- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
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?
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.
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 metafilter.com. 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.
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.”
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.
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.
- On Living Small
- On Painting
- Book Recommendation: Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon
- (no title)
- On Writing This Blog Post
Five tips for makers who want to write or blog.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
I must admit, on Tuesday, before lent started, the idea of all of this fasting and abstention filled me with a sort of gloom, a sort of adolescent, “do I have to?” internal whine. I had at that point already decided to not only give up coffee but to also give up purposelessly scrolling through and consuming social media. And on Tuesday, as I did this exact, mindless scrolling, I came across a post in which someone was asking for prayers for people who don’t have heat in their homes or don’t have homes at all. “See?” I thought to myself. “I might miss important prayer requests if I don’t scroll through twitter regularly, like every fifteen minutes.” But just as swiftly as I had that thought, I had the answer, “If I am relying on twitter to remind me to pray and for what to pray, then surely it is not my twitter life that needs more time and attention but my prayer life.” I don’t need the crutch of twitter.
We’re only a few days into it, but already the effects of abstaining have been profound. I still have my phone in hand at almost all times. I still check my email, often, and I still will post things on occasion, but I don’t consume the images and tweets. So once I’ve gone through that routine, and my phone is still in my hand, what do I do? Sometimes I write. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s a whole paragraph. And other times I simply put down my phone. I might pick up my knitting or pray or do some chores or pay some attention to my kids.
That last one is a tough one to reckon with: that my attention has been elsewhere when it could have been on my kids. When I mentioned that I wouldn’t be mindlessly scrolling through social media for lent, Ms10yo exclaimed, preternaturally, “More time for us!” Those minutes here and there had been stealing my focus away from them, little by little. It didn’t feel like much at the time, but it was. Here’s an example. On Monday, she had bought a yard of cloth from the discount bin at the fabric store for 3 bucks. She asked, in passing, whether I’d be able to teach her how to hem it at some point so that she could cut it and make a shawl. I said sure and promptly forgot about it. Enter the lenten season. Today, I was playing cards with Ms6yo when Ms10yo asked if she could bring the sewing machine upstairs and would I teach her how to hem on it. My initial feeling was, “This is going to be such a drag.” But, without social media scrolling, what else was I going to do? So I walked her through the steps in between hands of go-fish and crazy 8s and, eventually, getting Mr22mo up from his nap. She’s pretty capable of doing a lot of things on her own, including threading the sewing machine, with very little guidance. Tonight was the Knights of Columbus Father-Daughter dance. “If I get this done in time for the dance, it will be a miracle!” she told me as she stood in the laundry room ironing and pinning her hems. “Well, you can always try praying,” I told her and we looked up who the patron saint of sewers is (Saints Ann, Lucy, and Veronica all came up). As luck (and prayer) would have it, she finished the whole project in under two hours and with more than enough time to bring it to the Father Daughter Dance. It sat predictably, unused, on the back of her chair for most of the evening. But the shawl wasn’t the point. Making the shawl was the point.
Still, I wonder if all it has taken is these two days of putting down my phone more often to make my kids feel like I’m more available and for them to ask for my help or to consider projects that they might previously not have asked to do. I’ll guess I’ll never really know, but I’m grateful to have this now.
In today’s Gospel according to Matthew, “The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
This gospel begs me to ask the question, “When is a fast not a fast?” The answer: “When it doesn’t feel like one.” When we remove that with has no meaning, that vacuum becomes filled with that which does. When the bridegroom is with us, what started as a fast quickly and easily transforms into a feast. And for this I am grateful.
One day, I was chatting with two moms, one Muslim and one Mormon (this is not the beginning of a joke), outside of the neighborhood elementary school back when our eldest was enrolled there. We live in a diverse area near the Mormon Temple, so this sort of interaction between people of different faiths and backgrounds is not unusual (although, not as common as one might expect given how close to each other everyone lives). It must have been Ramadan or close to it. One of the mothers, her head wrapped in a scarf, was visibly pregnant. I asked her if she was fasting. (There’s a large Somali Muslim population in Minneapolis where we used to live and so we were aware that many of the people around us fasted from all food and water from sunrise to sunset everyday for the month of ramadan.) This woman explained that she was because, even though she was “excused” from the fast because she was pregnant, she would have to make it up later on, which would be more challenging because she would be fasting alone.
“We don’t have to make it up if we are pregnant or nursing,” the Mormon mother explained. Mormons, generally speaking, fast from food and drink for two meals the first Sunday of the month.
The Catholic fast? We’re a bunch of light-weights.
We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and for an hour (yes, a single hour) before receiving the Eucharist, which usually happens about 45 minutes into the mass, which means, unless you are literally eating while on your way into your church, you’re generally good to go. Our Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fast? We are supposed to eat three meals and only three meals: one regular meal and then two smaller meals which do not, together, add up to more than the one regular meal. I know. It’s more an exercise in quantity estimation and meal planning than “sacrifice.” And maybe that’s part of what makes the fast relatively easy: we’re so busy calculating what we are eating, when, how much, and what it all adds up to that we don’t notice that we are eating (slightly) less than we would on a “normal day”. We also abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and Ash Wednesday. Thus Catholics are sometimes called “fish-eaters”, which seems like a heavy moniker given that it comes from something we do what? seven days out of a year? And even on those days, we aren’t really “required” to eat fish. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is another favorite option. But “occasional meat abstainer” doesn’t have quite the same ring.
The other thing about the Catholic fast is that we’re not really supposed to make a big deal about it. In the Ash Wednesday gospel, Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” In other words, don’t talk about the fast and what you are doing. Don’t try to draw attention to it or any of our good deeds or sacrifices. We’re not allowed to talk endlessly about all the things we are doing; that’s why we aren’t very good at crossfit or paleo.
But what this also means is that, let’s say you’re Catholic and it’s Ash Wednesday and you are invited over to, say, your Mormon neighbor’s house for a meal. Even if you are fasting, you can’t draw attention to it. So you can’t really say, “No, thank you” again and again because eventually it will be an insult to your host and you will have to explain yourself. So, if you really want to eat meat on a Friday or on Ash Wednesday? Just get yourself invited over to a meat loving friend’s house.
Or if you’re craving meat, go ahed and eat beaver, which, apparently the church decided to “count” as an aquatic mammal sometime in the 17th century. “Fish of the land!” they called it, an entirely unnecessary rebranding because it was already so popular in North America, where it was also plentiful.
Here’s the other thing: we are also allowed liquids (although not meat-based broth). Some time ago, one of my brothers temporarily joined the Buddhist monkhood (a cultural practice done as a sort of tribute to one’s parents). At the Thai temple where he lived, the monks fasted from about mid-day until they went to bed. Like Catholics, they were permitted liquids. At least one of the monks counted ice cream as a liquid because once it melted (say, in one’s mouth or sliding down one’s gullet), it was, indeed a liquid. I opted for lots of tea during my fast this year, but perhaps later this year I will make use of the ice cream clause.
This morning, I woke up and did what I always do: rolled over and reached for my phone. I checked my email (only spam and advertisements) and then my blog stats (nothing new) and my private (IRL friends and family) instagram account (quiet). At this point, my thumbs were driven by muscle memory and automatically clicked on my Wild Goose Land Instagram account, which is not private. Just as I caught a glimpse of what was undoubtedly an insightful post (a lot has been going on in the yarn world that I mostly follow), I remembered: it’s Ash Wednesday. Today I begin my lenten fast. I clicked off. What was I going to do?
The six weeks leading up to Easter are called Lent in the Catholic Church. They are a period of penance, prayer, and fasting in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection. We are all called to follow in Jesus’s footsteps and during his earthly life, Jesus walked into the dessert for 40 days and 40 nights to grow closer to God, the father. He also battled the devil.
In an attempt to follow him, many catholics make sacrifices for forty days of lent and add prayer. I am giving up coffee and “consuming” public social media. As Eric aptly put it the other evening, “So no scrolling through social media?” Right, I told him. Yesterday was Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) when Catholics go on a bit of a binge. We try to finish up everything in the house that might tempt us during lent: the fats, the meats, the sweets or whatever else we might crave. I certainly wasn’t going to finish up the internet which isn’t to say I didn’t try. After a big meal (including my dad’s deep fried spring rolls, in an attempt to use up all of the vegetable oil in their house), beer, and cake for dinner with my family, I lay in bed, scrolling through various feeds: tiktok and instagram and twitter before clicking off for the night.
Before walking into the dessert, did Jesus consume, consume, consume all his earthly attachments in this way? Perhaps his mother, doting and worried, made him eat and drink all she could to prepare him. What else could she do?
In the morning, no longer able to so recklessly consume, I found time (which I so often complain that I lack) seemed to tumble into my lap. Even the few minutes required each morning to grind up coffee beans and boil water suddenly bloomed open, full of possibility. I wrote a paragraph on my phone and climbed out of bed.
This morning, the Holy Spirit stepped into the black void of mindless consumption and filled it with a little light of creativity. Happy Ash Wednesday.
The Feast of Saint Joseph (March 19) quickly approaches and thus Eric recently began thirty days of prayer asking for Jesus’s adoptive father’s intercession and which will conclude on the day the church celebrates him, his life, and the sacrifices he made to care for and protect Mary and Jesus.
In the Bible, Joseph is a man of few words. Nay, no words, if I recall correctly. In one edition of the Magnificat magazine, the editors provided quotes from various saints for readers to use in prayer and reflection. Next to Saint Joseph, they wrote, simply, “respectful silence.”
Which is not to say that Saint Joseph does not pay a rather critical role in salvation history nor that we have nothing to learn from him. Quite the opposite. Listening to God requires silence, after all. And Joseph certainly listened to God, heeded his words, and took action. We see him visited in dreams, twice, by angels who instruct him to marry Mary and then, later, for him to take the mother and child into Egypt (from whence their enslaved ancestors had fled generations ago) to save them from King Herod’s jealousy and wrath. He does as he is instructed each time. Joseph is a man of action.
This winter, Ms6yo Z started expressing a desire to take tap dancing lessons. I found a parent-child class at a studio in our area for beginners in her age group. The default mode for us with parent-child classes — and particularly those that involve art or movement — is that they are a “mom” thing. And that is where the “negotiations” began.
“I just thought that you would enjoy it because you like to dance,” Eric told me as we considered which parent would attend the class. And while I appreciate the sentiment, the man clearly confuses “enjoyment” with “innate gifts and talents” and “inborn, majestic sense of rhythm” and “natural strength, grace, and agility.” But I digress.
“I won’t be very good at it,” Eric lamented.
“Maybe not. You never know?” I told him.
“I will be really, really bad.” He said this in front of the kids at dinner one night, which was actually really, really good. Both because it was honest and truthful and vulnerable but also because both of us parents had been hearing quite a bit from the girls about how they didn’t want to do certain things (math, for example) because they were “bad” at it. It was getting to be a broken record.
And then Eric turned to Z and told her, “But I would like to spend time with you.”
And thus began their Saturday morning foray into the world of shiny patent leather, and shuffle-ball-changes taught to the beat of Ms Gigi’s music of choice: Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.
And Eric was right. He is really bad at it. And Z tells him as much. “You’re too slow. You are so bad.”
“But maybe I will get better with practice,” he tells her.
“No, Dad, you’ll never get better.” It is as if she is challenging him to “give up” on tap-dancing, testing exactly how strong his commitment to her is to spend time doing something he will never be good at just to have time with her.
In other moments, she asks me to bring her to class next time. “Mostly everyone else comes with their moms,” she explains.
“One day, you will know how lucky you are to have a dad who wants to and can do these things with you. Maybe some of the other kids see your dad at the class and go home and ask their dads to come to class with them.” The truth is that I can see how much she already knows how lucky she is. I think partly she wants to re-assure me that she wants time with me too.
“You mean like how I saw other moms there and I’m asking you right now?”
“Well, this week there was another dad there.”
And the whole, “I don’t want to do this, I’m not good at it and never will be” attitude that had all of us battling over math and other subject areas?” Gone!
In the meantime, Ms10yo A, has not been without her (completely normal and age appropriate) struggles. One weekday morning was particularly rough. I texted Eric, who was at work, that we were all having a tough time. I knew we would weather it just fine; I just kind of wanted to vent and complain to him, maybe even get a little perspective.
His response? Without hesitation, he texted: “I’ll come home for lunch.”
I know. God has written his blessings all over this whole thing. He blessed us with a job and a commute that allows for this and a dad and husband for whom “showing up” is the default way of thinking.
His lunch break that day wasn’t “easy” (there were lots of tears and perhaps a few ‘go aways’ as Ms10yo grappled with some overwhelming emotions) but it was cathartic and he and I were able to have a conversation about some of the issues she’d brought up and tell her how proud of her we are for being willing and able to bring her concerns to us, for battling through the barriers that we, as parents, sometimes (all the time?) put up against really hearing our kids. Emotions can be a scary thing for a kid (for adults too) and by coming home that day, Eric showed her that they aren’t so scary that we have to hide and run away from them, that she was important (more important than work even), and that he would be there for her, a constant in the whirling, changing sea of feelings that come with being a human being.
(a fiber arts edition)
We enjoy making things around here and this past winter, I was struck by the desire to start knitting again after a multiple year (and three kids) break. At a local yarn store (LYS), I decided to tackle socks. This obsession also led me to staring at images of gorgeous yarn on Instagram. Did you know there is like an entire world of #yarnporn out there? It’s crazy. And alluring. I noticed one particular brand that, at least on line, seemed to have beautiful yarns, but they were pricey so I didn’t start piling them into my virtual shopping cart right away (thankfully). I wanted to get into the swing of things with knitting again first before spending too much. But, of course, I followed that yarn purveyor’s Instagram account. And several others.
In the meantime, I purchased a weaving loom for my daughter for her birthday, which falls right after the Christmas holidays. I ordered the loom and made note of when the expected shipping and arrival date was. Both dates came and went and no loom. I contacted the seller, who responded with “we have to be patient.” Huh, I thought. Ok? Eventually, the loom arrived, a month late and well past my daughter’s birthday.
I painstakingly placed an on-line order at another yarn company, slightly less expensive than the Instagram one I mentioned in the first paragraph, but still expensive by my standards. But I was lured in by some beautiful images and a specific pattern that would be a challenge for me but not impossible. But my credit card kept getting declined. Or the website said there was a problem with my postal code. I tried unloading and re-loading the cart several times. I called my bank. No problems on that end. Eventually, I called the company and left a voicemail. I tried to email them and contact them via Instagram. I really wanted this yarn and pattern and it felt like I had already invested so much into the decision and trying to get the website to work. Finally, the company emailed me back. They had some suggestions for me to try involving clearing caches and whatnot. Nothing seemed to work. This had already taken the better part of a day and so now it started to feel like it would *really* be a waste if I didn’t buy the yarn. In for a penny, in for a pound. By the end of the day, it worked. I was able to make my purchase and a few days later the neatly wrapped package arrived. I even took pictures.
I still had my eye on the beautiful and expensive Instagram yarn mentioned above. One day, as I scrolled through the feed, I noticed that one of their posts contained a racial slur. It was a typo (and one that any yarn-buyer can probably guess at). But still, in that moment: it dawned on me. I am a grown woman spending my grown woman money. I don’t care how beautiful the yarn is, why on earth would I spend hard-earned cash on a company that is in too much of a hurry to post on Instagram that they don’t even notice a racial slur? Unfollow.
I suspect the Holy Spirit was leading me away. God seemed to be saying “woah, ease up on the covetousness.” I’ve been asking him on the regular, after all, to lead me not into temptation.
And suddenly, the difficulties with the shipping and the check out experience on the other website with the other companies didn’t seem like such a big deal.
My daughter was learning her way around her new loom, which had finally arrived, and we were running out of scraps for her to practice with. So we decided to look around for a real project for her to start. We came across this project at Gist Yarn. It was expensive, especially for a new weaver and as much as she loved it, the price gave us pause. So we looked around a bit more. But she kept coming back to the beautiful blue scarf. She still had some Christmas and Lunar New Year money plus some of her allowance. I told her we could split the cost and I would pay for the shipping. “Ok. Can you please order it for me?” she asked, smiling excitedly.
The pattern arrived via email and a short time later the package of yarn arrived. It was neatly packaged, but nothing special: no extra tissue paper or stickers or frills. Which, actually, I appreciated. It felt practical. Not flashy. Just get the order to the customer so she can start weaving.
Ms10yo started balling her yarn right away. It’s a painstaking process, but somehow soothing. After I showed her how to cut the small yarn ties that hold the skein together, she turned on some podcasts to listen to while shaping a “butterfly” between her fingers and then rhythmically winding the ball. She was on the last skein when I heard the dreaded words, “Mom, can you help me get this knot out.”
This would not be the first time that I had to un-knot some yarn or string or a ribbon. In fact, just early in the week, I sat at the dining room table and de-tangled this green mess while praying to Mary Undoer of Knots.
Mary, Undoer of Knots….
pray for us!
But, well, this wasn’t a knot. It was a proper, felted clump. And in the process of trying to see if it was un-doable, I noticed that there were a few ends of yarn hanging out, meaning that the skein had been cut in a few places already. It was a mess that even with Mary’s intervention, would stay a mess.
The company we had ordered from had an easy “chat” option on their website, so I went to that and started sending them a few images of what was going on. It was one of those things where, given the option of either having to repackage it and go to the post office to send it back, or making do with what we had with some well-placed snips and thoughtful weaving, I would go with the latter.
A note at the top of the chat stated that the customer service person was away, but if we left an email address, they would get back to us as soon as possible. It was after business hours and I told Ms10yo we would just have to wait and see. If no one got back to us, we could just continue with the project, making do.
A few days passed without any word and I went to follow up on the chat. This time, someone was there. I asked if they could see the message I had left the other night, as I didn’t really feel like re-typing it all. The other person found the chat and explained that somehow it had ended up with a colleague and she hadn’t seen it.
And then, and I am not making this up, she offered to send me a new skein, which she double-checked before packing it up right then and there. She also asked if there were any other problems with the other skeins. We chatted for a moment about how we had never seen a skein with this problem and she said she would also contact the yarn maker and tell them about the mistake. And she also told me just to keep the problematic one and that hopefully we would figure out something to make with it. And then (again! I’m not making this up!) she apologized for not seeing the chat I had started a few days ago and for not getting back to me right away. It was lovely.
When I told Ms10yo that a new skein was on its way, she sighed and her shoulders visibly loosened: “Wow. That’s a relief!” she exclaimed. I could see that the weight of trying to figure out how to use this yarn had been on her shoulders.
About a week later, the new yarn arrived. And, there was no frilly packaging (utterly practical, which I mean as a good thing), but there were two little notebooks, just enough for Ms10yo to keep one for herself and share the other one with her little sister. Again, I’m not making this up. Evidence follows:
Yarn and these other things are wants, not needs. And I have the freedom to spend my money where I want to. There are so many great companies and makers and small businesses out there selling beautiful things. And there are also ones who are careful and thoughtful, who genuinely appreciate their customers and even have relationships with them beyond just making money. There are even those who are actively anti-racist. And there are ones who notice when a customer is actually going out of their way to help them, to point out problems and to share their experiences so that they can improve their business. Gist Yarn managed to not only do all these things, but to renew my faith in humanity. Thanks, Gist!