Category Archives: Mothering

And Just How Is This Supposed to Work?

One of the challenges I’m facing as a new mother (he’s 9 months old: can I still claim to be “new” at this?) is figuring out how to respond faithfully and responsibly to the What Ifs that Sam has introduced to my life. While he’s much more hardy and capable than he was last spring, Sam is still so physically vulnerable, and it seems like the world is a maze of dangerous situations and hazardous materials. And I know that children grow, and that some day he’ll have the walking thing down and the reason necessary to avoid most obvious perils. But what if someone bullies him? Or a girl breaks his heart? Or, God forbid, he starts driving?! It never ends.

Most days, I can keep the fear under control. But every now and then we’ll have a close call (none serious–yet) or a troubling incident (which was probably nothing) that shatters my illusions of control over his small, precious life. And then I wonder: Does this anxiety grow exponentially with each additional child? How do parents with large families handle the stress? How does Michelle Duggar set foot outside the house, not to mention deal with attention from the national media and its potential effects on her children?

As a teacher, I’ve seen the kind of damage caused by “helicopter parents”, the ones who hover in the background and swoop in to save their child from any difficult situations or negative consequences. Their children become habitual complainers who cannot handle criticism or deal effectively with disappointment or setbacks. Generally, they’re unpleasant and unhappy.

I don’t want that kind of life for my son: I want to teach my children to handle difficulties with wisdom instead of fear. I want to take the Love and Logic route. But I can’t do that as long as my own choices are based on the worried what-ifs. And, truthfully, I AM free from a lot of the worries that plague other mothers I know: I don’t sanitize Sam’s pacifier every time he drops it, and I don’t require people to wash their hands before touching him. Germ risks don’t bother me. (Much.) It’s the things you can’t calculate, random things like falls and SIDS and car accidents that make me catch my breath.

So, experienced parents out there, how do you handle the risks inherent in raising a child? How do you know when to follow the caution of our Just-In-Case culture and when to (responsibly) let go? More importantly, how do you handle the fear when you have so much to lose?

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Filed under Faith, Mothering, Uncategorized

Merry Happy

One of the charms of living on an academic schedule is the frequent opportunities for a fresh start. Every August is a new beginning, complete with that bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and determined resolve to see the true potential in each student. Every January presents a chance for more changes, which usually start with the purchase of a new bathroom scale (the old one is, clearly, malfunctioning). And every June  provides an occasion for continued improvement (“This summer, I’m going to teach myself ARABIC! (No.)).  Throw in the inspiration of a birthday, and at least one good confession, and you can revive your motivation for self-improvement at least every other month.

In this light, it’s no wonder that educators are such vastly superior beings! We improve, on average, five times faster (…or is it five times more frequently?), than your average Joe.

The thing is, every time I NEED that kick in the pants, a reminder that, Yes–time marches on, but No, all is not yet lost. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again with a clean slate.

Isn’t it funny how the small things weigh us down? I don’t know about you, but my resolve is easily shaken. Tiny failures pile up so quickly. A chore ignored on Monday, a coupon left unclipped on Tuesday, the grading incomplete on Wednesday, and by Thursday I’ve decided to give up, order a pizza, and let the clutter accumulate like piles of broken dreams while I fade into the oblivion of poverty and filth, doomed to a lifetime of obesity and nauseating similes.

But, as the immortal Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

And so we begin again. Tomorrow is my first blogiversary: Breeding Lilacs is now an entire year old. I’ve posted 65 times in the past 365 days, and I hope to triple that number in the coming year. Hope to? No, PLAN to. Will.

Those of you who have been with me this whole time know that 2011 has been a big year for the Good family. You were with me during my last months of pregnancy, the arrival of Sam, the early weeks of motherhood and that very long hiatus there during the summer. Often during this past year, the combination of housekeeping, parenting, teaching and playing moderately challenging board games has left me with little time or inclination to write. I’ve missed it, though, and am hereby resolving to stop avoiding it and to stop blaming the baby when I do.

Since we’re still in the thick of the Twelve Days of Christmas, let me wish you a very merry one. And Happy New Year, dears. May 2012 be our best one yet.

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Filed under Beauty, Mothering, Writing

Unprofundity

I feel like life consists of constantly shifting objects from one place to another.

Pick up a plate, and put it on the table. Pick it up again,  and put it in the sink.

Pick up a toy, and put it in front of the baby. Pick it up again, and rinse it off. Put it back in front of the baby.

Pick up the sweater, put it in the closet. Pick up the socks, put them in the laundry. Move the laundry upstairs, take other laundry downstairs.

Pick up the stack of tests, place it in fifteen different places before actually grading one.

I can’t bear to tidy up any more. I can’t bear to live in a mess. I can’t win.

Is this one of those deeply spiritual quotidian mysteries? Is it a metaphor for the endless conversion of our souls?

Will someone please pick ME up?

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Filed under Domesticity, Marriage, Mothering

In Which I Talk About Work*

When I first announced my pregnancy last year, my dear friend and colleague Natasha told me that “Becoming a mother will completely change your teaching.”

I’ll admit that I was a little skeptical at the time: after all, with four whole years of experience under my belt, hadn’t I transcended the possibility of professional improvement?. But Natasha has three children of her own and extensive experience in the classroom, so she’s the one to  trust when it comes to parenting, teaching, and their inevitable impact on each other.

Here I am, six months into motherhood, 2 months into my 5th year of teaching, 7 hours away from the start of annual parent-teacher conferences, and I can already tell that she was right.

The season of parent-teacher conferences is traditionally a time of anxiety, discomfort, and frustration for educational professionals. While the majority of conferences are pleasant exchanges with pleasant parents about the success of their pleasant child, there’s always the lurking possibility of conflict. Inevitably, there will be one parent who disagrees with a teacher’s grading system, with the discipline policies, with the presentation of curriculum, or with the enforcement of deadlines and voices his disagreement loudly. Then there’s the parent who suspects the teacher of secretly disliking her perfect child, who makes accusations of unjust treatment and occasionally makes threats. And, naturally, it’s the negative interactions that teachers remember most, and those memories put us on the defensive year after year. So my attitude towards the parents of my students has, unfortunately, been a little cautious and mildly suspicious: “Are you the one that’s going to attack?”

But this year I’m discovering a new sympathy for the mothers and fathers of my ninth graders. Instead of preparing myself for a verbal battle when I have to deliver bad news about a student’s performance, I’m trying to put myself in the parent’s position: How would I feel if a teacher told me that Sam cheated on a test and then lied about it? How disappointed and anxious would I be to learn that my son wasn’t reading or writing at peer level? And how much would I love to hear another adult praise my child and pay attention to his small victories?

It’s just clicked all of a sudden. Of COURSE parents over-react sometimes to bad news from teachers. It’s not that they are blind to their child’s imperfections: they’re just struggling to deal with the choices that their child is making, the consequences of those choices, and the painful fact that–as 9th graders–they need to be allowed to fail sometimes in order to learn. Considering how anxious I am about Sam’s reluctance to start crawling (when I KNOW that every baby is different and hits the milestones at his own pace, ect.), I can imagine how heart breaking it would be to watch your son struggle in academics, in social interactions, or especially in making moral decisions.

Each of my students is as dear to their mothers as Sam is to me. If that knowledge doesn’t make me a better teacher, nothing else will.

Back to grading now: Here’s hoping that I’ll have lots of good news to deliver to parents tonight.

*I’m usually intentional about NOT talking about work on the blog, as other teachers have been fired for making unprofessional comments in a public forum, and some states have recently passed laws limiting teacher/student contact online and I’m wary of the possibility of misinterpretation. None of my comments about conferences or parents are directed toward any specific individuals. If you find my reflections unprofessional or offensive, please contact me directly with complaints.  

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Filed under Mothering, Teaching

The Great Mid-Western Road Trip: East Bound

We made it.

I know, I know–I ruined my own ending. But you have to try to hear that first sentence not as a matter of fact statement, but as an wonder-filled whisper, a trembling, grateful prayer while witnessing a miracle. 

When we told people that we were driving with our two month old son from Colorado to Michigan, 98% percent responded with a mixture of skepticism and awe. The other two percent–members of my immediate family–nodded matter of factly and reminded me that the drive from the Springs to St. Louis isn’t nearly as bad as the bi-annual drive my parents took from Pennsylvania to Kansas. And they had THREE kids to pack for and deal with in those days. Can’t impress everyone, I guess.

But even though both Zach and I had moments of exasperation and Sam suffered some serious infant constipation from being stuck in a car seat so long, it really wasn’t that bad. I hit a low point between Chicago and Grand Rapids, openly weeping in the back of a hot car in a gas station parking lot while trying to nurse a wailing, sticky, smelly infant. Sam’s low point followed immediately afterward, when, after three days of nearly continous travel, the monotony of his view from a backward facing carseat became more than he could bear. And Zach’s low point wasn’t far behind: listening to the pitiful cries of an unhappy baby will bring anybody down. Thanks to a combination of unhealthy snacks and controversial talk radio, we rallied and sallied forth. So to speak.

We enjoyed some wonderful visits with family along the way. After the first leg of our journey, we stopped to visit my grandfather in Parsons, KS. Now, I know that driving through Kansas gets a bad rap, but it looks like the Arcadian fields after a drive through southern Colorado. There isn’t a changing table between Colorado Springs and Cheyenne Wells: at least 200 miles. What a wasteland. When we arrived in Parsons and were greeted with hugs, homemade ice cream, and promises of a trip to the lake the next day, we resolved never again to participate in the rampant Kansas-bashing most Americans enjoy.    

Sam met his maternal aunt and uncles, his cousin Rosemary (who managed to be more enthusiastic about BABY SAM! than I am, which is saying something), his great grandfather, his great grandmother, and my best friend over the course of the journey. He’s been napping since noon: clearly, this intense social exertion exhausted him.  

And now we’re in Michigan. More on what that’s like later. I just wanted to let you know that we made it.

We made it.

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Filed under Cars, Domesticity, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

So They Say…

People lied to me a lot when I was pregnant. Mothers of my middle school students were the worst culprits. “Pineapple will get contractions going for sure,” one said. “Your adrenaline will take care of the pain if you skip the medications!” claimed another. And one of my personal favorites: “You really do get used to smelling like sour milk and poop, eventually.” Lies, lies, and more lies.  Oh, I know they meant well, but that doesn’t make it right.

In my ninth month, when my belly was at its biggest and the swelling and water retention were at the max, women started feeding me this line left and right: “Don’t worry–You’ll get your body back!”

Of all the whoppers I’ve been told, this was the worst.

I’ve been suspicious for a while, but a pre-summer swimsuit trial run last night confirmed it: I’ve got a body back, all right, but it’s certainly not mine.  My hips don’t go out to there, do they? My body doesn’t have those stretch marks, or that tummy, and it’s about fifteen pounds smaller, overall.

Perhaps I misunderstood.  See, when they told me I’d get my body back, I thought they were saying everything would return to the way it was before. Maybe they were just telling me that someday I’d see my feet again. People don’t always say precisely what they mean.

It’s hard, because I’m so used to thinking of my body as a direct extension of myself. If my body is in good shape, then I must be in good shape. If my figure isn’t looking great, then, by extension, there is something wrong with me. I acknowledge that this isn’t a particularly mature or healthy way of thinking, but it’s what I’m accustomed to. I’m used used to being more attractive then I am at present and—trivial, vain, and ridiculous though it may be–I miss how I used to look.  I tried to explain this to my husband yesterday, but I don’t think I succeeded. Maybe men don’t make such a strong connection between appearance and identity. Is this an exclusively feminine mindset?

There is another dimension to the lie about getting your body back. Your size diminishes, certainly, but any mother who nurses her baby knows that you lose even more autonomy after the birth. Sam is nearly twice as big now as he was when he was born and all of his nourishment and substance has come from me. If my body is an extension of myself, this little guy is still, in some senses,a direct extension of my body (save a few ounces of formula and some chromosomes from his dad).  He needs me just as much now as he did before.

And, looking at Sam sleeping next to me–chubby little arms stretched above his head—I wonder if I really want my body back after all.

12 pounds 2 ounces of adorable.

I might complain that I can’t be away from him for more than 3 hours…but, truthfully, I miss him long before I get home. I will cry and cry and cry when he stops nursing. Goodness, I can’t even think about it.  Autonomy isn’t all its cracked up to be. Some kinds of independence aren’t worth celebrating with fireworks.

Maybe there’s something to the appearance/identity connection after all; maybe the physical changes that come with having children are a reflection of some personal growth that hasn’t quite caught up yet. If my body is dedicated to serving my family first, maybe my spirit will follow.

People told me a lot of lies while I was pregnant, but this is the platitude I heard most often: “Becoming a mother shows you just how selfish you are.”

And that one is definitely true.

 

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Filed under Domesticity, Faith, Marriage, Mothering

Neophyte No Longer

My term as a neophyte officially ends today.

The past year has been exceptionally rich in sacraments. Last Easter marked my first confession, my confirmation and my first communion. The months immediately following were devoted to preparing for the sacrament of marriage. And this year, on the Monday of Holy Week, we were able to celebrate the baptism of our first born son. We cannot, of course, maintain this pace of sacraments, or we’ll arrive at last rites far too quickly. But they’ve made for a wonderful start.

The ebb and flow of the liturgical year is becoming a more familiar mark of the passage of time than turning over pages on the calendar. I love the intentional focus of each season: the simplicity of Advent, the warmth of Christmastide, the stark solemnity of Lent, and the burst of joy at Easter. With all the solemnities and feast days in between, we never lack for reminders of the hardships and blessings of following Christ whole-heartedly.

While preparing for one of his recent lectures on the tragic Death of a Salesman, my husband remarked that the curse of Eve is not simply pain in child birth (though that one IS a doozy), but more so, the pain of passing on the curse, of seeing our children succumb to sin and suffer the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the community. It’s tempting, as a new mother, to let fear of all the “what-ifs” in Sam’s future overwhelm me: What if he gets sick? What if he becomes a rebellious teenager and hates his parents? What if he doesn’t like to read? Terrifying possibilities.

How grateful I am, especially now, that we have been provided with the sacraments, with these physical signs of the spiritual realities. Seeing my child blessed with holy water and anointed with the fragrant chrism oil was not just a comforting ritual: from that moment, he has been truly free from the curse of original sin. And as he grows in understanding, I pray he’ll come to claim that truth for himself.

Little Samuel, all dolled up for his first Easter Mass

And how grateful I am, too, for the communion of saints! My godmother, Eve, has been so encouraging through RCIA and this whole year of changes and celebrations. And now one of my dearest friends, Amy, has joined our little family as Sam’s godmother. Their prayers, along with those of our patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri and the prayers of all our friends and family, have certainly blessed Zach and I as we’ve adjusted to marriage, and now parenthood.

So, Happy Easter, dear friends and readers. May this joyful season nourish fresh hope and new life in your spirits.

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Filed under Beauty, Catholicism, Faith, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering