Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cruise the Isles

Many devoted parents, though they cherish their children, dread going into the grocery store. They hold out until they can find a moment to go unescorted. Or they wish it could be like the good old days and they could just leave the kids in the car. The last thing they want to do is bring their opinionated, selfish, loud, slow (yet adorable, of course) little helpers. When they do go with their tagalongs they try to get it done as quickly as possible. 

My sentiment is very different. But, I know, I only have one child. Only two hands and two feet to watch. And one mouth (don't eat that!). I live in a small town and have learned it is more stressful when we are in a busy, large center. I usually don't work full time, so I have a little more of the clock to devote to wandering the isles.

Sometimes, we'll go just to do that. We'll stop in on our way by and she'll push around the cart, intently looking for what we should purchase. We'll leave with a watermelon and a pack of raisins. Or some milk and bread. Only a few times has she insisted we take something I didn't want (like instant noodles and sauce, which she believes we need). And it doesn't make it through the checkout.

She loves the grocery store.

And when I have a moment to spare, I love to let her explore.

She'll pick up a box and ramble off some sounds as she "reads", interjecting a word if she sees an identifiable picture on the package. "Blug bub libble dug teapot bly gooble be bleer..."

She'll point at everything (sometimes everything) and ask, "Mom, what's that?" And then usually respond, "Oh." 

She'll straighten shelves. She'll try to hang items on hooks. She'll right boxes or bottles that have fallen over. Her new thing is to point out any spots that have no stock. "Uh oh, Mommy, empty!"

Sometimes, she'll just run. 

She will try to help me make my selection. Once we went to get dog food, as we were out. I think she was making the choice based on the dogs on the front of the bag. "I want to hug THAT one!" When I made my choice, she adamantly exclaimed, "Not that one! Put it back!"

I don't mind her getting a little loud or frustrated sometimes. I try to be aware of the people around us, though. I'm sure we have annoyed some. Or at least run into them. One time she was trying to push a wheeled basket instead of pull and it was impossible to maneuver. She was getting quite angry but determined to make it work. The whole store could hear her torment. This age is a little more difficult because often she is not willing to let me help her solve the problem. She doesn't want to be shown. She wants to brainstorm alone. And that is a frustrating process. 

Lately she wants to figure out what I am doing at the self checkout. When there was no lineup I showed her which buttons to push and let her push them for me. All... the... buttons... one... at... a... time. Thankfully she only asks occasionally, as it adds quite a bit of time.

We've had our grocery store traditions for a while now. As soon as she could walk she was learning to ask before touching. And I was learning to pay attention! Last year, I turned my back to choose a steak and the next thing I hear is, "Excuse me, she's thrown your carton of eggs."

We've had mishaps. We've had lack of cooperation. I've had to carry her 30lbs in one arm and a full basket in the other (kicking myself for again not getting a cart). We've evacuated due to a temper tantrum. But her tantrums are usually because we were leaving in the first place and she wasn't done. 

But the majority of the time it is an enjoyable experience. One day she'll want the chocolate bars instead of just straightening them. One day she'll insist we buy the Kool-Aid that she smiles at every time, exclaiming, "Happy face!"

But for now, we just shop for mom and explore.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Let Me Swim!

We took our two year old daughter for an evening swim at the local pool. We have been many times. She loves to splash and sit on the wall pretending she's Humpty Dumpty; to explore and do laps in the lazy river; to throw the ball and check out the children's toys. But it had been a while. As soon as she saw the water through the window she was begging to go in. We knew it was going to be fun. 

And it was. But it was quite an exhausting experience. Have you ever done anything with a toddler discovering her autonomy? That incessant drive for independence is much stronger than reason. Stronger than fear. And stronger than listening skills.

She carefully waded deeper and deeper, insisting she needed no help. Slowly, the water rose up her tiny little neck and then up her cute little chin. It lapped at her sweet curls and rose until it covered her mouth. This did not deter her one bit. My little sea creature stretched out her neck and proudly tried to trudge on, coughing as the water tickled up her nose.

Not seeing her attempt as failure, she was quite displeased with being redirected. She had a set destination in mind. She was going to get herself to the archway, or bridge as she called it, on the other end of the pool. Of her own volition. 

She became distracted by activity from the next pool and inquired about what was over there. I showed her the swimmers doing laps and the divers jumping off the board and I told her she could not go into the other pool until she truly learned how to swim.

We briefly practiced relaxing on her back and trying to put her face under water. She insisted she already knew how to swim. And she was going to show me. She was going to swim to the "bridge". 

I took her in my arms and tried to help transport her with fun loop-de-loops and dips. She protested and was positive she could do it unaided. Finally, I told her to get ready as I was letting go. I counted--one, two, three--and let her slip from my hands. She quickly went under. I pulled her up. She took a gasp of air. And guess what? She still insisted I let go.

I grabbed a pool noodle and told her to hold on. She took a moment to find how to confidently hold herself up without falling back or nose diving forward. And then we had a compromise, at last. She was now responsible for keeping herself above water without mommy assisting. She was doing it herself. Our little fish was happy.

I told her to kick her feet (which she did in front of her instead of behind), and daddy and I safely guided the noodle around the pool. We treasured her laugh and enjoyed her imagination. We loved every moment with our determined, learning water baby. Maybe she'll love the water as much as her mom did.  

Now, she was certain that I could see she was capable of swimming. And so she figured she was permitted in the lap pool. She tried to exit the water and run over. This girl had her mind set!

We collectively settled for a short soak in the hot tub instead. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Adored Debris

I tend to like things clean and organized. (Have I ever mentioned that before?) Disorganization stresses me out. Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean my house is all put together. Not even close. I just don't like it.

But, when I look at the clutter created by my toddler, different feelings are stirred up. Admiration, love, appreciation. It is apparent in many areas of my home that I have a little one running around, and for that I am tremendously blessed. 

My own headboard is strewn with uneven stacks of children's books. She'll pull them down, looking for one in particular in the seemingly large selection which has actually been exhausted by repetitious snuggle sessions. With her choice, the rest will be plunked back in piles that threaten to topple onto sleeping heads. Their presence shows her devotion and her attentive curiosity. 

A kaleidoscopic pile of hair clips tends to build up on the shelf next to the tub. They seem to add enthusiasm to the relaxing candles and the unpretentious black clock, and they remind me that I have a healthy girl with beautiful, wavy hair. 

An untidy pile of toys lines the tub. They contrast with the smooth marble and the shimmering vase in the corner with its elegant feathers and dried branches, but they add an atmosphere of exuberant joy. The bath isn't just to unwind or remove grime. It's to splash, and to hide the boat in the bubbles and balance duckies on a floating tray.

The window in the hallway is lined with musical stuffies and random shoes. I dislike objects sitting in this window, as you can see from outside, but it reminds me of her busyness and her exploration. She likes to autonomously switch her Dora slippers for a pair of crocs or rubber boots and run around the house. 

At the beginning of the hallway she has her own little kitchen set with a fridge, sink, stove, oven, microwave, dishwasher. Even though the food and dishes are consistently put away, other applicable objects get stacked on top. Like a sectional tray. Or a set of scoops. Or a dustpan and broom. She has an adorable desire to do just what we are doing. She loves to pick up a plate and take our order. "What for would you like, Mommy?"

The corner of our kitchen acquires more and more activity supplies. Coloring books and crayons. Paint and brushes. Stickers and paper. Glitter glue. Chalk. As I sort through my mail I can glance over and dreamily look forward to her discovering what she can do with different materials as her dexterity progresses and her attention span strengthens. 

The dining room table always seems to have something set aside for continued play another day. Now, a bag of craft supplies waits to be dumped out and examined. The beads have been taken out and stirred and sorted and threaded, arranged into happy faces, and painstakingly returned to the bag tiny handful by tiny handful. Eventually, the craft bag will move to a more permanent home, only to be replaced by another distraction that I'll regret leaving there when I have to tell her that she can't play with it while we're eating. She is so observant and communicative. 

Random shelves are littered with board books and tea sets, stuffed creatures and wooden barn animals, plastic tools and miniature musical instruments. Every once in a while I do a walk through and put stuff back in her room and tell myself to get rid of anything she doesn't treasure. I usually only remove an item or two as I can fondly recall her dancing around the room or sitting quietly, enjoying each toy. Full of imagination, she often pretends random objects are food she insists we eat or they are beds for her favorite dolls.

The living room is usuallt littered with blankets of all sizes. Fort covers. Peek-a-boo enablers. Stuffed animal swaddles. Flowing capes. Make-shift beds. Dark caves. Monster-free sanctuaries... I often have to shoo away a dog who takes every blanket dropped as an invite to get cozy. And once in a while there will be a toddler's request to snuggle on the couch. As I clean up I toss the collection into a pile or over the back of the furniture and they wait for their next assignment from their whimsical master.  

My heart sighs in contentment at the evidence of her play. I try to think of my husband's messes with the same adoration or commendation. I try to appreciate the sawdust in the bedroom or the tools on the porch for the employment he has and enjoys. It helps a little. But maybe it's knowing my daughter is growing so fast and her fancies will progress so quickly. Whereas her father's belongings seem to struggle finding their home the same as they did nine years ago.  

Thank God for them both.  

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

My Time Of Blue Sunshine

Two years ago the most memorable, magnificent, life changing event happened to me. I received the most outstanding, miraculous blessing. Something I wanted for so very, very long. She was perfect. Her father was amazing. I had the dream come true of becoming a mother. The sun was truly shining on me. It was absolutely the greatest day of my life. 

Followed by the worst six months of my life.

I knew I would be tired. I knew this would make thinking more difficult. I knew I would have to let go of things. I knew it would take some adjusting. I knew there was going to be scads of learning and trial and error. In all that, I still thought the sun would shine. But I was blue. I was really struggling. Really.

And the most difficult part was knowing I shouldn't feel that way. Everywhere I went, people would comment how amazing it is to become a mother. How blessed I was to have such a beautiful, healthy daughter. How wonderful it was to know my dream was finally fulfilled. How happy they were for me. 

But why wasn't I happy?

Yes, there was the typical lack of sleep. The expected shock of change. The understandable feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. Add that to a rough delivery that created more damage than expected. I'd lost a considerable amount of blood and had a slow start (thanks again for daddy). My tailbone hurt for six months, along with other parts I wont mention. And then problems with breast feeding that created more damage. I had daily hospital visits over Christmas to painfully drain a 4cm deep abscess in my breast and receive IV antibiotics. 

My body and my brain felt devastatingly overwhelmed. As I looked at my little miracle, one I just couldn't believe I actually had after years of waiting and trying to adopt, I started to wonder if I was failing to develop an attachment. Was I too afraid to lose what I had always wanted? Was I struggling because what I thought I had been made for ended up being harder than I had expected? 

As the days went by, I couldn't even function. In those first six months I did not once clean the floor. Not once did I put her laundry away. The bathroom was neglected. My husband worked and came home to do more than his share. I forced myself to get dressed. In no way did I feel productive and successful. Bitterness built up inside me. The best time of my life ticked by unbearably. And it just got worse

Eventually, I literally couldn't even think. My brain ceased to have any capacity of holding any information. Visiting a friend, I couldn't even recall if I had fed my daughter or not. How could I be a good mother? Was my child safe? Something was wrong.

Something was wrong. My thyroid. It had been hyperactive, producing too much thyroid hormone. I had been losing weight, in spite of an appetite. I was weak, anxious, confused, angry, and losing tremendous amounts of hair. My skin was severely dry and I couldn't sleep. Then all of a sudden, the weight quickly started coming back. My thyroid became damaged from the hyperthyroidism and now it no longer produced enough thyroid. I now had hypothyroidism.  

I started thyroid medication. And counseling. The effects of an incapacitating childbirth. A long awaited, unbelievable arrival. Severe mastitis. Thyroid problems. A change in finances. Shattered perfectionism. I couldn't continue to parent worried that I wasn't bonding with my daughter. My anxiety and confusion was putting a strain on my marriage. I couldn't accept that this dream come true was actually going to be a life of failure and overwhelming stress. I had to admit that I had postpartum depression

It wasn't supposed to be this hard. And it wasn't going to stay that way. I was going to come out of this with confidence and love. But boy, did it take time. Tears. Positive talk. Forgiving. Deep breathing. Letting go. 

The counselor actually wanted me to take medication. But I knew I could make it work with diet, exercise, sleep, meditation, and fellowship. I need nutrients. I need a workout. I need enough sleep. I need to be purposeful with my thoughts. I need people. We all do. Especially through change. 

When you are in a rough place, there is always someone who kindly asks you to let them know if you need anything. But sometimes you just can't let them know. And so you're left feeling lost. Crying out, but no one can hear. Feeling like not a soul really cares. While they are waiting, genuinely ready to nurture or serve. At your request.

And so there is a gorgeous mountain of loving intention next to a surmounting mountain of crushing need, with a vast chasm in the middle. Emitting so much fog that the one does not see the other. How do we break the interfering haze?

How does one with no voice cry out and be heard? How does one with true intentions shine in a crowd of insincere offers? How does distress reach out and grab support when there is a lack of communication and honesty?

I wasn't going to stand there and say, hello, I'm useless due to postpartum depression, and I need you. Those words would increase my fear that I could not take care of my own child. So many people would have been there for me. But they didn't know I needed them. And if they assumed, they didn't know how to help. And most people weren't going to walk into my house and do something without me asking. 

So what do you do? If you are in pain, if you need help, then I hope my transparency can help you see that you are not alone. Sometimes, everything gets out of wack after having a baby and you need a caring friend to step in. Or you need professional help to get back on track. That's okay. The sooner you get help, the sooner it can improve. 

And if you think someone is struggling, maybe you can purposefully help. Instead of a general comment tossed into the air, be more specific. Can I bring you dinner tomorrow? Can I clean your floors on Sunday? Can I take you for coffee Friday?

I hope I can see a specific need in someone and step out where I have strengths and abilities. Without assuming and projecting the torment of my own experience, as I'm sure that for most it is not as difficult of a time. But I hope to be able to be there when someone needs me. 

I am grateful for the friend who came over when I was overwhelmed with breast feeding. I am thankful for the friend who walked in and cleaned my house (though at the time it felt strange). I am appreciative of my mother doing my daughter's laundry (over and over before finally asking when I would take over the task). I am so blessed to have had an involved husband. 

And I am so glad it's over. Now, when people comment that being a mother is amazing, I can honestly say I agree. I am serving my purpose. I know that I am close to my little girl. I know that I am helping her grow into the person she is created to be. And I'm having so much fun along the way.

Parenting is meant to ultimately be an amazing experience. And now that my time of blue sunshine is over, that is what it is for me. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Fresh Sheets

I finally did it. I let dad take out the safe, enclosed crib and put in the open, fun toddler bed. It was just as hard for me as I thought it would be. Will she nap anymore? Will she stay in there? Will she wander unattended and get into something?

And more issues came out as I watched her enjoy her very own cozy little house. 

I have always been strict about fresh clothes for bed. Keeping the sheets clean for a cozy sleep. I changed her for every nap. Seriously. I have always made sure she had two clean, infant-safe stuffed animals and a blanket in there that weren't for play around the house.

Now, with her toddler bed, I find random objects in her sleeping area, loads of for-3-and-up stuffed animals that have been dragged around the dog-trodden floor, and I don't even know where her designated bedtime puppy went. 

Her bed went from hygienic sleeping space to a cushioned trampoline and a welcoming hangout. I have to dust it off and collect random toys in order to put her down for sleep. And ignore the dog hair. All the while thinking, what type of feelings do normal people have about sleeping areas? I have lost control. And, am I crazy? (Don't answer that.)

I don't get it from my childhood. I grew up with a cat on my pillow, a dog spralled out next to me, and another dog rolled up at my feet. Even after moving out on my own I had pets on the bed. I remember eating in bed. Frequently.  Making crafts in bed. Reading, reading, reading in bed. 

As a young person, that is the most definite personal space. I'm always cleaning her table. Organizing her belongings. Moving toys for a change in activity. Making suggestions. And now I have the greatest urge to impose so many rules on her bed. 

It's for sleeping. Leave your blankie there. Don't eat on your bed. Don't play with that there. Don't climb in with your day clothes. Take your slippers off. No, I can't come read in your bed, as I wore these pants when I brushed the dog/ washed the bathroom/ peeled potatoes. Don't do this. Do this. Do that. 

Yes, I am here to teach her to take care of things. I'm here to help her learn what the proper use is for everything. I'm here to help her learn how to be safe. But all that must be done thoughtfully. What are my motives? Do I want her to have insecurities like me? I can't climb into bed without wiping my feet or putting on fresh socks. Oh, you should see my turmoil when camping! Baby wipes must be handy. 

But moments occur when I can smile at myself and see my growth. If you can call it that. Personally, it feels like reluctantly releasing something important. I wait for the I-told-you-so tradgedy to remind me that I lost my focus. Sometimes, though, change just happens.

This week, I put my daughter down to nap in her pants and socks without feeling like it would be detrimental to her health. Clothes she ate in. Clothes she left the house in. Clothes she played with the dogs in. For the first time in her 25 month long life. Then I climbed in and we read a book in her cozy bed instead of sitting in the rocking chair. 

She has a cough now, but I know that's not why. 

I will grow by letting go. I'll refrain from enforcing every crazy precaution that crosses my mind. I'll just wash the sheets more. Throw her teddy bears in the washer. Help her learn to tidy. And let her have fun. 

But, absolutely no dogs in bed. And no eating in bed. For now. I've learned that mommy rules are made to be changed. 

And one day she'll read this and think, "Mom, I thought you had strange ideas, but thank you for letting go of all the other ones you had in addition".