Friday, October 31, 2008

In Need of Your Opinions

Okay, my dear readers (if any have stuck with me during this period of silence), I need your help. As I prepare to bring home boy number 3 into this family, I am trying to get Calvin and Hobbes ready for the changes. I am not too worried about Calvin. Even though he often has difficulty with change, he has had plenty of time to get used to the idea of a baby, and he will settle well into the role of mommy's helper and protector of his baby brother. He may have some difficulties, but I am hopeful that the transition will be a joyful one for him.

Then there is Hobbes. Since Calvin was only a year and a half when Hobbes was born, I never had to deal with a sibling losing his status as "the baby." Calvin had not had too much time to get used to being the spoiled only child. He was so young that he quickly forgot life before Hobbes, and though he was slow to warm up to his brother, he never really acted jealous or seemed to feel threatened.

Hobbes, on the other hand, is definitely a mama's boy and the baby of the family. I think this transition is going to be super hard for him. I don't think he is terribly spoiled. In fact, it is easy to tell when he tries to pull the youngest card and act pitiful to get what he wants. It doesn't work. But there are ways in which I still treat him as my baby and ways in which our relationship is going to change. The biggest difficulty is our naptime routine.

You see, I rock Hobbes to sleep at naptime. I didn't always do this, but lately we have fallen into the habit. I do it partly because it is expedient: he goes to sleep quickly this way without eating up too much of Calvin's and my quiet time. I also do it because we both enjoy it. Calvin was not a cuddler and didn't like being rocked. Hobbes loves it. Because Calvin often takes up so much of my emotional energy and time, Hobbes doesn't always get the one-on-one time with mommy that he needs. He and I both crave those 15 or 20 minutes of rocking and cuddling and singing. It is our bonding time.

So this is where you come in. Should I start weaning Hobbes from this process before the baby comes? Part of me thinks there is no way I can keep doing it with a newborn in the house, but another part thinks it is worth a try, even if I have to rock with him beside me while I am nursing. I could try to come up with an alternative for us to have bonding time each day, but this is the best time. Hobbes is settled and Calvin is in his room with books. I am just not sure what to do. I'd love your suggestions, especially those of you with multiple little ones who have been through this.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great With Child

I still don't have much to say these days. While writing is usually a good outlet for me, I feel like it is more of a chore lately. Reading, however, will never feel like a chore (unless it is trying to figure out our sample ballot for the election).

As I look toward the end of this pregnancy, (Can it really only be nine more weeks?), I have pulled out an old friend. Great with Child: Reflections on Faith, Fullness, and Becoming a Mother by Debra Rienstra is my favorite pregnancy book. In fact, it is the only pregnancy book I own or find worth reading. I have read it with each of my pregnancies, and I still find her reflections worth meditating on again and again. Each time I read it, something different strikes me. This time, I was surprised that she, too, was a little disappointed to find out she was having a boy.

Really, I cannot do the book justice in a review. You should just read it. Her weaving of the experience of pregnancy and motherhood with literary allusions, feminist theory, and theology is astounding. I will give you just a few lovely pieces:

On Creating Life
The longing to create life is elemental, on the level of fire, earth, and death. The steadily humming tissues and organs, as they play out their unconscious patterns, long to serve something spiritual, to touch the eternal. Perhaps the mortal body snatches out toward the immortal body. I believe that immortality is not a matter of disembodied spirits floating about in some cloudy afterlife, but of flesh, the carnal, renewed and perfected beyond our imaginings, reborn with all of creation. It does not seem strange to me, then, that our physical bodies lean hard, with our souls, toward the eternal (3).

On Blood
After all, we bleed because the world bleeds. Life is always paid for with suffering and blood. That is the way of the fallen world. Women know this in their flesh...if one must cycle through the sad and dark in order to perceive and receive the light, and if women's bodies are designed to model this same kind of cyclical movement, is that design a pain or a power?...We women don't shed our blood for sins, ours or other people's. But we do shed it, typically, amid some sadness, and we do shed it for the possibility of new life. Does this not give us a kind of connection to Jesus that has been very little discussed or appreciated...Because I see Christ's bleeding at the center of redemptive history, can I also see women's bleeding resonate outward from this, across all ages of history and races of women (16-21)?

On the Desire for Children, Fulfilled or Unfulfilled
Desire is the psychic engine that drives us toward God. It is not wrong to desire something good, to desire it deeply, earnestly, tenaciously. It is not wrong to grieve when this good thing is delayed or when it never comes. I believe God understands and honors desire, even when that desire will finally be answered with a "No."...Even in desire there must be an openness that is not exactly a welcoming of grief, but a sober acknowledgment of the possibilities, a willed acceptance of the risks (31).

On Mary and Surrender
Mary's task was the bearing and raising of a child, which can operate as a symbol of all things that require great effort and bear fruit far beyond the personal rewards involved. But the literal bearing and raising of a child is indeed a calling, a mission, and moments of joyous surprise and expectation have the shadow of a cost. I think this is why the first several weeks of pregnancy typically feature an assortment of discomforts: we need reminding...that if we foolishly imagine for a minute that parenthood is an accomplishment or achievement or right, sooner or later something will smack us with the realization that it is, above all, a surrender (41).

On Women's Work of Waiting
Nothing is so uncomplicatedly wholesome and holy as this. And how rarely in history has it been acknowledged as women's good work. Labor and delivery, obviously work because of the pain and danger, have received sympathy and concern through the ages, but too often, as the cursed analogue to Adam's sweaty toil in the soil, childbirth pain is celebrated in misogynist writing and talk as exactly what those vile women deserve. (How often have women written gleefully about how men deserve every weed they pull?) Nevertheless, the quieter work of pregnancy is part of women's massive and profoundly beautiful contribution to human history, and while its archetypal image is imprinted in human culture, the inner experience of it, the soul-work of it from the woman's point of view, has been passed over mostly in silence. Perhaps this, too, is why I write: to speak from out of that silent place (51).

On Fear and Nightmares
If I had greater faith, would the dreams not come? Would I awaken to stronger feelings of comfort and reassurance...If this is all a matter of hormone levels, then does that mean that hormones influence the state of our souls, tipping the delicate balances of fear and trust? As far as I know, this question represents completely unexplored theological territory. While I am waiting for theology to catch up to women's reality, what should I do with my fears? (65)

The book only gets better from there, exploring a theology of the body, what it means that our days are ordained by God, and so much more. It is such a lovely, honest piece of work that does not gloss over the difficult sacrifices of motherhood or the very real grief and fear that come with trying to conceive. Rienstra only begins to delve into some very interesting theological concepts that apply to the experience of women and have yet to be explored. She offers thoughtful alternatives to our culture's current views of feminism and sexuality. In my opinion, you should throw all your other pregnancy books away and just read this one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise..."

We went to the mountains last weekend to enjoy the Fall color and see my family. The boys had a fantastic time hiking to Linville Falls and searching for treasures of leaves and acorns along the way. Calvin and his daddy ran ahead of us several times and hid, jumping out to scare us with monster noises. Hobbes and I pretended that the tree roots were dinosaur bones and we were fossil hunting. And Nana was along to make everything perfect. On the way back to TN, she drove the boys in her car, and we returned on the Blue Ridge Parkway, enjoying these fantastic views of the back side of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct.

Since I am busy pricing items for a yard sale tomorrow, I leave you with this feast for the eyes. Enjoy! (Unfortunately, the color is a bit off, the reds were even more brilliant, but something happened when I saved the photos for the web...)

Linville Gorge (looking away from the falls)

Grandfather Mountain

the Blue Ridge from the viaduct

Linn Cove Viaduct and the Parkway

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One-Issue Voter

In case you hadn't noticed, things keep getting quieter around here. That's not because it's quiet at my house. I'm busy purging and preparing for a yard sale, nesting and reorganizing for baby, and falling asleep every time I take a break and sit down. Anyway, don't expect to hear to much from me for awhile, but I am still reading your blogs and thinking some thoughts of my own. I just don't have the energy to write.

I rarely watch TV, and my only news source in BBC News Hour on my local radio and the occasional NPR. As the election season heats up, I am intentionally fasting from the media as much as I can. I haven't watched more than 5 minutes of debates (and that was the first one), and I don't read anything that folks have to say about the candidates. I think that debates and media coverage are totally useless, so I read the candidates websites, listen to a few of their older speeches, and try to discern which choice is the best.

My problem this year? I don't like either candidate. I want to. I really do. Come to think of it, I haven't liked either candidate in any of the elections I have voted in. Maybe I have something against politicians. Maybe I find it hard to like insincere people. (And please don't start gushing to me about how one or the other of these candidates is completely sincere...they are playing a game.)

Traditionally, I tend to vote mostly Republican. Stereotype me if you want to, but I vote that way for one issue. I really like babies. I think babies are humans from the moment of conception, and I don't think anyone has a right to end an innocent life. I also think that a society that slaughters 800,000+ of its most innocent citizens a year is a pretty screwed up one. If we can't get that right, what can we get right? The Old and New Testaments are pretty clear that the devaluing of innocent life was the one thing that really ticked God off. He's a pretty merciful and gracious deity except on that issue.

BUT, Republican Party, I have something to say. You have had my vote for this long because you know how to play the pro-life ticket well. That does not give you license to do what you want with the rest of the world. I like babies, but I like other people, too. I think we have an obligation to help the poor in this country. I think that war that ends innocent lives should be avoided at all costs. I think that the sick have a right to receive medical care. I think women facing unwanted pregnancies need our support. I think we have an obligation as the wealthiest of nations to help the poorest of nations. I don't think that liberty or happiness or safety are the highest virtues. I do think that compassion and justice and concern for the poor and widow are pretty high up there. So don't take my vote for granted. If you want to keep it, show me that you care about all life, not just the unborn or how they happen to further your political agenda.

And Democratic Party, you do at least try to get some of these things right. I appreciate your efforts, I really do. But until you learn to value the most innocent and needy of lives, I am going to find it very hard to trust that you really care about those you want to help.

I am a one-issue voter. I want to vote for the candidate who truly cares about protecting all life. Problem is, no one supports my issue, at least not all of it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Book Therapy

I feel like I am living several lives right now...that of the mother of a very complicated but amazing four-year-old, of the mother of a very stubborn but sweet two-and-a-half year old, of a woman in the last months of preparing for a baby...of a wife, follower of Jesus, and so many others. I am navigating so many streams, and none of them seem to be converging. Perhaps that explains the variety of books I am tackling at the present time. I am usually a one book kind of gal, but I feel the need to be reading all of these.

Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Three pages into this book, I knew it was what I had been needing. The author describes Calvin perfectly. I am a third of the way through it and have already learned so much about how to parent Calvin well and how to help him manage the world around him. People often don't believe me when I tell them he is different than most kids. It is so hard for people who don't have an extra-sensitive, extra-perceptive, extra-intense child to understand.

When Calvin has a meltdown or a stretch of bad behavior, I tend to blame it on my bad parenting or to get really angry at him. This book is giving me a language for understanding Calvin's unique personality, an ability to see his intensity and sensitivity as strengths to be channeled into good behavior, and methods for avoiding meltdowns and preventing discipline problems. Really, I wish I had discovered this book two years ago, when Calvin's emotional outbursts really began to show themselves. I am so glad I have it know, as the outbursts are becoming more angry and violent. I am learning to see what factors lead to an episode and to control his environment better in order to help him avoid big problems.

Great with Child: Reflections of Faith, Fullness, and Becoming a Mother by Debra Reinstra

This book made my top 100 list for good reason. This will be the third time I have read it, and with each pregnancy I enjoy it more. It is such a fantastic meditation on motherhood and on being a woman. I love how Reinstra weaves her faith, the physical experience of pregnancy, and feminist literary traditions together as she reflects on her third pregnancy. I tell all of my pregnant friends to throw their pregnancy reference books away and just read this.

A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot

I have promised to write a more detailed post on this at some point, and I will. In the meantime, I do want to recommend it. While Pierlot's approach is a little too detailed for me, working through the book and questions has been a good exercise. I am still figuring out how to do a schedule and make charts and bring my kids along on this adventure of getting our lives more ordered. I think it will compliment what I am learning about dealing with Calvin's intensity. It will also help me to be sure I am setting aside time for those other lives: mother to Hobbes, wife, and follower of Jesus.

Family reading...
In other news, Calvin is having some book therapy of his own. My husband decided the other day that it was time to introduce our son to Tolkien. He has been reading a little of The Hobbit to Calvin every evening, and I am enjoying listening, too. I'm not sure how much Hobbes is listening, but he does love the songs. So far, the dwarves' clean-up song at the beginning is their favorite...Chip the glasses and crack the plates!...That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!

Books. I am not sure what our family would do without them. What are you reading right now? I want to tackle some fiction soon, but I have enough stacked up in my book basket for the time being.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Three Sons

I am slowly adjusting to the idea of having another boy. Three's better than three girls once the teenage years come along. A friend in my Bible study passed this along to me from The Mother's Almanac:

Three Sons

There must be a special place in heaven for the mothers of three sons. Your certainly can tell them on earth. They're those ladies with amused, bemused faces and an amazing tolerance for disaster--for they have learned that shouting doesn't help.

No other combination of children, not even twins, can create so much chaos or camaraderie. Even the most introspective child will join the team--them against you--and like all good players, they encourage each other to bigger feats of daring.

We recommend the advice of so many successful mothers of three boys. Give them as much outdoor playtime as possible, and indoors, set up two rooms: one for sleeping with nothing but beds and bureaus, and the other for playing, with much climbing equipment. With three children, one is bound to be quieter than the others and he probably will need a corner somewhere else.

You will be frazzled in the early years but when your boys grow up, we think you'll find yourself perhaps more treasured than most other mothers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Year in Review

My one year blogging anniversary has come and gone. Tonight, since the boys went to bed early, I sat down and perused my archives, remembering what I had written and what had happened over the past year. It was a good exercise, one that helps me to be thankful for all of the good things God has done in my life and the ways I have grown over the past year.

For those of you who haven't been around the whole year, here are some highlights of the past year:

-the origin of a blog name

-my current cause

-my favorite meditations on parenting

-our worst (or best) parenting moment

-my favorite pastime

-the time I chose to take up a controversial topic

-my sweet, strong-willed Hobbes

-Calvin and his -isms...there are just so many

-a favorite Grandma recipe

-on being an Anglican family, Advent, Lent, and other holy days

And if you want some deep reading to get more acquainted with my history, you can read any of these posts.

The best part of this blogging thing has definitely been the folks I have met over the past year. Even if you don't want to go back and read any of my posts, please do check out the posts of these lovely ladies, who are just three among many:

Kate at A Telling Place, who is a fellow Appalachian living in Scotland

Kerry, a fellow Anglican and local foodie, who blogs many places, including at A Ten O'Clock Scholar

And Tipper, whose posts about Appalachian life and music at Blind Pig and the Acorn never fail to make me homesick

Genesis 3 and Parenting

I have been thinking a lot about my parenting philosophy and practices lately (or my lack thereof). I know I am doing something wrong, but I am still so unsure of what that is.

In my Bible study group today, we were talking about how to apply the truths of Genesis 1-3 to the world of parenting children. A couple of really important things came up as we looked at how God interacted with Adam and Eve after their sin. We noticed that he met them in gentleness and love, getting his own hands bloody to create a covering for their shame. My pastor's wife pointed out that God did not curse Adam and Eve. Certainly the serpent and the ground were cursed, but the words that he gives to Adam and Eve about the pain that life would bring were not a curse or a threat. They were just an explanation of the way things would be, the consequences of their sin. When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, it was a chance for redemption. Instead of living eternally in the garden in brokenness, they were promised a new life, healing, hope that would come from God.

So what do these truths have to do with parenting? They must be applicable if our role as parents is to mirror God's role as our Father.

First, God always acts toward Adam and Eve out of gentleness and compassion, not out of pride or anger. Though he is the offended party, God approaches Adam and Eve in love. He asks gentle questions, giving them a chance to see their errors and to take responsibility for them. When they don't take responsibility, he does not attack them or walk away in anger, he simply explains the consequences of their sin and reminds them of his love. There is still discipline, but it is not a discipline that heaps on more shame or condemnation.

How often do I deal with my children's disobedience so gently, still showing them the consequences of their actions but not letting my pride be offended? Is my goal to defend my pride or to help my children see their error, accept the consequences, and still know that they are loved? Do I approach my children with compassionate questions or harsh, self-righteous words?

Second, God never forced Adam and Eve to obey him. He left them a choice, a tree from which to eat or not to eat. When they made a bad choice, he dealt with it. But he never stepped in and muscled his way between Eve and the serpent, grabbing her wrist and forcing her to drop the apple. Sometimes we wish he had, but what would the result have been? Obedience, yes, but obedience out of fear and obligation, not out of love and respect.

How often to I try to muscle my children into obeying me? What results do I see when I force obedience instead of teaching it in a relationship grounded in love? Resentful, angry attitudes arise when children are coerced and strong-armed into good behavior. Rather than muscling, I need to practice modeling. Do I show others (my husband and even my children) the love and courtesy I expect my children to learn? I can still be the authority without being authoritarian.

Finally, God chose to cover Adam and Eve's shame, their nakedness, through his own initiative. He respected their personhood, their value as people created in his image. He did not leave them in a state of guilt and vulnerability or tell them to go off and deal with their brokenness alone. He loved them beyond what they deserved.

Do I value my children as unique creations in the image of God? Do I willingly step in to cover their shame at personal cost to myself? This does not mean taking away the consequences of their sin. It does mean making sure that they feel secure and loved so that they do not live in shame or wallow in guilt. It means practicing redemptive love that frees them to live in hope, to strive for better.

I am still working out how this applies on a very practical level. A few things I do know:

It means yelling less and approaching in love more, by using a calm voice, gentle questions, loving touch, even in the midst of discipline.

It means not parenting by coersion or threats. My children are learning every day what it means to make choices. When I ask them to do something, I don't need to threaten. God certainly told Adam and Eve the consequences of eating of the tree, but he did not threaten them with his power or authority. It was enough to tell them lovingly the way of things and to calmly explain the consequences of their actions. My children do not need me to tell them all the time that I am in charge and can punish them. They will learn that either way if I am firm about showing the consequences of sin and enforcing the rules.

More than anything, my children need to hear and see and feel from me every day that I love them, that I respect them as God's unique creations, that I have compassion on them sometimes even beyond what they deserve.

Lord have mercy.