Archive for December, 2011

Café time

December 29, 2011

I was going to write today; long blog posts reflecting on year’s end. My ILs and husband took the kids out for the day and I’ve been given the gift of a day at home alone – an introvert’s dream. I was forbidden to clean or cook anything so I did a little dress shopping and then came to my favorite cafe to chill for a bit. Next I’m going to go home, wash off the second-hand smoke smell, and then relax with a movie – probably Love Actually (despite its many flaws, my go-to holiday movie) – and some knitting until they get back. I gave Gimli permission to disregard nap schedules but I did pack a nice little snack box for them with dried cranberries and apricots, cashews, bananas, tangerines, and fig cookies in case all they get for lunch is pizza.

So I was going to use some of this time to write but I’m in such a blissed-out zone right now that all I can really come up with is this little meditation on my day.

Red Hot Chili Peppers and Roxette. I love this cafe.

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Apropos of Nothing

December 21, 2011

Sigh.

Deep thoughts.

::

Here’s something for pure entertainment – the new trailer for The Hobbit! I get chills every time I watch it, hearing the dwarfs sing (I didn’t nickname my husband Gimli for nothing) 😉 Though I might have to change it to Thoren Oakenshield now 🙂

::

In a similar vein – you know that thing where someone in a committed relationship will pick out a celebrity (or five) who they supposedly could have sex with and their partner/spouse would give them a guiltless “free pass” if this would to occur (supposedly because it would never actually happen in this reality)? When I actually think about it in literal terms – like if it actually COULD happen – I find it totally creepy and gross as an idea. But if it’s just an exercise in rating relative hotness, then it seems ok. But my top three all seem kind of icky to me now, I wonder why? And those would be, in no particular order, Jon Hamm, Robert Downey Jr, and Johnny Depp. Jude Law used to be on the list but since the whole nanny cheating thing he has fallen from grace. And Jake Gyllenhaal, or alternately Joaquin Phoenix, but somehow that spark has died as well. I don’t know why I waste brain and blog space on this ridiculous question.

::

Since Gimli left for Cyprus on Sunday, after spending 24 hours with us at the close of his time in Armenia, the kids have been exceptionally cranky and clingy. EXCEPTIONALLY. I can’t wait til he gets back.

Which is weird, because I’ve realized it’s a pattern – I am way more tense and stressed interacting with the kids when he’s around than when he’s not. And I can’t figure out WHY. I can sort of partly figure it out – the same reasons we absolutely could not co-teach a college course together – but it’s awkward and inconvenient, because we can easily avoid co-teaching a course, not so easily avoid parenting together. It seems like when we divide the labor in certain ways (like taking turns watching the kids so we can each get some time off by ourselves) things go smoothly, but anytime we try to do something fun all together – even at home! It’s not just when we go out! – I get really tense and he gets frustrated with me. I need to get this sorted out somehow.

I have not bought or made any gifts for anybody whatsoever. I’m thinking of making a full English breakfast for the family on the morning of the 26th and letting that be my gift to them all this year. I dunno – my family has never been much into gifts and I have a hard time getting up the energy to get into it myself. If I plan way ahead and can knit everyone socks, that feels satisfying to both me and to the receivers, but I no longer make time for knitting anymore. Maybe next year.

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If you had to find one word to describe 2011, what would it be?

and again with the motherhood angst

December 19, 2011

I read this lovely post from Stirrup Queens last night (or was it this morning?) and what is sticking with me, along with the metaphor of the Y representing the choices we make daily, was the phrase “they have all the tools.” Now that her children are in school, and she releases them each day into the world, she has to trust that she has given them the tools they need to navigate and manage that world and the people they will encounter in it.

It terrifies me, this responsibility to stock their toolbox. In some ways it is simple and obvious, and having two children means that we have a daily arena for teaching things like not hitting, and sharing, and taking turns, and acknowledging and honoring the humanity of the other (although we could achieve this also if we had a singleton by creating social situations where she was forced to interact with other children her age). But I am so afraid that I’m missing something big and huge and important that will become clear only further down the road as they descend into truancy and delinquency – or just simply unhappiness and self-hatred.

When my parents dropped my sister off at college, I went with my mom to a prayer meeting for parents that was scheduled as part of the orientation activities (yes, it was that kind of college) and my mom broke down in tears during the small-group sharing part, suddenly feeling that terror, that fear of having failed her daughter and it now being too late to make it right.

One time recently (maybe even last year) my sister said of our mother, “she’s been hurting me my whole life, why should it be any different now?”

During our hesitation before TTC, I thought about this a lot – I saw the tremendous conflict and pain between my sister and my mother, between my SIL and her parents – and I had to wonder whether having children was worth the risk. What if it should come to this, with my own children? This distance, this pain, this horrifying power and ability to wound each other to the core?

I think this fear has shaped my parenting style a lot. I err on the side of indulgence, rather than discipline. I know this is not always what is best for them. I don’t limit screen time as much as I should. I give in to too many of my toddler’s demands – or perhaps I should say commands – like when she doesn’t want any of us to stand and join in the singing at church, for example. I know that I shouldn’t let her control me, but sometimes I do. Of course there are non-negotiables – like holding my hand when crossing the street, or getting her hair washed, brushing teeth, and the aforementioned not hitting or pushing her brother.

When I was in grad school the first time, in 1999, it was a year after my cousin had committed suicide, and because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help him during life I volunteered as a crisis counselor for a suicide prevention hotline. It was one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done. A major component of our training was on reflective listening, and it stuck in my mind when one of the trainers mentioned that this skill had made her relationship with her teenaged children much better. Her ability to reflect back to them what they were feeling diffused tension and opened the door to communication. So I try to do that with our children, and I think it helps them a lot, to understand and release their emotions. I remember what someone said to me once (was it my therapist?) that emotional needs that are ignored or suppressed will never go away – they’ll just come back, sometimes in difficult or even dangerous ways. I’ve also been holding in my mind what Lori said in an interview about being in the moment, about feeling and releasing the emotion over and over again, and how physical movement can help in this process as well. So this is a big part of what I try to do as a mother – build up their emotional health and their tools for coping with strong emotions in healthy ways. So it’s frustrating when my MIL tells my daughter “Now don’t get mad,” or “don’t cry,” because, well, I think this is actually pretty harmful. I tell Illyria, “it’s ok to be mad, but you can’t hit your brother.” Usually then she requests to go to another room and “have a little talk” with me or another caregiver – it’s her way now of removing herself from the situation that’s frustrating or stressing her out. So we go away, and talk about sharing, or about whatever pissed her off, or just play for awhile in a different space, until she’s ready to go back and try again.

I long to be the kind of mom whose house is a haven of clean and tidy peace and serenity, who has Montessori-ed her home, who can make cake pops, who just generally seems to be competent and well-organized (Raspberry Chip, I’d link to you but you’re PWP!). I’m just not that kind of mom. I’m too overwhelmed by the quotidian. And I think I set the bar too low.

I’m gonna rock at homework help someday though.

The thing is – my mom didn’t TRY to make mistakes. She didn’t set out to hurt my sister. My MIL doesn’t hate her daughter, she loves her. They both did what they thought was right; they did their level best. I don’t fully understand what went wrong, why my sister and my sister-in-law have felt compelled at different times to put as much physical and emotional distance between themselves and their parents as possible, and why for each of them in different ways this seemed to be a move for self-preservation. So how can I know that I’m not going to end up in their position someday?

Family

December 16, 2011

This wouldn’t be Project Progeny without a little good-natured complaining about my in-laws. After all, isn’t that what anonymous blogs are for?

I couch this complaint with gratitude, because they have truly been a godsend. They have made the 18-hour journey here twice now, at the advanced age of 70+, to enjoy the company of my children. They help around the house – my MIL takes care of the laundry, my FIL does the dishes, and between the two of them they entertain the kids from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. They shower them with gifts – but not too many – and always check with us beforehand about what they want to give them. They compliment me constantly about what a great person I am – for example, I asked my MIL yesterday (somewhat tongue in cheek) if she’s figured out yet why God gave her Gimli as a son, and she said, “well, because he brought us you!” That was just really sweet.

So it’s not actually that hard to tamp down my annoyance when she not-so-subtly does her passive-aggressive thing, like recently she’s been dropping hints about weaning Oz. I have no plans to wean Oz. I’d love to continue nursing him as long as he wants. I love that my milk is something only I can give him, and I get the feeling that he’s just as pleased that my milk is only for him – one of the few things he doesn’t have to share with anybody else! I don’t want to have any more babies, so this is the end of the line for me. I have enjoyed breastfeeding by and large and I’m not in a hurry to give it up. But he’s 17 months old now, and starting to talk, and I’ve observed that two things make most Americans (including my husband) very uncomfortable: continuing to breastfeed a child who can talk, and continuing to breastfeed a child who may be able to remember breastfeeding when he’s older. My opinion is that culturally Americans view breasts in a highly, highly sexualized way, but it doesn’t have to be that way – there are plenty of cultural contexts where breasts are no more sexual than bottles. Or udders. They are a milk delivery system, period. Children won’t see or experience breasts as sexual objects unless or until they are taught to do so!

So I guess I’m not surprised that she keeps bringing up the nursing question – “Are you thinking about weaning? Maybe he’d sleep better at night if he wasn’t nursing. It would free you up a lot! I’m sure he’d get used to cow’s milk quickly if that was the only thing he was getting.” On constant loop/repeat.

I wish she’d let it go. It’s not really any of her business. But she’s invested in the kids, in their upbringing, in our well-being as a family. She hasn’t quite intimated that she thinks I’m harming him by continuing to breastfeed… but I have a feeling that will come eventually.

Maybe he’ll lose interest on his own. Maybe I’ll get tired of it before he does and change my tune. But really, it’s between me and Oscar and I’d like to keep it that way.

Damage (Control) *edited for clarification

December 14, 2011

Before we started TTC, we hesitated for a long time. For years, actually. Gimli was afraid that once we had children we would never have fun anymore, never have adventures, never explore distant and exotic locations across the globe (which is in part why we’re in the Balkans right now – and he’s in Armenia – it’s in part to prove a point, I think, to himself if not to anybody else). I was afraid that somehow I would incontrovertibly damage my children – for a time I was convinced that if I had kids, they would inevitably commit suicide before they were 21. Because life on earth is that painful.

During that (admittedly dark) time, I wrote this poem:

Marbles

Here is my dark baby son (who might be)

playing with marbles in the dust

of a thousand unlived days.

Dust bunnies scud across the floor

tumbled by the wind from an opening door,

to hide in panic under the bed.

I scry only thick boiling clouds

in the marble rolling endlessly through my mind.

Marbles in my mouth click against my teeth.

In the sky, a marble moon, black and round,

with a fingernail crescent of light

tipped like a shallow bowl

pours – what? – on the cold world

Here are the cracks in the earth,

where silent water has disappeared

into subterranean bunkers,

where the long shafts of engineers

have probed and penetrated,

sucking like the insatiable mosquitos

of parasitic cities.

Clouds scud across an iron sky and hide

my baby boy, kneeling in the dust to play,

rolling his marbles all around

over the swells and hollows of the ground,

marbles rolling out of reach and into cracks,

gone, one by one.  So much to lose.

So much to bruise.

Even in moonlight your eyes are clear,

a cloudless sky where I intently stare,

waiting for an honest portent.

But your focal point is forever shifting,

a reed in uneven winds.

Here is the endless ledger of our indecision.

These are the tumbleweeds under the bed.

These are marbles spilled like water over the earth.

This is the empty moon sinking slowly into the west.

Here is the balance.

It sort of blows my mind, reading that now, and thinking of the face of my beautiful little boy – my son – my joyful, dimpled, happy boy – and how different motherhood feels right now from how I felt about it then.

And yet…

I read this article this morning or last night, I can’t remember now, linked by Doctor Grumbles on FB, and I want to curl up and cry. What have I done to my beautiful boy? Here’s a quote: “… letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.”

When Illyria was 9 months old, we were doing the whole AP nine yards – co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, baby-wearing, and she started waking up every 45 minutes at night to nurse. I was losing my mind. I was also leaving her with a babysitter for about 5 hours a day so I could do PhD work – at the time I was preparing for my comprehensive exams. (I don’t know; perhaps these two roles truly are incommensurable – mother and student. Mother and anything else, really. Or maybe it’s because of electricity. Maybe if we truly lived as hunter-gatherers, we would be living in a manner commensurable with our biological hard-wiring. Maybe I and my children would be getting enough sleep.) Anyway, we turned in desperation to CIO. It… sort of worked. It worked temporarily. Travel undid it all, and we went back to co-sleeping until she was almost 2, when we discovered sort of by accident that she would fall asleep on her own and stay asleep all night if and only if she was left to do so alone in her room. She still falls asleep much more easily if she’s by herself.

Any time I’ve tried co-sleeping with Oscar, it’s been disastrous for me. I really only sleep well if Gimli handles all the night parenting. Right now, as he’s out of the country, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the two children all night and have been getting around 5 hours (not continuous, either) of sleep every night. With the grandparents here, I’ve been able to nap in the mornings while O naps which helps a lot. But still. We are so very, very far from being well-rested.

We’ve let O cry it out probably 5 or 6 times over the course of his life [*What I meant by this was not 5 or 6 isolated occasions, but 5 or 6 times when we’ve implemented a CIO structure for at least a week, until we ended up backsliding after things got better, or he started teething, or we went on a trip, or he got really sick] although I dragged my feet as long as possible in the face of Gimli’s insistence; by the third night he’s usually sleeping better, waking only once or twice. We go and check in on him after 10 minutes or so, 40 minutes at the longest. He is night weaned. But what damage am I doing to my beautiful boy? What have I done?

I just don’t know what to do. I don’t think there is a solution, really. I think that the only thing that would make a difference for us would be to move off the grid and live by the natural cycles of light and darkness, abandon our iPods and laptops, breathe fresh air and listen to the sound of the wind in the trees. But that’s not really an option at this juncture…

I don’t know. What do you think? I really want to know what you all think about this. I’ve read Sears, Weissbluth, Hogg, and Babywise. I’ve skimmed the No Cry Sleep Solution. I’m not really interesting in reading anything more, but I want to know what you personally think – if you have children, what have you done or tried? What do you believe is true about attachment? How did you arrive at that point of view? What has worked for you in practice?

The question at the root of all tension

December 12, 2011

I’m in a funk about my dissertation again. I was on fire, and then one de-railed day threw me off track.

It was bracketed by accidents, minor injuries. In the morning, when Dhurata arrived, I had succeeded in priming Illyria to be happy and excited about it, instead of her usual tears. When she heard the door, she ran to open it for D but pulled the heavy door open over her bare big toe, scraping off a dot of skin. She was so distraught that I couldn’t bring myself to leave, and instead suggested she take a bath so I could wash her hair. To my surprise, she acquiesced – and since I’d been itching to wash her hair for more than a week I opted to do that instead of going out. Later, after a thorough grooming (combing out her long hair, cutting her nails, cleaning her ears thoroughly), I took her with me grocery shopping, and then home for lunch and naps while Dhurata focused on Oscar. And that was our day. My day. My work day.

In the evening, as Dhurata prepared to leave, Illyria was spinning happily in circles with a wooden spoon in her hand, her long hair fanning out in a circle around her, when somehow she lost her balance and fell on the spoon. She shrieked in pain and leaped onto the couch, clutching herself between the legs.

It was terrifying to think – to imagine – where the end of the spoon might have gone – but I inspected her for injury and saw a red spot near what I think is called the ischium, if I recall my high school biology vocabulary correctly – the part of the pelvic bone that meets the chair when you are sitting upright. In other words, not the dramatic catastrophe that could have been, but much too close for comfort.

Gimli is always asking me why I’m so tense when we’re hanging out, the four of us. It’s worse in restaurants or public places like that, but even at home I’m rarely fully relaxed around the kids, unless they’re both sleeping, and even then I’m listening with one ear for the first one to cry out and wake up. It’s not just the constant vigilance against potential injuries – the random and unforeseen ones as much as the obvious and anticipatable – although that’s a big chunk of it. It’s the constant self-monitoring. Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now? I rely heavily on my routines to suppress this voice, although rhythm might be a better word than routine for how we move through our day. There are specific ticks of the clock that signal to me that it’s time to start thinking about the next beat of the day, and I never leave the house in the morning without a plan in place for lunch and supper. Gimli scoffs at me, finding it altogether unnecessary, but I need it. I’m thrown by small things – going to a new restaurant, for example. The menu, the space, the goodwill of the proprietors – all are unknowns and hold potential disasters: nothing the children will eat, plants or furniture for Oscar to destroy, steps to fall down, unfamiliar bathrooms where Illyria may wet her pants (I always pack spares but it’s still really stressful for both of us when she has an accident – though these are very rare now, and usually involve a misdirected stream from atop an adult-sized toilet).

It’s this question that is always fermenting in the back of my mind: Am I doing the right thing, right now? Am I doing it right? Am I a good mother?

Lull

December 8, 2011

I’ve been writing a lot, just not here. Last week I sat down for a couple hours and wrote 3,000 words on motherhood that I hope to cull from for some contemplative posts. Right now I’m really sleepy; Gimli is gone again, 2 weeks in Armenia followed by 24 hours at home followed by 5 days in Cypress. My in-laws arrive tomorrow; I’m pretty happy about that since Illyria has been broken-hearted about “Owl” (her nickname for Dad) not being here. I think it will help distract her and pass the time until he comes back.

So I’ve been on night duty again, putting Illyria down at 8:30 and then monitoring her until she falls asleep around 10:00. Oz has been waking up 3-4 times at night since he started on his eye teeth, and up for the day around 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. 7.5 hours (interrupted) is not cutting for me – luckily with Dhurata here three days a week I can catch a few naps.

It’s been raining – finally – and I’m getting all nostalgic looking back over the past year as we head into the Christmas season again.

Ugh. Too sleepy to type. Wondering if I can squeeze in a nap yet today.

Five years

December 2, 2011

I let the day slip past, but I just noticed that my five-year blogoversary was on Wednesday. Go me!