Friday, February 25, 2011

On Poop

So much of a mother's life is about handling poo-poo. I've become a bit of a connoisseur. (If this is going to gross you out, read no further. But if you do, remember I warned you!) Will's poo-poo right now looks so much like what went in his mouth. Honestly, it looks like he's pooping sweet potatoes, which is what he's been eating a lot of. I swear, I get a little worried that he's not getting any nutrients, because I open up his diaper and there it is, just like when it was in his bowl.

Of course, it doesn't smell like sweet potatoes. He's past that stage where his poo-poo actually smelled kind of nice, "like buttered popcorn," my midwife says, that mild, mustardy yellow, seedy stuff. The poo-poo that comes out of a nursing infant (after the first few emissions, that is) is almost pleasant - except when there's a "blow-out." Then it's more work for mommy, rinsing out clothes and sometimes having to buy new ones, because that stuff has incredible staining power. They could use it for dyeing things. (I wonder if anyone has ever thought of that. It just came to me.)

The first time a baby poo-poos, though, is not pleasant, and you'd better hope you've greased up his behind, because meconium, as they call it, sticks like tar and looks like tar, too. Doesn't stink, though.

Now, that's just infant poo-poo. I haven't even started in on toddler poo-poo and beyond. I have so many stories I could regale you with, but to keep some decorum, I will just say, here are some questions that have run through my mind at one time or another in the last four years: What is that stuck on the bottom of my foot? What is that little ball my child is playing with in the bathtub? and What is that mess the dog is eating off the floor?

About the dog: when I have to wipe his bottom, that is the last straw. And yet, when it needs doing, I do it; it's the life of a mother. Speaking of, I think I hear that sweet little singsong summons, "Mommmm-eeeeeee, it's time to wipe my boooo-ttommmm!" I'm going back in.

Home Maintenance

Kids or no kids, no house I keep would ever be perfect. I'm no Martha Stewart (cooking aside, perhaps.) I'm an ah-tist, dah-ling - a lazy one, raised in the age of feminism, no less, yet another example of how homemaking is a dying art. But I do like a semblance of order as much as the next girl. I don't make deep cleaning a regular habit, (though I can say I do have lofty intentions and sometimes go through spurts, usually after my youngest's first birthday and just before the next one's due date), but I do like the house to have that peaceful feeling it has when it is at least straightened up, dishes done, floors swept, and enough clean laundry for us to dress ourselves with. But throw Baby Number Three in there, baby, and even that is difficult to keep up with.

All day, on my way to fix lunch, change a diaper, wipe a bottom, often babe-in-arm, I pass so many things that need doing (and undoing) that I have started just telling myself, "I don't see that," and for the most part, it works. Dog hair on the floor? I don't see it. The Christmas tree still up? I don't see it. All the wearable clothes in my closet half-dirty and piled there on a baby seat Will outgrew two months ago? I don't see it. I do see the poo poo in the little potty chair that needs to be emptied; I'll get to it in a minute.

I need to make a rule, by the way, that once you are potty-trained, the little potty chair is off limits. Kids love going in those things. I'm always emptying the potty chair, thinking, "I need to move this to the garage." But just when I'm about to, it's time to potty-train the next one. One time we had a party with a lot of kids, and I'm telling you, after they left, there was potty and poo poo in every toilet and little potty chair in the house. It's as if they were so excited at all the different places they could go, they decided to try all of them.

Some things you do see, though, if you pass them every day and they're at eye level, for example, the dirty smear on the blinds where I tried to wipe off the dust with my finger one day six months ago. Every morning and every night when we go to, alternately, let in a little light and give ourselves some privacy, we see it. Today it was finally driving me as crazy as Shep said it's been driving him (though not crazy enough for him to do anything about it), and so I cleaned all the blinds, on that window, at eye level. Now Shep will think I've cleaned them all, and I think I might let myself be fooled as well.

Something else I saw, yesterday morning when I was putting on my shoe: a little sticker stuck inside. Kids love stickers, too, just to take them and stick them on things, and if you don't peel them off right away, they can become permanent fixtures. This one had been there awhile; I didn't bother working on it. I was just glad I'd peeled out the one that was in Grace's hair before I dropped her off at preschool. Besides, it made me smile. I had a flash of how precious it would be to find that sticker once I don't have anyone sticking them on things anymore. It's precious now. Like I know one day I'll smile back fondly on the year I left the Christmas tree up til March. I'm smiling now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Personal Hygiene

We don't bathe a lot. I have to admit that. I wipe the dirty spots - faces, hands, occasionally knees and feet. That gets the girls through the week. We try to submerge them entirely in water at least once before church on Sunday. Pool water qualifies.

Poor Will has had slightly more baths than the number of months he is old. Though recently he's started "feeding" himself - little bits of banana or granola bar that largely miss his mouth and get mushed on him or his seat or at times licked off his hand by the dog, much to their mutual delight. So he's gotten too much gunk in the creases. Yesterday I put him in some warm water on the clean side of the kitchen sink. He was so intrigued with the running water (probably because of its novelty) I had to take a picture. Plus, he looked so cute beside that big pile of dirty dishes. (It was a great opportunity to address those, too.)

As for me, I find myself thinking about washing myself as I used to think about washing my hair: "Oh good, I don't have to take a shower today. I took one the day before yesterday." Then there comes a day when I think, "Eegh. I've got to take a shower today." But it might be a day and a half before I get around to it. It's just, when am I going to do it? I could shower during naptime or after the kids' bedtime, but that cuts into the time I have for cooking, cleaning, sleeping, reading, and sitting on the couch eating chocolate candy while watching The Biggest Loser. I suppose I could wake up in the morning before the children get up,'s really not that important to me.

But today I noticed a warm, earthy, animal-ish smell, and I thought, "That is not socially acceptable in this country." Of course, it might be these clothes. It doesn't help that my laundry is always the last to be done. While it is comforting to think of myself as being very European, and also environmentally friendly - think of the water I'm conserving - I'd better take a shower and throw in a load.

A friend asked me the other day, "Are you ready for Number Four?"

I said, "I have arms wide open. I can wait, but if I was pregnant right now, I'd be happy."

She said, "Wouldn't you be...overwhelmed?"

We had a good laugh when I said, "How could I possibly be more overwhelmed than I am now?"

Really, by the time I have another one, Grace will be old enough to help more. At the very least, she'll be able to brush her own teeth and buckle herself into the car. Right now, we have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and an eight-month-old. Our life is almost all children: feeding, caring for, teaching, and yes, sometimes bathing them fills up the middle and has pushed everything else out to the edges - things like hygiene and taking down the Christmas tree.

When Grace was a baby, we had a beautiful nightly ritual. Every night after dinner, I would get in the bathtub and take her in with me, on my lap. I'd wipe her gently top to toe while she looked around with her dark eyes, silently studying everything. The water was warm around us and her body was solid and warm against mine. I love us doing that together.

I have to smile at the contrast with today: my children and me making our way to the car together after picking Grace up at preschool, all four of us, Will in my arm, my hands full of papers Grace made, holding her hand with my pinky, nudging Emma with my voice, opening the door with my elbow. But I love today too. Outside, we were moving so slowly that I had plenty of time to look up and see that the sky was a stunning blue. The wind was swaying the shade trees, and I felt the air, between cool and warm, as a caress.

Passing by us with his daughter, another parent said, "You've got your hands full!"

Yes, I do. It's a good word for it: full, like a fed belly, full with these solid, warm little bodies, with these little beings and their sparkling conversations, with their flitting presences, with their chaos, full, like the wings of a mother hen gathering in her chicks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bits and Pieces

  • I am enjoying reading Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow - in the bathroom, 10 (or 2 or 3) minutes at a time. (If you're a mom, you understand this is probably the most effective way to get it done.)
  • Shep has me convinced the world is ending soon. He reads the news; I don't, because I know I'll be filled in on whatever I need to know. Shep fills me in on the Middle East.
  • Apparently, the bread-baking frenzy is a documented stage of female life. I'm in it. There is something about the dough; it feels like a piece of flesh, and you're molding it. Last Friday, Grace was standing beside me while I formed dough into loaves, and after awhile with a stirred expression, she said, "I love watching you do that." (I think she gets it.)
  • I am practicing a new spiritual discipline called sleep. For me, going to bed at 10pm says, "God made me to need 8 hours of sleep. Whatever I can't get done in 16 hours doesn't need to be done today." (I am conflicted about it; I'll have to let you know how it goes.)
  • I played cards with my mom tonight. We play a kind of speed group solitaire called Duker. The rest of the family can't talk and play at the same time, but my mom and I play best during a good conversation. We played til the baby was beside himself, then I came home.
  • I'm drowning in dirty dishes. Shep promised he'd do them when he gets home, so I'm sitting on the couch waiting for him.

I can't make all this into one unified thought today, (probably because I need to go practice my new spiritual discipline.) But that's my life - bits and pieces whirling around an ever-constant nucleus of caring for little children, a center that is itself full of motion. When I close my eyes at night, I still feel it, like after a day at the ocean; instead of waves, I feel little arms, see little eyes, hear little voices, saying, "Mommy? Mommy! Mommy. Mommy,..."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've Got to See a Show

I've got to see a show. I'm salivating. I want to see Will. He's doing a show soon that's not your cheeriest night at the theatre, but it would be worth it to watch him. I've seen him "get it": illuminate his character so the audience knows what the playwright meant when she wrote it, which is the actor's only job.

When I worked with him in the theatre, I felt about him more than with anyone else that he was my peer, almost my sibling. We had a fight one time backstage that was so bad it ended with him shouting profanity and me running, weeping histrionically, to my dressing room. It took me a whole year longer than him to apologize, and to even know that I should, which maybe shows who between the two of us was the bigger diva. We always were like oil and water.

One of my favorite memories of him is a tea scene with high-running tension and never-ending scoops of sugar. I feel like I remember the sound of our tea cups rattling from barely contained laughter, and there were definitely bite marks inside my cheeks - the best way I've found to stay in character in that kind of situation.

There was a suicide scene I watched him enact, and it was only a staged reading, for heaven's sake, but I couldn't get out of my chair afterward. The way he had "cut" himself over and over, resolutely willing himself to no longer exist, was an unexpectedly perfect picture of my own interior pain. I couldn't stop weeping, even as people filed past me uncomfortably. That's why I can't make the theatre my church. It can bring up the deep things, but there's nowhere to go with them. In the church you know the only place to take it all is the cross.

One time Will, his wife, and I drove up to Chattanooga for an audition and all shared a hotel room. We sat up til after midnight talking about God. We don't share the same mindset on that subject, but I think he might come closer to my way of thinking before all is said and done. I love him, so maybe he'll forgive the presumption.

Anyway, I can't wait to see his show.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Spot

I compare myself to others. (Don't we all?) Lately, I've been looking at other mothers and calculating if I'm ahead or behind in the area of baby-making. Some of my peers have no children; some aren't even married. But some have four or five kids by this time. Some have even moved on from the baby stage entirely. They're "done" (having babies); their youngest is the age of my oldest. Those are the ones who make me feel behind, especially if they're younger than me. I think, "If I'd started earlier, I could be a 'young' mom" - as opposed to a seasoned, but lacking-in-energy one.

I don't know what the big contest is. I think it's just the awareness that as you make choices, the field of options narrows. Because of the choices I've made, there are certain things I won't have. The rub is, what if those are the things I really wanted? I spent seven married years not having children, and it bothers me because part of what stopped me was just fear, a terrible reason to not do something.

There were other reasons, too, though. I was (I mean, I am! - or, I will be again one day) in the theatre. I wouldn't trade my time on stage. There were moments under the lights...I treasure them. They're mine. Forever. I love the silence, the great dim space just beyond the circle of lights, that waits expectantly for my words to fill it. I wouldn't trade it.

I wouldn't trade, either, the healing I got in those seven years. I was leaky, like a sieve, so when you put love in me, it just ran out. I couldn't hold it inside and be nourished by it. In those years, I felt Jesus' hands, with their significant scars, building and repairing - no, gentler, like a potter - forming, molding, moistening, mending me.

When I went home to have my first baby - I mean, went home to stay, from being out in the world, Love came and filled me up. Surely I'll be on stage again. (I won't be playing Juliet, but some of the best roles require a little gray hair.) Even if I'm not, I know I'll be up to something good. God knows what he wants with me. He knows how many children he wants me to have like he knows who he wants to be their Mommy: me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just Life

There are those moments when I want to scream into a pillow (and sometimes I do), but for the most part we have our little routine that is simply, beautifully, in its way delightful. And on some days there is a moment when I even find it transcendent: the laughter of the baby, the times when I see my girls are learning after all, the lovely feeling I get doing the same things over and over and over: that I know what comes next. I felt it today as I patted Emma's bottom one last time and stood up from rocking her to put her down for her nap: a rush of gladness that I do this every day, just this same exact way, and by persevering in it, through frustrations and enjoyments, I am accomplishing something truly worthwhile.

In our little week, there are days for preschool and going to the Y, a day for the grocery store, a day for Bible Study, and at least one day, if not two, for staying at home. On those days, we might run a quick errand, but not before noon. On Fridays, we breathe a sigh of relief and stay in our pajamas til...well, sometimes all day.

Weekends are best, though. On Friday nights, Daddy is home for good, and the air holds a feeling of celebration. Saturday morning we finally get to "watch," after refraining - for the most part - all week, and Daddy makes bacon, sausage, and "peh-pakes." And sometimes Mommy gets to sleep in. We stay up late Saturday night. Sunday we take our time getting up, drink coffee, read the newspaper. Then we go to the late service at church, come home, and start all over again.

In our little days, you can see the routine even better. There is the way the kids climb into bed with us in the mornings. There is the coffee brewing while I pop the oatmeal into the microwave. There is breakfast, with Mommy juggling a hundred things at once - get this, get that, feed the baby, try to eat a bite herself. Then there is the lull afterward while the girls play and Will naps. I sometimes do a little cleaning; I sometimes read or write when I should be cleaning. There is "make your beds" time, snack time, nurse the baby time, lunch time, play time, nap time, get up and try to not be cranky time, make dinner time, eat dinner time, reading time, brush your teeth time, tuck them in time, and sit on the couch with John time.

That's my life. It might sound boring; there was a time when I would have thought it even sounded depressing - the monotony. But it only sounds monotonous. For one thing, routine always has a way of switching itself up just when you get used to it. When summer comes, our lives will look completely different - well, not completely. There will still be breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nap from 3-5.

God made us creatures of habit. I used to think that was a bad thing. Now it sort of makes me want to hug myself. It's in the folds of this humdrum fabric that are hidden the gleaming, unexpected treasures of my beautiful life. I used to think an ordinary life meant the death of dreams. Now I'm finding out what my dreams really are.


As long as I can scream, childbirth is not that daunting. If I lost the use of my vocal chords, though, we'd have a problem. I tried "hypnobirthing" with my second baby, which is just deep relaxation. It helped a little in the beginning of labor. But as the process ramped up, I had to move and moan. And when it was time for that baby to come out, I had to make a lot of noise.

Dancing helps too. I danced my third baby into the world. I was almost ready to push him out before I knew what was happening. I just kept dancing and adjusting my playlist to my mood. It was the easiest labor so far - except that it kept stopping and starting. That was torture. But I found there was even a reason behind that rhyme. It was my first baby boy, and I hadn't blessed him yet. I was afraid to let him out into the world. Once I spoke my blessing over him, it was time for the yelling to start. He was in my arms within the half hour.

I'm a little addicted to it, the whole process of bringing babies into the world. Of course, there's the initial fun. But I'm talking about birth itself. You have the babies, their little bodies so much solider than you expect as you gather them up that first time, skin softer than anything you can imagine, as soft as some internal organ that's never seen the light of day. But the actual birthing can be addictive. When except in a birthing room or by a death bed are you as close to the primordial heartbeat of Life itself? In that dim room with what feels like the whole earth moving in your body, when you are as helpless as you will ever be, you are in touch with the Source, the meaning of it all. There is nothing more real than childbirth.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"He gathers the lambs..."

I almost quit Bible Study Fellowship. We're studying Isaiah this year. I thought Isaiah was my favorite book of the Bible. After about 30 chapters, I didn't want to read any book of the Bible. Are you familiar with Isaiah 24? Here's the first verse: "See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants." That's quite a contrast to "He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart," (40:11, my favorite verse ever.) The first half of Isaiah is not a comfortable read. I almost quit. But I realized if I did, it might be a long time before I wanted to pick up my Bible again.

So I went back to the offending chapter, and read it to hear His voice. Verse 6 stuck out: "the people must bear their guilt." I asked God, "How does this touch my life today?" (This is the lectio divina way of reading that our church has been practicing lately.) After a moment of silence, I felt a loosening deep in my heart, God saying to me, "You do not have to bear your guilt."

When I went back to Bible study, we were just beginning Isaiah 40. That's when all the good verses start. I'm beginning to see why Isaiah is and always has been such an important book in the canon of Scripture. It shows the glory of the gospel: 40 chapters (just like there are 40 books in the Old Testament) on the wages of sin, and 26 (like the 26 books in the New Testament) on how God's grace provides a way for us not to pay them. "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities." Chapter 53, verses 4 and 5. I appreciate Jesus more than ever.