Friday, June 20, 2014

When His plans are not our plans...

We started summer with a bang this year, quite literally.  Some might recall that my "word" for the year is "imperfect," as I wanted to try to learn to live life more contentedly in the here and now.  I've spent so much time feeling like I couldn't be happy until life met my standard of perfect, and it felt like a good year to try to work on finding happiness NOW, in the imperfect.  I don't mean giving up on striving for holiness, but rather giving up the need for the perfect house, the perfectly clean house, the perfectly behaved children, the perfect relationships, etc.  Allowing those around me to be human, allowing my life to have ups and downs, and trying to see the beauty even when things don't "go my way."

Well, in my experience, God tends to provide me with ample "practice time" anytime I decide I'm going to work on a particular character flaw, and this year has been no exception.  As I mentioned, my husband was laid off in January of this year - imperfection.  When he finally did find a job in April, it wasn't at all what he or I were hoping for - imperfection.  And then.. just as summer finally arrived, we were out running an errand in our ordinary life, when BAM, everything changed in an instant.   Suddenly our only car was totaled, and while thanks be to God my kids and husband were perfectly OK, I found myself with two broken bones in my pelvis and a broken hip.  Imperfection!  Not at all how I had planned to spend my summer.  I had grand plans to run a 10k, not to spend weeks trying to ambulate from couch to bathroom with a walker.  But "my plans are not your plans..."

And yet, and yet.  In this imperfect situation, I've gotten to see more of my mom than I had in years.  In this imperfect time, my cousin quite miraculously came home from abroad (the very day before our accident), with free time to spare, meaning she was available to take care of my kids and household, and that we, too, could have more time together than in the past several years.  In the uncertainty and pain of this imperfect moment, I have seen the depths of the care and friendships that surround me, as people have provided meals and assistance beyond what we could have imagined.  It's not what I had planned, and it's still hard for me to say that it's "better" than what I had planned (who wants broken bones, after all!) but it's amazing how God can take something so bitter and bring sweetness out of it.

Still, I need to ask for your prayers, my blog followers... for swift healing, and for the tide of our life to reverse direction, as it were.  We are so thankful for the lessons God has been teaching us during in this time, but we are at the same time feeling pretty discouraged (never have I so identified with the book of Job as this year).  In particular, prayers for my husband's job situation to improve would be MOST appreciated!  In this imperfection, I have definitely appreciated more deeply than ever his character, to go off to work in the wee hours of the morning (he's at work two hours before the kids or I get up) day after day in the hot sun or the pouring rain to a job that is so much less than what he deserves.  He does it because he loves us, and I love him for it, but I so want to see him happy and fulfilled in his work!  So would you keep him (and us) in your prayers?

There is beauty in the imperfect, yes... part of that beauty, as I am learning, is realizing how much we are made for MORE, we are made to be perfect, we are made for a heaven that will answer all these longings.   When life becomes an exercise in embracing ever deeper levels of imperfection, there is no temptation to mistake this life for our ultimate end, and for that lesson, I am truly grateful.

All the same, say thank you to God today for the ability to walk... we never appreciate the blessings of the ordinary until we don't have them.  Like the ability to put on your own pants, to get into a shower yourself, and to carry a cup of tea from one room to the other.  I'm so thankful, now, for the blessing of empathizing with the pain of the handicapped, the home-bound, the suffering; this experience is (hopefully?) very temporary for me, yet there are so many for whom such situations are a permanent cross.  So say thank you for your mobility, and pray for those who lack it!

And if YOUR life feels imperfect today, read 1 Corinthians chapter 2.  That and the book of Job have brought me much consolation during these trials....

Friday, February 21, 2014

Catching up!

Wow.  It has been a long time since I had time to write.  I thought I was busy with one little, but two really keeps me hopping in a different way!  Plus, life just keeps GOING.  Things change, and we add in new goals and new challenges and new things to spend time on, all the while other things (like this blog) have to take a temporary or permanent backseat.

However, I've decided that an occasional shout into the void is better than nothing, and that in order to make that happen, I have to be less concerned about writing in a polished fashion, and just start, for the time being, with putting something out there.

So without further ado, a quick catch up of happenings since last June:

1) We spent most of the month of July dealing with a flooded basement.  Not fun times.  But since my "word" for last year was Flow, as in, going with the flow, it was a curiously appropriate challenge to go through.

2) We signed up for a vegetable CSA last year (summer, and then again in winter) and have LOVED having so many fresh veggies coming into the house.  It has really helped my cooking skills, too, and I am slowly learning to cook more creatively with what I have on hand, and less from recipes or grand plans for each week.

3) Our baby boy, who still needs a blog name (leaving that for another day!), turned one a couple of weeks ago.  It doesn't seem possible that a year has gone by since his birth!  The first year of my daughter's life seemed so interminably long, and I expected to go back to that sort of hazy baby mode... well, we did for maybe six weeks, and then it was right back to life as usual, plus one.  Fortunately our little guy is such a mellow, go with the flow sort of tyke that it didn't seem like a big hassle to just bring him along on all our adventures.

4) I officially became a full time stay-at-home mom in November, when the company I'd been working for since before I got married laid off over half its staff.  I was probably the only person getting the news that day who was actually really happy at the news!  My husband and I had been talking for months about the need to get me out of my job, because of the stress it was putting on all of us.  My daughter, in particular, was struggling with getting less attention because of having to share me with her brother, and having me unavailable an extra 10 hours per week just wasn't working.  The turn around in her behavior since then (which is probably also from me being less stressed, as well as just growing older, adjusting to changes, etc) has really been remarkable.

5) I picked the word Imperfect this year for what I want to work on, pray on, etc.  I realized over the last several months that I often let the perfect be the enemy of the good, in that I have a hard time letting things go at good enough.  Sometimes that is a good thing, but when it comes to housework vs spending time with the kids, it's something I really need to work on.  I also have a hard time staying joyful if I feel like everything isn't done, or isn't just the way I want it, so when there are worries, or stresses, or concerns over the present or the future, joy just seems to go out the window.  Trying hard to be aware of this tendency this year, and to pray on it, and work on it.

6) Just as He sent lots of "opportunities" for me to *practice* going with the Flow last year, God started this year off with a big bang of an opportunity to practice being joyful even during imperfect times.  My husband was laid off from his job in the middle of January, which as you can imagine isn't a great thing with me not working and us having a mortgage and two little kids to feed.  It's been a long six weeks since then, but I can say with great confidence that God really is trying to teach us patience, hope, and faith through the experience... I am finding that faith really truly does act like a muscle, and my faith muscle had grown a bit weak and atrophied.  This experience is making me exercise it every single day.  It's an act of the will to have faith in the face of no obvious guarantees, and no obvious signs of things changing any time soon.  However, early on I decided that it is better to wait well than to wait poorly, and it is better to wait with faith than without.  I have the sense deep down that this is an important lesson to learn at this time in my life, because I know that as my husband, my parents, my kids, and myself all grow older, there are going to be many more times of living in uncertainties, living in less than perfect circumstances, and it would be wise to learn NOW how to wait in hope and faith despite external circumstances.

7) When I get down these days, these verses help (and I hope that, if there is anyone out there who is similarly struggling to keep on keeping on in faith, they will help you too):

James 2, 3-4  "the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything."

Romans 5 3-5 "because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

I'm learning these verses, not just in word, but also in truth: it is TRUE that suffering does produce perseverance, if we continually turn to God for it.  I imagine myself like Peter, trying to walk on the waves...

8)  And in the meantime, we're trying to live this temporary situation as a "good".  After all, there won't be many times in our life, at least in the foreseeable future, when my husband will have this much time home with us!  It is tough trying to balance the financial reality, i.e. that we really can't spend "extra", with how we'd like this time to be, if it were really a vacation.  But we're finding low cost and free things to do that are special, just the same.

9) On a different note, we finally switched to ALL cloth diapers for my little guy.  We did cloth with my daughter from about 1 to potty training, but used disposables at night.  She could go all night in a single disposable, and I hated having to wake up to change her, as I needed to if we used cloth overnight, so I went the easy route with her.  Then with my son, we just never questioned it; we started using BG 4.0 pockets from around a month of age with him, but kept up with the disposables overnight.  Then, literally last week, we ran out of disposables, and I thought, "hey, we always have to change him in the middle of the night anyway.  Why don't we just TRY cloth overnight again?"  He would leak out of disposables in the middle of the night if I didn't change him, sometimes even if I did, so we were going through two a night, and then since they were in the house, we tended to use them for trips out, or when we didn't feel like stuffing a diaper.  Well, miracle of miracles, I've found that a) he doesn't leak out at ALL with the cloth! and b) even though we were "only" using disposables overnight, we were still going through a box a month, and will likely save at least $250 between now and potty training by switching fully to cloth.  So glad that it's finally working for us.

10) On that note, it's time to get ready for bed.  I do hope, but can't promise, to be able to write more often!  I really miss having the opportunity and reason to stretch my writing muscles, so I do need to make time for real writing again, even while my main focus has to remain firmly on my little "living epistles".

A gratuitous shot of me and my snugglebug to leave you with:

Oh, I just love my kiddos so much ;)  It may be an imperfect life... but they remind me of just how HAPPY imperfection can be.

Peace be with you all - and if you read this, and can spare a moment, please do say a prayer that my husband will soon find a job!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Comparisons and Joy

Last week, I got artsy and made this for our bedroom wall:

We needed "something" on that wall, but there was more, in this moment of time, behind my decision to choose this particular quote. I've often repeated Fortescue's "Comparisons are odious" (thanks go to Madeleine L'Engle for ingraining this in my memory and mind) to myself, but I think I like Roosevelt's "Comparison is the thief of joy" even better, because it more completely sums up what comparing does in one's life: it really does steal joy. And I needed, really, really needed, something tangible to remind me of this right now. Why, you might ask? Well... for the very simple reason that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law just bought a gorgeous new house. I am SO happy for them - it was a long time coming, they've made a lot of sacrifices to get to this place, and it is a wonderful change and opportunity for them (not to mention, I look forward to hanging out with them in their great new space!) That being said, though, I've found it a REAL challenge to "keep my eyes on my own work" and not be absolutely overcome with envy of this great space that they now have. Now, just to be clear, this isn't the sort of envy that wants them NOT to have it; rather, an intense feeling of inadequacy in our home space, of wishing we had similar amenities for ourselves and our kids, not at all a desire for our beloved family NOT to have those things or any ill will towards them for having them. But it IS hard not to covet the things that they have, and that is where comparison comes in: until they bought this beautiful, to my eyes giant, new space, I was totally content (or, at least almost totally) in my own home. Sure, it's a fixer-upper and not to everyone's taste. It was built in the 50's and is in keeping with the smaller footprint of those days; around 1300 square feet, no expansive rooms, no dining room and the eat-in kitchen is quite small, as are the bathrooms. It's got a lot of rough edges and while we've done a lot of work on it already (with even more planned for the coming weekend - we're overhauling the main bathroom, new floors, new paint, new vanity and medicine cabinet, etc), the "to-do" list is still a mile long, with essentials like new windows, a new door that doesn't require being duct-taped shut in the winter, and electrical overhauls all on there. But it is full of character, reminds me a ton of my grandparents' home, and has a lot of real benefits for us, such as being walking distance from nearly everything you could need (seriously - yarn store, fabric store, hardware store, garden store, grocery store, post office, Big Lots, Hallmark, two florists, two drug stores, a shoe/running store, two ice cream stands, the library, a deli, the farmer's market, several parks, just to name SOME of what we can easily walk to).  Despite being "in the middle of town" in that sense, we live on a quiet street, and with the exception of the train that goes through our backyard, there is minimal traffic noise.  The space isn't huge but it does have four bedrooms so our family can expand as it needs; the utilities aren't high, and we love our little backyard even if it isn't the 5 acres I once dreamed of.

So what is the problem? Well, when you compare our place with all its rough edges to someone else's.. that's where the trouble starts, and truly, as we moved our family into their new space, it's all I could see. We don't have a sun porch, or a deck, or two fireplaces (or even one). We don't have a rec room and a living room, nor a space big enough to really host holiday gatherings. We don't have a swing set, or a huge driveway for my kids to play on. The list could go on and on, of all the things we don't have, instead of those that we do. However, after falling down into the realms of unhappiness because of this (and I mean, really, being eaten up with that feeling for awhile) God has kindly reminded me of the antidote, which requires nothing more than the discipline to practice it consistently.  The solution is simply focusing on the blessings in my life, rather than any perceived lack, and remembering that these blessings are given like manna from above, sufficient to my needs if not to all my wants.

And the blessings, when I stop to really reflect on it, are so many!  I've been given the unbelievable gift (though not everyone would see it this way) of living what I call "the slow life," which is exactly what I WANT to be doing deep down. I have the freedom every day to walk to the places I need to go, instead of driving (in fact, because we currently are choosing to have only one vehicle, I mostly have to walk rather than drive...) This has physical benefits (I definitely don't have to count calories!) as well as mental ones (it's a good deal more relaxing to walk than to drive, and a great stress-reliever), and I believe it will install good values in my children.  It also limits my shopping to those things that I really want or need, because if you have to put in physical effort to get there, and strategize how you'll carry things back, it naturally limits the things you buy. I have the luxury of being at home with my kids, even if it doesn't feel like a luxury every moment of the day.  We also have the financial freedom that comes from a smaller mortgage - the knowledge that if my husband lost his job, we wouldn't have to come up with "as much" as many of our peers. Sometimes it feels quite strange and counter-cultural to be counting as blessings the very things that my grandparents' generation was happy to do away with. For instance, the highlight of my weekend (other than my daughter's fourth birthday party, of course) was that my dad built us a fabulous, sturdy clothesline:

I've wanted one since long before we bought our house, and it's taken us three summers to finally make it a reality, but I can now easily hang our clothes to dry.  In this age of convenience, it definitely isn't typical to eschew the clothes dryer in favor of the work of hanging out the laundry. In fact, in a lot of neighborhoods, it's consider rather low-class and therefore a bit taboo. But like walking everywhere, it's relaxing, saves $$, and is way better for the planet (sunshine is free, and gentle to the earth). And this is the life that I chose, and that I continue to choose every day: a life where my to-do list includes things like making my own granola, baking sourdough bread, hanging the laundry and washing the diapers. The list probably isn't any shorter than most moms - in fact, sometimes it is longer, and the amount of time I spend on tasks like putting bread on the table is much closer to how long it would take my great-grandparents to do that thing, rather than my friends (after all, it isn't the culmination of three days work to grab a loaf of bread at the store). Yet the process of doing these things, of living at a slower pace, brings great joy, and thus is incomparably more "worth it" than the perhaps "more convenient" path from a to b. Of course, that's not to say I don't choose convenience much of the time. For instance, I use the microwave quite a lot, and am quite happy to have a clothes dryer to use when we need something quick. I'm glad I don't have to gather firewood every day, and milk my own cow, or generate my own electricity.  In those things where I can "make my own" though there is a lot of joy to be had in doing so. I just need to remind myself, and let God remind me, that I don't need the blessings that He has given to others - that rather, the blessings He HAS given to me are exactly those I need to grow in grace. He's given enough for growth, and enough for pleasure; enough to suit MY temperament and my husband and children, not someone else's. It's all from His hand, and I need to remember that, and let that be enough. 

The funny thing about all of this (or not so funny, really) is that this isn't the first time I've had to learn this lesson, or struggled in this area; it seems to be a recurring theme, which is doubly sad, one because I keep having to relearn the lesson, and two because in re-reading this post, I realize what a whiny, silly lesson it even is to learn (because really, we have SO much to be grateful for that I feel rather ashamed even sharing that I DO struggle with this so much).  I guess it is an example of the insanity of concupiscence and sin, that we have to learn these things over and over again, and that we return to bitter fruit even when there is sweet available.  Every time I've focused on the beauties and blessings of my life, I find myself more and more in love with all of it: with God, my spouse, my kids, my extended family, my friends; with my house, my yard, my job, my life, and all the little gifts that come my way.  Every time, conversely, that I let myself get sucked into comparisons, whether through browsing a bit too much on Pinterest, or a real world run-in with something "better" by worldly standards, I end up miserable, eaten up with covetousness and envy.  I'd really rather live in joy, but too often I let it slip through my fingers.  Perhaps it is just hard when your own blessings are more intangible and less visible (it's hard to "see" the blessing of staying at home, when that coveted sunroom is staring you in the face!)  But such is the human condition... all we can do is pray for the grace to try and try again.


 In other news, a few quick snippets of what we've been up to:

*Georgie has been absolutely delighted watching the growth of these:

That's right - a nest of baby bunnies right in our yard. They are so cute that it's hard to leave them alone, and not steal one to keep as a pet!

*Our garden is growing great, so far.  Carrots, parsnips, beets, snap peas, basil, dill, and a few flowers seem to be off to a great start.  I just put in four tomatoes today as well - had to pull a few of the peas to make room, but I figured it was worth the trade to get the tomatoes in and growing.


*My husband put in a new herb bed for me, much better than the simple rock bordered one I'd had in the past (and as it's a raised bed, filled with nice MooDirt topsoil, the herbs will probably grow a lot better) :

*This little cherry bush is on its third summer.  Last year it seemed to grow really well, but then this spring only the bottom inch or so seemed to actually be opening its buds.  I figured that it had mostly died during the winter, so I chopped off the top in hopes that it would grow more: and now look at it!  If only *I* responded as well to God's prunings as this plant did to mine.

* I'm super excited for next week, when the CSA that we signed up for back in April starts.  My parents are getting us a chest freezer as a birthday present, just in time to be able to freeze any extras that we get, and I think it's going to be fun to learn to cook with some new veggies, and challenge myself to use as much of the produce as possible!
*Oh, and the crabapple tree we planted this spring?  Yeah, completely covered in little baby crapapples.  If they do well, I'm looking forward to making some crabapple jelly and butter in the fall... 
I really could go on and on about all the little blessings and good things in our life right now.  Sure, there are lots of little trials, too... today I would rather NOT have been home with my kids, when I tried to put the baby down *7* times for naps, only to have him wake back up each time 10-20 minutes later.  Georgie actually was kind of a champ for not losing it too badly on a day like today, because truth be told, *I* did.  And yesterday I'd have rather NOT been living the slow life when after walking to the library and back with a 18 lb three month old in the Ergo and pushing the four year old in the stroller, I decided to walk to the hardware store (10 minute walk in the other direction) only to find, on arriving, that they didn't have the thing that I needed.  However, this too was a blessing, since it pushed me to cobble together a *free* solution to my problem, instead...
Anyway that's pretty much life these days in a nutshell.  Reciting my many blessings over to myself and enjoying all that the beginning of summer holds.  Truly - if you struggle with this too, give it a try: every day for a week, think of as many good things about your home, your life, your spouse, etc as you can.  Thoughts as small as "wow, I love this old woodwork" add up, and before you know it, you'll be looking with gratefulness and love, rather than the diminishing, negating lens of comparison.
Peace to all!  Enjoy June!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Parenting the Spirited Child

Parenting: a topic on which I claim no authority, save for the experience of being in the trenches of motherhood, and learning on the fly what it means to accept your child for who they are.  As the fourth anniversary of my entrance to motherhood rapidly approaches, I wanted to share a few thoughts, ramblings, suggestions, and my own experience of the intense experience of trying to parent a spirited child.

(Note: LW will henceforth be referred to as "Georgie" - short for "Curious Georgina" which is the absolute most fitting name I can think of for her.  For one, she loves all things Curious George; for another, I find myself regularly empathizing with the Man with the Yellow Hat, since Georgie's curious, vivacious, energetic nature leads her to think of doing things that I'm convinced ordinary kids just don't think of.  Like, for instance pouring water into a table lamp "just to see what would happen."  'Nough said.)


I guessed early on in Georgie's infancy that she was going to be a "high-need" baby.  Of course this wasn't really a surprise to me; I'd been hearing stories my whole life of how "high-need" a baby I'd been, not wanting anyone but my mom to hold me for months on end, screaming bloody murder in the car seat, and nursing well past the one, two, and three year marks.  I suppose as a result I just assumed that my own babies would be high need, and indeed, I don't think I even realized that Georgie's behavior was all that unusual until her little brother came along.  All of a sudden I had a baby who I could lay down and he'd actually, much of the time, not immediately wake upon meeting the sheets; a baby that smiled at strangers instead of responding with an intense, piercing, non-smiling stare; a mellow baby who thus far doesn't seem too much bothered by clothing or sounds or different people.  In contrast, Georgie pretty early on couldn't stand the tags in her shirts, or her socks on "twisty"; hated strong smells, separation, and sounds, and didn't transition easily.  She nursed frequently, and wanted to be held pretty much always, but was an intensely happy baby when she was happy.  

As prepared as I was for the high-need, lots of nursing/little sleep/no separation kind of baby, I was totally not ready for the biting, scratching, intense tantrums that began around 13 months. A high-need, spirited toddler was a whole new beast, and I have to say, I don't think I handled the transition from "meet all their wants immediately, because their wants are needs" to "some wants are now wants, and you're going to have to actually parent them through strong emotions" all that well.  I wavered between being too harsh, and being too soft, lacking consistency, and perhaps as a result, we never really seemed to emerge out of tantrum-land.  Other kids seem to go through phases that are relatively easy and those that are harder; with Georgie, it has sometimes seemed like every new phase is just harder than the last!  This has been especially true since her little brother was born.  The 3.5 months since he arrived have been very long, not because having a newborn again is tough, but because it seems like we've been trying everything under the sun to help Georgie adjust.  Some days are ok, some days are really hard, and some days I want to pen her up in a single room, just so that she can't destroy anything else or poison or electrocute herself.  I rather thought that many of those problems would have eased by this point, since she's old enough to know what things in the house we've said are off limits, but I didn't take into account the fact that she'd eventually reach an age where she was testing EVERY limit that we had stipulated.  Or, if I did, I thought she'd be like 13, not 3, when that happened.  Of course, she's just about to turn four, and I HAVE heard that 3.5 is a notoriously hard age...

All of this, of course, is not to say that I don't LOVE my little girl absolutely to death.  The thing about spirited kids (I'm using Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's term) is that they're just MORE of everything.  In particular, Georgie is MORE energetic, persistent, and intense than her peers.  She has a harder time with transitions, her tantrums are wilder, she has stronger opinions about everything from food to what she's going to wear.  When she loves something, she loves that thing (or person) quite totally; when she plays, she throws herself all the way into play (so much that I think she sort of frightens her not-quite two-year-old cousin, who often doesn't know what to make of her wild laughter, shrieking, and chasing him around the house).  She's the classic "when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid" kind of child.  When she is happy or excited, she is a total joy to be around: witty, funny, insightful, and intensely creative/curious.  Hence the "Curious Georgina": she gets into everything simply because she wants to know how it all works, and wants to build new things from everything she finds.  She's the kid whose sense of style is wide enough to encompass the backwards dress over the pair of pants with sneakers for church (and oh yes, she might just bring an ant in a jar with her to Mass).  I love all of these things about her, because it is so clear that she is following her own fiery personality, which I know the world will all too soon try to stamp out.  I know that all of her qualities, if cultivated and tamed properly, will be wonderful ones to have in an adult: who doesn't want their child to grow up to be curious, inventive, persistent in the face of challenges, hold fast to their own convictions, follow their own style and interests, etc?!  

The only problem comes when you think about these things in the context of trying to shape and mold a person with all those characteristics who is still chronologically a preschooler.  Trying to erect safe fences of rationality, empathy, listening to authority, and common sense around the good and the bad of her innate personality sometimes feels like an impossible task, and I often - like, every single day, pretty much - feel like I'm failing at the job.  Sometimes it gets so bad that I think she'd be better off in preschool - that maybe they could "do more with her" - but then I remind myself that she'd likely be labeled a problem child or ADD, and that it's not likely we'd find a teacher as empathetic to the "potential" of good within her.  So we keep on keeping on.

So, for those of you who may have spirited children as well, and who are perhaps struggling, feeling worn out, misunderstood, and like the worst parent on the block, here are just a few things that ARE working for us:

1)  Read every positive parenting book you can get your hands on.  The following titles I've found particularly helpful, but if you know of one that I've missed, PLEASE feel free to suggest it to me!
  • Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
  • Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents' Guide to Raising Almost Perfect Kids
  • Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood
  • How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too!
  • Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
2) Start every day with a quick prayer for patience.  This actually should be #1 on the list!

3) Establish a daily routine.  This is hard for me, because as a spirited person myself who isn't highly routinized, I find it hard to actually do things in the same order every day (not hard in the sense of annoying, but hard in the sense of I forget to try to do so!)  For instance, bedtime seems to slide later and later, then we rein it back in, then it slides later again.  Recently, I actually posted a schedule on our fridge with approximate times and pictures of our daily activities, so that Georgie could look at it and have a sense of where we were at in the day... however, I think it actually helps me more than her, because it reminds me that if it's noon, we SHOULD be having lunch right now, or if it's 8, I need to be getting her ready for bed.  It also helps remind me that while it may seem easier to let her eat in front of the T.V. or in the living room "just this once" rather than gently encourage her to come sit at the kitchen table, when we actually sit at the table for meals she eats better, and thus her blood sugar stays more stable, and our day goes better.

4) Try to see the humor and find the positive in every situation.  This does NOT come naturally to me, and I've found parenting Georgie to be, thus far, the best spiritual discipline (discipline like being taken out back with a switch!) I've ever encountered.  I lose my temper way, way, too easily: it took having a three-year-old to come to terms with that fact, and admit that I need to work on this flaw every single day.  The fact is, though, that when I can just laugh about things, or at least bite my tongue long enough to realize that this spill, or this mess, or this delay doesn't matter in the grand scheme, then we actually can get past it (get cleaned up, get where we are going) much, much faster than if I, in my harsh reaction, instigate a tantrum on her part.

5) Similar to 4, try to make everything possible into a game.  If she runs away from tooth brushing, I try to make it into a game.  Trouble at mealtime?  NOTHING has worked as well for us as to make mealtime into a descriptive, culinary experience.  Instead of hounding your child about how many bites they need to eat, try describing the food as YOU eat it, then encourage them to have a small bite and describe it.  We just started this recently, and it's absolutely amazing how Georgie has begun to try new foods and describe them, and actually seems to be enjoying eating for once!  However, I have to admit that I'm still really bad at this.  A large part of the lack of cooperation and peace in our household seems to stem from the fact that I am constantly trying to run through the day like a checklist, trying to just efficiently jog down my list of "to-do's"... which is a recipe for disaster when you have a child with the energy level (and need for stimulation) of your average Labrador retriever.

6) Cultivate affection for and connection with your child.  It's sort of the same principle as when you're having a hard time with your spouse: you have to remember why you fell in love with them, and put yourself in a position to do so, again.  For us, that's meant finding activities that we both enjoy and can get engaged in; this works because a) when she's engaged in an activity, she's not doing something else that pushes my buttons, and b) we get to bond over shared interests.  No one told me this before she was born, but sometimes, when you go through a long period of behavioral frustrations with a child, that becomes all you can see in them, which leads to a self-perpetuating cycle: you give them less attention because you are frustrated with them, they act up to gain attention, and things get worse and worse.  Short-circuiting the process by finding lots of opportunities for your child to show off their most positive qualities really does help boost your sense of affection towards them, which leads to more affectionate actions, which in turn makes them feel happier, more secure, and thus act more positively all the way around.

6) Finally: try, try again.  If something doesn't work, try something else.  Don't give up, and (I say this for my own benefit as much as anyone else's) don't be too hard on yourself.  As Lu Hanessian says, "There are things our children need to learn that we never think to teach them".  This includes how to say "I'm sorry," and the fact that we all are human, we make mistakes, we are imperfect.  It is O.K. for you to be an imperfect parent, a person-in-progress, just as it is for them.  Let your child be a child in your eyes... and try to model for them being a person in charge of your own emotions and actions, but failing that, be a model of apologizing, fixing mistakes, and forgiveness.


Anyway, we definitely don't have it close to figured out in our house: I'm pretty sure I'm getting grey hairs, and Georgie hasn't even turned four yet.  Mostly I wanted to share all of this because I've quite often felt like being a parent is by far the hardest thing I've EVER had to do, and yet I'm surrounded by friends who have "easy" kids, which can really make you wonder if you're doing something wrong or are just horribly inept at being a parent.  I know others of you out there DO struggle with similar challenges and doubts, so I wanted to say, come, sit, have a virtual cup of tea with me, and know that you're not alone!

Also, if you have any parenting suggestions for what has worked with your own spirited kid, please, please, please share them!  As I said, things are very much a work-in-progress in our house, and I could use all the help, advice, or just plain commiseration I can get :)

(and, as should be my ending caveat with any post from here on out, my apologies for any typos or incoherence - I'm generally nursing/balancing a three-month-old/fending off a four-year-old at any given moment of writing, not to mention having a horribly scrambled postpartum mommy-brain.  Whatever literary skills I once possessed have pretty definitely.. disappeared, as evidenced by the fact that I can't even think of a witty metaphor to describe where they've gone).

Friday, May 17, 2013

After The Long Silence...

I've intended to post something so very many times in the last year, but somehow just never had the time, or the "something" to write about.  And when too much time goes by (like, over a year?!), one begins to question whether it is even worth it to say anything at all - whether any readers are still following, whether anyone still wants to hear anything I have to say.  However, since I don't want this space just to fade away, and since writing needs to remain a part of my life, no matter how small, I'm biting the bullet to do a "general update" and hopefully in doing so, eliminating my main excuse for not posting more often.

So what's happened in the last year?

The biggest change is that after my miscarriage last February, we waited a few months to "try again" - but it didn't take long before I was pregnant again.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a lot of anxiety in the first few weeks after that positive test, but this time around, our little one grew right on schedule.  We welcomed our baby BOY in mid February, via planned c-section.  Which is a story in itself: how we found out he was breech at 37 weeks, all the ways we motivated him to try and turn, and then coming to a place of peace about the necessity of the c-section.  However, as all of that truly deserves its own post, I'll save that for another day; since it's a story I definitely want to share, hopefully it'll be another reason to post soon.

Adjusting to life as a mom of two, with a high-need four year old, has been... a challenge.  I've found myself turning into (even while I was pregnant, but much more since Little Boy was born) a mom that I didn't like or recognize.  As a result, I've spent a LOT of time in the last few months reading every positive-parenting type book I could get my hands on.  I now have lots of thoughts and suggestions in this area, although truth-be-told, peace in our household is definitely a day-by-day work-in-progress.  But we're working on it, which is more than I can say about six months ago.

Other than behavioral challenges, I have been really enjoying having an almost-four-year-old though.  We're finally reaching the age where so many of the things I looked forward to when I was pregnant with her are becoming a possibility!  Grand plans await this summer, such as hiking, visiting my favorite hands-on science museum, visiting many of our state parks, more gardening, and starting somewhat more formal homeschooling in the fall.  LW (who incidentally needs a new and better blog name - something befitting her spirited, persistent, energetic nature) currently loves everything outdoors, especially bugs and creatures (for instance, she took an ant in a jar to Mass recently!); is a perpetual motion dynamo; can talk a blue streak when she wants to but is also often quietly observant, especially in social situations where she is beginning to bloom but still can be quite shy.  She has also developed into an incredibly dedicated big sister, who has totally adored "baby brudder" from day one.  She may have acted out quite a lot with US but her love of HIM was never something that could be questioned.

Little Boy (who also needs a better blog name - I will have to ponder these things) is in a lot of ways a very different baby than LW was.  He seems mostly a lot more mellow; the type of baby that you can actually put DOWN when he falls asleep.  He still has strong wants/needs, and makes those known, but is otherwise (especially now that the colicky first 12 weeks are over) an affable, happy little tyke.  It's been really neat getting to know him, to see his own personality emerge, and to find myself totally falling in love with another little person.  I found that the bonding happened much, much faster this time around - nearly immediately, vs taking several weeks with LW.  This was interesting to me, because it upended my belief that c-sections always made bonding harder; in my case, the c-section was radically less "traumatic" than my completely natural, med-free birth with LW.  Anyway, I've been enjoying every stage of Little Boy's growth.  I find that this time around, I'm not in such a hurry for him to grow and change; just reveling in the new little developments as they happen.  I was also worried, before he was born, about going back to having a newborn/infant, and how I would adjust.  I felt like I'd gotten used to the "freedoms" of an older child, and would be bored and irritated by the constant demands (and non-talking-ness) of a younger child.  However, I've found that I didn't account for the bonding/love element.  Other people's infants may still be boring to me, but just like with LW, I could stare in this little guy's eyes all day.  It's amazing, too, how much more relaxed I am with a newborn this time around.  Nothing seems hard or foreign, and I'm much more comfortable breastfeeding in public spaces, and going out and about with him than I was when LW was tiny. If anything, I find being the mom of a four-year-old a lot more challenging, which is probably how it will always be: I expect LW will always be the one to challenge us to rise to new heights as parents, simply because every step of the way is new with her.

In other news, we continue to make renovations, slowly, on our house.  It's fun to watch it really becoming "ours," even if it sometimes feels unbearably slow!  One recent addition that meant a lot to me was my birthday present: a crabapple tree for our front yard.  Growing up, my grandmother's house (which was right around the corner from my parents', and thus I spent a lot of time there, literally living there for a couple of weeks in the summer when my cousin was visiting) had a crabapple in the front yard, a mature tree big enough to climb in, and my cousin and I used to make "houses" out of rags up in the branches.  Since then, I've always wanted a crabapple in my own front yard, and this year we finally found the time and $$ to plant one.  It's funny, but our house really reminds me so much of my grandparents' place, anyway; it has the same worn old pine floors, it was built around the same time, and just "feels" similar.  Since I associate my grandparents' house with some of my most pleasant childhood memories, this really pleases me; it's funny that it would be their house, not my parents', that I seek to recapture, but my cousin would say the same thing: not that there was anything wrong with our own childhood homes, but there was just something so very special about my grandparents'.  I guess that was partly the mystery and allure of a place that held so much of our fathers' childhoods, but also the physical and emotional presence of my grandfather and grandmother, made it very, very special, because they were such special people.  I suspect LW is beginning to set the same sorts of nostalgic impressions of HER grandparents' house (my childhood home), and that suits me just fine.  Anyway, memories of Grammy and Grampa's place help me to be "OK" with our snug little house with (essentially) one bathroom, in this day and age of McMansions.  Whenever I begin to question raising a household of children in this place, I remind myself that my grandparents did it with an even smaller space.  They had an eat-in-kitchen, too, and no one ever seemed to mind the fact that there was only about three feet of room on any given side of the kitchen table...

Dealing with "keeping up with the Joneses" and house-jealousy, however, is definitely another thing I've dealt with in the last year, and something I'd love to share...

I've also been pondering lately how so much of my life seems to be wrapped up in domestic affairs (and truth-be-told, domestic enjoyments, more than anything - sewing, knitting, reading, baking, feeding my family, homesteading, learning more and more about real food, composting, and many "crunchy" endeavors, and loving it), and sometimes I wonder whether I'm being "Christian" enough in going about my days.  Should I be enjoying these domestic delights so much, shouldn't I rather be spending my time in spiritual reading and pursuits?  And yet, I am heartened by the thought of Chesterton, who certainly loved domestic pleasures as well as God.  Another post for another day :)

Of course, there are so many more things to talk about, but my daughter's scheduled morning Curious George episode is almost over, so I've got to wrap up for now.  I hope that there are still readers out there, and that I can find time to keep up posting here a bit more frequently than once a year :)

With that, and a photo of my two babies, I'll end :)  Peace be with you all!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Signs of Grace

"And a certain sign of grace is this / from broken earth flowers come up / pushing through the dirt" - David Crowder Band

One of the joys that I most looked forward to, when I knew we were finally going to buy our own house, was planting some good old fashioned perennial flowers.  It never made sense to plant bulbs in the fall when we were renting, because we never knew for sure if we'd be there in the spring to see them (OK, maybe that's a lousy attitude - after all, they would have blessed *someone*, but anyway, we wanted to see them come up as well as go into the ground).  So last fall, I eagerly selected, ordered, and planted tulip, crocus, and daffodil bulbs.  Most went in our flower bed at the front of our house, but on a whim, I also put about 10 extra daffodil bulbs around a tree in the backyard. 

What I didn't know was that squirrels really like bulbs.  They didn't go after the ones in the flower bed, which were covered in cedar mulch (maybe they couldn't smell them?) but the very next day, the daffodil bulbs around the tree were dug out and laying on the ground.  Naively, I tucked them back in... and the next day, they were gone entirely.  I searched the holes, I searched the surrounding ground and our yard - nothing.  Not a bulb to be found.  Obviously, I wasn't pleased at this news, and all winter, whenever I'd mention the bulbs, I would also mention those "stupid squirrels," and how next year I'd need to plant things under chicken wire to keep the predators at bay.

On the last day of January, I was excited to see one little tiny crocus shoot push through in the flower bed.  At the same time, I wanted to say, "too soon!  go back!" but I guess it knew what it was about, because it's not like we got much snow the rest of the winter.

The month of February, my mind was occupied with other things.  I was sad, I was distracted, and I didn't pay much attention to the flowers.

And now?  We have baby plants, with the promise of flowers soon to come:




And, more daffodils:

That's right.  Those were my "lost bulbs".  The squirrels didn't get them after all - just buried them better.  What I thought was lost and gone for good, is blooming right in my backyard.  It feels like a reminder, a sign, a sacramental of sorts, at a moment mid-Lent when I was really needing just such a "touch" from above.  As such, while I'm enjoying my front yard flowers, those back yard ones are holding a special spot in my heart.

Because, you see, it hasn't been an easy year.  Not just the miscarriage, but it has seemed quite overwhelmingly like my every desire and plan and goal has been untimely thwarted.  From big things, like our hopes for a September baby (I can't help but remember daily how far along I would have been at this point - for example, I likely would have been feeling little Julian move by this week), to silly little ones like wanting to secure a community garden spot for the year, or wanting our kitchen floor done by my birthday.  Every time I start to think I've got something to hold on to, a goal, a future to set my sights on, no matter how small, it disappears, and I'm brought up short again.

The thing is, I'm beginning to see the reason behind the pattern.  It's all about hope, and faith, and having my sights set on the right thing.  About contentment with the things I have, and making do, patience, and perseverance.  Finding hope and sufficiency in what does come my way, instead of what I want...

Learning to be a shoot in our Father's hands, growing through the dirt, towards His light, and not my own.

And so, I take great joy in waiting and watching as He makes the flowers bloom.  I miss the hope of a soon-to-be born baby, but take comfort in the daughter I already have.  I'm also finding myself thankful that, while it's not what I would have wished or preferred, we've had the chance to transition her to her own bed at night *without* a looming deadline or anxiety on my part. 

As for the garden, well, there are many ways to the same end.  Getting wait-listed for the community garden has meant that I've started researching container gardening, raised bed gardening, and refining my goals and desires for what to grow this year (if you're wondering why we're not just going to garden in the same plot we tilled last year, we're planning to plant evergreens there, to shield our yard from a winter-long view of Big Lots, and also to help block the thicket of poison ivy from continuing to encroach on our land).  In other words, being forced to take a step back may turn into a blessing of its own.

It's a lesson I feel forced to learn again and again, especially in this whole home-ownership business, but it's a valuable lesson for a parent,  or spouse, or frankly anyone growing in faith, to learn: to work with the reality of what IS, rather than constantly pining after what you would have BE.  Sure, I'd love a 2500 sq foot house, with flowing, open, separate living/dining/kitchen spaces, tiled ample baths, and a laundry room (oh, and several acres of land).  What I have instead is a 1300 sq foot house with a 12 by 12 kitchen and no dining room (nor, if you're wondering, do we have tiled baths or a laundry room.  We have a truly tiny full bath, and a half bath that was built into what was originally a closet, and a basement to do laundry in).  But, we're learning to work with the space, and embrace what makes it best rather than trying to cram ideas from our vision of "the perfect home" into a space that frankly can't accommodate them.  Same with the yard; same with the limited hours of my life; and same with the people in that life, whether spouse, child, or extended family.  My daughter is shy, and she's not going to be the extroverted little girl across the road anytime soon.  But yesterday, she willingly chose to go across the street with my neighbor, by herself, (without me!) for about a half an hour, which is an epic milestone in her life.  If I insisted on her being exactly what society would have her be (or what I myself might have her be), I'd be disappointed at how she still "fell short".  But by seeing her as she really is, I can rejoice and enjoy the little successes, and the slow blossoming of who she is meant to be.  And, by truly accepting and learning to work with instead of against the limitations of my life, I'm a much happier person: not futilely straining against mountains that I can't move, but flowing along like a river between them.

So that's where I'm at, this Lent.  Learning persistence, faith, hope, and contentment.  I'm not sure why we can't ever learn these things except for "the hard way"... I guess outside of Eden, the hard way was the only way left.

A blessed St. Patrick's day to all!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Catching up...

I thought I was so busy, back when I had a newborn in the house, but still, somehow, I found time to write.  Once that newborn was a two-year-old, though, it seemed like life, which had been in some ways "standing still" for a time, just took wings.  I can't say for certain that I've been "busier" in any real sense of the word; we still only leave home a couple of times a week for any real meetings or errands or visits (if that), I still work the same 15 hours a week for the same company, we still spend our days with books and toys and games, but life just feels faster.  Perhaps because I've been spending more time just living life, and less time documenting it... or perhaps because toddlers only nap, say, an hour or two a day, vs the four or so hours of total nap time she had when she was under a year.  Regardless, my writing time has been seriously curtailed - I don't know how moms of many littles manage it!

Anyway, I'm back, for now.  I can't promise how regularly I'll be able to "stop in," but hopefully more often than once every six months!

As for specific things that have kept me busy since I last had time or energy or the will to write: I'll share in a few bullet points, and then hope and pray to find the time later to expand on all of these elements.

1) Halloween:  you may or may not celebrate it (I know people in both camps), but I grew up with a dad who was very into the whole pumpkin carving, handing out candy, trick or treating thing, and we were excited for the first year that it made sense to take LW out.  We just went up and down our street - to less than 10 houses - but she had a blast, especially eating the candy once we were home, and my husband and I (true children of the eighties) got a huge kick out of dressing her up as Princess Leia, complete with the "cinnamon bun" hairstyle:

When your two-year-old has the hair of a six-year-old (seriously, it's already down to her waist!), and you take care of that hair on a regular basis, I believe that it is well within your right as a parent to occasionally pin it up in ways that she may not yet understand the point of :)

2) Autumn, and then winter, and Christmas, were lovely.  We've had a curiously snow-less winter in VT: quite seriously, I don't think we've had a single snowstorm with more than a foot of snow, and I can only remember three storms that dropped around six inches.  For most of the winter the ground was bare, and I noticed my crocus buds just beginning to peak through on Jan 31.  Which is kind of ridiculous, and fortunately they've had the good sense to not do much more than that yet.  They are currently covered with about three inches of white stuff that fell two days ago and will likely be gone again in a week.  The skiers and snowboarders (and seasonal tourist businesses) are mourning such a winter, but in truth, I've loved it.  I only enjoy snow for a few weeks anyway, so I haven't minded the lack, and we got enough last winter (here's a photo of our car in our driveway at our old apartment last February):  yes, the snowbanks were quite literally taller than the car)

that I'm actually secretly rejoicing at a winter relatively free of the stuff.  Of course, after saying that, we'll probably get a whole winter worth of accumulation during the months of March, April, and May...

Fortunately, my daughter did get one chance, during the first real "storm" of the year, to build a snowman:

and that's pretty much the only snow event I cared to take part in this year, anyway.

3) Christmas with a two and a half year old, who was finally a little bit cognizant of what the holiday was and could be about, was truly fabulous.  She was so excited about everything - from getting the tree, to the nativity, to presents and visits with family - and it helped us get excited again, too.  Plus, it was our first Christmas in our house, which made it extra special.  Here's a picture of LW and I, right before Christmas Eve Mass, with our extra-lovely tree in the background:

4) LW's "big present" for Christmas was a whole bunch of handmade felt food (I went a little crazy making them, but it was just so much fun!), and a re-purposed entertainment center turned into a mini fridge.  That is all a post for another day, but here's just a teaser of what the fridge looks like (disregard scary basement chaos in the background):

The fridge transformation, plus the felt food, plus lots of other "handmades" for Christmas gifts, kept me very busy during the months of November and December.

5) New Year's day brought some very exciting news: I took a test, and discovered that we were expecting an addition to the family.  A month of highs and lows followed, as we alternately rejoiced over the happy news, and stressed over what this would mean for LW, nursing, co-sleeping, my job, our financial situation, etc.  Sadly, all those fears were resolved in the most disappointing way of all: not by walking through them and seeing how they would all amount to nothing, but by learning on Feb 3 that our baby's heartbeat, seen only a week before, had already stopped.  Fortunately, the news wasn't a complete surprise, since I'd had suspicions from the beginning, having not felt as sick, or tired, as I did with LW

However, there have been some bright spots even so.  An old friendship, lying relatively dormant for years, re-bloomed in the midst of this sadness.  The kindness of some family and friends, even flowers from my very secular workplace, made me feel loved and uplifted.  And reading, meditating, realizing that our second little baby, who will never be forgotten, is now interceding for us, in a very special way, in heaven: little Julian Alexis, named for Blessed Julian of Norwich ("all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.) and for St. Alexis, a name which put together means "youthful defender".  I've come to strongly realize in the past few weeks exactly what it means to have such an intercessor in heaven - and how clear it has become already that he/she (we won't know our baby's gender for sure till heaven, and I didn't have a strong feeling either way, so we chose a name that could fit either a him or a her) is cheering us on, longing even more than us for our family to eventually be all together.

6) And that brings us to now, and to Lent.  For obvious reasons, I didn't feel very much like having to go through Lent this year.  Inside, I was rebelling: "haven't I suffered, lost, sacrificed enough already! I don't need this right now," and having to fast on Ash Wednesday, when I would have been around 12 weeks pregnant and happily "exempt," felt like another kick in the teeth.  (Of course, I DO still have a nursling, and I actually plan to take it easy on Good Friday because even though LW "doesn't nurse that much" anymore, she still actually probably nurses 4-5 times a day and a goodly bit at night, and I noticed my milk supply TANK on Ash Wednesday and the day after - a good sign that my body does still need nourishment to in turn nourish her).  But as I try to turn my will back to God, and realize that maybe we need Lent most when we feel like we need it least, or when we want it least... I begin to see the ways in which He is trying to shape my heart during this season.  To see what is important and what is not; to realize that I am "dust, and to dust will return," and to hear in those words that dust becomes so much more than dust when it is breathed into and animated by His Spirit; to learn that carrying our crosses means holding them close, and walking after Him even when life is hard.  It is hard medicine, but then again, Lent always is.

So - that is where I (and we) are at these days.  It is not the year I had planned in my mind; I still can't believe that I'm slipping back into my skinny jeans, not pulling out the maternity wardrobe; that I won't be hugely pregnant mid-summer; that sushi and sandwich meat are once again fair game.  What hit home the most a few nights ago was realizing that LW's birth left visible marks on my body - stretch marks that will never go away, whereas Julian's existence (for she/he still exists, and as L'Engle said, "every life is noted and cherished, / And nothing loved is ever lost or perished") has left "stretch marks" only on my heart and soul.  Before we knew I was pregnant, and then even after, I thought about how I would mourn the loss of our perfect three-some family; when I knew that I was miscarrying, some part of me thought we'd just go back to the same as before, but I now know there is no going back.  We aren't a triangle anymore, even though it still looks like it in the world's eyes.   Somewhere, safe in God's arms, is a child who is known and Named by Him...

Not the year I would have planned, but the year He planned, instead.  So be it.  We'll see where else the year takes us.

On a lighter note: stay tuned (though don't hold your breath) for, hopefully, posts on my toddler fridge project, our slowly progressing house improvements, and other sundries.  Until then - a blessed Lent to all - and please pray for us.