science terms

weight.  it is not just a matter of mass and the gravity of our planet.  although, those things are important.  sometimes things can weigh more than ounces and pounds.  sometimes things can weigh years or emotions.  in my own case, i have felt light as a seed pod before and have heaved sighs that were as heavy as boulders.  in my daughter’s case, she weighs determination and stubbornness, which is much more at times than the twenty pounds she weighs on a scale.  at times, she weighs infinity and no amount of force will move her.  the muscles that have served me so well in other situations, even ones that seemed unlikely such as moving a dresser across a room, fail me now in shifting my super-dense eleven-month-old into a more sleep-inducive position on my lap.

in science class, you learn that the earth has gravity.  it’s what keeps our moon from flying off into battle star galactica.  but even small things have gravity.  actually, everything does.  it is, however, one of the weakest forces, and therefore too small  to feel…most of the time.  i wonder if it is gravity that attracts cake to my refrigerator or fur balls and dirt to my wardrobe.  i know someone who has special gravity for cats, and i think my bed has quite a bit of gravity because it is so difficult to pull myself out of.  ruth must sense my gravity because she can feel when i have moved more than three feet away.  ruth’s mouth can be a black hole for any non-food item she happens to come across on the floor or ground, once it is past the event horizon, there is no turning back.  my heart is her satellite.

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letting go the nap

a big theme in meditation is the idea of attachment.  sure, you’re thinking, attachment is fine.  i’m attached to my family, friends, house, and life.  that shows i care.  well, the Buddhist thinking says that attachment is bad.  it is something to fight against.  something that will impede you from living an authentic and present life.  i can illustrate by referencing naps in our house.

ruth has never had a schedule.  i am often baffled at parents that check the clock on the wall and exclaim, “oh my gosh!  we’ve got to get home!  so-an-so will begin his/her nap in exactly 14.5 minutes.”  i’m like, “wha?”

every day is different.  i guess that’s how ruth shakes it up, keeps things lively and fresh.  you can never count on a nap with ruth.  even if i’m sure that she is exhausted and desperately needs one.  in ruth’s world, there is no time for sleep.  it is the ultimate sin.  she employs many tactics to keep herself awake.  one such being the face slap.  yes, my not-yet-one-year-old slaps herself in the face to stay awake.  hard.  another is, if she feels herself fading, she will suddenly get furious, thrash around until she is put somewhere, like the floor, with more stimulation, then will begin playing with anything at hand like a madman.  or, if i have her in the bed and she is face down, eyes closed, she will use the last bit of her energy to project herself toward the edge of the bed, much like a hero in a movie, who after wounded, uses his last bit of strength to kill the bad guy and save the day.

yesterday, we were in one such battle against each other (it is odd that much of the terms i use for ruth are war-like.  i feel as though i am in a constant battle with her over….everything.  and she is always winning).  i feel bad, but i seem to use a lot of wrestling holds and moves on ruth throughout the day.  while holding both cheeks, humming to herself and sucking the bottom lip (all of her “i’m tired” tells), she made mad darts for the blinds next to the bed, something loud to grab that might jolt her from sleepy mode, while i continuously choke-slammed (that sounds bad…it was gentle, trust me) her back into the bed next to me, attempted to rub her back to relax her and sing soothing songs.  after a good twenty minutes of this, i realized: it was time to let go the nap.

this takes us back to the idea of attachment, which is very relevant in child-rearing.  staying pliable in attitude is a practice i am not used to.  i am used to doing what i want, when i want to do it, going where i want to go and organizing my days in a way that enables me to get the most done.  i looked at her glaring back at me, determined to stay awake, and i knew that i had to let go of the idea that she was going to sleep.  it seems an easy thing, yet is much more taxing than one might realize, especially when the nap is the only break in a day of colorful stacking blocks, puzzles and patty-cake.  i could feel the food on the dishes in the sinking solidifying, and the laundry on the basement floor multiplying.

with ruth, i have learned to never become attached to the nap, or anything else, for that matter.  like eating.  much of the time, during meal time, i find it helpful to implement breathing techniques for relaxation as ruth steadily refuses spoonful after spoonful and begins to writhe and squirm after five minutes in the high chair.  when she refuses the breast even after it’s been four or five hours since she last nursed and my boob, pardon my french, feels like a big hard rock on my chest, sure, i’ll wrestle her for a moment (see war-like terms above) but then, i have to let go.  when she rolls over and begins to crawl away in the middle of a diaper change, i have to let go.  i let her stand up at the window instead while i fasten on a new diaper.  no, the new one is not on perfectly straight and it is bulky in the wrong spots, but so be it.  she is no longer tucked away in my belly like a dormant seed, she is a wild, growing weed, and i am her unsure gardener.

so, let us have another cup of coffee, and let go the nap.

expectations

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sometimes, i have to laugh at myself.  take today, for instance.  this morning, i found myself eating a fresh breakfast bagel slathered with cream cheese on a grassy hill in the warm sun, sipping coffee with my mother-in-law, while ruth jumped merrily nearby.  who lives like this?  the day progressed and we dabbled in some playground toys, took a walk by the river, pointing out some ducks, and through the nearby neighborhood where we came across a house for sale which ruth poo-pooed as a potential before dozing in her stroller.  while she slept, we chatted about relationships, neighborhoods, and food as we sat on a bench by the river and i found myself feeling….good.  as though i was exactly where i should be, which has been a fleeting occurrence in much of my adult life.  since ruth has been born, i have felt a connectedness to life that i have been all but a stranger to before.  i feel like i belong somewhere…and not just anywhere…here!  the sunlight turned golden with the late afternoon and we headed home, exhausted from conversation, early spring wind, cream cheese, and glaring sunshine.

after greg came home, we ventured out again, this time to the Environmental Interpretive Center on the U of M-Dearborn campus.  we ran into some of greg’s old co-workers from when he worked there as a college student.  these people have known me since i was in my late teens.  as usual, greg did most of the talking, but when there was a lull in the conversation, a few times, someone happened to glance over at me and ask what i was up to lately.  what was i up to?  should i launch into a detailed account of my morning at the park?  its not that i’m ashamed to be a stay-at-home mom, but there is something so uncool about the phrase, and there is not much to respond with but “oh”.  we eventually continued on walking along the bike path as ruthie took her second nap of the day, a bonus.  i won’t say it wasn’t odd walking through my old college campus pushing a stroller  (well, actually, greg pushed it, as he always does).  i got to thinking.

i got to thinking, as i have since ruth has been born, about what makes people who they are.  there is something ingrained in all of us, from the start.  a certain disposition.  however, it is becoming clear to me, much to my dismay and fear, that a lot, if not most, of our personalities are determined by the different influences in our lives.  i felt it so clearly today.  i could feel the way that greg’s old co-workers looked at me, as though i had a hold of all of this potential that maybe they once had, but has since slipped away from them.  they wanted to hear that i was doing great things.  i felt slightly ashamed at not being able to deliver.  i wanted to please these people, these people that i looked up to.

and there’s the rub.  why do i look up to them?  because they are older than me, and for some reason, that makes them my role models.  we live up to the expectations of the people in our lives, and especially, the adults, because they have all of the answers, don’t they?  depending on who we are around, we will grow or shrink to fit expectations.

who will ruth look up to, admire, and want to please?  greg and i, sure.  we are already doing our best to be good role models.  but who else?  the answer to this, that struck me so clearly today as i looked at all of the sprouting green buds around me, is anyone that i am friends with, that greg is friends with, or people that we have around.  ruth will grow up thinking that these people have all of the answers.

that is why it is so important for us to surround ourselves with good quality people.

in conclusion, here is my personal ad: married parent of one seeking role model friend types to demonstrate active citizenship in community.  can be male or female but must have strong feminist leanings.  high moral fabric a must, honesty and humility required.  average to ugly looks preferred.

the mother-in-law trade off

so, let me begin by saying that, over all, i have great in-laws.  we owe a lot to them; one thing being our house and another the reassessed value and therefore way lower taxes that my father-in-law handled (there are perks to having former finance directors in the family).  these are the big items; there are many more every day things.  however, there are times when, benevolent intentions aside, they tend to step on some toes, namely mine, with all of their do-gooding.

take today, for instance.  my mother-in-law came and picked us up to take us to the Mother Goose Story time at the library.  not only that, but she dropped us off at the door so we wouldn’t get wet (it was raining; and not a warm spring rain, a cold winter one).  she brought in my purse.  this is all fine and great.  then, the program began.  we all sat down in a circle, mostly mothers with young children under 4, and sang the hello song, read a book and then did a nursery rhyme with hand or body motions.  it wasn’t long before Ruth had been scooped up by my mother-in-law from the space between us on the floor and was sitting on her lap, doing all of the activities.  for a little while, i tried interacting with Ruth as she sat on my mother-in-laws lap, but then there were two of us doing all of the hand signals and movements for Ruth and it seemed a bit redundant.  i found myself stopping the activity and just kind of sitting back and watching and feeling a bit like a useless lump.  hey!  i like if you’re happy and you know it, too!  plus, i’m really good at it.

the flip side of this is that when it came time for free play, i was able to chat with other parents a lot more easily as my mother-in-law interacted with Ruth.  this is how we got invited to a birthday party that same day.  we would have missed out on rice pudding, brazilian soup and making some new kick arse friends.  i have no idea how people do it alone.  if i didn’t have a grandma to help, i would need an au pare or something to at least carry the diaper bag and help to distract ruth as i changed her diaper.  at the end of the session, she got Ruth dressed in her warm clothes and then brought the car around to pick us up.  to top it all off, she bought me coffee from Tim Horton’s on the way home before dropping us off and even letting my dog out into the yard.  what service.

a few times, other mothers have commented about my mother always being around and sometimes, i wonder what they think of us.    but it is difficult for me to feel anything but lucky that i have so much extra help and that Ruth is able to form a relationship with her grandparents.  it is a trade off, i suppose, just like anything else.

two piece pajamas

ever since she has been born, ruth has worn one-piece pajamas to bed, the kind with the footies that you can’t wait to put them into.  i have always thought that these must be the epitome of cuteness.  that is, until yesterday, when, for the first time, i put her into a two-piece pajama set from my grandparents with yellow ducks printed on a white background.  there is just something so irresistible about the tight bottoms pulled up over a diaper butt and her little belly poking out here and there.  plus, she just looks like such a big kid in them, especially when she does her Frankenstein walk across the floor, supported by a shopping cart toy on loan.  so, for those of you wondering, it depends on the print, of course, but two-piece pajamas are more cute than one-piece, in general.

baby knee pads

yesterday, while struggling to change ruthie’s diaper as she practiced her roundhouse kicks on me, i noticed that beneath both of her knees there were dark purple shadows, which, on closer examination, i realized were bruises due to practicing her new skill: crawling about on our hard wood floors!  ouch.  one to nurse my own tiny bruises for days and show their progression to anyone who will look, i searched her face for any signs of pain or distress, but she just kept kicking and grunting away.  it is true what they say, that pain has a cultural base and is a subjective response to an objective stimuli.  a few times, when she has been bouncing away on my lap, she has konked heads with me and it is me, not her, who pauses for a moment to say “ouch” and rub the spot.  i wonder when i learned to be such a wimp (i could go into detail here about how i thought that i would fare during childbirth and how i actually fared, but i will save that story for another day).

i know that baby knee pads are on the market, along with a slew of other amazing products aimed at helping babies along each stage of development.  my mother-in-law just yesterday delivered a bath scoop with a flexible rubber spot to put against the baby’s forehead for rinsing hair, which is the biggest struggle during bath time.  people from earlier generations, i’ve noticed, tend to scoff and turn up their noses at all of the modern inventions, stating defensively that they never used such silly things and all of their kids did just fine.  it is interesting to be able to see the shift in the cultural attitude towards children so clearly.  just a generation ago, my own mom told me of a trip she took with her parents during which my older brother began to cry in his car seat, which were relatively new inventions and weren’t even required to be used.  now, you are not allowed to leave the hospital with your baby unless you have a properly installed car seat.  in order to keep him quiet and not lose any travel time, my mom simply took him out of his seat and fed him in the moving car.

my grandparents had ten children.  being good parents in the fifties meant not using birth control and letting God decide how many children you would have, then working to make sure they were all kept clean, well-dressed and polite.  my parents were good parents because they stayed married and gave us the freedom to be individuals.

keep in mind that before i had ruth, i was all but oblivious to the latest culture surrounding procreation, but since she has been born, and a little before, i have been immersed in it.  it is clear from the parenting magazines with articles on how to make cuts in your budget, work odd hours or figure out how to work from home that parenting has been taken to a whole new level.  there are websites detailing the development of your baby first inside and then outside of the womb that send weekly e mail updates to your inbox.  Baby Einstein and Your Baby Can Read are all the rage, and most of the kids i see tottering around are better dressed than the models in the latest Abercrombie and Fitch catalog.  i once had a conversation with a mother who bemoaned her daughter not yet having teeth at age one and saying that she was still just on breast milk and “organic purees”.  when i took ruth to jc penny to have christmas pictures taken, the photographer told me that  i would become addicted to getting her picture taken and would soon be a weekly visitor, like so many other mothers she had experience with.  for a moment, i thought she was joking until one such patron walked up, proclaiming that on her son’s first photo shoot, she had spent two hundred dollars, so if i could manage to hold myself back and spend under that amount, i was doing good.

with this new world i have unwittingly entered into, much of the time, i feel myself running to catch up.  maybe i will host a play date soon and bake some cookies from scratch, made with organic, local ingredients.  do i have it in me to be so kitch?  how would i look in an apron?

ten years

alright, so this doesn’t have anything to do directly with being a parent, although i guess i could never have become a parent if my parents hadn’t been parents, so in a round-about way, it does.  also, the more and more time i spend as a parent, the more i realize how our strengths and insecurities are passed from generation to generation (it’s one of the things that scares me most about being a mom).

today is the ten year anniversary of my dad’s death.  ten years feels weighty.  a decade.  especially when i think that i was only eighteen when he died.  this means that he has been dead more than half as long as i knew him alive.  did i word that right?  the mass of ten years seems to have hit me full force in the stomach, knocking the wind out for a moment.  can this be true?  has he really missed ten years of…everything?  my dad never met greg.  he doesn’t know the things i have done in my life.  he never knew me as an adult.  and now he is missing his granddaughter growing up, bit my bit every day (every once in a while, as i am carrying her asleep to bed, i will stop to look at my reflection in the hall mirror and each time, i am shocked at her thick, long limbs, her full cheeks and lengthening hair).

my younger brother, david, made burgers on the grill for the occasion.  we stood together in my mom’s yard, where we grew up, and huddled in the icy rain in front of the grill, talking about our health issues.  yes, we are growing up bit by bit, too, dad.  david looks a lot like you, receding hairline and all, and, for the first time in my life, i see your influence in my own features when i look in the mirror  (perhaps it is my manly haircut).   today wasn’t like the day you died.  that day was warm and bright and felt like a renewal of life, after months of slowly dying.  today was grey and wet and cold and the yard around us looked a bit like a wasteland, what with the Sycamore that mom had butchered standing lopsidedly overhead and the grass brown and anemic-looking.

earlier in the day, i searched Kroger’s diary isle for your old coffee creamer, international delight cinnamon hazelnut.  they don’t make it any more.  i bought cinnamon vanilla creme, which was the closest i could come, and you’d better believe that i had a brimming cup, light as tapioca pudding in color and sweeter than syrup.  just like you used to drink it.

after dinner, we all told stories and shared memories of you.  it was close to seeing you again.  it felt like you were alive for a moment, just outside the room, maybe listening to our stories with a smile on your face, chuckling to yourself.  mom told of you getting in trouble at different music concerts.  more clearly than ever, i could see what you brought to her life.  a bit of inspiration and dreaming, and a lot of chaos, sometimes good.  david had stories of you acting irrational and irresponsibly that we all laughed at.  i just remember you in your everyday routines.  i remember you slowly pacing from the kitchen, taking a few puffs from a cigarette, a few sips of coffee, to the front door, peering out, thinking to yourself.  about what? i would like to ask you.  i remember how long it took you to leave the house.  how we would all be waiting for you in the car for ten minutes before you would appear from the house, meandering over the front lawn with your coffee cup and tattered slippers.  i remember sitting on the front porch steps with you, just watching the street, the day progress, and maybe daydreaming about something, maybe giving something some thought that we would never have a definite answer to. like what happens to you when you die.

ten years is wide, and grows wider by the moment.  so, here is to you, dad.  ten years later.  we miss you.