Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan

Rest and Rise

I recently reached the point in the ‘ole pandemic in which I was crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I mean…if you’re not crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, are you even coronavirus-ing?? The tl:dr version is that I hit a wall.

The long version is that it was the first day of our weekend. My husband had worked yet another 60+ hour work week, and while I am eternally, eternally grateful that he’s still got a job, his working so much means I’m home alone with the kids. Again, I am so grateful but it’s hard. (Yet another of life’s strange truths: you can be indescribably thankful for something and also be completely over it.)

I started the day tender, emotional, and testy. I eventually set out to do my once a week apocalyptic Wal-Mart run, which was awful because Wal-Mart and also extra awful because pandemic. Ugh. The register was possessed and either wouldn’t scan things or inexplicably scanned things that weren’t even near it. Not kidding, a package of graham crackers was ghost scanned like ten times, so the poor cashier had to void that out and then move on to peppers that wouldn’t scan at all. The whole experience was trying, made extra frustrating by the fact that I got home and realized I had left two bags at the store.

I took it really well. (Please see: lying liar who lies.)

After I finished teaching the kids new curse words (let’s be honest, reviewing the word’s we’ve been working on for the last few weeks), I set in to fight with my husband who was being nice to me. He foolishly offered to help me, perhaps forgetting that I am a native Texan born and bred and also the clone of my mother and don’t nobody try to help me when I need it thankyouverymuch. It was one of those moments when I knew I was completely in the wrong and I needed to shut up and be humble enough to accept help, but I just couldn’t get my dumb self to do it. Lawd.

So I found myself crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, texting a dear friend who replied, “I feel like that so often. Cry it out is my theory. Don’t block the feeling because this f*$%&@! sucks.” And ain’t that just the perfect truth? So I cried at Wal-Mart and went in to get my stuff and kept on moving forward, which is just kinda where we’re all at these days. (As an aside, can I just say that masks work real well to hide the fact that you’ve been crying in the parking lot, a perk I wasn’t expecting when this whole mask thing began. So there’s a little silver lining.)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. Trying to piece together why I’m wound so tight, finding it so hard to cope some days. Even my (completely patient and not stubborn like me) mother told me yesterday that she, a retired person, feels inordinately stressed, rushed, and busy. She’s been making masks for folks, perfecting her pattern and sending them off to friends and family who need them, but other than that her daily life hasn’t changed all that much. She lives in a rural area in Texas that sort of forces her to isolate just due to geography. Mom and I agreed that, regardless of our life situation, there’s a pervading sense of urgency to everything we’re doing these days that seeps into our consciousness. The fact that we’re always at home doesn’t affect this pressure at all. We’re collectively operating under a sustained high level of stress, like some sort of twisted carpe diem that urges us to hustle and do “enough” while we’re effectively forced to tread water. What a time to be alive.

Separated from the Sacraments, unable to do my weekly holy hour in Adoration, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more prickly. I’ve allowed myself to settle into the mindset that I have to do things myself, my wellbeing is dependent upon my actions, I’ve got to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and it is through my own power that I will forge on ahead into the new normal, as they say.

I realize that this is clearly not due to separation on God’s part, for He is nothing if not constant. This change in attitude is due to my own weakness and sin. I’ve allowed my grief to build up walls in my heart. We’ve lost so much and I think it’s normal for our defense mechanisms to spring up. Perhaps you’re finding that, like me, you’ve become critical, prickly, and judgmental when you desperately desire to be gentle, open, loving, and free.

While this response is normal, it’s never satisfying, at least for me. The walls I put up on my heart always end up being constricting and the “control” I create is stifling and suffocating, certainly not freeing like I intend. I find that my version of “in control” often ends up looking more like paranoia and a vice grip on the steering wheel rather than the confidence and peace I’m really searching for.

The truth is, of course, that nothing I manufacture for myself will ever satisfy. The deeper truth is in the resurrection, the truth that every death I experience is a new beginning and Jesus is deeply present in both. Right now we’re in an ongoing new beginning that seems to stretch on in an eternity of unknowns. We have laid so much down, been required to offer up, sacrifice, let go, and take away. It hurts, this death of our previous lives. It hurts deeply. But after death there is always resurrection. Christ is present in it all consistently redeeming it with His endless mercy and grace. In a reflection over at Blessed is She, Kelsey Dassance says, “Let us rest and rise in His invitation to grace. Let’s live for eternal life.”

Rest and rise. I love that.

Guys, we can rest in grief. We can let ourselves be sad and cry in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We can take a moment and feel the weariness and acknowledge the fear. But we are an Easter people, are we not? We get to live the truth of the resurrection every single day. It is only in claiming that truth that we can make peace with where we’re at.

Claim the truth of the resurrection every moment of every day. That which has been killed, the places we’re laid low, the dead ends, the broken backs, the space where we’re just done…that’s where He is. Christ is right there waiting to hold space with us, be near us in our woundedness and redeem it all. Each ending, however large or inconsequential it may seem, is an opportunity to receive Him. The key, I think, is in laying down our will and taking up His. Christ specifically said,

“…I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

John 6:37-40

Guys, whether we’re grouchy, afraid, crying at the Wal-Mart, or lashing out when others offer us help, now is the time to rest and to rise. Now is the time to live the truth of the resurrection over and over and over again, as many times a day as we need. Jesus is constantly working, constantly moving, always redeeming and raising us up in every single dead space we experience. But we have to claim it. We have to open our prickly, grouchy, fear filled hearts, rest in Him and rise in His truth.

And as a caveat, let me remind you that we’re not required to rise and seize the day and come out of all this like perfectly transformed butterflies with new business ideas, angelic children, and the recipe for world peace. Shit, we don’t even have to have mastered foamy coffee or sourdough. We’re simply called to rest and rise in Christ. And when we rise, let us rise in the deep truth of our identity: that we were created from love and created to love. Let that be our transformation, to love others and ourselves through the gentle, redeeming eyes of a Savior who’s been there.

Rest and rise today, my friends. You are indescribably precious and loved.

Fashion Blogger

Welp, it’s been a minute hasn’t it? I don’t know how I’m suddenly so busy except to say that I’ve decided that it’s finally time for me to pursue my true calling in life and embrace my identity as fashion blogger.

I know what you’re thinking. “Mary Susan,” you think. “You’ve always been known as an international fashion icon! Whatever can you have up your obscenely fashionable sleeve??”

Well, let me just tell you what’s up. I feel as though my entire life has been leading me to this moment, a moment in which so many seemingly unrelated paths have converged resulting in a cataclysmic realization of my true calling as uber fashionable fashion person.

I mean…the fact that we’re in a global pandemic, giving me more time to focus on my looks, combined with the fact that one person on the internet told me that I should definitely do more how-to, instructional type posts ought to be enough confirmation for anyone that this is who I am now.

And so I begin. Ahem.


We currently find ourselves in a time of social isolation and many moderately attractive women are completely throwing in the towel! Is it acceptable to toss fashion to the wayside simply because we never leave our homes, never see humans aside from those we spewed forth from our loins, never have an occasion for dressing up??? I submit that it is both not acceptable and unacceptable.

Certainly, we are compelled to admit that times have changed and thus, fashion must change as well. Take me, for example. I have absolutely, 100% not at all let my looks go just because of a silly little pandemic. No, ma’am. I have merely adapted to the “new normal” as they say and have upgraded my normal “chic mom about town” look to a more relaxed “chic mom about house” vibe. Tres chic.

Here’s how to achieve this look in a few hundred simple steps:

First you’re going to want to be really sporadic about hygiene. Now is the time to go aaaalll natural and embrace the primitive essence of our ancestors. This means that if you do shower daily, you need to keep in mind that time in the shower is time away from your offspring and you certainly wouldn’t want that. At the very least, try to make sure that you don’t wash your hair. Just hit the important spots and get out of there asap before a kid gets out the glue again.

Now, some might argue that letting go of hygiene is literally the opposite of what I just said about not throwing in the towel. But let me remind you that we are playing the long game here. We’re going for wow-factor and impact, so setting the bar low for a while is important. Also, not showering allows you to literally not throw the towel in the laundry, thus saving some time for other more important pursuits like binge watching Schitt’s Creek (because ironic fashionistas do not watch Tiger King like commoners, thankyouverymuch.)

Okay, so the moment you shower, people will notice. I, for one, had not released my hair from a greasy ponytail for at least a fortnight. I showered yesterday, strode into my living room like a queen, and the people practically applauded.

When choosing an ensemble like the one above, here are some tips and tricks:

  • Pair your oldest, nastiest, holey-est (not holiest, save those for Sunday) pair of leggings with some slippers that smell like death are are also falling apart. They have these at Wal-Mart and sometimes come with the smell built right in. Voila!
  • Combine that with a dressed up top such as a doula t-shirt that reads, “Your worth is not measured in centimeters.” It’s both true and everyone knows that a good cervical dilation reference is all the fashion these days.
  • Next, throw on a cardigan because layering.
  • Now, you have the option of make up at this point. I personally just like to *think* about putting on make up. I find that the mere thought of make up is enough to flush the natural pigment of my face, so I just go with that. Either way, follow your heart.
  • Lastly, let that hair be free. Just let it hang all scraggly and limply wet.
  • Also, if you’re going to photograph your look, be sure to really dial in on the artistry of grunge by using a mirror that hasn’t been washed in ages and a cluttered and dusty background. People will think it’s a photo from Vogue and it practically is!

When I revealed this look yesterday, my eldest child literally said to me and I quote, “Wow, Mom! Are you going somewhere?? You look nice!!” Mission. Accomplished. Sassy. Fashion. Snap.

And here’s another note on hair. If you want to attempt to copy me (and who doesn’t) my biggest piece of advice is to let your hair air dry. It’s important to honor the hair and let it choose your fate. Your hair will lead you to fashion, that’s just the honest truth.

Again, I give you an example for to meditate upon. Here I am after letting my beautiful locks air dry while chatting on the phone with a pal about current events. Feast your eyes on the finished product.

I hope these tips and tricks have inspired you to aim for greater levels of beauty in these time of social distance. However, I do want to offer just a word of caution. Guys, we can’t all be me. Some of you are going to have to face facts and understand that natural beauty trumps effort every time. I’m sorry to say that some of you might have a hard time duplicating my looks and I’m immensely disappointed on your behalf. It’s tough to be this gorgeous and, while I’m sad that you’re probably jealous, I guess this is just my cross to bear.

Do let me know what other hard hitting fashion tips you’d like me to cover. I mean, I’m obv an influencer now, so it’s only a matter of time before the requests to do product reviews to start rolling in and I’m swamped with interviews for In-Style and Country Living. So, get those requests in now and I’ll be happy to continue to teach you how to be a fashion maven like moi!

xoxo,

Mary Susan

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

You Matter

Guys, I’m struggling a lot lately and I know a lot of other people who are, too. It just seems like so many of us can’t catch a break. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. A myriad of big and little hurts has piled up and we can’t catch our breath for the weight of life pressing down on us. This is hard.

 

But here is what I know to be true: We matter. You matter.

 

flowers stock photo

 

Pope Benedict XVI said,

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

 

You are necessary, friend. You are valuable. You were thought up and planned out and you are important.

 

I’m going to take some time today to meditate on that truth, the truth that I’m necessary and I’m loved. I’m going to dig deep and breath deep and do my damnedest to feel it deep in my core that I am a remarkable creation, deeply loved by God, redeemed by Christ, and pursued by the Holy Spirit. And you are, too.

 

You are so incredible. I hope you know that.

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo via https://www.pexels.com/photo/flowers-flower-pink-17666/

On Bodies

I knew it would happen sooner or later. Kids are curious and vocal, so I can’t say I was super surprised by the question my five-year-old posed to another mom after story time.

 

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

 

Shit.

 

She clearly didn’t. I mean, she was wearing an empire waist dress, but she was obviously not pregnant. Also, we’ve got a hard and fast rule about saving your questions/comments about other people’s bodies until we’re in a private place.

 

The mom (a new and wonderful friend even after the comment, thank goodness) brushed it off with a self deprecating comment about how her belly was just “big” – she’s got a body I totally envy, by the way – and we got on with our conversation. It really wasn’t a big deal, except it was. It is a big deal.

 

Body image is a huge deal to me, something I desperately want to get right with my kids. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these little souls in my care are completely and utterly beloved by their Creator. I believe that more than I believe almost anything else in the whole world. They are glorious creatures and I will fight to the death for them to know that and hold it as truth deep within themselves.

 

I feel like I’m in a losing fight, though. I mean, I’m just one person and these sweet babies are living in a broken world, a twisted system that has been screaming the opposite from the moment they were born. My five-year-old girl has already been so inundated with labels, and appearance, and the importance of prettiness…it’s second nature to her and to me, too, if I’m honest.

 

I also feel like I’m up against a ticking clock. Right now, these kids take my word for Gospel. But that window is rapidly closing and we all know the day will come when my opinion won’t count half as much as the opinions of their peers. And I get that it’s just the way it goes.

 

I’m also very aware of politeness. I mean, it’s generally pretty rude to make comments about people’s appearance. And the Southerner in me is horrified by the thought of having impolite children.

 

But, after the episode at the library, I couldn’t bring myself to chastise my daughter because I really didn’t feel that she’d done anything wrong. I refuse to squelch her curiosity and I felt like the whole thing was more of an issue of tact than anything else. Honestly, I had no idea how to broach the subject with her.

 

Because the whole damn thing is a catch 22, isn’t it? At our house we believe that all humans deserve dignity and respect because they are creations of God. We believe that all bodies are worthy of respect…big, fat, tall, skinny, whatever. Those are descriptors. All bodies are valuable and, because of that value, they are beautiful. But we also believe that words have power. So, even though I know the word “fat” is just a descriptor, and even though I know that  am fat and most days I’m okay with that because the word “fat” in no way negates my value as a human, I also know we’re functioning in a broken system. I can’t very well teach my kids that words like “fat” are just descriptors and send them out to the playground. The first time they describe someone as “fat,” they’ll be accused of being mean and that’ll leave them so confused and hurt.

 

So what do I do? How do I teach my daughter to love her body and to recognize all bodies as valuable and worthy of love in a world that won’t play ball?

 

I stewed over this for weeks and finally called my best friend who gave me some good advice, ’cause that’s what brilliant best friends do. Acknowledging the weird double-standard of the situation, we agreed that my aforementioned rule of “don’t talk about people’s bodies until we’re in a private place,” should stand. And then she suggested that I give the kids some options. And it’s brilliant. In my experience, children respond better to alternatives than to just being told to say or do nothing. Teaching kids methods of self soothing as an alternative to violent outbursts is far more successful than just telling them not to get mad, for example. Also, I don’t like the idea of children internalizing things and not being allowed to ask questions. We need more question askers in my opinion.

 

So, instead of saying, “Is there a baby in your belly?” my daughter can say, “I love the happy colors in your dress,” and then feel free to ask me about the baby thing when we’re one-on-one.When I discussed it later with the kids, it went a little something like this,

We know that it doesn’t matter what you look like, a person’s heart is what makes them beautiful. But not everybody knows that. Sometimes people believe that you have to look a certain way to be beautiful or people sometimes think that there’s something wrong with their bodies. And it seems kind of silly to us because we know that that’s not true, but those people are confused and it makes them sad to talk about their bodies. We always want people to feel loved when they’re with us, so we don’t talk about things that might make them sad or hurt their feelings.  If you have a question about someone’s body or how they look, that’s totally fine, but wait until we’re alone and then you can ask me about it without being rude.

 

And then I gave them some options of what to say instead.

“I love the way your eyes look when you smile.”

“I like your purple shirt; that’s one of my favorite colors!”

“You look really strong/happy/joyful/healthy today.

“I really like playing with you; you’ve got great dance moves.”

I also think it’s important to consider how to compliment and comment on the person rather than just their appearance.There was a fantastic article by Sarah Powers in the Washington Post on how to compliment little girls that addresses this really, really well. Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas also has a good post on how to nurture a positive self-image in our girls.

While I certainly haven’t solved the world’s body image issues here, I think I’ve found a solution that will work for our family. We’ve practiced what we might say in certain social situations, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there won’t be more awkward gaffes in our future. And that’s cool because that’s how we learn. Ultimately I just want to raise some decent humans who make other humans feel decent, too.

What are your thoughts on teaching young kids about body image and respecting others? How would you have handled the situation? Lemme know!

xoxo,

Mary Susan

How Do I Love Me? (Let me count the ways…) – Shamekia’s Story

 

 

Shamekia is a goofball, a Cleveland native, and a human jukebox. Her desire to become Carmen San Diego when she grew up is part of the reason that she has traveled to three African countries in the past four years (Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya). She loves music, food, dancing, cooking, singing (notice a theme here?) and fat animals. She also loves children, particularly when they are listening to stories that she reading aloud.

 

What this really means is that we’re work friends, separated at birth, and making up for lost time just as fast as we can. Here’s Shamekia’s take on loving herself. Enjoy! -Mary Susan

 

 

 

 

 

shamekia

 

How Do I Love Me? (Let me count the ways…)

 

(((Deep Sigh…)))

 

I don’t typically share this with people, but…I didn’t become pretty until I was 27. I won’t bore you with my years of struggle with low self-esteem (although, the struggle is So. Damn. Real, y’all). I’ll just admit that that’s when things started to click for me internally.

 

Most people shudder when I say this, but here goes: I am fat. Legit fat. For some odd reason people think that I’m declaring my ugliness when I say those words. I know I’m beautiful. I know I’m sexy. I’m also fat. The twain shall-and do-meet.

There are days when I forget how far I’ve come (old habits die hard, blah, blah…) yet even in the midst of down feelings, I think I give off a bravado that is more confident than I give myself credit for. It’s like my inner Foxy Brown/Sasha Fierce hops into action (sometimes without my knowledge). Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned to love myself before I appreciated what was happening. Love came on like the dawn. At some point I realized I was standing in full sunlight without realizing that it happened.

 

When things aren’t clicking for me, when I don’t walk with my normal strut, I have to remind myself of when I was 13 (the worst year of literally everyone’s life). I have to tell that girl that things get so much better. I have to tell her that she is and will be surrounded by love and laughter and people that truly respect her. That she is fearfully and wonderfully made by a God that is smarter than her, so don’t succumb to low self-esteem. Ever.

 

Loving my body is a constant lesson, like being given the same homework assignment that’s due every day. So, what’s so great about my body anyway?

 

My lips are the ‘Cupid’s bow’ shape that is simply made for deep red lipstick (shout out to Sephora).

 

My smile makes people happy.

 

My skin is the perfect shade of brown that looks good in every color.

 

My hair (when well behaved) is a rounded crown of ancestral glory.

 

My hips are epic. My. Hips. Are. EPIC. They are all that is great about womanhood and I’ve been told my many that my hips remind them of music.

 

Do I have to remind myself constantly of the prime real estate that my soul occupies? Yes.

 

Do I still battle with comparing myself to others? Sometimes.

 

Everyone has their bad days, and I’m not exempt from that. But that’s when I read my favorite poems:

I surround myself with friends. I cook. I dance. I laugh my ass off. I remember that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.

Words…and an Announcement!

Many of you may know from Facebook, but to make it super-official, I’m excited to share some good news. I am proud to announce that I’ve joined Stephanie from the Help a Girl Out project as a co-writer, project developer, and general brainstormer. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of this project that is already making a huge difference in the lives of women and girls! Go check us out on Tumblr…and just as a little incentive, here’s a teaser from my first official HAGO post. You can read the rest here…thanks for loving and supporting me, y’all! And as always, don’t forget to love yourself! -MS

 

 

The other day a coworker returned to the office from her lunch break visibly irritated about an encounter she’d had at a restaurant. As she was eating her lunch, a nearby child looked at her, then asked his mother, “Mom, why are some people so fat?”

 

When my coworker related this story to us, everyone became irate.

“You’re not fat! You’re beautiful!”

“That’s horrible!”

“I’m so sorry!”

“How rude!”

 

Apparently the child’s mother replied something about how some people eat different things and bodies are different. My coworkers were horrified by this response. They wanted the mother to explain to the child that he shouldn’t make comments on people’s appearance in public. I rather agree with both responses, given that the child was old enough to know about politeness in public. That’s really not the point, either way, though.

 

What horrified me the most was everyone’s reaction to my coworker being labelled “fat.” The feeling of indignation in the room was palpable. It was as though she told us that the child had called her “stupid” and I was reminded of this quote:

 

“She was struck by how mostly slim white people got off at the stops in Manhattan and, as the train went further into Brooklyn, the people left were mostly black and fat. She had not thought of them as “fat,” though. She had thought of them as “big,” because one of the first things her friend Ginika told her was that “fat” in America was a bad word, heaving with moral judgement like “stupid” or “bastard,” and not a mere description like “short” or “tall.” So she had banished “fat” from her vocabulary.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

 

We’ve all been admonished to banish the word “fat” from our vocabulary. How many times have we said, “I’m fat” only to be assured through heartfelt euphemisms that we’re merely big-boned, chubby, fluffy, plus sized, full figured, anything in the entire world but fat.

 

 

Read the rest here!

Go, Shawty! – Layne’s Story

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Layne from mrspennylayne. Guys, Layne is just one of those infectious people gifted with the ability to make folks feel treasured. Because you are treasured when you’re with her; it’s magical. I need you to know that one of my favorite memories of this girl is from college when I directed the pageant on campus (and that’s a completely different post for another time) and Layne’s talent was performing the Evolution of Dance. She nailed it every. single. time. Girl has moves, y’all.

When she’s not dancing, which is rare, she’s hanging out with her husband, John Boy, and their bulldog, Gus, at their lakeside home in Arkansas. Her heart is so good and her blog is fantastic. I seriously can’t tell you how much I enjoy her point of view and distinct writing style. I know that’s the former English teacher in me, but it’s true.  So, please be sure to visit her and give her some love! -MS

 

 

my goodness, it’s good here. it’s comfy to be in ohblessyourheart. it really is. probably because MS has one of the most welcoming hearts i know. her little online living room is just homey to me.

 

my journey to accepting my body as it is started and ended within about a 20 minute time span. maybe a little longer. maybe.

 

i have always been tiny. picture a normal size kid, reduce it by 20%, and there i was. just a tiny little blonde girl with a chipmunk laugh and the uncanny ability to not know when to stop. (i kid. except i was a teensy bit annoying. still am. workin’ on it.) sure, elementary school was hard, and i got teased a lot and really bullied quite a few times. but i was raised in a traditional home with some really great people. for the most part, i never felt like i had to hide who i was. (my parents, to this day, celebrate my quirks. Christmas 2012? “we picked out the ugliest purse. it looked just like you.” it totally did, and i love it even now. and then when everyone got little disney coin purses to keep in their car? “we got you stitch because you’re kind of a mess.”) all that to say, i never felt stifled growing up. but at 4’9.5″ i was just waiting to…actually…grow…up.

 

 

this was taken in fall 2012. yes…that’s me, age 25, unable to ride a state fair of texas ride. the struggle is real.

 

 

i don’t know what made us check. honestly, it was probably an episode of oprah or something. but we decided when i was 14-years-old to make an appointment with an endocrinologist. at the time i thought this was cutting edge technology. (and it really might have been. i have no clue. i never researched it after my 20 minutes of dreaming.) they could take a sample of your blood and determine if you were going to grow anymore. i remember dreaming of the possibilities. what if i were 5’3″ and could be like my friends that grew over summer and looked so skinny come fall? what if i were taller than my sister? my parents? what would my new legs look like? (i literally have short everything. short arms. short torso. short legs. short attention span. glitter. ponies. donuts. bye-bye.) they took my blood. i think i might have cried for a minute because i hated having my blood drawn. then we waited anxiously in the doctor’s office and dreamt of the possibilities.

 

“well, it’s official. you are not going to grow another inch.” (he lied. i grew a half an inch my senior year. rounding me out to a grand total of 4’10.”)

 

just like that, my dreams of long limbs and towering over everyone were crushed. it took 20 minutes total. it should’ve broken me. 14 is a fragile age for any girl, and i was no exception. but, ya’ll, it was somehow one of the most empowering moments i had ever experienced. i remember looking around the room and having the emotional equivalent of an “opa!” moment. it just somehow, magically, didn’t bother me. i remember thinking to myself, “welp, this is as good as it gets. better get used to it. it’s my forever.”

 

for me, it was a gift. it took the guesswork out, and it made me feel 20 steps ahead in this difficult self-acceptance journey. i just felt free. i felt like myself because i was myself. this was me.

 

sure, i still sometimes wish i was a little taller. when you’re this far under 5 foot, it’s hard to stay in shape. on a good day, my body is kind of pin-up. on a normal day, my body is kind of pinup gummy bear. i have a theory that when you gain 1lb. it looks like you’ve gained 10lbs. and, lucky me, for whatever reason, i gain weight in my face first. thanks for that, universe. care for a few more details? i’ve broken my nose well over 10 times. even tried to have surgery to fix it, but it got broken again. it’s so, so crooked now. i was told by a doctor that i have the equivalent of a 90-year-old person’s back. all kindsa loss of disk space and arthritis goin’ on there. i have random bouts of anxiety, and i have years of insomnia under my belt. (thanks, night shift!)

 

but you know what? it’s my body. all of it. mine. i could’t possibly be another inch taller because then i wouldn’t be me. and i have to be who i was created to be. it’s the only way my life feels comfortable. my short, curvy figure, my crooked nose, my crazy wonky back, and my ability to stay up for 30 hours for no reason. i can’t claim that i never have moments of insecurity. i have them all. the. time. it’s just part of being an ever-evolving human. i get self-conscious about my nose or if i randomly gain a few pounds. but i always go back to one particular quote that grounds me and helps me over and over again: comparison is the thief of joy.

 

and i wholeheartedly love this joyful life. opa.

I Move Through Every Inch of Me – Kate’s Story

kateLater in the Love Yourself series, we’re going to discuss the plus-sized end of the weight spectrum. Today, I’m proud to share Kate’s story, which covers the complex issue of struggling to put on enough weight while being told that certain parts of her body were too big. Kate’s story is one of bullying,confusion, and ultimately redemption.

Kate is a dear, dear friend of mine. She’s the kind of friend I call and random times with random questions and she always assures me that I/my children are completely normal. (No, that doesn’t make her a liar. It makes her nice.) I can’t begin to count the number of times we’ve talked each other down from one cliff or another. She’s a Parent Educator with a MS in Family and Child Studies. Kate lives in Texas with her rescued pup, Penny, where she dances, tells stories, knits, paints, and loves on kids and families. You can read all about Kate and Penny’s adventures here.

Don’t forget to love yourself today! -MS

 

 

I Move Through Every Inch of Me

I grew up with a nontraditional body image issue. I was always fairly severely underweight (due, in part, to being on Ritalin from the age of six, and an undiagnosed acid reflux issue), never got enough sleep, and wasn’t physically active. I was pale, skinny, and had large, dark circles under my eyes.

 

My slender frame didn’t save me from ridicule. Kids are pretty awful. “She’s so skinny, I bet she even smells like spaghetti” was whispered behind my back at age ten, and in high school, a girl told me a boy had said “She looks like a man trapped in a woman’s body.” “You’re flat, Kate, like Meryl Streep” my well-meaning best friend in fifth grade said.

 

And yet, I knew gaining weight would be bad. Very bad. I watched female relatives (who I thought slender) go on diets when they went over a certain weight. Even my classmates were taking slim fast in their lunch.

 

The year I turned twelve, I started out weighing 66lbs, and ended weighing 86. I finally registered on the percentile. Hopefully people stopped thinking I was anorexic or being starved.

 

But then I hit an interesting dilemma. I was fourteen and at a pool party for my dance team. The director (who was already pulling girls aside and telling them they couldn’t dance until they lost weight) was telling us “Every girl either has a stomach problem or a butt problem.”

 

I glanced down at my flat stomach, knowing I was as small as I could possibly be. Sarcastically, I said, “I guess I have a butt problem, then!”

 

She looked at me, looked down at my hips, and gave me a knowing look I translated to “Uh, DUH!”

 

I was so startled. I knew my waist was really small, and I knew there was nowhere “in” to go as far as my hips were concerned. And hadn’t my relatives always protested when I wanted to sit on their lap because I had a “bony butt?”

 

But then this knowing woman had just affirmed that something on my body was too…big?

 

It continued. Measuring us for our crushed velvet unitards (I KNOW), she winked at me and told me she’d “give me 30” on my bust measurement, measured my waist (almost 24), and said “but what I’m really worried about is your hips.”

 

At the end of the season, she separated us into groups, the circles and the lines. The circles had to run a whole lot, and the lines had to tone. I was in the lines. But then she began workout stations and looked pointedly at me when she said “This one will help trim your hips.”

 

I began to think maybe she was right. Even after I realized how manipulative and awful she was and left the team, going to a strength and stretch class with my mom, I told the instructor I wanted to “trim up these,” pinching the tiny amounts of fat accumulated in between my hips and waist. Any time the question of figure came up, I told people I was a flashlight, which was straight until it hit the lens, then out sharply and straight down. I turned around in the mirror, constantly checking. What did a good butt look like?

 

College came around. I continued the narrative. “I look like a teenager” “I have a…big? butt, possibly” “I don’t have a figure” “I look like a prepubescent girl.” A popular thing for girls to say was that we were made to look exactly such a way that would be most pleasing to our future husbands (a concept I find absolutely disgusting now). My (often silent) humorous reply was “oh no, I’m going to marry a pedophile!” I remember one wonderful moment when, after hearing me joking about my sub-par body, my friend Summer stopped me on the stairs in our dorm and said “KATE! You have a FIGURE.”

 

Wait, what? Is that what that was? I have…a figure. Hips, not a huge butt, but a graceful curve coming from a narrow waist, which rested beneath broad shoulders…almost an hourglass.

 

But, still…

 

Surely no normal man would be attracted to this flat, altogether unattractive, loud, opinionated girl, preordained since before the beginning of time or not.

 

And I was proved right over and over again. No normal man seemed at all interested in what I offered. Which furthered the thought – I’m not exactly pretty. I’m not the kind of person someone would find attractive. I’m not going to have a Some-Enchanted-Evening across-a-crowded-room moment. I’m not the kind of girl boys fall in love with. If someone wants me, it will probably be in spite of my appearance.

 

I didn’t end up dating anyone at all until I was 26. And that was a huge mistake we won’t go into here. I did learn, however, that being wanted didn’t make me feel beautiful. It made my body feel like it was not mine. It was hollow, used.

 

Writing this post, I had time to think when I felt most beautiful. I may never consider myself a knockout, but God do I feel beautiful when I’m dancing. When I’m making something. When I’m playing with children or holding babies.

 

I think body acceptance has more to do with its use than with its appearance.

 

When I move through every inch of me, I am every bit as sensual as the most seductive woman on the planet (no matter what anyone else thinks). When I run around with those littles, I am grace and motherhood without being a mother. When I peer down to double check a pattern, or lift up the safety goggles to examine my most recent project, I am a powerful, strong, capable woman. I hope that is the beauty that radiates from me, regardless of my appearance.

 

Oh, and those “too-big hips”? They look kick-ass in a pencil skirt.