Tag Archives: mother

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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24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

More than a brighter shade of happiness

“What have you been thinking about joy recently?” Mike asked me over lunch the other day.

“I’ve been thinking about that research suggesting that people are happier before they have children,” I said. “And about how happiness and joy are different.”

“Are you going to write the easy post about how you often feel less happy on a moment to moment basis since Dominic’s birth, but you have more joy in your life?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “Because, although I would like to think that this is true, I’m not actually sure that it is.”

Despite the fact that joy is the theme of this month, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about the difference between happiness and joy. This question confuses me, and thinking too hard about anything confusing in the face of this enduring sleep deficit is still a struggle. But there’s no getting around it, if I’m going to exert even a half-hearted attempt to grapple with the concept of joy, this particular question must be confronted.

Mike and I first started talking about joy a couple of weekends ago when we were hanging out at Zen and I was feeling low low low. Mike asked me what I was thinking about regarding joy on that day, too. As I recall, I told him I didn’t feel at all joyful and I didn’t feel like talking about it. Also as I recall, Mike being Mike, he persevered with the conversation, anyway.

“Happiness is present focused,” Mike said when I gave in and asked him what he thought about the difference between joy and happiness. “Joy is more future focused. Also, happiness is more self-focused while joy is others-focused.”

“Like how we feel about Leslie’s and Ryan’s engagement,” Mike continued. “Objectively there’s little in it for us other than a kick ass party, so why do we feel so elated by this? I think that feeling of gladness we feel at their good news, that’s less happiness than it is joy.”

I don’t agree with Mike about joy being tied to anticipating future good things, but then again I don’t think that I’m a very future-oriented person. If anything, I get more joy from remembering past blessings than I do thinking about the future.

However, I think Mike’s point about joy being related to empathy – being rooted in an appreciation for the “good” in life even when that good doesn’t directly benefit you – is fascinating.

Many dictionaries define joy as intense or especially exultant happiness, but this doesn’t seem nuanced enough to me. Even if I don’t find it easy to pin down exactly why, I feel as if joy really should be something more than just a brighter shade of happiness – something wider and deeper, something that stems from beyond myself and my pleasures.

I think the man who listed joy as one of the “fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22 would agree. That man would probably say that true joy is a by-product of our appreciation for, and relationship with, the divine.

A good friend recently made a similar point by email.

“Joy is hard to quantify, no?” she wrote. “I think that joy doesn’t always make you happy, because the fruit of the spirit is the result of the work of God in your heart and experience shows this to be not exclusively a blissful journey. (Maybe sometimes we are more like in the stage of ‘the flower-bud of the spirit’? I mean, fruit will probably come, but not for a few months yet…).”

“I love that image of a flower bud of the spirit,” I wrote back. “I will hold the image of jasmine in my mind. At least, I’ll hold it in my mind until Mike teases me that I’m really more one of those carnivorous, meat-eating flowers you find in the Amazon. And then I might wonder aloud what sort of poor marriage decision that little flower made to end up having to adapt to living in the tropics, and tell Mike that sometimes flowers just do what they have to do to survive. Then we’ll both laugh. Thank goodness that, most days, we can both still laugh.”

We did plenty of laughing this morning when Dominic suddenly decided that our dog scratching himself was the funniest sight he’d seen in his whole little life and laughed until he turned bright red and started hiccupping. Today’s so far been a good day full of long baby naps and bright baby smiles and leisurely walks under cloudy skies to pick up groceries. Today I think of Dominic and smile. Today I can say without hesitation that Dominic’s birth has brought great joy into my life.

But today doesn’t tell the whole story of this last week.

Last week at this time I was alone in the house, exhausted from several nights in a row of broken sleep, unable to escape the screech of power tools right next door, and trying in vain to settle a grumpy baby who didn’t want to put down (or to sleep). I was walking the floor of our bedroom with Dominic in my arms, crying, thinking that this could not possibly be the point of life.

I would like to be able to say that even in that desolate moment I felt that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is that I simply felt so bereft of happiness and joy that I had a hard time conceiving that I would ever really feel either happiness or joy again.

I would also like to be able to say that even during that moment that felt so joyless, I still knew that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is, the only thing I knew for sure in that moment was that I still wouldn’t wish his birth undone. If the Archangel Gabriel had appeared in that instant and offered me the chance to hand Dominic over, I would have refused (unless Gabriel had promised to bring him back markedly more cheerful in a couple of hours – then I would have relinquished him with great haste as well as both happiness and joy).

Perhaps I still don’t have this difference between joy and happiness all sorted out in my mind because they’re impossible to completely untangle in real life. Sometimes, I think, joy does feel like a brighter shade of happiness. But sometimes in moments when happiness is nowhere to be found, I think it can feel like peace instead. And perhaps sometimes it’s not really a feeling at all, but more an attitude, or even knowledge.

I don’t think that knowing you don’t really want to push the reset button regarding the existence of your child – even in those dark, exhausted, tear-drenched moments – quite reaches the lofty heights of joy. Perhaps, however, joy can sink its roots deep into this knowledge and continue to grow even when the fertilizer of happiness is in short supply. Because I believe now that what I discovered last month about love is also turning out to be true of joy.

Last month I wrote about how love for Dominic hadn’t swamped me like a tidal wave but was creeping in slowly and inexorably, like a rising tide. I don’t know why I expected joy to be a different kettle of fish in this regard, but I did. Subconsciously I’ve been thinking of joy as something you either have – flowering full and perfect in your life – or don’t have at all. It took my friend’s letter to make me realize that I had missed a foundational implication of the fruit of the spirit analogy – the fact that fruit, uh, grows. Slowly. As in weeks, months, and entire seasons slowly. This much I do know about the process, despite the fact that I’ve never been all that talented at growing things and prefer to buy my fruit from others who have done the hard and careful work of tending.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be easier if we could buy joy from our local grocery store or, better yet, instant-download it directly into our lives using the buy-with-one-click button on Amazon?

Easier? Maybe.

Better? I can’t articulate exactly why, but I suspect not.

I will strive to remember that as I rue the irony of spending the next month thinking about peace in the midst of our ongoing negotiations with our noisy neighbors. I will remember it tonight when I wake up in the wee dark hours, as I will inevitably do, to reach down and place a hand on a stirring baby. And I will remember it this afternoon as I go soon to get him up from his nap, change him, amuse him, feed him, love him. If part of deep joy necessarily springs from focusing on others, this mothering thing surely means that my emotional greenhouse will eventually be a fruitful, joyous, sweet mess of color. And in the meantime, there are fresh mangoes and tamarind available at the little stall just down the street. Maybe I’ll take Dominic for a walk in that direction this afternoon.

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30 great gifts for pregnant women and new parents

I get more referrals to my blog at present on the topic of gifts for pregnant women than anything else, so in the spirit of giving readers what they want I thought I’d do a follow up post on presents for new parents.

(Sidenote: This whole giving readers what they want will not extend to addressing certain other search terms that have recently led people to my blog, including “humans breastfeeding monkeys”, “sexy massage near bumrungrad hospital”, and “koalas drinking beer”. I will also not be answering the question, “If I’m 21 weeks pregnant is it safe to swim with dolphins?”, although if I had to venture a guess I’d say yes. I haven’t heard many stories lately of dolphins ramming divers.)

So, without further ado, here are 30 great gifts for pregnant women or new parents. I’ll start with baby-focused gifts and move onto gifts for Mum, because the sometimes depressing and sometimes wonderful fact of the matter is that once that baby is born they tend to come first:

  1. Lullaby/baby music: My favorite so far is Dreamland: World Lullabies & Soothing Songs. Great melodies, and because the songs are not in English the lyrics don’t get stuck in my head.
  2. An iTunes gift card so that parents can buy lullaby music or music to listen to while feeding.
  3.  A small set of I-pod speakers for the baby’s room so that parents can slip in an iPod rather than messing around with CD’s.
  4. A play gym: The one I got at Target only cost $30 and it’s some of the best money we spent since Baby Fabulous (he’s sleeping right now, so he’s earned that nickname for the time being) arrived. The play gym is also light enough to carry internationally in a suitcase. I can’t believe we almost came back to Laos without one.
  5. Toys to hang off the play gym.
  6. Soft cuddly toys for the crib.
  7. Baby books: I don’t think you can ever have too many of these. The word on the street is that the best baby books are the ones that adults really like to read aloud – ones that rhyme and/or have clever storylines. Check out this post for some great options: What do writers read to their own kids? Five authors share their favorite children’s books.
  8. Colourful mobiles to hang over crib or change table. Be wary of picking ones that are too heavy in case they happen to fall or get tugged down onto the baby.
  9. A My Baby’s First Year book or calendar. Someone gave us this cool blank calendar that you decorate with the accompanying stickers that celebrate things like “baby’s first smile” and “baby rolls over”. I think this calendar would be even cooler if there was a sheet of stickers for events like “baby’s first projectile poo” and “baby first vomits in freshly washed hair” and “parents first dinner date post-birth” (not to mention some other less PG-rated stickers). Alas, I couldn’t find those sorts of stickers anywhere. If you wanted to jazz this gift up, you could make some.
  10. A diaper bag for traveling that includes a roll-out change mat and cold storage for at least one bottle. You could also stock it with travel wipes, diaper disposal bags, and diapers.
  11. Baby clothes in sizes of 6-9 months or bigger: New parents tend to receive lots of newborn clothing that the baby outgrows very fast.
  12. A nightlight to plug into the bathroom or the baby’s room. This is invaluable for those middle of the night feedings when you want to keep the ambience dim but don’t want to trip over the dog.
  13. A U-shaped pillow: These are good for breastfeeding but also versatile enough to be excellent for when you’re travel on a plane, etc. It was a lifesaver on our recent flights from Australia to Asia.
  14. A baby carrier: These can be expensive, so you might want to liase with the parents about which brand they’d like. We settled on the Ergo.
  15. A baby monitor: A baby monitor with audio and video is enormously useful, especially if you live in a split-level house. These are not as expensive as you might think – we got ours on sale for $100.
  16. A bed sleeper: These little cots can be placed in the bed between the parent’s pillows, allowing you to sleep your baby close to you without worrying you’ll squish or smother them on those nights when you have to put the dummy in 132 times or pat them to sleep .
  17. A travel cot: These are little cots that pack up small and light. The Samsonite one that friends gave us packs up into something the size of a large book that weighs only 600g. When unfolded it can sleep a baby up to a year old and is mosquito netted.
  18. Then there are always purely practical presents such as… a pack of cloth diaper squares to be used as “spew rags”.
  19. Diapers. If parents are planning on using cloth diapers like BumGenius etc, those things are expensive and you need about 20 of them. If they’re not using cloth diapers they’ll need literally thousands of disposables. This is one gift sure to be used.
  20. Baby wipes. Another gift guaranteed to be used.
  21. A good quality fluffy towel for the baby.
  22. Lanolin cream for Mum. Breastfeeding can be very painful, particularly at first. Get high quality lanolin cream like Marcalan that she doesn’t have to wipe off before feeding – this can be a sanity saver during the first couple of weeks.
  23. Nappy rash cream like Desitan or Amolin.
  24. Books for Mum: Don’t go for pregnancy books – most women facing labour and delivery for the first time have researched it thoroughly already. Think about getting her a novel or a book relevant to the period after the baby is born instead. A personal favorite of the moment is Vicki Iovine’s very funny Surving the First Year of Motherhood.
  25. A Kindle: If Mum doesn’t already have a kindle and she likes to read, this will allow her to read while breastfeeding. You can easily hold it and turn the pages with just one hand.
  26. Gift certificate to Amazon to help Mum buy books she wants to read while feeding.
  27. A voucher for a massage, manicure, or facial: The first massage I had post birth was one of the most pleasurable physical experiences of my life. This gift is even better if it comes with an offer to mind the baby while you use it.
  28. Babysitting: Offer to mind the baby while Mum and Dad go out to dinner or lunch together.
  29. Housekeeping: Whether it’s just one or two visits, or several months worth, this gift will be greatly appreciated by a new parent who doesn’t have to spend precious “baby is asleep” time scrubbing a bathtub.
  30. Meals: Make them and drop them off or provide gift vouchers for take out. This takes one thing off Mum (or Dad’s) to-do list for the day.

Any other ideas for useful or fun presents? Add them below to help give others inspiration.

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Check out this post for more gift ideas: What do writers read to their own kids? Five authors share their favorite children’s books

Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  5. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  6. Tough Love Take One

Looking Like Love: A Letter To My Parents

It’s been five months since I stepped off the plane from Asia, roundly pregnant at 28 weeks, and saw you both there waiting for me and smiling. The hills here were green, the cool air smelled of wet eucalyptus and the pancakes that we stopped for on the way home were heaped with berries, tiny crimson waterfalls falling from the stack. As I unpacked in this bedroom later that morning I thought that five months seemed like an eternity. So many milestones in life had to come and go before I would depart – Mike’s arrival after ten weeks apart, the baby’s arrival, then Mike’s departure, then Mike’s return. As I hung up my shirts, I found it impossible to fathom that I would ever leave here again. But next week, now, I will.

Just before his last departure, Mike asked me over dinner what I wanted to remember about this time. The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted to remember how special it has been to come home at 35, half a lifetime after I first left, and experience so many of the good aspects of being parented again while I was in the process of becoming a parent myself. I wanted to remember the precious mundane of this time we’ve had together as well as the epic. I wanted to remember moments like these…

I’ve been home four days and I’m still nervous about driving on this side of the road again. Mum takes me to my first appointment with the obstetrician, then shopping. I try to protest that I don’t need any clothes, that the ones I salvaged from the communal stockpile of maternity clothes that get passed around among expatriates in Laos will be just fine for the next three months before the baby comes. I am overruled. As Mum is marching me into changing rooms she says I will thank her later. I am far less ruffled by this particular maternal prophecy now than I was at 14, and when I wear that grey tracksuit jacket every day for two weeks straight, when I am fifteen pounds heavier and needing clothes suitable for leaving the house, I do.

I am 31 weeks pregnant and Dad suggests a walk. I don’t really want to drag my baby bulk off the couch or circumnavigate my belly to get sneakers on, but Dad reminds me that I’ll feel better if I make the effort. Now we’re outside in that magical hour of almost evening. The golden light is skimming over the grassy fields, filtering through the gum trees, dancing on the dirt road ahead of us. We talk of work and family, and frustrations and joys – occasionally breaking new ground in this familiar conversational territory. Halfway up a hill we spy wallabies feeding in the glade below. I watch them bound away, envying their speed and grace, not to mention their birthing process.

I am 35 weeks pregnant and Dad is working in South Sudan for a month. Mum’s presence in the house prevents the quiet from feeling empty, and I am amazed at how busy life still feels even now. I am wrapping up consulting work. I am talking to Mike on skype. I am driving to doctor appointments. I am napping. I am melting dark chocolate to make elaborate biscuits with malted coconut icing. Mum says she is glad I’m around, even if I make an astounding mess in the kitchen each time I bake and by the way how do I generate that much washing up? I point out that I clean up after myself (in this area, anyway). We smile. We spend easy evenings watching crime dramas and reruns of Friends. It is the middle of winter but life has the peaceful feel of a still lake on a summer day.

I am 38 weeks pregnant and it’s the night before Mike’s arrival. The thick blue and grey wrap that I commandeered from Mum’s closet two days after I arrived keeps the cold at bay as Dad and I eat Thai food under the stars. After dinner we walk next door, into one of the happiest places on earth, and Dad spends too much money on gourmet ice cream to take home because he knows it will make me smile. Later that night I wake up at 3am to pee for the third time that night, come downstairs in the dark, and help myself to seconds. As a teenager I would have covered my tracks. Now, I leave the bowl in the sink.    

It’s 5am. I’m two days overdue and finally in labour. You’ve heard Mike stirring and come out to find out if all is well and kiss me goodbye. Already in the car, half gone on this journey into pain, I say I don’t want to be kissed, I don’t want to be touched. I know you won’t mind. Later that evening, after my life has changed forever, I will ask over the phone if you could please stop and pick up a pizza on the way to the hospital. When you arrive Dad also presents sorbet, Mum gives me prunes. “Now is not the time to get constipated,” Mum says knowingly. The idea is inconceivable – I am propped up in bed, sitting awkwardly on an hour’s worth of stitching and with the miraculous trauma of the day on replay in my mind. I tell you not to worry, that I have decided to deal with that issue by just never pooing again. No one argues with me. You beam and say that you’re so proud and that Dominic is beautiful. I look at that little bundle in your arms and wonder how on earth he happened.

These are those first days home from the hospital – a bewildering blur of baby, broken sleep, and breastfeeding woes. Dad is helping Mike dig a hole so that we can plant a tree to commemorate Dominic’s birth. Mum is making lunch, and dinner, and lunch, and dinner. Dad is building a fire to keep the living room warm and we eat in there – watching the flames fashion coals, watching Dominic asleep on a blanket on the floor. Mum witnesses our first fumbling attempts to burp our child, to bath him. She thinks we aren’t dressing him warmly enough. Demonstrating unusual delicacy she bites her tongue, wondering how much advice she should venture to dish out, but I discover an advantage to having a child so many years safely distant from my own childhood. Advice is generally welcomed rather than merely tolerated, or ignored.

Dominic is five weeks old. Mike has left again, bequeathing me the baby and a score of love notes hidden in such unlikely places that I will still be finding them three weeks after his departure. Slowly, slowly, I start to find my feet in this mothering role. I venture to think that just maybe I’ll be able to join good friends for five days at a reunion. I don’t know how many times I’ve circumnavigated the world alone now, so I am amused and mildly exasperated when Mum reminds me to start packing no fewer than four times in the days leaving up to departure. It gives me the warm fuzzies, though, on the morning that we do leave to hear her telling Dominic how she’ll miss him and to find that Dad has gathered me a pile of useful miscellaneous to take – the phone charger, sunscreen, a hiking headlamp in case I need to get up in the dark and can’t find a light, two bottles of wine to share. The car is full of petrol. “It shouldn’t need to be refilled,” Dad says, “but if it does, don’t forget that it’s diesel.”

It’s 5am and Dominic is seven weeks old. I’m getting up, fumbling for the dimmed lights, stooping to pick him up for the third time tonight. I’m too tired to sit to feed so I take him to bed and lie there beside him, satisfying his demanding little mouth with my body. He kneads my breasts with small fists and makes little mewling sighs of relief as he eats. I feel like echoing them. For I know that Mum will probably turn the handle to my bedroom sometime between 5:30 and 6am, as she’s done most mornings for the past month, carry him away, and leave me a cup of tea and the chance of some more much-needed sleep in his place.

I came alone almost five months ago, and a week from today I will leave as part of a family of three. I return to all the adventures and frustrations of Laos with new responsibilities. I return determined to think through qualities like love, joy, and peace during the year ahead. I return hopeful that I will, increasingly, embody these qualities. It is perhaps harder to define what love means than to describe what it looks like, but as I work to understand and live out love in this new family that Mike and I are creating I remain unfailingly grateful for my first family and the example that you set as parents – then and now. Thank you for, so much of the time, looking like love.

Lisa

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love. Where have you seen love this week? What did it look like?

Seeking The Fruits Of Motherhood

Three weeks after my first child was born, my uncle leaned towards my husband, Mike, over the dinner table.

“It would be nice,” he said, “to see something positive on Lisa’s blog about the baby.”

This comment was directed at Mike because I wasn’t actually at the dinner table with everyone else; I was sitting on the couch with my breast firmly planted in the mouth of the small and needy mammal that was under discussion. And the reason I was sitting on the couch was because the little mammal had been almost inconsolable after we fed him just before leaving for dinner, let him sleep for 20 minutes in the car, and then woke him up by carrying him inside. When he started to scream and I went looking for the pacifier, I discovered that we’d left it at home and I was the only effective pacifier available. Parent fail.

Mike and I talked about my uncle’s comment driving home that night.

“Do people actually think I’m serious when I say things like, ‘Last night I almost left the baby in a basket at a bus stop’?” I asked him.

“You haven’t put that on the blog, have you?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “I only said it to our obstetrician. And maybe a couple of people from church.”

“I think most people know you’re not serious,” Mike said. “But perhaps a few are a bit worried by your flippancy.”

“When you’re still recovering from a difficult birth, you are suddenly responsible for a small being who sucks up every shred of time and attention you have to offer, you’re running on less than four hours of sleep a night, and you’re facing the prospect of yet another month apart from your husband when he returns to Laos early,” I said, “it’s sometimes easier to see the negative than the positive.”

“Well, have you had positive moments during the last week?” Mike asked.

“Of course!” I said, a bit shocked that he even had to ask. “I love lying sandwiched between the two of you when you’re both sound asleep. I love feeling Dominic settle into my shoulder with that happy little sigh – all warm and suddenly limp – when he’s milk-drunk. I love watching you talking to him so tenderly as you scoop him out of my arms to take him off and change him. I especially love knowing that I don’t have to change him that time.”

“Maybe you should push yourself a little,” Mike said. “Write about some of those moments. Make it a spiritual discipline to identify and articulate the positive in motherhood.”

I thought about this later that night while I was feeding Dominic again at 9PM. Then I thought about it at 3AM. And again at 4:30 when he started stirring and grunting less than half an hour after I’d put him back in his bed, at 4:45 when I brought him into bed with us, and at 5:15 when he started wailing and I had to get up and feed him again. It was not a night packed full of positive moments. In fact, by 6AM, I was tempted to leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

But maybe, I thought, this is where the spiritual discipline part comes in.

The name Dominic means “of our Lord”, and I’ve been startled during these early weeks of his life by how often my thoughts have turned into prayers while I’ve been feeding him. There is something about being up in the wee dark hours that nudges my mind toward friends and family, toward the blessings and challenges of life. And all this midnight praying has made me think of Bible verses that I memorized in younger days.

One that came to mind that evening was Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That night I decided to try something new this year – to take a different word from that verse in Galatians as my theme of the month. I would seek to find that theme, to live it, and I would write about how that word was playing out in mothering, marriage, and the miscellaneous of life. I would purposefully seek the positive. And I would mostly refrain from joking about leaving the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

Mostly.

Help me out here as I start to think this through. What helps you be purposefully positive in your life?

PS. For those few of you who are concerned that I may actually leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop, never fear. If I do I’ll wrap him up nice and warm, just like this…

Photo credit: Mike, day six, minding Dominic while hanging out the laundry

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It takes a village

I wrote the following on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday. C’est la vie at the moment…

This time last week I was still two hours and 15 minutes from giving birth. Last night as I was up between midnight and 2, and again from 5AM, I was somewhat comforted by the thought that as hard as the night was feeling, it wasn’t a patch on how difficult that night of labouring had been the previous week.

Mike and I have been flooded with cyber love in the past week – receiving hundreds of notes and comments congratulating us and wishing us well as we embark upon parenthood. One of those emails said, “I’m sure Dominic will give you a whole new way of thinking, living… and writing!”

I can already see the truth in that statement. Dominic has definitely given me a whole new way of living – I have done very little but feed, sleep, and eat what has been put in front of me since we came home from the hospital on Friday. And not having had more than three hours sleep in a row for a week now is certainly doing some funny things to my thinking.

As for writing… yes, that’s going to have to take a backseat for a while. And what writing I can do, I suspect, will be along the lines of vignettes that I jot down when the odd free moment pops up. And most of those vignettes in the next little while will probably be baby-related because, well, there isn’t really much life outside of baby for me at the moment. I trust that that will change again at some point in the future (possibly when my body is not being used as an all you can eat buffet for eight hours a day). In the meantime, however, I’ll try to continue posting the odd story or random thought of the day now and again.

There are a lot of things I could write about at this point – labour and delivery, post-birth surprises (both good and bad), and the emotional roller-coaster of this last week, to name just a few. And perhaps I’ll get there eventually on those topics. But today’s thought – and the thought I’ve had pretty much every hour since arriving home – is that I really do not know how single parents manage this.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now I have a new appreciation for why. When you’re trying to feed a baby every three hours, it seems more than one person can manage well to feed, burb, and change the little being, as well as get enough sleep yourself to stay sane. And that “caseload” doesn’t leave any room for eating, drinking, and showering, much less grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, filing the paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate, and learning how to assemble a breast pump. I have never been more grateful for a proactively supportive spouse and parents as I have been this week, or for hot running water and a warm bed. I get completely overwhelmed thinking about the challenges faced by new mothers in refugee camps and rural villages. And I have no idea how single parents do it, either.

That’s it for now from the McKay newborn nursery (where we saw a wallaby eating in the garden this morning when we were nursing). It’s now 11AM and I hear a baby starting to stir and make the “I’m a hungry guinea pig” sounds.

Family talk about the memoir

It started shortly after I arrived here four weeks ago. Mum was asking me where I was up to with my next book, and I told her that my agent, Chip, had it and was getting ready to send it to interested publishers next month.

“And how many of those are there?” She asked.

“I don’t exactly know,” I said. “But he said there are at least half a dozen people who’d like to see the full manuscript when we’re ready.”

Mum looked… well, “doubtful” is too strong a word. More like “slightly confused.”

“But… why?” She asked.

“What do you mean, why?” I repeated.

“Well they haven’t seen anything yet, so how do they know they want to see something?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them read my last book. Some of them have been browsing the blog. Maybe some of them owe Chip a big favour. I don’t completely understand how it all works, to be honest.”

“Me either,” Mum said. Then she went a step further. “Also, I just don’t see how this book is going to appeal to as wide an audience as your last book.”

“I think you’re wrong there,” I said. “If it sells, and that’s still a big if, then I think this book has the potential to appeal to a far larger audience than Hands did.”

Mum did not look at all convinced.

This was not the end of the conversation – this topic has come up several times during the last month. Just the other day we were talking about Francine Rivers’ new book and I casually mentioned that I thought her first book, A Voice In The Wind, was the best she’d ever written.

“I think that of a lot of authors,” Mum said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Like Bryce Courtney and The Power of One…

I was going to go on to list others but Mum got there first… with my name.

“Maybe like Lisa McKay,” she said.

“Mother!” I said, laughing but amazed. “What a thing to say!”

“Yes,” she said, only slightly abashed. “I guess it is.”

So, yesterday as we were driving into town, I brought it up again.

“Do you really think this book isn’t going to do well?” I asked. “I mean, for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing it to Hands because they’re totally different genres. One’s a suspense novel and the other is a reflective memoir woven around a romance story.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mum said. “And I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I don’t really know.”

“What??” This time I was honestly shocked. “You haven’t read the whole thing? Quite apart from the fact that that could deeply wound me if I were more fragile, how do you know I didn’t say something about you that you’ll hate?”

“Oh,” Mum said. “I trust your filters.”

This was getting truly bizarre given that exactly a month earlier I had been sitting across the breakfast table from my parents, having just disembarked the plane from Laos, while they asked me not to put anything on the blog about them without their prior approval while I was living at home.

“Well if you haven’t read the whole thing,” I said, “and you admit you don’t know all that much about the publishing industry, what would possess you to say things like ‘I don’t think this book will do as well as your first’?”

Mum squirmed just a little, unusual for her.

“I never meant to say that,” she said. “I guess I just meant to say that you had such an amazing experience the first time around being picked up by the first publisher you queried, and getting almost universally positive reviews, and having everyone tell you that you were wonderful… and it might not be like that this time around. I guess I just don’t want you getting your hopes up too high.”

“That is a very fair point,” I said. “But here is my point. With something that’s as deeply personal and important as this sort of project, maybe if you can’t honestly say, ‘Wow, I think this book is going to do just great’, maybe you should reconsider whether you say anything at all at this stage of the process. And, if you do, maybe you should work harder to phrase it more softly. You could, for example, say something like, ‘I’ll be interested to see if this book turns out to be as universally well-received as Hands.’

“That is also a fair point,” Mum said, as she pulled into the parking lot.

There was a brief silence.

“So, are you finished?” Mum asked, looking commendably grave given that she was clearly also battling the strong temptation to laugh.

“For now,” I said, getting out of the car.

“OK then,” Mum said, swinging into task mode. “Could you please stop and pick up the bread and then I’ll meet you at the grocery store in five or so minutes?”

“Sure,” I said.

Five minutes later I was standing just outside the grocery store having been waylaid by tempting tables full of bargain books, when Mum approached.

“I thought I’d find you here when I saw the books laid out,” Mum said. “And have I told you lately what a smashing success I think your next book is going to be?”

As I laughed she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.

Koi maan luuk (or, “I am pregnant”)

Koi maan luuk was the first Lao phrase I learned in the new year, and you would have already known this piece of news for at least a month if you lived in Laos. You would know this because you would be the deceptively reserved-looking Vietnamese woman who runs our favourite grocery store and you would ask me the first time you saw me after I’d been away for Christmas: “So, any news to tell me? Any news about a baby?” And I would look totally stunned at being accosted with this query over a basket full of milk and pasta, and then shrug and tell you.

Or you would be Mike’s work colleagues offering me glasses of beer at an event – and there is apparently only one acceptable reason to turn down beer in this country. So I would shrug and tell you.

Or you would be some stranger meeting us for the first time and right after you ask us how long we’ve been married you’d ask us whether we have kids. And, then, when we answered “no”, you’d look worried and ask us whether we will have them? Whether we are, in fact, even trying? So I would shrug and tell you.

Apparently there’s none of this “waiting until three months” thing here, pretty much the minute you find out you’re pregnant, it becomes public knowledge.

I find this practice both refreshing and confronting. Refreshing because you then have a damn good explanation for why you’re always wandering around looking like you might throw up at any moment. And why you’re so wiped out sometimes that you can’t get up off the couch and go out with work colleagues. And, let’s not forget, why you can’t drink beer or homemade whisky.

But it’s also confronting to have this big life event out there as fodder for the communal discussion mill. Everyone’s so happy for you when they hear. They smile really big and say they’re thrilled, and that you must be, too. Often in those moments I wonder whether I look thrilled. I doubt it. I probably look confused, which is fair enough, really, because what I’m thinking is usually some combination of all of the following at once:

  • Oh that’s right, I’m pregnant. I momentarily forgot.
  • Yes, I’m happy
  • No, I’m terrified
  • Actually, I’m hungry
  • Is it too late to push the reset button?
  • Oh, wait, maybe I have to throw up. Yes, I certainly am pregnant.
  • Yes, I am happy. Yeah. Happy.
  • No, I’m terrified…

And so it goes.

I’m not terrified about whether or not I’ll be a good mother. Even though I’ve never really been a kid-person, I reckon I’ll be pretty good as a mother at least 80% of the time. Even if I’m not, Mike’s going to be a great dad, so the baby’s covered. No, true to form, I’m worried about me. I like my life right now. I like my marriage. And I’ve heard babies described as “hand grenades” in relation to both those institutions.

Oh well, I have nine months… scratch that, six months now… to get used to the fact that this particular hand grenade is coming. And that I have to give birth to it.

Gosh, I wish babies came out the size of hand grenades (healthy, of course). I mean, don’t you think koalas have it all over most other mammals in this area? Baby koalas slide on out of the womb when they’re about the size of a jellybean and (pink, hairless, blind, and without ears) nonetheless manage to crawl unaided up their mother’s stomach and squirm into that warm, furry pouch. Then they just hang out there for six months drinking milk until they grow eyes and ears and stop looking so much like a maggot. That’s so the way to do this birth thing. Plus, I bet koalas don’t get morning sick.

Morning sickness… don’t get me started. Next week I might tell you all about how Mike and I found out that I was maan luuk ourselves, and if you’re really lucky I won’t tell you about morning sickness (or, as it should really be called, all-day sickness).

Until then I leave you with a photo and a grandparent-anecdote. After I posted about playing with monkeys last week, my grandfather (who got an iPad and his first ever email account for Christmas) sent me the following…

Hi Lisa,

It’s only me trying to learn to type. If anyone told you that an iPad was easy to learn, especially an 86 year old, don’t you believe them. I am finding it hard to find the letters as they are not in alphabetical order.

We have just been viewing your letter on the monkey visit. What good practice for you. He looks cute, but I think you may be able to do better than that.

Love, Pa.

We’ll see about that, Pa. We’ll see.