The Book!

Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body (Servant Books) is available from Servant Books, Amazon, Aquinas & More, Barnes & Noble, Borders, ChristianBook.com, and other retailers. Weightless is also available… [more]

The Book! The Book!

The Woman Behind the Blog

The quick lowdown: Married with four children (the men in my life - my husband and baby boy - not pictured in above "girls just wanna have fun" photo). A sometimes-journalist, author, speaker, and 24/7 mother who's in… [more]

The Woman Behind the Blog The Woman Behind the Blog

The God Box

Like most people, I have many hopes, wishes, and prayers etched on my heart. Some are personal intentions; other times I speak to God on the behalf of others. Sometimes my prayers are about giving thanks. More often… [more]

The God Box The God Box
Kate Wicker

Cookie Monster

I’m a big advocate of not categorizing food as “good” or “bad” and also just striving for moderation. I encourage people to not buy into the big, fat lie that being healthy means nothing unless you are also thin and only eat “clean” foods. I know that I personally have to steer clear of fully embracing any new healthy trend that eliminates complete food groups or makes me feel like I am depriving my body of anything. Since I spent so much of my life denying myself calories or delicious food or purging myself of anything that I felt was a “bad” food, my body and mind revolt against any kind of dieting mindset – no matter how healthy.

For example, I have been trying to eat more clean lately, which basically means filling up on whole, real food and avoiding processed garbage that is devoid of nutritional benefits. On the surface, this is a good, healthy decision except I found that I started feeling guilty about grabbing a handful of cereal, albeit healthy cereal, if I didn’t have time to make steel cut oats. Or I felt like the day after I had a glass of wine, I needed to “detox” my body by drinking more water. I have to be on guard against these feelings of guilt because they can backfire on me or send me back down a dark path where controlling my weight becomes my way of grasping the control I so desperately seek. Toddler having more crazy tantrums than usual and leaving you flustered? Well, stop drinking wine (even though it might be good for your frayed nerves), cut out chocolate, eat more veggies (even though the urologist told you your daily, liberal spinach habit contributed to your recent bout of kidney stones), swear off all sweets! You are in control. Look how healthy you’re being. Pat yourself on the back.

A few weeks ago I finished up a physical therapy session (yup, I am still in PT and I do have an update, but I just don’t feel like writing about it now) and then a workout in the gym and I was famished. I headed over to Whole Foods to grab a salad bar. I love their salad bar and used to crave them when I was pregnant. We no longer live anywhere close to a Whole Foods, but there’s one near my physical therapist’s office so I have been making a habit of stopping by there on my way back home and piling up a mountain of veggies and then sprinkling a delicious Mediterranean dressing over the greens, colorful bell peppers, chickpeas, and one hardboiled egg. I had allowed myself to become over-hungry (I forgot to bring a post-workout snack and had ran on the treadmilll as well as completed 45 minutes of superset strength training, and my body needed replenishment calories stat). After I prepared my salad, I noticed the cookie case. I stood before it and started wondering whether I should get a cookie or not. I started having a ridiculous inner dialogue. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the characterization exercise below that I once completed for a college theatre class, but it was pretty, dang close:

Oh, that cookie looks so good. Just look at the chocolate chunks in that sucker. Mmmmmm…. But I can’t eat that cookie. It’s huge. I bet it’s at least 500 calories. Maybe more. I don’t want to even think about how many fat grams are probably crammed into that circle of deliciousness. It looks so chewy and gooey and good. I wish I had a super fast mutant metabolism. Then I could eat it and not have to worry about it showing up later in the form of cellulite on my thighs or as a soft pooch on my belly. At least I can suck in my stomach. Why can’t we suck in our butt or thighs? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Your jeans get a little tight on your bum, and you just suck those cheeks in.

Gosh, that cookie is calling my name, and I have been good today. All I had for lunch was a big salad. I did use some dressing though, but it was the light stuff. I’ve been exercising every day, too. Don’t I deserve a little treat? I mean, it’s just a cookie. I could skip a meal tomorrow to compensate for the extra calories. Or I could workout twice in one day.

Maybe I should try on my jeans first. If they feel big, then I should definitely just eat the cookie. Or, I could weigh myself. Or better yet, why don’t I just have one bite? I don’t have to eat the whole thing. One tiny morsel won’t hurt me. That’s the perfect solution. Here, I’ll break off this tiny piece and put it in my mouth….

Oh, my goodness. That is so good. It tastes even better than it looks. Maybe I’ll have just one more bite. Besides, the chocolate taste like dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is good for you. I mean, I’ll be fighting cancer if I eat some more of this cookie. Just one more tiny bite… Oh, so yummy. Well, gee. Now I’ve already messed up. What’s the point of leaving half a cookie? I might as well go ahead and eat the rest of it. Yummy! That was so good.

Wait a minute. What did I just do? I can’t believe I just ate that entire cookie! It’s the size of a freakin’ plate. I swear, I’ll never do that again. I need to go to the gym…right now. I’ve got to burn off some extra calories. I’m so weak. Geez…the stupid cookie wasn’t even that good. It tasted kind of artificial, really. It was too chewy, too gooey.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – with a cookie.

No more cookies for me…ever. Except maybe at Christmas. And I can have some cookie cake on my birthday. But that’s it. I’m detoxing my body of all processed food starting tomorrow. What’s wrong with me? I feel fat already. I bet I’ve already gained a pound, and my jeans will definitely be tighter. I’m going to go try them on now…

 

A little funny? Yes. And a bit sad, too? Definitely. And for the record: I have come a long way and my little tête-à-tête on this particular ended with me laughing at my ridiculousness and buying – and enjoying! – the damn cookie.

Perhaps you’re wondering who really might spend as much time as the monologue above suggests thinking about a stupid cookie besides that furry blue monster that entertains preschoolers. I’d bet more people than you’d think.

And even if most of us don’t agonize that much over one cookie, I’ve heard plenty of people talk about their constant struggles with food choices.

Now let’s think about all that cookie and body angst this way: Just consider for a moment what would happen if we took all the time we spend obsessing about what we eat or how we look and used it instead to pray or to think of ways we could simply be kinder or live more fulfilling lives. We may not end up looking like super models, but we’d surely be more at peace.

When I was first married, the vestiges of my eating disorder sometimes surfaced, and I’d start to think of food in terms of my morality. I am a good person if I say no to the cookie and eat only wholesome food. I am a weak, bad person if I, however, do eat the cookies. Whenever I would categorize food as “good” or “bad,” my husband would remind me: There is no good or bad food. It’s just food – fuel for your body. Some of it’s better for your body, of course. Whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies are the premium fuel. But consuming the other stuff – cookies, salty chips, butter and fried food – in moderation won’t sabotage our health – and it certainly doesn’t make us less of a worthwhile person if we like to enjoy a bowl of ice cream from time to time.

There are plenty of people who choose to eat clean or whatever new fad is all the rage and do it with a healthy balance and also discover that they feel better. But there are some of us who have to be careful to embrace too rigid of diet plans. Saying no to an occasional cookie is a good exercise in self-control, but if you swear off everything and have had past struggles with your body image or eating intuitively, it could all backfire.

I have learned that if and when I start obsessing about ice cream or a piece of chocolate, it is best to simply just allow myself a small indulgence and I really savor its taste. On Sunday night my husband and I ordered our favorite Indian takeout. I ate more than I usually do, but I simply tried to enjoy the melange of flavors without eating up a side helping of guilt.

If I start to feel guilty about noshing on something that’s less than nutritious, then I remind myself that the virtues of prudence and temperance are helpful in achieving balance when it comes to healthy eating and living. When we apply the order of reason, enjoying an occasional ice cream sundae or full-bodied glass of wine won’t kill us, and indulging in them every once in awhile does not make us bad or weak. So many healthy eating trends or diets take an all or nothing approach. I’d argue that the dieting and health industry is designed to help people lose weight AND gain it back when they can no longer adhere to swearing off birthday cake on their birthday for the rest of their lives. This way people start to see themselves as the failure while the diets or clean eating or the banning of carbs or the detoxing with juice for three days are the solutions. The weight loss industry doesn’t really want us to succeed. They want us to keep coming back, feeling like big failures.

Don’t believe the lies. Believe in yourself. Believe you have the power to have a cookie for dessert every once in awhile and when you decide to say no to the cookie, it’s because you made the choice, not because eating it would have been a sign of just how pathetic you are.

The next time you really find yourself wanting a cookie or chips or chocolate or whatever you find yourself craving, first ask yourself if that’s what you are really hungry for. Maybe a walk or calling a good friend would satisfy you more. But sometimes having a taste of something delicious is really what you desire and want, so go for it. Give in to a craving.  Eat it slowly, and savor the taste, the texture, everything you love about it. And when you’re finished, do not feel guilty. I repeat: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. Do not think you have to exercise more or eat less tomorrow to atone for your “sin.” Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so enjoy it!

Your baby is just fine and so are you

Here’s an old post from the archives as part of my Recycled Series. I dedicate this to both of my sister-in-laws – one who has recently welcomed a baby into her arms (whom I had the joy of spending a lot of time with on Monday) and to another who is on the eve of new motherhood and also a cousin of mine who recently had her first baby. I wrote this when Mary Elizabeth was just a little nugget.

kw 03 300x225 Your baby is just fine and so are you

Mary Elizabeth, who’s now 5, and me

Recently, I had the rare opportunity to go to the grocery store toting only the baby. She was a happy, wiggly little thing, and I quite enjoyed our visit as well as her many admirers.

Typically, I’m in such a rush that I avoid onlookers. I’m not overtly rude, but I don’t stop to make idle chitchat either. My goal is to take care of my grocery list before one of my kids melts down or surreptitiously takes shampoo off a shelf, pulls it into the car she’s cruising along in at the front of the cart, and starts smearing it all over her body (thinking it’s lotion of course), and isn’t caught in the act until a confused Mom smells mango, even though that type of fruit wasn’t on her list (yes, this is a true story. I won’t fully reveal the guilty party, but she often wears pigtails and exclaims, “I two!”).

But today was different. I had only one child with me. This was easy street.

During our visit we were stopped by the grocery paparazzi several times and received the following comments:

“She’s a big one for almost 4 months!”

“She’s so small for almost 4 months, isn’t she?”

See how fickle the paparazzi can be. You’re too fat one minute and a weak waif the next!

“Well, you’ve got an angel there.”

True, true.

“Oh, look at that funny hair.”

I swear, I combed it. It has a mind of its own.

“He’s so cute. Errr…I mean, she. Sorry.”

No worries. Apology accepted.

“Is that comfortable for you to have her attached to you like that?”

Yes. Very much so.

Now in the olden days – as in when I was a newbie mom with just one child in my care – I admittedly would have fret over some of these comments.

In fact, I vividly remember when my husband and I ventured out to a salad buffet-type of restaurant with Madeline when she was around the same age as M.E. is now, and an older man and his wife stopped to ooooo and ahhhhhh over our little brawny bundle.

“Wow! He’s gonna be a linebacker. How much did he weigh when he was born?” the man asked, smiling.

I looked at my daughter’s pink and yellow outfit and then back at the grinning and obviously nearsighted man. “She weighed 6 pounds and 15 ounces.”

She? My goodness. What are you feeding her?” the man asked, still smiling.

“My milk,” I replied, not smiling at all.

“She’s beautiful,” his wife added, probably noting my annoyance with my firstborn daughter being mistaken for a beefy linebacker.

This was not an isolated incident. Everyone use to comment on how chunky Madeline was. I know now I should have been proud of those rolls and extra dimples (they were of my own making and made for a healthy, happy baby, after all). But I used to worry my daughter was destined to a future in the NFL and that it would be all my fault for nursing her too much too often.

Fast-forward four years, and my daughter is tall and slender. But what if she’d stayed on the roly-poly side? What difference? Why was I so hung up on what strangers had to say about my baby?

I wish I’d had the confidence I have now. To appreciate the fact that I was feeding my baby somehow, someway with my body and that she was perfect just the way she was.

While I was a fairly laid-back first-time mom in many aspects (I didn’t constantly check to make sure my infant was breathing, for example, and I nixed the whole idea of having a perfect nursery, didn’t bother to use a Diaper Genie, and didn’t put a call into the pediatrician with a question until she was 15 months), the most innocuous comments could occasionally drive me to collapse into a heap of self-doubt. Was I nursing her enough? Too little? Was I, by subscribing to what experts called “attachment parenting” but what just felt natural to my child and me, setting my child up to be a leech who would be rooted to me like a barnacle for the rest of her life?

How tiresome it must have been to spend so many of my waking hours fretting over others’ unsolicited (and probably well-meaning) commentary about parenting!

And what a blessing it is now, that as more of a seasoned mom (although I realize more than ever with three completely different, tiny human beings who are constantly growing and changing under my care that I’ll ever have this whole parenting thing figured out), to not be crippled by the relentless foray of unsought pearls of parental wisdom tossed my direction at every aisle in one random grocery store visit.

Yes, M.E. is a chunky love. Is she too big or too little for four months? We’ll see at her well-child visit in a two weeks. Honestly, I don’t care what the growth charts say. She started out small, and now she comes in chunk-style – just the way I like my babies. Of course, Rae was on the small side at this age, and she was perfect, too. (Yes, I’m biased. I’m their mother. I’m supposed to be.)

I feed M.E. when she’s hungry, when she begins to stir in the night, when she cries during the day, or when she just wants to be close to me. I take note of her rolls, and I pump my fist in the air in triumph. I have a healthy baby, with strong limbs, who is growing each and every day! I “wear” her as I go about the daily grind. She’s a lovely accessory, and yes, it is quite comfortable to keep her so close to me. She sleeps close by and I sometimes hear her soft sighs and marvel at the wonder of her. I soak up her smiles and watch as her cheeks move in involuntary sucks long after she’s ceased nursing and is sleeping, curled into me. I don’t really care what others think or say about my baby. She is tiny for four months. She is big for four months. Perhaps she’s an androgynous sprite with hair that defies gravity to the casual onlooker. And I wholeheartedly agree with the “experts” that she’s an angel attached to me.

This post is not an endorsement of any particular type of parenting. If you’re new to my blog or are just wondering why my baby appeared to be “attached” to me as I foraged for food for my family at the grocery store, attachment parenting, or some semblance of it is the ideal I strive for, but I’ve found some of its principles – which seem to change anyway – are not always a constant reality in the trenches.

This is, on the other hand, an endorsement of mom intuition – a gift I believe all women-turned-moms possess. Use it, and use it wisely.

This one’s for all the new moms who – after a trip to the grocery store or anywhere out in public (or even during a click-by on some random new parent discussion board where a plethora of welcome and sometimes not-so-welcome advice awaits) – might find themselves lying awake in bed at night reciting an inner monologue of self-doubt about their mothering. Silence the inner critic. Once you become a parent, it is a waste of precious energy to seek popular acclaim from the experts and all those who make their public opinions known. Parenting gurus are an opinionated lot, and each has his or her own idea of the right way to parent. If you try to listen to everyone, you’ll end up with confused kids and no firm parenting principles of your own.

Please ignore the sweet old lady in aisle 7 who tells you your baby is too big. Ignore the cashier who says your baby is awfully small. Ignore comment number 7 on the discussion board that says the only way to be a good mom is to do this or to not do that. Ignore the friend who advises you to let your baby “cry it out” if every ounce of your maternal being is saying it doesn’t feel right. Tune out the finger-wagging advice that tells you you’re spoiling your baby by keeping him close to you all day. Be the mother you want to be. Better yet, be the mom you feel called to be. Smile politely at all of your baby’s admirers (they really do mean well), and snuggle up with your little one. Then repeat after me: Your baby is fine, and so are you.

Mother knows best, and you – not the woman who tickles your baby’s toes in the produce section – are your child’s mother. Be secure in your role. Because your baby doesn’t feel more secure in anyone’s arms but your own.

kw 05 300x225 Your baby is just fine and so are you

Welcoming Mary Elizabeth into our family five years ago!

I will survive

In the aftermath of what seemed like a life-shattering breakup at the time, I would belt out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I still have the song on my very eclectic workout playlist, and the other day I found myself shouting the lyrics and building up the tenacity to deal with another man in my life. This one weighs roughly 40 pounds and he’s not breaking my heart, but he breaks plenty of other things: Window blinds, flower pots, wire whisks from the kitchen (he likes to bend anything that is the least bit malleable), big chunks of my hair and his sisters’ hair off the scalp when in the throes of a titanic tantrum, toys, windshields (he did this with his head and was not injured in the least – thank God! Don’t ask. The car was parked in the driveway lest you think he was cruising around without a carseat in the front), etc., etc.

broken windshield e1410093588296 225x300 I will survive

I’m supposed to be working on his birthday letter. Our little bruiser recently turned 3, but I’m spending too much time avoiding unidentifiable flying objects he has hurled in my direction to work on anything productive, and I’m afraid the letter will turn into a collection of grievances against the poor guy. I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass.” This mantra has always helped me get through rough parenting patches, but right about now, I find myself editing the phrase and gritting my teeth while thinking something like this: “This sure as heck better pass soon before I have a nervous breakdown or do something I’ll regret.”

Of course, there are tender moments when my sweet, little man cuddles close, but even his kisses and hugs are fueled with boy-power. I’ve had to remonstrate with him repeatedly to not hang on my neck when he hugs me because he’s pulled so hard, I’ve felt sharp jabs of pain.

Thomas the artist e1410093924868 225x300 I will survive

We recently went to the beach to see my husband’s grandparents, and Thomas just kept asking, “When are we going to go home? Tomorrow?” He clearly wasn’t digging the change of scenery. He refused to nap, was sweaty with heat and exhaustion, and cried when sand got in his shoes and cried if we took his shoes off. He screamed when he was happy, and he screamed when he was sad. Dealing with his mercurial moods was completely exhausting.

Upon our return, a friend of mine first asked him, “What did you do at the beach, Thomas?”

“I got crabs!” he shouted.

The crustacean kind, of course.

After we all had a good laugh, I told her he had been ready to come home after a day away, so she queried, “Thomas, do you like the beach or home better?”

“Home!” he shouted.

My little boy craves routine and is definitely a homebody. When I take him to library storytime, he’s as still as can be and clings to my lap like a barnacle. But at home, he turns into the Incredible Hulk and plows from room to room leaving destruction or teary, melodramatic sisters in his wake.

Thomas the terror 168x300 I will survive

He’s most definitely screaming for ice cream.

sweet messy thomas e1410093806863 225x300 I will survive

Oh, but even when he’s a big mess, he’s so very sweet.

My normal discipline strategies aren’t working, probably because I am so exasperated and tired from it all that I am not very consistent. The boy who once fell asleep so easily so long as I was beside him both at bedtime and for naps now pinches my nose and throws books around the room when I try to settle him down. The other day I was desperate for him to nap, so I finally held the door shut while he threw every possible toy at the door and screamed for 30 minutes straight. One day recently I actually did get him to sleep. It only took me two hours of cajoling him and putting him back into his bed. By the time he fell asleep, it was nearly time for me to pick up his sisters, and I was too worn out to get anything done, so I sat on the couch and cried.

It’s a terrible combination: A tired mama and an even more tired toddler.

Yes, this little man in my life is making me cry and cling to Gloria Gaynor’s words: “It took all the strength I had just not to fall apart.”

The saving grace is that he is the difficult one now. Madeline (my almost 10-year-old) is at that golden age where she’s helpful (for the most part, although her room looks like a disaster zone) and loves to be in my company. Rachel (7) and Mary E. (5) are getting along much better than they have in the past. Last year Thomas was easy, but I was having difficulties and stressing out over another child. God really doesn’t give me more than I can handle. Sometimes it just feels like it, but I’ve rarely been in a place where all my children were going through challenging developmental stages.

And I know that it is now – when books like When Your Child Drives You Crazy I will survive clutter my nightstand – that the most growth is going to happen within me.

Moms, don’t be (too) weary if you’re traveling down a difficult path right now in your parenting journey. Don’t wonder if you’re the only one who finds a newborn baby, a toddler, a preschooler, a 6-year-old, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, a grown child, a special-needs child, a girl, a boy, whatever difficult to mother. Because you’re not the only one. Wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given right now is probably the hardest for you. Maybe that’s the point. What would be easy for you may not be the best for you.

If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind who will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need good girlfriends we can vent to. We need spouses or other loved ones to lean on. We need community. We need to take care of ourselves to better take care of those entrusted to us. And we need faith. Faith is what makes our weakness – whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional – stronger. We have to have faith that this will pass, that we will survive.

Sometimes we have to simply show up – and to stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it.

These are the kind of things I have to tell myself day after day right now as I try to figure out this rambunctious, toddler boy thing out.

I openly admit that I don’t have it all together. I have done things I regret. I haven’t always been gentle and firm. I’ve given up on God many times.

There are moments when I feel like my toddler is winning, but then I remind myself this isn’t a war. This isn’t about who is right or the most stubborn or the most in control. It is about love – the kind that sometimes really, really hurts to give. No, it’s not a war, but there is fighting. I have to keep on fighting to give of myself, to trust that a child who has started to pull our dog’s tail is not destined for juvenile delinquency. I have to fight to forgive myself and my boy when we reveal our raw humanness. At some point or another, we are all scared and tired moms who keep fighting. We are burnt out moms who are overwhelmed by keeping up with laundry and wayward tots or teens all day long, but we keep fighting and giving.

A mother doesn’t have superhero powers or even super patience. A mother is just a person – a woman like you or me – but she does super-amazing things. She is the woman with people in her care whom she loves and sometimes wonders how she loves them because they are driving her absolutely crazy. Yet, she still does love them. She gives, she fights, prays, and works. She shows up day after day for what sometimes can feel like a thankless or even pointless job. And it’s in this showing up minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day that just may make a mother a saint.

Thomas in Maine 2014 300x225 I will survive

 

 

f mine that wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given is probably the hardest for you. If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind that will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need Him. We need to keep a constant dialogue open with God throughout our days. Even when we find ourselves questioning everything about God – whether we’ll ever have a personal relationship with Him, whether He even really exists or cares deeply, profoundly about us and our children – we have to keep talking. We don’t have to pray like others pray. We have to pray as we pray. Sometimes we have to simply show up – and stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it. – See more at: http://katewicker.com/2011/12/it-is-not-the-will-of-your-heavenly-father-that-one-of-these-little-ones-be-lost.html#sthash.pfxWi3sX.dpuf
start comparing who is harder – girls or boys. I loved what someone wrote after an older post of mine that wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given is probably the hardest for you. If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind that will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need Him. We need to keep a constant dialogue open with God throughout our days. Even when we find ourselves questioning everything about God – whether we’ll ever have a personal relationship with Him, whether He even really exists or cares deeply, profoundly about us and our children – we have to keep talking. We don’t have to pray like others pray. We have to pray as we pray. Sometimes we have to simply show up – and stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it. -
It took all the strength I had
not to fall apart

Food as love

In my spice cabinet, there resides a simple tin shaker emblazoned with a big red “C” (Nail polish color: Fire Engine Red). The container is filled with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, and I use it to occasionally add a dash of sweetness to my children’s apple slices, applesauce, oatmeal, or buttery toast.

The shaker is just like the one my grandfather – known as Papa – used to have in his kitchen. And so every time I see it stashed in my cabinet packed in with the clear cylinders of dried basil, crushed ginger, and cumin, I’m reminded of my papa, a man who believed food and serving it to others was the chief nourishment of life itself.

Growing up, my family made the trek up to my grandparents’ home in Illinois from Georgia each year. There we celebrated with family, fun, Mass, and food. Lots of it. From the moment you slipped out of bed you were well-fed. Papa, in the fashion of a professional short-order cook, would whip up breakfast for a gaggle of hungry kids and their parents. We’d all gather around a long picnic table covered with a vinyl red and white checkered tablecloth. Here, we laughed and waited for Papa to feed us mouths poised like a bunch of hungry, helpless baby birds. Then we’d eat, and it was love at first bite. We’d applaud his culinary brilliance and often ask for seconds. He’d happily oblige.

Papa was a dutiful chef who took personal orders – especially at the breakfast table. My mom might request a poached egg. Dad might order white rice swimming in butter and dusted with cinnamon-sugar from the very tin I modeled my own after. But the grandkids – we all wanted Papa’s famous cinnamon toast. Papa somehow always managed to toast the bread to perfection. I’ve never had much luck with toasters – the bread always comes out brittle or not toasted at all. But Papa’s bread turned a slight golden brown, and he spread butter evenly across its warm, crispy surface. Then he sprinkled the perfect amount of cinnamon-sugar mixture over the bread so that you tasted the creamed sweetness with each bite but never encountered any sugary clumps. I’d chomp into it and taste his genius and wonder how a man who was legally blind – Papa suffered from macular degeneration – could possibly know how to add just the right amount of butter and cinnamon-sugar to make the best cinnamon toast my taste buds had ever encountered. In between bites, I’d take swigs of cold milk. It was a sublime breakfast.

My grandparents eventually left Illinois and joined the flocks of snowbirds and moved to Florida. We no longer had the big table to gather at, but food remained the highlight of our visits.

When my firstborn was only a few months old, my husband, our baby, and I went to visit my grandparents. When I woke up in the early morning to the sound of the surf dancing across the sand below, I crept into the kitchen. Papa, also an early riser, was there to greet me – and to serve me as well.

“What would you like for breakfast?” he asked.

I wasn’t really hungry yet but to turn him down felt like rejecting his love.

Before I could answer, he asked his grown granddaughter if she wanted some eggs. Almost shyly, I asked if he could instead make his cinnamon toast. He grinned, clapped his hands, and said, “You bet!” Then he pulled out his token sugar-cinnamon tin can.

My papa had always been big (he loved to make and eat food), but old age was taking its toll on him. This larger-than-life man was shrinking before my eyes and as I watched veined, wrinkled hands at work in the kitchen, I knew there might not be too many more breakfasts of Papa’s cinnamon toast to savor.

I’m not always so prescient, but that was the last time I tasted Papa’s cinnamon toast. His body would shut down and he would die not long after.

But Papa left a legacy behind. An aunt of mine compiled his favorite recipes – handwritten in his writing in big letters his weak eyes could decipher – and made copies for all of us. Today Papa’s love lives on in drops of his signature orange sauce, the deep flavor of his vichyssoise, and in the simplicity of old standbys like cinnamon toast and buttery white rice served every Christmas morning.

With America’s obesity epidemic and the myriad health problems an excess of eating brings, to say that food is love has become somewhat taboo. But my papa taught me that food is indeed more than just something you make or eat. It’s an act of love to both graciously receive well-prepared food as well as to make it. There is something sacrificial in dishes prepared by our hands, dough kneaded, risotto stirred to the perfect consistency, and homemade chocolate chip cookies gooey hot out of the oven served with a side of love to a hungry child or spouse.

Papa nourished the ones he loved with meals. He understood that we are meant to break bread together. For Papa, the art of celebrating food and family was more than tradition – it was a way of life. Just like the Eucharist is to the Church family. We feast, and we receive the love that is God in our hearts. We are nourished. We want for nothing. Food is most definitely sometimes love. It goes down so easily.

In my own kitchen, when preparing a meal starts to feel more like a burden than a labor of love, when chopping my toddler’s food into minuscule, choke-proof chunks is tedium rather than an adventure in the culinary craft, I think of my papa who trained me well in the art of serving food and love on one platter. Like holy relics, the cinnamon-sugar shaker or the notebook of his favorite recipes scrawled on paper as jaundiced and thin as pages of parchment come out of their hiding places. And as I stir, chop, and taste test, I’m reminded that in this kitchen, I’m don’t only fill stomachs, I fill hearts – just as my papa showed his love for all of us as we gathered around his kitchen table. Just as Christ offers us the Bread of Life, in serving my family meal after meal, in gathering them together, in preparing and sharing an extra meal for a friend who has just had a baby or is just having a hard time, I am nourishing souls and offering the taste of God’s goodness in the gift of wholesome and delicious love.

{Let’s Not} Bring Sexy Back

I was in the kitchen making final dinner preparations as my older children were setting the table when I overheard my then 4-year-old ask her 9-year-old big sister, “Maddy, why is sexy a bad word?”

There was a pregnant pause. Then Madeline slowly began to speak, “Well…uh. You know, I think that’s a question for Mommy.”

Smart girl.

The kids have asked me why I don’t want them to listen to certain pop songs that have sage phrases like “I’m sexy and I know it” or “bring sexy back.” I haven’t gone into great deal, but I have started to explain the difference between the words “beautiful” and “sexy.”

When I first became a mother, I harbored a lot of fear about my daughter’s perception of beauty because I had suffered from an eating disorder and struggled with my own body image and had made my appearance my idol. I was terrified that my own children would make let their outward appearance become a barometer of their self-worth and waste precious years of their lives at war with the scale and the mirror.

Fortunately for me, my first daughter was born pining for pirate parties and soccer. She didn’t seem to pay much attention to the frilly stuff. Rachel, my second, liked to play dress up and pretend she was a princess, but it was just one of many interests, and these days she prefers reading while wearing comfy clothes rather than pretty frocks.

Enter Mary Elizabeth. The girl has loved makeup and shoes from the day she first discovered my vanity and closet. She piles on the pink puffery, and most of her tantrums involve bad hair days or wardrobe malfunctions. She never leaves the house without myriad accessories. At a recent birthday party, a friend of mine complimented her shiny bracelet bling. She told her thank you and that it was her “party bangle.” I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word bangle.

IMG 5267 225x300 {Lets Not} Bring Sexy Back

Our resident girly-girl

When she was probably around 2, I recall her picking up a blush brush and making it dance across her cheeks. My first impulse was to tell her to stop, but I hesitated when I saw the way she was smiling at her reflection. I had a parenting epiphany. I had no business trying to dissuade her from pursuing beauty or encouraging her to eschew all things feminine. God designed her to be a mark of beauty in the world and to find a way to express her femininity. For some women like my Mary Elizabeth, that may involve applying tasteful makeup and wearing pretty things, and that’s okay. And truthfully, taking one look at my closet clues you into the fact that I am drawn to pretty things (shoes!), too.

Over time, I’ve grown in wisdom and now recognize that when any of my daughters want to slap on some lip gloss or play with a makeup brush, they aren’t on an extreme makeover mission. My daughters don’t (yet) see their bodies or faces as objects to be adorned or altered. They see them as canvases on which to paint, as mirrors with the potential to reflect inner as well as outer beauty.

As humans, we are drawn to beauty. As women, we may be similarly drawn to making ourselves beautiful even as we recognize that beauty transcends the external and the material world. This desire to be beautiful might make some women uncomfortable. It may feel an awful lot like superficial vanity. But as Pope Benedict XVI explained, our attraction to beauty is a power that “unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards each other, to reach for the beyond.” In other words, the pursuit of beauty is good because it leads us to a deeper yearning for the divine. God is the source of all beauty.

But most of the pop singers aren’t crooning, “God made me beautiful, and I know it.”

One of the problems is in today’s world “sexy” and “beautiful” have become interchangeable and seem to mean the same thing even though they’re entirely different. Mary is beautiful without drawing attention to herself or being “sexy.” Sure, Marilyn Monroe was beautiful, but so was Mother Teresa.

Sorry, Justin, but we really don’t need to bring sexy back. It’s already rampant. We need to put it back in its place and reserve it as an offering from a wife to a husband, not as the goal for our daughters.

What I will one day tell my daughters is this: Pursuing sexiness over beauty leaves a woman feeling empty. A “sexy” woman might feel she’s only as valuable as how much she’s noticed. She feels all she has to offer the world is skin. I know because I was once the college girl singing in the church choir who wore her skirts way too short. I didn’t believe in my own worth, so I needed men to notice me to affirm that I was someone of value. In fact, I still struggle with searching for external ways to give myself value, but I am hoping my own challenges will better equip me to empower these lovely daughters of mine.

And I know I am not alone in my struggles. Modern Western society has distorted what it means to be beautiful as well as worthwhile, and this is why so many grapple with poor body image. It’s why young women feel the need to wear flashy, immodest clothing, or moms chronically diet, or grandmothers tirelessly fight the aging process. Attention from men or even compliments from girlfriends make us feel attractive, and, hey, if others think I’m attractive or sexy, then that must mean I am a little bit beautiful and if I’m beautiful, then I’m worthwhile and have something to offer the world.

But we’ve got it backwards. To reclaim the beauty of Creation, we have to turn that equation inside out. I want my daughters to recognize their worth and their dignity lies in their being, not their doing or their looks. I want them to know that it is in their ability to love and accept love in return that makes them truly beautiful. This is the kind of beauty cannot help but attract people. We know our value and have dignity and so we express that beauty to everyone we meet, and that is what makes us beautiful.

Unfortunately, our primary conception of beauty is that of the pretty, sexy variety. It’s a kind of beauty that grabs our attention and takes our sensations hostage.

Most wouldn’t argue that a woman on the cover of a Victoria Secret’s catalogue isn’t beautiful, but she possesses a kind of beauty that doesn’t give. Sexiness grabs. It seizes. It can be almost violent – a force that takes a hold of others. Sexiness has its place. A woman who feels sexy for her husband is one thing; a child who sees being pretty and sexy as synonymous and wears flashy, immodest clothing is another. Sexiness should be reserved for our spouses, and it shouldn’t be inexorably linked to our beauty.

Pursuing raw sexiness (no pun intended) simply takes more than it gives.

Real beauty, on the contrary, is a gift. Authentic beauty is Eucharistic; it is transformed to what is offered and becomes a living sign of Christ’s love.

I brought dinner into the dining room and smiled at my daughters. My young daughter forgot to ask me about why “sexy” isn’t a good word, and I considered sharing my heart, but I’m not sure they’re all ready for that. For now, I will keep blacklisting the word “sexy” from their vernacular. I’ll keep encouraging my girls to be drawn to the beautiful, to share their beauty with others and to believe in it, and to sing with all their heart, “God created me. I am beautiful and I know it.”

 

 

 

 

More Posts from Kate's Blog...