Thursday, February 21, 2013

BHBC: A Good American

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I signed up to read A Good American for BlogHer.  I'm usually pretty picky (read, snobby) about the novels I read.  I like them a little literary, character driven and with a healthy shake of poetic language.  I assumed that this would not be that, but figured I'd give it a try anyway.

Except, it was.

A Good American tells the story of a German immigrant family in Missouri over the span of the twentieth century.  It begins with an unlikely love story between the narrator's grandparents who were forced to flee a disapproving family, and procedes through the next two generations of the family.  It has moments at which it is tragic and shocking, but these are for the most part so integrated into the larger story of the family and the town that they don't lend a dark or disturbing tone to the book as a while.

Often, when the scope of a novel is so large and covers such a long span of time, the individual characters tend to get lost.  That doesn't seem to be the case with A Good American.  The grandparents, Frederick and Jette, are probably the most fleshed out and relatable, but at each moment in the book there is at least one person to latch on to. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and found myself looking for more and more reasons to sneak in some reading time. 

Disclaimer: This is a paid review for Blog Her Book Club.  I received a copy of the book and am being compensated for my review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What we look like

I smell like sour milk.  I'm wearing yoga pants, white sweat socks with dirty-floor-gray soles and my second long sleeve t-shirt of the day.  My knotted hair is in my face because the pony tail holder I took out at 7 this morning is for some reason still on my wrist.

The baby, who I didn't bother to take out of the carrier when I sat down, is wearing last night's pajamas, which I somehow got leftover chili on at lunch.  Her head is about two inches from my cheek, and her breath is warm on my face.  She has a spot of cradle cap in the corner of her right eyebrow.  Her right arm is wrapped protectively around my left elbow.

The big girl, who finally fell asleep after screaming at me not to leave her for an hour, is also in last night's pajamas.  Her lips are probably a little sticky from the grape Ibuprofen I dosed her with after the first half hour of crying.  Her shoulder length curly hair was sweaty when I pushed it out of her face as I kissed her finally sleeping forehead and moved her head to her pillow.

My laundry is folded.  My bed is made.  I listened to a chapter of my library audio copy of Daring Greatly.  The blinds are open and every once in a while I see a snowflake float past my window.

This is not really what I thought motherhood would look like.

Soon, both girls will be awake.  Hopefully the afternoon will involve more playing than screaming.  Hopefully I will find a way to stop hiding from my feelings of inadequacy, of frustration, of resentment, and really be present enough to enjoy the moments that appear, however messy they look.  Hopefully I will take this moment to recharge, to gear up for the coming campaign, and I will be a better and more willing mother for having taken the moment.

We'll see.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This is just to say

Man, I'm so grateful for my kid. For both my kids. Every. Day.

  In the car, on the way to playgroup this morning.

BG: Mommy, where's my duck?
Me: We didn't bring him, honey.
BG: My duck lost?
Me: No, sweetie, he's not lost, he's in the living room.
BG: Living room?
Me: Yes, sweetie, ducky is in the living room.
BG: Watch Dinosaur Train.
Me: Your duck is watching Dinosaur Train?
BG: No. Mommy turn off.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doing it right: Reaching out
“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.” BrenĂ© Brown

 I've been struggling a bit lately.  A lot of things rolling around in my brain, most of which I can't control.  There's been this dull sense of unease for a little while that I couldn't place.

Then Sunday night, I went out to work for two hours, leaving the girls with DH.  The ripples in my brain turned into waves and I spent the whole weekend worrying.  Would I do a terrible job at tutoring?  Would DH have a terrible time with the girls?  Was I doing the right thing?

(The answers by the way are No, Kinda Yes, and To Be Determined.)

Then yesterday, the witching hour struck me hard.  My husband had to work late; my baby wouldn't stop screaming unless she was eating; my toddler was whining, grabbing my leg, and pushing every button - both literal and figurative - that she could find.

I couldn't breathe.  And that's not entirely a metaphor.

My first reaction was to scream "Can't everyone leave me alone?"  The baby seemed unphased as she continued to nurse.  The toddler froze, pouted, then threw her book at the floor.  Immediately ashamed, I started to cry, causing her to curl up on the floor.

I wanted to disappear, to run away, to hide in a closet and not let anyone see me until I had my act together.

But I didn't.

I tweeted that I was overwhelmed, that I couldn't breathe.  I asked for help and validation, and I IMMEDIATELY wanted to delete the tweet, I was so ashamed of having said it.  People would think I was silly for talking about my breathing.  They would be disappointed in me for asking a ridiculous question, for not having it all together.

But they didn't.  They weren't.  They said "Me too."

And I put the baby in the swing, walked away from the whining toddler, put on Tiny Dancer, and sang as loud as I could while I finished putting dinner on the table.

It didn't fix anything that was wrong.  The witching hour still sucked.  The stuff that's been stewing in my mind is still there.

I still suffer.

But I'm not alone, and I'm not doing anything wrong.  And I am capable of acting in spite of my feelings.  The baby can cry and the toddler can whine, and that will totally suck, but it won't really damage any of us.

And if I need to reach out every damn day to be reminded of that, I'll do it.

And that's what I'm doing right.

Monday, February 11, 2013

On my love/hate relationship with TV

I feel like the touchpoint for me in whether or not I'm a good mother is how much TV we watch.  And that's probably not entirely fair.

I'm of two minds on the whole thing.  On the one hand, I have read the studies.  I know that developmentally, TV really isn't good for babies and very small children.  I know that it is correlated with delays in language development. (But correlation doesn't imply causation, screams all my social science training. Did they really do a case-control study on TV?)  I don't like the way BG sometimes gets zombie-like when it's on, the sense of bored-alertness that TV provides - for me in the evening as much as for us during the day.  I want to have more quiet, to do more meaningful activities, to have more space for imaginative play.  I want to banish the TV.

Except I don't.  At all.  I LIKE TV.  When I hear people talk about how they got rid of their TV completely, my first thought usually isn't "I wish I could do that," it's "well, that's awfully pretentious of you."  (Which, yes, is also judgmental and unfair.  I apologize for my brain.)  To say that everything on TV is garbage is as absurd as to say that everything in a book is good.  I enjoy TV.

And? I enjoy kids' TV.  Sometimes.  Some of it.  I really like Curious George.  I love Daniel Tiger.  Sesame Street is awesome.  I like watching them, and I like that BG watches them.  I like that she sings "Friends help each other, it's truuuuue," as she helps clean up the water she spilled on the kitchen floor.  And I LOVE cuddling with her on the couch and watching together.  It's one of my favorite parts of the day.

So what's the problem?  TV isn't all we do.  We go to playgroups.  We have tea parties.  We read books.  We go to storytime and classes.  We use crayons and playdough, and as of last week SCISSORS (hold me, please).  We cook and eat meals and clean and fold laundry together.  We talk to each other, a lot.  (Well, not Baby Sister so much yet, but I figure it won't' be long, right?)

So, if we've done all those things, and my two year old asks to watch The Electric Company, and I want to watch it too, why should I feel bad about that?  Is it just that I secretly want to be the kind of mother who can say "Oh, we don't watch TV" ... even though I HATE when people say that?

Why, of all the things that we do in a day, do so many of us let TV be the one thing that defines us?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

5 ways to enjoy your days with your kids more

One of my goals for February is to try to enjoy my at home days with my kids more.  I am tired of all of us zoning out in front of PBS, usually with my computer open next to me.  I'm also not interested in going to the other extreme and wearing myself out by trying to please everyone but me.  I want to have fun too.

So, here are the 5 principles I'm going to work on to try to enjoy this whole motherhood ride a little more.  Most of it is probably as wrong as it is right, but that's the way with everything, isn't it?

1.  Do things you enjoy and are good at.  Motherhood shouldn't be a constant sacrifice.  Why can't the things that you do with your kid be fun for both of you?  It sounds stupid, but it's so much easier to enjoy activities with kids when you choose activities you enjoy.  I have no knack for crafts or sensory play, but I love to read and I throw a damn good tea party.  (If you were wondering?  BG takes her imaginary tea with 15 imaginary sugars.  Pooh Bear takes one.  Baby just drinks milk.)

2.  Do things you don't enjoy and aren't good at.  I am not good at drawing.  I can't carry a tune.  When it comes to throwing and catching, I am not gifted.  In my pre-mom life, I was successful by studiously avoiding everything at which I didn't excel.  My kid doesn't let me get away with that crap.  And the truth is, whatever I draw or sing, or whatever direction I throw a basketball in, she thinks it's fantastic.  And that's pretty amazing.

3. Try to let go of perfectionism.  The point of doing a craft or a baking project or anything is the process of doing it together, not the product.  This is so hard for me, as I grit my teeth while cookie dough flies across the room, or try not to correct her when she reads the book "all by myself."  But I'm trying.  And I'm growing.

4.  Don't plan every minute - but plan some of them.  If I have no ideas for things we can do, I usually feel defeated pretty quickly.  The vast uninterrupted span of time in a full day at home with both kids is really not good for my brain.  I tend to turn the TV on and leave it on just to have something happening.  But on days when I say "Okay, we're going to bake something, fold laundry together, and play Just Dance," then I feel better - even when the activities I plan only take a few minutes out of the long stretch.  It also becomes a problem though when I think I need to fill every minute with "meaningful activities."  We all need some margin, and some downtime, and BG is perfectly capable of figuring out what to do herself some of the time. I can either follow her lead or do my own thing, and both are beneficial.

5. Give yourself permission not to enjoy it all.  For goodness sake, who could?  Sometimes, you play in the snow or let your kid play with playdough, and you are looking at your watch the whole time, and that's totally normal!  The less pressure you have to enjoy everything your kid does, the more you'll be willing to let *them* do it, and the more you'll find moments you do enjoy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Doing it right: Love and patience and grace

 My sweet big girl has been sick this weekend.  After two years, it was about time we broke our no fever streak, I suppose.  I spent most of yesterday just trying to survive with my sweet two year old and my sweet 7 week old both competing for all of my love, attention and physical contact.

And I did.  I did survive.

And it didn't look pretty.  It involved pajamas and lots of TV and a messy house.  But it also involved lots of cuddling and forgiveness and oodles of love.

Here's what else I did right this week:

1.  On Friday, before the sickies hit, BG and I baked cookies.  I caught myself getting impatient and perfectionist, and made a good effort to just breathe as she helpfully threw handfuls of dough on the cookie sheet and floor.

2.  I made Ah-maaaah-zing short ribs for dinner last night.  Mmmmmmmm.

3.  I cheerfully played with blocks while nursing the baby this morning.

4.  I read all the blogs in my reader.

Friday, February 1, 2013

One month of my one word

We're one month into the year, and it's time to check in on my one word progress.

Right around now?  I'm wishing I had picked "survive" instead.

Kidding.  Sorta.

The word I did choose, grow, is a little bit harder, but there's a reason for that.  It means that instead of just treading water, I'm consciously choosing to let everything I do and everything that happens move me forward.  And I'm choosing to see the ways in which it has, even when things seem like they suck a little.

And this month, I really have grown.

I'm reading and I'm writing. I'm seeing the good in my days, and particularly in myself.  I'm choosing not to let the hard stuff and the screw ups define me.  I'm choosing to act, to get up and do something even when I don't know what the right thing to do is.  I'm doing things that make me feel happy and accomplished and finding ways to make my life easier.

If you had asked me two months ago how I'd be doing right now, I would have guessed that my head would be just barely above water.  But the truth is, even when it's really hard and even when I'm struggling, I'm doing better than I had been for a while, better than I was doing with only one kid in the house and no snow on the ground.

And every week, every choice, every action, everything I learn and everything I do, brings me forward.  I'm not really sure where I'm going to end up at the end of it, but that's not really the point.  The point is that I am always growing.

I'm linking up with Just Be Enough, and hope you will too.  How are you doing with your One Word?