Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead


Why I Breastfeed in Public: The Blessed Virgin Mary Does It!

There was an uproar recently when a women was kicked out of a church for nursing her child in the service and the pastor compared her public breastfeeding to a stripper performing.  What?! I know. Insanity. A blog I read posted the news article on FB and a commenter expressed her view that nursing in church was very inappropriate and that the mother was wrong to do so. She went on to say that she would never want her children “subjected” (yes, she really used that word!) to such a sight and that she was sure that Mary NEVER would have breastfed Jesus in public. I was honestly shocked.

Now, I imagine the commenter’s sentiment is due to the misunderstanding that breastfeeding is sexual because breasts are involved. Honestly, I’m sure her children are more “subjected” to the sight of breasts in the check out aisle of the grocery store than they would be if they saw a mother feeding her child. I for one, love that my 3-year-old son sees me nursing my baby. He is seeing the incredible nourishing aspect of the female body. Breastfeeding is completely normal to him—it’s how his sister eats! He is learning already that the female body isn’t merely a sex object and I couldn’t be happier about that.

But, my shock at her comment was due not only to the fact that she found public nursing so offensive (aren’t we passed that?), not only that she wouldn’t want her children to see a woman nursing, but more importantly due to her certainty that Our Lady wouldn’t have fed Our Lord unless she was out of sight. Why would anyone believe that?! Before formula became an option, mothers would have needed to take their babies everywhere and guess what? Babies need to eat! Would the Blessed Virgin have stayed home for months and months to be sure that no one would see her (gasp!) NURSING? Surely not! I highly doubt that nursing was considered even remotely taboo in her community. And we have an amazing typographical tradition in Christian art of Our Lady breastfeeding the Infant Christ. In fact, the very earliest image we have of The Blessed Virgin and Jesus is one in which…drumroll…she’s breastfeeding him! It’s found in the catacomb of Priscilla from ca. 160 AD.

This beautiful subject is carried through out the centuries. I simply love this one:

Look how serene she is! And how squirmy he is! Beautiful. There’s also a shrine to Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, FL that I am dying to visit! (Read about the trip Stephanie of Mama and Baby Love took there.)

Imagine a splendid portrayal of Our Lady nursing Our Lord displayed in a church (as has been the case). How can it make any sense that a woman should be maligned and humiliated for following Mary’s example?

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10 Ways to Nurture Positive Body Image for Your Daughter

I’m not an expert. My daughter’s a baby and whether she’ll turn out to have a positive body image is yet to be seen. But, I’ve learned a few things about the challenge of nurturing a positive body image over the past two and a half decades from growing up as a girl in our weight-obsessed culture, watching my mother thoughtfully and intentionally raise me, and as a ballet teacher seeing even very young girls struggle with the cultural messages of body image constantly before them. Here’s my two cents:

  1. Love Your Body: If you want your daughter to grow up confidently loving her body you will have to model this behavior for her. Dissatisfied looks and critical statements when you look in the mirror will not go unnoticed by her. Constantly complaining about weight and your plans for dieting will affect how she views her own body. This is a tall order. I know that I don’t always look in the mirror and have lots of positive thoughts. I see things I think are flaws and wish I looked different. But I never see room for improvement when I look at my baby girl—she is absolutely perfect in my eyes. She is a precious little body and soul beloved by her family and by her Heavenly Father. And if I want her to see herself that way I have to remember that I, too, am made in the image of God and that He looks at me, his creation, with tender affection. If I want my daughter to be confident and at peace with her body, I must show her how.
  2. Eat as a Family: I know there might be overwhelming demands on your time in the evening with extracurriculars to attend and family members moving in a thousand different directions.  Eating a leisurely meal together on a regular basis might feel impossible. Change this and make time to eat as a family. By eating dinner together and enjoying each other’s company, you are impressing upon your daughter that partaking of food is a positive experience. It’s not just calories in your mouth, it’s a MEAL. Over the dinner table you connect with your kids and spouse. I’ve read several times that the occurrence of eating disorders in preteen and teenage girls decreases dramatically when their family regularly eats dinner together.
  3. Cook as a Family: Take the family togetherness a step further. Cook together. Now you’re not just opening up a packaged meal with a label explaining how many grams of this or that is contained within. You’re creating culinary art together! Food isn’t just sustenance, it is a delight. And you’re also providing your kids with skills they can take beyond your kitchen. When they move out, they can take positive eating habits with them!
  4. Grow a Garden: OK, so now you’re cooking together. Great. Now, start a garden in your yard. Begin with just herbs if you’re overwhelmed! Fresh herbs are easy to grow and so fun to use in recipes. Grow some veggies in a little raised bed and let your children be involved in every step. Then food isn’t just associated with sustenance and positive family experiences, but it takes on an entirely new role: the bounty of nature, God’s creation. Watching plants grow is exciting to children! My 3-year-old will run inside to tell me that the tomatoes “ARE TURNING RED! And RED MEANS RIPE!” Then we will go out so he can pick them off our tomato plants and he will devour a juicy, sun-ripened tomato that HE GREW. Often before cooking begins, he will participate in harvesting what we need for our meal. He sees us prepare it and then we sit down to eat it. Food becomes downright miraculous!
  5. Tell Her That She Is Beautiful: She needs to hear this from you and, perhaps more importantly, from her father. She must know that you think she is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. And start using the word “beautiful” to mean more than physically attractive. Say, “that was a beautiful thing to do,” when she acts kindly. Note that a woman you admire is a “lovely person.” Help her expand her idea of beauty from what our culture says it is (sexually attractive) to include: virtuous, feminine, courageous, self-sacrificial, loving.
  6. Tell Her She Is More than Beautiful: Note and praise her other attributes. Mention that you think she’s clever, interesting, determined, kind, fun, delightful, talented, etc. Don’t allow her identity to be limited to her physical appearance. Nurture in her the understanding that her identity rests in her status as God’s child—so beloved that Our Lord sacrificed himself for her.
  7. Be Honest With Her: When we as mothers fall short of #1 (confidently loving our bodies) we should offer those experiences to our daughters to learn from. It was incredibly helpful to me to hear about my mother’s struggles with healthy body image as a college student. She was very open with me about her bouts with anorexia. She explained what pressures caused her to harm her body by not eating, her need for control over her weight, the dangers of her behavior, and her road to recovery. This provided me with the ability to see red flags in my own thought patterns when pressures arose in my life and environment. When, knowing intellectually that I was at a healthy weight, I looked in the mirror and didn’t see a thin girl, I remembered her explanation of how our minds can get sick and our perspective warped so that we can no longer see reality and, instead, become obsessed with being thin. I was able to stop those negative thought patterns in their tracks because of the honest conversations my mother offered me.
  8. Discuss Cultural Messages of Beauty: Another awesome thing my mother did to guide my way to healthy body image was to point out positive and negatives messages in advertising, toys, movies, etc. For example, although my mom never bought me a Barbie doll, she didn’t ban them from the house when they were gifted to me by others. Instead, we talked about them. She noted the length of the Barbie’s legs and her tiny waist in proportion to the rest of her. “Have you ever seen anyone who looks like that?” she asked. No, I hadn’t. “That’s right. This isn’t what women really look like, is it?” she explained. “Do you think the people who made this doll want us to think she’s pretty? How do you think a girl would feel if she thought she was supposed to look like Barbie since no one really looks that way? Do you think she might feel bad about how she looks—how women are really made to look–since she can’t ever look like that doll?” Open a dialogue. Teach your daughter to question the subtle messages that are being presented to her. Teach her to distinguish between lies and the truth about her body. Expand her views of what beauty is beyond the narrow box of the runway model.
  9. Don’t Watch Commercials: When I see a commercial for makeup or clothes or razors or whatnot presenting skinny models as the epitome of beauty that I should be seeking to imitate, I know it influences my thoughts. I’ve got almost 3 decades under my belt of learning to fight those messages. How much more dangerous are those messages to a young girl who hasn’t yet learned to see the lies presented in commercials for what they are! Your daughter will be receiving negative messages about her body every time she steps out of the house. Don’t let those messages invade her household as well.
  10. Provide Her With Positive Role Models: There will come a time when she will struggle with these issues, so give her some good company for her journey. I grew up with my head full of wonderful characters like Anne of Green Gables. I watched Anne struggle with her body: she felt ugly and wished she was pretty like her best friend Diana. “Why doesn’t Anne like herself? Anne is SO COOL!” I would think. Then I watched Anne grow up to be a confident, amazing woman during Montgomery’s wonderful series. These sorts of tales served me well when I felt awkward or ugly as a girl and compared myself to friends I thought were prettier. Anne was in it with me. I wasn’t alone and I wanted to be as confident, clever, funny, and kind as Anne. Because after all…who wants to be boring and pretty Diana when you can be amazing and exciting ANNE?! Here’s my list of the 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter that might help you get started. And even more importantly, give her the wonderful gift that Our Lord gave to us when he was on the Cross: the Blessed Virgin Mary as her mother. Pray that Our Lady will be her model and guide. For who is more truly beautiful than the Mother of Our Lord?

Do you have anything to add? How do you nurture positive body image for your children?



First Advent: Repost
December 12, 2011, 11:45 am
Filed under: Advent, Motherhood, Our Lady, Pregnancy | Tags: , , , ,

This is a repost from last year of a piece I wrote for our beloved Landing Literary Society in Waco about what pregnancy taught me about Advent and I’m thinking of sweet friends who are expecting this year during the Advent season (hi, Jen, Jeni, and Emily!)

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I was huge. Not just big—gigantic. Even before I entered my third trimester, well-intentioned old ladies would pat my shoulder and say, “Any day now!” encouragingly as I waddled my way through the grocery store. Considering the raging pregnancy hormones running through my system, I’m impressed that I didn’t slap any of the kind-hearted dears. I was huge.

As it neared the end of November, I started wearing flip-flops exclusively because my swollen feet wouldn’t fit into anything else. I think I gave up on other footwear after one particularly bad day when my husband had to help me get my boots off as I helplessly yelled inchoate phrases about being the only woman who would be pregnant forever. My maternity coat didn’t fit anymore by the time it was cold enough to wear it which enraged me further. When I wasn’t at work, I was lying on the couch or in the bath tub trying to remember what it felt like to be able to see my toes.  Then I would see a tiny limb change position—reminding me that my massive tummy housed a moving, living child.

As December neared and Advent began I considered this season for perhaps the first time. I had lighted Advent candles as a little girl and been excited about Christmas coming but had never considered the season as anything except a Pre-Christmas countdown. I came to realize that this is as incomplete an understanding of Advent as a definition of pregnancy as simply the nine months preceding a birth.

While I tried to remember what my feet looked like, I remembered the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I confess that I had never thought much about her before. I had never felt that we had anything in common until now. But as my belly got rounder and rounder and my back got achier and achier, I remembered her. She has done this, I thought. She has felt her child move in her womb, perhaps even responding to the sound of her voice or her song. She experienced this miracle of life taking place within her.

In our modern disenchanted age we have not completely lost our fascination with the miracle of new life.  Whenever I dragged my sleepy pregnant body to public places my experience was different than ever before. Little children looked at my belly, fascinated, sometimes even trying to give my belly a pat or lift up my shirt to discover if there was really a baby inside. Other mothers smiled at me and grandmothers reassured me. My ordinary child, this new ordinary life, elicited such a response of amazement. How much more miraculous is the coming of our Lord?, I began to wonder.

For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a son is given.

I was expecting my son during the season of expectation. The word comes fromexpectare—to wait, to hope, to look for. I did all this things. At first there was a contentment in the waiting and the hoping but eventually the groaning, miserable discomfort led to a readiness to be delivered of the tiny tyrant reigning over me from my womb.  A week before my due date I was so exhausted and so tired of bumping the counters with my colossal tummy and getting up 10 times a night because the little angel had given my bladder yet another energetic punch, that I began to lose it a bit. I couldn’t go to work one more day.  I couldn’t fit behind my desk. I couldn’t sleep. Until the discomfort crossed a certain threshold and I was struck with a desperate desire to be pregnant not a day longer, the pain of delivery was alarming to me and I remained unprepared.  Now it did not frighten me. Anything but this. I started to understand that it is not until we are exhausted, ill with our condition, miserable, that we are ready for Christ—when we can really desire to be delivered.

I kept thinking about the Blessed Virgin Mary. Was she as desperate to give birth as I was? I considered with wonder how when her baby boy was delivered, he would in turn deliver her, deliver me, deliver my own unborn son.

As I waited in joyous, miserable, anxious expectation, I started to understand an inkling of what it must have felt like to wait for the Messiah, Mary’s son. I begin to understand the Joy born to the world on Christmas and present with us now as I heard the sound of the first beautiful and strong cry of my newborn son. I realized in a new way how to wait with groaning and expectation for our Lord’s return in glory. It was my first Advent.



Birthday and Settling on a Baby Name!
September 8, 2011, 8:24 am
Filed under: Books, Husband, Our Lady, Pregnancy

I’m awake at 4am with a little pregnancy insomnia, that pregnancy refluxy feeling, and after being awakened by what sounds like a crazy party at our backyard neighbors house (3:30 am…on a THURSDAY morning, people?!). But it’s my birthday! 26! AND I get to share it with Our Lady because September 8th is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

Last night Daniel’s family completely spoiled me with an amazing dinner at Bella Bella followed by Au Peche Mignon’s White Forest Cake (same cake Daniel and I had as our wedding cake! so good!) and some amazing presents. Including…

Eek! The stunning cloth-bound Penguin Classics I’ve been wanting for almost two years. I’m in love…

My sweet husband says he’s going to build a special shelf to display them. Aren’t they gorgeous!?

I started Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford tonight which is already a treat. I’ve wanted to read something of hers ever since I saw the miniseries of Wives and Daughters over three years ago.

I had a good appointment with my second-favorite midwife yesterday morning (my favorite is still on maternity leave but should be back in time for Lucy’s arrival). Everything still looks good. I’ve been worried that Baby Girl is already dropping and might arrive too early, but my midwife assured me that it’s normal to feel more pelvic pressure the second time around and that she certainly hasn’t dropped yet. So maybe she’ll hang out until her due date afterall.

I think her arrival is feeling closer and more real for Daniel because all of a sudden he is tackling tons of baby projects. He rearranged all the furniture in our bedroom to make room for a bassinet and changing table. He made a BEAUTIFUL changing table out of a small old desk that was given to us. I’ll post pictures once it’s all set up in our room. It’s LOVELY. And now he’s sewing a stuffed animal (a bantha, he’s trying to introduce her to the world of Star Wars a little early) and making a baby hat for her. Isn’t he the best?!

And I think we’ve found a middle name we both love: Elanor. It’s been a frontrunner for a first name and we thought about saving it in case we get to have more girls but…who knows if we’ll have more girls? What if we have boys from here on out? And it’s really the first middle name idea that we both feel sure about. And there’s a saint Eleanor and my best friend in Waco is Eleanor. We’re doing a slightly different spelling and I’m not going to tell you why because you’ll immediately stop following this blog due to excessive nerdiness…

Well, I guess I have to tell you now, right? Elanor is Rosie Cotton and Samwise Gamgee’s daughter and the name of a flower in Middle-earth. Yes, we’re naming our child after a fictional character’s daughter. Deal with it.

So, Lucy Elanor Stewart. So she shall be.

Now back to bed…or…a late night/early morning slice of birthday cake?



The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 22, 2011, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Our Lady, Saints

I love Botticelli. His images of Our Lady are probably my favorite. This one is titled “Madonna of the Magnificat” but I thought of it today on the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary because the angels in the upper section are crowning her Queen of Heaven. In the image, she is writing down the beautiful poetry, the Magnificat, from the Gospel of Luke when she tells Elizabeth:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;

for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty,hath done great things to me;

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations,to them that fear him.

He hath shewed might in his arm:

he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers,to Abraham and to his seed for ever.