Monday, February 28, 2011

What happened to my sweet baby? (A letter to myself)

Dear (increasingly bald from yanking out your hair) Self,

Please, dear, grab yourself a cup of tea or wine or straight up 40 proof, take a dozen deep cleansing breaths, and put up your feet on the couch while you read this. You deserve it.

It's really common, as the parent of a budding toddler, to feel a little "duped" by any easy-parenting fantasies you held previously, or completely steamrolled by the realization that gentle parenting (and ANY parenting) is really long, really hard, often thankless work.

The bonding phase of infancy and babyhood is literally intoxicating for me. It's so easy to lull myself into imagining that the oxytocin-induced euphoria of bonding is actually the result of an impossibly easy and perfect freak-child: yes, the child that destiny sent after seeing what an interesting time previous siblings had caused me, and taking great pity on me. (In other words, I'd DONE my time, lol.)

For many mothers, 12mo-2.5 years is a HUGE reality check about what it means to be a parent. I discovered very fast that my daughter is and forever will be her own person, with her own ideas, her own hopes, her own God-given bent and personality...that is often in contrast/conflict with mine! It was both terrifying and extraordinary. Awe-inspiring, really.

It was a time that I spent much time in hysterical prayer/research, realizing the weight of the task I was about to undertake: leading an individual gently and thoughtfully through childhood, and realizing that *I* was now the adult in her life that she looked to for protection, instruction and nurture. Despite any cranky moods, unfairness, and challenge that the commitment brought me, I was committed to being her mom! What a HUGE paradigm shift this was for me!

(Apparently, up until that point, I was slightly delusional, and saw my firstborn as an adorable tiny tennis shoes wearing, Monty Python quoting wonder-doll, who would remain in tune with my every suggestion for life. {Insert Beavis and Butthead style laughter here)

In light of what I've gleaned from my limited experience (this is our 3rd time around), and from observations of emotional trends that tend to happen at this age, I thought I'd compile a little list that might be helpful for a mama navigating this for the first (or second, third, fourth...) time!

Things that make this time unique:

Differentiation (Mama and me are different!): From 12 months, babies begin a fantastic journey of finding their own place in the world, as they no longer view themselves an extension of mommy! This means exploration; fuzzy, emotional opinions of their own; unique ideas; lots of experimenting with behaviors and words. This age can be charming, funny, busy and exhausting for parents!

New experimental expressions like the infamous "NO!!!" are healthy, but can take some adjusting to emotionally, especially if your background (like mine) was a punitive/permissive paradigm. It can take a while to find a balance between allowing for individual expression and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Need for reassurance: The flip side of differentiation is need for nurture! Babies this age often get overwhelmed by their own ability to stray from mama, and from the sheer new volume of stimulation and information at their fingertips! While they're struggling to get down and explore their world, they also need plenty of cuddling, loving, direction and reassurance!

Increased Mobility : If you have a child this age, this point is obvious. Childproofing, wise choices in playdate location, lots of redirecting and on-feet time for parents is a hallmark of this busy phase!

Changing lifestyle: Up until this point, it's easy enough to tote along little Rex or Regina in a stroller or sling, and friends are generally happy to see your little bundle of cuteness. Once toddling is reached, however, things like eating and the bowling alley become more challenging. (Sometimes challenging is a laughable understatement!) You're now responsible for making sure the boundaries of others are honored, AND setting your little one up for successful behavior by providing appropriate place to explore. If your social life is mostly composed of single or childless friends, this experience will likely be even more obvious.

For extroverted or social couples, this can be especially challenging, and it may take time and patience to reinvent your social support system in a way that nurtures you and provides a safe, successful environment for your child. The work put into it is always satisfying! Don't give up, and be patient with yourself and your spouse as you navigate these new waters.

Changing sibling relationships: For toddlers with older siblings, this is often an age of discovering rivalry (and relationship!). Different children with different needs and opinions about things require lots of involvement and navigation of physical boundaries from parents (especially in the very early years!) The baby is all of a sudden more interesting and, sometimes, more scary. The inner Mama Bear that is awoken when one child hurts another can leave you feeling wild and breathless sometimes.

If your toddler is the older child, this is often a very rattling emotional time for mama! Feelings of betraying your toddler with another pregnancy, worry that you won't have enough resources to go around, feelings of annoyance that they won't mature more quickly, feelings of being overwhelmed by the needs of TWO small people can be daunting. It's a great time to take a deep breath and ask yourself what your child is actually capable of (and not what you WISH he/she were capable of), and trouble-shoot from there.

Body changes for mama: Most women notice changes in their bodies or, at very least, the amount of time/energy that can be devoted to self-image or self care after the infant year! This can contribute to deconstruction of the way we view ourselves, and tends to lend an emotional intensity to our reactions to increasing demands on our energy and patience.

Remembering that people who feel well behave well helps. Pick a hobby or pursuit you love. Call a girlfriend. Hand your toddler off to your spouse or a trusted loved on for a couple of hours. Taking care of ourselves (even if it's just half an hour in the tub every week to unwind and soak out the stress) isn't selfish. It's prudent.

Need for increased body boundaries, but continued need for nurture:
While being an attached parent, it's often healthy and useful to recognize that there are age-appropriate times to gradually set limits on our children's access to our bodies (nursing boundaries, need for personal space sometimes). This can look different for every parent/child, according to individual needs. It's also important to recognize that while setting boundaries and limits, we can honor the fact that our toddlers are still very small and very much babies who continue to need some level of physical reassurance. As in all things, a healthy balance for everyone can be struck.

Discipline choices take a central role: This is a sorting out time for most parents in the area of discipline philosophy. Toddlerhood is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. The realization that parenting and reinforcing the same boundary over and over can be HARD sets in, and many mothers previously delighted with Gentle Discipline can feel disillusioned. (It is, after all, a lot easier to imagine being gentle with a cooing baby than with a mobile baby who has their own set of needs and opinions! )

Parenting isn't easy. It takes committment, time, patience, repetition, and a commitment to strive for teaching and instilling of love for the long haul. It takes *time* and energy, and there are no easy solutions when cultivating compassion, kindness and character.

It's also an age where the decision has to be reached to become educated and confident in your OWN parenting choices, and to grow rather thick skin from the flurry of advice that's bound to come your way. Others often have strong opinions about how we should parent our own children. I've found that with family, it's good to take a no-nonsense approach, and simply "out" myself as a proactive, gentle mother, and make it clear that my parenting choices aren't up for discussion. I do the same with close friends. This isn't forceful or rude; it's taking on the appropriate role of authority and protector in your precious child's life, and making the boundary of your place as Parent clear.

Much of parenting is donning a flame-proof attitude about the decisions you prayerfully and thoughtfully make, and then standing your ground, and surrounding yourself with those who will at least be respectful of your choices. It's a time when you step out of a follower role yourself, and become a leader for your children.

One last point: It helps to remember that a lot of the annoying behaviors that come with certain ages and phases are just that: phases. Children generally mature out of them, just with passing of time and consistent, gentle reinforcement of boundaries. (Really, they do. It's like magic. And the ) To be sure, each new phase brings with it it's own set of unique and what often appear to be bizarre behaviors. Read up on ages and stages...Ames and Ilg's "Your Two Year Old" is a great place to start.

I challenge each mom to pray and ask God to help her to fall in love with THIS child that you've been given. Not the child you imagined you had, not the child you expected, not the child you wish you had. Ask the Holy Spirit to wind your heart around what it is that makes this specific child's personality fantastic and capable, and then commit to pouring your effort into nurturing that. It's a beautiful journey, if hectic and crazy sometimes, and one that's worth the walking!

Dandelions and Sheep Sorrel: keeping an open mind.

Today, I had one of those little "ahas" that will literally alter the way I view the land around me.

Meet sheep sorrel (also known as Rumex acetosella, or sour dock).

It's been in all the lawns and land I've ever lived on, and I've spent more than half a dozen springs now grousing to myself as I toss it onto the weed pile while turning over my herb bed. Today, I learned that it's not only edible, but also incredibly good for you (high in antioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene and potassium) , and quite good in soups. What looked like an invasive annoyance yesterday looks like something to harvest and chop up and chew and dry and season things with today. It was like magic, or maybe more like Christmas: suddenly, I had something excellent that I hadn't had before.

Same goes for dandelions: besides bringing sheer joy and whimsy to my childhood days when I watched the freshly blown seeds floating weightlessly through the air, I'd come to view it as something of a pest, if not something outright evil (because my absurd definition of "good" meant a useless lawn with only grass on it). It wasn't until I was pregnant with Naomi that I realized that it's taproot was excellent for relieving water retention and it's leaves were packed with copious amounts of vitamin C. Suddenly, I didn't have a "crappy backyard"; I was rolling in a wealth of edibles.

Obviously, the plants didn't change. My limited understanding had been expanded, and fear, vanity and ignorance has been removed from my understanding of what was living and growing and thriving around me. There is much I don't know. There are many things I fail to understand. My limited understanding of good doesn't define where the line between "useful" and "waste" is actually drawn. The evolution of ourselves as individual humans depends largely on our capability to discern the difference between prudence and ignorance, and the ability to acknowledge our limited vantage point before casting an unfortunate judgement.

Such has been the lesson of sheep sorrel in my life today. {/sermonette}

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Everyone should be a little silly sometimes.

"Mix a little foolishness in with your serious plans; it's lovely to be silly at the right moment." -Horace

Today: Silly face veggie bagels (idea taken from Pretend Soup, a terrific children's beginning cookbook) and homemade soda, a la Van Ottertots. Enjoy! :O) (We did!! I was honestly shocked when every last veggie nose and eyeball got eaten.)

Homemade soda:

1 part club soda, 1 part your favorite fruit juice
1 teaspoon of stevia or sugar

The end! ;oP It's delicious, and ends up having less sugar in it than just an ounce for ounce glass of juice, when all's said and drunk. My favorite's blueberry, while the girls prefer orange or pineapple. It really is more amazing when drunk in glass canning jars. Just sayin'.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Journey of Harmony (and more specifically, balance)

I really envy those who have the ability to live in the moment.

I'm an introverted intuitive, which basically means that I spend my entire life inside my head, trying to synthesize enormous amounts of emotional information into some kind of meaningful understanding of the universe. More or less. In a nutshell. Most of what I blog about here is complete and utter escapism for's me learning how to enjoy the simple things and be a little frivolous. It's me taking a break from my latest existential crisis and recapturing the wonder of finger painting with my kids (sans psychological art analysis and deep symbolism).

I desperately wish I could escape my own head sometimes. I wish I could halt all forward-thinking and connective reasoning and search for meaning until further notice, and just breathe the air sometimes. I'd get "gone fishing" tattooed on my forehead, if I thought it would help. ;oP

Fortunately for me, I'm married to a very NOT INFJ, and have children who not only live in the
moment, but do it with zest and gusto. They teach me so very much, it humbles my heart until I literally want to drop, knees to the ground with gratitude. If not for them, I'd probably spend every car ride in the country with my nose deep in a depressing book, or miss the gorgeous blue butterfly on the window screen, or continue wolfing my food down without savoring the goodness of it.

There is beauty to be had in the present. Perhaps the greatest wisdom is already possessed by the people who don't break their heads trying to figure out all the deep, unfathomable things, and who marvel at the echoes of truth in the grass under their toes and the breeze on their
eyelashes. My soul aches for that ability, even if it's not my primary calling or purpose. I think my life's journey, somewhere near the end (hopefully, while I'm dandling round cheeked grandchildren on my knees), will unfold the ability to not race ahead so much, trying to fix things and understand their complexities completely. Perhaps that will be late life's gift to me.

For now, I start with sitting in bed with my children, and laughing with them. With sitting down
and eating my food, thinking about how it tastes without trying to cram in another "time-saving" activity. By letting myself enjoy a rousing game of thumb war. By sometimes enjoying a non-meaningful conversation with a friend. By petting my cat. You know. The good stuff.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Trip to Goodwill, and a "Me and my tools" dress!

Yesterday, the weather was glorious. That is no exaggeration. The kids and I slapped on our shoes, took Nate to work (sorry honey!), and headed to the park. The girls climbed up the giant slide, learned about friction, discussed Newton's first law of motion, walked the balance beam and generally had a great time.

Then, after a hearty unanimous vote, Eva was taken home for a much-needed nap (the older girls built a lean-to in the backyard) before we went grocery shopping. So, long day.

Because I'm sometimes lacking in sense, we stopped at the thrift store on the way to pick Nathan up. (It was 75% off clothing day.) Everyone was fine all the way through until just before checkout. Eva threw the queen
mother of ALL 2 year old hysterical fits, and was flapping and flailing, and I was trying to calm her while corraling every toward the door. Some kind looking man sporting the "Oh, I'll be nice and talk to your kids while you check out" look struck up a conversation with my 4yo. Poor fool.

"I have CATS!" said my 4yo. "Oh, really! That's nice. I do, too, and a parrot. I hope your kitties are fixed. That's the responsible thing to do. " said the unsuspecting man. "YES! We took our cat to the vet yesterday, and they cut off his TESTICLES! He's all chopped up!" said Naomi, grinning broadly. "Oh. my. OH!" said the unsuspecting man. He muttered something polite looking and inaudible, and puttered back over to the cargo pant rack.

At that moment, my 6yo dropped my purse's contents all over the floor of Goodwill, quickly said "Oops, I'll clean it", and proceeded to comment rather loudly about all the contents as she replaced them one by one." What's THIS?!" Some items were more interesting than others. (And here I'd thought extreme preparedness was a *good* idea.) Meanwhile, Eva continued to do her best drunken shrieking monkey impression while I grabbed my deodorant, keys and lip balm off from the ugly carpet and shoved them into my handbag. The cashier had a look on her face that told me she was making a mental note to utilize one of the items in my handbag more often.

That'll teach me to thrift with children past 3pm. However, I snagged a few
fun little pieces for .50 a piece, and they resulted in a new little playdress for Eves. :o)
It's an "I love my tools" dress, because, well, she does. Take THAT, manufacturers that only put "I Heart Shopping" logos on little girl's clothing. Clearly, as evidenced by yesterday's fiasco, not all girls heart shopping. ;OP

All I did was: took a children's pajama top and cut off the sleeves to the length I wanted (leaving seam allowance), and then double hemmed the raw edges under. (If I'd used a walking foot, it would have looked even and learn.)

Then, I cut the shirt several inches below where I wanted the waistline-again, leaving an inch or two for seam allowance. Then, I took a girl's size 12 tiered swing top, trimmed off the top, and sewed around the circumference of the cut line with the widest possible stitch. Then, I pulled on the threads (the fabric bunches along the sewed thread as you pull!) until the circumference matched that of the shirt. Now, you have a bunched skirt line! :O)

I sewed the wrong sides of the shirt top and bunched bottom together (since they're both knitted materials and won't fray much, I didn't bother to encase the inner seam this time), and, viola! A dress. :D I added a pocket, as well, which Eva promptly and gleefully stuffed with pretzels.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts on Creativity

Every once in a while, I get the urge to dust off a soapbox, climb up on it, and see if it wobbles. Today is one of those "once in a while"s.

Today's dusty box:
commercialism vs. creativity!!

Obviously, the biggest reason any family enjoys creating things with each other is the sheer joy of using brains and hands and imaginations to make something practical, silly, beautiful and/or functional. Every human has some sort of creative energy,
though it looks different for each person, and there's a very tangible "buzz" that comes from seeing a need and finding your own way to meet it! The first time a baby figures out how to get from point A to B, creative thinking is involved. It's all about experimentation and problem solving, really, and then pouring yourself into the process, be it abstract or concrete.

In my (increasingly humble) opinion, one of the saddest artificially-manufactured deaths our
creative brains can meet
is early life programming (literally, consumerist ideals directed at toddlers and children) through television commercials and product imprinting. I'll save the gender-specific marketing rant for another day. ;)

Rather than exuberantly hollering "let's MAKE such-and-such for lunch!", children have literally been programmed by commercials and ads to say, "I want to go to McDonalds!" Why? Because marketers take advantage of childrens' natural instinct to learn things through socialization. When the social "norm" (aka, the excitable kids and adults on television) becomes begging for certain things and enjoying them, kids perceive this as normal human existence and try to emulate it. We're seriously screwing our children up by letting greedy people exploit normal biological process. (Normally, I'd never say that out loud, for fear of others feeling badly, but, today, I'm mostly speaking loudly to myself.)

However, if kids perceive the social norm as children and adults enjoying outdoors, actually
preparing food, finding creative solutions to their problems (rather than simply buying a solution every time), they readily accept that they'll be able to do it, too. Their personalities start to breathe, and that's a lovely thing to behold. (At this point, I want to express a heartfelt thanks to the friends and family in my life who are willing to spend time in our garden and kitchen and sewing table and hiking trail with our kids: you're investing in the future when you do this, and it doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated! It takes a village...)

Obviously, we're not all interested or cut out for everything "crafty". (For example, I'm an
abysmal failure at knitting, no matter how frenzied the craze becomes.) Fortunately, "crafty" is only a very small niche in the universe of creativity. There are so many different levels of enjoyment and angles of attack for creative expression, it boggles the mind.

The most obvious diversity to me would be the people in my own life: My spouse enjoys woodworking. A few good friends charm mouth-watering creations out of the kitchen at a rate that's required me to purchase new jeans. ;P My mom enjoys making up her own sewing
patterns. Nate and I have brothers out of whom creativity practically leaps at every turn, no matter what the material of choice. My dad enjoys figuring out new ways to make his greenhouse more efficient. Another friend is a genius at interpersonal problem solving, and is constantly finding new ways to communicate effectively. My 2yo enjoys smearing chocolate pudding in her hair and drawing designs into the goo. We all have the ability!

People don't even have to be remarkably inventive or artistic to awaken the "create!!" functions of the brain. There's no need to be impressive: thinking out of the box is simply part and parcel of the experience of being a living, breathing human. We needn't be snobby or lauded or pretentious about our endeavors in order to stoke the fire of the human soul, and free ourselves from the need to identify ourselves with the mass-produced "creations" of others. Anything we can do to crawl out of the carefully constructed commercial boxes modern life has fallen into, in order to reclaim a little bit of human experience, is a truly good thing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recycled Pirate dress for Me Wee Beauty..

Little Pirate Dress. :D This week is much, much, MUCH better than last week. No more flu, no more piles of tissues everywhere, no more not being able to leave the house. We're officially out of Davy's grip. ;P

Eva the Beeba the little Queen of Sheba has a new little pirate dress. I'm all smitten...firstly, because it's soft and snuggly (just like her), and secondly because I gave my favorite (non-fitting...le sigh) soft polo shirt new life. I got it second hand to begin with, so it's always been oh-so-buttery, and it made the perfect little bit of patchy goodness for the family's favorite little nearly 2yo potato head.

I sound giddy and perky. I think I'm unleashing a week's worth of pent up energy at anyone who will listen today. ;oP

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have life to catch up on. Laundry, The Chamber of Secrets with my 6yo, a flourless chocolate cake to bake with Naomi, and cats that need neuter and spay appointments. Life goes on. There is hope after the (frickin, frackin, nasty, ugly, stupid, horrible, no-good) flu. Now, we swab the poop deck.

If you or yours are suffering from it...fear not. It passes! Hugs and tissues to you.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Recycled Alligator Dress!

I was culling old stained/stretched/holey t's from my and the girls storage bins yesterday, and decided to do a quick and easy project to lift us out of the "We've been stuck in the sick cave for a week" doldrums.

This is what we came up with! It took us 20 min. :D I'm especially proud of the little rosette. ;oP I encourage anyone with a sewing machine, old shirts and a spare half hour to give this a shot...You'll feel proud as peas of yourself. Or you can come kick my shins.