Monthly Archives: August 2012

What Do You Mean No Tigers Will Eat Me?

Why do babies cry when we put them down? What do you mean? Of COURSE babies cry when you put them down.

You see.. At the beginning of mankind the world was a very different place. Tigers and bears and other large rather surly animals roamed the earth far more interested in devouring babies than they were in dancing and singing to catchy tunes so as to lull the little critters to sleep.

Babies are smart little creatures that would have long ago been eaten by tigers. Or wolves. Or bears. They’re rather rotten at doing things like moving. And even once they start running they’re rather short and stumpy with horrible balance and a tendency to run into things and then cry. Loudly.

Their defense mechanism for this is the arms of someone a little bit longer-limbed than they, and who has somehow managed to survive into adulthood in the Tiger Lion and Bear infested wilderness.

(That would be you.)

Babies are well equipped with certain survival mechanisms such as the desire to put their mouths on everything in search of nipples that might contain milk. The ability to cry. And the startle reflex which starts with them being startled by a sound or movement and which sets off a chain reaction that goes from “startle” to “startled by the startle” to “startled by the screaming that came from being startled by the startle” and which results in purple-faced screaming until the baby is rescued by a longer-limbed tiger-defying superhuman mammal with a food supply that contains substances remarkably similar to those found in marijuana. You know. To encourage the mellow and the munchies which gives you a sleepy mellow baby that just wants to eat. Not cry and attract predators.

In other words- all their useful reflexes and instincts tell them one thing: CLING TO SOMETHING LARGER OR STARVE AND BE EATEN. They have yet to develop the ability to type, hang out on facebook, chat on the phone, and raid your refrigerator. That comes later.

Ahh. Yes. We have moved to the top of the food chain where we are no longer likely to be eaten by tigers and are in fact more likely to be struck by lightening or run over by some guy checking his text messages when he should be watching for pedestrians.

Babies missed the memo.

You see… Babies are not very good at reading. Their attention spans are notoriously limited by their desire to eat the books rather than listen patiently. The American Association of Pediatricians recommends that they not be introduced to other forms of media until much much later in life. (If at all) This means that babies are about as sadly up to date as soldiers were back in the days where news traveled via horse and some of the best battles were fought after the war had already been declared over.

They’re a little slow on the uptake. You know. Due to the whole “not fully understanding language just yet”. They haven’t even mastered the ability to transport themselves to a toilet for acts such as peeing or pooping. Social Studies and The Formation of Civilization are a bit advanced for someone who still wears diapers and who cannot yet say the word “dada” let alone “Civilization”.

As far as babies are concerned we live in a very different world.  A world full of dangers that only mommy and daddy can protect them from.

And so they cry. Until we pick them up.

There are two schools of thought for how to address this.

One of them is to teach the baby that the world is a Very Safe Place by letting them scream until they turn purple, possibly puke from the strain, and learn that it’s okay, no matter how loud you scream no tigers will eat you.

Another way to address it is by responding to baby’s cries and holding baby near you so that baby can gradually realize “Dude, I’m two and no tigers have eaten me. Let me scream about all the things now because ‘no’ is like totally the BEST WORD EVER.”

Of course the baby’s crying.  They haven’t the slightest clue that they’ve been born into a world that is relatively safe for them. They’re a little ball of instinct that is pretty damned certain that somewhere out there is a tiger that wants to eat them.

The nice thing is that keeping them safe from those tigers is easier than dealing with the rampant fear of ghosts that comes after the child is slightly  more evolved.

Good luck with that one.

Learning to Self Soothe (WIO)

Dear Middlechild,

This past week you’ve been unhappy in the middle of the night, waking up and wanting to come into our bed. You have had the “ick” but also you have been going through a bit of sleep regression.  I see this as part of the process of learning how to self soothe.

You see.. You no longer nurse at night. You self weaned at 18 months when I was pregnant with your sister. You no longer wish to be rocked to sleep, and will complain if we try. The way you fall asleep now is by laying on our chests and simply being near.

When you wake up in the middle of the night we move you to our bed and you roll into our bed, find your pillow, and fall asleep on your own without nursing, without being rocked, without being held. Or sometimes you’ll try that and when the sleep doesn’t come you’ll curl yourself around one of us and put your head on the shoulder of the one you chose to snuggle with.

This is self soothing. This is not us working to soothe you. This is you finding your comfort, being okay with falling asleep in different situations.

Self soothing is like the progression towards walking. First you roll, then you sit up, then you do that funny thing where you get up on all fours and rock back and forth, then you crawl, then you pull up to stand, then you take that first teetering step and fall. The first steps towards walking don’t look like walking at all. I did not expect you to walk just after being born. I knew that it was something you had to work your way towards. So it is with sleep, and with everything that changes as you move from newborn to infant to toddler to child, to tween to teen to adult, to parent, to middle aged, to elderly.

The first steps towards self soothing don’t look like self soothing at all.

First you learned to soothe. You were tiny, just born. You learned to nurse for comfort. You learned to soothe when burped or when you passed gas. You learned to soothe with motion, with sound, with closeness. You learned that life is patient, and that there are things that feel good and peaceful, and things that feel hectic and unhappy.

Then you learned trust. You discovered that there are people in your life that are different from one another. You preferred me briefly, then your daddy briefly, then your grandma. Then it was back to daddy, and then me, and then Grandpa, then back to me again. You learned that we go away and we come back. You learned that when you have a need we respond to that need. You learned that when you cry, we comfort you. You learned that when you play, we play with you.

Then you learned routine. You learned that when night comes and it gets dark outside, daddy comes home from work and we take our baths, we brush everyone’s teeth and we read books and we fall asleep. When you were a baby this happened swaddled in my arms nursing in a rocking chair. As you grew this became nursing curled up in my arms in a rocking chair. As you weaned this became snuggling up to us in the rocking chair. As you grew this became laying down on our chests in our bed. As you continue to grow this is becoming you laying your head down on a pillow near us and falling asleep on your own.

With both you and your brother you learned to fall back to sleep on your own before you learned to fall asleep on your own.

Sometime as a toddler the “sleep regression” comes. The deeper sleeps of infancy briefly recede as your mind comes alive with imaginary fears, as you become aware of midnight peeing, and as you become more able to choose a position to sleep in.

I see sleep regression as a major step towards your learning to self soothe. It’s not self soothing if you sleep like a rock and just don’t wake up until dawn. And those sleepy middle of the night dark hours where you’re already so close to sleep are better practice time for doing it on your own than are the wound-up before bedtime hours where you’re trying to relax at the end of the day.

You have started. You’ll stir awake and complain and then bury your head against your pillow and fall back to sleep if you can. If you cannot you’ll wake daddy and he’ll rub your head and you’ll fall back to sleep in your own bed. If you can’t, you’ll come into bed with us.  The “can’ts” fade away with time as you become better at it, as your sleeps become deeper, as you become more secure in your skin.

As you learn to fall back to sleep, we’ll start helping you learn to fall asleep on your own as well. You’ll learn that bedtime is time to stay in bed and you’ll be able to remember this and do it without an issue. We’ll read you your books and sit with you until you’re a little bit sleepy and then we’ll do our chores and check in on you to tell you one more I Love You and give you one more kiss.

And as your older brother has done, eventually that will fade into the distance as well and you will simply fall asleep as all of us do eventually.

No tears, no muss, no fuss, all on your own schedule. Because sleep is a natural wonderful fuzzy comfortable warm safe place to end each day, and because mommy and daddy are just down the hall and will always answer your cries, soothe your fears, and get you that water you thirst for in the middle of the night.

I’m proud of your independence which you choose on your own. I’m proud to be there as your safe snuggly spot in those nights when you’re learning to self soothe.

<3 Mama

 

Commitment

Dear Daughter,

Before your father I was married to another man. It did not work out. My ex husband and your father have taught me about commitment through what each one gave and could not give.

Your father and I are not perfect. We do not fit together seamlessly. We do not agree on a hundred percent of everything, and we do not fill each other up until we each spill over. We are not a classic love story of courtship and magic sealed up in a moment of perfection where we both became one and lived happily ever after.

There is no magic tipping point where a relationship “works” and then never has a problem again.

We are not a snapshot of a moment plucked out of a movie. Yes, he makes my heart happy. But we are not together based on a single emotion. We are together because we are family.

We try harder, forgive more easily, and pull together because we are both looking for something permanent. We are not looking to see if maybe we work out or maybe we don’t. We are not thinking about what some other man or woman could give us. We understand our own flaws and shortcomings, and we understand each other’s flaws and shortcomings.

We understand the commitment that each of us makes to each other. We understand that while we cannot give 100% of what the other person might imagine or want, we can try to meet each other’s needs and give what we can, and that sometimes we will fall short and others we will exceed all expectations.

Past relationships taught me that what we can imagine is the enemy of what we have. I can easily imagine many things that your father is not, but what he is surpasses my ability to imagine. He and I work because we complement each other. We are different. We think of different things, imagine different things, do things differently, and those difference form the base of our relationship just as much as our similarities do.

Sometimes he will frustrate me. Sometimes I will frustrate him. Just as you and your brothers will frustrate and be frustrated by each other and by us. Sometimes we’ll step on each others toes. Sometimes we won’t understand what it is that is needed and will miss something, and sometimes we won’t understand why something is needed and will try to give it anyway.

Sometimes I’ll feel empty and question why I’m with someone who seems disinterested. But then he’ll snap out of whatever it is that is stressing him out, and he’ll make me remember that I am loved. I know that I become fixated on a stress or problem, or end up touched out or tired as well, and I’m sure that sometimes he questions if we are just cohabitating. This is normal.

Sometimes I’ll fall short on every single thing he asks of me. He’ll come home and everything will be a mess and the thing he asked me to do three days ago won’t be done. And he’ll dig in and help. I’m sure that he feels frustration at this sometimes, and sometimes I know he does because it bubbles over. But then sometimes he’ll come home and I’ll have managed to do more than he expected.

Right now it’s probably harder than any other time in our lives, because you are all small and needy and messy and screechy and no-sleepy. We’re still finding our way as parents and as co-parents and as partners. We’re still establishing our routines even as each of you shift it and change it around. We have many stresses, some shared and some that each of us face “alone”.

When one of us says “I can’t”, the other understands. We don’t say “I can’t” lightly, because we understand that the other person must absorb some of our burden somehow. When one of us says “I really really really don’t want to right now.” the other tries to provide a break in the chaos. It’s a balancing game of meeting each others needs and trying to meet each others wants, and sometimes falling short.

I was once told by someone that unconditional love is what two lazy people do.

Unconditional love isn’t lazy. It’s a lot of work. It’s getting up in the middle of the night with the kids and letting your partner sleep in even when you’re tired too. It’s loving someone even when they can’t be there for you in that moment because they’re tired or sick. It’s taking each day as it comes, not tallying up who owes who what and when it will be repaid.

It’s something that two people do together so that they don’t fall apart.

Look for this. Not for the moment that you see in movies. True love fluctuates. True love flexes. True love adapts. True love is a commitment as much as it is a feeling.

What I feel for your father grows over time because it is real, deep and anything but transient.

<3 Mama

Growing Up Broken

Dear Kids,

When I was five, just about a month before my sixth birthday, I broke.

It was the Friday before Easter, and my grandmother Millie was visiting. We were sitting on the old wooden steps in front of my childhood home. Cars were muddling past the house going wherever it was that they were going. My grandma and I were playing a game that we had played many times before. We were guessing the color of the car that would come by next. I loved this game. It made me feel smart, because I picked the most common colors for cars and was almost always right. My grandma always guessed that there would be a purple, pink or orange car. Oddly she was seldom right. We were laughing.

The cars kept getting louder and louder until each car practically shook my head with its noise.

My grandmother brought me inside.

The next day things were quiet again.

And on Easter Sunday I woke up completely unable to hear.

I thought that everyone was playing a practical joke on me at first, so I wasn’t too worried. Then I realized that I couldn’t hear the birds. I still wasn’t too worried. I was blissfully naive and could not overhear the conversations going on around me. I figured it was like the times that I had gotten water in my ears, I guess.

I’m told that this sort of thing is every parent’s worst nightmare. A “normal” child that becomes “broken”.

I wasn’t broken. I jokingly say that I am now, but the truth is that I was exactly the same, just frustrated by the fact that no one saw me that way. It was like being put inside of a box. Everyone was sorry. Everyone was unsure how to act. I was suddenly different, even as I felt the same. As I was struggling to regain my footing everyone was trying to help me sit back down.  We were out of sync, and everyone was trying to take the lead when they should have been stepping back to see where I would go. Sometimes the best way to help a child is to hold your confidence in them until you see that they are faltering. See what they can do before you step in and take over.

I could not understand anything other than that I was broken somehow and that everyone was trying to fix me. Too many wires, too many tests, too many doctors, too many people that didn’t know what they were doing but that were somehow supposed to make me whole again. It was not “Let’s see what happened and gather information.” It was “You broke, we need to fix you.”

None of it worked. This new silence was a permanent thing. My body had ideas of its own.

I was fine with that. The things that they tried to do to restore sound to my life were simply ugly. Garish. Blaring. Muddled. Squealing. The first time I heard birdsong after getting a pair of hearing aids was the last time I wore those hearing aids.

Silence was just fine with me. I was already learning how to lipread. Children adapt. They absorb. They grow rapidly. They overcome. They are the ones inside of their bodies who understand what has and has not changed for them.

Everyone had their ideas about what I could and could not do. What I should be able to understand, what I should be able to achieve.

I fought expectations. There were things that I struggled with that should have come easy according to everyone else. There were things that I did perfectly which everyone thought I would struggle with. I was stuck in a situation of constantly being told that it was okay if I couldn’t do the things that I could do, while simultaneously being told that if I couldn’t do the things that I couldn’t do, I was not trying hard enough.

I learned that everyone sees a child as a liar. Someone trying to escape responsibility somehow, but full of foolish dreams about what they can do and silly ideas about who they are. This has carried forwards into adulthood and I’ve learned to cope. The truth is that there is not much that you can do other than suck it up sometimes.

It makes me sad and upset those times where I struggle or those times where I have to just go ahead and do those things that everyone questions my ability to do.

As a mother, though, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned through being ‘broken’.

I do not dismiss my children as liars, even if what you speak is not the truth as I know it to be. Instead I try to understand what it is that you mean, why you might be lying. And I try to help you understand that “I don’t want to” is not the same as “I can’t” or “it’s hard”.

I do not view a situation that you are in as “you”.

I do not fancy my parenthood as a requirement to “fix” you,  rather it is a requirement to love you and to help you find the tools and things that work for you in whatever situation you are in. (“Broken” or not.)

I have learned that I cannot feel your losses more than you do. When I take what you are feeling and run with it as my own, I am not being fair to you. When you fall and scrape your knees, I let you feel your upset without either amplifying it with my own or dismissing it by encouraging you not to cry. I can be the simple provider of comfort as you seek your context for your experiences. Sympathy does not mean that I need to feel your scraped knee more than you do. It means that I need to be there for you as you process your ouch and learn its magnitude through the experiences of your life.

Being “broken” has given me the gift of seeing every child as being beautifully whole, just in different ways and with different toolsets available to them. Even if someone is “broken” they still have things that they can do better than most people who are “normal”. And even among “normal” people there are talents and shortcomings.

I understand now that I didn’t change, my life did. My loss of hearing was not something for anyone other than myself to mourn. And I learned that with my own children I need to love them for who they are, not for who they could have been or should have been if something about them was somehow different.

I am grateful for this, as it allows me to see you as who you are, not as who I want you to be. I see other parents struggling to form a child to what they imagined. I see you as someone who surpasses my capacity for imagination, and delight at your expressions of self.

If you ever “break” I’ll help you look for the tools that work for you, rather than the things that “fix” you for me.

I understand that you are too complex, too different from me, too uniquely yourself for me to be able to create you in my imagination. So instead I’ll sit back and see who you become. I’ve got faith in your abilities and your awesomeness. I know better than to mourn something that I think you should have been when you’re so busy being all that you are.

I don’t want the child that I imagined. I want the child that you are.

<3 Mama

 

 

Independent of Comparison

Dear Daughter,

I am probably going to write quite a bit to you about self acceptance and love. It is something that I struggle with, and something that I hope to be able to pass to you as a gift.

Upbringings overlap like shingles. Part of my mother’s upbringing passed on to me, as much as she wished to give me all the gifts of being free of the things that caused her pain. She gave me many many gifts including unconditional love and a freedom of the expectations of her parents that weighed heavily on her throughout life. Part of my father’s upbringing passed on to me, even as he freed me from his own abusive past by never raising a hand to me.

The only gift that my childhood lacked was the ability to witness a parent who had love for themselves. Who treated their own self as gently as they were able to treat me.

I understand their reasons for this. I understand the gift that they hoped to give me by putting me above themselves, how they hoped to launch me into a better life than they thought they were able to achieve. They could not love themselves because they were not shown the depth of love as a child that I was. They did not know that they did not need to say “I am not as awesome as you are”, and that simply saying “You are awesome” was enough. There does not need to be any negative in a compliment. It can stand on its own.

I can admire you without the words “I wish I could be that good.”

I understood that I was loved as I grew up, but did not understand how to love myself. It’s an odd thing, how this can come to be.

They gave me the gift of loving others. And so I love you. They gave me the gift of loving me, and so I am able to overcome their own dislike for themselves, and I am able to learn to love me, so that I can try and give you the gift of growing up loving yourself.

It feels strange to say “I love myself”. It feels icky, indulgent. I’m supposed to be humble, to downplay my positives, to know my place in life and to say “Well sure I might be x but I’m also y and that balances me down to reality.”

Fuck that shit.

Sorry for swearing. There’s a saying that swears mean you have no better way to express yourself. Here I think they say it rather eloquently.

Fuck that shit.

You are who you are, you do not need to know your place in some hierarchy that you seemingly have no say in. You do not need to down-play the awesome or up-play the struggles.You do not have to apologize for who you are in order to point out the awesome of someone else, and you do not need to point out the awesome of yourself to downplay something that someone else has achieved.

Life is yours to seize, to juggle, to enjoy, to play with, to sculpt, to color, to form the way you wish. You do not need to be be better, to be worse, to be different, or to be anyone other than who you wish to be.

Daughter, I can’t build you up if I tear myself or others down. Your beauty exists independent of comparison. No more, no less. Your intelligence exists independent of comparison. No more, no less. Your abilities exist independent of comparison. You are not another person. You are yourself.

And that is what you need to be.

<3 Mama

 

Fever Hot

Dear Middlechild,

Last night at four AM you woke crying for a drink of water. Your skin burned against mine as I kissed your forehead. You drank your water and laid close talking to me in your little baby voice, your breath fever hot and scented with the cherry medicine that you cried about having to drink between sips of water.

I rocked with you, your legs straddling mine and your head against my collarbone in the same way that I wore you in a wrap for nearly the first year of your life.

Your breathing slowed and cooled against my chest as your fever receded and you fell back into a fitful sleep.

Sickness is hard on you, little one. You burn up with a fever over the smallest of things as your body wages all out war against whatever it is that is troubling you. I’ve learned that tipping point where your fever starts to go up up up and then we dropper-feed you some medicine that you refuse to drink otherwise, and it cuts off the top of that fever that would otherwise spike up to the scary numbers as it has twice before with the smallest most minor of things.

Everything about you is strong and swift with little in-between. Your joys are boundless, your temper runs deep. Your fevers burn hot. You are my little thunderstorm, complete with the mellowness of those brooding skies and the sudden breaking into sunshine with rainbows. Even your birth fit this pattern- a week where I was convinced that you would never be born and that my body would reabsorb you, followed by three hours of labor before you shot into the world having clearly pulled that “eject” lever. Each of your siblings took much longer, have more shades of gray. You are the blonde-haired child with the dark haired siblings. The oomph. The sweetly determined dear little boychild who speaks both Russian and English with a smattering of sign language, and who does it very well and with an amusing randomness and mischeivous-heavy-lidded long-lashed blue eyes with a splash of brown that you inexplicably inherited from your gramma despite both your father and I having blue eyes.

You are amazingly independent and determined that ALEXANDER DO IT. Not mommy do it. Not daddy do it. Not gramma do it. Not Grampa do it. And most certainly not your big brother Isaac. Absolutely. Not. Alexander do it. Even when “it” is beyond your abilities at this point in your life.

When you are fever-hot, though, you revert to dependence, you cling, you snuggle, you spread your body across mine and let your heat seep into my skin from yours and sync your breathing to mine. We fall back into the rhythms of your babyhood where you stay near, sleep near, cry for our arms, and find peace and comfort there.

This is how you were meant to be. While I am grateful that you mostly sleep through the night now, I am also grateful that you seek out our arms when you need them. Our patterns of comfort which started when you were a tiny newborn have carried forwards to now. You soothe from a nightmare, relax from fright, ease in pain, and seek our nearness when you are sick. I am grateful for these patterns we formed back then, as they help me comfort you now. Each moment of your infancy forms building blocks for your todays and your tomorrows. You will not need to learn to accept comfort later in life, as you have been learning since the moment that you were born, and since you have been teaching us to comfort you since then as well.

Thank you for the lessons you teach me in love, closeness and trust. In responding to your needs I more fully understand my own. And I always welcome the chance to snuggle you some more.

I love you. Deeply. (Even if you did wake me up this morning by kicking me in the head as you woke up.)

<3 Mama

Rotten Day

Dear Kids,

Today was a rotten day. A terrible rotten day, actually. Not the type of “bad” day where you find out a loved one has cancer or that your dog died. But a lethargic unfun blah day.

Eldest, you have discovered a sudden random terror over bees and refuse to venture outside for fear of being stung. No amount of information or logic is able to overcome this fear for very long, and while you’ll permit me to carry you down to the swings you quickly want to come back inside. You have never ever ever ever been stung by a bee before.

Middle child, you’re miserable because your belly is bugging you because of some tummy bug you picked up from day camp where you go twice a week. Last night you woke up quite a few times, and today you pooped on Grampa’s bed. You want to screech about All The Things and you want very little to do with anything other than throwing food on the floor.

Babygirl, you’re perfectly fine, happy, cheerful, squeaky, and Nursing All The Time And Don’t Think About Putting Me Down For Five Seconds Because. Nurse. But while you nurse you insist upon smiling and trying to talk to me, so you’re not exactly nursing. But that’s okay because you know you’ll keep me  up All Night While Nursing Again. Because you have to make up for all the smile-nursing you did during the day.

I have no energy, and every fun idea that I’ve suggested has been shot down by everyone, or has brought on a panic attack over the bees that have never bitten you and that likely never will. (Although you alternate your panic with plans to catch the bees to tell them that you’re their friends. A plan that I have suggested might not be the very best of plans, because bees.. Really like to fly.. Yeah. That’s it. They wouldn’t sting you even if you caught them.. But it’s best not to do it because.. Uh. It would make them REALLY sad.

So. Today we’re watching Way Too Much TV, and coincidentally Grampa decided today was a good day to bring home Jolly Rancher chewy candies which are probably the world’s leading cause of tooth decay and hyperactive children.

Ahh, what the heck. We all have rotten days sometimes. Today’s the first full-on rotten day with very few redeeming factors that I’ve had since before babygirl was born. I suppose I’ve had it coming.

I am hoping that tomorrow you will have overcome the fear of bees, the tummy bug, and remembered that you are able to nurse without smiling.

Tomorrow’s another day. I can wait for it.

<3 Mama.

If You Love Her, Shut Up.

Dear Friends and Family Members,

If you love my daughter, or if you love your daughter, or if you love any little girl.. Shut up.

Stop talking about your body as though it is ugly. Stop talking about your too-big feet, too-long toes. Stop making fun of my knobbly knees or my frizzy hair. Stop talking about needing to lose ten pounds. Stop talking about your ugly this, your gross that, your crash diet, your fat butt, your spider veins. Stop talking about your too-white skin or your too-dark skin or your too-freckled skin. Stop wishing that you were a supermodel. Stop wishing you were shorter or taller or skinnier or meatier.  Stop forwarding pictures of “OMG isn’t this person GROSS?” and stop making snarky comments about strangers on the street.

Don’t talk about yourself that way. Don’t talk about me that way. Don’t talk about anyone that way. Not in front of a little girl.

Almost every woman in this country hates the way she looks for one reason or another, or only feels beautiful at certain moments in time when everything is just right. But for most of our lives things are slightly out of place. Slightly saggier, larger, smaller, or frizzier than we would like.

Why does it matter? Why do we have to spend so much time dwelling on the things we dislike about each other? Why do we have to speak of this in front of our girls who have never even realized that they could or should dislike themselves or others? Why do we force each generation to go through this?

Don’t talk about the bags under your eyes and how you have to paint them away so that no one will know how tired you are. Talk about healthy sleep habits and dietary changes that can help with under-eye puffiness. Talk about skin health.

Don’t talk about needing to lose ten pounds. Talk about making healthier eating choices.

Don’t talk about feeling “out of shape”, talk about feeling “out of breath” or “out of energy”.

Disliking oneself and disliking others is not a legacy that we need to pass on. Let it go. It makes no one happy.

And if you speak about such things in front of my daughter and try to pass on that legacy of self-disgust and shame, don’t be surprised to find yourself contradicted.

At some point in your life someone lied to you and told you that the unimportant things are what is important. At some point in your life no one stood up for your right to feel good in your skin. At some point in your life you internalized all the negative things that you heard other people say.

If you think I’m making too big of a deal out of this.. Ask yourself this: Are you comfortable in your skin? How do you feel when someone calls you ugly or fat or says your hair is too short too long too frizzy too curly? How do you feel if someone comments negatively about your feet, your hands, your legs, your skin?

If you love her, don’t do this to her. Let her grow up loving herself the way you and I should have grown up loving ourselves. Let her grow up feeling healthy and strong.

Let her be as beautiful as she is, without planting the seeds of self doubt.

<3 Me.

You might also like:

  • Independent of Comparison:
    Daughter, I can’t build you up if I tear myself or others down. Your beauty exists independent of comparison. No more, no less. Your intelligence exists independent of comparison. No more, no less. Your abilities exist independent of comparison. You are not another person. You are yourself. And that is what you need to be.

  • When Do We Lose Our Comfort?:
    You are beautiful to me, not because of the big blue eyes and curly black hair of your infancy, not because of what shape you may take as a child, a young adult, a woman, a mother, or a grandmother if I live to see you along that far. You are beautiful to me because I love the shape of your soul and how you are growing to be exactly who you need to be.

  • The Truth About Your Body:
    Through loving you, I look at all of the women and all of their daughters and I see nothing ugly, nothing out of shape, nothing wrong. I see many beautiful strong women who are being lied to by others about the beauty that they have, just as I was.

 

The Guilt of Doing What We Feel is Right

Dear Daughter,

I have started to realize a theme in my writings to you. I write a lot about the guilt of overcoming what I am told by pop-culture parenting and “the old way”, and doing what I feel is right.

It’s an interesting thing, this feeling guilt over following what my instincts say is the right thing to do.

There is a lot written on the topic of overcoming the guilt that some moms feel with formula feeding. There is not much written on overcoming the guilt that moms feel while breastfeeding. There is a lot written on the topic of overcoming the guilt of sitting outside your baby’s door while your baby cries it out for the first time. There is not much written about the guilt that we feel when we respond to our baby’s cries. There’s a lot written about letting dad bottle feed so that he can bond, and not much written about the feelings of guilt that come from exclusive breastfeeding. Not that there are clear cut “right and wrong” things here. But there is often guilt no matter what we do.

Listening to our instincts sometimes feels like “what we want to do”, it feels right and it feels good. And we’ve somehow come to associate doing what feels “good” with the selfish decision. We attempt to control our diet by making sure that we don’t eat that donut that we crave. We attempt to control our finances by making sure that we don’t buy that sparkly new flat screen TV or another pair of shoes that we want but don’t really need.

That culture oozes over to parenting. We are told that if we don’t allow our babies to cry, they don’t learn to self soothe. We are told that if we allow our babies to comfort nurse they will learn to comfort eat. We are told that if we reward our children’s tantrums with empathy we are teaching them to manipulate us. We are told dad won’t bond without a bottle. We are told that carrying or babies spoils them and ruins their chance at independence. We are told that offering comfort in the darkness of the night robs our children of the ability to ever sleep soundly. We are told that if we do not assert our dominance that our children will dominate us.

We largely still live in a culture that says if we spare the rod we spoil the child, but that at the same time looks down on corporal punishment and that is advancing towards making it illegal. Popular culture leaves us with few tools and many of the warnings about “indulgent parenting” come true.

We are not boxed in by the limitations of what has come before. We have many tools at our disposal. Intuition, empathy and instinct are the most powerful tools that we have as human beings and as parents. We have language. We have example.

As an adult, if you are afraid you do not find comfort by being alone. You seek out the company of others. This is as it is now as an infant and as a child. I do not expect you to learn something that adults still struggle with. You will learn to internalize the voice of comfort over time as I speak comforting things to you now.

Were you older and you were to ask for broccoli or a salad when you were upset I would not freak out that you are “comfort eating”. It is when you are a toddler and you ask for ice cream that I should worry about such things, not when you are an infant and taking comfort in eating healthy things. I do not see the problem with eating healthy nutritious food when you are upset, as it gives you the energy needed to deal with the upset.

Exclusive breastfeeding, too, is fraught with guilt. When you are going through a growth spurt I feel badly because you are hungry. There is a difference between hunger and starvation. Hunger is the drive to eat. You do eat. Starvation is the withholding of food as the body burns itself for energy. Breastfeeding through a growth spurt is not starvation, as you get everything that you need while working for more. Feeding you on my colostrum while waiting for my milk to come in is not starvation, it is meeting your needs with healthy food rather than filling you up with things your body cannot make full use of.

When you tantrum as a toddler, I can offer you the words and the calm to help you pull yourself back together as  your brain develops enough to keep those stormy emotions under check. As an adult I understand that stuffing the things you feel deep down inside without understanding them has never been a solution for me. I do not expect it to magically become one for you.

I try to use guilt as a reminder to look at how I am parenting and to think about what lessons I want you to learn and how I hope to teach them. I try to ask myself how I learn best, and if I feel guilt because I am going with my instinct or with my desire.

Do not allow guilt to lurk in the corners of your mind while you parent your own children someday. Confront it head on. Ask yourself “Why does this make me feel guilty?” Think about your reasons. Think about other ways you can go about doing things and get the same necessary results without the guilt.

Own your choices, think them out for yourself, and parent guilt-free and with love.

Understand that there is a difference between indulgence and compassion.

<3 Mama

The Intersection of Want and Need

Dear Two Year Old MiddleChild aka Mr. McScreamingScreechyPants,

Here we are at the intersection of Want and Need. As a baby your “wants” and your needs” are one and the same and largely simple in their nature. Then you reach that awesome age where you start to realize that there is life beyond what you need. Your wants go off one way, and your needs go off in the other.

You have discovered Want. Opinion. Independence. Communication. And The Very Loud Screaming of the Screamy Things.

I understand. Even as adults with much larger vocabularies we have a difficult time voicing what we want, what we need, and what we feel when those wants and needs don’t match up. There are entire books dedicated to the topic of helping adults deal with these things.

You are two. You have been out here in this big confusing world for just two years. You have been speaking for less than a year. Your sentences are both amusingly charming and often peppered with complete nonsense as you try to fill in the spaces that contain words that you don’t yet remember or understand. I cannot mistake early communication with emotional maturity.

You feel everything fully. Every pain, every frustration, every need, every happiness, every sadness. You have not built up the thicker skin that comes with perspective and experience. You are open and vulnerable to every emotion.

When you scream “no no no” as I take you out of the swing and carry you for a nap, you are not trying to manipulate me. You are telling me that you do not want a nap, even as you need one. You are communicating with me using the words you have only so recently discovered. You are sharing your frustration. You are asking me to change things, to strip away the tired and grouchy feelings that come with sleepiness, to extend those hours of swinging in the sunshine. You are asking me to be the God that I was when you were a baby and I could simply make everything Okay. You are discovering the limitations of both you and me, and you are protesting this with all the fury and passion that your little body can muster.

I do not need to fix this, you are not broken. These are your growing pains, not your character defects. I do not need to break your tantrum. I do not need to change your tantrum. I do not need to ignore your tantrum. I do not need to “indulge” your tantrum. I do not need to derail your tantrum with bribes. I do not need to be ashamed of your tantrum. I need to be there for you as your calm while you get it all out so that you can return to balance and once the storm has passed I can provide you with the words for what it is that you were feeling so very strongly.

I cannot fix this with anger.

I cannot fix this with love.

I cannot fix this with annoyance.

I cannot fix this with talking.

I cannot fix this.

I do not need to fix this. This is the way every child grows. This is the intersection of want and need where those two things go off in their own directions. This is your mind learning to cope with the frustration of those wants and needs.

You are doing exactly what you need to do at this point in your life. You are exploding with joy, with anger, with sadness, with happiness, with glee, with giggles, with amusement, with understanding, with words, emotions, feelings and milestones.

My job right now is to simply be there with you by your side as you explode in these many directions. To understand that your angers and frustrations and temper are not a judgement or indictment of me. They are not a failure or shortcoming in my parenting. They are a sign of your growth, your progression, your rapid and uncomfortable change from infancy to childhood.

My job is to simply be that calm that you need to learn to be. I cannot teach you to be calm through my own anger. I cannot teach you to be calm through my own frustration. I cannot teach you to be calm by ignoring your emotions. I cannot go through this for you. And I cannot keep you from passing through this place that we all pass through. To keep you from this would be to leave you to deal with all of those difficulties at every stage of your life.

All I can do is know my place here beside you as grow and remember that I cannot fix this because this is not broken. This is exactly how you should be right now at two.  You are doing exactly what you should be doing, and you are doing it with admirable gusto and volume.

Understanding this means that instead of looking at your tantrums with annoyance or upset, I look on them with empathy. I know, little critter. It’s rough. I struggle with finding those intersections of want and need, myself, sometimes. It’s okay. I love you, and I’m sorry you’re struggling right now.

<3 Mama