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Archive for the ‘reflections on parenthood’ Category

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We had a fairy tale kind of snow day on Thursday, the kind you dream about when you’re a kid. A big snow was forecast days before it hit, we hit the stores and stocked up on all the important stuff: cookie ingredients, and, well mostly cookie ingredients. We got more than a foot of snow overnight on Wednesday (which is pretty big doings around here) and we promptly suited the kids up in the morning to go out and enjoy it.

Watching Ada navigate her way through what must have seemed like towers of snow reminded me of a big snow we got back in February of 2010 when Xavier was almost exactly Ada’s age now and we were a little family of three.

Xavier on Snow Mound 2010 - 2014

When he triumphantly climbed up on a pile of snow, it reminded me immediately of the huge snow bank we shoveled when digging our car out of our spot in our tiny townhouse lot back in 2010 and how we gave Xavier a boost up onto the bank to his absolute delight.

Xavier in Snow Smiling 2010 - 2014

Of course, I had to dig up all of the old photos. It was a fun–and amazing–trip down memory lane. The photos where Xavier is making an expression he still makes now, the ones where he looks just like Quinn or Ada, the ones where he seems so very, very young are all so fascinating to look at now.

Xavier Smiling to Side 2010 - 2014

Of course when you’re looking at your little toddler, you have no idea what your child will look like when they grow up, how they will behave, what habits and expressions are the ones you’ll continue to see over and over in photographs taken throughout their lives. It’s only in retrospect that you marvel at those things. And oh how fun it is to marvel.

Xavier Snow Shovel 2010 _ 2014

The most amazing thing is that these photos are just four years old. Four. Years. I can’t imagine what kinds of changes the next four years will bring, and the next four after that, but you better believe I will be drinking it all in, trying to stop and gather as many moments as I can while these little ones’ childhoods whiz right on by.

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It’s sometimes hard to know how to talk about parenthood. You could easily focus on the negative and detail all of the frustrations and struggles of daily life with little ones. You could also take a positive spin and delight in the wonder of the incredible things children do and say and the intimate rhythm of sharing space with the littlest of people. SouleMama has a wonderful reflection on her blog on why she has chosen this kind of approach.

Of course, these are not the only approaches available and many writers mix in varying parts humor, grief, spirituality, and many other ingredients to concoct their personal approach.

Frankly, I haven’t been in this space long and often enough to find my own rhythm, but I’d say that my approach is somewhere in the middle. My explanation of my blog name (written when Xavier was just a bit older that Ada is now) reflects my (very real) feelings about parenthood when I’m feeling particularly sentimental. But, of course, I realize it is not all sunshine and rainbows. On a minute-to-minute basis, I have my blow up moments. And I also have a sense of humor. I delight in the reflections of humorists like Scary Mommy (Jill Smokler) and projects like “Reasons My Son is Crying.” But I’ve recently realized that I seem to have an unusual affinity for situations most writers would need to use humor or a huge dose of sentimentality to tackle. I have a funny appreciation for photos of pouting and angry children and children making trouble, not just as sources of great humor (although they are good for that, too), but as great examples of raw emotion. Some of my favorite photos of my own children (and myself as a child) are when they are throwing a fit or pouting quietly. There is just something so raw, so real, about their emotions. They wear them on their sleeve in such an honest way that so many of us couldn’t approach if we tried. And, importantly, and perhaps this is part of the appeal for me, they let things go so much more quickly and easily than adults. Children are downright terrible at holding grudges. They feel the deepest depths and highest heights of their emotions. And then they let them go.

I try to remember this approach when I find my kids doing things that are so ridiculously defiant, disastrous, dangerous, and chaotic I could absolutely lose my mind (and often do). As parents, we’d do well to let things go as easily as our kids but, c’mon, it’s just so hard. In time, though, we find the humor, and sometimes in those rare lucky occasions, we find it in the moment. And sometimes, more than enjoying the humor of it, we realize that we are witnessing raw emotion, a real little person dealing with a real experience of feeling something deeply without the worries or complications of grudges, inhibition, or self-consciousness. And there is joy in that as well.

Sometimes, in these moments, I remember how a friend described her parents’ approach to similar situations: photograph first, punish later. This is how, she explains, they captured the very moment they realized their children had dug up the rose bushes in their yard. That’s got to be a great shot, no? And one everyone can enjoy, now that the moment has passed and the little trouble makers in the photo are adults themselves.

In this spirit, I am initiating a sometime series called “Monday Mahem.” I’ll post a moment (or moments) I captured during the week of my children, well, making mayhem as only they can. Sometimes I’ll include a reflection; sometimes I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. They are funny photos. But, particularly as me and my children grow together, they are also moments of pure joy, pure anger, pure frustration that passed as quickly as they came but that I was lucky enough to capture so that we could all find the joy in them later.

I hope you enjoy this week’s selections. I’ll let them speak for themselves except to say that yes, that is Ada’s diaper in her hand, and yes, it is the very one that is supposed to be on her bottom. (And no, this was not the only time on that particular day that she removed said diaper and flailed it around triumphantly.)

Enjoy.

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It’s a fair question.

And the answer is both dramatic and incredibly mundate. In November of 2011, just after taking the photos of Quinn’s first haircut featured in my last post almost two years ago, I began to feel that by then familiar feeling that I’ve never quite gotten used to: morning sickness. And despite my deepest hopes and my excitement over the impending birth of our third child, the nausea and sickness came quickly and stuck around for the better part of the pregnancy. It was more intense and longer lasting than before, and it was accompanied by all kinds of new ailments that resulted, I’m guessing, from the fact that my body had been through this all before and just wanted a chance to mix it up a bit. On one occasion, I confided in a very good friend that I could just see it in people’s faces when they asked me how I was doing and, months into the pregnancy, I recounted yet another story of just how uncomfortable, how sick, and how drained I was, they were just so tired of hearing about it. “You know you can always talk to me about how you’re feeling,” she told me helpfully. Yes, I knew that, I told her, and I was so grateful, “But the truth is, I’m sick of hearing myself talk about it.” It was often a struggle to make it through the day with the boys; countless evenings saw me collapsing on the sofa as soon as Jeremy made it through the door, begging him to once again handle dinner, bath time, and bedtime on his own.

Ada Newborn Photo
Of course, it was all worth it when little Ada joined our lives the following June. It has been so amazing, as it always is, to watch her grow from newborn to giggling baby, to crawler, to toddling one-year-old. And it is a different, but wonderful, experience to see her do it all with her two big brothers at her side, coddling her, cuddling her, surprising themselves with their absolute awe of her.

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But it has also been utterly exhausting and overwhelming. There is something about that third little person in your charge, that extra body to manage, mouth to feed, bottom to wipe, that just tips one over the proverbial edge. And while the chaos can be wonderfully intoxicating, it can also be grating, annoying, and downright infuriating. Especially when the little buggers have such a knack for sensing stress. Sometimes it’s as if they smell my fear and their eyes just light up with glee at the prospect of the ridiculous mayhem they now have the power to unleash.

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And unleash they do.

When my uncomfortable pregnancy was over, we barely had time to catch our breath before we were thrown into the heat wave that caused a days’ long power outage and had us living with my parents for the better part of a week with a brand new baby and two preschoolers, the missed deadlines for the summer camps I promised Xavier I’d sign him up for, the missed vacation and two days spent at the hospital with Ada when, at five weeks old, she became the inevitable fourth victim in the family to get hand, foot, and mouth disease, the acrobatics of juggling the vice presidency at the kids’ cooperative preschool and all of their many activities throughout the school year, not to mention my very slow but steady work on my dissertation. And in addition to all of these surprises and commitments, there was the day-to-day management of three little ones under the age of five who seemed to be taking turns being alternately incredibly patient and infuriatingly difficult, like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.

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Ada’s first year went by so quickly. Despite the madness, I’ve done my best to capture it. In obvious ways, it’s much more difficult to stay on top of the milestones and the all important photographs and videos. Long gone are the days I could just sit on the floor with my newborn and drink that little one in. In some ways, though, it’s been easier to document her life. I feel like I have a much better understanding of just how fast it goes and I push myself to capture as much of it as I can. And somehow, it’s easier with a whole family of people–and not just Jeremy and I–who are downright giddy at each of her little milestones, who genuinely delight in each and every one of them. Pushing myself to try to take in and capture as much as I can–all of those little crazy moments with those three crazy kids–feels just like that: pushing. It’s an effort, but an effort that’s worth it, but is often made with a little one climbing onto my back and another chirping away and pulling at my sleeve.

But something odd has happened in these last few months. It’s not a dramatic change, but a perfectly gradual and ever-evolving transition. This year, at the beginning of what we call like to call “birthday season” (as all of our birthdays are in the spring and summer), Quinn celebrated his third birthday with a train party. And he just seemed to be coming into his own, celebrating with the children he’s grown up with and, for the first time, all of his preschool friends. It was a wonder to watch him, happy and wonderfully aware of all of our birthday rituals. Then, Xavier graduated from preschool, a step that is not inherently a big deal, but really felt huge around here because of just how downright proud that little boy was of himself (and proud he should be). He felt so big, so accomplished, and he simply beamed with self-confidence in a way that just made you want to hold onto the moment forever.

His graduation reminded me of my mental accounting of what our first year with Ada would be like when I was still pregnant with her and I realized that things were never going to ‘settle down’ the way they seemed to right before Quinn’s birth. I told myself that the first year with Ada would be absolutely crazy. With the exception of a precious few preschool hours and a few hours with a babysitter watching the kids while I tried to cram in all my work on my dissertation, I would have all of the children home with me for the entire year and they would all be younger than five. I expected it to be crazy and overwhelming. But then, I reminded myself, Xavier will go off to school, and that would simply be the beginning of that same cycle for each of the kids, each of them going off to school in turn, and the house growing quietier and quietier during the day. It will eventually slow down, I told myself, and I will finally catch my breath, but I’ll also be a little sad, and I’ll have to try to remember that in the most chaotic moments.

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This summer, with Xavier’s impending entry to elementary school on the horizon and my warning to myself in the back of my mind, I really tried to pack it all in. Honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it. I signed up Xavier for a zillion different summer camps and as soon as Quinn was potty trained, I added him to the mix. I planned beach vacations, a couple of trips to the cabin, birthday parties for Xavier and Ada, swim lessons, and so many more activities, and topped them all off with a decision to drive to and from Bar Harbor, Maine for our annual vacation in mid-August. It was too much. But so many parts of it were just so wonderful.

And on the heels of this insanity and repeated reminders to myself to do a better job of paring down the list next summer, I also find myself for the very first time in my life not wanting the summer to end. Fall is my absolute favorite season, the crispness of it, the smells, the colors, the activities, the start of new things, the start of the new school year. And despite my absolute joy at Xavier’s journey into kindergarten, I’ve been ridiculously weepy and sentimental about the whole thing.

So here I am, not quite hitting my stride, not quite finding the perfect balance. But somehow, I’ve discovered that what’s most important for me right now is deciding to embrace the chaos when I can, take deep breaths when the craziness seems too much to handle, and try as hard as I can to capture what I can and accept imperfection when I need to (which, let’s face it, is a daily occurrence).

And in the midst of this chaos and change and the mundane but hectic work of each day, I find myself missing this space, using it as a way to record, as motivation to finish projects, take more photographs, share with you. Not because things have settled down enough to allow me the time to do it. Because, let’s be frank, I absolutely do not have the time do this. But I’m going to do it anyway.

This is me deciding to occasionally take a few moments to ignore the piles of unsent thank you notes mounted on my desk, the drafted dissertation chapters awaiting my attention, the children pulling at my shirt. I’ll decide to be okay with letting some other thing drop by the wayside to do the important work of recording and remembering, finding joy in the reflection.

I hope you’re up for it. This ride just got a whole lot wilder.

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This is part of a new sometime series titled “Thinking Thursday.” While striving for the elusive work-family balance is so common it’s become a stereotype, I find it particularly difficult to reconcile the feminist, political, cultural, social, and economic theory I contend with in my academic work with my work as a mother and domestic partner. Some days the two seem so obviously and inextricably in sync, and others I find myself baking cupcakes and scouring the store aisles for the perfect white noise maker by day and reading and writing critiques of our expectations of women’s domestic labor and our failure to see women as nothing other than mothers by night.

I actually take pleasure in much of my creative domestic work–the baking, the art projects, the sewing. I see these things as “extra,” not necessary, and I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t enjoy them. I don’t depend on them to define my self worth. But I’d be kidding myself if I thought social and cultural expectations didn’t in some way shape both my behavior and that of my husband and children. This new series is meant to be a space for me to reflect and work through the collision and concord of my academic and family lives.

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Xavier’s obsession with Batman began with a bin of superhero action figures at the home of the child care provider he and his brother stayed with two days each week. The toys were probably purchased secondhand cheaply and in bulk without much thought, but Xavier and his friends returned to them every day and soon each of them had identified his favorite Batman figure that the others would save for him if he arrived late. Slowly, despite my insistence that our home be free of branded toys and products, Batman toys slowed found their way in.

Accepting that this Batman obsession was inevitable, I sought out ways to steer it in positive directions. I emphasized the imaginative side of superhero lore, and talked about how superheros can fly, jump high, and, in the spirit of teamwork with their superhero friends, use their powers to help other people. I rejected the cartoons designed for older children with bulging muscles and violent clashes in favor of the Superfriends of the 1970s (while all the while biting my tongue about the troubling and simplistic trope of the “bad guy”).

While I wasn’t crazy about the idea that “good” and “bad” are so perfectly clear cut, at least the Batman of the 70s relied on trapping his enemies rather than destroying them in bloody battles. My worry that the ethos of the male superhero simply perpetuated the myth that helpless and weak women need strong muscled men to protect them didn’t seem to bear out in this older version of the cartoon where Wonder Woman often played a leading role.

This teamwork-loving, gentler hero is the version of Batman I strove to recreate in costume form when Xavier decided, shortly after his birthday (in July!) that he would dress as Batman for Halloween. And the same little boy who sometimes changes his mind about what he wants for breakfast three times during the ten minutes we spend making it never wavered from this choice.

With gusto, I threw myself into finding the perfect pattern to use as a starting point, buying the perfect fabric, and planning my inevitable tweaks. Meanwhile, in my moments of weakness when I let him watch the occasional Superfriends episode on YouTube, Xavier learned about teamwork and using your powers for good. That is, until we discovered the three part 1977 episode titled “The Mind Maidens.”

Aquaman along with the other prominent charact...

Source: Wikipedia

The plot is fairly simple. The evil Medula (“the most brilliant, the most dangerous woman on Earth”) seeks to rule the world with the help of her female minions. In one of the first scenes, we see a young woman on a date with her boyfriend and a mother serving her family a home cooked meal (“Another piece of chicken, dear?”). The young woman and the mother and her daughter are all zapped with Medula’s “will booster”; overtaken by its power, they “dematerialize” the men in their presence, shooting rays out of their now glowing eyes “using their strange powers,” and pledge their allegiance to Medula. (“We are with you, Medula,” they chant.) The men are stored on “computer tape” (it seems the threat of technology is almost as menacing as the threat of the growing women’s movement).

Men in power, like presidents and kings, are among Medula’s most coveted targets. (“Soon the entire Navy will be commanded by my women,” she pronounces. Later, she commands her followers, “Women of the world, go forth and take over all armies, governments, and ruling bodies.”) The women are drunk with power and one older woman pronounces, “You men are powerless against us.” “Jupiters!” observes Gleek, “they’re taking over the government.”

You can see where this is going, right?

Enter the Superfriends to the rescue, including Xavier’s coveted Batman, who foil Medula’s plans, but not before Wonder Woman and Jayna fall under her spell. Superman is, of course, the mastermind who brings down Medula’s short reign. The most disappointing (and most obvious) scene of the episode (which, by the way, I never let Xavier see) is the very last one, where Wonder Woman and Superman explain why those Second Wave feminists simply need to cool their heels and slow the heck down. Their leaders are no doubt in it for personal gain because, well, why else would a woman seek a position of power? “Medula’s method of controlling women and putting them in power was wrong,” Wonder Woman explains, “Only gradually, a step at a time, can social customs be changed, no matter what they may be.”

With this episode haunting me, I tried to put it out of my mind and dove into my work of constructing Xavier’s costume, almost literally jumping for joy when I found a pair of plain gray pajamas to use as the base, taking care to make sure the emblem looked exactly like Batman’s, shortening the cape and re-engineering the hood when it didn’t fit Xavier’s head, constructing my own version of Batman’s infamous utility belt, along with working pockets. Following the rule of good enough, I decided Xavier wouldn’t notice the missing blue briefs and gloves and the fact that Batman’s cape  actually has a zig-zag edge. I abandoned plans to make blue boots and decided that the gold ones I made for last year’s costume looked great despite the fact that they weren’t “authentic.” After thinking about this costume for weeks, I ultimately didn’t want to spend more than a few nights putting it together.

Choosing (quite quickly, I might add) not to beat myself up about the missed details of Xavier’s costume (which he absolutely loves, by the way), I directed my worry instead to allowing Xavier to immerse himself in all things Superfriends. Realizing yet again that I’m not always going to get this parenting thing right, I felt reassured after reading Janice D’Arcy’s Washington Post blog post recounting her second thoughts about her daughters’ Wonder Woman costumes (and her regretted decision to encourage them to watch episodes of the old TV series). I am not alone in this struggle, it seems.

And then a funny thing happened.

I watched this morning as my costumed son ran over and grabbed his little brother’s hand after he had wandered out into the street and walked him back to the safety of the driveway and I listened as he told me that he was doing this because he was Batman, and Batman helps people. It was a welcome reminder of what Batman means to Xavier: helpfulness, teamwork, and magical thinking. I felt a little better admiring his costume just then (it is a pretty darn cute costume, isn’t it?) and thinking that I just may have managed to instill in him some important values after all.

Or perhaps I have Batman to thank for that.

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Two nights ago, I experienced a sudden onset of guilt when I found my copy of What to Expect the First Year in a box of stuff to be filed (I wasn’t even looking for it, this book I had kept on my bedside table and pored over nightly during Xavier’s first year). I browsed the section on two month olds, and found myself face-to-face with a list of skills that (1) my baby did not have yet and (2) I hadn’t even attempted to foster. Tummy time? I could count the number of sessions we’d had on one hand. Grasping a toy? I hadn’t even offered one. So it was with an odd mix of gratification and relief that I received the nurse’s question: “Is this your first baby?” I had called her after a worrisome projectile vomiting session Quinn had in the car on the way to drop Xavier off at child care. He had already drifted off into sleep for his first nap of the day (yes, while stewing in his own vomit–What can I say? He must have inherited my love of sleep.) and he didn’t have any other symptoms, but I wanted to call the doctor’s office just to be sure.

Just in case I hadn’t noticed Quinn’s insides being violently emptied out into the backseat of my car, Xavier kept me apprised of the situation in his own way:

“Baby Quinn’s throwing up.”

[pregnant pause]

“Sometimes Xavier throws up.”

[another long pause]

“Quinn’s all done throwing up.”

The nurse (phoned after I dropped off Xavier) must have thought I was being overly cautious, and my reaction was a strong feeling of, well, pride. If I had been calling about my older son, I would have been offended. But in this rare moment of worry over the little one, the one who is daily asked to be patient while his older brother has his needs attended to, I was happy to be able to stop to worry and to have this worry acknowledged. What a wonder it is, this thing called parenthood.

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“The first child will always resent the second.” This was one of those great truths that I thought was written in stone, along with “The first child is always a difficult one” and “The first few months of a baby’s life are something to be endured rather than enjoyed.” I have found all of these things to be false, at least when it comes to my kids. Xavier (the first child) has been a pretty easy going kid so far, I absolutely loved the newborn stage of his life, sleep deprivation and all, and I’ve been soaking up these first few weeks with Quinn. And luckily, the dreaded jealousy that Xavier would show when Quinn came along never materialized. I snuck into his room and showered his sleeping self with kisses the night I went into labor with Quinn, worried that he would hate me forever when his father and I returned to the house with another baby. I held my breath when he came to visit in the hospital and during those first few days. And, most of all, I tried to show him how much I loved him at the same time I showed my excitement for this new addition to the family. We talked about all of the things he could help with and all of the modeling he could do for his baby brother.

To my surprise and relief, Xavier has embraced his new little brother with gusto. In fact, we sometimes have trouble explaining to him that Quinn can’t go everywhere with him. He loves showering his brother with hugs and kisses and looks admiringly at him, squealing with delight when the baby looks at him (“Eyes open!”). He is less bothered by his brother’s crying than his Mommy and Daddy, stating simply “Baby’s making noises” when Quinn is wailing at the top of his lungs. He can sleep through said wailing as if it were a lullaby.

So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jer picked up Xavier from a couple of nights with Grandma and Pop Pop while Mommy, Daddy, and Quinn attended a wedding in New Jersey, and nothing consoled him (not kisses from Mommy, hugs from Daddy, or even his coveted strawberries for dinner) but the chance to visit with his little brother, shower him with kisses, rock him in his seat, and, most importantly, snuggle up with him in a big chair and read him books.

I’ll endure his cold shoulder any day for the chance to see him glowing as he wraps his arm around his little brother.

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