Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in family life

when a little boy turns three…

He knows birthdays involve cake, so he comes to you in tears with his sad tiny voice telling you he’s hungry, and when you ask him what he’s hungry for he answers, “cake!”

(You may have stayed up until 11:30 the night before baking said cake and want to cut into it just as much as he does! But these things must wait for the proper moment!)

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Six layer cakes require a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting – as in, I used a whole pound of butter…

He may be so excited about being the center of the family circle, with everyone singing happy birthday to him, that he literally cannot contain his joy, and bounces up and down laughing the entire time.

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He may love rainbows so much that when the cake is cut and he sees for the first time the colorful layers within he may just squeal with delight!

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A rainbow cake is really the only appropriate choice for a child who has stayed up late with me pondering on the wavelength of different colors of light, how some colors can mix together to create others, and how white light can split apart into all the colors

He may be such a generous and inclusive little soul that he lets not only his beloved older brother but even the pushy and interfering (from his perspective) baby sister help unwrap his birthday presents.

And he may be so happy with his gifts that he spends the rest of the afternoon contentedly playing with them, with the family that he loves.

Happy birthday to a boy who is curious, intelligent, and observant like a scientist; who finds pleasure in order, symmetry, and patterns; who adapts his desires and whims to accommodate his siblings with a grace and maturity far beyond his years; who can be rough and wild with Rondel but gentle and protective with Aubade; who grows more independent every day and always loves to help and learn; and who still loves to snuggle with his mommy for any reason and no reason at all. It is such a joy to watch him grow – to see his understanding (emotional and intellectual) deepen and the lines of his personality and character emerge.

Posted in book lists, family life, musings

Charlotte’s Web

Fern loved Wilbur more than anything… Wilbur loved his milk, and he was never happier than when Fern was warming up a bottle for him. He would stand and gaze up at her with adoring eyes.

For the first few days of his life, Wilbur was allowed to live in a box near the stove in the pitch. Then, when Mrs. Arable complained, he was moved to a bigger box in the woodshed. At two weeks of age, he was moved outdoors. It was apple-blossom time, and the days were getting warmer. Mr. Arable fixed a small yard specially for Wilbur under an apple tree, and gave him a large wooden box full of straw, with a doorway cut in it so he could walk in and out as he pleased.

“Won’t he be cold at night?” asked Fern.

“No,” said her father. “You watch and see what he does.”

Carrying a bottle of milk, Fern sat down under the apple tree inside the yard. Wilbur ran to her and she held the bottle for him while he sucked. When he had finished the last drop, he grunted and walked sleepily into the box. Fern peered through the door. Wilbur was poking the straw with his snout. In a short time he had dug a tunnel in the straw. He crawled into the tunnel and disappeared from sight, completely covered with straw.

Rondel and I have begun reading Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, together, our first attempt at a legitimate chapter book. We’re proceeding slowly, at about one chapter a day, but already the story has captured his imagination.

He has commandeered Aubade’s pack and play to be his own little pig pen, where he can be alone and covered up with a blanket like Wilbur covers himself up with straw, but where his adoring and beloved friends (Fern in the book; Limerick and Aubade in reality; a mommy and baby bear in Limerick’s pretending) can sit and watch him through the mesh on the sides. Like Wilbur, he announces that he loves the bears “so much” because they love him and come visit him in his pig pen.

He was captivated by the tender and beautiful illustrations, courtesy of the one and only Garth Williams, of Fern holding Wilbur and feeding him from a bottle, and of Fern pushing Wilbur in a baby stroller with her doll. Wilbur’s special place in Fern’s heart, and the great love she gives to him and inspires from him in return, seem to make up his major impression of the book so far.

And for two consecutive nights now he has asked for me to move the pack and play into his bedroom so that he can sleep in there instead of in his bed, because, as he says “you are a little pig and this is your pig pen!” He can’t even stretch out all the way in there, which should serve as some indication of how absorbed he is by Wilbur’s world.

When a child’s imagination is so easily caught by a simple, gentle, well-told story, there is no need to be so anxious (as I often am, and as parents in general often are) about that child’s education and ability to learn. His mind is open and eager to learn, explore, create, and imagine – and new worlds, new information, and new friends to explain the world through their lives and adventures are only as far away as the pages of a good book.

Posted in family life

Aubade at eight months

What do babies do at eight months?

Well, this one is learning about “in” and “out” with her little red bucket and whatever miscellaneous toys she can find:

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She’s playing peek-a-boo on her own, taking the initiative to hide under a box or scarf then pop out eager to catch the smile or laugh on someone else’s face.

She’s noticing silly sounds that don’t match the normal cadence of speech (like the chug-chug of a train) and laughing at them:

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She’s eating every piece of food she can get her hands on and begging for more! We’re doing baby-led weaning so she’s had quite a large variety of foods already, ranging from the standard banana and Cheerios to pesto and spicy cilantro wheat berries.

She’s charging into every splash pad, hose spray, and puddle she can find, with no fear and pure delight!

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She’s solidly outgrown all her 9 month clothes and is starting to move from the 12 month to the 18 month selection (probably has something to do with all that eating!)

She understands and communicates so well; she is her own little person with an opinion about everything, an openness to exploration, and a great sense of humor – more quirky than Rondel’s pure goofiness, as if seeing something funny hiding just under the surface of everyday life:

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She’s bold, tough, independent, smart, joyful, curious, and persistent – I’m only eight months into knowing her and already I can’t imagine life without her!

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

 – John Holt

the love of learning

Posted in book lists

what I’ve been reading lately

After a rather long stretch of time in which I mostly reread my favorite fiction (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter on repeat!) and kept up with the news and our church’s Bible-in-a-year plan, I have been diving back into the world of books. I realized that I have a lot of time in which I can read but not do much else (while Aubade is nursing, especially at night), but of course holding a book is complicated by said nursing… so I had been reading the news, surfing the web, and spending altogether too much time on Facebook, which was not helping my postpartum mood in the least. Then I remembered that all the libraries in my county have come together to create the Greater Phoenix Digital Library – meaning that more books than I have time to read are available on my phone, for free, with a simple app and the PIN from my library card. Honestly I’m not sure how I managed the boys’ newborn phases without this…

So, despite finding that a lot of the books on my wish list are checked out by other users of the library system, here are four books I’ve read this week that were completely new to me, in a variety of genres:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

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This is of course a classic, and most people who haven’t read it are still familiar with some of Angelou’s poetry, at least (I knew of her mostly through her poetry, to be honest – Phenomenal Woman makes the social media rounds fairly frequently, and I love it every time I read it). But for me, who grew up in an educated, well-off, white family, it was eye-opening to see the deep personal and emotional impact of both intimate individual hurts (like parental divorce and sexual abuse) and systemic oppression (like the racism and poverty Angelou faced herself and saw affect her community). Someone’s story can be far more impactful than all the statistics and social study lessons in the world, especially when told with the simple power and unpretentious elegance of Angelou’s writing. It’s not an easy read, because of the painful topics it deals with, but it is definitely worth reading.

The Family Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss

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This is a memoir of quite a different type, although it touches on some of the same themes. Doss and her husband discovered as a young couple that they were infertile and that the demand for Caucasian infants to adopt was far greater than the number of babies available. So, in the 1940s and 50s, they built their family by adopting the unwanted children – children of mixed heritage who didn’t look “white” enough for mainstream American families to consider – and ended up with 12 children all together! The book is an honest look at their family life, addressing the racism directed at their children and family but mostly just full of hope and humor (I laughed out loud many times at the anecdotes Doss related – she is quite adept at capturing the funny side of disastrous moments as well as the dialogue of her young children).

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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After reading two memoirs, I decided to switch things up and chose this post-apocalyptic novel after seeing it on one of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s booklists (in general, that is a helpful site if you aren’t sure what book to read next!). I don’t normally read this type of fiction because it is dark and suspenseful and keeps me up all night, and this was no exception… The basic premise is that a strain of the flu wiped out the vast majority of the world’s population, disrupting civilization to the extent that people are living without electricity, without medicine, scavenging and hunting to survive, holding on to what scraps of art and culture they can salvage, and falling prey to cults and prophets who offer some explanation for why so few survived. Mandel’s characters are diverse in personality and background, and the different ways they experience the pandemic (as well as the years before and after it) feel very authentic. I particularly liked how the threads of theatre, music, and literature wound through the characters’ stories without devolving into preachy passages about the meaning and value of those things in a broken world; the novel is far more about what it means to be human, and how humanity survives and even perhaps recovers from an event so utterly devastating.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

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Kristof and WuDunn examine the inequality of women in the developing world in a number of different arenas, including forced prostitution, rape (as a tool of shame or a weapon of war), maternal mortality and injury, and education. Each issue tackled is presented in light of the story of one or two individual women, spotlighting the problems involved as well as the complexities faced in addressing those problems; for instance, we see how difficult it is to truly free an underage girl from forced prostitution in the story of one young woman who returns multiple times to feed her drug addiction – which was in itself instigated by her captors and abusers. Some stories are inspiring; some are less so; and the statistics that they illustrate are often bleak. As a new mother myself, having experienced a labor (with my first) that would have resulted in death or serious injury without access to a surgeon, it is horrifying and saddening to read about women who have had similar experiences without the medical care available to me and others in the West. There is so much pain and death that could have been avoided. On the other hand, however, the book also shows us the stories of whole communities that have been improved by simple investments in education, or by deciding to take justice for women seriously. In addition to the stories and the statistics, a unique and valuable aspect of this book is the appendix listing specific organizations that are working in effective ways to address the issues faced by women in the developing world, to give the reader ideas of whom to support. I would encourage anyone – especially anyone who believes that things like rape and maternal care are only “women’s issues” – to read this book and see just how much communities can grow and heal when they come to realize that women, as in the eponymous proverb, “hold up half the sky.”

What have you all been reading lately? I’d love to hear your recommendations, since I have a short window of reading opportunity open right now!

Posted in family life

letters or words?

Both of the boys have an interesting pronoun confusion where they use second-person pronouns to refer to themselves and first-person pronouns to refer to other people – so for instance, Limerick will say “Hold you!” when he wants to be picked up, and Rondel will say “You want more ice and water!” when he’s thirsty.

For a while I had just been modeling correct language and reading lots of books, hoping that they would catch on, but while I noticed Rondel modeling the right use of pronouns when making his toys dialogue with each other (imitating the books, I suppose), it didn’t change his personal speech or conversation. So lately my mom and I have been gently correcting him and letting him know the right way to say what he wants to say, or prompting him to fix the pronouns himself by asking him who he’s talking about. I’m not particularly worried about it; it’s just a habit that needs to be straightened out so he can talk to people outside of the family without completely confusing them 🙂

This weekend, I overheard him talking to someone else in his usual mixed-up way – then all of a sudden there was a pause, and he muttered to himself,

“No – need to use different letters!”

And then he said it again using “I” instead of “you” – or in his mind, using “I” instead of “U”!

Posted in family life

Making room for creativity 

Rondel sits in the bathtub, bubbles fading, playing with his bath animals.

“Want to get bubbles off of Crabby!” He says it with more than a hint of whine and worry, as though these bubbles were a potential catastrophe.

Rinse it off in the bubble-free part of the tub, I think, Or pour some water over it with your bucket.

We’ve been through this before, in previous baths, and those are the ideas I’ve given him in the past. For some reason I don’t say them this time.

“What do you think you could do to clean off the bubbles?” I ask.

“Maybe I could wash them off with the washcloth!”

“Maybe you could! That is a good idea to try” I say. I don’t really expect it to work since bubbles tend to cling to the washcloth.

A few minutes later, triumphant sounds come from the bathtub. “It worked!”

My experience and criticisms would have completely shut down his opportunity to think and experiment – sometimes it really is better parenting for me to just keep my mouth shut and my ideas to myself!