Watching you becoming

Shonnie to Gracelyn recently: “I love seeing who you’re growing into.”

Gracelyn’s response: “Mama, you know who I am. I’m Gracelyn.”

This past week, Gracelyn and I spent about an hour sitting at my computer watching videos that Bruce and I had taken of her since her birth. I’d probably seen them all at some point, but either that point was very long ago or had gotten lost amidst other memories and thus some of the moments seemed brand new. Videos showed her pulling towels and dish cloths from a kitchen drawer, playing peep-eye with me, early crawling and stair climbing, being in her plastic swimming pool for the first time, splashing in rain puddles, and pronouncing our cat Desmond’s name for the first time that I’d understood. There was even a short video of me holding our then un-named daughter the first morning after her birth when we were still at the hospital (that one I didn’t remember).

It was heart-warming to see how she responded to each video, sometimes asking questions about the moment, sometimes remembering an experience, sometimes simply laughing or obviously entranced by these snippets of her life thus far. For me, it was a delightful and quick trip down memory lane, giving me glimpses into the lives of the people on the screen: Who was she back then? Who was I? Even though a few of the videos seemed entirely new to me, most gave me a deep sense of familiarity — I knew these people. I’d had the time and the space to get to know this child as she moved through her life phases — newborn, infant, baby, toddler, preschooler. I’d had the opportunity to bear witness to my own evolution from freshly-claimed motherhood status, to just-emerging-from-the-first-year-whilrwind mama, to mom who knows that this parenting gig is her own growth path as much as it is her daughter’s.

Being together

Bruce had originally encouraged me to stay home to be with Gracelyn for her first year of life. I hadn’t been opposed to this, though having been cared for by sweet, little ol’ ladies because my two parents worked outside the home, I didn’t think it was a huge deal to be the primary caregiver for one’s child. Within a few weeks of being home with Gracelyn, however, I’d become a convert and my desire to be with her the vast majority of the time hasn’t waned much in the intervening 4+ years.

days-long-years-short-quoteThose cliché sayings are true, of course. Time does pass in a flash. The days are long and the years are short. By having the freedom to focus my time and attention on my daughter, I’ve gotten to see her growing. I’ve been present as she had first experiences but also as she had second, third, fourth, and more trys at her discoveries. Having the time and energy allows us the space to get to know one another. I wasn’t merely a watcher of those videos of Gracelyn’s past, I was present then, either at her side, behind the camera lens, or nearby observing. Some call my — or our experience — a luxury, and it is in the sense that not everyone can easily have this experience of being together with their child most of the time. For me, however, it has also become a necessity to my spirit — the chance to soak each other in, to come to know one another intimately, confidently, gently as we both evolve into who we are becoming moment-by-moment, one lived experience at a time.

So as Gracelyn now passes age 4.25 and I approach my 43rd birthday, I give a knot-throated, teary-eyed thanks. First for the very precious opportunity to be a mama at all. Second for the gentle insistence of my husband to be at home with our daughter for that first year. Third for the continuing blessings that allow me to devote most of my time to nurturing my girl during these early years. Finally for the innumerable, mostly unrecorded yet nonetheless indelible, gifts that have come from, and been comprised of these many moments.

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Not a baby but still my baby

Beautiful “bouquet”

Today Gracelyn has birthday number 2 (although it’s technically #3 when you count the day on which she was born as #1). She is precocious, funny, clear-of-mind and heart, and as loveable as ever. Many people inevitably comment that we’re about to start the “terrible twos” but, as you can probably guess, I don’t cotton to that notion. (Check the photos page for more recent pics.)

Growing up

Yes, as Gracelyn gets older she has more desires for autonomy and for getting the experience of doing things herself. Sometimes if mama or daddy isn’t ready or willing for “just Baby Gee,” we say “no,” or provide an alternative that isn’t to her liking. Our default mode, however, is “yes,” even if it means cleaning something up afterwards or practicing deep breathing during it all. Here’s some of what’s transpired with our self-confident girl.

  • Two weeks ago she lifted the toilet seat lid, pulled down her potty reducer seat, climbed up on the toilet, peed, climbed down, shut the lid, and flushed the toilet. Though she still will take assistance periodically, she’s obviously very delighted to be able to do this task all on her own.
  • She explores high drawers and counters on her own by carrying a stool to where she wants to reach and then clambering up to stand and browse. Frequently she’ll say “See what’s going on up here” as she reaches her perch. It’s also very cute because the stool she uses is wood and a woven cloth seat/step so it’s somewhat heavy and it takes most of her strength to tote it around.
  • Yesterday she fetched a dish cloth from a kitchen drawer to clean up some washable marker she’d gotten on a chair (I hadn’t seen her do the drawing at all). She gave me the cloth asking me to put water on it so she could “wipe up” which she then did with only a minor follow-up by me.
  • Lately she’s enjoyed “putting in her contacts” (mimicking mama) which last night consisted of risotto and roasted broccoli she placed on her eyelids while eating dinner.
  • While visiting Chicago after a visit to Grandma Jeri and Grandpa Arlen’s, Gracelyn enjoyed walking down the sidewalks of many of the streets near the Art Institute, Lake Michigan, and Lakeshore Drive. I carried her when crossing streets and only a few times asked her to move further away from the curb which she was already doing naturally well.
  • She brushes her teeth and even does a little bit of flossing with pleasure and even some accuracy. Our new routine is that she does the first brush and then mama or daddy finish with a second brushing.
  • This girl loves to talk, rhyme, sing, repeat, and create. I’m repeatedly met by people who comment “she speaks very well,” “wow, she talks well for her age,” or “she’s just how old?” and they’re right. Daddy jokes that her career avenues might be either prop comic (G now calls herself “Prop Comic Dirty Face”) or linguist. She and I carry on simple conversations, we read books together (G finishing some sentences or filling in parts of the story), and sing many favorite songs. My recent favorite saying is “How ’bout that idea?” which she uses when putting forth her suggestion of something to do.

Forever my baby (“our” baby to be exact)

Of course, while Gracelyn’s independence is burgeoning in myriad ways, I’m grateful for all the ways she allows herself to still be a baby.

  • She kisses so sweetly and always on my lips. She has a loving expression on her face and comes away from the peck smiling and happy.
  • “Nursie!” is G’s cry when she’s feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tired, or has hurt herself. We still nurse before and after sleeping (naps or nighttime) and occasionally during the night, yet the once frequent cuddling and feeding has waned as she’s grown. It’s such a sweet treat to be able to still comfort her with my body and my milk and I relish having her nestled close and holding her tenderly as she regains her equilibrium.
  • Hugs, piggy back, and snuggling still keep us physically close as G continues to grow physically independent. Just today after a nap she snuggled up next to me, got nose-to-nose with me and we spent a minute or so in our tender embrace.
  • Being carried in our ergo carrier or sling keeps her cocooned against my body. While she often enjoys walking (and sometimes insists on it), I’m grateful for all the “mama carry you”s I get and every minute shes the joey to my mama kangaroo.

Celebrating this precious child

Here is a poem to give voice to the blessings that this birthday brings and the gratitude I feel for this most precious child of god.

On Your Birthday
by Shonnie Lavender

Today is different than other days

Except that it is not.

Today you will be exactly who you are meant to be.

You will create and imagine your own visions.

You will play and explore our world with awe and curiosity.

You will do and say things that give me pause, make me think, and wake me up.

You will be bold and quiet, quick and slow, playful and serious.

You will help me be myself, the person who I was made to be.

You will remind and reheart me of what is possible and inspire me to make it so.

Today you will be and do all this and more.

Today is the same as all other days

Except that it is not.

Today is the anniversary of your birth.

Thus today brings a special reminder.

How lucky I am to have this day, and this life,

with you, darling daughter.

Happy Birthday!

P.S. I found Bath Time this most heart-warming poem from Lisa M. that she wrote about bath time (and not bath time) with her son. It so speaks to me about a mother’s love and how much we always want to be their for our babies whether they are babies or not. Enjoy!

Staying present to your child right now

Here’s an excerpt from Continually Falling in Love with Your Child that I wrote for my professional site HeartLedParenting.com. I’d appreciate it if you’d drop by, read the piece, and comment if you feel so moved.

“It’s so easy to rely on our history with someone and forget to keep paying attention. Though we often say it in words — ‘They grow up so fast.’ — we seem to sometimes act as if who are children are is frozen in time.”

Happy Mothers’ Day, Mommy!

On this, our second Mothers’ Day together, I want to tell you lots of reasons I love you so much.

I love the way you keep me close to you all day and all night long.

I love the way you smell so mommy-like.

I love the way you let me explore my surroundings, yet are always there when I need you.

I love the way you read to me every night at bedtime.

I love the way you talk to me and ask me questions when you’re not sure what I want.

But most of all, I love you because you’re you—my sweet Mommy.

I love you with all my heart!

Gracelyn

What does “mother” mean anyway?

It can be rough when you learn that you’re not the mother you thought you’d be. When I say “rough,” of course, I mean heart-wrenching, soul-crushing, and seemingly life-ending. Though it is in fact a painful revelation, I believe it’s so acute, in part, because we have a wacky definition of “mother.”

Mother idealized

A mother, we believe, is loving, beneficent, self-less, kind, gentle — all of which are true except in rare cases. The challenge comes because we add to these characteristics the qualifier that she is this way “all the time.” Even if you don’t think this is what you believe, you will determine that this is what you’ve been expecting of yourself all along once you become a mother. Whether this misunderstanding comes from our cultural myths, our own deepest desires, or a conglomeration of sources, believing that “mother” is a synonym for “saint” is harmful for us all.

Mother actually

Here’s what I’ve learned about what it means to be a mother in my 18+ months fulfilling this role.

  • Being a mother opens up your heart to a love so deep that you could seemingly be consumed by it. Out of this love you desire to be and do only that which will nurture your child and reflect to them the love you feel for them.
  • The act of mothering — all that you “do” as a mama to manifest this love and care — is more profound than anything you’ve ever done before and, at times, wears you to the rough and fragile places of your ego. In these moments you learn that your “better self” has a “less-better self” and you feel off-kilter as your self-image gets reshaped.
  • First recognizing the gap between the idealized and real picture of motherhood can be an experience filled with surprise, disappointment, shock, or horror, depending on how strongly you held the idealized beliefs, how unrealistic your own demands on yourself, how honest are the other mothers with whom you connect, and how challenging your overall parenting journey.
  • Navigating the true territory of motherhood is a rich and hopefully life-altering journey. I say “hopefully” because I believe that in losing some of our untrue ideas and demands, we become more whole, more human, more real — our homo sapiens version of the Velveteen Rabbit transformation — which is a better model for those children in our care.

Your Mother
by Shonnie Lavender

I am a mother.

I am gentle, loving, and protective.

I am rough, mean, and sometimes the person you need protection from.

I nurture you.

I need my own nurturing.

I am attentive to your full and healthy development.

I am still becoming my authentic and healthy self.

I love you in ways words are inadequate to describe.

I fail to behave lovingly even when that is what you need most.

My best intentions are often realized, even in difficult moments.

I make amends, and deserve forgiveness, when my actions aren’t ideal.

My love is for you is unending, unfathomable, and unrelenting.

My love is bestowed unevenly but done to the best of my ability.

I am a mother — your real, un-perfect mother — and I am grateful to fill this role for you.

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!