Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parenting: The Ultimate Destruction of Perfection

I had 38 weeks of almost perfect mothering.  I didn't scream, yell, or scar my child in any way.  I may not have eaten has healthy as I should have, but other than that I was golden.  I remember thinking about that.  I remember savoring what it felt like to be a perfect mother with a spotless record, knowing it was all going to end because my water had just broken the night before.  The next day, I gave birth and I immediately started making mistakes.  This is what being a parent is really about: giving up any chance of perfection.

As a child, adolescent, and even young adult, I was a bit of a perfectionist.  I only did what I was really good at and if I wasn't fairly sure I wouldn't be pretty good at it, I didn't do it at all. Sometimes, it held me back.  There were things I wanted to learn, but I *knew* that I wouldn't be great at them, so I was too embarrassed to try them too often.  I used to watch the food network and Top Chef and I desperately wanted to learn how to cook, but really cooking stressed me out so I stuck to very simple meals and became very edgy and grumpy when I did try to stretch myself.  If it didn't turn out like the recipe, I panicked and felt incredibly embarrassed.  I only cooked things for people I knew I could cook reasonably well, and when in doubt, I'd suggest we go out or order in.  In college, I majored in something I loved, but also that I knew I could succeed in.  Partly it was because of my passion, partly it was because of my fear of failure.  Before anyone ever came over, I cleaned feverishly.  I agonized over what I would say when I met people or what we would talk about when we spent time together.  (Actually, that was a waste of time because I always felt afterward that I had said all the wrong things, anyway.)  I always wanted a clean slate and to do things right.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that motherhood is the antithesis of all that.  With children, you learn quickly that no one can ever be "on" 24 hours a day.  There is no planning what you can and will say for every situation because children are completely unpredictable.  You can mess up horribly, horrifically, in ways that are sure to lead your children into years of therapy, but you can't even allow yourself an hour to obsess about it because they still need you to take care of them moments later and there is no escaping the mess you just made.  You have to face it and move on, immediately.  Everyday, I feel like I live a thousand books or movies on parenting and about half are tales of triumph and the other half are cautionary tales like "Mother Dearest."  My first year as a mother was demoralizing because I had to let go of any idea that I ever would be "great" or "perfect" again.  Even in my physical body!  I have never had a very attractive appearance ("okay" would probably be my highest rating) and, honestly, I probably have a better chance of getting in shape now than I ever did in the past, but there were features I liked about myself back then, my hair among them and wouldn't you know as soon as I had my first baby, I found I immediately had some gray hair!  And saying/doing the right thing all the time and trying to be the "perfect" mother?  Forget it, I could barely function at all on the ten minutes of sleep it seemed like I was getting at night.  I was so sleep deprived by the time I reached the six month mark that I lost my ability to make short term memories.  People came to visit and we went places with them and less than a year later, I DIDN'T REMEMBER anything about the visit because I had not been able to form any memories I was so sleep deprived.  My quest for perfection had to end and the world actually got a little better when it did.

For one thing, I can cook now.  After having to change my diet dramatically to nurse both of my sons, and having to juggle multiple food allergy issues, I had no choice but to cook.  My meals aren't always glamorous or perfect the first time out, but they have gotten better and, after working through what was a surprisingly short period of mistakes and unimpressive entrees, they have become not only healthier, but actually quite good.  I'll never be a chef-testant, but I am probably a better cook than a great many people out there and my food (even with all its food allergy restrictions) tastes a lot better than what I was eating before.  For another thing, even though I probably mess up more on a lot more important things, I'm much better at letting things go and starting over.  Are there days when I miss those fantastic 38 weeks of mothering perfection?  Sure.  I was an excellent mother before I had kids, full of patience, wisdom, tolerance, and creativity.  But like all perfect things, it wasn't real.  It wasn't tangible.  I could think about it and plan for it, but I couldn't snuggle up with it and kiss away tears with it like I can real motherhood.  So, as much as I might romanticize making a new start to parenting and doing it better this time, I know in my heart that I've done the best I can with who I am every step of the way and that has involved some pretty stomach wrenching mistakes and some serendipitous triumphs.  Everyday, I learn a little better how to embrace them both and lessen the former while enjoying the latter.

I used to dream of accomplishing great things and leaving a legacy that could stand for years.  I was obsessed about it.  Motherhood has taught me to accomplish small things with great love.  My new goal is to try to create ripples of kindness that can echo throughout the lives of my children (and if I'm lucky) their children and maybe their children's children.  Even if no one remembers my name anymore, I hope that I can pour enough imperfect kindness and love into my children so that they will feel empowered to pour their own imperfect kindness and love into the world.

Now, I'm off to make a few hundred more mistakes today. . . and if I'm lucky, a few hundred and one more miraculously good moments.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 21, 2014

the gifting dilemna

We love holidays in my household. Any excuse to get together with family for great food, celebrating, and together time is fine by us. Our favorites are Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, all for their own reason. But Easter has its own charm. Its just starting to warm, and the weekend is often spend enjoying some egg hunting outside. What is not to love?

However there is one thing we struggle with a little. Presents. Specifically how to find that balance between not having the holiday be all about what our daughter is going to get, while still treating her a little. Finding the balance of enough, but not too much.

My husband is very much a gifter. He loves finding things that his family and friends will really enjoy and treating them. There is something really special, for both him and the giftee, about opening something that reflects just how well a person knows you and values you. I love that too. I love giving!

BUT I don't want my daughter's biggest associations with these holidays to be getting "stuff," and frankly, she doesn't need anything more anyway! She has plenty of toys, and our house is not large. Plus, we have lots of family that we know she will be getting things from as well. So what do we do?

Well first we reduce: get rid of this idea of quantity being important, and focus on quality. One or two main gifts that we know she's going to adore.

Second, we advise: if we know that certain friends or family will be gifting Gwen we something we will offer gentle guidance. We don't force, and we aren't offended if they buy something else, but we've found that most people who don't have 4 year olds are grateful for a little guidance!

We think beyond toys: Gwen loves getting new clothes, which most people might think would be an unappreciated gift. So we often advise people of what her current sizes are and what gaps her closet has. She loves having fun new items to pick from (superhero anything is a BIG hit right now), and we appreciate not having to break the bank clothing our ever growing girl! We've also had people take Gwen for fun activities instead of gifts, which its been proven provide longer lasting happiness thing things do!

So far we've managed to stick a good balance. Gwen has always been happy and appreciative for what is given to her, without it being the main focus. I hope we can keep this going for all the years to come.

What is your happy medium with gift giving?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Slugs and Snails and Duck Down: Remembering what Individuals are Made Of

I try to be a mom who sees her kids as individuals first,  I encourage my sons (and husband) to be demonstrative and open about their emotions.  I am ridiculously protective of gendered stereotypes such as telling a boy he's "brave" or "tough" only when he doesn't cry (I tell them they are brave and tough anytime they face their fears and if they need to cry, cry! It's what humans do!). I was pretty vocal in combatting the "he's all boy" type comments we got when he broke his arm for the second time before Christmas.  I try to give my boys opportunities not just to destroy, but also to build, not just to drive cars, but also to nurture.  They play swords occasionally, but those foam pirate swords can only be used to touch other swords or weapons. They actually play with their play kitchen a bit more often.  I am not trying to raise them in a gender-less environment, but I am trying to help them define their gender as part of the identity they create for themselves and, mostly, to learn about and be themselves first and foremost.  So, imagine my surprise when I realized this morning that I have been in the midst of the silliest kind of gender stereotyping for weeks and had not realized it!

  It began innocently enough.  As spring begins to emerge rather sleepily and sluggishly throughout the Midwest, I decided to try to interest my eldest son in more animal and natural world activities.  His father has been taking him in the yard to help with beginning yardwork and set up the bird feeder his uncle got him for Christmas in front of our living room window so he could watch the birds as they reentered our yard. We've been enthusiastically playing outside, going for walks, and marking the changes in the yard as the new season awakens.  Meanwhile, I decided to try showing him a larger natural world by getting fun videos from the library.  While a decent idea, my selections were ridiculous.  Remembering what my brothers loved when they were young, I checked out dinosaur videos, shark videos, and old crocodile hunter videos.  Week after week, my son was completely uninterested in watching them.  I never "made" him, but I was perplexed as to why he wasn't interested.  This is a child who loves watching Anerica's Castles with me and documentaries on bridge engineering, so surely the content wasn't too boring for him! What was wrong?  Didn't he like nature?

This morning I found out.  Confident he would like Steve Irwin if he only gave him a try (everyone loved Steve Irwin, right? Even my mother who hates snakes, lizards, and anything that crawls with the burning passion of a thousand suns loved Steve Irwin!), I put in an episode of Croc Files.  It was one on marsupials.  My son initially was resistant, but eventually relaxed as the episide continued.  

"Mama, I like this kangaroo and koala part, but please turn it off before we get to the part with crocodiles.  They scare me."   
"They scare you?"
"Yeah, the teeth are scary like sharks and dinosaurs.  I don't like them.  I don't like those kinds of animals with big, scary teeth . . . Like tigers or other scary things."

Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head.  Instead of picking out nature videos that would appeal to my son (the individual who adores birds, especially ducks, and desperately wants to go fishing), I had been wasting my time picking out videos that would appeal to my preconceived idea of what "boys" like (sharks and crocodiles)!  While he probably will want to learn about other creatures someday, a much better choice for first nature documentaries probably would have been dolphins, fish, and ducks!  He is a cautious child and has never shown any interest in predators.  What was I thinking?  I had been so concerned about picking up stuff that "boys" would like, I had forgotten what my son would like.  

We turned off Croc Files since that was the only episide without crocs, and turned on a netflix "Duck-umentary" and my son was enraptured.  At the library, we checked out videos on fish, birds, planets, and constructing domes (my little engineer is particularly keen on that one).  This time, he's excited for the science movies and I'm excited to give him views of the natural world beyond our backyard that won't scare him.

Gender stereotyping can sneak up on you when you least expect it.  As embarrassing as it might be to admit you've made a mistake, apologize and move on quickly.  I hope my son knows that I am seeing him for him again and not just as what I imagined a "boy" to be.  I also hope that my own accidental stereotyping doesn't sneak up on me again for awhile!

Thanks for reading, 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Broken Toe Mothering: How an Unfortunate Accident was Actually Good Fortune in Disguise

I remember the moment like it was yesterday even though it was three weeks ago.  I was rushing around the house and felt completely overwhelmed.  Both boys were crying.  Everywhere I looked was covered with things I needed to put away or clean.  I had dishes to do, a meal to cook, the floor to clean, bathrooms to scrub, a diaper to change, and I was fairly certain my four year old and I had not done a single educational thing together all day.  I felt like screaming and I had been a bossy, grumpy, mama all afternoon.  Then, things got worse.  While vacuuming with my youngest on my back, I took a step forward just as my other son called for me and I stubbed my toe on the vacuum and broke it.  Not the vacuum.  At least one bone in my toe.  I felt the crack and the pain after you've felt it once is undeniable.  This was the last thing I needed.  It was also the exact thing he needed.

You see, I learned something the next day as movement of any kind caused agony.  My problem wasn't the number of things on my to do list or how little I was accomplishing or even that my kids needed more than I could give.  My problem was what I was expecting myself to accomplish and my way of trying to make those accomplishments.  With my toe broken and in pain, I relaxed my expectations for myself because I had to rest my foot.  Imagine my amazement when I discovered that even though I was able to do much less, everything seemed less stressful.  My eldest son, whom I'd been randomly attacking with educational ideas that he would then push away, suddenly began to come to me with educational ideas.  "Let's do puzzles, mama.  Let's do mazes.  Let's build bridges.  Let's build houses.  Let's do tangrams."  It turns out that he was dying to do fun learning activities with me, he just didn't want to do it when I was in a hurry.  Likewise, because I was spending less time running around the house attempting to clean like a mad woman and more time sitting in the living room or playroom with my children, my youngest became a lot less demanding because he had what he wanted, my attention.  Dinner still got cooked every night (although admittedly at the end of cooking more complicated meals where I am on my feet all the time, my toe is killing me).  The clothes still got washed and folded.  Chores still got done, but sometimes things had to be shifted to the next day in order to give my foot time to rest.  Surprisingly, while my house has not gotten cleaner, it hasn't gotten any messier, either.  It turns out that the more time I spend in the room with my boys, the less time they have to make ridiculously huge messes because I'm there helping them to clean as we go instead of there some of the time and then missing while I frantically clean stuff in another area of the room.

I think what I finally realized is that this is a "Broken Toe" period of mothering.  It is a time when expectations of myself, my house, and my life need to get a little more relaxed so that I can appreciate the hard work that is going on.  All mothers of young children are a little handicapped by the circumstance of being mothers of young children.  Young children cannot be independent.  The job of taking care of them is messy and time consuming and it precludes perfection (or even really good work) as a housekeeper. It is also rewarding and time sensitive.  While I will have the rest of my life to scrub dishes, floors, windows, laundry, etc.  (although hopefully in decreasing amounts as the years go on!), I only have a few years to be a mom of young children and when this season ends, it ends. Never to come again.  I can either relax my expectations of what "accomplishment" looks like right now or I can be constantly disappointed when I don't measure up, because my kids' needs are not going to lessen for awhile yet and they will always come first.  They might was well come first with me smiling and watching and (occasionally) resting and healing.  After all, it's better than if they come first because they have to demand it from me when I'm grumbling, preoccupied, and frenzied.

So, lesson learned, Universe.  Now can I please have my toe completely healed in the next week or two?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 24, 2014

midnight snuggles

Gwen hasn't bedshared full time since she was still a baby. It just didn't work for us past infancy. But I love our morning snuggles when she comes to bed with us on the weekends. And sometimes I love the calls in the dark night.

Recently there was such a night. She was having trouble settling, so I squeezed in her little bed with her. She lay her face against my chest and we had warm snuggled under her soft fleece blanket. In that moment, I could see how people do it full time. In that moment there was no where else I could be but snuggled with my girl, warm and sweet. There was no where else I wanted to be, it just felt right, comforting, contented. She fell asleep quickly and deeply; and I lingered for a bit.

We've always done our best to respect her sleep needs, while making sure our needs are getting met as well. For people who NEVER thought they would bedshare, the bit that we did was a lovely surprise, and I don't begrudge its ending. But sometimes, in those moments, I wish it had lasted.

Monday, March 10, 2014

the end of babywearing? another AP milestone.

Napping in the wrap; 10 months.
My daughter is four years old now. It's been just about a year since she started to wean from nursing (almost 10 months since she fully weaned), six months since she switched from her crib to a toddler bed. Both were such milestones for us (though weaning especially!), and a huge line in the sand for me. My little girl was shedding the last of her ties to babyhood. It seems that another of those milestones is upon us. Our babywearing days are nearing their end.

Its such an old feeling to realize that. In so many ways it is so much easier then weaning. We never wore her daily, we just didn't have that kind of need; and we haven't been at a stage of wearing her regularly for a while now. So to say it will end gradually is an understatement! But at the same time, when she weaned I still had babywearing and bedsharing to hold on to. Now there are only our weekend snugglefests to tie us to the main things that helped me first feel and feed the physical and emotional bond with my baby. While I've talked before about how my AP-ness is about so much more then these well-known things associated with Attachment Parenting, it still makes me take pause. I have remind myself that AP is about more then the boobies, beds, and babywearing... its a mindset, a whole parenting approach, and I am still VERY much AP.

Hiking in the Mei Tai; 3 years.
There are other emotions there too. As I picked out a carrier for a pregnant friend's babyshower I imagined her wearing her newborn... that soft head brushing her chest, that sweet baby smell tight against her. I'm so happy for her. And I'm jealous.  But I'm also excited for all the new things we have in store, the things she'll be able to do as she gets bigger.

I don't think we've had our last time yet. I'm sure they'll be another long walk we pull it out for, another hike, a time she just needs some help and a little rest. I'll happily tie up the MT and have the satisfying weight of my ever growing girl on my back. But when I do, it will be with the knowledge that anyone of these times could be the last.

 In the ring sling after a fall during a walk this past weekend (her suggestion to bring it!). 
Tearful four year old... but moments later a happy girl thanks to some snuggles.  :-)

What was the end of babywearing like for you? And the big question... what did you do with your beloved carriers?! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why Children Need to See Breastfeeding . . . Especially in Public

"You can't play with that baby right now.  His mama is doing something you shouldn't have to see." It's hard to convey the disdain uttered in those words spoken about me at a hockey game a few weeks ago.  Moments earlier, we had been friendly strangers.  The six or seven year old girl in question had been playing peek a boo with my eleven month old and letting him play with her game day pom poms.  As action on the ice heated up, all of us had been drawn to the ice and conversation and interaction had lulled.  Well, most of our attention was on the ice.  My sleepy baby had decided he was hungry and soundlessly nudged that it was time for him to eat.  As I was wearing a very modest nursing shirt, I was able to accommodate him on the stands and while I was not wearing a full nursing cover, no skin was showing (too cold. . . it's been non stop arctic blast here in Michigan).  However, when the little girl turned to tickle the happy, nursing baby's foot, her mother sprang into angry action, forcibly moving her to the other side of her and giving me looks that had they been translated into words would have been unprintable.  Deciding to not push the woman into saying more things that might lead her daughter to figure out that feeding the baby was what her mom was so angry about, I quietly ignored her and let my son nurse until he was finished.  Although the woman probably thought she was looking out for her daughter, I know I was doing the right thing and me nursing my son was exactly what her daughter needed to see . . . and her mother, too. Children need to see nursing especially in public because that is the only way it will ever become a normalized, supported part of the culture again.

I nurse in front of my elder son and other children all the time.  When I do that, I am also teaching.  I am teaching them that nursing a baby is not a sexual, private act (any more than bottle feeding is a sexual act).  I am also teaching them that breasts (and women) are not just sexual play things.  If I could have had a calm, private conversation with that mother, I would have explained that.  When we teach children that nursing should only be done in dark rooms or under blankets, we perpetuate the idea that breasts are purely sexual and that nursing is somehow a deviate act.  I am a naturally modest person and so the nursing I do publically is very modest, but that is a very personal choice.  In other eras, cultures understood breasts as both sexual and functional and had healthy cultures around it.  (In the Victorian Era, for example, when ankles were considered "racy" and women were swathed in dresses from neck to toe, nursing dresses of the time reveal almost no cover for nursing mothers and paintings suggest that nursing was done very publicly with no cover.)  In early American colonies, saturated with rules about the dressing and layering women must abide by from head to toe, paintings depict church, community meetings, and other public venues with women nursing very publicly uncovered.  Were these societies ones in which women had healthy non-over sexualized representations?  No.  However, these were socities in which breastfeeding was clearly not sexualized.  Nursing in public now, in this culture, is very important because it is an act that both desexualizes feeding babies and also works to de-hypersexualize women in our slightly more self-aware culture.

 Adults really struggle to be comfortable with this because they are products and participants in our
hypersexualized culture and, frankly, after decades of bottlefeeding as the cultural norm, breasts have become increasingly associated with sex.  Children, however, have no such suppositions and discomfort.  More children than ever are growing up in homes where breastfeeding is at least attempted if not completely successful than in many decades.  Children not growing up in those homes may be more curious when they see nursing mothers in public (the same way they are more interested in anything not found inside their homes and every day life), but they are equally open to seeing the act as normal as long as the adults around them present it as so.  This is why I did not engage the obviously angry mother in conversation.  I did not wish to goad her into saying in front of her daughter that nursing should not be done on demand or in a normal setting because it is not normal for her.  Her daughter had no awareness of why her mother was so on edge and I wanted to keep it that way.

So, what is the real effect of nursing in front of children?  It becomes completely normal and even dull.  How do I know this?  The photos in this blog are all taken by my four year old.  A self proclaimed photographer, he hasn't quite got the knack for composition and instead takes pictures of unposed inanimate objects, body parts, and other subjects that, frankly, most of us would find pretty uninteresting because his focus is learning how to work and focus his camera.  Among his photos of completely ordinary objects are pictures he's taken of me nursing his baby brother because nursing is so normal, it's boring . . . like blocks, feet, or a baby crawling .  This is what nursing looks like (whether in public or in private) in the eyes of a child who is used to it.   If children see enough public nursing, they won't notice, care, or see it as abnormal when they are older. Let's make nursing in public so normal and "boring" that our daughters and sons won't even notice it or care if they see a stranger at a hockey game feeding her baby. 

Thanks for reading, Shawna

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Real Nappies Cloth Diaper Review

I love cloth diapers.  I've saved about a thousand dollars so far, but we also don't buy paper diapers unless we are travelling somewhere, which isn't often.  I have enough diapers for three days, so I wash every three days, though less often recently since she has started potty learning on her own.

We've used cloth diapers since our youngest was born 15 months ago.  I started with covers and prefolds, and as she grew and became mobile at about four months old, pockets with prefolds became our standard.  Nights have always been a struggle for us, since she would sleep on her side or stomach, and by morning she would be sopping wet with leaks and a lot of times end up with the start of a rash.

I received the Real Nappies Cloth Diaper Top Up Pack to review, which has been an incredible addition to our collection.  It came with two Velcro covers and six Indian Cotton prefolds.  My daughter is on the smaller side, just barely over 19 pounds, but their crawler size from 18-31 pounds fits beautifully!

We use these diapers for night wear.  They're bigger than the prefolds we were using, so we don't need to double up anymore, and they are so absorbent.  I prepped the prefolds and diapers before using, and I have been so impressed with how they've held up and how much moisture they hold.

At first, I was nervous at how long they are, but we have also been using the infant size from cottonbabies, so we should have upgraded awhile ago to a longer and bigger prefold.  She is smaller, so we fold it in half after trifolding, but this makes it perfect for her since she is a stomach and side sleeper and we have trouble with leaking.

I'm not a fan of Velcro on cloth diapers because it does wear out faster, and my daughter learned to peel those off at six months old so Velcro has only been for night use with full pajamas for awhile, so that didn't need to be changed.  The cover is designed really well, and they fit better than a lot of other covers we tried.  Not only does she not leak, but the diapers don't move very much while she is sleeping, which was a problem with other Velcro diapers for us.

We haven't had these as long as our other prefolds, but we also haven't had the rash problems yet with these prefolds, which is a big plus.  I'm sure over time they will need to be stripped and washed, but for now, they are much easier to use than our current night set up.

Real Nappies come in four sizes - 6-13 pounds, 11-19 pounds, 18-31 pounds, and 29-40 pounds. I like one size diapers because they grow with the baby, but my kids grow slower so they are in sizes like this for a lot longer, so we aren't spending a lot of money upgrading sizes.  I like how their sizes are set up.  They're big enough gaps that you will use a diaper for more than a month, but small enough so as your baby grows and wets more, the next size up is around the size you would need.

The company also has other baby and kid products, not just cloth, so take a look at their site to see.  A lot of their products are green and all are safe for kids and babies, and shipping was so fast.  Overall, just a great company to work with!