Sunday, May 8, 2016

Thoughts on Mother's Day: Autonomy vs. Privacy

I wrote this two and a half years ago when Kate was about the age Jayne is now (20 months). Reading through it, it struck me how much things have changed and how much they are still the same. 

Happy Mother's Day!

Kate begging to be held or given something. This view is a familiar one to most parents of toddlers.

Kate is currently really into belly buttons. She likes to lift her shirt, put her finger in her navel, and say, "Beh buh!" She also likes finding other people's beh buhs. This generally involves me sitting on the couch and attempting to fight her off but ultimately caving as she wrestles the hem of my shirt up my rib cage. I then sit there while she touches my belly button and says "beh buh! beh buh!" until I acknowledge that I do, indeed, have a belly button. This usually culminates with her stroking the loose skin of my stomach and saying "Sah. Sah." (Soft). Thanks, Kate.

I can't help but think, every time I see her cute little tummy with its sweet little dimple, that she will forever be marked by the time we shared my body. Nothing can erase that--we are both forever changed. And while birth was liberating, in a way, for both of us, and the physical tie that bound us was severed, we were still connected through nursing and feeding and changing and all of the work that goes into caring for an infant. While I loved most of those things most of the time, it was overwhelming to have someone so dependent on me.

As time has gone on, Kate and I have both gained autonomy in the form of her small, bittersweet victories. She gains independence and I regain pieces of myself I'd forgotten I'd lost. We are not two pieces of the same being anymore; she is increasingly becoming her own person, and I am thrilled for us and a bit sad for me that she doesn't need me like she used to. 

Autonomy is great for both of us--it allows us each our own space in which to stretch and grow. I have discovered, though, that autonomy is not the same thing as privacy. I wonder sometimes if privacy is something I will ever experience again. 

From the time Kate could crawl and pull herself up to things, she would make her way over to the shower, wedge her little fingers around the door, slide it open, then stand there and watch me. If I tried closing the door, screams would erupt. The magical bathroom acoustics amplified them exponentially, and I quickly learned to just let her watch. Once she was a little steadier on her feet, she insisted on stepping into the shower herself. Once she got comfortable with that, she would walk to the front of the shower and stand underneath the leaky handle, which meant I had to strip her down and share my shower time with a wet, naked little baby running around me who occasionally fell over backward and hated it when I rinsed her hair.

Thankfully, the shower phase has mostly passed, meaning I get my ten minutes of "me time" back (YES!).

Bathroom breaks, though, are another story. Yes, we leave the bathroom doors open pretty much at all times (except when we have people over; we do have SOME boundaries), and Kate can join us or not, as she pleases (she usually joins us). Closing Kate out generally results in a stressful (and loud) bathroom experience. There are some battles that just aren't worth fighting, and I decided long ago this is one of them. (I'm hoping it will make potty training a breeze. (Ha.))

Kate's new favorite thing is handing me my clothes as I'm getting dressed after I get out of the shower. She knows the word "bra" and sometimes runs around my room holding it to her chest ("ba! ba!").

So while I'm sometimes a little icked out by how open we are in our house with our child, we do what works for us. And I do miss my privacy (sometimes desperately), but I love our growing autonomy.

Friday, April 22, 2016

That One Time a Lady was Super Mean to Me at the Grocery Store

{All photos by Katie; Jaynie at 19 months}

It's easy to pass judgments about people when we see them for a handful of moments: the mom yelling at her toddler in the parking lot, the man in dirty clothes in the checkout line, the six year old throwing a tantrum at the park. We may feel a little concerned, a little uncomfortable, a little superior. Hopefully, most of the time, we recognize that there have been days when we've been THAT person--the one in dirty clothes, the one with no patience, the one with screaming kids. Maybe we remember the circumstances that led to these situations, maybe we don't, but there's always a backstory. 

Remembering this--that behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum--can help us to feel empathy rather than scorn, can lead us to extend help rather than judgment, can cause us to show love rather than disapproval.

I was nine weeks pregnant and had been feeling sick for weeks (both with a cold and with pregnancy-related misery). We had been in survival mode since Christmas, and I spent most of my days curled up on the couch or in bed. The house was a wreck, and my personal maintenance amounted to getting dressed and showering every two to three days. Other than Jay dragging me out occasionally on weekends, literally the only time I'd left the house in nearly a month was to take Kate to and from preschool twice a week. It was a rough time for us, but the girls were doing well and Jay didn't complain about having to pick up my slack. We were making it.

Jayne had recently stopped taking morning naps, so after dropping Kate off at preschool one day, I decided to take a much-needed trip to the grocery store (I'd been trying to get the energy to go for a couple weeks without success). I was feeling okay that morning, though we both looked a little worse for wear. Jaynie's hair was a bit crunchy from her habit of twirling it in her fingers while she ate, and she had bare feet since I couldn't find one of her little moccasins before we hurriedly left our house. I wore baggy clothes and no makeup, but I wasn't concerned about my appearance. I parked the car at the store and sat there listening to the radio for ten minutes, just trying to gather the energy to go inside.

The outing started out successfully enough. I loaded the cart with items from the produce section and Jaynie got excited about the apples. I had just grabbed some onions--letting Jayne touch their smooth, papery skin before placing them in a bag--when I stopped pushing my cart to consult the grocery list on my phone.

Jayne extended her finger toward my face and then laughed as I tickled her neck. We were playing like that, Jaynie giggling, when I felt someone behind me watching us. The woman came up beside me, and I assumed that she, like any other person with a pulse, was admiring my happy and adorable baby.

"Where are your baby's socks? You need to put socks on her," the woman said, gesturing at Jayne's wiggling toes.

I gave her a half smile. "She's fine," I said. I turned back to Jayne and the list on my phone, but the woman behind me kept muttering about socks and how it was winter and cold.

"I don't have socks on, either," I said, irritated. And it was true: I was wearing loafers but no socks because finding a matching pair had been more effort than it was worth that morning.

But the woman wouldn't let it go. "It's abuse!" she said. "It's child abuse!"

Shocked and angry, I said, "We're doing the best we can."

But the woman got increasingly worked up. "Please stop talking to me," I said, and I pushed Jayne away from her. We took up residence near the potatoes where I once again tried to consult my phone.

"You are abusing your child!" she called after me. "I feel sorry for that baby!"

I did not look back at her and pushed my cart as fast as I could past the donut case as her words followed me: "I feel sorry for any child that has you as a mother! You are not capable of caring for your children!"

I made it a few feet further to the deli counter before I had to stop, clutching my chest, as an anxiety attack overcame me. I gasped for breath and tried to hold back tears. I pressed a hand over my mouth and attempted to rein in my panic. The employees and patrons who passed me determinedly avoided eye contact, and I couldn't decide if I was grateful or if I needed help.

I started having anxiety attacks about five years ago (they usually happen at church or church activities since those are very triggering places for me). It is a helpless feeling to hyperventilate--to feel your breath come in huge, deep gasps, your chest spasming like a fish out of water--and not be able to control it. I have no shame when I'm in the throes of an attack--I don't care who sees. But when it passed a moment later, I made my way toward the refrigerated meats and stood there, my cheeks and chin quivering with barely-suppressed emotion.

I was a mess for the next 20 minutes or so and wandered aimlessly through the store, my thoughts too scrambled to function. Even as panic had coiled around me, I knew that this lady was ridiculous--she was obviously from another country and probably had very different cultural norms. I knew I was not an abusive mother. I knew it was fine that Jayne's feet were bare (we live in Las Vegas, not Minnesota, for crying out loud, and it was a sunny 53 degrees, and I carried her the whole time we were outside). Her words didn't pierce my confidence in my ability to care for my children. But my body's reaction was visceral, partly because I've rarely if ever been so blatantly harassed, and partly because I was barely keeping it together anyway and this simple shopping trip was such a monumental effort for me. That this woman, who did not know me, who did not know what I was going through at that moment, thought it was appropriate to publicly shame me for not putting socks on my child simply floored me.

I eventually regained my sense of self, and my on-edge emotions calmed. I completed my shopping trip with my posture erect and my gaze unflinching. I made a plan for if the woman approached me again (firmly tell her to leave me alone and start yelling for security if necessary), and I was no longer afraid of her.

A friendly cashier scanned and bagged my groceries, and I walked out to my car. I pulled Jaynie out of the cart and walked over to put her in her car seat. I rested my cheek on her hair, and she snuggled her head into my shoulder, her body relaxed into mine, her hands gripping my sleeves. We held on to each other long enough that the car doors automatically re-locked. I remember thinking how grateful I was to be her mother and how glad I was that she isn't abused. I buckled her into her seat in the sun-heated car and touched her toes.

They were warm.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Soon to be Three

{All photos by Katie of The Jadeite Shutter}

Mom is a bit apprehensive.

Dad and big sister Kate are ecstatic.

As for soon-to-be big sister Jaynie the photoshoot photo bomber... 

She has absolutely no idea what's coming.

...Baby boy arriving late August 2016...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Life I Choose

I'm not really feeling resolutions this year, so I thought I'd post some life choices instead.

I'm well aware that life doesn't always turn out the way we hope. Sometimes our plans are derailed by circumstances beyond our control, and sometimes plans change because we change. But patterns emerge in the way we navigate our everyday lives, and these are the choices, like strokes on a canvas, that make up the broader picture of the lives we carve out for ourselves.

I've had some experiences lately that have made me recommit to living purposefully and to owning my life rather than being defined by my circumstances. My life, choices, and opportunities will look different than yours, and that's okay.

For where I am and what I have right now, this is the life I choose:

I choose to have an awesome marriage. Marrying Jay is the best choice I've ever made. We complement each other well, and we're committed to a relationship of equals. We support each other, we consult each other, and we co-parent. We are both the head of our household. We choose to make financial, business, and family decisions together. We aren't perfect, but we forgive each other.

I choose to have as many or as few children as we want/are able to have, regardless of anyone else's opinions or advice. There's weird stigmas in my church culture for families with fewer kids and there's weird stigmas in the broader culture for families with many kids. I refuse to let that influence me when we decide what's right for our family.

I choose to be a good parent. This will look different for me than it does for other people, and that's fine. There's no one right way.

I choose to be home with my children while they are small. Not everyone has this choice, and I'm grateful I do. It's a decision I feel conflicted about often, and it's one I've given myself permission to change when it doesn't feel right anymore.

I choose to be Mormon. Despite the fact that my faith is no longer orthodox, despite the fact that church is very often painful for me, I choose to stay because I want to. It's my tribe. Making this choice intentionally has been very liberating for me. I choose to be as open and authentic as I can about where I am and what I believe while maintaining respect for others and my own sense of safety. There is no one way to be Mormon, and I choose to take the pieces that work for me and leave the rest behind.

I choose to put myself and my family first. I choose to say no to things that are too much of a drain on my physical/emotional resources or my family relationships, regardless of whether it's a business opportunity, a church calling, a service request, or a social event. I will redraw and maintain my boundaries as needed.

I choose to be an advocate for people and causes that are important to me. I will pick my battles and stand my ground and change the world.

I choose to love people as they are, not as I think they should be. I'm not great at this one. I'm working on it.

I choose to be responsible financially. This may look different for us than it does for you. For us right now, it means paying down our loans as quickly as possible, having a solid emergency fund, saving for retirement, never carrying a balance on a credit card, and paying cash for our cars. It means filing taxes honestly and on time. It means not taking anything for granted and being generous with what we have.

I choose to share my gifts with others. Will there always be someone who could do it better than me? Yes. But I'll do it anyway, and hopefully without apology.

I choose to love my body as it is now, not as it was or as it "should" be. On days I struggle with how my body looks, I choose to close my eyes and focus on how it feels to be alive--sometimes good, sometimes not great, but always rich and sensual and so much bigger than my perceived attractiveness. I choose to be in pictures without a fuss. I choose to not say much at all about my appearance in front of my daughters but to frequently express gratitude and wonder for my body.

"There is no better time in all the world to make important choices than at the beginning of year, for we literally become the product of our choices. Our choices determine our destiny."  - Thomas S. Monson

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kate at Three and a Half-ish

{Taken at Calico Basin, 11-11-15, age 3 years 8 months}

Kate has several animals and dolls that she keeps on her bed. She calls them her "kids." Her [always naked] baby doll and her leopard are the two most important, but she's also got three little bunnies (one named Bella, after her friend), a small pink bear she named Jayson, and a dog she named Ruffy. She often totes them around the house and then makes us scramble to find them at bedtime. If we forget, she'll get out of bed and call from the top of the stairs that she needs to get her "kids."

Jaynie and Kate play well together--they are fast friends. Unfortunately for Kate, however, Jayne is no longer easy-going when Kate tries to take away whatever she's playing with. She makes some pretty awesome "that's not fair!" noises until I make Kate give back whatever it is she had.

Kate is patient and kind. Her default setting is cheerful. She likes to observe before diving into experiences, but she's also friendly and outgoing. She is articulate and is learning to negotiate, which leaves me half annoyed and half secretly delighted.

Semantics are big right now in our house, and it's exhausting. Usually manifested like this:

Me: "Kate, don't dump out all Jayne's drawers."
Kate: "I didn't dump them out."
Me: "Yes, you did. Look at this huge mess you made."
Kate: "I didn't make a mess."
Me: "Look at all the stuff you dumped in Jayne's bed!"
Kate: "I made a pile."
Me: Kate, I don't want you playing with that pin. Please put it on the table.
Kate: I'm not playing with it.
Me: I don't want you to touch it. Please put it on the table.
Kate: I'm not touching it.
Me, exasperated: Then what are you doing?
Kate: I'm holding it.
Me: Kate! Don't draw on the couch with crayons.
Kate: I wasn't drawing. I was writing.
Me: Kate, if you keep biting your nails, I'm going to stop snuggling with you.
Kate: I'm not biting my nails.
Me: Okay, stop putting your fingers in your mouth.
Kate: I'm not putting my fingers in my mouth.
Me: What are you doing, then?
Kate: I'm licking my fingers.
With her aptitude for finding loopholes, she'll probably be a lawyer.

Lately there's been a lot of, "Mom, you aren't listening. Mom, you're taking too long." And then she turns my reinforcement strategies right back on me: "Mom, I really like it when you listen to me. I really like it when you do what I ask you to." She's also pretty good with her manners: "Excuse me, Mom. Excuse me, can I talk to you?" Though sometimes it's more like, "Excuse me, Mom; 
Excuse me, Mom; Excuse me, Mom; Excuse me, Mom; Excuse me, Mom..." starting at a low volume and gradually getting louder.

Kate stopped taking naps a couple months ago, and I finally conceded she was old enough I didn't need to force her to sleep anymore. But I still needed some sanity, so I told her she had to have quiet time while Jayne was asleep. After a week or so of playing quietly in her room, I told her it was time for quiet time and she said, "I don't want to have quiet time! I want to take a nap!" And sure enough, she's taken a nap about 80% of the time since. If I'd known that all I had to do to get her to nap was remove the sleep mandate, I would have done it a long time ago.

She's always talking about her friends and her cousins, even the ones she doesn't see often. The other day she was singing a song "for Jeremy and Morgan;" she often confirms that she's still older than her cousins Sam and Levi; and she uses her second cousin, Brooke, as proof that she's still little at least once a week ("Mom, I still get a sippy cup because I'm littler than Brooke."). She knows where all her cousins and aunts and uncles live, and she asks me to point to "Was Begas," Colorado, St. George, Wyoming, Salt Lake, "Canifornia," and Texas all the time on our map wall upstairs.

Recently Kate was chattering away about the things she learned in preschool ("Joy means happiness!"), and I was half paying attention when she said, "Happiness is better than penist." 

"What was that, Kate?"
"Happiness is better than penist, huh Mom?"
"What's penist?" I asked. 
"You know, it's what boys have." 
"That's a penis," I said, and then we moved on to other topics.
I couldn't figure out what she was talking about until a few minutes later I realized that to her, it must sound like hapenis, not happyness, and I thought that was so funny.

She loves preschool and her teacher, Ms. Shannon. One [non-preschool] day out of nowhere, Kate said, "Mommy, I want to change mommies." 
"Who do you want to be your mommy?" I asked. 
"Um, Shannon."
I said, "I know you love Shannon. How about she will be your teacher and I will be your mommy?"
She seemed okay with that. Phew.

She calls The Incredibles "The Increbiboes."

She's a deep sleeper, and sometimes on the days she does nap, I have to wake her up when she sleeps too long. A few weeks ago, I went into her room and curled up next to her on her bed and snuggled her and cried because I love her so much and she's growing so fast and I want to appreciate her more. I still do that sometimes--lie next to her and hold her when it's time for her to wake up--and I realized that sometimes I don't see her; I don't always look at her little face when she talks to me or give my full attention to her endless chattering. I don't sit down and play with her as much as I should. I know of a couple people who lost their sweet babies this year, and it has really been a wake up call to me for how important it is to be present and appreciate everyday moments. And when she eventually wakes up, she throws out her arms in a stretch and then turns her head to face mine on the pillow. She gives me a sleepy smile, eyes half-lidded, and says, "I wuv you, Mom."