Tuesday, August 28, 2012

those who work, or watch, or weep this night

I recently made the somewhat difficult decision to cut out any and all tv at bedtime for J.  I never meant television at bedtime to be part of the routine but somehow it happened.  It was sometime last fall, around J's 2nd birthday when I was juggling the challenge of bedtimes with a 2 year old and a brand new baby that I just gave in and started using an episode of Shaun the Sheep to preserve my sanity and keep my toddler occupied while I got the baby into her jammies and held her until she fell into a deep enough sleep to put down so I could turn my attention to J.  Ever since any night without a couple episodes of Shaun, Yo Gabba Gabba, or Curious George were considered incomplete by J and much loud and indignant protest was made. And it was so much easier. And there was something really nice about cuddling up on bed with my girl for 20-40 minutes before the battle of going-to-bed began.

But recently I have noticed that it doesn't really make bedtime any easier. J was getting up repeatedly, and now with the extra excuse of "I have to go potty" folded into her arsenal of avoidance tactics there were nights where despite appearing near sleep in front of the TV bedtime would drag on for literally multiple hours afterward.  So I changed it up, and banned screens from the bedtime routine.  The transition was a little rough.

Now J takes a bath every night after the baby goes down instead and J falls asleep much quicker when it is her turn. I'm much more relaxed too, as it turns out. But my favorite part isn't bathtime, or even the 20 or so minutes of reading we do afterwards. I've started doing a little version of Compline with her every night, praying together and singing a hymn for evening before she tiptoes into bed and lifts up her small face for a kiss and a blessing.

J will bring me my Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and ask for the "Daddy work p'ar" which is one of the prayers at the end of Compline in our prayer book, and my favorite one. She listens to me read it and whispers "amen" when it is done. In the past I have often said this prayer just before I close my eyes for sleep on nights that Andrew is working, because it does seem to me that it is a prayer written for him, his co-workers, and the people who have come into their care at the hospital. Saying it is something that, for me, brings peace, eases loneliness, and restores any battered edges from the day with its reminder of just how far the One in whom I trust will go for the sake of love.

It's late and I should go to bed- so I'll just end it here.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Last Friday my sweet baby completed her first full rotation around the sun - S is one year old! This is crazy and I am not exactly sure how it happened. I have heard that the second child grows up faster than the first and I think in some ways this is true. At least it is for me.  With J we waited patiently and sometimes anxiously for the firsts to appear - first words, first steps, first everything. With S perhaps she has hit some of those firsts a little sooner than her sister (after all she has someone to pursue!) but also we're too busy to do anything but marvel at her when she does. It's a good thing.

We rang in her first year in style.  I'm not normally one for big shenanagins when it come to birthday parties that someone won't remember. For J we did something quite small and low-key. But I have felt bad that we never did a welcome party for S, there are no photos of our friends singing lullabies to her and so forth. As a second-born child myself I feel honor bound to make sure that my second child is as celebrated as my first, even if it is at different times and in different ways. So we had a big fun first birthday for S at the family homestead - the land that Andrew's great-grandfather purchased in the 1940's that has housed birthday parties of all sorts for his family for generations. Andrew's dad lives there now and we feel like it is a second home for us.

Many of our city-friends made the trek across the water to join family to celebrate our special girl and enjoy the summer weather, tree house, amazing cupcakes and home-made ice cream - a tradition from my side of the family. I couldn't have dreamed up a better day, and as I flipped pancakes this morning for friends who had camped out over night I felt light, content, and full of love.

We finished off the birthday weekend with a family feast at home - the girls' Papa and Grandma Nancy came up for the party (some of my folks) and we grilled leftover hamburgers with them and my brother's family and then took all the kids to the park.

All throughout yesterday and today I felt hyper-aware of the immense web of love and support that we rest in: my girls, my guy, and me. I've said it before but it is this love and care - the people who I can trust with my girls and who understand in some way or another the terrible vulnerability that comes with being a parent and take some step to love on us and let us know that we're not ever alone in this - this is a big part, maybe the biggest part, of the richness I bring to my kids' lives.  We're not ever going to be financially rich - they won't get cars when they turn sixteen or trust funds when they turn twenty one.  But they will never be unloved. They will never stumble without someone to stretch out an arm. They don't have perfect parents, lord knows, but they've got so much more than just us. I love this about my life.

Happy birthday my sweet sunshine girl. You are an amazing surprise and every day I thank God and the universe that I get to be one of the people who parents you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where go Mommy?

It's been hot in Seattle lately - we are officially in the annual stretch of weeks where local bloggers can begin posts this way - and the temperature slows everything down.  We eat less, move a little less, and I feel less pressured to move everybody in my household through our daily routines and rhythms in a timely manner.

This morning the girls and I were taking our sweet time getting dressed - sprinkling in plenty of tickles and play time along with the required putting on of clothes - and J looked at me and asked "Where go mommy?"

I was a little confused. So I cocked my head to one side and said "Mommy? Where did Mommy go when, sweetie?"

"No, mommy," J was clearly exasperated with my slow comprehension skills. "Where go Mommy Z?"

For a second I wasn't sure what she was saying - my daughter's two year old diction being what it is. And I have never heard her say Z's name before. Then I remembered that we had spent some time the night before talking about baby bellies after attending a party with a family member who is in her last trimester of pregnancy. This had led to J asking to see her baby video, and then I had asked her if she wanted to see our picture of Z. She's seen it before, and I keep meaning to finish her life book and it will be in there, too. So we had looked at the picture together, and for the first time I think J understood that this person was someone special to her. Now I was sure she was processing it.

But it is such a big question. I could feel all the weight of every adoption training/book/ideal/value bearing down on me as I paused to consider my answer.

So this time I kept it simple and matter of fact. "Mama Z lives in the state of Georgia, where we were when we picked up S. We live here, in the state of Washington."  Then I repeated some of the stuff we had talked about the night before, about how J grew in Z's tummy, and Z loved her and took care of her as long as she could, and then J came to be with Mommy and Daddy who were the other people in the world who love her so much no matter what forever and forever. I braced myself for the usual barrage of "why" questions that usually follows anytime J brings something up for discussion but this time was different.

"Okay" she said, and picked the Elmo underpants over the rainbow ones.

I have been wondering for two and a half years now what it would be like for me to hear my daughter call someone else Mommy. My approach to how we discuss Z has always been to take a stance of respect and full acknowledgement of the role she has in my daughter's lives. When I talk about her or refer to her in conversation I call her their "first mom" instead of "birth mom" because after looking through the resources on terminology that was the way it seemed that most first moms who are writing liked the best. It doesn't imply that the significance of this person ended after her children were delivered.  Every once and a while someone will refer to Z as the girls mom, and then hurriedly correct themselves saying "I mean, obviously you are their mom but..." and I am quick to say that I don't mind hearing someone call Z my kids mom. She is. I am too. We can both be "the" mom. I get to raise, know, and love these amazing people every single day. This gift is made possible by the woman who brought them into the world.

But I have felt a little stymied as to how to talk about her with our children. "First mom" just doesn't mean anything to a little kid. "Tummy mommy" sort of creeps me out and smacks of the same connotation as "birth mom." Z has been silent on this, as she has on most everything. So I treat it the way I do multiple grandmas. J calls the grandma she sees the most often "Grandma."  She's got three very important women in her life who go by the name Grandma (plus one Nana), so for the other two we append names - Grandma Nancy, Grandma Sue. So Z  is "Mama Z" which quickly becomes Mommy in a little brain.

And I think it works fine. I feel, if anything, more motherly love for my kiddo than ever.  I feel tender for our daughter, tonight. I feel wistful for Z, wherever she is. Mostly I think I feel somewhat solemn as I contemplate the sweet and sacred task of making a safe space in my relationship with my daughter for her to access and interpret the big stuff that happened in her life when she was too small comprehend it, and then weave that big stuff into her identity and purpose in the world in healthy and honest ways.

The process started almost three years ago. But in some ways it feels like the conversation began today.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

further up and further in

In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, after all the action has been done and everyone who is going to get into the barn is in there (spoiler alert!), it turns out that for some people the inside of the barn is actually a bigger, better version of Narnia itself. And then this big mob of those people get all together and they go further in to the new big Narnia and find another bigger, newer, even more wonderful Narnia in there. Somebody, I forget who but maybe a centaur or that flying horse, keeps urging the group onward shouting "further up and further in!" or something like that.

I'm pretty sure C.S. Lewis was constructing some sort of metaphor to represent heaven. At least that's the popularly accepted view of most of those books. But the reason I'm thinking about this story is that it sort of reminds me of being married, or what being married can be like. Maybe. As in if we are lucky we get to be one of the people who experiences it as bigger, better, and more real the further we get.
J & S at the paradise that is Grandma and Bobo's house

Andrew and I got away together this past weekend for the first time in a long time. We dropped the girls off at his parents place and drove to the coast for two nights in a sweet little hotel with the ocean outside our window and free bikes for checkout at the front desk.  The whole time felt like a long sweet montage of all the reasons I really like being partnered with my spouse.  On the one hand there was all the stuff we did while we were there: horseback riding on the beach, a couple hours at the local video arcade playing silly games for tickets and using them to buy candy, biking through the sand dunes with the sea breeze and sunshine making our skin bright red, reading in bed, watching the Olympics, eating ice cream/fudge/candy like unruly toddlers, racing to the beach so we could stand on the sand and watch the sun drop below the horizon. Tons of great stuff that would look amazing in a cheesy video montage. And on the other hand there's the stuff that wouldn't show up on camera - how grateful I am to be seven years into a marriage with this guy and still know deep in my bones that he's my number one favorite person in the world to hang out with.  To no small degree because I can't think of many other people who would be down for a weekend of crazy cheesy laziness like the one we just had. Seriously people, there are a gazillion hikes we could have gone on but there were also three ice cream shops and a candy store so...our priorities were set.

when I say "biking through the dunes" I should clarify that there is a paved biking path. 
I won't lie to you, internet. Everybody says stuff about how the seventh year of marriage is a tough one.  I was determined that we would move through the supposed "7 year itch" unscathed because we are awesome. And so I learned that what I really need is to stop being determined about stuff like that because I think it just makes the inevitable stuff worse. Not us I think loftily to myself, like I've never heard of foreshadowing.  All to say that the good old ups and downs of married life have been a little down-i-er in the past few months than this candy-loving duo is used to. Some sort of transition has been going on. We don't have any of the same atoms we had when we got married, or something pseudo-science-y like that and its been messing with our mojo.

To return to my metaphor, it's like we've been standing outside that dingy doom-filled barn in that much beloved children's fantasy novel. We kick and scream and ultimately somebody blindfolds us and throws in to the next part of married life, the part after kids arrive and somebody works nights all the time, the part where we never see each other and when we do one of us is usually too tired to talk, the part where I wonder to myself what seven-years-four-months-ago-just-married-me would have thought if she could see us now and feel sort of sad and dull about that.

But then we take the blindfolds off and look. And defying all expectation it's even bigger, better, and possibly more beautiful in here than it was on the other side of the door. The landscape is the same - silly, comfortable, filled with geeky obsessions and clumsy jokes that no one else would really think are funny and a willingness to embark on ridiculous projects just because I read about it on the internet somewhere. We are still loved by friends and family both as individuals and as a pair. But when we stop and pay attention - a challenge in and of itself - we see that despite everything what we've built is a love that is somehow bigger, better, and more beautiful.  It has expanded to include the two sweet people we've been gifted as daughters, and powers a lot more these days then it ever has before, with less maintenance. It is something worth celebrating.

I knew all this stuff before we went away this weekend. We've been working on getting back in touch with the good stuff for a while. Our weekend was like icing on the cake and, as Andrew would tell you, the icing is my favorite part.