Wednesday, August 7, 2019

“Mom, why does my stomach have to stay covered?”

“Mom, why does my stomach have to stay covered?”

I hate the question and I hate the fact that she’s having to ask it. I avoid it, busying myself by reading aloud the rest of the packing list. I don’t have a good answer for her and I’m buying time, hoping one will materialize.

We are sitting on the floor in my daughter’s bedroom, selecting a swimsuit from her drawer for her first ever week away at camp. It’s a small Christian camp, almost cookie cutter in feel to the one I attended as a kid, and I’ve only just realized there is a dress code. Why this comes as a surprise to me, I’m really not sure. I guess I’d hoped we were past this, that somehow all the personal work I’ve been doing surrounding body image and body shame had somehow bled out and infused itself into changing the minds and trends of Christian culture as a whole. Sadly, it’s just not this easy. There is still so much work yet to do. 

My nine-year-old is puzzled by the swimwear rules, and to be honest, I am a bit too. They are by no means new to me. In fact, they are exactly the same as those in existence during my camp and church youth group days as a kid - one piece swimsuits or tankinis where the top meets the bottom. Basically, no bellies, and also no spaghetti strap tank tops. Nothing about these rules are at all foreign, yet they leave me with a giant tangled knot in the pit of my stomach. I feel unsettled and scared, acutely and personally aware of the silent message that is being sent to these young girls in attendance as they abide by the dress code: there is something wrong with your stomach. It needs to remain covered. And your shoulders? I don’t even know where to go with that one. 

Our summer has been full and, though it has been on my list to shop for another swimsuit for each of my girls, between hosting family and being out of town, it just hasn’t happened. A few days earlier, I was running errands with a friend and we made a random stop at Nordstrom Rack. I happen upon a tankini swimsuit in the kids section and I buy it, hoping it will fit my daughter so she can have two options to rotate while at camp, because no one ever likes donning a wet swimsuit. It isn’t until after this spontaneous purchase that I encounter the dress code rules. 

I stare down her drawer, knowing there is a high likelihood none of its contents are  camp-dress-code-compliant options. She has a long torso like I do, and finding one piece swimsuits that don’t result in a permanent wedgie has proven tricky. We’ve resorted to buying mostly tankinis. They are friendlier on the budget since they grow with her and allow us to squeeze at least a couple of summer seasons out of the same swimsuit, the gap between top and bottom increasing slightly with each passing year. Additionally, I find tankinis are just earlier. Anyone who has ever attempted to pull up a wet one piece after using the bathroom can attest that there are few things less enjoyable than the tangle of twisted straps that inevitably results. 

My daughter does have one hand-me-down one piece, and I pull it out of her drawer first. A quick glance reminds me that just last week, I banned her from wearing it because it had grown so stretched out that she was having the opposite of a wedgie problem. The suit was so misshapen from overwear that she was sporting two inches of excess fabric between her legs, blowing in the breeze and offering generous views of her crotch area to onlookers. 

The second swimsuit I come across is a Speedo tankini from last year, navy blue with criss-crossing pink racer back straps that form an “X” over her shoulder blades. It fits her well and covers where it should, but since she’s grown this year, it shows a couple inches of her tummy so I toss it aside. 

I dig around in her drawer, looking for the other suit I know should be in there. It’s a thrifting purchase I made a few months back, when I was trying to be on top of things and avoid this we-need-a-swimsuit-now problem I currently find myself in the middle of. It’s also a tankini, with a black and pink paisley pattern and three layers of soft ruffling down the front. Up until five minutes ago when I printed off the camp-supplied packing list and saw the dress code policy, this was the swimsuit I thought she would take with her to camp. She obviously did too because when I realize it’s nowhere to be found in her dresser, I ask her for its whereabouts, and she pulls it out of her half-packed camp bag. 

“Let’s see how it fits,” I prompt her, and I inwardly wince when she dons it and I spy a small gap between the top and bottom. It still had the tags attached, never worn by the previous owner or by my daughter, who had a tendency to choose one favorite item of attire and wear it to its death (case in point: stretched out one piece with all the excess crotch). 

I still feel ill prepared as to how to explain to her that she won’t be permitted to wear it at camp, so I distract her by pulling out the last option, the new neon pink tankini I grabbed on a whim at The Rack. I urge her to try it on, all the while, doing my best to camouflage the mounting stress I am starting to experience. We don’t have time to shop for another swimsuit. If this one doesn’t meet the dress code criteria, I’m not sure what we were going to do. As she shimmies herself into the suit pieces and flattens them into place, I silently hold my breath, willing top to meet bottom. Hallelujah! It does, but just barely. I exhale with relief and inwardly celebrate the good fit. 

“Perfect!” I say. “That’s the one you should pack for camp.” 

Though I really don’t want to, I will answer her question about why her tummy “can’t” show. I need to, but I’m still wrestling with how I want to say it. What’s particularly bewildering is the fact that the week at camp is for girls-only.

The rest of the weekend passes in a whirlwind. With neon tankini in bag, we depart for camp, which requires a ferry ride across the Puget Sound. At the ferry dock, we meet up with two of my daughter’s friends from school who will be joining her. Each of them have attended before and are eager to fill us in on the details. They tell us what to expect upon our arrival; there will be cabin assignments and a swim test and then an all-camp gathering where they will go over some nuts and bolts for the week ahead. There are a handful of rules to be reviewed, most of them some unique rendition of “have fun,” but I freeze when they bring up the one about the dress code. I ask them to expand and they tell me that swimwear has to pass a specific test. 

“You have to raise your hand high in the air and if your stomach stays covered, your swimsuit is fine. Then you turn around and bend over to make sure your bottom doesn’t show.”

I have to blink hard to keep my eyes from shooting out of their sockets in disbelief. “This can’t be real,” I think to myself. “Isn’t this 2019? Are we really still here? Are these still the hoops we are making our girls jump through? Are these still the kinds of things we are saying? Do we have ANY idea the message we are sending?” 

I swallow my thoughts before I say anything aloud. 

“What happens if your swimsuit doesn’t pass?” I ask, terrified of what they will answer, knowing full well that my daughter’s tummy will bare when she raises her arms.

“Well, then they call your parents and have them drive you a new swimsuit,” she tells me. 

“I see,” I gulp, feeling increasingly queasy with each new tidbit of information.

“Or,” she continued, “they have a box of old clothes there that you can choose from. But they are all pretty ugly.” 

“Got it,” I say, not feeling in the least bit reassured, but trying my best to hide my mounting stress from my daughter, who was listening intently. 

Prior to this moment, the pre-camp mom worries that had been running through my head felt important. They consisted of thoughts like:

Who are the counselors and how old are they? Will they be responsible and trustworthy? What about the lifeguards? Are they well-trained and diligent and will they keep my kid from drowning? What if my daughter gets homesick? How will they handle it? 

Now these worries felt like child’s play. My rising concern was much weightier. Will my daughter be asked to stand before an authority and raise her arm in the air or turn around and bend over as they observe her attire? Will someone say something, anything at all that makes her feel ashamed of her body and her clothing? Will she be made to feel “wrong” or worse, like something is wrong with her, the beautiful, image-of-God creation that she is? Will she feel insecure about her tummy and her bared shoulders, be told that they need to be kept covered? What reason will she be given? Will these confusing messages send her on a trajectory of body-loathing and self-hatred and shame that will affect her ability to see herself as intricately and perfectly designed by God? 

What began as just a small ripple of discomfort was gaining speed and momentum, taking the shape of a tidal wave with each passing second. I was being triggered. Flashbacks of body shame experiences from my own childhood were starting to eat away at me. I was experiencing a deep and intense desire to shield and protect my daughter from all subtle yet potentially crucially damaging messages that I knew conservative Christian culture has historically been so capable of dishing out. As one so traumatically wounded by the words and rules intended for good, I desperately wanted to spare my child from my own painful path.

Back in our separate cars, we drive aboard the ferry and I whisper quietly to my husband in the front seat. “What do we tell her?” I plead through my teeth. “How do we prepare her for what might be said? If they even say one thing that shames her…” I start to threaten.

I didn’t even want to tell our daughter about the dress code. Though she’d raised the question about why her tummy couldn’t show while we were packing, it had been dropped and I’d hoped sending her with a compliant swimsuit would allow me to skirt around the issue without her even knowing it was there. I wanted to plug my ears and bury my head in the sand and hope that if I ignored the whole thing, it would just go away. But if the last decade has taught me one thing, it’s that usually the topics we most desperately want to avoid, the ones we fear because they are awkward or scary or involve conflict, these are the ones we most need to bring out into the light. We need to speak them aloud, address and face them head on. The most important parenting move I could make right now was to talk to her about this hard and uncomfortable and confusing situation. I needed her to hear the words from us, to allow opportunity for us to inject the situation with our beliefs and convictions, to bathe her in the truth we believed her Creator would most want her to know.

“God made you and your body is beautiful and amazing and there is nothing wrong with any part of it. That is the bottom line. Some people have stricter rules about things like clothing. And at this camp, they made some rules about tummies being covered because it’s what they think is best. We disagree - we don’t think there is anything wrong with showing your tummy - but we don’t always agree with what other people think and that’s ok. We wanted you to know about these rules ahead of time so they don’t come as a surprise to you if you hear them being talked about. That’s why we had you pack the swimsuit that you did. Do you have any questions?”

The moment of silence that enveloped the car as she pondered what we said felt like an eternity. 

“That seems kind of weird,” she told us. Then she shrugged, entirely unfazed, and asked if we could restart the audiobook we had been listening to. 

I felt ill at ease the entire week that she was away. The release of control felt debilitating. I spent a lot of time wondering what might be said by camp staff from the front, worrying about whether anyone would comment about her swimsuit that I knew would not meet dress code if she were asked to raise her arms. I hoped I was blowing the situation out of proportion, that perhaps this arm-lifting business was an old protocol, no longer in place, and that all of this would be a nonissue in the end. And mostly it was.

The staff never mentioned the dress code (thankfully). There was no arms-in-the-air swimsuit test to pass (hallelujah). The only cringe-worthy incident occurred when a younger camper yelled out “swimsuit check” when my daughter’s tankini top got pushed up a little and her tummy was bared. Whether the camp had updated its approach this year or had simply done things differently during the week that my daughter was there, it was apparent that at some point in weeks or years prior, campers had been indoctrinated with practices that caused the hairs on my arms to raise.

I don’t know how this story will sit with you; I’ve ridden a huge roller coaster of emotion over the past few weeks. Please hear me when I say my intent in sharing all this is NOT AT ALL to throw this camp under the bus. It was an amazing place, the highlight of our daughter’s summer, and we plan to send her back next year. I do have a number of concerns with their dress code (and the ways I’ve been told secondhand that they have gone about presenting and implementing it), and I will be bringing these to the camp director. However, the primary reason I write all this is out of a sense of obligation.

I am more aware than ever that we need to ask hard questions, to ponder deeply the messages we are sending to our kids when we talk about their dress. While I fully support the idea of having guidelines for the way we cloth ourselves, I think it is important that we examine and reexamine what we hope to accomplish by establishing dress codes. And then we need to take it one step further to assess how our message is being delivered and whether these dress codes are accomplishing their desired purposes. Are they in place to allow kids to enjoy water sports without concern that they will lose their bathing suit bottoms while they are inner tubing? Or are they in place because “that’s what we’ve always done” or because “girls need to cover themselves, so they don't cause boys to stumble”? Are we promoting a healthy view of our bodies with our swimwear rules? Or are we raising up the next generation of modesty police, equipped with a keen judging eye, ready to quietly shame the girls whose bellies are showing, as if donning a one-piece automatically makes one “holier than thou.”

As much as I would have preferred to skip over all the discomfort in the events of the past few weeks, processing and examining all that the camp dress code triggered in me has been healthy. I have had to pinpoint what exactly unsettled me about the dress code. I have been forced to stare down my past and current beliefs on modesty, knowing that I need to answer to my kids and advise them on my values when it comes to the subject of attire. I have found myself for longing to live in the “gray zone” while simultaneously hating the fact that the topic of dress isn’t more black and white. I’ve had to dig deep and ponder all sorts of different scenarios such as whether I am being hypocritical by wanting my daughter to feel confident baring her tummy in a bathing suit while at the same time not loving the fact that the current trend in younger crowds is to show off one’s belly in crop tops. I have wrestled to figure out what guidelines I would like our family to live by and how I will present them to my kids.

It is still a work in progress, but here is the verbiage I have created for our family so far:

We are created by God, the master artist.
Our bodies are amazing.
There is no part, NO PART, of our body to be ashamed of.
Our body in its entirety is GOOD.
When it comes to clothing our bodies, we dress with respect.
We reserve our private parts for private settings.
We consider the situation and dress accordingly (i.e. professional versus casual, what’s most comfortable/practical for the activity at hand).
We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I don’t claim to have all the answers; I don’t believe any of us ever will. But I can tell you with guaranteed certainty, our kids are listening. They are reading between the lines. They need to hear from us that their bodies are beautiful and amazing, they need not be ashamed. There is subtle messaging saturated in dress codes that tell them to stay covered. Unless you are one of the walking wounded, you won't ever be able to fully comprehend the potential devastation for body shame. 

So, ask the hard questions. Reexamine the rules. Push back and fight to change them if there is need. Have uncomfortable conversations. Wrestle. And in everything we do and say, may we be bathed in the knowledge that our bodies are good, designed by God, and that we are made in His image.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hamster rescuing was not on my job description

“I NEED LOVE!” I bellowed, from the master bathroom, adjacent to our bed. This is the not-so-subtle, passive-aggressive method I use to gain his attention this morning.

My husband, who had been waking up slowly, scrolling his phone as he lay there cocooned in blankets, drops his device as if it has suddenly caught fire and burned him, and is at my side in a flash.  

I am under slept, feeling sour, and dreading the day in its entirety so I proceed to woefully list off to my husband, all the reasons my life is terrible.

“I’ve been stuck at home for three of the last four days with sick kids. I let them watch 8 full hours of shows yesterday which turned them into little devils. They are fighting constantly (well, except when the tv is on, but even then, they argue over what to watch) and anytime the tv is off, Emma follows me around the house and tells me she’s bored. The house is a wreck. And I don’t feel appreciated for the volunteer position I just finished. I can’t go on a run to burn off some of this angst because I have all these kids and they are like anchors, holding me back. Plus, they are sick so they might make it a whole block before collapsing. Jack only has four more days of preschool left in his life and then summer hits full tilt and alone time with be a scarce commodity. I signed him up for Lunch Bunch these past two days to buy me some extra time to write because I am FREAKING DESPERATE but since the girls were home sick, I just paid extra and wasn’t even alone! And now there is only one more day of Lunch Bunch left, and I think I just might die. The weather has been so crappy and it is making me feel really down and I’m weaning off one of my antidepressants because I think it is giving me night sweats, but, based on the way I’m feeling, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea anymore. And this morning I’m supposed to have a dermatology appointment but now I have to haul the sick kids along with me – minus Isla who I think is well enough to go back to school today but that means I have to leave her home alone which I feel super guilty about because she’s only nine but if I took her to my appointment, it would make her late for school - and I’m super annoyed that just because I don’t have a paid job, all the care and arrangements for the kids falls on me. And speaking of jobs, I think I want one because this full-time-stay-at-home-motherhood gig does not seem to suit me and money is too tight but who will watch the kids if I do work and really I just want to be able to pursue my dreams which unfortunately don’t seem to compensate monetarily. But I feel called to do them and yet I can’t seem to find the time and – oh yeah did I mention that these dreams won’t likely pay so how am I going to buy the help I need in order to pursue them? I feel like I’m in a vicious cycle and I don’t have time to do anything I want to do. I can’t seem to accomplish anything. And ALSO. I vacuumed these bathmats yesterday and look! There are already grassy footprints on them. I give up! WHY DO I EVEN TRY?”

Graham, who had been taking in my every word, looks at me, solemnly. “Wow,” is all he can formulate. “That seems like a lot.”


As I type these words now, I’m seated on the cold tile of my kitchen floor with the laptop across my legs. My butt cheeks are 100% asleep and I’m leaning against the hard cabinets at my back. Come to think of it, I could really use a pillow behind me. To my right, the piano bench is toppled on its side, blocking off one side of the island. The overturned coffee table on my left, along with rags stuffed into any gaps, obstructs the exit on the other side of the island. A spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of sunflower seeds sit on a plate next to me along with a screwdriver - the tool, not the drink! But for sure the drink would make this situation 1000% better right now - which I used to remove the kick plate at the base of our dishwasher. This is my very first moment alone in over a week and do you know how I’m spending it? Trying the lure out my middle daughter’s pet hamster who escaped her cage overnight and has set up camp in the bowels beneath our kitchen cabinetry. How is this even my life!?!

Most of the intricacies of my days feel laughable, ridiculous, and I can’t believe this is how I pass my hours, breaking up fights, throwing away pairs of tiny underwear that are too far gone with this last accident to redeem. I really don’t recall hamster rescuing being on my job description. Among the million other oddball roles that seem to make up this thing called “Motherhood.”

“I’m educated!” I preach at myself. “I am capable! I have things to offer!” But if anyone were measuring my visible day-to-day productive output, they might argue differently. I am struggling immensely with a lack of fulfillment in the way I spend my hours right now. I feel like I am in an early mid-life crisis of sorts, trying to find myself, my worth, my value and my purpose. I’ve been trudging through a personally grueling season of being “in between” and it’s growing rather apparent that it doesn’t look very good on me.

I sincerely thought that life would look different for me after I quit my (paid) job. To be frank, and I think I’ve said this before, I didn’t quit to spend more time with the kids (who, despite the tone of this post, I do actually adore!) I was working part-time when I officially bid my job adieu, so I still saw them plenty, and was not feeling a shortage of quality time in their company. The reason I quit that job was because I was unhappy in it and I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and realize I’d wasted away my life, undervalued and feeling invisible, in a position I didn’t love. Instead, I wanted to write. Maybe speak some, about what exactly, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I figured the pieces and opportunities would just fall into my lap. And they sort of did. For a little while.

I’m not sure what I envisioned for my life as a writer. For sure, I figured I would be doing, well, a whole lot more writing. But it hasn’t really panned out that way and I’m wrestling hard with my feelings about it. I read a lot of about writing, how to write, how others have been successful at it, but thus far, these sorts of books have only served to make me feel smaller, less equipped, more inadequate. Anyone who does it will concur - the writing life sucks! Like why would anyone choose to subject themselves to this sort of lifestyle on purpose? Here, just pen down your most personal thoughts and feelings, and then post them on your chest for the world to attack, criticize, and sometimes, on a good day, agree and whisper, “Me too.” Writing isn’t for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn’t for the thin-skinned either.     

All this to say, “quitting my job to write” isn’t looking exactly the way I’d hoped. I’ve been doing a lot more flailing than I have been moving forward favorably. I’m struggling with a general feeling of invisibility as a mom. It seems to be an underlying theme throughout my life, this struggle with feeling invisible and undervalued. Graham noted the irony – I quit one job where I felt invisible and now am doing another where I feel increasingly so. The sum of this equals a lot of disappointment to wade my way through.

I know full well the tremendous value of mothers, of the significance of the work we do. I would be the first to tell any mom struggling similarly that her job is the most important in the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that I still have these emotions, that our culture doesn’t value us well, that I feel unfulfilled, and that I personally have a pile of negative thoughts and unmet expectations to work through. It may also mean that full time stay-at-home motherhood is not the only thing I am called to, even though this fact causes tidal waves of guilt to come over me.

Since I can’t seem to make the writing thing happen with kids underfoot, I’ve started to dapple elsewhere. I feel a very real pressure (from no one other than myself, and in my defense, I do happen to be the one who does the budgeting around here) to find some sort of part-time work to help make ends meet. I don’t know how and even whether this will ever pan out but the idea both excites me (slightly) and grieves me (tremendously). I have realized an undeniable internal desire to be compensated for my work (and is there a more poorly compensated or thankless job than motherhood in our culture?) At the same time, I am already mourning my loss of freedom. How can I reconcile the two? I’m not ready to surrender my hope that I can somehow figure out a way to do life-giving work that also compensates. Does this seem too far-fetched?

My bathroom monologue that engulfed Graham at the beginning of this post illustrates the place I go when I’m not doing enough of the things that give me life. I see everything through a negative lens. On the one hand, I want to take this outburst with an extremely large granule of salt, but on the other, don’t our baseline feelings and frustrations come out most when we no longer possess the energy to filter or sensor them? They pour forth in their rawest form.

I wish I had more answers to accompany the many questions that I’m asking. I recognize that I need to make some changes (and recognizing you have a problem is the first step!) These changes could look like me making peace with and learning to embrace the job I currently find myself in. Or it could look like me making a change and getting a (paid) job once all three kids are in school in the fall (full disclosure: I’m regularly perusing job openings at local plant nurseries). Or, also come fall, it could look like me surrendering the desire to be compensated, no longer allowing the dollar amount I bring in determine my value, and instead pour my heart and soul into this writing thing that I love even if it never amounts to anything or if I don’t have a final product to show for it at the end of the day. It could mean I just do it because it makes me feel alive and healthy and because it is my art form in a world that desperately needs beauty in the midst of brokenness. I kind of hope this last option is the one I land on, but we’ll see.

I share all this today in hopes that it speaks to someone out there somehow, someone who is feeling lonely and unfulfilled, either in a paid job in the workforce, or at home where the compensation comes only in the form of hugs and goodnight kisses. Both are difficult places to be and you aren’t alone. It’s okay to wrestle. And we will get through it, even when it's messy and unglamorous, and we find ourselves using our college-educated brains to rescue pet hamsters. Even then.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Sleepover Manifesto - Why We Won't Do Sleepovers

The childhood sleepover. It is high up there on my Wish-I-Didn’t-Have-To-Deal-With-It areas of parenting, right along with questions like, “When can I have a cell phone?” and “Can we get a puppy?” Sometimes I just don’t feel like I have the energy to withstand the backlash that comes along with saying the hard “no” and doing what I feel to be my parental duty. Especially when “all the other families get to do it” which I hear no less than twelve times a day. “Well, we aren’t the other families, are we?” I hate saying it just as much as they hate hearing it. I’m still waiting for someone to hand me the user guide for these kids of mine, the easy how-to guide for getting it “right” and raising excellent humans and contributors to society. Somehow that instruction manual must’ve slipped out of the diaper bag when we took them home from the hospital. So I’m left to just sort of wing it. For the most part, I try really hard not to parent out of fear. I work hard to make decisions based on sound reason, evidence or conviction. This was one of the reasons we opted to put our kids in public school. We knew that they would be taught some things we didn’t agree with. We didn’t want to hide these differing beliefs from them. Rather, we wanted them exposed to diverse beliefs and opinions, knowing we would have to amp up our game at home to have intentional conversations about how these ideas might contrast with our own values. We don’t want to shelter them. We want to equip them. This felt really important to both Graham and I. Sometimes I have to stop and really think about whether I am making parenting decisions out of fear or out of sound logic. It is easy for the line between fear and wisdom to blur. We make concerted effort to talk to the kids about hard things, to not keep uncomfortable topics hidden from them. We want the kids to know why we make the decisions we do. Enter the the ever-present request for sleepovers with their friends. We were at our school’s science fair when another mom I’ve spoken with only once approached me. Our daughters are in class together and enjoy each others’ company, though honestly I haven’t been hearing her name around the dinner table at all recently. This mom told me that her daughter’s birthday was coming up and I knew what was coming the instant she opened her mouth. She said they were planning a sleepover and that Emma was on the must-invite list. “Oh how exciting,” I started. “Emma would love to come for all the evening activities but we have a ‘No Sleepover’ policy in our house so I would be happy to pick her up before bedtime.” The mom looked at me, obviously a bit shocked. “Like no sleepovers at all?” she asked. “Yeah. Unfortunately that’s our family rule right now,” I told her. She heard the words “right now” and spotted the space for a loophole. She began to push a little and, under the pressure, I accidentally let it slip that big sister had done a sleepover with a couple very close family friends when she was a little older. “I mean,” she said. “I know you don’t know me or anything but….” she faded off. On the one hand, it sounded like she was hearing my reservation. But on the other, she was continuing to press. My level of discomfort was growing and I began to babble awkwardly, as I’m prone to do in situations like these. “We let her sister do a sleepover when she was 9 so we’re waiting until then,” I finished. Now, what I’d intended to be my iron-clad no sleepovers family policy, was slipping. How could I let this lady know, without offending her, that I was not going to allow my 7-year-old to sleepover at her house? I was feeling pressured and guilty. I was starting to second guess. Was I drawing this line out of wisdom or out of fear? This wasn’t the first time a fellow parent had given me pause and caused me to reconsider whether our stance was in fact a bit ridiculous. After backpedaling some more and finally giving her a few more awkward lines about how we just weren’t doing sleepovers with Emma, she responded with “Good luck with that,” and we went our separate ways. I felt sick to my stomach after this interaction. I had nothing at all against this mom in particular. In fact, her invitation was incredibly appealing on numerous levels. It ministered to a tender space in my heart that was hurting for my daughter, who had been struggling socially. I wanted her to expand her friend pool. I wanted to foster better, closer relationships with her friends. In a weaker moment, I might've fully sacrificed my “bigger-picture” values (no sleepovers because safety is my top priority) to remedy the hurts of the “now” (I want her to have friends!) But the bottom line was that I wasn’t okay with sleepovers. I had heard enough from friends about the unsafe encounters that take place when kids sleep together unsupervised and I just didn’t think it was wise. This decision was based in wisdom, not fear. Despite all this, my self-talk after this encounter was pretty ugly. I chided myself for buckling under the pressure and not presenting our philosophy with greater confidence. “Decide something and then own it with conviction!” I tell myself. This will perpetually be an area of great struggle for me. I teeter dangerously on the ledge of caring too much what other people think of me. To cement my conviction, I want someone else to tell me the decision I’ve made is the right one. I’m trying to have grace for myself, to realize not everything in life can be that cut and dry. To allow my own personal experiences to be reason enough. I was still wavering a little on the sleepover issue. There was a sliver of space remaining where someone could have squeezed in a really solid argument to convince me to permiss them. Until yesterday. My 4th grader reported that one of her classmates had shared with her about a co-ed sleepover that he had participated in the night before. After the adults went to bed, the elementary-aged kids present decided to play “Quack Diddly Oso,” a clapping game where kids sit in a circle and place their hands together and clap around the circle to the words of a song. The person who receives the clap on the last word of the song loses. This particular group of kids decided that the loser of each round should have to kiss the feet of all the others. This lasted for a little while until it lost its novelty and they decided to up the ante. One thing led to another and pretty soon the loser’s penalty involved both nakedness and other body parts that need not be named for you to get the picture. Yeah. That was all I needed to hear. These kids are in FOURTH GRADE. Curiosity killed the cat, y’all. And if this is what happens at ages 9 and 10, use your imagination about what might be coming down the pipes in the teen years. I don’t think I need to say more. If ever I needed evidence to cement my opinion, I got it this week. And, for the record, my stance on sleepovers is the same regardless of whether it is girls only, boys only, or coed. We’ve all got body parts that can be used in unsafe ways. And I’m just not willing to risk it with my kids. I think this is wisdom, not fear. So, if ever you want my child to sleepover, I can politely decline and refer you to this here “Sleepover Manifesto.” It’s not personal. It’s just how we’re gonna do it over here. Plus, no one ever gets any sleep at sleepovers anyways.

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Farro Salad with Castelvetrano Olives, Walnuts and Lemon

Lately, I’ve been on a farro kick. Had you asked me fifteen years ago for a farro recipe, I would have looked at you cross-eyed. Even though I was raised in one of the hippy-est of Pacific Northwest cities, I somehow grew up a farro virgin. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed to read the word aloud when I see it on the menu, for fear of mispronouncing it and looking like an idiot. But honestly, it wouldn’t be the first time. I’m not exactly known for saying words correctly. 

One summer, when my husband and I were just dating, we decided to dine out at an upscale French restaurant in downtown Seattle. They had a narrow outdoor patio, barely wide enough to fit a two-person table. The waiter, when taking our order, had to nearly sit on the railing that bordered the patio, to keep from hovering directly over us. But it was outdoors! In Seattle! With a happy hour! It’s the little things like eating outside that excite us northerners who are so accustomed to being bound to the indoors due to rain.

We perused the happy hour menus our waiter had handed to us and were ready to make our selections when he returned. 

“We are going to share a few things,” I told him, always feeling better about announcing our budget-friendly approach to eating out beforehand. “We will start with an order of the Haricots Verts en Salade and then the Pommes Frites and Petit Lamb Burger please.” 

My pronunciation of the starter, rolled off the tongue like a man without rhythm, gyrating awkwardly on the dance floor. I’d leaned heavy into the “T”s, just the way I felt it read: “Hair-Eh-Cot Vurts.” I didn’t know what it was exactly, but since it was paired with the word “salade,” I felt it safe to assume it would be a salad of some sort. Being the nutrition student that I was at the time, I was keen on making sure I ate my greens, even when dining out. 

Our waiter nodded in understanding, retrieved our menus and turned toward the kitchen to enter our order into the computer. It didn’t take long before he returned to the patio, carrying a white rectangle plate, heaped full with skinny green beans.

“The Haricot Verts en Salade, Madam,” he announced, as he presented the dish before me.

I wrinkled my brow in confusion, quite aware that the name he’d rattled off did NOT match the starter we had asked for. He’d said it so fast, I’m pretty sure he had called it “Air-Eh-Co Vairs” and what I ordered definitely started with H and ended with a hard “T-S.” Plus, this dish was green beans, not a salad. French was definitely not my second or third or fourth language, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was no dummy. Certainly this was a mistake. 

“Umm,” I started. “We actually ordered the Haricot Verts.” It came out awkward and sharp, "Hair-Eh-Cot Vurts."

He looked at me, straight-faced and confirmed, “Yes, Madam. The haricot verts." 

This time I was certain. He was definitely saying "Air-Eh-Co Vairs.” I squinted back at him, unsure how I would make my point any clearer. He obviously wasn’t getting it. 

“We wanted the salad one, please.”

“Yes yes!” he exclaimed, his accent thick. “This dish is the Haricots Verts en Salade.” He swept his hand in front of him, and bobbed his head in a shallow bow as he backed his way indoors toward the kitchen. 

I looked across the table at Graham and shrugged,picking up my fork in resolve. He didn’t even like green beans. I speared one of them roughly, hearing skin break beneath the tines. I took a bite and my face warmed as tasted the briney flavors of vinegar and mustard. The beans were perfectly crisp-tender. 

“These are delicious!” I exclaimed, forcing Graham to try them too. 

He obliged and then grinned in surprise. Together, we inhaled the entire heap, the whole time thinking how grateful we were for this happy little accident. Here we thought we were being so accommodating to eat the dish they had served us in error. It wasn’t until the waiter returned with menus for a last call that it dawned on me what had happened.

“Ha!” I cried out, as I read the text in front of me. I needed the visual to pair with the waiter’s pronunciation. “Haricot Verts!” I yelled. This time, I said it the way he had, with a silent “H” and silent “T’s” and as smooth as poetry. “This was the dish we ordered!!”

We burst out laughing simultaneously and I have never lived this moment down. Needless to say, I’m a bit scarred and I experience a moment of pause now, whenever I encounter an ingredient on a menu that I don’t know how to pronounce. Like, for instance, farro, to bring this story full circle. But a fresh and recent Google search reveals that there really is no going wrong when it comes to it’s pronounciation. Whether you say “fair-oh” or “far-oh,” it seems to make no difference. Both are right, depending on who you ask. So my advice is to just say it with confidence (personally, I’m a fan of calling it “far-oh” but to each their own!)

Now that we got that out of the way...let’s continue. For those still feeling in the dark, farro is an ancient whole grain that is high in fiber as well as being a good source of iron. It is derived from wheat (which means it is not gluten free) and looks a lot like a grain of oatmeal. It absorbs whatever sauces it cooked in or mixed with, making it a great vehicle for all sorts of flavors. 

My favorite way to eat it is tossed with dressing or other goodies as a hearty and filling lunch salad, which is what I will share with you today. Trader Joe’s sells a 10 minute pre-cooked farro that I like to use to speed up this recipe. It makes great leftovers. Make it on Monday and eat it all week!

Farro Salad with Castelvetrano Olives, Walnuts and Lemon

3 cups cooked farro (I like to cook mine in chicken broth for added flavor)
1 tsp lemon zest
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch of Kosher salt
1 cup walnut halves, toasted
2 cups pitted Castelvetrano Olives, chopped
¼ cup raisins
2 green onions, thinly sliced (top parts only)
⅓ cup fresh chopped chives
Shaved Parmesan, to taste

In a medium-sized serving bowl, whisk together lemon zest and juice, honey, olive oil, red pepper flakes and salt. Add farro, toasted walnuts, olives, raisins, green onions and chives and toss well to mix with dressing. Top with a generous amount of shaved Parmesan and serve. 

Serves 6

Monday, March 18, 2019

A charge to marriage

One dozen years as Mr. and Mrs. Crozier! Remember our special day? How it poured down rain the entire day? (But why wouldn’t it? It was the middle of March, after all).

Remember how you beamed at me, when you turned around saw me for the very first time? If that wasn’t the look of deep smit, then I don’t know what is. 

We were kids, Graham, weren’t we? Kids dressing up all fancy-like and playing adult. Just look at how young we are!

Remember how one of my coworkers (who you had not yet met) was in the sanctuary helping with the flower arrangements before the ceremony? And she wondered who the kid was, beating out his nervous energy on the drum set. That “kid” was you, my love. 

When I think back to our special day, one thing that stands out to me is how I never second guessed. As a generally-anxious person, this is striking. You were the one for me and I had zero doubts about it.

I often try to find the words to describe our life together and always come up lacking. We have weathered some painful hardships. Like waves of a storm, our challenges have threatened to crush us as they crash against the side of our boat. We’ve rocked and thrashed around in the mess, some years wilder than others. We've blown a few holes and our vessel has undergone some damage. But do you know what makes me so, so proud? What causes me to fall more madly and deeply in love with you with each passing day? Instead of pretending the squall isn’t there, blasting through life as if nothing is wrong, we’ve acknowledged our storm and called for help. 

Could two people possibly be more different?

It's not every guy who can live with a sometimes-anal-retentive neat freak who thrives in extremely orderly environments, plans everything ahead, and who has no taste for the unknown. But you do. Your go-with-the-flow attitude remains (mostly) unperturbed by my complicated ways. You loosen me up and help me live outside the box. Life is so much more fun with you.

And not every girl could live with a guy who regularly loses things, lives wholly in the moment, and can’t keep track of time. But I do. My knack for organization provides stability and structure that helps you keep track of your belongings and gets you where you need to be on time. Life isn’t so chaotic having me around. 

There have been times where I’ve wondered how a girl with anxiety and OCD tendencies lands herself with a guy with ADHD (and vice versa). How do we not drive each other absolutely insane? In truth, we do, sometimes. Like the time a few years ago when I left for a few hours to take a much needed “sanity break” from the kids. I needed some quiet to relax and gather my thoughts. You and your dad were in “project mode,” gearing up to install board and batten in our entryway in my absence. Imagine my surprise when I came home to find construction dust everywhere, the hall only partially finished, and a new gaping hole in the wall of family room. I will never know what exactly went down that day, but partway through the board and batten project, you lost interest and decided to spontaneously remove the brick fireplace that you loathed instead, an endeavor we had neither discussed nor budgeted for. Needless to say, all the restorative relaxation that had occurred while I was away that afternoon vanished instantaneously.

Then there was the time when two of our towering arborvitae bushes that border the neighbor’s house began falling over, their roots unable to hold themselves vertically any longer in the swamp-like conditions that was our backyard. Again, I was out of the house “relaxing” and returned to find that not only had you removed the 2 plants that were leaning, you’d also assisted in felling the remaining 5 bushes that made up the only privacy barrier between our yard and the neighbor’s. Now we had a prime view of his gnarly mess of overgrown blackberries and unkempt backyard. Oy vey! Those were some rougher days that at least I can look back at and laugh about now.

You were in for a lot of surprises too. Being married to me must’ve felt at times like you were standing 8 feet from the end of a fire hose, tasked with the impossible job of collecting every last drop of liquid blasting toward you at full force. But the substance rushing out of the hose wasn’t just water, it was tears. Every time something in my life didn’t go according to plan, I struggled. Some of the time my upset was directed toward you. Some of the time it was directed toward someone or something else. But all of the time, you found it bewildering. I possessed So. Much. Emotion. And what was most baffling to you was that my level of emotion never seemed to fit the “crime.” It was hard for you to fathom how your arriving home late and neglecting to tell me or forgetting to take out the trash like you said you would should land you with a sobbing wife. 

From my end, these little “missed” interactions began to have a cumulative effect. It was really hard for me not to take these behaviors personally. I couldn’t reconcile how things were playing out. If I asked for something from you and you agreed to it, and then neglected to follow through, what did this mean? The only way I knew to categorize these confusing exchanges was to determine that you must not love me or you must not care. I couldn’t figure out why else this would keep happening. It was extremely painful.

From your end, you were trying so hard. There were so many expectations for you to keep up with and it overwhelmed you. You were not ignoring my requests intentionally. You adored me and so desperately wanted to please me. But it felt like an uphill battle. Keeping track of things was always something you struggled with. If there wasn't a reminder right in front of you, you would forget. You grew tired of being told you failed again and you withdrew. Who wouldn’t, when told perpetually the ways they don’t measure up? 

I didn't always want to have to remind you. It felt like it didn't "count." I wanted you to show forethought, that you were thinking of me and my needs. This became our vicious, awful cycle - you feeling overwhelmed and like you could never be good enough, me feeling unloved and unseen and confused as to why you couldn’t just remember to do the things we’d agreed upon. 

Oh my gosh did things ever get messy. There was so much hurt, so much confusion, so much defeat and sadness for both of us before we realized what was happening. It took us nearly a decade of marriage before we finally recognized and accepted the dynamics that were operating between us. Our brains are wired differently and we have a couple legitimate third parties operating in our marriage relationship. Symptoms of ADHD and OCD/anxiety constantly threaten to sabotage the bond that we’ve built. But now that we know to call out these symptoms and behaviors and name them for what they are? Oh the relief! We can get on the same team and fight against the symptoms, and no longer against each other.

The work that we've done in our marriage has been such a long process, one that we are far from being perfect at. But we're getting better, quicker at recognizing when we have fallen into our "cycle." It has taken two committed participants, each willing to step into the mess, flip over the rocks and expose the nasty critters hiding in the darkness beneath. We've fought a lot, cried a lot, and clung to each other even more. We drive each other mad sometimes but oh how desperately we need each other, to round out our sharp edges and find a middle ground.  

I am so, so proud of us. But we remain afloat. We have ridden our waves, clinging to the promise of hope for new mercies again in the morning. There is no one I’d rather have in this raft other than you, Graham. Happy 12 years!