"I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment. Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb."~Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1816

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Collecting Book Ideas

As my blogger profile boasts, I’ve been working on ideas for a book, but very piecemeal. When I first mentioned it to hubby his suggestion was to come up with an outline. But I really am not sure exactly where my book is going, so writing an outline won’t work for me, at least not at this point. Following the oft-cited advice that writers should “write what they know,” I’m thinking the book will be about my largely positive experience growing up within a tightly knit Catholic school and church community in suburbia in the 1980s and early 90s.

Since I’m not yet sure how I will structure the book I’ve been writing a page or two on different topics that I think I will include in the book as they occur to me. I’ve been researching on the Internet and checking books out of the library in large stacks. It’s like I’m collecting tidbits I’ve found on a nature walk. I’m hoping a shape will start to emerge organically from these disparate efforts.

One of my strategies was to get a sense of spiritual memoirs written by people about my age. I conducted an Amazon search and came up with Not that Kind of Girl, by Carlene Bauer, released last year (Harper Collins). Unlike what one might think is the usual approach in writing a spiritual memoir, Bauer tells the story of losing her religion rather than of finding it. But Bauer lets go of her faith so thoughtfully that her book brought me to more closely consider why I have held on to mine and where the challenges lie in maintaining a spiritual outlook on life.

Bauer recounts how religious teachings at the nondenominational churches and Christian schools she attended shaped her perspective though elementary and high school and continuing in college and her early working years. Unfortunately, the shoots of her childhood spirituality, watered by the comforting wording and colorful stories of the King James Bible, were trampled during episodes such as a terrorizing experience where a Sunday school teacher vividly described the coming of the Antichrist at the end of the world. In high school, Bauer had trouble reconciling her love for the Jesus of the gospels with her distaste for her pastors’ vehement denunciation of popular culture. Nevertheless Bauer conscientiously took notes during the sermons at church and resolved to be the best Christian she could.

Bauer’s questioning intensified through college and her early working years. Despite a hope in God’s plan for her, she at the same time searched for proof that religion was bunk. She attended a small Jesuit college and there was exposed to existential philosophers, none of which quite reverberated with her. She was known as the “good girl” who didn’t party and was saving herself for marriage. But Bauer remained confused as to whether she truly believed the values she had embraced or was avoiding experimentation due to her timid personality. She resolves to test her spirituality by trying out the lifestyle she has avoided in New York City after college.

Bauer never feels fully comfortable eschewing her spiritual side. She tries out drinking and one-night-stands, but they don’t provide her questioning mind any solace. Finally she tries out the Catholic Church, converting in a quick decision that saddens her mom but cheers her grandma, a Catholic. Bauer doesn’t find her answers in the Catholic Church either, and that disappointment seems to cement her eventual disengagement from religion altogether. The suggestion at the end of the book is that she finally finds a man who satisfies her intellect and the relationship provides the mooring she had been looking for in the form of religion.

There are flashes of really elegant writing in the book, Bauer’s first. She was rightly encouraged by a high school English teacher to become a writer. But it depressed me that Bauer’s earnest search for spirituality was in the end fruitless. My nearness to my children, my witness of their growing up, has underlined for me the presence of the Divine in this life. But with a popular culture so largely disdainful of any sense of the spiritual or religion beyond positivity or self-actualization, my teaching my children prayers, bringing them to church, instilling in them a love for God, seems more and more counter cultural. Is a spiritual outlook relevant in today’s world? How do you encourage your spirituality, be it through structured religion or not?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wonderful Unknown

We pulled out of our driveway at about 4:00 am Friday. My sister-in-law seemingly had made record time on the drive over to our house to watch our two sleeping kids. “Good luck!” she said as I appeared in the kitchen to replenish my water bottle. “Don’t kiss me,” she added as I leaned toward her. “But, not to worry. It’s just a summer cold, nothing serious.” I did want to kiss her. I was so grateful that the birthing process had gone into motion: my water had finally broken and contractions were starting to crunch through me.

The moon was white and round in the black sky over the field across the street from the entrance to our housing complex. Every time I see the moon I think of all the nights my dad called me to the screen door of our townhouse to gape at its lustrous beauty. Hubby turned our car onto the empty road and a contraction started as we crossed the first intersection but, watching the moon dip under the glowing clouds over the hills, in place of panic a sense of calm nestled around me.

The girls at the reception desk in my OB’s office had joked that I would deliver last weekend because there would be a full moon. After pre-term labor at 35 weeks had suggested that Baby would come early like my other two children, we were all surprised that it appeared I would make it to my due date. I’ve never felt the ripeness of late pregnancy before. Toward the end of this pregnancy my earlier fears of needing to take care of a preemie baby, needing a c-section, or of some other unforeseen calamity, mercifully gave way to the relative peace of knowing that the pregnancy needed to end - in one way or another.

Labor surprised me as quick and unmedicated. There was not enough time for the two bags of IV fluid that were a prerequisite for placing an epidural. After a particularly strong contraction accompanied with a yelp for what I then knew was my illusive epidural, the labor nurse firmly instructed me to get in bed. She hurriedly checked me then desperately called for my doctor, who happened to be on duty at the hospital that morning. “You’re going to have this baby naturally,” the labor nurse, MJ, said. “He’ll be out in one good push.” Pressing into the pain as she and my doctor instructed, pressing through the push, the rest, the second push and the delivery, I was given the unexpected gift of doing it myself.

The last two weeks hubby and I have been frustrated with our lack of control over when Baby would be born. Hubby started his leave when I hit 38 weeks, which was when Toddler was born, and seemed reasonable considering the pre-term labor scare I had already had with Baby. But Baby faked us out and came much later than expected. Hubby had wanted the majority of his two weeks’ leave to be bonding time with his new son, but he had to go back to work yesterday, after a scant two days at home with Baby. Actually, those two weeks that hubby intended to spend bonding with Baby were well spent giving Girlie and, especially Toddler, extra daddy time.

As parents we should know by now that really we can never fully control our relationships with our children, who are completely separate entities from us with their own personalities and desires. I remember being surprised that Girlie was such a stranger to me when she was born. I did not know her face. Baby is a stranger too. I don’t know how I will be called upon to minister to him. I don’t know how his presence in our lives will change our family. On day two of his life, desperate to snag a lactation consultant up on the pediatrics floor where I had been dispatched for my recovery, I finally reminded myself to be open to whatever messages Baby was trying to tell me about himself. He didn’t want me to put him down. All he wanted was to lay his cheek on my chest. Why was I so sure that was the wrong thing? So what if my other children ate, were satisfied and then slept? I needed to recognize that this child wanted to hang out with me.

Of course parenting is a balance of listening to your child and providing him with limits. In my experience with sleep schedules for my older children, for instance, I have learned that they thrive on the support of a structure. But I am trying to let Baby lead me through his infant days as much as possible. Yes, it means putting myself in the hands of someone whose only field of expertise is nursing (and “expertise” is a very generous term for his knowledge of that subject) but walking into the unknown has never felt so safe.