Monday, April 29, 2013

Guest Post: Married to a Type B personality

Today, I am delighted to be guest posting over at All Things Beautiful for the lovely Alyssa's "Married to a..." series, all about the things we learn from our spouses. If you're visiting from All Things Beautiful, welcome! I hope you'll stick around for a bit and say hello.

When my husband Andy and I first met, I'm pretty sure there's no way he thought I was a Type A. I was a freshman in college, he was a sophomore, and we were both complete ragamuffins, still teenagers really. We were dirt poor in that bearable college student type of way, running around in dirty clothes and unwashed hair, scrounging up money for gas and sundaes at Dairy Queen. We bonded over our shared faith and passion for social justice and simplicity, and soon became best friends, skipping class and driving around town listening to ska music in his beat up minivan.

Despite these commonalities, it wasn't long into our dating relationship before some of our differences became very clear.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Super Simple DIY: Montessori-style Treasure Basket

Did you know that Montessori isn't just for school-aged children? In fact, I recently learned that the Montessori education philosophy can be applied to kids from birth through age 24! Admittedly, I knew very little about Montessori before about, oh two months ago, when I came across a link to Montessori infant activities. O had just entered that stage where he was starting to actively play and interact a little more with the world around him, so I was looking for some creative ways to spend a little of his awake time each day. The Treasure Basket idea seemed to be one of the simplest, most common activities for his age, so I decided to give it a try.

I was amazed! For one, as he reached into and searched through the basket, I realized that his fine motor skills were significantly more advanced than I had previously assumed. The basket seemed to be a huge motivator for him to fully exert both his physical energy and his concentration. It was fascinating to watch him discover and manipulate each object and to witness how long he maintained interest in this one activity.

Infant Treasure Basket
Recommended Age: 6-18 months (though we began at 5 months and did just fine)

 Step 1. Find a fairly low, medium size basket or box (preferably not plastic).

Step 2. Gather items from around your house that are both natural (i.e. not plastic) and safe for a baby to hold and mouth. This can include kitchen items like metal whisks and wooden spoons, things found in nature like pine cones or shells, miscellaneous household items like cardboard tubes, washcloths, or herb jars filled with peanuts. The sky is the limit, really, just remember: baby-safe. natural materials. One of O's favorite toys of all time is a half of a coconut shell that I put in his first treasure basket. Go figure.

Step 3. Place 5-10 of these items in your basket and put the rest aside for another time.

Step 4. Set the basket on the floor before your baby. The first time, you may have to pick up an item of two yourself and spend some time looking at it and moving it before your baby will show an interest. Once they get started, it's nice to just sit behind him or her quietly and observe, especially if your baby is not quite sitting up reliably yet.

Step 5. Let your baby freely explore the contents of the basket for as long as is pleasurable. Some items will be tossed aside and others will be searched for with great intention. Some will be shaken, some will be mouthed, and some will be manipulated with little hands. All of that is great! The goal of this activity is simply to provide your baby with some focused time to discover and explore some of the items found in his world.

Step 6. When you're done, put the basket out of reach until the next day, rotating items every few days to keep things interesting. I haven't rotated items more than once or twice in our two months of "treasure basketing," but I am definitely starting to notice a wane in his interest, so we will be changing things up soon! As your baby gets older, you can even make themed treasure baskets by color, room in the house, material, etc. I also have a "mini" treasure basket that I sometimes bring out with us since it keeps his attention so well!


Since doing this activity, I've done a lot more research into at-home Montessori for babies and toddlers and have even read a couple books on the subject. As with everything, you have to take the good and leave the rest, but there is so much to love about the Montessori philosphy, so I look forward to trying out more activities as our baby gets older. Do you do Montessori in your home? What activities or resources would you recommend?

Monday, April 22, 2013

On My First Tattoo

The reason I have a sparrow on my foot is because my sister went to hell and back. It's easy to say that now, with her residing so comfortably on this earth as if she's been here all along, but there was a time when she hadn't yet come back and she was just in hell, and we all were there with her a little.

The details are too long and personal to relay here, but they are scary and dark, and her light shines so bright now in comparison to them. She is an artist as she always was, strikingly gorgeous and full of life. She is quick to laugh and to forgive and to serve, and she plays with her nephew like there is nothing on earth she would rather be doing. Almost 5 years ago,  when she came back up to earth, she decided to get a tattoo to say something about everything she had survived and all she had been delivered from. It's a sparrow; a sign that God was there watching her all along. She and my mom, an artist too, designed it together and a few months later they designed the version of it that is permanently stamped onto my left foot.

Originally, I got the tattoo to say something to my little sister who had been through so much, something like "I love you" or "I'll always be here" but in a way that words could not. I also wanted to say something kind to myself because I am a woman of few talents, but sistering is one of them. I have loved and bossed and overprotected and defended and counseled and reprimanded my two siblings with all of my heart from the moments they were born, though they never asked it of me. I have always shouldered their burdens and cried for their struggles, mostly because I didn't know how not to, and the past few years had been especially rough for both of them, and so, for me too. So, I wanted to say something to myself about what I had made it through too, about how I had been a good sister even when it was hard.

Now, four years later, the sparrow says those things and something more, too. Most days, what is says most loudly is "Miracles happen, in profound and complicated ways." In the midst of this prolonged season of doubt, the sparrow reminds me of all the deeply personal and unlikely stories I've been blessed to witness in my short life, stories like my sister's, that I simply can't explain apart from my hunch that God is real.

I'm linking up to the Embodied Story Synchroblog at A Deeper Story

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tales from the NICU: Foreshadowing and Dramatic Irony

In September 2012, my full-term newborn son spent the first three weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit. "Tales from the NICU" are stories from our unexpected stay there. 


When my son was born, they put him right on my chest, wailing and new. His heart rate had dropped shortly before birth and they said he was breathing a little fast, that it looked like he might have swallowed a little amniotic fluid, so they looked him over for a bit and quickly handed him back to me. I wasn't worried. I was just so relieved that he had arrived, red and healthy and huge. That first night with him was pure bliss. I had had a natural birth so I was a bundle of pure energy and excitement and I couldn't believe how great I felt. We hardly got any sleep because I kept waking up over and over just to peek at him. I would sit and watch him sleep in his little bassinet by my bed, fascinated by his realness. I'll never forget that feeling, of motherhood so fresh, for as long as I live.

The next morning, the nurses said they would like to run some tests just to make sure everything checked out okay. I was disappointed that he would be away for a bit, but I wasn't worried. My husband went with him to the nursery while I rested. While they were gone, a nurse came in to look me over. She asked when it looked like we would be leaving. I still felt great, so I said as soon as possible, after the 24 hour minimum, and she gave me this gentle smile that said, "O sweetie. How naive you are." But I brushed it off. I wasn't worried.

About an hour or so later, a doctor came in. I was there alone as she told me that it looked like my baby may have an infection, that she wanted him to stay in the NICU for a day or two. It wasn't until after she left that my husband came back. He had gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere and when I saw him I realized two things at once: that I wished he had been there when they told me and that we were both there without our baby, that he was off somewhere without us.

Soon after that, a nurse came in with a pump so I could get my milk supply going while I was away from my baby. Not even the tiniest drop of colostrum came out, but I wasn't worried, I trusted that my body would do what it was supposed to.

I don't remember how long it was before they let us walk down to see him, but I do remember that he was still on the right side of the NICU when we came, the side you don't want your baby to be in, though I didn't know it then. I remember all the beeping, and all the itty bitty babies, and the hush. I remember my heart snapping in two to see him there, not in my arms, not in our home, hooked up to an IV, and so soon after leaving the comfort of my body for the very first time.

I sat down beside him for a little while before they let me nurse him. He had seemed pretty disinterested every time I tried, but I wasn't worried. I had never nursed a baby before, so I didn't know what it was supposed to be like. But as the nurses watched us, they could tell he was having trouble and decided to try suctioning him out with a tube. It was terrible to watch, but he did a little better after that, so I thought the nursing problems were fixed.

The next time we went to see him, he was on the left side. That's when my midwife stopped in to check on us. I told her that they just wanted to give him some antibiotics, that it would be just a couple of days, five tops. She told me not to get my hopes up too high, that she had a daughter in the NICU once for a short stay that turned into two weeks. Still, I wasn't worried. In the midst of this nightmare of a situation, I was optimistic and unemotional far beyond my nature on even my best days. I think it was the birth hormones. There were hints everywhere that I can see now, that this wouldn't be a short stay, that nursing was not going well. If the story of my son's stay in the NICU was a book, this is the part where the English class would identify the obvious literary devices, saying, "Ah! There it is: foreshadowing!" The nurses, my midwife, even my husband I think, knew where things were going, that it was not okay, but I couldn't see it, or refused to see it. I, an English major no less, I only read the story that I wanted to be written and refused to read the one that was unfolding on the pages before me. "Ah! There it is," they'd say, "Dramatic irony!"

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Links for a Rough Day in Motherdom

It's been one of those days weeks, you know? A week full of loooong paradoxical days in which you feel kind of lonely yet yearn for a few precious uninterrupted hours alone. I'm learning that this is motherhood. When I was pregnant, I used to have these images of just bringing a baby along for our normal lives. Hanging out with friends [+ baby]. Walking downtown [+ baby]. Eating dinner [+ baby]. It was our lives... but we had a baby. But really, it's like he has us, we're along for his ride, and when I was pregnant I never really stopped to realize that for every single thing I did every second of the day, I would have to take him into account. All the once normal activities of my life (doing yoga, writing, spending time with friends) are now precious, precious withdrawals from the limited number of minutes in the day that I can now call my own. And yet, I have never in all my life encountered any other endeavor which has so effortlessly compelled me to sacrifice so much of myself-- so fully and completely-- overnight. If there is anything I can say with complete confidence that I would not do for him, I have yet to encounter it. And nothing puts me more immediately at ease than to hear him laugh. And nothing simultaneously melts my heart and blows my mind more than looking into his eyes and seeing myself and my husband and God all at once. So, I am finding ways to adapt and settle into the new normal I am forming for myself and the words of these ladies have sure helped a whole lot.

"But you’re happier now, right? She continued. Nope. Nope, not happier. I was happy when Scott and I went to Japan every ten minutes. I’m exaggerating for effect here- I’m sometimes happier. I’m also more worried, stressed, exhausted, annoyed, et al. But I am certainly better. I am less selfish. I am stronger. And the world breaks open for me in surprising and transformative ways."
"What I’m saying is that it seems to me that every woman who becomes a mother, no matter how much she loves her kid or wants to be a mom, will most likely, at some point, mourn the loss of her previous identity. And it will hurt."
"No, the reason I enjoy mothering on the day-to-day grind is mainly because I do this stuff. And it helps me. I call them Practices because that’s what us Jesus-people like to call spiritual disciplines but really they’re just things I do over and over again, kneading them like yeast into my life."
"I loved the happy moments, but I felt like I’d lost control over my life.  I had things I needed to get done, and my cranky baby was constantly getting in the way.  My temper would flare whenever my plans for the day were thwarted by my baby, which was pretty much all the time. The turning point came when I realized that was no way to view my baby–as an obstacle to my Real Life.  Mothering was now my real life."

Monday, April 1, 2013

Labor Day Birth Story: Part Two

You can find part one of this birth story here.

When we got to the hospital, I found out that I was 4cm dilated, 100% effaced, and that my water would likely break any minute. I was so lucky to have an amazing nurse named Jennifer who was super sweet, encouraging, and very supportive of our birth plan, which I myself was barely even aware of at this point. I spent the next several hours in Labor and Delivery rotating between the birth ball, to the bathroom, to the bed. All the while, my mom was behind me rubbing my back and Andy was in front of me reminding me to breathe and relax. Every time a contraction came, I would grab on to Andy and sway and moan and try to relax and breathe. Sometimes I would squeeze Andy too hard because of the pain, but never once did I ever feel even a little annoyed by him. He was an amazing support all the way through. The next time they checked me, I was 7 cm and that’s when things began to get intense. The contractions were one on top of the other, and I began throwing up some, which, thanks to my birthing class, I knew meant that I was at least approaching transition and that the end was in sight. Throughout my whole time at the hospital, I kept thinking, “Why did I want to have a natural birth again? Why did we take the class? What was I thinking?” but for some reason I felt like it was too late to turn back now, so I just kept breathing and relaxing. I think the main thing that got me through the worst parts, though, was all the encouragement I received. Both my mom and Andy know me well enough to know that I needed verbal affirmation more than anything else and they never ceased to comment on how well I was doing, which made me feel like I was tough enough to keep going. It also helped that the sweet nurse kept popping in and cheering me on as well.

After my second measurement, they called the midwife and when she got there she measured me at 9 cm. At that point, my "about to break any minute" water still had not broken, which the midwife said had probably helped me manage the pain up until then, but would speed things up now if she broke it, so I said sure and it wasn't long after it broke that I starting feeling the urge to push. Andy told me later that it was just he and my mom with me when I started to feel the need to push and that he was super scared but just thought, “Well, you have to push then.” The midwife came in soon though and we started pushing. I say we because it really felt like it took the work of all five of us, Andy on one side, my mom on the other, and the midwife and nurse in front of me, all helping me in their own way. Pushing was interesting because, at least for me, it was very much something I had to learn to do. It took me a while to get the timing right with my contractions, but once I got the hang of it things went really fast and my midwife just kept saying “You’re doing so good, Alissa, keep going.” I was vaguely aware of her telling me that the baby’s heart rate had dropped and calling the doctor to come use the vacuum, but I just kept pushing and then Andy said that the baby had hair and a few seconds later he slithered out and was on my chest. As he was being handed to me, I heard my mom say, “It’s a boy!” so I just said “Hello, Oliver!” It was an amazing feeling and an amazing experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better birth.

Oliver was born at 4:49 p.m. so I was in labor for 13 hours total and pushed for just about half an hour of that. Later, my midwife told me that with my first baby and him being so big (9 lbs. 5 oz.), I shouldn’t have been able to push him out in time for them to not have to use the vacuum.* I hadn’t had an ultrasound since halfway through the pregnancy, so I had no idea he would be so big, which is lucky for me because I probably would have had way more anxiety had I known. It’s also lucky that he decided to come when he did because I had an ultrasound schedule for the next day otherwise, which may have revealed his size, or even prompted an induction.

Giving birth to Oliver was definitely one of the proudest moments of my life. Throughout my pregnancy, I had this secret fear that my body would somehow not be up to the task of delivering a child, much less one so large with hardly any medical interventions. I was so amazed to see what my body was capable of, that one of the first things I remember thinking and saying after Oliver was born was, “I did it!” Giving birth the way that I did was hands down the most empowering event of my life thus far, because I was able to really witness my body going through the entire birth process the way that it was made to.** I have never felt more capable of handling anything than I did in the hours following Oliver’s birth (a feeling that really came in handy during the difficult weeks ahead that we ended up spending in the hospital's NICU, but that's a story for another day.)

*In some ways, particularly considering my situation, I am proud of this, but I've also recently learned from an interview with Ina May Gaskin that it's the time spent pushing that helps prevent tearing. I ended up tearing pretty badly and took a long time to heal completely, so I'm just saying that I don't think pushing time itself is necessarily something to be proud of.

**I am completely aware that natural birth is not for everyone, nor should it be, as there are a myriad of health issues that can prevent a woman from giving birth this way. However, I do believe that most women and babies would benefit from at least being given the opportunity and education to attempt a natural birth if they choose.