Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Letter to Purslane and Knox

Purslane Claire and Knox Thomas Steele:

You know I love you, right? You know I ate and drank only good things while your body was forming inside mine because I didn't want anything to hurt you and I wanted you to be strong and healthy when you met the world. You know I felt every moment of my labor and delivery with you because I thought it was best for both of us to go without medication. You know I got up with you in the middle of the night and sweated under a blanket to cover myself in public and cried with sore nipples because I wanted you to have all the benefits of breastfeeding. You know I stopped working to stay home with you because I wanted to invest myself in helping you grow up. You know I packed away my cutest clothes and shopped at Target exclusively because I needed cheap big girl clothes to wear while I was pregnant and then after when I had the leftover bits that hung over my waistband when I sat down.You know that I let you sleep in my bed inbetween my husband and me while you were going through separation anxiety and cried when you were alone in your crib.

I don't need a thank you from either one of you. But I do want you to know that I love you more then you will ever know. And I know someday when I am not letting you do whatever you want you will accuse me of not loving you. You will tell me I am mean and unfair and all the other Moms are cooler then me. And I will stand my ground and tell you that I do in fact love you and then I will go in my bedroom and cry and pray for these teenage days to pass quickly. Because I want you to know every moment of every day of your entire lives that I love you. I want you to know what I sacrificed to love you- not because I want to be thanked but because I want you to know I loved you that much. And in the way I love you, in the imperfect and limited way that humans can love, I want you to see the love of Jesus. And know that you are priceless beyond measure because you were created by Him and are a gift to us.

It sure doesn't hurt that when I look at your faces I will always see love reflected back at me. Both of you look so much like your Daddy. So if I smile when you are crying at me or yelling at me or arguing with me, it isn't because I am not engaging with your present feelings. It is because when I look at the two of you, I see the perfect image of the Love that Made You. You are the beautiful result of two people who will always love each other and always love you.

My Darlings- you are the second best decision I have ever made. The first was falling in love with your Dad. Then deciding it was the right thing to have you. You were anticipated and loved before I met you, and I am completely head over heels for you now. I love you like crazy.

Your Mama

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Husband:A Tribute

Without contest, the funniest thing Grant has ever said to me while we were in the dead middle of a huge fight was "I ONLY HAVE ONE FLAW!!". Of course that ended the fight as I started gasping laughing so hard I couldn't breathe let alone disagree with him about anything we were actually fighting about. Believe it or not, I wasn't laughing because I was calculating all the flaws I thought he had and thought it hysterical he had narrowed it down to one. I was laughing for the pure irony that is righteous indignation. The "how dare you" of married people fights that can be summed up by the sentiment that this other person is SO lucky to have you.

We have come a long way in our fighting. When we had our first true fight we were engaged- and I really don't remember what we were fighting about but I remember that I stormed off several times Hollywood Movie style and Grant came charging after me wondering why the hell I kept walking away. He kept asking me to just STAY. To sit down, keep talking and sort it out. I grew up in a house where my parents didn't fight in front of us, that I remember. So when Grant and I fought, I didn't know how to do it. I was a dirty fighter- I brought up past wrongs, I used obscenities liberally and there were a few occasions of things being thrown at his head. At one of my lowest points, I slapped him across the face.

I would like to think that over the past 9 years, I have learned how to fight well. That I stay in the same room, listen to the opposing viewpoint and do not resort to tears when I run out of words. I have fallen off the wagon a few times over the past two years when little babes have taken my sleep and most of my rational brain power. And I am still working on my tendency to treat people poorly when I feel that I have been treated unjustly.

But any improvements I have made, any ability to deal with conflict confidently and gently, and any use of the incredibly difficult words "I'm Sorry" are due to the patience and resilience of my sweet husband. He has taught me how to disagree with respect and grace- and to become more confident in dealing with wrongs that need to be made right- by demonstrating to me that even when I get it wrong and call him an asshole, he isn't going anywhere. And instead of making me feel like I can treat him that way because he is my best friend, his gracious unwillingness to let me get away with it more often then not, I am very proud to say, leads me to call and apologize.

So to my dear friend, who only possesses one flaw, I thank you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekend at Chez Martsolf

This weekend was my last working Friday nights. For the past 5 months I have spent 7p-7a at Presbyterian Hospital because it was the only shift that worked for us. I tried to nap on Friday afternoons while the babes napped- which was a sketchy arrangement ending up most often with me giving up and taking one or both crying babes downstairs to watch a movie on the couch while I resigned myself to a 24 hour state of artificial caffeine-induced awakeness. Saturday morning when I got home, I would nurse Knox and play with Pursy for a few minutes before going to bed while my three loves went out for breakfast, played at the park and did fantastic weekend-y things. I forced myself awake after 4 hours of sleep because I didn't want to miss any more.

But no more! I found a fabulous babysitter who is coming on Tuesday mornings from 8-noon while I sleep and I am now working Monday nights. I feel like my great situation just got better... I cannot say enough good things about the profession of nursing for a girl with a family. I have the option of working when I want, however long I want and still be home full time with my babes.

But here was this last weekend- we took the babes to the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, sat on our new Aussie friends Henry and Lydia's porch and drank Heineken out of the can, grilled steaks and veggies from the farmer's market on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and introduced Pursy to the happiness that is Rita's Italian Ice. It was lovely.

Babes waking up from naps

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Bubble Station

Good to stay hydrated

Waiting her turn to bang on some cool stuff

I need to make one of these.. she didn't want to leave

Hanging out in the stroller while Pursy played

First carousel ride on a seahorse...

What smart Mama chose cherry???... fortunately it came out of the dress

The boys grillin' on the back porch

Look Mama- my hands are clean!!

Watching Lion King in style...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Favorite Things Ed VIII

My favorite things for this week:

1. Pursy "reading" to Knox during family time... I wish I could find a way to put inflection on typed words but the way she says "I show Knox the wordsIknow" is so precious my heart breaks every evening at bedtime. She takes her 100 First Words book and dutifully goes over every one asking "What's dis Knox?" then giggling hysterically when he doesn't know and she has to answer. I am so glad I had babes this close in age.. as hard as some days are, I think they are going to be really good friends.

2. Anticipating our new porch furniture. We found a farmer in Mount Pleasant who makes Adirondack chairs and picnic tables from local wood during the winter months, and we are outfitting our back porch. With our new affinity for cocktails, I am anticipating many an evening outside with my sweetie and a misty highball glass garnished with mint. In red lipstick and high heels, of course.

3. My new gym. I have been experimenting with the easiest time to go- they have a fantastic play area for babes as young as 6 weeks, well staffed and full of creative toys. With Knox going through crazy separation anxiety I haven't been able to get through an entire workout without being called back to the nursery to pick up a teary, angsty babe who instantly smiles the minute he buries his head in my shoulder. So I am going at 530AM while everyone is still sleeping. It is difficult to pull myself away from the warm snuggly love pile that is our bed in the early mornings, but the endorphin high lasts all day and I find myself loving the quiet chilliness of the car and an hour to myself to pound out some good cardio.

4. The way Pursy says EVERYTHING. Some of my favorites: "I so sad!" (burying her face in her hands and dramatically heaving her shoulders) "You come sit watch Pooh wit me", "No can work! You cut it wif knife" (trouble with juicewater and sippy cup holes being too small), "I get twooooo gummies!" (post-potty treat), "I need a bandy on it!" (obsession with band-aids). Her inflection is fantastic.

5. Our new friends Chris and Caryn. Our babes LOVE them and Pursy has developed quite a crush on "Miss Chris". We have found ourselves saying things like, "no, Pursy, we don't need to show Chris your poop in the potty." Knox will probably walk early thanks to intervention from Christ as well..

6. Thrift store finds. This weeks treasure is a big red hobo bag that can fit everything I need plus two diapers without looking like a Mom purse. Happiness for $6...

7. Pursy's new love of cooking with me. She pulls up her ladder and usually crawls up on the counter until I banish her back to her perch. This time we made cupcakes for our friend Tanya's birthday and Pursy decorated them herself. I call her the Little Naked Chef.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

And the Hating Continues...

I listened to a program today on my local NPR station where people called in to talk about the TIME magazine cover and their thoughts about attachment parenting. I was amazed at the self-satisfied women who called in and felt completely comfortable doing exactly what they are accusing the critics of attachment parenting of doing.

Hating on mothers who are choosing to do things differently.

I say hating not because of the content of what they were saying or because I thought they were coming on a little strong. Their words were so harsh and mean that I sat on hold trying to be a caller just so I could ask how they reconciled being so nasty to other mothers. One woman called in and said (quoteish- I am paraphrasing obviously) "There are more and more women bringing their babies into the world by c-section rather then natural deliveries. For those women who start their mothering that way, is it any wonder they have difficulty bonding with their children?"

I thought about all the amazing mothers I know (including my own) who had babies by c-section for sundry reasons, and I wonder how this woman would have felt about the issue if her body or baby had not cooperated perfectly. What if her breasts did not produce enough milk to sustain her child? What if her baby had been breech and could not safely be delivered naturally? What if a back injury prevented her from wearing her baby or the economy prevented her from staying home with her children? She was blessed to be able to parent the way she wanted- not everyone has that luxury.

How is it that when it comes to issues of parenting all fighting is below the belt? As my friend Kate pointed out, Attachment Parenting has become an issue so huge that whether you consider yourself an "attachment parent" or not now says something about who you are as a person. Your character. Your priorities. It's not just a choice between a stroller or a Moby- it is whether you love your child enough to carry them.

I think we have the real issue wrong. Maybe one camp is just more vocal than another, but I feel like there is a lot of hesitancy right now to disagree with the mother on the cover of TIME. How do you disagree with breastfeeding, right? When you don't feel that nursing a 4 year old boy on the cover of a magazine is the right thing to do. Not the nursing, the magazine. Let's talk about societal norms and definitions of nudity and what it means to exploit children. Let's talk about why TIME used a 26 year old model rather then a 50 year old Amish mother nursing her 7th babe.

When I really want to rile Grant up, I tell him that technically we are attachment parents. I was lucky enough to have quick labors with no pain medications and healthy, full term babies. My breasts produced enough milk for them to be nourished and for us to bond during months of breastfeeding. I have worn both of my babes in slings and carriers. We cloth diaper and enjoy the economic and cute baby bottom benefits. Grant has a great job and my job as an RN allows a flexible schedule for me to be home with them full time. We have been so fortunate to be able to have a life that gave us the choice to parent how we wanted.

My fabulous Bradley instructor has two babes which she has been fortunate enough to parent how she wanted as well. She and I have done things the same, differently and talked a great deal along the way. She said to me after my last blog post that mothers should "breastfeed with love and formula feed with love".

So listen up haters. Stop spending so much time fighting for a concept that is the individual choice of each and every parent. Be grateful for the parenting you were able to do and give more of your attention to helping other parents get the help and resources they need to be able to parent how they want. Parenting is hard enough without having to listen to your terrible opinions on the radio when all I want to listen to is reruns of This American Life.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Grant asked me several times before today what I wanted for Mother's Day. I think he wanted to make sure I didn't have some expectations that he and the babes wouldn't know about or wouldn't be able to fulfill and I wouldn't feel loved. Here was my idea of a perfect day: some early morning lovin (very different from G.Love's "lovin' early in the morning").. my morning loving involves two babes in diapers rolling over Grant and I while we desperately try to sleep for 5 more minutes. It is giggly and drooly and usually ends with a book being shoved in our faces and requests for "juicewater!" or "I have to poop potty". Romance. And looks something like this:

I also wanted a cup of coffee. I can get breakfast myself, I just wanted coffee before church. Done.

A few days ago one of my favorite bloggers sent out a request for pictures of Mamas and Babes, so on a whim I sent one of Knox and I for the blog feature. Here it is! Monica writes for several blogs and is one of those rare girls who writes what she thinks and deals with the fall out. I dig her.

I also wanted Grant to grill for lunch. He makes salmon that rocks my world and even though it was rainy and cold, Grant was out making my Mother's Day lunch. As we sat down to eat he put Dar Williams on Spotify, which may have been the biggest act of love of the day. Then it was books with Pursy on the couch while Grant did the dishes.

 We read Paste Magazine's ABC book and Pursy pointed at this picture of Elliot Smith and said "this look like Mama!"..

I felt a little chagrined until we got to the "G" page and she pointed to his picture of Gillian Welch and said "this look like Dada!". Hahaha..

Naptime and Pursy knew it was a different day... she resisted until she finally couldn't...fight...any..more

Now it's baseball time. I am snuggled into the couch with a glass of wine and my new Pirates hat on (mother's day gift). Grant is going to do the dishes and I am going to sigh out a prayer of thanks for my two deliciously addictive babes and the wild beauty that is motherhood.

I love you Purslane Claire and Knox Thomas Steele. Thank you for making me a Mama.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mom Enough: Are You?

I am so annoyed that I did exactly what the editors of TIME magazine wanted me to do. I stood looking at the cover of the latest issue with my mouth agape and my mind spinning. I recognize that magazines are a dying media form and their biggest chance of having their paper issues purchased for $4.99 rather then downloaded for much cheaper is cover art that makes people either curious, shocked or angry. Another artist's interpretation of President Obama's face made out of vegetables or small portraits of Americans doesn't turn my head anymore. A sexy blonde in skinny jeans with a kindergartner standing on a chair suckling on her exposed breast was the ticket. And from the shit storm that was facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere yesterday- I was not the only one.

The article inside was not only about extended breastfeeding (a term that means nursing a child past one year of age) but about Attachment Parenting. I want to define attachment parenting to make sure everyone understands this concept or to clarify for everyone who only knows it by watching Away We Go in which Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a mom who goes one step further from attachment parenting into "continuum parenting". Which, after a bit of research, I found out was not created for this film- it exists and there are families who practice raising children this way. These are the families who do not own strollers because parents only carry their children close to their bodies in slings and carriers. There is only one bed in the home because all members sleep together in a family bed. Breastfeeding continues well past the age of one, and becomes a medium for comfort and security rather then nourishment. One parent, usually the mother because of the need for frequent breastfeeding, alters their life in such a way to center things around the children- quitting their jobs, working from home, etc.

Those practices make up a "continuum home", which seems to be one step beyond the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Attachment Parenting is defined by these 8 core elements (I will give one example of each):
1. Natural Childbirth (med-free, vaginal births)
2. Sensitive and Immediate Responding (not allowing babes to cry it out)
3. Nurturing Touch (baby wearing)
4. Safe sleeping (co-sleeping to avoid the child feeling alone)
5. Consistent and Loving Care (one parent staying at home to be the primary caregiver)
6. Positive Discipline (no physical consequences, talking and demonstrating positive behaviors only)
7. Feed with Love and Respect (breastfeeding)
8. Balance (meeting the needs of every member of the family equally)

Back to the TIME article. This article featured four families practicing attachment parenting, but obviously taken to the furthest extent. In our culture as it stands TODAY, these families are definitely parenting outside the normal range either of age or child development.  One of the many articles I read responding to TIME quipped that what our culture calls "sleep training" our mothers just called "letting the child fall asleep". It's all semantics sometimes, right?

What TIME seems to want us to ask ourselves is WHY we viscerally respond to these pictures the way we do. Are we focused on the hot Mama confidently- and from the sassy hand on the hip- defiantly parenting how she sees fit? Are we looking at the almost four year old in shorts and tennis shoes who looks like when he is done nursing will jump off the chair and go play t-ball with his friends? Are we mentally imagining him walking in to his kindergarten class next fall and having his classmates recognize him? Or are we still thinking about the images of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her adopted child- a beautiful contrast of black and white skin.

What are we really talking about? Why did the internets explode with opinions and research and vicious attacks on those parents who have made different decisions from us? Because parenting is PERSONAL. Because we are dealing with (and looking at) people who also love their babes and want what is best for them. That is the hope, right? That parents have truly evaluated whether their decisions are best for THEM or best for their children. And because after countless hours of research and doing the hard work ourselves we think have chosen the best way to raise children, we can struggle with others who have come to different conclusions.

So where should the line be drawn? I read one article in which the author accuses Jamie Lynne Grumet of incest because she is nursing an almost 4 year old. Pretty harsh stuff, no? If she asked me my opinion, I would probably ask Jamie if she is nursing her son for his good or hers. If he is old enough to make a sandwich, why does he need the calories from breastmilk? Or is she still nursing for other reasons- because she had a good experience with extending nursing as a child (which she did, her mother nursed her until she was 6 and she has good memories) or because her son has chosen breastfeeding as his way to be comforted? Either way, if she was asking me, I would just ask her to make sure her choices are thought through. And that she has also thought about how posting herself on the cover of TIME magazine will affect her son when he is 10. Regardless of how she wishes society viewed breastfeeding, the reality still stands that Americans in the 21st century typically wean babies to solid food sometime before their second birthday and the image of her nursing her son is shocking to most of us.

Should it be different? It is in other cultures. So the question becomes: if you are really doing what you believe to be best for your baby why do you need the acceptance of the rest of the world? Go confidently and nurse your four year old son. I don't want to be nursing my children when they are that old but I am a different Mama and Pursy weaned herself at 14 months- she didn't need it anymore. And that is where I drew my line. Trying to encourage her to nurse would have been 100% for ME. My girlfriend Amanda gave birth to a gorgeous baby Preston two months ago. Amanda is working on a PhD, has lived abroad in Kenya, fostered two children- she is quite a cool broad. And when circumstances made breastfeeding almost impossible, she did some research and found a formula that Preston liked. He started gaining weight, sleeping and stopped spitting up everything that went into his mouth. She made the best decision for him, which makes her a great Mama.

I feel like I say this quite a bit in my blog posts about parenting styles. Parenting is hard, and we all will do a little back and forth before we figure it out. Grant and I would probably fall closer to attachment parenting on the spectrum because we incorporate a little of each of the 8 elements into our family life. Not because we want to be attachment parents, but because we want to raise confident children who love other people well because they were loved by us. And we want to come out of this season with two babes 18 months apart with everyone alive. And if Jamie Lynne Grumet wants to nurse her son longer then the rest of us, let's just smile and hope her son survive elementary school without too many boobie jokes. It wasn't his decision to be on the cover of TIME magazine, after all.

What do you think? 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Evolution of the Mixed Tape

When Grant and I were packing up our house in Bellefonte, PA we came across two tapes he had made me when we were friends/dating/engaged (those time periods run together for us..).  These were black- 90 minute- probably will be considered vintage by our children- cassette tapes. We smiled at each other across the room crowded with moving boxes and made an unspoken plan to meet on the couch after we put Pursy to bed with a glass of bourbon and those tapes. We prepared for a journey down the memory lane of our Colorado romance. The crazy romance that made sense to no one but us and was soundtracked by geniuses like Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Robert Blake, Billy Bragg, Dar Williams, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan- most of whom he was introducing to me for the first time.

My older brother Daniel, the original musicophile in my life, tried so hard to introduce me to good music while we were growing up but either nothing had sunk in or other voices had been louder- either way I hit college with an arsenal of DMB, Alainis and Journey. (hhhmmmm??) I knew just enough about Tom Waits and Ryan Adams to sound savvy to my bearded boyfriend who was either too drunk on love to notice or too sure of his ability to turn me into a music lover to care. Thus with my courtship with Grant began my music education and I fell happily into the beautiful beautiful world of mixed tapes and CDs he began making for me.

Those lasted through our engagement until we truly got married... the day we truly committed to stay together.. to become ONE. The day we merged our CD collections. Grant was not as anxious about this big step as I was- he answered by saying that "not to worry-he would always know which were mine". Sooo funny.

We carried around 11 black CD cases and a catalog of 700+ albums from Denver to New Orleans to Washington DC- where we finally entered the modern age. We purchased Ipods and Grant continued to be the musical head of our home. Every week I would hand over my digital music device to be filled with the newest best thing, and I would ride the Metro to school listening to the National, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses.. I allowed him this control with the understanding he would never clear Dar Williams from my library. He only tried once.

In DC he also started a music blog with our friend TR and shuttled new music to me that way as well. The blog was called The Ignatius Record Review and has been recently hacked by some heartless bastard who hates music and everything sacred. I always loved reading a review of a new album and being mentioned by my husband as a muse or appreciator of good music. Must be how girlfriends feel when they are mentioned in the liner notes.

Enter Spotify and the return of the weekly playlist- or as I like to think of it- my own personal mixed tape. Every week a new one pops up in my inbox and as soon as I can get to it- sometimes after babes go to bed- I sit down and wait for my music education to continue. And I do what we all do with mixed tapes... try to find the secret  meanings Grant is sending to me hidden inside every song.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I'm Here!

Pursy has recently started entering every room with the proclamation "Pursy's here!!". Her 2 year old 26 pound confidence cannot even fathom that I would not be overjoyed to see her- every time. And on the rare occasion that I am on the phone or doing something with Knox that prevents me from reacting with matched enthusiasm, she does not pout or passive aggressively throw out "not that you care.." at the end of her announcement. She tries again. She runs out of the room, turns right back around and runs back in.

 "Pursy's here!"

I miss that confidence. That unwavering trust that the people who love you are counting the moments until they get to see you again. I recently read an article in Atlantic Monthly about how Facebook is making us more lonely. The illusion of coffee dates and going out for drinks.. all that chit chat that is so great over a beer or latte- written on a wall. Not that it's all bad- we all could probably just use a little more balance. A little more FACE time.

Last night Grant had to ask me to put down my smartphone when we got into bed together. Really?? How did I go from the bride who greeted him at the bus stop in lingerie and a trench coat to the chick reading blog posts in bed about the latest JCPenney advertisement featuring a lesbian couple?

So our new resolution is no more social networking sites when we are a family together in the evenings. And if you come to our house, please help us with our resolve to be more human by announcing yourself with a big fat "I'm here!!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who Knows What the Inspiration Is...

 I read the popular blog Momastery (vaulted into popularity by the blog post Don't Carpe Diem) and she has dubbed this week Miracle Week and is focusing on the unbelievable. The cancer survivors, the eating disorder dying teenagers that recover and their newly healthy bodies carry babies, the almost bankrupt and then random check arrives in the mail- experiencers of miracles. I really love her blog because her filter was wrecked by alcohol and addictions in her teens and twenties-and all that is left is pure honesty and gratefulness. I dig her.

Sometimes people are just moved to perform random acts of kindness, gentleness, support and love. I doubt they know at the time that they are being used to perform a miracle, but to those of us who receive the randomness, they are miracle workers indeed. Today I received in the mail a card from a woman whom I did not know existed 5 months ago. She has become a very important person in my life, not only for her wisdom and experience as she teaches a room full of women more about the Bible but also for her personal investment in me. This is not the first card I have received from Barbara, but this one addressed a struggle I had recently made her aware of. I blurted it out in passing because she has that affect on me- when she asks how I am doing, I tend to be inappropriately and un-time sensitively honest.

This card contained a meditation for Parents of Young Children and talked about compassion. The author simply made the point that sometimes when our children are "melting down" or being serially naughty, maybe the issue isn't that they are living up to their potential as toddlers. Maybe they are just tired and don't have enough life experience built up to know that means they need a nap. Maybe they are overstimulated and don't know they need to ask the radio in the car be turned down or request that overzealous Mama not read them one more book that requires them to identify 27 things that begin with the letter "S".  There is a place for correction and instruction but maybe more then we realize, they just need a little compassion. A soft place to land. A snuggle or a quiet bed.

I needed this meditation today. And because odds are good that I will need it again tomorrow, I taped it on our refrigerator door. One of my greatest blessings as a mother is that I know my child better then anyone-  a gift that some days feels like a burden when it is up to me to figure out how to handle seasons of parenting. Fortunately for me, Grant knows me and knows our desires for our family- even on the days when I want to renig on decisions we made because I am tired or frustrated. And I will be adding Compassion to my list of things I pray for every night- along with Wisdom and Patience. Because what two year old couldn't benefit from some strong arms gathering them up and whispering "everything will be all right". Sounds pretty good to me too.

Possibly he is teething???...