Monday, June 30, 2014

Polite society

My 22 month old child likes butter. He likes it in a way that seems shocking to me. Until I read, in many online forums, about the other toddlers who eat sticks of butter. Sticks. More than just the one time.

I've been resisting this butter-eating because we don't do that "in polite society."

In an email (I write him emails because I have to be honest about my poor scrapbooking skills) I wrote K that his butter cravings were insane and that people don't eat butter like that in polite society. And then I wrote, "Who am I kidding? We're not in polite society."

So it got me thinking about all the things I resist because "normal" people don't do them. I also thought about all the things that have come to me while needing to solve a problem, that no one told me about, but that were GREAT ideas and far from normal (getting on a trampoline at 1am, to bounce out K's insane gas, or putting him in the tub to relax him enough to fart, so he could go back to sleep, or asking him telepathically what he needs from me and getting a very helpful/true answer, etc). If I was still holding on to the idea pipe dream that I, or my family, will become normal anytime soon, I should now officially let go of that.

Polite society is a place where my grandma lived. In her world she needed to keep up appearances, be everyone's friend, or at least not be seen as rude, uneducated, or uncultured.

Honestly, I think that caused some suffering. How many times have I acted in ways that were really about image management and not wanting people to think I was 1) a heathen, 2) an irresponsible mother, or 3) uneducated? I'm still fairly new at this, but I've probably done (or not done) countless things because of the way it looked to others. Polite society, as it were. What people likely won't see, or won't immediately give me/us credit for is that our kid is engaged with us. Yes, he is himself, engaging, but we are also responsive. We work hard to listen to, and work on, the things we don't understand for whatever reasons.

I guess it's unacceptable to me to write things off just because of development ("It's just a phase," or "Toddlers just do 'x'.") or age or culture or whatever else. I am trying hard to listen to and witness K with compassion. I research, ask other parents, pay closer attention to K's motivations, actions and timing, ask his teachers, ask my own parents and siblings about how I was, and listen to my intuition. Polite society, be damned.

This butter thing was a lesson to me to keep paying attention to my kid. Sure, he is typical in many regards, but much of the time he does things that I can't find easily in books and online (which makes sense, looking back at my pregnancy). I was that way, too, as a kid. I'm still kinda that way. And no, I don't often mix well with polite society, so rather than shove myself and my family into that confining "polite society" of my grandma's era, I'd rather co-create a society where love and compassion rules the day.

In the case of the Butter Resistance, I eased up. I bought K some special, organic butter that's just for him and we had a little moment, mama and babe, enjoying the letting go together.

NOTE: Since buying him his OWN butter ration, and offering it up easily with every meal/food item, strangely, he has said 'no.' It was like the allowing was really what he needed. Funny, that.

You know what it's like to be a mom...

You get busy. You have a to-do list that can't possibly be written down, much less managed. You have at least one child that needs/demands almost, if not, all of your attention. Haircuts, massages, toothbrushing, showers, girls' (guys') nights, reading whole paragraphs of books, and nutrition go by the wayside. Just part of the deal, right?


Really wrong.

I'm not saying you're wrong. Or your methods are wrong. (God forbid you think I know what's best for you). But a dear friend of mine basically said that her self-care (and we're talking health care, not pedicures) wasn't a priority in her day because she was a busy, working mom.

Hold the phone. I admit, I got a little unnerved that my friend thought that there wasn't enough time in the day for her to get to urgent care and look into her medical issue. Not at her, but at the culture around her (and us) that supports that belief. She wasn't told outright that she couldn't go get her issue checked out. No, that would've incited a mamaRiot. But it was the unspoken part, about how moms just get busy and "you know how it time to go to the doctor."

Here's what made me have some strong feelings...

1) That "having no time to go to the doctor" was sorta like "no time for a haircut."
2) That I didn't know my friend even needed any help in this area (could I have come over and watched her kids while she went to the doctor?).
3) That taking time out during the day at work wasn't really a cultural norm at her work and I'm assuming she believed that she was so indispensable that she couldn't take an hour to find out about her health, because it put her reputation (and possibly, eventually, her job) at risk.
4) And that I might be doing something similar, maybe not with physical health, but with mental health.

This is important. Really important. As parents, we are a part of the culture that supports these thoughts. That being too busy (raising a family and working) means we don't get our needs met.
This is, in my not very humble opinion, what leads to depression, increased medicating of parents, addiction, divorce, and a bunch of other woes. At least it's a contributing factor.

I work VERY hard on identifying my needs (surprise! They sort of changed when I had a baby and now I need to get to know them all over again!), talking with my husband about my needs (even if they can't be solved, addressed, or understood), and then diligently getting support for them.

I recognize that is privileged. My aforementioned friend may not have time to reflect on all of that. Her spouse may be just as busy and so not able to help her identify those needs, either.

But I also don't want to start agreeing that yes, motherhood trumps self-care. Don't hate me when I tell you, it doesn't. I love being a mom. I sometimes eat less because my kid ends up wanting most of my food and all of his too. I'm not immune to sacrifice. But I also don't want that to stay the norm. I want to point it out, even if it can't change, because it's not healthy for us as a culture. And it's not just for the wealthy. Working parents can't just say that because they work, their self-care goes away sometimes.

I am learning that when my husband works at night, which contributes to our family, I give up his time for the money he makes. Every week we discuss whether it will be better to have him home, or get the cash. That's a horrible choice to have to make daily, but we do it because some days, I need him with me, caring for our son. I need his support. I'll go without food (or less food) if it means that we have a night together as a family. That's how I care for myself. I have learned that there are hard choices I HAVE to make to get my needs met. Money vs. spousal support is not like giving up a new car for college tuition. I need both money AND spousal support, so I need to think about what I need more of sometimes.

My point is just that. Self-care isn't only bubble baths and dinner out with friends. I want to be a loud (and maybe a bit belligerent) voice that says that yes, we make choices, but also, yes we need to take care of ourselves. If a job won't value you for taking care of yourself, that tells me something. If a spouse won't let you take a night off (or two) a week, for your mental sanity, that speaks volumes. If we're all about the village raising our children, then we need to work on our village and be available to each other to get stuff done so neither we, nor our kids, suffer.

I'll end with the fact that I am grateful that my friends and family have been really helpful in this arena. Sometimes I am plagued by feeling like a social burden, with my active and sometimes destructive kid. But I keep asking to come over and crash dinner parties and potlucks because I do need adult friends and board games after K goes to sleep, and food that isn't bread or pasta and not made by me.

I want to be that support for others in my village too.

Learning collaboration

K goes to Montessori. I went to Montessori. As did my three siblings, my spouse, and a bunch of my friends.
For the toddler-aged group at K's school there's a focus on both independence and learning to ask others (not just the guides) for help.
There's a lot of buzz around making our kids more independent, so they don't need us so much and so they can do things on their own. Because all kids start out as heavily-dependent babies, I totally understand the desire for independence as quickly as possible.
What I am not yet able to do myself is teach collaboration at a young age (other than by example, and admittedly, it's a tough one for me, even as an adult). Yes, it doesn't make sense to collaborate regarding holding a glass oneself, in order to drink. But, short of the very basic things one needs to do oneself, collaboration is often a natural inclination in many kids.

Our culture really focuses on being independent. Move out of your parents house, get a job, go through college, get married, figure stuff out, live a good enough life. But my experience of all of those things was pretty much closer to a nightmare (getting married wasn't, but finding a spouse was!) than an easy checklist of things to do. I had no idea what I was doing almost all of the time. I was a horrible dater, I couldn't stay in college, I was completely unemployable, I figured nothing out, and I spent too much money for a life that wasn't exactly what I wanted, and it was lucky that I got anywhere.

In my late 20s, I started to learn what it was like to stop being so independent and to start collaborating and helping others with their visions, asking for help with mine, and strengthening my resources in human capital. I got a few lessons here and there in various places and programs, but ultimately, it was a lot of "figuring it out," and I wish I had done more work on learning to collaborate earlier in my life.

My parents didn't model collaboration, either. I never saw them relying on anyone. It wasn't that they didn't want to, but I guess they didn't need to. So I thought I shouldn't need to either.

Enter parenthood.

Yikes. If there was ever a time to get a crash course in collaborating and asking for help, it's right when it dawns on you that now you really can't do it all by yourself anymore.  Going on day five of no shower, trying to make a meal with only 2 ingredients in your house (and mustard and tortillas do not a meal make) to feed yourself and your baby, and losing your mind with all the details you can't keep straight, is enough to drive someone insane. We need help!

But many parents I talk to won't ask for help. Maybe they'll rely on some family here and there, but they don't really develop the collaborative muscles that I believe become more and more necessary as a family grows. I'm using 'help' and 'collaborate' interchangeably on purpose. It's common to think of help as related to neediness. But collaboration is where two or more folks work TOGETHER. Ah. So yes, I need collaboration in raising my kid and not just from my spouse.

It's hard to let go of my independence, I admit it. I don't always want to make five phone calls to folks asking advice on teething, potty training, biting, or child care. I want to read a quick book and nail it the first time. I also don't want to ask for help if I'm feeling lonely or hungry or maxed out. I don't want to burden anyone with that, or detect judgment, or worse, feel helpless/needy. I want to be optimistic and force that optimism to carry me through all sorts of trials and eventually wash up on the shore of "doing better today." And then smile at all the other (probably suffering) parents doing the same.

Recently though, when I have shared my struggle, I notice different things than what I imagined I'd feel. I notice willingness, ease, fun, connection, love, and strength. Oh, so that's what collaboration is all about! I was mistakenly under the impression that it was admitting failure at independence!

I hope that K is seeing all of that. That we are collaborating with people. That we give and take. That we also struggle a bit with what it can look like to others, too. That ultimately, it's easier and more fun to share the load. And that it shouldn't take massive catastrophe to do the sharing (it usually does...). It also brings out gifts and talents that may otherwise lay dormant. Independence isn't the ultimate goal. Interdependence is far more expansive and allows a much bigger view of the world and all it can offer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


My life is a spiral. I've been able to see similar events, at various times in my life, look different simply because of a different perspective (time, experience, wisdom, help, etc.). That's cool.

I just watched a documentary called: TINY. It was interesting to me because I have enjoyed the concept of compact living for a LONG time. I saw an RV with a washing machine inside once, as a kid, and I thought, "What? People LIVE like this? Cool!"

I like train life, plane life, the cabs on trucks, motor homes, etc. I even liked dorm life. The essentials, creatively accounted for, in a small space. It makes me a little hot and bothered, honestly. I studied industrial design probably because of this.

This video basically encapsulates all that I love about it. Living lean and creatively, without feeling like I "can't afford" it. That's the thing. I know I could live in a hut, like 2/3 of the world does (mostly involuntarily--but check out Shiguru Ban), but that's not really what I crave or find appealing. I just like the design concept of each feature having three uses, flexibility of space, and reflecting a desire for ecological care in housing, without compromise of the important things needs.

I have lived (well, 'spent time' is more respectful, I think) in a variety of small and simple ways. From huts in Africa to abandoned cement buildings in Honduras, to people-crammed homes in Israel, to simple caravans in Scotland, I have enjoyed the pared-down homes that I have been welcomed into.

I enjoyed not having boxes of stuff everywhere. I have loved not needing additional space for things I am saving (why do we want to save things? Why do I, more importantly...another post...). I liked a cleaning session only lasting minutes, instead of hours. I have loved the smiling (or even not smiling) faces of people I love spending time with. I have loved the homes filled with music, delicious food smells, fresh rain and freshly picked food (from feet away!).

I guess I have always wanted a more simple life, filled with what matters and most of the time that seems to include a much smaller house (but to be fair, in most of the above places, it also involves much larger common/shared spaces and nicer weather, or an easier time being outside).

I also am thinking about our financial freedom and that would ultimately include other freedoms like the ability to travel, work in remote locations, afford college for kids if they wanted, and generally be as generous as we want to be. Those are big things to me/us.

Here's the but...

I romanticize a life with less. A lot. Is it chicken or egg? Would living small create a calmer kid, or do we have the amazing sleeping kid we have because we don't live small (because he can sleep soundlessly far away from us, and frankly so can we!)? Does having the space we crave bring us closer or would living in a small space create an even closer relationship? Would living closer to people make us engage more, or has living farther away from the people we love forced us to learn to engage as intentionally as we can, so that we can have the community we crave? I think about this a lot.

And maybe living small, for us at least, is an experience we will have later, when our kids are older and can contribute to the decision intentionally (so we're not forcing them to live in a way counter to their personalities and therefore creating unnecessary stress for all) .

I came to this because a part of me, right now, wants space. Lots of space. As an empathetic extrovert, it can be hard to tear myself away from people because I love them (as a group and as individuals) so much. Heartbreakingly so. And I need downtime from them (like I learned K does as well). Even in my own home of extroverts. Living in 100 square feet would be too challenging. And frankly, loud and hard to escape. Which I like to do sometimes.

I've been reading about Minimalism and many folks say it isn't about deprivation, it's about living with less than you have right now...oh! I can do *that*. I unconsciously spread out in my house because empty space is challenging. But can I simplify more? You bet. Can I focus on the aforementioned smiling faces, delicious smells, and room to breathe and get rid of the stuff that isn't serving me? Hell yeah. Can I live happily and comfortably in a house half the size? YES! Minimalism isn't about no possessions or concrete floors in Soho Lofts. It's subjective. I can do that.

It's been hard to let go of a lot of my ideals of parenting. That's been a running theme during my journey so far. I am getting to know the person I actually am, rather than clutching so tightly to the person I think I want (and should) be. In addition to that, I am learning to allow my kid to be the way HE is, even though many times it has clashed so harshly with my ideals. There's that definite part of me that wants to push through and really force my ideals onto K. I have to admit that, lest you think I can and do gracefully accept all that has changed in my life and shown up in my kid. We throw things away that I'd never throw away before. We eat things I didn't want to eat. We stayed in disposables. We have two cars...the list of things I have let go of, ideal-wise, is long and a bit depressing. I have to make the silver lining of letting go of those ideals be that I am now more open to what is actually in front of me. And it allows me to find gifts I may not have found in simply holding tightly to my ideals. Sometimes giving up my eco-warrior status is heart-breaking and what makes up for it (sort of) is that my compassion for others (and myself) has widened. I need to believe that's how it works. Instead of a kid who just follows along (or is forced to follow along) on my path, I have a kid on his own path. That's cool, too.

Letting go of things, ideals, parts of me, beliefs, etc., has been an interesting process...and mostly it involves a "forever" kind of letting go. But for now, this letting go of living really small, can be revisited at another time. Maybe when the kids are grown. Maybe when we become a traveling troupe. Maybe when we've let go of more things and beliefs.


My favorite baby

My inspiration

My inspiration