Category Archives: It’s a Girl!

grace > ice cream

She’s just so crazy about her dad that I said, “How about I take the baby on home while you guys finish up here?” I knew she’d love to be alone with him for a while, her princess status unshared with mom and sister. I was right: she glowed at the suggestion and gleefully laced her fingers with his as they took off to collect the rest of the groceries.

What surprised me was when I put her to bed that night and asked, “What was your favorite part about your date with Dadoo?” (That’s what she calls him, Dadoo.) I expected to hear “When we had ice cream” or “We sang the whole ride home” or, as she once said with a sigh, “He’s just so beautiful.”

ice-cream

Instead, she beamed and said, “He told me it was 100% not a big deal.”

Intrigued, I asked, “What was 100% not a big deal?”

She said, “I thought he’d be mad, but he wasn’t!”

Still I had no idea what we were talking about, so I tried again: “What happened right before he said that?”

She replied, “The thing that wasn’t a big deal!”

I know better than to attempt to pull something from a three-year-old – odd, ultimately frustrating verbal judo inevitably results – so I asked her dad later. “She says her favorite part of tonight was when you said, ‘it was 100% not a big deal.’ What happened?” He looked a bit mystified and told me about something gross she did that he corrected. When her eyes filled and chin wobbled, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s 100% not a big deal. Just don’t do it next time.”

Her favorite part of the night was grace.

During this Lent season that we just finished, I felt strongly as if God were dealing with my pride. An occupational hazard as a counseling graduate student is hearing stories of some of the worst things people do to each other, especially to children. I ended up developing this righteous anger that somewhere became unrighteous, thinking, “If I could just get ahold of those child abusers / rapists / neglectful parents / the ones who inflict fates worse than death, I’d fix them once and for all.” I had no trouble imagining them at the Good Friday scene: throwing stones at Jesus, screaming for his death. Bad, bad people. I’ll show them.

Here’s the problem. As a sinner, I was there too. Also throwing stones. Also screaming for his death. Also committing sinful acts that nailed that perfect man to the cross. Because that is what sin does (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10). We are the same, the “bad people” and me. We are all bad people without Christ.

If I want him to show me grace, I can’t keep it from them. If I don’t want him to give me what I deserve, how can I turn on them, hoping they get what they deserve?

And my favorite part of my story with my Father is grace. When they make their way to him, I bet theirs will be too.

My daughter already knows this, even though she’s only lived three and a half years. In Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God,” she always replaces the second word with “grace.” You can correct her all you want, but she stands her ground. (Believe me, I’ve tried.)

But there’s something that rings very true when you hear a toddler singing her lungs out:

How grace is our God!
Sing with me, how grace is our God!
And all will see how grace, how grace, is our God!

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I Quit Forever.

I made a New Summer’s Resolution. I am quitting all diets forever, and I mean forever.

This isn’t a new idea. “It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle” has become cliché in our age of dietry. So I want to be clear: when I say I am quitting all diets forever, I don’t mean I’m adopting a certain diet as my new way of life. I am not a new Paleo convert. I literally mean I am quitting. All diets. Forever.

It occurred to me one day that I have spent a ton of time being afraid of and simultaneously drawn to a few “bad” foods; namely, cookies, sweet tea, and French fries. These are my heroin, my security blankets, and my antidepressants (that seriously don’t work). But these foods have no inherent value; they are not “bad.” They are inanimate, valueless. My method of consumption is what determines the wisdom of eating them.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want my daughter to end up waging the same war I have for 30½ years. I want to win it and end it, perhaps for us both at once. I’d rather my daughter know that some foods are everyday, all-you can eat foods; some foods are treats; and some foods are just for parties. I want her to see food as sustenance and occasionally a social enhancement and definitely a gift from God (as evidenced by the existence of taste buds, according to my pastor). What food is not is an emotional anesthetic or a substitute for affection. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables have superpowers, and that’s why God made them so bright and colorful. I want her to know that singing and dancing and laughing and playing all make for better journeys than Oreos do.

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I don’t want her to be scared of food. I definitely don’t want her to be scared of being fat.

So I’m not quitting health. I’m actually kind of finding it, now that I’m exiting the diet funhouse with all its mirrors that distort and lie and frighten. It’s a hard place to leave, because as restrictive and hateful as diets can be, they’re also seductive. They tell you sexiness and happiness and all your dreams-come-true are in following their simple regime.

It’s a lie.

Instead, we walk together, my daughter and I. We have Bath-Time Dance Parties. We snack on grapes and avocados when we’re hungry. We point to different parts of our bodies and say, “Anna has pretty arms; Mama has pretty arms! Anna has pretty feet; Mama has pretty feet!” And we remind each other that strong is more important than gorgeous, but gorgeous is a given.

A really beautiful memoir I read earlier this year included the line, “Contentment doesn’t double by the serving.” Very true: more potato chips have never led me to more joy. But I’ve learned that you don’t have to diet to eat fewer potato chips. You can just choose an alternative ending. Sure, you’ve always eaten the whole bag. See what happens if you don’t this time. I’ve been practicing. The skill sharpens with repeated success. And it definitely keeps proving the point that more food never equals more contentment.

When I get to the end of my life, my daughter with me in my room, I sure hope she doesn’t say, “Mom, you taught me how to diet.” I hope she says, “Mom, you had soul. You knew how to fight and win. You knew how to dance.” If that’s the story I want to tell, I’d better stop the dieting, choose something greater than the cookies, and just for the love of God get started dancing like she does:

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My Booty.

My name is Amie, and I’m all about that bass.

It’s probably genetic. When a bass line comes on in my Aunt D’s car, she “neck-dances.” It’s always been one of my favorite things about her. My sister performed ballet en pointe for years and killed it. Even my 10-month-old kicks and grins when certain songs come on. Rhythm is a life force in my family. So when Shannon, my jazz dance teacher with faux red hair and a cigarette-frayed voice, responded with laughter to a routine I choreographed, it cut me. She asked how much longer I’d continue, given that I “didn’t have the body of a dancer.” I suppose I don’t, but I didn’t think that’s what jazz dance lessons were about. Especially for a twelve-year-old.

Shame is a thief, and that day it stole my moves. I quit dance at the end of the semester, horrified at the thought of taking my not-dancer body back to the mirrored wall that ridiculed me for an hour every Tuesday. I quietly retreated to piano lessons and choir accompaniment, where I could hide behind a baby grand while someone else was visible out front. But you can’t keep this girl from dancing, somewhere. I broke a toe while dancing in my room one Saturday afternoon, high-kicking right into my bookcase. (My best friend didn’t believe I’d actually broken my toe and came over to see. She promptly fell over laughing and even took a picture of my bandaged purple toe.) One of my dad’s colleagues saw me dancing in my car once and described it to my dad in such a way as to prompt him to later ask me laughingly if I had been high. I even danced in the minivan on the way back from New York three days ago while my family slept. Although, to be fair, that might have been as much a failing of my lucidity after sixteen hours in a vehicle with three young children as much as the booming bass of my music.

Regardless, here is a truth about my booty. It is a two-hand grab, and it likes to get down. It doesn’t twerk or grind, and it isn’t a real-life version of Elaine Benes. But joy in me has always spilled out physically, and lobotomizing that aspect of myself never worked. Probably because it was put there by God, made in his image (see Zephaniah 3:17, for example). So as part of my radical, shame-be-damned, self-acceptance journey, I danced at my mother-in-law’s wedding last Saturday, the first time in public since Shannon’s comment seventeen years ago. I threw off body shame and hit the dance floor with my daughters, sisters-in-law, and husband. When given the option between shame or true self, I finally chose myself.

I’ve learned since having daughters that body shame is passed down. If my daughter is told she looks just like me but then hears me complain about my awful thighs, what does she learn? She looks at her just-like-me thighs and labels them “awful.” And if she’s anything like most of us women, body shame will not only keep her from dancing, but also destroy her self-confidence. So on Sunday night I grooved out onto the dance floor. My daughters need to see me dancing. They need to know there’s an alternative to shame. They need to see everyday courage. They need to know it’s not about how you look but who you are. I’m all about that bass, and I hope they will be too.

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Theme for Motherhood 101

Here is a confession.

Every moment with my daughter is not beatific smiles and homemade cookies.

This is what my Facebook hopes you will believe, because it is what I would like to believe. I am a classic perfectionist: in my mind, I should start each morning at 6:00 with a bright smile, brew my husband a steaming mug of Cost Rican coffee, spend an hour in powerful intercession as the rosy-apricot sunrise streams golden bars of light through my window, dress my daughter in a fashionable baby outfit that stays clean all day, work out my slim legs and shapely arms for an hour in the gym, cook a healthy and delicious dinner for my family, and cuddle myself into bed at 10:00, at which point the Lunesta butterfly will settle on my shoulder and marvel at my seraphic glow.

Alas, that is not my life.

Except for the Costa Rican coffee, which I typically brew for myself.

The truth is more like this: I wipe sleep-slobber off my face and groan when the baby monitor tells me my nine-month-old has awakened before I can eat breakfast or even brush my teeth. We survive the day until 3:00 p.m. when she morphs into a screeching monkey. I’m endlessly patient until, you know, 4:00 p.m., when I find myself counting the hours before bedtime: three and a half. We sigh, we cry, we grunt. We just generally wish the other understood why she has to stop acting like this right now I-mean-it. I flop into bed later than I mean to, stressed and aggravated with myself over my stress and aggravation. And if any medication-induced fauna enters my bedroom, it’s most likely the green Mucinex crud-globs, trying to invade my sinus cavities in the night.

Perhaps women like my perfect dream-twin do exist, but I think they might be fairy-tale elusive, like woodland sprites. In my lucid moments, I know this; in my more numerous everyday moments, I believe I should be one because I believe everyone else is. It’s probably this belief that led me to hide in a closet a couple Sunday mornings ago, shaking and sobbing, with my journal – failures splashed in blue ink all over – covering my ears to block out the dreadful waking-up sounds of another day. The reason I am even around my daughter at 3:00 p.m. is that the doctor wrote me out of work for three weeks to try to recapture whatever dim glory I might’ve had before The Closet Incident. Simultaneously being a wife and new mother – if you’re aiming for success at both – is really hard on the soul.

In life as in writing about it, I’m accustomed to ruminating on the difficulty of certain situations and then tying it up neatly with a crystalline truth, something sweet and precise, maybe even helpful. However, since becoming a mother, I feel sort of shabby, like my crystal isn’t polished anymore and the prisms are harder to come by. I am exhausted, disappointed with myself, and frequently at a loss for truth at all, much less that which can be artistically voiced. The one solid bit, the gravity holding my feet to the ground even when my feet are drenched with tears and hidden in the closet, is the knowledge that Jesus loves me. How odd: Jesus loves a shabby, puffy, ill-tempered mother on antidepressants. Jesus loves a screeching-monkey nine-month-old whom I call “sweetheart.” Jesus loves a stressed-out set of parents who beg incessantly for his help, even though He has a perfect track record of coming through for us since well before Day One.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves me.

Jesus loves…me.

Maybe I’ll make it after all.

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Why We Are All Good Enough Already

When I was inducted into the Mommy Club, I had no idea the dues included massive heaps of guilt. I generated enough all on my own, but I also found myself accepting it from others. “You’re doing an all-natural vaginal birth, right?” a lesbian chiropractor, a stranger, asked when fate crossed our paths at Dave and Buster’s. “You’re putting her in daycare? Wow, I don’t even trust daycares anymore,” said a brazen acquaintance I saw at Walmart. I could continue with comments about our formula supplementation, the length of my maternity leave, and a thousand other “issues” (that of course are not issues).

I was accepting the guilt with a weak self-defense – and a sinking heart – until I heard a father quoted on the radio one day. NPR is my #1 preset, and my curiosity was piqued when they interviewed an author who wrote a book about the experience of parenting in America. When asked what her favorite finding was, she talked about asking a man on a plane, “Do you ever feel like a bad father?” He said, “Absolutely not. I am the standard.” He explained that he went to work each day, helped with the kids, and took care of himself and his wife emotionally. Who could ask for more than that? So no, he never felt like a bad father. The author said she was so struck by his conviction that she had “I am the standard” printed onto customized bumper stickers and handed them out to all her friends and clients.

The most guilt I have felt is over feeding my baby. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to produce all the milk she needs. Everywhere, including in my own head, abounds the pressure to exclusively breastfeed, but my body just won’t allow that. Certain days I would hold my daughter and start crying that she couldn’t get all she needed from me. But when airing my sorrows to a friend one night, she commiserated and then said, “Maybe think of it as ‘just feeding,’ nothing special. Just feed your baby.” That, coupled with the belief that I am the standard, has Scotchgarded my motherhood from (most) guilt. I provide all the breastmilk I can and supplement the rest. I read to my baby. I dance with my baby. I enjoy her awakening spirit. I pray for her daily and for my man and me, that we will parent her with wisdom and grace. I change her diaper, feed her, take her out with me. I am the standard.

A superb book I just finished, Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, quotes a French mother, wife, and lawyer on the issue of guilt: “I never wonder whether I am a good enough mother because I really think I am.” That, my friends, is a confident woman. I want my daughter to think like that, talk like that. So it’s up to me to show her. I no longer wonder whether she has the right mom. Because I really think she does.

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What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting: Taking Baby Home

Dedicated to Dave, who wins the Ultimate Best Husband of All Time Ever award, for doubling the joy, halving the stress, and helping me keep my cool.

If you weren’t expecting, you might not have learned some of the practical ways your life will transform. Here are some simple exercises you can perform to ease into new parenthood.

1.  Practice sharing your bed with a spider monkey. Place it conveniently between you and your partner. Try to sleep.

2.  Learn to perform all tasks one-handed. You may pick which side you use. Beginner level: In the other arm, from crook of the elbow down, place two five-pound bags of sugar. Don’t drop them. Intermediate level: Poke holes in the underside of the bag closest to your hand. Contain the sugar leakage. You’ll need this skill if your baby’s diaper quickly becomes overwhelmed with waste.

3. Compose a To Do list of 1) brushing your teeth, 2) showering, and 3) changing out of your pajamas. Try to feel very accomplished when you finish.

4.  Program your alarm to go off every two hours at night. When it wakes you (no snooze buttoning!), head to the kitchen and measure out three ounces of caffeinated coffee, and load it into a medicine dropper. Test the temperature of the coffee on your wrist, making sure it’s comfortably room temperature. Take it back to your bedroom and feed it to the spider monkey you’re now sharing a bed with. Don’t give him more than a drop at the time so you don’t choke him. When you’ve finished, the monkey will be completely awake, so you’ll have to coax him back to sleep. You’ll probably notice an inverse correlation between the sleepiness you experience and the sleepiness the monkey experiences. And never fall asleep holding a spider monkey. It is very dangerous – just ask the hospital.

5.  Empty your savings account.

6.  Once an hour, inject your breasts with pure potassium or some other fire-in-the-veins liquid. This will prepare you for the “let-down tingle” of milk production, which should in fact be called “let-down avalanche of pain” if you are taking performance-enhancing herbs like fenugreek and blessed thistle.

7.  Find a YouTube video or Vine of a crying infant. Set this to play on repeat every time you and your partner are in the mood for love. Learn to either 1) ignore it and continue, or 2) become asexual.

8.  This I can’t prepare you for, no matter what exercise I come up with: your heart is about to double in size and walk right out of your body. Sure, you’ll be sleep-deprived, teary, and sometimes plain angry. But that baby is the most precious, joyful bundle you’ve ever seen. You won’t be able to kiss that face enough, take enough pictures, or snuggle that little body enough. Prepare to fall in love all over again.

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What Else to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting

A few more things occurred to me after I posted last time. It’s like when someone asks your opinion and you can’t think of anything to say and then a day later, you have sixteen different responses. You know what I mean.

6.) You might spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at your torso. Every time my baby moves, it hypnotizes me. Of course, all I see from the outside is a slowly shifting mound of alien head, but it’s mind-blowing. Weird too, because Anna is majorly attached to my bladder, a.k.a., her dribble-practicing apparatus, stability ball, and best friend. She naps on it, squeezes it, flips over it, and probably coos sweet nothings to it. Naturally, I’m thrilled to be growing such a resourceful fetus, but there are times I tell her, “I swear, if you touch that thing one more time, you will have hell to pay. With God as my witness.” About that time, she’ll somersault visibly, and then I forget I was in the middle of an important disciplinary lecture.

7.) You might cry at commercials. For real. Publix had a commercial around Mother’s Day featuring this little girl in pigtails and a pink striped shirt. She and her manifestly pregnant mother were making lunch in the kitchen. Mom says, “You know, I used to tell you secrets when you were a baby. I’d hold you so close and whisper in your ear. No one could hear it but us.” Mom smiles as they continue making lunch and having a love fest. A frame later, with Mom’s attention elsewhere, baby girl gets right up next to the bulbous belly and whispers, “You’re gonna love Mom.” I am literally tearing up as I write this. (Honestly, though, that commercial is hardcore even for the non-pregnant.) Pregnancy stirs up these waves of emotion that feel so big they consume at least six cubic feet of the air around you. P.S.: Be ready for anger to feel that way too if someone interrupts your nap, pulls out in front of you, or eats the last one of the things you crave most. It’s intense, even if you normally aren’t.

8.) You might be surprised how much time you spend discreetly passing gas. Or trying not to. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but since no one told me, here’s another friendly PSA: you might morph into one gassy heifer. Luckily for me, I have a five-year-old stepson, so passing gas in my family is merely part of a comedy routine, a way of life. On the other hand, I spend my workday exclusively with teenagers. If I ever non-discreetly pass gas, I will have killed my respectability for the rest of the semester. But hey, that’s what maternity leave is for: reputation restoration after the pregnancy hijacking of your body and personality. It’s like pregnancy amnesia for your community.

9.) You might give your baby the hiccups. My pregnancies have not been successful so far, so when the slightest thing feels different, I duck and cover. It happened the other day after I gulped 20 ounces of Coke in about 4.6 seconds. Don’t judge me; I was very thirsty. Not long after I finished, my belly started a rhythmic bounce that perfectly matched the bass line of “Blurred Lines.” It was during the school day, so I looked around surreptitiously to see if my students noticed. I slid behind my desk and banged on my keyboard, furiously researching my mistake. Was she in distress? I went to WebMD and discovered that I might have rapidly mutating kidney cancer, or maybe little Anna had the hiccups. I sighed with relief and gazed at my torso again. I swear she echoed, “Mama!” up my esophagus in between frustrated spasms. I said, “Yeah, well, knock it off with the bladder antics.”

10.) You might feel even more affinity for your man than you did before. I’m sure you think your man is the best, blah-blah-blah, but I know that’s not true because I married the best. While I already had a crush on him when we got married, now that we have a burgeoning little one that is the result of our love for each other (and my insatiable attraction to him), it feels like there’s something completely magical between us. We made a little person! A half-me, half-him person! Probably she will be the coolest person of all. I anticipate some hard times as we adjust to Anna’s rhythms and re-create our own, but there is no one on the planet I’d rather Anna have as a father. He’s strong and manly and loving and generous. She is so lucky. And so am I, to have them both plus two other half-hims. It’s an embarrassment in riches, really.

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