Friday, October 28, 2011

Sleep stress

I think I may have broken my kid. At least as far as sleep is concerned.

He always was a clockwork kid. First week of his life, he would sleep for three hours and eat, with wakeful periods at predictable times, around the clock. And he soon settled into a predictable schedule. At eight weeks he was sleeping through the night, and I was thrilled! I thought it must be because I was such a good parent.


Anyway, by twelve weeks he wasn't sleeping through the night anymore. There was the fact that we flew him halfway across the country at that age and gave him jetlag. But the main thing was that he was starting to refuse to eat, which was a really big problem. So when he woke up at night and was willing to eat, my original tactic of trying to get him back to sleep without feeding him (so that he would focus his meals during the day) went out the window. My kid was dropping on the growth chart, and I was not going to do a single thing to get rid of two solid nighttime nursing sessions.

I would show up at work exhausted, and my well-meaning coworkers kept giving me advice (most of which involved leaving him to scream alone for hours in his crib, nothankyou) on how to get him to sleep. I kept repeating over and over, "My kid is losing weight. My sleep is not my priority. Him eating is." But somehow the impression remained that my child was a bad baby for not sleeping through the night, and I was a bad mom (either a martyr or lazy) because I wouldn't fix it. Sigh.

Eventually, though, he started eating regularly again, piling on the pounds, and doing great. Of course by then we had passed the ideal window for learning to sleep through the night. And then he had cold after cold (that's what happens when you take a baby to school with you every day all winter) and cut tooth after tooth, and, well, just forget about sleep. Instead of waking up for a quick snack and dropping off, he was requiring an hour of pacing and bouncing every time, and then don't even think about trying to lay him down in his crib after that. So we started cosleeping.

That actually worked pretty well. He slept better, and so did I. Not great, of course, but better than when I was pacing the floor bouncing. And when we moved the crib up against the bed and took off the side to form a sidecar, we were golden. If he fussed, I would roll him towards me, nurse him, and roll him back into his crib sound asleep so that I could have my space again.

The really ideal part of this was that I could get him to sleep much more easily. We had started out rocking him to sleep in the rocking chair, since I had heard that you don't want to nurse your baby to sleep all the time -- that will give him the habit of having to nurse to sleep and you'll never break it! I don't know why it never occurred to me that rocking to sleep every time would have the same effect. And of course it was easy to rock him to sleep when he was 19 inches long and fit upright against my shoulder. Once his legs got long, we were in trouble. He would spend the whole time trying to stand up on my lap. So we went back to nursing to sleep while rocking in the rocking chair, and it worked except for when I tried to lay him down.

But with the sidecar, it was perfect. I would nurse him until his eyes fell shut and he was sorta kinda sleeping. Then I would stand up and move to the bed/crib, where I would nurse him the rest of the way to sleep. Once he was really settled in his bed, I would unlatch him and he'd get comfy on his own. Eventually he started rolling away from me himself when he was ready to sleep! This is the holy grail of baby sleep ... getting your baby to go to sleep in his crib on his own. And the whole process took 10-20 minutes. Meanwhile, his ability to resettle himself in his crib on his own led to the other holy grail ... he often slept through the night.

As he was about a year old, though, we had some issues. He was taking two naps a day, which he didn't really need, but which he naturally took due to my work schedule. That made it hard to go to sleep. So we'd do the whole rocking, nursing, lying down routine, and it wouldn't work. And we couldn't start over, because he was starting to refuse to nurse unless it had been awhile since the last time ... so we'd have to wait a whole hour and try again.

So we discovered a new trick: the stroller walk. Just strap him in the stroller, walk around the neighborhood, and he fell asleep much more easily! It rarely took more than 20 minutes, and it always worked. He still slept through the night. We moved to our house and switched him into a floor bed in his own room -- no problem at all. We'd walk for 20 minutes, then carefully take him out of the stroller and into the house. I'd carefully lay him down in his bed, and he would stay asleep.

But, as always, there were problems. He soon became addicted to this method. Now nothing worked but stroller walking. Sometimes not even that -- we have walked for over an hour with no effect. And cold weather was approaching. Sometimes it would rain, and bedtime turned into a nightmare of indoor stroller walking (no dice) and bouncing. John would walk him around his bedroom in the dark, jiggling and humming, and eventually, when he got tired enough, he would drop off. Unfortunately I have never mastered this technique. My shoulders aren't comfy enough, for one thing, and for another, the kid weighs a ton. Lately my back has been so bad I can't really carry him for long at all. So it's a Daddy-only trick. I wouldn't mind it being a Daddy-only trick if John were always available in the evenings, but he isn't. I have to be able to put him to sleep myself.

So we switched back to nursing to sleep, even though by this point I was pregnant and really wanted to wean. We just didn't have any option. He won't even sit in the rocking chair with me unless he's nursing. He would rather get down and play. Luckily, this tactic ended up working really well. After the first few nights, I wondered to myself, "Why did we ever get away from this? This is so much easier!" Not to mention that it is easier to transition from nursing in a rocking chair to not nursing in a rocking chair than from roaming around the neighborhood in a stroller to anything else. I can nurse the first half of the time, and then when he's sleepy, just rock him. But I couldn't do anything like that with the stroller.

But we have two problems. The first is the most immediate issue: bedtime. When to put him to bed? We have tried a number of different times, and it seems every night is a little different. (Small wonder, when his naps have been all over the map lately. I never let him sleep past 3 pm, though, regardless of when he went down.) I hear a good bedtime for a toddler is 7 p.m. His usual bedtime is 10. John gets home at a quarter to seven (making 7 p.m. an impossible goal) and we are hard at work on bedtime by eight. We get in pj's, read books, try a little rocking and nursing, fail, try more books, try more nursing ... and some nights, nothing works. He's all wound up and hyper, racing around the house like a maniac if you let his feet touch the floor. Meanwhile our whole evening is shot ... we spend pretty much the whole dang thing on bedtime.

I suspect the problem is that we've missed the ideal window for bedtime. But how to know when the ideal window is? When he's already tired and cranky, he will often melt down in the middle of dinner, so we whisk him out of the high chair and into pajamas. Sometimes (like last night) it works. Usually not. And when he's had a good nap and is feeling good about life, he never shows any sign of tiredness at all. He just keeps on living it up, ignoring the fact that we've put the dog to bed, turned down all the lights, and put away all the toys. Around ten we get really serious about it and refuse to let him do anything but lie in bed or be rocked. But lying in bed for Marko usually means standing on his head and feet and toppling over while demanding nursery rhymes, so we try to stick with just rocking. And he puts up such a fuss. If he's got Mama, he screams for Daddy. If he's got Daddy, he screams for Mama. And more than anything, he screams to be DOWN so he can PLAY.

Eventually the end of that is him crying himself to sleep in Daddy's arms. He doesn't cry long, but I still feel there's got to be a better way ... and one that ends with an earlier bedtime.

I've tried tinkering with the rest of his schedule, but he just isn't as predictable with that as you would think. Nap usually starts between 11 and noon, but it could last an hour or three hours. I hate to wake him, because he ends up even more overtired and hyper, but I sometimes do for fear of having him sleep all day and play all night. And I tried messing with his wakeup time, which was a mistake. He used to go to bed at ten and wake up at eight. So I started waking him an hour earlier, so now he goes to bed at ten and wakes up at seven ... sometimes earlier. Making him more overtired, more prone to taking a long nap, and more hyper at bedtime.

Our second problem is just that we want to wean him. John can get him to sleep without nursing; I can't. And, you know, I'm the one on the scene. I always put him down for nap, and usually for bed. John is in class two nights a week, so I need to be able to do bedtime on my own. I had this whole plan for reducing bedtime nursing and getting him to fall asleep without it, but it hinged on the notion of having a sleepy child at bedtime who wanted to fall asleep one way or the other. Not on having a wide-awake child who is barely falling asleep with nursing, much less without it.

Oh, and the third problem is that he hasn't slept through the night more than once in a row in around a month. There are various reasons for that, but it's definitely contributing to the irregular naps and the overtiredness. On the bright side, I can easily get him back to sleep with no nursing at night, because he's too tired to try to get out of the rocking chair.

This is not to say we've had no success at all. There was a week there where he went to sleep at nine every night, and fairly easily too. Then he took a late nap one day and the whole thing was ruined. And last night, we got him to sleep around eight. That was more John's doing than mine, but it was a success! There clearly is a window for sleep earlier in the evening ...we just keep missing it. I have hopes that with John's new job (starting Monday!), since he'll be home earlier, we will be able to have an earlier dinner and maybe catch that window. If that doesn't work, I guess we will all have to place our hopes in daylight savings time. At least for awhile, we might be able to trick him into going to bed at nine.

But all the same, tips would be appreciated! (Keep in mind: if we put him in his bed and walk away, he just follows us. It does not work. Everyone suggests this. Even if he were in a crib, he'd probably just jump on his bed and sing songs.) Or if this is a common 18-month-old phase that instantly disappears at 19 months, I would very much like to hear that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I don't like being a housewife.

There, I said it.

Don't get me wrong. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I love being with my son all day, the close relationship this helps us have, and the way I'm the expert on his needs. All that is what I stay home for.

I didn't stay home to do housework. Sure, I do it. I don't do a great job. I keep us all fed, clothed, and more or less clean. But I don't enjoy it.

Oh, the chores themselves aren't so bad. They're no harder than many other jobs I have had. It's the endlessness of it. The way I can spend an hour washing a mountain of dishes, and by the time I'm done, we're hungry again and I have to make more dishes. The way I can never really relax because there's always something I should be doing.

And it's so easy to get resentful. It's tough, especially if you're the more outgoing spouse, to wait all day for your husband to come home so you can talk to him, only to find he's been dealing with people all day and just wants to be quiet. Or to have him come home and put his feet up after a hard day's work just at the moment that your job is getting its most stressful, what with dinner to make and bedtime to handle. Or to see everyone you know relax on a weekend, while for you it's just one more day where people need to be fed and clothed.

There are different ways to look at it. You can see it as a vocation. But then every time you need to ask for help with the dishes, you feel like a failure at your vocation.

You can see it as a job. But it's a kind of awful job with no pay except the privilege to continue doing it, plus the occasional word of gratitude. And then, every time you aren't thanked on schedule, you feel like your pay is getting docked.

You can see it as just trying to keep a tidy house because you like to live in one, and doing the lion's share because you happen to be home more. That's my main approach. But then you get angry when no one else does what you consider to be their share. And you don't feel like you should ever have to ask. No one asks you to make dinner, please - you just do it. So how come other people can walk through the kitchen, comment on the dirty dishes, and then just leave them there? You feel everyone has the responsiblity to pitch in and do an amount of housework proportionate to the amount of time they spend in the house. But, of course, they haven't got the memo and don't know what you might consider proportionate. They might not even know what needs doing, not being in the thick of it like you are.

It's a pretty powerless position. There isn't always any solution to being overwhelmed, tired, lonely, and behind on the dishes. But then, the husband can be in a bind, too, in many ways. If he has higher standards than his wife's (as mine does), and he thinks things ought to be cleaner, what can he do? He could do it himself, but he's so busy outside the home he hasn' t got the time or energy to do it all. He could nag and complain, but if she thinks she's doing her best, she's not likely to make a permanent improvement.

Either spouse is in danger of feeling jealous. The husband can complain that he never gets to spend as much time with his kids as his wife does, that he has to commute, and that he can't arrange his house to suit himself because he's never in it. The wife can reposte with her loneliness, lack of measurable accomplishments or appreciation, and inability to get out of the house or wear nice clothes. There are times when the other's job seems like a walk in the park. Meanwhile, both have to make constant financial sacrifices for life on a single income to work - and that can be a strain too.

A strong relationship can weather these struggles, but they definitely can be points of contention. Men and women have been arguing about them at least since the Industrial Revolution, and maybe since the dawn of time.

I do the housework because I want it to be done, because I want my husband to have a clean house, and because I'm the one on the spot to do it. But nothing has ever made it easy for me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Language explosion

Marko's language development has been amazing lately. It's been quite a surprise to me that language doesn't develop linearly -- instead it goes in sudden leaps and bounds. Which is why you always hear about kids who didn't speak a word till two and then started talking in sentences. Once those brain connections are made and they want to say something, they pick up words at a lightning pace.

It would be impossible to count the number of words Marko knows now. I joke that he knows them all. At any rate, he knows all the names of things he sees regularly and things he likes to do. He doesn't get adverbs at all, though. When I say to pet the kitty nicely, he thinks "nice" is a verb that means "to half pet, half hit." Ah well.

Lately he's begun to talk in sentences, though not usually original ones. He just mimics whole sentences that we use, like "Mama do it," "Grab the dog," "Mama kiss Daddy." His original sentences are more sparse: "Walk in street," "Eat crackers," "Marko's mousie." But he's certainly on his way to communicating everything he wants to.

That doesn't mean he always does use his words to communicate, though. Sometimes he just says "Mama do it, Mama do it," and when I say, "Mama do what?" he melts onto the floor in a puddle of frustration. When he's really upset, he can't speak at all. He clearly wants something and is frustrated that we don't understand him, but he's screaming too hard to pronounce anything. He certainly throws more tantrums than he did a month or two ago. Now that he's 18 months, he's very aware that what he wants doesn't always jive with what we want, and he's harder to distract. On the bright side, though, he does understand "no." Sometimes he still does the thing, but sometimes he just starts to throw a fit. In other words, he's thinking, "I want to touch that outlet, but Mama said no, so I CAN'T. I'm so upset!" But he is obeying, which is what matters (especially where outlets are concerned!).

I have always liked to sing to him. I have fun with changing the words of songs to fit our circumstances: "You've got to change your evil ways" becomes "We've got to change your stinky dipe," and "It's business time" becomes "It's sleepy time." He likes his songs. He's stopped liking many "grown-up" songs though: he prefers songs he understands the words of, like "Wheels on the Bus" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep." Our compromise is Jonathan Coulton. We both like him. His favorite is "Code Monkey," and he often surprises me by knowing the lyrics. The other day he was talking to himself and I couldn't figure out WHAT he was saying, until finally I realized he was saying, "Code monkey is a simple man, with big warm fuzzy secret heart." He calls the song "Code monkey like you." It's very cute.

He's not tone-deaf, either. On Wednesday, he was being a real crab, so I let him sit on my lap and watch the Muppets on YouTube. We found one of Kermit singing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but when I realized it was just a fan-made dub instead of the real Kermit, I moved on. I guess we watched about 30 seconds of it. On Friday, he was lying on my bed saying "Nap" so I sang, "Nap-nap-nappin' on Mama's bed." He immediately leaped up and headed for the living room, saying, "Watch a movie?" I was pretty impressed.

I am so proud of his recent achievements. I have a smart kid. I will use that to comfort me over the fact that he's still not sleeping worth a darn. Ah well, we can't have everything, can we?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A person's a person

I am, as most of you know, pro-life. That means I am opposed to abortion in any and all circumstances. While I absolutely do care about moms in tough circumstances, I also believe that a fetus is, from the very first moment of conception (when it has its own individual, human DNA blueprint) a human person. And I believe that human persons are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore have intrinsic dignity and rights.

Which is why it weirds me out when people who consider themselves pro-life as well then turn around and fail to respect human life in other instances.

If you believe in the dignity of a human person when it is composed of one cell, unable to think, move, talk, suffer, or defend itself, it seems to me that it shouldn't be hard to believe in the dignity of all human persons. And most people who describe themselves as pro-life also believe in the dignity of other people unable to move (like coma patients) or unable to talk (like the severely disabled) or unable to defend themselves (like the very poor). And yet they might advocate the death penalty or war with a zest that seems entirely inappropriate.

A person's a person no matter how small, sure. But I also believe this: A person's a person no matter how black. A person's a person no matter how Muslim. A person's a person no matter how guilty of murder.

Now, the Catholic Church does allow for one very particular instance in which a human person may be directly killed. That is when that human person is an aggressor threatening your own life or that of someone for whom you are responsible. By their aggression, they have forfeited, to some extent, their right to life.

The simple example is that of a gunman charging at you with clear intent to shoot. To make it easier, let's say you have a bunch of kids with you, and you're not sure who he's going to shoot first. You have a loaded gun. You can go ahead and shoot, and if you can't avoid killing him when you shoot, that's okay. In fact, you probably have the responsibility to shoot.

Another is the example of war. The Canadians finally realize we exist and send a brigade of ferocious Mounties, armed to the teeth, to murder our men and enslave our women and children. You enlist in the New Hampshire militia and prepare to defend your family. If you happen to shoot one of the attackers, fine for you. You are simply doing your duty. You respect the life of the other guy, but you recognize that he will kill you and your family if you don't kill him first -- and so you do.

The death penalty is also allowed by the Church. Traditionally, the solution to a dangerous criminal who threatened the peaceful citizens was to execute him. However, theologians and popes (particularly John Paul II) have been lately emphasizing how this ought to be avoided when possible.

Why? Because life has value. Because the "other guy," the guy you want to kill, has hopes, dreams, a family who will mourn him, and a desire to live his life -- just like you do. Because God is the giver and taker of life, and it isn't our place to say when people live or die. When we have to -- when there is absolutely no other option -- we sometimes have to take the life of an aggressor. But we'd rather not. We'd rather, like God does, see him be converted and live.

That's why the Church has such a strict definition of a just war, and one of the requirements is that all other methods have been exhausted. We shouldn't be looking for an excuse to go to war. We should be looking for any way to avoid it. Not because we are afraid of death -- but because we don't have the right to kill other people if it is possible not to. I have heard war defended on the grounds that "well, we have to, if we want to be a world power," or, "it would cause us severe economic hardship if we didn't," or, "we'd better strike first, or they will attack us later." Sorry, these aren't reasons to go over and kill someone who hasn't attacked you first!

I am not getting into specific wars here because it would take a much longer post ... probably a series of posts. I feel differently about different wars, but overall I feel uneasy about our country's eagerness to involve ourselves in armed conflicts. It's like we've forgotten that people die in them! Can there be a war that is necessary, in which risking our own lives and those of our enemies is just? Most certainly, and I believe there have been plenty of these over history. But I think there have been a heck of a lot more unnecessary wars.

With the death penalty, I feel the same. Might there be (or have been in the past) cases where a criminal had to die to protect everyone else? Definitely. But when we have the option of giving someone life without parole, and everyone can be kept just as safe that way, why don't we use it? Certainly this is expensive. But so are babies. We choose the more difficult way sometimes because we care about human life.

I got into a debate about the death penalty awhile back. Arguments in favor of it included "Knowing you're going to die is a great encouragement to repent" and "If a person kills someone, it is just for them to be killed." The first one is just beyond our pay grade. We have no idea what will help someone repent. I'm not going to get into the business of trying to save people's souls by killing them -- God never gave us permission for that. And as for the second, I thought we got rid of "an eye for an eye" when Jesus came along. "Justice is mine, sayeth the Lord," and all that. It isn't our place to decide what is "just" for another person to receive. If a man steals a thousand dollars, it is reasonable to require him to pay a thousand dollars to the person he robbed. But if a man kills a person's child, can killing him in return ever give the child back? If a man kills ten people, is he to be killed ten times? There is no restoration of justice when a person has been killed. That's a life that is no more -- it can't be given back or paid for with more death.

As you can see, my pro-life views are a little more complicated than, "You can't kill someone ever." If someone has made the choice to attack you, they don't have an equal right to life as someone who's just minding their own business. But that doesn't mean their life doesn't count, that we won't have to account for it to God. Their life has a value that can't be measured.

So, just understand that when I hear someone say, "I'm pro-life -- protect the unborn!" but then in the next sentence say, "Let's nuke Iran!" or "Hey, that guy killed someone -- he deserves to die!" ... I feel a disconnect. As if they were saying, "Only unborn life matters and has value." And the fact is, all life has value. And none of it belongs to us to do with as we like.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Exploring on the city bus

I have been stranded at home on weekdays pretty much all summer long. One day, I was at the park two blocks from my house when I saw a bus go by. What? We have a bus?!

A bit of research informed me that this bus goes all over town, stops a block from me every hour, and costs fifty cents a ride. Well, sign me up!

I got the chance to try it on the second straight day of rain last week. Marko was as stir-crazy as could be, and I wasn't much better, so I resolved that we would leave as soon as possible. Our destination was the library. Hours of fun to be had there, though I planned to only stay an hour so we could have a snack before naptime. Once I mentioned the words "bus" and "library" to Marko, we were committed. We dashed around the house like mad, getting ready so we could catch the 8:37 bus.

The bus came right on time, and the driver was unbelievably friendly. He offered to swing right by the door of the library to drop me off so I wouldn't get rained on, and even asked when I'd be done so he could come by the door then, too! It was only a moment after he pulled away that I saw the sign on the library: Open 10-8. It was 8:45. And it was raining. Dang it.

So we played around the library in the drizzle for awhile. It wasn't raining hard, and it wasn't cold. Marko splashed in all the puddles with his bare feet. I had wanted to bring his shoes, but couldn't find them because the dog had made off with one, like ... two weeks ago. We're still not doing shoes that often. But it wasn't cold, like I said, and Marko seemed content and not cold, so I didn't worry.

Until a librarian came out and told me off. She said she "had concerns" about my son's bare feet and was worried he would get cold. "Thanks," I said, "he's really fine." (I deal with this EVERY TIME we go out in public. If he hasn't got shoes, I hear about it!) "No, I'm really concerned," she said. "He's going to be cold, playing out there in the rain with no shoes!"

I said I wasn't sure what I could do to alleviate her concerns, as I didn't have any shoes with me. I hadn't planned to be out there in the rain, but I'd taken the bus and not known when the library opened. Then I had an idea. "I mean, you could let us inside, and then he wouldn't be cold!" (The library has a large open area outside of the part where the books are ... so we wouldn't be hurting anything.)

Of course she turned this idea down, gave me a long, disapproving stare, and went inside. I was ticked. So I did what I always do: came up with a million and one comebacks cleverer than the one I had used -- all of which would be inadvisable to use in real life. Like this one: "Who do you think cares about keeping him warm more, his mother or a random stranger?" Or this one, "My husband works for you for FREE every weekend, and this is what I get from you." Or this one, "I'm assuming you're mentioning it because you happen to have rubber boots in size 18 months in your pocket?"

Thank goodness the lady was gone, though, so I did not embarrass myself with any of these rude remarks. Instead we went to the playground next door and played for awhile. Marko rode on the swing (his first ever! he hated it) and climbed the jungle gym. I stood there and got wet. The rainwater quickly soaked into my shoes, so that I ended up with cold, wet feet until lunchtime ... whereas the rain dried right off of Marko's feet every time I picked him up and felt them! (Every time I get criticism about his lack of shoes, I feel his feet obsessively to make sure they're not cold. They never are. This kid is warm-blooded like his dad.)

When it was almost ten, I went and stood outside the library. Apparently that is the happening place to be! There were half a dozen people waiting. I ended up telling a college-aged kid about the shoe thing, and pretty soon everyone was laughing about it. The kid kept joking, "That's like seeing a homeless guy and saying, 'I'm worried that you're so hungry' and then walking away! That's like seeing someone freezing to death and saying, 'Gee, you look cold! You should have a nice warm coat like the two I'm wearing!'" An older lady told me that she's only just started wearing shoes again after the summer ... flipflops are the most she wears all summer long! Everyone was very nice. I couldn't help but wonder if social class had something to do with it -- most people in our town are fairly poor and blue-collar, whereas the librarian looked and sounded much more "posh." John says this is true -- shoes can be a sign of social class, so we are looked down on as "poor" or "backwoods" for keeping our son barefoot.

Sigh. I thought one wore or didn't wear shoes based on whether one's feet were cold and whether one liked wearing shoes. Go figure.

Anyway, we had a great time at the library, which has a great toddler area and a wide selection of books on natural childbirth. What more could anyone want? But within half an hour, we had to leave to make sure we wouldn't miss the bus.

The bus ride home was long. See, the route is in a big circle, so it takes five minutes to get to the library and fifty-five minutes to get home. If it hadn't been raining, and wasn't all uphill, I might have walked -- it would have been quicker. But we had a nice tour of the town. I had no idea there was so much right here in town!

Marko loved the whole experience. "Bus! Man! Driver! Bus! Woman! Bus! Seatbelt! Bus!" And the few other passengers were charmed with him. Again, they were fairly poor, and we traded stories of traveling around by bus and recommendations for dollar stores. I may be college-educated, but both my budget and my preferences seem to make me get along much better with the less-well-off, blue-collar inhabitants of this small town than I ever did with the much posher people closer in toward DC. Does that make me reverse-classist or something? Or maybe it's just that I like the real South, and the DC area doesn't really count.

Anyway, except for a little bus-sickness on my part on the way home, we had a great time. Marko fell asleep on my shoulder a little short of home, and the bus driver went off his route a bit so I wouldn't have to walk far carrying him. (He was so nice.) Definitely a great adventure for a rainy day!

Though, seriously. I would like to go out in public just once and not hear a comment about Marko's lack of shoes. Just once.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The ballad of the bedtime woes

Back when I was a teenager and my parents were early on in their "second batch" of children, my mom and I used to eat breakfast together. And invariably, my mom would tell me every single detail about how the baby had slept last night. I asked her what was up with this phenomenon -- why do moms have to rehash how the previous night went? It's over now, right? We laughed over it and called it "The Ballad of the Bedtime Woes." I tried to listen and be sympathetic, but the whole time I would think, "There's nothing new in this story. It's just like last night! Why is it so important to her to tell the story?"

Now, I know. It's just a purgative re-hashing. It's simply to make you feel better about having lost a whole night's sleep. Ideally, one's listener should hang on your every word, as if the story were actually interesting, and occasionally interject, "Sounds like you tried everything -- it's totally not your fault it went so badly!" and, "Well, you must be exhausted! How about I take over for you for a few hours while you catch a nap!"

I probably didn't say any of those helpful things when I was a teenager. But my mom says them to me when I rant to her (though, sadly, she is not near enough to trade kids with, or we TOTALLY would) because she is nice like that.

So here is last night's Ballad. If your kids are this age, you might enjoy hearing that someone else is up in the middle of the night, too. If not, you get to chuckle to yourself at my misfortune and thank your lucky stars that you got a full eight hours (or whatever you got).

I must back up a bit and tell you about a problem we've been having lately. It used to be that when Marko would wake up at night, he'd cry a little. I'd go into the bedroom, and often all I had to do was lie down next to him for fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes it took some rocking or back pats. We don't nurse at night anymore, unless I'm DESPERATE, which hasn't happened in awhile.

Lately, though, the second his eyes open, he leaps out of bed and pitter-pats to my room. He used to get lost once in awhile and end up in the living room, and then cry because we weren't in it. Now he knows to run to the door and bang on it, and I come out and put him back to bed. Problem is, by that point he's so awake we practically have to do the whole bedtime routine again to get him to sleep ... and even then, it's iffy.

Last night, it was about 3:30 a.m. when John nudged me. "I just heard his door open." When I saw the clock, I felt a little grateful, because that meant I'd slept four hours already. More than I got in one chunk the previous night! So I trudged to the door and opened it, and sure enough, there he was, grabbing at the doorknob. I swung him up into my arms, and he seemed sleepy enough. Surely it wouldn't take long to get him back to bed.

So I rocked him in the rocking chair for awhile while he tugged on my hair. Have I mentioned before how much he does this, and how much I HATE it? He used to do it while nursing ... but if he isn't nursing, and is sleepy, he does it too. If I'm lucky, he just twists it and fidgets with it. If I'm unlucky, he selects one hair at a time and pulls it out with long, slow yanks. Any attempt of mine to hinder him is met with struggling and more awakeness. But it also seems to keep him awake, as it was doing this time. His eyes were shut, his legs were limp, but that one hand just kept fiddling and fiddling, moving from this chunk of hair to that chunk of hair, and generally driving me nuts.

After about twenty minutes of this, I thought, "Well, last night he wouldn't stay asleep in his bed, and it might have been because he fell asleep in the rocker. Maybe I should put him in his bed now and let him fall asleep there the rest of the way." I laid him carefully down and he was fine. He still retained a fistful of my hair, but eventually he gave it up, rolled into a good position, and was still. WIN! But I was worried, because of his multiple wakeups the previous night (it was so bad I actually don't want to talk about it), so I stayed near him for another five minutes or so. Still quiet. So I carefully got up and went across the room for another blanket, because it was really cold in there.

By the time I got back, he had scootched up to the top of the bed and banged his head on the wall. He was definitely coming awake. I threw the blanket over him and tried to settle him back down with all my usual tricks -- arm around him, escalating to back rub, escalating to back pat, he reaches for my hair ... and we were back to square one. He's tossing, turning, fidgeting, and even starting to talk. My heart sank.

I stayed there for awhile while he poked at me and rolled over and over and over (he gets up against me and just rolls over and over trying to get "even closer" than touching ... generally squashing some part of me in the process). But then I went totally nuts and snatched him out of his bed, trembling with a weird cocktail of exhaustion, frustrating and rage, hissing angrily, "I'm going to ROCK YOU! In the ROCKING CHAIR!" (If you have never done anything like this, you probably don't have kids.)

So we rocked and rocked and rocked and rocked. I almost rocked myself to sleep, but he was still squirmy. Still pulling my hair. I tucked his hand under my arm a bunch of times, but he would squirm and yank it out. I contemplated whether spanking him would get him to fall asleep. Luckily, even my cranky, sleep-deprived mind can't imagine how that would help, so I didn't try that option. I just rocked and rocked and rocked until he was OUT. Then I stayed a long time more, freezing cold because I was afraid to move and get a blanket. And eventually, I crept out.

It was quite a shock to find it was only 4:40. It sure felt like morning. To my relief, I actually did still feel like sleeping, so I got under my covers and slowly started warming up. My eyes closed. I started to drowse ....

And then there was banging on the door and "MAMA!" Twenty minutes. I did all that rocking for twenty minutes of sleep for him ... and zero for me. At that point I really hated my life.

There was no way in this world I was going to go through that again. I might as well get up now ... except I do not want to spend a day with a kid who got up at five a.m. And I was pretty sure what was causing the awakeness ... it's that his room is so darn cold and he absolutely will not keep a blanket on to save his life. So I brought him in bed with me.

Usually this doesn't work at all. He spends all his time fidgeting and trying to kick off the blankets. But this time, it miraculously did! He slept! For two more hours! And I slept ... some. It was way too hot being between two hot people under two comforters. And I didn't have much wiggle room. But I know I did sleep, because I was in the middle of an interesting dream when he started to move.

I put my arm around him to keep him from rolling away ... but because he is contrary, he pulled away from me and rolled away anyway ... and fell right off the bed. We have a very low bed, but it was still a pretty rude awakening. I quickly realized that there was no easy way to make this kid stop screaming without having to leap into sudden bouncing and breakfast-making and pajama-changing action ... except for nursing. So I nursed him. So what if he never weans. I don't care. I got to stay in bed for ten more minutes, and when I poked at him and said, "Wanna go play with the puppy?" he grinned and got right out of bed.

All the same, I really have no idea why I am not napping right now. I totally should be.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

If I had a money tree

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


This month's natural parenting carnival is about finances. As my regular readers know, our finances are usually pretty tight and we try to be frugal. That means giving up a lot of things we could really use. I could lay out our budget, but why get depressing? Instead, I'll spend some time daydreaming of the things I would buy if we had a money tree growing in the backyard.

For Marko:

*More clothes. That kid grows out of his clothes like nobody's business ... to the point that, money tree or no money tree, I'm going to have to get him some more pants before too long.

*Toys. Most people seem to have too many toys. Other than stuffed animals and baby teethers, Marko doesn't have many. I'd like to get him a ring stacker, a shape sorter, one of those toy lawn mowers that makes noise, and maybe a car he could ride on. Every time we're at other people's houses, he gravitates toward toys like that.

*A big-boy bed. I want to get a regular twin bed, but the kind from IKEA that's low to the ground. We have one in our bedroom and I much prefer it to our tall American beds that I have to climb in and out of ... and it would be safer for Marko. I'd probably add a bedrail, too.

*A few more books. That's more for me -- I'm a little tired of Dr. Seuss these days, but Marko isn't. What we should really do is go to the library more often.

*A pair or two of moccasins. I got him some Rubberoos (which are like socks with a rubber sole) but they're hard to get on and off, plus he's already growing out of them. He needs some good comfy shoes as the weather gets colder -- barefoot is great for now, but soon it's not going to cut it.

What I would buy for the new baby:

*Adorable clothes, especially if it's a girl.

*A woven wrap. Those things are so versatile, not to mention pretty. And, hey, why not a pretty sling or a mei tai, just to accessorize with my outfits?

*Some really nice cloth diapers. There are so many to choose from!

*Baby leggings, to practice elimination communication without getting the baby cold.

*I would love to see if the Amby baby hammock lives up to its reviews. Why don't they sell those for grown-ups, too?

What I would buy for both of them:

*Some time off for Daddy so that we could actually spend more time as a family. I'd give up all the rest if we could get that!

What I am actually planning to buy for them:

*New pants and shoes for Marko.

*Clothes for the baby, if it's a girl. Otherwise, we have plenty of boy clothes. Even so, I think a girl would probably end up wearing a lot of boy clothes anyway ... they're so cute, we have so many of them, and we could just put a pretty bow on the baby's head and call it good. Or, you know, a mailing label on her onesie that says "FEMALE." There are cheaper ways of identifying your baby than a whole new wardrobe.

*Some more prefolds, if Marko's not potty-trained yet, and some more newborn diaper covers.

*A second carseat. Can't avoid that one!

I hope this isn't just an exercise in envy for those who have more, or in dissatisfaction with what we do have. I don't feel that dissatisfied, though. Kids need so little. For instance, Marko would love more toys. But he is also so happy pushing around a laundry basket or stacking books that I don't really feel he's deprived. He has enough clothes to wear and a good place to sleep. And the new baby has so many things of Marko's all lined up: the moses basket, the crib, the bouncy chair, the high chair, the moby wrap, the sling ... she (or he) won't need much else. He (or she) will mainly be interested in eating anyway, so as long as I keep her (or his) bottom dry, toes warm, and tummy full, I think he (or she) will be fine.

(Man, it's hard to have a kid and not know what pronoun to use! I refuse to use "them" unless and until I find out it's twins ... because them is plural. *fixed stare of peeved grammar teacher*)

Most of what I would buy for my kids is really for me. I want things that will make my life easier and make me feel good. The kids themselves? They don't care. Babies haven't changed much since caveman times, when they played with rocks and sticks and went naked.

So, I'm perfectly happy with what we have in the baby-gear department, though I won't deny a few wistful glances at websites selling toys and clothes. We have what we need. Still, if anyone has a money-tree seedling they would like to give me, there's plenty of room in our garden for that!

What would you buy if you had a money tree?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon October 11 with all the carnival links.)

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.

  • A different kind of life... — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!

  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.

  • Material v Spiritual Wealth - Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family's realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.

  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.

  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the "real cost" of working outside of the home.

  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.

  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.

  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here's why.

  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she's made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.

  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.

  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.

  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.

  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget - and her perspective on creating and mothering.

  • Jemma's Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen's monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.

  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.

  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.

  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.

  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she's lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.

  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.

  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children's financial future.

  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.

  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.

  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.

  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family's lives at the same time.

  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.

  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she's willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)

  • Money could buy me ... a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.

  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.

  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old's learned from having his own spending money.

  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.

  • It's Not a Baby Crisis. It's Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.

  • "Making" Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.

  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.

  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.

  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.

  • Money Matters... But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.

  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.

  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive...Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living - and her surprise at what she learned.

  • Mo' Money, Mo' Problems — Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family's finances.

  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn't always do it.

  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family's approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An evening to myself

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before that John hates his job. He really does. Getting that job was a real blessing eighteen months ago, because it allowed us to move from Philadelphia to the DC area, but it certainly hasn't been roses. Northern Virginia is not a cheap place to live, and the salary that originally seemed so generous seemed like a lot less when it was getting stretched for rent and train tickets. And then we moved even further out, and John started commuting two hours each way. Couple that with a truly toxic work environment, and the fact that it's a contract set to expire at the end of the year, and let's just say he's been keeping his resume in the mail.

Well, there's good news! And bad news. The good news is that he finally has a new job. The people are nice, the work sounds interesting and enjoyable, it's in John's field, it is NOT for the government, and it's only 45 minutes away!

The bad news is that involves travel. Up to three five-day trips a month. John doesn't care particularly about this; he doesn't mind flying. But I? I admit I started freaking out from the moment I first saw the listing.

I live in fear of single-momming. I know people do it. I know other people have to raise kids without their husbands for months on end. But I have never wanted that life. I never wanted my kids to have that life. I actually told John back when we were dating that I couldn't marry him if he had plans to join the military! It's not because I don't like servicemen, because I do. (I'm related to four of them.) But I am well aware that it takes a lot of guts to suffer through a six-month deployment, and I am also aware that guts aren't really high on my list of stuff-I-got.

If I had found the right guy, and he insisted on joining the military, I probably would have waited six years (or whatever it is) for him to get back out again. That's how strongly I feel about it. I wanted my kids to grow up with their dad around, darn it! And I did not want to be deciding whether to do the dishes tonight, or put the kids to bed on time. That kind of decision making doesn't sound like fun.

I called my mom and whined about it, and I have to admit I could hear her confusion. "But it's three weeks a month tops," she was saying. What she was not saying was, "I did it for six months at a time, so what are you whining about?!" (My mom is much too nice to say that sort of thing. But she would have had the right to.)

Okay, I'm a coward. But now this is really happening, so I've been trying to work myself around to the idea. And I'm seeing the appeal. Blogging after bedtime? I admit it's pretty nice! And I wouldn't have to pack his lunch every day. And, of course, he'd be home a heck of a lot more on his "home" weeks than he is now.

Tonight, I've had a chance to try it. John went out with some friends to a debate (his favorite thing ever to do), and I stayed home because wrangling a toddler in an event that requires relative quiet is not my idea of a picnic. So I had An Evening to Myself.

It started out okay. I had pumpkin as my veggie at dinner, which John can't stand and I love. I made myself a nice spinach salad as an evening snack, too. I caught up on my Internet Stuff. I brought in the dog, who played with the baby, and all was peace.

Then the baby started pulling on his diaper and saying "Poo." So I offered to take the diaper off and let him sit on the potty, and he said yes. Then I took the diaper off and he REFUSED to get on the potty, possibly because he'd already done all he was going to do in the diaper already. I let him run around with no diaper for a bit, because he'd just gone and he has this rash, but that was a bust. I hesitate to get too graphic, but let me just say I used about six diapers for rags where I could have put just one on his wiggly little backside. It was NOT PRETTY.

Then I smelled something awful and saw the dog chewing on the dirty diaper, which I had neglected to throw away and which Marko had found and given to the dog. Uggggh.

Then I turned around and the dog had one of the few pairs of my underwear which is still in good condition. Edit: which WAS in good condition. It is now deceased.

Then I turned around and the baby was climbing on the table. So I got him down.

Then I turned around and saw the dog had the baby's shoe, which I rescued. (Though I don't suppose it matters, because I still don't know what happened to the other shoe last week.)

Then I turned around and saw the baby was pooping again. So I whisked him onto the potty.

Then I turned around and saw the dog was making a beeline for the poo on the floor, which I cleaned up.

But then the baby was getting off the potty, so I coaxed him back on with the promise of a book, and sat down to read to him. At that point the dog decided he belonged on my lap, which he does NOT. He is not lapdog-sized, but he thinks it's his sovereign right to be on my lap at any time when I am sitting on the floor. I spent the entire book shoving him off and having him sneak back on.

I forgot to mention the part when the baby dumped the dog's entire water dish on the floor and then tried to lap up the water with his tongue. I don't even remember when that happened.

I finally got the kid into bed, at his much-too-late "usual bedtime," and here I am. Excited to have a chance to blog after bedtime. Too tired to say anything particularly clever. And uncomfortably aware of the ham and the pumpkin which both need to be cut up and put away, in containers I'm pretty sure I don't have, sometime before I go to bed.

Good night, all. Let's hope the evenings aren't all like this when John starts traveling.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My past, part VII

Part VI here.

Remember Juanita, the consecrated woman who was always pestering me at sports? Well, she was also my housework supervisor. It was her job to come into the conference room, which I cleaned every day, and nag me to work faster. Since I took considerable pride in my work and knew I did a good job, it drove me crazy. One day, I just lost it. I was tired of humbly apologizing for not doing a better job when I WAS doing a good job, as I saw it. So I yelled at her. I was holding a vacuum cleaner with a long hose attachment, and I waved it in her face. I yelled something like "Can't you see I'm working as fast as I can?!" She simply turned around and left the room. Later I seem to remember getting an earful about it from my spiritual director. I felt bad that I had snapped, but I also felt annoyed that everyone seemed to talk about me behind my back. If Juanita had stuck around, I would have apologized to her right away, but now there seemed no opening for doing so.

It was a wakeup call for me to shape up, though, and I did try. I got a little better at accepting criticism. But I still cried a good percent of the time. (In fact, I STILL do sometimes when someone criticizes me. I guess I am just really sensitive! But I'm a heck of a lot more stable emotionally than I was then.)

Soon, the school year was over and the summer began. I wasn't particularly looking forward to going home ... for some reason, I had started to be afraid of going home. I had gone into a panic when it was time to go home at Christmastime. It just seemed so far out of my new comfort zone. How could I be "what I was supposed to be" without daily Mass, a directed meditation, and someone to wake me up at six a.m.? How would I relate to my family, and wouldn't I miss my companions? But the three days I spent at home ended up being wonderful ... they were the days my first younger brother was born. I loved him immediately. And I got to go home one other time, in the spring, for his baptism.

So, I knew it would be nice to see my baby brother, and I wasn't dreading the summer visit. But I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, either. What I was looking forward to was World Youth Day, which was going to be in Toronto. We were ALL going to get to go. There was going to be a giant Regnum Christi convention! And, oh yeah, the Pope.

I had a fun time with my family, I think. I actually don't remember it very well. I do remember "major vacations" afterward, when we went to various parks every single day and enjoyed the summer. (No, we didn't do school year-round, even though we only had two weeks at home. The rest of the time was spent in outings and fun summer courses and, of course, the summer program.) I remember having spiritual direction with Sally at the park. I was mainly concerned with the fact that she was going to be gone for a good part of the summer, and she wasn't going to be coming to World Youth Day either, so I would have a long time without spiritual direction. I wasn't quite sure how I could manage without it for three weeks or whatever it was.

I have a vague memory that she said something about re-discerning my vocation. I remembered that from last year. I guessed it must be something you do every year. I told her that I would definitely pray about whether I was supposed to stay for another year, and that was the end of that.

I thought.

Meanwhile I did go to World Youth Day, and had a fabulous time. I did suffer a little bit from panic attacks and claustrophobia -- something that had been bothering me for awhile, but which I was told was all in my head -- because of all the crowds and unfamiliarity. But other than that it was wonderful. A close friend from back home was there for the summer program and had come to WYD with us. She stuck to me like glue the whole time, and really helped me enjoy everything. She was very free with handing out hugs and grabbing my hand to lead me through crowds, which was nice. We got to camp out the night before the papal mass, in a vast crowd of young people, and I even danced a little with a group of Brazilians! We weren't allowed to dance, but since it was little more than walking around in a circle, I figured it was okay.

There were many Regnum Christi events which we went to as well. At the end of the trip, there was a giant incorporation ceremony with a high-profile Legionary. And now I was finally sixteen! I could finally join RC! I asked if I could.

"Well, have you discussed this with your spiritual director? Normally you're supposed to do that first."

"Oh, ages ago," I said, remembering that I had informed her some time ago that I wanted to join, and she hadn't said anything against it.

"You're also supposed to write a letter to Fr. Maciel first, telling the reasons why you want to be incorporated. But in this situation, you'll write your letter afterward. And instead of going on a discernment retreat first, you can go on your usual retreat in the fall. That will count." So I was given permission to be incorporated.

The ceremony was a disappointment, though. Instead of the small, intimate celebrations of a few girls I had seen before, there was a vast crowd. And instead of receiving a cross, a Bible, and a commitment card, I was told to just hold my own cross and Bible, and I would get a commitment card later. I had wanted a chance to review the commitments, but no one had a card they could show me. And when it was time to recite the promises, I didn't have a sheet to read, so I just listened and said "Amen" at the end. It hardly felt like it counted, and I kind of wished I had waited. I never even wrote the letter.

We returned to Rhode Island, happy because we had gotten to see John Paul II (a second time for most of us, including me, because we had gone to Rome my freshman year). I tried to track down Sally, but all I got was, "Oh, you were incorporated? I didn't expect that. Congratulations." She said we would make an appointment for spiritual direction when she was a little less busy.

A short time after that, I got a call from my mother. "What's this about you coming home?" she asked, very concerned.

"Why would I be coming home? I'm definitely not coming home. Where did you hear that?"

"Sally called and told us you might be coming home. She said she'd discussed it with you."

I was shocked. How could Sally go behind my back like that? We'd never spoken about me leaving. We hadn't spoken in weeks anyway. But then I thought for awhile and remembered our last conversation, almost a month before. There had been something about re-discerning ... hadn't there? Finally I answered my mom, "Well, she did ask if I wanted to stay for another year, and I said I'd pray about it, but we haven't talked since then. I'll talk to her and tell her I'm not planning to leave." I figured that would take care of everything.

It didn't. We had a talk where she asked me to seriously consider leaving, told me that I was just being complacent where I was, and told me that I had to be open to the possibility that God was leading me elsewhere. At least, I think that's what she said. I was mostly busy sobbing. The very idea of leaving was heartbreaking to me. But I promised I would pray hard and really discern and ask God what he wanted.

I did, too. While writing this post, I went through my old prayer journal from the time (oh, how painful). Every night, I wrote begging God to make his will known to me, and promising that I would obey him if he asked me to leave, even though it was the very last thing I wanted. I felt that perhaps this was all because I had not been good enough, and that I needed to try harder to be worthy. But I never got the slightest hint from God that he might want me to leave, though I asked for sign after sign. All I could think of in prayer was how much I loved being there, how close to God I felt, and how firmly I believed this was my vocation.

Finally I got another chance to talk to Sally, just for a few minutes before some other activity. "I've really prayed and discerned," I said, "and I really feel that God wants me here."

She looked me in the eye. "Well, God has many ways of speaking to us, Sheila, and one of those ways is through our directors. And as your spiritual director, I'm telling you that God wants you to go home."

I burst into racking sobs then. I just couldn't understand! How could God call me to a place and then force me out of it again? Why couldn't God be bothered to speak to me himself? Why did I get one feeling from God, and another feeling from God's instrument?

She told me not to tell anyone else, because it would only upset them. And then she gave me a box of Kleenex, told me to go to the next activity when I had calmed down, and left. I cried alone in the empty room for a long time, and then finally went on with my day. Soon I let my family know, and my mother cried with me. She bought me a ticket to come home ten days later. I found out I would be leaving on the 15th of August, and on the 25th, I would be on a plane home.

Those ten days were misery. I loved my classmates so much, despite all the distance we were forced to keep with one another. We had gone through a lot together, and we knew more about each other than we ever said. I knew I'd never again have friends like those. All I wanted was to tell them I was leaving and tell them I still cared about them, but I was not allowed.

I knew people left sometimes. Some people I'd really liked had done it. I assumed it was of their own choice, because obviously they wouldn't be kicked out if they wanted to stay! And I assumed they had chosen not to say goodbye. We'd been told not to write to them, either, because it would get in the way of their discernment of God's new plan for them. So I never did, though I badly wanted to. I just assumed that they were happy where they were. Now I knew this was false, but I couldn't tell anyone about it! All I did for those ten days was go through the motions and cry a lot. My main thought was, "I loved God, and he rejected me because I am not good enough."

I did get to speak to Caroline and ask her why I was being sent home. Sally had told me she was the one to ask, so I swallowed my fear and made an appointment with her. She told me that I was too "up in the clouds," and being at home would ground me. She said I was too sensitive, and knocking around with the "rough" people at home would toughen me up. She said that this wasn't necessarily permanent; that I could come back next year if I made the necessary improvement. Then she recommended I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, and sent me on my way with a jaunty smile and a thumbs-up. I held on to the hope that I might return someday like a life raft. She had given me enough hope to survive on, and I felt kindly toward her for the first time ever.

The day chosen for my departure was a day of silent retreat, so no one would notice I was gone until I was in the air. Sally and another consecrated prepared me a snack for the plane and drove me to the airport. Sally finally gave me a commitment card and explained to me what I would have to do to follow my Regnum Christi commitments. She told me that my Regnum Christi section back in Seattle would look up to me because I'd had so much special training. I would have a lot of work to do to build up RC in my home town. Then the two consecrated stood and waved while I walked through security and away.

It was a big relief when I found my friend from the summer program was already at the airport, having been dropped off in an earlier van run, and that she would be on my flight. I told her everything and she hugged me understandingly. I honestly don't know what I would have done without her. But on the long flight to Seattle, I sat alone, sobbing for the whole six hours.

When I arrived home, I was completely empty and emotionless. I felt I had nothing left I could feel. It was late already and I was exhausted. My family met me at the airport with flowers, but I felt so dead I didn't even want to greet them, and I stiffened up when they tried to hug me.

That night, I cried myself to sleep alone in my room. And then I didn't cry again for two years.

Don't worry, though, the story's not over yet!

Tell me it's okay to wean

It seems like everyone I know nursed straight through pregnancy and then tandem nursed afterwards. (Tandem nursing is nursing two children during the same time period.) I know that isn't true. The ones who weaned during pregnancy just never happened to mention it, because it's the more common thing to do. But as I read my blogs each day, I keep on coming across more and more about nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing. Assuring me that it's okay. Assuring me that it's normal. Assuring me that it is totally the best thing to do. Articles like this one and this one and this one.

I understand that. It's not as common a choice as it seems from my point of view, and those who do it often don't know anyone else who does. They think they have to wean when they get pregnant, and the fact is, they don't. They can if they want to, or they can choose not to.

You never have to wean as long as everything's normal. Nursing never becomes physically or psychologically damaging. The length of an average nursing relationship is cultural: some cultures, like the !Kung in Africa, do it for four years or more. In Biblical times, three years was taken as pretty standard. And in Mongolia, sometimes the youngest child nurses till six or seven because no one really cares if they do. Sooner or later, whether you do anything about it or not, every child weans. At the very latest, when their permanent teeth start coming it, they lose their latch. No child ever graduated from high school still breastfeeding. So there's no need to worry.

However, sometimes mothers just don't want to wait six or seven years to be done nursing ... especially if they have other children! There are so many reasons why mothers choose to wean. Just the other day a woman was asking for advice online because she had to wean her toddler to get back on medication she needed. Some women demanded, "Will you die without it? Then why are you forcing her to wean?" I don't think that's fair at all. Making the sacrifice of going without a needed medication for a whole year is very selfless -- no need to make her sound like a terrible mother because she doesn't want to do it for three years.

On the other hand, I also don't really like the advice I see where moms are told to just wean cold turkey, along with the not-so-comforting addition, "My son screamed bloody murder for a few days, but then he was fine." Isn't it kind of traumatic to take something that has been a source of nourishment and comfort for a child's whole life and just say, "Nope, you can't have it anymore because you're a big boy"? I've heard that approach likened to taking a child's baby blanket away from him and nailing it on the wall out of reach. "Oh, it's still here. And I could get it for you if I wanted. But you're just going to have to look at it all day and know you can't have it."

So that isn't what I wanted to do. I decided to wean gently, a little a time, and being okay with going backwards for awhile during a stressful time. I've got nine months (well, seven now). I don't have to be done today. For the main part, I feel good about this decision. I think Marko's ready, or will be soon, and that he will be okay without nursing.

But I guess I just wish there was a little more out there that affirmed my current experience. I want a blog post by a mom who did wean during pregnancy -- and had it go well. Some tips might be nice. Some commiseration might be nice. I guess I just want what I always want ... someone else to tell me I'm doing the right thing.

Why am I choosing to wean? Well, a number of reasons. The idea of nursing two is just overwhelming and scary to me. I know it might be okay. But what if it's not, and I hate and resent it? I can't exactly change my mind on a dime here. And it's not that I haven't seen it done -- I have. But the women who do it always seem to have kind of mixed feelings about it. I want to feel good about showing affection to my toddler when I have a new baby -- not touched-out because I'm nursing around the clock. Nursing a newborn is really time-consuming as it is.

I also am aware that most women lose their milk supply at some point in pregnancy. At that time, many children wean naturally. It seems like an easier time to do it than later might be. Though I know nursing my son till he's five would not do him any harm, I just ... don't ... really ... want ... to. I want to be done in the foreseeable future. I never intended to nurse him longer than a year when he was born, so I am aware that I could easily change my mind. But it seems so convenient to work on weaning during pregnancy.

But then when I actually did get pregnant, I felt completely decided. Why? The PAIN. Oh the pain. Some women have no pain while nursing during pregnancy. Some have a little. And some, like me it turns out, have awful, terrible, excruciating pain. So far I am handling it fine. Twice a day for now, and knowing we'll be done soon? I can take that. But I can't imagine how I would deal with it if he were still nursing on demand, and there were no end in sight. I would find myself feeling resentful and angry. I have no objection to mothers "being martyrs" if we want to. I mean, we have to go through labor. It's not like suffering pain for your child is something out of left field. But if you've had enough, and it's driving you crazy, and the amount of good it's doing your child seems to be much less than the amount of harm it's doing you? You don't have to do that if you don't want to.

So, there it is. Marko is fine. He has never "screamed bloody murder" because if nothing else will comfort him besides nursing, he gets nursing. Honestly, though, that hardly ever happens. Generally, the offer to play outside, rock in the rocking chair, or read a book is happily accepted. So I think I'm agonizing over it a heck of a lot more than he is.

Has anyone else weaned during pregnancy? How did it go?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My past, part VI

I left you all on a cliffhanger at the end of Part V for quite a long time ... sorry about that.

Changes were pretty frequent during those years. The school was still relatively new -- I think less than ten years old -- and we were still working out what the rules would be. So we would be called into the conference room and told, "Spiritual direction is now spiritual guidance," or "Section I and Section II are now called ECYD Section and Regnum Christi Section," or "Your 'face-to-face' is now your 'PC Prospect.'" Those ones weren't that big of a deal. We would just have to start using the new word right away, and never use the old word anymore. We also weren't supposed to talk about the change, because that would open things up to complaints. And we must never complain about changes, because that's just part of being co-founders.

Other changes included an announcement that we were no longer going to read classic novels at lunchtime; that was due to a mistranslation of our statutes and we were really supposed to be reading lives of the saints. A disappointment to me (because we were in the middle of Captains Courageous), but not really a big deal.

The hardest changes to cope with were the yellow letters, or new destinations for the consecrated. We would get the announcement that a person was leaving, and be told who her replacement would be. If the replacement was there already (and she usually was, so that the announcement was expected), the change was effective immediately. Again, there could be no comparing of the old person with the new person. We would all miss the old person, of course, but comparing the two implies criticism of the old person, so we weren't allowed to do it.

On this particular day, we were called into the conference room by our director, Maria Brackett. (This is her real name: the school only ever had two directors, so there would be no point in trying to disguise her identity.) I was pretty scared of Maria. She was very tall and had a rather frightening smile. At 33, she was one of the older consecrated women there. She was never harsh with me in any way, but I was still intimidated by her. However, when I had gotten a new haircut (finally cutting my hair short to be like the consecrated women, as most of us did), she took me up to her room with several of the other consecrated, where they styled my hair. It was a very big deal for me, being fussed over like that, and I had liked her well enough after that -- though I was still a bit shy of her.

Anyway, her announcement was a huge shock to the entire school. She was leaving. She had gotten a new destination to go to Spain, and she would be leaving in a few days. Then she introduced to us our new director, Caroline Wilders.

Caroline was a little older than Maria, I thought she was very pretty. She also had a delicious British accent and could also speak French. She had been a doctor. While girls around me sobbed at the loss of their beloved Maria, I could only think, "Surely things will be much better now." She just seemed so nice.

Unfortunately, I kept embarrassing myself around her the first week she was there. I loved her accent, but every time I was trying to imitate it (in admiration, not to make fun), she always seemed to appear right behind me. I even accidentally made fun of her one day, right to her face. At the time, I thought she would think I was immature and silly. It didn't occur to me then, though it does now, that she might have thought I was angry Maria had left and was talking trash about her to the other girls. In any event it was a poor start.

Then we had our first outing with Caroline. I really tried to do my best, because I was sure she'd already been informed about me and my issues. I wanted to prove to her that I wasn't so bad as all that, that I was trying my very hardest. But about halfway through the basketball game we were playing, I started wearing out. I slowed down and started jogging instead of running down the court ... and then walking. I kept trying to spur myself to go harder, but it just wasn't in me.

So Caroline noticed immediately and pulled me aside. I assumed she would say something kind and motivating, but she laid into me right away. "Don't you love God at all? Why aren't you doing your best?" I started to cry in shock and hurt. "No alligator tears," she said. "That may have worked before, but it won't work with me."

Those words went right to the heart ... I have never forgotten them.

That wasn't the end of my problems with Caroline ... but first I've got to tell you about something else that happened. I believe it was that spring, the spring of 2002. It was when we got a visit from our founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. We didn't call him that, though -- we called him Nuestro Padre, that is, "our father."

We knew all about him, having heard stories of his saintliness and wisdom on almost a daily basis. We read his letters every day, and there were several pictures of him around the school. We heard about his amazing piety as a child, his love of sacrifice as an adult, and his heroism in founding this amazing gift to the Church, the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. Some of the stories bordered on the unbelievable -- how he had foretold things before they happened, how he could read your soul (even through a letter, by analyzing your handwriting!) and how he didn't speak any English because he'd forgotten it when he'd had a brain tumor removed. People went on pilgrimages to his old hometown, Cotija de la Paz, in Mexico. He was our hero.

I had always felt kind of iffy about such superlative praise for a human being, and one who wasn't even dead yet. But I was told that "all movements feel this way about their founders" and that God had sent him to us to found the movement we were in, so we could only learn about God's will from him. The frequent changes we had to deal with were all because of him fine-tuning the movement he had created in line with God's revelation to him. And when I had decided to hand over all of my doubts about Regnum Christi and accept everything I was told whole-heartedly (because if it was God's will for me to be there, everything that happened to me there was God's will too), I made it a point to accept those parts, too. I didn't understand everything, but I didn't have to. I just had to make the choice to believe it all.

So when we heard he would be visiting us, we were all incredibly excited. Classes were canceled while we cleaned the school from top to bottom. The choir practiced and practiced (and my spiritual director, the choir director, berated us constantly until I cried). Everything had to be perfect.

Finally he arrived and we all gathered in the conference room to hear him speak. I was disappointed. Many of our pictures of him were out of date, and showed him either as a handsome young man, or at least a respectable old man. But the version we got was ancient and jowly. He had a bowl of hard candy in front of him, which he popped continuously, and he sat with his legs crossed (which Legionaries never do). It was such a let-down after all the handsome, professional priests who had come to speak to us before. His talk was the same. Someone was translating, but I could understand the original too. It was just a meandering flow of words ... none of that fire and passion of his letters, or of the other Legionaries. I didn't feel at all inspired. But I treasured up every word, in the hopes of finding something that meant something to me. Surely I could walk away with a sentence to tell the others when we rehashed everything later -- some special word that God had meant just for me. I got some notes down, but nothing that seemed particularly special.

And then, the moment everyone was waiting for. We were all going to go up and kiss his hand. He was going to give each of us a rosary. I was excited as everyone else. Surely I would be able to detect the glow of holiness when I was at close range. Maybe he would look at me and I would know his faded blue eyes were reading my soul. It was a little scary! But nothing particular happened. I got my rosary, I kissed his hand, but didn't feel anything special. Some other girls did manage to exchange a few words with him, but I had been too shy. Still, I got the rosary, and I clutched it to my heart, thinking, "I will have a relic of him when he becomes a saint!"

Those of you who know the things that came out later are probably feeling a little sick right now. I know I am. After he died, it was discovered that he was a fraud. He definitely had mistresses, and he probably abused little boys under his care as well. There was no halo to be seen because there was no holiness there. I have no doubt that he was once as charismatic as people say. But when old age robbed him of his charisma, there wasn't a whole lot left to admire.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. At the time, though I had heard that "evil people" had said "terrible things" about our founder, I knew that this was because they were jealous and hated the work God was doing through him. It seemed obvious to me that these were false, because why would so many good people believe him and trust him unless he were really a good man? No, I assumed my lack of a spiritual experience when I saw him was simply my own unworthiness.

I think I'd better leave the story of how I came to leave for the next post!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plans change

Two weeks ago, I had a lot of plans for how I would do things during this pregnancy. Since I wasn't sick, I wasn't too concerned about just getting by. My goals were to wean Marko, at a pace he would accept, and to teach him a better way to go to sleep. No rush, though, because stroller walks were working fine! I soon was only nursing about once a day, at no particular time, and stroller-walking to sleep at naptime and bedtime.

That was right when the morning sickness struck, and hard. We were out and about a lot -- three parties that week, and two days with my in-laws. And it was fun, but I just felt awful. So tired and so sick. I could barely eat anything, but the less I ate, the worse I felt. I slacked off on taking my vitamins, too, so that didn't help. And I was exhausted, because I had been napping each day up till then, but couldn't nap much that week.

The following week was more restful, but the sickness remained. It was just so awful. Meanwhile sleep was getting harder. Two stroller walks a day is a lot, especially when it's taking Marko longer and longer to go to sleep. And the weather was beginning to get worse. Then, two nights in a row, Marko absolutely refused to get in the stroller at all. We could roll him through the neighborhood howling, or give up -- which is what we did. John was eventually able to get him to sleep by walking around with him in his room.

But that wasn't going to work long-term, either. Marko has no interest whatsoever in going to sleep that way with me. I guess my shoulders aren't big enough or I haven't got the trick of bouncing right. He just screams "Daddy, Daddy" the whole time. Only John is not always available at bedtime ... so what now? I have sometimes had luck getting him to sleep by lying down with him and singing ... like, twice. At naptime only. Bedtime is harder, and we were already struggling against a confused sleep schedule. The only way to get him to sleep when his schedule is confused is to use a sure-fire method he is accustomed to -- only our old method is broken.

I found myself wistfully sighing of the old days, when he was about nine months old, when I used to nurse him to sleep. It took ten minutes or so. I'd nurse him in the rocking chair and then lie down with him for awhile. It was perfect and I enjoyed it -- only once in awhile, it didn't work and we'd have to try again in an hour (because he wouldn't nurse again right away). Stroller walks seemed like a magic solution, because they always worked. Only ... now they don't. And they sure take a heck of a lot longer than ten minutes.

So I went back to nursing Marko to sleep. It occurred to me that it will be way easier to transition to a new sleep method from nursing than it will to do so from stroller-walking. I can build a good sleep routine that has nursing as part of it, and then slowly reduce the amount of nursing and increase the book reading, rocking chair rocking, singing, and lying in bed. I honestly think this method is more likely to get him falling asleep on his own sometime before ten years old than the stroller method is. So nursing it is.

I wasn't really paying attention to anything at the time, except that it took an hour to get him to sleep the first night (yikes! but luckily that's improving as he gets used to it) and the fact that nursing him does hurt, a lot. It's like nursing a piranha.

But, in apparently unrelated news, the next day I didn't feel so sick. In fact, I felt like making a big dinner and eating every bite. After eating it, I felt great. The next day, I felt like eating a big breakfast. So I did, and felt fine. I haven't felt really sick since. I just have this kind of gaggy feeling at the back of my throat a lot of the time, and of course I can't eat anything too spicy or heavy without regretting it, but I'm eating normally and feeling fine. I also don't feel the need for naps lately.

It was only just the other day that I thought, "I remember hearing that nursing helped reduce morning sickness for some women. I wonder ..." And, you know, I bet that's it. I bet nursing once a day, and not at all some days, brought me below a certain threshold and gave me awful morning sickness. And then increasing the amount of nursing to twice a day, reliably, was enough to cure the morning sickness. I can't prove that, and I'm not going to experiment with it because I feel fine and want to continue feeling fine. But it's something to think about.

Another side effect has been that Marko has stopped asking to nurse almost completely. When we weren't nursing much, he would think of it all the time. I usually was able to distract him, so we wouldn't nurse every time, but sometimes I would go ahead and nurse him because he wanted it so much. Now that he's reliably getting some nursing twice a day, I think he's happy because that's the amount he needs. He knows he doesn't have to ask all the time; he'll get it anyway. So I think it's probably what is best for him to keep at this level of nursing for awhile, painful as it is. Maybe he'll need it less soon, but for now, this is keeping him happy. He even seems less grouchy! And I peeked in his mouth last night ... he has two new canines. I never noticed him teething at all. He's woken up a little at night, but not enough to make me think he was teething. Apparently he was.

I'm a planner, and I like to know when naptime will be or how I will help Marko through this or that transition. But I try to be flexible, too, so I can be responsive to what he actually needs. I think this is one of those times when I need to throw my old plan out the window and do what actually works for our family right now.

...But I still really hope I can manage to wean him before May.
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