’ve never seen her text like that.” I was apparently hammering away at the touch screen, trying to get my personal information taken down. Eventually the post was removed.

This screw; screw this.

The rest of the day, Eric and I considered what course of action we should be taking. Should we just take it all down? I called my brother, who is more internet savvy than we are, and asked him for his advice. At the center of all of our concerns was, of course, the safety and privacy of our children. The enjoyment I was getting out of blogging and having a publishing outlet paled in comparison to being able to maintain our privacy. After these several conversations, we decided to keep it up.

And so this was my state of mind when I wrote and posted about some of what our experiences have been in our neighborhood and our county. I suppose that when some personally identifying information was made public on the web, in a way, it made me feel like I didn’t have anything to lose.

The number of views of my blog post climbed steadily into the hundreds. And about mid-way through the day, I received a message on Instagram. “Hey, thought I should let you know that I posted your last blog entry on There’s been some discussion there you might be interested in.”

I wept. Yes. I actually wept.

People in South Africa were reading my writing. People all over the world were reading what I wrote. And a few were even discussing it. One person even compared it to another person’s writing and other communities in America. And the person who posted it? He generously called it an “essay”. My little blog post, dashed off in a moment of near despair: an essay.

And all of this was in the wake of when I had had this experience where the internet felt like such a hostile place.

Completely unaware of what had happened on twitter, this person on Instagram, messaged me back, “I feel like ‘here’s this cool piece of writing by a person I stumbled upon on Instragram’ is the kind of thing that Metafilter (and perhaps the original WWW) was was designed for.”

And there it is. Faith renewed.

Let Your Yes Mean Yes; Let Your No Mean No

Estelle recently told me of an evening within the past few weeks when her daughter, Elizabeth, received a phone call from a friend of hers in distress and needing to talk. Elizabeth went immediately to her friend, another high schooler. When her daughter returned to Estelle in a few hours she also was upset. Her friend had told her that someone had attempted to assault her. After her conversation with her friend, Elizabeth felt like she would never be able to spend time with or have a relationship with a boy.

“Does the friend have an adult she can go to?” I asked Estelle.

“She doesn’t feel comfortable talking to her parents. I offered to talk to her friend, but Elizabeth said no because she hadn’t gotten permission to talk to anyone else about this. Now that I think about it,” Estelle went on, “there is a wellness center at school where her friend can go. I’ll suggest that.”

“That’s a lot for a child — for anyone — to take on,” I tell her.

“She’s always there for her friends. I think she’s going to be a therapist or psychologist.”

One of our friends sitting nearby is, conveniently, a psychiatrist. She chimes in, “You have to be able to make and maintain barriers. If you take on everything that your patients bring to you, it leads to burn out.”

An early spring daffodil.

On Sunday February 16th of this year the gospel was taken from Matthew and ended, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” I love when knowledge of the historical context in which Jesus lived deepens and expands the meaning of the gospel. In this case, however, I was struck by how contemporary and relevant this verse felt, as if Jesus was speaking to us, specifically, in this very day and age (which, of course, he was) with full knowledge and understanding of the challenges that we would face today (which, of course, he had). For the past few weeks, this verse keeps coming back to me and bearing more fruit each time. Each time I think “that’s it, I’ve figured this one out”, it teaches me more. And my starting point with this verse was as simple as this: according to Jesus, saying “no” is an option.

My first thought was of how I say my yeses and nos to the kids. I was thinking about times when they have asked to do something and rather than just saying “no”, I launch into a long explanation of all of my reasons why the answer is no. So to read “anything more is from the evil one” was a wake up call. Why was I spending so much time softening the “no” for my kids? Disappointment and being told no is, after all, a part of life and I was doing them no favors by justifying and explaining and coddling their egos in this way. When my Ms10yo was about three, she took a bad spill on the sidewalk. Her knee got pretty banged up and was scraped and bleeding. At home, I cleaned her up and put a large band-aid over her wound. And then, of course, came the day when her dad and I realized that her bandage was quickly becoming a petri dish of infection over her open wound. It was time to get some air on that thing. Her dad held her in his lap as I considered which technique to use. She was already anticipating something horrible was about to happen so I tried not to hesitate. I spoke to her in a gentle voice as I found a loosened corner to stick my finger underneath the flexible edge. And I ripped it. All in one go. Off. I got up and walked away to the sound of her shrieks and a look on Eric’s face that said, “Damn. Now that’s how you remove a band-aid.”

More recently, our almost 2yo son has shown a keen interest in small plastic hockey sticks (purchased by Eric in a moment of … well, a moment of non-clarity) and light-sabers and swords and sticks and cardboard tubes and anything he can swing and preferably make solid contact with something else. Needless to say, the something else is often another person. It’s an on-going process of trying to teach him what he can hit and when that involves a lot of putting items up out of his reach until “later” by which we mean when he is 25. He was recently taking swings with a stick while we were outside and he had that look in his eyes and that cocked arm that meant he was aiming for my shins. I started backing away when the phrase “let your no mean no” fell into my ear. “No,” I said to him firmly and decisively and I stopped backing up and away from him. If my “no” really means “no”, I have no need to back away. And it worked. He didn’t swing the stick. He walked away to find something else to hit.

So already this phrase has impacted my parenting and the time I have with my children. But, as I’ve started to keep it in mind with relationships outside of our family, it has continued to fruit more time and focused attention for us.

Not long after hearing this verse, someone asked me to do something for them. At the time, I was with my son, trying to pay attention to him and keep him entertained and, more importantly, safe. But, as always, I really wanted to be helpful so I hesitated a moment before I said, “No, I can’t” to the other person. “You can’t?” the other person asked and I realized that I hadn’t ever really said “no” to this person before. I had always been amenable and agreeable, even when what the things they were asking me to do were kind of a massive waste of my time. “No,” I said more definitively. “I can’t.”

And you know what happened? Nothing. This person just went away and left me alone. And the saying “no”, it felt kinda goooooood and I was able to turn back to my son and pay him some positive attention.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how, as a stay-at-home mom, it’s sometimes difficult for me to parse out what is “work” and what is “rest” because I am paid for neither and somehow (and I don’t think that this is actually unusual) I associate work with a paycheck. Because we home school, I often say that our schedule is very flexible in the sense that we aren’t beholden to school bells or timetables for most things. But this isn’t to say that what we are doing isn’t important. And I have to maintain a clear “yes” and a clear “no” in order to protect all of these important things that we are doing and learning together.

I asked Eric what he thought about when he heard, “Let your yes mean yes; let your no mean no” and he talked about how one’s intentions have to match what you express. “Otherwise, it’s just passive aggressive.” Right. Passive aggressiveness: when one’s outward expression is masking an underlying desire to sabotage or undermine someone else. Certainly, don’t say “yes” when you mean “no” and don’t say “no” when you mean “yes.”

The older girls used to have a friend who would sometimes knock on our door, asking to play and, at times, would not take “no” for an answer. The girls came to us once for advice.

“Tell her no,” I told them.

“But then she always asks us, ‘why’?”

“You don’t have to answer her questions. It might feel rude, but after you say, ‘No, thank you’ to her, it’s ok to just close the front door.”

Saying “no”, even to a friend or someone we love and care about, doesn’t make us mean or a bad person. And sometimes saying “no” to someone, allows us to say “yes” to something else. And mean it.

Days 4 and 5: Feasting and Resting

One of the biggest challenges as a stay at home parent during lent is that I still have to make sure my kids are eating and that they have food even when it’s things I’m not eating. In order to have someone who understands this is the reason why God gave some spouses telework days and why I was grateful my husband chose to work from home this Ash Wednesday. It is also the reason why God created Sundays: so that parents could commiserate with each other before and after mass. That’s not really true. I’m pretty sure Sundays have something to do with rest. And this past Sunday, the first one of lent? Rest I did. I rested from all of my abstaining. I scrolled, unashamed, through social media. I had two (count ’em! two!) cups of coffee in the morning. And it was lovely and blessed.

On Saturday, I had, in all earnestness, thought to myself, “I don’t think I’m going to go on social media or drink coffee on Sunday.” I thought this even though Sunday is supposed to be a feasting day, not a fasting day. My fasting and abstaining had already fruited so much creativity, so much more involved parenting, so many gifts that surely (part of my thinking went) if I just keep at the fasting and abstaining, I would be able to harvest even more of all of the above. Turns out: that’s not the way this works. It isn’t about deprivation. And by partaking in that from which I had been abstaining, I was able to see these things with new eyes and with gratitude.

A good portion of my instagram feed is comprised of other people’s yarn and knitting projects and quilts and sewing projects. On Sunday, each of the images on my food felt more vibrant than they had even a few days before. When I look at these types of images, I experience something, similar to ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Part of my brain tingles. This Sunday, having spent a few days away from them, I had a new appreciation that behind each of those images was a human being (or several!). A real person who had created these objects with their own human hands. And appreciation led to inspiration. I understood that I too can (and do!) create beautiful things that might inspire others and also keep people warm. I even got to have a brief insta-conversation with someone, another “maker” or better yet another human being, located in another state. I also scrolled through tiktok videos of people doing and creating things that I can’t do (beatboxing! singing! comedic videos! there are so many amazing things that people are doing and creating!) and I was content to be able to just appreciate these things that people do and create. These were all realizations and experiences that I would not have been able to have had I been defaulting to a continuous, automatic scrolling. It was only because I was not numbed by over-consumption of these images that I was able to see them and appreciate them with a certain clarity.

On Saturday, Ms10yo said, “I ate some sweets last night at the dance, so I’m just going to not eat any sweets on Sunday.” This is the classic lenten maneuver of trading out days of abstention. “You know,” I said, looking her in the eye (remember this was still Saturday when I was not yet feasting on social media feeds), “You’re still only ten. You don’t have to give anything up.”

“OK!” she replied. Happy, apparently, to be excused from this particular devotion.

She was confirmed last year when she was 9, which is about as young as one can be confirmed in the church. Confirmation is the final sacrament of initiation and is sometimes, confusingly, considered when one is a full adult in the eyes of the church. As much as our 10yo relishes her role as an “adult” in the eyes of the church (primarily by helping out in a Religious Education classroom with younger children and by thinking about how she could if she wanted to, join other ministries), she’s still very much a child and her dad and I want to ensure that she gets to be a child as long as possible. And so I pointed out to her that abstention is not a requirement for children. (Nor is it really a requirement for anyone. It’s a personal devotion and therefore a personal choice.)

As a stay at home parent and particularly, perhaps, as one who also homeschools her kids, the workweek and weekend often blend fluidly, one into the other. This weekend, I realized that, for me, it has not been that the relaxed, unscheduled feeling of the weekend spills over into the weekdays. It has been the opposite. In the past, I have often spent my weekend with the feeling that I still have unfinished projects and unobtained goals from weekdays haunting the weekend. I have often felt, and perhaps others whose days are filled with unpaid work (but work nonetheless) feel the same way, that because I’m not technically working a paying job during the workweek, I don’t really deserve a weekend. I know: it’s a ridiculous way of thinking, but it’s hard to cleave apart the connection between work and paycheck. But this Sunday, perhaps because of the lenten abstentions and perhaps because I had been feeling particularly creative the first week of lent, I really started to feel like I was entitled to a day off. And Sunday felt like a day of rest. I didn’t sleep in (which doesn’t necessarily define a day of rest to me), but I took the two older kids to Religious Education class where another trusted adult looked after them while I chatted with other mother’s upstairs about lent and meat-less Fridays and other trials of parenthood. Our family went to mass together, where my kids got to sing and read and pray and participate in something that I didn’t have to prepare or set up in any way, shape, or form. And then we spent the rest of the day truly resting. And it was good.

Makers Gotta Make 1

Five tips for makers who want to write or blog.

  1. Start with a truth, even if it’s a small one. Describe where you are sitting down to write. Share something that happened recently, focusing on the details. Convey an emotional truth (not everything need be sunshine and roses, even makers are human beings, after all.) But if you begin with a truth (again, even small ones), the rest of the story that you are trying to tell or the information you are trying to share will flow naturally and honestly.
  2. Use your five senses. You experience the world from your own unique perspective and through your senses. By writing about these experiences and using your senses, you will create a world through words that is entirely your own and yet relatable to your reader through the specifics. “I ate a cheese sandwich for lunch” is not the same as “I sated my hunger with a piquant cheese and two slices of stale oat bread.” Details and specifics will make your language come alive. Readers will return to read about your real life, lived, concrete experiences.
  3. Focus on your craft and creations. Honor your work and creations by allowing them to be the focus of your website or blog; writing should be in service to your craft, not the other way around. If you are trying to sell what you create, your shop and images should be the focus. The blog and the words (unless you are a writer selling your writing) should support your true craft from the periphery. They should help keep a reader on your website and help them learn more about you, your process, and what you are creating. They should not be the sole reason someone comes to your website.
  4. Write to learn something new. Make it an adventure. Step outside of your comfort zone. A commonly heard phrase amongst writing students is “write what you know.” This is utter nonsense and it makes for a boring writing process and boring reading. Start where you feel most uncomfortable; ask yourself “what is the last thing I want to write about?” and begin there. Start with a question that you want to answer. If you end up producing something that exposes parts of yourself that you’d rather not bring into the light of day: there’s always the delete key. You don’t have to click “publish” on everything. Think of your drafts as a sandbox, a place to mess around and play and be creative. If you end up with something worth keeping, do so; otherwise, let the rain wash it away and begin anew.
  5. Don’t be afraid to hire a copyeditor or content editor. I get it. You’re a maker. You’re independent and capable and you are oh-so-very used to doing everything yourself. But there is no shame in realizing your limitations and hiring someone else to deal with details. This will allow you to focus on your creations and your process. As much as the creative process might be parallel across disciplines, do you really want to eat up time and brain cells discerning and memorizing the difference between “lie” and “lay”? (One is transitive; the other, intransitive.) Or would you rather spend time working on your craft and your creations?