"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be" - D.Adams

March 30, 2008

Its 5 pm. E is still in his PJs. I just took a shower. It would be an understatement to say that we've had a lazy day.

Josh and I both had plans that got canceled at the last minute. E and his dad took a three hour nap, while I lay on the sofa, being indolent and reading. E's dad kindly let me sleep late. Now that its supper time we're all up and ready to start our day. We've left E in his footy PJs all day because -- well, for no real reason. There just didn't seem to be any point in getting him dressed.

I'm not what I would call "a natural" at mothering. Oh, I love my son and I take great pains to make sure that he gets fed and played with and read too and snuggled. (After all, he's too cute not to snuggle and hug.) But I have a sort of "intellectual" approach to it. I sometimes expect him to be rational when its not really realistic for me to expect that. And sometimes I just have no idea what to do.

Today, for example, we should probably be outside. That would be the "right" thing to do. Time with him is so precious that I feel like I should make every day like today -- days when mamma and daddy are both home and we have nothing on the schedule -- an adventure, a special treat. But instead, we've napped and E and Daddy played ABC on the computer, and we've read some, but also mamma and daddy spent some time sitting on the sofa like vegetables (if vegetables read books) watching E play on the floor. Right now I think E and his father are wrestling while I'm supposed to be getting dressed.

One thing I love about E's dad is how natural he is as a father. He instinctively knows how to discipline, how to soothe, and how to entertain. Its one of the things I love about him and one of the things that I envy, too. Its also the reason that I'm pretty sure I'd never "make it" as a Stay-at-home-mom. I'd be too driven by the checklist (must do dishes, must make lunch, -- now its craft time .... here, son, lets play this game) and unable to make the most of the spontaneous moment.

As E gets older, I hope I'll get better at this -- that both entertaining and duty will be come more of an instinct and less of a checklist. In part, I'm sure, it will get better because we'll be able to communicate more easily. I'm not one of those mothers who an hear her son make string of sounds and know "Oh, his sock is wet." Most of the idea I have no idea what he wants, and I'm sure he's as frustrated by his attempts to communicate with me as I am in trying (desperately, sometimes) to understand what he's trying to tell me. Often, he seems to be warning me about Gungins. That will sort itself out over time, I think.

Right now, however, its like a tiny incontinent elf with a strong self will is living in our house. And that's ok with me. I just hope he's willing to put up with me until I figure out how to do it.

"Love is a reciprocal torture" - Proust

March 27, 2008

E has recently adopted the habit of screaming as though he were being branded every time we put him into his car-seat. Yesterday afternoon I got to see this new and delightful behavior firsthand for the first time.

After Josh finished strapping him in and had gotten in the car himself, he turned to me --

"I don't know how much more of this I can take. Every time I have to do that, I feel like Doctor Mengele."

"Honey, don't worry. Doctor Mengele wouldn't have felt bad about it."

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. - Bertrand Russell

March 25, 2008

Sometimes, being present in the moment is the hardest part.

Today is Tuesday, which means I come home from work and Josh almost immediately leaves for practice, leaving E and I here on our own to do as we please. In theory, this should be a really great evening. In practice, I find that its so very hard to completely focus my attention on E, which is really what I want to do (and should be doing).

There is dinner to be made, and little boys need to eat. Plus I get distracted by things like "Oh, the dishwasher needs emptied" or "I need to wash your PJs" -- things that I can do after he goes to bed, but things which call to me me the moment I step into the door. I think this will get easier when either a) spring comes along full force and we're able to go outside, or b) he gets older and becomes more interested in cooperative play rather than parallel play. Its also hard because I'm constantly thinking "this is all the time we have so make it count." I should know better than that. It all counts.

A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things. - Melville

March 24, 2008

The Grandmother Dichotomy: While visiting at Easter, my mother scolded me for eating about 10 jellybeans over the course of three hours while giving my son a) jellybeans; b) not one but two marshmallow rabbits; and 3) a generous helping of cake.

Tonight’s Great Joy: I’m working tonight until 10 pm, so I called at bedtime and sang to my baby boy. Normally he’s not willing to put up with the phone for more than a minute or two, but while I was singing he was quiet and Josh told me afterwards he was smiling and laying his head on his pillow. When the song was done he chattered at me for a minute or two (something about cows, I think), then handed the phone to his father. I will remember to sing to him over the phone more often.

On Saturday, we did set up E’s new big boy bed, but not without some drama. You see, when we purchased the crib, and for, oh, some 20+ months thereafter I assumed that the crib converted to a twin size bed. Well, it does convert to a bed, but not a twin – a double bed. So we had to decide if it was easier to scrap the existing mattress and bedding we had for the twin, or if it was easier to scrap the existing full-size bed frame (formerly the crib) and buy a new twin frame for our existing mattress and bedding. In the end (and with a donation of a double mattress that Josh’s parents had in storage) we converted the crib to a double bed. So now my tiny boy is sleeping in a big bed all by himself.

Little Boy Big Bed

We actually moved the mattress from our bed onto his bed, then used the new mattress on our bed, so his “new” bed is really the bed he’s been sleeping in with us since he was born. Having the double bed in there makes a lot of things easier – for instance, when he got cold and started squeaking at 445 am I was able to just go in his room, put him back under the covers and slip into bed beside him rather than what I would have formerly done, which was hoist him up, and bring him into our bed where the three of use would spend the next hour and a half jockeying for space.

But he’s so tiny in that enormous bed!

Alpha and Omega

March 22, 2008

Since we're "all about the alphabet" here right now, we've run through a number of entertainment items where the author tries to match one animal with each letter of the alphabet. Of course, some letters are more difficult than others. U and X, in particular, don't have many options, and its been amusing to see how different authors deal with this.

Sandra Boynton, for example, just makes things up: U for her is "Uglybirds being Ugly" and X is "Xylo Xylophoning" (a Xylo seems to be a cross between a rhino and a yak). She does, however, use something called a Vicuna for the letter V (unlike everyone else, who uses Vulture), but I don't think she looked at a photo of a Vicuna before she drew her "Vicuna Violinning."

Sesame Street, on the other hand, went with Unicorn for U, but then has Ernie and Elmo engage in a long discussion on how they can't find a real animal that begins with U, so they're using the Unicorn, which is Make-believe, but its still an animal. For X, they introduce us to Xenopus (a kind of frog) and Xenops, which is a south American bird, apparently.

Only Fisher Price (online games) seems to have been able to settle on two real animals for these letters. For X they haul out the X-ray fish, and for U we meet the Urial.

I kind of feel like everyone does the same thing here. They think "Oh, the alphabet with animals, that would be cute" and start commissioning art and whatnot, and then they get to the "tough" letters and are all "Oh! We didn't realize....". Now I desperatly need to find that Eric Carle book, to see what he uses for X and U.

Update: An interesting post about Alphabet books on Daddytypes.

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - Steinbeck

March 20, 2008

Against my better judgment, we took E to the Mall to see the Easter Bunny last night. Of course, he freaked out and wanted nothing to do with it. Smart boy. I don't fully understand the whole "freaked out by Santa" thing, because even a mall Santa is still just a guy, with a human face and voice and form. The mall Bunny, on the other hand, was scary to me. Its head was far, far too large for the body wearing it, and it had these huge unblinking eyes, and a fairly scary mouth. I think he was wise not to go to near.

It was after 7pm when we got there, and the Bunny goes home at 8, so after we'd run a few errands we were able to return to the Bunny's enclosure, where E had a wonderful time running amok and pointing at all the rabbits in the decorative dioramas and yelling "a bunny! a bunny! a bunny! a bunny! a bunny!" over and over again at the top of his lungs. I left him with his dad for a few minutes to go buy some pants on clearance, and I could even hear him when I was deep at the back of the store. I suppose some parents would have been embarrassed by this, but I wasn't. The mall was virtually empty, and he was clearly having a great deal of fun.

Around 2am (I think) E woke up crying and fussing. Josh (bless him) got out of bed to go try and get him settled back into bed, but I kept hearing "mamma, mamma, mamma, mamma" in a more and more insistent tone, until I had to get up and reassure him that I was there, too.

The moment I appeared, the crying ceased. I sat with him for a bit, until I thought he was asleep, but when I got to the door it started all over again. When I came back over to the bed he latched onto my hand and tugged on me, so I crawled (remember, he's on a twin mattress on the floor right now) in next to him and he fell almost instantly asleep, snuggled up next to me and holding fast to my hand. We slept like that for a couple of hours, I think.

Its good to be wanted, even at 2 am.

"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside." - M.Twain

March 19, 2008

E is a good eater, but I'm a bad cook. I'm very tired of feeding him the same things, and I'm pretty sure he's tired of eating them. Suggestions for new meals welcome.

Here are the restrictions:
-- I must be able to cook it entirely within about 20 minutes.
-- Must be "finger food" or easily stabbed with a fork without making a big mess (so no soup)
-- No sushi suggestions, please

Otherwise, I'm open.

"The only thing worth stealing is a kiss from a sleeping child." - Joe Houldsworth

March 18, 2008

Sickness not withstanding, bedtime is my favorite time of day.

My mother worked nights for almost my entire childhood (she was a single parent and we lived in my Grandparents' big farmhouse), so my Grandmother put me to bed every night for many, many years. Last night as I was struggling to get E to find sleep so I could put my own stuffy head to bed, I realized how strongly my bedtime routine with E has been influenced by my own childhood bedtime.

I was brought up as a co-sleeper out of necessity; there were only two bedrooms in my Grandparents' farmhouse - my Grandparents occupied one and my mother and I occupied the other. I shared a bed with my mother until I was five or six, until a room over the kitchen was insulated and made over into my mother's bedroom.

Every night, at bedtime, my Grandmother would snuggle up in bed with me (in the bed that is in our guest room right now, actually) and read to me for as long as I wanted - often an hour or more - until I fell asleep. I always had a late bedtime (I realize now) so that my mother could sleep a bit later in the mornings, rather than having me wake her up at 6 am when she had just gotten home from work at 130. So it just didn't matter that I wasn't falling asleep "one cue."

We read everything, many things two or three times. All of Pooh, the Oz books, Little House, Alice. Plus other classics not thought of as books for young children these days - Dickens, Treasure Island, even (I think) some Poe and other short stories. (There was a book called something like The Hundred Greatest Short Stories Ever Written that we read from often, but that I was never able to find in the house after my Grandfather died.)

Now, at bedtime with my own son, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to snuggle with E in our big bed with me and start reading. We read and read and read - no more-words-than-pictures classics yet (although I'm getting ready to start Pooh with him since he's now somewhat familiar with the Disney cartoon version), but many classic board books (Goodnight Moon, S. Boynton's Going to Bed Book, Mike Mulligan) and a good deal of Dr Seuss (He's crazy about Green Eggs and Ham and asks for it daily by pointing and repeating "Ham Ham Ham Ham" until I pull it out of the basket).

This time before sleep with him is the best time of all. He's snuggled close in the crook of my arm, resting his head against me, feet tucked under my hip, looking up at me with those big grey eyes, the blankets pulled up around our chins. We're warm and snug and its all about me and him - no distractions, no crazy running about. We read the stories and point at pictures and name animals and talk a little about what we can. Sometimes I tell him little stories - about my childhood, remembrances of things brought forth from the pictures or the snuggles or both.

For Christmas, my mother gave me a quilt that had belonged to my Grandmother which is currently laying atop our own bed. E loves that quilt, and always asks that it be tucked up around him specially close. Last night I told him how I snuggled in bed with my Grandmother under that very same quilt, and showed him one of the blocks that my mother had mended with pieces from a dress that I had worn as a girl. Then, at the end, when I see his eyes getting heavy, we always sing two songs: A version of Hush Little Baby that is different from the one you're familiar with, without diamond rings and with more nature in it, then E's own lullaby that I made up for him when he was a tiny baby, words I worked out as I sat for hours with him in the middle of the night while he slowly nursed.

I don't know how much of this he'll remember, of course. Josh has a different bedtime routine with him, one that is more focused on getting him into his own bed and laying his head down and getting him to sleep so that Josh can continue on with whatever needs to be done.

But I don't think I'll change my routine with him for a long time yet. That quiet time with him is too valuable to me. As he gets older we'll read different things and talk about them more, and I hope he'll finally end as I did - reading to me rather than me reading to him. But my hope is that he will remember the thing that I remember - not the books, not the words, but the closeness and warmth and love.

"Sometimes you just need to look reality in the eye, and deny it". -Garrison Keillor

March 17, 2008

Sunday was my first day ever of being the mamma when I was really, truly sick. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that napping with E when I'm coughing is an interesting experience because he would kick me in the back ever time I coughed, as though to say "stop making that noise, Mamma, you're bothering me."

We had Sunday arranged in such a way that I really needed to be the Mamma all day long. Josh had longstanding plans, and although he was doing them at home, it was important that I be Fully In-Charge of The Baby. This is difficult when all the cough medicine makes you want to do is fall asleep.

We had wondered if E would be either moved to some tender action by the coughing, or perhaps afraid of the weird barking noise I'm making. The actual answer is: neither. He takes no notice. Just ticks along in his own crazy toddler way - made crazier by the fact that he Did Not Want To Nap, although at three hours past where he should have napped I took him upstairs and first tried to bribe him into napping with books and milk, and then more-or-less forcibly hugged him in the bed (causing much wailing and thrashing) until he suddenly fell sound asleep.

By the time bedtime came, I was totally worn out, and, fearing that the Putting To Bed would be as much of an ordeal as the Napping was, Josh was kind enough to bring E upstairs and try to get him to lie down and go to sleep. E has never been a good sleeper (although he is much better than some) and getting him to lay his head down and relax enough -- forgo playtime and books and having his foot rubbed one more time -- to fall asleep is a long process. About 25 minutes after Josh took him upstairs, I had to open and close the front door for some reason.

E heard the door close, and thought Mamma had left. Oh, the heart-rending cries! The wailing!

The worst part was, I didn't realize this was why he was crying until Josh told me later. I just thought it was part of the normal struggle to get him to sleep. I wish I'd known (or not been so drugged up on cough syrup as to pay better attention), and I'd have gone up to him.

You can imagine my feelings, however, at the idea that my son associates the sound of the front door closing with me leaving. Something else we'll need to work on, I guess.

Best laid plans, and all that

March 15, 2008

What we were supposed to do today: get up, drive to Biddeford, buy mattress and box spring, come home, take apart crib, set up big-boy bed.

However, I woke up sick, its snowing and Josh doesn't want to shovel, and Mr E is a snuggle bug, so instead we've had Winnie-th-Pooh, PB&J, and now, family nap time.

Family nap time is the best.

"Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more." - Martin Luther

March 14, 2008

Every day we get a note from Sarah, E's care provider, telling us what he did that day. Normally, its just a list of activities (blocks, dolls, puzzles, craft, outside, books, etc.) with notes on what he ate, what time his nap was, and his ... diaper activities.

For the past couple of days, however, we've been hearing about cows.

Sarah's parents live on a working dairy farm next door to Sarah's house. (I suspect that Sarah and her husband built on land that her parents gave them, actually. Also, Sarah's cousin lives in the basement of their house, so its a real family compound.) For the past couple of days, since the weather has been improving, her notes have started including messages about cows.

"Went for a walk and saw cows."

"Outside. Saw Cows."

Then yesterday - "Went for a walk and saw cows. Evan patted a cow on the head. Cow ate some hay from Evan's hand, but it scared him." (Well, yeah. Cows eating out of my hand kind of scare me, too.)

When reading that last night I was such a bundle of conflict. It is, after all, grEvan and his Flockeat that he gets these kinds of experiences. I mean, how many kids in daycare get livestock experience? On the other hand, I so wish I could have seen him and the cow. I can picture it very clearly, based on his exciting duck adventure at the fair last fall (see photo). She does take photos of him sometimes and send them home ... I'm occasionally tempted to buy her a hand held digital like mine (with video capability) as a gift in the hopes that I might get to see adventures like this, at least a bit ... but then I think: I'd rather have her supervising my son (especially around large, dangerous cows) than taking pictures of him.

One other bit of excitement last night ... E and I played Ring around the Rosy for a long while, which he asked me to do by saying something that sounded a lot like "asses, asses" then grabbing my hand and falling to the floor. At the moment he realized that I had figured out what he was asking, and realized that I was going to play his favorite game with him, he gave himself over into a total toddler-dance spasm of glee. It was so great. We played for ages, and got some stuffed toys involved to make the circle bigger. He's a little quick on the trigger for the falling down part, but is doing great on the song ("asses" aside).

Of course, being a web-geek, I had to fnd that the game has a great Wikipedia page, including a debunking of the idea that the rhyme references the plague, and a passing reference to Eddie Izzard.

Saturday I think our plan revolves totally around getting E into his big boy bed. So, a trip to Marden's to buy a new mattress and then, I think, tools and swearing. Its a good thing the crib converts to a headboard/footboard for a twin bed, otherwise I would be feeling very guilty that we got such a small amount of use out of it.

'Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.' - P K Dick

March 13, 2008

I have slowly started to noodle around with the idea that as soon as the car payment goes away we might be able to survive on my (two-job) income alone, and Josh could stay home full-time with young Mr. E. There are some notable obstacles to overcome in this plan (most significantly the fact that Josh's job provides us with some really stellar health insurance), but I'm at the point where I've noodled it enough that I felt comfortable asking Josh how he felt about the idea.

"I'd feel inadequate," was his reply.

This was not the reply I'd expected, and I rushed to explain to him all the ways in which his not being the "breadwinner" for our family wouldn't be an issue for me.

"No, no, no," he clarified, "I'd feel inadequate to the job of staying home with him. I'm not sure what we would do and I'm afraid we would just end up with him sitting on my lap watching TV all day. Plus, I'd feel bad that he wouldn't get to spend time with other kids."

Well, I don't think that they'd spend up watching TV all day (although it might be more than I'd like), but the "other kids" point is an interesting one. One of the upsides of having E in daycare is that he gets to have two "sorta-siblings". M and H are both girls, and both about ten months older than E is, but he loves them and they love him, and being with them day in and day out does teach him things about interacting with other people that he couldn't learn by, say, just attending a "mommy and me" type exercise class for one or two days per week.

When I have the worst of my daycare angst, I must try to remember these sorts of things. That despite the fact I wish he were with me every moment of every day there are certain benefits from being "in care" that he just can't get at home.

"First secure an independent income, then practice virtue." - Greek Proverb

March 12, 2008

Oh yes, two other things, that I had planned all day to write about and then very nearly forgot.

I've been wanting E to start some sort of tumbling class, partly because I think tumbling and rolling is as valuable a life skill to have as swimming is, and partly because I want him to have more chances to interact with children his own age. After hunting around, I only found one option - a place in a nearby town called My Gym, which seems to be some sort of Gymboree-type chain, but their Saturday morning "Waddlers" (ugh) program seemed to be just what I needed. So I called them to find out about rates and such-like, and, of course, the class is full. Then the nice woman on the phone suggested one of their weekday sessions.

"I can't," I said, "I work during the week."

"Oh," she said. Then - silence. I swear it was like I had told her that I spanked my child, or kept him in a box. I cannot imagine a way that she could have conveyed a more disgusted tone in a single syllable. After a moment she sort of half-heartedly offered to put him on the waiting list, which I agreed to let her do, but I don't think I'll be taking him there. Not because of the expense (I have since found a much less expensive and better program- including pool time! - with our local rec department), but because of her tone. I've never really run across this sort of attitude before, so its not like I was looking for it or expecting it, but is was unmistakably there. A very unusual experience. I wonder what she would have said if I told her that it needed to be on Saturday so that E's dad could come with him. Would that have changed her viewpoint any?

The second thing on my mind right now is E's baby bottles. We've finally convinced him that milk tastes just as good coming out of a cup as it does out of a bottle, and are ready to rid ourselves of the 40+ Dr Brown and other miscellaneous Avent bottles that we have stashed in cupboards taking up space. Of course, I bought all these before the big Bisphenol-A studies came out, so I've unintentionally poisoned my child so a greater or lesser extent, but I've come to terms with that, more or less (partly because he always loved drinking milk cold and I believe that not much leaching could have occurred in 15-20 minutes of unheated exposure in a cold bottle, but I'm still sure it adds up.)

My puzzle is what to do with the old bottles. My impulse is to donate them to the local shelter, where they will be used, I'm sure (we even have nipples that are still sealed in packaging), but then it becomes an ethical issue. These bottles probably leach BPA. Most low-income mothers are not yet educated about BPA because the story has not yet been picked up by the mainstream media. These same bottles are still for sale in stores, so if I didn't donate them some low-income mom would end up spending cash on the exact same product. But am I encouraging these mothers to also expose their babies to BPA? Its an ethical puzzle I'm still working my way through.

A kiss without a hug is like a flower without the fragrance. ~Proverb

We need to take the crib down on Saturday without fail.

For the past several months, E has been sleeping on a mattress on the floor of his room, because he likes to climb out of his crib. We've been meaning to take the crib all the way down, but since the parts of the crib will convert into the frame for his twin bed, and we don't really have anywhere to store the frame pieces except in his room, it seemed safer to just leave the crib up while we figured out if E would routinely fall off the mattress and onto the floor. (Turns out he stays mostly on the mattress most of the time. Sometimes his head hangs over the edge, but I'm not really concerned about him tumbling out of bed.)

Last night, around 3 am, I awoke to crying. This is not unusual. E is not a good sleeper at the best of times. But last night he had turned himself 90 degrees (so he was sleeping across the mattress) and had managed to get his head underneath the crib. Then he whacked his head against the underside and woke himself up.

Well, since we had to get up in about three hours anyhow, I brought him into our bed (as I often do) to sleep for the rest of the night. Slowly the crying subsided as I rubbed his head, and he laid his head down on the pillow with a big sigh. I was sure he was asleep, but then he started wiggling. And wiggling. And the next thing I know he has slipped his little arm into the space between my neck and the pillow and has tucked his head under my chin, and is giving me the biggest, tightest, most snuggly hug I think I've ever gotten from him. (He's usually more of a lean-in hugger.) Then he disengaged and hugged his dad. Then me again. Then daddy again. Then he flipped over, put his feet on my pillow, and fell fast asleep.

“There is never enough time, unless you’re serving it” – M. Forbes

March 11, 2008

Mathematically, this is my son’s life

I’ve been doing some math. Mathematically, this is my son’s life: Out of 168 hours in a week, he spends….

  • 70 hours sleeping at night at home (on average 830 pm – 630 am) (yes, he also naps during the day, but that isn’t what I’m tracking here)
  • 45 hours at daycare
  • 5 hours w/mommy & daddy getting up/dressed on weekday mornings
  • 5 hours in the car with daddy during their daily commute.
Which leaves us a scant 43 hours per week (25.59%) for “everything else”

Last Week “everything else” Included:
  • Two evenings home with mom while dad was at practice (6 awake hours)
  • Two evenings home alone with dad while mom was at work (6 awake hours) (although as a special treat Dad did bring him by the fundraising event for about 45 minutes)
  • One evening home alone with dad while mom was out w/her mom (3 awake hours)
  • One afternoon at a Birthday party (with dad) (3 awake hours)
  • One afternoon/evening at Grandma’s (with dad) while mom was at work (8.5 awake hours)
  • One evening out at dinner with mom & dad’s friends (2 awake hours)
  • One afternoon in and out of the car while mom & dad ran errands (3 awake hours)
Eleven and a Half Hours

Those remaining 11.5 hours were the time he was at home and awake with both of us there. That time basically represents Saturday and Sunday mornings, when we get up, eat breakfast, maybe watch a little Big Big World or perhaps E will convince me to show him the “Tivo Guy” animation over and over and over again. Then we’ll play with toys and read books. Or maybe we’ll go up to his room and make a game of some chore, like putting laundry away. Eventually we’ll get him dressed, and Josh and I will need to take our showers and get dressed. For this particular week, his S/S nap times took place during the errand running and time at Grandmas, but in other weeks that time needs to include E’s nap time as well. (When he’s at home with us for an entire weekend day, family nap time with books and snuggles can be a warm and wonderful treat.) 11.5 hours is 6.8% of E’s week. But in between the working and the groceries and the attempt to have a richer life involving other people (for both us and him), its all there is left.

Some Questions You Just Know Never To Ask

I actually started this exercise to assure myself that he does spend more time with us than he does with his daytime care provider, and he does, but just by a slim edge – 45 hours a week with her vs. a total of 53 hours per week when he is in the company of at least one parent. Of course, he spends stable chunks of time with Sarah and the little girls: 9 hours per day, 5 days per week, (on a side note, I also just realized as part of this exercise that we pay her less than half of minimum wage per hour for the time he is with her – and that includes two meals she provides each day! – but it’s the rate she’s asking and she gets to be at home with her own daughter, so I must not feel guilty about that), whereas his time with us is broken up into chunks and bits and dribs and drabs. This partitioning of our time with him is, above all things, is what I hate about the current schedule. He, of course, seems none the worse for wear, but who really knows how he regards the adults in his life? He knows that I am Mamma, and that Josh is Daddy. I don’t know what he calls Sarah and I don’t want to know. I suspect he calls her Mamma too, at least some of the time. It’s a question we just prefer not to ask.

"It's like having a Parent Die"

When I attempted to change his care situation last fall to such devastating effect, someone mentioned to me that abruptly taking him away from Sarah was “like having a parent die.” The comment offended me at the time, but with reflection I’ve come to realize that it’s the truth. Sarah, for better or worse, is another mother to him. H and M (the two girls he’s in care with – H is Sarah’s daughter) are his part-time siblings. I’ve always known that Sarah’s values will have as much impact on his upbringing as our own do, and the upside of having him in her home every day is that I’m sure that she’s warm and loving and moral and that it’s a non-harmful environment for him. This is the big pitfall of putting a child in care – you are, in fact, having him raised by a carefully chosen stranger. It’s a fortunate feature of the human psyche that love is a bottomless well (and more so in babies, I truly believe, who love completely and unconditionally, with their entire bodies and souls, reserving nothing), so I don’t have to worry about him loving Sarah “more”. If I had to guess, I would say that he knows he belongs with us because … well, because we smell like his parents should smell, but the mystery of what the realities of the world are to a toddler are broad and deep.

“We’ve been told we can have it all. The truth of the matter is that you can’t. You can’t have it all at the same time.” – Michelle Obama

My resolution for the spring is to find more time that we’re together as a family. I will admit that last week was sort of an aberration – this week we’re in now, for example, I have both weekend days off and Josh and I will be home together at least two and possibly three weeknight evenings. The question becomes what to do with the time we have. The temptation is to try and make that time “special” – to go places and do things on weekend days, to play special games or eat special meals on weeknights. The better answer is probably just to emphasize the idea that we are together, that we love each other, and try to make E laugh as much as possible.

And enjoy family nap time, if we have the chance.

"Those have a short Lent, who owe money to be paid at Easter." - Franklin

March 10, 2008

The rains at the end of this week washed a lot of the snow away (although more is expected (a 40% chance) midweek), and with the sun shining so much later on us today I can almost truly imagine that spring will actually arrive sometime before June. I’m starting to think about outdoor projects (the gutters need cleaned, we need to do something about the broken cement and expanding mud hole at the end of the driveway, the fence needs fixed after last fall’s storm, I still want to find a way to make the back lawn livable … and we’re finally going to get the roof done this spring, hurray!), and friends are also starting to talk about camping trips and plan outdoor activities for the summer.

Spring also means Easter, and the whole odd bundle of problems and issues that we need to sort out in order to find solutions to that are right for our family. I’m sure Jesus was an historical personage, but I doubt that he either was born of a Virgin or was raised from the dead. (Do feel free, however, ask me sometime about my views on the relationship of the cult of good ol’ Sol Invictus to the development of Christianity, or even the roles of James vs. Paul/Saul in the fight for the focus and direction of the early Christian Church. But I digress.) I have no problems with – indeed have a deep love for – the secular aspects of Christmas and look forward to the celebration (sans creche but with a large helping of peace on earth, goodwill to all) and all that goes with it. Easter, however, is a thornier problem. (You’ll pardon the pun there, right?) E’s father is still a believer at his core (although not a churchgoer), and sometimes, in unexpected ways, the differences in our beliefs cause us to have to negotiate about unexpected things, often at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, E is, of course, young enough to not really know that his parents are struggling over Easter baskets at the moment.

Despite the ubiquitous rabbits, chicks, glazed hams and chocolate eggs, I do view Easter as a much more deeply reliougs holiday than the Yuletide season. I’m not sure why this should be so, but it is. Which leaves me with much more highly conflicted feelings about it. On the one hand, of course I don’t want to deprive my son of the clutural touchstone of getting an Easter Basket (although I’d like to wait a few years on the chocolate bunnies, thanks), or going on an Easter egg hunt, or … yeah, I guess those are the only two. On the other hand, of course, I would feel like a huge hypocryte if I were to begin an all-out, fancy-dress celebration of the ‘holiday’. On the third hand (don’t you often wish you had a third hand?), I can easily get behind the celebration of Easter as a traditional expression of our deep-seated cultural desire to celebrate the return green grass, flowering plants and all that is fertile, healthy and new about the world.

My mother is devout, and would like nothing more than to take E to church with her on Easter morning, and fully indoctrinate him into the whole “he is risen” mindset. Josh’s parent’s are, I would say, more secular Christians, in that they celebrate Easter and Christmas in a secular way, but with an understanding and belief in the religious traditions behind the secular ones. I have no objection to E being exposed to a variety of beliefs … indeed, one point I keep trying to make with my mother with regard to E’s baptism is that I don’t feel that I should “limit” him to a specific path as an infant, but that I would prefer to leave his theological options an open field for him to cross in his own way when he becomes an adult.

So I’m sure we’ll have Easter Baskets with chocolate bunnies. And maybe even an Easter Egg hunt. But when E asks me “Mamma, what is Easter?” I don’t yet know what I’m going to tell him.

Fortunately, I have a little more time to figure it out.

March 9, 2008

You know you're the mommy when you get home from work at 9pm and are happy to discover that your husband and son are still and Grandma's ... because you'll be able to clean the bathroom in peace.

"Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver" -Sophocles

March 6, 2008

There is a story in our local news today that is sticking with me. Police were called to a home in Lewiston to a report of a woman attempting suicide. It turns out she had fallen asleep while her infant son was in the tub and the baby drowned.

I have so much empathy for this woman. I think I know the level of exhaustion that tempts you to lean your head back against the wall for a moment, or rest it on the edge of the cool, cool tub. Were I in her shoes I suspect that my first impulse, too, would be to try and end my life. It might seem preferable over living on in grief, guilt, and madness.

We are nearing 20 months in this journey (a drop of time in the bucket, I know), and what I have learned, more than anything is how American society is failing to provide the support mothers -- all mothers -- need. There is no community of support, except for what you build for yourself, and if you are far from your "people" (as my Grandmother called them) you're basically unsupported. I don't know if there is anything that can be done ... in some ways I know the Internet is making things a little better than they were five or ten years ago (at least a new mom can reach out to other people like her, if she has the access and the knowledge of how to find them). There is an interesting article in the current issue of The Atlantic which touches on the idea that "the suburbs" as a building concept is sort of on the decline, and walkable "lifestyle centers" (what you and I might call "communities") are now the new hotness in the housing market.

I find myself wondering if this trend, combined with the nostalgia that all us post-boomer and gen-x parents have for a time when children ran free and wild in packs in the streets, might in fact turn the tide a little bit, and that we might begin to recreate the idea of a true neighborhood where we cared about and looked after one another. Its an interesting dream.

On the other hand, I'm still not really interested in talking with my actual, physical neighbors (although we nod and wave and they brought over a nice gift when E was born). I just don't see having geography in common as having enough common ground to build a friendship over.

All of which is just a long way of saying "I don't know what the answer is". But I think a first step is to look around every day and see if you see someone who might need a visit, a moment, a phone call, a helping hand. Or a nap.