The Difference between Zero and Not Zero

When I was a new mom, I went around amazed quite a bit. I don’t mean ‘dazed and confused’, although there was quite a bit of that, too (tired as I was). I was one of those moms who was floored by the most mundane accomplishments of my baby. To be fair to my former self, it wasn’t just my kid I was fascinated by. All babies were able to learn new skills, and I was in a near continual state of wonder about the whole thing whenever I thought about it. Conversations with other parents sometimes went like this:

K: Holy cow! I can’t believe it! E got her fingers in her mouth! Yesterday she didn’t even seem to know she had hands! She’s so amazing!

Other Parent: Yeah, my kid’s been doing that for a while.

K: Oh my gosh! I thought I saw that last week. Your kid’s so amazing!

Other Parent: ………………..

I have to admit that after 6 years and 2 babies, some of the shine has worn off.

I recently read in Some Internet Article (if you know which one, please speak up and I’ll quote it directly…I like to give credit where it’s due) that one of the things that’s hard for me is that I spend a lot of time getting things “back to zero”. This is kind of true. According to the article, my work includes things like making zero dishes in the sink, zero toys on the floor, zero loads of laundry left to put away (hah!), etc. This is often true.

What is NOT true, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, is that the ‘back to zero’ thing does not apply to my children. If I slip into thinking that it does which is very, very easy (because zero diapers to change, zero naps to conquer, zero snacks to give, zero boogers to wipe), then I will miss the incremental progress that they are making. You know, the stuff that used to allow me to hold on through another screaming fit about having the wrong diaper on (even though the right diaper is dirty).

If I stand in my back yard in April and look, I’ll notice the beautiful fence we put in last year, the swingset, and the beginnings of E’s fruit garden. A little closer and I’ll see mud puddles, toys strewn about the yard, and the weeds around the strawberry patch. But a little closer still, and it gets fun again. I can look close enough to see a ladybug walking on a stick. Or the new growth in my herb garden.

I think, parenting-wise, I’m kind of looking at the mud puddles right now. It’s time to focus a little more on the prodigiously ordinary things.

Today E easily sounded out a word that she couldn’t read at all last week.

Today S only had to be told to climb down off the couch 5 times instead of 50 like yesterday.

Today we went on a bear hunt. We were going to catch a Big Bear. Who us? We’re not scared.

Today E got her own snack out of the fridge and I didn’t have to do it.

Today S was SUPER ANGRY that I didn’t give him an apple. He was so upset that he composed a song about it. We sat at the piano and played with our fingers and sang a Very Sad Song (well, as sad as you can be in C Major–I’m not good at improvising).

All that’s to say, these are not the sorts of things that will get them into college someday. But they are things that happened, that would not have happened yesterday. While they may seem small by some estimations, to me they are the difference between Zero and Not Zero.

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On babies sleeping through the night, the perceived cruelty of cry-it-out, and breastfeeding a college freshman

There is this idea that I hear every so often that still catches me off guard every time I hear it.

The idea is that babies are supposed to sleep through the night, and that if they don’t it’s because of some choice the parent has made. As though we checked some sort of box at the hospital to choose sleepless nights. I didn’t, by the way.

Babies are biologically designed to be light sleepers. This is so that their immature respiratory systems don’t shut down, causing them to stop breathing and die. This is a good thing.

What this means is that no baby, ever, actually sleeps with a consistent depth of sleep through the whole night.

Some babies are innately able to get themselves back into the deep part of their sleep cycle without any outside help. This is a good thing.

Some babies are confused when they wake up and need help to figure out how to get back to sleep. This presents parents with a choice.

In my family, we (my husband and I, together) have chosen to respond to our babies’ cries each and every time. I don’t have the kind of infants who fuss for a minute and then go back to sleep. Sensitive and loving cry-it-out moms that I know and respect tell me that there are different types of baby crying. There is a little fussing kind of cry that lasts for a minute or less, and then baby is back asleep. I have been at a friend’s house when she has done this, and it was shocking to me how quickly the baby just went back to sleep. It wasn’t shocking that she was “neglecting” or “ignoring” her baby (she wasn’t doing either of those things at all, in fact–contrary to what some of the more hardcore and judgy “attachment parenting” websites might imply), but it was shocking to me that the baby worked it out. Why? Because my babies don’t do that. The longer I let them cry, the worse it is by the time I get to them. We’re talking about 30 seconds from waking up to “someone-is-pulling-out-my-toenails-dear-God-please-help-me” full on screaming. So I am not a cry-it-out mom. And it’s ok that I know that about myself.

I think that any parenting philosophy, taken to its extreme, is not a good thing. I also think that finding out someone is interested in certain aspects of a particular parenting philosophy does not give me license to assume that he or she will take it to its ridiculous extreme.

So to my dear cry-it-out mama friends, I promise not to assume that you put in earplugs and drink wine on the couch every night, enforcing 3-4 hours between feeds and causing failure to thrive. If you want to, you may promise not to assume that I will follow my son to college and breastfeed him in his dorm room.

Deal?

I've posted this before, but seriously...this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

I’ve posted this before, but seriously…this is how she fell asleep for the first three months of her life. Every. Time.

Priorities and Competition in Parenting

There is only so much energy a person can have in a day. We can only do so many things, care about so many things, fix so many things, etc. As a parent I find this stressful because I feel this internal pressure to GET IT RIGHT for my kids’ sake. The problem is, we don’t live in a perfect world and I am only one (very flawed) person and I spend my days raising a couple of adorable-yet-also-flawed children.

So I prioritize.

Whether we realize it or not, we all do it. As a chronic thinker I organize and reorganize my priorities constantly as I move through my day. This has recently been made even more necessary on a pragmatic level by the fact that my hands hurt (my doctor said I should “use them less” and then shook his head because he is really smart and knows how ridiculous that sounds). I physically can’t carry the laundry upstairs and put away the cast iron cookware and scrub the bathroom tub and carry the kids around. I have to pick.

This physical limitation has me thinking about other limitations. We have a certain amount of parenting capital, so to speak. That thing that allows us to (necessarily) stress our relationship with our children with phrases like, “please sit down” or “not yet, finish your food” or “please stop peeing on that”. It’s comprised of a delicate balance of the amount of feedback our kids can truly process, the amount of kindness we can muster to say things to them well, and the amount of energy we can spend helping them to really understand what we expect of them. I don’t know exactly how much I have, but I know it’s not enough to make my child perfect.

After I spend enough time and energy trying to fit into someone else’s idea of good parenting (luckily for my family I have a pretty low tolerance for pretending to be somebody else so it doesn’t usually take me more than a few days), I eventually get tired of feeling like my house is a mess, my kids are a mess, and I’m not a good enough parent. I don’t know anyone who would actually say this to me, but there are moments when I take things the wrong way because I have in mind what my friends’ priorities are, and I want my friends to be happy. The problem with trying to live someone else’s priorities over my life is that they don’t fit. It’s like trying to wear clothes that no longer suit me. They make me feel undesirable and like I am the wrong size.

The easiest way to avoid this would be to seek out only people who prioritize the same parenting items I do. But that would be sad. You see, there are a lot of people I love very much and who make my life better and make me better, and yet care about different things than me. And I really, really need that because, again, I can’t care about ALL THE THINGS. I need my children to see other people caring about different things because that’s how they’ll figure out what they should care about. In Christianese we call this “finding your calling” in case that language is helpful to you.

But.

If I am going to continue to be friends with people who have different priorities than me, I’m going to need to learn to let other people have their things back.

***********

My fellow parents,

I see how hard you work to live your priorities and I think it’s amazing. I want you to be great at what you care about most. It frees me up to be great at what I care about most. And to be clear, just because I care about something else most doesn’t mean I don’t care about your thing. One of the things I care about most is raising kids who are good at being with people. So I will teach them to care about your things, because I will teach them to care about you. I need to be able to talk about your things to my children and say, “Look! Aren’t they great at caring about that? They are making the world a better place.” But they’re little, and the first things I need to make sure they get down are my things. I’m sorry about that.

I’d like to propose a clause on our friendship. A non-compete clause. 

I don’t mean that we should not be friends with a competing party for six years after being friends. I understand that the legal definition is something like that.

I like it because it sounds contractual and binding and if we are going to do something as life-changing as not judge and compete with one another in this current parenting culture, it’s going to take one heck of a commitment to changing our thinking. Something that requires so much intentionality should sound legally binding. 

What I mean is that I am no longer willing to bond over how ridiculous some random parent is because they do x, y, or z. I am no longer willing to spend all or even any of my time with you thinking about how my children stack up against your priorities. It puts me in direct competition with you and we both lose. What we lose is the chance to actually learn from one another, because if I’m always worried about what my kids aren’t getting right, I will miss the things they are getting right. If I spend all my parenting capital trying to get my kids to be more like what I think you want them to be I will probably fail (it turns out I’m pretty bad at being you). And even if I succeed at that (which seems unlikely), I will have raised someone else’s children. And these kids, for God knows what reason, were given to me. To raise with all my Things and all my passions and all my quirks.

I need you to keep being who you are so I can learn to be who I am. Thank you for parenting in front of me. I have learned so much from you; probably more than you know, and I hope that continues because parenting is so hard and I think we need allies more than we need judges.

Your ally,

Kate

Other People’s Choices

Things I have heard said (not necessarily all to me) in the past week:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing something WRONG.”

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if she NEEDS her mother?”

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.”

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.”

“I should be more like you.”

“She needs to…..”

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“I don’t like the ‘gay agenda’ and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.”

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Ok, ok, no one actually said these exact words, but I definitely heard this subtext in a lot of places…

It’s enough to make a person’s head spin.
The reason all of these statements are lumped together in the same post is that I’m noticing a lot of us are having trouble separating ourselves from the choices of people around us. And the more we love them, the harder it is. If someone around us makes a different choice than we do, we are forced to recognize that there are different ways to do things. And if there are different ways to do things, then how do we know the way that we picked is the best? Or what if it isn’t the best? In parenting this is hard, because in many cases we won’t know if our kids end up in therapy or prison or medical school or all of the above for another 20 years or so. In religion this is hard, because it is so easy to fall into the trap worshipping our own understanding of who God is. If we are doing that, then if one part of our understanding comes into question it is easy to feel like everything is crumbling apart. In other areas, well, all I can say is that if we base our entire philosophical understanding of life on the understanding that a set of ideas is correct, then anything that appears to challenge those ideas is scary. Scary is bad, so instead of admitting that it’s scary it’s a natural human response to want to discredit something so we don’t have to deal with it. Natural human responses are not necessarily always what we should act on. Just saying.

Is there a way we can engage people around our differences without making their choices about us? Is that even possible? I try. Because I think that if I can learn about why you are doing something the way you are, I will know more. It doesn’t mean that I’ll do everything your way, and it doesn’t mean that I need you to change to validate my choices. So what does that look like in practice? I’m still working that out (I believe that’s a life-long process). Let’s take a trip through those statements again, but inside my brain.

Once more, with commentary:

“What?! That baby is nine months old and woke up in the middle of the night? That’s because that mother is doing SOMETHING WRONG.” No. No it’s not. It’s because babies are biologically designed to sleep lightly so they don’t stop breathing and die. Some babies naturally can put themselves back to sleep without crying, some babies are left to cry until they give up and go back to sleep, and some babies are picked up each time. There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“What?! That baby sleeps in a crib in a different room? What if it NEEDS its mother?” There are as many ways to parent as there are children in the world.

“You just need to tell her what to do, because she doesn’t know anything.” THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS TO PARENT AS THERE ARE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD.

“I know I do too much for my children. Way more than you.” You doing more for your children than I do for mine doesn’t mean that you are a ‘helicopter mom’ any more than it means that I don’t love my kids. Neither of those things are true. We do differently, and that’s ok. There are as many….well, you know.

“I should be more like you.” Nope. One of me is enough. I could find any number of people to back me up on this if you don’t believe me. Also, I’ve spent a lot of energy at different points trying to change myself to be like other people. It wasted my time and just made me a less effective version of myself.

“She just needs to…..” Live in a world with less judgment? Be encouraged by people who care about her? Understand her value? Eat food? Drink water? Oh…you are making a judgmental statement about her behavior again. How disappointing.

“I’m gay, and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” I think this came from a place of hurt because many times people take one another’s decisions very personally and sometimes do so in less than examined ways. If you know and love a gay person who is coming out and you have a problem with gay-ness, maybe try to recognize that you should probably find a safe space to process that out and don’t dump it all over him (or her). He has enough going on. Or if you do talk to him about it, please at least make sure that he knows your feelings are not his fault. He has enough going on. If you know a gay person who is coming out and do not love him, please leave him alone. You have enough going on.

“I don’t like the gay rights agenda and if you have a problem with that then we have nothing to talk about.” This attitude makes very little sense to me now, in retrospect…I hear a lot of conservative people say that homosexuality is a choice or an action, not an identity. If that is true (now that I know actual gay people I doubt very much that it’s that simple), then why should we distill our entire understanding of someone down to one thing we know about them?

“Paula Deen’s the worst. Hers is the face of racism and as a white person I like pointing my finger at her because it means I don’t have to deal with my own stuff.” Or on the other hand, “Why’s everyone so upset at Paula Deen? That was a long time ago and people need to just get over it. Racism was super terrible. Glad that’s over.” Sigh...Back away slllooowwly…please consider reading this post from Kristen Howerton or this other post that I wrote, and then maybe we can have a thoughtful conversation with each other about this.

The art of list-making

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Sometimes making a list (and not going crazy) is about having things on the list that you can actually cross off. Being flexible with list items is also key.

Old to-do list for today:
Get J to work super early so we can have the car and accomplish millions of errands today.
Have two different contractors at the house working on fencing and a bathroom leak.
Meet to finish Indie GoGo crowdfunding perk fulfillment.
Practice the flute.
Organize food for the week.
Do laundry.
Take a luxurious shower in preparation for extra-fancy haircut this afternoon.
Go to Half-price books.
Go to Costco. Happily chat with the children all the way through.
Pick up J from work early.
Get haircuts for all four of us.
Cry a little when S gets his tiny haircut, but in a happy “it all goes so fast” sort of way. Otherwise enjoy and “soak up every moment”, like people keep telling me to do. (Computer programmers, doctors and lawyers, do people follow you around at work to make sure you know how much you should be enjoying every moment of it? I have a hard time picturing that. But I digress…if you haven’t read Glennon’s post about this, I’d highly recommend following that link there. You could put it on your list to do later.)
Eat a calm, pleasant dinner at Aladdin’s, in which no one at all gives us a dirty look just for being there with little ones.
Get home just in time to tuck the children easily into bed at 7:30 and enjoy some down time and grown-up conversation with J before bed.

New to-do list for today (in which I have actual children, not the ones that appear occasionally like a plot point on Friends):
Coffee.
Get J to work medium early.
Help S through some big feelings about not getting to play outside RIGHT NOW.
Help E figure out how to be gracious to someone who’s having big feelings.
Figure that out myself.
Get back in time for K to look at the bathroom leak and get dripped on by nasty ceiling water, and agree to make it all better when we’re not looking (seriously, you guys, a good contactor is worth his weight in gold–or whatever is valuable now. maybe Wonderflonium.).
Keep children from knocking him off the high stool while he’s looking at the ceiling.
T will come sometime and do whatever to the fence or something.
Look at the flute in its case. Leave it there.
Break up a fight over trains.
Get crackers and have a disagreement about what to spread on them.
Something about laundry. Nevermind.
More crackers. Mediate a disagreement about who gets to hold the basket of crackers.
A nap (oh, please?).
Go to Costco. Happily chat with the children part-way through, then open something, anything, and here, put this in your mouth…
Pick J up early.
Get all four of us haircuts when zero of us have showered today. See above re: bathroom leak.
Bring our own shampoo to the hair salon so H can wash our hair (usually she doesn’t). Something about extenuating circumstances and “here’s a latte, sorry we stink.”
Get dinner wherever is the loudest and has real vegetarian food. React kindly to the well-meaning people who tell me to “soak up every moment” when S starts yelling in the middle of dinner. React kindly to the less-well-meaning people who are scandalized that I would dare to buy food in public with children while they are trying to eat dinner.
Get home and pour the children into bed.
Try to decompress and absorb ALL THE THINGS (ok, SOME OF THE THINGS) before I fall asleep on the couch in my jeans.

Five Year Old Girl

Five Years.

Five years since the rushing and the exhilaration, five years since the earth shattering and the fear. Five years since the cutting and the crying and the meeting and the loving and the thanking.

How has it been?

It’s been lots of ways. Mostly lovely. Always worth it.

You are exactly what you should be. You are exactly what I need you to be. I try -so hard- to be what you need me to be. Learning to be a mother has been so much more than I could ever have anticipated. But you have helped me. Through your cries I was able to learn very clearly early on what not to do. Even before you could talk you were always great at telling me if something was off, or if you needed something. We are still in this together. There is a lovely push and pull in our relationship because everything we do flows from the fact that we pray each morning that we would be able to do God’s words with each other; that we would be generous and kind and loving.

Thank you, little one, for making me a mother. I know it isn’t easy work. But we do it together, and it is the great honor of my life.

Here’s a smattering of photos that made me smile, little girl. I love you!

Well Helloo there!Well helloo there!

You and meNo, really, I think this morphine is making me….what was I saying? Cute baby.

Elizabeth and her DavesElizabeth and her Daves

We used to call this the - ahem- "boob nap". You liked it.

our new family

with Great Grandma Della

Why yes, that is you, at a ren faire, playing a drum at five months.

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I two

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Family HalloweenYeah….I’m not saying you’ll DEFINITELY be a nerd, but there are times when it does seem likely…

tiny proud mama

haircut

Just the two of us...

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Children

So, I’ve had several interactions in the past few months that have left me with the unsettling feeling that either my kids actually are the worst (because of my parenting), or that the person I’ve just been speaking with is being, well, kind of a tool.

One thing about being an extrovert is that I thrive on positive interaction. People often assume that being an extrovert means that I am naturally great at being around people all the time. It doesn’t. It just means that I really, really want to. And that I really, really want it to go well. In parenting circumstances that translates into me trying to make my kids conform to ways of being that I think other people want or expect so that they will be happy when we are together (I really, really want other people to be happy. Really.). When I fail, when I can tell other people aren’t enjoying my kids, it (falsely) seems to boil down to either that I’ve failed at being a friend, or at being a parent, or both.

I don’t want to think that people I care about are self-absorbed or clueless (and even if that happens to be true for a second, we all have our moments and no one is just one thing). But it’s also entirely stressful to continually worry that my family stresses other people out or bothers them. So I try to make it better. Maybe if I just let them watch more tv, then I can have un-interrupted phone conversations. Maybe if I stop letting them watch tv, then they won’t ask for videos. Maybe if I let them eat whatever they want, they’ll just enjoy parties and other people won’t have to be weirded out by the crazy hippie mom. Maybe if I tried harder to keep artificial coloring out of their diet, they would have better impulse control and wouldn’t, you know, be kids.

Enough.

Who is my parenting for?

Is it for the random people in the grocery store who make an irritated face as they have to walk around my four year old because she is intently looking at something in an aisle-way and didn’t realize that they were waiting for her to move (ahem-grownups, use your words…)? Is it for people who I can’t talk to without getting interrupted every minute and a half? Is it for anyone who has ever expressed frustration about my kids’ behavior?

The answer to all of these questions is no.

My parenting is for my children. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If I spend all this time and energy trying to make sure other grownups (even ones that I like very much) are approving, then I will ultimately benefit no one. I probably won’t even satisfy the person I am trying to please; so far my children, like me, seem to be themselves no matter what they try to do to fit in. If I try to incorporate everyone’s opinion into my relationship with my children, I will teach them that pleasing other people is more important than being clear about who I am. And if I teach them to please people all the time, they will not learn to be themselves in the world. Or, at least, it will take them a lot of extra work. I mean, learning to be who you are meant to be on the planet is hard enough without your mother muddling it up trying to make sure some judgy lady at the library can get to the magazine stacks faster. I am a person of faith, which means that as I go, I trust that God will teach me and lead me into truth. Sometimes that will be in the form of a friend sharing something true with me. Sometimes it won’t.

One final thought. Just to be clear, getting input from a variety of sources is great, and necessary. There is so much helpful information out there to be had. And so many wise people who have such great ideas that really can help me to be better. I welcome constructive idea sharing. It is how I learn and grow as a person, as a parent. I need to be challenged; I crave it. But I’m really kind of over trying to make sure that everyone I meet is pleased by how I parent my kids.