Sunday, May 27, 2012

Gifts, Not Wars

So I am way late in writing about the now-infamous Time cover story "Are You Mom Enough?"

I’ve read lots of responses to it, including this thoughtful blog post, but every time I tried to compose a post, life (work, infection, moving,) and, well, mothering, pulled me away. So here it is, 3:30 am, and I just finished up some work and can begin drafting my thoughts.

More than anything else, my initial reaction after reading the article on Dr. Sears and attachment parenting (and the extreme some parents can take it to) was to ask, who cares? I’m not being glib here. I am too busy getting through the day and doing the best I can for my kid and for everyone and everything else in my life to care what other mothers and families are doing. Formula or breast milk? None of my business. Pacifiers or thumb sucking? Again, not my call. What’s it to me if you co-sleep or Ferberize or Baby Whisper your way through the night? I’ve got my own sleep to worry about. I have my preferences and my data and evidence for my own decisions, and a pediatrician I trust to discuss things with, but my choices don’t need to be yours.

Before my daughter was born, I read Dr. Sears’s Baby Book. And I read What To Expect the First Year, and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Caring For Your Child, Birth-5 Years. I read books on breastfeeding and sleep habits and baby-food making. I bought a baby carrier and pacifiers and washed the sheets for the hand-me-down bassinet.

And you know what? Then I had my daughter, and I quickly realized the best information about raising her came from her, that if we paid attention to her cues and adapted as her needs changes and listened to our instincts, we’d figure it all out.

Turns out she hardly used the bassinet because her reflux and other health problems meant she needed to be upright. Turns out she loved napping with her head on my chest and her legs tucked up under her, and that the old adage I'd read was true: Babies don't keep, so hold them as often as you can. Focus on the moment.

Turns out she loved her pacifiers but gave them up without much fuss. Turns out she didn’t really need that 4am feed and just wanted to hang out, and that sleeping through the night came naturally for her when she wasn’t waking up to socialize. Turns out she didn’t use that baby carrier nearly as much as she did in my pregnancy daydreams because even as a tiny infant, she always wanted to be upright and on the move. Turns out my husband was right, a baby food maker is unnecessary if you have a couple of pots, a blender, and the desire.

Turns out the world didn’t end and I didn’t feel any less bonded when I had to stop breastfeeding at six months (this, after eliminating dairy, soy, and eggs; after lactation consults and digital scales and hospital grade pumps; after mastitis and supply issues and multiple supplements every day and Oh My God I am spending far too much time pumping for so few ounces when I could be spending time with my baby!) Plenty of other mothers nurse much longer, and some never do, and we’re all doing the best we can with the variables we have. The learning curve of motherhood is steep enough.

So why does this idea of “mommy wars” persist? Jenn at What The Blog?, wrote, “Mommy wars aren’t created by magazine covers. They’re created by moms who doubt their own choices then attack others who are different just because they’re threatened by self doubt. Mommy wars aren’t against each other. They’re against ourselves, and that’s why no one ever wins.”

To an extent, I agree with this. With some time and distance to move past my immediate reactions to this dialogue, and as I watch my daughter grow into more of an independent little person every day, it occurs to me that parenting is an opportunity not to be better than, but simply to bebetter: better versions of ourselves, because our children notice everything we do, because just as we take cues from them, they take so many cues from us.

If we want our children to be compassionate, to be open-minded, to be the ones who stand up for the misfit on the playground or speak respectfully to elders, that starts with how they see us treating others, speaking to and about others, and speaking to and treatingthem. If we want them to have confidence in themselves and in their ability to make decisions and act independently, then we need to model that confidence in our choices—our parenting choices, our work choices, our lifestyle choices.

Maggie May at Flux Capacitor writes, “We are given this gift in our children, the gift to be stewards of the making of their brains and souls and bodies. We are watching a supernova be born, we are watching something as breathtaking and fragile and combustible and miraculous and beautiful as a star being born in the few first years of our children's lives.”

I am not a patient person, not naturally inclined to be carefree or completely engaged in the present. When I am with my daughter, those things come much more easily. That is a gift she gives me.

In some ways, I am in a little mothering bubble—not quite a SAHM but with an unconventional schedule that allows me lots of time with my daughter, and despite a full course load and teaching overload plus a writing career, not a traditional working mother, either. It’s hard to find a real sense of community when you straddle different worlds (a longer post on this is coming), but it also insulates me a bit from whatever competition or judging might go on (mostly).

But what I’ve taken from the newborn classes and infant music sessions and the playgrounds and library storytimes is this:

Look for the mothers who, despite the blowout diapers and missed naps and toddler meltdowns, despite the lack of sleep or downtime and the stress of the daily grind that motherhood entails, have joy. Joy in their children, joy in the visceral, physical act of parenting. I’ve seen them, I’ve witnessed their ease and confidence and comfort in their own mothering skin, and I’ve learned from them. Whatever Mommy Wars might be going on don’t seem to touch them. That is a gift they give to their children.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Changing Spaces

It’s been an intense spring, one marked by necessary cuts. Some are exciting and liberating and others are more raw, but all are ultimately for the better.

Like many of you, I suspect, I often write and blog to process, to work through decisions and reflect on experiences that have already happened. A couple of months ago, when I wrote this post that started as a rumination on the writing and editing process, it really did begin with writing itself, and slowly stretched to ideas about living with illness. Still, it was primarily retrospective.

But I thought about the idea of “necessary cuts” constantly after I posted, and a couple days later, I had a life-altering epiphany. The writing informed the decision, not vice versa.

We should sell our house and move.

A few weeks after that moment of clarity, our house was thoroughly scrubbed, streamlined, and staged, and went on the market. We scoured neighborhoods in new places, comparing schools and commutes and spaces, and driving by listings. Just a couple of weeks later, our house was under agreement, and a few weeks after that, we signed an offer on a house in a much different place.

For the past four and a half years this has been a wonderful home. It’s got character and a good layout, and is in an active area with many urban amenities: public transit, coffee shops and restaurants and playgrounds in walking distance, proximity to highways and hospitals and so much else. Yet many of the things that were attractive to us then don’t necessarily reflect our reality now. Just as suddenly as we fell in love with this place (and it was immediate—we weren’t even looking for a new house), we knew it was time to move on.

For the first time since I was eighteen, I can see myself living somewhere where espresso, Thai food, and the subway are not within steps of my door. There are many reasons to leave that make sense to us, just as there were many reasons to live here when we bought it. But this house, as much as we love it, and the lifestyle this house represents, simply aren’t the right fit for us anymore.

It’s a necessary cut, indeed.

We held our breath a lot in this house, and did a lot of hedging. We were drawn in by the spacious, quirky bedrooms, eyeing the sunny front bedroom as a possible nursery someday, yet in the same breath we told the then-sellers to take their swing set with them because we knew there was a real chance we’d never have a child to push on those swings.

We are living in the after, not the “if,” and we have a lot more clarity in terms of what we want, but more than that, what we need.

Beyond concrete items like the walk-in closet or the updated kitchen, there are many things I will miss about this house. It was where neighbors became friends. It was where a business was launched over tamales and margaritas with friends, and where Supper Clubs were held well into the night. It was the home where an idea for a second book took root, and where, over several years, the stack of books and articles somehow became a cohesive narrative. It was where we hosted Thanksgivings and cook-outs and sleepovers with nieces. Its closeness to Longwood Medical Area meant it served as a home base and staging ground whenever my loved ones (or me) were in the hospital (which was far too often, really. Really.)

Our bedroom is where I closed the door and cried quietly month after month (after month), and my home office is where I got the call that finally brought happy tears after so many years. The sunny front bedroom is where we painted the walls a gorgeous pale blue/aqua color because we wanted our little girl to have something other than pink, and on whose walls we stenciled the words “Dream. Hope. Believe,” scarcely believing this was in fact our reality.

The sunshine that streams through the living room window every afternoon was my constant companion during weeks of bedrest, and the hustle and bustle of cars, trucks, and neighbors connected me to the world outside those four walls. The front door was covered in balloons and Welcome Home signs when we brought our baby home from the hospital, and the hardwood floors and living room rug are where she crawled and walked for the first time.

We’ve had so much joy here, and so much tough stuff along with that joy. Things fell apart and stitched themselves back together—not seamless, but stronger nonetheless.

In a few weeks, we’re off to someplace much different. More land, more green, more (mental and physical) space to exhale. I did not realize how much I was still holding my breath, until I wasn’t anymore. We’re sad to leave the house was truly a home, but we’re even more excited for a better fit, a better life for all of us.

Dream. Hope. Believe.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I have some updates I’ll post later this week, but today seemed like a great day to look at (Weekly) Grace in Small Things.

--My husband had to work today, so it was just my daughter and me. We did our usual morning eat-play-dress routine, and as we headed out to go to church and to do some visiting, the sun broke through the clouds and “My Girl” came on the radio. What more could a Mama ask for on Mother's Day, really?

--Every stage is so much fun, but I particularly love the constant narration of daily activity phase we’re in right now. “I did it!” she says, standing up with a huge grin on her face after she completes a task. “All done now. Bye-bye!” she says, shoving her plate of food away from her. “I’m all set,” she says as she’s buckled into her car seat.

--Watching my daughter and all of her grandparents interact and seeing how much they love each other is great to witness. One of my favorite little things? When my daughter walks over to me with the phone in her hand, hits speaker and re-dial, and calls my mother to ask her to sing “Ba Ba Black Sheep.” Asking her who loves her and hearing her say their names? Amazing.

--I want my daughter to feel like part of a pack and that she is loved by and connected to more than just her father and me. She loves her eight cousins and when she asks for them by name, it takes me down the road a few years to sleepovers and bike rides and those all-important bonds you have with the people who have known you your entire life. She woke up and asked to call some of her cousins today. While I wouldn’t oblige her since it was 6:30am, it did make me smile.

--Lately, she likes to take both my cheeks in her hands and kiss my face noisily and earnestly. It makes me laugh, which makes her squeal with laughter and eggs her on, which makes her lean in and kiss me again with even more exaggeration, which makes both of us laugh harder. We just went through several rounds of this before bedtime. It doesn’t do much to settle her down, admittedly, but it’s hilarious and I know she’ll move on to something else soon enough; I don’t need to rush that.

Nineteen months into this, I still can’t believe I get to be someone’s mother, that I get to be her mother. She lights up corners of our world we didn’t even know existed.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who love, nurture, guide, and advocate for children out there.

(And, back to regularly scheduled posts this week. Promise.)
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