Browsing Category

fathering

fathering mothering PARENTING

My Dog Has Serious Bathroom Issues and I’m The Center of My Universe

1269492_10151886837469874_620952338_o

My dog has been peeing and pooping all over our house. Literally, all over. Every room. I have stepped in poop three times this past week alone. It’s been maddening to continually bend over and clean up her messes. The baby gates we purchased to keep her out of the areas of the house upon which we’d like to traverse without stepping into feces, well it turns out that those baby gates have slats on the side just large enough for her to squeeze her tiny, six-pound Chihuahua body through, though she feigns captivity when we are watching. None-the-less, eight hours later, returning home after work, poop is waiting in the kitchen. Or the front room. Or our bedroom.

Thankfully, the gates do keep our toddler son sectioned off into manageable, poop-free zones while either my husband or I attend to the remaining toxic rooms of the house to deep clean.

OK, that’s dramatic. We don’t really ever deep clean.

Also, my son has been sick. I don’t think it is related to the aforementioned lack of cleanliness in our home, but I can’t say it isn’t. In any case, he has been waking up throughout the night, and my heart just breaks as his body shakes with coughs fit for a pack-a-day, lifetime smoker. He’s ended up sleeping next to me for the last few nights. A part of me can hardly resist having his little body asleep next to mine, and another part of me recognizes that the sleep deprivation is starting to catch up to me.

There’s been other stuff, too, like getting a flat tire and taking it into the shop, casually mentioning that I would also like to get the driver’s side headlight replaced (I apologize for ruining your games of pediddle) and maybe an oil change. Three hundred dollars later I left with my car, and with more descriptions than I wanted to know about the melting of wires in the headlight, and the need to reconstruct the whole thing-a-ma-bob, and an, “oh, by the way, we don’t actually have the capability to repair tires or order you new ones, but hey, here’s a recommendation for another place that will charge you three hundred dollars to replace your tires.”

Which I went to. And they did.

By now you might have inferred that I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself. Licking my wounds. Consoling myself with Caramel Apple Milkyway candy bars (this really is the best time of year) and lots of episodes of Scandal on Netflix.

A few days ago I had a rare moment at home alone and I took my dog for a walk. It’s hard to explain her jubilee when I picked up her leash, and I’m ashamed to admit the weeks it had been since our last walk, and more ashamed to admit my general pet owning negligence, having grown even larger since having a child.

While on the walk, I kept thinking about one of my favorite moments in public speaking: David Foster Wallace giving his commencement speech called, “This is Water.” I first read the transcript while up one night nursing my son, and I have since watched the youtube video of his speech more times than I can count.

One part in particular started percolating into my mind.

“…the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.”

Seriously, this talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your time. If he had spoken these words at my commencement, I like to believe I would still remember them today. As it is, I don’t remember the name of my commencement speaker.

But the idea, that part about me being at the center of the universe, that all of life is happening TO me, well, it strikes pretty close to home. Or rather, it strikes home. Because it sure feels like my dog has been purposefully leaving spiteful packages for me to clean up, and that meetings are scheduled on the end of the day on Friday just to make my life difficult, and the world is conspiring to steal my sleep and my money.

And also, that walk was the first really kind thing I have done for my dog, Lily, in a week. Truly. When I picked her up she licked my face and jumped up and down on the ground as if I had just pledged her a lifetime of chicken scraps and string cheese. (Which for the most part, I have.)

Not totally connected and yet maybe kinda a little connected, I also started to spend intentional time with my baby boy this week. He’s at this incredible joyful age, full of wonder and amazement and glee. Thirteen months is my favorite age yet.

I’ve been feeling a little haphazard as a mother lately. I am relieved and excited to finally see my son after being apart from him all day, and I am also feeling the pull of the forty things I really want to do, like read a book or watch Scandal.

That was really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

While on the floor with him on Monday I started to play a game with him. OK, mostly we were just putting the empty LaCroix cans in and out of a paper bag, but that is probably his favorite game in the world right now, and has the added benefit of teaching him the life skill of helping clean up the recycling.

I sat there with him and coached him through how to put the can in and out of the bag, and celebrated how he dropped each can into the bag, and how he often did so while standing on his own. My phone was off and my computer was put away, and the world was just him and me.

The next day we played with blocks, and the day after that we went to the park as a family. Yesterday we went on a boat ride.

And this week I’ve been thinking about what the world is like for him. At the center of his universe is his father and me, and I’ve been thinking about the joy we bring to his world with such a small amount of intentionality. And I wonder why it often seems so much easier to watch a forty minute TV show than it is to spend forty minutes of uninterrupted playtime with my child.

This is really embarrassing to admit, by the way.

So it’s been making me think about whether this week has been any different than any other week in the monotony and sacredness of the everyday ebb and flow. It’s been making me think about the connection between times of generous kindness and times of, if for only a small moment, being able to step outside of my default mindset that I am the center of the universe, the victim of the events around me.

It’s late and my son has been asleep for the past few hours. My dog is sleeping next to me on the couch, barely having left my side since I got home from work. With such adoration it is no wonder I so easily slip into thinking I’m the center of the universe. With such adoration it’s even possible to forgive some ridiculous bathroom issues.

After all, she’s forgiven me for the missed walks.

IMG_0011

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

fathering mothering PARENTING

Spilling Red Wine On My Favorite White Dress

I’ve been buying a lot of clothes lately. It turned out that while I had some professionalish clothes to wear as a teacher, the standards for professional are a little higher when you’re working to garner the respect of teachers, some of whom are significantly older than you. Glasses: on. Heels: on. Jewelry: on. Make-up: let’s not go nuts.

Everyone is sick of hearing me complain about the fact that I had to buy bigger clothes after giving birth (I mentioned recently to my mother-in-law that there was a point during pregnancy at which everything collapsed, and that buoyancy and elasticity of the pre-pregnancy body has yet to rejoin me). In any case, I have been shopping and trying to strategically buy items that will layer and accentuate and professionalize.

I’ve been strutting a little in my new duds, “smelling myself” so to speak. It feels really nice to leave the house feeling pretty and confident. And I’ve worked myself into a little bit of a spending frenzy.

It’s funny how having a one year old can really help put some perspective on things. For one, he doesn’t care even a little bit about what I am wearing. Except maybe, since he is still nursing, he prefers tops that give him easy access to a snack. But truly, that’s his only fashion requirement.

What my one year old does care about is getting his hands in the dog dish, digging in the mud, chewing up fruits, preferably the juiciest ones that leave red stains dripping down his chin and into the folds of his neck.

And then, of course, he cares about hugging me. Because I’m his mama.

All this has got me thinking about my fancy new clothes. Because Murphy’s law says that the moment I put on my snazzy clothes my son wants me to hold him, grimy fingers and all. And of course I hold him, because what I love more than feeling beautiful is feeling loved. And my little boy gives me love by the truck full, more than I could have ever imagined.

My son is the balance to my vanity. So often, in so many ways. Like when I start to get all big in the head, worrying about whether or not to buy the shirt I really really want to buy from Chico’s, but can’t because it is $50, and I start to wonder if I should put it on a credit card, but then start to think about whether I want to go down that road and the spiral starts to spin out of control, just then my son will hold out his hands and wipe them all over me as if to say, “It’s just a shirt, Mama, don’t miss this moment. It’s just a shirt.”

While reflecting on how my son helps me to keep my priorities in order this past week, my family went on vacation to visit my parents in Minnesota. Among other things my mom prepared a beautiful, indulgent dinner in honor of my thirty-first birthday. In celebration, I had put on my favorite white dress with flowers and a coral scarf for a splash of color. Just after sitting down, while being served a slice of tomato pie, a wine glass was knocked over, shattering the glass and spilling red wine all over my favorite white dress.

wine on dress

One final object lesson for my week of rumination.

I changed out of the dress and into sweatpants and laughed the rest of the evening through. And it was probably best, since the elastic waistband of my sweatpants is a forgiving friend on nights filled with the choice between six different flavors of ice cream.

My mom got the stain out of my dress. I’m grateful because it is, after all, my favorite. But it was frosting on the birthday cake, because I had already let the dress go. It’s just a dress.

I wish I could always be this gracious. I wish I could always live my life with open hands. I wish there weren’t so many moments when things got in the way of people. I don’t want to be that person who tells her son not to touch her because she’s wearing her nice clothes. I don’t want to be the person who gets upset when her son comes home with rips in the knees of his school clothes. I don’t want to be owned by what I own. And yet, in that out of control spiral, swiping the plastic card again and again, it is so hard to take a deep breath and say, “Does this really matter, or is it just a dress?”

owned

I haven’t bought the Chico’s shirt. At least not yet. I have enough shirts to clothe a small village. For this second, I have that perspective. I’ll keep you posted about whether or not I buy it tomorrow.

Oh, and for the record, Dawn dish soap works wonders on those tough stains.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

The Death of A Child

Five years ago, on the Saturday morning of my first day of winter vacation, I was woken up by a phone call from one of my best teacher friends, Erica. Sobbing into the phone, I could barely make out her words.

“He’s dead. Ashton is dead.”

Ashton, a sixth grade student in our school, had been shot and killed the night before while sitting in an idling car with his father. The spray from the shotgun hit him directly, killing him while critically injuring his father.

Returning to my third grade class two weeks later I knew that I had to provide my students opportunities to grieve their schoolmate and friend, though I had barely processed it myself. I spent most of my two weeks of vacation sitting in a numb hollowness, repeating Erica’s words over and over.

What happened? Ashton’s dead. How? He was shot. What happened? Ashton’s dead. How? He was shot. What happened? Ashton’s dead. How? He was shot.

On the day of the memorial for Ashton our class gathered together to share memories of Ashton. During one of our conversations the students talked about their fears, and how Ashton’s death had made them afraid for their own lives. Then Kelton said, “Why do they keep killing us kids?”

Without hesitating Miles replied, “Yeah, because I wanna know how tall I’m gonna be.”

I can’t tell this story without crying. I can’t type this story without crying.

The meaning and poignancy of Miles words hit home in a new way one year ago when I gave birth to my own son. With his birth I joined the ranks of women all over the world who watch their hearts walk around outside their body.

Becoming a mom took gasoline to the flame of love in my heart.

quotescover-JPG-12

When news of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri hit my newsfeed, I knew what I was supposed to do. An unarmed black teenager shot by the police. I’m supposed to shake my head and think, “What a shame.” I’m supposed to like the status updates of my liberal friends who post articles that shed light on the racial tensions present in our country, acted out in the riots that have broken out since Michael’s death. I’m supposed to be outraged.

And then I’m supposed to let it go. Because people don’t want to see that shit in their newsfeeds.

But I can’t let it go.

Because of Ashton. Because of Miles. Because of Michael.

How tall would Michael have become? Where would the aging lines have formed on his face and around his eyes? What songs would he have sung to his children?

I can’t stop thinking about Michael’s mother and the gasoline flame of love she has for her son. The same love that burns in my heart.

What happened? Michael is dead. How? He was killed by the police. What happened? Michael is dead. How? He was killed by the police. What happened? Michael is dead. How? He was killed by the police.

And I think about all the people for whom this news never goes away. I think about all the mothers who aren’t given the option of deciding whether or not to “let it go”. I think about all the children who grow up scared.

“Why do they keep killing us kids?”

I still don’t know how to answer Kelton.

Shouldn’t every child get to see how tall they will be? Doesn’t every mother grieve for her lost child? Isn’t it time we stop killing kids?

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

How To Make A Baby: The First Year

It’s been almost a year since I pushed a human being out of my body. This past week I have been literally aching to have another baby. I’m telling myself this sudden desire for baby number two is a result of this important birth anniversary. Biology is an incredible thing. (I think I hear my mom cheering.)

I’m not going to give you the play by play of how our baby, or any baby for that matter, was made. Sorry. Or maybe, you’re welcome. But what does it take to “make a baby” a success?

I have read a lot of parenting articles, blogs, and books and some have been helpful and some have been not helpful, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is that nobody really knows. Therefore I feel as qualified as anyone else to offer you my personal conclusions about parenting, one year in.

“Good Mom” Does Not Equal DIY

Every day my son gets a sheet from the daycare chronicling his day. Without really talking about it, my husband and I have been saving them. That is, until a few weeks ago, when the sheets had accumulated on every surface of our house and in the cracks of the seats in our cars, in purses, bags, drawers, and the diaper bag. I asked my husband if it was important to him if we kept them. He was surprised, saying he had only been saving them for me.

Then my husband said, “Huh, I guess I just imagined you were more of a scrapbook kind of person than you actually are.”

I threw them away. All of them.

In a perfect world I would scrapbook everything from my son’s first footprints to the sheets he brings home from daycare. In a perfect world, I would have remembered to take the photo each month with my son in his cute onesie stating his age (I did three of the first six months, and then realized around month six, when all the pictures looked exactly the same, the purpose of the stuffed animal sitting next to my friends’ monthly baby picture updates: size perspective. I’m a quick study. By the time I’d made this discovery my son had had a diaper explosion, ruining his six month onesie, and ending the project.) In a perfect world this isn’t what my son’s first photo album would look like:

IMG_2549
Let it be known it took me five minutes to dig this box out of the closet for this photo. That’s how low this is on my priority list.

In anticipation of my son’s first birthday my coworker and I sat during our lunch break and browsed Pinterest photos for ideas of first birthday themes. I got so excited looking over the ideas and planning out foods. I settled on a dog theme, complete with puppy chow snacks. An hour later a different coworker asked me what my son’s first birthday party theme would be. In a moment of clarity I said, “Rachel’s House”.

We’re ordering the party food from Costco. Funny thing? I have no regrets about how I’ve been spending my time. And my son still seems pretty happy whenever I enter the room. Though I suppose there’s still plenty of time for him to hold the lack of photo albums against me.

“Sleep Training Sucks Balls”

I apologize for the language. Allow me to explain. I recently got back in touch with an old friend from High School. Via text she told me she’s been reading my blog and then said, “Are you still sleep training? Sucks balls!!!” I laughed for a full five minutes.

It isn’t just that we have tried every sleep configuration possible, including: holding him through the night, co-sleeping, him sleeping next to our bed, us sleeping next to his bed, sleeping in the play pen next to the bed, moving the crib into our room, moving the crib into his room. We’ve tried sleeping in the swing, sleeping in the bouncer, sleeping on the floor, with and without blankets, pacifiers, comfort objects, mobiles, and sound machines.

pTRU1-8353876dt

The bigger challenge is the fear. The fear that even though he’s slept the last three nights, we’re one bout of sickness away from starting over. From the dreaded beginning. Or the fear that he, and we, will never sleep again. Ever.

By the way, for all of you itching to tell me it gets better, I know, I know. Wanna know what’s even more helpful than telling me it gets better? Offering to take an overnight shift to watch him.

Finally, a parenting law: the moment a baby falls asleep one of the following will happen: a doorbell ring, a dog bark, a phone buzz, firecrackers, battery operated toys coming to life with creepy songs and flashing lights, car alarms, kitchen alarms, or fire alarm. If none of the above happen, you will trip and stub your toe on the way out of the sleeping baby’s room. If you break your toe without making a noise, you win. This is Truth with a capital T.

Do What Works Until It Doesn’t. Repeat.

Sometimes it works to leave dishes piled on the kitchen counters and onto the floor. Sometimes it doesn’t. Then we wash them. Sometimes it works to feed our son organic food. Sometimes it doesn’t. And we give him regular generic brand apple sauce. Sometimes it works to drown your postpartum sorrows in endless slices of cinnamon swirl bread with butter. Sometimes it doesn’t. And you buy bigger clothes and eat less carbs.

wegmans-loaf-cinnamon-swirl-107753

All random examples of course.

I felt some guilt over the fact that for awhile the only thing that calmed my son down while riding in the car was listening to Eminem and Rihanna sing the song “Monster”. Did I listen to too much top 40 radio while pregnant? Likely. Is it worth listening to “Monster” forty times in a row to avoid a long car ride with a screaming baby?

You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

Tell the Truth 

I cried for four hours every day the week after my son was born. The crying slowed down a little each week until I only cried every other day, once a week, and finally only when watching heartwarming videos. (OK, Always sanitary napkin commercials. Their marketing campaigns have been impressive lately.)

I recently realized I drove home with my son’s carseat not snapped into the carseat base, as the carseat base had a sock, a highlighter, and a metal fork in it.

When my son was three months old I put too much weigh on the handle of his stroller and he fell out of the stroller and scratched his eyelid. Arguably one of the worst moments of my life.

We switched to using brown sheets because that was easier than changing them as often as our son threw up on them.

I know, gross.

But also, a relief. This past year some of my favorite moments have been when I have told one of these stories to someone and they’ve respond with, “Oh, let me tell you…” and then matched or topped my story with one of their own.

There aren’t a lot of answers, but there sure are a lot of stories.

Come-Fly-Me-Balloon-Cake

One year. I can’t believe it’s already been one year. But my almost standing, almost walking, almost talking son is proof that indeed, life continues, ready or not. It may be awhile before baby number two (sorry Mom) but in the meantime, I am the proudest mama of my little one year old.

Thank you for the lessons, my sweet boy. Happy Birthday.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

You Can’t Have It All

Recently the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, notable for being both highly successful and one of the few females on the Fortune500 scene, was interviewed about her role as CEO and mother. In a moment of honesty, and I would argue courage, she said, “I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all.”

I’ve been thinking about that this past week. A lot. Over and over and over. I have a feeling a lot of parents are thinking about that. For me, parenting has brought with it a whole slew of choices: deciding what’s most important, letting go of non-essentials, shifting the focus of my time and energy to be about the tiny person I pushed into the world.

And when it comes down to it, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like too often it seems there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all that I want to accomplish.

For example, there has been a whole colony of fruit flies forming, taking down their oral and written history, and setting up a permanent civilization in our kitchen. We’ve tried various home remedies to combat the problem, but for the most part the fruit flies are winning. This has been causing me a lot of inner turmoil. Words like “dirty”, “unclean”, “inept”, and “bad housekeeper” flash across the screensaver of my mind.

Then there’s this ongoing quest to get back to my pre-baby weight. So there’s the workouts and the food plans. First no sugar. Or maybe just less sugar. Or maybe no gluten. More running? Less eating? Maybe Cross Fit is the answer? Or maybe it’s this new diet that comes straight from France, because every single French person is skinny (and expert parents, too, just FYI). Meanwhile, the scale has not budged. At least not in the right direction.

Then there’s the stuff. Because in order to be the best mom, you need the Sophie giraffe. And the miracle blankets. The right school in the neighborhood with the high property taxes. The organic baby food made in small batches by local farmers. The stuff that is so easy to put on credit cards, payments saved for a later date. A later date that is now today. That is now yesterday.

Kim Kardashian took Indra Nooyi to task, stating that you can have it all. It’s just about priorities. Maybe that’s working for her. And I’m happy for her. I guess. But the snarky side of me wants to say, “Sure, I could have it all if I had your money, Kim.” Throw a few million dollars at the problem and see if that doesn’t change my situation.

And then the other part of me thinks, oh great. So I’m failing on the priorities thing, too. It’s my fault that I don’t have it all. If I tried a little harder, then I wouldn’t feel guilty, my house would be clean, wardrobe perfect, bills paid, and I’d have a booty to win the hearts of every rapper in America.

But my brain keeps shaking the mouse in my mind, keeps preventing the auto-scroll of the screen-saver, keeps yelling, “What does it even MEAN to have it all? Who says you have to have it all? Who defines ALL?

What if the key to “having it all” lies in being satisfied with having enough?

It’s exhausting, the frantic grab at more. I’m so…tired… And I have to believe that is for more reasons than the fact that my son is still not sleeping in his crib with any success (which we can add to my list of what I don’t have).

In her song, As Is, Ani Difranco sings, “When I look around, I think…this is good enough… When I said I’ll take it, I meant “as is”.”

Let me look around.

I have fruit flies. And I have a kitchen. And fruit.

I have stretch marks and a soft belly. And I have son. I have legs strong enough to let me run and arms strong enough to rock my child to sleep.

I have more things in my house than I could use. We keep taking carloads to Good Will and still there is more, more, more.

I have it all. At least, I do when I’m willing to be satisfied with what I have. When I take a big deep breath and put down the fork, put down the credit card, but down the broom, and just let myself notice the plenty all around me.

I agree with Indra Nooyi. I read her article and tears came to my eyes because it was such a relief to hear someone willing to say that life is full of choices, and some choices eliminate other choices. This is more real to me in my thirties than it was in my twenties, and I can only imagine the clarity intensifies with age. And she’s right to say that she can’t be the Pinterest-mom who cooks the perfect meal, hand-makes the kids’ Valentines, and acquire Quaker Oats for PepsiCo all at the same time. You have to choose.

For me, those choices can seem impossible.

But what if I started making my choices from a place of gratitude instead of a place of deficit. What if I started each day in the way of my friend who says, “I thank God for waking me up this morning”? What if the intake of breath was a meditation, a prayer of thanks for another chance, another moment, another second to make another choice? How would that change the conversation about who has it all?

If the CEO of Pepsi can admit to her feelings of guilt and inadequacy, maybe it’s time to own mine. If she can stop pretending, maybe it’s time for me to, too. Maybe it’s time to look around and say, “I’ll take it, as is.”

Hi, my name is Rachel. I don’t have it all. But I have way more than enough.

il_570xN.373082259_mtoy

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

God Bless Daycare

If you are a regular reader then you know that I have been on an emotional tilt-a-whirl when it comes to childcare for my son. For a good chunk of my maternity leave I was pretty sure that being a stay-at-home mom was the only route for me. And I was a good SAH mom for those three months. We went out on walks, we visited every store and free activity in a twenty mile radius, and we laughed and clapped and sang songs. All. Day. Long.

Going back to work was hard for me. Pumping at work, missing my son all day, trying to find pants that fit in a professional way–that was a challenge. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a satisfaction in not reading the Baby Faces book four hundred times a day. Or in not sitting by the door like a complete stalker from 4:30pm on, waiting for my husband to get home.

Anyway, this past week I re-appreciated the value of spending long chunks of time with my son, as well as the value of having a great daycare.

We spent the past week in a beautiful cabin in Wisconsin. I packed a bag of twenty books to read, and we set off. (I packed sweat pants and a tooth brush, too, if you’re the type that worries about such details.) After a long school year, quitting my job, going through the application process for multiple other jobs, accepting a job, etc, I was very ready for a break.

IMG_2303

We had a wonderful time in Wisconsin. Truly, we did. Also, I did not read a single book.

I had forgotten how hard it is to accomplish anything when you are following around a ten-month-old. One who has just learned how to pick himself up onto any and all furniture, how to find and open pill bottles, and how to fling himself head-first off of furniture (or attempt to, in any case, we have to draw the line somewhere).

I would be one paragraph into a book when he would find a power-cord to munch. Or would pull himself onto the stone hearth and start reaching for the fire poker. Or start throwing items off the coffee table. By the time I got back to my book, I had to reread the paragraph. And by that time, my son would have crawled up on me, snatching my book from my hands, flinging it behind his shoulder. With love, of course.

It wasn’t really a romantic trip, either, since my son decided that he no longer is interested in sleeping on his own, preferring instead to sleep if and only if he is between me and my husband in bed. Which is fine, except it isn’t. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

baby-sleep-positions

Let me not get too down on the trip, because once I set aside my expectations of catching up on sleep, reading, and sex, it was actually a perfect vacation. We ate well past our caloric needs every day, discovered snakes and wild turkeys on our walks, and drank wine while listening to old records of Joan Baez and Johnny Cash. Idyllic.

I soaked in some incredible mommy-son time. I can hardly believe that he is just weeks away from walking, he’s saying mama and dada, and he has mastered the art of shaking his head to say “no”. It’s magical to see a little human grow and develop and change around me. I am thankful for every moment.

But it was also magical when my husband dropped my son off at daycare this morning. After arriving home well past midnight last night, it was an absolute luxury to sleep until 11:38am.

And it was magical when we went out for lunch, and I got to enjoy sipping on not one, but TWO mugs of tea. At no point during this lunch did silverware drop on the floor, bread debris float in my water glass, or food, eaten in haste, burn the roof of my mouth. I got to taste every bite of my delicious artisan macaroni and cheese.

Do I feel a tinge of guilt about being so gleeful to spend some time away from my son? Absolutely. Am I itching to go pick him up from daycare and smother his beautiful face with kisses? Absolutely.

And…am I going to drop him off at daycare for another “me” day tomorrow? Absolutely.

God bless my vacations with my son, and God bless daycare for the vacation away from him.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

 

Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Catching Vomit In My Hands: A Teaching Fail and A Parenting Win

teacherrachel(#TBT: me, my first year of teaching)

The hardest part about the first year of teaching is that you have no instincts to draw upon to help you as you face a sea of faces; twelve year olds with zits the size of Mount Doom and still you are the most self-conscious one in the room. In that moment you are as far away from knowing what it means to teach a seventh grader as the distance you’ve tried to wedge between you and your seventh grade memories. In that moment you become about as qualified to teach seventh graders as, well, your seventh grade self.

Or maybe I’m just speaking for me.

I did, after all, go through an alternative certification program that gave me a teaching certificate after six weeks of teaching summer school while attending evening classes. (These classes were held in a run down Chicago Public School building where the water was not suitable for drinking and the classrooms were on the third floor of the un-airconditioned building. I got heat stroke. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?)

Let’s just say I got “on the job training”. A whole lot of it.

I’m a fast learner, so I realized I had taken a belly flop into the deep end of the pool when my plan for helping students enter the school building from the playground on the morning of my first day of teaching went something along the lines of, “We’re in room 210. See you up there.” All the rest of the teachers stood confidently facing their students, telling them the designated stopping points along the way to their classroom. Then in a spell of jujitsu magic, their students neatly filed into one line and silently entered the school.

I think my line may have been able to accomplish this sometime around May. Fine, I’m exaggerating. Sometime around June. If we ever did get that together. There’s a lot about that first year I’ve blocked from memory. But seriously, that’s everyone’s entry into teaching, right?

That wonderful year of my life (my first year of teaching) comes to mind frequently these days as I find myself once again at the beginning of something, something I face without the instincts of a veteran. By this, I mean mothering. I’m still in my first year of mothering, and while I don’t have to do tasks like teach my son how to line up in a straight line, I often find myself surprised by how a simple task can seem impossible. Like how to put a sleeping child into a crib without said child waking up and screaming. (The equivalent of Indiana Jones attempting to take the golden statue…no. sudden.movements.)

indianajones

While I was living in Philadelphia during my sophomore year of college I became friends with a woman named Keia. She had a beautiful one year old daughter that was crawling around everywhere. I would follow Keia around pretty much all the time so that I could hold and play with her daughter. One day at church we were sitting in a luncheon and I was holding her daughter when the little girl started to cough. Before I registered what was happening, Keia had turned around in her chair, flung her hands forward in front of her daughter, and her daughter threw up in her mom’s cupped hands.

Gross, I know. But also kind of amazing. I developed a new awe for Keia that day. I think I shouted out something like, “You’re a MOM!” By which I meant, of course, “You have those mother instincts!” The ones that tell you when your child is puking. (Motherhood is glamorous, what can I say?)

Which leads me to this week. Our son has been sick for the past five days with what I assume is a cold and a fever. It is way harder than I ever thought it would be to watch my child wheeze. And maybe a little cute that he has a cough that makes him sound like a pack-a-day smoker. OK, not cute. Sad.

He’s been sleeping in bed with us the past five days which is bad news for everyone. But it was that or wake up fifteen times a night to go get him, help him fall asleep, and then put him back in his crib again. (Refer to earlier note about my skill in the area of putting a baby into a crib.) Turns out the latter is even worse news for everyone. It also turns out that my twenty seven inch long son is able to dominate sleeping space, leaving my husband and me mere inches of space on our king-sized bed.

Anyway, two mornings ago at about five in the morning my son wanted to nurse. Having mastered the art of sleep-nursing I fell asleep, waking up at six in the morning only to realize he was still nursing. I tried to cut him off, but he was having none of it. That is, until he started coughing. And then he promptly threw up all over the bed. Approximately an hour’s worth of milk, all over the sheets.

I kicked my husband awake and held our son out to him so I could get something to clean up the bed. In the four seconds it took me to get off the bed our son started coughing again and then threw up all over my husband.

Neither of us possessed Keia’s instincts. It was our first rodeo. We didn’t know. WE WEREN’T PREPARED!!

And that’s what it is to be a new teacher or a new parent or a new anything, I assume. It takes a long time to feel like you have any mastery over anything. And usually once you do, the game has changed and the rules are different and suddenly you don’t know who’s winning in volleyball anymore. (Seriously, rally scoring? What is that?)

But I know that this changes. Over time, the instincts start to kick in.

I know that I can now get most anyone to line up in single file lines with ease and maybe even a little finesse. I don’t know when that turning point happened, only that it has. After eight years of teaching I can walk into a school and instinctively know where the stopping points should be when directing thirty students from one area of a school to another. Eight years in it still isn’t always easy, but it is habit.

Some expert teaching advice I got during that first year was, “Focus on those things which you can control.” Which I now know is also expert life advice.

Most days the thing I can control is getting out of bed and doing the best I can all over again.

But I have a good end to this story. Yesterday morning I woke up and started nursing my son. About ten minutes in he started coughing. I held him upright and my husband and I both shot out our hands and he promptly vomited into them.

hands

Instincts. They are amazing things. So is not having to wash the sheets two days in a row.

I told you I’m a fast learner.

-Rachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph

10286753_10152427015634874_226361811901870337_o

My dad recently posted some photos from our family’s time together at Easter. They are beautiful. They all show our smiling, happy faces, many surrounded by the lush and rich foliage from the nature conservatory we visited. I loved them all.

All except one. There was one I didn’t love. It was the one of my dad, my son, and me. Actually, it was the only one of me. And let me be clear, my dad and my son look great. But I look like a total bummer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Like, the intensive sleep deficit my husband and I were rocking, due to our choice to drive through the night to get to my family’s house. We got there in record time, without the requisite hourly stops made when my son is awake. We also got there at three in the morning, and two weeks later I think it is safe to say we haven’t fully made up the sleep gap.

Also, my family has this thing about using local and organic and natural (the real natural, not the natural stamped onto Cheetos so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being healthy) products. I am in favor of this completely. Except when it comes to shampoo. Natural shampoo is the equivalent of rubbing Aquaphor by the handfuls into my fine and oily-prone hair. So besides the bags under my eyes, my hair looks like an Italian mobster’s toupee.

But the biggest bummer of all, perhaps, is the fact that the picture is breathtakingly honest. That’s pretty much what I look like these days. Even without long distant late night drives and lotion shampoo, I generally have bags under my eyes and greasy, sloppy hair. This is what my life has become.

When I saw the picture I started down a shame spiral. How in the world had I become one of those women? You know the ones. They find a guy, settle down, and let themselves go. Also, everyone else looks put together in the photographs. Why couldn’t I at least have brushed my hair? Was that sweatshirt really necessary? Why so baggy and dirty? Is my face always so splotchy? Oy vey. You get the idea.

I started making resolutions about what I wouldn’t eat and what I would buy to make my hair shiny. I thought about the manicures and pedicures and hair cuts and wardrobes necessary to return me to my pre-baby, pre-“letting myself go” glory. I even wrote a full ending to this blog about taking care of myself and prioritizing mommy’s needs. Which I think is important.

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have been remembering the day. The day that the photo was taken.

That day, after months of waiting, I woke up in my parents’ house and got to have breakfast with my dad. I watched my son play with his cousins. I had lunch with my mom. My dad and I took the dogs to the dog park and met really enthusiastic dog owners. (Are there any other kind?)

Then we went to the conservatory and looked at the flowers. A hush fell over my son the moment his stroller entered the fern room. He was mesmerized by the plants, often close enough to rip off chunks and immediately eat them. We took the mandatory family photos by the fountain with the naked girl and my mom got her grandma/grandson snapshot. We breathed deep the rich, oxygenated air, filling up on the green we’ve been missing for the past six months.

We went home and twelve of us squeezed around a table growing too small in a kitchen growing too small to hold the abundance of new members, married and birthed in over the past three years. While eating bowls of lentil soup we laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Because that’s what my family does. Then we played games and laughed some more. And ate some more, of course, because that’s also what my family does.

All of this I accomplished with greasy hair and baggy, out of date clothes. All of this, with the food stains and the glasses that are askew from being grabbed by my curious son too many times. All of this with the fatigue that is my familiar blanket. All of this.

I want so badly to be the person who can do it all. I want to have the career. And I do. I want the perfect house. And I (mostly) do. I have the husband and the kid, the car and the memberships. But I want to do it all with nice nails, long hair that wasn’t poorly cut during a disastrous Groupon mistake. Oh, and clean, trendy clothes. Maybe even a little make-up.

And those are things that I feel like I could have if I just tried a little bit harder. If I just bought the right cream or took the time to blow dry my hair.

But remembering that day makes me feel foolish.

Could I spend more time on my hair? Of course. Will I ever? Probably not. Because frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn. Or at least, not enough of a damn. There’s just too many other things that I care about too much more than whether or not my hair is washed with Vaseline, or if it is washed with Aveda.

Hear me out, I’m still going to buy the Aveda shampoo, mind you, next time I go to the salon (which should be soon because honestly, the Groupon hair disaster is still haunting me). I still like to pretend that there will come a day when I will buy the magic soap that will transform my skin in a single use. Or the super shampoo that will erase the need for blow drying, styling, and productifying. (I told you, I don’t do those things. I don’t even know the appropriate words for them.)

But in case I never do, and because I know I won’t (at least for not any meaningful length of time), I have to remind myself that a picture is just a picture. Sure, it will scroll across the computer screen at my parents’ home forever and ever amen. But it is just a picture.

And I choose the moment and memory. Even with the greasy hair.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Swallow the Pink Fear Pill

pink pill

This weekend my husband, son, and I went to visit my family in Minnesota. Among other things, we participated in our family’s annual epic Easter gathering, complete with extravagant food and even more extravagant music, courtesy of my father and the musical friends he has accumulated over the past sixty years.

While at the party one of the guests accidentally dropped a Valium pill on the floor. I didn’t find this out until the next day.

Under normal circumstances this would not be a big deal. Heck, under normal circumstances I might be motivated to look for the pill for the selfish purpose of getting a few winks of sleep. But ever since becoming a mother, my definition of “normal circumstances” has dramatically changed. When I found out about the pill I panicked.

After calling poison control, my father informed us that Valium could make an infant stop breathing. The phone operator said to keep an eye on the babies in our house and take them to the hospital if they displayed signs of excessive drowsiness.

Let’s talk about my rationality when it comes to possible disease or crisis. One night the bottoms of my feet had started to hurt, like I had stepped on glass. I mentioned this casually to my husband, while inwardly starting to plan my last will and testament. My husband wondered if it was possible that my feet were dry and needed some lotion. My skin, after all, is very susceptible to cracking in the winter. I nonchalantly said, “Hmm, that’s a good point.”

When he asked me what I thought I said, “Well, it probably isn’t that my gestational diabetes has turned into full blown untreated diabetes, leaving me with feet that are one sugar spike away from amputation.” My husband thinks I’m hilarious.

So maybe the doctors shouldn’t leave it to my judgment whether or not my son seems overly drowsy.

My son, thankfully, saved us a trip to the ER by not acting even remotely interested in sleep, despite having been up until one in the morning, refusing to wind down until the adults had finished their fun. But the story of how my son deals with FOMO (fear of missing out) is for another time.

This one is about the crippling and devastating fear that grips me when I least expect it. This is about the fear that starts in my stomach and spreads to my limbs. This is about the fear that can keep me in the house on a Friday night instead of going out because I don’t want to get in a car accident with a drunk driver. The fear that turns dry feet into my final moments. This is about a fear that I fight hard to keep from controlling my life.

I didn’t really think of myself as a fearful person until I had my son. Suddenly there are monsters in every corner. The news stories are unbearable as I imagine the world he is inheriting. A world with movie theater shootings over text messages. A world with food shortages due to climate change and disease. A world where parents are abandoning face time with their children for texting with their friends. A world where pills are innocently dropped on the floor at joyous Easter gatherings.

When I was younger I would often overhear my mom telling people that the safest place her children can be is in the palm of God’s hand. I always liked that. That is, until I had my own child. As soon as his tiny body was placed on my chest, umbilical cord connected, I had a different idea. The safest place my child can be is in my arms. Scratch that, the safest place my child can be is back inside my womb.

Actually, scratch that, too. My child has never been safe. Period.

Apparently fear can make me wonder if I made the right choice to become a parent. By this I mean that fear can blind me to the miracle of the flesh and bones and skin in my arms, a beautiful baby boy who through a whole lot of biology I pretend to understand is made up of my husband and me and stardust and the breath of God.

I find it interesting that in the Bible when angels appear the first thing they say is, “Do not be afraid.” I can’t be certain, since I’ve never seen an angel, but I am pretty sure that my face would have been on the ground with everyone else’s, unable to look at the huge fireball of an angel suddenly appearing where there wasn’t one before.

Or for a more metaphorical approach to understanding my faith for my often-skeptical religious self–I am pretty sure that angels are appearing to me all the time. But in my fear I don’t recognize them. They are shrouded in the dark shadow of what might happen. They are in the present and I am off in the future, waiting for what might be, bracing myself for pain or tragedy.

What I am left with is a choice between fear and faith. And I’m not too good at faith. I am the person who much of the time has more faith in my belief that my son will probably find the pink Valium pill somehow tucked away in the belongings we brought back 400 miles from my parents’ home, than I have in the idea of my son sitting in my palm of God’s hand.

But maybe the best part about my parenting fear is that it drives me to want more faith. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to be the person who believes that my son is safe in the palm of God’s hand. I want to be the person who trusts that he won’t pick up the pink pill. I want to be the person who notices the angels all around me, the miracles big and small. I want to believe, as my friend Lenora says so eloquently, that love is greater than fear.

And maybe that stumbling, fumbling desperation, driven entirely by necessity, is itself a kind of faith.

And maybe one of the angels is my mom, reminding me again and again that in the absence of certainty we have the ability to trust, trust that God is holding my son in his hands, pink Valium pill or not.

And if my dry feet do end up killing me, there is really no other place I would rather be.

buechner,jpg


261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Lessons Learned While Teaching the Alphabet

IMG_2013

This past week, I witnessed a miracle.

Let me back up. Last November I returned to work after spending the first three months of my son’s life figuring out how to keep a human alive, while also making most of the recipes I had pinned on pinterest. (But not the crafts. Why did I even pin those? I have been looking for a needle for three weeks now to sew up the hole my dog chewed in my pants and I can’t remember where I left my needles. Why I thought monogrammed anything was a possibility is beyond me.)

I sat down with my principal to make a schedule for working with small groups of students, my position this school year. I mentioned off-hand that I thought I should work with some kindergarteners because I believe in early intervention. Also, I’ve never worked with kindergarteners before and I wanted to know if it really is as hard as my kindergarten teaching friends say. (The answer to that question in a word: yes. In three words: I love it.)

I started pulling a group of three kindergarten students who did not know their letters. I very quickly fell in love with Alex. I already knew he was my favorite when he looked up at me after three weeks and said, “Ms. Wanson, you really meant it when you said you’d come get me every day!” Then he crawled into my lap for our read aloud.

This group quickly became the highlight of each day. When rearranging groups to prepare for our standardized test, my assistant principal looked at my schedule and asked why I was working with a K group. (Kindergarten not being a testing age.) Before she could say anything else, my principal said, “You can’t take away her K group. That’s why she gets out of bed in the morning.”

And it is true. When I cried about going back to work most days in December, my husband would say, “But what about Alex.” And he was sure to get an earful of Alex’s crazy antics from that day. Alex isn’t exactly a well-behaved student. My favorite students never are.

Last week it was my job to give Alex his reading test to see if he moved reading levels. He came to me in November without being able to pass the pre-reading test. In January he passed pre-reading (indicating he knows some of his letters and rhyming words) but threw a crying fit when I asked him to try spelling a few words.

I gave him the test. He knew all but three of his capital letters. He knew all but three of his lowercase letters. He knew all but eight of his letter sounds. He could match the beginning sounds of words. But then the miracle happened. I asked him to watch me read a book. I tapped on each word as I read. Before I could tell him it was his turn, he started reading.

And reading some more. He turned the page. And he read that page, and the next, and the next. And even when the pattern in the book changed, he ended the book with, “I like school.” The three words printed on that page.

I’ve always been an intermediate and upper grade teacher. I have never witnessed the moment when a child first starts to read, when the words are no longer sticks and circles but have suddenly become thoughts and ideas.

It was magical. It was this sacred miraculous moment. I am not exaggerating. My heart raced and the tears started forming. And all the while Alex just kept going, wanting to know what came next, not stopping once to think about the fact that HE COULD READ!

We finished the test and it turned out he can spell, too. Or at least enough to pass two more levels. I high-fived him and congratulated him. He grinned and jumped up and down. And asked if he could get a colored pen because he had passed his test and it was the nearest object to him. Who can blame him for being an opportunist?

Then he turned to me and said, “Am I not gonna come to you anymore?”

He realized what I had already known. That my time of working with him was ending. I had taught him and he had learned. He was ready to move to the next thing, and I wasn’t part of that next thing.

And it broke my mama heart.

Letting go. I am really not good at goodbyes, in whatever form they take. I am of the mind that every goodbye could be the last one, so make it count. Or better yet, avoid it altogether.

But the problem is that I can’t avoid it. And sometimes I get stuck in the goodbyes, near and far. It brings up the fact that I am not, despite my every best effort and a whole lot of wishful thinking, in control of those goodbyes or when they come. Which frankly pisses me off. And the people who console me by telling me that those feelings are hormonal can take a trip off a cliff as far as I’m concerned. Maybe my feelings are hormonal. But they’re also real.

And yet, today I pulled a new group of kindergarten students. Without Alex. And there was little Joel, waiting to be loved, his pants nearly falling off and his nose dripping with a cold, eager to climb into the lap that Alex left empty.

Saying goodbye to Alex left space for me to say hello to Joel.

Does that seem worth it when Alex comes up to me in the hallway and says, “Are you going to come get me today? Don’t say no.”

To quote Anne Lamott, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

What I know is that Alex wasn’t able to read and now he can. And that’s a miracle. And by the grace of God, I got to be there to witness it. So if goodbyes are a reality I cannot avoid, then I’m glad that at least sometimes they come served with a side of miracle.

And I’m extra thankful when those miracles are packaged up in the form of kindergarteners.

-Rachel261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n

 

 

%d bloggers like this: