The Savior, Part 5b: (Gotta Have) Faith

Continued from July 2 post: The Savior, Part 5a: (Gotta Have) Faith

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Twice in my life I have returned home from two-year stays in other countries. Neither time was fun or easy. After Belize, the priest at my home parish opened his Father’s Day homily with an observation that all movies featuring single fathers are comedies. I thought he’d go on to say that fathers were important, that Hollywood did them wrong, that men needed support in their roles as fathers. Instead he launched into a diatribe against “the radical feminist movement of the 1970s,” excoriating the bad women who had children out of wedlock and kept babies from their fathers, the awful women who pursued careers and forced children into daycare. He stayed with the image of father as helpless buffoon. This from a man who had never parented, a priest in a community with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in a state with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

He was one priest in one parish, but I thought of all the people listening to him that day. My high school classmates who’d earned diplomas after giving birth. The boy being raised by a single dad because his mother died. The fathers. My mom who worked her ass off to become a teacher, whose salary kept us afloat when my dad’s job hit a slump and dropped everyone’s hours. The friend who left the mother of his child right after high school. The childless woman. Me. Do I matter to this priest? This church? Do I matter at least as much as the child I might someday bear? And if I never bear children, do I matter at all?

IMG_5930I didn’t lose my faith. It changed. This was when I turned to La Virgen de Guadalupe, weeping before the tilma at her Basilica in Mexico City. This was when I started hiking, when I began shaping journal reflections into poems, when I jogged North Valley ditches with my roommate and her yellow lab, when I found a good therapist. This was when I had an egg rubbed over me by a traditional Mexican healer. I buried the egg and the rosemary she’d swept over me; I felt rooted and ready to fly at the same time and knew I had found a kind of home.

I would never leave the Catholic Church for another. I would miss the ritual, the songs, the liturgical calendar, communion, the sacraments. I would miss the bloody saints, the reverence, the solemnity of Christ’s suffering, a suffering we share in the breaking of bread, and I would miss the joy that follows that suffering because, like the denouement of a good novel, it is earned.

The Catholicism I grew up with and deepened at Harvard was of the Americas, tied to ancient tradition and new, post Vatican II, folk songs in Spanish, children sitting around the altar. Nuns never rapped me on the knuckles with rulers. (Though I, along with all of the other children who crowded into Father Stanley Hall for weekly catechism, was justifiably terrified of Sister Rosalie.) I was part of the mass, a lector, playing my trumpet, serving communion, holding the holy book above my head in procession with the priest.

IMG_5926I still feel at home dipping my fingers in a holy water font, still feel drawn to ritual and sacrament, to Good Friday mass, leaving the church in silence as the white cloth is gathered from the altar and folded. I am learning the newer mass parts (though “consubstantial” will never sound right to me). Pope Francis gives me hope. (Favorite quote so far: “Who am I to judge?”)

As with the fire, building my faith was never about trying to recreate my old life, but about creating and recreating with what remains: the ancient, the acequia, el mestizaje, the word.

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Published in: on July 31, 2015 at 7:55 am  Comments (4)  
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Mamas Day: The Supermom Fantasy

A version of today’s post first appeared on the Strong Families Blog as part of the Mamas Day 2014 series. In the words of Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Policy Director of Forward Together, “Mamas Day challenges the notion that mothers are perfect and instead uplifts the universal, very real picture: that all mamas – that don’t fit the Hallmark stereotype – are doing their very best. No matter what we call the people who have nurtured or mothered us, we want to celebrate them all.” Check out Kalpana’s and many other fine posts here

Family Selfie

I have a friend we’ll call Jessica. She is a supermom. She was raised by a supermom. By all indicators, her young daughters will one day be supermoms with theme birthday parties, perfectly organized hair accessory drawers, and pretty children who score above grade level on aptitude tests. We hang out at playdates and sometimes talk about motherhood, moms with paid jobs outside the home (me) vs. moms who stay home with their kids (her), moms who planned to be moms (her) vs. moms who just fell into it (me).

Today my nine-year-old stepson zooms across her backyard on a zipline, his long hair flowing, his orange “Awesome” hoodie stained on the pocket from the strawberry sundae he ate yesterday on the way home from school. My twelve-year-old stepdaughter sits on the highest point in the crook of an oak tree, her long legs dangling, her black high tops like a pendulum mesmerizing the younger girls as she leans down to display the gallery of selfies she taken since her mom got her an iPhone two weeks ago.

I yawn. Last night the boy came to our bed. He had a bad dream. I stumbled him back to his room, tucked him in, and fell asleep, his elbow cocked between my shoulder blades, my head hanging off the mattress.

I wonder out loud how I’d ever manage to care for a newborn.

Jessica says, “It’s different when they’re yours. Our bodies were made for this.”

***

Since marrying Henry, I’ve been asked by more than one friend, neighbor, acquaintance, family member, “When are you going to have a baby?”

“We already have two,” I joke.

The sensitive inquisitors change the subject, but some, failing to see that my reproductive future is none of their business, prod, “I mean your own baby.”

My own baby.

Our bodies were made for this.

***

Before I meet Henry I want children the way little girls want ponies. I picture a fantasy nena with my cinnamon skin and her father’s high cheekbones or doe-like lashes or poet’s hands or insert current beloved’s best feature here. I picture her wrapped in a rebozo at my breast, sleeping, occasionally waking to nurse without causing pain or disfigurement to my breasts.

In my twenties I want this baby more than I want a husband. This says more about the quality of my relationships with men than about my preparedness for motherhood.

In my mid-thirties something shifts. I get tired of dating the same guy over and over again. His name and profession and style change; but the constant is that he loves me best from a distance, loves the idea of me more than the actual complicated, messy me.

I think I love me—and by extension, my fantasy baby in the rebozo—the same way.

I start trusting the voice in me that warns of red flags (first date mentions of a “complicated” relationship with the ex; saying I love you too soon; he can call me, I can’t call him; take your pick), that heavy feeling at the bottom of my heart that knows I shouldn’t be dating this person no matter how beautiful his bone structure or lashes or hands.

***

When I reach home after my first date with Henry—appetizers and drinks at a rooftop patio in Old Town, plans for our second date already in the works—I text my best friend: I want to have his babies.

The mini me in the rebozo has hazel eyes and a goatee.

Henry and I fall—and grow—in love. We date for a year and a half.

And then, while I am on vacation in Mexico, my apartment building burns to the ground.

I return to Albuquerque with my passport, my laptop, and a pink suitcase of clothes. I move into Henry’s house. I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I play Legos, Build-a-Bears, bedroom-turned-grocery store where I can buy toast on a Hello Kitty plate for ninety-nine cents. Tutors, summer camp, chore charts, voice lessons, what do you mean that jacket doesn’t fit you anymore, play dates.

The rebozo baby vanishes. In her place stand two real, live, human children who go back and forth between our house and their mom’s.

Their birthday parties stress me out. They rarely make beds or pick up toys without being reminded. They don’t really like school.

I am not a supermom. My body was not made for that.

I have picked lice from his hair, boiled water for manzanilla that morning her first period came. These real, live children are kind and self-aware. They are honest and brave and funny and in touch with their emotions. They are creative and smart. They see and understand the world in a way that belies their years. And they have allowed me into their home, into their lives and hearts.

I am a writer. My body was made for story, the stories that flow from my pen, and this story—my life, this family, these kids.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 21, 2014 at 11:54 am  Comments (13)  
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