Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 87: Young at Heart

I had the privilege of joining a few fellow La Leche Leaguers for a breastfeeding talk at a local high school today. The class was quieter than others have been in the past, but all in all it was a great experience for us and hopefully for them. And today, like always, I was struck by just how far behind me my own high school days are now.

I tend not to feel too much different than my high school self, which is really strange since the two of us wouldn't recognize each other in a room. I guess I was waiting for some defining moment or experience to make me feel like an adult; but college degrees, a husband, and two children haven't yet, so I've been forced to let that theory die. In reality, it was such a gradual change that I never noticed how far I was from where I had been, and even now looking back it's so murky that it's hard to say when the old me was replaced by version 2.0 and subsequent updates.

But when a high school girl's most pressing question about my home birth is how we "made his belly button" from the umbilical cord, I'm whisked out of my delusions and the stark contrast between teen me and adult me is obvious.

I didn't think the same way or about the same things, nearly all my values and beliefs are different, my set of "life tools" has thankfully expanded (although I'm still working on stocking the shop shelves), and I'd like to think that sound judgment has decided to make much more frequent appearances since then.

And what does all of that have to do with parenting? Well, other than the fact that mothering has spurred the greatest changes in my life since then, it's a reminder that my children see the world much differently than I do, and will for a very long time.

I don't want to lose touch with what it's like to be eight, twelve, or sixteen. I remember what it felt like to not be (or feel anyway) understood, and I'm hoping not to repeat that cycle that seems to be almost inevitable between parents and children. What I cling to is the vivid memory of the time I felt validated in a major way over a major issue, and how I want my kids to feel that way all the time.

I'm not sure how to put this into practice, especially at their young ages, but I know that it's something I want to stay present with now and as they grow. They are not adults. They don't think like adults, feel like adults, or experience the world in any way like adults. I would do well to remember this every time our thoughts, feelings, and experiences don't coincide. And if I do, I'm confident that it will lead to a more mutually open and respectful loving relationship with both of them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 86: Was that It?

It's been about a week since the last pacifier bit the dust, and all the mayhem I predicted has yet to hit. A couple days with no nap, a few with significantly (and cheerfully) delayed naps, and not a single hiccup at bedtime. That was it.

What an amazing validation of the choice we made to let him outgrow his need rather than forcing him to separate from something we chose to give him for comfort in the first place.

It's almost surreal to think back to the tearful phone call I made to my mom when Jackson was just two weeks old. I was devastated because I had to give him the dreaded pacifier. I was supposed to be his comfort, not some cold piece of silicone. But with my outrageous oversupply problem giving him a painfully gassy tummy, I had no choice but to offer him comfort somewhere else - in my arms, but not at my breast. It was heartbreaking.

Six months later I had gotten over the feeling of failure that came every time I popped the paci in his mouth and my milk supply had finally evened out. But by that time he was so used to it - and so was I - that taking it away didn't seem right. I knew he was attached enough that it would be a struggle, and one not worth fighting (although talk to me again in 10 years when I'm paying his orthodontist). So we ended up letting him lead the way.

If I'm honest, I'm just glad it didn't take another two years! For a while I thought maybe he'd be taking it to college with him. But I'm so glad we respected his need while it lasted and have been able to give him what little support he needed through the incredibly smooth transition that came when he outgrew it.

And despite what I'm sure my family must think, weaning from the breast will happen before college too. Seeing how easily and painlessly we were able to walk through it with the pacifier only makes me more confident that child-led weaning is the right choice.

He will outgrow the need to nurse someday, and when he does I'll be sad and proud all at the same time. Sad that such a special part of our relationship will have come to an end, but proud that I respected and met his needs so completely for so long and proud that he will have grown confident enough in our relationship and himself to venture out into the world without needing the security of nursing. But hopefully we won't cross that bridge for quite a while.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 85: Let's Share

Sometimes there are things that are so ingrained in me I don't even notice them. And a competitive view of the world is definitely one of these things. Lately I've been noticing that it's really colored the way I help Jackson approach ownership and sharing with his friends.

For all the effort I put into helping him find his voice and assert himself, I forgot to balance it with a hefty helping of encouragement toward cooperative play. So now when he's approached by another child who wants something he has, his first reaction is to stand his ground. And now as his playmates are coming out of the parallel play stage and getting ready for cooperative play, the gap is becoming obvious.

So I'm commencing project Play Together. Instead of helping him hold on to things and assert that he's going to finish before offering a turn to a friend, I'm going to focus on helping him find ways to play with the child who's wanting to take the toy for himself. We both need to recognize that we don't have to choose between "me" or "you" and start appreciating all the great things that come from "us."

I think the base of confidence he has to work with will make this a fairly smooth transition, and I'm excited to see all the ways he comes up with to talk about and practice cooperative play.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 84: Duty Calls

Well it finally happened. Yesterday was the first day since starting the project that I didn't post anything. But the world continued to turn and no one was injured. I'd say it turned out alright. And since I spent the day playing with the kids, then working on the articles I had due today, I think it was perfectly in line with what I'm trying to accomplish here anyway.

Sadly, I have to skip out on today's post too since my job as my husband's editor is requiring my attention. And pro bono though it may be, it lies higher on the priority list. But I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I can get back at it!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 82: Growing Up

As I write, I'm listening to a rousing rendition of the national anthem over the monitor that would give Christina Aguilera a run for her money.

Setting up books for Max
So far going paci-free hasn't disrupted bed time, but Jackson has yet to take an afternoon nap. Yesterday he spent three hours singing, talking, and apparently enjoying some restful alone time, but definitely not sleeping. Today seems to be going the same direction, but I'm sure in a few days he'll learn how to bring himself down and fall asleep sans pacifier.

But missed naps aside, he's very proud that he's growing up. It seems like so many changes are happening in such a short time, and I'm struggling to keep up!

All of a sudden he has an interest in standing up to go potty, being potty independent (he had previously requested help with his pants, but now wants to do it himself), dressing himself (one successful shirt attempt and lots of backward underwear thus far), washing himself up after a meal, washing his own body at bath time, and rubbing on his own coconut oil at bed time.

I can only imagine this relates to the homeopathic remedy we last gave him since it's all coming on at once and because it's such a radical change in his mental state - from wanting help despite the fact that he's capable, to wanting independence and even to stretch his capabilities.

Along with independence, I've seen so much budding responsibility in him. He's more vigilant than I am about Maxwell's safety, keeping him from cords, small objects, and stairs. And he's more interested than ever in helping, whether I'm cooking, cleaning or working, even when it comes to cleaning up his own toys and books.

I made a broccoli snail!
It's been so much fun to watch him swell with a sense of pride and accomplishment when he does something for himself or someone else. But I have to admit, it's bittersweet to hear his precious voice saying, "Mommy, I don't even need any help because I'm growing up!"

As I look to the future and all the joys and struggles that will come with the next stage and the one after, I feel excited and hopeful. But with that comes the realization that he's never going to be this age again. Once we've passed it, it's gone except for a few pictures and memories. And while I'm more than happy to let sleepless teething nights and experimental food throwing lie in the past, I'll definitely miss the grin that spreads across his face when he's becoming one of his many characters and his sweet voice saying with brazen honesty, "Mommy, I need some affection."

But the fleeting nature of these stages is precisely what makes them so special! Were he to spend his whole life charmingly enunciating words in the same sweet, high-pitched voice, it wouldn't stir the deep emotion that it does in its brevity.

So I enthusiastically welcome these spurts of maturity, and even the kind of growing up that eventually moves him further into the world and away from me. Because without this, I couldn't treasure the present so dearly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 81: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

I've never been one to fit in, really, but I've definitely never been so far outside of "normal" as I am now. And raising my kids in a non-mainstream way means they're going to be different from the get go.

Of course to us, we're normal. And (stepping up on my soap box for just a moment) biologically speaking, we're the normal ones. But to most people, we're weird. What we eat is different, the way we communicate is different, the products we use (or don't) in our home are different, the activities we do (or don't do) are different, our ideas on health and wellness are different, the way we see the world is largely different. Not across the board, of course we do plenty of "normal" things too, but based on majority, we're different.

Mmmmm...Collard Greens
Every once in a while I have an interaction that reminds me just how "out there" we really are. Like today at ECFE when I found myself trying to explain why Jackson was eating pumpkin seeds yet again instead of having a non-organic apple with the group. It makes perfect sense to me - his body is extremely sensitive to chemicals (apples are about the worst on the list), plus nutrition is a major part of the healing process he's undergoing - but not to a person who doesn't share our nutritional values or health philosophy. No matter how much sense it makes, I just come out looking like some crazy woman who won't let her kid eat fruit! And no matter how I say it, it's assumed we're "too good" for something everyone else is having.

Someday the boys will be old enough to look around and see that their normal isn't the same as most other people's normal, and when that happens they'll be faced with the choice to accept who they are or change it. I'm hoping that raising them in a way that promotes confidence and conscientiousness will lead to the former. Self-assurance will keep insecurity from nudging them toward assimilation, and thoughtfulness will help them understand exactly why they are who they are, allowing them to see the value of their differences and the cost of conformity.

What I hope they learn by watching me interact with the world that's so different from us is that what people think of who I am or the choices I make doesn't have any bearing on who I actually am or the validity of my choices. And conversely that a person's value or "acceptability" doesn't depend on agreement, that seeing eye to eye is a bonus, not a requirement for acceptance.

Jackson is already practicing this kind of acceptance of himself and others. It doesn't rock his world that other people eat foods we don't have in our home or that they don't eat what we eat. He has no problem with the fact that his friends watch DVDs and he doesn't or that other boys like to play trucks while he's cooking or playing with animals (although, thanks to our good friend Carl, trucks are slowly moving their way up the priority list!).

In his perfect innocence, different isn't attached to judgment. The fact that everyone does things in his own way is simply a fact of life, not something that has to be ranked as better or worse. He doesn't know it, but he's living the philosophy I've been working so hard to integrate into my black and white world. So as he models this effortless openness for me, I'll do my best to help him hold on to it as he grows up.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 80: The Day I've Been Dreading

It's here. The day I've been dreading for a long time now has finally come. Jackson chewed a hole in his last pacifier. On the one hand I'm ecstatic, I've wanted to get rid of those things for ages. But at what cost?! He may never nap again!

Right now you're calculating his age in your head, thinking: A pacifier? At his age? That's certainly what I'd be doing if I were you, anyway. But just like I plan on letting him naturally outgrow his need to nurse, I wanted to let him decide when he was ready to leave the paci behind. And since he's only been using it in his crib for the last year and a half, it hasn't been disruptive to the rest of life - except maybe for those poor front teeth.

Yes, you read that right. He's also still in his crib (he's how old?!), but we're letting him decide when he's ready for that transition as well, especially because it requires a move upstairs to a bigger bedroom farther away from us. Plus, when I talked to him about his friends and their beds, then asked him about his crib, his only response was: "It's the best!" So if he's happy, I'm happy, and when he's ready, I'm ready.

We've talked a lot about the paci recently, and I told him whenever he feels like he's grown up enough to sleep without one, he can tell me. On a few occasions he did, but then quickly changed his mind when the reality of not having it set in.

We also talked a lot about his chewing habit. As he chewed through the stash one by one, I explained that if he didn't stop there wouldn't be a paci left for him to use. But I don't think he really grasped the reality of it.

So when I woke up this morning to find the final paci mutilated in his crib, I died a little inside. Am I doomed to battle through every nap and bedtime for the rest of his life? I've never seen a teenager screaming for a paci, but Jackson's pretty attached to it. All I could think to do was cut off the gnawed-through tip and leave him an unusable piece of silicone to hold in the hope that it would get him through the transition gently.

But alas, an hour into nap time and I have yet to hear silence in his room. What I do hear is lots of jumping, chatting (I really must have a talk with that snuggle puppy who doesn't know when to stop talking), and all manner of silliness. So we haven't hit our worst case scenario yet, but I'm still holding my breath.

This is one of many transitions in our near future, so I'm really trying to embrace change. Sure some difficulty will come along, but so will some excitement! Naps may be pretty rough for a while, and this may be the worst possible timing for that, but we'll get through it. And we can get through it unscathed if I can keep a positive attitude about it. It will pass. No stage, good or bad, lasts forever. And this I will repeat to myself over and over when it takes hours for him to fall asleep!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 79: Brotherly Love

When Max was born, Jackson's interest in nursing was at an all time low. Nap, bedtime, and don't bother me in between, Mom. So I never really had a reason to get the hang of tandem nursing. We tried a time or two, but when things didn't fall easily into place, we just ended up taking turns. Until this week.

We got home later than expected. Max was tired and fussy, and Jackson was expecting to nurse like he usually does before lunch and nap. As I found myself trying to decide which one needed me more, it dawned on me: Wait a minute! Two boys, two "milks" (as Jack likes to call them)'s not rocket science. So we wriggled and squirmed our way around until everyone was comfortable and there was silence, beautiful silence.

The silence alone would've been enough of a reward for me, but it got better. I got a front seat to this: the boys gazed at each other, Jack gave Max gentle touches and Max reciprocated before unlatching to give his big brother a huge, milky grin. Then they held hands! If that doesn't melt your heart, nothing will.

It was such an awesome experience that Jackson has continued to ask to nurse with Max over the past few days and we're finally getting this tandem nursing thing figured out. I only wish I had done it sooner so we all could've enjoyed this kind of closeness from the start. And I'll be honest, I could've really used the moments peace and quiet a little sooner!

But better late than never. And I'm sure we have lots of time ahead of us to make up for it. I'm so thankful for the breastfeeding relationship I have with each of them and now that the three of us will have together. It's hard to say what the future holds, but if the present is any indication of how close they'll be as they grow up, I'm very excited to witness the evolution of their loving relationship and the genuine friendship that will come from it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 78: It's Everywhere!

This is what I was frantically shouting as I changed my first poo-filled diaper in months. If it's possible, I lost the art of diaper changes.

Max didn't take me up on the opportunity to go potty this morning as he usually does, which in itself wouldn't have been a problem. But when he woke up from his morning nap and I wasn't able to get to him right away, we took a turn for the worse.

Once my hands were free, Jackson and I headed toward the bedroom where he climbed up onto the bed to do some jumping (has he learned nothing from the five little monkeys?). Ordinarily Max waits for me, so when I opened his diaper with the intention of helping him potty, I was met with quite a surprise.

Before I knew what was happening, legs were flailing, hands were doing the inevitable crotch-grab, and a roll was underway. Then came the, "Oh no! It's everywhere!" The sheets, the pajamas, his arms, feet, legs, and belly; fortunately I got his hands under control before they made it to his teething mouth! Now what to do with the rest of this body that won't stop thrashing?!

I finally grabbed for a handful of wipes that were barely within reach as I tried to keep him from tumbling off the bed or getting his head crushed by his bouncing brother, who by the way was shouting (aka singing) into a funnel because there wasn't enough going on already.

I wish I could say I took it all in stride. But when Jackson asked, "Mommy, how are you feeling?" which he does whenever he can tell I'm having some big feelings, I had to answer, "Frustrated!" I did at least pull the interaction out of the gutter soon enough that, while I was still trying to get Max cleaned up, I was able to answer the next question with a smile: "Mommy, are you happy now?"

It may be natural for me to become frustrated in a sticky situation like this (pun intended), but I don't think it has to be. I'm hoping that our next stealthy ninja poo is a long way off, but also that I'll be ready to respond naturally with acceptance, a smile and a giggle. I don't have to let circumstances, however messy they are, determine how I feel.

For now I'll take one day at a time until eventually that unconditional way of life becomes a reality, not just a theory.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 77: A "Real" Job

This could very well be the title for a sarcasm-drenched, yet-to-be-written post on the value of mothering (stay tuned!), but unfortunately today it's my excuse for skipping out on my "fake" job. The good news is that after one short article, the editor tripled my assignment. The bad news: I have to triple the time I put in! With a deadline creeping up on me, I've got to focus my attention on my less personally satisfying, but more monetarily satisfying writing. The woes of being (barely) gainfully employed! So here's hoping tomorrow will provide an opportunity to get back on the blogging horse.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 76: Don't Require, Inspire

So many parents see respect and obedience as synonymous, and I couldn't disagree more. In fact, I'd say they have little to do with one another, at least in the way the terms are commonly used.

Respect doesn't require obedience.
Obedience can be carried out devoid of respect.

So why is it parents, myself included sometimes thanks to conditioning, tend to equate disobedience with disrespect? And why do some think they're teaching their children to respect them when they're simply requiring them to go through empty obedient motions?

I think it boils down to a distorted view of respect. Does respect lie with the the person offering it, or is it contingent upon the feelings of the person receiving it?

If I'm only able to accept behavior as respectful when my reaction to it is positive or when the behavior is in line with my desires, then I'm teaching my kids the same perverted view of respect that is so widely accepted it's rarely questioned. (After all, questioning would be disrespectful, right?...!)

I'd like our home to be a place where my boys are able to develop a healthier kind of respect - what I would call authentic respect. And in order to do that, I have to put my money where my mouth is.

As impossible as it seems sometimes, I'm working hard to accept that they can respectfully disagree, respectfully decline to do what I'm asking of them, and respectfully ask me to change my mind, my request, or the way I'm communicating with them.

If respect is about a sense of worth and honor (not status or authority), it requires all of us (since respect is deserved by all) to express our genuine feelings and come to an end that we all feel positive about. Sometimes that looks the same as obedience on the surface; but instead of a person's will being forced to bend to someone else's, he willingly bends himself out of a desire to honor the feelings and needs of another over his own.

When they see me bending to meet their needs, the message they get isn't that I'm weak or easily manipulated, it's that they're respected and that giving of yourself is a privilege rather than an obligation. And in turn, I want mutual respect to inspire them to cooperate, rather than my authority requiring them to obey.

By forcing obedience and rendering children powerless, we strip them of their natural desire for cooperation and their ability to feel secure and confident enough to give of themselves freely. By not allowing them to experience a mutually respectful, and thus mutually satisfying relationship, we leave them with the impression that you only feel good when you're on top looking down.

Experience has taught me that, operating under this misguided idea of respect, we mold them into power-seeking, rigid adults who have lost the value of sacrifice and continue the cycle. And I believe this is the reason I still struggle to embrace a healthy, respectful relationship with my kids.

But I want better for them than learning to toe the line until they get their chance to be on top. I want to let them keep their power and help them use it along with mine to establish an environment that we all feel good in, a home where we all feel respected even when we don't get our way.

That's something that obedience will never create.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 75: Stranger Danger

My danger seeker ironically also happens to be my stranger danger baby.

With few exceptions, most family and friends get a look of terror, the world's cutest quivering lip and waterworks, sometimes even when he's in my arms. Of course he eventually warms up, but the initial interaction is nearly always challenging for him. If you've interacted with him and haven't experienced this, you're one of the special few whose energy must really put him at ease from the start.

Jackson never went through a phase like this, so I'm learning as we go. It's no stretch to accept that he wants to stay with me, but somehow the small part of me that's socially trained to think "polite" means compromising yourself to make sure no one ever feels uncomfortable still exists, and it stirs up a compulsive need to apologize or make excuses for him, sometimes even try to coax him into warming up before he's ready.

It seems so minor to us because our established relationships tell us there's nothing to be scared of, but to him it's clearly a major emotional upheaval and should be honored as such. So he's giving me lots of great opportunities to practice kind authenticity.

There is a "nice" way to honor his feelings and advocate for him. Although whether or not it's received as polite is up to the person involved, I suppose. But since a big part of how it's received has to do with whether it comes from a place of acceptance or resistance, I have a pretty significant say in the matter.

Am I focused on resisting a person's desire to take him from me or interact too soon? Or am I putting my energy into accepting his need for security and time to get reacquainted? The latter puts everyone at ease, especially him, so I'm working to stay present during these chaotic interactions instead of slipping into default and choosing the former.

I want to send Max a clear message that his feelings are valid and simultaneously show him that the person we're with and the environment we're in are safe. With a little practice, and a little patience from our family, I think we're getting there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 74: Label-Free Living

Trying on the 'lounge singer' role
One of the things I'm loving about Jackson's current stage of development is the imaginative play. Throughout the day he becomes any one of a host of characters, and includes Max and I by giving us roles to play along.

With a play sword he's the Grand Duke. When he dumps out his pillow and dons the case or steps into my shoes, he's Cinderella in a beautiful gown and glass slippers. Sometimes I suddenly find myself talking to Max the Bunny (not to be confused with Max the baby), Prince John, Pooh, or Baby Bear (of the Three Bears). I only know this because when I address him as Jackson I'm corrected: "No, Mommy. Max the Bunny would like more hummus."

These adventures in role play allow him to put on various identities at the drop of a hat. He can be curious and mischievous, strong and masculine, sweet and dainty (that's right, I said it...dainty...Sorry, Daddy), the possibilities are endless.

Whether it's the cause or effect I'm not sure, but the beauty of this is that it shows his totally fluid view of himself. He's not boxed in by who anyone says he is, by his experiences or past choices, or by any label he's come to accept. He's free to just be whoever he is in the moment, without having to perform to some external expectation or interpretation of who he is.

I'm doing my best to avoid playing the label game, to describe his choices or his behavior rather than his person. When he's showing off his spelling skills, instead of calling him a smart boy (*cringe*), I acknowledge how hard he worked to figure the word out or how he was paying close attention to notice the way two words rhymed. Instead of telling him he's sensitive, I try to talk to him about how he notices other people's feelings and pays attention to how he feels about things.

I can look back and see how being "the smart one" or "the serious one" kept me from developing and appreciating my creativity and sense of humor. Being labeled "rebellious" and "strong-willed" certainly didn't help me tap into my innate desire to bring harmony and cooperation to my world.

I don't want him to get bogged down in a few dominant pieces of himself and neglect or fail to ever see the rest. Nor do I want him to only be able to see himself through my eyes, with my judgment of his capabilities and traits, strengths and weaknesses.

This is no small task. Labeling is a huge part of our cultural language and definitely a huge part of my own language.

Training myself away from using labels has been a process, but I see the fruits of that labor every time Jackson shows me a new dimension of himself or tries on a new identity to see if it fits. I can only hope that giving him this space and freedom in his early years will make the labels the rest of the world will try to place on him so ill-fitting that he'll merely shake them off and continue on just being who he is.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 73: Livin' on the Edge

I have a danger seeker.

You can see it in his eyes, especially when he sticks that little tongue out the side of his mouth with determination. This one's going to be a whole new kind of handful. He's intensely curious, fearless, and takes the bull by the horns.

After two and a half years of encouraging one child to assert himself, take risks, and jump in, I'm going to need to learn how to help the other learn caution and gentleness. Having conditioned myself to be almost excessively emotionally in tune with one sensitive child, I envision myself throwing my hands up as the other laughs at my "feelings board" on the wall and runs off to set something on fire.

As it stands now, my two boys have some definite similarities that seem to be far outweighed by their differences.

Of course nothing about them is written in stone and I want to leave them both plenty of room to change and grow in whatever ways they choose, but some pieces of their temperaments are clearly innate qualities.

So as Maxwell's world is so quickly expanding, I'm coming to a fuller realization of what's in store for our relationship in the future - and in turn, what's in store for my personal growth. Because as much as God entrusts children to our loving care so that we can model and teach as they grow, he also sends them to us so that they can teach and even model for us as we grow.

I've learned more in two years as a mother than in the previous ten combined, and this is no accident. This is God's plan for a mutually satisfying and challenging relationship between parent and child.

I look back with profound gratitude at all that Jackson has taught me in these two years, and forward to all the ways Max gets to benefit from those lessons already learned. And now as Mom-to-two and Mom-to-Max, I get to expand my knowledge and experience, and work on new fire safety or first aid perhaps.

I can't predict the future, but I do already know that Max is going to stretch me in different ways and force me further outside my comfort zone, definitely further out of control and into trust.

Good news! You're just in time, Max. After years of preparation, Mommy's finally ready for you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 72: Streak of Freedom

I want to be this free! Maybe more free-spirited than free with my booty, but you get the point.

As Jackson walked around this morning in my mukluks sans clothes, belting out a tune without a shred of insecurity or inhibition (he posed for a frontal shot, but we'll keep that in the family!), I felt a twinge of jealousy quickly followed by an intense desire to shield him from all the ways the world will try to rob him of this.

We're born with a free streak, an innate brazenness that slowly slips away from us as we grow up in a culture that values conformity and teaches competition, comparison, and ultimately condemnation for things outside the box collectively labeled "acceptable."

Now, not being nudists, we've been modeling for Jackson the appropriate time and place for brazenness of this nature (which I'm sure will all go out the window when he gets to college), but I want to be careful to never taint him with feelings of shame or insecurity - about his body or his being.

He may always be "different" by common standards - the things he enjoys, the environments he feels comfortable in, the way he communicates and relates to people, and the way he responds to things - and I want him to be free to continue seeing that for what it is, simply his individuality and the beautifully unique way God created him to be. (I also want him to be free to see it as fluid and adaptable, but more on that soon)

My deepest desire is to see him embrace who he is at his core and find strength in that so that the insecurity and shame other people try to pass on to him will just slip past, unimportant or even unnoticed.

In parenthood, I've become very "different," (I probably always was, but in parenthood I could no longer fight it!) and learning to embrace that has been a very freeing experience. I may never get my original free streak back, but with practice I'm at least moving in that direction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 71: Gimme That!

Sometimes the values you've internalized reveal themselves despite your best efforts to live according to your conscious beliefs. I've been experiencing this quite a bit lately.

I don't buy into our culture's assessment of children - that they're lower than adults and unworthy of mutual respect - but having grown up with this idea, it's something I have to continually train myself away from. Fortunately, Jackson is ready, willing and able to help me with this.

As the boys' mother, it's my job to keep them safe and also sometimes to keep our home safe from them! At times this requires me to remove them from certain environments or remove certain objects from them. And as of late, urgency has caused me to default into disrespect.

Seeing Jackson hovering a Sharpe over his dry erase board, I instinctively grabbed it from his hand, and was met with an understandable mini-meltdown: "No, no, no, Mommy! I was using that. You can't take that from me!"

My reactive self wanted to give justification and avoid admitting I had done anything wrong. But thankfully I took a moment for reactivity to pass so I could thoughtfully respond.

I acknowledged that it was not okay for me to grab things from his hands, that I should have treated him with respect and asked for his cooperation instead of using force to overpower him.

I'm proud of him for accessing some of the tools we've worked on so that he could advocate for himself in this situation. I wish I could say we've moved happily on to tackle other challenges, but for some reason this is one I continue to wrestle with. But with his help, hopefully it'll be a distant memory some day soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 70: Can I Interest you in a Why Sandwich

A few days in, and Jackson's why sandwiches are about as appealing as this one.

"Why, Mommy? Why?"

No detail is too minuscule, no subject uninteresting enough to escape the why sandwich.

So to squelch that devilish little voice that reminds me how annoying this can get by the end of a long day, I'm going to use classical conditioning to my advantage. Each time I'm served a why sandwich, I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and release all my tension.

Hopefully this will keep me from bottling all that annoyance throughout the day until the floodgates burst after an innocent, "But why are you cutting the onion, Mommy? Why?"

And given the frequency at which I'm encountering the why sandwich, I'd say my overall mental state should go from 'crazed lunatic' to 'beach lounger' in no time.

How cool that he's digging deeper to better understand his world. And what a privilege that I get to be the one to answer all those questions and show him the world as I see it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 69: Change of Heart, Change of Plans

Consistency is all you ever seem to hear parenting "experts" preaching. So much so that it's all you hear from other parents now too. In my default state, I thrive on this because it's so black and white. You make a statement, you follow through. You set a boundary, you enforce it every time. This kind of consistency should make life pretty simple.

But relationships aren't simple, and parenting is nothing of not a relationship.

This morning Jackson crumbled his favorite "sour bread" (soaked goat kefir bread) all over the counter. I was in no mood. So without asking him why (or caring) I just barked the order, "Clean it up, please."

Recently he's picked up on his own that offering an explanation, even when I don't take the time to ask, is really helpful for our communication, so he does this pretty regularly. He must have realized that when he explained, I was more receptive and appreciated his creativity rather than simply getting annoyed by the mess.

So he took the time to respectfully tell me that he was crumbling salt on the sidewalk so Pooh (aka Jackson) and Roo (aka Maxwell) didn't slip. Unfortunately for him, my response wasn't consistent with much of his past experience. Instead of offering him the same respectful communication in return, I patronized him with, "That's great, honey. But it needs to get cleaned up right now, please."

Now as any mother of a two-year-old knows, "right now" can have any number of definitions. In hindsight, I'm sure he was doing it "right now" at a much slower pace than I expected. In my heightened state of annoyance and reactivity, I threw out a threat (disguised, of course, as a natural consequence, but a threat nonetheless): "You can't have any smoothie until the bread is cleaned up."

And as threats always do, it blew up in my face.

He felt my resistance and anger even though I wasn't "yelling," and he decided he didn't want to participate. So in a sweet voice he said, "Okay. I don't want any smoothie." Then he hopped off his chair and headed for his playroom.

You can imagine how pissed off I was standing there by myslef staring down the bread crumbs all over the counter. Not that it would take more than a second to clean them up, but the principle...the principle!

And when I say the principle, what I really mean is that I had set up a competitive backdrop for this interaction and he had won, which of course meant I had lost. I don't like losing.

Obviously I wasn't in a good state of mind leading up to this, so for a while I clung to "consistency." But when I had a chance to cool down and gain some perspective (bread crumbs...really? And you're withholding a seaweed smoothie? C'mon...), I realized that I want my children to experience a different kind of consistency.

I want to be consistently loving and respectful and to consistently meet their needs, and this requires me to be consistently flexible. This doesn't mean becoming a doormat or caving each time I've set a boundary - somethings, like gentle touches and respectful words are non-negotiable. But it does mean being willing to honor a change of heart.

If the boundary I set wasn't respectful to both of us or if it becomes unnecessary or inappropriate, a midstream change of plans is absolutely called for.

After cleaning the crumbs myself, I eventually joined Jackson upstairs and apologized. I explained why I reacted the way I did and how it should have been different. And I acknowledged that the boundary I set was a mistake and no longer in place. A hug, a kiss and "I forgive you, Mommy" and we were on our way downstairs to share a smoothie. And when we got to the kitchen he noticed, "Mommy, you cleaned up the bread for me. Thank you."

What he learned with this change of plans was so much more valuable than anything cold, hard consistency would have shown him. I'm thankful for my son's willingness to accept a change of heart and move on.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 68: My Baby Smells

Hence the short hiatus to get back on track!

He's a baby so how bad can he really smell, right? But the point is it's been too long since I've found twenty free minutes to bathe Max. Every day it's "we'll get to it tomorrow," until finally it's been two weeks and that chubby little body still hasn't seen the bathtub. You wouldn't think it'd be so difficult, but it seems like when the time does present itself, it's emergency nap time - not now, right now! - or Jackson has a pressing need.

Now those of you who are daily kid-bathers are probably sputtering in front of your screens right now (two weeks?!). But my children aren't neglected or wallowing in filth, and since we've been trained away from over bathing by Jackson's skin, it's just a low priority in our house - not part of the daily routine for sure. In my defense, Max poos on the potty so he really doesn't get all that "dirty," but the principle stands - two weeks has got to be the limit!

So here I go focusing on getting organized instead of writing so that when Max wakes up from his afternoon nap I can plop him in the tub and watch him splash. The bright side is that since it's been so long, to him every bath is like his first! So that keeps it exciting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 67: Catching Up

Remember this table? It's catching up to me again!
One of my major road blocks to becoming a positive parent is the pressure I feel from the various responsibilities I carry outside of my children. And one of the things I want to learn to do is manage those responsibilities more efficiently, not only so I have more time to focus on the boys, but also so that I can accept that pile of stuff without feeling any pressure or passing on any tense energy to them. So with some of the tools I got at Holistic Moms this week, I'm using today and maybe even tomorrow to tackle the list and make it manageable. So please forgive the writing hiatus and know that I'll be back in action soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 66: Pass the Bubble Wrap, Please

My fondest and most vivid memories of childhood all involve adventure. Whether I was hiking through the wood behind our home, swimming in the fish-filled creek up the road, or traversing the expansive nearby fields, it was moments of freedom and exploration that remain embedded in my mind.

Sure I played with dolls and put together puzzles, played school and house, and those things were fun. But there was something about being unsupervised, especially when there was an element of danger, that really made me come alive. This was when I got to feel powerful and capable, where I learned to trust my judgment and my gut, maybe even push my limits and learn something new about myself and my world.

I can't begin to count the number of things that could've gone horribly wrong on any one of these excursions. Looking back at my ten-year-old self coasting down a steep hill on my bike in the middle of the road, no helmet on my head, no hands on the handlebars, flying around a sand-covered corner at the bottom and just barely staying upright merely makes me shake my head and wonder how I'm still alive. But when I think about my sons taking those kinds of risks, I start sweating profusely and hyperventilating.

Knowing I made it out in one piece makes it easy to see those experiences as valuable. But looking out into the unknown with my own children makes me recoil in horror and reach for the bubble wrap.

Not a whole lot has changed in the world since I was young, but the way we see it has. There wasn't a single day of my life that I wore a helmet as I rode my bike through our neighborhood, but my son is required to wear one to ride a tricycle in the playroom at school. The risks are the same, but our assessment and reaction to risk is much different now than it was twenty years ago.

This culture of fear traps us in protective bubbles, where risk is always something to avoid and safety is the only goal. And if I'm not careful, I'm going to let it rob my children of the valuable experiences my own loving and protective parents provided for me.

Risk is an inevitable and important part of life, and one that I want my children to approach with wisdom and confidence, not fear and avoidance. I want to let them explore their own limits, find out what they're capable of, and feel that sense of freedom and independence that comes with choosing to take a risk.

My job as their mother isn't to protect them by avoiding anything risky; in fact that will only leave them vulnerable and ill-equipped when it comes time for them to face life on their own. Instead it's my duty to let them learn, in an ever-expanding circle of freedom, when to jump and when to back away from the edge.

I have to trust them if I want them to learn to trust themselves and approach life with confidence. Worry and trust are mutually exclusive, and I find myself worrying all too often, even now when they're so young their almost never out of my sight.

So I've been working on trusting Jackson more - letting him decide what he thinks is safe and what he thinks he's capable of. If I don't start now, I'm afraid when he's ten I'll be saying, "Sure, honey. You can go for a bike long as you stay in the driveway."

Today, he got to play outside in front of the house (with no snow pants or thick mittens) while I got lunch ready and watched him through our windows. I'm sure to anyone watching I looked like a negligent mother, but what I was actually doing was making a conscious choice to empower him. (And as a disclaimer, not all kids his age would be safe left alone outside near a street, but he is extremely cautious and would likely stay on the sidewalk even it was on fire and the street was his only escape.)

He shoveled, threw snowballs at the car, checked out a slippery patch of ice, and climbed precariously up and down the massive snowbanks. At one point I watched as a near face plant turned into a balancing act and recovery, an opportunity to feel capable I'm sure I would have intruded on with a hand hold or a "be careful" had I been out there.

There was no need to coax him into the house or to try to motivate him to leave behind the shovel (which I just realized is probably still in the middle of the sidewalk). I didn't have to tell him "it's too cold" or "it's time for lunch." When he was cold and hungry, he came to the door and asked to come in.

This might not be burned into his memory as an important childhood moment of freedom, but it will be remembered in mine as an important mothering moment of trust.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 65: Balancing Act

After a spectacular Holistic Moms Network meeting last night, I'm feeling refreshed and ready to tackle life again. But this time, in a whole new way.

I went into the meeting feeling pulled in too many directions, like there wasn't enough of me to go around and like my life was a balancing act gone wrong. I know this leaves me always-behind, hurried, and generally frantic, an energy I'm subjecting everyone in my life to, especially the kids.

I came out of the meeting with a renewed perspective, feeling capable and centered. The tools she gave us were really helpful, and I'm going to put them to good use to go from scattered to focused and from spread thin to covering my bases. But it was the meditation that pushed me over the frenzied hump.

After only a few brief, kid-interrupted minutes of meditation, I felt less physical tension, less stress, less resistance. I was calm. Not the kind I put on to try to provide a peaceful environment for the kids or to keep my craziness from spreading to other moms I'm with. The real kind. The kind I hadn't felt in a while, because I hadn't stopped moving in a while.

Being forced to just be, to not do, was more powerful than I'd imagined. The to-do list, expectations, responsibilities all slipped away, and they took all my tension with them. And in its place they left gratefulness, love, trust, and acceptance.

I didn't realize how long it had been since I had stopped. Other than vegging out with my husband after the kids are in bed, I literally haven't stopped since Max was born. And as much as I love Parenthood and Dexter, they're not exactly helping me find balance.

I've been approaching my responsibilities the same detrimental, default way I had been approaching internal power struggles. Push through, make it work, sheer force of will will get things done. But checking things off the list this way wasn't bringing any relief, and certainly no peace.

So my new balancing act - the act I am committing to in order to find balance - is to take ten minutes, the first ten minutes, of the boys' afternoon nap to just be.

Today that meant meditating and doing self-reiki along with the Lisa's CD, other days it might mean a ten-minute nap, ten minutes of prayer, or ten minutes of head-clearing silence. Whatever they look like, I'm committing to giving myself those ten minutes every single day so that my cup is full, maybe even over-flowing and able to fill up the people around me.

My hope is that this simple act will help me remain focused, actually make me more efficient, and more importantly bring a sense of peace and trust to my day that I can share with my kids.

So here's me trading stress for trust: I am enough. I am capable. I will accomplish what needs to be done. And I will do it with love and gratitude, because those are the reasons the list exists in the first place.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 64: Alone Time

I tend to be a bit of an introvert (shocking, I know). As such, I really value alone time. And although I don't get much of it these days, what little I do get refreshes me and keeps me going on the days I want to throw up my hands and walk away never to return (I know you know the days I'm talking about!). But introvert or not, sometimes what I need is a hug, a good conversation or just some good ol' fun.

Jackson's going through a temporary aggravation period after taking a homeopathic remedy on Sunday, and he's been struggling with insomnia, hyperactivity, and feeling generally out of control. From experience I know that these are all things that leave him overwhelmed and unable to cope with even the smallest stressor.

Needless to say, the day so far has been full of melt-downs and freak-outs. Oh, and he's had a tough day too.

I've got lots of work piling up, so I'm feeling pressure to try to get things done while the kids are awake. This is usually a disaster because either they or my work has to suffer - I can't give 100% to both. But sometimes half-assed work is better than uncompleted work, so I gave it a shot again today.

I was expecting Jackson to resist my decision to work, to try to divert my attention to him. Instead, he plopped himself down in his bedroom and read book after book to himself. It turned out that the time I spent working was the time he felt most centered and calm today, the time he was most himself.

Quite simply, he needed some alone time. And I didn't see it.

All morning I felt like I had to be by his side to help him through a tough day. I was focused on how patient and present I needed to be. I felt "shoulds" raining down on me when I put my attention anywhere else. But only because I wasn't tuning in.

I was thinking about what a mother should do for a struggling child instead of what I should do for my struggling child today.

There are days when all he needs is me, present and patient. But not today. I didn't grant him the respect of allowing his needs to change until I stumbled upon it by accident. Today was a great reminder to listen to what his behavior tells me about his needs, to ask him what he needs, and not to assume that his needs are static.

It's no less true for him at two than it is for me as an adult: The same need must be met in different ways on different days.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 64: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This picture pretty much sums up the most common view of respect. It also happens to sum up everything I never want to be as a mom. 

We spend a lot of time talking about respect in our home. In fact, if we could do a Facebook-esque calculation of our most used words, I'm confident it would make the top five.

We talk about respecting bodies, ours with good nutrition and safety and others with gentle touches or no touches at all. We talk about respecting rules, at the library, the grocery store, a friend's home, our own home. We talk about respecting objects, taking care of the things we have and especially those that belong to someone else. And we talk about respecting boundaries, those we set for ourselves and each other.

Because of this, Jackson is the only two year old I know who has used the phrase "please treat me more respectfully" at a playdate. It's also why he's the only two year old I know who, having been scolded today for digging through the recycling, responded with, "Mommy, that wasn't a very respectful way to talk to me. The polite thing to say would have been, 'Jackson, would you please look with your eyes and not touch with your hands.'"

He knows that, as a person, he's worthy of respect, and that makes him capable of seeing everyone else in his world in the same way. He treats his brother, his grandparents, his friends, and anyone else who crosses his path with the same respect and dignity he wants in return. Not because he "should." Not because I told him to. Not because he's afraid of repercussions. Because it's what he's experienced and now part of who he is and how he communicates - with everyone.

I don't ask him to treat me respectfully because I'm his mom. Being a parent doesn't make me worthy of special treatment. But being a person does make me worthy of dignity and respect, and this is why he chooses to use kind words, gentle touches, and sometimes even to put my needs before his own (otherwise known as obedience in the "do as I say" circles, but much different because his motivations are his own desire to show love and cooperation, not externally imposed fear and coercion).

He may be a child, but he's no less a person than me or any other adult. He's not waiting to earn full personhood and its accompanying respect as he matures or reaches an arbitrary age or station in life. From the moment he arrived on this earth, he was a whole person with the same right to dignity and respect we reserve for adults.

Respecting the street boundary
This is not a culturally accepted view of children. On the contrary, our culture tells us children are to be seen and not heard, to do as we say not as we do, to fall in line or else - natural conclusions if you see children as property, I suppose. If you own your children, it only makes sense that you should do whatever you want, treat them however you like and expect them to do only as you say and treat you only as you like. A person owned is certainly not going to be seen as a person deserving of his owner's respect.

The irony is that by withholding respect from our children, we render them incapable of giving the respect we demand from them. How can we expect them to offer us something they've never experienced?

Even with the firm foundation we've built, I find that a string of disrespectful behaviors from Jackson can almost always be mapped back to my own disrespectful behavior as a trigger. Respect is meant to be mutual, and when we place ourselves above our children and rob them of the respect they deserve, we would be foolish to expect anything other than disrespect in return.

Despite all my shortcomings, I take heart in the fact that my son feels safe to approach me (respectfully!) with constructive criticism about how I communicate with him. I literally swell with pride when I see him refusing to accept disrespect from me, his peers, and even other adults. I'm far from perfect, but he wouldn't expect to be treated with respect if he didn't experience it at home on a regular basis. We must be doing okay. 

Now sing it with me; you know you want to...

♫ ♪ "What you want, baby I got it
What you need, you know I got it
All I'm asking is for a little respect...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me..."♪♫ ♪ 

Tell me that's not going to be in your head the rest of the day!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 63: Me, Me, Me!

As I browsed through my previous posts, a little twinge of self-consciousness arose. I realized how much of my posting had been about...*gulp*

I'm not a spotlight seeker, just the opposite actually, and my default version of modesty probably teeters on self-deprecation or at the very least underestimating myself. So how did I end up filling my blog with me, me, me?

Simple. It's me, me, me, who needs to change.

This project isn't about my children. It's for them, but not about them. My parenting challenges don't arise out of their behavior or their choices, these challenges are mine and mine alone. And because of that, the solutions also don't lie with them, but with me.

Self-examination is the first step toward change; if you don't know what's broken you can't fix it. I wasted too much of my life not paying attention to what was broken, and I've watched as people I love have sacrificed their talents, opportunities, relationships, and even their own joy and peace rather than open their eyes to who they really are and the effect they have on their world.

I don't intend to keep participating in this exercise in ignorance.

I'm only a few skips down my yellow brick road of healing, but already I'm feeling a sense of freedom I've never experienced. I look forward with anticipation to the lifetime of learning ahead of me.

It's not comfortable or easy, sometimes it's even painful to be honest with myself. But if I'm not honest with me, I'm not capable of being honest or open with the people I love. So I'm choosing to brave the ugly truth, in public no less, because the lie is even uglier and will rob me and my family of so much.

Those of you helping me see more clearly may not even know who you are, but I owe you a lifetime of gratitude, as do my husband and children.

I'm confident that I don't own the rights to control issues, a hot temper, a dark outlook or fear of vulnerability, so I'm also confident that processing me may help you process you. If that wasn't the case, my mom would be the only one reading about me, me, me! (Love you, Mom)

Beyond my own growth, I hope the value of writing about me extends to you becoming a better you too.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Day 62: Daring to Dream

My dream has always been to be a wife and mother. College was merely preparation for a backup plan should Prince Charming not ride in on his white horse soon enough. But that backup plan was never very definitive. I figured I'd need a career of some sort, but never really felt passionate about anything.

Thankfully I was married and pregnant when I graduated with my second bachelor's degree, and thus spared the grueling task of muddling my way through indifference toward a career path.

Little did I know, however, that becoming a wife and mother as I had dreamed would also stir up passion for a traditional career. (I say traditional because mothering is a valid career choice!) Suddenly I cared so intensely about so many things, and I wanted to use my talents (and expensive, so far monetarily useless degrees) to make a difference in my community and the world.

I thought about all the things I could see myself doing: homeopath, naturopath, doula, home birth midwife, lactation consultant... But all those things would require more schooling and take me away from my children, and my responsibility and greatest passion still remained with them. These are things that the future may hold for me once my children are grown, but they weren't right for our family's present.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that I wasn't fulfilling my potential. Not that mothering wasn't important enough or challenging enough - God knows it is - just that there was something else I was supposed to be doing, other parts of me that weren't being utilized and challenged.

I worked so hard to earn degrees, then even harder to educate myself and grow as a person and a mother that I felt like keeping all of it to myself was a waste, almost selfish. (And now my fingers hover over the delete button because that all seems much too self-important. But I'm learning not to shy away from my strengths and abilities and not to sell myself short. So yes. I do have something to offer the world! *blush*)

After some time on discussion formus with some amazing women (who I hope to meet in real life some day!), I finally landed on writing as a way to impact the lives of women in my community and those far beyond my physical reach. This I could accomplish without ever leaving my children's sides. And while it doesn't allow me to give the hands-on support I'd love to offer (to every women on the planet), it's an opportunity to exercise some creativity and fine tune a talent in a way that hopefully brings something positive to someone else.

I know I can name a few women whose writings were pivotal in my mothering journey thus far, and I'd be humbled and honored to be a source of knowledge, inspiration, or encouragement for another woman in the same way.

But freelance writing isn't exactly an easy road. In fact, odds are you'll put yourself out there over and over only to be rejected over and over, especially as an unpublished writer. So each time I'd start working toward a submission, I'd find an excuse to give up long before I sent anything off.

I never admitted out loud that writing was one of my dreams, and especially not that I wanted to do it for any reason other than than a paycheck, because saying that it meant something to me would make it that much more painful and embarrassing to be rejected.

For two years, fear of failure kept me from ever trying. It even kept me from figuring out what exactly that dream of writing looked like, because entertaining the idea only led to visions of the inevitable reply: not interested and negative self-talk: it'll never happen.

It was somehow more tolerable to reject myself than to take a risk at having my work rejected by someone else, even though that meant cheating myself out of a chance at acceptance and success.

Then I started this project.

This didn't start as a writing project, and even now it isn't a writing project. But it is a space for me to take an honest look at myself and to challenge myself to do and be better for my children. And thanks to lots of encouragement from those of you reading along on this journey, I realized that writing is part of that.

I don't ever want my boys to see themselves for less than what they are, to write themselves off or downplay their abilities. I want them to be confident, take pride in their talents and use them to accomplish their dreams, whatever they may be.

They're not going to learn that by watching me squander my own gifts. If I want that for them, I'd better show it to them.

So as I write this, my first published article is appearing in a magazine - a small, local, free magazine...but I'm published. It's certainly not the fulfillment of my dream, and it's not work that I'm passionate about, but it's a stepping stone down the path, and one that I couldn't have taken if I hadn't put myself out there.

And now the challenge is to make time - somehow, someway - and take risks to keep moving toward the goal of having something meaningful published in a more prominent place.

Rejection is going to be part of the process, but after putting my writing and so much of my "dirty laundry" out in the open for everyone, including me, to see here, I'm ready to face that fear. I know what I'm capable of, what my gifts are, and more importantly who I am, and none of that is defined by whether or not someone else accepts or rejects my work.

So if I've given any inspiration or encouragement to any of you reading, please know that you've given me much more in return!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Day 61: Learning to Fail

Failure is not an option in a black-and-white world. Even small failures are associated with judgment, shame, inferiority, inadequacy, and worthlessness. I've always liked to live in my comfort zone, and it used to be that the rare occasion when I was forced out, I became a caged animal. Only I was on the outside of the cage pacing back and forth to get back in.

I tried the things I knew I'd succeed at, and avoided everything else at all costs. I almost never put myself out there if failure was a possibility, so after calculating my odds, I usually decided to stay where it was safe rather than jump.

As you can imagine, looking back in my life revels a sea of missed opportunities and things I never tried. It's a little sad to think about all the fun I could've had and abilities I could've developed if I had just taken a small step outside myself. But what's even more disappointing is realizing that passing on those things and the experiences they provided stunted my growth.

Limiting myself to comfortable experiences kept me from maturing into a well-rounded adult, and it's one of the reasons that I'm now learning so many life skills along side my two year old, sometimes at a slower rate than he is.

The beautiful thing about motherhood, is that I don't get the choice to stay comfortable. Failure is a daily occurrence, and there's no backing out or shying away from this job. It's in your face all day every day.

I've spent that past two and a half uncomfortable years working on basic things I could and probably "should" have figured out before I hit college. And now that I'm emerging from the bubble I created out of fear and insecurity, I'm realizing how exhilarating it is to take a chance, and how the process and experience trump the arbitrary success or failure at the end.

Repeatedly falling on my face and picking myself back up as a mother has opened my eyes to resilience and perseverance I never knew I had. It has taught me that who I am, how I see myself, and whether or not I'm okay does not ride on success or failure. And it shows my children what took me so long to learn; that failure is a necessary, useful and beautiful part of life.

Learning to accept and even welcome failure brings me one step closer to embracing freedom and trading in control for trust. And that is no small success.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Day 60: Squishy in the Middle

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when my abs were tight, you could bounce a quarter off my butt, and nothing jiggled when I walked. There was a time...

But two kids (and no time for the work outs I love) later, things are a little, uh, squishier than they used to be. Now my abs, if I still get to call them that, are soft, my butt a little curvier, and let's just say I'm no stranger to jiggling parts.

My formerly hard exterior used to be matched by an equally hard interior. A list of words never used to describe me: approachable, soft, sensitive, humble, gentle, open, tolerant... Not that I didn't have any of these qualities within me, they just never got out to see the light of day.

I was more invested in protecting myself and keeping a safe distance from any sign of weakness or vulnerability than I was in cultivating relationships or nurturing the people around me. I mistakenly built this wall of protection with no doors or windows, which left me safe from intruders, but unable to enjoy the company of invited guests and unable to let even a glimpse of certain parts of me out.

The moment Jackson's wet, wriggly body landed on my chest for the first time, all that changed.

Suddenly there was someone who needed me to be all those things I had locked away, and that trumped my need for self-protection. I found out that hard interior was incompatible with mothering. Little did I know, it had been incompatible with marriage all along, but my baby was a little less patient than my husband!

All the things I wanted to give Jackson required me to dismantle that wall. And fortunately for me, falling in love with him made the process much easier as he painlessly melted much of it away.

And today, as I was approached by someone in the mall for the umpteenth time with questions about my children, my baby carrier, and any number of other things, I stopped to reflect on how nice it feels to have a squishy middle - one that's obvious enough for a stranger to see.

The list of words never used to describe me would now be the ones to pop into some minds. And if they're not the first to come up, at least they make the cut for most people. No longer is that a list of things I fear or conceal. In fact, that same list can now be renamed qualities I'm proud to reveal and develop.

I'll always be intense; I'll always be strong and passionate. But as my children are teaching me to balance those qualities with soft, open and gentle, I and the people I love, even those I barely know, can experience them in a much more positive way.

I'm still learning to accept and love my new, softer body for what it has created; how it has grown, birthed and fed two children for two years and counting. But I don't have to work hard to appreciate the other squishy middle my children are giving me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 59: Yesterday's Explosion

This is a scary title on a parenting blog.

Right now you're thinking back to the time your child managed to mimic a toy chest explosion, spewing each and every item onto the floor. Or you're remembering a time when you or your child exploded in rage, grief or joy. Maybe it's conjuring up images of your child sick with the flu...enough said.

I can identify with those explosions, but the kind we experienced yesterday was of a different, much less messy kind. Jackson and I repeated two doses of the homeopathic Candida nosode. And like we often see with remedies, he went through a developmental explosion.

He's been interested in spelling since his second birthday, and in the past few weeks, he's taken a mild interest in the letter sounds. We read books about the "v" sound and others and about word building, and while he really enjoyed the books (in other words made me read them over and over), that was as far as it went.

The day he took the remedy, he came up with his first spontaneous use of a letter sound, "V. Vuh. Vere you go Daddy!" And while he wasn't quite right, it was clear the concept of how the letter, the sound and the word related had suddenly come alive to him. The fascinating thing was that we hadn't read any of those books in days.

Then last night, while I was working and paying much less attention to him than he or I wanted, he climbed up next to me on the couch and started looking at his letter puzzle. All of a sudden he was grabbing letters, most we'd never read a book or talked about, and relating their sounds to words. "S. Ssssss. Song! W. Wuh. Wow! M. Muh. Mouse!" And he kept it up all night long.

Little Scholar
This was also the first week in our parent-child class that he has chosen to do actions with the group during our singing circle time - usually he'll do them at home when it's the two of us singing, but just watch when we're at school.

Also new with this remedy are unprompted "I love yous" and "I missed yous" and tons of out-of-the-blue compliments: "Mommy, I like you just the way you are" (If that doesn't make your heart melt...!).

Of course you take the good with the bad, because an intensification of symptoms always precedes the healing. He's been dealing with fear of having things taken from him, wanting to nurse more often, struggling to respond rather than react (explode, if you will), and feeling overwhelmed and out of control for no (or little) apparent reason.

But it's beautiful to see these amazing developments come through all that chaos and to watch his body do what it was designed to do: move toward physical and emotional balance.

When we started this journey with eczema, what I wanted for him was physical healing - as fast as possible. Now that I see how this transformational process is affecting him inside as much as out, I welcome the long road. No quick fix would be worth sacrificing the whole mind and body healing he's experiencing.

Sometimes the long road seems...well, long. But it's like choosing between the freeway and the scenic route: Both can get you to the same destination, but taking the scenic route and enjoying the view means arriving calm, renewed, and with a fresh, broadened perspective instead of hurried, distracted, and with the same tunnel vision you started with.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 58: You Make Me Feel

I will choose to find a positive perspective under even the most negative circumstances.
I will choose acceptance over resistance.
I will choose to focus on the things I value about my children, not the things that drive me nuts.
I will choose to extend the same grace, love and forgiveness to myself that I try to lavish on my husband and children each day.

A conversation on my Facebook wall today prompted me to think about this concept and how it relates to my children, namely what I model and teach them.

"How did that make you feel?"
"Did that make you feel angry?"
"That made me feel sad."

These are phrases I'm trying oh so hard to discard from my parenting repertoire. You may be asking yourself why. Emotional intelligence is so important and it begins with giving a child an emotional vocabulary and helping him connect with and understand what he's feeling. So these would be good phrases to use, right? Not quite.

Sad, angry and feel are great words, but make...not so much.

What I'm teaching Jackson each time I say this to him is that someone else's actions, feelings or words control his feelings. I'm unintentionally reinforcing the widely accepted idea (in our culture anyway) that someone else has the ability to decide whether we're okay or not. And in the process, I'm letting conditionality seep in to his unconditional world.

Instead of placing blame on a person or circumstance, I want to teach him to take ownership over his feelings and responsibility for what he does with them.

If he feels angry because a child took a toy from him, I don't want him to think that boy made me feel angry. I want him to think that boy took a toy from me and I feel angry about that. It may seem like an insignificant distinction, but I believe it's critical.

Placing responsibility and blame on the boy, the toy stealing or the feeling makes him a victim - a victim who has willingly surrendered his power to his assailant.

Seeing the experience as nothing more than something that happened and the feeling as something he has ownership over empowers him to do something about it. Instead of giving his power to his assailant, he retains that power and can direct it toward getting his toy back or accepting that the toy is gone and moving on.

I'd do well to remember this when he's "making" me feel frustrated or angry too! Because placing blame on someone else for my feelings disconnects me from the true source of that feeling. How can I see that my anger is arising out of a deeper fear or control issue if I put ownership for those feelings on him?

Feelings are God-given guideposts that shouldn't be ignored. They are a way to find healthy direction through life, and when we write them off as someone else's responsibility instead of paying them the attention they deserve, we take that away from ourselves.

So I'm in the process of replacing those phrases with others framed in a more accurate way:
"How do you feel about that?"
"I felt sad when that happened."
"Did you feel angry when that happened?"

And I'm purposefully connecting to the true source of my feelings, not the trigger. I hope doing so will keep my children from being conditioned by our culture's view of feelings.