Category Archives: Parenting

When I Get Bigger + Bigger

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Nora starts a lot of her sentences now with, “When I get bigger and bigger”. She says things like:

When I get bigger and bigger, Ima gonna put on my own shoes…and my coat and my mittens…and Ima gonna take my umbrella…and go outside and STOMP all the puddles. By MY-SELF.

When I get bigger and bigger, Ima gonna walk all the way to the MU-seum.

When I get bigger and bigger…Ima gonna eat my LUNCH at work.

But last night, in the bath, she said:

When I get bigger and bigger, Ima gonna pick out my pajamas… And my DIAPER…and Ima gonna turn on the bath water and… Ima gonna get in the bathtub…by MY-SELF.

And I said to her, “But Nora, you did most of those things tonight. You got out your pajamas by yourself, you turned on the bath and I helped you into the water. When you were smaller, I had to do all of those things for you and now you’re getting bigger and bigger and you helped me.”

She just said “Yeah,” and went back to smearing bubbles all over her face.

I have found that when I am in the middle of parenting my toddler, I have forgotten how far we’ve come. At almost 2-1/2, Nora can’t do a lot, but she can do more and more each day. Each day, she is sliding down the stairs a bit faster, climbing on furniture with a bit more facility, and voicing her opinions more clearly and adamantly. And each day gets a little easier in some ways and a bit harder in others.

Like her, I want to train my eyes on those days when she gets bigger and bigger. But right now, living with my funny, helpful, smart and adventurous almost 2-1/2 year old girl is really good too.

Opening Pomegranates

Pomegranates

On a whim, we bought two pomegranates at the store this morning. When we got home, I started to carve open the pomegranates to remove the arils. Nora played in the dining room near me, while I sliced the first fruit open at the dinner table.

She quickly hopped on to the chair behind me, to see what I was I doing. I gave her the flat top piece and let her pick out the seeds with her fingers. She was in love with the taste immediately. “They’re crunchy and sweet. Crunchy and sweet,” she chanted.

I scored the skin at each section, then broke open the fruit in a bowl of water. While I shook out the arils, I decided to tell Nora the story of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds. I spoke and cleaned and everything felt like it fell into place. Nora listened quietly, as long as I slipped her more and more seeds to eat.

It’s the first time I thought about this story since becoming a mother, the first time I’ve told it to my daughter. Even though I’m the mother now, I still identify with Persephone, feel her powerlessness in the story. I tried to give Persephone enough credit in the story, as I told it to my daughter, since I want her to see herself as an agent of her own life.

After I was done with the story, and moved on to the second pomegranate, Nora said, “Sing it again, Mommy.” So, I sang the story again, with even more variation, and broke open the next fruit in the bowl of water.

Outside, the snow was falling, blanketing our backyard. We were warm enough inside.

Sizing Up

sizes

Over the weekend, Aaron and I took some much needed time to weed through Nora’s clothes. Since she potty trained early, and she’s kind of on the lean side, she fits into 24 month/2 T tops and 18 month (or sometimes 12 month) bottoms. All of her 18 month tops are now like belly shirts, so it was time to organize. We also took the opportunity to clean out her closet, which was crammed with old toys and clothes, to make room to actually hang up (for the first time) her sweaters, coats, and dresses.

Because we know (as much as we can know) that we’re only having one child, there’s something that feels a little wasteful about the accumulation of stuff during the path from infant to toddler.  In our basement, we have piles and stacks of clothes that Nora has outgrown, from size 3 month to 18 month. We have toys that she doesn’t use anymore or that we don’t like. We have baby carriers and strollers we no longer need. And it’s just sitting there, waiting to be passed along to someone else or to be sold.

In the same way, we’ve had to set aside some of the skills that we’ve learned, to make room for the skills needed to raise a toddler. I no longer need to worry about how to best tie a Moby, because my wiggly toddler would never sit still for getting in the wrap. (I know its safe for up to 35-pounds, but Nora started to reject babywearing about 6 to 8 months ago.) I no longer need to worry about how to soothe a child out of a non-verbal tantrum, because now we are starting to talk about our feelings. I no longer need to do everything one-handed, because Nora can climb up into her Learning Tower and work right next to me.

I don’t really know if I’ve emotionally or mentally caught up with all of her changes. I feel like I’m constantly one developmental leap behind, honing my skills to cope with one phase just as she is coming out of it. I admire those other parents, who somehow manage to adapt their methods while the child changes, providing developmentally appropriate discipline and love in equal measure. These past two years, I’ve struggled with balancing between treating her like a baby/toddler/child and recognizing that she’s smarter than I can really know.

I never really thought about the speed of change that a family goes through, from snuggling a 6-1/2-pound newborn to chasing a 24-pound bundle of energy, until I actually went through it myself. I also never thought about how difficult it must be for the child, since its her body and mind changing every day. It’s hard to hold on to this though, when you’re in the middle of it, until you have the opportunity to see how far you’ve come.

When cleaning out her toys from the closet, Nora rediscovered her tummy time mat/baby gymnasium from when she was an infant. We probably haven’t used it since she was six months old, because she was the type of baby who didn’t want to be set down often. Despite our best efforts to keep it in the basement, Nora wants to play with it again. She calls it the baby mat. Sometimes, she sets one of her baby dolls underneath it, helping the baby nap by covering it with a blanket (cloth napkin). Other times, she tries to crawl underneath it and play with the hanging toys, even though she barely has to lift her arm to bat at them.

It’s a little funny to see her in there, head and toes stretching beyond the borders of the mat, so clearly beyond this once necessary tool. I can almost see her infant body, superimposed over her lanky toddler body, rolling around on the yellow and red polyester. It’s a hazy memory, from some other distant life.

It makes me wonder what we’ll grow out of next.

I’m Wearing Halloween!

halloween collage

Google Image Search for “toddler girls Halloween costumes” (left) and “toddler boys Halloween costumes” (right). Collage created  in PicMonkey.

This past weekend, we visited a nearby Goodwill to find Nora’s Halloween costume. As an October baby, she’s already had three Halloweens, but this will be the first in which she’ll sort of understand what’s going on. Her first year, we didn’t dress up at all, naturally. We went to one Halloween party dressed as new parents and she was part of our costume. Last  year, she wore a bee costume that her grandma found at a garage sale. The longer she wore it, the more Aaron and I were convinced it was supposed to be a bee costume for dogs. This year, we were ready to pick out her perfect costume.

At the Goodwill, and I’m assuming at most places that carry Halloween costumes, the costumes were divided into girls’ racks and boys’ racks. I dove into the girls’ side and Aaron and Nora started on the boys’ side. The girls’ costumes were homogenous, to put it kindly. Princess. Princess. Princess. Princess. Cheerleader. Pink Pirate. Purple doctor. Princess. Princess. Ladybug. Princess. There was variation on the princesses, of course. There were pink princess dresses white princess dresses, purple princess dresses. Some princess dresses had more tulle and others had more sparkly braiding.  I quickly grew frustrated and began hoping that somehow, I could find an appropriate costume before Halloween.

Aaron and I switched sides. On the boys’ side, there was a little more variation. Superhero. Superhero. Police Officer. Fire Fighter. UPS driver. Doctor. Zombie. Superhero. Pirate. Pirate. Superhero. Lion. Tiger. Winnie the Pooh. At least on the boys’ side, boys could imagine themselves as people with professions or as wild animals. I can understand that the preponderance of superhero costumes, with their weird foam muscles, is frustrating. But there was simply more diversity.

Luckily, Aaron found the perfect green frog costume on the boys side. Nora tried it on in the Goodwill and immediately shouted, “I love it!” Then, she ran up and down the aisles in the store, saying to anyone she passed, “I’m wearing Halloween.” I was so happy to see her embody one of the joys of my favorite holiday, even though she probably doesn’t know what it means to be wearing Halloween just yet.

We did a pretty good job this year. She loves frogs and she gets to be a frog. She doesn’t know that we picked her costume off the “boys” side and we probably have several years (I hope) before she cares which side the costume comes from. But, once she notices, we’re going to have to get more creative about imagining our costumes before we visit the store or creating our costumes from scratch. Or I’ll just have to take a (very) deep breath and help her pick out a princess costume, hoping that she sees that it’s one vision of her self among many.

Being Both Branch and Root

reaching

My husband took this picture on our evening walk, on Saturday night. We were playing in the public art garden on campus, on a raised platform stage. Nora was running in circles and banging her feet on the boards. I decided to lift her up, so she could touch the leaves on the low hanging branches. This was five minutes before the evening meltdown.

Earlier in our walk, I made the mistake of telling Aaron that we were doing a pretty good job with her, as parents. Of course, as we transitioned away from the platform and back towards the stroller, she kicked and screamed, hollered her new favorite phrase, over and over. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t.

I offered to hold her hand as we walked. She refused. I offered to sing her songs. I don’t. Eventually, I narrated all of the familiar things I noticed on our way home: the color of the green hydrangea, the gnomes on the president’s lawn, the garden trellis by the library. Nora calmed down, mostly, as I asked her questions about what we saw.

As we walked, I held on to the not-so-distant memory of lifting her body up to the branches and watching her touch the leaves. I remember the feeling of being rooted in place as she wiggled to get just a few inches higher. When her cries quieted and moved to questions, I reminded myself that I need to provide her both structure and freedom, not always in equal measure.

On this night, she got both.

Tantrums & Accidents

not grown

Photo from my Instagram feed

Here, we are moving completely into the toddler years.
She is testing boundaries, with a gleam in her eye.
She is learning how to climb. She is pondering jumping.
And I am holding my breath, biting my tongue from saying no.
When I can.

She is failing. She is falling off of the couch, off of the swings.
She is stumbling over her growing feet. She has yet to learn
how to brace her fall. She sprawls and splats, pauses
and needs comfort. In a big way.

Everything is big – big experiences and big emotions.
When she loves something, she repeats it over and over again.
Nora go to museum. Nora scoop and scoop AND SCOOP the water.
When she wants something, she wants it now and often.
I have to say no, for safety or for time constraints or for a break
from reading the same book twenty-five time.
She doesn’t take it well.

Some nights, all we do is cry. She screams and whimpers,
whines and sobs. I hold my breath and hold it together,
try not to cry with her. It’s all I can do to say,”Pick yourself up and dust yourself off,”
or, “I’m sorry. You sound frustrated, but the answer is still no.”

In all of this, the tripping and the screaming,
the physical and emotional testing, there is beauty.

For every time (or two) that she melts down,
there is one where she redirects easily.
For each thump-pause-WAIL,
there is a moment where she learns
to climb the slide, from the bottom to the top,
holding on to the railing and hoisting herself to landing.

This is where we’ll live, for the rest of her life,
in this place of beauty, as she stretches toward her independence,
as she grows into the person she is already becoming.

Breastfeeding, At 22 Months

This post is a part of Mothering’s Blog About Breastfeeding event, in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7th. See all of the posts, and join with your own, here!

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If I could talk to the old me, the mother of a nursing newborn me, about the path my breastfeeding would take over my daughter’s life, I would want to tell her, most of all: Don’t worry. During the first eight to ten months of breastfeeding, I was consumed with worry. My mind raced:

Is she getting enough?
Will my pump break down again?
Will she start (or ever stop) biting?
Can my supply keep up?
How will I know when it’s time to wean?
Will she ever wean?
How can I keep this up, for two years?

This panic about milk supply and pumping and biting and being enough made it so hard to fully enjoy the experience. I loved it, but it wasn’t easy.

Now, I am on the final months of my life as a breastfeeding mother, and it’s become easy. I know that sometime soon after her second birthday, my daughter will likely be fully weaned, a slow process we started from the moment she had her first solids. I am looking for ways to say goodbye to this phase of my life as a mother.

When I imagined “extended” breastfeeding as a mother of an infant, I couldn’t imagine enduring the toil of constant feedings, of constantly being touched. I never envisioned how easy it would be to nurse a toddler, how gradually we shifted from three to four feedings to one to two feedings. I never realized how much of a comfort it would be for me, as a working mother, to reconnect with my daughter at the end of the night, to hold her ever-growing body across my lap, to listen to her sigh and drift close to sleep, to be her source of comfort and nourishment.

I wouldn’t trade this sweet and finite time for any other time in our nursing relationship. I know it was built on the relentless work of breastfeeding on demand for the first year or so of her life. We wouldn’t have gotten to this easy point of drifting away, if I hadn’t worked so hard at putting our breastfeeding relationship as our highest priority during that first year. It influenced everything in our family’s life, from my work schedule to my husband’s care of our daughter during the day, to how we chose to spend our free time. My worry, even as hard as it was, served a purpose. Now, breastfeeding is almost an afterthought, an “oh yeah, did I nurse her last night?” as we discuss our evening.

I am so grateful for the work of motherhood in these 22 months, the mental and emotional work my whole family contributed, to develop and sustain our breastfeeding relationship. At this time next year, when I celebrate World Breastfeeding Week as a former breastfeeding mother, I hope I’ll remember the quiet, peaceful nights of breastfeeding, much more than the panic and worry. Most of all, I hope I’ll hold in my heart a small portion of the stillness that my daughter and I shared, for all those months together.

Traveling Home (With a Soundtrack)

coming home

Images from my Instagram feed, altered in PicMonkey.

I. How Deep Is That River

God saw that man was a little too rough
so He gave him a heart
and filled it up with love.

Sing it – How deep is that river?
How deep is that river? Yes,
I don’t need to know if it has a name.
I don’t need to know how to cross it yet
before I get my spirit wet.
I just want to know how deep – alright.

— Mason Jennings, “How Deep Is That River”, In the Ever

It’s Sunday right now, and I’m traveling home from a very long, very intense conference for work. I was traveling alone in Atlanta, my first visit to that city. Except for one very moving visit to the Martin Luther King Center and an evening visiting local hipster establishments, I could have been in any major city. My days and nights were a blur of being around educators at our best (focusing on the intellectual development of students) and our worst (endlessly dissecting minutiae).

On the plane home, I was feeling especially homesick. Watching the queue of planes out of my seat mate’s square window, I counted the minutes until I would get home. There were still too many. As soon as the captain extinguished the seat belt light, I turned on my iPod and started listening to Mason Jennings. Surely, he would help me feel like I was home.

II. Lemon Grove Avenue

If I have my way,
I’m never going to leave
Lemon Grove Avenue,
where the summer breeze
blows through the windows
in the afternoon.

— Mason Jennings, “Lemon Grove Avenue”, Use Your Voice

His music is a touchstone to me, because I discovered his music on an independent radio station when I was about 7 months pregnant with Nora. The station played his song, “Ballad of Paul and Sheila”, and I almost had to pull over, because it so quickly touched a long buried grief for the Wellstones.

I listened to his music all throughout my maternity leave. Every time I hear “Lemon Grove Avenue”, I have a distinct memory of the fall light streaming into our living room through the red and white curtains. I can feel the slight weight of Nora’s not-even seven pound body nuzzled in a wrap against my chest.

III. Empire Builder

I’m always
thinking of you
staring off
down the railroad line
one sweet day
I will see you
but I’ll swing the hammer until
the Empire Builder brings me home.

— Mason Jennings, “Empire Builder”, Use Your Voice

It’s Sunday now and every song I listen to is singing for me, singing my family’s distance. I don’t understand how I can crave solitude at home and then feel so distinctly lonely when I’m far away. On the first night, I couldn’t sleep, even after being awake for twenty hours (mostly) straight. I had to imagine that both Aaron and Nora were lying next to me, breathing quietly, just so I could fall asleep.

During the day, I stretched my introverted self and talked to new people at every meal and every workshop. I introduced myself over and over, covered the same talking points. On breaks, I was glued to my phone. Aaron and I talked daily. Sometimes, I talked to Nora, but I could barely understand her over the speaker phone static. Instead, I watched the videos my husband sent me, grateful for how happy they both looked.

IV. Something About Your Love

Ain’t no modern love
going to set me free
like the kind of love
that you give to me
I’m coming home
to be with you.

— Mason Jennings, “Something About Your Love”, In the Ever

I’m less than an hour away from home and all I can think about is them, even in my deep exhaustion. I’m still counting the minutes, watching the road pass from my bus window. The clouds seem both closer and further away now, hovering gray and white over a green horizon.

It’s Sunday and this is what it’s like right now.

Living in Summer

summer txt

(All photos in the post are from my Instagram feed, altered in PicMonkey.)

I’m counting this summer as our first true summer as a family. Last summer at this time, Nora was a not-yet mobile 9 month old and we were embarking on a truly scary change in our lives: moving from Minneapolis to our small town in Wisconsin. It was a summer of hard choices, moving boxes, saying difficult goodbyes, and too many long drives. We were exhausted.

Even if we hadn’t moved states, we spent too much time worrying about sunburns and dehydration and sugar consumption, not worrying enough about having fun. We were (still) new parents and we were terrified.

This summer has been a gift. During the past two months, I’ve worked part-time, which means I’ve spent more days with Nora and Aaron enjoying summer. Since we live in a small town with limited entertainment, we’ve centered our summer experience on simple things: picking rocks in our yards, walking around the block after dinner, and exploring our local parks. It might just be where she is developmentally and it might just be our small summer activities, but Nora has bloomed this summer, into a wild, brave outdoor girl.

summer 1 txtShe collects rocks and sticks, tries to sneak them inside the house. She picks at dandelions. She can name three types of birds on sight (robin, sparrow, and cardinal).  She calls out to the bunnies she sees on our walks. She tromps confidently from our driveway to our neighbor’s house two doors down, to visit his dog.

summer 2 txtShe’s become a water baby. She can play forever in the kiddie pool, scooping water into cups and jars. Circling the four-foot pool, practicing saying “Excuse me” when she needs to pass by our feet. We play in the sprinklers, running back and forth while holding hands. She’s getting used to being sprinkled and enjoying it, rather than shying away.

summer 3 txt

She’s learned about the joys of so many summer foods: baby ice cream cones from the two ice cream shops nearby, grilled sweet corn, watermelon. If I peel it and chop it, Nora can finish a whole plum in ten minutes flat. She has a permanent stain on most of her clothes, from the juice of one fruit or another dribbling down her chin.

summer 4 txt

She’s become brave. She rides both the baby swings and the big kid swings. She’s just learned how to conquer the slides. At the park closest to our house, she slides down the largest slide with a slight look of fear. But as soon as she gets to the bottom, she yells, “Again!” The bump on her forehead, by the way, has been healing for weeks, after a nasty trip on our driveway.

This is the way that summer is supposed to be when you’re a family with a toddler – full of bumps and adventures, lazy afternoons and evenings outside. We’re learning to relax and savor every bug bite and ice cream cone, every small moment that drifts by.

 

Things I Have Lost / Things I Have Gained

Lost & Gained

(Photos from my Instagram)

I was thinking this morning, in the half-formed thoughts I can manage while playing with my daughter, about all the things I have lost and gained in the past 21 months of motherhood. My mind seesawed all day.

I have lost poetry, the words that once hummed behind my ears. I’ve gained moments of mindfulness and stillness, as I’ve nursed and played and comforted. I’ve lost song lyrics, whole albums, that I once knew by heart. I’ve gained (sometimes regained) the simple songs and made-up silly songs she loves.  I’ve lost reading complex books. I’ve gained picture books from authors I never knew and the comfort of repeating the same words, over and over.

I have lost sleep, hours and hours of sleep, that I’ll never regain. I’ve gained quiet moments at midnight and two a.m., when she reaches towards me in her sleep. I’ve lost free time, save for one hour in the morning and one hour at night. I’ve gained a little girl who wants to spend every living breathing moment with me. I’ve gained the wholeness of our family. I’ve lost that part of my brain that holds short term memory. I have lost (and found) keys, my cell phone, the cat’s medicine, the grocery list. I’ve gained a happy mess of a life, where my every day objects are now nothing more than potential toys, potential tools for learning.

I have lost that last vestige of modesty. I have gained an appreciation for this lumpy body that creates and sustains life. I’m sure I’ve lost youth, more than my share in a year and a half. I’ve gained handfuls of gray hairs, a soft belly, new bags under my eyes. I’ve gained a daughter who wants, more than anything to be like Mommy and to have Mommy be just like her. I’ve lost my old definition of beauty. I’m still gaining a new one.

I wish I had lost the need to tally, to measure where I stand in comparison to all of my past lives. Every choice I’ve made has come with losses and gains, with sacrifices and unexpected miracles. But this most recent and dramatic change has left me raw and new, even these 21 months later. I don’t know when I’ll stop counting.