Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ode to Blanky

Oh Blanky!

You the most wonderful Blanky in the world!

--Guest post by 2yo

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Midwife's Arms

There's a picture of my midwife weighing one of my babies that has been on my mind lately. Actually, I think we have the same picture from each birth. She's holding a stork-shaped sling as high over her head as she can—I'm not sure she's 5' tall—& you can barely see her face behind the bag.

There's a baby in the bag, & she's weighing it. No easy task, since my children have averaged 9lb at birth. All you can see of the baby is little toes sticking out of the weighing-sack. All you can see of my midwife is her arms holding up the sling.

It's her arms that I've been thinking about. She's a tiny lady with a lovely figure, a warm British accent, & happy, happy curls. She calls me "Obrey" with a long O instead of "Aubrey," & she's held every one of my children in her arms.

In these pictures, you really notice those arms, disproportionately large, surprisingly strong. The strength in those two arms stood out to me suddenly, & for the first time, I thought about the work of her job.

I love these photos. I love those arms.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Canyon & the River

I recently got an email from a reader, & I wanted to go ahead & address it here, for everybody. So first the email:

"I just read your article in TOS and I really liked it...liked how you were honest about the things you learned, but not always being able to embrace them. I think too often we don't want others to see our weak spots, so we gloss over them and hope no one notices. Thanks for being transparent and through that, giving encouragement to so many, especially me!

I do have one question. You mentioned that one of your children would not easily succeed in a classroom because she "...is fiercely independent but has a gentle side when her independence is met with understanding." Can you tell me a little about what that looks like where the rubber meets the road? I have a child like that and sometimes the constant struggles just wear me down, so I don't always respond to him in the right way. What ways have you found to meet your daughter’s independence with understanding?"

First of all, my daughter. She reminds me of Norah Jones. She's got long, long black hair w/ red highlights that show up only in a certain light. She's got big, deep brown eyes, & even before she was born, I imagined her standing on a cliff in Ireland, overlooking the ocean, with an electric guitar slung over her back, black curls waving in the wind.

And that's exactly who she is. A fierce, woman-warrior who does everything w/ 110% of herself. Once when I told her I could eat her up, her dark eyes flashed with fury like a storm on the ocean that's come out of nowhere. "Good mamas don't eat their children," she said. She was two.

From almost the time she was born, my baby cried. Constantly. Once she figured out how to scream, she screamed. She climbed into the trash can & the toilet; she climbed her big siblings' loft beds. Most people didn't know it, though, because she is also incredibly outgoing & has a smile that fills up her whole marshmallow face (when she decides to use it).

Since she could talk, she's been my child who will march up to strangers on the playground & say, "My Mama won't push me in the swing. Will you?" And worse, she'll ask some men, "Are YOU my Daddy?" (It's a game she plays, from the book, Are You My Mother?, but I'm always afraid it will sound...much worse than that!)

Most people have at least one kid who has the independent streak. We laugh when we say that & we groan, but I believe there may be more going on with my daughter. In the past year, I've begun to read about sensory disorders, allergies, and other symptoms of the child who's a shade more "off" than simply "independent."

Now that you understand to a degree what I'm talking about, you should also know my parenting background. Before getting married (at 19), I thought A LOT about parenting philosophies. I have no idea why. I thought about homeschooling a lot, too. It was like a scientific experiment for me—I wanted to see if my ideas of parenting & education could produce the "perfect" children.

In thinking about parenting, though, I leaned VERY conservative. My mother attended a Growing Kids God's Way conference; compared to Bill Gothard, who had previously been a strong influence in our lives, GKGW was a breath of fresh air. The approach to parenting outlined in this course & in the companion Baby Wise were so much more logical than anything I'd heard before.

Bear with me. I know this is controversial. I did not know that at the time.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to visit my mother, & I occupied some of the time that I was there with reading her copy of GKGW, specifically the section on spanking, something I had always thought that any decent parent would do, something I thought qualified as criminal negligence NOT to do. (Remember kids tend to be very concrete, black & white, & up to this point, I'd really still been a kid.)

While I was pregnant, though, something in me started to nag a little. It wasn't that I believed in spanking any less, but...I really wanted to see a good argument for it in print. My brain works well that way.

The chapter on spanking was extremely disconcerting for me, though. The author took on a very condescending tone, offered no logical support of the practice, & continued to deride anyone who failed to spank their children. This made me question the practice further, greatly upsetting some of my family, who retorted, "Not everyone can be an English major like you!" Another logical fallacy that left me questioning the logic of spanking.

The baby came, despite my lack of confidence about spanking or not spanking, immunizing or not immunizing, etc. I did what most mothers do: I fed my baby, rocked him, cared for him in the best way that I could. Although I had been philosophically staunch about many things, I've always been more middle-of-the-road in practice, & age has softened my philosophies with experience.

My oldest has a mild personality, very reasonable. The spanking issue was one my husband and I went back and forth on, & we settled on reserving it for emergency situations, to get a child's attention. Unbuckling his carseat while we're driving, running out in the street—spankings. Everything else, we wanted to try to deal with differently.

Sometimes we did. Sometimes we didn't. We did ok, I think, but I was never able to regain my youthful confidence that spanking was really great. Our second child came, & she was more compliant than the first, actually applying all of her sibling rivalry toward being better behaved than her brother. Our children were scary, they were so good. We still hadn't resolved our feelings about spanking, but it was not a crisis. We were well-able to train our children with or without spankings, we felt, & we understood both sides of the argument.

Then our 3rd child came. She's the one who is so fundamentally different. Very early on, I came to the conclusion that we could not spank this child. The fierceness of her soul is almost indescribable. Even now, I'm imagining flint, honed down into a spear, & that's my baby. She told me once, with that snap in her eyes, that "the cat has sin." The cat had scratched her, & she wasn't just sad or angry. She had a calculated scale for the injustice of the world.

I told my husband that I'm afraid that if we get in her way, she will see us as the enemy, & we will be the object of her calculated scales, her fierce desire for justice. She is a rock, a flint spear, a cliff, & she has the determination and fortitude to accomplish anything.

I began when she was one to work beside her instead of opposite her—the easier approach to parenting I had taken with my first two—thinking of myself like water & her like a canyon. I could not shape her into the person she needed to become with anything less than dynamite, & dynamite would crush the spirit that made her great. I would lose my relationship with her, & I knew that a relationship with one like this could be fragile. I believe that once it is secured, though, it is secure, because her loyalty is as fierce as her judgment; her joy as fierce as her anger. Water, in a canyon, is intricately part of the landscape, gently carving out beauty in an almost symbiotic relationship.

Lovely, you say, but what does that even mean?

I try to avoid anger with this daughter. (Not that I don't with the others, but I saw an even greater need for it with her, & this extra effort has overflowed into making me a better mother for the others as well. At least, I hope!) I try not to yell. I try to understand. All things that I have always done, but making a greater effort to set aside my point of view and understand hers.

I have always taken a child who is crying for a cookie, asked him to calm down, asked him to use his words, repeated his words back to him, & then explained why the answer is no. (If the answer is no.) I have found that repeating a child's words BACK to them helps them to know you understand what they're saying—a very big deal for toddlers who really aren't always sure that they're being understood.

This one needs longer listening, more stretch to the imagination. More patience. Her mood swings can be crazy, especially when she's tired, but despite that, she needs less sleep. I fought that with my oldest; with this one, I have accepted her quirky hours better. She still naps, but she naps because I've explained the logic of it to her:

You have a Cranky Monster that lives inside you. You've also got robots inside you to tie him up, but they can only work when you're sleeping (white blood cells, for the scientifically-minded). When your Cranky Monster breaks free, he makes you cry & gets you in trouble... By then, she's put herself to bed (a miracle), grinning, because she has the power to defeat the "Cranky Monster."

I let her wear mismatched clothes. I let her choose her pink shoes or her gray ones. And when she gets uncontrollable, when days go by w/out an ounce of obedience, I stop. I pull her up in my lap, & I read her a story. I tell her all the reasons I love her. I tell her what she has done well. I work to pour myself into her, literally.

I rely more on redirection than I did with the others. I work to remind myself how tender she is, even when it's not immediately obvious. Really, it's this last point that I was trying to get at in the article quoted at the beginning. This little one needs to be cared for by someone who has something invested in her future, or she will wear the caretaker down to nothing, & the result would likely be spirit-crushing for her. She can take people being angry with her, but it feeds the rock. I'm the opposite: I'm overly-sensitive, & other people's disappointment & anger just crushes me. I've come to believe that this daughter, in being a polar opposite, is actually the same as me. She can take disappointment, but...I don't know how to say it. It gets converted into negative energy.

And it's like magic. Today she saw me washing dishes, & she pulled up a stool, got out a dishcloth, & began drying. She offered her little brother one of the trains she was playing with when he cried, & she went on to explain to him, "These are God's toys. But He shares them with us. God is Love."

My little mountain is slowly, gently becoming a beautiful canyon, but I'm no longer certain whether I am the river or the rock, because I'm becoming so much more beautiful by her presence in my life as well.

Note: My kids are 9, 7, 3, & 2 at the time of this post.