Gwyn and I were at the piano labeling chords in her lesson book; she’d just learned tonic and dominant, one and five and their corresponding Roman numerals. Because piano practice can be grueling, we do it before school when Gwyn’s most alert, but this also means an awful time crunch, so when Gwyn leapt from the bench to stand in front of the fireplace, I had little patience. She pointed at the clock on the mantel, a fancy one with Roman numerals. “Now I can read it!” she proclaimed, and told me it was 8:40. She had cracked the code.
Which was all so exciting she couldn’t practice, she wanted me to write one through a hundred and I started while Emily did her hair, but then I remembered why we use the Arabic system—Roman numerals are cumbersome, laborious, and there’s no way I could write a hundred before 8:50, when we needed to leave. “But you promised!” she wailed and a meltdown ensued, a full-fledged, stiff-bodied temper tantrum. I kissed a timely school arrival goodbye. (more…)
January 17, 2017
You don’t want to go to the Women’s March this Saturday. I understand; you’re eight, and two summers ago at a climate march you experienced the unfortunate combination of too much heat, exhaustion, and greasy eggrolls. We’re marching anyhow. I’m writing this because I want you to know why. I also want to tell your older self, so I’ll tuck this letter aside to show you again later. (more…)
(My mother, Helen Andrew, died at home on May 5th. Instead of my regular column I’d like to share this excerpt from my eulogy.)
My mother loved through the created world. My first memories are of her hip pressed into my thigh as she tucked me into bed at night, said our prayers, and sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “In the Bleak Midwinter.” She loved me through the needlework rabbits jumping through a green field over my bed, through the smocking across the front of my dresses, and through the ridiculously intricate 1970s pant suits she sewed for my Barbie dolls. She loved us through her dried beef casseroles and split pea soup and dozens of crazy cakes baked both at home and in reflector ovens while camping. She loved home, being home, and making home. This was my mother’s art form, her ability to make a beautiful, comforting home base for family wherever we were—even in Japan for four years, even at a campsite.
She tended the community this way, too, humbly, by making and ironing the altar cloths at church, for example—which is why we always had white grape juice for communion. (more…)
The other night I dreamt that I had to pee but the toilet bowl was filled with colorful plastic toys. The image was perfect. I’d just spent a week managing the behavior of three rambunctious cousins, trying to get them to pick up and not exclude each other and eat with their forks and please-please-please give the adults some mental space. Even the bathroom, that last bastion of privacy, had been messed with. I could get no relief.
We were in New York so one afternoon we took the kids on the Circle Line around Manhattan. With the kids lobbying for hotdogs in the foreground and skyscrapers vying for airspace in the background—including the new multimillion-dollar high-rises towering over Central Park that are the outrageously and illicitly wealthy’s latest way to hide money—I couldn’t help wondering about humanity’s basic propensity to covet, and then follow greed into evil. (more…)
Retreats: I’m a pro. I’ve been on silent retreats, church retreats, centering prayer retreats, women’s retreats, led retreats, self-directed retreats. I’ve led more writing retreats than I can count. I worked in retreat ministry for three years, so I even know retreats from behind the scenes—the frustration beforehand as numbers fluctuate; the frantic food preparation; the retreatants who use kitchen dish towels to clean their ears; conflicts that fester and flare among the staff until dishes get smashed; the enormous effort behind the scenes to support a silent space. Jesus went up to a lonely place. Moses heard the still, small voice. We, too, can take time apart to support our outward journey with the inward journey, to balance our noisy, active lives with silence and stillness.
Or with whatever. Gwyn wanted pop music on the drive north. She arrived wearing bunny-print PJs, shed her coat, ran at the couch and took a flying leap. (more…)
Gwyn’s frolicking in the neighborhood splash pad with a kindergarten buddy and a new friend, all three wearing pigtails and an obnoxious amount of pink. I sit on the bench with their mothers chatting about teachers which for some reason requires my offhand explanation, “Gwyn has two moms.” My new acquaintance nods. “Chrissy is transgender,” she shares, nodding toward her five-year-old who is now being towed around on a noodle. The conversation careens forward.
Later, we’ve patted the girls dry and they’re out piling playground sand over their legs. We mothers occupy yet another bench. Because I’ve never known an out transgendered preschooler, I ask, “What’s Chrissy’s story?” And then this extraordinary mother tells me how her little boy always loved girlish things, how all the ECFE mothers wondered about his identity, and then one day when he was four he climbed into her lap and asked, “Mommy, why did God make a mistake?”
God didn’t make a mistake, Chrissy’s mother insisted. The next day she took him to Target to buy a new set of clothes. Chrissy danced through the racks announcing to strangers, “I get to buy dresses! I get to wear skirts!” Chrissy goes to kindergarten next year and already her mother has done a presentation on gender inclusivity for the elementary faculty. Chrissy will enter school as a girl.
I am awed, humbled, and suddenly, fiercely, in love with this mother-daughter pair—because this child knows herself, because her mother listens to her and accepts her, because they’re both flexible enough to revise their ideas about their identities, because they’re fearlessly honest as they enter the ever-widening circles of childhood… I love this mother’s transparency. I love the possibilities for Chrissy’s life in spite of the many hardships I’m sure she’ll endure. I love that Chrissy will know her mother’s love regardless of what else happens.
Who knows why our bodies are the way they are, fleshy and fit, broken and breaking out, male and female and the spectrum between? Who understands the indomitable nature of our souls? Creation unfurls immeasurable variety, and all of it can be transparent to this unexpected, revising love.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
A friend of mine recommended this amazing blog, Transparenthood, in case you’d like to learn more.
Just in case anyone wants to sign up at the eleventh hour, there are still two spaces left in my retreat from June 15-19, 2015: Alone Together: Write That Book at the Madeline Island School of the Arts.
And if you’d like to explore revision within your writing, pencil in September 12-16, 2016, for a retreat at the Madeline Island School of the Arts. More to come!