Thursday, September 30, 2010

Co-sleeping

Last night was a momentous milestone in our small household: my baby, who has never slept for more then a few hours without me beside him, spent half the night in his own crib, in his own room. While it was on one hand a nice treat to have some unhindered sleeping time, I am still not sure whether to celebrate or mourn. I think the occasion calls for both.

When my little one was born I had no intention of having him sleep in our bed. Quite the opposite in fact, I had a nice little co-sleeper purchased on a bargain off Craigslist for him and it was set up within a few hours of bringing him home from the hospital. I can still picture clearly the moment when Matt and I laid our newborn in his tiny little bed and stared adoringly down at him sleeping peacefully....for all of 20 seconds. He informed us right away that he had no intention of sleeping all by himself in his separate compartment when even a 2 day old knows it is way more snug and cozy to sleep curled up next to mommy and her warm milk. We had a lot to learn as new parents.

The first thing I learned was that having my baby in bed with me was one of the most beautiful and natural arrangements for us as a mommy and baby pair. Everyone got more sleep, the bonding experience of shared sleep is beyond description, and I got to satisfy my new mother paranoia at a moments notice by gently checking the sleeping form beside me. Some of my most cherished motherhood moments have come from those quiet moments in bed with my little one, sleeping curled between my two boys, or waking up to a sweet baby smile nestled against me.

As the baby has grown, however, the shared sleep set-up has resulted in less sleep for everyone. Instead of gradually decreasing his night waking as he got bigger, my little one went the opposite direction and began waking up more frequently, to nurse and receive comfort from mom. Many a gentle attempt was made to encourage him to sleep longer and nurse less at night, but the habit has persisted and my husband and I reached the point of needing to take bigger steps as the fatigue accumulated from almost 11 months of interrupted sleep became overwhelming.

Through a complex 4 phase process which required a lot of trial and error to perfect, we have succeeded (at least for these two nights) in moving him into his crib for naps and to start out the night. As Matt and I went to bed last night alone in our own room for the first time in almost a year, all I could think about was my baby sleeping alone (and of course in my mind he was cold and frightened) and how many things change as your child grows.

For now I am happy to continue to welcome the baby into my bed in the middle of the night when he wakes, though I know as time passes that will be less and less. As I reflect back on our months of co-sleeping I am so thankful that my baby forced co-sleeping on us, and more thankful for the support of my husband to go along with it, even at times when he felt crowded in so many other areas of his life as well. I wouldn't trade those nights for anything.

Perhaps the greatest lesson of motherhood that I am learning is that nothing stays the same forever, and those things about being a mom that are sometimes inconvenient and seem so difficult, are also those things that form my most treasured memories and make mommyhood the most amazing journey of my life. Tonight I mourn the loss, celebrate the sleep and look forward to the wonderful years of motherhood ahead that will be full of so many moments of celebration mixed with just a tinge of mourning.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wholeness

Broken
by the great healer
Broken
for what purpose I cannot tell
from where I stand
but when I land it will be broken
Perhaps that's how you want me
easier to mold
so many pieces from which to choose
How will you use me
when I am broken?
Faith and trust must be enough
for the brokenness
to be the wholeness you were seeking
I must come apart
so I will not be apart from you
Broken
by the great healer
Broken

I wrote this poem for several people in my life who are experiencing difficult times. Brokenness seems to be a theme in this season.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Act

I have never been one of those people who believed in living a balanced life. In fact I truly believe that my life at it's best is unbalanced and that the thing that inspire me should be what gets the biggest share of my time and attention. In the years leading up to the birth of my son, my entire life was focused on my husband in the most unbalanced way possible. I did two things; worked hard at my job and then came home and poured my time, energy and passion into our marriage. I am so grateful for those years.

But now I find myself working outside the home two days a week, spending every other second mothering my little one, struggling to squeeze in time for God and my marriage while also yearning to engage in the pursuits that I am passionate about and that feed the part of me that is just me.  This equation has resulted in frustration as well as a tendency to never really be engaged in what I am doing because all the while I am thinking about the other things that I need or want to get done. I recognized this week that I am searching for balance, a balance that I don't even believe in and have never cared to have before.

Prior to the arrival of the baby, being unbalanced was ok because I got to choose how I wanted to unbalance my life. But now, that choice is no longer mine. Everything in my life has become skewed towards the baby. I give the best part of my time, energy, love and attention to my munchkin, and so I find myself in a situation where I suddenly want to tip the scales back in the direction I want them to go, to have some control over what my existence looks like and to rescue some of my time and energy for those things I loved long before my days were turned upside down.

Having the desire to re-balance my life has been a positive thing, causing me to take a critical look at the flow of my days and what is indispensable to me outside of the hours I give to raising my child. I have carved out a small amount of time alone for myself, and my husband and I have set aside a few nights a week to be a couple again and to laugh and connect the way we used to in our unbalanced years. While I have no illusions that doing these things has tipped the scale in my favor, I acknowledge how much easier it is to give when there is also time to hold onto a part of myself too.

At the end of the day, I absolutely do want my life to be unbalanced. I do want my son to monopolize me for this season, which I know will pass so very quickly, leaving me with too much time on my empty hands. So for now I give my time and attention to him, while in the same breath I am learning to be mindful to preserve those things that are also of value, those things that make up who I am outside of motherhood, and which I will need once I can again unbalance my life in whatever way I choose.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

30 Minutes

I just recently discovered my new favorite blog by Jamie at Steady Mom. One of the many cool things she does is host a Mom's 30 minute blog challenge each Tuesday. I thought it would be fun to join in, so here goes...

I felt like a 30 minute post would be very appropriate for me since I had the good fortune to give birth to a 30 minute napper. Ever since my munchkin was 2 months old, he has persisted in taking abbriviated naps of 30 minutes exactly. I could set a clock by him, 30 minutes on the dot from the time he was put to sleep he would pop awake and cry for my attention.

As a mom-to-be I had had this vision in my head of holding my new baby, nursing him, and quietly putting him down for a two hour long nap while I took the time for myself to read, exercise, clean or do anything my heart desired. I have distinct memories of reassuring my husband when he worried about us not having time together after the baby was born, that babies take naps and we would have plenty of time on the weekends while our little one slept peacefully.

Needless to say, my bundle of joy's propensity for painfully short cat naps came as quite a shock.

Initially I tried everything to make him sleep longer (though I refused to let him cry). I would sneak in at 29 minutes and stand ready to pop him on to nurse the minute he stirred in hopes he would drift back to sleep, I darkened the room, ran loud fans, played soothing music, let him nap in a swing, and once I even tried the poke-the-baby-after-20-minutes-until-he-stirs-and-then-settles-in-for-a-long-nap trick (which was a huge disaster, believe me).

Unfortunately I found that the only result of my efforts was increased frustration on my part after every failed attempt.

After many exhausting days and much reading and researching I finally came to the conclusion that it was out of my hands. So, I backed off. Now, I wish I could say that because I learned my lesson my baby magically started sleeping longer, but that was not the case. What did happen is that when I set my expectation at the 30 minute mark and let go of trying to control his nap times, my level of stress and frustration starting inching down. I found that I could find a measure of peace in 30 minutes, I learned to decide ahead of time what was most important during that time and stick with it, and I learned that I could be satisfied with just 30 minutes of me time if that was all I had.

Now that my munchkin is 10 months old he does take longer naps on many days, it is something that he has grown into in his own time (and I like to think that my gentle nudging helped, but it's quite possible that I had nothing to do with it). Still, for as many times as he naps for an hour and a half, he just as often sticks to his 30 minute special, and I am reminded on a regular basis that many aspects of mothering are out of my control and some days the best I can do is ignore the laundry, dishes, cleaning and that book that is calling to me and focus instead on what my child truly needs; love, hugs, kisses, and time with his mommy, not necessarily a 31+ minute nap.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Little Eyes

There is nothing more incredible
then to watch those little hands
those little feet
that little mind
twist and turn
grow and learn
Every day is a new adventure
each minute filled with life and joy
love and laughter
when seen through those little eyes
that little soul
that little heart
the world is so much bigger then I ever imagined

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Open Doors

I have been searching for a sense of home for a long time now. After my husband and I got married 6 years ago we moved to big city Chicago several hours from where our parents lived in small town USA. Since our move up here we have lived in two different apartments and one house and none of these places has ever felt like home to me. Whether because we have always rented and never owned, or because I haven't lived in a room with anything but white walls for many years now, or the fact that all our family lives other places, I have always struggled to find that sense of belonging in Chicago.

I always thought the reason I did not feel connected to Chicago was because my family was not here with me. Over the years plans to move closer to family have come and gone, with each attempt fizzling out for a myriad of reasons that always leave me wondering "what are we still doing here?" I often feel as though the universe is playing some kind of joke on me because every time we resolve to make the move, we somehow become more entrenched in Chicago, this place that we try so desperately to leave.

Most recently I have begun to have this sneaking suspicion that Chicago is our home at least for now whether I like it or not, so I have made efforts to create an atmosphere of "hominess." I tried redecorating, I talked and talked about painting at least one wall, we have had numerous conversations about actually buying a house, and I have used all the mental imagery possible to imagine a life settled here. Meanwhile, in the midst of my valiant efforts to trick myself into feeling at home, something else happened, gradually and without any intention on my part. Our friends invaded our home.

Matt and I have never been very big on having people over or hosting pretty much anything. I would definitely call myself an anxious host, who stresses over every small detail and spends every gathering wondering if everyone is having a good time, getting enough to eat, is there enough light for everyone to see, and on and on to insanity. However, since the munchkin was born we began hosting our weekly small group, and what started out as a convenient set up turned out to be something much more. While initially I was so timid and awkward when having people over, it seems the more often I open the doors to my home the more often I want to.

I think hospitality might be contagious, not necessarily to other people, but definitely to yourself, kind of like that cold you keep getting over and over, all winter long. Opening the doors to your home opens up a part of yourself too, and that is at first scary and vulnerable and intimidating, but the more you choose to open your door, the wider open you yourself become, and I have found as I become more open that I have connected with others in ways I never expected. I love that my friends don't knock when they come to our house, that they know which cabinet my glasses are in and they help themselves, that our living room has been the scene of so many meaningful conversations that have challenged and stretched me.

While I still hope that someday soon we will find ourselves living in a place surrounded by our family, for now I am learning to be content with the surrogate family God has blessed us with here. And with each gathering of our friends I am finding that our house, which we do not own and which will likely be white walled to the day we leave, has become a home, not because of the things I have done to it, but instead because of the people I have welcomed into it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Best Advice...

I attended a baby shower recently for a dear family member. It was one of my first baby showers since becoming a mom myself and it brought back a flood of memories of my pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. The excitement and anticipation nearing the end of the pregnancy, the surprise and anxiety on the day my water broke, the struggles and overwhelming love surrounding the first days with my baby. Though I restrain myself from saying this to everyone I know who does not have kids, I now understand why many parents are so eager to encourage others to have children of their own. There is really nothing else like it.

On the beautifully arranged, bunny themed tables at this shower there were large white index cards on which all the guest were asked to write motherly wisdom or words of advice for the mom-to-be. I must have stared at that card for a good 15 minutes. I, as a new mom should have so much advice fresh in my mind to pass along, but instead I stared at that card and tried to think of a nice way to say "ignore all the advice you get on these cards."

From the time my belly first began to show (in the obvious pregnant way, and not the way where I just looked like I had hit the dessert table too hard) the advice came pouring in. Of course all the wonderful people who showered me with their hard earned wisdom were motivated by a sincere desire to make my transition into motherhood as easy as possible, which I have a great appreciation for. But, what I found once I was holding my bundle of joy was that all the advice I had been given that sounded so reasonable in theory did not work in the least for my baby, nor did it fit me as a mom.

Mothering is not simple, and each baby is so different, a fact I have come to know well, but as a new mom, all I knew was that for some reason I did not fit the accepted pattern of advice that I was given. Somehow I was deficient, or my baby was abnormal. I held my baby all the time, slept with him in my bed, refused to let him cry himself to sleep even though it meant getting up several times a night (to this day...), nursed him as much and as often as he wanted, and never napped when he did, all in direct contradiction to everyone's eagerly offered opinion.

There are of course some wrong ways to be a mom, but there are many, many right ways as well, and broad parenting advice ignores the uniqueness of each mommy-baby pair. In looking back on my first few months as a mother I wish I had had enough confidence in my instincts to let others advice roll right off of me, instead of letting it make me feel insecure and conflicted about what I thought was best for my baby. Advice has it's place in parenting, but for me the best advice has come when it was asked for, and at times sought out in desperation.

At the baby shower I thought long and hard about what to say and finally wrote, "you can only be a mother to the baby you have." I hope that statement can be empowering for this mom-to-be and helps her to realize that she doesn't have to do things "by the book," that she is free to improvise and respond to her baby in a way that feels right, and that all the advice in the world can never take the place of motherly instincts. Perhaps 20 years from now when my baby is grown I may be eager to share my wisdom with new moms, but for now as a new mom I hope that instead of advice I can offer friendship, instead of books on mothering I can offer a listening ear, and instead of formulas for sleeping I can offer my own two hands to help out when mothering gets overwhelming, as it does even for those of us who are given the best advice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hero

To be a mom
is to be a hero, but to also be in need of help
to be a mom
is to be overwhelmed with feeling beyond what you have ever felt
to be a mom
is to be sleepless, you are giving day and night
to be a mom
is to be patient, very little seems to ever go right
to be a mom
is about sacrifice, but it is also about all you gain
to be a mom
is about laughter, and learning to play again
to be a mom
is to be completed though you did not know you were not whole
to be a mom
is an adventure that does not conform to what you've been told
to be a mom
is to know you'd do anything to protect your little one from harm
to be a mom
is to grow in beauty from the day you hold your baby in your arms
to be a mom
is to hold those little hands when your child takes their very first step
to be a mom
is to watch your baby grow and begin to wish to turn time back

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Woven

     You know those moments in life when you are stopped in your tracks and forced to acknowledge your life's connection to someone else? I had one of those moments while doing laundry. This may sound silly, but I was reminded of doing an almost identical load of laundry about 1 year ago, when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and preparing the nursery for our little one. It was so exciting to do that first load of baby items, and to fold each outfit while dreaming of the tiny body that would fill it, wear it out, grow in it and then grow right out of it. So many of the items had people attached to them. People who had generously gifted tiny onsies, or teddy bear hats, or duck towels. In particular I remember folding up a Winnie the Pooh blanket that one of my patients had given me.
     This patient was someone I had known for a very long time, since the beginning of her cancer journey.  Her type of cancer was aggressive and difficult to treat. We visited every time she came for treatments even though she had no nutritional problems and was handling the chemo like a champ. We would talk briefly about how she was doing with her cancer and then the rest of our time would be spent discussing her job, her kids, her husband and her life in general. She just liked to connect with me on a personal level, a fact which I respected given the uncertainty of her situation and the distance she traveled, usually alone, to receive treatments.
     When I became pregnant she was overjoyed for me. We spent lots of time talking about the baby and my preparations, how I was feeling and coping. She shared stories with me from her own pregnancies and offered friendly advice and wisdom. A few weeks prior to my delivery she came for her treatment bearing gifts for my little one: two Winnie the Pooh Blankets and some hooded baby towels. I was touched, mostly by the obvious joy giving the gift brought to her.
     When I returned from maternity leave, my schedule was shortened and our paths did not cross for several months. My co-workers informed me that she continued to ask about me at every visit and they shared baby pictures with her, which she was thrilled with. About 2 months ago, her file came across my desk and I had this feeling that I should call her to say hi, but it was a busy day and I put if off for the next week. Three days later she passed away.
      Yesterday I pulled one of the Winnie the Pooh blankets out of the dryer as I have done countless times before, but for some reason this day was different, and the sight of the blanket filled me with memories and sorrow for this beautiful woman that was so eager to give, and with whom I did not get to speak one last time. I would have told her how blessed I am at having had her in my life, how brave she was for fighting as hard as she could, how I will tell my little one about her when I snuggle him into the blanket and hug him as close as I can. Every time I see that blanket I think of her and I am reminded of all the beautiful ways in which I am connected to those around me, like an intricate web that is woven throughout my life. I am reminded to always say the important things, the big things, the little things, to those I care about and to never wait for a time when life is less busy to appreciate all that I am blessed with.
Annette, I am happy to have called you friend. You are missed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Seashells and Alzheimers

This weekend was family reunion weekend for my mom's side of the family. For as long as I can remember, Labor Day weekend has involved a trip to a pictueresque clubhouse situated on a rivershore to have lunch and visit with a large group of extended family. Growing up it was as close as I ever came to a beach. Families with six children do not vacation much. But, on Labor Day Sunday we would all travel up to the reunion and after the meal was over, I would escape with my siblings and scoure the shoreline for seashells, dreaming of what a real beach must be like. The shells I would find would be small and stinky, but plentiful. No matter how many years I went it was always the highlight of the day to spend hours searching and filling a cup with tiny shells that would smell up the entire car for the ride home.
For several years now I have not been back to the family reunion. Once I entered college I could not see the sense of wasting a precious three day weekend traveling to see a bunch of family that I did not know well, and at my age searching for seashells was no longer a motivating factor. I was content to drift away from the family gathering for a time. This year was different.
My Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few months ago. When my mom called to tell me the news I felt a weight drop in my stomach. It has been awhile now since I spent much time with Grandpa, but during my childhood he was a very influential figure for me. He is a man that is unfailingly kind to everyone. His relationship with God is woven so seemlessly into his life that it overflows into every conversation and every action, not in an obnoxious "church" kind of way, but in an honest, simple way that is clearly a part of who he is at the deepest level. It has always amazed me how he could say "God bless" instead of goodbye, and never come across as holier then thou. When he says it, I know he truely is praying for God's blessing in my life. Grandpa has always been the ultimate example to me of what a relationship with God can look like.
Dealing with his diagnosis is difficult and it immediatly forced me to confront myself and my failure as a Granddaughter. I have been too busy living my life to invest my time and energy into my relationship with my Grandpa. And now I know my time is limited. He is in the early stages and likely has many more years with us, but even that does not seem like enough. I do not like for him to have an expiration date.
So this weekend was a particularly special family reunion as many of our family that has missed in more recent years made an effort to attend. We all know how important the reunion has always been to Grandpa, and each of us wanted to honor him by being there. We spent time together, laughed together and reminesced about old times. I felt like I spent the entire weekend trying to drink in every moment with my Grandpa. I would sit with him taking mental pictures and trying to imprint his voice and his wisdom in my mind.
Down at the shoreline I watched my niece and nephew gather shells as though they were candy, and I was reminded of all the years when I had done the same. All the times I had come to the family reunion, all the seashells I had gathered, all the years I have had with my Grandpa. I do not own a single one of those shells anymore, but my heart is filled with memories of time spent with Grandpa, and those do not have an expiration date.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The First...

My heart returns to writing
waiting for words to come
create meaning from what's jumbled
straighten out or end undone
Seek the spark that breathes into me
find what's humble in my pride
earn good standing from a beggar
come full circle in my life