Yurt

When I was little we had a subscription to National Geographic.  These magazines served many purposes in our house–from inspiration for school assignments to fodder for art projects–each issue was dog eared and poured over by each of us.  One of my favorites featured an essay about life in Mongolia.  I was fascinated by the descriptions of yurts and a trip to Mongolia became a prominent part of my childhood bucket list.  While I have very little desire to go to Mongolia nowadays…I still retain my fascination with yurts.

So, today, I did it.  I booked a solo retreat in a yurt in Northern Minnesota.  For 3 nights I will be sleeping alone (no wife and no child!) within the round roomed den that will be home away from home.  Apart from my return to Maui for my mother’s memorial service (a trip that I also took alone) this will be my first time alone in over 2 and a half years (the Maui trip did not actually contain any “alone” time).  I can’t wait.

But, I’m a little nervous.

What will I do…by myself.

Guess that’s part of the point!

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Nogo Mama

I wear a uniform when I work.  Black polyester shirt in a relatively unattractive cut (I could probably sew similar with my fledgling sewing skills), no darts, no attempt at a waist.  A black suit skirt or slacks are clipped from their hanger and comfortable yet dressy black shoes are set next to me as I dress.  I tuck in the fabric that billows a bit too much, an effort to give shape to the shapeless, and then a dash of color in the form of a pair of earrings.  At the last, I snap the plastic collar I wear into place.

It is this collar that causes the tears.  Because, when I am in the collar–my role as priest supersedes that of my role as mama.   “Nogooo Mama, Nogooo!”  A swift hug and a kiss, “sweetie, I have to go, the people are expecting me.  Mommy will stay with you while I am at work”

We have learned, the hard way, that my wife and son cannot worship when I am celebrating.  As a supply priest my Sundays are spent in the various Episcopal churches in the area.  I go where I am called, to sub for a Sunday or two for the various clergy in the area.  The last time we tried to bring my son to a church where I led on a Sunday, the screams of “Mama” that accompanied the opening acclamation threatened to drown out the congregation’s response.   They left, my wife and son, swiftly–for his comfort and mine.

I am sure that eventually he will be able to sit through a service that I lead.  But, I feel that this eventuality is a long way off.  Right now, having me there but not there for him is far too difficult of an abstraction for anyone of the age of 2 and a half to understand.

And, as much as it is difficult for my son, these forays back into my other calling as priest keep me connected to the something that is bigger than me and bigger than us. While we have prioritized having a parent at home (me) I relish the reminders of what I hope to return to and what I still am capable of as a person outside of my role as Mama.  Preaching and celebrating allow me to continue as priest when I am for the time being a stay at home mom.

And, I think that this notion of dual identity (or many identities) is one that is important for those of us who have claimed (or had thrust upon us!) the identity of parent.  We are each many things, and have many roles.  And, while the necessity of time or age or phase or happenstance may call us to operate primarily in one arena–this does not mean that those other arenas are empty.

So, who are you?  What uniform do you assume in your callings (metaphorically, or literally as the case may be)?  Beyond the calling of parent what summon the fullness of you?

And, do please remember I mean the plural of callings here…because there can be so many and I truly believe that having a calling is not exclusive to having other callings!

Heady stuff.  But, sometimes Mama does, in fact, have to go.

(So, if you clicked through to the link I posted above, you will know that the collar I talk about is really just an inch (give or take) of plastic which encircles the neck.  It’s not particularly comfie and I keep ruining collars by leaving them in my glove box in the summer–I tend to take my collars off as soon as possible when it’s hot.)

Hiking With the Baby Bear

This labor day weekend we had the opportunity to spend two glorious days outside, hiking.  Our 2 year old rides in a kelty pack on my back for most of the walking, but as he’s gotten older we’ve allowed/encouraged him to do more of the walking himself.  This means we’ve lowered our standards for what constitutes a “hike” and it also means that when I am being present and patient I am able to enjoy what amounts to a relatively meditative walk in the woods.

Interesting sticks, pine cones, leaves, ants, butterflies and ohhhh, a garter snake!  Rocks and acorns become treasures and every little hillock becomes a slide.

When I am being the agenda driven, impatient and distracted parent, these hikes feel like slowwww torture.  “C’mon, leave that rock”.  “No honey, that’s not a slide, get up and walk.” I begin to feel like my brains are oozing out of my ears just by virtue of boredom and I get frustrated and aggravated by the constant need to look at, and touch, everything.  And, to top it off, I grow irritated that I am not “getting” any exercise.

Sigh…

But, this weekend was the amazing conflation of actual hiking (and the bonus weight training of 28 pounds of squirming toddler on my back!) and toddler discoveries.  We “hunted” for bears and butterflies, we played in the dusky glen, we kicked pine cones and let the mud ooze between our toes.

And, by turn, our son pretended to be a baby bear, a cheetah, a bald eagle and a horse.  I love that his sense of self is established enough that he can pretend to be something else.  It is amazing to me to watch this developmental growth, this magical metamorphosis of boy into beast and back into boy.

If I’d rushed him along, he’d have become the recalcitrant toddler and I the irritated mama.  But, by staying in the moment, the entirety of creation became ours.  Shape shifting family enjoying a pretend nibble of zebra to top off a lunch of hummus and crackers.

Life is truly good (except for when it’s not, but in retrospect I find that it usually still is)…

Shallow water + mud + boy = basking turtle

“Good Boy”

It started when he was born. “Is he a good baby?”

And, still, it continues. “So, is he a good kid?”

And, I wonder, what does that mean exactly?

When my son was an infant the question bothered me. It bothered me because my son clearly did not meet the criteria of what most folks seemed to consider made a “good baby”. His colic, epic nursing sessions and tendency to wake up every hour or two ALL NIGHT LONG, were most assuredly not what folks felt qualified him as a “good baby”.   And, in my sleep deprived haze I was embarrassed and worried that family and friends would think our darling boyo “bad”.  In fact, I remember the sheer angst I felt when my in-laws visited when my son was about a month old–a visit that coincided with our realization that our son would scream all day if I ate eggs.  I was horrified that they wouldn’t like him, or think we’d done something wrong, or somehow weren’t parenting properly!

Does this look like a “bad baby” to you?

So, why this insistence on applying character descriptors to an infant or even a toddler? The Catholic church has long held that 7 years of age marked the transition of a child into someone with the ability to take moral responsibility and has been clear that prior to that age or thereabouts a child is unable to actually commit sins. Our penal code even takes into account the idea that criminal offenses perpetrated by minors need to be treated differently than those perpetrated by adults. Further, brain science has made it clear that brain maturity is not reached until upwards of the age of 25(!).

So, why is it that a baby’s desire for food, for comfort, for love and affection are deemed good or bad? The idea of attaching judgment language to those desires–those NEEDS–seems kind of horrific to me.

I have certainly met adults who never shook the label of being a “bad baby”. Adults who became “bad kids” and then “bad teens”. And, it causes me to wonder…what would have happened if their experience of the world around them had been one of fundamental and unassuming love–where their needs were met by gracious response and their wants were tempered by clear boundaries and occasional indulgence?

Now, the only reason I am thinking of this kind of labeling is that, just the other day, we were asked if our son was a “good boy” (and it’s so WEIRD that the opposite of good is bad and that this is the only language we seem to have to talk about our kids!).

My response was, “well, he’s two”. And, there are times when I find two to be terrible and other times when I find two to be terrific. And…I am sure there are times when I (at newly minted 34!) am both terrible and terrific.

And, it strikes me how incredibly challenging it is to be two.  Weaning (slowly and in fits and starts), potty training (bit by bit!), learning to talk (also coming slowly in our house)–alongst with the myriad other things we demand of this child who has been on this earth but a short 28 months!  Good/bad–it’s amazing that he is as delightful as he is the vast majority of the time!  (Truth be told, I’m pretty darn sure I’m not delightful the vast majority of the time!)  So, two is not easy…for any of us, really.  And, I guess that’s the question that folks are really asking in a way “is he an easy kid?”

But, are any of us really “easy”?

The point, roughly at which, we were pretending we weren’t with “that kid who keeps whining”

 

Grandparents and a Slice of Humble Pie

There is an old Seinfeld episode called “The Soup Nazi” that comes to mind when I think of my writing lately…”bad blogger, no soup for you!”

That said, my apologies for the long absence.  My mother’s sudden death in late March threw me for a loop as it were and writing about parenting, and specifically being a mother has been tough.

My mother never met our son, for a variety of reasons.  Yet, altho’ he will never know her to mourn her…I sorrow for him.  My son only has one living grandparent.  My wife and I both lost our dads when we were in our teens and my wife’s mother lives too far away for visits of any frequency.  I wish he had grandparents who would fuss over him, keep him for the occasional overnight, bake cookies with him and do all those “things” that I imagine “good” grandparents do.  But, I can’t change what is, and the reality is that he has one grandmother who will see him maybe twice a year and who really isn’t a “kid person”.  So sorry kid, no “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go” for you.  I wish this part of his reality could be different.

Yet, altho’ my mother has died, the ripples of her life continue to surround me.  My mother’s death has made me increasingly mindful of how I parent.  Largely, because much of what I’ve learned about parenting came from my mom.  Her whole hearted enthusiasm for small children, her ability to play and the emphasis she put upon reading and learning have all shaped my understanding of how to “be” with my son.  However, I also learned what I didn’t want my parenting to look like–her explosive temper and lack of respect for the physical boundaries of her children are things (amongst others) that I most definitely do not want to emulate.

In many ways, my son will be shaped by my mother–by her absence and by who she was.  This cannot be helped or changed–because just as she mothered me, I mother.  Not in the same ways in which she parented–but with the same love.  I find this to be a comfort.

Near my mother’s final resting place…

Kelly Green

More than twenty years ago, my grandmother dragged my mom through several shoe stores in search of the perfect pair of kelly green canvas sneakers in order to complete an outfit.  I only remember this because my mom complained so vociferously about this tedious and exhausting mission.

Today I dyed several of my son’s stained t-shirts kelly green and thought of the complexities of parent/child relationships.

Sometimes it felt like the mama lake that my mom occupied was filled with icebergs and sharks…isolation and grief.  But, it was also filled with a sense of adventure, unconditional love and advocacy for her children.

I’m trying to figure out what I’ve dredged out of my mother’s mama lake…and how I can use those dredges to shore up my own lake front.

In the meanwhile, kelly green it is.

 

Yeouch!

So, this morning found me hopping up and down, clutching the middle finger of my left hand (which I had just shut in the bathroom door), trying not to swear too audibly whilst my darling boy obliviously watched his 5th, eight minute, episode of Kipper and 3rd, seven minute episode of Pingu.  All of which were enjoyed while eating a breakfast of eggs in a “pocket” (aka pita) and wearing his new crocodile t-shirt (thank you consignment shop!).  What a way to start the day…

(In case you are wondering–the mini-episode marathon was due to a family bout of insomnia during which the only person to sleep was the boy child.  Thank you claymation penguin and softly drawn British dog…you made our morning MUCH pleasanter.)

Some days are just like that.  And, since I smashed my finger this morning I rewarded myself for my pain and suffering by skipping my new running group and eating a donut instead–sensible no, survival, yes–and having a 16 ounce iced coffee on the way to playground #1 of the day (we mark our days in this blissful spring weather by the number of playgrounds we manage to hit).

Some days are just like that.  And, my finger is throbbing and it hurts to type–and I’m just a tad bitter about daylight savings time (hey, I grew up in Hawaii, where there is no daylight savings time and we get to enjoy a weather forecast that is largely 70 degrees and mostly sunny a good portion of the year).  And, with DST the boy child is having a hard time falling asleep at good ol’ 7pm AND waking up too early (where or where is the DST sleeping in I had heard rumors of?).  Additionally, due to the aforementioned evils of DST,  it has taken him an hour and a half of conversation with his loveys to get to the serious business of his nap.

Some days are just like that.  But, despite it all, I do hope the boy wakes up soon because while he was not napping in his crib (otherwise know as singing and practicing talking time) I turned the white noise machine up on high in our room and took a half hour nap.  And now, the sun is shining, the birds are singing (seriously, do the crows HAVE to perch outside the boy’s bedroom window) and a new (to us) playground is calling.

So, what is your day like?

What’s calling to you today?

(And, for extra credit, how on earth do you mainland folk (those not living in Arizona) deal with the artificial imposition of jet lag caused by daylight savings time (seriously all the jet lag, none of the vacation!)?

What Am I Doing Here?

March brings out the  existentialist  in me…questions of belonging and purpose start to occupy me as I go about my movement of the day.  My general rhythm of wake,  nurse, play, go, feed, nurse, nap, chores, write, read, play, feed, bathe, nurse–a rhythm that is my son’s so also mine–begins to feel inadequate and the gray gloom of continuing winter weighs heavy on me.

In response to this, to this sense of heaviness, I’m starting to look around for those first buds of spring.  The crocus and snowbells which are the first to pop through the thawed earth and the haze of the willow as the willow branches begin to yellow with new life.  Yesterday I allowed the time for my curly headed wonder to poke about in puddles with a stick as he explored the textures and margins between winter and spring–first poking the snow, then the puddle, then the snow, then the puddle.  He dipped leaves into each pooling sidewalk skin of snow melt and experimentally dipped fingers in and looked in wonder.  Yes, even this mild winter has been a long one.

As I witness his learning, his growing and changing, I wonder how too I have grown and changed over these past two years.  I wonder where the next steps will take me–and how I might best live into my callings as priest and parent.  The supply gigs (Sunday subbing) are starting to trickle in for the spring and I eagerly wait for phone calls and e-mails asking for my help.  It’s a delicate balance this parenting and priesting and, while my little is little, I know that his needs and the needs of my family are best served (for us) by having my time spent with him.  But, I still long for the parish and for other ways to serve and I am exploring how I might best do both.

Yes, it is March, and I recognize this feeling…this malaise in search of spring.  It’s a metaphorical and literal haze as I search for purpose (a purpose I already have in all reality).  But, as an English Major I cannot resist linking to this awesome song from Avenue Q (cusses abound in this one…so if your kiddo is apt to start singing “f*ing purpose”–and if you don’t find that funny–you may want to watch this one on your own).

Purpose

The Bookshelf

I have read far too many parenting books (and sorry, the English major in me insisted on underlining the book titles–those aren’t hyperlinks!).

  • The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and UpdatedEdition) by Martha Searsand William Sears
  • The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
  • Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth
  • The Baby Sleep Book by William Sears (do you detect a theme here?)
  • Positive Discipline: The First Three Years: From Infant to Toddler–Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child (Positive Discipline Library)by Jane Nelsen, Roslyn Duffy and Cheryl Erwin
  • The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behavior Without Whining, Tantrums, and Tears: Foreword by Tim Seldin (Pantley) by Elizabeth Pantley
  • Raising Boys Without Men by Peggy Drexler
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: Revised Edition by Harvey Karp
  • Real Boys : Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William S. Pollack
  • Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Lisa M. Ross and Kim John Payne

And, these don’t even begin to touch on the getting pregnant books, glbt family books or the baby yoga books or the blogs or the forums!  Let’s just say I’ve researched the notion of parenting within an inch of my own sanity…and I’m not entirely sure I would recommend that others do the same.

Because, as my son has grown, I’ve gradually begun to realize that while the books have (on occasion) been quite useful–making suggestions or affirming choices I was making or thinking about making–that ultimately the best guide to my child is my child.  There is no precise manual, no formula, no guide to how to best be a family or create a kind and generous and compassionate human being–just notions and ideas and concepts that may or may not work for my family and my son.

Ultimately the only thing that has consistently worked for me as a parent has been a strategy of being responsive to what is, who he is, who I am, who my wife is and who we are together.  And, this has changed from day to day and moment to moment.  What works for one family, or one author or one parenting construct may or may not work for us.

That said, and because I cannot help but read (it’s like using training wheels when you’re learning to ride a bike–just the notion that they’ll be there to support you can be enough, even if you don’t “need” them), the books that I consider keepers are:

Simplicity Parenting (helped us to clarify that less is indeed more and create a physical environment that works for our son); Happiest Baby on the Block (great ideas for how to help soothe a fussy newborn, the only book I would say is a MUST have); No-Cry Discipline Solution (some good ideas for coping with discipline issues and a healthy look at the role of parental anger in our responses to children’s behaviour); and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (Our kiddo was NOT what one would term a “good sleeper” this helped us understand the science of infant/toddler sleep).

What parenting resources do you consider “keepers”?

(Oh, and Raising Boys Without Men, good book, but really only served as an affirmation that our son will be just fine!  So, not essential but comforting nonetheless!)

Land Locked

I’m just going to put this out there…

Lakes are not the same as the ocean.

Sorry mom friends, they just aren’t.  They don’t smell right, the waves don’t crash and splash with the same awe inspiring wonder and sometimes you can even see the other side of a lake.  I have never left a lake only to taste the salty residue of its water on my lips hours later nor have I gazed endlessly into tide pools at the shores of one of our midwestern beauties to marvel at small crustaceans (and I don’t mean zebra mussels) and seaweed fronds.

In some ways, lakes are all wrong to me.  Because, I was born on an island, and at heart my soul longs for the smell and the taste and the sound of the Pacific.  I miss the ocean with a part of me that just feels lost without it.

Growing up on Maui there were two real choices–all based on the location of the mountain and the ocean.  Mauka, towards the ocean and makai, towards the see.  Or, to put is a bit differently…you could go upcountry or downcountry or around the island.  So, three choices: up; down; around.

When I first moved to the mainland I would find myself hopelessly lost.  The roads kept going and going, with nothing to stop them.  The maps baffled me with the confusion of four options: north; south; east; west.  There seemed to be no center, no point of reference beyond the next building over or the street signs which buzzed past all too quickly as I searched for my destination.

Everything felt strange and nothing familiar.  The land and sky baffled rather than rooted and the air itself seemed dry and oddly devoid of scent.  No plumeria or salty humidity, no smoky cane fire or manure and branding smoke.  It took me a very long time to find any sense of center on this continental landmass–with it’s seemingly unending expanses and oh, the freedom of movement with nothing to stop one from hurtling into the next place and the next.

So, for awhile I hurtled.  Just staying in each place long enough to find my way–new anchors of lakes and rivers.  To college in one state, with a river flowing through the campus and a pond at the center; then a few years in another state where I learned to check the bacteria levels before going for a Lake Erie dip; then seminary in another, where coastal living along the Atlantic called for late summer ocean dips; and then a return to another, where we celebrated our baby shower in a friend’s lakeside home; and then another move to here–where I have found the mama lake.

Which, I am working to grow accustomed to.  Because, these are the waters in which my son will learn to swim.  These are the waters in which we will kayak and dive.  These are the waters that we will splash in and spew.  These are the waters…these are the waters.  And, they are not mine, but they will be his.

his first lake