Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Guilt Game

The currency in which mommies trade at play dates is easy to see: guilt. I knew this before this week, but I am convinced now that it is one of the few things moms have in common despite how we raise our kids, where we live, or what age our kids are. Guilt seems to be an emotion than can cross all lines, sort of like love is supposed to. I sometimes wonder if guilt has been more successful and what that means about the message we’re sending our kids.

At a play date this week with a sweet mom I recently met, we started discussing what we do with stay-at-home kids when something else in the house absolutely has to be done for the inhabitants of the household to survive. This mom is great: she and her son are out and about by nine every morning regardless of heat or cold; she is always asking me about new play date ideas I didn’t even know were out there. Her son is precious and secure in the love she gives him. So I was surprised at the shame that crept into her voice when she said, “I have to let my son watch TV while I cook. I use it to keep him still while I make dinner. That’s awful, right?”

Another new mom with a nine-week-old started spilling her guts in the doctor’s waiting room this week. She vowed this would be her only child, didn’t understand how this person could ruin her entire sleep life, and complained that absolutely not one person had warned her that this would be harder than her full-time job, a job she said she is now counting the days to get back to. Then she assured us that she loved the kid, hung her head in shame and said, “I’m a bad mom, I know I am, right?” I told her she was just a very tired person and would be for at least the next year or so. Very tired people aren’t the same as bad moms, they just feel like bad moms.

Apparently neither of these ladies got the message about my 18-month-old attempting to brush his teeth with my shaving razor last week. Could they have also missed the screams leaping from my house when my daughter learned push and pull were not the same thing and almost broke her nose with her dresser drawer? I was the one who asked her to close the drawer because she was closer to it, and I didn’t notice it was hanging on the edge just waiting to be touched.

Another friend and I frequently talk about how parenting more than one child leaves you constantly worried you’re shorting someone attention they need. Even though we still never do much during the day that isn’t dedicated to the care or entertainment of someone else, we still manage to spend the end of the day before we sleep running a list through our heads of how we could have done better.

This is play date banter: moms trade tales of everything we’re doing wrong, ways our kids are going to be irreparably damaged, and then try to make each other feel better. We know this isn’t productive; we know from the fact that none of our kids have experienced major head injuries after seeing if they can bounce each other off the couch that they’re not as fragile as they look. Still, it’s always there.

I honestly think some of the allure of guilt is its never ending ability to attach itself to pride and confuse the two in our brains. I mean, if I don’t feel guilty about everything, then obviously I don’t care about my kids. If I don’t care about my kids, I’m a bad parent. But if I feel guilty all the time it’s just because I care so much, and everyone knows the good parents care the most, therefore they are the guiltiest feeling of them all. See how that math works?

None of the moms I talk to who are feeling guilty have a reason to. Your kid watches 30 minutes of TV so you can prepare food for him? I don’t think this is the end of the world. In a sleep-deprived-new-mom fog you proclaim parenting as the hardest job ever? Yeah, you’re going to feel that way when the fog wears off. It’s an awesome job, and it also takes everything you have 100% of the time.  You have two kids so someone has to wait for their homemade lunch to be prepared while the other one feeds off your body? Everybody will get fed, and if we’re talking about my kids, they probably just ate 10 minutes ago anyway.

Even knowing this I realize it’s going to take a huge effort on my part to turn around the guilt=pride=if-I’m-such-a-great-parent-why-the-heck-does-feeling-guilty-all-the-time-not- make-me-feel-like-a-better-one emotion. I know it’s not God’s plan for me to feel this way all the time; I know He doesn’t want that for these other moms either. But how do you practice being reflective and making sure what you do is in the best interest of your kids while not being obsessive to the point of constant shame? I don’t know. I’m going to pray and try to recognize when these feelings creep up so I can stop them before they take over my brain. I’m going to focus on all the awesome things I try to do for the kids daily, even if Sammy is sporting a wicked cut from wielding a razor and Wren has a purple nose. I’m going to encourage other mothers to do the same.

I’m also going to try to keep my kids from reading this blog post when they’re older. Wren would be upset if she knew she had ever had to wait for food, and that would make me feel guilty. ;)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fathers

Staring out at the Crescent Hotel and the high rises in uptown Dallas, it occurred to me again what a fabulous husband I have. I was standing in his new cubicle office, one I hadn’t seen since his recent promotion. Dennis works so hard for us, so hard that I get to work part-time at a library, pretty much my dream job, and be a full-time parent the rest of the time.


The odd thing is I frequently completely forget my husband has a life outside our house. I know he leaves every morning and comes home dressed in clothes that are way too nice to wear to the park, but I don’t fully appreciate that he gets out of bed every morning and takes advantage of every opportunity the Lord has given him to provide for us. He commutes; he works 10 hour days, though his schedule is awesome because the time off is amazing; he has this whole other pile of issues waiting for him to deal with at work. I have grown accustomed to just seeing him as a dad.

Dennis is a full-time parent. When he comes home I am sometimes already at work leaving only notes behind about the status of every one’s vitamins, moods, poops, and temperaments. He does the rest. When I arrive home from work, both my little loves are asleep with their baths taken, hair brushed, and stories of adventures with Dad running through their heads. Dennis takes them to the pool, the park, the mall, for walks, wherever he thinks they’ll have fun. He makes them Batman and Flash masks and videos them
running up and down the hall like superheroes. He reads them Bible stories and says their prayers with them before bed.

When we’re both home, he is just as involved, just as full-time. And honestly, I think the fact that he is so on all the time makes me forget how hard my life would be if he wasn’t.

I have high expectations for fathers because I have a great one. So many things that Dennis does don’t always register as awesome the way they should because I grew up with a dad who believed in full-time parenting as well. My dad came to every Donuts for Dad we had at school; he didn’t miss a field day. He has videos of pretty much every dance recital, drill team competition, piano recital, everything we ever did. My dad spent a night sleeping under my crib so I would stay asleep(I was a bit of a high maintenance sleeper, which may be why my kids don’t give me a break in the sleep department until well past their one year birthday). 

The gift I hope I can pass on from my father to my kids is the gift of being there, being present and available. Even now that the dance recitals and field days are over for me, my dad has never stopped letting me know
he’s here. This was illustrated best when Sammy was in the hospital at 10-days-old fighting pneumonia. My dad and stepmom were there the morning after he was admitted and the only question they had was: What do you need us to do? I have no doubt if I had said, “Go clean my toilets” they would have done it. Instead, they juggled keeping Wren entertained and calm while Dennis and I stayed at the hospital. They came to the hospital to offer me rest when someone else was with Wren. My dad just sat and held Sammy for hours, and it was the only time that whole day Sammy calmed down enough to sleep and stop fighting all the tubes running in his little body.

The next weekend, my heart leapt when I saw my Dad and Judy come through the door. We were nine days into an 11 day stay in the PICU at Children’s. Dennis and I split our time between home and hospital, with me staying at the hospital nightly just in case the feeding tube was removed and I could breastfeed again and just to make sure Sammy was okay. The feeling that came over me just seeing my dad at the door reminded me of being a kid again: my dad’s here, everything will be okay now. The three of us shared
the couch bed and recliners, took shifts with Sammy and shifts sleeping. I took showers, a luxury at that point.

It didn’t occur to me until later the personal hell my dad must have been going through: a grandson with pneumonia, watching Dennis and I suffer while Wren struggled with her own confused emotions. He stayed strong for us offering a calm to the situation. We’ve talked about it since, and I think we always will. It was a traumatic unforgettable time, but there were glimpses of good and so many of those came when my dad was there.

As is true with Dennis, I have gotten rather used to this behavior, so much that I take it for granted daily. So thank you to my dad for being the kind of dad I need and to the father of my children for being the kind of dad they need. The importance of what you do is not recognized enough, and the thanks you receive can never repay all you give.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lenny and Jesus


Dennis and I can become centrally focused on something. Obsessed would be another word you could use, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate. Fortunately, we usually become fixated on the same topic at the same time, so it’s fun and we don’t drive the other one crazy with our preoccupation. For instance, when we traveled to Oregon in 2007, we listened to bluegrass music throughout our travels.  Never before had either of us listened to bluegrass, but driving down highway 5 in a rental headed to hike down to Crater Lake, our radio(one of those kind that picks up stations for you without commercials-I don’t know, I’m not really smart about what these things are called or how they work) picked up a blue grass station. It made
perfect sense to both of us to listen to bluegrass as we traveled throughout the state. We didn’t change the channel; we didn’t discuss why we were listening to bluegrass except for the occasional, “So, this is oddly normal, right?” comment. For that trip, we were bluegrass.

Our latest fixation is Lenny Kravitz. I have always liked Lenny.  He’s good looking, talented, and he came onto the scene particularly strong when I was younger, had more time, and frequently watched VH1.  When he was cast as Cinna in The Hunger Games, I was elated! When I actually saw him in the movie I realized many things: he is still a very nice looking man; he can act; I wanted to know more about Lenny.

Dennis felt the same way(maybe he didn’t describe him as yummy, but he was interested in more things Lenny related). Besides one Greatest Hits album, we were limited in our Lenny music, so we started listening to more of his music on Itunes and picked up some CDs at Half-Price Books. Dennis also did a little research, because when Dennis is interested in something, he is totally focused. That’s why he can tell you almost everything about movies or bands he likes. He knows who directs, plays what instrument, produces, writes. His brain has more storage space than mine or most anybody I know.

One piece of information we learned is that Lenny is a Christian and is very up front about this in his life. I was surprised I didn’t know this, but besides the VH1 videos, I didn’t know much. So we started listening to Lenny’s lyrics, and sure enough I’d say-and this is a very non-mathematical guess on my part-that at least 50% of Lenny’s songs are about Christ and spiritual issues.

One song is called “I Belong to You”. I liked the song before I paid much attention to the lyrics, but then Dennis came in one day and asked if I thought this song could be about Christ. My immediate response: uh, no. This song has a basic boom-chicka-waa-waa sound. How could it be about Christ? It sounded more like a I-belong-to-you-naked song to me. But I listened to the lyrics after Dennis brought it up, and knowing what I know about Lenny, I came to the conclusion that he’s right; I can’t see it being about much anything but God.

This obviously led to a long discussion about a boom-chicka beat while singing about or to God. Lenny, from what Dennis’ research tells me, plays all the instruments on the album when he records; he uses a band only for tours. He completely controls where every beat and sound goes, and he writes or co-writes most of his own lyrics. So why this sound?

Dennis brought up the point that our most intimate relationship should be with Christ, and intimacy is not limited to boom-chicka-waa-waa, which is totally true. Boom-chica-waa-waa sounds are also only considered that because that's how we classify them, much as organs are considered for use in church(Lenny actually uses an organ, I believe, in the song "Believe").  If you feel like using certain beats and sounds to convey a message, why not? It’s our perception of appropriate or not appropriate in this particular case that makes it so.

With this in mind, I listened to “I Belong to You” again in the car when I was alone. I started singing. Oddly, it started to feel a bit like praise and worship in the Honda. I could see myself saying these things; I felt these things; the beat added to the praise feeling, it didn’t work against. I fell a little more in love with Jesus and Lenny Kravitz.

I needed this, as I have been forgetting God in the everyday. Lyrics from this song include, “I always loved you from the start, but I could not figure out that I had to do it every day.” Yeah, make an effort every day whether it is the effort to see God in everything because He made everything, or going to the extra effort to let my husband know I love him at the end of a 15 hour stretch where we haven’t seen each other, or make the effort to not lose patience with my three-year-old for chronic whining and my one-year-old for tossing
about 100 almonds from the grocery cart into the floor at the checkout counter at the grocery store. Every day. I have to do it every day, and I have to keep my eyes open and stop limiting where God can exist.
He’s everywhere, even in this messed up place we live. He’s in awesome Lenny Kravitz songs. He’s in bluegrass and spilled almonds and whiny voices.  I am the one who limts, and I don't want to be anymore.