This was so much fun! Damien and I were guests on the “This Catholic Life” podcast, co-hosted by of Peter Holmes and Renée Köhler-Ryan. Damien opens the show with an incredibly important question you won’t want to miss, and then we go on to discuss all sorts of issues surrounding NFP and sex and love and suffering and happiness and whatnot! And, not to be that person, but fully half the people on this episode have a completely adorable Australian accent.
Got a new baby? Along with all the joy and fun that comes with welcoming a new child into your home, you will notice some other, unwelcome arrivals: tons and tons of unsolicited advice about how to run your life. Everyone has an opinion about what is really important, and much of this advice conflicts with or contradicts other advice, leaving a new mother feeling confused and overwhelmed.
Be at peace, new mama. There are really only a few essentials to keep in mind, in order to live your life in a happy, healthy, even joyful way.
First of all, remember that self-care is essential. Mothers are expected to care for everyone around them, but how can they do this if they are falling apart themselves? Remember to carve out a small amount of time every day just for you. This might sound selfish, but is it selfish when a car needs gas in its tank? You must take care of yourself if you want to do your job right.
An essential part of self care is your spiritual life. Mothers are the cornerstone of society, and we simply can’t bear that burden alone. Prayer strengthens us to take on the physical and emotional tasks we face every day (and on through the night!), so it is essential to carve out some time every day for prayer. When we neglect our prayer life, it’s only a matter of time before everything else we attempt will become a shambles. And nobody likes a shambles.
Speaking of shambles, scientists have shown that order and cleanliness are actually essential to our mental well-being. Chaos and disorder may seem like the easy way out, but they actually make it harder to make decisions and think clearly, which are essential for day-to-day survival in this challenging time. So be sure to carve out some time to straighten up your environment each day, and don’t skip the corners. Don’t be afraid to really scrub hard, and don’t skimp on the bleach. You’ll thank yourself later!
But we can’t always wait for delayed gratification. Sometimes immediate relief is essential, so be sure you’re getting some exercise. Studies have shown that even short bursts of physical movement throughout the course of the release endorphins that go a long way toward keeping our moods stable, our skin clear, our hearts healthy, and our eyes bright and our minds twinkly. Even if you don’t have a full, uninterrupted hour to spare, make it a point to carve out twenty minutes here and there, all day long, all week long, starting right this minute, and really push yourself. Really push hard. No, even harder than that. Remember the shambles.
You’ll also find regular exercise gives you more energy to do something that is absolutely essential: putting in some one-on-one time with your other kids. It’s all too easy for them to feel displaced and neglected when the new baby comes, so it is essential to carve out some special time to connect with them, consistently and intentionally, academically, emotionally, spiritually, and just for some plain old silly old hands-in mommy-and-me fun, or else they will grow up to be crack whores.
Naturally, kids aren’t the only ones who crave and need connection. Did you know that 84% of new dads are unfaithful in the first four hours after their wives give birth, all because the women who vowed to love them weren’t willing to carve out some time to keep that spark of romance alive? After all, your children are important, but your marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament! A SACRAMENT. Come on. What is the matter with you.
And what woman can even think about romance when she doesn’t feel pretty? It is essential that you look pretty. Look prettier! With your hair and your makeup and your clothes, including a flattering, properly-fitted bra that is easy to nurse in, because it is essential to normalize public breastfeeding, which is beautiful, but also don’t be a big weirdo about it, because that is not attractive. If you’re not attractive, the world will see your eye bags and your hip bags and your bag bags, and they think that babies make women ugly, and that will be the end of babies, and there will be darkness and void over the face of the earth, and also crack whores. Carve. Out. Time.
Last but not least: enjoy your baby. Oh sweet mamas, these precious days are so fleeting, so don’t forget to carve out some time for joy. Joy time is essential and there just isn’t enough of it. Seriously, time is running out for joy. Set an alarm and get that joy in.
And that’s it! Just carve out time for these few, simple essentials, and you’ll find that everything else that you need to do just falls into place.
A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2015.
We are all sick, so today’s post will contain very little whimsey. Here is what we consumed:
SATURDAY Chicken burgers, chips, caprese salad
It may be chilly and damp, but the tomatoes are still tasty and abundant, so I made a big caprese salad for a side. Just tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, freshly-ground salt and pepper, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. I didn’t feel like laying out a stunning wheel of color on a platter, and no one complained.
Someday I’ll go to the trouble to make a balsamic reduction. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll die without ever having made a balsamic reduction.
Has anyone given Italy a prize for inventing this dish? They should get a prize.
SUNDAY Family party
Some of the kids and I zipped off to Rhode Island after Mass for a little housewarming party for my sister. Lovely day! I really like my family. And I heard a story about a Franciscan friar walking around Rome, dismayed to discover that all the public bathrooms are coin-operated. “If I don’t find a toilet soon,” he says, “I’m gonna pee in Brother Bush.”
After our trip to NYC, driving around East Providence holds no terrors for me. However, the East Providence Wendy’s on Eddy St., that got two stars on Yelp? Deserves those two stars.
MONDAY Ham, peas, mashed potatoes
Benny’s heart’s desire. She has to have this meal a few times a year or else she turns into a sparrow and flies away forever.
The potato express her joy at suppertime:
I have to admit, it’s a fine meal. It has all three food groups: Starch, green, and ham.
TUESDAY Chicken shawarma; frozen grapes
I briefly considered frying some eggplant, but that’s more of a we’re-accustomed-to-the-school-routine kind of dish, and we ain’t there yet. No one complained. They like meals with lots and lots of little bowls of things.
I had put several pounds of grapes in the freezer, and they make a neat little accompaniment to a savory meal, very sweet and refreshing.
The green apple in the back is not for the meal. It’s a crab apple from our tree, Marvin, who is having a good year. The apples taste a little odd, so I sometimes make them into applesauce, which has a distinctive tart, smoky taste. I forget why the tree is called Marvin.
WEDNESDAY Spicy Thai chicken with basil (Pad Krapow Gai) on rice
A new dish. I had some misgivings about it, since it looked a little spicy for our crowd. But I figured at very least Damien and I and the older kids would like it, and the rest could have rice and leftovers. As it happened, though, every last moderately tolerant person in the house had somewhere else to be at dinner. So I was the only one who even tried it. I made tons, of course. Here is half:
I got the recipe from Allrecipes.com. It was tasty? I really like spicy meals with little nubbins of chicken. It gave the impression of having cashews in it, even though it didn’t.
So it’s chicken cooked with shallots, garlic, and peppers in a sauce made of chicken broth, oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar, with fresh basil stirred in at the end. It didn’t caramelize the way it was supposed to, so it didn’t get as dark as the recipe photo, but the flavor was nice and rich. A tangy sauce with fresh basil is always a revelation.
Probably not going into the meal rotation, though. If I’m going to hear that much whining about the smell of hot fish sauce, I need to be rewarded with banh mi.
THURSDAY Meatloaf, baked potato
Another long-promised meal. I make mine with five pounds of ground beef and two pounds of ground turkey. In theory this is to lighten it up, but in practice it’s because Aldi sells beef in five-pound packages, and five isn’t enough, but two would be too much, but their smaller packages of beef are priced higher, but ground turkey is less then two dollars a pound. Also, it lightens it up.
I also happened to have panko bread crumbs (I also had regular bread crumbs, but there was some kind of moth nightmare going on in there), which also lightened it up. I mean, it was still meatloaf, but it wasn’t grisly and heavy. Do you know how many meatloaf recipes tell you to make it in a loaf pan? I don’t understand that at all. You might as well just bathe in grease. I use a broiler pan with drainage.
We also had some amusing baked potatoes.
A small section of my brain is lighting up like it’s trying to make a joke about the potato, but that’s as far as I get.
Meatloaf recipe at the end. Irene suspiciously questioned me about the vegetable she found in her meatloaf.
Parsley. It’s parsley. The horror.
FRIDAY Tuna noodle casserole
They pestered me into putting this on the menu, and I thought I would take the opportunity to pester Damien to take me out to eat. Not that I have to pester him, but we’ve been so busy, we’re practically strangers these days. But I dunno. I have the world’s grossest cold and he’s about 36 hours behind me in incubation, so maybe we’ll just stay home and be sad.
Okay, so tell me about that potato. What’s the deal with that potato?
My kids were three, two, and almost one, and I was newly pregnant on September 11, 2001. My husband was a software trainer, and he spent three days out of most weeks traveling. I spent as much time as I could out of the house in those days, because I was so afraid of feeling trapped. We had a double stroller and a back carrier, and we walked and walked and walked.
It was a bright, windy day, still warm for September. I had made up some errand to the library on the morning of the 11th. We were still about a mile away from home when a familiar homeless man approached us. He was “the clapping guy,” the one who stalked back and forth all day long, clapping and shouting, warning and declaiming. He stopped, blocking my path, and said several times in weirdly chastened tones something like, “May your family be safe during all the [gesturing wildly] happenings that are going on in these days.” I had enough nonsense in my own life and didn’t need any of his, so I growled, “Yeah, thanks,” stepped around him, and kept walking.
I got home and got on with my day, holding the storm door open with my body as I hoisted the stroller up the steps and onto the porch. Unload the baby, unload the library books, change diapers, say “yes” to ice pops, start some water boiling for macaroni. Do the things you need to do.
I have to look up the timeline for 9/11 to piece together the rest. I remember standing at the white kitchen sink, rinsing out bottles and half-listening to public radio as I always did, gradually realizing they were repeating themselves a lot. That meant something strange was happening. I thought, like so many others, that the first plane crash was an accident, and I only slowly came to understand with a suffocating feeling that it was something else.
What happened the rest of the day? I don’t remember. My husband was away and I wanted him home so desperately. All planes were grounded, so it took him something like four days to get back by bus. All I remember from that time is breathing shallowly, and seeing nothing but chaos when I closed my eyes.
We did have a TV, but I don’t remember watching coverage. One child had a fear of owls, and two of them had night terrors, so I zealously shielded them from anything that could be remotely frightening. Or at least I tried. I followed the news by radio, so I don’t have those images of smoke and fire burned into my memory like so many Americans do; but that just meant the terror and confusion was formless.
What I remember more vividly is trying to work out how to survive an anthrax attack, because that was what came next. We were so poor, I made some brutal budgeting decisions and bought a big roll of duct tape and three dust masks, thinking the five of us could take turns holding our breath if someone decided to wage a chemical attack against quiet little Norton Street. I kept a blanket rolled up in case I needed to seal up the threshold against invisible spoors, and lay awake at night fretting over how to make the tape stick to the hinges. It sounds so foolish now, but nobody knew. Nobody knew what was happening or what might happen next or how to act. We breathed shallowly and believed we would need to seal ourselves up tightly if we wanted our children to survive.
Everyone talks about 9/12, how united we all were. I don’t remember that, possibly because I was so isolated. I didn’t know what else to do, other than draw my family in and try to seal us off. I do remember the first time the airplanes went into the air again. I was crossing the parking lot at Walmart, pushing a cart full of groceries and kids, because you do what you have to do. Two planes went overhead, one rather low and loud, and everyone stopped. Everyone looked up. Everyone held their breath to see how it would play out.
I remember thinking, in the darkest, innermost room of my heart, that it would be right and just to pack off any captured terrorists to countries who had practice with this kind of thing, so their torturers could get the goods. Just seal it off, do it behind closed doors, and do what you have to do.
We all breathed shallowly at that time; we all saw chaos when we closed our eyes. We had to protect our families, and seal them in.
But eighteen years have passed; enough time to turn into an adult. I was so young and so afraid in 2001. In the eighteen years since then, I’ve learned even more about the things that threaten my family, and I’ve learned even more about how helpless we really are. But the most terrible of all is to see the threats that come from the inside; to see clearly how vulnerable our hearts are, how easily they are deranged with fear.
I don’t have any grand opinions about national security or public policy. It feels strange and unpleasant to talk about myself and my family, our stroller, our apartment, our bedroom door on a momentous anniversary for the country, when other people remember explosions, death, and going off to war. But the small and personal is all I have. Really, the small and personal is all any of us has. All of us, every one of us must guard very closely what happens in our hearts, what we allow to happen to our hearts. When you seal up your hearts, that doesn’t keep terror out. It seals it in.
My first impulse was to trash this graphic on its merits, but then I realized it doesn’t have any.
Luckily, I am very astute; and so, just for today’s post, I got together and called myself an Institute. If you’re not too lily-livered to continue reading and are ready to have some toxic modernest ideologies unmasked, then prepare to be outraged with all the infiltration that is going on in this seemingly innocuous graphic.
First up is the blatant theme of mozzarella balls. One mozzarella ball is featured on the facade of the FranciStrocity-style “church” building, and the second is depicted barreling down the road toward Jesus.
It may seem comical for a a food item such as cheese to be included in a religious depiction, but in fact no depiction could be farther from being comical. Mozzarella is known to be associated with the region known as Italy, clearly and deliberately bringing to mind the dictator Mussolini, which obviously refers the even bigger dictator, Bergoglio, who is coming for Jesus like a giant mozzarella ball. This is in a nutshell the new fascism of the far left neo-marxist liberal agenda, and it’s mindblowing that more don’t see it, or do they and do they only wish to not see what is there to see?
Directly under the mozzarella ball is a gray shape which at first resembles a cup but upon further examination is cleft at the bottom, like a fishtail.
This is a clear reference to the Sumerian fish-tailed god Enki, which is pagan, unlike Christianity.
There is a whole class about this at Ave Maria.
As a final assault on the decency of the viewer, there appears dangling in the darkened doorway of the “church’s” facade a limb-like object rendered in lighter blue.
Our Lady of Fatima warned us that there would be fashions that would be grieving to Our Lady of Fatima, and to what else could she possibly be making reference to? This is clearly a leg, a woman’s leg, and it’s clad in blue, which is a reference to “bluestockings,” or educated women, which if you read Professor Tony Esolen you would know is why we’re in this fix today. There is a whole class about this at Thomas More.
Moving clockwise, we next encounter the smoke of satan. Extremely shocking, but there is not a lot to say about it.
Then there are some brown-skinned gals sorting fruit in a factory and we are okay with this, as long as they’re not working mothers, who should sorting fruit at home. They do appear to have their heads covered and this is commendable.
Directly to their right is depicted a depiction of two construction workers.
At first we were outraged because we thought they were gay, but then Professor Tony Esolen graciously provided us with a seminar which explained that they are simply two burly, sweaty men erecting a giant rod together before they shower in order to keep their minds off silly things. This made sense, so we stopped being outraged about this part.
Under the wholesome heterosexual part there is a man depicted struggling against some sort of bars.
At first glance this appears to depict a man in prison, possibly referring to those pinko corporal works of mercy, but on closer inspection, the true meaning is even more nefarious. A scholar who goes by the name DeusMaximusVultDogg, who must remain anonymous because toxic feminists keep silencing him because no one understands flirting anymore, believes it to be masonic. We intend to zoom in and take a closer look later when our wife comes back from her obedience class and shows us how to zoom in.
Can you believe we’re not even halfway through this? This is the price you pay for being rigorous in your scholarship. It’s very tiring, but sometimes this is the white martyrdom to which we are called.
On the lefthand side of the outrage, we have depicted a family with standard-colored skin, with three children and a cat.
The spacing between the ages of the second and third children seems suspiciously large, as if they may have had recourse to that modernistic tool of Satan, the basal thermometer; but the woman is wearing a skirt of a godly length and thus does not appear to be a toxic feminist. The close proximity of the cat, which has close ties to witchcraft, is troubling, but we’ll let it slide out of respect for the major donor and lifelong mentor who keeps this Institute afloat, the esteemed Baron von Tiddlywink. Baron von Tiddlywink likes to talk about how, when the white smoke come out of the chimney on that fateful day in 2013, he got a queasy feeling in his stomach, oh yes he did! And that’s how you know.
We now arrive at the central outrage of the outrage, which is the depiction of how Jesus Christ is depicted. At first it simply appears to be simply typical of the post-conciliar “religious” art churned out by the dead-eyed spawn of limp-wristed heretics who didn’t even use Seton.
But if you turn the image sideways
you will see that hidden among the folds of the robe are very clear letters: aleph, nun, kaf.
That’s right. These are Hebrew letters. Hebrew, as in JEW, and NOT THE GOOD KIND OF JEW, either, so it’s NOT ANTISEMITISM, OKAY? NOTHING IS ANTISEMITISM.
And that’s not where the infiltration ends! You will note that “aleph nun kaf” is strangely similar to the letters “A” “N” and “K,” which is a derivation of the wholesome ancient Anglo Saxon letter, “C.” Do you see it? Or are you blind? ANC, or African National Congress, which has clear ties to black people.
Friends, infiltration doesn’t get any more flagrant. They had a whole semester about this at Christendom.
Also, the gentleman on the left looks like he has a mouth in his hair? Super masonic.
There is more, but we leave the reader with one final outrage: Note the colors of the road down which the Jew-figure is mincing down: Green, orange, yellow, red, and purple.
These are all colors.
Where else have we seen colors?
That’s right: In the rainbow, as in the rainbow that’s been coopted by the pervChurch marxist LGBTQXYZ agenda-infiltrated headscarf-wearing effeminate condom-peddling amazonian nuchurch
EDIT 11:49 AM: In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of Cardinal Burke.
Is there any return from being cancelled? We’re not really sure. But there is wailing and gnashing of teeth until the 24-hour news cycle moves along and you are forgotten.
This is what comes of religious practice without faith, of Catholicism without Christ: At best, you enjoy some faint mimicry of the riches the faith has to offer; at worst, you suffer immensely, without any hope of redemption.
It is sad to live this way. It is ridiculous. But at least there is some excuse.
And just like that, it was fall. Crisp weather, slanted light, ripening apples and towering corn, ragged mists rising slowly over the fields of goldenrod, people dealing inappropriately with the stress of transition. It’s glorious.
Here’s what we ate this week:
SATURDAY Burgers, chips
I was gloomily making my shopping list, thinking about the rising tide of autumnal stews and squashes and other cold weather foods, and then I saw that lobsters were on sale. And a very good sale it was! Seized with a sudden urge to possess something carefree and summery, I boldly decided we would end our week with fresh steamed lobsters, and who could blame us?
But when I got to the store, they were all gone. So I ordered some for Sunday and arranged to pick them up before dinner, which felt somewhat less impetuous and madcap, but still. Lobster.
Finally lobster time! But when I got to the store on Sunday, they wanted to charge me Sunday’s price, which was most assuredly not on sale. I was disappointed, and was about to go away sad, but then I said to myself, “I’m a grown woman. It’s not unreasonable for them to accommodate a loyal customer and give me the price I was expecting to pay. At very least, it couldn’t hurt to ask.” So I spoke up, using the kindly brontosaurus technique, and the fish man talked to his manager, and it worked! I got four 1.5-pound Sunday lobsters for a Saturday price.
They offered to steam them for me, but again, I didn’t want to settle for second best and let them get all rubbery on the ride home, so I took them alive. I felt very alive. Lobsters!
You know, when you get to be in your mid-forties, you find out you can do all kinds of things that used to seem scary. You can very often just take a deep breath, push your way through, and do the thing, and it turns out it doesn’t kill you after all. It’s very liberating to find out how strong and capable you actually are.
Still, I was a little nervous about those lobsters, so I gave myself plenty of time. I set a big pot of salted water to heat up, melted a bunch of butter, and cut up some lemon wedges. I made the risotto in the Instant Pot, and I shucked the corn. The bag of lobsters sat quietly on the counter. I set out plates on the table and counted forks.
Then lobster water began to boil. It was time. I peeked into the bag and those lobsters seemed really docile and resigned, and were only waving their antlers around a little bit. They were clearly alive, but not, you know, like, alive. I knew I could handle this, and I really do love steamed lobster. I gathered up all my womyncourage and dumped the bag out into a bowl so I could see what I was up against.
Well, those horrible little fuckers started flopping around and scrabbling and trying to organize a mutiny in my kitchen. So I did the only thing I could do for an accomplished adult in my station in life: I screamed and ran away and stood in a corner and refused to talk to anyone. Then I sent one of my sons in to deal with the horror, one of my giant hulking sons who towers over my head, and he tried with some tongs, but then he also screamed and ran away.
So Damien had to do it. I was so proud of all of us.
The lobster was delicious. I don’t know what else to say. It’s kind of liberating to eat lobster? Because it tastes good? I was glad I only bought four, because most of the kids were horrified and traumatized by the whole thing, not sure why. They had chicken nuggets.
Oh hey, I’ll put my risotto recipe at the end. Because I’m a grown woman and I’m not afraid to use a pressure cooker.
MONDAY Chicken thighs with squash and Brussels sprouts
Normally a well-liked one-pan dish for cool weather. I don’t know where I went wrong, but it just wasn’t that great. I skipped potatoes, for one thing. That was wrong. Never skip the potatoes.
Anyway, I’ll put my recipe at the end, and probably you’ll do it better. It’s just big pieces of hearty vegetables in a simple balsamic sauce with roast chicken thighs on top. It’s usually good, I promise! Maybe it’s supposed to have honey in it? I don’t know.
TUESDAY Chili and corny corn bread
Damien made chili. I’ll get his recipe when he gets home. I like chili, but I gave up making it many years ago, because nobody else liked it; but Damien’s cooking style is so different from mine, I thought there was a shot they would like his. I felt guilty about not cooking on a weekday, so I decided to make cornbread. Also nobody likes cornbread, but I figured it would be a fun and easy baking project for me and the little girls.
Well, they wanted to play Just Dance instead. So I made the cornbread by myself. I had the bright idea to add some fresh corn from the leftover corn from Sunday, and then I threw in some chili powder. How did it turn out? Bad, that’s how. Flabby and weird, just like the rest of us. Hooray!
Damien and I liked the chili. Nobody else did. Hooray!
Everybody likes pizza. Here’s a picture of pizza.
THURSDAY Carnitas and rice
I took a half pork loin and put it in the slow cooker with a can of beer and a can of peppers in adobo sauce. By evening, it was falling apart. I fished the meat out, shredded it, and spread it in a pan and broiled it so it was slightly crisp.
I had been planning beans and rice, but I realized the meat was quite spicy, and the kids would be sad if they didn’t have anything bland and white to eat. So I just served white rice. Then for some reason I decided to put leftover chili on the tortilla along with the pork. I also had sour cream and cilantro, but the whole thing was just confusing.
I mean, I ate it, but I was confused.
My aunt and uncle are coming for a visit and they did say they would bring pizza.
In conclusion: Yes, I know I said “lobster antlers.” Fight me.
I know this guy who used to be a gay porn star. Now he’s not, and he is trying very hard to lead a life that’s completely different from his old life. He constantly posts photos of himself on social media — so many that someone finally asked him why. He explained that there are countless photos of himself from his porn days, and that’s what people see if they search his name. He can’t get them taken down, but he can outnumber them out with these new photos that show him as he is now. He wants people to see him as he is now — which is more like who he wants to be, who he thinks he was made to be.
I realized I do something similar — not for the sake of other people, but for my own. It’s not vanity, exactly, and it’s definitely not confidence. Just the opposite: It’s because I’ve spent so many years terrified of looking bad, and I’m tired of it.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I see . . . nothing. I see nonsense, like a scrambled photo I can’t make heads or tails of. I literally can’t tell what I’m looking at, when I look at myself. Am I shapeless and obese? Am I shapely and strong? Do I look professional and tidy, or do I look like a rat that got into his mother’s makeup? I simply can’t tell. My self-image is too garbled. One time, I had been beating myself up for the ten pounds I had gained in the last few weeks because of my slovenly ways. Then I actually got on a scale, and it turned out I was actually down half a pound.
And immediately, the mirror obediently showed me someone who looked about half a pound prettier.
This is how I know mirrors are garbage. There is no such thing as “half a pound prettier.” Yet that is what I saw. And I know this happens to other people, not just people who’ve been through the pregnancy olympics.
In truth, mirrors can only tell you very specific, limited things, like, “Am I wearing pants right now?” or “Do I have jelly on my face or not?” They can’t tell you, “Do I look nice or terrible?” and they certainly can’t tell you, “Am I acceptable as a human being or not?” Just as it’s really your brain, and not your eyeballs, that see the world, it’s your idea of yourself, and not the mirror, that tells you what you look like.
But unless we’re babies or very elderly or in some other unusual circumstances, it’s not possible or even admirable to give no thought whatsoever to how we look. It’s okay to want to look nice! You want to be able to present yourself appropriately, so you can feel reasonably confident and secure, and can then go on to focus your time and attention on other things.
So how do you learn that sense of proportion? How do you learn to care for yourself without being overcome with anxiety about yourself?
I’m fairly skeptical about advice to simply bellow, “I AM BEAUTIFUL! ALL WOMEN ARE BEAUTIFUL!” Maybe it works for some people, but for me, it just fosters hypocrisy. I don’t need to feel that I am stunning and gazelle-like and desirable to all mankind. I just need to have my self-imaged healed so it stops howling like a wounded dog. I need to have it retreat to normal proportions, rather than swelling up and throbbing grossly at unexpected times. I need, in short, to know more or less how I look, and to be more or less okay with it, so I can forget it and think about something more interesting.
That, by the way, is the aesthetic aspect of what Christians mean by humility. It doesn’t mean thinking you’re a useless, worthless worm. It means knowing who you are, accepting it, and getting on with what’s important.
I don’t have gay porn photos of myself that need outnumbering, but I do have weird fears and fantasies about how I look and who I am; and it doesn’t help when internet trolls gleefully join in to point out my undeniable physical flaws.
That’s where the selfies come in. I show myself how I look. I plaster my Facebook wall with photos of myself that I will come across when I’m not expecting it, when I’m not preparing myself to see myself. I share flattering photos, but also less-flattering ones, with my stomach bulging or my teeth sticking out. Do you know what happens then?
I do not die.
The more photos I share, the easier it gets to see them, and the less I worry about how I look in real life. It used to be that someone could ruin my day or even my week by posting a bad photo of me. The week I got my wedding photos back was hellish. I felt like my handsome husband had made his vows to a walking double chin and overbite. It sounds funny, but it was crushingly painful. I was that vulnerable; and it only got worse over the years.
But now I’ve seen overwhelming evidence that sometimes I look bad and sometimes I look nice; and now the stakes simply aren’t that high. Even if I see that I look crummy in real life some day, if my skin is broken out and my hair is weird and I remembered too late why I never wear this shirt in public, it’s … like … not the end of the world. Not because I can look at pretty photos and reassure myself that those are more accurate, but because I have a more comprehensive understanding of what I look like overall, and of who I am. Bad days are just bad days, and no longer feel like a revelation of what I truly am inside.
When I see photo after photo of myself all with my unavoidable flaws, I don’t zero in on those flaws, but I see myself as just another person. I’m not a supermodel, and that’s okay. Most people aren’t. I have a pleasant smile. I dress okay. I don’t demand that everyone else be flawless before I consider them worth my time, and I’m learning to stop demanding it of myself (and to stop being crushed when I can’t deliver).
So many women, and men, too, have a self-image that’s been skewed and distorted literally past recognition. So many live in genuine fear of finding out what they look like — and that fear shows that it’s about more than aesthetics, but it’s about self-worth. We need many kinds of healing from this kind of wound, but healing of our physical self-image is not an insignificant one. No one should feel fear at the idea of showing their face.
Selfie culture can be poisonous, and can foster narcissism, envy, and crippling anxiety. But if you use it intentionally, it can help you heal from self-loathing and the anxious vanity that goes along with it.
The other day I heard about a man who beat the hell out of his pregnant girlfriend. When she escaped out into the street, he chased her with his car, slammed into a light pole, found a piece of bent metal, and started beating her with that. She somehow survived, but the child in her belly died from the trauma.
They did arrest the man. Later, in court, she gave her testimony. She hadn’t yet birthed her dead baby. Then it was time for her boyfriend’s lawyer to make his case. He asked for leniency, for his client to be released on personal recognizance rather than held in jail. “Your honor,” he argued, “My client is a young man with a bright future ahead of him. He has a fiancee, and the young lady is expecting their first child. . . ”
Happily, the judge wasn’t buying it. But imagine that lawyer’s thought process as he prepared his argument: Hey, maybe that bitch can come in handy one last time.
My husband calls our society “Titanic in reverse.” Women and children are sacrificed first, tossed into the waves as men scramble to warmth and safety. He has been a reporter for decade and a half, and he’s been at crime scenes, seen evidence, interviewed victims and victims’ families, heard court testimony, and seen the sentencing process, and this is what he knows: Women and children are expendable. Their suffering, their torture, their rape, their murder is acceptable to society.
I asked him if he thought it had ever been any other way, and he said no.
We’ll convulse with horror when a man throws a dog out of a window. Precious little pupper! People who hurt animals should be executed in public! But if in that same night he also throws his wife down a flight of stairs, guess which victim makes the headlines?
Well, domestic disturbances are private things. Two sides to every story.
Sometimes it’s not a matter of turning our heads when women are abused. Sometimes we’re right behind her, shoving her toward danger. Remember last time the country was so very tired of hearing about priests molesting kids? The thinking public came up with an easy solution to the problem: Just throw women at it. Just let priests marry, and never again will we deal with widespread clerical abuse.
It sounded so simple and obvious: Single men are doing pervy things, so let’s make them not be single anymore. Of course the mechanism of it was a little uglier. It meant that we know there are countless men willing to subjugate, humiliate, and abuse people who are weaker then they are. We hate it when they do this to children. So instead, let’s let them do it to women. Because that’s what women are for.
Don’t let yourself believe that this is a Catholic problem, that only Catholics see women as the universal solution to male complaint. Last time an incel shot up a crowd, the progressive edgelords of social media instantly put up a cry for publicly-funded prostitutes. That’s all these dudes need! When they don’t get enough sexytime, they get mad and they kill people! So let’s make sure they can do it to women; and then real people won’t get hurt.
Women are the corks for every leak, the excess ballast to be chucked off every sinking ship, the red meat to distract every wild dog, the kindling to brighten up every smoldering fire, the universal salve to spread on any festering wound. You have a problem, any problem at all? Try using women. You can always use women. That’s what women are for.
We see this sense of entitlement everywhere, and not only in obvious examples like abduction and rape, murder and abuse. It’s more pervasive and more accepted than you may realize. Most men would never say, “Women only exist for my consumption.” They would never even think it in so many words. And yet when they walk down the street and see an unattractive women, their response is not simply a lack of interest, but irritation, even anger. Anger, as if the woman who doesn’t appeal to him has personally wounded him, or refused to give him something he deserves.
Why should this be? Why should they feel, in any part of themselves, that they can expect to be pleased by women?
I don’t know why. I do know the one recorded statement we have from Adam is Adam using Eve as an excuse to get out of trouble with God. And ever since then, many, many men have assumed that, since a woman is there, she’s there for him to use.
Most men don’t act out when they feel this way. Only a noisy minority of men would allow themselves to shout something nasty at a passing fat jogger, or take the trouble tell some random lesbian he doesn’t approve of her haircut. Only a noisy minority sends hate mail to an actress who goes out in public with a dreaded “fupa” after giving birth.
But when you’re a lone women being jeered at by a handful of strange men, or even by one man, it doesn’t feel like minority. It feels heavy and scary and big. It feels dangerous, and it is dangerous. It’s easier, in many ways, to simply agree: Yes, I am here for men to use. I must try as hard as I can to be pleasing to as many of them as possible, so I will be valued and safe. This is what many women do, without even realizing it. Mousy trad women do it by submitting and obeying and never making their own needs known, and raunchy progressive feminists do it by thrusting themselves headlong into porn culture.
And women in the middle of these two extremes do it by constantly accusing themselves, gently or harshly, of being unworthy. We tell ourselves we are unworthy to take up space, to put on weight, to get old, to slow down, to be tired, to be ugly, to be unavailable, to be loud, to be unproductive, to be charmless, to be sick, to be alone. To be angry. We feel that we are endlessly on trial, that our lives are one long audition, and we’re constantly in danger of being rejected and replaced by someone who knows how to do her job better. So many women have spent their whole lives floundering in a bottomless pool of fear that, if we aren’t pleasing men, we’re nothing.
I used to think that all that feminist talk about “the male gaze” was liberal garbage, and women simply didn’t understand how pleasant it could be to be desired by men. But now I am older and I can see that all my life, I have lived with this terrible fear of not being pleasing enough. Even women who know better know this fear. And that’s why there’s so much anger out there: Because it’s not right that we should live that way.
I said as much on Facebook yesterday.
Yes, I was angry. I have eight daughters, and I see them growing up in this world that still hasn’t changed. And so I cursed at men who feel entitled to an aesthetically pleasing experience from every woman they meet. I felt the weight of that entitlement, and I was angry.
And what do you think happened? My post was reported and removed. Men told me I was being strident and offensive, and that maybe they would listen if I watched my language and spoke more gently. Maybe if I changed myself just a little bit, so I was more to their liking, then they would listen to what I had to say.
And there it is. Maybe I just need to be more pleasing to men, and then I’ll be allowed to talk.
I don’t want to be angry all the time. I certainly don’t want to respond in kind, and become permanently enraged at a whole populace just because of the sins of some. But every once in a while, I feel the whole weight of that crushing, grinding, everlasting entitlement to be pleased, and I feel it even more heavily when I realize how I’ve been complicit in it.
I am asking men to be better. I am asking women not to be complicit. And I am asking men to hold each other accountable when they behave as if they are entitled to be pleased by women. I am tired of feeling inadequate, so instead I am angry. I have a right to be angry.
Image: Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, by Rembrandt. Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Me: Okay, now, concentrate! What’s for supper all week long? Let’s make a list! Good! Fun!
Me: Yes, you can!
Me: Yes you can. This is your job, and it’s easy. Just think of what people like to eat. What do people like to eat?
Me: I mean . . . I guess . . . food?
Me: Yes, good! And what kind of food? Can you think of some?
Me: Like . . . like . . . the kind you put in your . . . mouth?
Me: Good! You’re doing so well! And what kind of food do we put in our mouth?
Me: Like . . .
. . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . sandwiches?
[feebly writes down “sandwiches” several times, lets pen loll out of fingers. Late August housefly coasts in and lands on my shopping list. It marches across the page with arrogance and disdain. A single tear of weariness leaks out of my eyeball and trickles down my cheek and onto the paper, zig-zagging across the crumpled page until it seems to spell out b-a-c-k-t-o-s-c-h-o-o-l.]
Saturday, Damien had a hunting safety course all day and I had a planning session for faith formation (I’m going to teach second grade, hoop de doo!); and then I drove Lena back to college. We both got home quite late, and Damien got pizza of some kind, either Domino’s or Aldi.
I tried bubble tea for the first time. I had sesame matcha. I will tell you, if the very idea of bubble tea repels you, then bubble tea itself will definitely repel you; but if you’re thinking to yourself, “I could go for some gummy black blobs in my beverage right about meow,” then you will love it. I loved it.
Sending your kids off to college is bullshit, though. SIGH SIGH SIGH.
SUNDAY Hamburgers, chips, cannoli
Sunday Damien had more training and I had to do the shopping I didn’t do Saturday. I had a hunch we’d be pretty wiped out and I was not wrong, so I bought pre-made burger patties, because such are the blessings of capitalism, and who am I to turn them down?
It was Elijah’s shopping turn, and as fall approaches, a young man’s fancy turns to cannoli. We didn’t see cannoli shells, so we got some pizzelle. I made very simple cream filling with ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla, and we had a scoop of cheese on the cookie topped with shaved chocolate and maraschino cherries. I know I have almond extract somewhere, but it was hiding.
MONDAY Sandwiches, chips, watermelon, candy
Monday was the very last day of summer vacation, and it’s become our tradition to spend “all day” at the beach. In practice, this meant running around like a maniac doing errands all morning while the kids focused on being disgruntled, and then heading out to the town pond around 2:00. We did spent about four hours there, which is definitely long enough to get that “no one tells me what to do” feeling. We had the place to ourselves, except for a few silent, stringy old people and many, many dragonfly engaged in l’amour.
Sometimes I think my kids are getting spoiled and worldly, and then I realize at least half of them still think it’s a huge treat to get the really big jar of pickles and to be allowed to just stick their hands in their and wipe them off on the grass. So we are doing okay.
I took many pictures, but this one sums up the tone of the meal pretty well:
I texted Damien that we were on our way home, so he started a fire in the firepit, and we gathered around and told moderately spooky stories in the sorta-getting-dark. I did this knowing full well that it was exactly the kind of thing that would immediately become a Very Important Tradition That We Always Do.
TUESDAY Pork ramen
So Tuesday school finally happened. We have two in college, one taking a gap year and working on a big illustrating job, two in high school, and the rest are in 8th, 6th, 5th, and 2nd, and Corrie is home. I actually expect this year to be somewhat easier than last year. When I ask myself why, I’m not sure, but even thinking so is a pretty good sign. According to my therapist. What does he know, the giant weirdo.
I keep forgetting it’s a food blog today. Let’s see, I cut up some boneless pork chops and sautéed them in oil, then sliced them and dashed in some soy sauce and finished cooking them. I chopped up some scallions and sugar snap peas, and I soft boiled a bunch of eggs. I sliced some mushrooms and sautéed them in the pan with the porky oil. We had crunchy noodles, sesame seeds, and hot sauce for toppings.
Everyone came home hungry and they were happy with a big pot of ramen and pork.
WEDNESDAY Banh mi
Oh look, sandwiches! But to be fair, these are the greatest sandwiches known to mankind. I made the marinade and sliced a boneless pork loin in the late morning and let it marinate the rest of the day. I quick pickled a bunch of carrots, but decided to let the cucumbers just be plain, so there was a cool taste with all the bitey tastes. I chopped up a bunch of cilantro, and made some spicy mayo (I couldn’t find sriracha, so I just used hot sauce. Not as good). And I had a jar of jalapenos.
I did toast the bread, which I hate doing, for some reason, but it makes a big difference for these sandwiches. Gosh, I love this meal. I prepped everything in the morning, and then before supper I just had to fish the meat out of the marinade, spread it on a pan, and broil it.
If you haven’t made these sandwiches before, they’re delicious way out of proportion to how hard they are to make. However, when you’re cooking the meat, it smells horrendous way out of proportion to . . . anything. Really, nothing this side of hell should smell like that. But it’s worth it! Recipe card at the end.
Wednesday was also the day this happened:
We had to leave to pick up the kids, but Corrie didn’t want to get out of the bath. I did everything I could think of to get her out, and she ended up on the floor, screaming and writhing. She’s amazingly heavy and strong, and when she’s wet, she’s just about impossible to pick up and hold, much less dry off and get dressed. I was getting madder and madder, so I stepped away to collect myself, and when I came back and opened the door, the stool and wastebasket were knocked over, the towels were all dragged onto the floor, and I could hear violent splashing.
I thought, “Oh great, she’s back in the tub and I’ll have to start all over again.” But when I pulled back the curtain, she wasn’t in the tub.
And that’s when I realized she was so mad, she had jumped right into the toilet.
THURSDAY Grilled pizza sandwiches
We used to have these a lot, but haven’t for a while, so the kids were pretty excited. I was honestly not at my best as a chef by Thursday. We’re still staying up stupidly late, but now waking up stupidly early. I like to spice things up in the middle of the night by stupidly worrying about stupid things for a while, too. Put it all together, and you get someone who is not going to do a great job flipping heavy sandwiches stuffed with shredded cheese.
Even the sandwiches look skeptical.
This particular one actually looks kinda like Attorney General William Barr, shown here with Lamar Alexander, who is also full of cheap cheese:
I feel like I haven’t sufficiently made my case here. Look at this:
I know you want to know how to make these wondrous grilled Wiliam Barr sandwiches, so here is how: Sourdough bread spread with sauce, then cheese, then pepperoni, then topped with another piece of bread spread with sauce. Then the outsides are brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with garlic powder and oregano, then fried in a pan with more butter. It’s actually better to spread them with softened butter with garlic powder and oregano mixed in, but I accidentally melted it.
It would also be a heck of a lot easier to manage if it had slices of mozzarella, rather than wads of shreds, but did I think of that when I was shopping? Nopey.
I grill them and then slide them in the oven for a few minutes to make sure the cheese is melted and can prosecute on behalf of our Lord, the King. This is a attorney general joke and it’s the best I can do right meow.
FRIDAY Quesadillas, chips and salsa
Not technically a sandwich! And we made it through the first week. There were no guarantees.