Sunday, December 20, 2009

Riley update, and advent

So. Remember those glorious 10 nights where Riley slept from 8pm to 7am? It was just a blip.
S'okay! I don't mind (much), because when he wakes at night, he nurses at night, and more milk=more benefits. Every drop counts :)
When he sleeps through the night he doesn't seem to make up for it during the day, so his overall volume is down. When he wakes at night, he gets more and I hardly wake up. Well, enough to shuffle to his bedroom and bring him to my bed, but after that I hardly wake up. I just sleep with it all hanging out and he helps himself. No, I'm joking. I mean, that happens sometimes but most of the time I wake up enough to cover up when he's done. :]
Not that it would bother ANYONE who sleeps in my bedroom if I didn't cover up.

In other news, he's finally popped out some WORDS! He's been using and abusing "uh-oh" for months. Not really a word. Then he added "WOAH" particularly around Christmas decorations. Also not really a word. Then about a week ago I noticed that when he hears Brent's key in the door on his arrival home from work, he invariably screams, "DA! DA! DA! DA!" Aha! He is calling his father "Da!" which is pretty close to Dada, and pretty cool. Then today I caught him yelling "GO!" repeatedly before throwing a ball to one of us [though it sounded more like "DOH!" which would make any Simpsons lover proud], and which comes from me saying, "Ready, set, go!" when we play pass the ball. Man, is he ever cute.

He is a force to be reckoned with, I tell you. I guess it comes with the territory of being the third or the youngest child, but when he wants his way he SCREAMS til my ears ring. He has perfected the art of the falling down floppy wet noodle temper tantrum. And when I drop him off in the nursery at church? He flings his body at the door repeatedly until the nursery volunteers page me because they are afraid he will cause some sort of damage to his body. And there is no persuading or distracting or cajoling or comforting him. He takes running passes at the door, and I can hear him screaming from inside the church sanctuary. Don't worry, I never leave him in that state for any length of time--it's beyond temper tantrum. It borders on primal fear, and it really really sucks to witness. I keep trying though, because one of these days he'll realize that the nursery actually has fun toys, and that momma will come if he needs her, and that he'll survive for an hour without myself or Brent around. One out of every ten tries, he stays and has a good time. If I have learned anything from parenting my other two, it is that patience, persistence, and calmness are my most effective tools. Having a good handle on my anxiety disorder helps, too. :)

It's funny, because he is really a very laid back personality. He reminds me of Brent, to a T. But he is particular with a capital P about certain things. He hates any wall or door or gate separating him from his big brothers [his heroes]. He hates to be separated from both of his parents at the same time. And he categorically detests being restrained. You know, like in a carseat or stroller--two places where he spends pretty much the better part of two hours every day. He is also getting more opinionated about things like toys, and toothbrushes, and food. For the first time in his life he will now allow himself to be fed with a spoon, but he suspiciously inspects every spoonful for nuclear waste, first. Fortunately he loves most food. He likes to try and stuff two soothers in his mouth at the same time.
He also HITS. HARD. Smacking is a regular occurrance if you are within an arm's reach of him. He bit me really, really hard today on the finger during church--I almost screamed and I had toothmarks on the pad of my index finger for a couple of hours afterwards. He also runs away. Like, all the time. Everybody else seems to think this is a REALLY BIG EMERGENCY, and I can't tell if it's because I have three kids, or because I'm used to it because he does it so often, or if I'm just overmedicated and don't feel anxiety anymore, but jeepers, he'll show up. He always does. But people run around getting all frantic if they discover I'm looking for him, and all it does is piss me off. Keep your eyes peeled, but don't lose your lunch over it. That said, thank God for communities and people looking out for your little ones when they go astray, eh? Someone always scoops him up and eventually reunites me with him. I need to start using the kid harness I have, though that becomes a tripping hazard for all the adults in the area :)
I bought myself a ring sling for him, for exactly the purpose of keeping track of him in public places, especially stores, and I LOVE IT. I have wanted one of these exact slings since I tried my cousin Tonya's 5 1/2 years ago, and I FOUND ONE FOR $80 so I bought it. I LOVE IT!!! I keep in in the car, and use it constantly to pop into the store--you know, when I would normally carry Riley on my hip and have to wrestle to keep him there, and forfeit an arm. Forfeit both arms, because he's HEAVY and he wrestles hard. Now I have both hands free!
Yes, I officially have lots of babywearing equipment. Yes, I do need it ALL for different things at different times. Yes, I do feel defensive about the amount of baby carriers I own. Yes, my husband does roll his eyes at me.

I've also stopped pumping for Matthew. It didn't make a ton of logical sense, going in to flu season and all, but I think my body was pretty well done making any extra, and I was happy to have given him 14 months worth of momma milk, which I'll tell him about when he's older ;p
I've also stopped pumping when I'm at work. This was a big step for me. But I realized that I don't work that often, and when I do, we still only miss one feeding generally, so my body can make up for that. And I realized that I need to relax when it comes to milk, and stop constructing my entire life around it, now that he is older. It helps to see that I have enough, and that when he asks for more my body makes more within a day or two. Whew. What a big relief it is to let go of that one.

I have to say, further to that, that I have noticed that working once a week is PERFECT for me. It is so busy, so all consuming, and so energy consumptive to keep this lovely, sweet, noisy family of mine functioning, that a day per week where I'm at work lifts me out of that busy beehive and plants me firmly in something entirely different and rewarding, and refreshes me to return to the mom work. You know? It really cheers me up and energizes me. I can't describe how great it is for me to periodically CHANGE the work that I do. Because my job is really a lot of work, and on busy days it is VERY hard work, tons of stress and heavy lifting and creative thinking to solve abnormal problems [such as, this woman has fallen backwards off a bar stool, broken her wrist and possibly her back, and she's now lying on her side tucked up against a wall. How will we get her lying on our backboard in a manner that is safe to transport her with minimal discomfort??], early early early mornings, and long, long, long shifts. But #1, I get to interact with ADULTS! Who like me! And who don't ask me things like, "MOMMY CAN YOU TELL MATTHEW TO STOP BREATHING ON ME?!?!?!?" And, #2, I get to use the linear, logical, medical, methodical, task oriented loving part of my brain for 12 hours. And, #3, I get a break in routine, which helps me remember that my little world is not the only little world on the planet. And, #4, 14 hours away from my family is the best way to make me appreciate the wonderful people in it. Oh, and I think it gives Brent an appreciation for what I pull off every day when I'm at home, too. He's a stellar dad, but he's no mom when it comes to multitasking around this house, I tell ya. It's good for dads/husbands to appreciate what goes into the daily functioning of a family, I think. Appreciate it by DOING it, not by paying lipservice to it.

My hubby is so great. He's handsome, and funny, and smart, and good at his job, and loving, and empathetic, and calm, and committed, and just so nice to be around. It makes the mess he leaves in his wake almost fade away sometimes. Seriously, I cannot imagine what I would do without him, or what my life would look like without him in it. There is no other man on earth with whom I could have this kind of connection and balance and love. There just isn't. I can't believe I FOUND him, can you??! And he gave me these three gorgeous KIDS and a HOUSE and so much LOVE, it's just crazy.
Thank you, Jesus.

p.s. I'm actually sinking into the advent spirit this year, after all. Actually sinking, not just adding it to my to do list. Isn't that cool? It's a ton easier than I thought it would have to be, because all I have to do is be mindful of expectantly waiting. I've been pregnant. I can do expectant waiting!
I wait on God to open the gates and walk out among us, and touch us at last in the way we need to be touched, and to love us and demand of us everything, and I am so glad to wait, and not rush around or hustle or cram anything onto the bottom of an already impossibly long to do list, and just watch for Him. Christmas is just around the corner!! Hooray!
This shift towards the spirit of advent was largely catalyzed by this post from my friend Tamie:

Oscar Romero writes, "No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God--for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God."

The Prophet Isaiah says, "In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord." And John the Baptizer appears in the wilderness as a messenger, as someone who is preparing the way for the Lord.

What does that mean: "In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord"? I think that if the text just said, "Prepare the way for the Lord," we might fashion some easy sense out of it. "Prepare the way for the Lord"...doesn't that just mean be good, get your act together, because God could show up anytime and you don't want to have your pants around your ankles when he does? That's what we usually seem to think. But this bit about in the wilderness, it complicates easy sense. Why is it that John showed up in the wilderness? Why was it in the wilderness that the children of Israel wandered around for 40 years? Why was Jesus taken into the wilderness for temptation, why did he withdraw there when he really needed to pray? And what has this got to do with Advent, Christmas, and our lives?

It is instructive, I think, to consider the case of the children of Israel and the wilderness. What were they doing there in the desert for 40 years? Mapping the territory, looking for pieces of real estate to tame and build on, becoming productive citizens, reforming Judaism? No. They were wandering. For forty years! They were basically lost for 40 years, stumbling around this uninhabitable, harsh, waterless land. They were confused and they did dumb things like make golden calves. They were afraid. They were wandering.

And then there’s John the Baptist. Having been to the region where he lived, I can tell you it is anything but hospitable. And there he was, living off the land, seeming not entirely all there. I picture him rather like a person living on the streets, unkempt, ranting to perfect strangers that they should repent and turn to God. Actually, that’s exactly what John was like. He was homeless, he must have seemed somewhat deranged, and he ranted to perfect strangers about repentance and God.

In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord. Let us for a moment become biblical literalists. What would it mean to go into the wilderness and prepare for God? What would it mean if you packed a sleeping bag, food and water, maybe a tent, and stumbled off to Arizona or New Mexico—just went off into the wilderness, to prepare for God. If you lay in your sleeping bag under the zillion stars, so far away from civilization that you could hear no traffic, were out of cell phone range, turned off the music, closed the books, could see no human-made lights…what would happen then? What about being in the desert could possibly prepare you for God? If you woke up in the morning in that desert, made yourself some breakfast and then had nothing to do….then what? Would you go quietly crazy? Would you pray? What would you pray?

In the book The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje writes, “A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands, knowing it is something that feeds him more than water.”

In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord. Maybe this means surrendering everything and everyone, letting yourself be emptied completely, and just wandering around. Maybe it means not-knowing, or silence. If you walked out into the desert with nothing but your self, perhaps you would go quietly crazy, and perhaps that is the point. Perhaps that’s what Advent is all about.

Maybe Advent is about becoming so completely empty, so stupid, so irrational, so silent, so out of your mind that you fall into your spacious soul where God can hold and meet you. Maybe we can only know God when we come to the end of ourselves, when we are alone, or afraid, or overcome with joy, or with suffering. When everything we thought would save us (and everything we thought would damn us), didn’t.

And really, it’s not like we can march smartly not the desert thinking, well it will be simple, I’ll just let go of all my extra baggage and presto, I’ll find God. Maybe we have to give up even the hope of finding God.

In “East Coker,” T.S. Eliot writes,

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Describing this experience of being drawn into the wilderness, into the place of not-knowing, the place of emptiness, Constance Fitzgerald and Dorothe Soelle write, “All supports seem to fail one, and only the experience of emptiness, confusion, isolation, weakness, loneliness, and abandonment remains. In the frantic reassurance, one wonders if anyone—friend or spouse or God—is really ‘for me,’ is trustworthy. But no answer is given to the question. The realization that there is no option but faith triggers a deep, silence, overwhelming panic that, like a mighty underground river, threatens to collapse into chaos and collapse. This ‘scream of suffering contains all the despair of which a person is capable, and in this sense every scream is a scream for God.’”

No option but faith. How painful, how impossible powerlessness is. And yet, it is to the powerless that God comes. I know that the Gospel is supposed to be good news, but sometimes when I realize what it really means—that it means surrendering everything I think is holding me together—it mostly seems like terrifying news. Maybe that is why the angels say right up front, “Do not be afraid!” Because they know that’s how we mostly feel when we encounter God.

And this brings us back to Advent and Christmas. Advent is about waiting for a God whose coming we cannot control or contrive; it’s about waiting for a God we cannot understand, can’t reason with, whose deliverance is somehow manifest among the most fragile and vulnerable. Advent is about going into the wilderness and wandering around because you do not know what you are looking for, and could not understand it if someone told you what it was. It’s about waiting for the unimaginable, waiting for mystery, waiting for God who appears in all the wrong places and acts in ways that we can only understand when we have fallen out of our minds.

I do not mean all of this in an entirely ‘spiritual’ sense. What would happen if we drove out, alone, without any form of entertainment, into the desert for a few days? Would there be any better way to prepare for Christmas?

David James Duncan offers this prayer: “When I’m lost, God help me get more lost. Help me lose me so completely that nothing remains but the primordial peace and originality that keep creating and sustaining this blood-, tear- and love-worthy world that’s never lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me.”

This post of tamie's was followed by this post of Asheya's, which really touched my heart as profound and earthy and honest and helped draw me towards a realization that the attitude in which I walk through my day is my advent, and not the time I set aside meditatively. At this time in my life, particularly.

The Wilderness and Monastic Experience of Motherhood
This post is going to be a bit different from what I usually write. My friend Tamie wrote an amazing Advent post on her blog about going into the wilderness to prepare the way for God. At the end of her post she asks, "What would happen if we drove out, alone, without any form of entertainment, into the desert for a few days?" This was my response:

I will tell you what would happen if I drove out into the desert, literally.

After nursing the baby every two hours in the tent during the night, the other kids would wake up at 5:30am with the sun and immediately announce their hunger. I would spend the next few hours juggling the baby and breakfast with my husband, while also supervising the other kids who would in the meantime be putting sand into each others hair and taking each others rocks, with some throwing of rocks and much crying on both their parts. After breakfast, I would spend a lot of time juggling cleaning up the dishes, nursing the baby, and supervising the other kids. After the dishes were done the kids would be hungry again. More preparing food. More clean up. Then at least one baby, maybe one of the kids, would have a nap, and I would have a chance to possibly look at whether there were any cacti or other flora in the area. And maybe have a few moments to say a few words to my husband. Then the kids would wake up and be hungry. And need interventions for sand and rocks and spiny cacti and such. Repeat ad infinitum until the sun goes down and we can all fall exhausted into bed. And I can nurse the baby all night.

I think maybe what I am trying to say is that the lostness I feel has almost no time to be felt or explored; it is the lostness of motherhood, of feeling like you are failing and totally drained down to your very bones and blood and that every day is so immediate and so intense with the immediacy and intensity that only very small children can sustain that there is no time or space or energy to purposefully go into the wilderness, whatever that may look like.

If I go into the desert I must bring my children with me, and any insanity I experience I drag them along, and there is very little room to find my way back. It seems that the desert should be about seemingly unending stretches of time and space, you know, so you can really feel lost in a visceral way, in the way of being in the midst of something so vast it could swallow you up and not even pause.

Maybe motherhood is actually like that. Maybe motherhood is my desert right now. Because I am sure feeling swallowed up, disappeared, lost, consumed by the unrelenting demands and needs of my children. I am in a foreign country and not much has changed in my day to day life, except that I don't speak the language or recognize anything. I am in a strange land and I am being wrung dry, not by the land but by the children I brought with me.

Advent is about waiting for God, who will appear in good time in the form of a baby. Let me tell you: that baby is going to take everything you have and then more. It all seems so picturesque and serene and calm and just comforting. God as a baby. What could be easier to accept? But there is so much responsibility there. Babies are helpless, needy, demanding, constant, relentless. If you don't take care of this baby, this baby will wither, shrivel, die.

I'm not sure what that says about God or Advent, really. Since I'm lost in motherhood maybe I don't need to have the answer. But I do know one thing. It's more than I bargained for. It's definitely more than I bargained for.

And then Tamie posted a comment that suggested perhaps motherhood is my monastic experience, and that hermits who went into the desert probably felt very overwhelmed at times too. Here's my response to that:

I think that part of the monastic or wilderness experience of motherhood is that even when I get an hour, or two hours, or a day, or maybe, even at some point in a barely imaginable future, a week to myself, I am still my children's mommy. They need me in a way they need no one else, and when I return from wherever I have been they will still need me. There is something in this need that is both a burden and a joy. Because I know with absolute certainty that no one can replace me; if I walked out right now and never came back my kids would never really recover. I am cemented to my children's lives in such a profound, unending way. I mean, who ever really gets over needing their mom?

And while these small, precious children drain and wring and sometimes even literally suck me dry, there is an aspect to their need that is also joy for me. When I sing for them and they want more. When they hurt themselves and only mommy can comfort. When we laugh at a joke, and then laugh again. When my baby looks at me when he is nursing and smiles.

And I am trying to remember that life is about pain and joy intermingled, just like birth. For each child I went through a process that involved pain, and intensity, and being in the moment, and resting when there was space to rest, and working when it was time to work, and great need, to bring them into the world. And I think now I have to let those birthing experiences inform my parenting experiences, and accept the exhaustion and the burden and the great need, knowing that the moments of joy are truly great moments that can balance all the other moments if I let them. And that in those moments of joy I can also find peace in the wilderness, even though I often feel lost without a map for the landscape of my children, frustrated by the seemingly unending tasks and responsibilities. There are moments of joy. There are moments of peace. There are flowers that bloom on cacti, and water in the desert. And God is coming, here, to this desert. I hope she comes, yes, as a little baby, but also as a mother to me.


Dana said...

I loved this post, but in particular the paragraph about Brent. It made me well up with tears. What a beautiful thing to witness such love, appreciation and partnership.

Lou and Marilyn Sawchenko said...

Well...i am empty of words, but reading this post definitely made me cry.

Louise and Gary Chapman said...

Okay, so I'm not crying (which is strange because Dana and Marilyn are and I'm a crier!) but I just want to say that I feel 100% what you feel in regards to work. I dream of working one day per week for all those exact same reasons. I need a break from this `Ground Hog Day' of mommyhood!

Caryn Ouwehand said...

So true about work. I need my shift a week to keep from dissapearing into "Mommurgatory," a scary, scary place.

Roboseyo said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Mel. Merry Christmas!

Asheya said...

Thanks for posting my post! I feel quoted--very cool.

I'm really glad that the one day a week of work is what you need. And that you aren't pumping anymore--that sounded very stressful.

I think one day of work might be healthy for me too, or something similar. Actually right now I'm also thinking a few days of work for Eric *outside* the house might be useful too! Kind of hard to do here, though.

And, Merry Christmas! Advent is almost over!