parenting styles

ruth and i recently attended a birthday party of one of the Mother Goose regulars:  without naming names, i will simply say that this particular attendant was turning two.  gift-wrapped mr. potato head in hand, we entered their house and i was quickly struck by something.  this house was more me than my own house.  the walls in the living room were bright red, there were knick knacks on every available space, the kitchen sink was stacked with dirty dishes and the refrigerator door was papered with photos.  i physically relaxed as soon as i saw the messy bins of toys.  here was a house made for living in.  our house is in some kind of purgatory especially reserved for houses that are legally owned by more than one person, and that are emotionally owned by even more than that.  a lot of the things in the house are not able to be evicted.  i think they pay rent or have squatters rights or something.  the paint color is lost somewhere between brown and gray, and relics from other lifetimes peek out at you from cabinets and glare at you as though you are disturbing their privacy.

the two hours we spent at the party i spent observing things, not just of the characteristics of the house, but the people in it.   there was a woman there who had four adopted children.  observing her neat wardrobe, thin physique and friendly face, i felt a bit sluggish.  she did everything a mile a minute.  it was not long after arriving, that she was organizing all four of her kids (plus two neighbor kids that she apparently baby sits as well) for eating, barking out short directions regarding silverware, beverages, and seating arrangements.  i felt myself straightening up in my chair and furtively wiping some food off of ruth’s face.  afterwards, her kids jaunted about the living room, occasionally falling over or breaking something and then getting back up to move onto the next toy. she asked me where i was from, and how long i had been married.  she was trying to figure me out, the same way that i was trying to figure her out, i suppose.  what i gleaned from her was that she was very much into children as she asked, to my shocked amazement, to hold ruth.  i guess i shouldn’t have been shocked, but it struck me then that very few people ask to hold ruth.  especially other parents who are obviously preoccupied with their own children.  ruth looked at her with skepticism, but it was clear that this woman had everything under control, so she allowed it.

the guest of honor awoke from a nap sometime after dinner and groggily took her place on her mother’s lap.  she looked over the table, taking it all in and it seemed to meet with her approval.  we all sang a mosaic, out-of-tune happy birthday to her as she sat calmly staring at the platter of mini cupcakes before her.  the song ended and with a pregnant pause, we all waited for the candle to be blown out.  instead, she continued her steady gaze up at her encouraging parents and the other party-goers until her older sister stepped in to get the job done.  dessert was devoured by the other children who then quickly left the table to continue reeking havoc in the basement.  the little birthday girl proceeded to calmly unwrap each and every mini cupcake from its wrapper as delicately as you like.  her mother looked at her and exclaimed with a quiet amusement, “What is she doing?” i could just picture my own mother swooping in with a scold and rescuing the cupcakes from my greasy fingers.

i was then offered a tour of the rest of the house.  never one to pass up tours of houses, ruth and i wandered after our hostess as she pointed out different things.  i was pleased to see that they had a porch similar to ours in the back of the house.  that is to say, it was not quite indoor and not quite outdoor.  the older sister caught up with us on the stairs, pointing out some ants on the wall.  her mother said simply, “Leave them alone, they are not hurting you.”  to which i held my jaw up from dropping.  my own mother would go after any form of insect fervently brandishing her shoe.

i left shortly after with an appreciation of how narrow i had allowed my own view of parenting to become.  my new mission is to observe as many parents as possible and how they go about daily activities. i have my note pad ready.

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harry potter

last summer, when the temperatures seemed to soar above 90 every day and i had a small infant who i was afraid of accidentally baking like a poatao, i used to stay in the house all day with the blinds drawn.  to counteract this and keep ourselves sane, we would go for long drives along hines drive at night when greg would get home from work.  there is not much to do in a car besides listen to jazzy nights (90.9 fm) or talk about work (greg’s) or look at brightly flashing traffic lights.  so, in hopes of filling these drives with more stimulation than just the sound of the air conditioner cranked up and to encourage ruth’s language acquisition, we began to read harry potter aloud.  namely, greg would read and i would drive as it is sometimes the closest thing to feeling freedom these days.

we have continued through to now and will often pick it up on the weekends or some evenings when greg doesn’t feel too pressured to work on his thesis.  we are on book four (my personal favorite) and are all three pretty invested in the plot.  greg and i have begun to suspect, however, that our daughter is taking it too much to heart.  ruth’s vocal repertoire has been expanding and, lately, includes different growls, hissing and popping noises that carry the same inflection you might expect if someone were putting a curse/casting a spell on someone else.  when she combines this with her finger-waving (that looks a lot like what someone waving a wand might do), i swear that she thinks she’s a muggle-born wizard (i’ll expelliarmus your ass). sometimes when she looks at us, it’s as though she is just biding her time until her hogwarts letter arrives when she will leave us and our humble household behind to claim her rightful place within the wizarding community.

ruth’s favorite holiday

is easter, hands down.  santa is scary, but a grown man dressed as a big white bunny is, i guess, awesome.  we took her to the easter bunny brunch at the henry ford retirement village dressed in appropriate pastels, but prepared for the worst.  ruth has had a bad bout of stranger anxiety lately and just the day before began to cry inconsolably during her first spring ride on the carousel at greenfield village.  i think it was all of the sneering plastic horses and loud music that did her in.  i was all set to cuddle and console her, maybe snap a few pictures of a teary-eyed ruth with the e.b. in the background, just for memory’s sake.  imagine my surprise when she spotted him across the room and began to point furiously and screech, in a good way, at the top of her voice.  i don’t speak baby, but i think all of the yelling meant something like, “i love that bunny more than life itself and i need to be near it, caress it, and take it home with me!”  because i quickly put her squirming body down on the floor and she made a b line straight at him.  can this be true?  a photo-op i don’t have to wrestle ruth into?  i quickly got out my camera and started shooting.

the rest of the morning went by in a blur of eggs, chocolate cake (for breakfast) and ended with the grand finale: the easter egg hunt during which kids pushed each other out of the way to collect as many dollar store candy-filled plastic eggs as their baskets could carry.  ruth went for a corner where there was no one around and took her time examining and gathering up three overlooked little green ones.  there was also a parade through the retirement village for the residents’ benefit and joy, although not a single one came out to watch (maybe they had all gone down for their mid-morning nap).  ruth was the star of the event, for once being the exuberant kid that other parents envy as their own kids refuse to exit the stroller or simply break down and cry (hey, we all deserve our moment in the sun and this was ours, humble though it may have been).

this was only the first event in the round of easter activity.  the next was bunnyville at the detroit zoo.  with a name like “bunnyville”, you would expect a large enclosure of tame farm bunnies hopping about amongst brightly colored eggs.  no such luck.  i’m not sure why it was called bunnyville except that everyone is given paper bunny ears to wear (sponsored by meijer).  so, we were the bunnies.  the crowd was massive, with cars parked up on the grass around the entrance, and pregnant women, babies, and small children everywhere.  they should have had someone directing stroller traffic.  it must have been ruth’s love of the easter bunny that prompted a break down shortly after we arrived.  we were watching a musical about easter when the first song came on about how instead of an easter bunny, there should be an easter bear and ruth completely lost it like you’d just killed her best friend.  the only thing that snapped her out of it was her veggie straws, which a short while later, she was munching on serenely.  she got a big kick out of the prairie dogs, which resemble the squirrels in our neighborhood.  she stared into the face of a chimp with vague familiarity (have we met before?) and seemed amused by a polar bear rolling around on some grass scratching an itch.  lastly, we broke into the 2-5 year old play equipment for some physical activity where she spent a good twenty minutes organizing wood chips on a bench, squealing in delight and hopping up and down.  the easter bunny that we stood in line to have our picture taken with did not receive the same level of enthusiasm as the other (he must have been a fake one, i’m sure that ruth can tell).

finally, easter itself arrived, bustling and food-filled and oozing with awkward moments and sarcastic remarks from family members that have had a few drinks.  overall, everything went well.  people kept their cool by going for a walk or out on the lawn to play bocce ball and kept from saying too much by continually filling their mouths with food, a tactic i often employ.  ruth tolerated and even enjoyed being held by various relatives and spent a good portion of her time walking back and forth on the living room floor using Oliver’s push toy.  there was even an easter egg hunt, which was right up ruth’s alley as she is always going after things that are brightly colored and out of place.

i thought that christmas was intense, but ruth made out like a bandit at easter with three easter baskets including two sets of bubbles, one rubber ball, a rubber ducky, a giant slinky and a disney princess backpack.  not to mention all of the candy that i, ahem, i mean, ruth got.

a banner day for bathtime

today marks the first time that i have been able to simultaneously wash myself and ruth in the tub.  until now, i have sat butt cheek deep in luke warm water washing and holding onto her and then getting out without so much as rinsing my underarms.  for the first time, I clasped her between my knees while she played with “the edmund” (this is a plastic toy boat that immediately flips over and sinks when put in water, thus it earned the name the edmund fitzgerald and our tub is, you guessed it, lake superior.  ruth is the gale of november).  i quickly ran the bar of soap over my 2000 parts and even found a use for the plastic rinsing bucket that i posted about earlier (the one with the soft rubber spot for the forehead).  we used it once on ruth and since then, any time she even sees it, she begins to panic and try to frantically escape the bath tub.  without dunking backwards, i was able to wet and then rinse my own hair with it (no, i did not use the rubber spot on my forehead).  so, we are two gals clean and ready for some easter festivities.  bring on the jelly beans and kielbasa!

the baby snart

yes, i’m sure that you are all familiar with the ever hilarious shart, but my baby just sneezed and farted at the same time.  never one to shy away from toilet humor, i have found an endless source of amusement in infant bodily functions.  when she was very little, she had what we referred to as the “poop canon” and had a good three foot range with her poo stream.  i remember getting soaked and screaming out of shear surprise at the sudden violence of it, whereby i would commence to strip down to my undees, while keeping one hand on her on the changing table so that the smell wouldn’t have a chance to penetrate my skin.

i am a normal american and thus i tend to hold my personal space around me like a small force field.  i will even scoff at greg at times if he snuggles too closely on the couch.  ruth is the only one for whom the usual rules do not apply.  this is fitting, i guess, as she was slowly built by my body over nine months and then proceeded to exit it in a way that i would normally consider “rude”.  she and i are connected on a deeply physical level, besides the obvious lack of boundaries involved during breast feeding.  ruth raspberrying while eating, and coincidentally spitting food all over my face, is a daily occurrence.  i am often plotting the most opportune time to go after a snot in her nose while trying simultaneously to discretely roll up balls of bright orange ear wax from her ears and look for a good place to throw them.  my fingers are in her mouth constantly feeling for new protruding teeth and fishing out things that she has quickly plucked from the ground and deposited there before she has a chance to swallow.

i have never had a relationship like this and i still find myself flinching at the intimacy between us.  i am still getting used to it.  of the many people i know, ruth is one of the few to look into my face, into my eyes, when i am talking. with an easy trust, she climbs onto my chest as i lay on the ground and puts her face right next to mine.  the smell of her breath is like apples.  i still fall in love every time she falls asleep on me.

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.

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.