Well, you got ramble. Woo-hoo.

Well, I took requests this morning and the tally is complete. I got one vote for potty training. One vote for NOT potty training. Three or four votes for a not-funny yoga post. One vote for ramble. And I think one vote for a nap, too.

Ramble it is, because that's about all I have the time and energy to do. I'll catch a nap at some point during my ramble, how's that?

+++++++

My life as I know it is about to change. We're changing Hannah to a big bed tonight. She's 2 1/2. We are late on this, I know, but the kid likes her crib and we have traumatic memories of transitioning Rachel to a bed. I was pregnant at the time Rachel started climbing out of her crib and there went that happy second trimester. I dragged my way through it. It took Rachel hours to fall asleep and she was up at 5:00 every morning. We got through it. We've had about two years of our kids in bed by 7 PM and sleeping through the night. This is how I've managed to go to school and parent at the same time. Bah-bye to my long evenings for who knows how long.

Why change now if Hannah is happy in her crib? We're not sleeping well anyway because Hannah has been waking up wanting to be changed. She's so ready to be out of diapers and so NOT ready. Anyway, we figure since we're not sleeping well anyway we might as well get this bed transition started. Besides, Hannah's preschool teacher suggested that it might help with the potty training to get her into a big bed because it will help Hannah think of herself as a big girl. She has a point there.

The funny thing is I've been sitting here all smug giving advice to people with kids that aren't sleeping through the night. It's dawned on me that for the past month or so, my kid has not sleeping through the night. Oh yeah.

So, we spent the day at IKEA picking out a bed, mattress, and bedding set. We got her the same bed that Rachel has, a white bed with drawers AND a trundle. Very cool bed if you're looking for one. We figure if we have a third child, they'll need to share a room at some point and matching beds is nice. Yada-yada.

The ride home was a joy. There was a mattress between Rachel and Hannah's seat, and the girls, who usually drive us crazy by pushing each other's buttons during the ride, drove us crazy because they were freaking out at not being able to see each other. Good times.

I don't know about this rambling strategy...I can see that you are nodding off already.

+++++++

Yoga poses. There's not much to my story. I've been doing yoga for six months and have not been able to do the full wheel.

I did one once by accident at home about a month ago. Then yesterday in class, again. It felt great. But I couldn't repeat it. Now I'm on a quest. This wheel represents my youth to me. One of my yoga teachers said that someone discovered that the real fountain of youth is really your spine. I'm not sure how literally to take this, but I see his point. When I can do the wheel regularly I'll be a kid again. I'm kidding, but not really. It does mean a lot to me.

+++++++

We said good-bye to a neighbor today. After a year of marriage, she and her husband are getting divorced. They have no kids, thank goodness, but I know she dreamed of having some in their house, which is no longer theirs. I knocked on her door and she was in tears, still crying, her heart broken. She was about to leave, say good-bye to her house and her dog. I could feel the pain. We hugged tightly and a lot. Rachel was by my side taking it in. She doesn't know the two are divorcing. It's not something I think she needs to know. I just told her our neighbor was sad because she had to say good-bye to her home. We were friendly with this neighbor but never real close. I did not know until the marriage had dissolved that there were problems. Instead, I worried about what they would think when we argued in whispers in our backyard about silly things--not knowing there was so much pain in the quiet house next door. My heart goes out to her. Them both. Let this teach me to reach out more. I forget sometimes how much pain is out there.

+++++++

I think I better quit while I'm only a little bit behind here. Boring you a little bit is better than boring you in the-post-that-will-not-end.

Here is the rest of what I want to say. Thank you to all those who called me a good mother after reading my letter to Rachel last week. I do like hearing that, I do. However, to be completely honest it makes me a little uncomfortable. Not because I think I'm a bad mother, but because most of the mothers I know are good mothers. Not everyone can write about it the way I can--there are many who can. I write about my feelings and what I see, and not as much about what I do. Don't assume I always act perfectly. I don't. If anything, my writing inspires me to be a better mother. It helps me see things more clearly. I wonder sometimes if previous generations of mothers worried so much about being good mothers. I think all we can do is give our children what we have inside us. I try to reach a balance between raising children that are happy and independent and children that I can tolerate. I learn as I go. I make mistakes. I try not to worry too much about my mistakes, but just enough to know that I can do better, and can be better.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. Maybe this: I'm no better than you at mothering. I think there are such strong "good mother," "bad mother" caricatures out there that we are working under. These caricatures place enormous pressure on us. On one extreme is Dr. Laura who has her cookie-cutter good mother ideal that is hurtful, in my mind. On the other hand, I see a lot of people in blogdom who intentionally portray themselves as "bad mothers." (And no, no and NO, I don't mean YOU. Nobody I know.) It's good for a few laughs, but it gets boring and is hurtful, too in my opinion. It's kind of like being back in elementary school and the girls being afraid to show that they are smart. Of course no one wants to gloat about their mothering, and sure it is helpful to write about our mistakes, but why wave the bad mother banner. I don't get that. I think part of being a successful mother is throwing both caracitures-good and bad mother- away and just digging in. It's work. You don't always do it right. You keep at it day after day and the big picture will turn out well if you are lucky. I hope, I hope. To be honest, I'm just focusing on the rewards I get each day. They are gold. I imagine there will be years when the gold mine gets dry. I'll just try to keep my eyes open. Hit me if I forget.

And you knew all of this already. So, I'll shut up.

Enough rambling. I'll try to be more coherent next week.

+++++++

And I realize I've included no kids stories, which are what you like best. The heck with my self-absorption, right? Move over, and show us the kids. (Don't feel bad, I agree with you!)

Here's a quick one: Every time we have garbage pick-up morning, Hannah wakes the whole house up by shouting, "There's a garbage truck in my room!" about 100 times. I feel like taping it and sending it to the garbage people to get them to wait until at least 6:00 to come by.

I Got Nothing

I know I said I was going to post today, but nothing of any interest is coming to mind. I sat at the computer last night and the only thing I could think to blog about was my wheel. I did a full wheel in yoga class yesterday...

...and then I tried it agaIn and couldn't push up. It's my Holy Grail right now, or perhaps my fountain of youth. I need to find my wheel again. Instead of writing a post last night I searched for photos of the full wheel to post here but then I wondered if that would be violating copyright. So I googled "free images full wheel yoga," which brought me links to "free" yoga photos with prices on them, which confused me. Then I started looking for instructions for doing the full wheel, which made me laugh to myself a little. So I thought about doing a humorous post about yoga poses, except me trying to be funny is funny in all the wrong ways.

So I went to bed.

....and then Hannah woke up twice during the night wanting us to change her diaper.

So my plan B is to write a post about potty training. Except that I'm wiped out. So.....I got nothing.

Sigh.

I'll be back....hopefully late tonight.

I'm taking requests. What should I write about?

You are Five.

Update: Thursday, May 25th I'm guest posting at Petroville. I'll be back here on Monday, as usual.

**Disclaimer: This is a long post. I’m done with classes and my mind is a bubbling. What can I do? Read only what you want to. I realize you have lives. I’m just happy to have room in my brain finally to be able to think a little more creatively about mine.**

As I mentioned last week, my Mother’s Day weekend was perfect and exceeded all of my expectations, though I tend not to have real detailed expectations of these things. Rachel’s birthday party was really fun and I was atypically relaxed throughout it all. I had turned in my last assignment the night before and was feeling free, free, free. On Saturday, I asked my husband if we could sneak in an early mountain hike before our scheduled Mother's Day brunch. It hit the ticket. The only thing missing was a yoga class. That would have been a good ending to the weekend. I’m not saying we there wasn’t a rattlesnake directly on our path (there was; thank God we didn’t bring the dog) or we didn’t arrive sweaty to brunch (we did) or there weren’t meltdowns after the birthday party (there were). I'm not sayng I ate too much (no comment here). I’m just saying, it was perfect to me.

A year ago on Mother’s Day we were all sick with the stomach flu, and though I was a somewhat grumpy about not getting a break, I did chuckle to myself and think how appropriate it really was to be holding and rocking your sick children on Mother’s Day and catching their vomit in towels. A study in contrasts: the glorious rocking of your child and chunks of last night’s dinner on your sleeve.

There are events that are much worse than anticipated. There are events that are better than anticipated. Then there are unanticipated events that become powerful pieces of your life. For example, presents. When you plan to buy a present you usually imagine your child playing with them in a certain way. Sometimes your kid likes the toy. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes she likes a toy but doesn’t play with it, or plays with it in strange, annoying ways. What I find interesting are the items that become part of the heart of your family without any planning. For example, the kilted skirt that I bought at goodwill on a whim when Rachel was two. It sat in her closet for months and I was pretty sure it would stay there. But one day, when I was cleaning out the closet, Rachel spotted it and shouted, “a lassie skirt!” She had seen Scottish dancing on an old around-the-world, sing-a-long video inherited from her older nieces. So I let her put on the skirt, and she started doing her version of a Scottish jig. And for almost a whole year, she’d put that skirt on and do her little jig while we sang “Have you ever seen a lassie.” That lassie has been retired and put in our little Hall of Fame box of clothing.

There are also the moments that are hard to remember, but you want to try to because they are so perfect. Like last week, when I was changing Hannah, and out of the corner of my eye saw Rachel looking into the mirror and laughing at her own impersonation of an evil fairy princess, and then five minutes later walking by with a pillow under her shirt, muttering to herself and sighing, “Gosh it‘s hard to have nine kids, but it’s a lot of fun.” And Hannah (!), who has been inserting the phrases “always,” “forever” “ever[y] day” and “all day long” into sentences in ways that make no sense. It’s so sweet I’ve been trying to keep a note of her sentences but I can’t seem to. Today, Hannah was pretending to be a doctor and lifted her leg up behind her in a way that looked like a ballet move. I asked her if she was a doctor ballerina. She said, very seriously, “Ballet shoes, always.” Later that day I was asking Rachel if she remembered examples of when Hannah uses these phrases and she reminded me of when we were in the car and Hannah said, “Thank you, God, for going in the car, forever.”

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Dear Rachel,

You are finally five, sweetie. We knew it was coming, didn’t we? We’ve been talking about you turning five for so long now. It almost seems like forever. Still, in the end, I think we both felt uncomfortable as this birthday came nearer and nearer. The week before your birthday, you were very excited about your party, but were struggling with something. I could tell. You clung to me more closely than usual and were especially sensitive and perhaps even anxious and sad. Then on the night before your birthday, you burst into tears, explaining that you were afraid that everything might change when you turned five, that essentially our life together in this house would dissolve before you were ready. I feel it, too, Rachel, but I have a secret that helps me. I need to tell you about it. It is a magical secret.

Do you know what my secret is?

Here it is: I see you.

Even when you think I don’t, I do.

What do I see?

Your face. It is beautiful. When you don’t know it I watch you. If I look closely, I can even see your face as a newborn, the little heart shaped outline, the delicate features. Or sometimes, I see the laughter of your two-year-old self, bubbling with such joy and abandon. I see the three-year old Rachel, too, doing projects with such seriousness and determination. Most of all, I see your face now, so mature and grown-up, so simply perfect, as it will always be. You still and more than ever take my breath away, my Rachel.

What else do I see?


*Your determination, excitement and curiosity. You love a project. The excitement on your face when you decide upon a project is palpable. And then when you are getting to the task and doing what needs to be done, you are so focused and determined to see it through. You started to write without an ounce of guidance from me and it’s been amazing how determined you were to write messages to people before I even knew you could do it. Now you are starting to read. I can’t wait to see the excitement build as it gets easier for you.

*Your sensitivity and kindness. Even though I often give you a hard time about being grumpy toward your sister, I see your gestures of kindness and protection towards her. Like the other day when someone took a toy from her on the playground and to make her feel better you let her play with your brand new birthday present, an insect catching set. And then we caught our friend, Rufus, the ladybug, and after three days of letting Rufus feed off the raisins in her cage, it was time to let her go. You quietly watched Rufus take flight and land on our fence, and then suddenly burst into tears. You have never had a problem developing attachments, and the love you give those that you bond with is powerful and true.


*Your intelligence and sense of humor. You always are one step ahead of me. For example, the other day when Dad was out of town I said, “Let’s call Dad. That would be a good project.” You look at me with a puzzled smirk on your face and said, “Project? That’s not a project!” and then after we giggled over this for a few minutes you said, “Let’s go outside. That’s a good project,” and we giggled again. You’re a smart kid, and outwit me on an hourly basis.

*Your affection, warmth and love of friends and family. Is it possible for anyone to be more excited and loving towards friends and family than you. I think not. Your fierce and passionate love of your cousins is a sight to behold. And just last week, after saying good-bye to your grandma, you moaned, “It’s not fair. Grandma ruined my day by leaving,” then burst into heartfelt tears.

I am so proud of you. And I need to remember to let you know that I see you. You have always been early to do things by yourself. You dressed yourself at two and now you sometimes even make your bed without any prodding. We’ve come to expect this kind of thing from you, and don’t tell you enough that we see you (on a good day) laying out your blanket and putting your stuffed animals and dolls just so around your pillow. Often I’m thinking about laundry or about to change a diaper, or soothing Hannah. I get distracted and don’t let you know that I see you….I saw you. Or else, I’m too focused on setting and enforcing limits, telling you "no" essentially, to let you know the good that I see. That’s not really fair, is it? No way.

When I was a little girl and I was in a room full of people, my Dad would often look at me from across the room and gently pump his fist a few times to his chest. That was his sign that he loved and he was proud of me. I always knew. He did it especially when I wore an solid orange, stretchy shirt and pants set that he loved on me. Boy did I feel special in that orange outfit and on other days, too, when he’d meet my eye and give me the sign.

Your Dad makes that same gesture to you now. We need our signal, you and me,...so you know, whether you are wearing your best dress, an old favorite pair of pants that are ridiculously too small, or your lovely birthday suit, that I see you, and I love you, and I am proud of you.

And psssst….here is another secret. I will always be able to see you at four. And I will always be able to see you at five, or any other age. All I have to do is look real closely into your face and it will be there. Even if your face is scowling me, I bet I'll find it. And I’ll share that with you if you want me to.

At four I loved you more. At five, I STILL love you more. My love will NEVER stop growing. Isn’t that crazy? How big do you think it can get. So big no one can count it. CRAZY, daisy!

I am the luckiest Mama indeed to have my view of you.

Whenever you want to see you, let me know. I will make time and give you a view of spectacular you.

Love, Mama

Surprise

Ingredients for a perfect Mother's day weekend:
-turning in final school assignment on Friday.
-glorious Saturday birthday party for a glorious five year old.
-early Mother's Day hike up the same Mountain that you saw five years ago with your sister, mother, husband and new daughter.
-beloved mother, husband, and children accompanying you on that hike.
-fancy, pansy brunch later on that day.
-e-mail message with the following guest post written by the sister that witnessed you become a mother five years ago.

My sister became a mother this year. Her son is the luckiest child ever to have the parents he has. They are truly incredible parents. What a blessed family they are. What a blessed sister I am. Happy Mother's Day, Sis. I love you. And Happy Mother's Day, friends.

Now, here's my sis. Please give her a warm welcome. I'll see you all back here next week.



SURPRISE

My son turned five months this week. His five month birthday arrived several days before Mother’s Day. How strange, how surprising that this year Mother’s Day means me. Five years ago, I spent an especially fine Mother’s Day greeting my brand new niece, Rachel, who was born the day before. I was at her birth alongside my sister (with her husband and our mother) when Rachel came tumbling out, landing soon after on my sister’s belly, with piercing eyes as she looked at her mother, then at each of us, not complaining as she was passed from arm to arm in those weepy, happy first moments.

Two and a half years later, I cried from the other coast as my sister went into labor with Hannah. I cried because I couldn’t be at her birth – I was struggling with professional demands at the university where I teach and couldn’t make it away that October, or even a few months later at Christmas, only meeting my spirited new niece the following summer when we all gathered at my mother’s Midwestern home. I also cried for another reason – here I was in my late thirties with no child of my own on the horizon, despite a growing collection of nieces and nephews. I cried all day as my sister labored. As many a doting childless aunt knows, there is a great joy but also a sad spot in accompanying the childhoods of one’s sibling’s children. Those tears brought resolution and that month D. and I decided to begin trying to have a child.

In the intervening two years I have stayed close to my nieces through my sister’s blog. I see them once or twice a year, but holiday visits don’t replace day-to-day growth and discoveries. Raehan’s vivid writing lets me see them much more clearly than they can see me (which is sad), but I take what I can get. Since the theme of this post is surprise, I have to say that I have been amazed and awed by this blog. I’m not just amazed because my sister is such a good writer (I knew that already), nor because she brings people I love to such astonishing life, but also because of all of you. What an amazing, caring, funny, spirited, poignant community! I’ve started to comment just a little on a few sites, but I’ve been browsing and lurking for a while, especially those of you who were pregnant at the same time I was. As with my nieces, I know you better than you know me, but since I can’t quite see myself starting a blog anytime soon, you’ll have to be content with this post. My little sister has very big shoes, and I was humbled when she asked me to guest post.

To continue the story – becoming a mother did not come easily. We tried on again, off again for about a year and a half. We felt like we were leaping into the abyss – at the time, we were teaching at different universities in cities five hours apart, struggling with two-career academic challenges, both untenured, futures uncertain. But the biological clock kept ticking and we knew it might be now or never. It’s hard now to recall the anxiety of that period – I was struggling to finish a book that I needed for tenure while commuting five hours on alternate weekends, trying to keep track of my fertility and all of the stress that involves. Slowly, however, things fell into place. My book got finished, D. got a job only an hour and a half away, my professional situation looked a little more stable. Then, as I described a few days ago in a comment on Angie’s site, I turned 40. I got my period that birthday morning, while visiting my other sister and her kids. I was devastated. As a generally cheerful person, I never expected to be hit so hard by a simple birthday. I sobbed to D. some gibberish about heading over the hill, it was downhill from here. Luckily he talked some sense into me on the train ride home, reminding me of so many new things that we were beginning at that moment. I resolved to try one more month, then get myself checked out at a fertility clinic. No need! That month, I conceived. And 38 weeks later, Jeremy was born.

Jeremy surprised us by arriving over two weeks early, while I was still finishing up my teaching for the semester. We were counting on those last two weeks to get ready – clean the house, set up the nursery, buy the carseat. But my water broke and we found ourselves on the way to the hospital, astonished that we were actually going to have a baby – now! Having been at Rachel’s birth, I was prepared for a tough labor, but hoped for a quick pushing stage like my sister. Surprise! I found the labor surprisingly manageable, as I bounced on a birthing ball and D. helped me do yoga breathing through the contractions. But my pushing stage was much more difficult and painful than expected, lasting seven hours as the baby’s head lodged in my pelvis and my pitocin-induced contractions turned wimpy. My all-natural birth plan went out the window. But I narrowly avoided a C-section thanks to Jeremy’s resilience, along with two midwives and doctor who gave me every chance to keep pushing him out. Jeremy was taken to the special care nursery for monitoring after the tough delivery. I was manic as I woke up every two hours and rushed through the hospital corridors to nurse my baby. He seemed to get the hang of it and by the second night, he was rooming in with me.

Two days later, we brought him home. We were joyous and awed as we took him out of the carseat and unwrapped his winter bunting. Our son! We snuggled close on the sofa, staring at this child that had fallen into our arms. He seemed unfazed by his new environs, but our house – bought only months earlier – seemed somehow transformed, glowing and resonant as I nursed our new baby to the CD my sister had burned for me (yes, the same playlist of favorites she posted here last summer!).

While I felt reasonably prepared to be a mom, I was caught off guard by the sheer terror of that first night. I was convinced that there was no way our beautiful baby would last the night if we ceased our vigilance and went to sleep. So many odd grunts and snorts, irregular breathing, a kaeidescope of facial expressions – we had been warned that newborns were like this but it’s still a shock to hold that small warm sweet fragile mysterious terrifying being in one’s arms.

Happily, he did survive that night, and the next night, and the one after that, and slowly we began to realize that this small being was sturdier then he appeared. The next few weeks were the usual whirl of exhaustion and exhilaration, a sort of timeless period where you lose the ordinary sense of schedules and timelines and become immersed in baby time, as we and our son struggled so find some order and understanding in this strange new world. We are very thankful to my own mother who helped to smooth the transition to parenthood. She witnessed Jeremy’s birth and then spent two weeks setting up the nursery, cooking us meals, organizing our closets, and offering useful parenting tips that we now appreciate even more.

Here are five surprises I have encountered in the last five months:

1. I always knew I would breastfeed, as my mom had breastfed all three of us and my sisters had done the same with their six babies. But I didn’t know it would be so hard!!! I persisted through the first week or so of cracked bruised nipples and latching challenges, and just when I thought I had those mastered, ran into strange fussy eating patterns and mysterious supply issues that had me tearful and baffled. Breastfeeding in the early months is a zig-zag between ecstasy and anguish. There is nothing so sweet as when your baby is feeding peacefully at your breast. There is nothing so miserable as when for some unknown reason you can’t seem to feed your child. I got some terrific help from other mothers at the La Leche League online forum. I found I had an oversupply issue rather than undersupply, and now at five months things are MUCH easier. We are still breastfeeding and Jeremy is very healthy and growing well. While I don’t agree with LLL on all points, I appreciated the observation of one experienced mom on the forum who noted that breastfeeding is something you do with your child, not to your child, so you need to figure it out together. I currently spend a lot of my life doing it, so I’m glad that we now seem to be pretty much in sync.

2. I have been surprised by how unlike a baby my baby is. Actually, that was his daddy’s observation, but I’ll poach it from him. D. had previously had very little experience of babies, but his image of them was of passive, doll-like creatures that eat, cry, sleep, and poop. Our son does all of these things, of course, but is so much more active and expressive than we expected, even as a tiny newborn – and certainly now at five months. We have been fascinated and amazed as we interact with this strong-willed, observant, energetic and increasingly curious and playful little person as he learns to engage and absorb the world.

3. I have been surprised by how challenging it is to find the balance between helping him learn and letting him figure things out for himself. As he approaches each developmental hurdle – learning to hold his head steady, to grasp objects, to lift his head on his belly, and now to roll over – we want to nudge him along, alleviate his frustration, show him the way it is done. But I also believe he needs to experience the joy of struggle and discovery. How much frustration is too much frustration? How can I respect his own (somewhat jagged) rhythm of discovery? How much should I leave him alone as he works things out, and how much should I be right there at his side cheering him on? I know that this dilemma doesn’t let up anytime soon.

4. I have also been surprised by hard it is to do anything else while caring for my son. I feel very lucky to have a year at home with him, a combination of maternity leave and sabbatical. But I imagined it would be easier to get some work done on the side. Even though I’m not teaching, I have a steady stream of things I’d like to get done – grad students who need tending, reviews to write, emails to answer, final edits on my book. One of my colleagues told me that “half your brains flow out with your breastmilk,” and I now kinda get her point. For the first few months I was so completely absorbed by new motherhood (not to mention exhausted) that it was impossible to think of anything else. Now that I’m finally getting a bit more rest and we are finding our routine, it is still challenging – particularly with a baby who only takes half hour naps and until recently, wouldn’t take a bottle. I’m now escaping to the library for a few hours while D. takes Jeremy several times a week, but still working at a much slower pace than I had been accustomed to.

5. Finally, I have been surprised and delighted by watching my beloved D. grow with his son. First, there was the rush of emotion in the hospital when D. told me, with typical understatement, that he was “rather taken by” our shiny new son, who seemed to recognize his voice. Then the alarm a few days later when D. realized that Jeremy could tell the difference between us - the hungry little fella would take one look at his face and start to bawl. D. has struggled to figure out how hold and soothe him, and we’ve gone through a couple of “mommy only” periods which were a little hard to bear. But now Jeremy’s face lights up whenever D. comes in the room. I hear them laughing together right now on the baby monitor, playing upstairs in the bedroom. D. reads to our son, takes him for long walks, changes piles of diapers, plays with him on the mat, talks to him about everything, paces with him when he fusses, and now even manages to give him occasional bottles of expressed breast milk. I have loved watching us become a family, and look forward to many years of growing together.

With that I’ll close this Mother’s Day reflection. Raehan asked me to write what is in my heart right now, so this is it. This, and the intoxicating scent of our son as I scoop him up and kiss his warm head. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll treat you to some sisterly reminiscences about our childhood (and then Raehan can respond with her own, often quite different recollections!). Thanks, Rae, for inspiring me all of these months with this blog, and for introducing me to such a warm and fascinating community.