Tuesday, May 2, 2017

first Tuesdays

I attend monthly lectures on spirituality put on by the Loyola Institute for Ministry and hosted at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, one of the most beautiful and holy spaces I've ever experienced. I've heard some really powerful thoughts from people of all faiths over the past few years, and I enjoy the fellowship and perspective it gives me in the middle of my work day.



At the end of today's lecture, the Ignatian priest asked us, "When did you feel God today? Where have you seen God in your life today?"

Admittedly, I have not been much focused on today. I had a huge Board meeting yesterday, and tomorrow is my stepdaughter's birthday. I had 13 Board packets and a testimony to prepare yesterday; I have 29 people dining in my home tomorrow.

So I hadn't given much thought to today. I got through emails and text messages this morning. I made myself breakfast and drank lots of water. I got makeup on. I got to my lecture on time, walking by new construction in the Quarter to see how it was going.

I honestly didn't find much about the conversation today compelling until the priest posed those two questions. And then, suddenly, today started to mean something more than GiveNOLA Day. It meant more than a gateway from yesterday's challenges to tomorrow's celebration.

I have not felt God in this damn cold that won't quit me or Beau. I definitely don't see God when I look at our mountains of used Kleenex. And I'm not sure where God fits in to this scenario, but we haven't kissed on the mouth in days.

But I feel God every morning I get to wake up beside the person I love most in this world. I see Her in the sunshine and low humidity of early May. I feel Him in my ability to walk to my meetings.

I see God in the police officers I communicate with almost daily, as they try to protect our community... but I don't see Her when I hear about the rape of a mentally incapacitated woman.

I tried to help a friend see God in me by stealing her away for afternoon coffee and listening to her cry. I try to show God to others in the way that I laugh and forgive and connect... even if that means tracking down RSVPs at the last minute.

I did not feel God in the two giant spills/messes I made tonight or when I snapped at my husband for something really dumb or when I blew my nose for the 87th time today... but I think She was there for dinner on our back patio, surrounded by our garden at sunset.

I see God in my stepdaughter: her sheer joy, her solitude, her empathy.

And I will make a more conscientious effort to feel and see God in my every day, in the mundane, in the work and the blessings and the laughter, in the low grade fevers and the perspective of strangers, in the tears I've been entrusted to witness, and in the patience and grace my husband grants us.

The sun rises, and the sun sets. It's up to us to be honest with ourselves about how we can love our neighbors best, one day and one moment at a time.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

those who save us

(originally posted May 2, 2016)

My beau has a daughter. She doesn't remember a time in her life when I was not a part of it. She calls me her stepmom. Her friends and her friends' parents and my friends call me her stepmom. I could be. I should be. 

But it's not all cupcakes and champagne. 

As I said goodbye to one of my Board members one afternoon this week, I wished her happy Mother's Day if I didn't see her before then. She said, "Same to you."

It makes me feel like a fraud. I feel embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions that are largely uncommon in my life when people wish me a happy Mother's Day. It's a ridiculous reaction. Nia Vardolas, the actress in/writer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, wrote an amazing book, Instant Mom, about her journey towards motherhood that included adopting a child from the American foster care system and argued that "If you've wiped a butt, you're a mom."

N'est-ce pas? 

I rationally know that I matter to my beau's daughter. I rationally know that she loves me and enjoys spending time with me and admires me and considers herself my daughter. I rationally know that the day will come--and, at this rate, soon!--when she tells me with so so so so so so much anger that I am not her mother. To which I will respond, "but I *am* your parent."

When it comes to how I parent, I feel like I am constantly questioning myself. Especially lately, because the lessons on how and why to wear socks are far easier than the lessons on how and why to empathize. The tantrums that she mostly missed in her second and third years have arrived with foot stomps, exclamations of "I'm so so so so so so angry!", and slumping onto the floor in protest. Sometimes I wonder how we got a teenager trapped in a kindergartner's body.

I cannot imagine a circumstance when I get to spend Mother's Day with her. My brother got married last year on the night before Mother's Day, and that Sunday at brunch, everyone was wishing the women happy Mother's Day. Except not one person said it to me: no one in the family I was born into, no one in my new family, no one in the family I have created. 

And I felt like a fraud for being bothered by it.

I feel a constant search for validation: even though her father and I aren't married (yet? ever?) and that I didn't give birth to her, I desire a sense of belonging to a club I haven't biologically joined. The other female caregivers whose children are in her class have been really accepting of me; they offer advice whenever I ask, they encourage me via text message, and they refuse to let me belittle myself because I'm "just" a stepmom. They help me realize that all of us are questioning ourselves all the time, even the ones whose bellies and thighs and breasts stretched in ways mine haven't (yet? ever?). These neighbors and strangers recognize that beau's daughter and I love each other and that I put great purpose into always putting her best interests first. 

Which is one reason why I laugh at her when she gets alligator tears over having to choose which uniform to wear to school: validating her ridiculousness is not in her best interest.

So, this Mother's Day, I am going to try to put all of my ridiculousness away. I'm going to be grateful for my own biological mother and all of the other female caregivers and friends who have been the village that raised me. I'm going to be grateful for all of the female caregivers who have helped me improve as a mother. I'm going to be grateful for beau for being a wonderful partner and for sharing his beautiful and sweet daughter with me, for entrusting me, for loving me. 

Because embarrassment, shame, and all other manner of self-deprecating emotions are not in my best interest. I am not a fraud; my love for beau and his daughter is not a fraud. And it's in my best interest to find gratitude and grace today and always.