(Note: This post briefly references genocide and brothels.)
Every year we can, we go visit my amazing Korean parents in law, Halmeoni and Harabeoji (‘Grandmother’ and ‘Grandfather’). Now in their 80s, they consistently embody the kind of radical trust that I’m trying to build. Their lives tell like a movie script, one dramatic, heartbreaking story after another, interwoven with incredible courage, faithfulness, and generosity. Hunger and genocide, robbery and abandonment, occupation and persecution – and, unexpected, powerful sources of support and inspiration.
Against all odds, their journeys brought them together; then across the world to Germany, a haven to raise their children and minister to lonely Korean workers, far from kin and homeland. Then, uprooted again to chilly Alberta, to learn yet another language and culture, ecosystem and way.
When I was about forty years old I discovered a clay deposit on a beach that I visited frequently. Intrigued, I sat down and began working with the river’s gift. I remember my astonishment when a beaked bird – woman emerged out of the clump of damp earth. I could feel a surge of fire pulsing through my body so I took the figure home and placed it on my bedside table, hoping to discern its message.
Shortly thereafter I discovered the work of Marija Gimbutas in the book The Language of the Goddess. There were a number of beaked goddesses pictured in this volume, some uncannily similar to mine. Had I tapped into the world of the ancient bird goddesses? I believed so. Although I had no idea what this might mean these images of Marija’s captured my imagination and kept me questioning. It wasn’t long before I also dreamed other bird goddess images and rendered each of them in clay…
My Aunt Sophie passed into another realm last week. Not from COVID, but, from a life well-lived.
At 98, she lived a remarkable life. She wasn’t famous, nor did she ever strive to be, but what she was, was what love should be, can be, and is.
In her 98 years she played trumpet in the high school marching band, she had a mean left hook, and she was a Rosie the Riveter, where she actually worked as a welder on ships being built for WWII in Richmond, CA. More, she was a devoted wife, she was a sister and caretaker, she was an incredible grandmother, and, she was a mother. Not just to her seven children, but to her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and to my sister and me, her nieces. Continue reading “The Legacy of Wisdom by Karen Leslie Hernandez”
One year ago, on New Year’s eve, I buried my father’s ashes. It was an incredible experience to orchestrate the funeral and burial of the man who begat me. He was nowhere near a Hallmark greeting card kind of father. He was complicated and difficult in ways both minor and severe. Yet, this was the man I called “Dad,” and I was left to deal with the baggage of his life. I cried in a way I had not cried before and felt a kind of sadness that, when given over to, seemed fathomless. There is no real answer to grief like that. I decided that one must just confront it or become it or traverse it. And, there were things to do, practical things, such as repurposing clothes and rehoming cats, for which no one, I believe, could ever be totally prepared. I did not resent what I had to do; I just did it. These things were hard for me.
Yet, despite the pain, something in that loss was deeply freeing. There was no progenitor in the person of my father to come before me now, so there was suddenly no sense (however falsely constructed it may have been to begin with) that someone stood between me and whatever it is that was and is coming at me. There is no longer even the false perception of a windbreaker, no frontline, no wise man, no one to shield, no guide. There is just a naked sense of myself in the world, and though others surely came before me and stand around me now, on an existential level, I am not answering to him any longer.
Faith is something we get from each other, and sometimes in the most magical of circumstances, faith becomes embodied by the person you love the most.
I have a Ph.D. in American Religious History but I’ve never been much of a religious person. It’s been one of the conundrums of my life but nevertheless, I found religion and its role in influencing, for good and bad, the lived experiences of the LGBTQ community something worth exploring.
I’ve been struggling with writing this post ever since I graduated and officially became “Dr. John.” In preparing for my defense, the Chair of my Dissertation Committee requested that at the start of the defense, he wanted me to introduce my project, its overall scope, and most importantly why I wrote it.
Why did I write it? How does one answer why they chose to devote 8 years of their life to a single subject in search of an original idea? While some would sit and grapple with this question, I knew what the answer was all along because it always was (and always will be) about my maternal grandmother, Gladys Hritsko.
I wanted to know what made me different. Throughout my dissertation, I interviewed people who, much like myself, grew up in similar small towns, attended the same conservative church services, and heard the same damning things that I did about my sexuality being preached from the pulpit. Many of my subjects were deeply hurt by religion and it set some of them up for years of searching and painful memories and experiences that both forced them to leave their religious and faith-based communities they grew up in or, in the worst case, being kicked out by their family as a result of their religion.
Today is my mother’s birthday and although she has been dead for more than a decade I still think of her almost every day. At the time of her death I had not seen her for twelve years. Not by choice. After my father’s sudden demise my mother chose my children, her two adult grandsons to be her protectors, and dismissed me from her life, permanently.
When she died, my mother divided her assets evenly between my children and me, forcing her only daughter to live beneath the poverty level for the remainder of her life.
The final betrayal.
At the time of her death I was teaching Women’s Studies at the University.
Nature is a Living Being. Animals and plants have souls, and a spirit. Each species is unique, and yet we are all interconnected, human and non – human species alike. This is more than a both and perspective; its multi-dimensional.
Many books are written about using nature to heal humanity of its ills. ‘Recreate’. Climbing a mountain, or taking a walk are common examples of using nature to help ourselves, but how many of us are asking the question of how we can give back?
This is a question I was obsessed with for about thirty years and may be the reason I gained entrance into this seemingly secret world that we call Nature.* When I experienced unconditional love from both animals and plants I needed to reciprocate in kind. This idea of reciprocity between humans and the rest of Nature is probably similar to what Indigenous peoples experienced because they loved (or feared) and learned directly from animals, plants and trees. They respected animals, for example, for their unique qualities. Indigenous people never psychologized Nature the way westerners routinely do.
I rarely read books about Nature anymore because I am so troubled by this psychologizing. From my point of view psycho-babble is just another way of dismissing the reality of Nature as a living feeling, sensing, sentient Being.
There are people in my family who believe Christianity to be so inherently oppressive and harmful, that anyone who identifies as Christian is culpable for all of the harm done by all imperial colonization by Christian empires and nations, all harm done to Native Americans, to LGBTQ people, most slavery, racism, genocide, ecocide, and basically almost every problem the world has had for 2000 years.
Theirs is not an unusual view. I encounter this view regularly here in the Northeast US, though most people assign the blame to religion in general. For parts of my family, Christianity is the true evil because it was so popular, and thus the religion most commonly tied to violent and oppressive political leaders and structures.
I also encounter this attitude from feminists, quite frequently. According to many feminists, I am everything that is anti-feminist and misogynist… precisely, solely because I am Christian.
Here in the high desert it has been raining off and on for the last few days. A giant puddle sits in the driveway and all the trees range in color from subtle shades of sage to emerald. Fringed Chamisa, spun gold and salmon wildflowers are bent low but stems are luminescent. Seedlings are sprouting in unlikely places.
I can’t think of a better mother’s day present for the desert than these ongoing cloud-bursts that are nourishing the earth with water and minerals from the sky. I am profoundly grateful for this year’s spring greening.
The earth is experiencing a sense of renewal. I wish I could say the same for me with respect to mothering and mother’s day. I cross this cyclic threshold with the same feelings of dread and grief that overpower me each year. Neither of my children acknowledge me as the mother who once loved them so fiercely, but oh so imperfectly in her own confusion and despair.
I was such a young wife, barely twenty when I became pregnant with my first child. Two years later I was a mother of two sons. Within five years I was divorced and on my own.
Although I tried to repair the damage as soon as I was able, neither child was willing to join me. I desperately suggested counseling – many times. As adolescents and young adults both Chris and later David, responded with chilling silence and apparent indifference to every frantic attempt I made to bridge the gap.
Today, Good Friday, marks the seventh anniversary of one of the most significant dates in my life – the adoption of my daughter, Sarah. On Easter Sunday, 2012 I wrote about the resurrection of my family.
Much has changed since the government acknowledged that Sarah is my child – something I knew from the moment we saw each other. My seventeen year marriage ended, I lost significant persons in my life to death — and to the 2016 presidential election, and my career has had many ups and downs. While many of us think of our lives as a path to resurrection, what I have come to understand in being a mother, is that resurrection is not a once and for all thing. Every day, I find salvation in the moments I experience with Sarah. I recognize the ways my loved ones are resurrected in me. And I have found new appreciation for the joys life brings, even when they seem few amongst the ways we experience suffering and loss.
In the years that I have been blogging, this is by far my favorite post and I have been so grateful for the many wonderful responses I have received from it. It seems an appropriate time to revisit this incredible experience and once again, give thanks for the experience of salvation in my life, and proclaim the miracle of my family.
As I had written about in a previous post, my ex-husband and I had a very long struggle with infertility. After nine years, multiple failed rounds of infertility treatments, and much heartache, we decided to look at alternative options to grow our family. Once we had made the decision to adopt, I felt new hope. There was a light at the end of the tunnel and I knew a child would be coming home to us before long. I had a dream that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had come to me and told me that I would be a mother. She promised that a child was waiting that needed and wanted mg love and would arrive soon. I began praying to a shrine of Mary at a local parish near my home; she became my source of strength and solace.
Not long after being approved for the adoption waiting list, I embarked on a trip to Italy with my family to visit my father’s hometown and meet our relatives. It was quite an adventure and during our excursion I stopped in every church I passed to say a prayer to Mary. Half way through the trip I received a call that a child was matched with me. To say I was overjoyed would be a complete understatement. I tried to catch an earlier flight home but was unable. A once in a lifetime trip was suddenly of no interest as I sat around my hotel room looking at baby items, reading parenting info, and preparing for the homecoming of my daughter.
I met my daughter – Baby S – for the first time in January, 2011. She was 20 months old and from the moment I saw her, I knew we were destined to be together. I had been terrified on our way to meet her wondering what she would be like. Would she like me? Love me? Would she accept me as her mother? When I entered her foster home and came around the corner, we locked eyes as she ran toward me giggling; I picked her up and we embraced and I instantly fell in love. She was the child Mary had promised me.
After my daughter had been home for about a month, I was notified that there was a problem with her adoption. A biological relative had hired an attorney and was seeking custody. It was an incredible shock; I was frightened and found that I had no rights in the process because I was considered a foster parent until the adoption was finalized. After three months of having my daughter home a court ruled that she had been placed with me in error. Baby S was taken from my custody and my world crashed around me.
The grief I felt was unbearable and I questioned what kind of God would be so cruel. My family was lost, as was my dream of being a parent. I had given up on motherhood; after losing Baby S I could not imagine bringing another child into my home.
Five months passed when I received the unexpected and unbelievable call from the adoption worker that the relative was no longer able to care for Baby S; she had asked that Baby S be returned to my care. It was a miracle, my daughter was coming home to me.
From the time I received the call until Baby S came home, nearly three weeks had passed. Again, I was worried about seeing her for the first time. How difficult would it be for her to move again? What had her life been like for five months? Would she accept me as her mother? When she finally arrived Baby S walked into our home and into my arms. Our connection had never faded. She was my daughter. Mary had known it, and at that moment, I knew it.
Baby S has been home for a little over six months now. She has changed my life in so many ways and every day I wake up thankful to be her mom. While the grief I had (and Sarah too) endured was unspeakable, the end result was worthy. I have come to know Baby S’s biological family well. They are wonderful people and together we all share a deep love for Baby S and want what is best for her. We will have an open adoption, a true gift in so many ways. Had we not gone through this entire ordeal, we would have never come to know her biological relatives. I believe Baby S’s life will be better for it, as will ours.
I had been unable to share our wonderful news previously because our adoption was pending. However, on Good Friday we entered a courtroom with Baby S and her adoption was finalized. I wept as the judge who had removed Baby S from my custody a year ago stated that it was clear she belonged with me. It was the moment I had been waiting for; although Mary told me Baby S was destined to be my child, although I have known she is my daughter for sometime, the legal system has finally recognized this as well. So here, on this Easter Sunday, I am writing to tell you our family has been resurrected.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of FeminismAndReligion.com. She has written for the Huffington Post and is author or editor of five books including Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Againand Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives of women around the globe. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for peace building and spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.
Fourteen years ago, I was pregnant with William Valentine. I had no idea what to expect. I knew only that I was in a body, and it was pregnant. Things happened to me, to my body, that seemed extrinsic to my person, so much so that for most of those forty weeks, I felt as though the doctor’s office was having the baby, and I was a mere observer. But, when the time came to deliver the baby, I realized it was my body that was trying to make passage for another’s. The particularities of myself and the baby’s self seemed to fade away into something more vital and primordial in the process of the transmission of life. After a safe delivery, I felt a deep and curious gratitude that was beyond the gratitude I had for my child or for our health. This strange gratitude was born of the passage I had been so fortunate to experience, that is, this novel yet ancient, essential yet unparalleled dimension of human being-ness. I had given live birth, and I was grateful to know what that was like. In that experience, I was more connected to my human brothers and sisters than I had ever been before, including to this new baby, who I knew in my deepest self was more fundamentally a brother human than even he was my own child. I knew that in this transmission, I had helped a fellow traveler, and that transmitting life was simple even while it was giant in scope. The experience was and would always be about walking with each other, from the cradle to the grave, in our vulnerability, in our fragility, in our humility, and in that walk, to find our strength, our dignity, and our luminescence, as persons, as creatures that think and speak and love. To have been a party to another’s coming to be, this was an occasion of the greatest gratitude I had known.
In accompanying my father in this final stage of his life during these challenging and difficult months as he journeyed toward his death, I felt that same vital and primordial passage of being that I had in giving birth. While it was not my body that this time labored and worked, I was party to his experience. I witnessed his courage and another kind of transmission of life. For, I saw a man go from self-concern to other-concern; from hope of getting well to hope to of making things better for others; I witnessed a man move from verbal complaint to silent focus; and I heard his relocation of worry for himself to concern for me because he knew I was hurting as I was watching him, mostly powerless to do anything but sit next to him. I saw a man graduate from a regular man to an elder and then to naked spirt in God’s care, and I was honored to be one of his midwives on that journey. In his final hours, he became full of grace, and he fulfilled the trajectory of becoming the father and man he always intended to be. It was an honor to behold, and I am grateful.
Many times choices are difficult. Some of the time choices are easy.
I have had a rough year. Probably one of the most difficult yet in my adult life.
I began this year with an offer of a job, where I would have used every bit of my knowledge and education, which included a move to Dallas. That job, due to fear and discrimination, ended as quickly as it started. Now, 12 months later, I am job secure and I still live where I began 2018.
Aside from job security, I have been dealing with a serious incident of verbal abuse, from someone in my family, who should never do to anyone, what they did to me. It has been devastating, debilitating, and incredibly difficult, to say the least.
I have also been thinking about my choices of men. That seems to always be disastrous for me. I do not choose wisely. And I am uncertain as to why.
Last, I have been thinking about my choices of whom to include in my life as friends, and whom I must not include. This particular choice is not easy.
The fact is, I have a choice. We have a choice. Always.
Parshah Vayigash covers Genesis 44:18 to 47:27. It involves the reunification of Joseph with his brothers and his father, the immigration of Jacob’s entire family to Egypt and Joseph successfully leading Egypt through famine. In other words, the parshah provides the backdrop for how the Israelites become slaves in Egypt.
Any mention of women is confined to verses 46: 14-26. They are not active participants, but are remembered as mothers and (a few) daughters and help explain the size and development of Jacob’s family. It is most striking that they are mentioned at all as the text is heavily preoccupied with sons. Nonetheless, according to the account, Jacob’s family has 70 members and a seemingly very small number are women and daughters.
Clearly it comes as no surprise that this text is highly influenced by its patriarchal roots and we could dismiss it for that reason. Nonetheless, it has become a project of mine in this blog over the past few months to find redeeming qualities and food for thought within these texts. In other words, despite its sexist pitfalls, there are still holy insights and life lessons as my previous blogs attest. Continue reading “Vayigash: Lessons from Joseph’s Behavior by Ivy Helman”
This has been another hard month. I don’t feel it to be hard. I just know objectively that it is. The typical challenge of balancing my work with the children’s needs and the management of a household has been intensified by the onset of a serious medical condition in my family. I now enter that phase of elder care, which I understand is more or less bound to bankrupt the average household. I have become the much-begrudged adult child, compelled to make decisions for other people’s lives and regarded in the fog of suspicion. My intentions are now under scrutiny; my time is usurped; my efforts are thankless. I’m not complaining really. I am just describing.
In the midst of things, I have managed to take my older son to the seeming ends of the earth to visit potential high schools. I am managing a Destination Imagination team for my fourth grade son’s class. I am teaching six courses, and my home is relatively clean. I am running a weekly lecture series, I volunteered at the Church this month, and no one has missed any meals. I even managed to sew a blanket for a friend’s new baby. There are many more serious family, medical, and economic issues that underlie my day-to-day, but along with everyone else, and perhaps a little more so than some others, I just accept that I am amazingly over-extended.
Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, graphic sexual content
In Part 1 of this story, I introduced a discussion of Johan Galtung’s theory of cultural violence as it relates to my experience as a young woman in an abusive relationship. To recap:
Cultural violence is: “…any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form. Symbolic violence built into a culture does not kill or maim like direct violence or the violence built into the structure. However, it is used to legitimize either or both.”
Cultural violence against women is: Normalization and promotion of pornography, prostitution, degradation, and sexual objectification of females in media, predominantly male language in civic, business, and religious institutions, gender roles and stereotypes, misogynist humor, gaslighting, minimizing or denying any of these forms of violence.
My husband’s stepmother, Ginny, died last week. She lived several months past her 97th birthday. Here is her obituary.
Ginny shared her life with three husbands, outliving each one. Three sons were born from her first union. She then married John, my husband’s father, and warmly welcomed us (John’s family) into her life. When John died, Ginny married Fred. After Fred’s death, Ginny told me, “Of all my husbands, Fred was my favorite. He was fun.”
Ginny lived at the Brethren Village Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—a home with several levels of care—for over 30 years, moving there a few years after marrying my father-in-law. She said, “We made a good decision. I never wanted to be a financial burden on my children.” And she wasn’t.
Throughout her life, Ginny attended a fundamental, evangelical church. Had she been able to vote in the 2016 national election, she would no doubt have voted Republican. She had no use for feminism (women who rail against God’s ordained order), liberalism (the Devil’s message), homosexuality (perversion of God’s perfect creation) and immigrants (they siphon resources from hard-working Americans).
Yet, at the same time, Ginny was generous, giving to causes that fit with her ideological worldview such as missions. It was important to her that people come to understand the “truth” as seen through the prism of the theology she embraced. Within her community, she was loving, actively engaged, and caring, helping people in practical ways—donating food and other necessities to organizations sponsored by her church.
One of my Facebook friends—someone I’m quite fond of—posted the following remarks given by her pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia, to the congregation on July 15, 2018:
It was Thanksgiving 2016, and my brothers and I were headed toward a family reunion of sorts in Franklin, West Virginia, where my mother now lives. Four of us were carpooling together and one of us asked another one of us, ‘Can you please help me understand why you voted for Donald Trump?’ And we all listened. And my brother who was asked the question explained his position in a very clear way, in a very gentle way, in a very loving way, so that his brother could understand his reasons. And when he was finished he said, ‘Maybe you could tell me why you voted for Hillary Clinton?’ And my brother responded in the same gentle, kind, and loving way… Continue reading “Time to Stop Talking by Esther Nelson”
(Written the day after the Parkland high school, Florida shooting.)
Last night, my husband and I went outside to our driveway to sit in the car and have a beer. Those of you with lots of children will understand that sometimes you just do not have the time, energy or funds for babysitting, but at least we have some uninterrupted time to talk to each other. Our youngest is six years old, so the older ones can easily watch her for twenty minutes. We are not leaving toddlers to fend for themselves. And it is cold out. That is why we are in the car.
Only last night, there was no ‘unwinding’ going on. Somehow, we started speaking about the Parkland, Florida high school gun shooting, and his voice became raised.
He calls it ‘Meditarranean’ and ‘passionate’; I call it an ineffective way of communicating. I would like to say that I replied calmly. But I did not. He had me, and my voice became raised in response.
The past few weeks, I’ve been sitting with the many layers held by the concept, and the manifest reality, of mother, mothering, and motherhood. Mother is seen in the divine feminine, in the cosmos, and in the sea and the glow of the moon. She is held in our genes and our histories and the eyes of our children. She is found in archetypes of healing, nurturing, and comfort, as well as in stories of criticism, coldness, and abuse. She is the soft one who tends grief and holds hands and braids hair, and she is the unbreakable one whose labor and caregiving is taken for granted in most areas of her life. We carry our mothers with us in our DNA, in our stories, and in the way we navigate the impacts of intergenerational trauma.
She doesn’t always appear in our stories in simple or easy ways. Some of us mother children we did not or could not grow in our bodies; some of us birth babies who are now mothered by others. Some of us are not mothers at all. Some of us had mothers who could not love us unconditionally, or did not have mothers in our lives, or had mothers who brought us more pain and humiliation than comfort, from whose effects we are still recovering, are still healing. Others have mother wounds, mother blessings, that escape delineation in a single blog post restrained both by its word count and the sometimes-limited imagination of its author.
Mother is a tough concept for me. My own relationship with my biological mother was a source of confusion and heartache for years; the resolution of that internal conflict left me feeling cut off from my maternal grandparents, whose influence on my early life was wholly positive, loving, and stabilizing. Connecting with my ancestors is a part of my spiritual practice, so this loss was present with me, in my heart and waking meditations as well as in my rich dream life, which included frequent visits to my grandparents’ home. Each morning I’d awaken from a dream spent in that space to the stifling realization that their home – my childhood home for my earliest memories – had been torn down years ago. Continue reading “Carrying Our Mothers by Chris Ash”
The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for grief. Whether it is grieving someone who died earlier in the year as you celebrate your first holiday season without them, or the lasting memories of loved ones who are no longer present at family gatherings, this time of year makes grief bubble to the surface. Since this is my first holiday season without my little brother, who died in March, I’ve planned ahead with coping strategies that I’d like to share with other feminists struggling to grieve through the holidays.
Upon the death of a loved one, most people in the West are offered commodified grief, costly funerals, and stifled feelings pre-packaged as dignified tradition. When deathcare became a commercial enterprise at the turn of the twentieth century, there was what mortician and author Caitlin Doughty calls a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. “Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a ‘profession,’ an ‘art,’ and even a ‘science,’ performed by well-paid men. The corpse, with all its physical and emotional messiness, was taken from women. It was made neat and clean, and placed in its casket on a pedestal, always just out of our grasp (Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, 136).”
There are so many massive tragedies in the world that need to be addressed at the moment. However, for me, there is only one that I want to write about today and it is the passing of my dear friend, Joseph LaGuardia. Although he often referred to himself as a “nobody,” Joe is a person who touched countless lives and made our world a more loving place.
Joe was the first person to welcome me to Ursuline College more than four years ago. Before I began my position as dean, Joe, who was serving as interim dean, met with me every week for about 2 months. As we both transitioned to new roles, we exchanged gifts without knowing the other had purchased one. We laughed that we both bought each other books. Joe shared with me his book of poetry Life Seasons, which of course is brilliant. And I gave Joe the book The Presidents’ Club and joked with him that as only those who had served as presidents knew what it was like in the oval office, he and I were in the Dean’s Club, and we were among the few who knew what it was like to serve in the dean’s office.
I lie in bed with him, cementing the details in my memory. The way the morning air is heavy and green. The sound of last night’s raindrops continuing to drip from the overfull gutters on the roof. The insistent stab of a single-note bird song in the air. His head nestles in the crook of my arm the way it has done every morning for three years. Blond hair against my nose, breathing in the slightly baby smell of him. “This is the last time,” I whisper softly. “We are all done after this. This is the last time we will have nonnies.”
This is not the first last time for me, but it is the last, last time. The first baby was born 14 years ago and gathered to my breast with all the tenderness and uncertainty and instinctiveness of a first, first. “Do you want nursies?” I whisper to that new little boy, and we begin the next steps in our bond, nursing for nearly three years, until one day, six weeks away from the birth of the next baby boy, I decide that we truly have to be done. I am a breastfeeding counselor for other nursing mothers and I feel like I should want to tandem nurse my two boys. I fondly envision their hands joining across my body, the easy love and camaraderie between them blossoming through this shared time with their mother. But, I feel an intense irritation with nursing while pregnant, nearly a sense of revulsion and the almost irresistible urge to shove away my sweet little boy as I prepare to greet the life of another. I talk to my midwife about my feelings and she explains that with her own two daughters, the agitated feeling at nursing the older one did not go away with the birth of the second, but instead became dramatically worse. After hearing this, I feel panicky and I decide we do, in fact, have to wean. He is a very verbal and precocious toddler and I am easily able to explain to him that it is time to be finished nursing. One night though, he lies in bed with me crying and begging to nurse. He says he really needs to. I tell him, “remember, we’re all done, but if you really, really need me, if you really, really still need to have nursies, you can.” He doesn’t nurse, but instead falls asleep, reassured that while our nursing relationship might be over, I’m still here.
Over the past few months, a precious person has come closer into my family’s life in such a way that their presence in my home, among my loved ones, has come to feel natural and easy. This is someone I love, someone who adores my children and appreciates my partner of 18 years and whose sweet spirit and vibrant laughter have added joy and mirth to our family home.
Yesterday, they rode with me to drop my freshly-mohawked teenager off at a farm to help with preparations for an upcoming arts camp. I introduced them by name to the camp assistant and walked over to chat with the camp director for a bit. Later, as we got back into the car to head to lunch, I asked what they thought of the farm.
“It was nice,” they said. “I’m glad your children have a place like that. Also, while I was chatting with the camp assistant, she asked if I was family.”
“What did you say?”
“I said yes.”
They weren’t wrong.
The meaning the word “family” holds for me is something I’ve given much consideration over the years. For generations, many of us have been expected to turn a blind eye to the ways patriarchal domination of women’s and children’s bodies perpetuates abuse in our own family systems. My inability to sweep these abuses under the carpet, to keep silence and pretend all is well, has led to my estrangement from one entire side of my family. It’s an estrangement I feel will be permanent, and while I grieve the loss of an ideal I never had, I welcome the opportunity to live authentically and boldly, confident in my dedication to my ideals, which include honesty, justice, and the unconditional protection of children and vulnerable populations.
For a while, I sat with the gap this estrangement created in my life, unwilling to fill it with harmful relationships with those to whom I am blood-related, yet hesitant to broadly redefine it in a way that negates the importance of those who have chosen to love and raise up a child, however imperfectly. Continue reading “Family, Interdependence, and Mutual Support by Chris Ash”
One of the first things my American friends and family ask me when they learn I used to be married to an Indian man is: was it an arranged marriage? I understand the intrigue, the bewilderment and even horror that the phrase “arranged marriage” can conjure up in unfamiliar Western minds. Images of forcing women to marry strangers encountered upon the street or child betrothals or women being dragged to the wedding site to be married off to mustachioed men are likely to flash before one’s eyes. While such incidents may have occurred from time to time, and in the past, as with child marriages, the long-established concept of “arranged marriage” is very different and not as frightening as may seem.
Traditionally speaking, proposals materialized through word-of-mouth – family and friends recommended a good alliance, or a parent would approach someone directly or indirectly to ask for a daughter or son’s hand in marriage. Even then, personal histories were well researched into, before both parties decided to “see” each other. Marriages in India continue to be alliances between families, and so it is important to check into family background – what are the parents’ and siblings’ occupations? How much does the prospective groom earn? After all, he may be the sole earning member of his family and may not be able to provide for his own family once he starts one. Is there a history of crime or mental illness? This investigation makes perfect sense in a society that is community and family-oriented, and wherein joint family situations are still the norm, especially in smaller towns and villages. It is thus imperative that everyone try and get along. “Arranged marriage” is certainly not synonymous with an “Oh-let’s-just-get-rid-of-our-daughter” arrangement.
My mother and I have always been very interested in our personal connection to the spirit realm. This connection, for us, is an important one. We pay attention to the signs and messages that remind us of our continued connection to those we love who no longer occupy our own physical time and space. Each cardinal, butterfly, and ceaselessly repetitive number (310 in our case) promises the continuation of relationship with the ones we miss so dearly.
A few years ago my mother and I were able to see a live show at the Chicago Theater featuring Long Island Medium Teresa Caputo. Even with hundreds of people in the audience, specific moments of Caputo’s readings spoke to images and memories that resonated and connected to our experiences. The show allowed us to once again be reminded of the continued connection between us and those special ones who we love and miss. Continue reading “Remembering My Saints by Katie M. Deaver”
It’s coming up on a year now that pretty much everything changed in my family’s life. My over twenty years of married life, up until last year around this time, our lives had been built around my husband’s job. John’s work as a coach in the NFL and Division I collegiate football had moved us all over the country—coast to coast and in between.
This time last year our move was for me to take a job. No more football. And a move not for football meant massive shifts in the daily life of our family.
In the past week I visited Cherry Ridge, Honesdale, Wayne, Pennsylvania in the Pokonos, where I was welcomed by my third cousin Marcia Perry Gager whose family never left the place where our ancestors settled. Marcia and I have been corresponding about our family’s history since Ancesty.com connected us about three years ago. During that time, together with another cousin, Debra Ball, we have managed to decipher the complicated history of Henry Iloff, his two wives, and their eighteen children.
My visit to Honesdale began at John’s Evangelical (formerly German) Lutheran Church. Following a last-minute discovery that the baptism, marriage, and funeral records of the church were not in the Wayne County Historical Musem archives as I had been led to believe, I made a call to the “emergency number” of Pastor Richard Mowery the day before our scheduled visit, not knowing how he would respond to this “not-really-emergency” invasion of his personal space. Continue reading “Down on the Farm by Carol P. Christ”
As a maternal health advocate, I cherish the season of Advent as an opportunity to connect a beloved Christian story to the lives of women today who struggle to bring new life into the world under horrific circumstances. Every year I write something about Mary’s pregnancy and birth. In many ways she is no different from the “Marys” around the world who are young, poor, and unexpectedly pregnant, and who go on to give birth in unclean environments. I often pose the question to communities of faith, wasn’t the Christmas miracle equally that Mary survived the birth? How different would Jesus’s life have been if he’d never known his mother?
I continue asking these questions, but after my daughter was born last October, I have found my Advent reflections shifting to mirror my own parenting experiences. I began to think beyond Mary’s birth and into her early months of motherhood. One morning last December, after a particularly awful night’s sleep, I came downstairs to hear “Away in a Manger” playing on the radio. When it got to the line “But little Lord Jesus/No crying he makes,” I rolled my eyes dramatically and pictured Mary doing the same as she bounced a screaming baby Jesus in her arms. Continue reading “What If Jesus Had Gone to Daycare? by Katey Zeh”
I’m not particularly fond of my periods – they’re painful, full of cramps. But they are a part of who I am, and I’m not going to apologize for them. We women, especially those of us belonging to the sub-continent, have been shamed or embarrassed into silence, while being reminded that motherhood is the most exalted position a woman could ever hope for. I mean, isn’t that paradoxical – if it weren’t for the bloody nemesis (pardon the pun), we would never get to experience motherhood.
I grew up in a Western environment (in southern Africa) where “period” wasn’t necessarily synonymous with repulsion. But when I moved to India, the land of my birth, soon after my “life-altering” experience, things began to look different. I came to realize that I ought not to be like the neighbour girl who was so besharam, or shameless, that she insisted on announcing her monthly ignominy to the world by refusing to conceal the fact that she had indeed been at the pharmacist’s to buy sanitary pads. Why, the pack of pads, sealed in newspaper and carried in a little black plastic bag was right there for the entire world to see on her ten minute walk back home! I gradually came to understand that “those four days” were taboo – do not speak of “it,” do not make it obvious even if you are writhing in unbearable pain, do not contaminate sacred space with your womanly profanity. Continue reading “Four Days of Bliss (or How I used The System to beat The System) by Vibha Shetiya”
We were playing six-degrees of separation, I think. I don’t know if there are rules to follow. It was after dinner, and we were talking about people we had encountered and their linkages to others. Surprisingly quickly, we found ourselves connected to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Elvis, Winston Churchill, and the Queen of England, herself. My mom had autographs from Jerry Lee Lewis, Duke Ellington, the Globe Trotters, and a gaggle of NFL players and professional golfers. She once chatted up Tori Spelling in a bathroom in Canton, Ohio at a Football Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. My husband worked in film in Los Angeles and Cleveland, meeting a crowd of stars and politicians over the years. One time he had a chance, face-to-face encounter with Prince (the artist himself!) as one rode up and the other rode down an escalator at a Borders in Chicago. As the distance between them closed, my husband quietly acknowledged him, saying, “Bravo!” Prince, whose head was angled away so as to avoid having to say anything, apparently, after a moment of consideration, looked back over his shoulder as they passed and silently mouthed, “Thank you.” I still give my husband kudos here… I mean, what else do you say to Prince? This connection, moreover, gave us our links to Morris Day, Jerome, Apollonia, and Shelia E., so we were all excited at his impressive list. I had a far less remarkable cast of characters to contribute, but I could offer a Vatican insider acquaintance, providing thereby a papal connection, which gave us our links to several world leaders. I felt I had contributed my part, even without autographs and celebrities.