No longer and right now

15 hours since we first met face-to-face

No longer and right now

No longer do you ride in my belly sharing every step and breath I take.

No longer can your body be easily cradled in just my two hands.

No longer do you greet me solely with coos, chirps, and searching eyes.

No longer does your body curl into itself, holding the pose of a neonate.

No longer do you need me for all of your needs to be met.

I miss all that has passed before this time.

I grieve what we have lost because no longer are you who you once were then.

Without letting go of “right now,” I wish I could simultaneously hold “back then.”

But that is not possible. Right now is now. Then is then.

So I cry, moan, and ache for all the preciousness we have had together.

Then I give thanks for each of these “thens” that are no longer, even though I want to hold them close forever.

I give thanks that though the past cannot be re-lived, tomorrow is not yet.

I give thanks that we have right now.

~ Shonnie Lavender, 9/13/12

Almost 2 years since that original “birth day”

Planning to leave before saying “goodbye”

Today we signed our newly created Wills. Our original goal was to have them done before Gracelyn turned one. We pushed that back to June and might not have made it by her second birthday, but here we are with signed and notarized documents that detail what we wish to happen in the event of our death(s) — yep, I wrote “in the event of” as if it might not happen. Which reminds me of why so many avoid doing these documents at all (they bring up questions and thoughts that can feel very uncomfortable). I’m grateful they are complete and know that they will help those we leave behind when we die (yep, I’m admitting that I will die one day — a long time from now, but I know I am mortal).

While wills are valuable to almost anyone, parents with “minor” children really have a lot to think about when crafting their final wishes. To me, thinking of Gracelyn’s future without us in it is incredibly painful. Though I look forward to her growing into a mature, interdependent adult (one day a long time from now), I truly treasure this chance to walk on the same earth as my little girl. Her presence is oxygen to my spirit and the joy I feel simply knowing her cannot be contained. I want to be around for her life…for her…for me, and yet, at some point I won’t be here physically.

My mom died when I was 21 — which was almost two decades ago so I’m approaching that point of living longer without her than I did with her. Though I don’t miss her acutely as I did in those first few years following her death, nor do I often consciously think of her absence, I know I wish I could be sharing my daughter with her and my mama-self with her too. I would be grateful if she was still physically present in my life AND my experience with her death has helped me prepare for my own death and better live my life in the gap between today and my final day.

Death has helped me

  • Let go of fears about tomorrow, next week, next year, or “someday.” The days will come and go, but much of what I’m scared to have happen will only ever exist in my mind. And some of it can’t be prepared for ahead of time anyway so fear just wastes the present.
  • Savor life and choose what matters. True, I’m fortunate to have a spouse who can and will work at a good wage, yet we’ve made very intentional choices that make it easy for me to be a full-time mama. The way I know to “stave off death” is to enjoy each present moment to the fullest extent possible.
  • Love now. Love now. Love now. Mainly this means to me that I tell people in the moment that they matter to me, that I love them, that their life blesses mine, that they’ve affected me in a positive way.
  • Build relationships not things. This is one that I get to constantly practice, especially since it’s so counter-cultural. We have no TV (though still more screens than we need) and we spend lots of our family time in intimate contact with each other (reading snuggled up on the couch, tickling and playing chase, rubbing noses and toeses, cooking together, gardening, splashing in puddles, etc.).
  • Talk and share. When my mom was sick I didn’t want to talk about her death for fear that she might think I’d lost hope. She didn’t talk about her death either, so that meant that plenty went unsaid and I ended up with unanswered questions. While I don’t plan to talk with Gracelyn frequently about death or burden her with things that she’s not developmentally ready for, I do take time to write in her journal and otherwise record things that I want her to know for posterity.
  • Nurture our non-physical connection. While I know I’m spirit and Gracelyn is too, I crave physical contact (or evidence of that physical presence like a voice across a telephone line). Though there is fascinating evidence that even our physical selves are intertwined, I want to foster a greater spiritual connection to my daughter. This is important to me so that even when our physical separation comes (the ones that happen now or the “big one” that happens at death), we’ll still be bound together in a real and active way.
  • Be real. I want Gracelyn to know me and I want to know her. Sure there may be things that I feel uncomfortable revealing or may even wish I didn’t know about her, but I think that authenticity doesn’t fade with time and I want those memories to linger long after I’ve recycled my body.

I don’t really ever want to say “goodbye” for a final time to my beloved child (or anyone else I love, for that matter). But the day and time will come to do precisely that — if I’m lucky enough to get that special chance. Completing our Wills was a vitally important step in planning for a future of which I won’t be a part. It’s one less “to do” on my “prepare for your own death” list. Now, comes the fun and hopefully very long part of living this life with Gracelyn as if each day was both the very last one together and the very first too. Here’s intending to complete this “to do” with gratitude and awe for even getting to be on this journey together at all.

“I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason, I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merged into one for a moment and then divided again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other. I saw this metaphor many years ago and it is one of my most vivid memories. I realized then that we never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.”

~ Peggy Tabor Millin, Mary’s Way

(On a strange note, my mom’s birthday is tomorrow. She would have been 69. Maybe that’s where this post came from and I was simply the transcriptionist.)

What did we envision for our family?

I’m presently training to teach Simplicity Parenting, the work of Kim John Payne. The book, the subtitle of which is “using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids,” is thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging, and useful to anyone living with a child under their roof.

When I first began reading the book, one thing really stuck out. Payne writes about rediscovering one’s vision for one’s family. Specifically he asks, “How did you imagine your children? How did you picture yourselves as parents?… How did you imagine your home, with children?” What got me was that I’d focused most of my visioning energy on the pregnancy and helping to grow a healthy baby. While I’d definitely journaled about and imagined being a parent and a family of three, I hadn’t spent much creative process on the future after baby’s birth. Since I’ll be helping lead others through Simplicity Parenting, I figured now was a good time to reacquaint myself with the visions I had had and also ruminate on what other pictures were in my heart and mind.

In my imagination…

  • There are warm voices asking each other gentle questions, seeking to understand and know the others at depth. Between the phrases spoken is open silence that invites response and is present to hear what’s said and what’s left unspoken.
  • There are infectious giggles and peals of laughter as the family plays and shares the lightness of their spirits. Joy is palpable and appreciation can be felt in the air.
  • Hands are linked in work and repose showing the unity of the family and the comfort they find in each other’s company and partnership. There is a “we” here while still giving plenty of room for the individual “me”s.
  • Faces show love, concern, affection, gratitude, contentment, and joy as the three lives intertwine and the connections grow deeper and stronger yet also more flexible.
  • Respect is seen in courteous acts and heard in kind words. Love is manifest in gentle, warm touch. Honor is given for the sacredness of each person, exactly as they are.
  • Rituals are created that carry forward past traditions in new ways that suit our family, our values, our wishes. Reverence is given for life, for each other, and for the family that is ever becoming.
  • Hurdles are addressed and overcome, growth is discussed and encouraged, losses are acknowledged and grieved, wins are called out and celebrated. Experiences are shared, savored, and safely treasured in family memories.

I don’t know where our family will travel during our life together. I pray that the journey will be smooth and we will all make safe passage on to whatever is next for each of us. I know that we are truly blessed to be on this voyage and hold a vision of a deeply connected, loving, and joy-filled home. I look forward to playing my part in realizing these dreams and also to doing what I can to help other families manifest their most sacred visions.

“When we act out of reverence, instead of fear, our motivation is stronger, our inspiration boundless.”

~ Kim John Payne

Now that’s what I call reverence and appreciation for life’s magic!

To teach or not to teach . . . manners

Yesterday (Saturday) I posted the paragraph below on Facebook:

The other night Shonnie and I were talking about manners, whether we should try to teach Gracelyn to say “please” and “thank you,” etc. or merely model these behaviors or do nothing at all in this regard. Personally I think manners can be automatic reactions to certain social situations that hamper authentic responses such as gratitude or appreciation. What do you think?

I got almost 20 thoughtful and perceptive comments, including the following:

Teach your kid to be polite, there is enough bad behavior out there. Being polite doesn’t mean being inauthentic, it means being considerate. –R.

please and thank you were automatically taught in my family. i don’t have children so haven’t thought about i much…until now. i’ve def seen a lot of stress around the ‘teaching’. as in when a child asks for something or receives something, there’s this ‘teaching moment’ of ‘say please, say thank you’…which feels kind of shaming. as an adult, i don’t think i use please all the time when i ask for things. –L.

Interesting topic! I remember as a kid being forced to say “Thank you” felt awful and I faked it a lot. Being forced to say “please” always made me feel like I was begging. I kind of wonder about the etymology of “please”, if it’s intended to be subjective or objective. In French, s’il vous plait literally means “if it is pleasing to you” (which is rather nice) and I think in English when we say “please” we are generally implying that it would please *me* if you do this / give me that / etc. Which when you think about it, isn’t really that polite at all. –S

Teach with kindness and compassion. Yes, be a role model! I was in the grocery store the other day a a mother punished and shamed a child for not saying “No thank you” to an offer of a store sticker from the cashier. I thought that was odd to expect from a 3 year old. While manners are important, they cannot be forced. –J.

As you can see, my Facebook friends provided a lot for me and Shonnie to consider. This morning we were having one of our occasional family meetings during which we read our marriage vows to one another and then our commitments to Gracelyn. And as Shonnie was reading those commitments, because of the online conversation I’d been having, this one stood out for me:

“We (Shonnie & Bruce ) will introduce you (Gracelyn) to many different ways of being, doing and living and provide you opportunities to make your own choices so that you can ultimately find the beliefs, habits and life path that fit for you.”

So, I’m on board with introducing Gracelyn to “manners” as well as some of the other beliefs and customs of our culture (and other cultures), but I won’t compel her to say “please” or “thank you” or anything else, for that matter. She’ll get to make those choices on her own.

Regarding teaching manners so our kids will treat others well, I believe that infants come into the world infused with an abundance of natural compassion, love and empathy. Thus, if we want our children to respect other people (as well as other animals, plants, the Earth), all we parents need to do is nurture those attributes and, hopefully, model them ourselves. Our experience so far with Gracelyn has certainly shown this to be true.

Making your own tradition

From Merriam-Webster’s website: Definition of TRADITION

  1. a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
  2. : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
  3. : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
  4. : characteristic manner, method, or style
Putting the angel atop our tree

Recent reads of Reclaiming Christmas, Radical Homemaker Style and Gimme, Gimme vs. Doing Good: Teaching Children to Give have me thinking about Christmas traditions, especially in our “consumer culture.” Growing up I loved Christmas. I have entire albums of music I know by heart and love to sing (unfortunately for Bruce these include the Star Wars Christmas album and the disc from John Denver and the Muppets). To me it doesn’t feel like Christmas without a tree, ornaments, and twinkly lights. And even though I’m now vegetarian and do soy instead of dairy, I’d be a bit sad without my holiday nog. While Bruce and I have done a more simple Christmas for a few years now (just exchanging a stocking’s full of gifts), we’ve never fully considered what Christmas means to us and what we want to be our holiday traditions. This year we are beginning that conversation.

What did I actually love about childhood Christmases?

Reading a Christmas book

While I do have the American appetite for stuff, I’ve realized that what made me most happy as a receiver at Christmas was being surprised to find what was under that colorful paper or in my stocking and getting something I’d really, really wanted (the Flash Gordon movie on VHS tape and the ‘wear it 5 ways’ winter coat that was white with bold-colored stripes). Being happy as a giver had to do with choosing something that I thought would bring the receiver joy. While I don’t remember many of the gifts I’ve actually given, I know that this spirit of pleasing another (be it a person or a pet 🙂 ) still gets me excited to shop, bake, or otherwise create a gift.

What is Christmas about?

Though my ego wants me to say otherwise, for me thinking of Christmas means the things I’ve mentioned above, plus calls with family, the Christmas Eve celebration at Jubilee!, and my birthday which follows three-days afterwards. I’m not certain, however, that this is the meaning I want it to continue to hold for me or to establish for Gracelyn. Thanksgiving, which has gained more of my appreciation since growing up, is obvious — being grateful for all the blessings in life AND taking time out to acknowledge these gifts. It seems that Christmas, therefore, is a chance to give back, an opportunity to tangibly give evidence of my gratitude by passing on blessings to others. While this gifting can be done in a consumerist way, I think that such thinking actually limits our creativity and may even corrupt the act of giving with other desires (to show how blessed we are to have lots of money, to base our worth on how much we can give, etc.). What I’ve recently shared with Bruce is the idea of widening our ways of giving, or rather balancing our giving with four categories of gifts: time, talent, trinkets, and tithing (While I know tithing has a specific definition, it was the only “t” word I could think of to describe giving in ways such as donations to charities or to those with whom you don’t have a personal connection.). For me, it seems this keeps the spirit of Christmas as a giving time while helping undo the strong consumer-Christmas connection.

Love those twinkly lights

This year I’ve come a bit late to the game to fully satisfy my new “criteria” for Christmas, relying mostly on trinkets though I have given gifts of time and talent and prepared my tithing. So, while this doesn’t cover all of the traditions we might set for the Lavender-Mulkey Christmas season, I look forward to letting these categories help guide us in the gifting part of our traditions in the year to come.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Ready for a priceless moment (or two, or ten thousand)?

Our first time baking Christmas cookies

This post will be short because I’ve got more important ways to spend my day than taking lots of time writing. This post will be short because you have more important ways to spend your day than reading more words. This post will be short because someone else already wrote what we need to hear.

Please read this poignant post by Hands Free Mama (a.k.a. Rachel Macy Stafford). Thanks to Josh Misner, one of my Gonzaga Graduate School TAs for posting this on facebook.

Now I’m off to gaze at the eyelashes of my sleeping daughter and watch her belly rise and fall as she breathes.

Home alone (without mama and dada, that is)

Yesterday Bruce and I had our first time without Gracelyn by our sides. While some of you might think, “She’s 14 months old, it’s about time” we didn’t feel any kind of urge to “get away.” What we did want, however, was to reintroduce couple space into our family (just like we have family space, mama-baby space, and dada-baby space). We also wanted Gracelyn to experience the joy and peace of being with other loving, trustworthy, and familiar people. Our vision was that this would fortify Gracelyn’s knowledge that the world is a benevolent place and she can trust us to only entrust her care to trustworthy people.

How did it go?
We talked with Gracelyn earlier in the day to explain what was going to happen that afternoon. When our friends Billy and Adrian came over, we all spent time together getting connected (Billy and Adrian had been with we three two or three other times for several hours so G knows and likes them already). Finally a few minutes before we planned to depart, we reminded Gracelyn of the plan and asked for her to be really clear with her communications with her babysitters since they might not understand her as quickly as we do. Then we went over a few details with Billy and Adrian (it really was just 5 or so things we told and asked them 🙂 ). Finally we put on our shoes, gave our baby kisses, and headed to the car.

As we backed away, she began to cry and looked so pained that it was difficult to follow through in leaving. Then we immediately got into an argument because I thought Bruce saying that his heart hurt leaving her like that was his way of saying it was easy for me to leave her. Fortunately our spat was very short as we both simply heard one another and acknowledged how we ache seeing Gracelyn in pain of any sort. I suggested that we hold a vision of this being a very positive experience for Gracelyn (and for us) and seeing her having a great time with Adrian and Billy.

We went to a nearby coffee house for coffee and hot chocolate and a shared chocolate croissant. It was weird to be alone AND seemed both strange and pleasant to carry on an uninterrupted conversation (except for the text messages, of course 🙂 ). I’d asked Billy to text a few minutes after our departure to give us a status report. Below is the back and forth conversation via text:

  • 16:50 Me: How goes it? Did G stop crying?
  • Billy: She’s happy, eating organic pineapple, talking to the KA [cats]. [audible sighs from mama and dada and excitement for seeing a photo] Can u get pix on your phones if I send?
  • Me: That’s our girl. Yep to pix.
  • Billy: Smiles. [great photo of a content Gracelyn comes through; mama and dada laugh]
  • U can babysit anytime. See y’all in a couple of hours! (kidding) [our plan was to be gone about 30 minutes]
  • Billy: Ha! Do take your time, tho. All is well.

I texted again as we were headed home. All total we were gone for about 45 minutes.

When we returned, Gracelyn excitedly greeted us as we came through the door yet her energy was calm and happy rather than frantic and worried. Billy and Adrian recounted that Gracelyn had cried for 15-30 seconds after we’d left but then found herself enchanted by the cats, fall leaves, and the company of her two caretakers. She would periodically call out “mama” or “dada” and look around for us and Adrian and Billy would reassure her we’d be home soon which seemed good enough for her.

I’m thankful that it all went so well and that our visions were fulfilled. We’re blessed to have loved ones like Billy and Adrian who any child would be delighted to have around. We’re blessed with a sweet child who knows when all is well and can feel the comfort, love, and security surrounding her. We’re blessed to have each other and have the time and space to give our relationship some nurturing. So for us, 14 months and 5 days was precisely the right amount of time to wait before asking Gracelyn to be home alone.