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True friends September 26, 2013

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True friends never owe each other anything. (from Bear Circus by William Pene du Bois)

Let me start this by saying that my husband and I have never really moved in the traditional sense of the term. When we got married, I was living with my parents and he was living in a dorm. Several months before our wedding, we decided we would rent a house from his parents once we were married. That house was vacant at the time and they gave us unlimited access to it, so every time we had a wedding shower we would just take the gifts over to the house and put them away in their places. At some point we took a couch in, at another point other furniture, stretching out the process of moving our pieced together hand-me-down furniture over about five months. It was so easy. A day or two before the wedding we moved the bulk of our clothes over to the rent house and the last of the things we hadn’t yet moved. We got married, we started living there, and we lived there for nine years.

Until a couple of weeks ago when we moved into the home we have been saving up for. It was a completely different experience. First of all, before moving in we set aside two weeks to peel wall paper, paint, change light switches and outlets, and do other general repairs to our new home. Jon has a full time job now, we’re nine years older (read nine years less energetic) than when we married, and we have two small children. This made working on the house every day for two weeks a bit trickier than that time I unloaded brand new plates from wedding gift boxes and took a minute to hang up curtains in the rent house with no children to chase. This time we were arranging for Jon’s mom to watch the kids, making daily trips to Lowe’s, working as fast as we could in the two hours we had between Jon leaving work and the kids’ bed time, and basically living off of fast food. It was fun and exhausting and would have been absolutely impossible without the incredible help of a few great friends.

What can you say about the kind of friend who also works for a feverish two or five hours painting your living room paneling? What do you say about the moms who take your children every single day and don’t roll their eyes once when you come an hour past their bed time (again!) to pick them up, paint splattered and exhausted? Or the friends who bring a meal and plastic ware and paper plates to a house with no table in it so you can enjoy a picnic of NON-fast food in your future dining room? And there’s the one who kept us all filled up with the perfection that is ice cold Sonic beverages. The friend who came early in the morning on his actual birthday to help load our moving truck blew me away, as did my husband’s boss who came and both loaded and unloaded on a hot Saturday. A friend from MOPS cleaned my kitchen counters and drawers so I could unload my dishes and she helped unpack my closet and has now seen my lingerie. This is how she spent a rare afternoon of freedom from her own two small children. I was just humbled and amazed by their help. I was exhausted from this work and I know they had to be exhausted too, and they didn’t have to do it!

Towards the end of the day, my friend (who had arranged childcare for her three children for the whole day so she and her husband could be there packing, loading, unloading, and unpacking) had to call it quits because her nursing baby needed her (do you know how exhausting that stage of motherhood is? Do you?). I looked at her and thought about how tired she must be and what a sacrifice it was for her to do this with a Saturday and I just couldn’t even think of what to say. I said something about being beyond all gratitude and owing them big time. And she said, “We will always be even.” And another friend said something similar after he worked probably more on our house than I did over that two week span (during which time he also started a new job!). He painted and peeled wall paper and ate fast food and wrapped quilts around my antique chairs so they wouldn’t scratch in the back of his truck and we could never in a hundred years say thank you enough but he is okay with that. And we can rest in the knowledge that we haven’t just racked up a whole lot of friendship debt because there is no such thing. We would do the same for them and I hope we get to, but it is not repaying a debt. It is just friendship. And there is this great form of love where a man lays down his Saturday for his friends and I am not going to say anything else here because I am literally weeping with gratitude and fullness of heart and friendship and I just can’t.

 

That’s a lot September 18, 2013

“…we got each other,” she said, “and that’s a lot.” (from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt)

I’ve been reading Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner and it has me thinking about friendship and family and the wealth therein. My family is reasonably comfortable now but we have been through times when we lived on a pittance. I will not romanticize living on little. It was stressful. But I can not tell you that we have ever been poor. We have always had the wealth of one another. It’s not just enough. It’s a lot. An excess of laughter and comfort and presence. I have always said that our one great talent is friendship and we have surrounded ourselves with just the loveliest people. It’s weird because we are introverts by nature yet we have these wide circles of friends and deep pools of them. We are also close to our families. We live where they live and we don’t plan to move away. This is what is most important to us, these people.

And the astonishing grace of the whole thing is that enough would have been enough. Just Jon and I loving each other or just our families or just a couple of close friends–any of these scenarios alone would have made us feel secure in affection and comfort. As Ma Ingalls said in one of the Little House books, “Enough is as good as a feast.” Enough would have been enough. But instead we have more than enough. We have a lot.

 

Can’t it just be parenting? June 26, 2012

You have brains in you head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. (from Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss)


You want to know what I’m sick to death of? Parenting debates. Parenting books. Parenting “styles.” Every day there is some article or picture or facebook status or recommended book about “attachment” or some other form of parenting, some new fad or other. And every time I want to say, “Why does it have to be a style? Can’t it just be called parenting?” Before I get very high on my soap box, I should lay down my credentials: I do not have a PhD in neuroscience, have never  written a parenting book, and am not a certified parent educator, pediatrician, or any other kind of expert. My credentials are that I am a parent, I have two parents and two parents-in-law, am married to a parent, and know a lot of parents. Those are my only credentials.

I am the coordinator of a local MOPS (Mothers Of Preschoolers) group and we have a diverse bunch of mamas in our number. They are all wonderful. I mean, wonderful. There is one young woman, pretty new to our group, who has a lot of questions about attachment parenting, baby-led weaning, introducing solids, elimination communication, etc. She must be reading parenting books and websites all the time. She doesn’t have to do that. She’s already a good mom. She was practically born that way. That’s my problem with all of these parenting trends and styles. You don’t need a method to follow. You are already a good mom. If you fail at one system, if you never pick up a parenting book in life, you will still be fine. Your children will be fine. That’s what I honestly believe.

I breastfed my son until he was sixteen months old. It was important to me to get to breastfeed and I had a good support system with my mom and my husband so I was successful at getting through the hard part and getting into the really enjoyable part of it. My sister breastfed her son for two months. When she went back to work at six weeks, it was incredibly hard for her to keep it up. She had to pump in a bathroom stall at lunch, her one break during the work day. It was gross and it was hard. Her husband was a genuine abuser who dragged her postpartum emotional state through the mud. She lost way too much weight from stress. She loved her little boy like crazy, eventually left the abuser and became an incredible single mama. How high on the priority ladder do you think breastfeeding was? I would put my son next to hers and dare you to tell me which one was breastfed and which one was formula fed. There’s no way you could tell. Which of us is the better mom? If you answer that question at all I’ll slap you.

One time I saw someone with her baby strapped to her in a wrap. I thought, “That looks handy!” So when someone was getting rid of a similar wrap, I took the hand-me-down and have used it happily. It’s wonderfully convenient even though it’s sometimes really hot. I didn’t know when I accepted the wrap that what I was doing was called “baby wearing” and that it is part of a method called “attachment parenting.” I just thought it was handy. I have since seen articles and interviews with followers of this method that praise the virtues of baby wearing and look right down their noses at moms who instead of wearing their babies, put them in what they call “containers.” Since I’ve been accused of being a baby wearer, rightfully so, I should probably now tell you that if my baby falls asleep in the car seat and I have stuff to do, I have no problem carrying her inside the house in it and setting it down in a cool place until she wakes up. Today I wore her in the wrap for the entire time that I ran errands. But this afternoon she slept in the car seat carrier for an hour. Gosh, I hope she doesn’t grow up unable to trust me and feel safe. We also have a swing and a bouncy seat and a stroller. I’ve actually heard people criticize strollers as “containers” to hold a baby when the mom should be holding the baby. Give me and my back a break.

We have a bassinet in our bedroom for the baby and a crib in the kids’ room down the hall. She’s almost eight weeks old so she’s still sleeping in the bassinet at this stage. I’m not ready to tackle the concept of my three-year-old and my infant sleeping in the same room yet. I know there are a whole slew of sleep methods out there–how you schedule your kids’ sleep, recommended bedtimes, where is ideal for kids to sleep, co-sleeping, etc, etc, etc. Here’s what flies in our house. Our son’s bed time is technically 8:00pm. If he’s in bed by 8:10 we call it a win. If he’s asleep by 8:30 we call it a miracle. He’s almost always asleep by 9:00. I know you’re all shocked and horrified. He goes to bed in his toddler bed, with a lamp on, and after we read stories and pray, my husband has to sweep all the monsters out of the room (my son has a great imagination). The baby usually is asleep enough that I put her in the bassinet around 10:00. Last night she would fall asleep and I would put her down and then ten minutes later she would be awake again over and over and over again. So I finally put her down on her tummy (I know, I know! But we have a movement sensor monitor on the bassinet so get over it) at 11:45pm. She slept until 7:00 this morning. I call that a win. I rolled out of my deep sleep around 6:00am and discovered that my son was sleeping between me and my husband. I don’t know when he came to our bed. I didn’t care. I just rolled over and kept sleeping, too tired to carry him back to his own bed. Sometimes when the baby gets up to eat at 5:00am, I nurse her lying next to me in my bed so I don’t have to wake up too much. Then she stays there until after I get up in the morning because I’m too tired to stand up and take her back to the bassinet. So, it’s kind of like what some people call “co-sleeping.” But I wouldn’t say that we intentionally co-sleep. I would just say that we sleep. Any way we can. Which ever way makes everyone sleep the longest time at a stretch is the way I prefer.

I read an article the other day in which a woman said she would consider putting your kids in front of a television to be child abuse. That kind of made me mad because when I worked in a public school I saw kids who had actually been subjected to child abuse. Television is not child abuse. Call it lazy parenting if you want to, but it’s not abuse. My son is watching Kipper The Dog right now because the baby is asleep and I want him to be quiet. It’s literally 109 degrees in my town today so we’re not going outside to play.We’re staying in and watching a show until she wakes up. He also watches gentle cartoons like that pretty much every morning because I am not a morning person. I throw a bunch of grapes or strawberries on a plate with a slice of bread, shake up a sippy cup of chocolate milk, turn on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and go back to bed for another half hour at least. Then, if he’s still watching, I take a shower and am ready to be a pretty good mom. If you call that child abuse, we can’t be friends.

We used disposable diapers on my son until he was potty trained earlier this year. For my daughter, we are using cloth diapers. We really like the cloth diapers and we feel like we’re saving money by using them. But we still use disposables at night. I don’t feel like a better mom for using cloth diapers. I just feel like I’m saving some money. I couldn’t care less what anyone else puts on their babies’ butts. That’s a really crappy debate.

I pray for my kids. Not because someone gave me the book The Power Of A Praying Mom but because sometimes parenting is terrifying. I pray for them because I want so much more for them than I could ever, ever give them. I pray for them because I’m exhausted and scared sometimes and I just want to hand it all over to a higher power.

I read to my kids because I like books and I want them to like them too. I don’t have a set number of words I read to them in a day. I just read to them.

I take my son outside to play but not when it’s 109 degrees outside. When it’s 109 degrees outside we don’t even go out for snow cones because we would melt in the line. I’m a weeny about the hot days.

My three-year-old is a picky eater so I kind of rely on Flintstone vitamins to supplement his nutrients. I know the experts say that if you only offer them what you’re eating, they will eventually eat it. But the experts are dead wrong. He will flat out starve himself. Thankfully, he likes fruit and vegetables but he eats a lot of chicken nuggets for protein. At least, I hope there’s some protein in there. And he won’t drink milk without Nesquick powder in it. When I worked in an elementary school there was this one mom who always made these beautiful bento lunches for her kid. I kind of wanted to be like her but really I just get the food on the plate and try to get him to eat it. No fancy preparations.

If I were ever to write a parenting book (which I never ever would), I would call my style “winging it.” Because that’s what I think most everybody is doing anyway. And most of us are doing fine. I honestly think that if you are not an abuser, you are a good parent and the best parent for your own kids. So just relax. You don’t have to follow a method or a trend. You can do whatever you want, whatever makes things go smoothly in your house. It doesn’t have to be this kind of parenting or that. It can just be parenting. And, at least you’re doing it.

Wingin’ it