Saturday, August 29, 2015

On Reading and Peace: A #WholeMama Post

This week's #wholemama theme was "be". It was a really open theme, and the more I thought and read the other posts written, the more clarity I kind of picked up about it. The idea is how to be a mother and also to just 'be' - yourself, who you are, who you were before kids and who you are afterward.


As far as who I am, and how I try to let myself just be me...

I am a reader.

I have been for as long as I can remember.

It's been my primary hobby for essentially my entire life. I could read before I could ride a bike without training wheels. I argued my way into being allowed to check chapter books out of our school library a year before the rest of my class. My grandmother was our town librarian, and I knew how to check out my own books before I was tall enough to see over the counter to get the stamp without a step-stool.

I've always been the one to be curled up in the corner with a book. I don't like large gatherings of people, and I'm uncomfortable at best with small ones. A book is my security blanket; if I always bring a book, I always have a way out. If I don't have a book I will hunt through the house to find a magazine to read.

The written word is my primary language. I write with more authority than I speak; I always have. My fingers keep up with my brain better than my mouth does, and with writing you can write and re-write and re-work until you know everything lines up, the grammar is correct. You can fix it before it's ever seen.

When I was in my last weeks of pregnancy, I was put on bedrest and I bought a metric ton of books

These things were not unrelated.

The books were part of my hospital bag, and also my lifeline to sanity in the days and weeks after Audra's birth. While you might not think a newborn would give you much time to read, they do tend to sleep in two-hour shifts - and since it took me about three weeks to feel like I could put her down to sleep (and longer than that to feel like I didn't have to stare at her nonstop to make sure she was breathing), I spent a lot of time with a baby softly exhaling on my collarbone and either Netflix or a book keeping me awake.

I've continued to pick up books at about the same pace I used to, but now they're piling up unread or half-read or partially-read, knocking each other around on tables or bookshelves or sometimes finding their way into my daughter's hands (and then her mouth). Active infants need activity, and stimulation, and it's hard to give her those things if I'm curled up on the couch reading a book

So... I've had to let books drop by the wayside. Unfortunately, that's meant dropping a significant stress-reliever and way of reorienting myself. I feel a little off-balance without them, like waking up suddenly with a peg leg and no idea how it got there. I sneak words where I can - in the car until I get so carsick I cannot read any longer, at work during my lunch break.

For a long time I couldn't even use Audra's naps - I needed that time desperately to clean and cook dinner and do housework and to do literally everything that needed done in a whole day's worth of time. I'm kind of done with that whole way doing things, though.

I've decided to take reading back.

I am making a concerted, serious effort to muddle my way through those books I still had left to read, and to let myself be distracted by others in the meantime. I read in the afternoons while cooking dinner with Audra sleeping, I read until her little voice on the monitor shows me she's awake. I read before bed after she goes to sleep. I read past the time I should let myself go to bed. I have started taking books to gatherings again.

I feel a little less uneven.

I still have so many books to get through, and more coming out I want so badly to read, but I let myself breathe and take my time. This is how I give myself peace; I put on Bob's Burgers on Netflix and I open a book and I make a cup of tea, and I just... read.

With words, I can just exist.

It's hard to let myself relax, to be honest. There are always fourteen million things I didn't have time to do today. There's always a floor that needs swept or toys scattered around or just one more thing I could do if I had time.

I've decided, instead, to devote all the minutes outside of what must get done to what I want to do. What I want to do is live in books for a while, and Audra is in that perfect stage where she needs to go to bed pretty early but doesn't have enough language to start trying to negotiate her way out of it yet.

After she falls asleep, I pick up a book, and I just exist there.

I feel better in the morning when I had time to read the night before. I feel like I can get back to just being who I am again. Part of motherhood, I think, is seeking out moments when you can just exist, the way you could just be before you had to think of if the diaper bag is ready for daycare tomorrow and if there are two bottles ready to go and has the floor been swept and just what is she trying to eat right now?!

You probably don't want to know the answer to that question.

Just Finished: 
Wild in the Hollow by Amber C. Haines. I won this book in a #wholemama giveaway! It came signed and with a beautiful printout of a quote from the book. I read it in less than ten hours total over the course of two days. I could barely put it down long enough to go to sleep or work. Amber writes with a kind of rollicking poetic voice. It's a very southern book - her environment is as important as the people around her. Kind of a hymnal drenched in honeysuckle. Loved it.
Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic by Stephanie Wilder-Taylor. I've been trying to finish this forever! I keep losing it in the house. I should probably be better at putting things back where they go. This is a "mommy humor" book, and I collect them like trading cards at this point. Hilarious! I'm so glad I found it again so I could finish it.

Currently Reading:
Wearing God by Lauren Winner. I've been taking my time with this one, reading it kind of around other books, when I have the time to really read and re-read paragraphs. Exceptionally well-written, and probably my favorite of her books.
Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. A seriously incredible look at families with children who are born 'different' - dwarfism, deafness, schizophrenia, autism, and other differences are looked at in great detail, with Solomon really getting into families and how everyone deals differently. It sounds depressing on the surface but it's actually an incredible look at how parents can love their children no matter what in a thousand different ways.

Soon To Read:
Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I reviewed her first book, Pastrix, here when it first came out. I have Accidental Saints on pre-order. Nadia is a great writer and speaker (one imagines you sort of have to be, to be an effective pastor) and I'm really looking forward to this one. If it's anything like Pastrix, I'll reread it two or three times within a couple of months.
Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman. Part of a pre-order set I put in sometime in June or so (I also pre-ordered Accidental Saints and Sarah Bessey's November release, Out of Sorts). I've been eyeballing a lot of "living more simply" books. Lately life feels pretty hectic and I've been enjoying sort of falling into books about bringing peace to your life/household. Now, I never actually seem to put those tips into action... but it feels nice to read about it...
The World Is On Fire by Joni Tevis. I just picked this up at M. Judson, our new bookstore downtown (along with this awesome Dracula counting book for Audra!). It's billed as a sort of poetic, wandering look at America's strange obsession with the apocalypse and the End of Days. I've never read anything by her before, so I'm not sure. But I couldn't bear to not buy it after reading about its subject.

On My Wishlist:
People of the Songtrail by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and Michael Gear. I wrote a long time ago about how this series of books is essentially my guilty pleasure. They are the books I always fall back on when I want a fast-paced read and to just really enjoy a book. The Gears are working archeologists, and their books (which focus primarily on pre-contact North American nations, but have recently delved into post-Contact stories) combine the best of fast-paced fictional thrillers and well-researched, accurate historic detail. Their newest is about first contact between Canadian natives and the Vikings who were the true first Europeans to set foot on North American soil.
Bad Mother by Ayelet Waterman. I told you - I eat those "funny motherhood" books, especially if there's a heartwarming message in the end, like cake. I've had this one on my wishlist for a while now. It's a Must... if I can just read through my other books fast enough to get to it anytime soon...
I Regret Nothing by Jen Lancaster. You had me as "funny memoir". I've read three of Lancaster's other books, and she is a master at writing about herself. She's never so sympathetic that you feel like it rings false, and sometimes I would look at Jason and say, "I don't like the person she is in this book but I cannot stop laughing." This is another set of books I rocketed through. This is her latest and I'm excited to get to it. You know... eventually...

Even just writing out that list made me feel more peaceful.

Some people organize their houses. I make lists of books, and just pretend I can't see the disorganized mess behind me.

Whole Mama

Today's post is my seventh while participating in the #WholeMama linkup. You can find the linkup for this week's theme, "Be", on Erika Shirk's blog Overflow. More information on what #WholeMama is all about can be found here. My other posts as part of the linkup or just inspired by the theme are I Lay You Down to Sleep, My LoveWhen It Rains... CelebrateParenting is SillyAnything But OrdinarySpacePrayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Day I Knew My Baby Was Smarter Than My Dog

When Audra finally decided she felt like moving somewhere instead of just waiting around for us to carry her there, she chose to scoot instead of crawl. In fact, what she does to get from point A to point B can be more easily likened to a kind of backwards crab-walk than it can to true scooting, but hey... whatever gets you where you're going (that doesn't involve me carrying 25 lbs of baby around all day) is good enough for me.

Jason and I tried to keep her in her room or in the living room, where her myriad of colorful, wonderful, sing-songing and light-up toys lived. She has toys coming out her ears. Toys from Illinois family and friends, toys from South Carolina family and friends. A giraffe she can ride on, a Fisher Price classics TV that sings to her, a wooden Animal Rescue shapes sorter that she loves... just all the toys.

So she, of course, was far more interested in making it to the kitchen, where no toys lived... but where the dog's water bowl is.

It called to her.

I would no sooner take ten steps away to start working on dinner than I'd find myself trying to catch Audra's hand as she splashed happily in what she wholeheartedly believes is a whole silver dish of Splashy Splash just for her.

Like her bath, but cold and with more of me making those hand-flappy motions she thinks are so funny.

We don't have a baby gate; we just haven't really prioritized picking one up, since our house isn't all that big and there aren't that many places she could go. There's the living room, the kitchen, and her bedroom - all the other doors are closed. If she figures out how to turn doorknobs at 13 months old, I won't even be mad; I'll just be impressed.

Still, it seemed like a good idea to try to corral her in one place, so we lined up chairs on one side of the living room, where a large cutout separates it from the kitchen. At first she would scoot right up alongside the chairs and kind of watch us and babble happily to herself. She never noticed that there was another cutout on the other side of the living room, where she could easily have just gone in a circle to get to us the other way.

The dog knew this, however - so often he'd be in the living room with her, and she'd look up in confusion to find him suddenly on the Other Side of the Chair Wall drinking out of his bowl. It never occurred to him that the chairs were anything but some strange new force field that he had to obey. He could escape by going the long way, but never by going through. Audra remained trapped by how easily distracted she was and her inability to notice what was on the other side of the living room. She simply could not figure out how the dog was getting over there.

A couple of months ago, though, the tables turned.

One day I was working on dinner, sort of humming to myself. I'd put the Chair Wall in the way so Audra would stay in the living room and I could hear her talking to herself happily while she tore a magazine into shreds and then sat on them. Indy was in there with her.

I stepped over to check on her briefly, and she held her arms up to me to be picked up. I shook my head. "No, honey, Mommy's cooking."

Indy, who can't figure out 'roll over' or 'please God stop jumping on everyone' or 'you are licking me to death', nonetheless knows every single word in the English language that might possibly be a reference to food. He might know Spanish, too. He's a complex dog.

His ears perked right up at 'cooking'. He looked at the Wall of Chairs, decided this strange new range of mountains was insurmountable, and went around the long way to trot into the kitchen and starting making his 'begging' face.

Audra let out an insulted wail and kept her arms up.

"No, honey, I'm sorry, I'll be there in just a minute," I said, and stepped back away to stir the onions.

Audra let out a frustrated growl.

The dog sat right by my feet. He doesn't know what onions are, but if we ever need someone to eat onions for us, he is there to save the day.

After a second, I heard a weird noise.

"Indy, quit it," I said, and then realized Indy had not moved. He was still sitting right next to my feet. In fact, one of his paws was on my foot.

His eyes, however, weren't looking at me or the stove any longer.

The strange scraping sound continued.

I looked over at the Wall of Chairs.

Slowly, inexorably, as though pushed by the slow movement of a flood, the Wall of Chairs was beginning to break apart. Befuddled, I stood there while my onions caramelized and watched my nine month old daughter very, very slowly push a chair out of line so she could get through. This obstacle was no longer simply a piece of the environment, immovable and eternal. She no longer had to stay behind it or go around.

Audra now saw it as a challenge. The look on her face was similar to the way you might look at a mountain when you're trying to dynamite through it to make a road.

For the very first time, she realized things didn't have to stay the same.

She could change them herself.

I continued to just stand there and stare as she crab-walked sideways to get through the small opening she had made, scooted triumphantly across the tile towards me, and showed me all five teeth in a huge smile as she held her arms up to me again.

Helpless to do anything but reward her for her accomplishment, I swept her up into my arms, told her how smart she was, and gave her a big hug.

So that's when I knew Audra was smarter than the dog.

It's also the first time Jason came home to find me researching books on parenting stubborn children "because we should probably get ready now".

Monday, August 24, 2015

All Seven Teeth

My daughter has received three Incident Reports from daycare.

The first two involved her being bitten on the little finger and having another child hit her in the head with a toy ball. Both of those incidents involved no real injury, but apparently Audra cried a bit and needed some cuddles with the first one and basically didn't even acknowledge the second.

Last week, we received the first incident report I'm honestly kind of proud about.

Jason and I went together to pick her up, since one of the upsides to Jason's current Funemployment Extravaganza is that we get nearly four more hours together each day than we did before. Jason found the Incident Report in her bag.

"Audra bit someone," he read, handing it over to me to check out.

"Oh, no," I started to say, and then looked at Audra.

... who was smiling brightly at me with all seven teeth. You can argue that she's too young to understand and probably didn't even remember it happening... but that smile told me otherwise.

This is when the daycare ladies rushed to her defense.

"Well, it wasn't her fault," one of them reassured us.

"That's true!" An older daycare lady nodded. "She never bothers any of the other babies. She was just playing by herself, minding her own business, and one of the other babies tried to take her toy away. So she just got mad, that's all."

"So it's not like she just... bit someone at random," I replied. "For... fun or anything."

I looked back at my daughter.

She held her arms out to me and kicked her little feet.

"Oh, no, not Audra. She never bothers anyone. No. The other baby messed with her first."

That's my girl.

She didn't start that fight, but she sure finished it.

Like a lady

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Lay You Down to Sleep, My Love: A #WholeMama Post

I lay you down to sleep.
I breathe,
I make a cup of tea.

First, we sing our good-night song
Little stars soar
Over broken boughs.

Hug Riff Raff Giraffe so tight.
I think
No baby ever had eyes like yours.

(I think your eyes are beautiful)

Then I lay you down to sleep.
We sing,
You hum back, tunelessly.

Before I lay you down to sleep,
I wash
Your face clean of blueberry stain.

Before that, of course, we brushed your teeth.
By which I mean
I brushed them twice. Then you chewed on the toothbrush.

So - first I brush your teeth.
One two three
four five six seven teeth.

I count them out loud to you
One day you'll count them out to me.

(Hopefully more than seven by then)

As you smile up at me,
My hands
Skim through soft blonde hair again.

"Last time, I swear," I whisper
And then
One more time again.

So. I lay you down to sleep.
I breathe,
I make that cup of tea.

(I think your smile is beautiful)

I've laid you down to sleep,
My love.
You're already on my mind tomorrow.

I lay you down to sleep.
I read, and
Listen through the monitor.

I laid you down to sleep
But you,
You're holding court inside your crib.

We laid you down to sleep,
So we
Are the silent audience in the living room.

I wait for you to sleep
Little girl -
Still I love to hear you take your time

You'll lay you down to sleep
There's conversations to be had.

(Your stuffed animals rapt with fascination)

I lay you down to sleep.
I breathe,
I make a cup of tea.
I read.

I listen.

(I think your voice is beautiful.)

Whole Mama

Today's post is my sixth while participating in the #WholeMama linkup. You can find the linkup for this week's theme, "Beauty", here on Esther Emery's blog. More information on what #WholeMama is all about can be found here. After this, the #WholeMama linkups will be happening at Erika Shirk's blog, Overflow. My other posts as part of the linkup or just inspired by the theme are When It Rains... CelebrateParenting is SillyAnything But OrdinarySpacePrayer, and A Supermom is a Sleep-Deprived Mom.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Right Now

- State Farm finally agreed with us on an amount. I received the check, made out to the amount we had specifically agreed upon, and I am now the proud owner of a car that is, in the manufacturer's words, "kiwi green". I am unreasonably happy about this.

- We went to a specific dealership looking for a specific car. They had sold it already, and while I was happy to be shown other options, they brought out the sharklike salesman with a creepy personality to try to strong-arm us. We left and did not return to that dealership.

- Instead, I bought my new (well, new to us) car the next day at a different dealership, with a salesman who did not talk down to me or try to strong-arm me.

- My health insurance called. They fixed the problem, backdated everything, and my daughter and I have health insurance again. Or rather, we didn't stop having health insurance. Officially.

- Still nothing from unemployment for Jason. Some possible job prospects, though! So we've got that going for us.

- The tree that fell on my car is still lying in dead, crackly brown pieces on either side of my driveway. As I am now driving a larger car, backing out has become something of an exciting event for me.

- Our jalapeno plant just exploded, and our Serrano plant is already in the process, and we simply cannot physically eat that many spicy green peppers.

- We kind of forgot about the cucumber plant. It's still making cucumbers. I noticed several on the ground yesterday. Whoops.

- The tomatoes have basically been destroyed by the boom-and-bust cycle of rain this summer. That month where no rain fell at all, where they were totally dependent on water out of the hose, was hard on them. Birds pecked at some. We went on vacation, and the four or five days where we weren't there to track whether they needed watering really made them feel betrayed. When it does rain, it comes down as hard as it can - raindrops don't fall so much as they curl into angry fists and punch the dry dirt - and then our poor tomatoes grow too fast, they split and burst. Our dog discovered tomatoes are delicious. Once we gated him out, we discovered a chipmunk also thinks our tomatoes are delicious, and he can get under the fence. Basically, it's just been a hard year to be a tomato at our house.

- Audra appears to have re-learned how to sleep through the night. She has essentially slept through, for varying amounts, since Friday night. There is much rejoicing. Or at least the caffeine levels in my blood have very slightly receded.

- I have actually been able to pick up my library book... two days before it was due back. Thank God for the 'renew' function. This may or may not be related to the previous point.

- I might have cut up leftover hamburger patties and tossed them into tomato soup to create "cheeseburger soup". I maintain that this does not ruin my "foodie" status, because delicious is as delicious does, and this was delicious. So there.

- Audra is moving slowly over to milk - right now we're at about 60/40 formula-to-milk ratio. The switch from bottle to sippycup is significantly more difficult. She's just sort of puzzled as to why we'd try to do that when bottles work perfectly and require less effort. Why fix it when it ain't broke? She seems to ask me, as she takes a single sip from the cup and then drops it and gives me a look of puzzled hurt. My explanations about making sure her teeth come in straight don't seem to be resonating.

- That may perhaps be because she has no idea what I'm saying.

- Yesterday, I went to Starbucks, got a flat white and sat for a half hour or so just reading this article in the New York Times. Then I went and picked up groceries. It all felt terribly adult and productive. I even fooled myself there for a second.

- I can't stop scrolling through fall fashion. This is when all the colors that look best on me appear. Eddie Bauer is particular has three T-shirts that I am dying to own - a purple, a blue, and an orange in this pretty V-neck style. I'd have to get them in the tall-length because my torso is so long and no clothing maker understands that. I also have no money for these T-shirts. I am in the process of reminding myself that I don't actually require they exist in my closet to survive.

- On a related note, Life is Good also has really pretty things for fall. I also don't need their stuff to live.

- I think.

- I mean, I might.

- I am in the midst of a serious craving for peanut butter cookies. Like right this second.

- I just ate a peanut butter cookie.