Friday, December 18, 2015

Just for fun: Interview with P

So, I found this questionnaire online. P's a bit young for it, and in some instances, I had to translate the British, but, here goes:

1 Who's your best friend? 
"Hmmm....Huntson" (editor's note: He means Hudson. In two years of knowing said Hudson, he hasn't learned how to say his name.)
2 What do you want to be when you grow up? 
"A fire truck first, and then a police, and then a construction worker, and then a ambliance." (We'll assume he meant "fighter" instead of "truck.")
3 What football team do you support? 
"Um...I'm not a good very football player, but when I'm a grownup, I suppose I will. Ask me what I support of a soccer ball game."
4 If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? 
"Strong enough to hold up a whole one of those black boxes because they're very heavy."
5 What are the five best things about being you?
"That I'm a helper, and I love breaking boxes down, and I love breaking everything, but I don't break things that are special to me or to the whole family, and I love cars, and I love you." 
6 What’s the funniest thing you've ever seen? 
"The owl video on your phone."
7 If you had three wishes, what would they be? 
"Going with Mommy and our whole family to Cold Stone, going with Papa and our whole family on a fishing vacation when Sylvia's as big as me to Alaska, going on a fishing vacation with only me and Sylvia when we're big."
8 What are the best and worst things about mum and dad? 
"The best thing is that you love me and the worst thing about you is that we sometimes lose you and my dad."
9 Can you name one thing that scares you? 
"Bad guy movies." (Editor's note: Word. He's right. Kid won't watch anything with a villain.)
10 What do you do when you’re scared to make it less scary? 
"When I have a scary dream, I turn my alligator on and sing another dream to me."
11 What’s the nicest thing a friend has ever done for you? 
"Play with me. It was Toby." 
12 Would you rather give up TV, chocolate or friends? 
Me: "Really? Never have friends again?" (Seriously? My extrovert?)
P, horrified: "No!!!"
P, thinking again: "Not any."
13 Who are your three best role models? 
"Papa, Lita, and Toby and Talya."
14 Who’s the worst person in the world? 
"Bad guys."
15 What does heaven look like? 
"Um, really good."
16 How do you describe me to your friends? 
"Good. She's really good."
17 What is the most disgusting thing you can think of? 
"Falling in the water. Cold water."
18 What is the first thing you can remember? 
"Uh, loving you."
19 If you could be anyone in the world for a day, who would it be and why? 
"I don't really want to be someone else."
20 If you could change one law, what would it be? 
"Everyone has to tell the police about how good or bad they've been." (Editor's note: Of course. Instead of changing a law for more freedom, he wants more accountability. Voluntary accountability.)
21 What’s the hardest thing about being a child? 
"Trying to cook, because you burn yourself."
22 If you could time-travel, where and when would you go? 
"I would go all the way to New York on a airplane because I'm a good walker and New York is a big city." (Editor's note: So, I'm guessing he wouldn't go to a time without air travel. Or New York.)
23 Which five words describe you best – and which five words describe me best? 
P: "Loving, angelus, strong, fast, and I even can be slow." (Editor's note: Angelus? Whether he meant the vampire or angelic, I'm disturbed.)
Me: "You love me, and we all have a family that's good." 
24 What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard? 
"That you love me, and God is great."
25 What are three things you've learnt today?
"That there's not always one teacher, like in my class." (Editor's note: If he just learned this one, it took him a darn long time. He's had multiple teachers in his class since he started school 2 1/2 years ago.)
"The less love you have, the smaller your heart gets."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Peregrine, Whom I Love...But I Do Not Understand

He's defied explanation since he was born.

And yes, I realize every child is unique. But Peregrine is especially unique. Sylvia is unique--in personality and quirks and loveliness--but she's just more typical. She's more predictable. Peregrine isn't.

He wasn't an easy baby. Not at all. He was stiff and straight and loud and discontent. He wanted to be held, all the time. But not in a carrier. He wanted to be in my arms, facing out, taking in the world. He ate all the time, hungry or not. But it had nothing to do with comfort. He was just easily bored.

I'm a relaxed person, by nature. I take life as it comes, and I adapt to life as it throws me curveballs. I don't plan much, because plans always change, and it isn't usually worth it to me, taking the time to do something I know I'll have to redo. I started parenting this way. Relaxed, gentle, easy. Then along came Peregrine. Nursing on demand didn't work for him. Sleeping on demand didn't work for him. The only thing he really demanded was movement, and I did that until I couldn't do it anymore. And he wanted more of it.

He got fussy, around two weeks, and stayed that way for awhile. Was he colicky? I don't know. He rarely ever just screamed. But I spent hours every day and night keeping him from getting to the point where he just screamed.

I was inundated with advice about him, of course. Try this, don't try that, more of this, less of that, cut out that, add this, and so on. The general consensus being that my baby was now a Fussy Baby, and I need to adjust my strategies accordingly.

Only, he wasn't. I read every description out there. Fussy Baby, High Needs Baby, whatever you want to call it, he wasn't one. Yes, he demanded being held all the time, but he hated being snuggled and only barely tolerated being worn (unless we were hiking, in which case, he was perfectly happy no matter what). Yes, he demanded to nurse all the time, but he wasn't really happy with it, and he had no desire to comfort-suck. He was happiest when I fed him a large amount of milk (preferably from a bottle) and then took him on a hike for three or four hours before feeding him again. (Really, he just wanted to hike all the time). He fought going to sleep and woke constantly, yet it wasn't that he didn't have a need for sleep, he just didn't calm down. Adding a decoration to his room was enough to throw off his sleep for days, because he'd sit there and stare at it and not be able to relax enough to sleep. And with everything I read about fussy babies, they were supposed to be sensitive and clingy, distrustful of people other than mom (maybe dad if you were lucky.) They were supposed to be easily overstimulated and rarely happy, only wanting to be held and nursed. And Peregrine? He delighted in everyone he met. He was never happier than in a room (or better yet, a hike) filled with other people, passing him from one to the other. His smile was easy to tease out of him, his joy and enthusiasm were boundless. He ate up life with everything in him. He was simultaneously the happiest baby and the least content I have ever known.

All the advice for Fussy Babies was about letting go. Let them build their own routines. Feed on demand, even if that means they're on the breast all the time. Forget about sleep training, or even a nap and bedtime schedule. Hold them close, facing your heart, let them know that you're there. But I already had let go. I already went with the flow. I didn't care about nap times and bedtimes. But every time I inched in the opposite direction, with more routine, more structure, the more content and "easy" Peregrine became. He never lost his intensity, his drive, his tendency to boredom, or his joy. But he settled a bit, and was less demanding of the world.

It took trial and error, and a rewriting of what is my natural parenting style to fit the little person he was. And yes, I know every parent does this, but I wouldn't have done it so strongly for Sylvia. We started him on sleep training and solid foods. We thought up errands just to get him out and among people. If I had baby Peregrine to parent all over again, I'd probably start him on a feeding and sleeping schedule from the beginning. People, routine, and the outdoors--he needs those things, all of them, in way higher quantities than I would ever assume a child--or a tiny infant--needs them.

Fast forward some years, and I still can't place him. I've become accustomed to his needs for structure and routine. I've had him in school since he was two--actual preschool, with sit-down learning--something I wouldn't have seen myself doing, with my general live-and-learn, figure-it-out-as-you-go philosophy and personality. He's on a daily schedule that's way, way more rigid than I had thought I'd end up implementing and living with.

But when it comes to discipline, I still can't place him.

He is relentless at testing rules and boundaries. Relentless. He has a promising future as the best, most annoying lawyer ever. He will pick apart our rules and limits and exceptions, looking for a loophole, and as soon as he finds it, he starts wearing it down, slowly and inexorably, until it's big enough for him to squeeze through. I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what I tell him, he'll disobey me. Once, and only once, but he'll always try. He argues with me constantly, and they're fine-tuned arguments that involve logic (rudimentary logic, yes, but he's not just protesting, he's honest-to-goodness debating). If he ever gets away with disobeying, or breaking rules, for any reason at all, he will keep going and going and see how much more he can get away with. It's exhausting. He is never content to just take things at face value. No matter what fence I tell him to stay inside, he will go right to the edge and squeeze all but a few atoms of his body outside it, and then argue vehemently, with science involved, that he is still technically inside the fence.

And yet, when people ask me if he's strong-willed, or difficult, or spirited, or whatever you want to call it, I honestly don't know what to say. Because he isn't, really. I could probably count on my fingers the times he's actually thrown a tantrum. He's incredibly well behaved in school. If I put him in any position of responsibility, he will step up and excel. He never pushes boundaries when he's alone. I trust him pretty completely to follow my rules when I'm not around. He never lies, ever. His heart is huge, and his generosity is boundless. He's incredibly tender and loving, especially with smaller children. He's deeply community-minded, and will happily sacrifice just about anything if he believes it is for the good of his family, class, church, neighborhood, or any group of people at all. He's a lovely bundle of curiosity and generosity and quirky observations about the world.

I've found a lot of blogs and books and discussions on moms' groups that deal with children who are a strange blend of difficult-and-delightful, but again, I can't place Peregrine there. Words like "spirited" and "high needs" are thrown around, and with them, a picture of a child who is kind of like Peregrine in testing and fighting boundaries, but who is also emotional and volatile, who feels deeply and is deeply attached to his or her own way of doing things. And Peregrine isn't. He isn't really that emotional at all. He's pretty stoic, actually. And the maddening things about the fights he picks and the power struggles he chooses is that he often isn't invested in the issue itself. He doesn't care. He just wants to find the loophole. He had a teacher--one of the few teachers for whom he misbehaved--who called it "scientific disobedience," and I think that describes it perfectly. He's not throwing a fit about getting his own way. He's fighting a rule because it's there. And yet? He wants it to be there. He's not a free-spirited child who doesn't see the point of rules. On the contrary, he loves rules. He has a deep respect for them. I have never seen a child who loves rules so much, and disobeys them so eagerly.

All the advice I see about power-struggle-happy toddlers and preschoolers is, again, to loosen up. Provide more choices. Pick your battles. Make only a few rules and care about the ones you make. Make things a game and avoid saying no unless you really, really mean it. Focus on the positive, ignore the negative. Say yes as often as possible. Let things go. These don't work with Peregrine. At all. If I let things go, he will work and work at it until he finds something I won't let go. If I make things a game, he sees right through it. I do pick my battles, but more often, he picks them for me. And if I back down, ever, if I decide something isn't worth fighting, he will pick a new one.

But when I move the opposite direction, things get better. When I tighten things up, give less choices, say no directly with no game involved at all, give consequences immediately with no grace or exceptions, he relaxes a bit and becomes a much easier, happier child. Again, he doesn't lose his drive to argue and test and prove. But he's visibly, noticeably safer. Sometimes I'm convinced he breaks rules in order to be disciplined. To rest in the sheer beauty of cause and effect, or something like that. I don't get him, I don't understand the relationship he has with rules and consequences. I was not like that as a child at all.

But this is learning mothering, isn't it? Watching the little soul whose care I've been given develop? Finding ways to help him thrive and grow, even if he doesn't make sense to me, even if he seems to defy categories. Because I love this boy. I love every bit of him. He drives me no end crazy sometimes, and he can be exhausting to parent. As Sylvia grows into a little preschooler herself, going through all the ages and stages Peregrine has been through, Andrew and find ourselves constantly saying, "Oh, it isn't two-year-olds, it was Peregrine. It isn't toddlers, it was Peregrine. It isn't having kids, it's having Peregrine." But I love him. I love his mind, his quest for knowledge, his thirst to know and discover. I love his heart, how he effortlessly balances his macho and his tenderness and doesn't even stress about it at all. Most of all, I love his boundless generosity and the core of deep unselfishness that forms the foundation of who he is. I tell him all the time that his heart is pure gold, that his heart is full of too much love, and it is. He's a treasure, and the world is a better place for having him in it. And if his quirky little heart and soul require a bit of a different approach, and different way of thinking, than I've been told, and than what I do naturally, well then, I'll do what I can with what I have. And the years ahead will be full of adventure. And I pray every day that I will navigate the adventure with grace and joy and love, and take good care of the little soul whose welfare I treasure so very, very deeply.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hello again

My goodness, it's been almost a year since I've written anything in this space. I knew it was long, but I didn't know it was that long. I have, dozens of times, opened up this window on my computer, and then shut it again, just because I don't really have anything to say. Or sometimes, like I have too much, but it's not really significant, or I've already said it on Facebook, or I only want to say it to a few people, and everything I say here can be read by anyone who knows me (or doesn't).

I guess I go through quieter seasons of life. Not that nothing's happening. My little ones are growing in leaps and bounds, taking in life with all of their normal eagerness, unfolding their little personalities and making me laugh, cry, eat chocolate, snuggle them--all the things they normally do. They're a fearsome pair, these days, and their love for one another pretty much overwhelms me with its goodness and its beauty.

But sometimes, I just don't have a lot to say. And writing, for me, has always been something that I've loved when it flows naturally, and absolutely hated when it's forced or required. Even though I was good at it, I really, really disliked writing papers in college. And yet, I write for my own enjoyment all the time. I dislike restraints and deadlines. I dislike *having* to write. I think it would be hard for me to blog for business, for this reason. I don't like churning out a product. I like to wait until I have something I think is worth saying.

And, I'm an introvert. Sometimes I don't like having it all out there. I'm pretty private, by nature, and I tend to share only those things that have been processed and mulled over and turned into something substantial by time and thought. Sometimes, I just get tired. The writing equivalent of going into a quiet corner in a party, just to breathe, and be alone with my little plate of food, and watch from the outside for awhile.

But I've felt, lately, a bit more rested. A bit more ready to mingle again, so to speak. A bit more creative energy. And like, perhaps, I have things to say again. Some different angles to look at the world from. My kids are older. The dynamics in my house are different than they were, a year ago.

So, stay tuned. And talk to me, if you will. I'll still write about the lighter and heavier aspects of mothering my little ones. But for those of you who have been helped or encouraged by this space--what has meant the most to you? What do you want to see more of? Where are your hearts, and what do they need right now, in terms of mothering encouragement? It's been awhile since I was figuring out my first baby. In some ways, I feel worlds older, even though it's only been four years. I'm figuring different things out now, and yet my heart is still where it always has been--in grace for mothers and this mothering job, in building a healthy family, in moving beyond the rat race of you should/you shouldn't/best way/right way/only way and into growing and living and learning.

So talk to me. And look for me more, here in my corner of the internet world.

Monday, January 12, 2015


There is probably nothing more terrifying to me as a parent, particularly as a parent of faith, than the fact that my children's spiritual journeys are pretty much entirely out of my hands. Yes, it's weighty and scary to know that I am responsible for a huge portion of their spiritual education, but in the end? It's their journeys. They alone can walk them. I'm really just there as a guide. Someone to lean on--if they want to lean on me, and even that is no guarantee.

I grew up in a spiritual culture rich with promises of legacy. Train your children well, it said, and they will not depart from it. They will be blessings to you, believing in the things you believe, their spiritual journeys easy because you paved the way. I was a teenager when I began watching those promises fall apart. My friends and acquaintances and church peers did not grow up into the people their parents had made them to be. They struggled and fell. Some left God altogether. Others--all of us, really--had battles to fight, lies to weed out, grief and pain to carry. I long for nothing more than that my children will grow up strong in mind and body and spirit, rich in faith and hope and love. I yearn for it with all my being. I want it until it hurts. But I am under no illusions that I can guarantee it. And that breaks my heart.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday on the incredible risk God took in making people who were able to reject him, to choose their own way. The risk of love, he called it, and God didn't stop with creation. He died for us--for all of humanity--knowing full well than any number of the people for whom he died would spit in his face, and laugh, and say he was just a good teacher or a revolutionary or whatever other labels we demean God with. And yet, he did it anyway.

People don't come with guarantees. Ever. Despite every parenting philosophy out there promising it--plug in x  and out comes y--it never works quite like it should. Because people aren't predictable. They have hearts and souls and free will. We will always make mistakes with our children, because no two are alike. No matter how hard we try, no matter how dearly we love them, no matter how honest our intentions, their souls are their own.

Andrew and I had both our children baptized as infants--a hugely controversial thing to do, depending on which circles you frequent. There's a whole blog post in there that I'll write someday, but for now, I'll just say this: when I stood in front of my beloved church community, hand on a freshly-wet baby head, praying with all my heart and soul for the spiritual life of a tiny little creation of God, I felt the weight of my powerlessness, and I stepped into that powerlessness with every ounce of my being. I felt how light my grasp on my children really is, and how nonexistent my grasp on their souls. I can't even say I consented to it, because it wasn't mine to consent to. My permission had nothing to do with it, it was just an acknowledgment of fact. My children belong to God. They always have, and they always will.

And now, Peregrine asks questions. He prays, he wrestles, he argues, he talks. He is terrified of death. He doesn't understand it, and above all, my logical son wants to understand. I want, so badly, to give him answers, to fix his problems, to be the solution like I always am. But for this, I am not the solution.

His soul is the most precious thing I have the keeping of. I imagine it as some sort of jewel, only living and beating and glowing. Every time he starts up on a conversation about God, and I speak to him, I see myself holding that jewel in the palm of my hand. I want, so terribly badly, to guarantee its safety, to keep it innocent and strong. And I can't.

I have no promises of legacy. For all my talking and praying and singing, for all my son's strong faith and questioning-but-believing hope, he may turn away from God. He may wrestle and argue in ways that are far beyond me. He may--he will--go to other sources of information about God, and some of those sources may--will--be false. But I do have a promise, and that promise I cling to.

I am not prone to visions or intuitions. I'm a Myers-Briggs S, my feet are planted pretty firmly on the ground. I don't really trust what I feel, if only because it's usually rooted in someone else's feelings, or my worries or fears. But sometimes, God speaks to me, and when he does, I know it, for no other reason that it is true. When Andrew and I named the kids, their middle names particularly, there was something there for each of them. I can't even call it something as strong as a sense or intuition. It was more of an anchor, something to ground them in, something deep and strong and true to start their lives upon.

For Sylvia Gabrielle, it was simply this: that she would be strong, and that she must know her strength is of God. I did not know what her strength would be, only that it was there.

For Peregrine, our pilgrim and wanderer, we both knew that his middle name had to be something to soften the harshness, the loneliness, the difficulty, implied by his first name. We thought of naming him Peregrine Andrew. But Andrew means brave, manly, strong; and Andrew said there would be no grace in that. Somehow, we couldn't stand to have him just pilgriming along, alone in his manliness. I know, I know, it's just a name, but it mattered, somehow. And so we gave him the middle name Emmanuel, and that is his anchor, God's promise to me and to him: God will be with him on his journeys.

That tortures me sometimes. Journeys are rough and hard and dangerous, and yes, often lonely. Peregrine's spirituality, like his personality, will, I'm sure, be full of questions and arguments and testing the limits. I don't want that for him. I want his life easy, I want him happy. Sometimes I say his name, and it speaks only of hardship and misery, and I wondered why we named him that and not something simpler, less fraught with peril. But then I remember, and I know: it is a promise of grace and love. I need not fear his questions, his worries, because God is with him. Like he always  has been and always will be.

And so, when he starts talking about death or heaven, whether Monkey will be there, or whether he'll die before me, or why can't God give us new bodies now, or why was the whole earth cursed when Adam and Eve sinned, I need not be afraid for the life of the jewel I hold. All I need to know is that God holds it around me, and always will, and will give me the strength, and the words, to guide it on its journey, while I have the privilege of doing so. But no matter where I am, and no matter where he is, Peregrine Emmanuel will always be in the keeping of God.