The Parental Ideologue

So here is what happens… you find out your pregnant. You start to share this news with the world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has parenting advice. Family, friends, distant relations, people you talked to once in high school, random strangers will stop you on the street, in the middle of the grocery store, to tell you how they parented.

You have the baby, and the advice does not stop. Especially if this is your first baby. Everyone is a parenting expert, and they will have this irrepressible need to tell you the many ways they succeeded, how they did it, and how you should do it.

I would like to note that rarely do these home-grown experts own up to their failures.

Among the advice givers, you’ll find the ideologue. There are roughly as many different theories on parenting as there are lip gloss samples at Ulta. You’ll find parents from many of these groups, and they will tell you how every decision they make fits within the tenements of their parenting philosophy.

It drives me crazy.

I parent to the kid, not to the ideology.

If I had to pin my parenting philosophy down, it falls somewhere around “Get Everyone to 18 Without Losing my Mind.” We do practice quite a bit of attachment parenting, I do consider us gentle parents. But we routinely find ourselves making decisions out of the definitions of those philosophies.

Each kid is different. There are vast differences between Sprout and Pudge. Already, I am seeing that some of the parenting techniques that worked with Sprout are not going to work with Pudge. She is an entirely different child, technical and precise, then her wild big sister. Making decisions just to stay within the parenting tenements I follow, to have more cred as a gentle parent, will hurt my children, rather than help them.

Along with this, comes the books. There are hundreds of books at my local Barnes and Noble on parenting. Many of them proclaim with bold phrases in bright letters that buying this book will solve all your parenting problems. Or the DVDs. For just $59.99 plus shipping and handling, you can buy this series from world renown parenting expert Doctor Clown, who can solve all your parenting problems!!.

No. It just doesn’t work that way.

Parenting is not finding one parenting philosophy or book or technique, that will solve all your problems. Parenting is continuous problem solving. It is tackling the same problem from different directions. It is giving up on a problem and coming back to it.

Let me be honest. There are days when I wish one book, one technique, one anything would solve every parenting problem I face. But that just isn’t true. Some days I have to drink enough coffee to caffeinate a hibernating bear; do as much as I can with the time I’m given, keep the girls fed, clean and get them into bed, and call it a day.

And that’s my parenting ideology. Do the best you can with each day you’ve got.

 

~Jennifer

Advertisements

In Praise of the Older Mom

In March of 2011, I become a Mom for the first time. In July of that year, I turned 31. If you’re doing the math, I will be 37 the end of this week.

I remember my midwife, remarking on what an odd case I was. An Army Wife who hadn’t had babies until her 30s. It was the first, but not the last time someone has remarked on my age.

Many, most of my friends have older children. They are past the diapers and potty training, sippy cups, footed pajama stage. Some of the friends I went to high school with have kids graduating high school soon.

Among the many things people questioned, was whether we had fertility problems. Let me answer that, no. Neither of the girls needed much more planning that tossing the condoms in the trash, and maybe a few games of beer pong.

I didn’t have children in my 30s because I didn’t want to. In fact, I swore for years that I wasn’t going to have kids. I didn’t want them at all. At 25 I seriously considered tying my tubes and just not having kids. I didn’t grow up with the idea of being a mother, rather I grew up running from the idea of it.

And I just had stuff to do.

Sometime before I graduated high school I wrote down what I wanted to do with my life before I turned 30. Some of it was typical teenager fare, get a tattoo, stay out all night long, go to a bonfire at the lake; and some of it was deeper, I wanted to travel, to see the sunrise off the coast of Texas, down by my uncle’s place, go to South by Southwest, take pictures of all the flowers I could find in Texas, read all the historical markers between my house and Austin. I wanted to trace my family’s roots back to Europe, I wanted to rescue animals and rehabilitate them. I wanted to shop, and shop, and shop some more.

Just before my 30th birthday, I checked the last one off my list. I got a tattoo. I still live for a good shopping trip.

I was famous, or rather infamous, for the volatility of my relationships. If it wasn’t passionate, I didn’t want to be in the relationship. But there was never any stability with that passion. It took me until the last years of my 20s to find the right alchemical mix of passion and stability and strength, in a man, to keep me interested.

And Hubs may piss me off. May infuriate me. May send me into fits of anger so bad I send long, ranty messages to my friends and drink too much coffee. But I am never bored.

We are stable. Bills are paid, house is cleaned, laundry done, all that domestic stuff. Last night we cruised around town looking at houses and talking about grass versus gravel, plants to put in flower beds. We are not lacking for stability. I’m not bored though. I’ve discovered that a stable relationship is more encouraging for creativity, gives me more opportunities to create and play music, than the wild affairs I found myself in.

I am a better person than I was. I was not in the right place to have babies in my 20s. I was struggling from the pain of an unhappy childhood, cutting myself free of a toxic extended family that has poisoned me for most of my life. I would not have been able to dedicate myself to my kids the way I needed to. Motherhood is one sacrifice after another, and in my 20s, I was too selfish to do that.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a little selfish. It gave me the freedom to chase my dreams.

I had a second adolescence in my mid-20s. It was less about my body changing, and more about my brain changing. I was settling into life as a grown up, and realizing I had responsibilities. I was learning how to balance a checkbook, pay my bills on time, do my own laundry, and cook my own meals. It would have been so hard to have a baby in that time of my life, before everything settled into place.

I’ve heard the phrase “I grew up with my children.” And while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. The first time I held each of my girls, and looked them in the eyes, I met them not as a half-formed girl, unsure of herself. But as a grown up, as a woman. Confident in herself, in her abilities to raise a child, secure in a stable relationship, sure of herself as a person.

I am a better mother for having waited. And my children deserve the best of me.

 

~Jennifer

 

Here’s to Us

It’s been a long, sweaty, uncomfortable few days at Casa de Brown.

Last week the AC went out. After a long series of screw-ups that will be funny in a few months, when we look back on this, the repair guy told us it would be until the middle of this week before the parts are here and it can be fixed.

For reference, it’s been 100 or higher for weeks.

Hubs and I were walking through the store, on the hunt for a portable ac unit, grumbling about inept repair guys, and the house being too hot, and why did this have to happen July 4th weekend; when I mentioned that we have lived through worse times before.

Our first place, the first that was ours with no roommates; back when he was in the Army, was a trailer. A painted bright green, trimmed in yellow, so garish you could see it from orbit, trailer. It had bay windows that faced the east, and during the summer, even with the ac going full blast, it was outrageously hot.

The next place was a trailer in the same park, this time painted aqua and trimmed in purple. (This was a theme in the park.) Across the street from our driveway was a hundred or so acres of swamp. We had gators. We had carnivorous bugs that hunted fish and flew. THEY FLEW. We had snakes. We had mosquitoes so large they would carry you off.

The summer Hubs was in Afghanistan, it rained every day for 6 weeks. The grass grew water-logged and died, and I am here to tell you that rotting grass stinks. Bad.

Once we had feral cats get up under the trailer, fighting, and one of them tried to crawl up the dryer vent.

One day, during the Summer of Rain, I went outside to get the mail. There was a nearly 5 foot long gator sunning himself in my driveway. He hissed at me, and I nearly broke my ankle getting back up the steps to the front door.

A hurricane came through, just the outer bands of rain and wind made it in-land to us. The trailer rocked in the wind, we sweltered through a day without power.

We drove nearly 3,000 miles in the summer, across the Deep South, to move to California. I was 20 weeks pregnant, we had a 3 year old, my Mom and our dog in my truck, Hubs had both cats in his car. Someone needed to pee all the time. There were stretches of time where the only stations on the radio were Christian music, NPR, and Tejano music.

After we made it here, we scrambled to find a place and get settled before I had Pudge.

We have fought, and fought, and fought some more.

He has deployed twice, leaving me behind.

I lost two siblings to cancer, and then an aunt. Hubs had to stand by, pretty much helpless, as I struggled through layers of grief. He still has to deal with it, when it comes back to me.

We have faced the prospect of life after the Army, and put ourselves back together. The time apart took its toll, and there have been incredibly rough times, where we fought each other, and fought towards each other, slogging through the bullshit that was between us.

So this? This is uncomfortable. This has been stressful, and hot and sweaty.

But we have been through worse. Here’s to us.

On Father’s Day

I said I needed a man who was tough enough to take on my problems.

I said I needed a man who would let me hide behind him.

I said I needed a man who knew how to cook, knew how to fix cars, and could iron his own clothes.

I said I needed a man who did not mind that my email address was in latin, that I read medieval history books for fun, and that I know some of the weirdest trivia facts.

I said I needed a man who would be a good father.

I said all that, in a note. I tucked the note into my journal, almost 10 years ago, and forgot about it. I got busy with school and work, and life.

And then -he- wandered into my life.

I had 1,001 reasons why it wouldn’t work. The age gap (I’m older), he was in the Army, I didn’t want to leave Texas, I didn’t like to cook, I had baggage from a string of failed relationships. He was nothing if not persistent.

I found myself, somewhere around 2 years after writing that note, sitting in a bathroom in a rental house in Georgia, south of Savannah, a few minutes from the gates of Fort Stewart. My pants were around my ankles, a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade was on the bathroom counter, half-empty. And 3 pregnancy tests were sitting on the counter.

Every single one was positive.

He became a father while on an airplane coming in from Iraq. He didn’t hold his first born until the next day. He smelled like dirt and sand and airplane, and his ACUs desperately needed to be washed when he dropped into the chair next to my hospital bed, and held his little girl for the first time.

And that was all she wrote.

Family life has heaped a heavy burden on his shoulders. He took it.

He held on as I cried through the loss of a sibling, and then another. I lost an aunt, then grandparents that never really liked me, and still I cried. He has endured countless mood swings; both girls inherited my temperament. He carried first one baby, and then another, on his shoulder, propped in the crook of his elbow, changed diapers, changed their clothes, brushed their hair. He’s learned how to give breathing treatments, allergy medicine, how to put on cortisone on itchy skin, where to put a humidifier to get the maximum effect.

He has gone to work on little sleep, after spending the night up with a sick baby and a wife too stressed out to remember how to measure out baby Tylenol. And slept with a sick baby in a recliner. And slept with a sick wife propped on his shoulder.

That note, with my list of things I wanted in a man is long gone. But I remember the last line, he has to be a good father.

He is the best father.

~Jennifer

Here We Are

I wasn’t planning on writing this post anytime soon. I have a couple I’ve been working on, writing and saving as I come up with ideas. But like most of my life, plans changed.

On June 6, 2017, I washed the last load of cloth diapers for my kids. A little over a month before my 37th birthday, and we are done.

Tonight, the 11th, Pudge fell asleep without her milkies. She asked, but this time when I told her that bottles were gone and I would be happy to get her a cup of milk, she whined, and then fell asleep. It probably helps that she was up almost 2 hours past bedtime.

I am sitting here, drowning my sorrows in hummus, tortilla chips and Dr. Pepper.

The long, sleep-deprived trek of my life that has involved babies is over. My youngest is 2. My oldest is 6. And the days of rocking a sweet-smelling infant to sleep have slipped through my fingers.

I am at turns unsettled and comfortable with this.

On one hand, both girls are sleeping better lately.

On the other hand… footed pajamas. Neither girl liked them much past when they started walking. So they have come to symbolize babyhood for me.

The Jennifer of Before Kids is not back. And honestly, she may never back as she was, so much has changed. But the Jennifer as I Am, the who I am beneath Mom, I can see her now. There is still so much I want to do, things I want to accomplish. I finished up my Bucket List, the one I wrote a week before high school graduation, before 30. In between 30 and 37, I have been Mom. And The Mrs. There hasn’t been much time for a new Bucket List, I’ve been too busy washing bottles and diapers, wiping faces and butts, rocking babies, folding clothes, pumping gas, carrying children.

To go back to those times of babies will be to give up what little Me I have rewritten. There is so much story still left to write, so many pictures to take and songs to learn, and tattoos to get. There is so much to do still.

But…

They were my babies. Long before they started claiming their independence, long before they started snipping apron strings, they were babies. They were my fiercely guarded lion cubs. They were mine. And I will have to give them up, to their own lives, far sooner than I realized.

I would stay longer in the Land of Babies, if I could. I would linger here, with tiny clothes, tiny fingers to curl around mine, and a tiny head propped on my shoulder. But the girls will not let me. They didn’t linger here any longer than they needed to, and now they are pulling me through their childhood.

We have tea parties to play, and dolls to dress up, sidewalk chalk to color with, and bubbles to blow. We have toes to paint, and lip gloss to use up. We have childhood to get to.

While I will throw myself into their childhood, just like I did their baby years… I may stop to look back. A few times.

~Jennifer

Death Valley, March 2016

I was watching the news and there was a segment on the super bloom going on in Desert Valley. It’s been on my list of places to visit, and I said I wanted to go either in the Spring or Fall, when it is slightly cooler. The temptations of flowers was too much to pass up.

Hubs and I spent our 6th wedding anniversary (how has it been that long?!!) in the park, taking pictures, eating lunch, letting the girls wander around. By the time we got home we were tired, and hot and dusty… and I had some incredible pictures. I could go down there every weekend and take pictures for a year and still not get all of the park photographed.

Things to Know, Part 2: Leaving Home

You are tiny now, little girls with faces so small I can hold them in my hands, and hands so small they can still curl around my fingers. The smell of baby powder and shampoo still dominates my life, mixed in with milk and now bubble gum toothpaste.

It will not always be this way, my lion cubs. Life, your life, will call you, come for you, and claim you, one day. You will not, despite what you say now, want to live with me forever, you will want to have a home, a family, of your own. And that home may not be down the street, or even across town from me and Daddy.

You will see, as you grow up, that I get homesick. The lush grass of Papa’s backyard, where I spent my childhood, the wide acres of my uncle’s ranch, the smell of horse and saddle leather and hay, somedays I want that more than I want anything else.

But I would have withered at home. Under the nearly over-bearing guidance and watchful eyes of my family, I would not have dared to dream. I would not have picked my camera back up, I would not have tried to plant flowers, or cook a Thanksgiving dinner out of dishes I had never even tried. I would not have dipped my toes into the Atlantic Ocean in January. I would not have sat for hours getting those butterflies you are so fond of inked into my skin.

I would have married who I was supposed to, lived in the house I was supposed to, raised children like I was supposed to. I would have put my cameras up for a stable job, I would have cooked and cleaned and kept a perfect house. I would have withered away.

Wildflowers do not grow indoors, my babies. They have to be outside, in the sunshine. And the rain.

Being away from home, I have grown. I am not the baby of the family, but rather a lioness, leading my own family, sometimes battling with Daddy, but forging my own path in life. I want that for you, and I know that will only come if you leave home. You will not grow, you will not challenge yourself, you will not dream big dreams, accomplish them, and then find new dreams, if you stay here with me. Remember Rapunzel in her tower, after she was finally brave enough to leave, she found a big world waiting for her. That’s the same world, waiting on you.

So when the time comes, I will cry. And you might too. That’s ok.

But you will, no matter how many tears you shed, find yourself packing up, and finding your path.

If you do not have the courage, and strength, to find your own life in this world, I will have failed you as a parent. If I teach you nothing in life girls, I want to teach you how to be strong, on your own. I will never leave you, never abandon you, but you will have to leave me. It is the natural order of things; all babies leave home to make families of their own.

And if you are afraid to do that, then I have not done my job as your parent.

So when the time comes, I want you to run out into the world, conquer what you can, and leave the rest for someone else. Build your own home, whether that is down the street, across the country, or across the world. Just save me a spot in the guest bedroom.

If you get lost, follow your heart, it’s the best compass you have, and you will come back to Daddy and me, if you need to take a break from the world.

 

~Mama

The Cowboy Hat

On a random morning, just before we started school, Sprout asked to have me take pictures. This is a rarity, she is starting to get camera shy; I can’t really blame her, she’s had a camera in her face at least twice a week since she was born.

She agreed to wear the Big Sister shirt, and do pictures with Pudge on one condition, she get to wear her new Sheriff Callie hat. Sheriff Callie is a cat sheriff on a show on Disney Junior, Sprout loves the show. I could have spent the morning cleaning, or writing lesson plans. But in the spirit of Making Cupcakes, I skipped laundry and instead, we took some pictures. I think the outtakes are my favorites.

~Jennifer

DSC_0170 DSC_0176 DSC_0185 DSC_0187 DSC_0189 DSC_0191 DSC_0197 DSC_0202 DSC_0204 DSC_0208 DSC_0212 DSC_0222

The Night Before School

When you have a baby, when that monumental moment in time comes, and you literally bring your child into the world, the doctors, nurses, your family and friends, they all forget to tell you one thing. That you are taking a piece of your heart, and putting it into a being separate from you, and that with each nap, with each play date, with each breath they take, they are pushing further from you.

All those firsts you look forward to, first smile, first time baby rolls over, first steps, they are firsts that will separate your child from you. From the moment you give birth, you are separating, the act of giving birth is the first step in letting your child go.

Tomorrow, Sprout starts Pre-K. Like everything we have done so far, and everything we will do for the foreseeable future, she’ll be at home. The school corner has been cleaned and organized, I put together a new Circle Time board, and she has new crayons and colored pencils. When the store did not have the color glitter glue she wanted, I bought clear and added glitter to make her preferred color. I bought her a new backpack, even though we use that more for trips than school, she has a lunch box and a thermos, and I had to promise her tonight, during bath time, that I would pack her lunch in it. So we’ll have school in the living room, and she’ll eat lunch at the kitchen table, out of her lunch box. Or maybe we’ll sit outside.

But she’s starting Pre-K. And all those First Day pictures, and the cupcakes, and the certificate (of course she has a First Day Certificate), and all the projects. They’re other ways of letting go. When she mastered holding her scissors the right way, and told me she was a big girl, I was in the middle of feeding Pudge. It didn’t hit me until later, when I was picking minute pieces of paper out of my carpet, cut neatly, that I realized she had done it again. Taken another step away.

Those fingers that are holding safety scissors will one day hold real ones. She’ll put together college projects, work projects. Those fingers might sign laws into effect, might write legal briefs, might guide a rocket to Mars. Might dig holes for flowers, or cut silk for a designer dress. But she gained another step on the road to independence, when she remembered Thumb Up Top, Pointy End Out.

Your children are not really yours, they belong to themselves. Sprout has belonged to herself since she made her entrance into the world, serene and calm, watching the world through foggy eyes. The face that echoes my own at that age, the eyes that are duplicates of mine, they are hers. She belongs to herself, and she is slowly but steadily learning that.

I can hear her now, “Slow and steady wins the race Mama. Just like the tortoise in the story.” She still calls me Mama, and I dread the day that turns to Mom. I’ve liked being Mama, even when I get tired of hearing that name. Mama is the world of littles, of little fingers and toes, of nursery rhymes and rock me to sleep and I’m scared let me come sleep with you. I like this place. I know this place, of little girls, of toes barely big enough to put paint on, of untangling hair first thing in the morning, of frilly dresses and bare feet on a warm day. This place of Sesame Street and You Are My Sunshine is the place I have been the happiest.

Really that’s it, I don’t want them to grow on me for purely selfish reasons. I am happy.

I am tired. I am exhausted. I want a hot shower and a days’ worth of sleep and someone to cook all the meals for a year. But I am happy here, in the land of littles.

And my girls are determined to lead me out of this place, where I am happy. I am sure the next stage in motherhood will be happy too. But this stage was where I met happy, where I learned that I could meditate with a baby in my belly, or in my lap. That in the moment meant coloring in a princess themed coloring book with my pajamas still on, and coffee growing cold on the counter. This stage taught me the healing powers of a baby asleep on your chest, on the peace and contentment a child could bring. I like this stage because it has healed me, as much as I have raised my children through it.

So this is why, as I pulled together what we’ll need for the week, I found myself crying. We are ready, we have everything we need. I am not ready.

My littles are leaving this stage, and I would happily stay here for a lifetime.

~Jennifer

Little Architect

This was supposed to be summer vacation. This was supposed to be the summer Sprout learned how to be bored on her own, and come up with marvelous things to do. I envisioned her building forts out of  blankets and sheets, filling up her drawing books with the best work since Picasso got into Cubism, creating sticker pictures, playing Doc McStuffins with her toy collection. And she did that. And then…

Two weeks into summer break, and she was coloring on the walls. I mean that in the literal sense of the word.

I realized I do not have a child who can just be on her own, who can figure out how to amuse herself. Let me rephrase that, who can figure out how to amuse herself in ways that do not involve destruction or the permanent markers she snatched from my desk.

So I started coming up with activities to do. Some of them were home school activities, simplified for easy play. We’ve done more arts and crafts, used more glue, paint and glitter than I care to reminder. Or can get out of my carpet.

But I had a box of packing peanuts, saved from a delivery, sitting on the top of my fridge. And I had toothpicks. Putting them together meant nearly an hour of building, taking things apart, and rebuilding. I should have done this on a sheet, to avoid the risk of stepping on lost toothpicks. Or even better, I will do this outside next time, and I will not have to worry about toothpicks getting jammed into small toes. Or my toes. I’ve had to go the ER once to get a piece of toothpick out of my foot, years ago, I don’t care to do it again.

But she was occupied. She wasn’t in trouble, wasn’t scheming to do something she shouldn’t or playing with something she shouldn’t, or pestering the cats, or any number of the Do Nots. I try to avoid the Do Nots as much as possible, but there are times when you have to have a Do Not. But on this afternoon, I forgot about the Do Nots, and let her build. And build. And build some more.

~Jennifer

DSC_0122 DSC_0114 DSC_0109 DSC_0107 DSC_0102 DSC_0094