Bound by Tradition

Have I mentioned that I grew up holiday-free? It’s one of the defining aspects of my character — now, as an adult, I love holidays like a kid because they’re all new and exciting, but I’m never sure how important they are to other people or whether I’m celebrating them quite right. Half the time, I only remember after the day has passed. Both this year, in kindergarten, and last year, in preschool,  Niko had no Dr. Seuss-themed shirt on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and last year he failed to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, because I forgot each time that the holidays were approaching. This year I did manage to purchase some St. Patrick’s Day green for the kids and me, and I did remember to get it out on the day, but only because I set two reminders on my phone.

I grew up as part of a Christian commune in Northwestern Ontario, and abandoning both secular and religious holidays was a choice we embraced as part of freedom from the chains of tradition, worldly entanglement, and religious law. Of course,  non-celebration then became a religious law…but that’s a topic for another time. Suffice it to say, our abstinence from holidays was a practice that derived from a sincere desire to have lives characterized by simplicity, with our focus on God rather than getting caught up in the frivolity and materialism of celebrations.

However, Easter is a holiday that was embedded in my psyche from a young age, albeit loosely. There were no visible trappings of the celebration in our community; we had no egg hunts, no frilly pastel dresses or spring hats. We did have giant, revival-style church services in the spring near Easter time, forever connected in my mind because of the abundance of seasonal candy for the event, but they had nothing to do with the holiday in reality; they just happened to be scheduled in the spring.  Despite our church’s eschewing of holidays, though,  Easter Sunday generally did feature Resurrection-themed songs and sermons, though the word “Easter” wasn’t necessarily mentioned. After all, unlike Christmas, Easter is celebrated at the historically correct time, just after Passover; and its celebration is much less gift-centered than Christmas, thus contributing less to the corruption of the soul. Occasionally someone would get unusually enthusiastic in the delivery of an Easter Sunday message, with a jubilant cry of “He is risen!” from the pulpit, echoed by a wide array of responses from the congregation — from a few sober  Amen’s, to a rousing Glory hallelujah! or two, to a few rebelliously traditional calls of He is risen indeed!

Anyway, what with the appearance of the best candy of the year, the onslaught of songs featuring imagery of rising from graves, and the occasional Easter sermon, Easter is a holiday that has remained on my radar — in the distance, anyway — from childhood on.

In past years, Aaron and I have let Easter pass with barely a nod — we often had a family dinner with his parents, but we didn’t do much ourselves. When we moved to our current home in Oregon, though, we realized that our move-in date would coincide with Easter. The first night we spent here was the Saturday before Easter. So we celebrated with Easter baskets for the kids (Sofia was just a baby, so hers just had enough in it to satisfy three-year-old Niko’s need to include her), and we had an egg hunt — Niko’s very first.

The next year, Niko discovered the joys of dyeing eggs. And decorating cookies. We did both with friends, which made it just that much more wonderful. Sofia was now big enough to tear into her own little Easter basket and even collect a few eggs, with help. We had a special Easter breakfast — Finnish pancake, a childhood favorite of mine. And Tradition was established.

Last year, we went all out in preparation — Aaron and I found Easter presents for the kids together, we bought them both clothes for the occasion, and I, wanting to continue Tradition but caving to exhaustion and a bad cold, bought a sugar cookie mix for Niko. I even made the kids silly little sock bunnies, which I stuffed with rice and barley scented with an essential oil blend of warm orange and cinnamon. DSC01213 (1)

I loved Niko’s excitement leading up to the big day. “Guess what’s happening NEXT WEEK!” he said to me for an entire week, after Aaron had whispered the surprise to him, and “Guess what’s happening THIS WEEK, Mom! Guess!” for another whole week. He kept asking about the Easter Bunny and what he might bring, and where does he get the eggs, anyway? He knows, intellectually, that the Easter Bunny isn’t real, but his heart isn’t in it. When we read Jan Brett’s new Easter Bunny story, he confided that he really did believe in the Easter Bunny.

Niko flung himself into Easter preparations with delight. He was thrilled beyond words when I showed him the shirt I’d gotten him to wear on Easter. He reveled in the anticipation of the egg hunt and Easter basket. Not in the least disappointed by making cookies from a mix instead of from scratch, he happily stirred, rolled, and cut. When I got out the little tubes of writing icing to decorate them (another shortcut that was so very helpful), he authoritatively instructed Sofia in the correct ways of decorating them. We didn’t decorate eggs, sadly — I ran out of both time and energy.

Then, on that Easter Saturday (Aaron had a business trip for which he had to leave on Sunday),  I followed our year-old tradition and made a batch of Finnish pancake, my own recipe this time, which was so well received we ate almost the entire dish within half an hour. Niko and Sofia got dressed in their new Easter finery, and then we presented the toy-filled baskets. The kids loved their aromatic bunnies and springtime treats. While they explored their baskets and played with their kaleidoscopes, Aaron disappeared outside, as per Tradition, to hide eggs in artistic locations. Niko and Sofia hunted enthusiastically, filling their  baskets with candy-loaded eggs. They ate the decorated cookies. They read Easter stories. In short, they celebrated Easter thoroughly.

And now comes the conundrum. I haven’t just established Tradition. No, it’s worse: I’ve become entrenched in Tradition. My holiday-eschewing self is now trapped in the need to make Easter perfect for the kids — but this need is at odds with the reality of my personality, my history, and my health and general energy level. The obvious solution is to tone it down, little by little, year by year, until the kids are content with a handful of chocolate eggs and a store-bought, pre-decorated sugar cookie.

So, naturally, I’m amping it up this time. This year I started early! I purchased a spring dress for Sofia months ago, and successfully convinced her that it’s a special dress to be worn only on Easter — an endeavor that took more effort than all the cookie decorating and egg coloring of previous years. Finding an appropriate shirt for Niko (one that can be re-worn for school) was harder, as he’s at an awkward in-between size, but after patiently searching for just the right one, I finally found a reasonably suitable one. I have been researching egg decorating, and made an excursion to Goodwill a few weeks ago to find silk ties to dye extra-special eggs with colorful prints. I’m trying to learn how to empty eggs before dyeing so we can decorate eggs ahead of time and enjoy them as decorations, while not getting rotten egg odor. I’ve been eyeing the seasonal toy aisles for the best Easter selections. I’m pondering the virtues of mixing up a big batch of cookie dough and freezing it for later. I’ve halfway decided to sew the kids bunny stuffies from some of their baby pajamas, using a pattern I saw online. I even bought an Easter wreath at 50% off several weeks ago.

In short, I’m finding — somewhat to my surprise — that I’m anticipating the holiday almost as much as the kids are. Instead of the preparations being an energy drain, I find that they’re a bit invigorating. While I acknowledge that I feel somewhat bound by the tradition, I’m realizing that not all bonds and not all traditions have to be negative. As I’ve discovered over the last few years with Christmas celebrations, allowing myself to succumb to these formerly forbidden (or at least discouraged) activities is strangely freeing.  This formerly holiday-free mom is embracing the Easter spirit, and it’s so much fun.


A Zombie Pie Thanksgiving

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, has been filled with dinner preparations. With our home already filled with the sparkle and glimmer of Christmas decorations, I’m in the holiday spirit. Fruitcake a la Alton Brown (our family’s kitchen god) rests on the counter, sealed into a bag, awaiting its next soaking with brandy. The turkey is soaking in a salty, herbed brine, Alton Brown’s cranberry jelly is setting up in the fridge, and this year’s pumpkin pie looks perfect.Well, nearly perfect. The blank surface is evidence that I lost track of time and forgot to add a pretty leaf-shaped pastry garnish.

This quiet day of cooking in an empty kitchen is a contrast to the busy Thanksgiving preparations of times past. Having just made a trip home last month to the commune where I grew up for an Ontario Thanksgiving, the difference stands out strongly in my mind. This year was the first time I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with my Canadian family since I left home at the age of 18 to go to college.

My husband and our two small children and I took a two-leg flight from Portland, Oregon to Minneapolis, Minnesota, then drove up along the coast of Lake Superior to the three-farm commune where I grew up in Northwest Ontario. It was a long trip, especially the 45-minute flight from Portland to Seattle, which culminated in both children throwing up simultaneously as we descended after a turbulent journey through high winds.

By comparison, the four-hour flight to Minneapolis and the nine-hour drive up the coast the following day were blissful. The kids were cooperative and calm, the roads were clear of snow, the iPad fulfilled its role of providing soothing entertainment, and the scenery was breathtaking. Oh, and — no one threw up. The only drawback was that, as usual, we forgot to calculate how much longer everything takes with two small children, so we didn’t arrive at my parents’ house till 9:30 in the evening… their time… which was only 6:30 Portland time, so we weren’t as tired as we should have been.

Anyway, we arrived in the dark, and had a delightful pre-arrival welcome from a friend who was leaving the farm on her way home as we were pulling into the commune’s driveway. She recognized first an unfamiliar vehicle (the commune is part of a small town, the entire population of which — including the three communal farms — is about 300, so an unknown car is notable) and then our faces, and we slowed the vehicles to call a hello between cars. Pleased that she’d achieved the very first viewing of our family, she went on her way and we pulled on up the driveway, already feeling thoroughly welcomed.

As we stepped through the doorway of my parents’ home and into the living room, Niko skidded to a halt as his face lit up with an incandescent glow. “Awe…some!” he breathed. There, covering a good two cubic feet of the living room floor, was a magnificent tower of wooden blocks, consisting of all the blocks in the bin that my dad keeps on hand for just such occasions. Welcome complete.

The following morning was Thanksgiving, celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada. We took the opportunity to zip over to another of the three farms, to see a cousin and her two children who were there just for the day. They would leave before the early holiday dinner, so we abandoned my mother and the other ladies of my home farm to dinner preparations and skedaddled off for a lightning-fast visit. Niko and Sofia were in seventh heaven, playing with cousins near their age, flinging just-raked leaves at each other, and exploring the brush near my aunt and uncle’s home. Other visits had to wait for another day, but we did manage to get in the essentials before we had to return to Oregon.


As we visited at my aunt and uncle’s home Thanksgiving morning, the phone rang — my mother, asking if I wanted pie crust made ahead for the pie I was planning to make later. Then again, asking how many apples I needed per pie. And one more time, asking if I wanted apples peeled and cut, and if so, should they be sliced or chopped? “At this rate,” I told my aunt, “the pie will be made by the time I get there, and I’ll just take credit for it!” The machinery of a communal kitchen runs smoothly, and with an abundance of cooks bustling about, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if the pie had, in fact, been finished without my lifting a finger. As it turned out, the pie — a recipe I adapted from my mother-in-law’s amazing recipe — turned out to be the very ugliest pie I’ve ever made, so perhaps I should have left it to them.

I arrived in the farm kitchen after lunch and was cheerfully greeted by half a dozen busy women, all intent on one or two tasks, all moving easily around each other without friction. This is one of the things I really, truly miss — a communal kitchen. If you grew up in a large family with a big kitchen, you might know what I’m talking about. Cooking is a social activity, a companionable endeavor. It’s rare to cook alone for any significant amount of time. Someone is always wandering in to get a snack, check the mail, help out, or just say hello. If one person is in charge of dinner, likely someone else will be baking bread for the week, another person making cheese from fresh milk, and a fourth somebody putting on the coffee for everyone else.

Thanksgiving is no exception to this rule. People drifted in and out of the kitchen and dining room, sneaking samples of the feast, sharing stories, reminiscing, and, of course, drinking coffee. Women tossed cooking questions out to the group, each one triggering a rousing discussion as five different people offered opinions. As I helped wash up some of the cooking dishes, I overheard a discussion that is more or less a requisite at a farm Thanksgiving: creamy yam casserole with marshmallows, or without, or roasted? One young woman, a relative newcomer who married into the community, was preparing a marshmallow-free casserole that was traditional in her French-Canadian family, and the women were spiritedly voicing their own favorites, without rancor. “You know,” my mother said, “this kind of thing is really what makes this farm the best place. On other farms, people would argue about which one is best forever, and then they would take a vote and choose one to make, and only about a third of the population would really be happy about it. Here, we just make them all!” Sure enough, one of the other women was cutting large yams into manageable chunks for roasting, and I’m pretty sure I saw a bag of marshmallows somewhere.

Between helping with a few dishes and making my pies, I wandered the main house, taking pictures of items I’ve seen my whole life as well as the festive decorations. Here are a few of my favorites from a nostalgic stroll down memory lane:

And a few images of the autumn decor:


My priority was to make the apple pies. I used my own recipe, which makes delicious pie… that is, it has every other time before this. As I added ingredients, I found myself almost falling into a familiar rhythm. I’ll find spatulas here in this drawer — Hey! What happened to the spatulas? Oh, here they are. When did you change that? And sugar — aha! Right here in this giant bin where it’s always been. (I took a precautionary taste before adding it in. It wouldn’t have been the first time salt and sugar got confused.) A bit of flour — yes, right where I thought it would be. Cinnamon… nutmeg… vanilla? Didn’t the vanilla go here with the spices? “Are you looking for vanilla? I have it over here, sorry!” (The apology made me feel right at home. This is Canada, after all.)  And no,  the vanilla didn’t belong where I was looking for it…  those 15-plus-year-old memories can only do  so much.

It felt good, working with the women who taught me to cook, in the big familiar kitchen. My pleasure was somewhat tainted, however, by my observation that the pies’ filling was a little runny. And there was too much of it.  The pies were full, very full, even though I left out a couple of cups of filling, and they sloshed menacingly when they moved. What had gone wrong? No idea. There was nothing to do but to bake them off anyway. As the ovens were full with turkey and rolls, I carried them out of the big kitchen and down the hill to my parents’ little house, where I prudently placed them each on a flat pizza pan before baking them.

I’d like to pause here to point out that my reputation was on the line here. Did I mention that this was my own recipe? Published here, on this very blog? And that it had been nearly two decades since I had cooked for a farm gathering? Did I mention that everyone knew that I was the one baking these apple pies (no hiding in anonymity)? Have I pointed out that the aforesaid “everyone” also  knew that I was using a recipe I’d published on this blog, an endeavor that has been followed with mild interest by various members of the community? Oh yes, I was very conscious of the vulnerability of my reputation, as I slid the sloshing pies into my mother’s oven.

Forty-five minutes later, I cringingly opened the oven door. My fears had come true. Let me assure you: this was the ugliest pie known to cuisine. Never before have I seen, nor do I wish ever to see again, a pie this ugly. The crumb topping had been displaced by bubbling filling, and patches of it had slid off the pie onto the pizza pans underneath, and some had dripped off the pans and onto the oven floor. The weight of the sliding filling had broken the edges of the crisp and flaky crust, destroying any chance they had of looking like ordinary pies. With the missing patches of topping, the crumbled edges, and the bubbled-over filling, my pies looked like pastries that had died violently and then been returned to a semblance of life by a misguided cook. Undead pies. Zombie pies. They were horrific. I was so ashamed, I didn’t even take a picture. This is what they were supposed to look like, although even this pie’s crust could be prettier:Featured Image -- 823

(They didn’t look like that.)

I was writhing in humiliation as I carried the pies back up to the main house and deposited them with the oher desserts, every one of which was more attractive than my sad apple pies.  I tried to sneak them in, hoping everyone would forget who was responsible for them, but in vain: one of the ladies sitting in the big dining room, working her magic on flower arrangements with preserved leaves, called out as I entered, “Hope! Are those your delicious apple pies? I can’t wait to try them!” I felt like dumping them into the trash, but instead I dutifully thunked them down next to the butter tarts and chocolate roll and cherry pies awaiting dinner.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hated seeing my dilapitated desserts next to everyone else’s lovely food.

But the thing is, this was a family Thansgiving. Nobody cared, really, what those pies looked like. They were there to visit, laugh, fill up on turkey, munch on soft, freshly-baked rolls, and sample as many desserts as possible.  Sure, my pies weren’t the first to disappear. They may even have been the last to be devoured over the next few days of leftover feasting. But nevertheless, they did get eaten, and, despite their imperfect texture, they were delicious, especially eaten alongside the homemade maple ice cream that was served with dessert.

Those pies shredded my reputation, but my sense of belonging and family wasn’t hurt one iota. As I visited with folks I haven’t seen in years, watching them valiantly attack my soggy apple pie, I felt perfectly happy. It was good to be home.

Home: Anticipation

The kids’ shared suitcase has been packed, checked, re-packed, second-guessed, items added, items removed. A bustle of tidying-up in preparation for the journey has swept our home: little boy’s hair has been trimmed despite protests and wiggles; little girl’s tiny nails have been trimmed with surprising cooperation to the accompaniment of chortles and chatter.

For my part, it’s a case of long-forgotten skirts hauled out of the farthest corner of the closet, expressing amazement that they fit once again, and a frantic procession of shirts and skirts to find outfits that coordinate and somewhat flatter. Photo texts sent to best friend, who, like me, grew up in a religious commune: Does this look okay? Can I wear this in the kitchen on the farm? Does it look dumb? Opinion begged of my husband: should I wear a camisole under this dress? Which is more important, modesty or confidence? Or comfort?

I’m going home. Home to the triad of Christian farming communes where I was raised. My parents still live there, as do other family members. I’m excited, but there’s still always an element of anxiety each time I go home. How will it be different? What will be changed? Each time I’ve visited over the last decade and a half, the community is a bit smaller, the property a bit more worn down. Flower beds have overgrown and sunk into the lawn; greenhouses have disappeared; paint has flaked off the porch of the tabernacle, the main gathering place. There just aren’t enough people to maintain those things to a level that matches the rosy glow of my nostalgic memories, though photos on my social network suggest there’ve been recent renovations.

Other things have changed, too. Electricity has crept in; nearly all homes now have lights that can be flicked on with a touch of a finger. Bathrooms have toilets that flush, instead of a wooden seat on a bucket or a port-a-potty. Kitchens have running water and sinks that drain to sewers (no more hauling water in buckets to wash dishes, then throwing the dishwater outside). And there are even a few TVs, those tools of the devil that were banned in my childhood. Television! Movies! Flushing toilets! Such changes. Not all the homes have caught up with the times, but more are modernized than when I lived there.

And with these changes comes another: work. The farms are no longer entirely self-sufficient; they haven’t been for a long time, really, but as time passes, and the community and its families shift toward modernization, and there are fewer families contributing both time and income, more money is required to maintain each family as well as the community. So, more and more, people go to work off the farm to earn money to support their families and the community. People who stay on the farm to maintain buildings and lawns, and care for animals, and plant and harvest, and bring in the hay — all the necessary jobs of living on a communal farm — are fewer and fewer. Communal meals are more sparsely populated than before. And the buildings and superfluous gardens suffer, as does my nostalgia.

This time, though, there will be a welcome change: an increase in population. Part of the increase takes the form of an old friend and her family: her husband plus a trio of daughters I haven’t met. They have just recently moved back from a community in northern Canada. There’s been a new baby born to a young family, bringing that family’s number to four, though this family now lives across the road from my home farm, not strictly part of the community. Another family, a friend I grew up with, has moved back recently to another of the three communes, bringing five little ones to inject new life into the farm that is home to my grandparents. Other families from the village have been frequent visitors, contributing to the vibrancy of the life there. These are good and positive changes, bringing an increase in vitality — but changes are changes nonetheless, and to a person like me, dependent on routine and a certain degree of predictability to maintain my equilibrium, even good differences are a bit scary.

The thoughts of these changes run through my mind as I peer at my reflection in the mirror, wondering just how far the changes have permeated. Should I try to wear skirts every day? I can’t remember — do the women wear pants (anathema in my teen years, but more accepted now) even in the main house these days? Will I be criticized if I wear my comfortable old jeans, or is it worse to wear a skirt that shows a bit of knee? My friend who grew up in a similar community echoes my thoughts in a text responding to my assurance-seeking selfie, her amusement at my anxiety evident: “That skirt should be at least three inches longer. And did you remember to bend over in front of a mirror to check for cleavage?” (I did, in fact, and added a camisole to the outfit. Just in case.)

I sigh. Things really have changed. I know my worry is baseless. It’s unlikely anyone will care what I wear, even less likely I’ll be confronted. And the farm isn’t all that’s changed. I’ve changed too, gaining confidence and self-assurance. While I have no intention of disrespecting the farm’s rules, I do know my own mind, and I can defend my clothing choices if need be. I need to stop worrying. Still, I stash an extra skirt in my luggage… just in case.

Meanwhile, I’m armed with both my favorite apple pie recipe for a Thanksgiving celebration, and my sweet children, who are related in some convoluted way to about half of the three-farm community and thus are garnering a bit of excitement with their arrival. And I’m depending on the love of my family — related by blood and not — to welcome me home. Because it is home, no matter how far I’ve gone and no matter how long it’s been. Philosophies change, choices lead in different directions, but the bond of love doesn’t break.

Things change. The buildings  will look more aged (or perhaps brightly renovated — a change, either way), the gardens won’t be the same, and the new electric lights shine differently than the propane and kerosene lights of long-ago memories. The dress code shifts and even disappears. Children no longer build character through hauling buckets of water for bathing or dishes. Families occasionally rotate from one community to another, moving a few miles or across country, leaving an empty space or bringing new faces. But through the changes, I know I can be assured of love and family.

I’m going home.



Niko is ready to board the plane.
Niko is ready to board the plane.

Note: I wrote this post as we were leaving for our visit, but decided to wait to post it till we got home, so as to not advertise our absence from our home. So this story is nearly two weeks old now.

Lying to My Son

Before I had children, and even when the older of our two was a baby, I swore I’d never lie to my children. Never. How could I betray their trust, set them up for disillusionment? I would be honest, I promised. At all times. In all situations. Never, I insisted, could there possibly be an excuse for lying to a child.

My husband Aaron agreed, and with the birth of our son, we set out on our adventure of perfect openness and truth telling. We took a policy of plain, simple truth telling, no embroidering or glossing over, and certainly no outright fabrication.

We were honest about the despised food items in his plate –“Yes, those are potatoes. Take one bite,” we’d say. No pretending they were magical unicorn eggs that would turn him into a superhero; they were potatoes, no more, no less.

We were straightforward about the existence of Santa. As our two-year-old son approached his first memorable Christmas, he was fascinated with Santa-themed decorations. We told him that Santa was a nickname for a kind man named Nicholas who had lived long ago, and we remembered him at Christmas time. He was a story, we explained: department store, mall, or bell-ringing Santas were regular people wearing costumes. He appeared to accept this, if grudgingly, and we congratulated ourselves on our honesty.

Our self-congratulation continued as we explained the precise facts about the Easter Bunny: he was a kind person in a costume, we told our three-year-old the next year, leaving candy for children to celebrate spring. How nice! Unfortunately, Niko’s patience with our honesty regarding the world had been wearing thin; he had been indignant that we continued to insist in Santa’s historical accuracy, but at our declaration that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real, he was crushed. “But I want the Easter Bunny! I want him to be real!” he wailed.  But it was too late; we couldn’t backtrack. No, our son would know that Santa Claus is a cultural memory of a historical figure, the Easter Bunny is the funny leftover traditional costumed character of an ancient custom, and his potatoes are just potatoes. We remain relentlessly honest, although, I suspect, we may be able to reach some sort of quiet compromise where we don’t insist quite so firmly in these beloved characters’ nonexistence.

But then, one day, there was a hard question. The kind of question for which honesty just can’t do the job.

We were in the car, where so many of these questions come flying at me. Niko, now four, was asking about love. “Will you always love me, Mom?” he asked. This has been a common theme for him, a source of mild anxiety at times, and once — when he discovered there had been a time I hadn’t been his mom and thus hadn’t known him, therefore hadn’t loved him — well, that had been an interesting conversation.

“I will always love you, for ever and ever,” I declared.

“Will you love me if I die?”

“I will love you if you die. People don’t stop loving  their family who die. They miss them, but they don’t stop loving them.”

“What if you die? Will you still love me if you die?”

And there it was. The question. The one I can’t really answer. The one theologians, church fathers, religionists of all sorts, of all creeds and doctrines, can’t really answer. We just don’t know, do we? Many of us believe our consciousness continues after death. We go on — to heaven, to nirvana, to reincarnation, to a place of waiting, to the clouds.  But do we maintain a connection to those we leave behind, or do we continue without looking back? Do we keep on loving, or do we forget? For every dramatic return-from-beyond-the-veil account that suggests one answer, another contradicts; for each passage from a holy book that points in one direction, another passage points another way.

I was raised on the Bible like most kids are raised on peanut butter and jelly, on meat and potatoes. In the communes in which I was raised, we read the Bible at mealtimes, at church three times a week, at school daily, in private devotions. In school, we were expected to use it as reference to support viewpoints in essays on any subject, from history to science to opinions on skirt length. So it’s with a bit of authority that I say: the Bible has not a whole lot to say on this exact subject, that of love after death. The one thing that echoes uncomfortably in my mind on the subject is a song that ought to be reassuring, a song whose melody was written by my mother’s dear friend — someone I consider a second mother — and whose words come from Revelation 21:4-5:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, from their eyes/ There shall be no more sorrow/ No more pain/ No more death. For the former things are passed away, are passed away/ Are passed away/ And behold, He has made all things new.

In my mind, I hear her clear voice singing the simple and beautiful melody, her fingers caressing the strings of the guitar in a way that’s as familiar to me as her smile, her eyes calm with the strength and peace that you only see in someone who’s been through more than their fair share of sorrow and tears and has carried a spark of joy throughout. She’s a woman of unshakeable faith, and that’s why I absolutely believe the words of this song. And that’s why I can’t answer my son’s question honestly.

You see, I believe a portion of love is pain and sorrow. A parent can’t see a son’s bewilderment at a friend’s rejection and not share his sorrow. You can’t hold your daughter’s fevered body and not sense her pain. When a loved one suffers, you suffer too. When you’re separated from those you love, that hurts as well. Even in hypothetical perfect, ideal relationships, even if we don’t actively cause pain to those that are closest to us through betrayal or misunderstanding, loving another person involves pain. And so, if God is erasing pain and sorrow from us as we pass through death, the only way that’s possible is if we stop loving those we’ve left behind.

Now, there are still plenty of possibilities. Perhaps we don’t go all the way on at first — other verses in the Bible make reference to clouds of witness watching those still in the daily struggle on Earth, for example. Perhaps this particular description in Revelation is only to the end of times. Perhaps some are even allowed to stay with those they love for a time. That’s what I’d like to believe, even though I don’t actually think it’s true.

When I was fourteen, my protective, almost-seventeen-year-old brother Charles died in a boating accident with a group of other young people and chaperones from our close-knit community. I felt his loss badly, of course, right from the beginning, but it wasn’t till I got older that I began to realize how much we both were missing. He never got to meet my husband, something I regret — they would have appreciated each other, I think. I missed him at my wedding, and he didn’t see me get married. I missed him desperately when my son was born. And I wanted so, so badly to believe what I knew couldn’t be true, that somehow he was still watching over and loving me. That’s why, when Niko protested the Easter Bunny’s status as a pretend creature, I sympathized. And that’s why, when he asked if I’d still love him if I died, I couldn’t tell him what I thought was an honest answer. I couldn’t tell him no. I wanted it to be true. I wanted to believe.

When Niko was born, I had a terribly hard time transitioning him from bassinet to crib, clutching him and sobbing the first time I tried to lay him down in the crib that seemed long miles from the bed. When I finally managed it, the first time I made the trip at night from our room to the nursery to feed him, there was a not-really-there shadow leaning over his crib. As I said, it wasn’t really there. Not visible, not really. But the invisible shadow had (to me) a clear attitude of protective love. After that, for several weeks, each time I staggered sleepily to the nursery for a night feeding, the not-really-there shadow was faithfully stooped over his crib. Not once did I have any sense of anxiety, fear, or spookiness. It wasn’t till the third or fourth time that it occurred to my sleep-hazed mind to think Wait…what? before I dismissed it, deciding I just didn’t need to know. Eventually, it wasn’t there any more, but for the weeks that it leaned over my son’s crib at night, I felt a sense of peace, of watchful protection.

I know that my friends run the gamut of faith. As they’re reading this, some are thinking, How amazing. God is so good! He sent your brother to care for your son! And others are thinking,  Honey, get some rest and tell your doctor you need better pills, because something is not right with your brain. I’m sure my scientist best friend, who currently bends his remarkable brain to the study of regenerative biology, is shaking his head as he reads this and is exercising all his considerable powers of kindness to not tell me I’m cuckoo. And maybe a few in the middle are just thinking that a sleep-deprived mom in a shadowy room shouldn’t be surprised if she imagines a few strange things.

All I know is, when my son asked me if I would love him after I died, I had a split second to balance those two thoughts: my own irrational desire for reassurance of my brother’s love after he died (and the fresh memory of my son’s sorrow at the nonexistence of the Easter Bunny and panic at his realization that I once hadn’t loved him because I hadn’t been his mommy), and the Biblical assurance that we would experience no more sorrow after death. I could have launched into a philosophical discussion about the uncertainty of the afterlife, about the adventure that follows stepping through the mysterious dark door of death. I could have told him that love is full of sorrow and pain, and we’re assured a life without those in the times to come. I could have been honest, I could have told him: I don’t know.  But he’s four. And I chose love.

“I will always love you, sweetie,” I promised him. “Always. No matter what. If I die, or if you die, I will always love you.” I lied. I lied to my son. And I have not a single regret.

In an unusual turn of events, three photographs I chose for this post aren’t my own. The black-and-white photo of my brother twirling in a striped shirt was taken my my Aunt Martha, probably in 1985; the color photos of my son in a plaid shirt and brown vest were taken by Garrett Beatty of Nuro Photography.

Tree to Plate in Sixty Minutes

Having garden-fresh vegetables was commonplace when I was a teenager on a communal farm in Canada, but we didn’t live in the best climate for growing fruit, with the exception of a few berries. Living in Alaskan cities for a dozen years, I’d forgotten what it felt like to walk to the garden, pick a handful of veggies, and eat them for dinner a few minutes later. And fresh fruit? In both Northwest Ontario and Alaska, most fruit was shipped to grocery stores from far away and was fairly unappetizing by the time it arrived in fruit bowls at home.

This is our second summer in our beautiful two-acre Oregon home. It’s late August, and apples are ripening on the trees in our yard. A few mornings ago, I woke up with a sudden impulse to eat apple fritters. My mom was here for a short visit, so I had both motivation (being in one’s thirties doesn’t inoculate one against the desire to impress one’s mother) and opportunity to stroll out to the trees and do some picking while she made sure the kids didn’t cause a disaster while I was outside. I rolled out of bed, gave my hair three quick twists, and sneaked out through the garage, picking bucket in hand, without my absence being noticed by any small people.

An hour later, I had a full bucket of crisp apples, a bowl full of batter, and a plate of sugar-and-spice-tossed apple fritter rings. One hour. (That even included the amount time the puppy and I spent in the garage regretting that I’d forgotten the garage doorknob doesn’t unlock when turned from the kitchen side, so we were locked out briefly.) Those apples had been basking in early-morning sunlight sixty minutes previously; now they were glistening with sugar and about to be popped into hungry mouths.

I’m not sure why this amazes me so much, but it does — it boggles my mind that I live in a place that I have such easy access to fresh, delicious food right in my own yard. It never fails to fill me with a sense of gratitude and deep pleasure that the earth can provide such bounty, with such ease, and it’s right here for me to pick off a tree and eat…or, if I so desire, fry first and then eat. Yes, yes, I’m getting corny and sappy, and my best friend is rolling her eyes (that is, if she could even bring herself to read yet another gardening/cooking/ Oregon-has-the-world’s-best-climate post) — and I don’t care one bit, because I. just. love. living here.

I used the recipe from a website called Just a Taste, by , for the fritters. They’re what I think of as real fritters — the fruit is dipped in batter and fried, rather than being pieces of donut dough interspersed with chunks of apple. The recipe includes caramel sauce, which I didn’t use, and includes an optional suggestion for tossing the fritters in cinnamon sugar, which I did use — except I used pumpkin pie seasoning instead of cinnamon, and I also added some pumpkin pie seasoning to the fritter batter.

I made a good-sized batch of the pumpkin pie seasoning myself a month or so ago in about three minutes from a recipe I found at Country Cleaver, and I have been using it a lot lately. Yum.

Muddy Slush and Robin-Eggs

Easter: a time of candy-coated Robin Eggs, colorful pastel jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies; of melting snow, muddy slush, an influx of visitors from far away, and hours upon hours of church services.

For me, childhood memories of Easter don’t include sunrise services, new bright-colored Sunday hats, or egg dying. No giant bunnies delivering baskets of spring-themed treats, no egg hunts on lawns. No, when I was growing up in a Christian commune in Northwestern Ontario, I knew that the bunnies and eggs of worldly Easter celebrations were a nod to Ishtar, a fertility goddess of long ago, and to be avoided at all costs lest our pure hearts be darkened by the taint of paganism.  Well, except for those egg-shaped candies and chocolate bunnies. After all, it would be wasteful to miss the once-a-year opportunity to savor the best confections the village’s tiny general store had to offer.

My parents are part of the Move, a commune-based Christian movement that started in the early 70s, notable in part by the eschewing of all worldly entanglements. This category most emphatically included paganism-tainted celebrations like Christmas or Easter. Paganism, in this case, was a convenient catch-all description for any and all non-Christian religions, especially (but not limited to) ancient ones. By now, I should mention, Easter hats and shiny plastic eggs most probably abound in  the communes right about this time of year. But when I was a child, they were frowned upon.

Instead of egg hunts on the lawn and brightly-colored baskets of treats, the children of my community looked forward to Convention. Convention was one of the Big Three, three yearly celebrations that were far more important than secular, pagan, or misguided religious holidays like Christmas, Easter, or Halloween. In our close-knit trio of communes, the Big Three were graduation, Thanksgiving, and Convention. Convention was a yearly long-weekend event. The important leaders of our network of communes and churches were known hierarchically as the “Traveling Ministry” (the lesser traveling preachers and teachers) and “Father Ministry” (the ruling class who handed down decisions both religious and practical). They would arrive the first weekend in March, along with other visitors who would come from all directions to attend all-day revival-style services, causing our group to double or triple in size for several days.

We’d cook and shop in a frenzy for a week ahead of time. Zucchini bread, banana bread, poppyseed muffins, blueberry muffins, and hundreds and hundreds of cookies, all were baked off and stored in the big freezers in the cellar below our main building. Someone good at both cooking and shopping, like Aunt Robin, who was in charge of our commune’s bookkeeping and thus preferred to do the shopping herself, would do a huge shopping trip and come home with plenty of supplies for making easy meals for three hundred people: lunch meat (a rare treat), lots of mayonnaise, store-bought bread and kaiser rolls (more rarities), fresh oranges and bananas, and cases of disposable dishes.

The kids would whisper excitedly, sharing overheard gossip about the coming visitors. Did you hear that John and Sarah started their year? That means a wedding soon! Wonder if we’ll go? or,  Guess who’s staying at our house! Nooooo, we wanted them! We’ll probably have someone with five screaming babies! We’d be enlisted for huge cleaning projects and for once wouldn’t try to dodge out, reveling in the excitement as we scrubbed floors, cleaned the tops of cupboards, washed windows, and helped touch up paint.

And then the visitors would start flooding in. We’d share our rooms with kids our age, if we were lucky, or give up our rooms to older visitors while we slept on living room floors or couches. Younger singles (properly chaperoned, of course) would camp out in the big dining room of our main building, the Tabernacle, while the building’s living room was turned into a bedroom for a family. The other two communes in our church were doing the same, stretching their borders and crowding their homes to welcome visitors from hundreds of miles around who’d come for the yearly convention. Freshly mopped floors would be flooded with slush and mud from visitors’ boots, to the consternation of the guilty visitors and silent frustration of the teens who’d been on their knees scrubbing just a day before.

The first meeting was on Friday afternoon. We rented the village’s community hall for the occasion, since none of the three commune’s Tabernacles could hold the swollen congregation. After a flurry of extra hairspray and double-checking of favorite dresses or parentally-inflicted ties in the mirror, we’d traipse through snow, slush, or mud up the long hill to the community hall in clunky boots, dress shoes in hand. There would be a flutter of activity as older children took advantage of the exciting situation to beg permission to sit with their cousins and friends with more permissive parents, and teens claimed the right to sit separately from their families (but always in a row ahead of their parents, to prevent out-of-sight shenanigans). Older teens and young singles found friends and prospective beaus, shyly sitting next to their crushes knowing that it would create a stir of speculation — “Did you see Paul sitting next to Jennifer? Are they an item? I guess we’ll see if they sit together tomorrow too.” One’s choice of seat during convention was of immense importance.

The excited chatter of friends greeting each other after a year or more apart filled the hall, only quieted by the first chords from piano or guitar near the front of the room. With a rustle and hush, people found their Bible-marked seats and prepared to sing with gusto for forty-five minutes or more, three hundred voices raised in exuberant song while feet tapped, hands clapped out rhythms, and bodies swayed. During the more upbeat songs, you could get seasick if you looked out over the undulating crowd of dancing worshipers, hands lifting upward and hips keeping time.

All too soon, the music came to an end, and our reluctant bottoms found the seats that would hold us for the next two or three hours. Out came teacher-mandated notebooks, pens in multiple colors, Bibles, and… rustle rustle rattle crunch — the bags of candy we’d stockpiled for the occasion. Malt-filled, hard-shelled Robin Eggs; pastel jelly beans; sour gummy worms; chocolate eggs; all the best Easter candy. We’d share down the row with our friends, making sure those with sugar-conscious parents got a secretive handful while their moms and dads were absorbed in finding I Thessalonians.

There was more to Convention than the candy, of course. There was the easing of aching toes out of high-heeled shoes after a vigorous song service. The preaching.  The trick of keeping double notebooks, one for dutifully recording the message of the preacher (one message per meeting), one for communicating with friends, doodling, and writing silly poems. The rustle that spread across the room as one hundred women expectantly worked their feet back into the shoes in response to the winding-down tone of Brother Buddy’s voice after a two-hour message; the audible sigh of disappointment as he revved back up for another thirty-minute run. The youth meetings…. oh, the youth meetings, fertile ground for planting seeds of terrible doubt and anxiety with the messages of purity directed at hormonal teenagers.

Yes, there are plenty of Convention memories. But what will always stand out in my mind, and what I always remember when I see stores filling with Easter signs and merchandise, is sitting in a long row of giggling teenagers, passing our favorite spring candies back and forth. The crunch and sweet chocolate malt flavor of Robin Eggs is inextricably entwined in my mind with friendship, with notes passed, with collaboration on goofy rhymes about Brother Joe’s enthusiastic speaking style. Easter candy makes me homesick.

Happy Convention, everyone.


My Father’s Hands

Sofia’s hair has recently become long enough for tiny pigtails and dainty barrettes. It’s wildly curly and needs to be thoroughly wetted in the morning so that it transforms from a crazy collection of fluffy cowlicks to an adorable set of tightly curled ringlets all over her head. I love combing it and watching the curls bounce into place.

A couple of days ago, I came across a little tangle in her hair. Tugging to get it out, I lost control of the comb, and it slid down across her ear. She flinched away, of course, and I chuckled. I couldn’t help laughing — I’d suddenly remembered my own experiences with ear-combing.

When I was four, my parents, residents of a Christian commune in Northwestern Ontario, decided to join another family who’d recently moved to a trapline in Northern British Columbia. It was a remote, beautiful place next to the Stikine River. Our family lived in a tiny cabin right next to the river, and we used the larger cabin up the hill as communal headquarters as well as living space for the other family.

Back on the commune, making breakfast was a chore shared by all the women in turn. Around the time we left, the population of the commune was about 200, so there would have been somewhere between 20 and 50 adult women to shoulder that task. On their mornings to cook, they would get up early, tiptoe out of their individual family homes (or dormitory, if they were single back then), and go to the main building to prepare the meal, which was served at seven. With so many women sharing the job, each woman only had to make breakfast once every couple of weeks. But on the trapline, there were only two women, so my mother would leave the house early about every other day, leaving my dad to get my brother and me ready for the day.

My dad is a gentle, creative man with craftsman’s hands. Those hands can achieve just about anything. Chopping down trees, smoothing the bark off the logs, building them into a shop. Creating his own lathe inside that shop, spinning wood on the lathe into delicate shapes: handles, round picture frames, jewelry boxes, a family of dolls for me. Those hands could sketch wildflowers, create an embroidery pattern, and make delicate stitches on fabric. They can execute a skilled pen-and-ink drawing, form a silly comic, make a detailed charcoal scene. His hands can coax music out of any instrument he picks up — a guitar, a recorder, a banjo. He made his own fiddle, mandolin, dulcimer. Truly, my father’s hands can do anything. Anything except comb a four-year-old’s hair without combing over her ears.

It would start off well. He’d ask my mom for pointers. She’d show him how to hold the hair in one hand, combing tangles out of the ends first, working upward. He’d try so hard to be gentle, starting on one side, successfully avoiding the first ear, working around to the other. We’d be almost done. I’d finally relax, positive that this time my ear would be safe. And then, RIP! The comb’s teeth would scrape over my sensitive ear, I’d wail, and he’d slump in defeat.

The rare times that my dad would manage to get all the way through my hair without combing my ear, he’d succumb to an even worse pitfall. Just above my ear on the right side of my head, hidden under my hair, is a wen. It’s a bump that used to be small, before it was built up with all the scar tissue from having its top ripped off with a comb, over and over. My dad would be so focused on avoiding my ears that he’d forget about the wen. The comb’s teeth would catch the top and rip off the fragile skin. Blood would seep out, matting my hair. We’d arrive at breakfast with one side of my hair still bedtime-fuzzy, stuck together with blood, and my mother would sigh and shake her head. And then for days I’d flinch anytime a comb came close to me, because while combing my ear was painful, combing the top off the wen was agonizing.

It’s funny, though. Having my hair combed by my dad hurt back then, but now, that sudden memory is heartwarming. I’m so glad that I have the memory of my father’s strong hands cradling my head, working a comb through my hair, making my hair shine despite the awkwardness that came from the unaccustomed task. And now it’s my turn to do the same for my daughter, feeling her baby hair spiral around my fingers, finding tricks to get her head in the right position, gently easing tangles out, and remembering how hard my father tried to be just as gentle with me as I try to be with my own little girl.

Sweet Funny Valentine

At four years old, Niko’s understanding of “Valentimes” Day is pretty sketchy. “Why is there an arrow in that heart?” he demands. I tell him that there’s a story about someone named Cupid who had a special arrow that he would shoot into people, making them love each other. “But that’s not nice. He shouldn’t shoot people. That hurts.” I explain that it’s a SPECIAL arrow that doesn’t hurt. He’s not convinced. “He shouldn’t hurt people,” he insists.

He feels a certain sense of power, I can tell, selecting Valentine cards for first his classmates, his teachers, then a few family members. He takes the responsibility very seriously, pondering each choice as if it will change lives around the world and through all of history. I have to practice my slow breathing in order to keep myself from ripping the cards from his hands and snarling, “Just let me do it!” I know my impulse is wrong. Bad mom. But I do let him make his choices despite my impatience, so there’s that.

I never experienced this holiday as a child, though I do remember looking forward to February because of the bags of cinnamon hearts you could buy. I grew up in a Christian commune, part of a group known as the Move which held as a minor part of its flexible, ever-shifting doctrine the concept that holiday celebrations were worldly and sometimes pagan and ought to be avoided if one wished to truly dedicate oneself to God. Valentine’s wasn’t actively frowned upon like Christmas and (Lord preserve us) Halloween, but neither was it encouraged or promoted in any way when I was a child. So I never decorated Valentine shoeboxes or prepared cards for an entire class or fretted over whether I, too, would receive candy and cards from friends. I don’t feel I missed anything, particularly — but it’s one more point of connection with my son that’s missing. It’s not an essential one, but sometimes I wonder how many of these disconnected experiences can build up before we have so little in common that we can’t communicate. A silly worry, maybe, but it’s there.

This anxious thought buzzes around in my head, along with Are these cards too big for the shoeboxes? Will other families send candy, or will we be the Bad Parents handing out sugar? Will Niko be able to stay calm during a classroom celebration?  and Did I remember to turn off the oven? as Niko painstakingly scrawls his name in each card. I can never think about just one thing, never truly focus on the task at hand — always my mind is busy with many ideas, questions, worries, plans, all bouncing in different directions until I simply can’t continue. Partly ADHD, partly motherhood, I guess. Luckily, I’m working with a four-year-old, and our attention spans run out at about the same time. We put the stack of cards carefully aside while he colors in another card and I help his baby sister hold a crayon on a piece of scrap paper. He peppers me with questions. “Why do we love each other on Valentimes? Is today Valentimes? Will it always be Valentimes? Can I make a card for you? I want a card that says Niko.”

I try to explain that yes, ValentiNNe’s Day (stress on the NNNNNN as a tactful pronunciation correction…) is a special day for loving each other, but really we always love each other, and that he will have lots and lots of cards that say Niko once all his classmates bring their cards to school. He isn’t entirely convinced, but he’s enjoying writing the cards, so he accepts this for now.

After school Wednesday, the day of his class’s Valentine celebration, his face shines with the aura of a child who’s had an excellent time. On his head is a red heart-festooned headband, with heart-tipped antennae bobbing on the front.He didn’t make it; he wasn’t feeling especially participatory, but he wanted to wear one, and a kind friend made one for him. He touches it carefully, with pride, telling me about his antennae that he can smell with, pointing out the heart cutouts, adjusting it on his head. Then he shows me his little mailbox, crammed full of tiny cards. His face reflects his amazement. “Look at all my cards!” His amazement grows when we open them at home, and he discovers that some of them have special treats: a deconstructable little hamburger, a Spiderman and a heart eraser, sticky gel clings, a lollipop.

My love bug
My love bug

Clearly, this holiday is going to be a favorite. Love, arrows, antennae, candy…how much better can a day get? I don’t miss celebrating it when I was little, but at the same time, I’m glad I get the chance to see the pleasure on my son’s face as he looks over his little cards and gifts, evidence that another child was thinking about him, too.

Happy almost-Valentine’s Day!

Glamour Girl

I have a problem. Maybe it’s vanity, maybe it’s rigidity of routine, but whatever the cause, it’s this: I cannot leave my home without makeup. In fact, if I don’t apply makeup even on a day I plan to spend home alone with kids and no husband, washing dishes and digging in the garden, I still feel oddly incomplete. It feels like something minor yet nearly essential is missing, like a fingertip or an earlobe. It feels simply wrong.

I wish I weren’t like this. I wish I didn’t feel the need to extra-feminize and perfect my face for even the most simple human encounter. I wish I weren’t still writhing in shame for having greeted the UPS carrier yesterday with a face bare of makeup except for mascara and tinted lip balm (plus, unfortunately, Capri-length yoga pants paired unflatteringly with too-long socks). I wish I could wear cosmetics as a deliberate, occasional choice, rather than a compulsion.

I remember when my rigid routine began. I was maybe fourteen. Makeup was new to me, and I was at the age when kids on the Christian commune where I grew up were sometimes given occasional, informal lessons on etiquette and rather old-fashioned comportment. For girls, this involved exercises like walking with books on our heads, standing with our feet angled just so, practicing lowering ourselves gracefully with knees together and spines straight to retrieve a dropped item, and setting a table correctly.

And we learned to apply makeup. Just like the lessons in comportment, this was informal — and not, I realize now, meant to be part of that curriculum. One of the “aunts,” as we called many of the women around our mothers’ ages, was a Mary Kay consultant, and she would sometimes hold parties at which the teenage girls were especially welcome. She’d show us, step by step, exactly what to do: how to apply makeup in a ladylike and reasonably modest manner. She gave us pointers like “Never wear eyeliner without lipstick” and “Always put on foundation.” And she told us, gently, firmly, and repeatedly, that a lady always applies makeup before leaving her home.

I know she wanted to give us an edge in life, the advantage of beauty and confidence. She couldn’t have known to what ridiculous extent I would internalize her advice. I don’t know why I was so susceptible to suggestion in this area, but somehow her iron-strong will, clothed as it was in charm and elegance, imposed itself on me.

My mother rarely wore any significant amount of makeup, but she had no problem with my own dabbling. She even showed me the basics and helped me buy and apply my first cosmetics. And, possibly knowing that I was in danger of being influenced away from her nearly-feminist tendencies, she gave me her own makeup advice: “Use makeup to highlight your best features, not to paint on a new face.” It’s good advice, I think. Thanks to her, I keep my makeup minimal, sometimes nearly invisible. But it’s there.

These days, Sofie is extra-needy in the morning before breakfast, and I often find myself applying makeup with her on my hip. She watches in the mirror, smiling to see our faces together. Her baby hands reach out for my tools. Occasionally her success results in mascara-blackened fingers or a scraping of blush under her tiny fingernails. Sometimes I hand her a fluffy brush, and she chuckles as she strokes first her face, then mine. I love sharing these moments, but part of me cringes.

I want you to be braver than I am, I want to tell her. I want you to be bold. I want your confidence in yourself to be unconnected to your makeup skills. I want you to show the world your real face without shame.

But another part of me looks forward to teaching her how it all works. First foundation, next cover-up, now blush… Never wear eyeliner without lipstick… Use lip liner so your lipstick doesn’t smudge. I want to dive with her into a new world of grown-up glamour. Nail polish, high heels, the perfect stockings for that special party dress.

In the best scenario, we’ll find balance. She won’t hear a lovingly firm, well-meaning, Southern-tinged voice in her head, telling her that a lady should never leave her house without makeup. I’ll remind her that cosmetics should be used to complement her best features, not give herself a new face. And I’ll give her my own advice: “Only wear makeup if you feel like it. Take a break now and then. Be brave. Don’t let anyone else tell you how your face should look.”

And maybe, just maybe, Sofia will go into the world with confidence and beauty, free from the need to change her face to satisfy someone else’s idea of what women should look like.