Friday, December 30, 2011

Our Chanukkah day trip

On the last day of Chanukkah, my husband took us all on a surprise day trip to the beautiful HaKfar HaYarok campus. It is such a perfectly enjoyable place for little ones: lots of places to run and explore, plenty of animals - both in enclosures and strolling freely across the vast, velvety green lawns, and to top it all off, air castles for active amusement. We packed our lunch and enjoyed eating it at a picnic table under a tree. 

All in all, it was one of those days to the memory of which you want to hold on forever. One of the days you would dearly love to live through once again, yet know you can't, even if you were to re-construct all the circumstances perfectly. There's magic in the air which just cannot be duplicated. 
 Shira, feeding goats.
 I told my husband right away I want a couple of such cute birds, if only he can get them!
 An interesting-colored rooster.
Shira chasing at a large flock of pigeons, who are taking flight only to land back after a minute or two. She amused herself in such a manner until she was too tired to run. 

I will say goodbye now, and wish my readers a good Shabbat and a very pleasant weekend.

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Chanukkah update

 It has been a while since I've uploaded photos, so here you go: above - a couple of the peacocks that live at a campus where my husband is currently taking a course.
 A beautiful bright moon, high in a clear night sky. We took advantage of one such beautiful night to have a fire outdoors and roast our meal on it, then bake foil-wrapped potatoes in the hot ashes; a treat for the whole family.
 The stretch of narrow winding road that takes us home.
 Moussaka, in its kosher version of course. Simply delicious sliced, baked eggplants, layered with ground beef mixed with egg and tomato sauce. A new dish I had the pleasure to try for last Shabbat.
Our Chanukkah candles; both olive oil and wax. The bits of melted colorful wax will be of course collected to be used in the next candle-making session! You can also catch a glimpse of the reflection of lights in the dark window, and the tomatoes ripening on the windowsill.

I have had something on my mind, following my last post, on which I feel I ought to comment now. Bethany asked me whether we always plan to live as frugally as we do now; and I think I really need to clarify, that, if we always live as we do now, I would consider us very lucky indeed!! In some areas some would perhaps think we are "deprived", but in all essentials, I really am of the opinion that we are living in luxury. Luxury of space - a beautiful, and beautifully planned, cozy and roomy home where we can have fun living together as a family, and the vast space of delightful nature all around us; luxury of time, to be there for my family, and time to develop myself as a creative person; luxury of occupation, doing just what I was meant to do, and finding immense joy in it.

I will go offline now; we've been feeling a bit under the weather these past days, so I think chicken soup is in order, and some tasty surprise for today's dinner (right after lighting the seventh Chanukkah candle). I hope all my readers are enjoying a pleasant holiday season!

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frugal tips for beginners

I came across this article with money-saving tips while browsing Small Town Living. I must say reading it made me feel like a veteran soldier reading advice for new recruits, and I even laughed out loud a couple of times! I mean... stop buying fast food (don't remember what it tastes like)? Sell your lawn mower (in Israel, with our draughts, I think it's close to indecent to keep a lawn at all)? Stop going out to the movies (a movie for us is like a trip abroad for some people)?.. But otherwise, of course, it's good and sensible advice.

I will admit that I've had a bit of a pat-ourselves-on-the-back attitude when it came to saving money. I mean, my husband and I were always so sensible; we chose a modest wedding so we had plenty of money left over from presents to pay for it, our honeymoon was spent in an apartment that was lent to us by my brother-in-law, we opted for a house we could buy in cash, we never traveled abroad, we don't eat out, we stockpile, we are experts in finding good deals, doing it ourselves, and doing without. 

My husband is in charge of grocery shopping, due to the fact he's the one who takes the car (I don't drive). I think if I grocery shopped, we'd have an even healthier food array in the pantry, completely free of snacks and soft drinks my husband buys mainly for unexpected guests. But even so, I know we're doing well, even though it's always possible, of course, to be even more creative and cut back. 

However, lately I was forced to face an unpleasant truth: my attitude became arrogant. I gradually shifted to thinking that what's keeping us afloat, financially, is solely our good choices, and not the provision of G-d. I grew in stubborn forgetfulness of all the little (and not so little) miracles of His provision for us, such as when we were given a perfectly good free stroller for our first baby, or when we discovered a whole storage shed full of little girls' clothing. I began to feel all too pleased with how sensible we are, how frugal, how wise and rational. 

There is a young couple we know closely, whose financial situation is not very stable. Some of the choices they are making struck us as very unfit for their situation, for example, buying a new car and going abroad twice a year, splurging on gadgets such as new laptops, etc. We'd actually feel pretty smug, thinking about this couple, and telling each other "we'd never allow ourselves to overspend like this!"

Then, not long ago, we lost a considerable sum of money in quite a foolish, senseless way. An unexpected blow at a time of financial strain. How bitterly I regretted this loss! How much better it would be to have done something, anything with this money, I told myself - even spend it on a lovely trip that would create beautiful memories! And oh, how brutally did I come back in contact with the reality of Who is in charge. 

Am I saying, now, that we should all indulge our every whim? That we should overspend in the hope G-d will provide? That we should never have any savings put aside because we might lose them anyway? No, of course not! We should be led by common sense in our financial choices. But it's crucial to remember that, although we are required to be prudent and responsible with our resources (financial and otherwise), ultimately the outcome does not depend on us. We can make all the right choices, and yet fail. We can make wrong choices, and out of them, something beautiful miraculously springs up. All part of a higher plan to make us acutely aware Who is our one and only source of real solace, comfort, and security. Not our faulty sense. Not our frail human abilities. Only Him.

In Judaism, there is a term of "blessing in one's money". This is how some families, miraculously it seems, manage to raise ten children with a ridiculously small monthly allowance; this is how others never seem to make their ends meet, no matter how much they earn. Money earned on the Shabbat day, we believe, does not carry a blessing, on the contrary, it will lead to financial ruin, even if math says just the opposite. 

Do your best. Do what is good and sensible for your family. And all the while, keep your eyes on G-d, our kind and gentle shepherd, who wants us to remember it is Him we ought to turn to for all our needs. This is my first, and most important, frugal tip for beginners.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I need a break... or do I?

"You need a break," the message sounds from every direction, "you are working so hard, you deserve a break!" - well, I do deserve a break, right? I'm taking care of two little children under 3 full-time, right? I'm ready to sleep even as I'm tucking my children in, right?..

"I'd be happy if they only let me drink my morning cup of coffee in peace," I thought one day. Then, "I'd be happy if only they went down for a nice nap at midday and I could handle some of my things in peace and quiet"; and then, "I'd be happy if they went to bed early, no arguments, and both slept through the night so I could wake up nice and refreshed."

Then I became brutally honest with myself. How long a break do I actually need in order to feel completely rejuvenated and ready to jump back on the bandwagon?

Um... several months? No... it isn't really going to work, is it?

I need, can, and will take time to shower, get enough sleep, take care of my things, work on projects in little snippets here and there... but my family is my life now; I cannot take a break of any considerable length from living life. It is not a break I need, therefore, but a change of attitude.

"A child is not a job," writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, "he is a friend." As a mother I am always on duty, sure, but can I also be a good, fun friend to my noisy, lively little ones? Can I lose myself for a while in the world of play-dough, Lego, and watercolors? Can I be excited about a tent made of a couple of sheets? Can I throw away thoughts of efficiency, in favor of letting my children be involved in everything that is going on at home (barring anything dangerous, of course)?

I will always have to be there, as long as they need me. But I don't always have to wear the hat of the mature, responsible, hard-working adult. I can goof around. My children don't care about bread crumbs on the floor. It is my project to work at creating such a life for us all, that none of us will feel the constant need to take a lengthy break from it. 


...I will now round up this post, head into the kitchen, roll up my sleeves and start making latkes - a yummy Hanukkah treat. Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Headcoverings and me: a relationship

As a bride, I was pretty excited and enthusiastic about beginning to cover my hair. Skipping a discussion of religious convictions, I just thought hair coverings look so nice on women, marking their married status and matching their outfits. Two days before my wedding, I went into a shop and had fun selecting some pretty tichels, some long and some square, some plain for everyday wear and some more festive for special occasions. 

On my first day as a married woman, I lingered for a long time in front of the mirror, tying my head scarf in such a way as to ensure it won't fall off. My husband complimented me (as he does to this day). I felt exhilarated; there I am, married, and the whole world knows it simply by looking at me from afar, even before spotting my new sparkling gorgeous wedding ring. 

Then, as the initial excitement began to wear off, I noticed something strange. As soon as I put on a head scarf, I no longer knew the person looking back at me from the mirror. It just wasn't me. Somehow, the square of thin fabric managed to turn me, at once, into someone much older, someone plain and boring and lacking in individuality. Even when I wore one of my prettiest head coverings, the most I could say was, "she looks sort of nice." She - not me. 

Come on, I reasoned with myself. It's only hair. The only difference in your appearance is that your hair is no longer visible. This how you are marked as a married woman, and let's face it, yes, hair is an important part of a woman's attraction, so by removing it from sight we become - no, not ugly, sure, but less appealing to strangers. Which is the whole point, or at least part of it. 

So what did really bother me? 

Hair covering is a commandment I wouldn't contemplate giving up; I just wish I could find it in myself to love it more, I thought as something within me squirmed each time I looked at my reflection. Then it hit me; sure, the hair covering does hide away a part of who I am, only now when I am married, who I am is supposed to be guarded even more closely. 

I didn't go anywhere. I can still see myself, the way I know and like myself. So can my husband, my children, and any woman. It's only to strange men that I'm supposed to become invisible, and it does make all the sense in the world. Does it really matter to me that strangers can't see part of who I am? If anything, I ought to rejoice in that. 

I marveled anew, at how a piece of thin fabric tied around one's head instantly makes men businesslike and respectful, signaling "here is another man's wife". When I walk down a street, I know I am invisible to any decent man. This is powerful protection. It is now also part of who I am. Part of the new me; the married woman, invisible to half the planet.

I realize that only a minority of those who read this are hair-covering women, but I think the same feelings and reflections can be applied to any step taken towards modesty, when it is different from something you used to do throughout your whole life. I felt a lot less self-conscious, and a lot less noticeable, when I began to wear modest blouses, too, and when I switched from pants to skirts. 

Being Jewish, I'm really very happy we have such clear guidelines on modesty and on what ought to be covered, otherwise I would probably be forever deliberating, as I still do regarding some matters which are considered grey areas (such as open-toed sandals). So my hair is safely covered outside and safely uncovered at home.

So, perhaps I'll never fully identify with my hair-covered reflection. I will probably never be one of those women who cover when they are at home too, without feeling any urge to let their hair down; but I am performing the essential of this mitzvah, doing it whole-heartedly and out of full conviction, and I hope this is pleasing in the eyes of G-d. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Early potty training

While I always saw the benefits of potty training early, somehow it didn't seem to me I'd ever be able to do it, but with Tehilla, the opportunity kind of presented itself a couple of months ago. Close to one year old, it was obvious that she simply hates going in the diaper. She would grunt, go red in the face, and cross her little legs in a gesture that said very plainly, "I don't want to do this!"

So, more to oblige her than anything else, I began to catch her whenever she was straining not to go, and sat her on the potty. Pretty soon she caught on, and when she received heaps of praise for successful action, she became wonderfully cooperative. I think seeing her sister go potty was great in the way of teaching, too.

Now, at 15 months, she actually progressed to letting me know she needs to go, and she goes potty many times a day, usually successfully. Sure, there are plenty of misses, and sometimes "false alarms", and I don't know how soon she will actually be out of diapers, but often she'll wear the same diaper throughout the day and it stays dry. This means we are saving money on diapers, which is something I'm thoroughly excited about, since we are using disposables (I've heard many good things about cloth nappies and really wanted to use them, but right now, when the rubber hits the road, I cannot willingly bring myself to do more laundry/cleanup than I'm already doing).

One thing I do have to say, is that she goes potty often. As in every hour or so, while Shira (our older girl) needs to go only several times a day. Since I'm home with my children, I'm able to attend cues/verbal signs and take my baby to potty, but otherwise, of course we wouldn't be able to do this - no caregiver could be expected to commit to hourly undressing and pottying a wriggly baby.

Another thing to mention, she is really very, very cooperative. I know I cannot make a rule out of this, since I only have two children to compare, but I've heard many times that 2 years is a wilful age, and so potty training might turn into a real battle of wills (we already had a taste of this).

Now, I can't actually know, right now, whether Tehilla will be out of diapers sooner than a child who begins at 2. But as I said, we are most certainly saving money on diapers already (not to mention reducing the amount of daily waste we produce), without any pressure towards our child. I think the effort is really worthwhile.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book review: Loving the Little Years

Only yesterday, I received a copy of Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Mrs. Rachel Jankovic for reviewing; I have read it from cover to cover today, and am now sitting down to write this. 

Loving the Little Years is a great read for busy mothers; written by another busy mother who has no time to be particularly long-winded, this little book is full of succint, straight-to-the-point advice on how to survive (and thrive) in daily situations of kitchen messes, diaper blowouts, and squabbling children. 

Right now, a book on motherhood that makes me nod and say, "yes, I've been there" is a welcome and comforting read. I giggled like mad as I read, "when taking the garbage out becomes a "destination", you know you are really in the trenches!" - well then, perhaps this isn't just me who says to her girls with the air of announcing a surprise party, "let's go for a walk to take out the garbage". Admittedly, the garbage bin is a little off the road from our house, but anyway, it's nice to know someone sane enough to actually complete a book and get it published can relate to what you feel.

Having said that, I have two issues to take with this book. One is the mention of spanking as an acceptable discipline method. I simply cannot agree with this; I do not wish to enter into an argument, and there is really very little to be added on this matter. By the way, this was also what put me off a bit while reading For the Family's Sake

The second issue is a general message I felt, while reading, that every difficulty can be dismissed by telling yourself, "stop complaining and count your blessings. There's no justification to feel overwhelmed when there's work G-d obviously wishes you to do." Now, this can be good advice in many situations, and moping is, certainly, not a very productive attitude. But there are also circumstances when people go through genuine hardship such as tragic family situations, crumbling marriages, illness, bankruptcy, and other experiences in which simply telling oneself to cope with it and move on can result in even worse burnout and depression. There really are situations when we must call for a stop and accept, with humble grace, the help of people who are sent our way in those troubled times, to support us until we can pull ourselves together.

I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to give in to negative feelings, but in retrospect, looking at certain periods of my life as a mother when I felt very hurt and vulnerable, reading that I'm not supposed to feel overwhelmed, nor speak of it, would not have been very good advice. In fact, it would have made me feel even guiltier for being inadequate than I was already feeling. Sometimes what we really need is comfort, unconditional love, tenderness, compassion and support. We always have that in our Creator, but there are times in our life when we need the material manifestation of His love in the people who surround us. 

Also, I believe that one must know one's strengths - as much as possible, anyway, as we do tend to err both ways; both in saying we can't do something we later manage to pull off and even do quite well, with G-d's help and mercy - and in trying to tackle something we cannot do without stretching ourselves very thin. We are, after all, blessed with different gifts, and what is easily possible for one is excruciatingly difficult for another. We must know our weaknesses - no, not to indulge them, but to allow room for growth by reasonable, individual planning. 

Now, I'd better wrap this up because it's getting a bit long for a book review post. I will summarize by saying that the book is definitely worth a read, even if you don't agree with everything you find in it. If you are a mother of little ones, you will probably relate to many passages, and will most likely crack a good laugh or two - which, in my opinion, is the number one test that makes a self-help book worthwhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Self-nurturing, stress and depression

I would like to thank all who have taken the time to send a comment, particularly in private, in response to my last post about meeting one's own needs. Writing this makes me feel a bit exposed, but I'm still taking the time and effort to do it because I feel it's really important, and to be frank, right now I cannot afford the time or energy to do, write or research what isn't truly important.

What I'm about to write now is basically a response to the comments, public and private, that have been directed to me. I beg your apology if this post appears incoherent or rambling to some or many of you.

So, here goes: if you are a mother, you are probably fine-tuned to meeting the needs of others, which is good and right. However, you must also be alert to your own basic needs, and make sure they aren't neglected, because on your well-being depends the welfare of small and helpless beings who have been entrusted to your care.

I'm deliberating on the correct wording now, because I really do not wish to be misunderstood. Our culture often embraces the focusing on "self", at the expense of all else, and this is the last thing I'm advocating. But if I am a mother and primary caretaker of a family, and I feel I am about to crack (for any reason), yet I'm pushing myself forward and making myself pretend all is good and well, it's not going to work. It might be a necessity during a brief period of critical circumstances that parents put themselves aside wholly and completely, but I believe it is highly inadvisable to let the father and mother go along, for an indefinite period of time, with their needs entirely suppressed.

I'm not saying we are entitled to anything that will "make us happy". That can often slide into imbalanced self-indulgence. Yet no one's life is supposed to feel like a prison, and if it does, it means something has gone badly wrong. We all deserve laughter, pleasant companionship, peace, joy, basic respect and the presence of our Almighty Father in our lives - on a daily basis. Under basic respect I list, among other things, orderly meals, daily showers and clean dignified clothes for Mama - and sadly, I have seen instances when women chose to forgo this basic dignity, and look unkempt, constantly exhausted, and on the brink of breakdown. I do not believe it is good for children to grow up with a role model who does not induce respect.

It is also good and right to pursue and develop one's unique talents, within the scope of realistic possibilities available to us at the moment. For someone like me, whose main creative outlet is writing, it means (at this stage of my life) that I cannot shut myself in the office for hours and work on the many projects I have drafted throughout the years - but I can do some work bit by bit, using a spare 15 minutes here and there, and I can still run a blog (although at times, not as regularly as I would like to). Sure, it takes a lower priority than my basic duty of caring for my family, but there's a place in my life for this as well. It is, after all, part of who I am, as a person as well as a mother - as I certainly pour a lot of my personality into motherhood. I am hoping that someday, my children will read all I ever wrote, and thus will spring a new level of knowledge and understanding between us. 

Sometimes there will be days when not all of our basic needs are met. However, the important thing is keeping in mind what we need, so that we can make sure we'll attend to these need as soon as we are able. If we suppress our needs, if we disqualify our feelings, if we try to act as though we can live without proper food, rest, love, faith, hope and joy, eventually it will backfire - on us as well as those we are supposed to care for.

In the eyes of our Father, we are all special, important, cherished and loved. Think of the treatment you believe your children rightfully deserve - the nurturing, the support, the understanding and care. Doesn't it logically follow that His children - ourselves included - deserve to be treated the same way? There is good reason why the Torah commands us to love others as we love ourselves. It makes perfect sense, spiritually as well as practically.

Our worth does not depend on our accomplishments. Sure, there are things we must do, and there are things which are nice to have, but we are loved regardless. We are loved unconditionally. There's the love of G-d, which is sometimes difficult to grasp, and there is the reflection of His love in the many people we come across, along our life's journey. I know, personally, that many times tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes, as I contemplated the friendship, support and generosity of others towards me, and told myself, "I do not deserve this." Yet apparently it is not so much about deserving, as it is about accepting, as a gift, what is sent our way - with humble gratitude when we can give nothing in return.

Gratitude, however, doesn't mean we must always feel bouncy-happy, with an unchanging smile plastered on to our face. As I have discovered, it is pointless to try and shame myself into cheerfulness, when I actually feel sad, weak and confused, by comparing myself to others. I am immeasurably grateful for many things I have been blessed with - a lovely family, a nice and spacious home, many comforts of life, the unlimited use of my five senses, the delights of nature, books and music, and much more. Yet the woes and worries, the challenges and troubles exist in every life, and serve to bring us closer to the one and only eternal source of our comfort. It is no use firmly telling oneself that "many would love to swap with me" or that "centuries ago, people were so focused on surviving they had no time for contemplation." Our feelings are valid. We are valid. 

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to close this, except that I feel I really should round this post up while it can still be published in one reasonable piece. I thank you, again, for your friendship and kindness, your attention and kind wishes, your concern and your prayers, and remain, warmly,

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nurturing ourselves and others


Thank you all for the overwhelmingly supportive response to my last post. It is so encouraging to hear from other mothers who are facing the same challenges (not that I thought for a moment that my challenges are unique, but it's reassuring to hear it all the same). 

My friend Avigayil, in her comment, mentioned nurturing ourselves - something we usually have to take charge of, because no one in the house can know our material needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind, and so on and so forth. 

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or other emergencies. But it doesn't work long-term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don't have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I'm an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn't. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. For the moment,  however, I will focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep and last but not least, re-uniting with our Almighty Father for even a brief time. 

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and additionally, it isn't something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can't always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don't really do anything constructive anyway when I'm too tired, so it's not a big miss-out. 

Then there's food. Here we're doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. I love to cook. I love the wonderful aroma that fills the house as pots stand bubbling on the stove. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn't fit in. On such days, I'm thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there's always eggs, toast and oatmeal. 

Then there's spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn't have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations. 

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I'm talking about having one's own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment, personal growth, and learning not strictly related to our job as wives and homemakers. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you "happy". There are also those who self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and homemaking, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits. 

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out - again, not long stretches of time, but snippets here and there - to work on projects which, as I feel, enhance my intellectual life; creative writing, crafts, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things occupy, of course, only a small portion of my time, but it's like the icing on the cake. An added bonus of this is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create, will, I am sure, love those things too. Seeing their mother's enthusiasm about various things is a far more effective learning boost than a detached flow of "reading is good for you" admonitions. 

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I'm the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there's the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more secure, more comfortable? 

I don't have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, "hold on. It's crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people in your charge get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself." It doesn't make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is this me?

It's very early in the morning, and I'm finding it difficult to unglue my eyes. Little children are already whining, clamoring for breakfast and squabbling over toys. A bunch of chickens and a dog are waiting for their morning meal as well. Husband's lunch has to be packed and sandwiches made for him to take along before he hurries off.

I feel a stab of annoyance rising within me. Can't they all just leave me alone for a couple of minutes, so I can have a cup of coffee in peace before diving head-first into the busyness of the morning? I move along moodily, irritably, doing what has to be done and speaking in short grunts.

It's midday, and I really need to do a couple of things on the computer. There are emails to be answered, my husband asked me to research a certain topic for him on the internet, not to mention the laundry must be folded and brought in before it starts raining. Yet my older daughter refuses point-blank to take a nap, and the baby wakes up after 30 minutes, fussy and unrested but with no intention of settling down again. I shut down the computer and take my little ones outside, where they "help" fold the laundry by clinging to my legs.

I'm so frustrated I could rip my hair off. When am I going to do all the stuff I must do? Why can't "they" (husband, children, whoever claims some of my time) understand how much I already have on my plate, and let me carry on with it? Why can they never wait? Why do I always have to be so frazzled?

It's evening, and I'm stifling a yawn while the girls are playing in the bathtub. I thought I would catch up on ironing once they are in bed, but now I realize I'm not really up to it. I'm lucky if I can summon enough energy to do the dishes before turning in. I waste no time in attempting to get my toddler into the fresh clean clothes I laid out for her earlier, but she takes it all as a fun game and prances along from one edge of the bed to the other, giggling loudly. 

Why can't they understand how tired I am? Why won't they go to bed quickly for a change? Why does my husband have to choose this precise moment to tell me he is arriving soon with a month's worth of groceries, and that I must somehow find extra space in the already overstuffed freezer by rearranging it?

The part of my mind that has not yet gone off-balance knows I'm being unreasonable. My children are as good as can be, it's just that they are children, and so will play, bounce, squabble and demand attention from the moment they rise till it's time to go to bed, and beyond. And you won't find many husbands who completely and totally take charge over all the grocery shopping. Yet I feel an irresistible urge to snap, bite someone's head off, stomp my feet, raise my voice - several times a day. I don't want to be reasonable anymore. I want to have things the way I want, and I want to stop whatever is getting in the way. 

As I sense this sweeping over me like a tide, threatening to swallow me, it's like watching a car crash in slow motion without being able to do anything about it. I'm just helplessly, desperately asking myself - who is this insufferable, unloving person speaking out of my mouth? Can it really be me? And if it is, how can I live with it? 

What keeps me going is the knowledge that it is not me. Or at least, that it isn't the deepest, truest part of my essence as a person. Fighting what bursts out of me when things don't go as planned is like fighting a many-headed dragon, yet I don't give up. I start every day afresh, and rejoice over tiny achievments such as keeping myself within the limits of my patience as I explain for the tenth time in an hour that we do not play with the contents of the bathroom cabinet.

I am humbled. I'm walking in small steps; I'm not trying to be a perfect mother, or even a better-than-most mother. For me, it is immense pride and joy just to be good enough.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nursing and resting

Having now successfully nursed two children, the younger 15 months old and with no signs of weaning anytime soon, I can say that one of the best things about nursing is the simple brilliance of it - how convenient it is, and how it allows a tired young mother to rest.
 
Oh, I know by now nursing can have its stresses and challenges - we've had slow weight gain, tongue-tie, plugged ducts complete with high fever, and others can probably chip in with stories of their own. But basically it's supposed to be pretty much straightforward, or our species wouldn't have survived. Throw in the facts that nutritionally speaking, it's perfectly composed to meet the baby's needs, it's free, and you don't have to prepare and wash bottles, not to mention worry about hygiene when you're out and about - and there you have why I love it so much. 
 
Most of the time, on many busy days, nursing is what allows us to put up our feet and rest, at least for a little while, without feeling guilty. We often try to do too much, and find it difficult to switch to a different mode once we have a baby - and nursing is just the thing to force us to slow down, for our own good. It's healthy, it's natural, it's simple, it involves sitting down for regular periods every day and cuddling a sweet baby. It's so wonderful. 
 
For us, as managers of the home, as those who are used to have it all under control, it can be so tempting to say to our dear husband (or whoever there is to help us out), "here, just hold the baby - and I'll do those dishes"... but no. The baby needs us, and us alone. Someone else can do the dishes, but no one can nurse our baby. And while we are sitting down, we can have a cooling drink of water or a little snack to refresh us on a hot busy day. 

I guess this is what some would call "being tied down by babies". And let's face it, the number one reason mothers switch to formula (at least here) is because of going back to work. I know only few people for whom pumping had worked out long-term, and even if it does, it just isn't the same as nursing (although definitely preferable to formula).

Actually, this "being tied down" by nursing is the best thing that can happen to a frazzled young Mom looking over a messy house. Because let's face it, we need to rest, we need to slow down, whether we acknowledge it or not. There will be challenging moments, of course. There will be days when you feel you have done nothing but nurse the baby - but these things slowly and imperceptibly change as the baby grows older. There will come a time when by-and-by, some of the baby's nutritional needs will be met by solid food, then a bit more... there will come a time when you are able to leave your baby for an evening and go out.

 And there will come a time of a bittersweet goodbye, when, with a feeling of a job well done, you relinquish the bond of breastfeeding and continue to nurture your little one in countless other ways. With Shira it happened at 15 months; she self-weaned, so I honestly can give no insight on weaning a baby. I know for sure I'm in no rush to end this very special connection between my baby girl and myself. Every minute of nursing and snuggling is precious, time well spent. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cute balloons

We got those not long ago, at a baby boy's birthday party. Aren't they marvellous? The balloons have since deflated and were disposed of, but the happy memories remain.

I don't suppose I will be able to squeeze in another post before tomorrow, so I'll wish you all a very happy weekend!

Your friend,

Mrs. T