no mom is an island

This started out as a simple show-and-tell post about this wooden Noah’s ark that Adeline got as a Christmas gift from our wonderful neighbors.  And as I was writing it in my head, I couldn’t stop it from morphing into this completely other post about how huge this parenting gig is, and how impossible it is to do it single-handedly.  If you’ll bear with me, I’ll connect the dots for you …

The neighbors who made this Noah’s ark were two of the first people we met when we moved here.  He is a woodworker; she is a quilter.  They are retired and have sort of adopted Adeline as one of their surrogate grandchildren.  They invite her over for tea parties and popsicles.  They adore her and she loves them dearly.  They’ve helped us out when we had no one else to watch Adeline.  I should mention that, like many of you probably, we don’t live anywhere near our families.  And I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but it is a hard job raising children, even harder if you don’t have a support network of family and friends in place to help out once in a while.

This is something that Jake and I lament a lot: that we don’t have our family, our God-given built-in support system, nearby.  We do recognize we have no one to blame for this but ourselves.  We chose to leave home and go to college, and all the subsequent decisions we’ve made haven’t got us any closer to moving back.  However, we like to place a little bit of blame for this on our society, in which it is just expected that children will grow up and leave their parents and “make it on their own.”  Neither of us questioned this assumption until it was too late — “too late” being the point where we had our first colicky baby and were living hundreds of miles from our parents and anyone else that we knew.

Anyway, as I know from experience, it is all too easy to just sit around talking about a lack of community or support; it is another thing altogether to go out into your community and meet people, make friends, join things.  It takes time to form relationships and make connections, so if you’ve moved around as much as we have you can begin to feel a little reluctant to start all over again for the seventh time.  You might get into a little funk of self-pity: “Oh, I have no one around to help me out.  Poor me.”  (Um, yeah, when I say “you” I mean “that’s what I did.”)  But finally I came to the (only and most obvious) conclusion: I had to get out of the house and meet people if I was ever going to make friends.  I’m no expert on this subject, but I can tell you that this is the way it begins: go for a walk in your neighborhood.  Perhaps you will see other people outside.  Perhaps if you say “hi” they will talk to you.  Take your kids to storytime at the library.  Say “Yes!” if a complete stranger approaches you and asks if you’d be interested in joining a prenatal yoga class with her.  You just might find yourself, one year later, sipping coffee with her while your babies roll around on the floor together and your preschoolers draw all over each other with face paints.

So anyway, I guess I’m trying to say: if you don’t already, get to know your neighbors; seek out a community you feel comfortable in.  And remember to ask for help when you need it.  Helping others in need is one important part of belonging to a community.  But it is just as important to ask for help when you need it.  Especially as a parent.  We Americans can get swept up in the ideal of individualism, and we need to try to shake that and learn that it can be good to depend on others once in a while.  Just because you can do everything for yourself doesn’t mean that you need to or even that you should.  As a crafter, I fall into that mentality a lot: I could make that, so why should I pay someone else to make it for me?  But I’m finding that sometimes I just don’t have time to make that handmade thingamabob before the birthday party (here’s where Etsy comes in handy).   Or I just don’t have the space right now to grow and store all my own vegetables, so I buy them from someone who does.  And I think that’s ok.  That’s part of being a community.  One person doesn’t need to be completely self-sufficient if they’re part of a community.  After all, no mom’s an island.

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redefining “a good day”


I have always been a perfectionist.

Now, anyone who peeked into my home at this moment and saw the disorder in my living room or the state of my kitchen might not believe that.  But I have always been a sort of all-or-none perfectionist.  For example, if I can’t get all of my house clean at one time, then why should I bother cleaning any of it? (That is the logic that allows you to be a perfectionist and an awful housekeeper!)  When I was a little girl and something went wrong with my day, if I gave the wrong answer in class or got embarrassed or someone hurt my feelings, I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could start afresh tomorrow — that particular day, in my mind, had been ruined and I would trudge through the remaining hours of it until I could get my clean slate the next day.

As I got older my expectations of perfection mellowed a bit.  I mean, I didn’t consider it a bad day just because I said the wrong answer out loud in class.  But still, a good day for me continued to be one in which nothing went wrong.  Or at least, one in which relatively little went wrong.  You may think that by these standards I would have very few good days.  On the contrary, I was a very happy person and I had many, many good days.

Enter: children.

With children, there is no such thing as a day when nothing goes wrong.  Babies cry — every day — some more than others.  They fuss at inconvenient times.  They may resist your rocking/bouncing/nursing for 45 minutes or more, and then if they finally fall asleep, the moment you try to set them down they wake up — screaming.

And it doesn’t get that much better with age.  Toddlers cry — every day — some more than others.  They fall down a lot.  They spill things.  They refuse to put on their shoes or their clothes.  They throw tantrums (often in public).

Mama sometimes throws tantrums, too (though hopefully not in public).  And having kids has taught me that I am actually not the patient, tidy, well-organized, mellow person I once fancied myself to be.  I lose my temper.  I yell.  I forget to put things on the grocery list.  I forget the grocery list.  I don’t sweep the kitchen floor often enough.  I hurry my child along for no good reason other than I want to be going faster.

One or all of these things now occurs in my life on a daily basis.  By my old standards I would never be having any good days.  Ever.  So, in light of the fact that unpleasant things are going to happen as we deal with little ones who are still learning about emotions and trying to understand their place in the world, I’ve had to redefine “a good day.”

I’ve come to realize that having a good day is more about attitude than about the actual events that took place that day.  I’ve had to accept that a good day is going to have rough spots.  But if I can respond to those rough spots with patience, understanding, and compassion, then things will probably turn out better for all of us.  I sometimes forget that, as the grown up, I have the power to set the tone for our day.  How I choose to react to things will affect how the girls react in turn.

And so this is how I find myself at a place in my life where I might have spit-up in my hair and baby snot wiped into my sweater, and the clean laundry may be sitting in the basket another day getting wrinklier and wrinklier, and Adeline may have resisted my attempts to get her dressed for the better part of half-an-hour, and Quiznos might have forgotten about my delivery order so we end up eating pb&j tortilla roll ups (because I didn’t make it to the store to buy bread) — all this may occur and I can still look back and say, “Hey, we had a good day today.”  And, if I somehow manage to take a shower in the midst of all of this — why, then it is a great day, indeed!

PS — check out {i n h a b i t} at The Little List!

missed opportunities

Today was an unbelievably gorgeous November day.  70 degrees.  Light breeze.  And as sunset neared, I realized: this is the perfect opportunity to take pictures of the girls for our Christmas card!  Outside in plenty of gorgeous sunlight, no winter coats needed.  There was only one problem: I was alone with the girls.  Jake was gone.  I would have to be photographer and set designer and baby distracter all in one.  I knew this was a bad idea; I really, really knew this could never work.  And yet, I reasoned with myself, I will probably never get another opportunity like this again.

So, you can see for yourself how things turned out.  That near-sunset light was absolutely perfect.  But a baby who can’t sit up and a two-year-old who doesn’t want her sister touching her do not make for delightful subjects..

The worst part is how I reacted to the situation.  You may think that, since I went into this endeavor knowing it was doomed to fail, I took it all in stride and accepted my failure gracefully.

I did not.  I pouted.  I sulked.  I fumed that Jake hadn’t received the ESP signals I was sending out to him to come home now and help me with this!

And after all that, I was downright disappointed in myself.  I realized that I had missed the perfect opportunity to model for Adeline an appropriate response to frustration.  She is very easily frustrated which can quickly lead to a meltdown, and Jake and I are always getting on her to relax, be patient, calm-down-it’s-no-big-deal.  And here I am, reacting to frustration in a manner very similar to that of my two-year-old (though I did refrain from throwing myself on the floor in tears).  I’m supposed to be the grown-up here, the one who can control her emotions and is teaching her daughter to do the same.

Sometimes being the grown-up is hard.

Thursdays

On Thursday we made homemade play-doh.

Wait, let me back up a bit.

Thursdays are Jake’s loooong days, starting with a 6:30 AM Bible study he teaches and ending when he returns from his night class at 9:00 PM.  So Thursdays are a bit of a struggle for me.  I’m still learning how to handle both girls by myself for so long (I know, I know, some moms do this on a daily basis — but I’m not one of them, so I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet!). 

Fortunately I have some wonderful friends and neighbors who help out.  Nonetheless, this is a long day for all of us and I usually find myself dreading it.

This past Thursday, things were going pretty well.  The baby actually napped for a while in the morning and I got some chores done.  It was very rainy so we couldn’t go out, and I decided to make some homemade play-doh with Adeline in the afternoon.  I felt like SuperMom — a semi-clean house, everyone fed, and a craft project, all on the day I’m operating solo?  What a great day, I’m thinking.

But when I suggest to Adeline that we make clay, she tells me she’d rather watch Arthur.  My heart drops (much the way it does when I ask if she wants to go outside and she says she’d rather watch a movie — what have I done wrong?!).  I try to make this clay-making endeavor sound really appealing — she usually loves to help measure and mix ingredients.  Still no dice.  She asks if she can play with her real Play-Doh.

So I decide to start mixing up the clay myself, figuring she’ll want to come help when she sees me get out the flour and the measuring cups.  She does.  And for a while it’s all fun.  Until I have to cook the clay on the stove.  Then she’s done helping and starts crying for her real Play-Doh.

Finally, finally, our homemade clay is ready (it really doesn’t take that long, but when you’re trying to impress a two-year-old, more than a minute is too long!).  I let Adeline touch it.  She seems interested.  I show her how we can dye it with food coloring.  She likes that part.  But as soon as that’s over and I suggest we play with it, she says, “Can I get my big Play-Doh?”  Then she asks again if she can watch TV.

*Sigh.*

SuperMom I am not.

But if you want to try, here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup salt
1 cup white flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Mix together in a saucepan and cook on low, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball.

in my arms

Lately I find myself often (very often) holding a child in my arms as I gaze helplessly around me at all the things in my house that need doing.

As I stand and sway to get Beatrice to sleep, I take stock of all the books, doll clothes, harmonicas, random puzzle pieces and plastic tea cups littering my living room floor.  I stare at the pile of unpaid bills, the creatively stacked towers of dirty dishes threatening to topple, that half-finished knitting project that will probably never be completed, and the laundry spilling out of the hampers (how can that be, when I sometimes feel like the only thing I do is laundry? *sigh*).

When I’m holding Adeline, cuddling her through one of the many daily meltdowns of a two-year-old, I admit I’m often thinking of that email I need to send to a friend, or a blog post I’d like to write, or one of the innumerable sewing projects in my head that I’m longing to work on, or how I really really need to scrub the bathtub (sometimes her meltdowns happen in the bathroom).

Sure, I have a baby carrier.  Ok, I have several baby carriers.  And I love them and use them a lot.  But there’s only so much I can do with a baby strapped to my chest.

So I try very hard very often to remind myself, when it looks like I’m getting nothing done, that I am actually doing something really important, something that needs doing.  I may not be making much in the way of sewn and knitted items, or baked goods, or other tangible things.  But I am creating bonds of love and trust that will help my daughters grow into compassionate and competent people, bonds that will hopefully hold this family together through whatever the future may have in store for us.