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 theworkof her job.
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
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
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
In thinking about parenting, though, I leaned VERY conservative.
My mother attended aGrowing
Kids God's Wayconference;
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 companionBaby
Wisewere so much more
logical than anything I'd heard before.
Bear with me. I know this is controversial. I did not know that at
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
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
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 fundamentallydifferent. 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
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
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
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.