The Imperfect Table

 Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Photo and post by Leslie Klipsch

Ever since I can remember, my mother has thrown a lovely Christmas Eve dinner party. It’s a dressed-up affair that begins right after Christmas Eve Mass with shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, and oyster stew, and ends—after huge platters of lasagna are served and enjoyed—with dessert (vanilla ice cream for the kids and a Grasshopper for the adults). One particularly merry eve when I was around ten, the dinner plates were cleared and my mom unveiled something new she had spent the afternoon making—a beautiful blueberry cream cheese tart with a crumbly, homemade pecan crust.

My dear mother. It was obvious within the first few bites that the crust was severely burnt. The guests were having trouble chewing and swallowing, though everyone—friends and family alike—was too polite to mention it, instead carrying on pleasant conversation while reaching for their water glass.

Our parish priest, still in his collar, was seated at our table and he ventured to use the side of his fork to casually (but determinedly) cut his next polite bite. Before we knew it, a quarter-size piece of burnt pecan crumble crust shot across the table like a bullet and landed on my grandmother’s plate.

All eyes quickly turned to my mother to measure her response. To everyone’s relief, she broke out in raucous laughter and we all followed suit, howling until we had tears in our eyes. The niceties were over; the crust was a flop. But the dinner party? Still fabulous.

Of course, this is not exactly how my mother had hoped her tart would turn out that year. It’s also probably not the one moment out of three decades of beautifully prepared Christmas Eve dinners that she would hope to have been crystallized in my mind forever, but it is. I treasure this memory because it highlights the joy found in imperfection. My mother is a gifted hostess whom I admire immensely. However, on that Christmas Eve in the late eighties, her piecrust was not perfect.

The holidays are so often fraught with anxiety and expectation. We worry about everything from money to menus to being face-to-face with the pain of fractured relationships. We struggle to provide magic for those around us and we stress over creating long-lasting memories with every move we make. If only we would let go of some of those long-held expectations and loosen our grip on the quest for perfection. In doing so, we might welcome a better season, one during which we are free to enjoy the depth of relationships and the promise of joy without the heavy weight of flawlessness.

Mother’s Day Gifts: Eight Ideas for the Mama Bear in Your Life

Mama Bear. She’s strong, she’s sensitive, she’s socially minded. If you’re lucky enough to have a Mama Bear in your life, we know you’ll want to honor her on Mother’s Day. Check out these thoughtful, big-hearted gifts sure to make even the fiercest Mama Bear swoon.

1. Beaded Earrings from Tanzania

Because of the sponsorship of mom-artist, Mama-Bear, and #girlboss Jen VanOort of Onion Grove Mercantile, 100% of the purchase of a pair of red beaded earrings ($30) made by Maasai women in Tanzania will go to women’s empowerment programming in poor, rural areas of Tanzania. Empower Tanzania works to prepare women for success in sub-Saharan Africa through education and specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, and small business. Learn more about their work at www.empowertz.org and purchase a set of earrings HERE.

2. Uprising Apparel

A “Be the Light” tank ($28) is a double win. Uprising Apparel is a Mama Bear company in that they offer stylish, inspiring apparel that shares a message of hope while helping to raise vulnerable children out of poverty. The purchase of this tank will help bring light and hope to vulnerable children in Uganda through educational initiatives and will provoke goodness in anyone who reads the message.

3. FashionABLE Bag

We love this leather bag ($148) handcrafted in Ethiopia almost as much as we love the philosophy behind the company who produces it. FashionABLE believes in creating jobs for those lacking opportunity and that those jobs should be held by women. This Mama Bear mission is one we want to support: to end generational poverty, we must empower people to provide for themselves.

4. Minivan Makeover

American moms with children of a certain age tend to spend an astonishing amount of time in their minivans. Concentrate your efforts on pampering her where she’s at! In other words, clean that baby until it sparkles. If you’re detail-oriented and not afraid of elbow-grease, you can perform the task yourself ($0). If you supervise and demand a certain level of excellence, the kids can do it ($0). Otherwise, the local full-service car wash will get the job done ($49-$249). (If you choose to hire someone, find a black, female, or immigrant-owned business to support for bonus Mama Bear points.)

5. Mama Bear’s Manifesto

Mama Bear’s Manifesto: A Moms’ Group Guide to Changing the World ($14) is a book that honors moms and asks women of all ages to poke at the power they hold within. It’s a celebration of women, of friendship, and of the incredible power of motherhood. This book will inspire and reassure moms of all ages and is perfect for Mother’s Day. Ten percent of all sales is donated to The Adventure Project. Available at Target, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major bookstores.

6. LSTN Earbuds

If she loves listening to podcasts, she’ll probably love listening to her favorite shows (ahem, Mama Bear Dares!) on these zebra wood earbuds ($49). Not only are they gorgeous and do they produce great sound, but every LSTN purchase helps give hearing aids to someone in need. (Also, we’re drooling over LSTN’s wireless, over-ear Troubadors ($179). They’re a bit pricier but MUCH harder to lose!)

7. Spa Treatment

Encourage her self-care routine by giving the Mama Bear in your life a gift certificate for a spa service (massage, facial, mani/pedi; $30 and up) ... and then make sure she makes time to use it. And remember, Mama Bears love lifting their sisters up—enhance the meaning of this gift by spending your dollars at a local, female-owned business. Pair the gift with vegan, non-GMO bath bombs for complete thoughtfulness.

8. Sustainable Shades

If she has a kid or two, she’s probably responsible enough to hold on to a pair of quality, sustainable shades, right? Invest in a pair of Woodwear eco-friendly, sustainable sunglasses and the Mama Bear in your life will feel fancy and in good conscience all summer long. Woodwear Sunglasses are handmade out of sustainable bamboo in the U.S.A. Favorites: Breck Woods ($90) and classic tortoise Malibus ($60).

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Seven Ways White Moms Can Fight Racism and Spread Love

I am going to be honest: My prejudice runs wide and deep. As a solidly middle-class, educated, cisgender white woman living in the Midwest who consumes media and actively participates in modern-day America, I’ve got a lifetime of bias and racism to contend with. I’m raising my children in a predominantly white world within a country facing systematic racism in our criminal justice system, our system of public education, and at large in our society. But here’s the thing: I want to do better.

I’d like to believe that all of us want better. And I’d like to think that as moms we yield a special power to not only improve ourselves as individuals, but to shape an entire generation into a people who are kinder and more fervent in their demand for equality and justice. Though I’m quick to remind myself that eliminating my own bias and racism will take a lifetime of intention and work and that much of the ugliness within is a symptom of the culture that all of us share, I know I am capable of great change and great compassion. But first, I have to do the uncomfortable work to learn and know better...all so that I can do better. I commit to starting here:

1. I will acknowledge my privilege. Sometimes when we hear the words “white privilege,” we hear the words “you’re white and you’re racist.” Let’s be clear: that is not the definition of white privilege. White privilege tends to be unintentional and uncomfortable to recognize, so it’s easy to take for granted. However, without acknowledging that it exists and without confronting it, the playing field in America will never be even. The first step as a white mom is to recognize my own plentiful privilege and the ways in which my children benefit from this privilege. I understand that though I am smart and hard-working, I still have white privilege. This feels uncomfortable, but naming it and owning it is the first step.

2. I will try to understand and examine my implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” It has been widely studied and the research is conclusive: We all have implicit bias...men, women, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, young, old, and, yes, even well-intentioned white moms. Know this: Implicit racial bias is not the same thing as conscious racism. People who harbor implicit biases (remember, that’s all of us!) may not think of themselves as prejudiced; in fact, they likely consider prejudice abhorrent and may not understand they have these biases. The trick is to learn about what these look like for you as an individual. What triggers my bias? Where did it come from? How can I retrain my thoughts and the ways in which I experience and interpret the world? Again, to move toward true equality, it’s up to each of us to do the the hard, internal work of uncovering our own bias and how it impacts our response to the world.

3. I will listen and learn. I’ve said it to my sons and daughter a thousand times: Learning is hard. When facing something difficult, something new, or something that might make us think deeply or work hard, our instincts are often to deflect, ignore, or refuse to try. But life will be better when we are open to learning about the world around us. How best to learn about the experiences of others? Listening to the people who own the experience. I can read articles and consume news written by people of color. I can listen to black podcasts. I can read books written by immigrants and devour articles written by women of color. This isn’t drudgery; this is an opportunity to consume amazing new material and insight.

4. I will advocate for diversity in my life. For many of us, our cities and neighborhoods are segregated to the point that you actually have to advocate for diversity in your life. You and I can do this by making it a priority to interact with people of other races, religions, and backgrounds. How? Frequent public places—municipal swimming pools, neighborhood parks, and public schools. When you place value on social diversity, you’ll look for neighborhoods and schools that reflect your priorities and you’ll take your whole life there.

5. I will teach my kids that skin color matters. We are a beautiful and diverse people and we are not blind to color. As a white mom, I will teach my kids that skin color matters—to the point of acknowledging a certain group’s history. Ultimately, through lessons of past and present, my responsibility is to teach my children that skin color should not determine life or death.

6.  I will pronounce my kids’ friends' names correctly. Thankfully, there are kids in my life that I have had to ask specifically for the pronunciation of their name. I will do this every time. By constantly mispronouncing a name or by nicknaming a child something more familiar to my tongue, I’m communicating that their identity should conform to the world I know rather than being responsive to them as a person.

7. I will amplify the voices of black and brown people. Here’s a script I will do my best to adopt: Are you in the position to put a minority or person of color in power? Do it. Read an important article written by or about a person of color? Share it. See art that you love that depicts people of color? Absorb it, hang it up in your home, and celebrate it. Notice a magazine that regularly puts people of color on their cover? Subscribe. I will also remind my white mom friends that we are powerful. Once we acknowledge that in our social circles we have a voice that other white moms will listen to, progress occurs. It’s not ideal, but as a group we have the opportunity to use our voices in order for other people to listen to voices of color. For instance, if your brown sister is speaking out and your peers don’t seem to hear her, it may be up to you to amplify her voice and her message by interpreting it for others. Unfortunately, sometimes the message of the oppressed isn’t heard until someone from the culture of power becomes a mouthpiece.

There is no doubt that prejudice impulses will take a lifetime to untangle and that the list here just scratches the surface of the journey towards becoming a woke white mom, but something that is true right now is that my capacity to love in infinite. Regardless of the complexity and nuance of being a white woman in America, I believe we all have enough compassion to share with those who struggle, those who look different, and those who come from a world that we fail to understand. In doing so, we’ll plant a seed of understanding and of solidarity. Such wisdom and guidance doesn’t just benefit people of color, it benefits all of us.

*A version of this article was published on the Quad Cities Moms' Blog. Much of this post was based on Episode 73 of the Mama Bear Dares podcast and stemmed from the conversation and research of co-hosts Leslie and Tesi.

Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.

So, how are you feeling?

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My mom is smart and sensible when it comes to health and nutrition. She and my step-dad have been lecturing me for years on the ways that the carbohydrates found in processed foods like Ritz crackers quickly turn to sugar and have been eating real food long before Whole 30. They believe in grass-fed beef, real butter, and a shot of Aloe Vera juice every morning and are in the kind of excellent health that turn observers into believers. For years, they’ve been wary of my dalliances with vegetarianism and veganism, but have respected my dietary choices, noting that I seem vibrant enough. However, whenever I fall ill with a cough, a sniffle, or an infection, my mom can’t help herself. Her advice is the same each and every time: Eat a hamburger.

This is my mom’s Mama Bear peeking out. I may be in my late thirties and my mother in her sixties, but she still grits her teeth when I call her crying with news such as the fact that my iron levels are extremely low and my doctor has uttered the words “colon cancer” as a possible cause.

That’s just the news I received last week. I’ve since had two other doctors and a physician’s assistant (how lucky I am to have such access!) look at my blood work. These are the labs results that, as I explain in Episode 91 of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast, were ordered over two years ago and have been stuffed deep in my purse ever since. I head to a specialist today* and am currently vacillating between shame in the fact that I have so egregiously neglected my own health while pouring all of my energy into the things that thrive around me (my kids, my husband, my work) and anxiety that this refusal to care for myself at a basic level might have developed into something potentially serious.

Over the last week, I’ve heard from two other friends—both moms with small children—who have told me that they, too, have noticed some abnormalities but have not taken a step toward a physician or a lab. I heard from another friend that she’s been applying figurative Band-Aids to a problem that she senses has deep origin. Have you been paying attention? Have you been keeping up with routine exams? Our health is serious business and we are the ones who must advocate for our body, paying attention to what it needs to be the strong vessel that carries all of that love and compassion through the day. You’re a Mama Bear and that means there’s gonna be some wear and tear!

So, let's speak frankly: How are you feeling? What do you need to ensure your optimal physical health? A physical? A serious observance of a nagging pain? A hamburger? Maybe. A solid step toward ensuring your health and wellness? For sure.

Leslie Klipsch is the co-host of the Mama Bear Dares Podcast and author of Mama Bear's Manifesto: A Moms' Group Guide to Changing the World. She lives with her husband and three children, ages 12, 10, and 7, in the Midwest.

*Editor's Note: Leslie has since undergone a colonosopy and endoscopy. Cancer, ulcers, and internal stomach bleeding have been ruled out. The gastrologist is currently testing for Celiac's Disease and is running a few more tests before giving her a clean bill of health. She thanks you for all the thoughts and prayers during this "weird and scary" time.