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

Peace Within

My home is the sanctuary of my family. Although the man-child seems to be on a life mission to avoid being here, he finds comfort and rest here.  I protect the peace in our house as I protect the lives of my babies. 

Sure, I enjoy filling our space with beautiful, warm colors and pretty things. It is all part of the aesthetic.  However, the energy that surrounds us when we step foot on the property must remain loving and welcoming.  And it matters not if our guests feel the same love when they are here. But it is evident, or so I am told, to them when they arrive.  I protect the peace in our house as I protect the lives of my babies.

Peace is easy to come by, but difficult to maintain.  That is, if we allow the wrong type of energy to enter our lives.  Daily, I retreat to my home. Away from the world of anxiety and restlessness.  In the evening silence I sit in my room expressing gratitude to our Creator for this space that we call “HOME”.  It serves as protection for me and my babies.

 

“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…

Reflections

Looking back over this summer I realize the value in spending some serious quality time with my children. And just how difficult this task can be from day to day.

Working in the educational system certainly has some benefits. The possibility of having 2 months off during the summer was equally appealing as the possibility of effecting change in the life of a child when I accepted this position. I envisioned many summer days spent working on things around the yard, riding around the lake with children in tow, and taking a dip in the community pool. Most of that happened this summer.

Reflecting back, I spent my days lugging baby girl from errand to appointment, visiting friends and family and volunteering at the man-child’s summer program. Baby girl was enjoying the one on one attention, but also longing for more social time with other little people. Because of this I had to improvise.

I found it much less stressful to set up regular play-dates and allow the children to entertain each other. I realize the value in daycare programs when it comes to the socialization of our babies. It reminded me that my village extends out to the youth service organizations.  Which is well beyond the close network of family and friends.

I feel blessed to have a taste of both worlds. Those worlds being: stay at home mama and working outside the home mama.  Both are equally tough jobs even for mama’s unlike me who have the help and support of a spouse.  And yet I still feel like I could be doing so much more with and for my babies.  A lesson I have to relearn from time to time is to cut MYSELF some slack.  Even in the leisure of the summer days my mind worries that I am not doing enough.  When I really should be patting myself on the back for doing all that I can.

Daydreaming

The summer heat covers me creating an electric blanket of warmth not felt any other time of year. Sweat pools on my scalp and slowly drips down the side of my face as I’m hunched over, hand pulling weeds. Sweat pools on my back and soaks my shirt ensuring that I will need to peel each item of clothing off. I smile and dig, and mow, and work my land to make it beautiful and grow things my family can eat.

I imagine the plump tomatoes, sweet cantaloupe, savory greens, fresh basil all harvested and eaten in the same day.

This

Is

Life

Standing tall, I survey the land.  As the heat rises from the ground and envelopes everything around it in waves… I smile with pride.  Teeth shining, tongue dry, reaching for water to coat the desert forming in my throat.

Then my mind drifts to the flowers moved from the back yard to the stone bordered flower bed in the front yard.  They need moisture.

With every step I make toward the water hose, the ground responds faithfully and pushes back with grass blades tickling my ankles.

Grasshoppers jump around my feet, butterflies flutter across my face.

Luck… Transformation… “Yes, tiny totems I hear your message…”

I water the flowers and daydream.

A Moment of Honesty

The mornings are so quiet before the little ones awake.  It’s one of my favorite times. Much like the evening prior, once they have drifted into a slumber.  I call that my “ME TIME”.  It is sacred.  Any other moment it is elusive.  I cherish it.

The “ME TIME” is a well shared secret among us parent types. We tell each other all the time not to neglect setting aside some of this, “ME TIME”.  Many of us do not heed the warning. And we fall victim to the crazies. And we blame our little ones for the onset of the crazies. But how are they to know they are unaware thieves of the “ME TIME”?  We cannot blame them.  We can only cherish it once we have it.  And keep it a sacred moment in our lives as mamas (and papas). 

Let no one take it from you. Guard it with you sanity. Or else the crazies devour what good sense you thought you had.

How do you spend your “ME TIME”?