Friday, March 21, 2014

Parenting With Grace - For Ourselves and Our Fellow-travellers

My Hero

A few months ago, I had a real breakthrough about parenting. It was inspired by a blog post I read, and I can’t find it now, but the gist was this:

Other people aren’t parenting at you.

Reading that was a real ah-ha moment for me. It shouldn’t have been, because I knew it, rationally, but in the thick of things it gets lost.

When Punk was first born, I felt insecure, overwhelmed, and often defensive.There were a lot of reasons for that: a huge chunk of it has to do with being an ACOA*. Another piece is just my personality: I’m high strung, a fact I’m constantly working to mitigate and make my peace with. But I was also in an incredibly difficult place in life. I was finishing my dissertation, K was working very long hours at a job with a long commute, I was dealing with my first major flare without having any idea what was happening to me, AND, I had a newborn.

I survived, but I was a twitchy mess. I didn’t feel like I was making parenting choices, I was desperately working from handhold to handhold just trying to get through the days and keep my head above water. And meanwhile I was meeting these other moms who just… seemed to have it together. It seemed like they had figured it out and I was just… staggering through. Their choices weren’t just their choices, they were indictments of me and my utter failure to cope.

Of course this was ridiculous, but it took me a long time to figure out the secret.

Everyone is just struggling through. Parenting means living in five foot deep water with heavy chop that threatens to bowl you over at any minute, and we are all just trying to make it from day to day. Hour to hour. And sometimes, minute to minute. And that group of moms who were so much better at it than I am? I got to know them all. They’ve become good friends. And they’re pretty damn amazing.

But so am I. And I’ve come to trust that, and them, in ways I didn’t think I’d ever be able to.

A good example of that came on a recent night. We were out at a local chocolate and wine bar (God I love this town so much) and we were talking about our irritation with a lot of kids’ shows and how annoying they can be. I made the comment that this was one reason we had started Punk on some slightly older shows, like Justice League.

“But that’s so violent,” one of the other women said.

In the past that would have withered me. But I just smiled, and waited, and that trust was validated when she followed it up with, “[My child] gets so upset by that stuff.”

And what flowed from that was a discussion about how different their personalities and tolerances for different things are. What could have been a point of judgment either way turned into an appreciation for our differences. My friend’s son is this beautiful, empathic and intuitive little soul, and her decision not to let him watch shows with a lot of active conflict honors him marvelously. Punk, on the other hand, is and always has been a little warrior spirit. She has an aggressive, active nature that has been challenging at times to temper and channel. For her, shows like Justice League give her a way to imagine herself as a hero and as a helper, to pretend at channeling that aggression against imaginary enemies rather than at everyday frustrations. It lets her imagine conquering those frustrations rather than being overwhelmed by them.

My friends and I won’t make all the same decisions when it comes to parenting. It wasn’t true when the kids were newborns, and it isn’t true  now. I imagine it will be even less true as the kids continue to grow into their own distinct personalities.

But it no longer matters to me that we make the same choices. What matters to me is that I trust my fellow parents: I trust and believe that they are making their choices, thoughtfully and with great love, and in accord with what is best for them and their families. Even better, I feel that I have their trust in return.

*ACOA: Adult Child of Alcoholics. In my family there are three kinds of people: active addicts, recovering addicts, and people who dodged the bullet so closely they heard it whistle past.

...I can show you the scar on the cheek where it grazed me. Metaphorically, that is. I don’t have any cool scars on my face. OR anywhere. My scars are all pretty boring.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Garden Year

I love this stretch of days between Christmas and New Year's.
My first dollmaking project.

The hustle of Christmas has passed, things haven't gotten up to the full speed of the new year again. Here in Wisconsin it is almost always bitterly cold and snowy. It's a time for spending time together, working on projects, resting and catching up on all the things we miss out on during the busyness of the year.

Like TV. And sleep.
It's also the perfect time for reflection, for taking stock.

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. But I like the idea of a theme.

2014 will be the Year of the Garden.

It's not about a "new me", whatever that means, or radical changes.

It's about nourishing what's been planted. Pruning away what's unnecessary and harmful. It's about digging deep, about roots and sun and rain.

And it's about knowing that a garden - any garden - is a collaboration, a partnership between the gardener and God.

So here's to seeing what blooms in 2014.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Charlie and Noel

My sweet friend Franziska got in touch with me recently, and asked me to read her new e-book.

I'm so glad she did.

Charlie and Noel is an absolutely charming tale, broken into twenty-five chapters for each day leading up to Christmas. Each section is short, perfect for little attention spans, and comes with questions to discuss with your kids and suggestions for activities to do.

The story isn't explicitly Christian, although it makes no bones about being part of a Christian celebration. Rather it focuses on the virtues of simplicity, gratitude, generosity, and creativity that are so often lacking in modern Christmas celebrations.

I can warmly recommend it. And even better?

It's on sale! 99 cents today on Amazon. And if you hop over to Franziska's blog, Home Naturally, she's hosting a give-away today to accompany the book's sale!

So go check it out! And tell her I said hello.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Anne reveled in the world of color about her.

 "Oh, Marilla," she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it? Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill--several thrills? I'm going to decorate my room with them."
                                                     ~ L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I love October.

It starts in beautiful weather and the hint of gold around the edges, passes through a riot of flame color, and ends with one of my two favorite holidays. It's full of apples and cinnamon, bonfires and farm days, cool crisp nights and sunny days. 

It seems at these times that God has a special place in their heart for Wisconsin. I won't claim that we're his favorite. Because, well, February. But with the amber light, the bent-double apple trees, and that perfect autumn smell in the air, we are deeply blessed.

For October, for crimson, for crisp, smoke tanged air, good Lord, we give thanks.
It's a new season, and a new month, and that also brings the perfect time for reflection and planning. I'm not the greatest fan of New Year's resolutions, but I like new month's resolutions. Not so much life-changing plans (that will be jettisoned by the second week) but tiny course corrections. 

And some bigger life plans, too, but that's another entry.

So today I am making lists of what still needs to be canned or processed, looking at day trips to take before the winter closes in, and taking a look at (gulp) Christmas planning.

Where will autumn take you?

Friday, September 20, 2013

About that picture

This past weekend we made another visit to our favorite orchard. This orchard has a pond with a massive willow tree. When we went under the branches, Punk found that someone had woven a willow crown and left it behind. I put it on her head, and she played fairy princess for a few minutes. Then she put it on my head and said, "You're the NATURE MOMMY!"

I was chasing her out from the tree when K's mom saw me and said, "DON'T MOVE!"
Once upon a time it would have been a posed shot. But this one just happened.
That sums up life these days fairly well.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wishing. I try not to do too much wishing. It seems like the opposite of gratitude, like the opposite side of regret. But with that disclaimer... I'm finding this season of motherhood frustrating. The girls' schedules are staggered in a way that keeps things from being too overwhelming but that leaves me very little time to myself. Which in turn means no writing. This is a bit maddening, as there are a number of things I would very much like to be writing. But between the littlest's sleep issues and Miss Three being three, I haven't been able to simultaneously carve out the time and the energy. So I find myself wishing for a tiny corner of quiet in which I can spend time with my imaginary friends.
But this too shall pass. One day I will have plenty of time to write, and wish to trade it for a lap full of punks. So instead I will wish for patience: with myself, with time, with the seasons of my life. And for the imaginary friends to be patient too, until I can get back to them.

Stitching. More than ten years ago I bought an Erica Wilson needlepoint kit of the Met’s "Unicorn in Captivity". It has sat untouched for an unforgivable length of time, so now I have pulled it out. It's perfect for me right now: large, rewarding, soothing, and can be done when I'm having difficulty with brain fog, a common affliction among the spoonie tribe. It is easily picked up and set down, so I am keeping it threaded and ready in the living room for when I have time for a quick few stitches.

Watching. Teen Wolf. Hooked. So completely hooked. Haven’t been this hooked on a  show since the first two seasons of True Blood. HOOKED. And in spite of the title (Yay, teenagers… and, uh, wasn’t that an 80s movie?) and the station (remember when MTV showed… uh… music videos?) I’ve been consistently impressed by the quality of the story telling. The scripts occasionally clunk, as do they all, but there is an awful lot in the series to be excited by. Not least of which is a commitment to actual historical research that means the show has yet to make me want to slap it hard.
That doesn’t happen ever.
Waiting  I am trying to let the seasons turn on their own, but late August makes me itchy for cool weather, apples, cinnamon, shorter days, apples, sweaters, and apples.
Our favorite orchard

...The orchard opens next week and I’m excited, ok?
Preparing Punk starts daily preschool the week after next. I’m excited for her, I’m excited about the program, I’m excited about having an hour a day to myself and an hour to spend with Punkina one on one. But I’m also a bit saddened, and trying to pull apart all the pieces of that one. There’s a whole essay in it, so we will see what happens.

Listening Welcome to Night Vale. Give it a shot. You will thank me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Apparently, I'm terrible at blogging.

At least blogging regularly.

Part of it of course is the first year of adjusting to having another little one. And a new dog. And a new job and new schedule for K. And what I now know is an inevitable postpartum flare that took a long time to shake off.
And part of it is looking at the blogs I follow. They're all incredibly good photographers who spend a fair bit of time documenting their day to day lives, and every post is gorgeous.
(I did not take any of these pictures. They're all the work of my amazing sister-in-law, Christy.)

But that's the problem right there, isn't it. One of my favorite quotes is "Comparison is the thief of joy". I have often thought of several essays I would like to post, but I've never written them out of a fear that they won't look, sound, be as good as others. So I rob myself of the joy of having created something.

Comparison has become the bedrock of our culture, I'm sorry to say. Advertising thrives on comparison in order to create the desire for more things. A twenty-four hour news cycle holds up fearful images of how other people live and act in order to feed fear and envy.

It's not that there aren't real horrors out there. There are and always have been. But when someone is making money off of showing them to us, you can bet the image is distorted.

What saddens me the most, however, is the way in which blogs have brought this phenomenon into Christian life. We are commanded explicitly not to do this, to look at the log in our own eye before the mote in our brothers'.

That doesn't mean we toss out our brains or make a vice out of discernment. Instead, I think it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. To build instead of tear down. To take your own corner and make it grow as best you can.

To create, for the inherent Good of creation, and to make beauty wherever it will blossom.
And smile, whenever you can.