Tag Archives: Motherhood

Dressing Up and Running Wild

by Kate

Yesterday we left the city sparkling in the bright December sun and traveled to a tiny country church with the steepest set of steps I have ever seen.

We were there for the baptism of our godson, Gideon Josef.

Gideon is a remarkably peaceful, contented, and quiet child. This makes him distinctly different from his two year old sister Avila and my daughter Olympia. Actually Avila wasn’t so bad, but as for my child… Well. Any of you who have stood in front of a silent congregation holding a very vocal and squirming toddler can probably understand why I have claw marks on my face and neck this morning. I was fiercely engaged in a silent and public wrestling match with Olympia while standing in the front of the church before the baptismal font, until finally recognizing that she fervently wanted to be reunited with Avila, and gratefully surrendering her to the grandparents in the front pew. Meanwhile, the priest dropped his cane, and Gideon threw out his arm to ward off the holy water and knocked the vials of chrism oil onto the floor. In the end the cane and chrism were retrieved, the toddler was pacified with a camera, and the baby was duly baptized. Then there was cake, and time for the little girls to run wild. Note Avila’s truly fantastic fur coat.

The friendship between these two little girls has been a delight to watch. They have always had a special connection. It was interesting to watch an affinity so clearly pronounced between tiny babies. They are just getting old enough to do more than stare delightedly into each others eyes. I suspect this means they are on the verge of getting into a great deal of trouble.

They come by the friendship, fur coats, and propensity for trouble making honestly enough, as their mothers have spent many years dressing up, dreaming, and getting in and out of trouble together.

Granted we weren’t usually that dressed up. That picture was taken at the in the midst of the time we spent living in a blue cabin and running a theatre company together. Rebecca made all the costumes, so the cabin was full of them, and moments like these flowed out of our daily life. Of course, our daily lives tend to lead to dress up on a regular basis.

I am delighted to see the friendship (and the dressing up) continuing in the next generation.

 

You can read more about Rebecca (and her farm!) here:

Sunday at Sparta Farm

 

 

 

A Tiny Tall Tale

by Kate

Last night we went out to the very glamorous and very hip Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to see the Bellydance Superstars and to bid adieu to Pittsburgh’s amazing Zafira Dance Company, performing as a troupe for the last time. The Theater is a gorgeous old movie palace, and as is fitting for a theater named after Gene Kelly (who grew here in Pittsburgh) they book lots of very dynamic dance performances. I was excited to see the dancing, but to be completely honest I was even more excited to four inch stiletto heels in public.

Oh, it has been a long time since I’ve been in the spike heel giantess mood. When you are six feet tall standing in bare feet, the decision to wear four inch heels is quite a commitment. I am grateful on a daily basis that my husband is six foot five, and when I met him I was so excited about this fact that I wore high, high heels every chance I got and reveled in the startled looks of passerby. Lately, however, I’ve been wearing bright fuschia flats, cowboy boots, gladiator sandals, and barefeet. I just haven’t been feeling the high heel vibe.

I realized how much I missed it last night, slipping on a pair of black stiletto with skinny jeans. I threw on a blazer from Banana Republic that I found last time I was at Goodwill, and felt very chic. Olympia was in a stylish striped top and Casey was tall and handsome and the theater was beautiful and the dancing was amazing and all was well.

Until right after we took this picture. Olympia had kicked off her shoes and was dancing and running wildly through the lobby, until she slipped and came down hard while biting deep into her bottom lip. We mopped up the blood and put her in the sling, where she slept peacefully through the second half of the show. She also slept peacefully when, while attempting to perform the challenging feat of walking down three steps, I caught my (four inch) heel and went tumbling forward through space, managing to stab myself in the foot with one spiked heel before catching myself clumsily with my arms and knees. Except for the stabbed foot, I was fine, and the swing just swung like a hammock on a gentle sea and Olympia slept right through it, but the 50 people behind me let out a collective gasp of horror.

I turned red and beat a quick stagger of a retreat, thinking three things: 1) I love that sling, 2) Perhaps I should put some of the energy I spend practicing dance into learning to walk, and 3) This totally did not dampen my desire to wear high heels in public. But perhaps I need new ones?

How I Became a Slattery- A Love Story

by Aurora E. Slattery

I am the only Slattery sister who hasn’t written on the blog. Now this could have something to do with the fact that I am married to the eldest Slattery son Gabriel (he was born after Kate).  We have four beautiful children Claire, Adeline, Thaddeus and Antonia that keep me quite occupied.  But the other day my sister in law and best friend Mary happen to “mention” that if I wanted to ever contribute to the blog Kate had decided my love story would be perfect (hint taken).  Since my fourth anniversary is fast approaching I’ve decided to begin the tale of how I became a Slattery.


Once upon a time there was a rather unhappy and unwed mother of a one year old, that would be me.  Now the last few years had not been easy and so I must admit to not having the best opinion of men in general.  But sometimes bad decisions can produce good outcomes as we shall see here.  Mary had befriended me a few years earlier, and our older sisters Emily and Kate had been (very dramatic) friends for years. 

Mary had helped me get a job at a little cafe called The Driftless Cafe in my hometown after Claire (my one year old daughter) and I had moved back in with my family.  The Driftless lead to many things, most importantly to me that of friendship and love.  Mary happen to live above the cafe, the year it opened, which lead to me meeting her legendary brothers, Gabe and Rob.

Mary always talked about them and one night in Mary’s apartment I finally got to meet them.  It wasn’t love at first sight but though the summer I figured out that I really liked Gabriel.  There was something about him a delightful twinkling of the eye and kindness I had grown unaccustomed.  However by the end of summer Gabriel was gone and I was back in my bad situation which lead to a second pregnancy which led to me finally realize that God had me destined in a very different path.
After moving back in with my parents in early 2006 and permanently ending a failed relationship I returned to my Catholic roots.  I started to think about Gabriel (Mary and I had already started a joke about how if things didn’t work out with the other guy I could always marry Gabriel).  When summer came round I decided to have Gabriel rebuild some fence at my family’s ranch since he is a carpenter. 

We ended up talking a lot and I realized that I had met a real man who was hardworking, spiritual, intelligent and incredibly good looking.  I must admit to never feeling so magnetized to someone, I felt respected and comforted by his very presence.  One day as my boss Lars ( a very dear friend of our to this day) and I were washing dishes and he blurted out that I should marry Gabe Slattery.  I informed him that Gabriel had a girlfriend and he responded that perhaps the fact I was almost nine months pregnant was more of a problem.  But it wasn’t a problem and neither was the girlfriend  because at Lars’s wedding a few weeks later Gabriel and I were inseparable.  We watched fireworks at the wedding that night. Gabriel put our daughter Claire  up on his shoulders and as I watched them I remember thinking this is what it feels like to have a real family.  We danced, we talked, he drank, I didn’t (very pregnant remember).  I even drove him back to my parents where, we did not even kiss, he slept on the couch. 

After that night I felt so clear about him and knew that I had to trust God and offer up my insecurities ( freshly out of a bad relationship and almost two kids) I felt intuitively that everything would work out.  Soon I became a mother again.  The day Adeline Grace was born somehow most of my future family showed up.  Maybe most importantly my future mother in law Terese who was in the hospital after her mother fell that day and popped in to see me in the maternity ward.  It is a great joy to bring a child into the world even as a single parent and the void of father was somewhat filled by family and friends.  Now things had been brewing between Gabriel and me throughout the summer and other people knew it.  Lars had mentioned to Gabe that he should marry Aurora Menn and Gabriel said it wasn’t a bad idea.  When Adeline was two weeks old the day before Gabriel was leaving to return to Corpus Christi Texas ( a very very long long way from Wisconsin) to finish his last year of college we had our first kiss.  And I think we knew that somethings big was happening because thirteen and a half months later we were married, dairy farming and pregnant…… but that is another story.

A note from the bossy big sister editor Kate: There is more of Aurora and Gabe’s love story to come, including some coverage of their extravagent fairytale wedding. In the meantime, if you are in the mood for more romance, check out our brother Rob’s story here:

The Engagement, Mary’s Letter, Wedding Part One, Wedding Part Two, Wedding Part Three, Wedding Part Four, Nicole’s story

September in the Orchard

by Kate

In the month of September, 2001 I was 22 years old with a broken heart and one of the most beautiful jobs in the world. Four months before, I’d given my first born daughter up for adoption.  I was still in shock, reeling with grief and grappling with the blank and terrifying future that lay ahead of me. At that point, one of the hardest things about adoption for me was that in giving away my daughter, I gained the freedom to do anything I wanted with my life. All I wanted was be a mother, but I believed- and still do- that in order to be the best mother for my child, being her mother was the only thing in the world I couldn’t do.

While wrestling with the question of what my future would hold, I fell into a job as a migrant laborer for the autumn season. Turkey Ridge was an organic apple orchard laid out over 280 acres of green ridges and deep valleys near Gays Mills, WI. The orchard had been neglected for years, and many sections were wild and overgrown but the trees were full of small and scabbed apples that needed to be picked for cider before the winter came and the hippies running the place were having a tough time getting enough people together to pull a bushel basket over their shoulders, grab ladders, and start bringing the apples off the trees. You were paid by how many 40 lb bushel bags of apples you poured into huge bins, and the professional migrants were too wise to spend their time fighting through tangled and towering branches on a ladder 10 feet high when they could be moving steadily down a close cropped row pulling pumpkin sized apples off the branches at warp speed at the conventional and well ordered orchards down the row. As a result our crew was a ragtag bunch of misfits of hippies, homeschoolers, and juvenile delinquents.

An apple orchard in the driftless hills is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth. Every morning I caught my breath watching silver clouds rise from the valleys and melt into the bright blue sky.  There is something both wild and domesticated in the shape of an apple tree, even a brambled and unkempt one reaching for the sky. The apples are flushed with rose or delicate green, round and smooth against the rough branches, and smell sweet. The grass is long and lush, and flowers planted to draw honeybees bob in the slight breeze. This is August, the beginning of the season, when the delicate thin skinned Macintosh apples are ripe and ready for picking. There is a deep silence in the orchard, broken only by the distant purring of an old tractor heading over the ridge. Perched on a ladder in the treetop reaching for an apple just beyond my grasp I felt as though I was doing yoga in the trees. I’d never done yoga, but I knew that the constant stretching was the reason that carrying 40 pounds up and down that ladder every day didn’t leave me aching at the end of the day. The beauty and the solitude of the orchard and the work that I was doing was uplifting to my soul. In the orchard, I felt free and the freedom wasn’t terrifying.

On September 11, 2001 I was making the hour long drive from my parent’s farm to the apple orchard. I had a mason jar full of coffee and, I am sure, a hand rolled cigarette. I was drinking in the coffee and the beauty of the early morning and listening to NPR as I drove. The early reports of a plane flying into the tower came at the top of the hour, notable because the announcer lost his smooth suave and sleepy public radio flow and sounded slightly muddled and confused. I wrinkled my brow for a second, trying to imagine what this would look like. I could not imagine it being a serious thing, perhaps because I couldn’t imagine the twin towers at all. I thought of radio towers, prop planes, things I had seen in the dairy country of Western Wisconsin. Then I dismissed the topic, turning my attention to the morning call in show that followed the news headlines. Wisconsin Public Radio is notable for featuring an unusual amount of  local level call in shows wherein guests discuss pets, state politics, gardening, cooking, books, and Issues of all sorts. Callers range from your classic NPR liberals to libertarians, contrarians, and conservatives. I am convinced this is partially a result of all the dairy farmers trapped in their barns morning and night with their hands full, wishing for some company beyond country music.

On this morning the burning topic on the call in show was: Product Presentation in Art and Literature. The expert on the potential dangers of Product Presentation was being interviewed via phone from a location in New York City. The interview was supposed to begin with an anecdote about a new novel sponsored by a high end Jeweler, but the expert was in that New York apartment glued to CNN, relating the little the TV people knew to the host of the Wisconsin radio show, and all the listeners. At one point, the host said something to the effect of “Look, this is very interesting, but I can’t have you reporting the news on this show. We are waiting for word from our official news team. Could we return to the topic at hand?” The terrified expert replied, “You have got to be kidding me. There is smoke outside my window. We might be at war. You want me to talk about product placement?! This subject doesn’t matter! It is completely unimportant!”

I pulled up to the orchard half an hour later and broke the news, what little of it I understood. The radio just isn’t the best medium to convey the scope of an unimaginable diasaster. You have to see to believe something like that.  Our ragtag crew of pickers dragged a beat up tv out of a corner of the packing shed, plugged it into an extension cord, and tried to find the local channel through the static on the screen. It’s hard to get reception on the ridge. We saw a little of the coverage, the planes and the smoke and the flames and the bodies free falling through space to the concrete below, and then we headed out into the orchard. There were apples to pick.

It is hard to imagine feeling much further away from New York City than a quiet ridgetop orchard at the end of a long dirt road an hour from the nearest little big town. I felt so safe on my ladder, in my tree, in that orchard, on September 11, 2001. Even after five minutes of fuzzy television, I couldn’t imagine a skyscraper, let alone one collapsing into rubble and ragged steel. I couldn’t imagine thousands of people lost, and the grief of their loved ones. I didn’t feel shaken by the tragedy of September 11th, I felt numb and confused by it, and grateful to be safe and high in the branches of an apple tree protected by the green hills of Western Wisconsin, far from New York City and the rest of the world. I had my own grief, my own lost loved one,  and that was all I had room for in my heart. I had my hands full  of apples, and I was glad of it.

This year, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I live in a great grey city spreading over ridges and valleys. Just down the hill and to the left, a forest of skyscrapers rise and fall on the horizon. I have had ten years full of freedom and adventure, of grief and pain and more often of beauty and great joy. I have a beautiful one and a half year old daughter.  This year in the second week of September I stood in my kitchen early in the morning listening to NPR and heard the story of Father Mychal Judge, the first victim of September 11th. If you have not heard of this man, please follow that link. It is an incredible piece and an amazing story full of grace. The story left me in tears. They were the first tears I cried for September 11th.

I am not numb anymore. I am grateful for the grace of God, poured out for hearts that are suffering. And I’m still grateful for the safety and the peace I found in that apple orchard ten years ago.

(For more of my adoption story, click here and here.)

The Proverbial Woman

by Kate

It is often when we are feeling the most vulnerable that we begin to toss spears. This seems to me to be the cause of so many of the sharp words hurled back and forth between the encampments of working women and stay at home mothers. Our culture does not seem to support women in a way that allows them to grow gracefully into the role of woman and mother. Instead, so many of the women I know seem to be struggling to create a precarious balance in their lives.

My mother “didn’t work”. She was home with nine children, feeding them and clothing them and keeping the house from burning down- a very real possibility when the two year old set the pile of papers on the top of the piano on fire and then locked himself in the bathroom. She line dried all our laundry, grew a huge garden full of vegetables and flowers, and supported my father in his many entrepreneurial adventures. These were various in scope- hog raising, bee keeping, guiding tours of devout elderly people down to Alabama to visit Mother Angelica when the southern spring had settled into full on glory and the eager pilgrims could escape the icy death grip of neverending late Wisconsin winter. Between the farm and the nine kids and my father’s dreams, it was clear that my mother had a full time job on her hands. These days, she is subbing as a schoolteacher in the tiny rural Catholic elementary and public schools that my siblings who are still at home attend. She often uses the time at work to catch up on the reading and correspondence she fell behind on during the past 30 years. I often receive letters that begin “Dear Kate, I’m at school, and it’s so lovely and quiet I thought I would finally write!”

Though she is teaching much of the school year, my mother is passionate about the importance of the wife and mother as the heart and hearth of the home. She feels that it is vital for a family to have the mother creating a home, in the home. We often have heated discussions on this matter as I attempt to speak for the working women of my generation. So many women that I know are working split shifts with their husbands to avoid daycare, working all night so that they can be with their kids when they wake up. These are not selfish women, they are far tougher than I am and they are fiercely dedicated to their families. They work to pay the mortgage, to gain access to increasingly insanely expensive health insurance programs, to pay off crushing debt. They forego sleep and they pump milk on every break, receiving a level of raised eyebrows that no smoker I know has experienced, and fighting to keep their milk supply so that they can continue nursing.

In my early twenties I thought a lot about the kind of mother I wanted to be someday. I wanted to be able to be at home with my kids, but it was important to me that I be able to contribute to the financial wellbeing of my family. As my father would tell you, with a great and gusty sigh and a shake of his head, it is a tough to raise a big family on one income in this day and age, and getting tougher on a regular basis. It was tough, for him. Still is. I spent a lot of time in the past ten years working to acquire skills that I could use to earn income for my family without working in a conventional 40 hour a week job. I am grateful that I am able to play the harp in fancy ballrooms and gritty nursing homes and fancy ballrooms in fancy nursing homes. The bulk of the marketing and practicing occurs within my home, and the baby is often a bonus at the job instead of a detraction. This is also true in many ways of teaching and performing dance. My childhood as the eldest of a homeschooling back-to-the-lander gave me a great deal of experience in living thriftily, hanging out my laundry, baking my bread, and growing my own food. All these things help pay our bills. They also help me define myself. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a harpist, a dancer, and I am sure that I will someday again be a person who works with farmers.

While I felt that it was important that I stay home with my children, I have always had a hard time with the idea that when you stay at home, you are a Mother and a Wife. Period. It seems to me that this is often a defensive response to the dismissive attitudes of women who are in the workplace. Conversely, I think that women in the workplace feel the weight of tight lipped disapproval from the “full time mothers” at home. I recently read a book that helped me a great deal in broadening my concept of what it means to be a wife, mother, and worker. The book is titled Women’s Work and does a fascinating job of viewing the early years of human history through the roles of women in making cloth. This book revolutionized my view of women and working by pointing out the obvious fact that women have always worked. Not only did they care for children and do a great deal of work in maintaining and creating literal hearths and homes, they spent a vast amount of time creating practical and surprisingly complex and beautiful cloths and garments.

Women were able to do the work of creating cloth from rotting weeds, which contributed not only to the home but to society at large, because it was something they could safely do while caring for their children. In the many thousands of years before formula, women’s work was integrated into their motherhood. Reading this book led me to think a great deal about the concept of work, and the fact that in our present society there is a great divide between Work and Home. This segregation of work as something that almost always happens away from home is a great deal of the reason that work is tearing women apart. I believe that it is crucial to expand the idea of what work means in the life of a woman and mother, and to expand opportunities for women to contribute to their families through their work.

It is embarrassing to admit, but before reading this book I always wrinkled my nose at the idea of the virtuous woman of Proverbs, she whose worth is above rubies. What a boring woman! I thought, imagining her sitting in a corner somewhere while her mean patriarchal husband gloated over possessing such a prize. How wrong I was. It would probably be a good idea to read the bible more often, but in the meantime it was amazing to stumble over this passage in a scholarly work, illuminating my concept of this Proverbial Woman:

“Who can find a virtous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her… She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard… She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hand to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself converings of tapestry; her clothing is fine linen and purple…. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. Proverbs (31.10-25)

This woman is amazing. She considereth a field and buyeth it! I love the strength of this portrayal. She is a businesswoman, an artist, a farmer, a wife. She gives generously to the poor. She provides for her household in so many ways. She is confident and strong. For me, spending time with this passage was exhilarating. I felt free to continue working to use the gifts that God has given me in my life as woman, life, and mother. I want to be a Proverbial Woman.

Dancing with my baby.

Kate

I thought that I would have to stop dancing after I had children. I didn’t begin dancing seriously till my mid twenties, after my mother told me to stop bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have dance lessons as a child and just take some classes. She grew up on a farm too, she told me, and she didn’t start dancing till college. I remember watching her point her toes and stretch on the living room floor in the midst of children, and I used to play dress up with her old ballet slippers and Spanish gypsy costumes as a little girl. I was fascinated by her stories of dancing Wade in the Water in a long white dress with a parasol in a modern dance production directed by a seminarian inspired by the Alvin Ailey company.

Realizing that my mom didn’t begin dancing till college helped inspire me to begin dancing at the advanced age of 26. On the other hand, it was clear to me as the oldest of nine kids on a ridgetop far from town that dance class was not going to be a part of my mom’s life again any time soon. She was completely at peace with that fact, and I know that the dance and theatre and basketball and teaching she did before getting married helped make her so joyful and at peace with her vocation as a mother. I assumed that my life would follow the same pattern in a way- I would have my adventures, then begin the adventure of married life and children, without dance class.

I took as many dance classes as I could in the years before I married, trying to learn as much as possible before I had to stop. After moving to Pittsburgh as a newlywed newly pregnant and newly exhausted bride, my husband pushed me to get up off the couch where I was lying in a crumpled heap of self pity and just take a dance class. I returned from class with a renewed level of energy, hope, and joyfulness. Going to class every week helped me settle into this city, into my body, into my marriage.

Just as I was surprised to find myself living in a city, I was surprised to find myself dancing more after becoming a wife and mother. I began teaching in my second trimester, and taught till two weeks before Olympia was born. There is a Turkish restaurant and performance space down the hill and around the corner five minutes from my house, where I have been able to work with incredible women teaching, studying, and performing bellydance. I am so grateful to be involved in a dance community that welcomes and supports women as mothers.

I have begun to realize that we all have different paths, and that right now it is possible for me to be a mother and a wife and a dancer. We’ll see what happens if I have nine kids, but I’m not moving to the farm any time soon. In the meantime I’ll be at dance class, half the time crossing the floor with a baby in my arms.