Friday, March 27, 2015

Ree at Ten Months

Finding myself wide awake and up playing with a certain baby at 1:30 in the morning seems like as good a time as any to record some 10 month memories, I suppose.  We're on Night #2 of baby party extravaganzas from 11:30 or thereabouts until after 2:00 am.  No amount of patting, shushing, nursing, rocking, or walking will get her back to sleep until she gets up, grins, babbles, crawls around, and plays for a while, it seems.  My personal theory?  She wants some play time sans her older sister getting in her way.  Sorry, Ree, but this time of night isn't really good for me.  Can you go back to sleeping normally (which means waking every few hours but then actually going back to sleep!) starting tomorrow night?  Please?

But for now, I'll write.

I'm not sure it makes sense to have a "favorite age" for babies in general, but for this baby in particular, ten months has been a really, really good age.  Having met her lofty goals of pulling up, crawling, and cruising around furniture, she decided she could pay attention to the people in her life again, with novelties like sustained eye contact and babbling and giggles.  I've been loving it.

Her soothing object of choice when falling asleep is first and foremost a fistful of my hair, and should that be unavailable, she reaches her little hand up and clings to a fistful of her own as she sleeps.  It's the kind of sleeping gesture that parents and grandparents find adorable, and the rest of the world probably finds... uninteresting, I suppose.  Being in the former group, I find it hard to understand those in the latter, though.

"Who is this person stopping by our photo shoot?"

"Oh, it's Daddy!  I like that guy!"

"I love you, Dad... as long as you don't try to pick me up and take me somewhere away from Mom."

On the day she turned ten months old, a top tooth emerged.  Followed closely two days later by the other top tooth!  By the time she was over her most recent bout of illness {it's been a near constant thing this winter} and I took these photos, these two beauties were featuring prominently.

We canceled the order we had placed for baby dentures.  Phew.

She's still taking two naps a day, which often keeps us fairly homebound with a schedule consisting of: Breakfast, Ree's Nap, Lunch, Nell's Nap, Ree's nap and Mama's teaching, Dinner, Bed.  We are living it up around here, I tell you.

Would you look at that face?  It's a pretty good life.

The night partying babe is showing signs of giving up her wakeful reign of terror.  I'm going to seize the moment!  Wish me luck.

Dear Marie,

You are squishy and sweet and I can hardly wait for the weather to warm up so I can dress you in rompers and onesies with all that exposed skin to kiss all the time.  That's what's on my mind lately!  We're going to have such fun this spring and summer.  I promise.

Sleep deprivedly yours, 

Friday, March 20, 2015

on caring for sick children

For the past six weeks or thereabouts, on any given day, it seems that someone in this house has been sick.  Sometimes even two or three people.  It's not fun, it's not glamorous, and at times, it messes with your head and you start to believe there couldn't possibly be anything worse than caring for sick kids and being sick.

{Then you read a news headline and get a much-needed reality check and wipe those runny noses gratefully, of course.}

The thing about caring for sick kids, I've realized, is that it reduces your daily tasks down to the utmost of basics: keeping the children alive and caring for them tenderly and holding them and loving them and meeting their most basic needs.  On the sickest of sickly days, there is little to no cooking to be done except the simplest of nourishing things.  There are no big projects, and no extra cleaning or tidying gets done.  The sewing projects or home improvement tasks are put aside.   Work might have to be canceled to be made up later.  Fevered brows are felt and kissed, temperatures taken, natural healing remedies attempted.  The entire household forgets what it's like to sleep at night, and longs for the days when the healthy baby only awakened every three hours all night long -- a luxury compared to both children's seemingly ceaseless wails throughout the long, sick nights.

In February, when the first bout of illness struck, the suitcases from our recent travels were left unpacked by the door for three days as I walked circles around the house to get the baby to sleep against my chest in the Ergo, wiped a toddler's runny nose 1,000 times and gently applied lotion to her chapped nose and lips despite her protests.  There was no getting anything of substance done; all but the most necessary of work-related tasks were put on hold.  No errands, no getting out of the house.  No paychecks to show for my overtime mothering hours.   My existence was reduced to the barest of minimums and by only the second day of the first bout of illness I was asking myself, "what is the MEANING of life?"

These minimal things don't feel easy to do.  Sometimes, they feel really hard.  It is hard to change sheets and launder them again and again.  It is hard to hold children constantly for endless days.  It is hard to wipe dribbling orifices and go without sleep night after night.  It is hard to eventually succumb to illness yourself.  But part of the hard-ness of it is the frustration of all the other things that aren't getting done.

If what you have to offer isn't a symphony orchestra performance or a violin lesson, if it isn't a Pinterest-worthy home-cooked dinner, if it isn't a passably clean home or at least the children dressed in clean clothes each day, then what are you offering?  What is left, really?  There have been days this winter when I felt devoid of anything to offer.  With nothing tangible to show for my long days and nights, what was I accomplishing?

And then my toddler would wrap her arms around my neck when I lifted her warm little body to carry her from the couch upstairs.  "I love you so, so much, Mama," she'd croak, too sick even to whine very much at that point.  Or the baby would snuggle close against me, finally relaxing into slumber as I held her upright so she could breathe clearly.

And I would remember that what felt to me like long days of nothingness was everything to these little ones.
{I call this art piece Disheveled Mother With Her Sickly Young}

I don't remember how clean my own mother kept the house when I was sick as a child.  I don't know if she cooked elegant meals for the rest of the family downstairs when she was bringing me a piece of buttered toast in bed.  What I do remember is how soothing her hands felt on my forehead, how good it felt to sink into a freshly made bed after the sheets had been changed for me, and the calming sound of her voice as she reassured me that all would be well again soon.

I don't have very much to show for this flu and cold season in our lives, but I have two children whose noses shall go on being wiped and whose hair shall go on being smoothed and who shall know that they are deeply loved.  And perhaps that isn't such a small thing, after all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

always and everywhere to give thanks

"Can you find your happy heart?"

"Can you ask me that again using your strong voice?"

"How can I help you be more cheerful?"

These are the oft-repeated phrases in our household as I try to minimize the toddler whining and complaining.  Truth be told, she's a pretty happy kid, but like all toddlers, she has her moments where she needs some help finding a cheerful attitude.

At the end of a long day of modeling cheerfulness {and sometimes failing at it myself}, I've realized that it is easy to lose my own "happy heart" and "strong voice" as soon as I get my kids to bed.  It's all too easy to let my husband be the one who then hears all the stresses of the day as I change as quickly as possible from my skirt and top into sweat pants and begin to vent the frustrations of my day.

The baby's naps were too short and she was cranky.

The toddler threw tantrums.

I didn't get a moment to myself.

My back hurts from carrying these children.

The house is a wreck and I don't know how that's even possible since I feel like I was cleaning all day.

My work teaching or gigging today didn't feel gratifying.

I didn't get any time to practice the music I needed to practice or do the work I needed to do.

It's a reality -- some days really are tough.  This morning, for example, the kids woke up bright and early following a night where the baby had woken seven times over the course of the night, including a lengthy period of crying between 1:00 and 5:00 am and a poopy diaper needing to be changed.  Just a couple of hours after all that, I was stumbling out of bed, wiping hands and noses and bottoms with bleary eyes as the day got underway.  I made Nell just the breakfast she requested (blueberries and oatmeal), only to have her wail about it not being what she wanted.  Marie refused to take a morning nap, and was subsequently inconsolable and needed to be held constantly as I went about our morning tasks.  Leaning over the bathroom sink to rinse a child's hands, that spot on the lower left of my back that had been threatening me with telltale twinges for the past couple of days suddenly snapped, sending me into a spasm of pain.  And finally, unbelievably enough, when I went to blow dry my bangs, my hair dryer caught fire.  Visible flames erupting inside the plastic housing, the horrible stench of burning plastic filling the house, panic in my heart as I ran and threw the burning device out the front door into the cold snowy outdoors.

And that was all before 8:30 am.

During long hours at home with young children, it can seem as though my husband's job in the city must be nothing but glamorous.  I mean, he commutes on a train, during which time no one touches him or yells at him and he can read without being disturbed!  Sometimes he even has lunch meetings with colleagues and gets to eat out!  He dresses nicely for work, and rarely finds boogers smeared on his shoulder or spit-up down his back.  The whole scenario can seem tantalizing.  I'll trade you, babe.  You stay home and try to keep the small humans alive and well-rested and well-behaved.  I'll go to work!  No problem!

But his work is hard, too, and his days are long, and he deals with stresses as real -- or probably more so -- as the ones I face at home and in my own work.

At the end of the day, we're both guilty of greeting each other with, "I'm SO tired," "What a LONG day," "I didn't get anything done," "I feel like I've been hit by a truck," or "What's the point of it all?"

Where are our happy hearts?

So recently, I've been trying to focus on tempering the complaints and the tales of difficulty and woe, and instead, texting a cute and happy picture of the kids or a positive greeting.  Meeting the news that he'll be home late an extra night this week with a cheery, "No problem!  We're doing great!"  Answering, "How was your day?" with specific stories of good times before I tell of any of the frustrating ones.

Because we do have many good times and happy moments.

The difficult moments are real, and sometimes you need to tell someone who will listen supportively and offer encouragement or advice.  But I'm trying to be cognizant of what kind of overall picture I'm painting to those closest to me if they are the ones I go to first to vent or complain.

In church this morning, I was reminded by the familiar words of the liturgy we hear every week that "It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks...", and today it gave me pause as I somehow heard it with fresh ears.

I have much to be thankful for, and ought to be giving thanks with a happy heart, always and everywhere.  Even on days when my hair dryer catches fire.

Today my entire house smelled of burnt plastic, but it was also a day when my toddler sat at the piano and sang, "Jesus Loves Me," accompanying herself with carefully chosen notes played with small dimpled fingers, the late afternoon sunlight filtering across the piano and lighting her small face.  And today, I can choose to dwell on the beautiful moments of life, both in my thoughts and in my conversations with others.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ree at Nine Months

After trying quite earnestly for a month or more, just a week or so before turning nine months old, Marie crawled!

Her biggest fan and devoted cheerleader, Nell, could hardly contain her excitement.

Her enthusiasm was short-lived, however, as it soon became apparently that Ree's newfound mobility made it that much more possible for her to access all the things that Nell considers hers and hers alone.

Since Nell was only marginally mobile - in the form of scooting - when she was nine months old, having a crawling nine month old is uncharted territory for us.  The places she goes!  The trouble she can get into in the blink of an eye!  The sweetness when she makes a beeline for me, pushes herself up on my feet, pulls herself to a stand while holding to my knees for dear life, and makes it clear that, were she able, she would scale the heights of my entire body to climb into my arms.  It's enough to make one's heart explode.

In addition to crawling, Marie's mobility extends to flipping over faster than you can blink an eye {particularly when you're trying to put a diaper on her}, going from her tummy to a sitting position, pulling herself up on everything and everyone, and practicing her push-up position on all fours.

{don't worry; I had my camera in one hand and the other hand extended to catch her while she practiced these wild acrobatics on the chair}

Ree seems to understand a lot of what's going on, and when I ask her, "Do you want me to pick you up?", she responds by reaching her arms up towards me.  Once she's in my arms, she has the sweetest way of trying to scramble up my torso, burrowing into my shoulder and putting her arms around my neck and nuzzling in as close as possible.

This girl likes to eat food, which is further uncharted territory for us, since Nell has essentially no interest in food whatsoever until she was 11 months old.  Marie, although not a single tooth has yet emerged, eyes our food eagerly and devours almost anything she is offered with great enthusiasm.

Despite her passion for solid food and her frequent nursing sessions, if my memory is correct, she weighed in at about 17.5 pounds at her 9 month appointment, putting her a good five pounds under what her big sister weighed at this age!  {Previously: Nell at nine months.}  Nell was always in the 90-somethings for percentiles as a baby, and Ree was in the 36th percentile for weight at her appointment.

I briefly contemplated trading her for a chubbier one, but then I squished her thighs and found them more than adequate, so, we're keeping her.

Nicknames: Ree, Ree-Ree, Riesling, Maroo, Marizzle (this one is compliments of Aunt Hannah), Baby Wee, and... Martin.  Because Aunt Hannah says with her very straight hair, she resembles Martin Luther.  Point taken, Aunt Hannah.  I shall make more frequent use of those baby hair clips.

Expertise: peeing in the potty, slobbery open mouthed expressions of love all over Mama's face, making messes, finding every electrical cord in the house, grabbing the glasses off your face before you can do anything in self-defense, pulling people's hair and trying to stuff it into her mouth with gleeful abandon.

Favorite things: peek-a-boo, trying to eat paper, her big sister's amusing antics, snuggling with Mama and other family members and friends.

Favorite foods: pears, plain yogurt, scrambled eggs, sweet potatoes, peas.

Vocabulary: gagaga, bababa, dadada.  A month ago, to her mother's delight, she said quite clearly and on several occasions, "Ma-ma-ma," but she is impertinent, and these days when I ask her to say "Mama," she replies, "Dada!"

Aspires to: set a world record for greatest number of night wakings; continue to be Master of The Forty Minute Nap; eat an entire sheet of paper in solitude before being discovered.

Dear Marie,

You are not what one might call a good sleeper.  Your little friend Lydia, for example, can be placed in her carseat or bed and will just fall asleep quietly and contentedly.  Can you imagine that?!  I can't.  You nap on our guest bed, where I can lie beside you while you fall asleep and then use my best ninja moves to escape without waking you.  You usually start the night on the guest bed, too -with pillows all around the edges as barriers - but after a couple of wakings, I bring you into our bed and you finish the night snuggled with me.  Sometimes I wish I could just spread out like a starfish and have the whole bed to myself for a while, but then when you wake up smiling at me each morning, I find myself quite glad you're there with us.  I'm sure you'll sleep on your own when you're ready!

This morning, Daddy brought Nell into bed to snuggle with us, and I sat there feeling like the luckiest woman in the world.  Nell squealed with delight to see you, you absolutely lit up in return, and the two of you proceeded to play together with squeals of glee - well, and the occasional squeal of a baby being squished by an overly-enthusiastic big sister.  Is it overly optimistic of me to hope that, loving each other as much as you now do, you'll be friends for life?  Maybe so, but I can't help hoping.  

The truth is, I probably hear the words, "NOOOOO MAWIE!  That's MIIIIINEEEE!" at least a dozen times a day.  But it doesn't even compare to the number of times I hear, "You're so SWEET you little SWEETIE!" and "You're so cute!" and "I love you!"  And you, Marie, you're pretty patient with all of the above - the toy-snatching and the affection-smothering alike.  


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

on trying to do all the things

I shouldn't flatter myself by assuming that my gentle readers have noticed how little I've blogged lately.  So, in case you haven't noticed, I haven't been writing much lately.

I don't know if I'm just tired, or a little burned out with life, or truly don't have enough free hours in the day, but it seems hard to find the time to write.  I love to write, I want to write, I daydream in prose while I cook meals and wash dishes -- but at the end of the day, I rarely get time to put fingers to keyboard and record any of the thoughts or experiences I had meant to write.

I'm totally blown away by those women out there that seem to manage it all.  Four or five kids, a beautiful home seemingly always in immaculate condition, craft projects and DIY beautifying going on every day, repainting furniture in the perfect hues, children dressed in designer clothing, homeschooling, cooking from scratch, selling beautiful handmade things on Etsy, managing their start-up businesses, and blogging about all of it with professional-quality photographs.

How in the world...?

There are toys under my couch that haven't seen the light of day in probably a month.  One or more of us has been sick pretty much every day for the past month in an endless cycle of colds and fevers and even a bad bout of the flu {lucky me}.  My baby crawls around picking up bits of yesterday's food from the floor beneath her high chair and trying to eat it while my toddler hasn't had a bath in days.  I cook from scratch, but my kitchen is the worse for the wear because of it.  If the living room is tidy, you can bet the master bedroom isn't.  If the master bedroom is clean, the kids' rooms upstairs will be piled high with laundry waiting to be put away.  If the laundry is all done and put away, I'm dreadfully behind on work-related tasks.  And so on and so forth.

On days when I'm lucky enough to have both children napping simultaneously, or evenings when I get them to bed in a timely fashion and no one wakes up crying for an hour or more, my brain sounds something like this:

"FREEDOM!!!  What should I do?!  I know!  Work on the rag rug I'm making for Nell's room!  Or wait, I could write on my blog!  I could read other peoples' blogs!  No, I should mend Nathan's shirt that's been sitting on top of the mending pile for weeks!  No, perhaps I'll practice my violin!  Or get caught up on work!  Send those emails that have needed to be done for weeks!  No, wait, I could bake some cookies for Nathan!  I could sew something pretty!  Organize the linen closet!  Take down that last Christmas decoration that's still up even though it's March!  Tidy up the kids' toys and rotate out some of the ones they haven't played with lately!  I could go on Pinterest and look for some ideas to make the house look ready for Spring!  Or I could sit down and relax!  Put my feet up, drink a cup of tea, yes, that's what I should do!  Watch an episode of Parenthood!  I'll just turn on the teakettle and----"

Of course, as if on cue, the baby probably wakes up.  Or, if not, I usually end up doing something practical like dishes or laundry, those two most never-ending of all the never-ending tasks of housekeeping.  I use nap time to tidy up for the babysitter, to set out snacks for the afternoon when I'll be working, to sweep the kitchen floor quickly.  Or perhaps in the evening laziness wins out and I watch an episode of Parenthood {I'm late to the party on that one, but I love it!}, telling myself I'll do all the other things! after one episode, but then it's 9:30 pm and I brush my teeth and fall into bed just in time for the baby to wake up.

Maybe someone else out there can relate?  I want to do so many things, to create beauty and do something lasting in between spending meaningful moments with my kids.  Then I get so excited about all the things I could do in the free moments I have, I somehow manage to do nothing.  I'm paralyzed by the possibilities and the time is all too brief.

It probably seems silly to try to fit in time for blogging when there are so many more essential things I could be doing.

I want to write things down in this insignificant little space of mine on the world wide web, not only because I enjoy the process of writing and find that it helps me clear my mind, but also because it somehow seems more tangible than the other things I accomplish.  Sure, I cleaned the dishes only to messy them again only to clean them again.  Yes, I vacuumed today, and will need to do so again by tomorrow no doubt.  The diapers were laundered, and the pail will be overflowing again by the end of the week.  The predictably cyclical nature of housework is enjoyable in its rhythm and pattern, but can also leave one at a bit of a loss.  Am I accomplishing anything?  Have I done anything of value?  There's something about the posts on this blog of mine that lend me a bit of satisfaction: I had a thought, and I wrote it down.  I photographed our lovely children, and I recorded a few memories.  I put it somewhere permanent.  The house will continue to ebb and flow in and out of chaos, but what I wrote and recorded - a tiny snapshot in the timeline of our family life - will remain.

So here's to the idea of making time to write a little more often.  Will it happen?  We shall see.  The dinner dishes are waiting to be done and the baby just woke up crying.  The tyranny of the urgent is real, and it is comfortingly predictable.

{I'm smiling to myself right now.  It's nice to be needed.}