Category Archives: How to be married

In Which Pregnancy Makes You a Spectacle

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The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Obviously, everyone remotely connected to Jason or I through Facebook land was aware. Most of our neighbors knew (they do see me walking my dog every day). All of our Milwaukee friends knew. All of my co-workers knew.

And then this started happening:

And became this:

And now everyone knows, whether I want them to or not.

Which, I mean, its fine. I’m not ashamed of my pregnancy. We wanted this. And while I’m normally a very open person, especially when it comes to social media, the awkward conundrum of being pregnant is that everyone expects you to be very open about a subject that I feel is none of their business: my body. Oh yes, I know. I know I’m a vessel for the miraculous and it’s so exciting and aren’t I just amazed because I’m going to be a mommy. And while all of this is true…I am still me. Me, who really has no desire to have extended conversations about the size of my stomach. Again, not that I’m ashamed of the fact that I am bigger and I have gained weight but pardon me if I’m not thrilled about the ridiculous amount of scrutiny my midsection has gotten.

Thankfully, there have only been two attempted belly touches. One was from a well-meaning older lady that I see on a regular basis. Customarily, we hug before we part ways, and even before I was showing she would start leaning in to cradle my stomach. This was easily deflected by changing my hug to a one-armer and putting the other arm across my belly. It was a quiet way of being protective and saying “No, I am not for touching”. The other attempt was similar; this woman was of another ethnicity whose culture tends to be much more open and touchy-feely than mine. At first, trying to be sensitive, I let her hug and rub away. After a few weeks of being completely weirded out by this, I shortened our hugs and started keeping my arm in front of me. Again, that seemed to do the trick.

However, if anyone has any pointers about politely deflecting unwanted conversations about my stomach, I’m totally open to them. At this point, I’m ready to start pointing out random features on the commenter’s body to change the subject.

Because, seriously? Would you feel it’s appropriate to discuss as length about how big or how small a woman is if she isn’t pregnant? And since when does pregnancy make her a free-for-all for public scrutiny and commentary? I am still a human being, deserving of respect and privacy. I have not become a heifer simply because I’m carrying a baby.

I’m carrying small, which my midwife tells me is normal given that it’s my first and that I was petite before pregnancy. Depending on what I’m wearing, I can either look really bloated or I can actually appear to be 27 weeks along. To my horror, I overheard someone at a recent gathering talking to someone else (like, I’m not even a part of this conversation) about how when they saw me three weeks ago, I wasn’t showing at all.

“But now,” he went on to say, “Well now she is!”

A client came into the office where I work as a secretary and jokingly asked me if I was gaining weight. Half-laughing along, I confirmed that yes, I was expecting a baby. When I told him my due date, he went on to make repeated comments about how small I still was and to ask if I meant November of this year. This is not someone I’m related to, see on a regular basis, or even consider a friend. I stood there trying to remain professional and feeling incredibly uncomfortable as he kept looking me over and talking about my undersized belly.

There is a difference between a general compliment and an unwanted comment. My sister telling me that she thinks my baby bump is cute is acceptable. And it’s not like there aren’t exceptions. Kids, for example, who are naturally curious and exciting. My husband; you know, the father of the baby. My midwife, who’s concerned with my size because it’s her job to be. And…let me think…

The bottom line is that I don’t care how damn exciting it is for you: making unsolicited comments about another person’s body, no matter what phase of life they’re in is never appropriate. It’s rude. It’s embarrassing. Even if you’re trying to make a joke (“You’re gonna need a wheelbarrow to haul that around by the end!”) I am not laughing. I’m wanting to get as far away from you and your prying eyes as I possibly can.

So friends, especially male friends, if you want to say something to a pregnant lady about her body that is more than a straightforward, “You’re looking great!” don’t. Just don’t. Not unless you feel comfortable with them pointing to your butt, chest, pimples, nose, or any other body part and starting a conversation about it. If you do actually feel comfortable with that, by all means, be my guest. We can chat about your double chin all you want.

And for some comic relief, I will recount a conversation between Jason and I that took place while camping with friends last weekend:

Jason: You’re looking awful bloated.

Me: (After some liberal use of profanity) I could be really nasty right now.

Jason: Go ahead! I can handle it.

Me: Well, at least my belly is full of a baby and not chocolate chip cookies. I have an excuse.

Because that’s how we roll.

Welcome to Reality

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I struggle with having realistic expectations of myself.

I am either the best person – EVER! – or I’m a miserable failure. The bizarre part is that I seem to have found some magical portal that gets me from one side of this chasm to the other in rapid succession. I was keenly aware of this when I was exploring the role of being a worship leader in high school. I had deranged fantasies about being some sort of worship superstar. Said fantasies came back to haunt me whenever I did something normal and silly, like dropping my pick or breaking a string or completely forgetting an entire verse of a song. I never was able to just see myself for what I was – a young musician with lots of room for growth, but also someone who had a lot of passion and good intentions.

I still jump back and forth. I’m better about it now in the sense that I recognize myself doing it more often and can do my best to correct my behavior or thoughts. But it still sneaks up to bite me in the butt. And oh, it’s a nasty, tricky cycle. I run around with my over-inflated ego bulldozing everyone around me for their controlling, manipulative, or sometimes just contrary behavior. And then when I slow down and realize that I’m acting like a maniac, I have a hard time admitting that I did wrong. Because, you know, admitting that you were wrong translates into “You are an epic failure” in my brain.

The continual dilemma of being a part-time artist is that I never have time for everything that I want to create. I’ve written just over half of the blog posts for our trip, and I’m stuck somewhere in the wilds of County Donegal because the inspiration to write a story that’s been rattling around in my brain for five years hit and when inspiration hits, you absolutely should go with it. So I have twelve chapters of said story and somewhere around eight days of blog posts.

I stopped going to pottery cold-turkey back in April when the soil woke up and my life launched into all things gardening and seed-sowing. Oh, and speaking of that, our yard is literally changing on a weekly basis and as much as I would like to share more about that process on my other blog…well, I just haven’t.

When November hits, there will be Christmas merry-making to contend with. And I’m nowhere near ready for that.

My husband graciously bought me two very nice violin books a couple of years ago, right around the time I decided that playing the violin well required more hours than I had to give. Every time I see those books hanging out in our music room, I think about cracking them open and tuning the violin, just to keep my fingers nimble. However, I never actually get that far.

The desire to create combined with the limited amount of minutes in my day plus the constant ebb and flow of inspiration sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing as an artist. I wasn’t really trying to get anywhere in particular in the first place, and I’m still failing.

So, when I get like this, one thing I find helpful is to just sit down and write out two things: what I’m feeling and what the truth is. And no, they aren’t always the same thing (mind blowing, I know). I usually walk away from this exercise with a very clear head and a good plan to get through the day.

What is truth? The truth, for me, is factual stuff. Things that don’t move around too much or that aren’t dependant on temporary circumstances. For me, this is some truth:

I have worth and value completely separate from any relationships, career choices, roles, or creative endeavors.

I’ve spent the past two years making healthy choices for myself and working through my crap in pretty in-depth ways. This pleasantly resulted in a better relationship with God, my husband, and many of my friends. Heck, I would say it even resulted in me having more friends and not being so isolated.

I am fully capable of continually making responsible choices in my lifestyle, and I often do. I take care of my body. I enjoy my vices in moderation and don’t let them control me. I intentionally seek out wise council when I’m feeling confused. I allow the limbs of my faith to be stretched and pushed, because I have roots that I know I can trust in.

My husband and I have a better relationship than I ever thought we would. We are affectionate, honest, respectful, and kind towards one another. We do our best to honor our own needs and wants and still be giving towards the other person. We support one another. We are actively and intentionally doing things to improve our marriage and not let it stagnate. It it’s God’s will for us to have a family that extends beyond the two of us, I’m convinced that we will do an awesome job and be able to eventually laugh at our mistakes (because Lord knows, we will make them).

I have an amazing community of friends that are constantly showing me more about what the face of God looks like. How He expresses himself in so many different ways. How His arms are big enough to encircle all of us in our searching and shifting.

I’m a creative person, and I produce beautiful and imperfect things. I’m not really an expert in any field, but I create first of all because I enjoy it, and that’s the important part.

In the past few months alone, I took a risk and started drawing and writing fiction again. Both of these are things I haven’t had enough confidence to do in many years. Regardless of what comes from these endeavors (a novel? The complete illustrated version of the day that Jason and I met?), it was healing to start them nonetheless.

On Friday, we had another musician in our house and we shared songs together. Most of them were covers of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, but I did share one of my original songs and this person was so gracious in their praise. Not only that, but I heard myself singing lyrics that I had written and thinking, “Oh, wow. I did OK!” It’s not a song to save the world but it’s a song that contains parts of who I am. Therefore, it’s a beautiful song.

I am moving forward. Sometimes it’s in violent bursts of creative energy, and sometimes it’s a slow plodding that involves lots of e-mails to Horticultural program coordinators, editing chapters, and eraser marks.

These are the things that ground me in reality. These are the things that are true.

 

Inheritance and Identity

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In circles where the topic of cultural and ethnic identity comes up (which, obviously, isn’t many of the circles I spend time in), I always find myself cringing inwardly at some point throughout the conversation. As a white person, I struggle with feeling any desire to connect to my culture; after all, we have screwed up. A lot. Aside from this, as a mixed woman of mostly European descent, with whom do I align myself with? I am Irish/French/German/British/Swiss/Native American and possibly many small degrees of other ethnicities, all of which are complex and noteworthy and deserve both my pride and my humility when taking my heritage into account.

On Wednesday morning, my one remaining grandparent, my maternal grandmother, peacefully left this world after a month of declining health and almost twenty years of living with a mind that was irreversibly damaged by a massive stroke. It’s very sad to realize that the last remaining tie to that generation of my direct descendents is gone; I will no longer have the opportunity to spend time with someone that close to my family who has lived through events and decades that my parents have only heard stories about. Not only that, but she was a very sweet and lovable woman; she always smiled and laughed when people came to visit her, even after she lost the ability to communicate with words.

Yet there I’m carrying around so much joy on her behalf; when I cry (and I do, often) it’s because I feel like this is a beautiful thing for her. I truly believe that she’s now been completely restored, both mentally and physically. Her sharp mind is fully functioning again, and the woman who loved to dance is no longer bed bound and feeble. Most importantly, she will never feel loneliness again. She is back in the company of people she loved dearly; her siblings, her large extended family, and her husband, and probably most importantly, Jesus.

In spending the past few days reflecting on her life, I’ve been overwhelmed by the many photos and tidbits that have been unearthed; not only of her life, but of her parents, and her parent’s parents. I’ve been somewhat amazed by this part of my history. I knew my grandmother, but only heard stories about her mother and her mother’s mother. As Jason and I were looking through some of these photos last night, he remarked how strange that some of the non-physical similarities between me and my grandparents and great-grandparents were almost biological. In other words, not only was I bound to end up looking like them to some degree; I would also inherit their characteristics, their hobbies, their personalities.

For the first time, I feel a connection to my culture. I feel a sense of identity that I have affection and pride for.

My great-great-grandmother Molly emigrated from Germany and homesteaded on the land that I would one day marry Jason on. In her flower garden in the front yard of her cabin (the cabin we still visit) she grew hollyhocks.

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So when I spend time under the branches of the plum trees and love the land that I’m so blessed to be able to visit, I am taking after her. I also have a packet of hollyhock seeds in my seed box that I had intended to plant in my front yard one day, in the same way my own mother grows hollyhocks along her front fence.

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And seriously, who wouldn’t feel proud that this epic couple was a part of your family?

My great-grandmother Alice, who married Molly’s son, was the daughter of a beautiful Native American woman whose picture is displayed in my parent’s house. Alice was beautiful and graceful; she cared for her own children and oftentimes opened her house to her many grandchildren. She, too would spend summers in Door County with her husband.

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Jason and I have very likely stood in that same spot.

And then there was Grandma. I like to joke that I was named after a Bob Dylan song but in reality my name is a tribute to her, Joan. My middle name I share with my dad’s mom. My name itself is a part of my history, and I love that. I love that I have a name that not many other people have.

After her stroke, she came and lived with us for awhile. Because her mind had been damaged, she had to re-learn how to do many normal things, including how to read. As a 7-year-old struggling with my own reading, I found myself somewhere around her level. So we read to each other to pass the time. We read kid’s books and school books and I think I even read her some of my comic books. Within a few years, I was reading far beyond my grade level and went on to excel in most academic situations because of my reading skills.

While she forgot some things, one thing she remembered was how to crochet. So, one day she taught me. I never forgot how to do it, and when I got older I also taught myself to knit – all because we spent one winter afternoon working with yarn. Every time I let wool run between my fingers and create something, I think of her.

One thing that I didn’t know – and discovered this past week – was that she worked as a secretary for 11 years. A secretary!

Secretery

My grandmother was a devout charismatic Catholic woman. My first memory of attending church was with her and my step grandpa, when I was four or five. I don’t remember very much about anything, but I do remember singing next to her, and singing with all of the vigor my little voice could muster. I doubt I even knew the words, but I sang nonetheless. After the Mass, I asked her if I had behaved well in church, if I had been good.

“Yes” she said, “And you sang so well!”

And so on Saturday night, when I found myself playing my guitar and singing hymns at her bedside during what would be my last visit with her, I thought of that day. I look at her hands, and my mother’s hands, and I see mine.

Ever since I remember, my grandma had red hair. In fact, it was some time before I realized that it wasn’t even her real hair color and that she likely had grey hair underneath. She did – I saw it on Saturday for the first time. And while her natural hair was beautiful and thick, I like to remember her as a redhead and joke that I get my red hair from her.

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This week has been full of happy (and sad) tears, full of the ache of a beautiful end to her story. It has also been many moments of looking through these photos and saying, “Oh, there. There I am. That is where I come from”.

In doing this, I realize that I would like to see photos of my father’s family as well. To explore a whole other side of my history that I know in word but not image. I know, from scanned images of old census records, they were farmers and shipbuilders and that they came from France and Canada and Switzerland and most significantly, from Ireland.

I want to remember where I came from, and I want my children to know the stories. I want them to know that I grow vegetables because my father did and I grow flowers because my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother did. I play my guitar and sing because both of my parents have a voice, and my hands, long and capable just like my grandma’s hands, learned from my father how to pick out the chords on the guitar. I spend as many hours as I can spare along the shores of Lake Michigan, and sometimes I bring a bag of yarn along to pass the time.

I have hair which, in its natural form, is curly like his and brown like hers (and also dyed red, like Grandma’s). I have his nose and her eyes, his Irish stature and her long arms and legs. When I have children, they will share these features with Jason’s features; his (truly) red hair and hazel eyes and intense propensity for freckles.

We’ll gather this weekend to honor her life. My family will sing songs at the funeral. I will see cousins and uncles and family that I haven’t seen since I was 19. One of my cousins has become a mother since then. I have grown dreadlocks and gotten married and become a homeowner. And while I have changed, have become my own person and created my own family, I will honor my inheritance. I will feel grateful for the things that were passed on to me that can’t be defined in physical characteristics. I will, maybe for the first time, identify myself as a part of a culture and not have to feel ungrounded.

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Jason saw these pictures and said, “She seemed like she was kind of a free-spirited person, wasn’t she? Like you and your sister?” Yes, I think she was.