Month

January 2015

Doing What Matters

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My four year old has completely rocked the transition from only child to big sister. She loves her little sister and hasn’t seemed jealous of having to share mom’s attention at all, and is often content to entertain herself for periods of time now.

I think I got so used to her demanding my attention that it never occurred to me a time would come when she wouldn’t always ask for it. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still need it.

The evenings are busy. So are the days for that matter. And don’t even get me started on the mornings. We hit the ground running to get everyone fed and dressed and delivered to preschool on time. Evenings mean laundry to fold and dishes to do. Most evenings are like this but Wednesday’s in particular are busy. We have gymnastics in another town so by the time we get home it’s dinner time and everyone is exhausted. We have started the tradition of making that movie night: we shower before dinner and then snuggle on the couch and eat pizza and watch a movie. It helps everyone wind down before bed.

This last week I noticed how hard it has gotten to just sit down and uphold this tradition. When we get home now, in addition to bathing and feeding the oldest, I have to bathe and feed the little one, pump, and then cleanup the dinner dishes and sterilize bottles, and so on and so on. I was rolling through the motions when I realized I was missing one of the few times I actually set aside time to sit down and hold my oldest. My heart broke a little. Because I know better. The to do list can wait. She is what matters most. Sitting next to her and watching “Frozen” for the billionth time just so I can feel her small head on my chest for as long as she is willing to put it there.

There will always be laundry and dishes and bills and housework. But I only get these small, precious humans for a little while. I can’t even think about how much I’m going to miss these days when they’re gone because it already brings tears to my eyes. This is what matters. They are what matters. Snuggle dates on the couch and sitting next to her bed while she falls asleep and letting her crawl in between us in the mornings and playing my little ponies all day long. Anything that means I get to be present. With her. That’s the only work that matters.

Authenticity: Nature or Nurture?

 

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Yesterday I wrote a post about how our children reflect who we are. Today I found this quote on Facebook that reminded me of the same message, but it also brought to mind another topic.

This blog is centered around raising children to be authentic, or true to themselves. But what is their authentic self and where does it come from? Is it something that they are born with? A predestination toward a certain personality or way of being in the world? Or is it something that is created by their experiences and encounters? The classic debate: nature versus nurture.

I personally believe it’s a little of both. Because I’ve looked into the eyes of my children and other children and seen something there before they’ve had a chance for experience to put it there. Some children come into this world full of joy and wonderment. Others come in like they mean business. Still others like this is old hat for them. These characteristics will shape the way they interpret the world, and thus, who they are and who they are becoming.

But there’s no denying that experience changes us as well. Experiences that are out of our control: where we are born, who our parents are. The other day I was reading a book about the spread of polio and the evolution of the vaccine and I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I had been born here in a country where preventative medicine was available to me, not because I was grateful for my own good fortune but for the good fortune of my children. Any parent knows how awful it is to watch a child suffer, even just from a cold or flu virus. Imagine having to watch a child become paralyzed from a preventable illness simply because you don’t have access to the medicine. Circumstances change us. Period.

And our choices change us. So not only are our children being affected and changed by every experience, those experiences affect the choices they make which then lead to different experiences which will further shape them. I could choose to sit and watch tv all day or I could choose to read or I could choose to volunteer. Each of those choices will lead to experiences that will change who I am. Maybe not big drastic changes, but changes none the less. Not only will our perspectives and feelings and all the parts that make up our “authentic self” be impacted, but the actual physical makeup of our brain changes, a science referred to as neuroplasticity.

Bottom line: we are all constantly becoming who we are. The “authentic self” is not a fixed point we arrive at, but rather something that is constantly changing. Which means it’s not enough just to know ourselves in one moment; we must constantly be curious about and present with how we feel, what we believe, and what feels right and authentic to us.

Which brings us to the most important question of all: how do we reach our children to truly be authentic if their “authentic” changes every day?

Mirrors

 

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No one gives you clearer feedback on your parenting than your children. More times than I can count, I’ve heard my oldest speak in a certain way or say something in particular and it is like watching myself in a mirror. I’m not talking about family resemblance; I mean the way I lecture her on the importance of listening or my tone of voice when I’m angry. Usually, it’s the things I’m not so proud of that I find reflecting back at me.

Tomorrow is her day to bring snack to preschool, so today we were separating her choice of cheezits and grapes into individual snack baggies for each of her classmates. She did great with the cheezits, but lost stamina when it came to the grapes. Of course, that was at the same time her baby sister needed to eat and only minutes before her dad was scheduled to pick her up. “Come on, Lex. Get this finished. You can get these done, just sit down and do it. You’re old enough to help with this,” I coached (repeatedly) until it was finished.

When we were finally done she headed out to play in the back yard until her dad arrived. I left the screen door open so I could keep an ear on her. It didn’t take long until her play turned into a very loud lecture during which the dog was being scolded to “get to work” and “help out” and “get it done”.

Sigh.

I called her to the door and asked “Did you feel like I was lecturing you about making snack?” Bless her heart, she seemed surprised at the question and responded that no, she hadn’t. But just because she didn’t realize it doesn’t mean it escaped my awareness.

“Let’s both work on asking for help a little more nicely, ok?” I suggested. And she happily skipped back to her game. And I sat at the table contemplating just how many different ways I treat her or respond in a certain tone and then I scold her for exhibiting the same behavior. I expect her to be patient and kind and thoughtful and polite, but am I always those things? The answer is obvious. Of course I’m not.

The discomfort of seeing your own traits that could use some improvement in your child makes this a profound lesson; one I will keep learning over and over again. But there is a brighter side to this: every time she brings me a special gift, a token of her love or “something to remember me of her”, every time she responds with overwhelming gratitude or offers a small kindness to another, every time she marvels at the magic of the moon or the sunset or sings a song she just made up at the top of her lungs or let’s her imagination run wild… Those are reflections of me, too.

None of us are perfect, but in my eyes she is wonderfully, perfectly human. Can I offer the reflection in the mirror the same kind of grace?

Sharing

 

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We are a blended family. Lexi’s dad and I parted ways right after her 2nd birthday. It was hard, it always is, especially with kids. At the time I felt like we would be better parents to her apart than together, and since “what if”s don’t really do anything, that’s what I still believe. We get along better now, and it feels good to be working together to parent her.

Sharing time with her has always been hard. As a mother, to send my kid somewhere else two evenings per week and every other weekend feels so strange. But I tell myself it is about what’s best for her. She loves going to her dad’s. She loves coming to our house. She loves that she gets to be with both of us. And he is a good dad; he deserves to have time with her.

When we found out we were pregnant, that was one of the first things I began to think about. How will I have one of my children all the time and one of them part of the time? How will Lexi handle it?

The truth is, I don’t know. We talk about how some people’s parents live together and other people’s live apart. We talk about all the people who love her and how lucky she is. When she misses one of us, we FaceTime each other. One step at a time, one moment at a time, we do the best we can with whatever situation or feelings we encounter.

And it’s hard. It’s harder now because I’m exhausted and I’m constantly feeding Harper or changing her and I don’t feel like I’m giving the same amount of attention to Lexi.

Two weeks ago we were in the hospital. It was her weekend with her dad, but she came to visit every day. Last weekend she was with us, and then this week she was with us all week because her dad was sick. So today was the first day I had to send her to his house for the weekend. Harper was fussy all day so before I knew it he was here to pick her up, and I felt like I hadn’t had enough snuggles or hugs or giggles… I felt like I had hardly spent any time with her all day and now she was leaving. And even though I’m exhausted and quite frankly could use the break, my heart still breaks every time I have to let her go.

Maybe it’s practice for a lifetime of letting her go. Deep in my heart, I’m so proud to share her with the world. But it doesn’t make sharing her any easier.

Just Like That

Have you ever noticed how many times in a woman’s life that she becomes someone completely different in just a moment’s time? I suppose everyone has these kinds of sudden identity changes. But as a woman I am noticing how frequent and profound they can be.

It’s been a crazy year. My life has turned upside down. When I think about where I was a year ago, I’m blown away by how different my life is. One moment I am single, and a short ceremony later I am married, complete with a whole new name. Have you ever thought about how profound it is to become someone new, a whole new signature, drivers license, and identity just like that? I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Who is this new person?” How could I know yet? After all, I had just met her. She didn’t even exist until now.

And then one little white stick and two little blue lines and I went from being a woman to being a pregnant woman. Everything about the way I was treated, the way I treated my body, and the way I thought about myself changed, just like that.

Fast forward nine months and in an instant I went from being a pregnant woman to being a mother, from a mom of one to a mom of two. Everything changed: the way other people treated me, the way I identified with my body, how I felt and acted and thought about everything changed. Just like that.

One day I was a Professional Development Coordinator. I loved my job and the people I worked with. Then all of a sudden I wasn’t. Then I was a massage therapist. And then, at some moment that is hard to pinpoint, I became a stay at home mom. What does that even mean? When you fill out your child’s paperwork at the doctor’s office and they ask for employment, what do you write? I know deep in my heart that devoting this time to my children is the right and authentic choice for me and my family. Choosing to stay at home doesn’t feel like losing a piece of myself. Until I’m staring at that blank line. And then I don’t know.

All of these changes are profound, life-altering, identity-shifting changes. The kind of changes where you become someone completely different, just like that. Aren’t those kinds of things supposed to take time? Shouldn’t you have to work at it?

And then as a mom, a mom with the intention of raising authentic children, I have to wonder, what kind of changes like that does my child face? She became a big sister in a moment. She will become a kindergartener in a moment. What can I do to support her?

Or maybe the more important question is, what can I learn by watching her navigate these transitions? What will it teach me about who she is? Because isn’t that the point? Not to impose my way of “coping” on her, but instead to help her discover a way that works for her? Perhaps the best thing we can do as parents is to chose “discovering” over “knowing” every chance we get. Because every time she goes through one of those big life shifts, both the ones I can see and the ones I can’t, she will have become someone completely new. Just like that.

And then I get to discover her all over again.

Harper Claire

 

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Ever since I had Lexi, I knew I would have another daughter. She would have dark hair and green eyes (an odd combination to my blonde-haired, brown-eyed oldest child). I didn’t know anything else, but I knew she would exist. And I’d name her Harper.

When I found out I was pregnant, part of me knew it was time, but another part of me couldn’t believe that what I had always believed could be coming true. I was hesitant to label this baby as Harper or get my hopes up. We talked about other names and stayed open to the possibilities.

At the twenty week ultrasound, the tech confirmed what I already knew. It was a baby girl. From that moment on, she was always my Harper.

My little eight pound one ounce miracle came into the world on January 9th at 7:51 am, a few minutes before sunrise. She let her presence be known before the doctor even had her all the way out. The first time I laid eyes on her I felt like I had met the love of my life all over again. When they put her on my chest, she wrapped her little hand around my finger and stayed that way all the way to the recovery room.

We named her Harper Claire. Claire means “clear and bright” and that’s what I see for her. She is so sweet it almost hurts, but she is also strong, with a quiet fierceness about her. Lexi has big, big energy. She is a force to be reckoned with. Harper’s energy is quiet but it is fierce. She will be a good match for her sister.

Life is such a miracle. Children teach us that every day. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out what is mine to do in this lifetime. I always expected my work in the world to be work. And there will be other work. But when I look at these two little humans that I’ve been given to care for and raise into this crazy world, I think that helping them discover and be who they are meant to be will be the most important work I ever do. They will be my greatest art, the best thing I have already given to the world.

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Let It Be a Miracle

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Have you ever heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman? The theory states that people have different ways of giving and receiving love, and that in order to truly perform the act of loving someone, you should discover their “love language” and use that language in order to make them truly feel loved.

The five different identified love languages are gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. So if someone’s love language is quality time, they feel most loved when someone intentionally spends quality time with them. It’s also probably how that person offers love to others. People often have more than one, but their is usually one that is dominant over the others.

The work was originally designed for couples, but one of my favorite applications is with children. Do you know the language in which your child gives and receives love? Do you make it a point to speak that language?

Lexi’s love language is words of affirmation. She’s always been very verbally inclined, and she likes to talk about being loved and being praised. Her second would be gifts. It’s common for her to bring “very special” trinkets… A sticker or a coin or a picture…and offer it as a sacred token of love.

Harper will be two weeks old tomorrow. One might think that more of a child’s personality might have to be discovered in order to truly pinpoint something like a love language, but with this kiddo it is more than clear. Her love language is physical touch.

Now, I get that that’s the case for many infants. Without an understanding of words or gifts or time, it’s almost the default. But this girl takes it to a whole new level. As soon as you run a gentle hand over her cheek or down her back, she instantly lets out a huge sign of relief and relaxes, head back and mouth open, into a state of bliss.

As I was sitting here tonight snuggling her and giving her a mini back rub, it occurred to me that one of the unique things about my pregnancy with her was how often I was compelled to rub my belly. Every time a little foot or rump would poke out of my side, I run my hands over my belly. My mom even commented how much more I was doing it than I had when I was pregnant with Lexi.

Maybe it’s that I’m older, that I was more capable of appreciating the miracle happening inside me. Maybe she remembers all my belly rubbing and that’s why she loves it so much. Or maybe she craved it even before she was born and mommy instinct kicked in. Like the way you crave milk when your body needs calcium or you get thirsty when your body needs hydrated. Wouldn’t that be a miracle? To consider that the connection between mom and baby could even be so strong before birth that I am compelled to do the thing she craves?

Who knows what it could be. But I know that two single cells inside my body transformed into sweet little tufts of dark hair and two bright blue eyes and ten tiny fingers that wrapped around one of mine just minutes after she was born. I created a life. I brought a soul into this world. And when you think about it like that, it’s hard not to see everything as a miracle.

The Next Phase

 

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Nine months of waiting. Nine months of wondering. What will she be like? How will her sister handle the change? How different will life really be? Nine months of worry. What if something goes wrong? Nine months of preparing. Nine months of blog post ideas lining up in my brain and never getting them all written out. Nine months of researching: clothe diapers, organic formula, chemical free baby lotion, and on and on. Nine months of planning and planning and planning.

And then one day nine months is over, just like that. In an instant, everything is different. The center of your universe shifts from one point to two different points. It defies logic and reason.

And then come the growing pains. Sleep changes, eating changes, showering changes, morning routine and lunch routine and bedtime routine changes. And it’s good and it’s beautiful and it’s hard.

And it’s hard to find the time to write it out. But I think it matters. As I navigate this new change from one to two, from working mom to mom, I think it matters more than ever.

Conveniently (ha), circumstances are as such that I am sitting hooked up to a pump like a milk cow every three hours throughout the day. After the first week of initial haze, it occurred to me that that might offer the perfect opportunity to get back to the blog. Thus begins my new series of “dairy diaries”. (Just kidding. 🙂 But seriously.) So for the next several months, please be forgiving of the oddities of mobile posting. 🙂

It’s good to be back.