Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back at 2011

It's pretty sad when you have to look back through your blog archives to find out what your New Years' resolutions were. But I did it, and it's time to report:

1. Eat better. Less sugar and grains. Yes, I did this. I virtually eliminated sugar and we went grain-free from time to time. I can't seem to sustain being grain-free for very long, though. I get so hungry and end up eating a lot of expensive food ... For all their faults, grains are a cheap source of calories, and I eat a lot.

Then I got pregnant, and I stopped being so healthy. I know pregnancy is when it's most important to eat well. But it's also when you don't feel like the healthy food in your fridge, and you do feel like Taco Bell. I still don't eat a lot of sugar ... unless it's Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or someone made me cookies, or there's a party ... yeah. I find it almost impossible to turn down food that is available and delicious. For the first trimester, I hated sugar but loved processed fast food. Now, I want both. The amount of chocolate I eat is ridiculous. On the bright side, I think we ate even less processed food this year than last year, thanks to our garden and various elimination diets.

2. Pray better. Not really. I did try, and ended up about the same. I guess it would have been worse if I hadn't tried?

3. Be a better housekeeper. YES, I definitely did this. However, I also have more space to clean and it gets messier faster, due to the addition of a dog and the ever-increasing mess-making ability of the toddler. At least I am keeping pace with it. Sometimes I do dishes every single day! And that's without the dishwasher I used to have! When I was in the first trimester, I barely did a thing and we wobbled between John doing it and living in squalor. But now it's at least relatively decent all the time, and I do some housework every day.

4. To buy a house. We did this! And it's been great! When John had the two-hour commute, it was great for us and awful for him. Now that he's working closer, it's better in every respect than where we used to live. I have the garden, we have a dog (for better or worse), Marko has his own room, we spend less on housing every month (and it all goes toward owning this place for real), John's commute is shorter, the traffic and neighborhood are better ... it's great. I guess I do miss the apartment complex pool. I hardly ever used it when we lived there, but I would have loved to take Marko there this past summer.

5. To actually address stuff I'm angry about instead of stewing on it forever. All that really took was making the decision to do it -- and I'm positive that it helped. When I chose to remain silent about it, it was with the understanding that I had decided it was not a big deal and that I was going to get over it. When it was a big deal, I addressed it. And I do think we get along better when I am straightforward like that.

What has really made the biggest difference in our overall happiness, I admit, was not my new resolution but John's new job. Actually getting to spend time with each other and getting some rest was a really big deal. But what I've been doing hasn't seemed to have hurt.

6. To get another baby cooking. Check!

Here are ten of my favorite posts from the past year:

Conflict vs. cooperation
This Russian novel of a post is probably my #1 favorite. I'm just a way better parent when I think of my child as a teammate rather than an adversary.

Lessons from my first garden Rookie gardeners might find it helpful to learn from my mistakes.

A person's a person
Life has value. All life. That is why I'm against abortion, most war, and capital punishment.

Why I don't want another hospital birth Home birth can be just as safe or safer than a hospital birth in a healthy woman having a normal pregnancy ... so I'm having one this time.

Gender equality - I don't actually believe in the subordination of women, at least not in any really practical sense.

"Let kids be kids" - I think it's okay to give kids responsibilities. I don't think it's okay to let kids watch R-rated movies. Let's make a distinction, all right?

The fallacy of results
"Here's the deal: there is more that matters besides how a child will 'turn out.' I'm not just raising the adult he will someday become. I'm raising the child I actually have."

Birth scars
You never do forget what the moment of your child's birth was like. I wish the moment of Marko's birth were a happier memory.

Food sensitivities
When I see odd symptoms in my son, I always look first to what he's eating. This is an instructional post with everything I've learned about food sensitivities.

Teaching vs. training
You train a dog. You teach a child. This post is mainly about teaching children to deal with their big emotions.

Enjoy your New Years! I will be ringing it in by going to bed before ten and (hopefully) sleeping like a log all night. But if Marko's cough keeps up, I may find myself watching the clock turn over after all.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Excellent article about nursing in public

So I was moseying around the internet today and found a three-part series that said everything I said yesterday, only better. It starts here. It's long, but really worth the read, and I'd love it if you'd come back here when you're done and tell me what you think.

The first part points out that in the Middle Ages, women weren't breastfeeding in public because they weren't in public at all, they were at home. This made me a little annoyed, because isn't that just upper-class women? The poor and rural women couldn't manage to stay home all the time because they were working.

The second part admits that yes, poor women have always nursed in public. Which is why perhaps breastfeeding in public isn't just a gender/modesty issue, but a class/decency issue. A good, decent, middle-class woman wouldn't dream of doing That in public. Because she can avoid being in public. It might be tremendously inconvenient for her to do so, but she will lest it seem that she can't afford to do what the wealthier women can. Only those women who have no choice will appear without stockings, be out without an escort, or be seen breastfeeding.

The third part ties it all together beautifully. Feminism allowed women, and then almost required women, to take part in society alongside men. We had to work, be in public, and participate in society. But, we are also the ones who bear the children and do most of the raising of them. The inescapable conclusion is that if we are to be allowed into the public sphere, our children must be too. Otherwise we are not accepting of women, just of women who are willing to turn their backs on motherhood. As a woman who has happily and successfully worked with a baby in tow, I think this may be the only solution to the dichotomy between "liberated, working, voting, thinking woman" and "traditional, cloistered, submissive, mothering woman." Why do we have to pick one of these two choices? Can't I work, vote, think, and raise children, too? It seems the only real obstacle to my doing this is society's discomfort with the mothering aspect of my female nature ... and that is an obstacle that may be overcome.

I have been accused lately of being "tainted with feminist ideals." Well, why not just come right out and say it: call me a feminist! I am not a radical feminist. I don't believe in sexual liberation or abortion or a lot of other things feminists are "supposed" to believe in. I believe that women should be free to participate in society ... while still being women. I think that women shouldn't have to disguise that they are female in order to be considered an equal human being.

And most of all, I think that respecting women means respecting mothers. That being anti-child is being anti-woman. That as long as we consider it justified to lash out at women for being mothers, for nursing babies, for bringing children into the spheres where they could otherwise be, we don't really respect women. We only respect them as long as they are willing to give up their motherhood -- something that is important to most of us. So most of us walk this balancing act of trying and trying to be good parents as well as participating in the public forum, and it's really, really hard. It's relatively easy for me. I am able to stay home; I don't have to work. I have a husband who pulls his weight and is willing to stay home so I can go out. My friends and family all respect what I do and treat me as a person completely equal to them. They are not offended by the presence of my child when I show up to their parties. They don't demand I get a babysitter or a nursing cover or stay home.

But other women don't have what I have. Let me tell you this: most women who have abortions do not want them. A large proportion of women who wean early, wanted to nurse longer. Many women who go back to work after six weeks want to stay home longer. Many women who never have children wanted to have them.

Can we really say women are liberated now if we're still over a barrel?

Okay, go read the articles and tell me what you think.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A bit about bodily autonomy

Still frustrated. I suppose I should spend less time on the internet. The more time I spend on the internet, the more I discover that women, particularly mothers, get a lot of flak.

First off, there's this nurse-in at Target. Here's the story: a woman was in Target when her baby got hungry. She went off to an abandoned spot, sat down on the floor half shielded by a jeans display, and threw a blanket over her baby to nurse him. A store employee showed up and told her she should move to the changing room, or else be more discreet. Several other employees stood around, giving her mean looks and talking about her in front of her.

The law is on the mom's side here, so she went to the manager. And the manager told her that Target's policy is different from the law (what?!) and so they didn't have to abide by it.

Now there's been a big protest where women are coming in and nursing in Target. The larger organization claims they don't mind, because the store policy actually is fine with nursing in the store. So perhaps this was just an issue with this one particular outlet.

Now I, being an idiot, went and read a whole bunch of comments on the issue. They actually weren't (mostly) that bad. But almost every comment said something like this: "I don't mind if moms nurse in public. So long as they are discreet/use a blanket/use a nursing cover/go to the dressing room, I think they should be allowed to."

It's just -- who made YOU the decision-maker about when and how someone else is "allowed" to feed her baby?

I prefer to nurse with no cover (because those things are a huge hassle, draw attention, and you can't really see what you're doing, despite the advertising) but without showing anything anyone would object to. Took me awhile to get the knack, and it takes wearing two shirts. But I'm lucky because of my build. A heavier woman might not be able to manage what I do. Does that mean she can't feed her baby in public?

Here's how I managed it, back in the day. I don't think anyone would call this immodest.

The other big one -- really big -- was that stupid Facebook debate. I say it's over now because I've dropped out of it, but I believe the instigators are still hanging around saying nasty things about me. I realized I have the choice what I read, and I do not choose to read personal attacks on me. I also have the choice of where to comment, and that thread is not going to go anywhere good.

Anyway, it started with one person proclaiming as her status that she can't stand it when women post pictures of themselves nursing in a way that she doesn't consider "modest." She said that these women have no respect for themselves, so they shouldn't expect anyone else to respect them either.

Okay, so I don't post that kind of picture. The update was not directed at me. I have posted one picture of myself nursing on Facebook, and I doubt she ever realized that was what I was doing. And yet I still took it personally. If I should happen to feel very proud of my breastfeeding successes -- which I am -- and, in a moment of happiness, post a picture that doesn't match someone else's standards, why does that mean I've forfeited any right to the respect of others?

We went back and forth and back and forth over it. How modest does a woman have to be? How far do her rights go before they trample on someone else's rights? Is a blanket good enough? Or do we have to be so "discreet" that no one can tell we're nursing at all?

Now, we're a bunch of Catholics having this conversation. We value modesty because we don't want to tempt anyone into sin. I personally think it is very uncommon for men to be tempted into sin by the sight of a woman nursing. Secular conversations on this issue convince me of this: the men don't want to see it, not because they find the sight "sexy," but because they find it unsexy and they would rather see the breasts without the baby attached. But I admit that it is possible that the men of my circles, who have been more sheltered than average, do find it a temptation to sin if there is any skin showing in that area.

That's why I don't show any. I have mercy on my weak brethren who have an issue with me doing something women have done since the dawn of time. Women in earlier generations didn't have to deal with this, and women in other cultures don't have to deal with this, but our present culture isn't really used to breastfeeding and has made a connection between sex and breasts that isn't quite the norm. So I cave to cultural pressure, because I choose to make things easier for anyone who may be tempted to sin, and I honestly don't want those around me to feel uncomfortable or awkward.

However -- I see this as my choice. My choice to be charitable to those around me. Not some strange man's decision about what is and isn't appropriate for the women around him to do. Just like it is a man's choice, when he sees something he'd rather not, to look or not to look -- to lust or not to lust. (Keep in mind: anything that is sinful is a free-will decision. If I could force him into lusting, he would not be responsible and has not sinned. If he sins, that is because he gives into temptation instead of looking away.) I don't want to tempt anyone to sin. But, on the one hand, I think it is unlikely that he should be tempted, and on the other hand, I do have to feed my child. I do it in the most modest way I reasonably can -- I'm not deliberately presenting a stumbling block to anyone. Any temptation he experiences is not willed by me. If I went out in a bikini in the hopes of attracting attention, I could see being in some way culpable for the sins of others. But if I feed my baby, minding my own business, and without attempting to call attention to any bare skin I'm showing, I don't think anyone has the right to tell me I may not.

This is a complicated issue. I realize that. But I keep seeing time and time again, various sources -- mostly patriarchal Protestant ones, but Catholic ones too -- that suggest that anything a man thinks about a woman is her fault. She must dress in a certain kind of attire, specified by men, which usually includes skirts, long sleeves, and shapelessness. And if she doesn't do this, and receives harassment, negative attention, or even a rape -- that is HER fault. Men can't help their reaction to women's bodies. Only women can prevent men from lusting.

Obviously, that's simply not true. Men control their actions. If they can't control their actions, they shouldn't go out in public. Women have the right to be treated with respect, even if they don't act appropriately, because they still have human dignity.

Meanwhile, I think a woman's responsibility -- her personal responsibility -- ends with doing what is reasonable. She should dress modestly by not choosing clothing that is intended to incite lust in men, and by taking reasonable precautions to prevent wardrobe malfunctions. We might disagree about where the line is drawn -- I think that it is not reasonable for a mother to have to restrict when, where, and how she feeds her child. But, in the face of this disagreement, I think it's the woman who makes the call. It is, in the final estimate, her body we're talking about. And it is not the right of anyone who is not her to tell her what lengths she has to go to to avoid tempting others.

As a culture, we've decided to give up some of our rights, like the right to wander around naked. We decided there was a very basic limit we wouldn't go past. So we have indecent exposure laws. We also decided that, for the good of nursing babies, breastfeeding is not in any way indecent exposure -- regardless of how it is done or how much shows! You can't be persecuted for nursing in this country.

I think the law is reasonable. We have a very basic limit, and beyond that, it's up to everyone's comfort level and sense of courtesy. Some people have a very easy time nursing without offending anyone, and so they do. Some having a very difficult time nursing without kind of a lot showing ... so they weigh their options and decide that their baby's hungry tummy is more important than some strangers' discomfort. So they do that. No one else is really qualified to make that judgment call than her, because no one else is in her situation.

And ... let me say it again ... it is her body. I know Catholics don't like this phrase because it's a catchphrase for abortion: "her body, her choice." But the reason it's fallacious is because her baby's body should be her baby's choice -- not because bodily autonomy is a bad thing. I'm a strong believer in bodily autonomy, which is why I'm against circumcision or even ear piercing being done to my babies. I believe that they should undergo these procedures when they decide they want them -- not when I decide.

I also believe that a person has the choice what medical procedures they undergo when they are an adult. If they don't want some supposedly lifesaving treatment, they can refuse, even if it means they will die. This is a right defended by Catholic teaching. We are not permitted to take our own lives or mutilate our bodies, but we do have the right to refuse any and every treatment we want.

That means a woman who is giving birth may give birth where and with whom she wishes. I am downright tired of arguments that women couldn't possibly be making an informed choice when they choose homebirth. They are. I believe that a woman has the right to give birth in her bedroom by herself, or in an operating theater with twelve doctors on hand. When the Mississippi personhood law was coming up for a vote, I heard a lot of arguments that women would be forced into c-sections or bedrest or other treatments they didn't consent to, for the sake of their baby. A good understanding of bodily autonomy should tell you that you can't force a person to consent to surgery, even to save someone else's life. You can prevent them from taking someone else's life, but you can't force them to save it at risk to themselves. (In any event, as the parent of the baby they're carrying, they also have the right to make medical decisions for the baby.) Any law, court order, or doctor who tries to force a woman to consent to medical intervention for the sake of her baby is wrong. That is injustice.

And that means a woman can wear what she wants. As a Catholic, I have the responsibility not to tempt others into sin. However, that is my responsibility. No one else can force me into complying. And when I weigh that responsibility with the responsibility to feed my child, I came up with the solution that I use. Others come up with other solutions.

And for some man that I don't know to waltz into a public forum and say, "Oh, I think it's great that you want to nurse your baby, just do it the way I say or you are [a sinner, rude, flagrantly immodest, undeserving of respect -- choose one or many]" -- well, I personally find that pretty rich. Especially when I have sweet, loving friends with no desire to tempt anyone or shock anyone, who don't obey the "rules" someone else has laid out, who are being called all these names. This, by the way, does cause a lot of women to quit when they didn't want to. That brings out my inner Warrior Princess. It's not a pretty sight.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why so anti-child?

Lately it seems like I can't turn around without hearing something about how awful it is for people without kids to have to go out in public and see kids there. Especially when they're doing things that kids do, like crying, nursing, moving around, making noise, or sometimes misbehaving.

Of course these people don't consider themselves to be anti-child. On the contrary, they love kids! It's just the badly-behaved kids, which their own children or nieces and nephews never were. They blame the parents. What were parents doing bringing their children into a church or a restaurant or on a plane? They should have known it would end in disaster. Or else the problem is that they're not "dealing with it" in the way the commenter thinks it should be dealt with. Parents nowadays don't discipline their children, etc. etc. etc.

Here's a few quotes that I've run across in the past week. Each was in a public forum that got plenty of responses, so don't worry that these stood on their own without someone to tell them they were wrong.

This one is from Catholic Answers Forums:

It amazes me that almost every week there is someone in the church who will allow their small children to scream and cry during a large portion the Mass. Just for once, I would like to see the priest give pause, look in the direction of the noise and wait until the offending parent gets the hint and removes the little darling to the back of church so others aren't disturbed. What ever happend to the quiet reverence?

Well, I attend a church where they do just this. Of course the parents live in fear that they will be the recipient of the priestly glare, so they don't go into the church at all, but stay packed in like sardines in the uncomfortable vestibule, unable to hear much, while the children are learning nothing about proper church behavior because there isn't so much as a chair for them to sit in. I sometimes end up stuck back here holding my son (because there is no other option; if I put him down he'd vanish in the crowd) for the whole hour. When I leave the church, my back is killing me and I can barely walk.

For Christmas, we went to a different parish. I stayed in the pew the whole time, and John was in the vestibule with Marko for part. It was amazing to actually get to participate in the Mass, and to have a place to sit. For once, it didn't feel like a cross, but was actually feeding my soul.

Oh, but parents shouldn't get their souls fed, of course. Parenting involves sacrifice, gosh darn it, and just sitting in a pew entertaining a child isn't sacrificial enough. Meanwhile, hearing a peep out of a baby is too much sacrifice for a childless person, because they never volunteered for the job.

Of course, most of the comments were along the lines of, "Well, of course kids should be welcome in church, but parents shouldn't just let them scream and scream during the whole service." I suppose this is true, but for one thing, I've never seen this happen. Ever. And for another, that's the parents' job, not yours. Parents should do their best, and YOU, person who doesn't like to hear crying, should suck it up and assume that they are. Not try to get your priest to glare more. Not catch the parents after Mass and berate them. Not be a snot on an internet forum. Assume they are doing their best, sit near the front, and tune out the noises that distract you.

Here are some gems from the comments on an article about kids on planes and in restaurants:

I blame parents for the behavior of children ANYWHERE. If they are energetic and loud and can't sit quietly on a plane - don't take them on a plane to annoy others - or anywhere! If your baby cries a lot - don't take them on the plane, movie theater, or anywhere else the noise is going to interfere with others enjoyment. If you were driving for hours in a closed car, how would you feel with all that? Where is personal responsibility? I have two adult kids. When they were young and their behavior was unacceptable I would sit with then in the car until they quieted down. I would not ruin others' days out by making them suffer through my children's behavior. If you decided to be a parent then you must adjust your behavior and expectations. You are no longer free to just go out like you did before you were a parent.


Also, when on a 4-5 hour flight, a screaming child should not be allowed to disrupt everyone else's trip. If the people must take their children on-board, they need to contol them, give them a sedative. There are so many over-the-counter options. Stop invading my right to privacy!!!!


I fly business class, and I am getting truly fed up with the increased presence of families with children who scream and yell and cry during the flight. I pay a LOT of money for a good comfortable, PEACEFUL experience, and I do not believe I should have to listen to the kids or even other passengers act like complete idiots. I'm tired of the airlines reminding me that the kids have rights too. What about my rights to have some peace and quiet on transatlantic or transpacific flights?

In my not so humble opinion, families with children should be completely barred from business and first class. End of story.


Surely I'm not the only person who is upset and offended by this? You can plan ahead, you can make decisions based on the way your child usually behaves, you can pack toys, you can have a relatively well-disciplined child, and there may still sometimes be a meltdown. That's life. Children are part of society just like everyone else... why aren't people a little bit used to them by now?

But no, the solutions are "well, you have kids now, you can't go out," "just sedate them," and "my rights trump their rights."

Just once, I would like to see someone say, "Gee, this isn't convenient for me, but it's not convenient for the mom and dad either. We're all suffering together, and they have the right to be here like I do. I guess I'll just be thankful that when this is over, I get to go to my quiet house and sleep through the night." Actually, before I had kids I would think just that. When I heard a baby cry on a plane, I thought, "That poor mom! She must be mortified! Thank goodness it's not my kid and no one's expecting me to do anything about it." Even then I was aware that just hearing a child cry was the easy part.

And then there's the good ol' nursing in public debate. I don't know why I get involved in these. I guess it's because I am aware of their effects on moms. When you're a jerk about breastfeeding in a public forum, all of a sudden the nursing moms who read it think, "Is that how everyone feels about me? Are they all judging me?" And even though the mom reading it probably is draped in the world's biggest breastfeeding burka/circus tent, she still feels like everyone is staring at her thinking all those mean things they read on the internet. I remember feeling this way. SO self-conscious, even though nothing anyone could possibly complain about was showing.

Here are a few excerpts from the Facebook debate I was recently in:

But let us not deny the needs of the child; evidently you're going to get a lacrobat when nursing him in public. A mother who can't deprive of socialization for 15 minutes to spend quiet time with her baby, and allow the baby to eat comfortably and be focused on the mother, is very, very sad.


My response towards mothers who don't have adult conversation or tired husbands- this job you signed up for is one of sacrifice, these children you choose to accept, this husband who works long hours- this is what the better or worse part is. But to those women, I do not pity you. This is the road you choose and with the joys come the pain.


It is true, you will not find mention of nursing in the past - but it is not because no one had a problem with it. It was because women had a better understanding of their place in society and their dignity. It was never discussed, because it never came up. Culture today has been severely impacted by the inhumanity of socialism and their pragmatic creed of 'it it needs to be done, do it'.

Again, the message is clear: You, mother, need to sacrifice so that I don't have to deal with the reality that you are caring for a child. And I will call that "sacrificing for your child" even though what I'm asking is that you sacrifice for my comfort. But since you're a parent, you have to love sacrificing, no matter the reason, because otherwise you're a terrible parent. I don't owe you any sympathy because I never asked you to have kids.

Oh, and "back in the day" (I have no idea what day we were speaking of at this point; probably the Middle Ages, because I had claimed, I believe correctly, that women nursed all the time wherever they happened to be and no one said a word about it. My interlocutor claims that women in those days knew their place and must not have nursed in public after all ... at least, I think that's what he was implying) this question never came up because, in the midst of struggling for survival through cold winters and famine and plague, people were worrying more about beauty and dignity than about what "needs to be done."

In this, and in so many other online discussions, I feel myself being a target for others' hatred of children. Sure, my child is usually quiet in public. I've flown on planes with him, and he slept. When he makes noise, we take him out of church. And when I nursed him in public, I'm pretty sure no one ever saw anything. But you attack any mother, I feel you are attacking me too. You're saying that any support or acceptance I receive from society is dependent on my making the parenting choices that you believe I should make.

I don't mind my family and friends telling me how they think I should do things, because they do have a role in my parenting. They help. They support. They listen. They do their share. So I think they have a right to their opinion, though I may disagree. But strangers who have never burped my baby or played with my toddler -- or even laughed it off when he annoyed them -- have no right to tell me how I should do things. Either you have some interest in my child or you don't. If you're not willing to help out, I don't really want to hear your opinion.

Am I the only one who's been running into this nasty attitude, or is it everywhere nowadays?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Meditation

This is my imagining of Christmas, which I dreamed up around 5 a.m. this morning when I couldn't get back to sleep. It probably wasn't anything like this, but I did find it nice to imagine what it must have been like for Mary.

Catholic tradition often portrays Joseph as an old man who had been married before. I usually imagine him in his late 20's or early 30's. No one knows for sure, but that's how I was brought up imagining him.

I personally think Mary may well have had a painless birth. Catholic tradition suggests that she did, because she had no original sin, but some think she didn't because she did suffer some of the other effects of original sin. I tend to think that if hundreds of women using Hypnobabies or the Bradley method can have pain-free labors, Mary could too. I think it's original sin, and not just a crazy pelvis, that makes humans have so much harder labors than animals do -- our conscious mind interferes with our instincts, but our reason is overrun by our hormones, so that we tense up and get confused as to what we have to do next. I think Mary wouldn't have had that. But that's just my opinion.

I hope none of this seems terribly irreverent to anyone. This is just my imagination and it doesn't stop you from supposing things happened very differently.

* * *

Mary leaned on Joseph as they approached the cave and took a long slow breath in through her nose and out through her mouth. Joseph looked into her face, the concern visible in his face despite the fading twilight. "All this walking giving you more contractions?"

She nodded before starting to walk again. "Yes, but they aren't too strong. I'll sit down when we get there."

When they reached the warmth of the stable, though, she didn't feel much like sitting. Letting go of Joseph's arm, she walked past all the stalls toward the back corner of the cave, where there was an open area. The cows regarded her placidly as they chewed their cud, their breath making warm trails of smoke.

Finding a tattered broom leaning against the wall, she set to sweeping the corner briskly. Joseph set his torch in a bracket on the wall and reached out to stop her. "Please, Mary. Let me do it. You need to rest." She relinquished the broom and tried to sit on a straw bale, but she soon felt restless again and was bringing straw to strew on the clean ground.

"It's all right," Joseph said again. "You don't have to do anything, it will all be done in a moment."

"I know, Joseph," she said slowly, "but I just want to get it done." Fetching a bucket from another corner, she filled it at the animals' drinking trough and brought it to their nest. Surveying the result, she sighed. "That's fine. We will be nice and comfortable tonight. It isn't a bit cold in here."

Joseph smiled wryly. It was a tiny bit of an exaggeration. But the warmth of the animals made it seem almost summery compared to the biting wind outside.

Mary tried to sit down again, this time in the comfortable bed of straw she had made, but another contraction tightened her belly and again she felt more like standing. This one lasted quite a bit longer, and she put a hand against the wall until it passed.

When she looked at Joseph again, his brow was knitted with concern. "I know you are near your time, Mary, but it would be so much better if the baby could hold off a little longer," he said. "In a few days maybe I will be able to find a room here, or at the very least, finish the census business and get back on our way. Surely there will be inns along the road that have room."

"He will come when he comes," Mary said calmly. At that moment, she felt at peace with whatever happened. There had been this great sense of urgency to get to Bethlehem first, to hold off labor, not to deliver too soon. But now that she was here, she didn't feel like it mattered much if she went into labor tonight, or in a few weeks back in Nazareth with her mother there to help her.

Joseph let out a worried sigh. "This is all my fault. If only we had left earlier, maybe we could have found some room. It's just our luck that the census is now. Any other time of my whole life would have been better."

Mary went to him and put her hand on his arm. "It's all right, Joseph. You did fine bringing us here, and everything else is out of our hands." She meant to say more but her belly tightened again, insistently. A long, slow breath felt better than talking. She shut her eyes.

When she opened them again, she knew Joseph knew it would be tonight. He took her hand in both of his. "Mary, I -- I have no idea what to do! Is it all right to leave you here? Should I go get someone? Perhaps there is someone at the inn ... at least some old woman who has had a few of her own ... but we have nothing to pay them. They took so much just for the stable!"

The baby within her gave her a little wiggle. So comforting to know he was all right. She smiled at Joseph. "I think I will be all right," she said quietly. "My mother told me what to expect. The poor have been having babies since Eve bore Cain, and we've been okay."

The helpless look on Joseph's face moved her to pity. "Here, Joseph, this is what we do first. We will walk up and down the stable. You take my arm. I will lean on you."

This simple instruction seemed to calm him a little, and they began to walk. At first, they stopped once on every trip down the barn, while Mary leaned on Joseph and breathed. Then they stopped twice, and then at every few stalls. Then she didn't feel like walking anymore, and they went to their straw-covered corner. Mary put both hands against the wall and leaned forward, telling Joseph to push against her back. It didn't feel necessary, but her mother had said this was something the midwife did, and it seemed to make Joseph happy to have something to do.

Time seemed to slow as she leaned against the wall. Belly tense -- breathe in, breathe out. Belly relax -- slump forward, breathe in, breathe out. The walls of the cave seemed to disappear, and it seemed she could see the stars wheeling overhead. Were there angels in the cave? There seemed an intense presence of many onlookers. When she hummed through the contractions, she thought she heard many voices join her. But she didn't feel shy or afraid -- they were breathing in and out with her, helping her baby move down. A few times Joseph tried to speak, to ask her questions, but she couldn't seem to answer. Shaking her head, she whispered, "Shhh. Shhh."

All at once, the strangeness in the room seemed to lift and she could see around her again. Her belly was tensing in a new way, pushing down, hard. It was time for the baby come out.

When the pressure eased, she moved to the very corner and knelt down on the straw. She whispered to Joseph, "Come here. Sit behind me." He moved to support her from behind, and she raised her knees into a squat. Leaning against his motionless bulk, she felt steadied and calm. She raised her robe above her knees and waited for the pressure to return.

When it came, it came in full force. There was nothing for it but to make a long, slow sound, a birth song for her baby. Her voice vibrated in a long, deep tone. The cows lowed in response. That seemed right. They knew how to bring a baby down.

Suddenly there was a splash in the straw. She reached down and felt the baby's head just beginning to emerge. There was fine hair on it, fine wet hair. It receded, and then as the pressure increased it came forward again. She resumed her birth song. For a moment it seemed again that there were angels, that they were joining her in the song.

A few more pushes and it was out, in her hands. She couldn't quite see, but she felt its roundness with both her hands. Then she felt it turn, and a moment later the whole baby shot out into her hands. Instinctively she raised him up against her. Joseph peered over her shoulder. "It's here! It's okay! It's alive!" His voice was charged with relief.

Tilting him away from her for a moment, Mary gazed at her son. His tiny dark eyes gazed back at her, barely visible in the torchlight. They were full of infinite wisdom. She couldn't look away, even though her vision was swimming with tears. Now she was positive she heard angels singing, but she couldn't tear her eyes off her beautiful son to see them.

Loosening her robe, she pulled it down over her shoulder and brought her infant to her breast. He snatched at it eagerly, rearing back and grabbing on. His eyes roved up toward hers, unfocused but deep. Mary's heart brimmed to overflowing as she watched her son drink her milk. It had seemed so incredible when the angel had said he would be the Son of God. But with him in her arms, it was impossible not to believe. The tiny, wrinkled body, its apparent frailty, was of no consequence -- his eyes made clear he had come straight from heaven. But when she tried to wrap her head around the notion of such immense power clothed in such fragile weakness, of a being that had created her now relying on her milk to live, it simply failed. There was no understanding this. But her heart was full, and she did not need to understand.

She tore her eyes from the baby and turned her head around to Joseph. He was smiling at her, and his eyes, too, were filled with tears. Half afraid to break the silence, she whispered to him, "We will call him Jesus."

* * *

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mama's got separation anxiety

I have, a handful of times, left Marko with his dad. For a few hours. When he was two months old, I left him at home for one hour while I went two blocks away to get my hair cut. The whole time I clutched my phone in my hand waiting for a text saying he needed me so I could rush out the door with my hair half cut and love on my baby. But when I got home, he was sitting in his bouncer exactly where I'd left him, and John told me he hadn't noticed I was gone.

Since then, I've occasionally left him while I went shopping (he likes shopping, but doesn't care for the driving part) or to go to some brief event or other. Each time, Marko doesn't care a whole lot, and I fall all to pieces.

Now that he's a toddler, he does have some separation anxiety. Whether I'm the one who leaves, or Daddy is, he cries for awhile. John maintains he cries a bit longer when it's me. There isn't a huge difference, though, so I don't feel I'm neglecting him when I leave him with Daddy any more than John is neglecting him when he goes to work. He's still with a parent, he's pretty happy, no biggie.

Last weekend I agreed to go to a Christmas party (the same one I went to last year and had so many adventures on the way). It was going to be quite a drive now that we live so far out. But I said I would go, because I had a good time last year and wanted to see those people again.

But Marko was having a rough day. It had been busy and I'd already had to go shopping without him. When I told him I was going to leave to go to a party, he flipped. He was running around crying "No Mama go! No Mama leaving!" and quite disconsolate. I scooped him up onto my lap and just held him for a minute. He snuggled into me and I nuzzled his neck. (Mmm, so nice.) And all I could think was, "Why the heck do I want to go anywhere but here? What possible fun could I have elsewhere to equal toddler snuggles?" But I had already promised to go.

Once he was calm, I got him reading a story with Daddy and left the house. When I shut the door behind me, he started wailing again. My heart broke into two big pieces. I couldn't even walk away. So I stood there listening to the crying through the door for about a minute, and then I heard him quiet down so I knew he was going to be okay. And I left.

The whole dang way there I was feeling incredibly mopey. All I wanted was my baby and my hubby. I tried to console myself with the thought that I had one baby I couldn't leave anywhere yet, but it wasn't good enough. I wanted our family to be together. I didn't want to go anywhere without all of us.

The party was fun, I guess. I felt all adult tromping around from my parking spot to the party in my nice clothes. But it just felt off to me. I don't see myself as a cool single woman. I am not sure I ever was one. Once I reached the party, I had fun talking to everyone, though it was weird being the only married woman or mom there. I told one woman my opinions on childbirth! Shows how out of touch I am with what single women are supposed to talk about.

After about an hour, I bailed. I told them I'd promised to leave at eight, and it was after eight. Someone said, "Aw, but this is your girl time! It's okay for Daddy to handle things!" That was the moment I felt the most out of place. Moms are supposed to like girl time, right? They want to get away for a little bit. They feel free when they leave their kids at home knowing that they are safe and happy. At least that's what everyone says!

I guess I'm just more domestic than I thought. I like being at home with my family. I love getting together with friends if my kid is invited too. But I just don't like being by myself anymore. I'm not sure when that happened.

This realization doesn't really disappoint me, though. I don't feel like I've "lost myself" or that I am missing out. (It helps that I have never in my life been cool.) I feel, instead, that I have adjusted to the way my life always is. I always have a kid in the carseat when I'm driving, and I prefer it that way. I don't think that's a bad thing.

What would have been a bad thing is if I had given in to my inclinations and scooped my sleeping child out of bed when I got home to nuzzle his neck. I was good and let him sleep. But at his first six a.m. peep, I leaped out of bed to go make sure he knew I was home. I think he'd forgotten I'd ever left. But I got some nice snuggles in while he was nice and sleepy.

Yeah, absence makes the heart grow fonder. But I don't think I'll do that again for awhile. I'll stick with snuggles and neck nuzzles instead!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sometimes, I'm frankly terrified

More and more lately, I'm afraid to read the news. Which means I'm afraid to go on Facebook, because all of my friends are always posting news stories and debating them. And, of course, my blog reader, which is full of stories that upset me.

Like what?

Well, like this. A child has cancer. The doctors tell them it's terminal. The parents want a second opinion, and they find an alternative doctor who has cured a few cases of the same kind of cancer. They decide that some chance is better than no chance, so they want to go to this doctor. But a social worker comes along and tells them they have no choice but to go with the conventional treatment, or their child will be taken away from them. They undergo the conventional treatment, which fails and also makes their son sick (as most cancer treatments do). They are finally allowed to seek alternative treatment, which seems to be going well, but their son is too weakened from the conventional treatment and dies. Now the family has lost a child, and to add insult to injury, their medical bills are so staggering that they are now bankrupt and living out of their car.

Or that front yard garden thing awhile back. Woman plants vegetable garden in front yard, which she doesn't believe is against the law. She is threatened with fines and imprisonment.

And anything about raw milk. People are raided without warning for producing milk and not pasteurizing it. The producers are upfront about what they make. The customers are aware that the milk is not pasteurized -- that is why they want it, because they believe raw milk is healthier. But the milk is confiscated or destroyed and the producers are fined or imprisoned. A Wisconsin judge ruled that we do not have the right to grow and eat our own food. I see that as a Linkpretty basic freedom, so yeah, I'm scared all right.

I also don't like reading about the TSA. I haven't flown since the naked scanners and pat-downs started, but one of these days I might have to. And I hate the thought of having to choose between subjecting my children to radiation that may or may not be harmful, or teaching them that it's okay to be groped by an adult so long as it's one in authority -- that their personal boundaries are something imaginary that can be violated in some circumstances.

Meanwhile, I hear they're setting up random roadblocks for ID checks on highways now, just to make sure we all are who we say we are. Ditto for bus stations. We no longer have the freedom to move about the country without identifying ourselves. Most of us have nothing to hide ... but that isn't the point. I should not have to prove who I am in order to travel.

I hear most of the Republican candidates favor a universal ID card that we would have to carry with us at all times and produce upon request. Again, I don't think I should have to prove who I am just to leave my house. The burden of proof should be on my government, to prove that they need this information and that I am a threat.

Because I might be considered a threat. Among the things that may cause you to be suspected of terrorism are owning a gun with ammunition (which is a Constitutional right, though I don't exercise it), missing fingers (oh, so my Grampy could have been a terrorist now), or ... get this ... owning more than a week's worth of food at a time. Being prepared for an emergency, or even being the tiniest bit self-sustaining, is a sign we are not completely reliant on our nation's fragile infrastructure, and we should be. Because otherwise we might be terrorists.

Meanwhile, it looks like they're going to pass that horrible bill after all -- the one that says that citizens can be arrested by the military and held indefinitely without trial, provided we are suspected of terrorism. But since there is no trial, those who arrest us will not be required to prove that their suspicion of terrorism is in any way credible.

All around me, I see the government trying to control me: what I eat, who I talk to, where I go, how much I choose to disclose. And it's almost always in the name of safety: safety from food-borne illness, from unhealthy choices, and most of all, from terrorism. I am assured that the enemy would come and kill me in my bed if the government didn't trample all over my freedoms in order to protect me.

That isn't what bothers me the most, though.

What bothers me the most is hearing people defend this downward slide. They don't see it as a downward slide at all. It's just an x-ray -- just a front-yard garden -- just some milk -- just some identification. After all, why would you have anything to hide? Okay then, you don't need privacy.

And then, when they are forced to admit that yes, it is a terrible hassle, and boy, wouldn't it be easier to be able to make more choices -- they echo the safety argument. Where would we be without the government to tell us what is safe to eat? What would happen to children if the government weren't there to make their parents make the right decisions for them? And a little pat-down is nothing if it protects us from the evil terrorists who want to Kill Us in Our Beds.

People believe, of course, that terrorists actually want us all dead. That is not the case. They want to terrorize us -- to make us terrified. And we are terrified. We are so terrified we are willing to give up all of our freedoms -- the freedoms that make America a great place to live -- in order to be safe, or even to have the illusion of safety.

And they believe that the government, being benevolent, would never use any of these new powers to harm us. Oh, no, they would only ever use them to protect us. And since we're good, upstanding citizens, nothing bad will ever happen to us -- until we get a phone call from the wiretapped phone of someone who's connected to a terrorist, or we are Middle Eastern and try to fly on 9/11, or we have too many cans of corned beef hash in our basement. The fact that is vividly clear to me, which seems to be missed by everyone, is that power handed over to the government is power that is gone. We will not get that back. Years down the road, it may be Linkabused, but by that point it won't matter because these powers are no longer up for debate.

I guess I'm just not so trusting. I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I have no idea what the higher-ups in the government have in mind next. I don't even know if they know. But I do know that seeing so much power leaving my hands and entering theirs frightens me. I would like to know that, if I should happen to disagree with a doctor about my child's care, or seek to produce my own food, or decline a vaccine someone thinks should be mandatory, I won't be interfered with. And if I raise the ire of someone in authority, I want to know that I have the opportunity for redress. If I get into trouble and have to flee my hometown on a bus without my ID, I'd like to know I can do that. I like to have a backup plan that doesn't involve moving to Brazil.

I thought in a free nation, that would never be in question. But lately, it is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Conflict or cooperation?

"You can't let him win."

"Don't give an inch, or he'll take a mile."

"He knows what he's doing."

"Don't try to be his friend. He'll grow up to take advantage of you."

"You have to show him who's boss."

I keep hearing phrases like this. And they're well meant. If you're in a duel of wills with a two-year-old over whether or not it's okay to hit the dog with a spoon, it would be a bad idea to lose. First off, you're in the right -- hitting is bad. And second off, you don't want to teach the child that a certain amount of fighting with you is going to get him somewhere.

But at the same time, the language grates on my ears. My son is not an enemy combatant. It gives me no satisfaction to engage in battles with him and walk off the winner. I want us both to win. Me walking away in triumph with the spoon he was hitting the dog with, while he howls at the injustice of it all, doesn't strike me as a "win." It's a necessary evil that we put up with to get through the day, but it's not a "win."

I've been thinking lately of my three years of teaching. The first year, I was told by most of the other teachers, "The kids will try to take advantage of you. Don't give an inch." So I was as strict as I could possibly be, and they did try to take advantage of me. By the end of the year, several of my classes were near chaos. I wasn't strict enough, of course. But what really disillusioned me was how bad those kids wanted to take me down.

The next year, I had first graders. They're so transparent. They weren't rebellious, and I wasn't afraid to give them a few inches and see where they'd go with that. When they had problems, I assumed it was because they hadn't understood or felt unsure. My most rebellious student, whom I was advised to discipline harshly, I was the gentlest with. I tried to find out what was fueling his rebellion, and when I found it was his frustration and discouragement, I gave him extra help. I let him get away, by the old standards, with murder in order to work on the real problems. The rest of the kids, I occasionally disciplined, but I mostly just took them aside and asked them what the problem was. And they would tell me! They would be thankful for my help, and the original problem would disappear.

The year after that, I was back to ninth graders. The hard age. The rebellious age. I did get lucky. I had a nice bunch of kids. But there were a few that were definitely poised to challenge me. The kind of kid that gets a kick out of going head-to-head with the teacher, of finding what the limits are and staying just within them while still driving the teacher nuts. So I should have gone back to my strict ways. But it just wasn't in me. I was high off of teaching first-graders, and remembered tons of little tricks that had helped them. When a student acted up, I refused to make it into a battle, but would instead ask them what was fueling their behavior. I kept a light-hearted demeanor, warned them that I would punish them if I had to because I had to follow the rules, but that we'd both be happier if we could steer clear of the whole punishment scene. I told them I assumed they wanted to get A's in my class, and that I would do what I could to help them get those A's. I stopped "treating them like adults," and instead used grown-up language while treating them as the rather forgetful, irresponsible, uncertain kids they were.

And it worked. By refusing to fight with my kids, by laughing off things that were supposed to test me, by gently reminding them as many times as it took to get back on track, by motivating them with less homework if we got more done in class, by having a fun day every once in awhile ... I somehow ended up with a peaceful classroom, not a perfectly silent one like I might have wanted, but an involved one. And all of my kids learned a lot. The grades definitely showed I did a better job that year.

Of course, there are tougher bunches of kids than that one. Some will go head-to-head with you no matter what you do. But my assumption that I did not have a tough bunch, my assumption that they all wanted to do well and stay out of trouble (one which I would share with them from time to time: "I know you care about this class, I know you're a really great bunch of kids") ended up being, in many ways, self-fulfilling. And I wonder if my assumption with my first batch of kids was self-fulfilling too. Did they take one look at my lengthy "expectation sheet" and my tall stack of prominently-displayed demerits and say, "We're taking this one down"? I suspect some of them did think exactly that.

I think those three years affected my parenting even more than all the years of nannying and big-sistering that I did before. I find myself reacting in totally different ways to my son than I did to my charges and siblings.

When my little brother was a toddler, he didn't like to be kissed. But I would kiss him anyway. And then he would rub his face vigorously, saying, "I'm wiping it off!" I was hurt, of course, and told him, "No, you're not wiping it off. You're rubbing it in!" He got very upset about that at first, but eventually got used to it. What I ask myself now is, "Would it have killed me to have asked before kissing him? Or to let him rub off kisses he didn't want? Isn't it his face to have kissed or not? Isn't it okay for him to have control over that one thing?" I didn't mean it badly. It just never occurred to me that you could or should let the toddler win anything. It certainly never occurred to me to apologize. I would now, though. I think it's entirely appropriate to apologize to kids when you've accidentally upset them -- it shows them how to do it!

I used to think it was important, every time a toddler crossed you, to make it the hill you were going to die on, and walk off the winner. I can't imagine how exhausting that would be in real life -- when you're not the nanny or the big sister, but the mom. Every disagreement, every bit of sass, has to be a fight and has to end in victory. It would end, at the very least, in a heck of a lot of time-outs. Because no one is more stubborn than a toddler. The only way to win is with overwhelming force.

Now, I let a lot more slide. When I tell Marko that horses neigh, and he insists that they moo, I laugh and make a game of it. When he demands that I don't wear the funny hat that scares him, I leave it off. It hurts nothing to humor him. When he says that he most definitely will NOT sit on the potty, I let him go and try again in five minutes (if he hasn't had an accident by then).

There are some things I won't take. I won't be hit, or let the dog be hit. I won't let him climb things that may be dangerous. I won't let him tear books or break his toys. But I don't make a big deal over these things. I just take away the hitting implement, or walk away, or put the dog outside, or move Marko to another room. That makes him furious. I used to think the appropriate action after a "punishment" of this kind was to ignore the child until he'd stopped crying, because he's got to get the "full force" of how naughty he was. Now, when he's in tears because I wouldn't let him hit the dog, and he's sobbing "Hit the dog, hit the dog," I offer a hug or a new activity to do. I don't insist that he suffer. He is already suffering by not being able to do what he wanted.

But my general rule is to assume that he isn't trying to start a fight with me. He's just trying to do his toddler thing and experiment with stuff. I place the limits, I won't let him go past them, but I'm not offended that he test them either. It's what toddlers do. It isn't personal. And it isn't a fight.

The deepest part of this whole thing is that I try never to think of it in terms of battle or winning or losing. When I think of it that way, I treat it that way, and when I treat it that way, it becomes that way. When I think, "Marko is challenging me, I have to win this one," I am closed to his point of view. I don't think of what will make it better or easier for him. I think of how to win and how to make sure he knows it. And when I have won, I am left with an upset child who is looking for something else he can do that he can win. When I think, "Marko wants something, and he doesn't understand why he can't have it. Let me help him understand and help him not do it anymore," I feel patient. I feel like trying to understand the root of what he's doing. I easily see his motivations (is he tired? bored? hungry?) and can solve his original problem. It's amazing to see his temper tantrum over hitting the dog dissolve as soon as he realizes there are other options, like reading a story, or when he remembers there's something else he really wanted, like a snack. There's no resentment afterwards, out of either of us. We both feel better because we've solved the problem and we can both have something we want.

I know sometimes "battles" are inevitable, especially as a child gets older and more set about what they want. And I know it's important to be the mom and not the buddy or the doormat, and make clear what the limits are. But I still want to get rid of all the warlike language. It doesn't help me be a good mom. When my son challenges me, I want to say to myself not "I have to win!" but, "What does he really need? How can I help him do what I need him to do? How can I show mercy and kindness to him without blurring the limits that he needs me to set for him?"

It's how I would like to be treated, anyway. And my goal these days is to treat my son -- both children -- the way I would like to be treated. I remember being a kid. I remember what it felt like to be powerless and to want to challenge authority just to get rid of that feeling of helplessness. I want to show my kids that I do understand where they're coming from, and that I'm willing to help them get where they need to be. I just hope I can do a good job of that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The joys, and otherwise, of potty training

Weaning was pretty effortless. Improving nighttime sleep hasn't really involved that much input from us ... though I gotta say, I'm still not loving the naplessness. The worst is when he does nap on one day, because of having been in the car at the wrong time or having had a bad night's sleep, and that sets off a cycle of sleeping badly at night, wanting a nap the next day, and sleeping badly the next night. The only way to break the cycle is to deal with a tired, cranky toddler who is trying to fall asleep across your lap all afternoon. But other than that, we've been getting pretty steady improvement without a ton of work.

Potty training is another story.

The first few days were great. Sometimes Marko would go in the potty. We'd all cheer. Sometimes he'd go on the floor, and we'd mop it up. Either way, no biggie.

But it's been over a week now and I just feel so frustrated. Not that we're not making progress, because we are. But I just don't know where to go from here to make sure we keep making progress. I watch Marko like a hawk to guess when he might need to go. I keep track of when he last went. I lure him onto the potty and keep him there by reading endless books. Often it works. Sometimes it works unexpectedly -- like yesterday when he zipped over there all by himself and went without saying a word -- and I feel so proud! But sometimes, he inexplicably does not go in the potty, and five minutes later goes on the floor. And I have no idea why.

I just want to yell, "What the heck, kid? An hour ago you took yourself to the potty and I didn't even need to do a thing till you asked me to dump it out! And now you're randomly peeing next to the potty and telling me to clean it up!"

Scheduling was working really well for awhile there. I'd just put him down every hour, and he'd usually go. But then it suddenly changes partway through the day. He goes two hours without going, then goes, then goes again 15 minutes later. It just feels like there's no rhyme or reason to it sometimes.

I just don't know how to get from "willing and motivated to go on the potty" to "willing and motivated NOT to go anywhere else." I don't want to punish him for having accidents. But I don't think he really thinks it's important not to go on the floor. He's quite happy to help me clean up. But I think my little talk of, "When you need to pee, you go on the potty ONLY, never on the floor" is going in one ear and out the other as he answers "Marko pee on the floor! Clean it up!"

I remember being at this stage with the dog, too. And eventually, he did get it. I can't say what specific thing I did to seal the deal on potty-training the dog. I just kept taking him out often, staying out till he went, taking him out immediately if I saw him starting to go ... and eventually he got it. Without even any M&Ms. But it did take awhile and maybe I've just got to have more patience.

The really frustrating part is that I don't want to go anywhere while we're working on this, for fear that putting him in a diaper will just confuse him and cause us to lose all our progress. But we can't stay home forever, either. Some people tell me I must never put him in a diaper while we're potty training, and others say it makes no difference. I do know that he was totally clueless all of Sunday evening, after having been in a diaper for church. But the previous time he was in a diaper for half the day, the other half he was just fine and only had one accident. I don't know what to make of that.

I'm trying to work on deep breaths and not freaking out. After all, I've been putting up with occasional, or more than occasional, pee on the floor for months. He's finally doing it less and my life is getting easier. Would it be the end of the world to stay at this stage for a month or more? No, it wouldn't. There is no deadline. We'll be okay. If we get too fed up, we can always stick him back in diapers and try again when he's three. I'm sure he'll be out of diapers before college. I repeat these things to myself many times.

Please tell me they are true. Also, if you have potty trained a child successfully, I'd like to hear how you did it, how long it took, and whether you were super frustrated too!

Creamy turkey soup

I love creamy soups so much that there was no way I wasn't going to try to make one out of my leftover turkey. Especially after seeing so many glorious, drool-inspiring pictures of them scattered around the internet immediately after Thanksgiving.

Mine was inspired by a wild rice soup, but wild rice cost an arm and a leg when I saw it on the store, so I just went with brown. I would recommend brown over white, because it gives more depth to the soup, but I don't think that makes or breaks the soup either.

I think what makes or breaks it is the mushrooms. I wouldn't leave those out. And I think it would be missing something with canned mushrooms, too. Fresh mushrooms absorb butter when you saute them, which is the main goal here.

Creamy Turkey Soup

3 Tbs. butter
5 fresh mushrooms, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 Tbs. cornstarch*
1 cup cooked brown rice**
1 quart turkey stock
1/2 cup diced leftover turkey
salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary to taste

*Or flour, or another starch. Just keep in mind that flour only has half the thickening power of cornstarch. You can adjust the thickness of the soup at the end by adding more starch to milk and mixing it in.

**I cooked the rice first because it does take a long time to cook. You could cook it in the soup if you don't mind simmering longer, or if you're using a different kind of rice. But you'd need to increase the liquid accordingly.

Saute the mushrooms, celery, and carrots in the butter. When they are aromatic and beginning to soften, and the mushrooms have soaked up all the butter you think they're going to, add in the cornstarch and cook a little longer. Then pour in the stock and cook until the vegetables are just as soft as you like and the broth is thickening nicely. Add the rice, the turkey, and the spices. Remove from heat and garnish with yogurt, sour cream, regular cream ... whatever you like in your cream soups.

This soup was so ridiculously good that I don't feel like making anything else with my almost two gallons of turkey stock and several containers of leftover turkey. I just want this soup every night for the next two weeks. I wonder if John would mind?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

He's growing up so fast!

When I found we were expecting, I had three goals for Marko: to be weaned, potty-trained, and sleeping through the night again by the time the new baby was born. John thought I was being a little ambitious, and I agreed - but still wanted to try.

Well, here we are, about five months out, and we're making real progress. I'm pretty sure he's weaned. (I did nurse him one time since my post about it, for a few minutes to settle him for a nap, but he hasn't asked since. And I've been able to put him to sleep lately all by myself, just by rocking and singing.) Sleeping through the night is kind of a crapshoot - he wakes up for many, many reasons, and we're clueless what most of them are. But cutting out gluten seems to have helped. Sadly, cutting out naptime seems to help too. This one I'm not keen on, but it seems to have eliminated waking at 4 a.m. demanding breakfast or wanting to party at midnight. I guess we can't have a decent bedtime, a decent wake time, uninterrupted sleep, AND a nap. But ohhhhhh would I ever like that.

And, for the first time in a long time, we've actually made progress on potty training. John talked me into letting Marko have an M&M when he goes, and so now he's way motivated. We still have to remind him to go sit on the potty when it's time to go (about every hour) but he is very willing to try, and he does finally seem to know what to do when he gets there. We've been working on it since the weekend, and he's going in the potty about half the time. I put him in a diaper at bedtime and when we go out. Let me tell you, it's nice to clean pee off the floor only occasionally instead of constantly.

In addition to these HUGE milestones, he's also tackling a million tiny things. He now will put things in the trash when asked, or follow other instructions. He knows the names of dozens of his favorite songs, and often many of the lyrics too. He can identify them whenever we hum a few bars. The same is true for his favorite books - if we pause, he'll finish the line. His vocabulary and sentence length are increasing all the time. He knows the names of his favorite people and can tell you what happened last time he saw them. When Daddy comes home from work, he tries to tell all about his day (which sounds like, "Library! Books! Ride the bus! Bus driver! Play with Gilbert!") He knows what his bedtime routine and getting up routine are supposed to look like, and will freak out if you skip a step.

He will often give you the wrong answer when you ask a question, and then laugh hysterically. He plays pretend by sitting in a box and saying he's the bus driver, or sitting on a box and saying he's riding a bike.

There's so much going on in his head lately, it's staggering. Because of this, 18 to 24 months is supposed to be a peak in tantrums, but I haven't found this to be so. Sure, he's a little particular. He has to have everything in the proper order. He likes to play in the dirt, but he has to come to me every minute or two and have me wipe off his hands. If he walks through a door, he has to shut it behind him. And if Daddy takes off his glasses or puts on his jester hat, there are tears. We could refuse to humor him and let him scream about it. Or we could adapt, knowing this is just a stage- which for the most part is what we do. He's learning the universe has rules, and it comforts him to have them be predictable. I think that's okay.

The one frustrating thing is choices. Turns out, contrary to what I've always heard, it's better not to give him any. If I ask, "Do you want ham?" the answer is "Ham!" But if I ask, "Do you want ham or turkey?" there's silence. So I ask, "Do you want ham?" "No, turkey!" "All right, here's some turkey." "No, haaaaaaam!!" Tears. I try to give him both but he throws them at me and flings himself down crying, whereupon he hurts himself and requires comforting. Not. Worth. It. If he doesn't want the first choice, I offer other things ... but it can't be an either-or.

I never thought I'd say this, but lately I'm more excited than regretful with each new breakthrough. I'm sure it helps to know there will be someone else to be cute and helpless soon. But the main thing is just that he gets more fun and hilarious every day. Like at dinner tonight, he was playing with a piece of a turkey wing. First he said it looked like someone dancing. Then he said it looked like a plane. Then he said he was going to go to the library on a turkey plane. Where does he come up with this stuff?

Anyway, it's been great. I know I've said this about at least five ages before, but THIS is the best age. Definitely.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I think we're weaned!

Marko last nursed on Sunday night.

I was not thinking, "Aw, this could be the last time. I had better savor the moment." I was thinking, as I do every time, "Ow ow ow, please God, let him never do this again." So I haven't been feeling any regret or nostalgia. Instead I'm really enjoying snuggling with no nursing, and often no kicking or hair-pulling either! It's just been a really bumpy road, so that my feelings are of relief rather than regret.

It's been a slow process, which has been going on for a long time. Since he was a year old, I stopped offering very often. I would nurse him when he asked and at naptime. A month or two later, I started giving him cow's milk in a cup, because he seemed unsatisfied with nursing and wasn't nursing enough to get all I felt he should. A month or two after that, I started offering milk in a cup sometimes when he asked to nurse ... and three out of four times, he'd pick the cup.

For awhile we weren't nursing to sleep at night, and once I got pregnant we rarely were at naptime either. So he went down to an average of twice a day, and then an average of once a day -- twice some days, none some days. If he persistently asked to nurse and wouldn't be distracted, I nursed him. Or if he cried and couldn't be easily comforted otherwise, I nursed him.

Night-weaning him was relatively easy because he was sleeping through the night for awhile there. When he started waking again, he had no particular expectations, and didn't mind a spell in the rocking chair or me lying beside him in bed instead of nursing. On some nights I got frustrated and nursed him, but by the time I was about two months pregnant, he was basically night-weaned.

Then, when we stopped stroller-walking to sleep and started nursing to sleep, I decided sleep time was the only nursing time. So that was when the real work of weaning happened -- I no longer nursed him on request. Mostly it was pretty easy because he wasn't nursing much anyway and I was nursing him twice a day without him having to ask. But sometimes he did ask. I would generally not say no. No is an ultimatum, and it's like waving a red flag in front of my toddler. Instead I'd say, "Oh, is this naptime then? We only nurse at naptime. Let me change your diaper and get you ready for nap. Then we'll go in the dark bedroom and nurse in the rocking chair." That apparently sounded like too much of a production for him, because he'd usually change his mind. Sometimes he'd go along with it, only to get distracted by the change of room or the new diaper.

One hard-and-fast rule I had at this time was never to nurse anywhere but in the rocking chair in his room. I had heard that kids are often reminded of nursing by mom sitting in a place where she usually nurses, and I didn't want to give up the couch or the office chair. I would happily snuggle and read with him on the couch, but if he asked to nurse, we had to move into the bedroom. Not only did that discourage him from following through on his request, he started asking less because there was nothing to remind him of nursing.

The big challenge was getting him to sleep without nursing, especially because John's help isn't always available. He is there for bedtimes, but two nights a week he has class, and he's only there for naptime on weekends. I think that one was just a matter of being ready to go to sleep without nursing. Going to sleep with Daddy whenever available was a big help, but for a long time, if I was there, he'd want to nurse. This was made worse by my sitting in the rocking chair -- John would stand up and bounce him, but my back is no longer up to that because of my PGP. So I would sit in the rocking chair while we sang songs and snuggled, but when he wanted to go to sleep, he'd ask to nurse.

I weaned him off the left side when I was about two months pregnant because the pain was so bad on that side. It turned out to be a really good idea -- because I could hold him with his head on that side, and nursing wouldn't even occur to him unless he switched his head over to the right side. All the same, he just wouldn't settle down to sleep without nursing, so I was in the frustrating position of offering nursing to a child I really wanted to wean, just to get him to sleep. Our sleep problems were just a bigger issue than nursing was.

Every once in a blue moon, I'd get him to sleep without nursing. I did on Sunday, for nap. John went into the shower right when Marko decided he wanted to sleep, because he was going to have to leave right after that. Marko melted down in a big way. He just couldn't be consoled. I brought him into the bedroom and just rocked him and rocked him while he sobbed and screamed for Daddy. (Which, of course, broke my heart -- even though I knew most of his upset was because he was tired rather than because he would have actually been comforted by Daddy.) After what seemed like forever, he settled into my shoulder, stopped crying, and fell asleep.

Sunday night, John was gone again and I couldn't repeat the performance, so I nursed him. But on Monday, he again didn't get even a little sleepy until he suddenly had a huge meltdown -- this time two hours past his usual naptime. I took him into the bedroom, and he started crying for Daddy again. I offered to nurse him, and he refused. I offered to sing a song about Daddy, which he accepted. I sang "Bye Baby Bunting" probably a hundred times, never changing a word or a pitch. His eyes just zoned out and then fell shut.

Monday night, John put him to sleep. Tuesday nap, he slept in the car. Tuesday night, John put him to sleep, though I was thinking I might be able to on my own. Wednesday nap, he fell asleep easily, again two hours late, but without asking to nurse. Instead I sang the refrain to "Big Green Tractor" (a song he loves and I hate) about a million times, and he passed out. Wednesday night, I was rocking him to sleep when he asked to nurse, and I passed him over to Daddy, who easily put him to sleep. Thursday nap, he slept in the car. Thursday night, John put him to sleep. Friday nap, John put him to sleep. Friday night, John put him to sleep.

So, it's circumstances as much as anything else that have helped us here. Each time he's either been really sleepy and ready to go down, or else John's been there to help. But we now know it's possible. And John will be here every sleep-time till Monday, so we can solidify the whole no-nursing thing. By that time it will have been a week. And, though I'm sure we'll hit some bumps, I'm to the point where I'd rather see him skip a nap than nurse him again.

So maybe it's not Marko's readiness. Maybe it's mine. I've been continuing nursing him up to now because it was easier to nurse than to consider alternatives. Now, I've decided I'd rather try all the other possibilities rather than nurse. Marko himself doesn't care -- attention is attention, food is food, sleep is sleep, and he doesn't really care the form it comes in. So when he occasionally asks to nurse, I pick him up, read him a book, sing him a song, get him a cup of milk, and he's perfectly content.

I think I will mark this down as a win: weaned (I think), with no crying, no pacifier, no thumbsucking, and no other issues. In the end, it turned out not to be a huge deal. It is so reassuring to me to know that there is such a thing as gentle parent-led weaning. It didn't have to involve cold-turkey and screaming. We just both adjusted, bit by bit, until whether we nursed or not didn't really matter, and then we stopped.

I'm happy about it. We had a good run -- almost 20 months -- despite so many difficulties throughout. I believe I've given him what he needed. I would be quite willing to nurse the next baby longer, if I didn't get pregnant (I'm thinking nursing through pregnancy is just not something I can do ... though you never know if it might be different next time) and they wanted to. But for Marko, I think this was the right amount of time. I'm glad I nursed him this long, and I'm glad I'm not nursing him any more.

Friday, November 25, 2011

I don't care if you say "Happy Holidays"

It's funny that my opinion is even controversial.

I just keep hearing that people are upset because the store clerk wished them "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." And I really don't see the big deal.

You see, if I bumped into an atheist or a Muslim or a Jew on Christmas, I wouldn't want to be rude and say "Merry Christmas." That's like saying, "Enjoy your dinner" to the waitress at a restaurant. She's not eating. You are. And if someone isn't celebrating Christmas, why wish them a happy one?

But most people celebrate some kind of holiday between late November and early January. There's Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucy's Day, Christmas, Hannukah, Eid (depending on the year -- not this one), Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Day, and Epiphany. I don't know which particular grab-bag of days you choose to celebrate. But it's a safe bet that you celebrate at least some of them. So, happy holidays.

I say Merry Christmas, very happily, to people I know celebrate it. Sometimes I just say it to strangers because most of them are likely to celebrate Christmas. But if I ran a business, I'd probably just say happy holidays to my customers to make sure I hit on something they actually want me to say to them.

I mean, saying Merry Christmas is about spreading goodwill. It's not a political act. And if it is offensive to some people, if it makes them feel left out, if they just don't want to me say it, it's not exactly going to spread goodwill to them, is it? It's not actually going to make them have a merry Christmas. It's just going to make them have a grumpy Hannukah.

The same goes for Christmas trees, Santa, and "Christmas" carols (you know, the kind that doesn't mention Jesus?). These are secular symbols of a secular holiday, which happens (like the feast celebrating Christ's birth) to be called Christmas. If people want to call it a holiday tree rather than a Christmas tree, why should I object? There's nothing intrinsic to it that makes a tree a Christian symbol. If a Muslim wants to do Santa with her family, why should I care? So long as no one tells me I'm a hypocrite because I claim to be Catholic and yet hang mistletoe, which was adopted ages and ages ago from paganism. There's nothing intrinsically pagan about mistletoe.

I admit that I celebrate both a religious Christmas (nativity scene, midnight Mass, Advent, O Antiphons, Epiphany) and a secular Christmas (gifts, tree, lights, "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," stockings, candy canes). It doesn't bother me if other people celebrate a secular-only Christmas, or no Christmas at all. If you're not crashing into my house, tearing down my lights and tree, I don't see how it's any skin off my nose. I don't like having to listen to "Grandma Ran Over By a Reindeer," though. So do us all a favor and keep that on your headphones.

I know a lot of people like to say we're really a Christian nation. But what does that even mean? We have no official religion. We CAN'T have an official religion -- it's in our founding documents, and for a good reason. The founding fathers wanted to make a place where people of all religions could come and interact as equals. Yes, many of them were Christian. Many of them were also Freemasons. But we're not a Masonic nation. We are, for better or worse, a pluralistic nation. We generally agree that we were made by a higher power and that it does us good to give thanks to that power (hence Thanksgiving, In God We Trust, and so forth), but not everyone here thinks that, and our tradition is to respect their belief (or lack thereof). Of course I would love for everyone to be Christians. But I don't want them converting just because they're tired of being snubbed for being something else ... if that even worked, which I've never heard of it doing. If we wanted to force this country to be Christian, we would have to rustle up a much more serious persecution than insisting people say "Merry Christmas."

Maybe I'm too young to see it. I wasn't raised the 50's where everyone was Christian, or if they weren't, they kept their mouths shut about it. I was raised in a world that, from my point of view, is actively hostile to my beliefs. Pornography is forbidden by my religion, but it's everywhere. Church-going is mandated, but many people have no choice but to work Sundays. The culture, as a whole, is not at all Christian. And, though most people in this country do believe in God and the Bible, I have never found it safe to assume that a random person I meet shares a single opinion of mine. (Being raised Catholic in Seattle is good training for this, I suppose.)

I never thought of this country as a Christian nation. Medieval England? That was a Christian nation. Renaissance Italy? Ditto. But I always drew a lot more parallels between our time and the time of the ancient Romans. (Any of my Latin students will tell you so.) True, we are not actively persecuted, except perhaps here or there when we run for public office or quote Scripture in a public school. But we're not supported either. We are just trying to do our thing, while surrounded by people who are doing something else. We don't let it get to us more than we can help. We shut our eyes at the Coliseum (so to speak) and we don't burn incense to Jupiter. We live the best lives we can and hope that someone will ask us why we're so happy or what gives us the strength to love our neighbor. Then we can tell them. That's why St. Paul said that we should "always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for your hope." He didn't say "Build a society so Christian that everyone else will feel isolated and awkward because they're not."

If I can better show Christ to others by saying "happy holidays" by saying "Merry Christmas," then I will do so. And I am well aware that those who say "happy holidays" aren't doing it so that they will "stick it to the Christians" and "prove that Christianity is no longer relevant." They're doing it because they are trying to say something that will make people happy without making anyone feel left out. Is that such a terrible thing?

Happy Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria/Thanksgiving Leftover Day! (I refuse to wish you a happy Black Friday. There is nothing remotely happy about that quasi-holiday. I do not celebrate it, and honestly can't understand why people do. But, if you are celebrating it today, be safe and remember no sale is worth endangering yourself or others.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

An exercise in futility

This morning I was feeling cranky. My to-do list was long, and every single item on it seemed like an exercise in futility. Such as the following:

1. Wash dark laundry. In three days, everything I washed will somehow be dirty again. Also, I'm almost certain to forget some crucial thing, like my pajama pants or the diaper covers.

2. Wash diapers ... ditto, except it takes longer to wash them and less time to get them all dirty again.

3. Wash dishes. I will not even be done with the dishes before I start making more dishes.

4. Put away clean dishes. Since I have just washed all the most commonly used dishes, I'm going to put them in the cupboard where they will stay for eight hours tops before being taken out and used again. Leaving them in the rack would save me a lot of time.

5. Fold laundry. This is just ridiculous. Why are we required to arrange our clothes into geometrical shapes before we pull them out again, unfold them, and put them on? Sorting I can sort of see the point of ... but folding? I'll be lucky if they stay folded long enough to get into the dresser drawers.

6. Make yogurt. I do like yogurt. But it takes so long to make that nobody's going to want it by the time it's done. Then it will be gone in no time flat. Whereas if I keep it as milk, it will be gone in about the same amount of time. It gets eaten either way.

7. Put on clothes. I happen to like my pajamas. I'm not going anywhere, and the baby doesn't care. And if I put on a sweater before John gets home, he's unlikely to notice that I'm wearing the same sweatpants as I wore to bed.

8. Pick up baby toys in living room. Seeing as he is running around yelling at the top of his lungs while pulling more and more toys out and throwing them around, this is the biggest exercise in futility of them all. Every minute I spend cleaning, the place will get messier. But if I wait for all the toys to be out, eventually it will reach a critical mass of messiness and I will only have to pick up the toys one time. A little tripping between now and then won't kill me.

I am happy to report that I overcame my feelings of futility and did everything on this list. Well, except #7. Couldn't quite work myself up to that one. Other than that, it's a relief to have clean laundry, clean diapers, a clean kitchen (cleaned once by me, and once by John), yogurt in the fridge for an instant snack tomorrow, a kind-of-tidy living room, and clothes in the drawers. At least, in John's drawers. My clothes aren't folded because I simply couldn't see a reason to do it. But at least I now can find my underwear without having to dig through a pile of John's shirts.

The downside is that I am achy and exhausted and my legs are cramping up. I tend to do all my achieving in one day to buy myself several days of comparative slacking off. It used to be great because the more I did, the more momentum I worked up and the more I wanted to do. Now that I'm pregnant and getting by on six non-continuous hours of sleep a night, I wear myself out with this plan. But everything always needs to get done on Mondays!

Surely I'm not the only one who feels this unmotivated about the housework from time to time?
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