Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Notes from the Hammock: Unscripted Childhood

After the "winter that would not end" and the "spring, what spring," summer has arrived in my part of the world, and it is glorious! For me this means that I can *finally* let my energetic Big Kidlet, who is now a newly self-sufficient three year old, putter around the backyard without (constantly) worrying that he will get himself injured by all manner of harmful hazards my first time mother brain has obsessed over since he first toddled away from me; although, he did learn this week that the water in his water/sand table is most definitely NOT for drinking, courtesy of an aching tummy. This also means introducing Little Kidlet to the joys of being lazy in the hammock, emphasis on "lazy."

I'm not one of those "go-go" mothers who ferries my kids to endless classes, preschool drop-offs, or even overly many playdates. I chose to stay home and find another professional path, and we make lots of sacrifices to be able to make that happen. Part of this is consciously reactionary to the culture I find myself raising my kids in, and partially it is just "what feels normal" to me.

I grew up in a small rural town, and was an only child. My mother stayed home with me while also pursuing her MBA. She didn't view motherhood as "cruise director." Often I would be away for the entire day, returning tired and dirty from my ramblings. I was bored ALOT. I was often lonely to. But I also developed an ability to just be in the moment, something I struggle to regain in adulthood. I would climb on the back of my horse grazing in the pasture and lay on his back and just listen. I developed an imagination. I was always happiest in the barn storage where my mom stored the artifacts of my parents' lives, and I imagined I could play the trumpet I found there like Chet Baker, or read my mother's Pippi Longstocking books written in Norwegian.

Today, the birds were singing in the sunshine we've waited months for, and I took some time with my boys to once again just listen, to not have an agenda for the experience or the learning I wanted them to have, and simply be with them. I lay in the hammock and watched what my boys were learning. Little Kidlet and I gently swayed with the trees above us as he attempted to grab anything he could get his hands on, and Big Kidlet attempted to coax the birds to the birdbath, with calls of "here birdie, come and take a break and have a drink."

The deck needs to be redone, my house doesn't keep up with the Jones', I am an oddity because my kid isn't going to preschool, and I clearly need a pedicure, but I am so so blessed to be able to be right where I want to be, giving my kids some measure of the wonder of an unscripted childhood that I was given.

My greatest pride is found in the small exchanges (endlessly peppered with questions) that I have with Big Kidlet as he asks me: "Can I be an animal rescuer mommy, can I...in my imagination?" To which I reply: "Yes, honey, in your imagination you can be anything."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A River Runs Through It

I never really think of myself as particularly "artistic," mainly because when I draw or paint with my three year old son, well let's just say I haven't progressed much in my rendering ability since my childhood. But, I've recently begun to realize I tend to think in pictures. When I'm having discussions with people, and I'm articulating my point, I usually have distinct metaphorical images in my mind.

Today as I was explaining the place that I now find myself in with my oldest child, images of water swirled in my brain. In the past, particularly while I have navigated post-partum depression, parenting has felt like the ocean for me: vast, unknowable, unending, with forceful waves relentlessly pursuing me at the shore, threatening to tug me under.

But, at the moment we have reached this place where things have evened out for both myself and my son, and parenting doesn't feel so much like the ocean, as it does a river: twisting, always surprising, where I will at times find roaring and frightening rapids with jagged unseen rocks to navigate, only to find just around the bend a serene and smooth stretch, where I regain a sense of wonder, and peace, and I can rest. Presently, I'm floating seemingly effortlessly along with the current. I'm blissfully in the moment, not fretting about what has come before, nor nervously anticipating the geography of the landscape ahead.

While an ocean indiscriminately covers and conceals the terrain, its depths largely unmapped, its tides powerful and unceasing, a river is a different force; a river changes the surface of the terrain. A river has a plan, that flexes to the land, but doggedly pursues its end to create a "wide, flat valley where it can flow smoothly towards the ocean."

In those moments of peace as I am carried by the smooth waters of motherhood, I appreciate the grooves and valleys that the River has carved, and marvel at the steady force that has reshaped the topography, leveling mountains in its wake. In those peaceful meanders I restore myself for the rougher waters ahead.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Constant Gardener

My husband likes to say, "track-record, track-record," when referring to the true nature of people. Many times I protest that he is being overly cynical, but I have to concede that often times he is correct. My track record is that I am a "serial starter," but not always a faithful “finisher." This probably causes me the most angst when I'm trying to find my way, whether that is figuring out how to parent, or how to realize my intentions and goals. I often feel frustrated that the bloom of enthusiasm can so easily wither on the vine. The metaphor is apt, because without care and tending, what started out with so much potential can be allowed to degrade and ultimately die out. As a mother, that keeps me awake at night, fretting over every misstep and implication of my bumbling through the daily challenges of raising my children. But surprisingly it isn't a given, and this gives me great hope.

We are blessed with a large and beautiful backyard. Our house needs a lot of TLC, but we bought the place because we could see our kids in this backyard. While we have sacrificed and scrimped a lot to be here, and to live our lives according to our values, one of the luxuries we allow ourselves for now is a gardening service. The gardener, and his father before him, has taken care of this yard since the original owner, and each occupant has kept him on. I have a little plot within our larger backyard where we like to plant flowers and herbs. The gardener largely leaves this area to our whims. Once, as a gift to me, my husband made a detailed plan and planted several carefully selected varieties. We tended it well for a good deal of time, but nevertheless over time, our attention drifted, and some things flourished while others did not survive. We blamed this on our lack of a carefully disciplined approach to tending the area. If we had tried harder, and held ourselves more accountable, things would have turned out better we scolded ourselves.

Once, someone gave me a mini rose bush, and we planted it there. We had planted at least one other before, that died, but we put another out there nevertheless. We didn't really over think it, just planted it and let it grow. This weekend, out on the porch, while enjoying the first of the beautiful spring weekends to come with my children, I noticed, really noticed, that the rose bush had grown and thrived. My husband told me that the gardener often goes and tends the bush, even when we are not being as attentive as we should. It seems he simply cannot help himself.

It gives me hope that even when we get lost and inattentive, there is a constant gardener looking out for our little rose bushes.

The photo is mine. Please ask permission for reproduction.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's a Question of What You Give Your Focus To

I've been quiet blog wise the last week or two. Life was mostly busy with the celebration of my firstborn's third birthday, which was so much fun, because this year he "gets" the hoopla. In fact, he thinks that every Tuesday is his birthday at the moment. All wants and desires are prefaced with "maybe after nappy? On my birthday, on Tuesdays?" I tell you, moments I want to hug him tight and tell him to "full stop" getting any older than this magical age! That is until the next tantrum, because his burgeoning will has been thwarted by the tyrannical Mother Overlord. In those moments, I'm projecting forward 20 years and hoping like hell I've made the right decisions to help him come out the other end with both of our sanity in tact.

The other event that had me taking a mental retrenching was my parents complete obliviousness to said three year old's birthday. Long and painful episode vastly edited and truncated, I have had to dig deep to realize that their actions are their actions and choices alone, and to further call upon my faith to find compassion and let that rule my regard for the situation. I'm vastly grateful and proud frankly that it didn't plunge me back into the abyss of depression, and that I credit to will and grace (not the TV show). Simply put, I'm moving on. I choose to focus on something else.

Something I'm focusing on this week in my goal to be more present for my family is taming the lure of constant connectivity. This week in honor of Earth Day, I've taken the Great TV Rebellion of 2010 Pledge, and I'm also using it as the official start of more organized homeschooling activities in our household. I'll share what we are up to as we go along on this new journey. Want to join us this week in turning off the TV and electronics and tuning into the outdoors and your children? Head here.

So, if I'm quiet, you know what I'm up to. The TV will be a cinch...Twitter, now that's gonna hurt :)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

And God Said: "You're Not the Boss of Me"

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." – Jeremiah 29:11

Do you know what's good for you? If you are like me, you think you do. You know that if things could just be... everything would be just fine, am I right? The Bible passage I quoted comes up frequently in my small group discussions. Often we talk about how God always answers prayers, but it's not always the answer you wanted.

I had a moment this morning when I woke up next to Little Kidlet where it was as if a veil obstructing my understanding had been lifted and I realized something important. In making my way through this postpartum depression, I have fixated on the fact that Little Kidlet would not sleep neatly and compliantly in the wonderful and comfy little co-sleeper I had set up next to my bed. I lamented to myself, and yes, said prayers, that if this child would just sleep where I needed him to sleep (emphasis on I) then I would be better rested, my husband less cranky, etc., etc.

I didn't set out to bed share with my children, although I wasn't opposed to it...up to a point. With my first child, he hated the bassinet, and ended up sleeping with us for several months, but ultimately we transitioned him to his own room and a crib by the time he was six months old. The transition at night was just fine, although daytime took several more months. We had no need of even contemplating the loaded and loathed method of "cry-it-out," and nor would I have pursued that option. In fact, I took pride in honoring my mother's instincts and after attending a "sleep specialist's" talk to my local moms' group, only going because daytime sleeping was an issue, I flatly rejected her proclamation that I could never expect my son to be able to sleep interchangeably in the bed and crib--it had to be one or the other. I went back to the drawing board, tuned into my son, equipped myself, and in time he did just that with no draconian methods employed. He's been a "good sleeper" ever since.

When number two was imminently arriving, I made plans to be able to have the baby with us as we had had my oldest, but with an added measure of safety with the co-sleeper. The Husband doesn't sleep as soundly because he was/is paranoid that he will roll onto the baby. Ultimately "the plan" was to transition Big Kidlet into his "big boy bed" and have the baby join him later in the room in the newly available crib. I figured by six months, we should be fine. Cue laughter of the reader to this obvious example of "the best laid plans" of an overachieving delusional mother. I blame it partially on my background in management. I was used to people doing what I (benevolently) directed them to do.

To say that parenting has been a "humbling" experience in this regard would be a massive understatement.

So when Little Kidlet had a different agenda, in my fog of exhaustion and depression, I cried out to God, "Can you help me out with this? I need this kid to give me some space, I'm drowning here!" And He didn't answer this perceived need, at least I thought he didn't, until I awoke this morning.

When I woke this morning snuggled to my child I realized that God had given me exactly what I needed. Because, I was drowning, and I needed a life preserver...a little warm bundle of life preserving wonder that would not leave my side...even in the dead of night, or the deepest darkness of my depression.

God blessed me and answered my prayers for help, but not in the way I directed Him to.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

On Turning Three: Happy Birthday Big Kidlet

My "baby" is turning three. He's becoming his own little person. Things are changing, and I'm trying to roll with it, and not tremendously gracefully I might add. When he was a young toddler, he used to sit in my lap nightly as I rocked and asked me to keep singing. Now, when I start to sing randomly during our day, more often than not, he turns to me indignantly and commands me: "Don't sing mommy, don't siiiiiiiiinnnnnggg!" Really? Already? I thought I had a few more years of being the coolest thing since...oh wait...that would be his father. In a myriad other ways he's already starting to pull away from me...and wait, I need a tissue.

Maintaining connection to him has been tough; I barely have a connection to myself right now. But I'm trying. I'm focusing on doing "projects" together when his brother is napping, and I think he really enjoys the unfiltered one on one time. Even though "I do it my-SELF" can be heard at least ten times per day (on a good day), I have noted the tone of happiness when we sit down and work on something and he asks me "we do it TO-gether, mommy?" It makes me happy to. It's doesn't come naturally to me, but it seems to get a little easier with practice.

In honor of my Big Kidlet's birthday, I want to list the things that I love about this kid. He really is such a blessing to me, and I pray everyday that I don't squander the gift that is him.

I love...

  • the things that come out of his mouth right after he wakes up...easily the sweetest, funniest, and most insightful things he says all day;
  • his skin, it's so, so soft, just like The Husband's. Seriously women pay big money to get skin like this;
  • his eyelashes...see above...it's really pretty unfair;
  • his imagination...I love to listen to him in his bed on the monitor;
  • his zest, and oh I pray I help him keep it;
  • that he loves books like his mama;
  • that he wants to help;
  • that he asks questions;
  • that he loves his grandparents, and my sister-in-law, even when I don't;
  • that he points out trucks everywhere we go;
  • that he is a "good sleeper";
  • his laugh;
  • that he has a sense of humor (he'll need it);
  • that he loves breakfast like I do;
  • that he's starting to dance;
  • that he can carry a tune;
  • that he hums when I hug him like I do;
  • that he goes down stairs cautiously and tells me "I be careful, mommy";
  • that he has a tremendous memory (although this can be a challenge);
  • that he doesn't complain, and rarely whines (I know this could change);
  • that he stands up for himself;
  • his eyes, and incredibly his eyebrows, which are the mirror image of mine;
  • that he seems to have an independent streak, and I pray that he is more at peace with it than I have ever been;
  • his naked bottom as he is streaking down the hallway to his bath.
I love this child. I give thanks to God for this child, and ask forgiveness every single time I fail him.

As I have often prayed since his birth, I pray that he grows in character, courage, compassion, and conviction.

Happy Birthday Big Kidlet!


The Mother

Monday, April 5, 2010

Inside Voice(s): Sometimes It Gets A Little Loud and Crowded

I had one of those snarky interior dialogue moments today talking with another mother (well actually more listening, she was doing most of the talking), where I thought to myself, "Well, don't YOU just have it ALL figured out..." Thankfully, my inner editor was on the job and saved me from uttering this pretty rude observation. My inner moralizer also popped up to chastise me (always quick to join the fray) , and helpfully explain to me, myself, and I, that I was just jealous about what I perceived to be someone who was having an easier time of it. Then the inner rationalizer joined the party upstairs (it gets kinda crowded in my head sometimes) and started picking away at the conversation by pointing out the challenges this woman lacked (and I have). Truly, I wanted to tell them all to go to...well, you can finish that sentence.

The part of the conversation that really pricked a nerve (aside from that this child ate ALL vegetables and fruits, rarely if ever eats ANYthing from a box, has never had A PIECE of candy, apparently never has had a sniffle, sleeps PERFECTLY, AND doesn't act up EVER) was when I was commenting that my son and I share a passionate nature and have, um, a temper. To this she speedily responded oh no, not her, she just isn't "emotional." Evidence of this offered was that she and her husband have never in their thirteen years together...fought...ever. Now this woman is really pretty sweet, honestly, and on most days I find her chatter pretty non-ire inspiring, but today I am feeling, well, a little emotional and I had the most unseemly urge to duct tape her. I was in no mood. You can imagine the uproar caused upstairs in the critic's loft from that particular thought.

It went down hill from there (inside my head). We parted ways a little while later, and I proceeded to try and not become irrationally irritated navigating my son through the grocery store with his own little cart he so so loves to push all by himself. On the way out as two wine bottles narrowly missed being strewn across the floor, my emotions and nerves were shot, and I chalked it up as one more day I needed to go home, pull some of my manuals down and remind myself how to raise my passionate and emotional kid without murdering him myself first, and hating myself.

Don't mind me, I'm just being emotional.