Mother, Martyr

I’m barefoot and braless in the kitchen. Hair a mess, teeth unbrushed, my glasses smudged with egg. A thirteen month old is balanced on my hip while I dip pieces of bread into eggs and drop them on a sizzling frying pan to make golden brown french toast.

I go through the motions of retrieving a towel, a bowl. Filling it with water and some spoons. I lower Wren onto the towel and try to load the dishwasher. Wren is fussing at my legs, pulling on my jeans while standing on her tiptoes. I pull her up onto my hip and she reaches for the running water of the sink.

I adjust the water so it isn’t quite so scalding, dip my hand into it to make sure it’s okay for her, then let her hold her little hands under the stream.

Mother, martyr? We’re told over and over to not lose ourselves to motherhood. To not give in to the demands our children make. To not become martyrs. All these different lines are suggested, and everyone has an idea for where they should be drawn.

I’ve been thinking a lot the idea of motherhood being martyrdom lately. About all the things you MUST do to avoid losing yourself, your relationship, and the respect of those around you. I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism and choice.

“Am I doing this of my own free will?”

I catch myself asking that question and erupt into laughter. Wren startles, looks at me, pats my face with dripping hands. Her face is giddy as my laughter rocks both of our bodies. Soon she is laughing, too.

I kiss her nose. Yes. Yes, I am doing this of my own free will.

Sometimes I’m not, though.

Sometimes the “should” and “must” and “YOU HAVE TO” and “BAD MOTHER” and all those things sneak in and start robbing me of my choice. My mind fills up with all the words of other people and my schedule fills up with all the things that everyone thinks I should be doing. Sometimes I prickle at the touch of the child who hugs my legs or who crawls into my bed before the sunrise.

Sometimes when I am packing lunch for my partner I am focused on what he might expect of me, rather than the fact that it has been a mutual choice of ours. And that I can fail if I need to fail. I can shove in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he can eat it or pack his own damned lunch.

That isn’t my reaction to my children, though. Or to my partner. I love the hugs. I love the snuggles. I enjoy packing lunches and helping my not-so-little family save toward not-so-little dreams.

Do I really hate this, or do I hate that it’s a thing added to a list of things that I have to do in order to earn an A+ in parenting? To get my 4.0 GPA in life? To be On Top of Things and Have The Perfect Balance?

I give rides to friends who need them. There are extra seats in my messy van. I sweep books off to the side. Introduce my friends to the heap of crumbs. I should have the van sparkling clean and I should hand them a cup of freshly brewed organic something and be a good hostess while I drive them to whatever place I am driving them to. Instead I’m frazzled and check again to make sure no one is allergic to peanuts. Because some portion of the crumbs are from peanut butter crackers that my children used as confetti at some point in the past.

I’ve given myself permission to fail. To be imperfect. Not the hidden sort of imperfect, either. I’m not ashamed. Although I do need to make a date with my father in law’s shop vac soon for my own sanity if not the sanity of those that get rides in my poor crumbly Minerva the Minivan.

Most days I have bonus kids here. Neighbor kids. Friends kids. And then, in the spaces where I spend parts of my week? Wren spent time sitting on the lap of a friend exploring her necklaces. Bigger kids carry Wren around and help her join their games. Friends help my kids put their shoes back on, and tie their laces.

I’m not a martyr.
I’m not alone.
I’m not perfect.
I refuse to make that a goal.
I refuse to hold anyone else to that standard.

That’s where I find happiness in life. By working hard at all of the things, and by understanding that they are not going to be perfect. But that I will get better at all of them as time passes. I will have more space for things as my children grow. I will grow back into myself.

Where I’m at today? It’s fine. I choose to be here. And choice is a delicious and wonderful thing.

It keeps me from becoming one of those people who throws up their hands and declares the world incompetent. It keeps me from steeping in my own bitterness.

I will not allow the pace of life to make me resent the people who are most important to me. If something needs changing, I will find a way to change it. If something is temporary I will find a way through it. If something is worded in a way that makes me feel taken for granted I will ask that other words be used. Or that more help is offered.

Giving grace makes it easier to receive grace.
Giving help makes it easier to accept help.
Accepting help makes it easier to know how to give help.
Giving love makes it easier to feel love.

Am I okay with this?
If I’m not okay with this, I can say no.
And if I am? I can say yes.
And be really truly okay with it.
Can I offer help?
If I can’t, I don’t.
And if I can, I do.
And really truly mean it.

I am not, and will not be a martyr. There’s no need.
No one’s grading us at life.
And if they are?
They don’t understand what life truly is.

A time for thoughtful reflection, acceptance, and conversation.

This is a guest post by Mr. Nurshable.

Dear Nurshable readers,
As you know, these elections have had a tremendous impact on us all. The lead up has been exhausting and the result has been shocking for everyone. Mrs. Nurshable is still recovering from that shock. As with all things, it will take time.
In the mean time I would like to share some thoughts with you all about moving forward.
Right now, the US is a divided country. Red vs Blue. Liberal vs Conservative. Urban vs Rural. Men vs Women. Majority vs Minority. There are so many differences that it can be easy to get lost and look down on others just for living in a different neighborhood.
And this is exactly the state that the country is in right now. Half of us are celebrating, half are grieving, and both sides are pointing the finger of blame at the other.
No matter which side you find yourself on please pause for a moment.
Now, consider this community. You are all different. Some of you come from the city. Some from the country. Some are God fearing. Some are skeptic. Some are wealthy. Some are poor. But all of you share the common trait of aspiring to be gentle with your parenting. It is this commonality that brings you together. More importantly, it is this commonality that guides how you all interact with each other.
This community is inclusive. When faced with anger you respond with kindness. When faced with frustration you respond with gentleness. When faced with blame you respond with understanding. It is these traits and responses that this country sorely needs right now.
Our community values allow us to coexist peacefully and without vitriol, even if we disagree sometimes. We do not need to feed the flame of anger and blame others for inheriting a broken system and trying to make the best of it. What we need more of is understanding.
Now I ask you. No matter what side of the election you were on, take the time to talk to people- especially those of your opposite view. Do so with the Nurshable mindset of understanding. Do not blame anyone for the results and do not blame anyone for forcing you to allow this to happen. That is counterproductive.
If you are grieving, remember that the 60 million people that voted for this result have felt exactly how you do now in 2008 and in 2012. And if you are celebrating, remember how you felt in 2008 and 2012.
If there is one thing that both sides can agree on is that the system we have is broken. What we are experiencing now is the result of that system. If we keep pointing fingers at each other then all we will succeed in doing is perpetuating the endless pendulum where half of us feel like our world crumbles every 4-8 years.
The path ahead will be long and arduous, and there are many things that we can do to help and to fix this. But it all starts with a conversation.
Words of understanding.
I ask you all now to put aside your anger, fear, frustration and grief, and try to UNDERSTAND the opposite point of view.
I am reminded a little bit of the Industrial Revolution which had a similar situation where poor, established factory workers were put out of work by poorer, less qualified, and less expensive immigrant workers. Fighting between the two groups was natural and was also fueled by wealthy industrialist interests who knew that they wouldn’t stand a chance if those two groups united.
And that is what I am reminding you all of today- to get through this, we must be united.
And we will get through this.
But it all starts with understanding.
Understand that your opinion is not the only one. Understand that opposing opinions are not incorrect. Understand that there are multiple points of view. Understand that you do not have to agree. But most of all, understand that you are all still human.
There is plenty to discuss between all of us, and we will get to the discussion part eventually (who knows, we might even find some really good solutions). But we need to be ready and willing to understand the views we don’t agree with first.

On Tuesday we saw the exact outcome of what happens when people don’t feel listened to. The same happens when children do not feel listened to. We all know and practice this kind of gentle understanding with our children. It is time to apply what we have learned to our interactions with our fellow adults as well.
-Mr. Nurshable

Sleeping With Knives: Cosleeping and Sensationalism

​I have grown weary of some of the sensationalism surrounding cosleeping. It is nothing like allowing a child to ride in a car without a carseat. And even less like letting a baby sleep with a knife. 

“You have a crib?”

“I do. With a nice firm mattress.” I don’t bother to add that I have removed one side, raised the mattress and bunjee-corded it to our king sized bed to make a nice big space for diaper changes, napping cats and my water bottle. 

She even sleeps there for short periods of time at the start of some nights when I want to curl up with my head tucked onto my partner’s shoulder for a little while. (I make sure it is empty of napping cats and other things first.)

Wren sleeps next to me. 

She always has. 

In the deepest part of our sleep cycles neither of us moves. Then as she rouses from sleep her little movements rouse me. Before she even makes a fussy sneezing sound to call for me, she has latched on and is nursing back to sleep. 

When she is done I reach between us and take her little hand, pulling it up a bit and rolling her onto her back again. In the dark her little lips quiver in her sleep. I fall asleep kissing her little head.

My arm is stretched out above her head, below my pillow. and my other arm lays across my blanket, curling under her feet.  Or my leg curls under her feet. My blanket is tucked between my legs so that the edge can’t move above her waist and she can’t migrate underneath it. 

My bed is not empty of things. But they cannot move without me knowing. She cannot move without me knowing. I cannot move without me knowing. 

Once in an episode of 3AM insomnia I read an article about overlaying and rolling over onto babies. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to roll over on or into my sleeping baby without dislocating my shoulder in the process. I already knew it to be impossible, but I re-evaluated  Every time I moved, she startled a bit. Her hands started to fly and crashed into me. or her fingers twitched against me.  Too many tiny startles woke her up and she started rooting to nurse. 

I do not think bedsharing is safe for everyone. 

I do not believe that it is dangerous for everyone.

I do believe it is safe for us. 

And for many other families as well. 

I have never shied away from reading about the dangers of bedsharing. Understanding things like overheating and rebreathing are important. Knowing about overlaying as well as rolling is important. Knowing about air circulation is important. Understanding how a baby can become entrapped between a mattress and headboard, against a crib bumper, or even between a bedframe and the rail of a sidecarred crib. Important. 

These are important discussions that we don’t have because cosleeping is currently being treated in a disproportionately sensational way.

Imagine if we were told flat out that we should never bring our infant in the car. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children under 13. 

Instead we talk about how to keep children safer in cars. Instead we talk about the types of scenarios where people should not drive, and why it increases the danger of driving.

What if that were the type of discussion we had around cosleeping?

Parents are cosleeping anyway. The lack of discussion about safety is leading to cosleeping practices and devices that decrease rather than enhance safety.

That’s Not Fair!

We are packing for a road trip.

Alexander has taken it upon himself to pack some car snacks.

He comes up to me after putting snacks in everyone’s bag. “Mommy, there are two extras.”

I am counting out diapers into the diaper bag. I do not think before answering.

“You can just put that in your bag, since you packed the snacks.” (Fair enough, I guess?)

“I think Isaac should have it.” he says. “He is bigger and eats more.”

“Does that seem fair?” I ask. It is my go-to question. We discuss fairness often, I am the one who brings it up. He understands that I am asking him if he is considering himself as well as his brother. 

He smiles. He says yes. I ask him if he wants to check with Keenie and see if she thinks it is fair, too. She is enthusiastic and on board. “Isaac eats more!” She agrees.

I see a lot of posts about how to stop the whining about fairness. 

My kids bring up fairness with me and my partner maybe a few times a year at most. 

I answer it with a question. “What do you feel would be fair to everyone?” 

Fairness isn’t making a single person happy. That is “I would like” and “can I please?” Fairness is a discussion where everyone’s needs are weighed and considered. Fair is not necessarily equal. It would not be fair for Keenie and I to have the exact same amount of food on our plates. She eats like a bird, I eat like a bulldozer. She needs less food. I need more. It would not be fair for me to insist that I get to use the toilet because I got there first, if one of my children is doing the potty dance.

Life? Life is not fair. Life is a combination of many things.  But family is not a “too bad,so sad, sucks to be you” Thing unless we choose to treat it that way.

If I am asking one of my children to accept something unfair, I tell them. I ask them.  I say “I know that what I am asking is not fair to you. I am asking you if you can please help me by doing XYZ this once. Next time I promise we will do QRS instead. Is that okay?” And I thank them genuinely. 

I make space for myself, as well. I calmly say “I need to be fair to myself, too. And when things are unfair to me, I start the same discussion. 

It takes different forms, but the gist of it is that “I do more because I am older and faster and you are my children and I want to make sure you have all the space you need to play. 

Right now I am trying to get ready so we can all go. I need your help. It is not fair to ask me to do every single thing that needs to be done before we can leave. What can you help with?”

This is not a thing I am perfect with. It is an evolving mindset. I have had no examples for this. I have plucked it out of the moments when I have felt like every bit of me wanted to shriek “THIS IS NOT FAIR!!!!”

What gets me to that point?
What has brought my child there?
How can I help my child feel respected?
Giving them whatever they want is not respect.
Neither is refusing on principle.

It needs to be a conversation.

And I need to be the calm one.

Otherwise what my child is yelling is true.

It isn’t fair.

How to Talk to Babies Like No One is Watching

I am talking to my 5.5mo baby as she is playing with a toy.

And I begin naming the things that are on it.

And I name the lady beetle.

Intentionally not using the term “bug”.
Because lady beetles are not true bugs.

Then I explain this in a perfectly serious voice.

To my 5.5mo baby.

And suddenly I flash back to my first child at that age.

And how I used to wonder what I should talk to him about.

Everything. Talk to your baby about everything.

Describe things as verdant green.
Fingers and toes as pudgy digits that each have names.
Talk like a book.
Talk like yourself.
Explain things the way you would to a two year old.
A nine year old.
An adult.
Quote movies.
Talk about the marvelous things your baby is learning.
And about all the things they will do when they are bigger.
Name colors.
Talk about the potty and poop and pee and how their body will tell them they need to do certain things.
Run your finger inside their little chompy chewy mouth. Trace the gums. Name what teeth will come in where.
Or confess that you never learned their names, but that you should learn them so that you can teach them later.

Sit in silence and stare at their face with the same wonder they are staring at yours.

Say their name in hushed awed tones. Spell it out. Introduce yourself.

And tell them how ridiculously happy you are to have them here with you.

Then be quiet, too. Carry them in your arms and wander through your life in silence as they look at things.

And let them speak. In high pitched squeals and squeaks and babbles.

They are telling you how ridiculously happy they are to be here. With you. In your arms.

And When You Come Home to a Messy House, What Will You See?

Isaac is watching me as I clean.
I have just put the bedtime snack on the table.

And rounded up my giggling children. 

“Mommy, come eat with us!” He says. I am swishing water on plates with one hand while holding a cooing Wren on my hip with the other hand. She is attempting to hang upside down to grab the water as it runs. 

“I can’t right now, sweetie.” I say. “I have to clean up.”

A moment later I shut off the water.  I go over to the table. I sit down. 

“Isaac?” I say. “Can I ask you a question?”

He looks up. 

“Do you think you will want to have kids someday? A family?” 

He says he does. 

“If you are working and your partner is at home with the kids… when you come home, if the house is messy what will you think?”

“That she was taking care of the kids all day and playing with them.”

“There is something I want you to try and remember, okay?” I am looking at him in the eyes. “It is very very important.”

He is listening. 

“Do you see the dishes still in the sink?” He looks. 

“Do you see the bits of coffee grounds that spilled earlier and that I missed when I cleaned them up?” He looks. 

“And the unfolded laundry in the library?” He nods. 

“You can see all the things I haven’t done, right?” I ask. “Can you see what I *have* done?”

He says he can. 


He saw me do three other loads of laundry. Feed the animals. Cook three meals. Wash the pans for two of those meals. He saw me clean up after them all day. Put things away. He saw me focus their new microscope on the smear of blood I coaxed from my pricked fingertip onto a slide. He saw me round up the library books. Breastfeed and bounce the baby, change countless diapers. Help them all settle disagreements.  Work on Alexander’s reading and on everyone’s math. He asked me for help getting things, and I said “of course” over and over again. 

“But if you did not see what I did, and you just came home to see everything I haven’t managed to do.. would you think I did nothing all day?”

He shakes his head.

“Some people do think that way.” I tell him. “They see what still needs to be done, and they get upset.”


“I don’t know, sweetie.” I say. “But it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT that if you ever have a partner you don’t think that way.”

“I won’t.” He promises. “I will do what daddy does.”

“What does daddy do?” I smile. 

“He comes home and he helps you clean and brings you food so you can sit down”

My heart swells fit to burst.

“Yes. Daddy does that.” I smile. “He loves me very much, and knows how hard I work every day.”

I pause. 

“And that is why, every night before he comes home I try to clean up as much as I can. Because I love him very much and I know how hard he works every day even though I am not there to see it.”

That is what family is.

A bunch of imperfect people trying to find their balance on this crazy spinning sphere of a planet. 

This is love. 

And love is good. 


Wren is on the swings. 

I am pushing gently.  

A little girl comes over and wants to push her too. 

“Gently” I say. And she pushes her gently, slowly building up momentum until it approaches being too fast. 

I could repeat the word “gently”, have her figure it out. Or dive in and stop the swing,assuming she is ignoring my words. 

Instead I smile and add more words to paint a better picture of what “gentle” means right now. 

“A little slower, okay? She is littler than her friend in the other swing. Her neck is not as strong, if you push her too quickly she won’t be able to hold her head up.”

She’s looking at me. “Can I show you?” I ask. I push gently. “See?” 

The little girl pushes so gently the swing slows almost to a stop. I chuckle with a smile.”that is very gentle. She can go a little faster than that.”

She tries again, this time at the perfect speed. 

“You are very good with babies.” I say. 

She smiles a huge smile. 

Often when the word “gentle” is not immediately understood, we jump in quickly. If the baby is going to be hurt, jumping in is good. But often we can pause the older child’s actions with more words and paint a better picture of what we expect.

Or we can redirect to a different positive interaction. 

The gentle that we are with a horse is different from the gentle we are with daddy. The gentle we are with daddy is different from the gentle we are with mommy when she is pregnant. There is the gentleness we show great grandma who is sick. The gentleness we show a bunny. Another child our size. The gentleness we show a newborn, a six month old,a one year old, a five year old. There is the gentleness we show a butterfly or a tiny little inchworm.

I like to use more words to help people guess well. 

The Earliest Forms of Consent and Communication (Part 1)

She stirs.
Blows bubbles.
I smile, too.
And tell her good morning.
“You are awake!”
Then I ask her a question.
It has always been a silly question.
“Can I pick you up?”
I started asking her this at the hospital when she was just born.
I hold out my hands and pause before I pick her up.
In the space of that pause, today?
At five and a half months old?
She rolled away from me to grab at her little stuffed dog.
And then she rolled back to me.
Ready to be picked up.
“Wait a second, mommy. Let me get this first.”

I’d Like to Live in a World Like This

A volunteer blackberry plant in the weedy remnants of last summer’s garden. 

I am looking at the little blackberry with my four year old daughter when a little skipper lands. 

She squeals in happiness, her hands fly up to her face and she goes breathless. 

Disconnect makes life ugly. I can stand off and stare at the unkempt and awful weedy place where my garden used to grow.

Or I can creep closer, crouch low. I can look for the beautiful things that my life is full of. 

“I’d like to live in a world like this.” I think. 

The sun to our backs. Frozen in a moment, my two daughters and I. 

I’d like to live in a world like this.  The world I live in with these kids of mine. 

They remind me that it is full of small and simple things.

Full of beauty and wonder.