On hard things
When worry takes up a lot of space.
My daughter’s first grade teacher just sent me a message on the Remind app. Sky says she’s having a hard day. She says there are, “A lot of things going on in my life right now.” I told her to just focus on one thing at a time, like eating a snack.
Two things you should know. First, I love Sky’s teacher. This kind of message is routine in her personal, communicative approach to teaching. She’s one of those rare and gifted educators who really seem to get that emotional intelligence is about 85% of what kids are learning in school, and she takes that very seriously.
Secondly, Sky’s something of a worrier. I worry she gets it from me, and I’m working on it, and so lately we’ve been working on it together. And, it’s in my nature to see multiple sides of things. So when my kids ask me big questions about hard things, I can sometimes overcomplicate it.
Just focus on one thing at a time, like eating a snack. This is such good and simple advice.
To be clear, she’s six, and sometimes having a hard day is about not getting the last strawberry yogurt at breakfast or finding out a puddle is a lot deeper than her rainboots. Those things are no fun, but they’re ordinary hard things. Then there’s the pandemic, which among other things has dramatically altered the public school experience in Oregon, her first time through. There’s being a big sister to a brother who disrupts her sleep and a baby sister who gets a ton of attention for being so dang cute. And there’s learning how to be a friend, and how to empathize with friends who are going through big challenges, without taking on their feelings so much that they become your own.
One of Sky’s friends at school is a neighbor from Ukraine, and she’s been bringing home confusion and questions about what’s going on over there. It’s been a year since we moved in next door to this schoolmate’s family, and we’ve struggled to build a friendship across a language barrier and a tall fence (not to mention social distancing). But sometimes Sky’s friend will walk home with us, and we’ve gotten to know him as a quiet boy with a smile he flashes quickly, shyly, like turning a flashlight on and off. He’s one of the older kids in a large family, and I wonder if he’s used to being on the periphery of needs, like Sky. Not needing to be fed or changed or put down for a nap any more, but still needing so much. Maybe needing things that are harder to give, like guidance on what to do with worry.
I don’t have to tell you there is much to worry about in Ukraine right now. I’ve hesitated to write this month’s newsletter (right up until the last day that can technically still be called February) because I don’t know what to say, and I worry that this will come out all wrong. At the same time, I’ve found so much hope and gratitude as I’ve watched the words of others pour into my inbox. Writer after writer, letter after letter filled with concern, empathy, and ways to help. Those ways to help can feel frustratingly small, but I find hope in knowing that so many of us are still moving through the world with our hearts wide open, even now.
I also find hope in witnessing people remind others to breathe and take care of themselves as they take in the news. It’s okay to hold our concern in one hand, and the many strands of our lives— responsibilities, errands, joy, work, play— in the other. We can do both. We can do something to help, even if it’s not “enough.” We can continue to pray, to trust God, to offer our sadness up and ask God to hold us in the tension of wanting to do more, without letting it consume us. We can focus on one thing at a time, like eating a snack, or making some art.
May you offer yourself that compassion today.
Reading + Writing
Poetry Northwest published my essay “Mother Lode” earlier this month. I began writing it in February of last year and I continue to work with its themes in the writing I’m working on now. I feel so honored to be included in a magazine I’ve admired for a long time, and grateful for the chance to connect to new readers there.
Project Redux launched last month, a collaborative blog written by women reading Kristin Lavransdatter over the course of a year. I’ve loved the wide variety of responses each of us is bringing to the blog as we read. My friend Kaitlin’s recent essay blew me away.
I recently finished two books by Lisa Whittle, The Hard Good and Jesus Over Everything, that I cannot recommend enough to people of faith who feel stuck in some way. Read these, especially The Hard Good, and get unstuck.
Some fun recent kid reads: The Enola Holmes graphic novels. Sky and I read all three (content warning for the third one, there’s more violence than I was prepared for) and then Lyle and I watched the adorable Netflix film version (definitely too mature for Sky, but a fun grown-up movie.) Now I’m reading both Sky and Robin a few chapters each night from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s a wonderful read-aloud because it’s about the power of stories, so just about every chapter includes a story told by one of the characters. This keeps the kids’ attention and satisfies their bottomless appetite for just one more story.
Continuing the thread of last month’s letter on finding rest, we’ve been slowly finding ways to support our day of rest on Sundays. We’ve gotten into a routine of making a double recipe of enchiladas on Fridays: one to freeze, one to get our family of five through both Saturday and Sunday dinners. I am loving having a meal I can just pop in the oven over the weekend. We make a pot of rice in the rice cooker and slice up some avocado and it’s done. So far no one has complained about the repeat menu, and varying the filling keeps it interesting. One weekend we did butternut squash, black beans, and cheese, and last weekend we did cilantro-stewed chicken with cheese. (For my kids’ palates, I double the cilantro and leave out the beer and chiles.) I like this super simple no-tomato enchilada sauce, which you can vary by adjusting or swapping out spices.
Other things my kids have actually eaten and that we grown-ups have enjoyed: these quinoa chickpea patties. Make them small to serve as nuggets, or large to serve as sliders/burgers.