Monday, May 14, 2012

vicissitude – a fluctuation of state or condition; AKA “ups & downs”

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we went to one of our family’s favorite places – a local park complete with majestic waterfalls. It was a gorgeous day to be outside – smelling the sweet spring air, hearing the rushing water and the passing birds, alternatively feeling the cold sandstone and a warm park bench.

Steps up the hill (with some of our favorite kids)
Five years ago, I walked the 81 steps down to the river shoreline, climbed 70 steps up the overlooking hill, down the steps/hill, and back up to the car hoping to encourage the baby who shared my body to move toward independence. Less than 24 hours later, he obliged.

Much like that the steps I took that day, parenthood has been a journey filled with both ups and downs. I’ve embraced moments when I can’t imagine life without these wonderful beings, and the curiosity and excitement that they bring to seemingly mundane tasks (we watched a spider render a web-captured centipede comatose for at least 10 minutes yesterday :)). I’ve weathered moments when I’m SO scared of the possibility of scarring them that I question how any benevolent power could’ve entrusted ME, a person who has trouble remembering if the dog’s been fed, with their survival and livelihood (fortunately, my kids have no problem reminding me if they’re hungry).

Some of my proudest parental moments (the “ups”) appear when least expected. For example, when over breakfast, Caiden spontaneously reminds me that “if Barbie were alive, she couldn’t actually stand up because her feet are too small and her chest is too big. She couldn’t be real.” Or after a family Christmas celebration, Kepler is so content and happy that he gleefully announces that “Santa doesn’t need to come, Mom. We’ve already got enough.” Situations like these remind me of the privilege we get, imparting our values on these young, spongey beings.

Climbing up in the Badlands
Subsequently, I’ve also recognized that sometimes – despite best intentions – I fail to convey the very values that I desperately want to model and share. How can I convey the importance of being present and enjoying the moment, when we’re rushing from one activity to the next? (“Get your shoes on; we NEED to GO!”) How successfully have I shared the need to demonstrate compassion for one another when my oldest is overheard telling his little brother that his feelings don’t matter (“C’mon, Kep. Stop worrying about that. Get your shoes on; we NEED to GO!”).

Despite these and many other parental “lows,” perhaps it’s useful to see these as a different form of teachable moment – one that doesn’t rely on a forced conversation about topics such as the unfair standards that media place on appearance (see above citation about Barbie… :)). Instead, these are moments to show our children the merit of being sincerely apologetic. We demonstrate that we make mistakes and go through processes to recover from them. We celebrate successes, and each other. We recognize hurt, and the importance of requesting forgiveness. Actively experiencing both highs and lows allows them to understand that change is the only consistency in life. Progressing through changes together provides a foundation to build their self-assurance so that they can navigate life’s vicissitudes with confidence.

Monday, May 7, 2012

3 Reasons to Stay in Bed and 3 Reasons to Breathe and Get Up Anyway. (In that Order)

In my web reading lately, I've been noticing how fond I am of reading lists: 5 Things Not to Say to Divorced Moms, The Ten Things You Won't Hear at Commencement, Ten Things to Cook in a Muffin Tin. I love these lists, they are so fun to read. I love finally getting to the Number One Thing not to say to a divorced mother, that I won't hear at graduation or I could cook in a muffin tin, and feel such a sense of satisfaction. In fact, I love it so much that I decided I'm going to do the same, as I do so enjoy a good list, especially now, in my most busy time of year. So. Here you go: 3 things that bug me about being a Mom and 3 things that keep me trying to be a bit better at it each day:

3. Things Only Stay Clean As Long As I Never Sit Down. Ever. Not Even to Pee.

First, I realize that my children have Youthful Tendency Disorder in ways that are noisy, loud and sticky, and have mostly made peace with it. We have messes. We clean up messes. Even when eating lettuce, we make crumbs. In light of this, we have designated eating areas so we don't attract rodents. Mostly, it works out. I remember reveling in my mess making ability as a child, and want my children to experience that same joy. If they want to make their tree house in the sappiest tree in the yard, I'll be there with the peanut butter. It they want to play in the sandbox naked, well then, I'll be there to hose them down. If the littlest wants to see if her belly button can "chew" a blueberry, I'll be there to give her a bath. After all, this is what I signed up for. It is my part of the Mama/child contract: they explore, I provide healthy snacks and a hose. Most days, we do quite well.

Really, it's the bath that gives me trouble. Sometimes, when I'm at the end of my sap un-sticking, sand-washing, blueberry belly button day, I'm ready for a bath myself. I'm tired. I walk in and I find what's pictured above. The water is cold, sandy and sappy and the bathroom smells faintly of peanut butter. Do I clean it? Do I cry? Do I take a shower upstairs and hope My Love finds this mess and takes responsibility for it as it was created by the children that we together have made? Do I go sit on the hammock with a glass of wine? (PS, I don't have a hammock and there has been no wine in the house for over a month--this is just me in my Hollywood Movie Version of my Life Moment.) The thing I know about being a parent but still don't like is that I can't have it all. I can't have a sappy, sandy, blueberry day where the kids go to bed tired, satisfied, curiosity quelled,  and still have a clean bathroom. Sadly, I still want both. I haven't made peace with this contradiction of parenting and I am just here, in the messy bathroom in my damp robe. And I'm a bit mad about it. This is one thing I had hoped I would have figured out by now, almost a decade into being a parent. It turns out, I have not.

2. Seriously, how much plastic does one American kid actually need to own?
I don't like all the plastic that has come into my life since having kids.Specifically, I don't like the little plastic toys that come at every event or meal aimed at children.  I don't like that they're cheap. I don't like that they were made a continent and an ocean away and then shipped here. Can you imagine all the energy it took to make it, box it, put it on a truck, put it in a boat, take it off the boat, put it in a truck, take it to a distribution center, put it in another truck and get it to a store so that I could tell my child "No. You can't have that"?  And still, with all of my vigilance, they somehow find their way into my house. I don't like that they clutter my house until I step on them. I don't like that after I step on them and surreptitiously throw them away, they go in the landfill. I don't like that an archeologist 200 years from now is going to piece together my life by the abundance of plastic lizards and wind-up hopping bumble bees that they found in the excavation site that was the land fill.
I feel that there must be a better way for my kids' need for fun to be met and for the planet not to choke itself off with little breakable wind up toys or plastic lizards. Since becoming a parent, I find myself daily trying to stave off the deluge of plastic matter that is trying to sneak its way into my home and frankly, I think it needs to stop. I promise that the next gift  or party favor I give your child will be a book. Or a leaf. Or a dandelion. Or a piece of origami. I promise that it won't be made in a sweatshop a continent and an ocean away. Will you promise me the same?  Please?

1. The boys' part of the toy store has the Circuit Set. The girl's side, the dolls. 
I know. Your feminist buzzer is going off. Some of you enjoy when your feminist buzzer goes off. Others of you are not so comfortable with it. All I'm going to say is this:  Let's mix it up a little. I want my Boy to be able to cook and change a diaper and I want my Girls to understand how a circuit works or how to make a potato alarm clock. Must it all be so specific?  I realize I can certainly purchase my daughters a circuit set  and my son a doll (and I have done both), but I am still troubled that all of the science toys are coded for boys and all of the cooking and care-taking toys are for girls. Some of the kindest, tenderest people I know are people who know how a circuit works and how to cook a chicken. I want more of those people in the world so that they can figure out what on earth we're going to do with all the broken wind-up toys and plastic lizards that we've brought over from China only to throw in the trash.

And now, lest you think that all I can do is complain, here are my three most favorite things about being a Mama:

3. I've learned to do an awful lot. 
Pizza Crusts
I can make homemade pizza crusts in bulk so my family will not starve should I be late. I can knit.  I'm keeping worms alive so they can eat the lettuce we don't remember to eat. I'm keeping the lawn alive while not using herbicides that my grandchildren will one day have to drink. I grew my garden from wee little seeds. When the children were smaller, I could have one in the sling and do just about anything else. Once, I climbed a tree with one in the sling, and one in the belly, to rescue the One in the Tree.
True, there are many moments when I think I'm not doing it well enough, but looking back, I've learned an awful lot from this whole mothering gig. Like, for instance, not to let your three year old climb a tree while your 18 month old is napping in your lap and you are pregnant with the third. Also, how to make pasta and tandem nurse. But really, the big lesson I'm just now learning is this: If I want to have more patience, I need to sit down more. Truly, the more I sit, rest and breathe, the nicer I am. Seriously.  Go me. 

2. Family Dinners
The Littlest, telling a story.
Need I say more?  They are lovely. Even with the spills and the "I'm not even trying that once" and the...OK, they are sometimes lovely. And those are the ones I'm choosing to remember. When I'm old, I hope I remember the carpet picnic where we watched Hello Dolly while the spring sun set making the living room golden while the birds chirped outside. I hope I remember the dinners where they told us about their lives and their thoughts and I caught a glimpse of the prism of complexity that is them, and I really saw for a moment how the world was from their particular point of view.

1. Watching these beautiful people become curious, and learn.
This is my absolute favorite thing. It is the thing that stops me and makes me try to be better at my part of this Mama/child relationship. Like a small bit of thread, each child in his or her own way finds something that interests them, stops them, makes them want to understand, and they follow it. For me, this is as magical as watching the myriad butterflies that have come to Nebraska these last weeks, except it happens daily. And for this, I am deeply grateful.
I am so grateful, in fact, that I'm more willing to clean out the slimy bathtub before I wearily climb in. However, I'll continue to keep my promise about the plastic presents...and should I ever own a toy store one day, you'll be astonished at my organizational strategy.

Safe travels, gentle people. May we find at least as much to be grateful for as we do to grumble about. And may we find little bits of magic even if it is sometimes a bit slimy.

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