Let's Talk Little Kids and Modesty

Friday, January 24, 2020

I'm a theater person. I've been a dancer, and now also a parent of dancers, for the past 20+ years. That's a long time to be around the performing arts, and I've seen quite a range. Over the past few years, I've gotten a lot of questions from parents wondering about dance schools for their kids. A question that comes up time and again is about modesty.

How do you deal with immodest costumes? What if you don't like the choreography? Can you adapt the costume or uniform?

Here's my radical answer to the whole premise of the question: I don't believe in modesty as a concept for young children. I think it makes far more sense to approach clothing choices for kids by asking if it's age/activity/weather appropriate.

Context first

Going to church requires a very different set of clothing choices from a day in the woods or attending Ballet class. It is not possible to decide what is or isn't age appropriate without first factoring in context.
When we are talking about the dance context, the primary reasons for clothing design are 1) safety and 2) storytelling. In class, the tight fabric allows the teacher to see exactly what the student is doing, and correct any bad habits that are forming. That correction is what prevents injuries. In performance, costumes are designed to tell the story, set the time and place, and clearly indicate character.

Now is there wiggle room? Maybe. There are such things as bad design choices. If a costume is chosen that does not mesh with the age of the dancers, it is a bad choice. But I always approach those conversations from an age appropriate stance instead of one of modesty.

Be Goal Oriented

Why wouldn't I tell that studio director her costume choices are immodest? Because there is no uniform definition of what is modest - especially when you factor in different ages and contexts. We would easily be talking past each other. My goal is not to "win"; my goal is to reach a solution. In order to do that, I need to treat the director/costume designer/whoever is in charge with an understanding for the various factors they are juggling and a desire to be on the same page.

Sometimes it's just not a good fit

Perhaps there's a studio that's very close to you, but they focus on a type of dance that does not fit your taste. If you're not inspired by the end goals of that school, then it's probably not the school for you. If that director thinks two piece costumes that show off little kid tummies are SO CUTE, but you're not down with it - it's probably not the school for you.
Too often people interpret one school being a bad fit to mean that dance as a whole is not a good choice for kids. Please don't make that mistake (but I have a whole piece on it if you want more on that topic.)

What can you do?

Here are some ways I have seen dance schools in particular grow and improve when it comes to age appropriate choices:

  • Having all young dancers wear their tights and a nude leotard as a base layer for their costume. They get dressed at home, the costumes get a little extra protection, and changing awkwardness is banished. Yea!
  • Some schools have moved to not even having costumes for recitals at all. Instead those are saved for larger performing opportunities, and recitals are done in their regular dance uniforms plus a hair piece or cummerbund. Budget friendly, less waste, and no worry about costume choices.
  • Learning stage make up is a necessary skill for a performer. Don't be afraid of it! There are many YouTube videos now for stage make up for the young dancer (including ones for young male dancers). Make up is necessary under stage lights, but lots of places have figured out exactly what is needed and what is not.
  • The single most powerful thing for the parent of a little performer to understand is why. Why are things done this way? Why is this useful? What is the end goal that this is all building toward? Some schools offer occasional parent lectures, observation weeks, regular teacher feedback, lending libraries, and other ways for parents to understand what their child is working on.

Modesty is a huge concept! This is a particular area of my experience, but I know many other art forms and schools handle the question of modesty for young kids with very different solutions. What has worked for you? Do you do things different with your own kids than what you had growing up? Did anything I said make you think differently about modesty for young kids?

2019...You Were a Doozy

Monday, December 30, 2019

Well 2019 was a YEAR. I've never been one to say "good riddance" to a particular year, but if I had to pick one 2019 is a solid contender.

2019 brought a house fire, being out of our home for 5 weeks, finding out we were pregnant, miscarrying, finding an ovarian cystic tumor and STILL miscarrying, miscarrying again. Lots of deaths and sickness and losses.

But it also brought my first acting castings in the Twin Cities, shooting a commercial, settling into a fun new homeschool groove, the kids in therapies graduating from their therapies.

Even the bad stuff brought some good stuff. Living in an extended stay hotel during the fire clean up meant we spent just about every morning at the Y. That's the only reason I was around to meet Joan, who turned out to be the great-granddaughter of the original builders of our house.

This is when Joan (or Gigi as the kids call her) came back to see the house for the first time in over 60 years.
This was taken just before her 90th birthday!
Perhaps the biggest change has been not writing publicly nearly as often as I have in the past. Partly it's a time issue (theater productions are crazy time intensive) but also because a lot more of my discussions and writing have been happening offline.

Going through back to back miscarriages this year, and being open about it online, led to an opening of shared pain and need for healing that I was not expecting. Over the past nearly 7 months of this process, I've gotten messages from women going through their first miscarriages, women still struggling with past losses, others with multiple losses, and friends of parents experiencing loss. If nothing else, this year has shown that there is still a massive unmet need for services and understanding when it comes to grief and loss.

I keep coming back to stories.
My degree is in Anthropology, and I've been drawn to the power of stories for a long time.
That's what I've been writing.
I've been writing the story of this house and it's original family as I uncover historical documents and get information from the family. The story of my own extended family as records are released and things come to light. I've been working on lesser known saint stories and folklore theory recently (and will hopefully have something to show you about that at some point.)

Here were the top three posts from this year. They are all very story based. The best part about stories is how they are both personal and widely applicable. You'll see what I mean.

Back in March, when I had no idea just how sideways this year would get, I wrote up a piece of theater advice that I think makes parish life much better. Act boldly, be a real community.
I ended up needing to take my own advice in a big way. It's been rough and painful, but there are glimmers of hope there that will hopefully help others.

That time when I got real and concise with the internet and got wildly differing responses.
This was a popular post, but a lot of people's last post. Some felt personally called out by this one. Some felt like they couldn't handle "this darkness". Some told me they would read me again "when you're ready to be a cheerful person again."
Still there were some who let me know they had registered our babies in their parish's book of remembrance. Lots of prayers. Lots of "me too"s and "I wish I had said this during my losses".

Grief isn't fun or pretty. But as a community, and as a Church, we've got to get better at it. For the sake of our humanity.

I debated for a really long time whether to share this story.
There are many stories about our family life and personal lives that I have chosen not to share out of privacy concerns. Often because they are not my story to tell. 
This one was tricky. The genetic condition that Felicity has is something I share. As far as we know I'm the first in my family to have significant hyper-mobility, and until the past few years I didn't know it was genetic. I thought this is just what happens when you've been dancing since the age of 4.

We are incredibly blessed to live in Minnesota where in home physical therapy and early intervention is free and readily available. Since this post, Felicity no longer needs her braces, has caught up with her gross motor skills, and graduated from her weekly PT. She has worked hard to be where she is now, but I know from being a few more decades down the road that this is a lifelong condition.

I don't know how things are going to play out for her, but it's a blessing to have walked this road first. 

What did 2019 bring you? Did you have a favorite story of this year? Any transformations for you?

Letting Go of Policing Advent

Monday, November 25, 2019

Advent is just around the corner, and perhaps the cringy-est liturgical living ghost is about to appear: the Advent Grinch.

I get it. It bothers you that December is filled with Christmas parties, sales, community events, and  movies. Because it is NOT Christmas, and you DON'T want to celebrate it already.
However, it's probably bad for evangelization to put down the secular world trying to participate in a season it vaguely remembers and longs to hold. It seems counterproductive to be against celebrating such an important season, even if it is done a little off time. They're trying.

Instead of making Advent a protest against the secular world celebrating imperfectly, it seems far more charitable to stop policing Advent as a negative and start celebrating it as a positive.

The Little Lent

If you want to make sure your family is clear on the difference between Advent and Christmas, a simple way to start is embracing the penitential aspect of the season. Have you noticed how the liturgical color is purple, the same as during Lent? Advent is a "little Lent", a second preparatory and penitential season. Picking a mortification as individuals or as a family can help focus the season.

This comes with a caveat - your mortification cannot force the mortification of others. It's just unkind and negates the individual discipline of the practice. If you want to give up "going to Christmas parties during Advent" largely because you want a reason to not attend those gatherings, that might need a little more examination. Are you really doing a private mortification to prepare your heart for the coming of Christmas or are you falling into pride? Telling your friend that you aren't attending their party because it's inappropriate to have Christmas parties in Advent is probably going to embarrass your friend and cause harm to that relationship.
You don't have to accept every invitation, but you do have to exercise kindness and charity.

Pick and Choose

Although we are generally able to better accept Lent will look a little different for each of us, we aren't always as generous with variation when it comes to Advent. Instead it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to do ALL THE THINGS. Jesse Tree, Advent wreath, special feast days and the feast days that don't resonate with your family.

 You don't have to do any of it. It's nice, they can make good memories, but if it is causing you to be stretched thin or beat yourself up for forgetting the Jessie Tree again - maybe you're better off simplifying.

It's fine to do what works for you.

The only Advent traditions we do are the ones that have deep meaning for us, we enjoy doing, and that help us orient towards Christmas. For us St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, Ember Days, Advent wreath, and slow decorating make the cut. That's it.

We don't do much of anything for Our Lady of Guadalupe now, we don't do Jessie Tree, hunt for the baby Jesus, or many other fine and dandy traditions. What you do once does not actually mean you are trapped in celebrating in a particular way forever. Extend yourself the grace to grow and change, and it makes it easier to extend that to others.

Lean into the Christmas season.

The single easiest way I have found to not be an Advent Grinch is to make my Christmas season radically different from Advent. We lean way into the Christmas season. The 12 Days of Christmas (Christmas to Epiphany) are both highly celebratory and laid back. We are off from school and outside classes. We make ourselves available to welcome friends and family. I prep freezer meals and cookie dough and do a deep clean during the Ember Days. That leaves me free of lots of household duties during the 12 Days of Christmas.

It doesn't need to be fancy. In fact, it probably shouldn't be fancy.

If you want some ideas for this time, you can check out my 12 lists for the 12 Days of Christmas post.
Haven't heard of these Ember Days I mentioned? Here's a little about them.

Want a breakdown of how to prep during Advent for this truly relaxing (even for mom) 12 Days of Christmas? Check out this post.

Was It Worth Being Open to Life When My Baby Died?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Last week I discussed the worth of walking down the wrong path. In that piece I focused more on saying a full yes to one vocation, only to ultimately learn that it was not meant for me. That time spent discerning was a gift instead of a waste.

It's relatively easy to accept that taking a risk on discernment will pay off somehow. But what about when the "wrong road" involves losing a child? What if it means losing multiple children? Was it still worth it?

I've shared a bit about our story from this summer. A very complicated miscarriage in June that didn't end until July when we also had to do surgery to remove a cystic tumor on my ovary (unrelated to miscarriage, I'm just lucky like that.) A subsequent miscarriage in September.

I don't think it truly was a "wrong road" to have been open to those pregnancies, but it was a wrong road in the sense that it did not lead to a living baby as one would hope. Roads that lead to heartache are roads most people would rather not travel. It's not wrong to feel that.

However, I wasn't anticipating how strongly my losses would result in me being avoided. Like miscarriage is catching. Like I have a bad luck virus. Even among women who have had miscarriages, my story is odd. This particular road is rare, and, perhaps the scariest of all, unavoidable.
My losses are not due to any underlying problem we have been able to identify. All three are more than likely due to bad luck. There is nothing I could have done to prevent them. There is nothing to do to avoid losing future children.

That terrifies people.

We don't like it, but it's true - being open to life will entail being open to death. Whether we accept that reality or not. A road that you thought was bordered by sunshine and daisies can turn into a nightmare in an instant. But it's still a grace to be on that road. It is better to have been open to grace and cooperating with it, than to have prevented the heartache with sameness.

Heartache is a reminder of the power and size of your yes. When your heart breaks over a sudden turn in the road, it lets you know how deeply you meant your yes. Heartache is a beautiful reminder that you were willing to become more. More open, more loving, more a follower of Christ. This is not the "be more" of Pinterest inspirational quotes. This is the being more that is our invitation to accept God can do anything. We can be more his on this hard path.

God did not intend for your baby to die. Our God is not a cruel God. I think it's important to lay that out there.
The idea that this road has included loss, or losses, that furthers God's grace does not mean that you should not grieve. If anything it means grief will be so much more real.

A pothole in this road is the temptation to what I call the Pain Olympics. Comparing our pain to be greater than or less than the pain of others, and using that comparison to justify harmful behavior. This is not a healing strategy. The Pain Olympics only hands out loser awards. Even if you "win" it just means you are still hurting. We can do that without belittling the pain of others.

What I don't want to become is bitter on this road. Which does not mean I accept that the people who have reacted hurtfully in this process haven't hurt me. It's right to be hurt by hurtful things. It just means that instead of pretending these awful months didn't happen, I can use this experience to push for change. To allow the next woman walking her sudden wrong road to have someone next to her. To do the little things I can do. Cooperating with God's grace does not have to die with my babies. It can be the ultimate sign of their life.

Was this road worth it? 100% yes. Does it hurt? 100% yes.

Yes is a super power if we allow it to be.

What have been some of your unexpected "wrong roads"? How have you cooperated with Grace?

The Worth of Walking Down the Wrong Road

Monday, November 11, 2019

"I don't want it to have been a waste of time."
"I'm not sure if it will pay off."
"How can I be positive God is calling me?"

These are probably the top three responses I hear in discussions about discernment. They are the same responses when the discussion is about discerning a primary vocation, deciding to start a new venture, or listening for another kind of calling.
The underlying fear is the same: no one wants to start down the wrong road.

But what makes something "the wrong road" when you are choosing between good things?
I think most of us assume that any path that does not end in our eventual calling was a wrong road.
What if God might be calling you to walk one path for a while, but not arrive at your anticipated destination? What if it's not about finding out God's big picture plan, but more of a practice in letting him walk with you on every path?

This changes things. Now it's less about being sure and confident of God's will, and more being willing to come along on the adventure.

There have been two big roads in my life that could have been considered a wrong road, but have been incredibly important in shaping me, my faith life, and my vocation: my time spent discerning a religious vocation, and my miscarriages.

I'll cover the miscarriages in part 2, but I wanted to talk about discerning the religious life in particular today.

I wrote some thoughts on vocations as a wannabe nun called to marriage a while back. A question I got a lot from sharing that story was: Do you regret spending all that time discerning when the answer was no?
No, I think it was still worth doing, and I encourage everyone to discern this particular path if at all possible. I didn't get too far along in the process of actually entering an order, but I have friends who became postulates, took temporary vows, and spent years pursuing the religious life vocation only to discern out. Did they take a "wrong road"?

Religious discernment is not just a single person talking God's ear off until they get a yes or no answer. It involves a deep awareness of self, an honest evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, and relationships with a whole host of people. I think everyone can agree all of those things are well worth doing in order to grow into a mature adult faith. Doing so in a religious community brings with it a fundamentally changed relationship between the discerning person and Jesus and his Church.

When a woman discerns a religious vocation, she is discerning marriage with Jesus. That is, at a basic level, what is happening.
Want to start seeing God as a person and not just a far off in the sky being? Try dating him.
To discern out means reaching a point where Jesus lets you know that you are not meant to become a Bride of Christ. It's awful and wonderful.

Those of us who discerned out will forever have a relationship with Jesus that has a different kind of intimacy. I have personally found a connection with others who discerned the religious life. There is a grace that comes from the act of putting the question to God "Is this what you want of me?"

Regrets don't come from the good you were open to pursuing, they come from failing to ask the question out of fear of the what ifs.

Check back next week for Part 2 and what this all means when applied to being open to life and losing your baby. Especially multiple times.

A Grief Continued - Back to Back Miscarriages and Taking Space

Friday, September 27, 2019

It happened again. For the third time we have lost another pregnancy.

This makes two just this summer.

When I had our first miscarriage in between our second and third born children, I believed the whole song and dance of how this is common but it probably won't happen again. I am very good at winning all the wrong lotteries, so leave it to me to beat the odds here.

Grief is a long process, but it is nearly impossible to heal when the traumas keep coming. Factors are different with these two losses that pose their own challenges for healing. A key difference between our first loss and these last two is we are now part of an extremely fertile parish. It's babies and pregnant women everywhere and all the time - including many who share(d) my due window.

When we had our house fire in the early Spring, no one would have put me in a position of having to talk about fires and house renovations at every gathering. Certainly no one would have decided other fire victims would be best to facilitate our healing. Because that's tacky, insensitive, and, to a great extent, illogical.
But that's what we do around pregnancy loss.

When you are living a nightmare, it's extremely hard to relate.
Right now, I don't want to hear your complaints about your perfectly healthy pregnancy when my babies are dead.
I'm not ready to push through my grief for the sake of your joy.
I don't want to see the growing bellies of all the women who would have been pregnant with me. There are zero ways for that to not make me flashback to the losses.

If this is sounding like trauma and raw wounds - it's because it is. This entire summer I have been a living breathing war zone and burial ground.
I wish wearing morning dress was still a thing. At least then I would have a way to externally signal to the world that I'm not ok, handle with care. Instead I look like a mom with three young kids who can totally handle one more thing.

To a great extent, I am bearing it well. I'm getting up every morning. I show up when scheduled. I smile. I joke. I talk about other things. I teach my kids. I handle new projects. I go where I am needed.
But I'm not ok.

"Just because you carry it all so well, doesn't mean it's not heavy."

This is heavy. This has been going on since June 1st, y'all. Yet I, and many of the other people around you silently suffering losses, feel intense pressure to be fine. To be normal. To be recovered.

I don't know about everyone, but I don't recover well without space. Space is something I haven't had much of over the past four months.

This past week, my husband and I took a couples getaway to the North Shore on Lake Superior. This trip had been planned since July, when it became apparent that we needed something to look forward to in this summer of grief. I had no idea it would end up being the week after yet another loss.

It was three days of extremely limited internet and phone access. Spending nearly all day outside. Having time and space with just our marriage.

I came home feeling much more connected with my husband, but so much more averse to pretending with everyone else. Instead of feeling like I could take on reconnecting to the level I was pre-back to back losses, I feel the need to reclaim space.
Grief makes you feel small and insignificant. It makes you recoil and shy away from being "too" anything. It leads you to act like your person is less than everyone else. Not in a virtuous humble way, in a way that doesn't acknowledge your own dignity.

So for at least the next 4 months, the rough amount of time I have spent miscarrying just this year, I am going to reclaim my space. It's time to acknowledge that while my pregnant friends do not mean to make things hard for me, it is hard to be around right now. They didn't ask for that anymore than I asked to be a multiple loss mom, but here we are regardless. I have come to realize it's more spiritually expensive to pretend fine and let resentment build up. Sometimes taking a pause is the option of minimal harm.

Here are the 7 things I wish people knew in this time of prolonged loss and grief.

1. Communication is key. It's a lot of mental and emotional bandwidth to do all the communication from my end. It's incredibly helpful when people reach out and check in, or check their perceptions, without me having to initiate everything myself.

2. Silence isn't a rebuff, it might be a pause. I'm still homeschooling and juggling all kinds of things on my end. I often don't get the time or energy to respond to communications until a break in the day or the week. Be patient with me.

3. See the whole person. I love going to young adult events right now. Not just because they tend to be attended by people unlikely to spring a surprise pregnancy announcement. With young adults, I get asked about myself as a person. Not solely as a mom. It's a blessed break to talk about history, current events, hobbies, or all the many things that are a part of me.

4. I'm still postpartum. There is, rightfully, a huge amount of grace extended to women in the months after giving birth. My body has gone through massive hormonal shifts, surgery, stress, and a whole pile of struggles just like any other postpartum mom. But because I don't have a cute baby to show for it, it is very easy to forget I'm still a person going through a postpartum recovery.

5. Having first trimester losses carries it's own kind of trauma. I have no grave to visit. There are no sonogram pictures of my living babies. The lack of closure there is something that doesn't go away.

6. Grief and loss impacts every part of my life right now. I don't have the reserves to deal with people reacting badly. I have barely written because I can't deal with the trolls and people just having a bad day at me.

7. This isn't forever, but it is my now. I couldn't tell you when it won't physically hurt to be around pregnant women. I wish I knew too.


Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7QT.  

That Time I Really Looked into Catholic Unschooling - Homeschool Plan 2019-2020

Thursday, August 22, 2019

This summer was hard on our family. Between the longest miscarriage ever, surprise ovarian surgery, solo parenting stints, and recovering from the house fire last spring - it felt like life just kept coming back for more blood. Getting ready to start our school year, and the first homeschooling year with two kids in for-realsies grades, I felt overwhelmed, burned out, and done. And I hadn't even started yet.

It was clear that something needed to change. I responded to that need in proper nerd fashion: looking into all the options - be they weird, fringe, or otherwise out of my norm. Catholic unschooling came across my rader, and for the first time I actually considered it's merits.

To be clear, we are not actually going all in on unschooling. We are still using the structure and curriculum choices through Mother of Divine Grace. However, it made since to re-assess how we went about implementing MODG using some of the things that can be learned from unschooling families.

Some ideas I came across I was not ok with accepting, but there were others that resonated with me.

Skill subjects vs. content subjects

While I knew the distinction of skill subjects and content subjects from my own experience as a homeschooled kid, I realized I wasn't acting the distinction that well in my practice of homeschooling my own children.

Some subjects work well most of the time with consistent daily practice that follows a logical sequence - these are the skill subjects. Math is an obvious one, but others like grammar, spelling, music theory, art, languages have at least parts of their study that are skill based.

Other subjects are about acquiring content knowledge. At least the early grades of science, history, some literature, art, geography are all content subjects. These are subjects that are perhaps best done with what I call guided exploration. Our studies for science, history, some geography, and lots of arts and literature, are being approached with less structured school time. Instead we grow and explore together a wide variety of topics in those subjects based one what the kids, or I, are interested in learning. That means lots of documentaries, field trips, experiments, library trips, and learning alongside my children.

When We School

In order to implement that unschooling exploratory style, an essential ingredient is needed - time. There has to be time for ideas to grow and percolate. Time for field trips. Time for talking and being with each other so that I, as their teacher and parent, can understand where their interest might be leading and how I can best facilitate their growth.

Which means we have shifted almost all of our book time to be after lunch, leaving the mornings open. This is the most likely time we have for getting out of the house, and finding the energy that exploratory learning involves. Since my oldest is just 2nd grade, this isn't too terribly difficult to do. Even when you consider additional reading practice, his work Monday through Thursday takes about two hours, max.

Shifting to afternoon lessons is important for another aspect of family functioning:

What to do with the active toddler

When we schooled mostly in the morning, the toddler was her worst self. She wasn't getting to play with her siblings as much, she was only happy drawing or doing other activities for about 20 minutes, and school was taking longer for the big kids due to the incessant interruptions.

So now we are mostly doing book work during her nap time.
The mornings with exploratory learning are much easier to include her in our learning. She gets lots of active time and loving on by everyone. That time of learning alongside each other, and investment into our family culture first, makes a huge different in everyone's attitude.

Book work goes much faster when I'm not cajoling anyone to "just get it done". Everyone from the quality time loving kids to my very touchy kids have had their love tanks filled.

But what about the book list?

This unschooling/homeschooling mashup is doable right now in large part because we were starting from a curriculum that emphasizes the parent/child connection and flexibility between kids. When you are starting from a place of guiding the child through the good, true, and beautiful, it is simple to take advantage of the multiple roads available for that journey.

We still use the reading list as our starting point, but end up reading far beyond it.
I still find the choices for math curriculum, handwriting, and other skill subjects to work for us.
But I needed to break up my mental idea that I was married to those choices.

So far I have had kids that have widely different places of struggle and ease when it comes to their learning. Embracing that sometimes what you need is fine tuning, instead of a wholesale do over, has been very freeing this year.

Are you changing things up this year? What have you done to make your days better when circumstances change?

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