A Call to Womanhood: Handmade Love

I'll be on Good Things Utah today on ABC talking about this article. Come‘on over. Let's talk it out.

I’ve got a good friend in California. Her cakes are glorious, her home decor is on budget and beyond lovely, she usually smells like cookies and Chanel No 5. This is the kind of woman that Martha Stewart poaches ideas from, she’s that bleeping good at what she does. It’s wonderful. We talked a few days ago, going over the events of the past week. After a few laughs, she got quiet and then started talking again,

“Get this. It was Gloria’s preschool graduation and we were all supposed to make poster boards about our kids to hang up during the ceremony thing. Kind of like a retrospective on the year. Photos, their likes, dislikes, you know. Well, I got excited. Gloria loves it when I make her things, so I decided to put some time and thought into it. I figured it could hang in her room for the next little while. So, you know me, I used reclaimed wood instead of posterboard. Framed the photos with vintage lace and millinery flowers. Got some plastic toys of her favorite animals at the thrift shop, spray painted them and had them parading around the thing. It was like this really fun hot mess. Anyways, I showed up the night before graduation to set it up in the classroom. When I got there, one of the moms took one look at my little creation and turned to the women around her and said,

Well, I guess we know who wants to win mother of the year.’

It was so embarrassing. Gloria just likes when I make her things and I knew it would make her feel special. But I just ended up feeling like an idiot. I am so glad we are done with the moms at that school. But then, of course, there will be moms at the next school and I don’t really know if they’ll be any better.”

I said some encouraging words and then hung up to go make dinner. And I don’t know if it was just the heat in the kitchen, but the longer I stirred the soup the hotter I felt. I was literally sweating with anger. How dare that woman? Who was she to make ANYONE’S effort a thing of shame? Who made her Queen of the Mean Girl Squad?

I’m well acquainted with women like that. I spent my childhood watching them form circles outside of my mom’s reach. My mom was the mom with the over the top projects. The Native American dioramas with real tiny beef jerky drying in tiny villages. The bunny in the kindergarten with a hand painted face and hand sewn dress based on an American Girl doll pattern. I was the girl that showed up with magazine ready goody bags on my birthday.

And you know what? That is how my mom showed her love. She’s dealt with depression her whole life, she’s fought her past and won and sometimes lost, she’s been unsure and unheard. She’s always found herself through creating and she’s always shown others she knows and loves them through creation. But the women around her didn’t understand that. They thought her professional looking baked goods and high heels meant she was snubbing them.

A lovely example. I was five and we’d just moved into a new town. My mom showed up to a church social all done up, her hands full of a black bottom pie and glistening sugar cookies. She was smiling because she was so damn unsure. So worried no one would talk to her. She smiled like that all night. She had to because no one even said hi to her. A few months later, she’d made some friends. She told them about that night and one of them snorted in disgust.

“Oh, yeah. I wasn’t there. But you know, Marie was there. She came up to me after you and I started being friendly and asked if you were a bitch. I guess only a bitch shows up with lipstick and pie in her world.”

What. The. Hell.

Sisters. It’s enough. Listen. I’m not the one smiling with lipstick and a homemade pie. My kids will never have professionally staged diorama or historically accurate handmade costumes.  I don’t show my love that way. And I couldn’t if I tried. (Literally couldn’t. You should see me try to make ANYTHING. It is painful.) But I am comfortable setting my store bought rolls next to the heavenly creations of the woman down the street. Because we are all enough. We are all beloved and loving. We have got to stop judging others against our seething insecurity and smug sense of self-righteousness.

Don’t you see? We need one another. We need the masterpieces of each others lives. And mine doesn’t look like yours. Thank the heavens. How would we form a whole if we were all the same? How are we supposed to lift each other up to the heights when we are all so busy pushing down against what we perceive as the different, the intimidating, the not how I do it so it must be excessive, out of bounds, ridiculous, worthy of contempt? Why have we lost the ability to glory in one another? Did we ever have it? Let’s get it and hold onto that beautiful thing with clenched fists. Let's pass it on to our daughters. Let's stop all of this nonsense. Now.

There were days, months and even a few years when my mom could hardly make herself get out of bed to face the world. But still, even in those moments of darkness, she found a way to make that school project, sparkle that dress, cook that chef worthy birthday dinner. And as I held the thing she made, I knew - I KNOW - I was holding a product of her love for me.

And honestly, anyone who would intentionally make her, or any other woman, feel like less because of that can go straight to hell.

I mean that from the very bottom of my store bought cupcake heart.

A Day in the Life

A couple of weeks ago I asked a question on my Instagram feed.

The responses were honest and heartbreaking and made me feel like I was not alone. Over the next few months, I hope to get to all of them. One theme that came up again and again was the concept of the bad mother, our guilt over our own inadequacies, perceived laziness and the spreadsheets of our failings. Again and again the women that make up my community, that have given me validation, that have made little old, nothing me feel loved, said they just weren’t good enough.

Bull….oney.

Don’t you know? I wanted to shout, Don’t you know you are everything to those babies? That they will not remember the bits of dust amongst all the things that sparkle? Don’t you know that this work is hard and sad and beautiful and happy and you were made for it? That it doesn’t matter how many chicken nuggets they eat or how many crafts you do? Do they feel safe in your home? Can they be themselves around you? Do they know you love them? Yes? Then breathe a sigh of gracious relief. You are achieving the most vital aspects of parenthood. They will be better for you having known you. You are really helping them to be better.

But as a woman, I know that language like that rarely makes it past our defenses of insecurity and enforced isolation. Do you know what helps me? The honesty of other women helps me. Time and time again I have sat in what I felt to be the failure of another day. And in the midst of the dirty dishes and Dora episodes, I have ached to know what happened on the insides of other women’s houses. Am I the one mother that cannot sustain four hour long crafting extravaganzas with my toddlers? Am I the only one that did not do math games with chocolate chips every day? Am I alone in my need to lock myself in the bathroom every once in awhile so I can just sit and breathe and close my eyes to the things I feel too tired to see? I have thought so many times, if only I could see into just one mom’s afternoon. While she didn’t know I was looking. If only I could see what happens in between the moments caught on Instagram, then, maybe then, I would feel normal. Maybe.

So today, I provide the glimpse I’ve been aching to see from someone else. A typical day in the life of our house. It should be noted that many days are better than this and some are worse. The better ones contain homeschool for the preschooler and tactile play for the two year old. The worse ones have more tears and more, if it is even possible, TV. No matter, all are starred with flaws and all are worth my time. I really believe that.

6am: Wake up. Remember that today is the day I’ve decided to be up and ready before the girl’s get out of bed. Realize that goal was foolhardy, overreaching and masochistic even. Turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

7:45am: Wake up to Viola screaming because she wants to get out. Margaret is also crying because she is so worried about Viola.

“Mom! Why is she screaming like that? Help her! MOM, HELP HER!”

8am: Set the girls up in front of the TV and tell them that I am just going to hop in the shower. Go upstairs and lay down in the hall. Just for a minute. To read. The news. If, you know, you can call the latest development in the Kim/Kanye proposal saga news.

8:15am: Just ten more minutes. By now, I have moved onto the political world. I mean, don’t I need to be well-informed? I owe it to my children.

8:25am: Really, I’ll get in the shower in five more minutes, I just need to …. oh, I wonder if there is anything on sale at Anthropologie!

9:05am: Margaret comes upstairs and asks if I am ever going to shower.

9:06am: I shower

9:30am: Breakfast for the kids. While they eat, I read stories from the New Testament. Viola spits out cheerios while I try to explain that the Savior of all of mankind being born in a stable. Zuzu cocks her head to one side and says,

“I mean I guess a manger isn’t a bad bed for a boy. They smell bad a lot of the time, anyway.”

“Oh, honey. I don’t think Jesus smelled. Well, I mean. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t matter if He did. Or didn’t! Oh, man. Are you done eating, yet?”

10:20am Tell the girls they can watch one more show. But only one more! And then stare at the kitchen sink unsure of what to do with myself for the rest of the day.

10:45am Still uncertain of what the day should hold, let them watch one more show. But only one more. Really. This is it. I swear.

11:15am Finally think of something to do and then realize it is almost Viola’s naptime. Take 25 minutes to bundle the kids up for a walk to the park, because I will be damned if we don’t get something done today.

11:50am The park is freezing. Walk home with the two year old crying and the four year old yelling that her legs hurt too bad to walk.

12:15pm Make lunch. Turn on Chris Thile’s Bach: Sonatas and Partitas. Because classical music covers a multitude of sins. Even if that sin is the third day in a row of easy mac for lunch. Eat and laugh.

12:35pm Hold an impromptu ballet recital to Bach’s finest. Clap and plie until the girls run into each other and start crying.

12:38pm Tell Margaret that if she doesn’t stop crying, I will give her something to cry about. Do absolutely nothing when she keeps crying.

12:45pm Put the girls down for naps and quiet time.

12:50pm Think about cleaning up for lunch. Decide washing out congealed cups of noodles will be more appetizing after you watch one House Hunter. You know, so then it has really had time to form that hard to clean oily skin.

1pm Squeal with delight when I realize there are new episodes of House Hunters International.

1:20pm Decide to watch just one more.

1:40pm Okay, just one more. You know things are better in threes. And I mean, I really deserve the break. I walked all the way to the park today. You know, the one five houses down.

2:30pm Wake up to the sound of a fifth episode of House Hunters. Decide that since it is on, you might as well finish it.

3:15pm Let the kids out of their cages beds.

3:20pm Play dress up and tea party. Decide that I am really a good mom. What other mom would be so committed to her role as Mrs. Higginbotham the 3rd, Grand Duchess of Sugar Flower Land?

3:35pm Decide I can’t take anymore and start frantically texting moms to see if their kids can come over and play.

3:45pm Spend the next hour and a half writing while the kids and their friends play in the basement. Hand out granola bars and goldfish like they are going out of style.

5:30pm Realize I haven’t made dinner. Pull the pork roast in the fridge and say the words, “Good enough” aloud as I smell it to see if it is still edible. Chop it up to put into a hash I'll serve with broccoli on the side.

5:45pm Send the neighbors home and run around the house picking up while the hash cooks. Find half a hot dog behind the couch. Feel some concern as I haven’t purchased hot dogs for at least six weeks.

6:15pm Kiss Riley, “Hello!” and sit everyone down to dinner.

6:45pm Bathe the girls while Riley cleans the kitchen. Check in on instagram while the munchkins soak. Decide to get off instagram. Take a picture of them laughing. Decide to stay on instagram.

7:05pm Read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to the girls. Laugh when Viola jumps off the couch and scold when she tries to bite Margaret’s ear. Then laugh some more.

7:30pm Prayers, toothbrush, bedtime negotiations.

“Yes, you can leave the closet light on. No you may not have a hot dog in bed. You should have eaten dinner. Wait, why do you think we have hot dogs? Where are you finding the hot dogs?”

7:35pm Lullaby and lights (mostly) out.

7:45pm sit outside their door and wonder at the spirits I have been given in the form of two wild and beautiful girls. Feel the power of a thing so hard to name. Breathe deeply.

And then time with a husband I don’t see enough. Writing on nights when I can think, Castle and Blacklist on the nights I can’t.

Listen, it could be better, it could be worse. Right now, I am working on being happy to just be. I am almost there. Usually.