Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An experienced mother becomes a hand-wringing idiot

Hi there, just checking in for a quick second tonight whilst I gulp my illegal beer down (definitely not Whole 30 approved) and wait for dinner to finish simmering. (Deeply ironic paleo beef stew, since you didn't ask.)

So about that boob injury I referenced last week on the blog's Facebook page. Yeah, go head and cover yo eyes, male readers, because it's about to get real.

Evie is 8 whopping months now and while she is of course old enough to wean to formula and of course there is nothing wrong with formula feeding your baby. NOTHING. I'm just...reluctant. You see, about a week ago something went horribly and terribly wrong one one side of her nourishment delivery system and suddenly there is like blood and cursing and all kinds of writhing in pain at every feeding.

It's been difficult to know what to do, because while my brain (and my very supportive husband) are like wean that baby you're squirting blood in her mouth and oh the suffering (sorry for that detail. Just...sorry.) my mother heart (and I suppose my oxytocin-addled mind) are like nooooooooo, must nurse the baby until she decides she's done and my particular favorite, THIS IS SUCH A BONDING EXPERIENCE! HOW MUCH DO YOU FREAKING LOVE YOUR BABY RIGHT NOW?! which is a totally true statement, but it feels weirdly amplified by the very real hormonal hit that accompanies each nursing session.

So. That leaves us here, on Tuesday, one week into the great boob trauma of 2014, whereby I have decided on 4 separate and consecutive days that I am going to a. wean her, b. wean her to one side only (is this possible? It doesn't feel possible), c. call my $$$ lactation consultant who is literally on speed dial and drop another Benjamin on a cozy private conversation, or d. go to Whole Foods and buy all the organic formula made from the delicate tears of pastured, free range celestial cows.

Here is where the rant ends and the questions begin.

Mothers of the nursing variety, have you ever/has someone you've known weaned a baby to one sided feeding? Did you look like a sideshow specimen in your clothes? Did the awful one-two punch of nipple trauma + engorgment finally abate and you found yourself left with one sufficiently productive breast? Can you explain to me why it's fine to write "breastfeeding" but when I write "breast" I feel like I'm 13 years old and male on the inside?

Any comments or anecdotal accounts are welcome, but just know that I've tried all the lanolin, all the pumping, all the weird natural concoctions and all the healing compresses. There's still a situation resembling the San Andreas fault, and I'm pretty sure that I will never, ever look or feel the same on that side.

(Dad, I hope you stopped reading a long, long time ago.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

It doesn't have to be perfect...

I'm re-reading the Nesting Place and I know, I know, everyone and their mom has heard about it and read it and implemented it but I'm just so stoked about how transformative it has been for my home decorating abilities. I would typically have modified that last sentence with some snarky little one off like "or lack thereof" but I'm newly convinced that I do, in fact, have some sort of authority in the style and decor world: namely, the mandate to deck my own halls however I see fit, using the resources and pieces I've been entrusted with.

I have a pretty distinctive style when it comes to home decor. I think it's best encapsulated by the term "minimalist chic" or maybe "timeless, bare ass walls and floors." The bottom line is this: I hate clutter, and if I haven't used something in the last week or so (and if I haven't seen you use it either, sweetheart) it's going to Goodwill. I've also been known to donate items of children's clothing simply because I'm tired of washing them. (When you outfit your young almost exclusively in thrift store couture, you can be ballsy like that. You're welcome.)

Imagine my surprise then when I found myself re-reading the it homemaking book of the summer and finding the following advice resonating within my soul: don't wait for the perfect house, don't put off decorating because you're renting, and don't use something you hate simply because it's on hand or "good enough."

Guilty, guiltier, and guiltiest, as charged.

But then she goes on to talk about her favorite activity being furniture rearrangement and my heart skipped a beat because me too! Second to dropping bags of s at the curb, building new rooms out of old pieces in new places is my favorite!

So as I drifted off to sleep last night I envisioned multiple rearrangements of our sad, sterile living room where little to no living was ever done and whose beautiful bay window sat unloved and ignored day after day. No morning coffees were being enjoyed on our single common area new furniture purchase: our pretty leather (okay, bonded leather) couch. No sunlight was being soaked up through that pretty window. I decided that all had to change.

It's a great window, amiright? And mama Mary deserves fresh flowers, even though a cat bit off her thumbs. 
So, when Evie bounced me out of bed this morning at 6:25 or so, (still riding the injury list in the breast-feeding department, fyi, but we're soldiering on) instead of moaning and dreaming of more sleep, I flew into the front room to start my extreme home makeover. A few minutes of pushing and sliding and a shot or two of espresso later, bam, the transformation was complete. And finally, after a year of living in our current rental (and we've just signed on for another year) I have a living room that I actually want to do some living in. It still wants a piece or two of art for the walls, and I'm not in love with the very expensive but very not-my-style Oriental rug we received as a wedding gift, but considering this was accomplished for the very low price of zero dollars, I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome.

Mind you, I'm no photographer, iPhone enabled or not. I took not one single art/photo/crafting class in all my years of life. I mean I suppose there was mandatory art in elementary school, but I remember it not. Consider your eyeballs forewarned.
Family room/kiddie watching/reading/crafting area: airy and decluttered (and washed out. See above.)
Myquillen (no idea how that's pronounced but I feel like it might rhyme with Nyquil?) talks about re-purposing assigned spaces that you don't have a use for and lassoing it for space you do desperately need and I guess I'd already sort of intuited that because goodbye, formal dining room, hello mommy's office:

Everything be thrifted, everything be fabulous. (Oh, except the rug. HomeGoods 4 life.)

I especially love this little wall. I feel like it's the most (only?) pinterest-worthy space in my home and not that I give a particular damn about that (maybe a very tiny one), but it's nice to feel like there's at least one area you wouldn't really change, even if you had the budget to do so:

Check those wedding photos from Lucy O Photography. See that cute little Jude Landry print in that thrifted frame? I love. Also, globes. Probably the reason my 3 year old reads atlases for fun is genetic in origin.
She also talks about how beauty is not useless, or something to that effect. So fresh flowers, why not? Why is it better to spend $4 on yet another sisyphean gallon of whole milk than to buy a bouquet of slightly past their prime carnations?
Look how nice that looks! And that's on a dirty, hand me down kitchen table with a Bumbo in the background.
So at last we come to the piece de resistance, the formerly unliveable and unloveable living room. Let me scrounge around for a before (clearly not a home decor blogger; rookie mistake)

Sorry, I got nothing. So here's the after, anyway. Just picture the before as bland, couch shoved against the wall immediately facing the front door, and seating for only 3 very cozy adults.

Blurry front view.
Natural view with toddler photo bomber.
From the side 
Looking from the front door. 
So is it perfect? I mean, is it ever? Obviously I'd add some gorgeous, $600 window treatments if I could, and I'd love to have some non-religous art on my walls so that our neighbors don't think we're even bigger weirdos than they suspect, but for now, this makes me 100% happier than the old setup ever did, and I achieved it with no money and no time spent in Target. That's a big win in this mama's book, both from a budgetary and spiritual perspective.

Spiritual, you ask? Yes, because you see, (or maybe you don't, but I'm about to do a little confessing to you so pull on your stole) sometimes I shop out of a place of emptiness, and I don't just mean the bare walls kind. I mean sometimes I really, truly believe that something I find at Target or TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack is going to make it all better. Is going to make me feel happy/fulfilled/peaceful. So imagine my surprise at how incredible it felt to buy nothing, to grasp for nothing, to simply make do with what was already on hand...and to have it turn out so utterly to my satisfaction.

I think that's been my biggest takeaway from the Nesting Place: love where you are, and be grateful for what you have. And for the love of chevron and jute rugs, don't consign yourself to living in a half-assembled dump just because you're not commanding a Pottery Barn budget and dwelling in a 3,000 square foot palace. And if you are dwelling in a half-assembled dump? Or, say, a refuge camp? You can work with that, too.

Check this out:
There's beauty everywhere.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Parenting in the Digital Age: Let Me See Your Face

(I'm over at Catholic Exchange today embarrassing myself while I talk about trying to parent from behind a screen. And, an important disclaimer; as I sit here typing this introduction, my two year old is making noises like a cat in heat while trying to get me to shut the laptop, so clearly this was written out of a deep place of conversion and personal piety.)

“Mommy, make a happy face at me.”
I look up from the glow of my laptop, irritated, hearing for perhaps the tenth time, that day, my three-year-old son’s persistent request.
“Mommy’s working, honey. Please go downstairs and play legos.”
Tantrum, flailing, stomping, sibling pinching ensue. Consequences are meted out. Justice is served. Repeat cycle.
It has, of course, occurred to me that I spend too much time engrossed in screens and interacting with virtual characters when the very real characters in front of me are melting into figurative puddles of spilled milk and clementine peelings. But come on, who can give their full attention for 9 + hours a day without any kind of break? I deserve a little down time. I’m just going to check in, I’ll be quick.
All of which is true, of course. Parenting in twenty-first century America can be ridiculously isolating – particularly the stay at home variety. And even the most extroverted parent on the block (which I emphatically am not) needs a little mid-day recharge in order to finish the solo shift strong and at a pleasant speaking volume.
But that isn’t what I’ve been doing behind my screen for minutes stretched embarrassingly into hours, hiding in plain sight in the glow of a laptop or a smartphone, accruing bits and pieces of stolen “me time” whilst the kids flail about at my feet, begging for attention...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

St. Maximilian Kolbe and Living in the Present Tense

{In honor of Thursday's feast day, a little something I whipped up in honor of one of our family's patron saints -- Joseph Kolbe is named for the angel of Auschwitz. Let's beg the intercession of a man who died a heroic death at the hands of the Nazis in a particular way for our brothers and sisters who are suffering terribly right now in Iraq, Syria, and around the globe. New conflicts, same old evil.}

On August 14th the Catholic Church celebrates the life of a man who died wearing the notorious stripes of Auschwitz. He lived a life of professed celibacy, poverty, and obedience, and he met his martyrdom not at the end of a sword on a battlefield, but in a dimly lit bunker filled with the stench of human waste and decaying flesh. His death was meant to make him feel powerless. It was his humiliating death, however, which would engrave his name in the annals of human history, and in the trophy room of heaven.

St. Maximilian, born Raymund Kolbe in the kingdom of Poland, joined the conventional Franciscans with his brother, Francis, at the age of 13. He enrolled in minor seminary after illegally crossing the border between Russia and Austria-Hungary and was accepted into the novitiate when he turned 16. He took the name Maximilian Maria to honor Mary, whose cause he would champion all his life.

During St. Maximilian's doctoral studies in Rome, he become convicted of the need to fight the growing influence of Freemasons and other demonic forces warring against the Catholic Church, and so he founded the Militia Immaculata, a movement dedicated to the spread of devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart. At the peak of the MI's influence, their magazine circulated to one million monthly subscribers, thanks to Kolbe's media savvy and use of cutting edge techniques in radio and publishing. 

His health was not great. He'd suffered a bout of tuberculosis in his youth which left him frail, and he routinely pushed himself beyond reasonable human limits even for a person in good health. This was not a man who lived in the future; his concern was solely for the good he could do in the present moment.

St. Maximilian's efforts in the MI took him around the globe to Japan, India, and finally home to Poland where, at the outbreak of WWII, he was able to shelter more than 2,000 Polish Jews from Nazi aggression. When the Gestapo discovered his efforts, he was taken into custody and imprisoned at Auschwitz. It was May of 1941.

A few months later, toward the end of July, there was a break out in the camp. To give an example to their captives, the Nazis randomly selected 10 men to be executed in retaliation for the escape. They were to be starved to death in an underground bunker. One of the men selected to die cried out in anguish at his sentencing: "my wife, my children!" 

Fr. Maximilian stepped forward.

"I am a Catholic priest," he stated simply, "I wish to die for that man."

Living in the moment. Embracing his present cross as simply the next right thing to do, St. Maximilian willingly entered the underground bunker that would become his tomb.

Reports from the prison guards tell the rest of the story. Each morning when they checked on the condemned men, Fr. Kolbe would be found kneeling or standing cheerfully in the center of the group. As hunger and thirst drove the prisoners to madness, forcing them to drink their own urine and lick the walls of the bunker for moisture, Fr. Kolbe was there, accompanying them. He was one of them and yet somehow calm in the midst of the horror. He encouraged them, he prayed with them, he heard their confessions if they so desired, and then, at the end, he alone remained conscious, watching over them and walking with them into the valley of the shadow of death.

His heroism didn't display itself in the face of a firing squad. When he stepped forward to save the life of Franciszek Gajowniczek, he was simply doing the next right thing. He lived in the moment, accepting the challenges of his situation as they presented themselves. He didn't think about 2 weeks without food or water trapped in a small room filled with panic and death. He simply saw a need, recognized his capacity to do something about it, and stepped out in faith.

When at last, on August 14th, 1941 the Nazis decided they needed the starvation bunker for new victims, Fr. Kolbe was given a lethal intravenous dose of carbolic acid to stop his lion's heart. He held out his left arm as the doctor approached him, offering himself up, until the very end, as a willing victim. His body was cremated without ceremony or reverence, like so many other millions. But his heroism echoed throughout the camp, a beacon of hope in a dark hell of suffering and human misery.

Fr. Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1981 by Pope St. John Paul II, who declared him “a martyr of charity.”

And Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life St. Maximilian Kolbe ransomed? He made it home to Poland, where he lived to be 95 years old. But every year on August 14th he returned to Auschwitz to pay his respects to the saint whose life consisted of a series of choices for the present good, culminating in a sacrifice of the highest order.

Friday, August 8, 2014

7 Quick takes: sibling harmony, Whole 30 in real life, and a 180 on schooling choices

Welcome, Friday. You are most welcome here, indeed.

(Linking up with Jen, who spotted a very sweet photo-bomber in our picture of a group of us taking a picture.)

1. All my kids are playing together. I'm sitting mere feet from them on the couch, minding my own business and click clacking away and so far (knock on a timber-filled forest) nobody has asked me for anything for the past 5 minutes. Is this the mythical light at the end of the tunnel I've heard so much about? Play on, small people. I'll just be over here not touching or being touched by anyone. ThankyouJesus.

2. I woke up before the boys this morning and, rather than rolling over and going an extra 45 in dreamland, I got up like an adult and drank my coffee and ate my loathsome eggs and as a result, I haven't spent the first half of the day feeling like a hungover servant with a persecution complex. It's fantastic. We've been to the gym, I've mopped all the floors, and lunch has already been served and eaten. 

3. Oh, speaking of food...well, this happened last night.

And while I'd normally be wallowing in my perceived failure (and possibly some sea salt dark chocolate almonds) instead I'm just savoring the delicious memory and eating paleo today like it never happened. I mean, I suppose my cravings are a tad stronger because of my dalliance with MSG, but it's fine and more than that, it's realistic. A friend and I are both making a big effort to shed our baby weight and are using similar means to get there, along with texting each other for support and accountability. After hearing her plan to eat very similarly but to incorporate one "cheat meal" into her week, I decided to do the same because it's brilliant! And it's realistic, as it allows for life to happen. Got a party to attend or a big feast day to celebrate? Enter the cheat meal. It feels very balanced.

4. I weighed in on Monday and was deliriously happy to see that I'm down 11 lbs overall, and I've lost 6.5 inches total since we began less than a month ago. This is with a healthy amount of the above-mentioned cheating, nothing more strenuous than walking (though I'm logging a minimum of 4 miles per day) and a whole lot of eggs. And lettuce. I'll take it.

5. Fall is coming. Yesterday I was at my parent's house and my mom lit a pumpkin spice candle and I almost sprouted riding boots and a patterned scarf just from inhaling the aroma. Hold me back. Helpfully for my restraint, it's still 85 degrees here and I bought the kids a slip n slide off the clearance rack at Target. Because back to school shopping has trumped the thermometer, and all the beach gear is 50% off.

6. Speaking of back to school, guess who's not going back to school? Yeah, us. Despite years of protest and a firm belief in my own mental deficiency in pretty much anything math or science related, I've decided to try my hand at pre-schooling Joey at home this year. We really liked our parish school and he mostly liked being there, but I couldn't quite get the hand of the driving thing. 40 minutes in the car twice a day for a 2.5 hour program was a bit excessive. 

My other motivator was the fact that, despite having been in the classroom for 5 months (January-May) his end of year report indicated that he had zero letter or number recognition. Zilch. Nada. Naturally, my very measured reaction to this information was unbridled panic and the assumption of massive learning disabilities and cognitive delays. Never mind that he was the youngest child in his classroom, that he possesses the vocabulary of a 50 year old man, and can operate every electronic device in our house with aplomb. I panicked and dropped like $30 on alphabet magnets, bathtub letters and flashcards but what do you know, after a summer home with me, he can count, do some basic adding and subtracting, and knows a whole bunch of letters by sight. We just started working with this book this week, per the recommendation of several homeschooling moms I know, so we'll see what kind of progress we can make. He pretty much hates it so far, so I'm thinking he's either not ready or I need to break the lessons in half? Idk, completely blindsided by this plot twist.

7. And that $2,000 we'll be saving on preschool this year? I'm thinking of spending it entirely on babysitting and tequila. Happy weekend!