Dear readers, I have failed in my goal of sending you monthly updates. So here I am, sending out my “May issue” in mid-June. Please forgive me.
The past month and a half has been a bit of a whirlwind. In the April edition, I talked about Big Life Decisions. Specifically, I shared a little bit of my husband and my discernment process. We were choosing between two job offers for him, one in the Pacific Northwest and one closer to home, here in the Northeast. Both options had so many appealing aspects, but in the end, the Northeast won out. So, I am extremely happy to share that my husband Anthony will be starting a tenure-track job as an assistant professor in the Electrical and Systems Engineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania in August!
I’m so proud of him. He has shown superhuman perseverance through a decade of grad school and post docs, supporting me as I gave birth to our two daughters and struggled to adjust to motherhood and find equilibrium as I battled postpartum depression and anxiety. He is an incredible dad. Even in the baby stage, when many dads let the mom take the lead, he was there every step of the way. As newborns, our babies used to sleep in a little sidecar cosleeper on his side of the bed, and he would pick them up, change their diapers, re-swaddle them, and then hand them to me to nurse. Basically what I’m saying is that he is a rockstar human being, and I’m thankful that his quiet dedication to his craft and his deep love of science have finally been rewarded in a field that has its fair share of cut-throat narcissists, some of whom have made his life very painful over the years.
After years of never quite feeling settled, since we knew our time in Princeton would eventually come to an end, I am so thankful and excited to be putting down roots in Drexel Hill, PA. We’ve found a house that we absolutely love: a big old stone Tudor built in 1930 with a fenced in backyard and loads of character. It’s in a super tight-knit neighborhood where, I am told, the first thing people ask you is what parish you belong to. A mom who lives a few blocks away even told me that she has four or five high school girls who live within walking distance who she can text to come babysit if she and her husband want to walk down to the local bar for a drink after her kids are in bed. Be still, my heart.
Suffice it to say, I’m excited to become a resident of Delco. We’ve toured the local parochial schools, found one we love that’s less than a mile away, and enrolled the kids, who will be in pre-k 4 and kindergarten. Now we’re watching Mare of Easttown and working on our Delco accents. (Just kidding. I vow never to start saying “wooder” instead of “wah-ter.”)
If you want to hear me gush some more about our new neighborhood, wax philosophical about localism and new urbanism, and discuss my recent articles, well… you’re in luck! Zac Crippen graciously invited me back to appear on again his thought-provoking podcast, Creedal.
Speaking of which… Sandpiper readers, you heard it here first: on July 15th at 12:00 PM, I’ll be hosting a Zoom panel with the wonderful Erika Bachiochi, who will be launching her new book on Mary Wollstonecraft, The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, which is coming out from Notre Dame Press. We will be joined by Leah Libresco and Alexandra DeSanctis for what promises to be a lively and thought-provoking discussion.
I’ll send out a link for the registration once it’s live. In the meantime, mark your calendars, and click through here to read my previous interview with Erika on the future of pro-life feminism!
Speaking of pro-life feminism, I was honored to be asked by my editor at America to write a short take for them on the news that our nation’s already declining birthrate has been in an even more dramatic free fall since the beginning of the COVID crisis.
Before I wrote my piece, there already were a lot of takes out there - some good, some not so good. Most of them focus on one thing, with various thinkers trying to present their own hobby horse as the key to understanding and fixing this problem. I didn’t want to just add to the noise. Instead, I wanted to point out that no one thing is going to fix this problem. America asked for a response filtered through the lens of faith, so I got a little (okay, a lot) theological for this one.
From the intro:
Is God three or one? Both/and.
Is Jesus human or divine? Both/and.
Does God show us justice or mercy? Both/and.
Catholicism has a way of rejecting false dichotomies, holding space for complexity and embracing supra-rational paradoxes. At the same time, the church has never shied away from declaring that some things are good for human beings and some things are very, very bad. Accordingly, faithful Catholics have something unique to offer the cultures in which we live: a capacity to see contemporary struggles in the light of eternity, giving witness to the truth without oversimplifying complicated questions or offering pat answers.
And from the conclusion:
Yes, this is an economic problem and a cultural one, an individual crisis and societal one. We need public policy solutions and spiritual conversions, local communities that provide practical support and a culture that celebrates babies like the gifts they are. Yet, in spite of all this complexity, the answer Christ offers is unified: Let the little children come to me.
In an age of fear, the church offers hope and an affirmation of the goodness of life—of being itself. It acknowledges that the suffering and sacrifices of parenthood are real, but promises that this suffering has the capacity to change our hearts and expand our capacity to love. After all, what we are talking about here is the co-creation of individual, irrepressible, irreplaceable human beings who will not only enrich our lives but who will live their own lives full of laughter, joy and sorrow, participating in the dramatic human narrative of sin and salvation. And, we hope and trust, one day we will join together with them in gazing on the face of God, participating in the inexpressible joy of communion with him—and with each other.
Stories of Vocation
In May, I was also honored to debut at Plough magazine. The longform essay I published there is drawn from some of the very first in-depth interviews I conducted for my Novak research project on work and motherhood. It tells the stories of three very different women: Meenal, a no-nonsense entrepreneur; Mary, a devoted stay-at-home mom; and Talia, an English professor, Catholic convert, and mother of many.
In a lot of the discourse around motherhood, concepts become abstracted in ways that make it easy to fall into us-vs.-them conflicts. In this piece, and in my work more generally, I try to avoid that pitfall. A big part of what makes femininity so beautiful is that the female body, particularly but not exclusively when it is growing and nurturing new life, forces us to really be present to our physical circumstances and to those of each person with whom we come into contact. Embodiedness is a human thing, of course — men, too, are hylomorphic body-soul composites. But I think femininity gives us a leg up on resisting the temptation to pretend that we’re just ghosts in a machine.
Anyway, in this piece at Plough, I try to capture some of what it feels like to be each of these women, with their own specific temperaments and gifts and families and vocations. They are all deeply thoughtful and worth learning from.
Meenal, Mary, and Talia disagree on many significant questions, and they each have made distinct choices, building lives founded on their personal convictions. Yet, by becoming mothers, they have all undergone the same deeply transformative experience.
Conceiving and bearing a child demands that women be almost unfathomably receptive to the being of another, participating in the creation of a new person inside our own bodies and enduring the discomfort, pain, and danger necessary to bring that child into the world. Motherhood pulls us out of ourselves. Through our emotional and physical connection with our children, mothers become habituated to the practice of constantly and intuitively monitoring and responding to the needs of another person. And, of course, we love our children with a depth and fierceness that has the capacity to transform us in radical ways.
In spite of – or, more accurately, because of – their differences, by integrating their motherhood with their professional vocations, mothers can influence all arenas of life. This might look like taking time off to focus on “building cathedrals” at home, as Mary has. Or it might look like the entrepreneurship of Meenal, who expressed her frustration at the lack of female “angel investors” to support start-ups whose products are aimed at mothers and their children. She took initiative anyway, fighting to make her product a reality. Danielle Davies, another entrepreneur I met at the Mama Mentors event, who is the co-founder of an organization called Moms Running, believes that we need more mothers involved in politics, too. Her group’s mission is to supports mothers as they run for public office, providing training and practical advice for both their personal and professional vocations.
Even Pope John Paul II seemed to agree, writing in 1995 that
Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc. In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favors the processes of humanization which mark the “civilization of love.”
As we prepare to move our family to Philly, I’m also taking stock of my career trajectory and mapping out plans for my writing work going forward. If you’ve found particular avenues helpful or have feedback on what you’d like to see me focus more on in the future, I’d love to hear from you. My inbox and comment section are open.