Category Archives: Parenting

Awkward: A guest post by Leah Tioxon

We move tomorrow, in a town with no such things as a moving company. And we have a penchant for heavy wooden furniture. Also, I have more books than the town’s public library.

Actually, that last is probably not true, but it’s close to being true.

Life is, uh, busy. I’ll be back with you soon from a new house (and a new website). But in the meantime, today I bring you the voice of a friend.

I met Leah Tioxon (in the virtual sense) while we were both working in staff care for humanitarian organizations. Leah has a master’s degree in Social Work and worked for a number of inspiring nonprofit organizations before becoming a full-time photographer. She has also recently become a mother.

I always look forward to Leah’s posts on Wednesdays. In light of some of what I’ve written recently about feeling judged by others, I thought this one was a great addition to that discussion. Enjoy!

Awkward, by Leah Tioxon

There was a wonderfully beautiful post on Offbeat Mama the other day – one that resonated with me on several levels – as an adoptee, as a parent, and as a person who loves to ponder the intricacies of identity, of transitions, and of family.

One quote in particular has been bouncing around in my brain: “Sometimes holding yourself back, playing your cards close to the chest, is the only defense we have. Our silence makes us secure.”

I’m a very open person, for the most part. But there are things I’d rather keep quiet. I don’t necessarily want everyone to know all of my weaknesses. I don’t want people witnessing all of my mistakes, my awkward moments.

Before I became a mom, I viewed the transition to parenthood as similar to other transitions in life: the transition to “adulthood” (which, for me, was defined by finishing college, moving across the country, and getting my first full-time job – and a bunch of bills!), the transition to domestic partnership, the transition to married life, and the transition to self-employment. These are all big steps and with them comes a shift in identity, a new role, a change in how others perceive and/or define me. And with any new role, there is a learning curve, a period of adjustment, while I figure out what this transition means to me, how I define this new role and the expectations that come with it, both from me and from others. Do I accept these expectations? Or do I need to adjust the definition of what being a “wife” or being “an adult” means to something more in line with who I am?

With any new role there is the opportunity for awkward moments. New experiences are rife with awkwardness. But in the past I could hide much of that awkwardness. Feigning confidence, self-assuredness… fumbling my way through my first apartment search, my first time filing taxes, my first year of paying bills… I could make mistakes quietly. No one had to know – or at  the very least, only a few people had to know.

Becoming a parent is similar to any other major life transition… but unlike so many of those other transitions, I’m finding this one much more public. As I figure out this new role of “Mom,” as I integrate it into the other aspects of my identity – my life story – there are many awkward moments. Trying to nurse in public – quickly before Jonah starts screaming for the milk. Trying to get Jonah in and out of the Moby wrap the first few times. Trying to get the car seat adjusted properly. Trying to change a diaper without getting peed on. And because I refuse to stay shut up in my house, these things are all happening in public. With onlookers. Everyone out there is witnessing my transition to motherhood – my awkwardness and my fumbling. I can’t hide this part of me. I’m a new mom. And my baby is so darn cute, people can’t help but stare (haha, that’s what I tell myself!).

Luckily for me, I’m not too easily embarrassed. Like any other transition, the newness will wear off. I will find my groove – in many ways, I already have. I’m so much more comfortable taking Jonah out and about. There will always be awkward moments – children aren’t the most predictable creatures on the planet, after all. But I’m not going to let a fear of looking/feeling uncomfortable stop me from exploring the world with my son. I’m embracing this awkwardness. It feels uncomfortable now, but it already feels less so. My 22-year-old baby adult self would have been horrified to be seen making a mistake or not knowing exactly what to do…my 30-year-old mom self is just going to shrug it off and kiss Jonah’s big squishy cheeks. I have WAY more important things to concern myself with these days. So bring on the awkwardness!

Find more of Leah’s posts and check out Leah and Mark’s photography over at their website.

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In which I say I’m a good mother

“I’m a bad mother.”

Even as I heard myself say those words to Mike last week on the phone, I cringed.

Mike was away for most of the week, so I was parenting solo, and Dominic had a wracking, chesty cough that started up whenever I put him down to sleep. At first we thought the cough was due to the shocking air quality in Luang Prabang at present – it’s grey and smoky and ash is falling from the sky because everyone’s burning their rice fields in preparation for planting. But after the cough had hung around for ten days, I enlisted the help of a Lao-speaking friend and went in search of a local pediatrician.

“How’d it go?” Mike wanted to know when we talked that evening.

“The doctor listened to his chest and said he sounded fine. He knew the English words for asthma and bronchitis – my two big concerns. But he said it was just a cough and it’ll probably go away by itself.”

“Good,” Mike said, sounding relieved. “So it all went fine then.”

“Yes,” I said. “Except for the part where the doctor asked me to undress him and I laid him in my lap to do that because there was no examining table, and then he rolled and I almost dropped him on his head on the tile floor. I’m a bad mother.”

I’m a bad mother.

It wasn’t the first time I’d caught myself saying this recently, and more than one of my mothering friends use this phrase frequently. They toss it off casually to chastise themselves for not being quick enough to catch a slipping child and prevent a tumble, or to justify why they’re allowing the child to eat sweets or watch television, or even just to explain a grubby hands and face.

“Why say it at all?” Mike asked, when I explained the subject of this blog post over breakfast this morning.

“I think we say it as a defense when we feel that someone might be judging us,” I said.

“So,” Mike said. “Let me get this straight. Since you’re mostly hanging out with friends when you do this, you call yourself a bad mother to fend off potential judgment not from the global faceless audience but from people who already know you and like you?”

I took a bite of toast and thought about this for a second.

“Exactly,” I said. 

“That makes no sense,” Mike said.

And it doesn’t, really, which is why I don’t want this phrase to become a standard part of my vocabulary. Words are important. The words that we tell ourselves repeatedly, no matter how flippantly, can carve channels of belief into our minds. Our emotions – following the path of least resistance – find those channels and are guided by them. And while “I’m a bad mother” is far from the worst thing I can imagine myself saying, it’s not exactly what you might call “life-giving” either.

In addition.

I want to be secure enough in my decisions that I don’t feel the need to justify those decisions to my friends – at least not with an off-the-cuff blanket statement about my worth as a mother. And I want to trust that when things like tumbles happen, my friends won’t be watching with a spirit of criticism but with a spirit of fellowship – fellowship that comes from understanding that no parent, no matter how careful, can prevent every mishap.

Most importantly, however, I don’t want to say this too often because it’s not true.

I am a good mother.

Sure, I have moments when I almost drop my precious bundle of joy on the floor. And we’ve fed him too much papaya, mango, and pumpkin lately so his nose and toes have turned a bit yellow because of vitamin A overload. And sometimes I sit down beside him on the floor while he plays and watch an episode of Glee, or check my email while he’s in the bouncer instead of giving his royal babyness my full and undivided attention.

But I am a good mother.

I read to him, hug him, and make him baby food that’s far healthier than what I eat. I spend inordinate amounts of energy teasing smiles out of him. I delight in kissing him up under his pudgy little arms in that spot that makes him squirm and squeal with laughter. I let the dog lick his feet because he loves it so, and I don’t let the dog lick his face because I love him so. I take him outside to look at clouds and coconut trees. I explain butterflies and the wind. I give him fascinating toys to experiment with, like the toe spreader from a pedicure set I’ve never used, my hairbrush, and an egg whisk. I drag myself out of bed and comfort him when he starts to cry after I’ve just fallen asleep (though sometimes not until after I’ve begged him to “please, please, just stop it”). I watch with wonder as he sets about every day the demanding business of learning to live in this world. I would do almost anything, anything, to protect him.

And the thing is … I think that’s pretty much how most mothers operate. Not as perfect mothers, sure, but as mothers who love their children up, down, sideways and sleep-deprived. Mothers who sometimes makes mistakes, but who are learning more every day. Mothers who are doing the best they can to love their children unselfishly and wisely and energetically and patiently (yes, particularly patiently).

So let’s not call ourselves bad mothers – at least, not too often.

Let’s say it like it really is.

“We are good mothers.”

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What do writers read to their kids?: Five authors share their favorite children’s books

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books lately. Never mind that Dominic seems far more interested in eating them than looking at them. No, never mind that.

I used to think that it couldn’t be that hard to write a good children’s book, but now now I have a bit more respect for children’s authors. Creating a good children’s book is not as easy as it looks like it might be.

At least, that is the conclusion I draw from the fact that there are so many seriously lame children’s books that managed to make it into print.

Luckily there are a bunch of seriously awesome ones out there, too. My selection is fairly limited at the moment (English-language children’s books not exactly being in great supply here in Laos). But of the ones I have, I love Where’s My Mom? (Julia Donaldson) – the rhymes are great, there’s a surprise twist near the end, and the pictures are vibrant. I also love the beautifully illustrated and clever Rainy Day Games: Fun with the Animals of Noah’s Ark (Andy McGuire)

Reading a couple of those good books lately (and knowing some of their authors) got me thinking. Who better to know and love good children’s books than writers?

So I’ve been polling some of my author friends about what they love reading to their own children. Here’s what they have to say …

Sundee Frazier (award-winning children’s author of Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment, and The Other Half of My Heart)

“These are mostly for the very young:

  • Books by Leslie Patricelli, especially Quiet LoudYummy Yucky, and Higher! Higher! (these books are hilarious, vibrant, participatory, and the first two inspire kids to observe contrasts and opposites all around them).
  • Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (fun poem with great colorful drawings; a wonderful read-aloud and wonderful for kids learning to read)
  • The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman (brilliant rhyming story; moms will love this one, too)
  • I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!  by Karen Beaumont (hiLARious reworking of an old folk song)
  • My Baby and Me by Lynn Reiser and Penny Gentieu (a book of wonderful photographs of older and younger siblings interacting around everyday objects; nice simply rhyming text)
  • Kiss Kiss!by Margaret Wild and Bridget Strevens-Marzo (I just loved reading this board book with my daughter when she was really little and all the affection it encouraged)
  • Freight Train  by Donald Crews (a classic board book)
  • Bird, Fly High by Petr Horacek (board book that cries out for audience participation)
  • In the Garden with Van Goghand A Magical Day with Matisseby Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober (I got these books before traveling to Paris and Amsterdam with my small children; a great way to introduce the masters!)
  • Jacob Lawrence in the City by Susan Goldman Rubin (and for a prominent African-American painter . . .)
  • Turtle’s Penguin Day by Valeri Gorbachev (just love how this story encourages pretend play and imagination–my kids love it, too)
  • All The Frog and Toad storiesby Arnold Lobel (these amphibians are one-of-a-kind!)
  • Finally, a fractured fairy tale for the younger set: Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra. Illustrations by a very unique artist, J. Otto Siebold. It’s entertaining for all the fairy tale allusions.”

Tracy Groot (author of Flame of Resistance and Madman)

“Here are a few favorites I read to my kids: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, and Mother Goose Rhymes. We read to them a lot, from the Little Critter Books by Mercer Mayer, to Dr. Seuss books, but these two were always the go-to books. They were special to me simply because they were special to them.”

Sharon Hinck (author of The Restorer-Expanded Edition  and The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Becky Miller, Book 1))

“I love The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown… a classic that shows a love that pursues and never gives us.

Less familiar to many are the wonderful Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg. Beautiful poetic prose woven with fun nonsense. Reading them aloud is a joy.

And I confess to many hours of giggling while reading or reciting Green Eggs and Ham, Go Dog Go, and other Dr. Seuss books.”

Andy McQuire (author of Rainy Day Games, A Special Fish for Jonah, and Remy the Rhino Learns Patience)

“One of my favorite picture book to read to my own kids is Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson. It has the best rhythm of any rhyming book I’ve read.

My favorite chapter book when I was young (and I can’t wait to read it to my kids some day soon) was The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha by Lloyd Alexander.”

Lisa Borden (author of Approaching God)

“Moonbear forever! There’s one thing I know from reading to young kids through the many years: there’s nothing worse than having to repeatedly read aloud a book that is driving me crazy.  Fortunately, I loved the Moonbear books.

From Moongame, Moonbear’s Friend, and other Moonbear books we learned that friendship is sweet, books are wonderful, life can be funny and moonlight is naturally magical.  Asch’s Moonbear books present wonder in everyday things.”

What about you? What books do you love reading to your children? What books do you remember loving as a child?

Fifteen years of longsuffering

It has been the month of patience.

Or, maybe more appropriately, it has been the month of patience being tested.

The last six weeks has held one broken leg (Dominic), two courses of antibiotics for intestinal infections (Mike and me), three trips to Thailand (all of us), and five colds.

It’s been more than a month since Dominic broke his leg and I still don’t want to write about it. Truth be told, I don’t even want to think about it. Because every time I remember hearing the crash after Mike’s mother slipped and landed on the stairs, then the long pause, then that awful, piercing shriek, it breaks my heart all over again.

And it hauls up – like a fishing net from dark depths – a whole slew of emotions.

The agony and helplessness I felt watching Dominic writhe and cry on and off during the thirty hours before we reached the hospital. Anger, because it feels like an accident that didn’t need to happen. Guilt about that anger, because accidents – unexpected and unintentional – happen, they are just part and parcel of this life. Guilt, also, that I didn’t realize immediately that something was seriously wrong. A great compassion for Mike’s mother, because I know she adores Dominic and would have changed places with him in an instant, and because I know how terrible I’d feel if it had been me that slipped on the stairs, and it could have been me. Gratitude that it was Dominic’s leg, not his head, that hit the wood so hard. Terror and an overwhelming desire to vomit whenever I visualize what would have happened if it had been his head.

And with this great mess of emotions – all slippery and flopping around and tangled up together – comes a question that is always lurking around somewhere: Is it worth it, living here?

Now, more than ever, I’m just not sure.

Dominic’s cast came off two weeks ago now. We got up early that day and caught the 7AM flight down to Bangkok. We found our way to a hospital that’s become more familiar to me than any hotel in the city.

I held Dominic in the taxi – me seatbelted in and him strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, my hand cradling the back of his head, my brain trying not to think about the likely outcome if we hit another car on the freeway. Mike held him as he screamed, terrified, while they sawed off the plaster, and then took the pictures that would tell us what was going on inside the reassuringly chubby leg.

Which meant that I was the one looking at the computer screens when the X-rays came up, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The front view showed a straight bone, but the side view showed the femur curved backwards – the spiky back part of the break still dense white and jutting out at an angle underneath the thin grey film of new bone.

The doctors told us that new bone was visible over the entire break site and that it was safe to take off his cast. They told us that bones (like so many other things in life, it seems) need to be subjected to normal daily stressors in order to prompt them to grow.  They told us that we should encourage Dominic to use the leg normally as he learns to sit, crawl, and walk.

They also told us, however, that there was no way of telling whether the femur will straighten out over time and grow normally. Because the break occurred so close to the knee, there is a significant possibility that growth will stall or, even more likely, that the bone will start to grow too fast in all sorts of funny directions.

We need to follow up via X-rays every six months for the next three years and then every year after that until the growth spurts of adolescence are over.

That’s at least fifteen years.

Fifteen years of explaining what happened to every new doctor and new school. Fifteen years of watching, of X-rays, of prayers, of keeping fingers crossed. Fifteen years of regular reminders.

It means that I can’t just leave that slew of painful emotions down in the depths and hope that if I don’t touch the thread of this particular story all those complicated feelings – starved of attention – will just wither away.

It’s early days yet, there’s no way of knowing which particular emotion is most frequently going to leap out of the morass and bite me when circumstances haul that day up from the depths of memory. Guilt? Anger? Frustration at the expense and the giant pain-in-the-ass-factor of all these follow up appointments? Grief over how this might limit Dominic’s mobility? Any of them are possibilities, but only one thing seems certain – this episode is going to push me to exercise patience in ways I’ve never before had to.

The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 to refer to patience, makrothumia, comes from makros, “long,” and thumos, “temper.” It denotes lenience, fortitude, endurance, and longsuffering.

Before this month of patience started I thought that I had this one in the bag. Even Mike, who has a backstage pass to my life, would say that I am a patient person. I’m very skilled at controlling my reactions in the moment, at taking a deep breath and a step back, at not lashing out when I’m frustrated. It takes a great deal to make me really angry or upset.

But … the thing is … once I do get upset or angry I tend to stay churned up for a long time. Once the tipping point is reached, I hang onto all that dark energy and coddle it like a favorite pet. I feel justified in camping out under a cloud of self-pity. I have imaginary conversations during which I deliver perfect put-downs. I rehearse all the ways I’ve been wronged by others or the universe. I allow the misfortunes of the present to fuel fearful visions of the future.

Although I’ve always known that this is not my most admirable collection of qualities, I’ve never before wondered whether it had anything to do with patience. But perhaps there is more to patience than not getting upset, frustrated or angry in the first place. Perhaps true patience is also manifest in how we set about calming the storms once they’re raging?

I don’t exactly know what being “patient” with fifteen years of uncertainty about the future of that tiny, precious leg should look like. I sense, however, that it will need to move beyond not losing my temper when ugly, unwanted thoughts and feelings well up.

I suspect that weathering fifteen years of longsuffering with a patient grace will mean opening that net-full whenever circumstances haul it up and dump it at my feet. It will mean shaking loose its contents and naming these feelings, then naming the bedrock fears and expectations that have nourished them.

It will mean sifting out the thankfulness and then tossing the dross overboard.

Then turning my eyes from the depths and looking to the horizon.

Again and again.

And again.

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Naming your cows: Mike’s childhood experiences

It’s going to be a childhood-themed week – later this week I’ll be posting on author’s favorite children’s books. So in keeping with the theme, here’s Mike’s list of childhood experiences that will probably sound foreign to our own kids (heck, some of them sound foreign to me).

  1. Growing up in the same postal code as both sets of grandparents.
  2. Having a much larger extended family, with many cousins on both sides of my family.
  3. Growing up on the farm and doing lots of hard physical work, especially in the summers.
  4. Taking care of animals every day – seeing all sorts of animals give birth and die.
  5. Chopping the head off a chicken, scalding it in boiling water, and plucking its feathers.
  6. Growing almost all the vegetables we ate and canning or freezing them for the winter.
  7. Naming your “pet” cows … and then discussing who you were eating over the dinner table.
  8. Being able play outside the house (entirely out of sight from my parents) for long periods of time.
  9. Taking my first flight when I was 20 years old and in college.
  10. Getting my first email address when I was 18 (upon entering college).
  11. Getting my first mobile phone when I was 23.
  12. Having only 4 channels of TV.
  13. Going out to eat at a restaurant was a special occasion – we ate out at a restaurant once every couple of months and it was a big treat.
  14. My school (and the community) was very monocultural. There were about 1300 students enrolled at my school, and only 5 were non-Caucasian.
  15. There were teachers at my school who had taught my parents when they were students.
  16. My parents rarely consumed alcohol – only once or twice per year, on special occasions.
  17. My mom did the dishes (and the cooking, the laundry, and almost all the house-hold cleaning) … 🙂

OK, OK, so I might not be doing many dishes here (thanks to the services of our wonderful maebaan) but I am making our own baby food. My first attempt ended in Dominic’s first temper tantrum, but my latest effort was received with much happy table thumping and head-bobblings of approval.

“What did you make?” my mother asked when I told her this.

“Baby ratatouille,” I said proudly. “Eggplant, tomato, onion, a little bit of broccoli, and garlic.”

Garlic?” both my parents said at the same time. “We’ve never heard of anyone feeding a baby garlic.”

“Well, now you have,” I said. “And he liked it.”

What did your kids love to eat when they were little?

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My childhood experiences that will sound strange to my kids

This post was supposed to go up on Friday but, ironically, the internet went down and stayed down for almost two days. Why ironic? Well …

The summer before we moved to Laos, Mike and I met both sets of our parents in Alaska and we all did the inner-passage cruise together. We learned something about our parents on that trip, something that shocked us.

Only one of the four of them had an indoor toilet in their house when they were born.

I know, sort of hard to imagine, right?

During that week we spent more than one dinner talking about childhoods. All four of them grew up on farms. Mike grew up on a farm. I, with my globally nomadic childhood, was the odd one out. But even my cross-continental urban mishmash provided a patchwork of experiences that I suspect will seem utterly foreign to my own children.

Here are some examples.

1.   The only show I can remember watching television before I was nine is the A-Team (Bangladesh). If there were other English language programs playing there, I don’t remember them. I’m sure I probably watched Playschool etc. in Australia earlier, but I don’t remember those either. Between the ages of 12 and 16 (Zimbabwe) we only had two channels on TV. English programming came on one at 3pm and the other at 5pm. My favorite shows were MacGyver and Mash. MacGyver was my first and most serious tele-crush.

2.   I spent hours in 7th-10th grade (Zimbabwe) taking dictation by hand in my classes at school and then memorizing those hand-written facts because we didn’t have textbooks.

3.   I researched many of my school assignments using the big set of encyclopedias my parents kept on our bookshelf.

4.   I first learned how to sew on a hand-crank sewing machine.

5.   I weighed out all my ingredients for cooking class on scales using little bronze counterweights.

6.   I had to do my 10th grade national physics exams using log tables instead of a calculator (that one was archaic even for Zimbabwe, I think).

7.   I was still buying tapes instead of CD’s when I was fifteen.

8.   I was in 11th grade (and back in the U.S.) before I turned in my first typed school assignment.

9.   The first two years I was at university (in Australia) while the rest of my family was in Washington DC, I used to write them letters once a week (yes, the type that require you to put pen to paper and use an envelope and a stamp). Also, we shared one phone between nine dorm rooms, and that phone could only accept incoming calls. I was lucky if I got to chat with my family for half an hour (usually Sunday morning) once a week.

10.   I was 21 years old when I got my first personal email address.

11.   I was 27 years old before I ever owned a cell phone.

Most of these experiences that will probably seem old-fashioned to Dominic (heck, they seem old-fashioned to me) have to do with how much information technology has changed during my lifetime.

I came of age right alongside the internet, and in many ways I think I’ve been very lucky in this. Yes, I didn’t have email or facebook during those early, hard days of separation from my family. But now I also don’t have much childish or teenaged awkwardness documented in Technicolor for all the world to view. You can find out a startling amount about me online now, but basically none of that has anything to do with my life before the age of 25, and that suits me just fine.

If and when he wants to play this game in twenty years, Dominic will be able to tell people that when he was born his parents didn’t own a car or a motorbike (we only own bicycles) and that we didn’t have hot running water on the ground floor of our house (the water in the showers is heated by wall-mounted units). He can thank Laos for that. He will also, however, be able to thank the internet and his mother for the fact that anyone who so desires will be able to find photographs of him the day that he was born and any number of baby anecdotes. Little D’s got the best of both worlds. Or perhaps, the worst?

What are some of your childhood experiences that will probably seem foreign to your own children? And what do you think about parents writing about their kids?

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Sometimes you try

Saturday was a long day. There was a 5AM start, a flight to Thailand, four doctors appointments, three immunizations, two X-rays and a cast removal. We’d known it would be a hard day, so Mike and I had planned a special treat for after it was all over – we booked into a nice hotel with a pool and took Dominic for his first swim.

The result? Well, let’s just say the photos belong in Mike’s “Sometimes You Try” facebook album.

Me: “Dominic, guess what, we’re going swimming. Swimming is fun!”
Dominic: “You also said the needles would only hurt a little bit. I totally don’t trust you on this one.”

Family kodak moment fail. Here are a couple of other photos that belong in that “Sometimes You Try” album:

“Just for the record, totally not enjoying this sightseeing trip up Phousi Hill.”

“You want to know what my wish is for when we release the birds? I’ll give you one guess and a hint – it has to do with going home.”

“Are you two kissing me again? Do you have no concept of personal space at all?”

“Grandparents? Boring.”

“I love me some Zulu.”

“And Zulu loves himself some baby spew.”

Mike: “Dominic! Smile for the camera!”
Dominic: “I don’t know who these two are, never seen them before in my life.”

Finally, a bonus “sometimes you try” video: Dominic’s introduction to vegetables (and don’t worry, despite all appearances to the contrary at the end of this clip, Dominic was not seriously choking).

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Feeling weighed, measured, and found wanting

I did not stop to seriously consider the implications of my actions before stenciling a giant PATIENCE on Dominic’s cast.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town and it’s the tail end of the cool season here. There are thousands, literally thousands, of tourists in town. Not many of them, however, are walking around with babies, so our little trio already made an unlikely sight even before the accident. Now we’re a downright curiosity.

I watch people watching us when we’re out and about. First they see the stroller. They do a double take and search for the baby with a smile. Then they see the cast and their eyes go wide and a look of voyeuristic concern washes over their faces. Then they tilt their head sideways just a fraction as they take in the artwork adorning Dominic’s leg. Then their eyes jump up to my face.

The gaze seems confused and, sometimes, speculative.

But do you know, not a single person has asked me why on earth that word is on his leg? Plenty of people have asked me what happened to his leg, but no one has followed it up with, “so, uh, what’s the go with patience?”

I sometimes wonder if they know what I now know – that 70% of femur breaks in babies under 1 year old are the result of child abuse. I sometimes wonder if they suspect that the story about a fall down the stairs is just a convenient cover and that I needed a daily black and white reminder to reign in a vicious temper.

I would be willing to bet our first-born chi – OK, our dog – that the specter of feeling judged by strangers on these points has never entered Mike’s mind.

The difference between Mike and I in this regard was apparent long before Dominic’s accident.

Every time we go out walking with Dominic I need to build in several minutes to stop and exchange greetings with people who live on our street. There’s the friendly couple who own the small paper-supply shop and the unfriendly woman who blatantly rips us off at the fruit stand because we’re falang (foreigner) but who adores Dominic – he’s the only one of us she ever smiles at. There’s the disabled teenage boy who occasionally takes my hand when I walk past and gently kisses it. There’s the woman who sells donuts that ooze bright pink custard, and the one who sells organic vegetables from a blue tarp laid down on the sidewalk (sometimes she sells dead rats or cats, too, but let’s not go there). Then, of course, there’s anyone walking past who just wants to stop for a peek at the chubby white baby with coppery hair.

When I walk past with the stroller, none of these people hesitate to tell me when they think that Dominic is too hot or too cold, or that it might rain on us, or that he looks like he needs to sleep, or eat. When I was out with Mike one evening and the second person had stooped over my child, felt his fat little arm and then commented that it was cold and pulled up the wrap to cover him, Mike felt me tense.

“What’s the problem,” he asked as we continued on our way.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I said. “All these people telling us that we’re getting it wrong? That we’re not taking good enough care of him?”

“What?” Mike said. “That’s not how I take it at all.”

“How do you take it then?” I said, wondering how else you could possibly take a phalanx of virtual strangers telling you that you haven’t dressed your child warmly enough.

“I take it as: ‘Wow, you have a beautiful little baby. We all love babies. Let’s find some common point of discussion whereby we can connect with you as parents and demonstrate that we’re paying attention to caring for the baby’s wellbeing,’” Mike said.

“That is a much nicer way to take it,” I said, not completely convinced.

“Do you really feel like people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job as a mother?” Mike asked, amazed.

“Sometimes,” I admitted.

I wonder if this is only the beginning – whether I’m always going have to fight the instinct to take it personally whenever other people comment on what my child says and does. And I wonder where it comes from – what hidden deficit of self-esteem or deep-seated need for affirmation fuels this tendency to feel judged when others reach into the stroller and tug up my baby’s blanket.

I can tell you one thing though. If, heaven forbid, anything like this tumble down the stairs happens in the near future I won’t be adorning any casts with the words “gentleness” or “self-control”.

When have you felt judged as a parent? What helps you in those moments?

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Practices of Parenting

EmergingMummy.comA blogger I read regularly, Sarah Bessey, has been hosting a Practices of Parenting Carnival this week, where she invited readers to submit posts on their practices of parenting via a link-up. (You can find all of Sarah’s original practices of parenthood posts here.)

The response was extraordinary – 117 posts and counting! I linked up my Peace Like A River post, and over the last couple of days I’ve looked at all of the other posts that bloggers linked to on Sarah’s site.  They were heart-felt and moving and some were gorgeous. Here are seven that stood out to me.

Making Mama (and Papa) Art: This is a beautiful post, one after my own heart, about writing notes and letters to our children, “because the written-words seem to go beyond the everyday-words.”

In which I assign beauty: “The best way I can make the world a better place is by sending my little people out into it as the most compassionate they can be, and so I tattoo this message beneath their skins, in their hearts and in their sights and in their bloodstreams: this world is filled with beauty. That person is filled with beauty. You are filled with beauty.”

I love the message of this post – a message so closely tied to gratitude. There’s something in me that jumps up and down and says a big “Yes!! It makes the world and our hearts a better place when we notice and celebrate beauty”

The practice of a happy bedtime: “Our happy bedtimes benefit both my children and myself.  It is a chance for all of us to let go of the failures and frustrations of the day, as well as all of the worries of tomorrow, and just remember how much we love each other.”

I love bedtime. I the peaceful grounding provided by all the little bedtime rituals, and the big exhale that comes when I crawl into bed and know that the busyness and demands of the day are done. I liked this reminder about the important role parents play in kids bedtimes when they’re young.

Parenting in our little village: “This is what joyful parenting looks like to me. Not just staying at home with my kids, but taking them out into the wild and woolly world and engaging with it.”

This post challenged me. I want this sort of rich and multi-cultural parenting circle. But as crazy as it sounds, given where we live, this is something we do not have going for us here yet. Or maybe I should say, “this is not something we’ve worked hard to get going for us here.”

Speak out love: “The idea that somehow it can get a bit old, or tired, to hear “I love you” too much doesn’t stick either – I would much, much rather be told it too much, and say it too much, than to spend each day longing to hear those words, or not knowing how to get them out.”

I was raised in a loving home and I can still find it uncomfortable to say these words out loud. Why is that? Mike’s much better at giving these three words away than I am.

The practice of creativity: “There is something sacred about the act of creating together. I wrote about why I want to raise creative children, and I know that the best way for me to do this is to live creatively in front of them.”

This challenged the writer in me. Writing is a solitary creative pursuit and it was a good reminder to start thinking about how to involve kids in creative projects that we can do together.

Watering weeds into flowers: “That day I didn’t want to pay the price for future fond memories. Right then, that day, I didn’t want to be yelled at about tightening the straps of tiny shoes. I wanted to do my work, alone.”

I liked the way this was written – a good example of storytelling without hammering home the message too hard.

Do you have a Practices of Parenting you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or a link to your own blog post. Then head on over to Sarah’s blog and link it up there.

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From Peace to Patience

Every day of life is a gift. Sometimes, however, the daily gift feels a bit like finding polyester socks – the kind that make your feet sweat and itch – under the Christmas tree.

So it has been every day this week. I’ve had a vicious head cold – the kind that makes it impossible to breathe easily and sends sharp pain through your ears. I’m also still breastfeeding, so can’t take any of the good stuff (the stuff that they now sell from behind the pharmacy counter in the US because people were buying it in bulk and using it to make illegal drugs). It’s only this morning, on day four, that I’ve started to feel marginally better and can dare to hope that I’m on the upswing.

Dominic has been grumpier and needier than normal – not that I blame him for that in the slightest. He’s been waking up multiple times a night (and here I must give a shout out to Mike for taking him away at 4 a.m. several times this week so I could try to get another hour or two of sleep). The cast means that several of my normal baby-entertainment strategies are out. Reading stories has been challenging with a sore throat and a stuffy nose, and twice this week I must admit that I sat both of us down in front of the television and watched Glee. Well, we watched Glee for at least nine and a half minutes before someone started crying and throwing things.

For the record: Not that it wasn’t tempting, but that someone wasn’t me.

Everything slows down when you have a baby in a cast, and we have to be particularly careful during these early days given that the break is above the knee. Every time I go to pick him up, change his diaper, carry him anywhere, sit him on the bed, lay him down… every movement has to be slow and gentle – a thoughtful ballet. Sleep training has also gone by the wayside for the time being. I feel I’ve accomplished almost nothing this week except practice patience.

And you know what? That part hasn’t been too hard.

I mean, sure, when he gives me all the tired signals and I put him in his crib and then he starts moaning and flapping and, finally, screaming, it’s still tiresome. When all I’m longing to do is overdose on decongestants and lie on the couch with a good book it’s really, really hard to find energy for baby play.

But then I look at his tiny body weighed down by all that plaster and 99% of the time patience is not that difficult to muster …

***

OK, all of the above was written before 10 a.m, during a brief and glorious half an hour when I was feeling pretty good about myself. You know, along the lines of: So I feel really sick and my baby’s got a broken leg and I’m making zero progress on publishing my book (what book, again? Did I write a book?) but, yeah, I’m rocking this patience thing. Someone should nominate me for sainthood. Or give me a medal. Or at least find me some ice cream.  

But that was this morning. This is this afternoon. This afternoon when my cold has reminded me that it’s not through with me yet, not by a long shot.

This afternoon with a baby who has slept for approximately 47 minutes all day and who is currently lying in his crib wide awake, screeching maniacally and yanking on the crib bars. (Did anyone else’s children basically stop napping as soon as they started eating solid food?)

This afternoon when I was going to finish this post by writing all this great stuff about how patience also seems to be rooted in empathy. But to write that stuff I sort of have to think it through first, and this afternoon I am a bear of very little brain indeed.

Oh, and also? This afternoon when the power tools next door just started up outside Dominic’s window.

I am not yet at the end of my patience rope. Not quite. But I can see that frayed knot from here.

When do you find yourself running short on patience? What is it about those situations (or people) that push your buttons?

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