quiet space

It’s Friday, April 10. I’m looking out my living room’s big picture window at smallish snowflakes. The spruce across the street have a dusting on the branches, and the ground is, of course, still covered in white as it has been since October. The overcast sky along and the bright white flakes makes the whole world appear grayscale, which, though it sounds depressing, is actually soothing.

In Kindred Mom Zoom meetings every week, one of the things we do real quickly at the beginning is check our numbers. The last month as we’ve looked at the stats for our newsletter, the open rate isn’t awesome and the unsubscribes are trickling in. Our content is solid, but people aren’t reading.

I’m not reading, either. I have 347 emails come in every day from school—zoom meeting reminders and assignments and enrichment activities and logistics and updates from the superintendent—and only one of my four is in “real” school. I get daily texts from DHSS telling me how many new cases there are and in which communities, along with hospitalizations and deaths. Every company I’ve ever given my address to is sending me emails about their COVID-19 strategies, which change regularly as mandates shift, prompting new flurries of emails. Influencers are sending me awesome deals on this e-course, but hurry! don’t miss it! You won’t see prices this low again! Any newsletter I’m subscribed to (including the one I am involved with producing) is sending me super helpful ideas to cope with sheltering in place and curated links to free content to keep my horde of hooligans busy and articles explaining why everything is so freaking hard. (It’s grief. Fight or flight response. Anxiety. All the things.) Social media is flooded with (admittedly funny) memes and rants and complaints and conspiracy theories and just a general record of what is going down in the world right now.

I can’t.

I’m tired. My already-sensitive brain has been overloaded for years now and a disruption in routine, health concerns, and economic worries are compounding the problem. I could keep myself busy twenty-four hours a day just reading the text accompanying all the helpful free content on the web right now. I can’t even quite wrap my head around the time consuming that free content would cost.

I need quiet.

You too?

I’m tempted now to send you to Headspace or to a helpful resting practice I found, but wouldn’t that just be adding to the noise?

So instead, I’ll briefly record my current moment of peace in hopes it helps you recognize similar moments in your world. Feel free to just close this tab now and stare out the window for a sec.

Snow is falling. My feet are cold. I keepe typing random Es at the ende of words, like I’m olde timey or somethinge. I put on makeup and a cute shirt to do a podcast recording at seven this morning because I want desperately to feel like a person today. But also, I’m wearing my workout clothes because that’s what’s coming next and I refuse to put on a full outfit complete with a bra and real pants in order to record audio and then change out of them to work out. I realize this is inconsistent. The heater just kicked on. My husband made himself coffee, then disappeared back to our room. In a minute he’ll sit beside me and we’ll work together on our sorta-matching apple laptops. Our kids are still in bed. The big girls’ room is reading in the massive and complicated multi-room fort they made with their beds and blankets last night (after they should have been sleeping) and the little kids’ room is listening to Sir Bernard, which is an musical kids’ audio drama. (I have no idea what order those adjectives should be in. I think this is close to right.) I am as grateful as I’ve ever been that we have rules about what they should do if they wake up before “get up time.”

I hope you find pockets of quiet today that take you by surprise. I hope you recognize them as the gifts they are. I hope they point you to the Giver of good gifts.

a look back at March

So remember in late January when everybody was all, “it’s January 74th” because it just felt so long? Hahahaha… We had no idea how long a month could be. I realized the other day during a rare quiet moment (I left the house and sat in my car in the parking lot of a gas station) that I no longer quite think in complete sentences unless I’m writing or talking. There’s so much noise in my house, online, and in my head.

I was having a hard time coming up with words to say here when Emily Freeman’s monthly newsletter ended up in my inbox and she shared a look back at this wild month in three parts:

  • a moment of joy
  • something that surprised me
  • something I want to leave behind as I head into April

I can probably manage this. But I’m going to rearrange to leave you with the fun part.

something that surprised me

Well, I mean, March. But that’s everyone. I started a writing project early this month. This in itself is a surprise to me—it’s not a big project, but it’s bigger than a blog post and I’ve long told people who’ve mentioned me and book-writing in the same sentence that I barely have enough [semi-] coherent words to write a 1000-word post. Anyhow. It’s a different kind of writing than I’ve done before and a bigger project and just generally intimidating to me, so kinda put it off for a minute. But right at the beginning of March I finally decided, “You know, I’m just going to do it. I don’t have to do much, but I need to at least start something.” and within a week or two I was roughly a third through the rough draft of the whole dang thing. Didn’t see it coming. It’s not easy, per se, but the words come every time I’m faithful to show up to do the work. (I haven’t done any of this in the last two weeks, so it’s still roughly a third done, but still.)

one thing I’m hoping to leave behind as I make my way into April

When the first case of COVID-19 in Alaska was announced roughly the same hour as the school district decided to close, I started following all the things pretty closely. Every day right around five, I’d hit the dhss website, be irritated at the lack of news, google “covid-19 alaska,” weed through the stuff about Alaska Airlines and the things from the Fairbanks Daily News Minor which won’t let me read unless I subscribe (which I won’t), read the remaining useful articles coming from Anchorage and the local TV news channels, go back and refresh DHSS, look at the CDC’s map of the spread which is maddeningly behind, do math regarding the rate of growth of cases both in the US and Alaska, etc. This is madness. And even if I do need to get all the info from all the places I can find it, five o’clock is literally the worst possible time. From 5:00-6:30 pm has been witching hour (hour and a half) since we’ve had kids. Five is when the kids really seem run out of the ability to regulate well and six thirty is when Andrew gets home so we can do the dinner/bedtime shuffle. Me sitting on my laptop compulsively hitting refresh on sites that will only give me stressful news about which I can do nothing is profoundly counterproductive.

I have prefered news sources (that generally link original documents and transcripts, so I feel good about reliability) which I check regularly. I’m happy with exactly this level of news. If I want to do a deeper dive, the sources are available, but generally I just get the highlights in a way that doesn’t completely overwhelm me, and that’s plenty. I am signed up for texts from Alaska’s DHSS, so I get a message a few minutes past five most days with whatever the case and body count is (this sounds so cold and crass, but those really are the details I get) along with any new health mandates.

This is enough. And it doesn’t eat my attention and stress me out during the most difficult ninety minutes of my day.

a moment of joy

This past Saturday, Andrew set up the trampoline. Note: the snow is still up to the bounce mat (I had to google “what is the floor of a trampoline called”) so this may be a bit premature, but we have to burn their energy somehow.

He sent the older two out to play, but the younger two needed to clean up the toys they’d been playing with before heading out. Brian picked up the blocks and got his gear on and left. Lilly was dragging her feet—she would rather never go outside without a “gwonup”—and was putting Duplos in the bin as slowly as she could manage.

Suddenly, shrieks erupted. Brian’s one of our screamers and evidently somebody did something he didn’t like and he LET US KNOW. (We could still see him bouncing, so he wasn’t majorly injured.) Lill immediately kicked cleanup into high gear and started frantically yelling, “It’s okay, Boyboy! I’m coming! I’ll be right there!” Now, it was a balmy twenty degrees out, so all our doors were closed and even if they hadn’t been, Brian’s shrieks would certainly have drowned out Lilly’s panicked maternal reassurances. She got the Duplos put away in record time, dressed like a marshmallow, and waddled out to the back as fast as her clunky boots would let her.

I love how much she loves her “Boyboy.”

And there we have it. I’d love to hear the rundown of March from you, if you’d like to share.

to my non-mom friends

Dear single ladies and friends without physical offspring,

I see you.

I see you living your best life in the season you’re in. I also see some of you heading to another wedding, throwing another baby shower, faithfully celebrating your friends’ milestones and sometimes shoving aside your own grief—perhaps your story doesn’t look quite how you imagined.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for the way I’ve idolized marriage and family and marginalized you.

I’m sorry for the years where I asked single acquaintances if they were seeing anyone, dating friends if things were “serious,” married friends when kids were coming. I thought I was making conversation, but I was adding to a problem.

It was none of my business. And those are all great things, but I treated them as ultimate. The Best Thing.

I grew up around a subculture of purity rallies and courtship as an ideal. True Love Waits! I understand the idea and I don’t disagree—I’m reaping the benefits in a marriage where we both “waited”—but there’s the implication that if you’re not married, you’re just waiting. Like marriage is when actual life and adulthood starts. And it was really real when you started having kids.

This is absurd.

Marriage is an excellent gift. Kids are amazing.

But they’re not the only gifts. My circles talk a lot about how marriage and parenthood are sanctifying, and they certainly are. But I can’t say they’re somehow more sanctifying than singleness or marriage pre-kid or infertility. I’m pretty sure the Lord uses whatever season we’re in to make us more like Christ.

YES, the enemy assaults the image of Christ and the Church that’s found in marriage, and it’s worth putting energy into strengthening my own marriage and those around me. But he’s also pretty intent on defacing the image of God in individuals, and I haven’t always done especially well standing for you.

You are valuable. Not for your potential to be married or become a mother, but for who you are right now, in this season. We need you. You have gifts to offer that I can’t give. It’s on us as the Church and individual families to bring you in and welcome you in ways we haven’t always.

I’m sorry for the ways I haven’t seen you.

I’m trying now.

field notes from a brave new world

Hey, friends! So in this weird season of minimal structure besides “stay in your house whenever possible,” my lifeline has been chats with friends about all the things—how we’re feeling, what we’re doing, how we’re staying sane (I mean IF)… Good times. Anyway, I figured maybe I wasn’t the only one surviving more on stories of friends than on the deluge of information (Fun fact! So far our state has been increasing in cases in a way that’s almost a fibonacci sequence!) so maybe I’ll share. Plus my brain is everywhere but I really, really need the structure of a Thursday post.

So… here’s an incomplete (and somewhat self-indulgent) list of things I’m thinking:

Major side effects of a global pandemic (and not the virus itself) are a permanent low- to mid-grade headache, fatigue, and also a really itchy face.

Currently, I’m kind of scattered and even more absent-minded than usual. I feel extra anxiety in my body, though, as usual, there aren’t anxious thoughts to go with it, just sensation.

I sent some of my kids to the playground today. I went to get them later and found out the parents of about two dozen other children had the same idea and they were all playing together on a very tall snow hill. There were no 6-foot gaps. Social distancing fail.

On the day everything caught fire here (last Thursday at about 5:30 when Alaska had their first confirmed case and our school district “extended spring break” at roughly the same time) Katherine had Tae Kwon Do and in the hour between when the news broke and the end of her class, the couple who runs the place decided to open their space for full-day childcare (at an absurdly low weekly cost) for parents who have to work because that’s not available hardly anywhere here, and yes, that’s gatherings of people, but to offer a place that is safe and welcoming to families without options (at a fair bit of personal cost and some personal risk, as well) made me tear up just a little.

My life hasn’t changed a whole lot. I have three of my four kids home always anyway, so I have one extra child for six extra hours a day and it shouldn’t be such a huge deal. But the activities that differentiate one day from another have vanished and it all feels a little sideways and the constant uncertainty wears on my brain, so I’m even more of a hot mess than usual. All of you who have real changes? Prayers for you. That’s all I got.

I’m not sure how girl scout cookie sales fit in with social distancing (probably they don’t) but there were girl scouts when I made a quick trip to Fred’s for milk (during which I touched NOTHING except a sanitizer wipe) and dipping frozen thin mints in coffee is still my favorite thing.

Coronavirus memes are an important tool in my “survive quarantine” kit.

Disney+ releasing Frozen II early was so, so kind. (Any guesses how I’m writing right now?)

Another important sanity-saving tool: Pantsuit Politics podcast/Instastories daily news brief/Patreon feed. I appreciate a single place to gather information (with links to sources) rather than trying to piecemeal it.

We need onions and potatoes. Toilet paper is a nonissue (subscribe and save) but I haven’t seen any memes made about onions and potatoes, but those are gone. I can do without the potatoes, but I’m not sure how to live my life without onions. What do I even cook? I have no idea.

Lots of writer-types I’ve talked to have mentioned how this has eaten their ability to write words. And I get that. There’s brain science behind it, even. But I’ve found a few areas where I’ve made more progress on projects.

I didn’t think about this, but birth photography has taken a hit for a minute as extra people in hospitals are not super welcome in general. (Related: local friends who are due soon, want birth photography, and plan to deliver somewhere other than a hospital, talk to me. I realize there may be zero people in that group, but just in case. Crazy discounts available.)

I shared this hack with a friend today, but haven’t used it in a while (we are getting there, though): When you cannot hear your name one. more. time… inform the children you no longer respond to “mama” or “mom” and if they want your attention, they may address you as “Your Royal Highness.” It usually buys at least 30 to 60 seconds of confused silence, anyway.

Why again are you reading this? These ramblings are incoherent and helpful only for solidarity. I guess that’s not entirely unusual for this space. If you want words that might be legitimately helpful, here’s a liturgy I shared on Instagram last week. (This week? I have no idea, it all blends together.)

life/life balance

“So what’s new in your world?”

I was in my doctor’s office because the prescription for one of my antidepressants was up. I needed a med check to get another year’s prescription. I’d done the standard depression and anxiety screenings with the nurse and the numbers seemed to show the meds were doing their thing.

“Well, I started a birth photography business and just got back from a retreat with the staff of the collaborative blog I’m with, so I have writing projects coming out my ears…”

“I LOVE IT.” She went on to tell me this is the part of motherhood where she tends to see a lot of improvement in mental health—when Mom gets enough margin to start doing other things.

“There was one lady I saw when I worked in Montana who started running triathlons and it became her THING.”

“Oh. Yep. Forgot to mention that—registered for one of those, too.”

My creative world is expanding, my mental health is improving, and there seems to be a correlation. Though, as I say it, I’m not sure I can tell you one causes the other—I imagine it’s kind of an upward spiral.

We talked. My twice-daily med got switched to a once-daily version with a different release mechanism because twice a day is hard. My prescriptions are set for a year. I left feeling buoyed: maybe the worst is over and I can start getting actually better.

Later that day:

“So I need to talk to you about Brian. He needs more constant supervision… he basically gives no craps about anything, does what he wants, and your attention is pretty well consumed by whatever you’re doing.”

The prior day, I was recovering from a stomach thing and dying of a dehydration headache. Brian had apparently been climbing the bookshelves and I didn’t even notice. Andrew granted I wasn’t at my best, but we both wondered how much his shenanigans were due to my diminished abilities and how much is just the way my attention works—when I’m focused on creative pursuits, I actually don’t have a lot of awareness of the rest of life. Is this just… normal?

“I think your days would probably be a lot more successful if you were less distracted.”

He wasn’t being mean, just honest, and I agree.

But what happens when the thing that takes my attention from my children and makes me less effective as a parent is also making me more able to be a person?

The next day, I did a little experiment. It was a thing I’d tried years ago, when “present” was my word of the year, and I abandoned before the end because being one hundred percent present with my children is actually really hard on my brain. But I tried it again: no distractions, just full attention on the little people.

It worked. Parenting went much smoother. I won’t say Brian gave any more craps than he had earlier in the week, but I consistently caught him before he did anything dangerous. It was pleasant.

And I fell asleep at about 11:30 in the morning. Apparently using my brain this way is a lot of work, and the things I usually do that make me feel alive and awake were explicitly off-limits. While I slept, shenanigans resumed as usual.

It’s like leaving a car’s headlights on without the engine going. If you call the running engine a distraction and disallow it, the headlights will dim and the whole thing will die.

The same thing has happened every time I’ve tried, including today—I keep trying because I promised I would.

I don’t have a pretty bow to put on this, only just recently words to describe the struggle. The solution seems obvious enough: put structure in place to give them productive things to do so the chaos subsides and I have some space to do things as well.

But… I’ve tried. Lots of things, lots of ways, lots of times. I haven’t managed. Either I’m dumber than I look or this is harder than it looks. From this place, it’s hard to muster the creativity to make a solid routine, harder to find motivation to implement it, and, once I’ve put in the effort to accomplish those, nearly impossible to get back on track once things inevitably go off the rails.

Why am I telling you this? Partly because it’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to publish tomorrow, and this is all I’m thinking about. And also because maybe I’m not the only one. If this sounds painfully familiar…

Hey! I see you. It’s hard. I don’t have answers. There is also grace here, and I can’t wait to tell you how I find it. Just because I haven’t yet doesn’t mean I won’t—we’re going to be okay.

thoughts on community

“So tell me about your friends at church.”

We were talking about community and what I wanted to study at L’Abri and this question should be pretty straightforward, but instead, I burst into tears. I couldn’t answer the question, not because my church isn’t full of hundreds of amazing people, but I realized I had really great community… like ten years ago. And then we started having babies and Sunday is not my best look and a huge percentage of the people I was doing life with moved away in the time since and I didn’t notice because I still talk to them all the time, they’re just not physically at church with me. Then a little bit after Lilly was born, we were in a place as a family where we could probably manage a small group again, and we found a really great one. Love them. But… that one disappeared, too, sort of suddenly, traumatically. I still love them, but the people we did tons of stuff with day in and day out are gone.

So I look around myself and realize I’ve basically spent a decade distracted from pursuing community, so I relied on the one I had which is no longer local. And I didn’t put it together until she asked the question.

Now I have community, even locally. There are people I call (text) when I’m in a pickle or just want to share something goofy my kids just did or need to vent. But that circle doesn’t intersect much with the church I attend.

I left for L’Abri fully intending to wrestle the ideas of community within the church to. the. ground. Instead, I read some poetry and some Flannery O’Conner and generally worked my way through a stack of books I’d been meaning to read and they happened to have on hand (thousands and thousands of books in that gorgeous library, so it’s not such a huge coincidence) and eventually found some applicable books, but nothing got wrestled to the ground. What I did learn from the experience was from the actual L’Abri community (a dozenish people with whom I worked, ate, and conversed for a week): I crave this. I’ve been missing it.

I flew last weekend to California and met most of the Kindred Mom team. We brainstormed and planned and worshiped and prayed. More than that, we laughed until our abs were sore. We shared stories of our actual lives and we shared actual life. There were two ladies there I’d met once or twice, three I’d never met before. One of those I’d only interacted with briefly on Voxer (voice messaging app) earlier in the month. But the community was real. The love was legit. Unified by a common Lord, shared purpose, and overlapping passions kickstarted our kinship in a way I don’t remember experiencing before.

So back in Fairbanks Sunday morning, I look around and see the people I do life with. I made most of them from scratch in my belly. This is not how community should be done, and the fault is largely mine.

I clearly can do community, I’m just not great at doing it Sunday morning. My homework, then, is twofold:

I need to press in. It’s on me to reach out, regardless of my state on Sundays. It’s time to be intentional about it. I’m not sure what this is going to look like, actually, but I’m about to find out.

I need to lower the bar. I’m an introvert, so I would rather go soul-deep than surface-level. Actually, I’d rather do a lot of things than go surface-level. Waterboarding comes to mind. But that’s not how everyone else functions (though some do!) and it’s definitely what’s expected culturally. Apparently if you dive too deep too fast sometimes you scare people. Who knew? Anyway. I need to suck it up and up my small-talk game rather than hoping to magically bump into others who really want to talk about deep stuff.

Mostly, there’s a lot of grace. I’ve been doing my level best here, and I need help from Jesus to press in and make connections when I’m with my church family, and I trust Him to do that.

thursday post

Well, my hope had been to write early every week and post every Thursday, but… here it is midmorning on Thursday at the end of the second month and I don’t have any words to say.

That’s a lie.

I have all the words to say, but nothing coherent. Here’s what I’ve been doing the last week and a half:

I went on a trip with a friend to celebrate freedom and safety at the end of a relationship characterized by neither. We had great food and great fun and generally enjoyed ourselves.

I went down to join five of the other six Kindred Mom teammates in California. We laughed and cried and laughed until we cried. Three of them I had never met face-to-face, but the kinship was deep and immediate. I love them and I’m excited to share purpose and passion and projects with them.

In between the two, I published last week’s piece, and worked on graciously handling the heat I knew was coming. (Sharing was a matter of obedience rather than desire—political conversations make me tired, but they’re important.) That has continued through now.

I came home to my family Monday night, spent Tuesday doing previously planned activities, then getting a rather violent stomach bug. (Likely food I ate Tuesday morning.) Yesterday was spent nervously trying to consume liquids, and today I’m home with the gnarly dehydration headache I expected yesterday.

I have words to say about community and politics and church and marriage and kinship and illness. But the aforementioned headache coupled with the variety of things swirling in my aching head means today’s post is… this. Will try again next week.

BUT THE BABIES! …why this pro-life mama plans to vote democrat in 2020

Every time I see an objection to the President’s behavior or policies, if conversation carries long enough (and sometimes that’s not very long at all) someone mentions abortion. “Do you know of another viable pro-life candidate?” or “well, at least he doesn’t believe in killing unborn babies” or whatever.

Setting him aside for a minute (which isn’t easy, since he’s been sucking up all the air in all the rooms since 2016), let’s talk about this for a minute. Do I really plan to vote for someone who isn’t pro-life? Yes. Yes I do. And I think you might be free to do the same.

I have known the excitement and terror of positive pregnancy tests. I’ve felt babies grow to displace most of the vital organs in my body. I’ve known the visceral emptiness of even the earliest miscarriage. Yes, those fetuses are human. They’re definitely alive, with all the possibility and potential pain life entails. I’m aunty to a baby born just past viability grow and thrive (she’s two and looks a lot like my baby brother) and I’ve held a baby (this one a nephew) born still and far too cold at a similar gestational age and identical weight.

I am decidedly for these babies.

The reasons I don’t want this year’s incumbent to win a second presidential term are too numerous and layered to explore here today, and others do it better anyway. I’ve talked to many people who’d like a different candidate, but plan to vote for him again because he’s the only one in the field who will “defend life.”

I understand it, but here’s why I don’t plan to join them:

Abortion has been declining (relative to population) at a steady rate for about four decades. It doesn’t seem to matter at all who the President is; it keeps dropping. Reasons for the decline aren’t completely clear: it’s obvious that state policy has more impact on abortion availability, but since the rate drops in states both with and without new abortion restrictions, that clearly is not the only factor.

This math alone frees me to consider other candidates, but there’s more:

75% of recipients of abortion are poor, compared to 12% of the general population.

Abortion is a symptom of poverty.

People yell, “YES BUT THE ECONOMY” as a defense for Trump’s behavior and I will grant the poverty rate is down a bit over the course of Trump’s presidency which has doubtless spared some babies, but the poverty rate hasn’t changed in a statistically meaningful way since the 70s. While I’d love for someone to come up with a way to actually address this so we don’t have generations of people who can’t get and stay above the poverty line, what if we made abortion feel less necessary for women who are poor? What if we did better at pregnancy prevention for those who feel they aren’t in a place to raise a child and childcare for those who might be?

And, in all honesty, I think the democrats are more likely to pull that off than the incumbent. So, yes. Every one of the candidates in the running for the democratic nomination identifies as pro-choice. Even so, I suspect the number of dead babies will go down if we can address some of the underlying factors.

a footnote on socialism

“BUT SOCIALISM” is the other cry of the Right when defending the President. The argument goes like this: “Well, it’s better than having a socialist in office.”

Uh… okay. I’m not going to argue in favor of socialism now (or maybe ever). I’m too white, privileged, and middle class for that—I have money to lose with every step toward socialism. But what I don’t see is why the visible Evangelical church defends this as a moral issue. I have yet to see any biblical basis for pure capitalism as the right way. If anything, the systemic and moral obligation to care for the widow, orphan, poor, and foreigner seems to argue against it. The closest I’ve heard when I’ve asked for a biblical reason to vote against socialism went something like this: “Well, do you want ‘death boards’ deciding who does and who doesn’t get life-saving medical treatment?” No, not particularly, but I’m not sure it would be worse than insurance companies doing the same, or just giving the life-saving treatment to those who have means to pay for it. I’m not sure a “death board” would be more arbitrary.

So no. I’m not going to use my one 2020 presidential vote to vote against socialism, either.


I’m not here to convince people who are firmly pro-Trump that they should suddenly vote pro-choice. Go ahead and vote for whomever your conscience dictates. (I plan to.) I’m actually not here to argue at all. I’m just here to lay out my own research and conclusions in hopes that the handful of single-issue pro-life voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for a second term for this present based on behavior, policies, or tweets might consider other (possibly more effective) ways to protect the unborn.

I can survive voting for someone who stands for policies I don’t believe are best, who believes differently than I do about the role of federal government or guns or anything else. (In fact, I assume I’ll disagree with any candidate on something.) I cannot bring myself to cast a vote (or withhold one) to elect someone who stands against everything I am.

photo credit: Sarah Lewis Photography

going public (guest post for Kindred Mom)

Hey, everyone! It’s that time again—my post is up at Kindred Mom. Feel free to click here for the whole thing or read on for a teaser…

“What do we do with Jenna?” I asked my husband on a spontaneous evening walk.

I’ve been homeschooling the oldest since 2016 when she entered kindergarten and her sister was in pre-k. That year went poorly (I started it with a 6-week-old, a 1-year-old, and some Very Intense Curriculum), but we’ve found our rhythm in the years since. 

Lately, she and I are butting heads. While she’s definitely an introvert, she’s the most extroverted of the introverts in our house: she has social needs that I’m simply not cut out to meet. Also, there’s conflict with her 17-months-younger sister Katherine, who has long been my big, physical reactor. At small provocations, she yells, hits, kicks, and throws things. When she gets wound up, I often hold her to protect her, me, and her siblings for half an hour or more. (I refer to this as “disciplinary cuddle time.” She is not amused.) Jenna doesn’t only want my attention; she wants her siblings’ as well, and she frequently gets it by needling Katherine, resulting in a full disruption of everybody’s day. 

We’ve been kicking around the idea of sending her to public school for a little while—we have to change something, and this may help. We live two blocks from the elementary school she would attend, but I hesitate—quitting homeschool feels like defeat. Maybe I’m not good at this and should just give up? Maybe I should stay the course and keep trying? I know this is a privileged choice—keep my kid home or send her to the great public school down the road. These are two decent options. So why does this all feel so heavy?

“I can’t make this decision,” I tell Andrew as we mosey toward home. “It’s too personal and too fraught for me to have any objectivity. I need you to just decide.”

“Okay,” he responds, having listened to me obsess for months, thus being well aware of the pros and cons of each option. “Let’s try public school.”

We start the school year in August with much fear and trepidation. I worry she won’t be ready for the sheer amount of stimulation a classroom entails. I worry her teacher won’t approve of my choice to homeschool her until now and will judge her behavior as she adjusts to a new environment. I worry kids will be mean, or she’ll fall into some soul-deadening pursuit of “cool.” I worry her relationships with me and her siblings will drift apart as she spends hours away from us each day. I worry that I am worrying too much and she’ll pick it up and worry more than she already does.

It works. My worry effectively prevents each of those things from happening. Her teacher is kind and encouraging and very chill. Jenna regularly jabbers on when she gets home about all her friends (an improbable number of whom are named Noah) and the fun she’s had. 

Actually, the biggest struggle comes after the second day. Mrs. Friedrich pulls me aside at pick-up: “Jenna’s having a hard time being quiet when she needs to be listening. I keep reminding her, but she’s still a chatterbox.” She is making friends too enthusiastically. We address the whole “no, really, you have to listen to the teacher and talk to your classmates at appropriate times and volume” and now she’s thriving, both personally and academically.

The biggest wins haven’t been solely Jenna’s, though

Click here to read the rest.

why birth photography?

In the hours and days that followed the first birth I shot, I *tried* not to tell everyone I came across, but with only moderate success. I got a lot of responses that mirrored my excitement and a few hesitant “Uh… Oh? How did that go for you?” replies.

And then I remembered that birth photography is relatively new as a profession and not something that makes sense to everyone. So I thought I’d take today to tell you why this is something I’m fired up about.

my birth

When I was not quite 10, my mom had my baby brother in her bedroom and birth became just a normal thing women did. I knew there were medical conditions that would warrant a hospital, but birth didn’t seem like an emergency on its own.

When I was expecting miss Lilly, I was pretty sure she’d be my last. I wanted to normalize birth for my older girls, but they were 4 and 5 at the time. Given that I can barely handle having my husband around through, I did not see having a couple preschoolers touching me and calling for my attention throughout labor and birth as a viable option. So I called Sarah Lewis, whose work I’d admired for years, to document it, in hopes that having images of me giving birth would demystify it for my kids a little. Additionally, my births are basically the most badass moments of my life, and I wanted to have a way to remember that, since I’m hardly present enough to take mental notes.

but then…

I didn’t know how that decision would impact me. Looking through the images, I saw parts of the process I straight up didn’t know about, despite having done it four times. I was able to see the way Andrew looked at me throughout the labor. Somehow Sarah captured me as lovely throughout the whole messy, excruciating process.

The last several years, I’ve pondered over why I’m so drawn to birth photography as an art form. I’ve been following several accounts for years, and when I finally got a camera that could manage it late this summer, Sarah was one of the first people I told. I knew she was getting out of birth photography for practical reasons, and I mentioned how bummed I was that I wouldn’t be able to learn it from her. “There’s still time!” she texted back.

some theology

As I’ve considered the appeal of this niche of photography, I realized that my reasons for loving it and wanting to do it have a lot more to do with theology than expected.

There’s been a war on women since the garden. Then when God put a curse on the serpent and promised his demise through Eve, I imagine it further pissed him off. There she was, an image bearer of his Enemy, and through woman he was going to be crushed? Oh, HELL no. Actual Hell no.

So I look through history and see the battle. There’s objectification, either through pornography (in the broadest sense) or insane modesty demanded by men who hold us responsible for their lust and sin.  There’s the devaluing of women in many cultures through millennia—we’ve been treated as chattel, our bodies valued only for the production of heirs or a workforce, our voices unrecognized in courts. Currently where I live, there’s a pervasive culture of assault and consumption that spurred the #metoo movement. There’s the patriarchy and pay inequity and both the denigration and idolization of motherhood and marriage, both inside and outside the Church.

This is war.

And one of the ways it shows up is birth.

I have heard several women say “I’m not one of those pretty birthers.” Or “I wish I were cute when I was giving birth like the women in those birth photos.”

Here’s this moment when a woman is at her most stunningly amazing. She’s mirroring her Creator in a way that’s unique and especially God-like—she is bearing life for heaven’s sake. (Actual Heaven’s sake.) And we’ve been conditioned to see it as generally terrifying and ugly and messy, even shameful, and “all that matters is a healthy baby.” NO. The baby does matter, obviously. But, whatever level of health the baby has, YOU ALSO MATTER. The very act of giving birth has value all by itself. It’s not the only thing, or even the best thing, but it is decidedly a valuable thing.

So, birth photography.

If I can show a few women how incredible they are during this time they feel less-than-lovely, like their bodies have become something they don’t recognize, it feels like reclaimed ground. It feels like beating back the darkness.

And that’s why I do this. I’m not into photography for the guaranteed bill-paying clients— seniors, weddings, families, classic newborn photography—not that they don’t matter, but there are plenty of photographers to do them. Birth photography isn’t always an easy sell and the hours suck. But I love it the most because it matters. It matters to mamas like me, who desperately want to know that their messy, vulnerable, terrifying offerings can somehow reflect Glory. In this one small geographical area, for a small number of women, maybe I can show them how they already do.