Archive for the ‘Parenthood’ Category

Not for Everyone

Monday, February 13th, 2012

This past weekend IEP was sick.  Triple-digit fever Friday night.  Phlegmy cough.  Runny nose.  A walking, talking (and yet still adorable) germ.  Lovely.  Needless to say, we operated on an abridged schedule.  To that end, we skipped church yesterday morning so that IEP wouldn’t infect the other kids at Sunday School and while the boys hung out at home I was able to squeeze in an extra trip to the gym.

As I pedaled away on the Helix machine I flipped the pages on a back issue of People and came across a story about a young girl, just a couple of years out of high school, who had entered a convent.  She spent one year at a large state university, trying it on for size, but ultimately decided that she was called to serve God in a more direct way.  It was a decision that she’d been weighing for some time.  According to the article she first felt called to become a nun at the age of five.  She spent most of her childhood and adolescent life enjoying life as a normal kid – playing sports, having sleepovers with friends, and attending her junior prom – while quietly keeping the convent at the back of her mind.

As I read the article I got to thinking about how I might react if one of my children made a similar choice.  Granted, we are not Catholic, so unless there were a conversion to Catholicism a life in the ministry would not mean the same sacrifices that it did for the girl I read about.  But let’s say for a moment that we were Catholic.  What then?  Life as a priest would entail some incredible sacrifices for my sons.  No wife.  No children.  No conventional career.  No means to travel the world.  Having attended Catholic school for many years as a teen I have some sense of what this life is like, but I still struggle to imagine it for one of my own children.

The girl in the article (I couldn’t find it online to provide a link – sorry!) talked about how she weighed the loss of a family into her decision, but still felt a stronger pull to the ministry than to anything else.  She felt that a family life wasn’t for her.  After all, it’s not for everyone.  She now sees her family eight times a year during four-hour Sunday afternoon visitation sessions on Sunday afternoons.  There is a quote on the number of letters she can write and phone calls she can make.  And she is okay with this.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t so okay with it.  Not as it related to this girl.  It’s fine for her, of course.  But I kept thinking about my own kids.  I see the joy that I find in my family and I want that for them.  I want for them the feeling of waking up next to your spouse in the morning.  I want them to see their babies smile for the first time.  I want them to know the feeling of fullness when a tiny child wants only you.  I want them to know the gut-busting laughter that is brought by living with a three-year-old.  But anyone who enters the Catholic ministry will never know these things.

The truth is, I should be okay with this.  All these things about family life that I just listed?  They bring me joy because they are what was right for me.  I would feel imprisoned in a convent.  But perhaps for someone who feels called to life in the ministry the daily life of a working mom would feel like torture.  I was given the freedom to make my own decisions and I’ve ended up in a life that makes me exceedingly happy.  And that is what I should want for my children – the ability to choose the path that will bring them joy – not that the same things that brought my joy will bring theirs.

IEP and SSP are their own people.  They will develop their own interests and passions.  Perhaps those interests will overlap with mine and perhaps they will not.  But so long as their life choices are safe, healthy, and bring them joy, it should be irrelevant to me exactly what those choices are.

As best I could tell, this young girl’s parents are supportive of the path she’s chosen.  I applaud them for that.  And I thank them for setting such a worthwhile example for the rest of us.  It can be a challenge to embrace someone’s choices when they would not personally suit us.  Nevertheless, that is just what we should do.

What I Have to Give

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

First off, I come to you with an interesting follow-up to Monday’s post.  As it turns out, I was (at least in one person’s opinion) way off base in my criticism of Madonna as the Super Bowl halftime act.  After reading this article I have a new appreciation for the relevance of her performance, and why it carried more weight given by a 53-year-old than it would have if given by a much younger performer.  It’s definitely worth a read.

If you hang out around here very much you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a regular reader of The Huffington Post.  It is my first source for headlines (though I tend to then go to more substantive sites such as the NYT when I want a deeper dive on any particular topic), and I also enjoy its topical entries on subjects ranging from politics to health and wellness to celebrity fashions.  By and large I think the content is pretty solid.  So I was really disappointed when I came across this article about parenting boys.

I am one of two sisters.  My dad was the only guy in our family, and after 36 years of going it alone (happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!) we’ve pretty well indoctrinated him too.  So when IEP was born and the doctor said those three little words (“It’s a boy”) I had to start learning everything from scratch.  Thankfully, it came quite naturally – the trucks and trains and tiny football jerseys.  All these things that once were foreign became instantly familiar.

Nevertheless, as a woman who has never been a little boy and did not grow up around little boys I am always interested to learn more about the trade to which I have become the most eager apprentice – raising boys.  So I was excited when Monday’s headline article in the parenting section of HuffPo was one about the author’s experience parenting boys.  …  And then I read it.  And disappointment ensued.

My first and most immediate frustration was that author Devon Corneal went straight for the stereotypes – penis comparisons, peeing on the floor, broken windows, flatulence jokes, and roughhousing.  Yes, these are real aspects of raising boys (luckily I still haven’t been faced with a couple of them), but we all know that.  There’s nothing new in the acknowledgement of some of these down-and-dirty elements of having sons.  But there is so much more to raising boys.

This is important because my second, and more significant problem with Corneal’s position was that because of all of these male-centric traits she believes that she is effectively neutered as a parent to her boys.  She writes:

I’m slowly learning to stop myself before interfering with my husband’s parenting, because, even though the way he does things are different, sometimes they’re better. As much as I’d like to think I know it all, and as much as parenting magazines, websites and bloggers (this one included) focus on mommies, when it comes to boys, daddies might be the experts.

IEP loves it when his dad body slams him into our big bed.  He frequently runs around saying, “Daddy, knock me over!”  And GAP is a more effective partner for playing imaginary games of football and baseball.  But IEP needs more than that.  All boys need more than that.  All boys ARE more than that.

When IEP isn’t playing with his imaginary friend Ray Rice he’s giving his baby brother kisses and snuggles.  Or he’s making a grocery list and carrying it around in an old purse of mine that he pulled out of a Goodwill donation pile.  Or he’s pulling the tiny butter warming pot off of the baker’s rack, requesting a wooden spoon and whisk, and pretending to make his umpteenth batch of carrot stew.  These are aspects of his more feminine side, and they need every bit as much cultivation as his traditionally masculine traits.

It’s true, I can’t roughhouse with him as well as GAP can.  But I’m more of a conversationalist.  And sometimes GAP just can’t go the full nine rounds of talking about every street sign we pass as well as I can.  (And I’m not a half-bad infielder or tickle monster myself, and Daddy’s kisses give just as much love as Mommy’s.)  We each bring different strengths to the table, and each set is valuable.  This is what I have to give, and I don’t discount it; not ever.  I may not be a boy, but I know my boys.  And I know that they need me, my perspective, and my touch just as much as they need their father’s.  They need us both in equal measure.  And I’m sorry for Devon Corneal that she seems to have forgotten that.

Drudgery and Delight

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

If you were on Facebook at all last week (and if any of your friends are of the Mommy set), chances are good that someone you know posted a link to this article about cherishing every moment of parenthood.  It’s worth a quick read, but to summarize, author Glennon Melton states that while she is out in public wrangling her three kids she is often told to “cherish this moment” by older women whose children are grown.  She posits that this well-intentioned advice actually has an adverse effect on her, leading her to live in a state of constant paranoia that she isn’t savoring her role as a mother enough because parenting small children is an incredible amount of work.

As I read the article Melton’s words rang true to me – so much so that my response was something along the lines of, “Well, of course it’s hard!  Doesn’t everyone already know this?”  As I watched the Internet explode with re-postings of her piece what struck me most was that the article was causing such an uproar.  (It garnered more the 1,500 comments on The Huffington Post.)  Any parent will tell you that parenting is hard.  Any parent will tell you that there are days when everything seems to go wrong and all you want is for the sun to set and your kids to go to bed.  Any parent will tell you that there are moments when the only way to get even 30 seconds of peace and quiet is to go to the bathroom.  This is not novel information.  So why all the kerfuffle?

I think it’s due to a serious lack of both honesty and understanding.

The honesty problems belong to us parents.  As parents (especially as mothers) we feel compelled to address our children’s behavioral imperfections in one of two ways.  1) Don’t really talk about them at all.  Or 2) Talk about them with a self-deprecating humor that suggests we aren’t ever actually driven to our limits.  But this isn’t true, is it?  IEP (whom I love to the ends of the earth) can make me crazy faster than anyone else I know.  In a couple of years SSP (whom I also love to the ends of the earth) will fit that bill as well.  And I would wager that this is true for all parents.  So why can’t we say so?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but the mere fact that Melton’s piece created the dust storm that it did indicates to me that not enough of us are.

The understanding problems belong to the people who question us.  Just because our children can run us ragged doesn’t mean that we are in over our heads or that having them in the first place was a mistake.  In her article Melton likens parenting to climbing Mount Everest.  People don’t climb Mount Everest because it is easy or relaxing or enjoyable.  They do it because it is an unparalleled challenge, the completion of which is enormously satisfying.  This isn’t to say that parenting is merely one grueling step after another or that there is only a single, fleeting moment of accomplishment when they graduate high school.  Obviously there’s more to it than that or we wouldn’t do it.  Even climbing Mount Everest doesn’t take 18 years.

For me, though, the biggest take-away from this whole thing is that we each parent in our own way.  We each enjoy different things about parenting.  What one parent sees as drudgery another parent may see as a delight, and there is incredible freedom in that.  No one can (or at least no one should) tell us which aspects of child-rearing ought to be enjoyable to us.  For Melton navigating three kids through an afternoon’s worth of grocery shopping and other errands might be a chore.  For another parent it might be an adventure.  And that’s okay.

We can wish away the moments of the things we find maddening.  And we can relish in the moments that we love.  And we should never have to justify any of it.

The Good Man – Bad Man Continuum

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I was about finished handing over my donations when he rode up on his bicycle.  His coat was brown oilcloth, worn with the collar turned up, and didn’t look to be very warm.  Behind his bike was a cart of sorts – homemade out of plywood and fastened to a single axle attached to two tires repurposed from a jogging stroller.

I waited for the Goodwill guy to get my receipt while this man got off his bike and walked up with the first of three large cardboard boxes.  Each one was literally overflowing with children’s clothes.  I saw snap-crotch onesies, tiny pink tops, pants, and dresses.  I was on my way to the gym and felt liberated being out of the house for a bit.  I decided to make some small talk and commented that it’s amazing how quickly kids outgrow clothes.

“Yes,” he said.  ”Some of them are practically disposable.  They wear them once and then they don’t fit anymore.”

As he responded he walked back to his bicycle cart to collect the second box.  I followed him with my eyes, and only as I watched him pick up the next box did I notice a tiny little girl in the cart as well.  She was somewhere between 18 months and two years old.  Her skin was fair, but pink from the chilly December air.  Her eyes were bright.  And her coat was much too big and gapped around her neck.  She didn’t have on a hat or gloves.

“Well hello, little one!” I said.  She  smiled broadly yet bashfully.   “It’s a cold one today.  Are you staying warm?”  She didn’t look like she was.  I scrambled to think whether or not any of IEP’s many winter hats might have been left in the car that I might give to her.  None had.

“Yeah, how’s your brother’s coat working out for you?” her father added, as if to imply an explanation as to why it didn’t fit her.

The father and I wrapped up our cliched conversation about how quickly kids grow and I got back into my car.  The outside temperature on the dashboard read 36 degrees.

As I waited to turn left at the light just outside of the Goodwill parking lot I saw the man cross the intersection on his bike and turn right.  As he did his little girl struggled to keep herself upright in the cart behind him.  And for the rest of the day I thought a complicated mix of conflicting thoughts about this encounter.

A man who clearly did not have a proper winter coat, or a hat, or a car was donating dozens upon dozens of articles of children’s clothing.  Presumably he no longer had use for them and wanted to see that someone else – someone who had even less than he? – could used them.  At the same time, this man dragged a tiny child out on a very cold day without proper protection against the winter weather.  He rode his bike in traffic while his daughter sat loose in the back, unbuckled and without any kind of helmet.

What kind of man was this?  A good man?  A man who thinks about those less fortunate even when he himself seems to have so little?  Or was he a careless and irresponsible parent?  Someone who jeopardizes his daughter’s health and safety to do something which, while admittedly good, was not at all urgent.  Couldn’t he have waited until a warmer day, or a day when his wife or a friend or neighbor was available to watch his daughter?

All of the above?  Is that the answer?  Like anyone else in the world I am prompted to say, “Yes, and…”

We never really know all of another person’s story.  We know only what we see in many cases.  We know what we are told in others.  But we are almost always left to fill in some of the blanks with our own suppositions.  I believe in most cases the answers to those blanks are clouded with nuance.  They are the places where the answers aren’t clear and we are forced to confront both the triumphs and the failings of the people around us.

The man I saw at the Goodwill drop-off door last week is just like most of us in many ways.  His circumstances may be vastly different from yours or mine.  But he exists on a continuum just like anyone else.  He has some very admirable qualities.  And he also makes mistakes and imperfect choices.   Is he a good man or a bad man?  He is a little of both, just like everyone else.

Scenes from Maternity Leave – Week 5

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Last year IEP was given this terrific children’s nativity set.  At two years old he was still a bit too young to have any understanding of what it meant.  This year, as a three-year-old, he is beginning to learn about the Christmas story.

After seeing how he had arranged them I asked what the kings were doing.  He plainly told me that they were waiting for their turn to see Jesus.  (I think Santa-visiting protocol was probably an influencer here.)

Then when I asked why the animals were off by themselves on the windowsill he told me, “Barn all full.  Animals going for a walk.”  … Makes sense to me!

Scenes from Maternity Leave – Week 4

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Scout supervises SSP’s tummy time.

A New Set of Initials

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I’m adding a new set of initials to the lexicon around here.

SSP was born on Friday morning weighing exactly seven pounds and measuring exactly 20 inches.  He looks just like his brother did as a newborn, and is every bit as sweet.  Delivery was smooth and largely uneventful.  The only drama of the whole affair was the Cardinals’ stunning Game 6 victory as I labored Thursday night.  We came home yesterday, all happy and healthy, and are enjoying the adjustment to a family of four.

I’m not quite sure what my presence in this space will be like in the coming few months.  I will certainly be taking a hiatus from thrice-weekly posting, and from my usual menu of thought-provoking topics.  I’m considering just posting photos – “Scenes from Maternity Leave” or similar – but haven’t really settled on any one approach yet.  Stay tuned and I will let you know once I’ve figured it out.

Thanks for all of your support and good wishes over these past many months of pregnancy.  It is such a blessing to finally have SSP in our family.

Beginnings and Endings

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Tonight I have a date.  First, I have a date to take our dogs to the vet for their annual checkups and shots (for which they are a month overdue…) and IEP has agreed to go with me and be my helper.  Then, on the way home we will stop by our corner pizza joint, pick up our supper, and come home and watch Game 1 of the World Series together.  (GAP has plans with a buddy.)

Under other circumstances I might find these plans draining.  Getting two Bernese Mountain Dogs in and out of the vet isn’t easy when you’re not 37+ weeks pregnant with a toddler in tow.  So I’m fully prepared for the fact that this evening’s errand could very well be a comedy of errors (and/or frustrations).  But I’m looking at it differently today.

IEP’s days as an only child are numbered.  As of today that number is – at most – nine.  And I am feeling a bit nostalgic about it.

I firmly believe that the very best thing in the world we can give our son is a sibling.  Life as an only child is certainly no tragedy and most only children grow up to be perfectly happy and well-adjusted adults.  Nevertheless, I see tremendous value in growing up alongside siblings.  There are life lessons that can be learned in any number of venues, but a small handful of those, I believe, are best learned from brothers and sisters – conflict resolution, sharing, dominance and submission, justice and injustice, and so on – not to mention all of the shared experiences and camaraderie that come from growing up together.  I am extremely close to my sister.  GAP is likewise close to his five siblings.  So we both believe that the brother that is quickly coming his way is a very good thing for IEP.

But back to my nostalgia.  For the past nearly-three years I’ve been able to give all of my parental time, energy, and focus to IEP.  He has been the sole epicenter of our family.  And we have loved every minute of it.  So there is a part of me that feels a bit sad knowing how drastically his world is about to be upended, especially given that he really has no idea of what’s coming.  Naturally he knows that the baby is coming soon – and he’s excited about it – but he won’t really be able to wrap his head around what that means until he’s living it.

Which brings us back to tonight.  I will get home from work shortly after 5:00.  I will load up 200 pounds of dogs and 30 pounds of toddler into my car.  We will awkwardly navigate our way through the trip to the vet.  I will tell IEP how to be a good helper and he will feel proud of himself for doing so.  When we get home we will go down to the basement, turn on the big TV, and eat our pizza.  I will watch him take bites intermittently as he scans the field for Albert Pujols.  I will listen to him ask me, “Mommy, no like that pitch?” every time a batter lets one go by.  And I will watch him jump and run and cheer “That humongous hit!” when either team makes contact.  He will stay up past his bedtime.  And if I’m very lucky he will crawl up into my lap for snuggles periodically.

Before too long that lap will be filled with a Boppy and a baby whom I know I will love every bit as much as I love IEP, and I can’t wait.  But for now – for tonight – I’m glad that I can still give all of what I have to him.  This is a time of beginnings and endings, and I suppose I should expect to find myself feeling emotions tied to each.

An Army of Gadgets

Friday, October 14th, 2011

As of last night three of the four most recent posts on NYT’s Motherlode dealt in some way with kids’ access to technology (television, Facebook, and iPads, respectively).  None of these posts is especially substantial, but their sandwiched nature points to something that intrigues me: we really know very little about how each of these screen-oriented gadgets affects our children.

We know the most about television.  Various studies over the years have told us that it negatively impacts their attention spans, critical thinking skills, physical fitness, and interpersonal skills.  I can only assume that being glued to Facebook or an iPad aren’t that different.  And yet we live in a world where these things are ubiquitous; only the most dedicated of parents will successfully navigate their children’s childhoods without exposure to them.

GAP and I took I pretty hard line for the first two years of IEP’s life.  He was allowed in the room while we watched news or sports, neither of which really captured his attention.  But he wasn’t allowed to watch any children’s programming until after his second birthday, and even then it was a very rare occasion.  Seeing the way his eyes glazed over – captivated, but unresponsive – told me that whatever was going on in my little boy’s brain wasn’t good.  It was only as he developed the ability to interact with the show – shouting out the answers to Dora’s questions, or laughing at Steve’s jokes on Blues Clues – that I developed some peace of mind that his viewing wasn’t putting him into a Clockwork Orange-like trance.

This was the path GAP’s and my guts told us to take.  But we still don’t exactly know what effect this exposure will have on our little boy.  Neither do we know what effect his exposure to iPhones (he’s been able to navigate GAP’s since he turned two), or iPads (Nanny has one that she uses for educational apps periodically) will ultimately have on him.  Facebook isn’t in his vocabulary yet, but if there’s anything I can count on it’s that his interest in social networking will sprout much earlier than I expect it to.

Given all of this, I am prone to wonder – after a certain age, at least – whether a cold turkey approach or something more permissive is healthiest for our kids.  Perhaps no technology at all is best for young kids.  Perhaps the only thing such indulgences achieve are a few quiet moments for Mom and Dad, and nothing beneficial for the child himself.  Or perhaps (and this is the direction I’m leaning, though I’m not fully confident of it) the better direction is something of a hybrid.  Our kids will never live in a world without smartphones and iPads (at least not until the next thing replaces them…), so what good does complete denial do them if it doesn’t represent reality.  (In a sort-of-applicable parallel, most of what I’ve read about kids and nutrition instructs that we should teach our children how to balance healthy and unhealthy foods, rather than declaring war on French fries and chicken nuggets altogether.)  So is a combined approach better?  If our kids can watch an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine and still want to read books before bed is that preferable to requesting a book only because they don’t know that Thomas exists?  (Yes, I know that the Thomas behemoth started out as a simple book.  We have many Thomas books…)

With our second child on the near horizon I also wonder how we’ll chart these waters during his first two years.  IEP knows that Saturday mornings are his time to watch his shows.  Will we pull the rug out from under him just because his baby brother is within earshot?  Likely not, but how we’ll minimize #2′s exposure remains to be seen.

The one thing that I take a bit of comfort in when it comes to issues like this is that we won’t get it 100% right, but we won’t get it 100% wrong either.  We care greatly about our kids’ mental development.  We work to ensure that they are exposed to many different settings and circumstances.  We teach them manners and initiative and boundaries.  It would take an army of tech gadgets to drown out the influence that we spill into our kids’ ears each day.

We may not know what the exact right answer is to our questions about kids and technology.  But we do know that if we’re asking the questions in the first place we’re probably on the right track.

Hope and Pajamas

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

I suppose that if you asked 100 different people what hope looks like you would get 100 different answers.  That is human nature.  If I were one of those 100 people and you asked me that question today the answer would be: these pajamas.

A few weeks before IEP was born my mother was in town for one of my baby showers.  She took the opportunity to spoil me in a variety of ways, one of which was to take me shopping for pajamas to wear in the hospital so that I would have something comfortable but attractive to wear when friends and family came to visit me and our new baby.  One pair was pale blue with a chocolate brown floral pattern.  The other pair was white with spring green leaves and periwinkle blue birds.  I loved them both.  But, as it turned out, no one ever saw my cute pajamas.

Just hours old, IEP was transferred to a children’s hospital for treatment by teams of specialists.  (He is fine now.)  This meant that I spent my two postpartum days in the hospital alone with my mother, waiting for my phone to ring with news of my baby’s condition and prognosis, while GAP tended to our son across town.  I won’t lie.  It really, really sucked.

Now here I am, three years later, preparing for the arrival of my next baby.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I’ve been trying fairly hard avoid thinking about delivery.  They were complications during delivery that caused all of IEP’s problems, and it’s hard to think about the actual birth of my second son without my mind going to a worst-case-scenario kind of place.  We have taken all the proper steps to ensure a healthy and safe delivery, which does put my mind at ease a bit.  Nevertheless, I struggle to envision exactly what it might be like to go through labor without incident, and to relax in the hospital with my baby for a couple of days before we head home.

And so I turn to pajamas – two pairs, one floral and one polka dotted – which to me represent hope, optimism, and the faith that this time will be different from the last.  They arrived in the mail yesterday and shortly after I got home from work I tried them on.  Then I called my mother and said, “My hospital pajamas came today.  And I’m bound and determined for someone to actually see them this time.”  She knew immediately the significance of my statement.

It’s hard for me to think about delivery.  But in my own way I am mentally preparing for a different experience this time.  For me, right now, hope looks like new hospital pajamas.