When I was in college, the president of my university gave a speech that made a lasting impression on me, about how we make choices, and that limits the other choices we can make. I appreciated it because it was really thoughtful and honest, like he was preparing us for adulthood: “You’re going to have to make choices. That’s great! How lucky you are to have choices! When you do make those choices, there are other choices that will no longer be available to you. That’s called growing up.”
I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve made a lot of choices. With that has come the bittersweetness of knowing (or wondering if) there are things that aren’t available to me anymore. It is bitter in the sense of grieving the loss of things that I thought might be – but aren’t. It is sweet because I have received what I wanted most.
Last night, Mike came home from dinner with a colleague we had both known in CA. He said that she had asked how I was doing, and that he had told her, “She’s busy being the first Christa.”
The first Christa! Ha!! There remain many fewer “first” or “youngest ever” opportunities for me. But Mike sees that I am trying to very carefully create a life that reflects my deepest values and to be the best mother I can be to Emma and Maggie, who have never had any mother ever before. I am trying to not waste a drop of this one wild and precious life.
Being named the first Christa is the best birthday gift I received this week.
And you are the first you! Congratulations!!! You must be so proud. ❤️
Yesterday, as I was changing in my gym locker room, I caught out of the corner of my eye the scale that stands watch in the room. I smiled as I realized that it’s been well over a year since I weighed my self. In fact, I can’t remember when the last time was.
Two days after I turned 15, a boy at church made an unkind comment about my weight. I stopped eating for almost a year. Even after I started eating again, I spent a long time unlearning the harmful messages that I had internalized for years, that made it possible for one comment to finally break me.
On my 35th birthday, I threw my scale into a dumpster, and I bought my self and my family a dining room table that was exactly what I wanted, around which we could nurture our selves and laugh and cry and witness each other and accept each other.
In a few weeks, I turn 38. I now weigh two little girls who make me laugh all the time. I weigh 11 years of marriage. I weigh living in another country, where I found my self. I weigh reading books that make my brain light up. I weigh coffee in the white mug that fits perfectly in my hands in the mornings. I weigh walks in my neighborhood, stopping to take pictures of flowers. I weigh girl friends who love me and whom I love back. I weigh quotes from saints that I’ve copied down and pinned to a board that hangs above my desk. I weigh so many things, that I’ve put away in my being to keep for warmth and nourishment and happiness. I am full, and it is enough. Not too much, not too little. It is just right. I am just right.
This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.
The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.
When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.
In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”
We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.
The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)
As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.
A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.
There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.
That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.
And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.
I’ve been experiencing some early midlife restlessness lately. The older I grow, the more choices I have made, and those necessarily limit the opportunities still available to me. It turns out that I’m not going to be the youngest person ever elected to Congress. (There’s still time to be the youngest person elected President, so stay tuned.)
However it also turns out that I do have a yoga practice. That was on the Person I Want to Be list that I made in my early 20s.
And tonight the girls and I ate dinner outside in the dark because it is the first warm night of the year. As we carried the candles outside, Maggie said, “This is the best day of my life.”
So there’s that.
Years pass and choices are made and possibilities change. Am I still becoming the person I wanted to be? Would I trade my four year old’s pronouncement, “This is the best day of my life,” for any other award?
If this isn’t nice, what is?
“I like you just the way you are.”
This fall, I framed several drawings that my daughters created when they were younger, like their first self-portrait and the picture of our family that our firstborn made when her younger sister was born. I hung them in the entryway of our house, along with photos of our family and a reminder: “I like you just the way you are.” What a declaration from that revolutionary, Mr. Rogers.
I want my daughters to remember, every day, that they are unconditionally accepted and loved.
Of course, the most powerful reinforcement won’t come from a sign by the door but in how I accept them and how I accept my self. Liking my self just as I am is hard work. I have never attempted anything more radical in my life. Yet it is also the easiest thing there is, because it feels so good and true to my soul. It feels like home.
My word for 2018 is mothering. Since I first saw “Pregnant” appear on a stick in a bathroom stall at a CVS, I have been becoming a mother. Not only to one and then two little girls, but to my self. Mothering is not just one day or one happening. It is not just “Pregnant” on a stick or when you push the baby from your body or first hold the child you have adopted or the first time you decide to be gentle with your self. Mothering is every day. As my body changes, as my children grow and increase their independence, I have to choose again to mother, to like and love and accept.
For me, for now, if I had to summarize mothering in one thought, it would be Mr. Rogers.’
I like you just the way you are. I like me, too.