Welcome to In a Word, a newsletter that cultivates thoughtfulness, one word at a time. If a friend forwarded you this email, click here to subscribe.
Three exciting things about this issue- an audio edition, a new look, and a giveaway!
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I worked with Erin of Primavera Studio to refresh the graphics and aesthetic of the newsletter!
To celebrate one year and the new look, I’m giving away a gift card to someone who shares In A Word on social media this week. (Tag me @jaceyverdicchio so I see that you shared.) Gift card is winner’s choice: $10 to Target or Starbucks. I’ll choose a winner (by random selection) on August 20th!
In this issue, we’re exploring the word “wait.” A paradox of my generation is that we don’t have to wait for anything but we’re always waiting for something. We can one-click order most anything, skip grocery lines with order pickup, and get instant feedback on Instagram. But existentially, we’re holding our breath, waiting for our lives to mean something. Waiting for a partner, a calling, a pregnancy to arrive so our real lives can begin.
If we trained ourselves to wait when the stakes are inconsequential, I wonder if we could more easily step into the flow of life and stop waiting for it to begin. I wonder if the existential hope and dread of life would dissipate some if we didn’t live every minute looking for something outside of what’s already here.
In this issue, you’ll find an essay about the caution parents give new parents to ‘“ just wait.” Then, you’ll find a collection themed around waiting, and a closing benediction.
“Oh, just wait.”
Occasionally, it’s presented as encouragement in an Instagram post “to moms of littles” from a mom of bigs: one day, they’ll wipe their own butts, and sleep in, and load the dishwasher instead of unloading it onto the floor while you try to load it.
Sometimes it’s said smugly, by a grizzled mom who’s seen the front lines of bodily fluid spills, cross-eyed exhaustion, and high-decibel screaming. She laughs in the face of your hypothetical ideals. She can’t help but smirk sideways at your intentions—plans that she, too, once laid. What seems to really get under her skin is the hubris, the illusion of control.
Maybe it’s rooted in lingering shame over the ways she feels she “failed.” Maybe it’s retroactive repulsion at her former self’s naiveté. For one reason or another, she’s compelled to spew her hard-won, fire-tried perspective onto unsuspecting pregnant ladies. She holds high this poor woman’s labor/breastfeeding/sleep training hopes and sends them plummeting like a watermelon from a second story window.
She is desperate to disabuse this woman—or maybe her former self—of her dreamy ideals. Enjoy your fashion-forward overalls while you can; you’ll be wearing milk-stained sweatpants with a busted waistband for the next decade!
Even the “dear moms of little ones” genre often drips with condescension. They’re hitting a more harmonious note, but I can hear that minor key in the background. They still know better than you. They know that these days of endless runny noses and rejected vegetables are to be cherished, because it will all be over soon—too soon.
Their wistfulness is withering to those of us in the trenches, because the desire to see for ourselves is as deeply held as their desire to show us a better way. We want to believe that we will not have to surrender the whole of ourselves on the altar of motherhood.
We want to believe that it’s not an altar at all, consuming our sacrifices with ravenous hunger, but just another role we can add to our textured view of ourselves. We are holding out hope that it won’t be the slog we so often see portrayed in media, social and otherwise.
Just two years in, my parenting “philosophy” bears many (teeth) marks of reality. Resolve and limits have been tested. The rubber has met the road—(and my daughter’s mouth, when breastfeeding didn’t work for us).
You’ve never met someone more determined than I was to give birth without pain relief. I wasn’t going to “wait and see” how labor went—I was committed. But my labor ended abruptly with a Cesarean.
I was equally hell-bent on breastfeeding. Like many women, I assumed something so “natural” would come, well, naturally. Unlike labor, which ended after 18 hours, (my steel will be damned), I dragged the battle to breastfeed over six grueling months of misery. I had no choice but to follow my body’s surrender when I stopped producing milk altogether.
So, am I one of those opinion-spewing moms now, here to tell you that breastfeeding isn’t really that important, and that “healthy mom, healthy baby” is the only delivery outcome that matters?
I’ll never forget a conversation with our pediatrician when I was at my wit’s end with breastfeeding struggles. “Is it important to you?” she asked. When I said yes, she said, “Then we keep trying.” In that moment she gave me both the freedom to stop if I wanted, and the encouragement to keep going. She gave me the agency to choose without flippantly waving off my desire.
Desire and determination may be good, or they may be misplaced, but they are nearly impossible to talk a person out of with such flimsy stuff as reason. I’d have ripped the butt paper off the table in rage if she’d dared to tell me about the advances in formula nutrition in that moment.
For me, it wasn’t about the inherent value of my birth plan or breastfeeding, but how they were totems of stubbornly held beliefs I needed to shed. Like, that I can bend reality by sheer force of will and white-knuckling. That to stop short of doing “everything I can” would be failure. That the birth and nourishing of a baby, animal and miracle at once, can be so crudely drawn in terms of “success” or “failure.”
Perhaps the advice-giving mothers aren’t filled with bitter regret for their “failures.” Perhaps they regret categorizing their mothering choices into columns—success v. failure, good v. bad—in the first place. Perhaps their wills have been broken, and what they found on the other side wasn’t the heartache of defeat, but the freedom of accepting their own humanity.
That’s what happened to me, anyway. A world of liberating nuance opened up for me as a mother, and as a person. I’ve tended toward black-and-white, moralistic thinking my whole life, and these initiating motherhood experiences finally shook some of that loose.
I’m like the blind person Jesus healed by rubbing clay in his eyes. My crystalized vision needed muddying so I could better see grace. What I deemed precious gems had to be pried from my hands for me to see that they were actually fool’s gold.
Expecting moms and new moms: I don’t know if it will be like this for you. But if you’re afraid of losing yourself, like I was—maybe you will. Maybe you’ll lose parts of yourself you didn’t even know were weighing you down. Maybe one day you’ll meet your tired eyes in the mirror and by magical paradox, you’ll see all you’ve gained through what you’ve lost.
Oh, and if you’re even a little inclined to, definitely wear the maternity overalls.
In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses - a man finds comfort in coincidences while he’s hurting.
Wait for Me chronicles the boundless, legendary loyalty of dogs. I will never, ever get tired of reading stories like this. My favorite part is when Helen Keller describes her puppy as an “angel in fur.” GOOD BOY.
Emily P. Freeman has some wise words for us about waiting in the “Wait, Now Go” episode of The Next Right Thing podcast.
I appreciated this honest grappling with the unsatisfying void the author finds between shame-driven purity culture and a consent ethic.
Summer will forever hold memories of waiting for Bets:
A few last links worth a click:
This homemade bread takes 18+ hours to rise, but is worth the wait. Bookmark it for fall!
The Hamilton cast performs a 360º version of Wait For It:
I used to have this song on a “Calm” playlist in college and I forgot how good it is:
As a person, 2019 John Mayer > 2010 John Mayer, but doesn’t his shaggy mop remind us of simpler times?
In the waiting rooms of life, may agitation give way to settled calm. May we learn to hold our breath without feeling like we’re underwater.
May we settle into the in-between, waiting with hope rather than dread, hope that extends like a daisy chain, one moment at a time.
When we find ourselves waiting for the other shoe to drop, may we feel the ground beneath us. Both shoes are present and accounted for, rooting us here, now.
As always, I’d also love to hear your thoughts on anything this issue calls to mind for you. Simply respond to this email to let me know.
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