Tuesday, May 29, 2012

baby number two?

Fooled ya!  Don't have anything to announce.  Baby G #2 is still just a twinkle in our eyes and is nowhere near materializing in reality.  But I have noticed that several friends and acquaintances, with babies both a bit older and a bit younger than Vicki Jo, are expecting their next additions.  And while I'm so happy for each of them and I think the world will be enriched by more of their offspring, it just makes me feel so . . . unready.

While I still look back at the haze that surrounded Vicki's earliest days and wonder what exactly happened, things have gotten a lot better.  She is, of course, a baby, and so she demands near-constant attention and monitoring both for her safety and for her entertainment.  But she can play by herself for a little while.  She can eat some snacks on the floor while I get dinner ready and wash the dishes.  She can sleep on her own all night long (sometimes.  Except when we are having a bizarre sleep regression unrelated to anything except the days getting longer?).  She only nurses once or twice a day, and just to reconnect herself with her home base.

But I have yet to go a full week without some sort of major meltdown about her sleep, her growth, her development, her personality, my skills as a mother, or all of the above.  God surely sent me this baby to learn some very serious lessons about the world and about myself.  Adding another soul into that mix?  I just don't think so.  I foresee some rank Sylvia Plath-like behavior in my future if that were the case.

I still get those horrendous BabyCenter updates that say things like "How to get your child to like having his teeth brushed!" and "Is your baby still not speaking in phrases?  When to get concerned."  This last one was full of more fear-mongering, this time about child spacing.  They quoted some statistic that children born less than one year after the birth of their older sibling are at higher risk for autism, but that children born more than five years after the birth of their older sibling are also at higher risk.  What!?  

It got me thinking:  I wonder if there is some sort of optimal child spacing for the health of mother and babies?  Naturally, I found an article all about it on one of my favorite websites.  It claims that three years is the best (and most traditional) spacing for the mother to restore her health and reserves of nutrients, etc, to grow, birth, and nurse another baby. 

Is it true?  I'm not sure how it can proved, except anecdotally.  I do hear people say a lot of times that they just want to get the baby-creating done with.  Have babies, then have kids, then have adults.  Don't drag it out.  I think of my own mama, who had at least one child at home to look after for twenty-seven years.  Is it any wonder I was largely left to my own devices?  She was exhausted!

I had always pictured a little steps-and-stairs family where we had four children, two years apart.  I also thought 26 would be the perfect age to start.  I was just barely 26 when Vicki Jo was born (my birthday falls 12 days before hers).  So I bought myself a little extra time in my scheme.  If I want to be 28 when Baby #2 enters the world, we still have a whole year to even consider it.  But this kind of arithmetic is crazy-making.  There are so many factors.  Will our bodies cooperate?  Will our jobs and finances allow another life?  It is the "right" time?  (I learned the first time around that if I wait for the "right" time, we'll never have a child.)

One of the mothers from our Bradley birth class (now playgroup) visited her midwife to talk about conceiving another child.  The midwife's advice was to start "making room" in their family's life for another child.  Literally:  designate a space for the new baby in the house.  Make a mental space for the demands of another newborn.  Make a space in your heart for the baby that will need all of it for a period of time.  Make room in your career for big changes.  Make room in your marriage for another creation. 

Such poignant words.  And they make me realize that we just don't have the space right now.  (Watch - now I'll come back in two weeks and tell you we're expecting.  Ha!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

three . . . it's the magic number

Without going into any details, this has been a hard year.  Many ups, more downs.  We're still standing, facing forward together.  This year will bring new adventures, as they always do.  May 23 was our third anniversary.  We have grown in many ways since we first met in late May of 2003.  I pray that we will continue to do so for years to come.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

i have a late bloomer

There.  I said it.  And I don't care who knows.  My baby does things slow.  She does them at her own pace.  And I'm tired of second-guessing about it, and wondering whether my intuition is off, and wondering whether she has x-y-z chromosomal defect that is causing her to not crawl on all fours or whatever skill she is currently not doing as well as any other baby in the world, apparently.

She gets an A+ for ridiculous cuteness, though.

People mean well.  At least I want to think the best of humanity, so I don't think they're trying to cause me pain when they say, "She is SO SMALL!  She is STILL CRAWLING?  She is NOT WALKING?  She only has SIX TEETH?"  They just want something to say.  Kind of like when you're pregnant and they tell you look like a house.  (Actually there's no excuse for that.)  And I'm in a profession where a lot of people are invited to give their input into my life constantly.  I can't claim that I didn't know it came with the territory. 

Truly, I think she wasn't ready to be born when she was forced out.  I think she would have gestated for several more weeks, maybe even a month.  She has been working out of that unreadiness since the beginning. 

She gained weight very slowly, and is still quite petite.  I went through months of darkness, believing it was my fault for not giving her sufficient breastmilk.  But even now, when she eats plenty of all kinds of nutritious, nutrient-dense foods, she is small.

I begged and pleaded for advice on Facebook when she wouldn't hold her head up well, screaming and struggling her way through tummy time.  I still feel guilt and sadness about forcing her into that situation.  Again, well-meaning people told me to seek my doctor's advice, to get a second opinion, to see a physical therapist.  (To my doctor's credit, she was never alarmist and always told me to give it more time.)

She stubbornly refused to crawl, instead figuring out her own system of scooting on her bottom.  She finally tipped forward and onto her belly in her twelfth month.  She slithers throughout the house now.  She is remarkably quick and efficient with it.

Her first tooth finally emerged, sharp and white and pearly, the week before she turned one. 

And now, nearly fourteen months, she shows no signs of walking and even dislikes being held up to stand. 

If one more person asks me if I am concerned about this, I may drop the good-natured facade. 

There is nothing wrong with my child.  Of course, I am her mother, so I am allowed to think that she is perfect and flawless in every way.  I realize that she has issues, as does every person.  She can be temperamental.  She is demanding.  She is a baby.  That's part of the deal.  We don't use the expression "you're acting like a baby" for no reason.

No, nothing wrong with my baby . . . except that she runs against all that it is to be American.  We want things fast, huge, and responsive.  We want what we want at the second we want it.  We want plump, physically strong babies to remind us that we are the dominant culture of the world, with the hope that future generations will continue this trend.  I am as guilty as the next person of falling into this trap.  Slowness is weakness.  Smallness is vulnerability. 

I had a crazy thought as she and I lay together in bed this morning.  What if she develops slowly all her life?  That is to say, what if she doesn't develop into a woman until late in her teens?  (My mother didn't.)  What if she ages slowly and gracefully?  What if she doesn't become ill and die until later than everyone else in her cohort?  Wouldn't that be nice?

So if you're a mama who is worrying herself sick about why her baby won't do whatever everyone else in the playgroup has been doing with ease for months . . . give yourself some grace.  You haven't done anything wrong.  You have a baby who is teaching you what it is to wait and observe.  That is currently very unpopular.  But you don't want a baby just like everyone else's, do you?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

on having it all

This photograph from the cover of TIME magazine seems to have provoked a bit of a windstorm of criticism and support.  I am not so shocked by a photo of a mother breastfeeding her child, but what did give me pause was the label of "attachment parenting" applied to that.  Extended breastfeeding is just one small aspect (and certainly not a mandatory one!) of raising your child in a certain atmosphere.  The question plastered across the front ("Are You Mom Enough?") brings to mind all sorts of hurtful comparisons women make between themselves and others. 

Additionally, I got sucked into this cycle of short opinion pieces from the New York Times the other day.  It was fascinating for me to see these different women, some of them famous, of different age groups and professions, talking about what constitutes appropriate practices for motherhood, career, and feminism. 

I thought about whether I would call myself a "feminist."  I work for a living, supplying well over half our family's income plus insurance, pension, and other benefits.  I don't just work because I have to, though.  I love my profession and feel called to it.  I recognize that women still face reduced pay simply because of their sex, and so I try as hard as I can to be a responsible, committed, ethical pastor, so that I help create a positive reputation for female professionals. 

Interestingly, I was called to ministry before I was called to motherhood.  Both calls will remain with me for a lifetime.  For me, it's not a matter of saying, "The job will only last as long as I work, but motherhood will last forever."  Both of these things I'm doing are imprinted on my heart.  It's not "just a job" for me, any more than it's "just a baby."   

I want more children, for sure.  I always dreamed of four.  Don't know how far we will get in that vein, but definitely one more!  And if I can't get pregnant again, we will begin the adoption process without a second thought.  The thought of a big, boisterous family with every seat belt occupied and a big pile of shoes at the front door has always been lurking in the back of my mind.  I do know that if we have more children, there will be a time when it makes more financial sense for me to stay at home with them than to work and pay for their care.

Not only do I love ministry and motherhood, I love homemaking.  I love cooking, cleaning (don't tell anyone!), sewing, caring for our pet, managing our family budget, baking and preserving.  I'm a real homebody at heart, and I like to stick close to the homestead and take pride in it. 

So, loving and cherishing all of these things, where does that leave me on the feminism scale?  I think where it leaves me is overwhelmed by the abundance of choices I have in my life.  And that is a huge benefit, one for which I owe an enormous "THANK YOU" to the women who went before.  I truly feel that I have the opportunity to "have it all."  I can be a mother, a professional, a wife, a fulfilled individual.

I think it's more important than we ever realize to acknowledge the circumstances from which we came (the ones we had no control over).  Whether we choose to follow the patterns our parents set for us, or diverge from them sharply, those patterns control our behavior in ways that are beyond mere choice.  My mom worked.  She was an accountant, and it fit her tiny, tight script and detail oriented personality to a tee.  She was also a stay at home mom.  My warmest, most comforting memories come from the time when she stayed home with me after my brother and sister went to school.  It was just me and Mom, all day every day.  My mom won the Betty Crocker Award (this was a serious thing) in her high school every year.  She was a phenomenal cook and I remember making huge slabs of cinnamon roll dough, sprinkling on raisins, and rolling them up together.

And yet, Mom was tired.  "Having it all" usually left her passed out on the couch before Johnny Carson.  (I also knew a different, more middle-aged Mom than my brother and sister.  She had me when she was 33, and when my brother was almost 10!)  She was notorious for "just shutting her eyes for a few seconds," and waking up in the morning in the same spot.  She was frequently stressed, usually overworked, and sometimes on a short fuse.  We all knew to tiptoe around her moods on a bad day. 

Back when I was about to graduate from college, I made a list of my lifetime aspirations.  It's still on little yellow sticky notes inside one of my journals. 

For the ripe old age of 27, I have actually accomplished quite a few of these!

I spent a year teaching.  I'd love to become a teacher again someday.  I've told you all about my mishap with the Peace Corps.  I'd love to go as a volunteer with Jeff after our children are grown.  I have graduated from Divinity School.  I write very frequently, whether it is sermons or stories or articles.  My participation in the Creative Writing Program was not wasted.  And of course I minister now, on a daily basis. 

And yet.  And yet there is so much more still to be done, to be lived.  I want to go back to school and get my doctorate.  I want to pastor all different kinds of churches.  I want to have more children, like I said.  I want to own a working farm where we can grow our own food.  To "have it all," with all the options I have been given, would take me four lifetimes or more. 

I heard from my grandma:  "You can have it all, but not all at once."  Hogwash, thought my young self.  My 27-year-old self now says Yeah you were probably right

I'm not sure exactly what I wanted to say in this post, except that I think that many people my age feel overwhelmed by choices and thus become paralyzed, in essence choosing inaction.  Sixty years ago, there may have been three choices of laundry soap.  Probably none of the three worked as well as what we have now, but you didn't stand in the aisle at Target for thirty minutes weighing the options. 

Sixty years ago, a woman did not have the kind of access and options that I have.  I don't want to forfeit that, and yet life demands more simplicity.  So am I a feminist? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

trays and baskets

I have often thought that you can tell a Montessori enthusiast by how excited they get seeing baskets and trays.  The idea of presenting materials and activities to a child on a special, delineated space appeals to her sense of order and helps her see how it all fits together.  I'm always on the lookout for cheap, natural, beautiful baskets and trays to organize Vicki Jo's things. 

There has been an estate sale happening down the block from our sitter since Wednesday.  We are moving into our first house (!!! Much more on this later!) and the large dining table we have will no longer be suitable for the small eat-in kitchen.  At the sale, I found a perfect, scratchless, solid walnut table with three drop-in leaves.  It was too costly, but I swung by this morning on a whim, to see if it was still there.  It was, and . . . everything is half off today!  So I bought the table, and also these two trays.  Can't wait to put them to use!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

cinco de mayo!

I've only been to Austin, TX once, and I loved it.  It was when I officiated at my best friend's Amanda's brother's wedding. 

We went to the flagship Whole Foods while we were there and it had lots of more-authentic Mexican food (being closer to the border).  They had aguas frescas of all kinds:  watermelon, raspberry, pineapple, mango, orange, lemon.  It's basically fruit puree mixed with lemon or lime and water.  Ever so slightly viscous, it's like a melted smoothie over ice.  

We had a crazy party for Cinco de Mayo tonight.  The baby and I went to Target and Chipotle.  It was over by 7:00.  We got our CSA basket earlier this afternoon, and more of those glorious strawberries from last week!  It's been hot as the dickens, so a nice cool drink incorporating the berries sounded perfect.  I remembered Austin, and the Whole Foods, and the aguas frescas, and smiled.  I had picked up a lime at the Farmer's Market earlier!  Perfect.

I adapted this from a Nourished Kitchen recipe I got as part of the meal plan I subscribe to.

Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca
1 lb strawberries, hulled and halved
3 T honey
3 C water
2 limes, plus lime wedges for garnish

Puree strawberries and honey in a blender.  Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove strawberry seeds.  Whisk strawberry puree with water and the juice of two limes.  (I measured the water into the blender and whizzed it to remove the last bits of puree in there.)  Serve over ice and garnish with a lime wedge.  Serves 4.  I also know suspect it might be good with a shot of rum.

parents as teachers

One of the things I love about my great home state of Kansas is the support offered to parents.  One program offered to anyone who applies, free of charge, is called Parents as Teachers.  All I had to do was call and give some information about our family and be placed on their list.  The one downside was that if you don't call by the time the child is six months old, it's unlikely that you will be able to start the program.  In Parents as Teachers, a parent educator makes a monthly home visit to discuss your child's development, make observations, give suggestions, and help you think of toys and activities to do with your young one that need not cost anything.  And this is all for standardly-developing children - the supports and early interventions offered for children with any delays are even better!!

Tennessee, where we are moving in just a few weeks, just doesn't have this awesome program (methinks because in Kansas, it is funded from tobacco settlement money.  In Tennessee, tobacco is still one of the largest cash crops!).  It does have the Dolly Parton book-a-month program, which is pretty amazing.  But nothing like Parents as Teachers. 

Sandy, a retired teacher and my parent educator, made a visit on Thursday.  She is always so encouraging and reassuring about any worries that I'm having.  We talked for the better part of an hour, and then she showed me this fine-motor activity to do with Vicki Jo.  We were both impressed that she has the coordination, perception, and pincer to do the smaller one!

As you can see, this is a kind of size- and shape-sorting activity.  The large bottle is from juice, the smaller one from water.  The blue tube is a travel toothbrush container and the small wooden things are old-fashioned clothespins.  Sandy gave me all these materials, but I estimate you could put this activity together yourself for about five dollars.

Vicki Jo wanted to work on this material for forty minutes this morning!  Her concentration was admirable.  She kept filling up the bottles and then asking me to dump them so she could do it again.  It reminded me of the Montessori concept of "the match."  Finding that magical activity for your child that is perfectly at the edge of their developmental level; challenging enough to keep them interested, but also accomplishable, so they feel encouraged by their progress.  I think we found it!  This also made me think she may be ready for a coin slot activity, where I cut a slit in the top of a plastic-lidded container and give her something small like poker chips to poke through.  She may even be ready for multiple-shape sorting!

One thing that troubles me about Montessori is that sometimes it can seem overly focused on the materials, and a little fussy.  And I start to think, "If I can't do it perfectly, should I even be doing it at all?"  And, if I don't have the money to buy a fancy set of materials, will the method do any good?  This activity showed me that the heart of the philosophy is observing the child, offering simple and straightforward work, and allowing them to grow in their confidence and independence through accomplishment.  Just the reassurance I needed this morning!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

witchy woman

[This post submitted to "Your Green Resource" at SortaCrunchy.]

My mom's dad was a pharmacist.  He owned the McNitt Drug Store in Ulysses, Kansas.  My mom and uncle worked the soda fountain when they were teenagers.  Eventually, they sold the store and we were left with boxes upon boxes of fountain glasses, glass-front pharmacy displays, and the dish sets my grandparents got as part of subcriptions for selling certain drugs (an early iteration of drug-rep perks, I guess!). 

In our medicine cabinet, two reminders of Granddad as a pharmacist were bottles of gentian violet and witch hazel.  I never remember using the violet (except when I dropped it on the newly-redone bathroom floor and saw my mom hang her head and cry for the first time).  But I do remember the witch hazel.  We used it all the time, especially for cleaning out our ears. 

Witch hazel is a shrub that has natural astringent properties, helping to contract blood vessels under the skin it comes in contact with.  I had previously been using Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Toner to clean my face at night before bed.  (In the morning I use the oil cleanse method.)  Take a look at the ingredients in this bad boy: 

I don't know what PEG-4 is, but it sounds scary.  Time to make a switch.  I remembered the witch hazel from the medicine cabinet of my youth, thought fondly of Grandpa Bill, and picked up a bottle at Target for about $1.95.  The makeup of this is much more benign:

It does contain alcohol, which some people find to be drying to their skin.  I have found harsh cleansers to be the problem in my case, and once I switched to oil cleansing, I haven't had a problem with dryness or flakiness at all.

So far, the results are great!  Skin feels smooth, clean and fresh in the morning.  It's much, much cheaper than the Neutrogena product I was using before.  And I can rest assured that it has no strange chemical ingredients or artificial fragrances.  That's how I went from this:

To this: