treasuring childhood

The Gift of Giving: In My Arms

The cover image for Plumb's "Blink" Album, https://missinginkshop.com/plumb/store/music/blink

 

"Your baby blues, so full of wonder

Your curly cues, your contagious smile

And as I watch, you start to grow up

All I can do is hold you tight  

Knowing clouds will rage

And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms

Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around

But you will be safe in my arms  

Story books full of fairy tales

Of kings and queens and the bluest skies

My heart is torn just in knowing

You'll someday see the truth from lies

 

When the clouds will rage

And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms

Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around

But you will be safe in my arms

 

Castles they might crumble

Dreams may not come true

But you are never all alone

Because I will always, always love you

 

When the clouds will rage

And storms will race in but you will be safe in my arms

Rains will pour down, waves will crash all around

But you will be safe in my arms, in my arms."

The Lyrics from "In My Arms", Written and Performed by:  Plumb

 

This song by Plumb is one of those mommy songs that always “gets” me.  I can be guaranteed a good cry by the time I get to the chorus, and by the end I’m pondering motherhood and all its many joys.  It’s good sometimes to step back from the daily routines and truly ponder what it means to love and be loved.

When Gabriel was young, I used to hold him close in my arms.  I had a sense of control that while there, he would be completely safe.  The clouds could race in, the storms could rage.  But he would be safe.  It was that fairy tale time—I was queen and he was my little prince.  But even in my arms I could not keep his heart beating, or feed him if his little tummy did not first send the hunger cue to his brain.

He is only 18 months now, but his independence has grown, and I have already felt those strange moments of him growing up.  And though it feels forever away, if what every mother says is true, I will blink, and he will be 18.  His dreams may not come true, his castle might crumble, and the storms might rage against him.  Even then, I will figuratively hold him in my arms, and tell him how much I love him.

The hard truth remains that he will never be completely safe in my arms.  I will do everything I can as a mother to protect my child physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  But he will be exposed to hurt and prayerfully growth in all of those areas.  I don’t want to “overprotect” him.  I think most of us have seen the harm in that extreme—need I follow up Plumb’s song with creepy Mother Gothel’s “Mama Knows Best” from Tangled?  Not the ideal either.

Thankfully, even though I cannot completely keep my child safe, I have found comfort in another truth.   It’s the love that I feel when I am so in love with my son.  It’s the fact that I am not the only one who feels this love for my son.  There’s my husband, and my parents and his parents, and Gabriel’s myriad of aunts and uncles, and his three boy cousins, and friends, ranging from 0-90 years old.  I find comfort in the fact that it’s not just me trying to help him through the storms of life.  Our community is right there helping.

The love that has overwhelmed me the most is the love from God, who says He loves us with an everlasting love, one that is higher than the heavens, deeper than the oceans, and farther than the East is from the West.  He has that same love for my son.  Love deeper than mine.  A love that can not only protect from the storms of life, but send them running the other direction with a simple command.

All these are the arms into which I find myself, my son in my arms.

The Gift of Giving: Pondering

A column about how emptying yourself as a mother can become a fulfilling lifestyle. The adage that mothers continually give, give, give is nothing new.  If you’re at the entrance of motherhood this universal is right at the forefront…at 2 am, when your nipples are bleeding from breastfeeding.  Or at 8 pm when you have to leave everything early because it’s bedtime, of course.

I truly view Gabriel’s birth as my own birth as well—the birth of a mother.  I strongly believe that life begins at conception, and so I know I had been a mother for nine months already, but birthing my son brought something out of me that wasn’t there before.  I also view Gabriel’s first 12 weeks of life as my “chrysalis” stage, if you will.  I felt cocooned into myself, separated from the world, and cut off from the person I used to be, as I attempted to transform into a mother and, in the process, die to my old self.  (This sounds very dramatic, I know…but please bear with the illustration).  I emerged, not a perfect butterfly mother, but a mother nonetheless.  One willing to give of myself.  One willing to find joy in giving, and thus embrace the gift of giving. Butterfly One of my favorite quotes about mothers is from Tenneva Jordan:   “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” To me, it’s such a funny and practical illustration of what I want to be—not fulfilled by eating the pie (and I do LOVE pie, and would have a hard time denying it), but fulfilled by watching my family enjoy eating the pie.

One of my biggest fears about motherhood is not what I’ll do wrong to my kids, but what I’ll do wrong with my heart.  I fear the bitterness and resentment that I see overcome attitudes in moms—something that will harm me, my husband and my kids.  I fear the temptations to say “You don’t know how hard it is to be a mom,” or “I never get a break as a mom,” or “why do you always need, need, need.” These feelings are embarrassing to even admit.  Especially when I am rewarded with the love of my son, that smile when I treat him to something special, the unexpected (though snotty) kisses I get on my nose, and the way his arms reach out to me when I pick him up from childcare.

These things and more make it all worth it.  They fill me with more joy than my petty, selfish complaints.  They give me a fresher outlook than my inward focused one.  They give me more energy than my self-pity.

The gift of giving becomes fulfilling when we ponder all things motherhood in our hearts.  During this time of year I am reminded of the nativity story, and how Mary rode on a donkey at 9 months pregnant, was denied even a private bed and room for birthing, labored and birthed in a stable surrounded by the smell of manure, and wrapped her newborn in strips of cloth (go mama, right?).  Their only visitors were shepherds (again with the manure).  What does it say at the end of this humble story (which I doubt went according to her birth plan)?  Mary pondered all these things in her heart.  Not just when the heating blankets arrived, or the sitz bath, or lactation consultant (because she probably had none of these things).  She pondered the treasure and gift she had been given.

I was surprised when I looked up the verb “to ponder.” These days, it means “to consider something deeply and thoroughly,” but I like the archaic meaning, “to estimate the worth of, to appraise.”

This holiday season, I am encouraged to ponder the worth of motherhood, to appraise how it can satisfy me when I sacrificially give.  It is a priceless gift.  This may not make the days less hard, but it will certainly make them more worthwhile.

 

Balancing the Stacks: How Books Have Drawn Me Closer To (And Away From) My Kids

bookstack

In September, the Motherhood Collective will feature posts on balance - having it or not! It's certainly a state most of us struggle to find. September is, for some, the calm before the storm. Our kids are back in school, fall activities have begun and we have a few precious weeks before we really have to start thinking about the holidays. What better time to take a few minutes to reflect on how we spend our time, juggle our lives and what we can do to achieve our own perfect balance! ~TMC

Last month, I shared with you my dirty little secret: I don't read to my baby.  At this stage in his life, he's more interested in chewing on the books than listening to them.  We talk, we sing, we explore (taste) our collection of board books, but that baby-on-the-lap-before bed traditional storytime is just not part of our bedtime routine.

At least not for my 9 month old.

I also have a daughter who is almost 3.5 (how did that happen?!?) and for her, our bedtime story is sacred.  We really began incorporating books into our bedtime routine when she transitioned to a toddler bed around 20 months.  It was a way of calming her at night, trying to make her drowsy enough that she wouldn't fight bedtime and would stay in her bed after we left the room. I was always the one who read the story, but it was family time, with all three of us--my daughter, my husband, and myself--huddled together on the floor.

And then last December my son was born.  From the day I returned home from the hospital, that bedtime story became "Our Special Time".  With a new baby in the house, one who turned out to be a horrible refluxer and needed even more mama attention than usual, carving time out for my daughter was both a necessity and a challenge.  But we made that storytime a priority.

One night we read a book about a brother and sister who were constantly getting into messes throughout the day.  Hands, feet, and noses always sticky.  For some reason, she latched on to the "sticky noses" phrase and now it's part of the way we say goodnight, a sign of affection, to rub "sticky" noses.  How awesome is that?  That something so simple as a bedtime story could become something so important as a way of saying "I love you"?

Precious, isn't it?

But let's forget about the kiddos for a minute.

Reading is also how I find my own balance and space.  After the kids are in bed, I can be found with my laptop and a pile of library books.  While my husband edits his latest batch of photos, I catch up on the latest in children's literature.  When I was in the classroom, I book-talked with my students constantly.  Literacy is a passion, something I want to share.  It's why I went back to school for my graduate degree in library science.

And then I had kids.  And now instead of being in the classroom, I'm teaching my own little ones at home.

The most challenging part of being a stay-at-home parent?  The lack of adult interaction (can I get an "Amen!"?).  You have to create opportunities, otherwise it is entirely possible to go an entire day  speaking to nobody over three feet tall.  Even with those opportunities, my poor husband still braces himself for an avalanche of stored up conversation the moment he walks in the door.

So I turned to blogging. And blogging led to networking.  And networking allowed me to turn Once Upon A Story into a site where I can share my passion for children's literature, where I can share what I'm reading, where I can get suggestions and chat with other teachers, librarians, and parents.

Mother.  Wife. Teacher.  Librarian. Blogger.

Balance.

--- The Motherhood Collective is on Facebook. Like us, then comment on our giveaway post for a chance to win a family photo shoot from Adam Barnes Photography. Our contest ends when we hit 500 Likes!

You Just Never Know (Until You Know)

learning

tools of the trade by juliesorgeway  

I want to talk about my five-month-old, and pee, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Nine years — almost my entire adult life — I have worked as an educator. My husband is a college professor too. Education, facts and research are a big part of our lives, and we were willing suckers for every baby book and doodad that claims to be somehow educational. Black and white brain stimulating mobile? Check. Baby sign language? Alphabet sheets to somehow ooze literacy into his wispy baby head? Check check. But even after just a few months with our little boy, I feel like, cliché or not, really it's I who have most to learn.

Most people are familiar with the paradoxical phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, even if they’ve never heard of it before. Basically two Cornell researchers did a bunch of observations indicating that in general, the more you actually know about a topic, the more you worry that you don’t know enough. And, not coincidentally, the less you truly know, the more likely you are to overestimate your own expertise! Now, if you're like me, you can instantly, snarkily think of one or two people in your life who this just perfectly applies to. But maybe it’s more useful if we each were first to try applying it to ourselves.

Raising my hand right here: I was a classic Dunning-Kruger parenting “expert” before my baby was born. Reading and note-taking are kind of my favorite thing ever, so I researched the very soul out of every single newborn issue I could imagine. Nine glorious months of page-turning and highlighting! I knew that parts of my pregnancy, birth, and parenting journey would be out of my hands, and parts I could do my best to control. Statistics and anecdotal evidence alike were ready and confident on the tip of my tongue. I spent time reading birth stories of every possible variation of experience. And I don't regret any of that reading, or thinking, or planning. It helped me do pregnancy my way, and made so much of the unknown feel safer to me. Yet within a few weeks of my actual son’s actual arrival? Even though in fact I suddenly had much more experience, I felt so much less of an expert.

Despite having great support, I found there were so many things that felt harder than I had anticipated. It isn't that nobody warned me; on the contrary I had several honest mama friends who shared their hearts and tried to prepare me for the changes newborn life would bring. But nothing really could. So many of the shortcuts, tips, and tricks that had been “lifesavers” for my mama friends didn’t work for me, or for my baby, at all. Even some of the issues I thought I would feel most passionate about, in my prenatal fits of highlighting, ended up falling away as I found myself with a new, smaller set of certainties. Here are just a few of the things I held on to in those early days:

  • Things will get easier. Even though every age will have its challenges, newborn life is a tough adjustment for almost all new parents. The roller coaster cliché is true. But it will be okay.
  • It’s only a little pee. Let’s just say my standards of what constitutes a true midnight laundry emergency have… evolved.
  • Don’t mess with happy. Whether it’s the baby’s happiness, or my own, I have realized how much I tend to over-meddle. He's asleep with his head flopping to the side? That can't be comfortable... maybe if I just "fix" it... You see where this is going, right? It’s not always wise to try to perfect something that is already working out okay.
  • Let him see you smiling. He looks to me so often in this phase of his life. Okay, at first he mostly stared at my hairline or maybe the ceiling fan, but pretty soon he realized it's the parents who are the first center of his universe. So I don’t want to always have my brow furrowed, to always be worrying about the next thing that could somehow be better. I want him to see me smile, because really? We have a lot to smile about.

And even any of these, I know, might not ring true for any one reader in particular. My point is: Not one of them would have seemed like an important idea to me back when I was an expert. And it's this change, from the researched knowledge to the experienced, that no one could really prepare me for.

I still read a lot, when I can fit it in. I still care about doing the best I can to make reasonable decisions on issues that come up. But as my little boy grows, I continue to realize how much is probably out there that I still really don’t know. There are times when I imagine all the questions ahead of us, all the things I don't even know I don't know yet, and within me anxiety starts to rise. But when it does, I try my best to remember good old Dunning-Kruger, take a deep breath, and remind myself that maybe, just maybe, the less I feel like I confidently know “for sure” as a parent, the more I’ve actually learned.

--- The Motherhood Collective is on Facebook. Like us, then comment on our giveaway post for a chance to win a family photo shoot from Adam Barnes Photography. Our contest ends when we hit 500 Likes!

On Living With Ghosts

baby-feet

Baby Feet“Every mother can easily imagine losing a child.  Motherhood is always half loss anyway.  The three-year-old is lost at five, the five-year-old at nine.  We consort with ghosts, even as we sit and eat with, scold and kiss, their current corporeal forms.” - Karen Joy Fowler Consorting with a ghost…yes, that is exactly how I feel sometimes. My son, Gabriel, is nine months into his first year of life, and I look back, wondering what happened to my newborn—the one who looked at me through baby blues, with oh-so-tiny grasping fingers, and a self-preservation instinct that could smell me across the room. Or the three month old, with smiles that stretched his face’s skin for the first time, and the delight of newly discovered giggles. Or the six month old, who learned to wrinkle his nose when tasting something other than mom’s milk, and raise up ever-strengthening arms to be held and carried. Yes, these are all Gabriel. But in many ways, they are ghosts, hidden inside his little nine month frame, and etched across my bosom and heart.

And all I ever hear is “treasure every moment, because it goes by so fast.” The breathlessness begins, and I start to panic. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to regret.

So I hold him close to me. I stare at every line of his face while he nurses, looking up at me with that trust. When he wriggles down to the floor to crawl away from me, I realize, once again, that my heart has left my body to abide in another.

"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." - Elizabeth Stone

Maybe I can stop this cycle. Maybe I can hold him close forever.

Yet I wake up today, and delight in his newfound talent. He’s figured out how to pucker up and make the “fish face” – the one that I do to make him laugh all the time. He heads for the kitchen, fish lips in position, chubby hands slapping the floor, and baby bottom swinging. And I laugh at the joy of this discovery, and revel—only as a mother can!—at my beautiful and brilliant child.

I realize, isn’t there freedom in this? Isn’t that one of the glorious aspects of getting to raise my own person? To witness so closely this wonderful “cycle of life” that God has created.

So here I am again. I arrive at yet another calling in motherhood—to embrace the person that he is always becoming. To forget who he was yesterday? Never. To ponder every moment in my heart? Most definitely.

 

The Motherhood Collective is on Facebook. Like us, then comment on our giveaway post for a chance to win a family photo shoot from Adam Barnes Photography. Our contest ends when we hit 500 Likes!