Carrots for Michaelmas: Musings of a Catholic Wife, Mother, and Occasional Redhead


“A Dog Could Take Care of Your Child” Or Why I Quit Grad School to Stay Home with My Kids
April 16, 2012, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Children, Motherhood | Tags: , ,

Firstly, let me clarify what this post is not. This is not a post in which I judge working mothers. Five weeks after my son was born I went back to work full-time until after he turned one. Daniel needed to finish school so I needed to bring home the bacon. I don’t think that made me a bad mother, nor do I think that other moms who need to or choose to work outside the home are bad mothers. However, this is a post in which I explain why staying home was the right choice for me. This is a post in which I challenge our culture’s views on the value of motherhood.

My story:

My husband had just finished his thesis and graduated and our son was almost 18 months old when I applied to and was accepted into a graduate program at Unnamed University in Unnamed Department with stipend and a tuition waver. I was really excited about the opportunity. I had been pretty miserable being away from my son, Benjamin, 9-10 hours everyday at work and I thought that my program would allow me more time with him since I could do much of my studying at home. I was also motivated to begin grad school because a) I loved what I was going to get to study and b) I felt like I needed to use my academic skills (I graduated from a very prestigious undergraduate program) and move toward a career path. Because that’s what you do if you’re a well-educated, intelligent woman, right? You have a career! You make an impressive salary! You definitely don’t just stay home, right?

So, I began my program during the summer session. My classes were inspiring. I loved the course material. I was getting good feedback from my professors. But…I just wasn’t happy. When I was in class or in the library I missed Benjamin so much and I wished I were home with him. When I was home with Benjamin I felt anxious and preoccupied: “I really should be studying right now! I wish he would go to sleep so I can finish my readings! I need to go back to the library!” I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the precious hours with my boy. I started to think more seriously about my program and what exactly I was going to do with my degree. After all, our current economy isn’t kind to teaching positions in the humanities. When I graduated, how would I get a job? Would I have to move? (We had just moved back to our hometown for my program and were blissfully spoiled by having two sets of grandparents in town.) What about having more babies? Wouldn’t it be impossibly hard to get tenure while mothering more than one child? And if I wait to have more babies until after getting tenure…my fertile days might be over. And perhaps most importantly: do I really need a prestigious career in order to be happy?

Toward the end of the semester, I met with the Director of the program and explained that I was seriously considering leaving the program to raise my son and just work part-time. The director voiced his concern that I was throwing away a great opportunity: great program, full-tuition waver, stipend, not the sort of thing you just walk away from. “You can be a mother and an academic,” he claimed. He described a female faculty member in another department who had 3 children and yet had a successful career. (I later discovered that the female professor’s husband stayed home full-time to raise their children.)  Anyhow, he said he would give my number to the only female faculty member in our department who had children (she had one child) so she could explain just how to do it all.

When she called me, she described her life a little bit. I was admittedly shocked to hear that she commuted to Florida from…..Pennsylvania. Every week, leaving her son with her husband for the week and going home for the weekend.  It’s not that I think that makes her a horrible mother. Different things work for different families and jobs in the humanities are hard to come by. But, for me, it would be a miserable way to live my life.

I voiced some of my struggles with being a mother in grad school such as feeling constantly torn between two worlds. “What you need to learn,” she explained, “is how to compartmentalize your life. When I get on that plane I am Dr. X, then when I get home I can be mom again.” I tried to explain that learning to compartmentalize my life didn’t appeal to me very much, what I was trying to do was integrate my life. Live it as a whole. Not have to sever various aspects of myself into this or that context.

Then she told me all the dreadful things that would happen if I left the program to stay home: “You will become intellectually stagnant.” (I’ll forget how to think? Is that what happens to everyone who doesn’t have an advanced degree?) “You will only have friends who talk about diapers and you’ll be bored out of your mind.” (Um….who do you think I hang out with? And how insulting is that to SAHMs?) “You will wake up in 10 years and realize you don’t know who you are.” (You are your career, she seemed to say. If you’re merely a mother, when your kids go to school, you are no one.) But to me that mindset seemed very odd because my identity must be found in Christ, anything else will be ultimately unsatisfying. If my identity was wrapped around being a respected professor, it would be just as misplaced, if not more, as if my identity was founded on my role as a mother alone.

Anyhow, I tried to explain to her that I just didn’t feel like I was being the mother I desired to be while I was trying to succeed in the graduate program.

Oh, you’re just experiencing guilt because of cultural norms of motherhood.” (“I am?” I thought. “Aren’t almost all American mothers working mothers? Isn’t staying at home the exception, not the rule? Isn’t the pressure I’m feeling concentrated around having a successful career to define me instead of the unimpressive role of merely being a mother?”)

You have no reason to feel guilty. Your son doesn’t need you with him every minute.”

It’s not that I feel guilty, necessarily.” I explained. “When my son isn’t with me he’s with his dad or his grandmother having a wonderful time. He’s happy and coping very well when I leave for class or to study. But I am miserable. I MISS him.”

Well, your son will be around forever. But this is your one chance to do this program and have this opportunity.”

This statement seemed completely upside down to me. “But…my son won’t be almost two forever. He’ll only be almost two RIGHT NOW. And…I wasn’t aware that medieval studies was going anywhere…”

You son is almost two? At that age they just want attention. It really doesn’t matter at all whether they get that attention from you or from someone else.” And then there was the real kicker: “At that age, a dog could take care of your child.”

A dog could….what?!” I refrained from saying, “You are out of your ever-loving mind! You have successfully convinced me to stay home with my kids because your entire perspective on motherhood is absurd!” But I didn’t say that. I think I mostly just stood with my mouth open, too shocked to speak a real sentence. Because of course, I knew she didn’t mean that literally a dog could raise my kid. No, indeed. What she meant was far more offensive than that. She meant that the day-in-day-out tasks of motherhood are such meaningless drudgery that an intelligent, well-educated woman with potential to succeed in a prestigious career should never lower herself to merely raise children. Such work requires neither intelligence, creativity, engaging challenges, nor the unique attention and love that only I, as their mother, can give my babies in the daily tasks of mothering them. Staying home with my babies has no real value. There would be no paycheck, no performance reviews. Diaper changes and feedings and kissing boo boos and tucking them in at night: those things can be done by someone else, while I reach my true potential and gain respect in my field.

I was appalled. The thing is, the professor wasn’t a bad person. She wasn’t trying to insult me. She was trying to help me. She felt sorry for me. (Poor young mother! She got landed with this kid at 23 and now she’s having to give up her dreams and throw her life away!) But I think her perspective was misguided.

At this point in the conversation, I tried to respectfully explain that I thought I had made up my mind as to what I would do and I would let them know as soon as possible so that they could give the funding going to my tuition waver and stipend to someone else. Because I had made up my mind. I had made up my mind to be there with my kids. To embrace the daily grind of motherhood. To discover it’s not drudgery at all, but something meaningful and beautiful, using every ounce of my intelligence and creativity to do it well, challenging me at every turn. This work of motherhood is my vocation, my privilege, and my joy. 

It’s been almost two years since I quit grad school. During that time, I’ve had another precious baby and never regretted my decision once. Not for one second. Because I can’t imagine that life could get any better than this.



Crossroads
March 30, 2012, 2:56 pm
Filed under: Breastfeeding, Motherhood | Tags: , , ,

(Lucy getting a snack before Ellie’s wedding, Photo courtesy of Jade Pierce Photography)

Well, I feel like I’m at a motherhood crossroads with my sweet baby girl. I’ve been following the principles of ecological breastfeeding very thoroughly since her birth. I read Sheila Kippley’s The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood which promote mama and baby togetherness, on-demand nursing, co-sleeping, no pacifiers, no bottles, baby wearing, exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, and daily naps with baby (what’s not to love?!). Ecological Breastfeeding naturally delays the return of fertility because of super frequent breastfeeding as a way to naturally space out babies.

The natural baby spacing aspect of this method of mothering is what attracted me to it in the first place since I’m terrible at charting. But then I really adored the close relationship with my baby that ecological breastfeeding supports. I guess it’s a good thing that I really enjoyed it because I was surprised and a little bit bummed that my fertility returned after only 5 months. I was seriously really careful to follow all the principles, although occasionally I didn’t take a nap, and was shocked that my fertility returned before I even started solids with Lucy. I had friends tell me that it would be so unlikely for my fertility to return before a year if I was co-sleeping still. Oh, well, not having to even consider NFP was nice while it lasted! And it did delay the return of my fertility a month longer than after I had Benjamin. And the past five months have maybe been the best of my whole life with my precious baby. What a light this sweet girl has brought to my heart!

Anyhow, now I need to decide if I want to continue doing ecological breastfeeding or make some changes. Should we get the crib out of it’s packaging and start moving her toward sleeping in her own space? Should I start pumping so that I can occasionally leave her at home with Daddy?

As for co-sleeping, I’ve slept much better having her in bed with me than during my desperate attempts to try to get Benjamin to sleep by himself during his first six months, but maybe we could move towards sleeping through the night if she had her own room. She’s such a good sleeper already! We got 5 hour stretches for the past three nights which was awesome. We tried cry-it-out when Benjamin was 6 months old because I was so sleep-deprived I thought I would lose my mind. But I don’t want to go that route with Lucy, I just can’t. Whatever we choose to do sleep-wise won’t involve tears.

And as for no bottles, I hate the idea of having to pump (I pumped so much when I was working during Benjamin’s infancy that the idea is just repellant to me) but on the other hand, having a girls night also sounds amazing. But who knows if she will even take a bottle? And washing out bottles….blerg. Hate it.

And what kind of NFP should I use? I was using the sympto-thermal method (kind of) but taking my temperature at the same time each morning after having uninterrupted sleep is just…NEVER going to happen. Uninterrupted sleep? What is this miracle you speak of? So, I want to look into NFP methods that look for other fertility symptoms, not temperature. Got any recommendations? Part of me doesn’t really want to bother…babies rule.

I’d love your thoughts on good methods of NFP and gentle sleep training!

 



10 Ways to Nurture Positive Body Image for Your Daughter

I’m not an expert. My daughter’s a baby and whether she’ll turn out to have a positive body image is yet to be seen. But, I’ve learned a few things about the challenge of nurturing a positive body image over the past two and a half decades from growing up as a girl in our weight-obsessed culture, watching my mother thoughtfully and intentionally raise me, and as a ballet teacher seeing even very young girls struggle with the cultural messages of body image constantly before them. Here’s my two cents:

  1. Love Your Body: If you want your daughter to grow up confidently loving her body you will have to model this behavior for her. Dissatisfied looks and critical statements when you look in the mirror will not go unnoticed by her. Constantly complaining about weight and your plans for dieting will affect how she views her own body. This is a tall order. I know that I don’t always look in the mirror and have lots of positive thoughts. I see things I think are flaws and wish I looked different. But I never see room for improvement when I look at my baby girl—she is absolutely perfect in my eyes. She is a precious little body and soul beloved by her family and by her Heavenly Father. And if I want her to see herself that way I have to remember that I, too, am made in the image of God and that He looks at me, his creation, with tender affection. If I want my daughter to be confident and at peace with her body, I must show her how.
  2. Eat as a Family: I know there might be overwhelming demands on your time in the evening with extracurriculars to attend and family members moving in a thousand different directions.  Eating a leisurely meal together on a regular basis might feel impossible. Change this and make time to eat as a family. By eating dinner together and enjoying each other’s company, you are impressing upon your daughter that partaking of food is a positive experience. It’s not just calories in your mouth, it’s a MEAL. Over the dinner table you connect with your kids and spouse. I’ve read several times that the occurrence of eating disorders in preteen and teenage girls decreases dramatically when their family regularly eats dinner together.
  3. Cook as a Family: Take the family togetherness a step further. Cook together. Now you’re not just opening up a packaged meal with a label explaining how many grams of this or that is contained within. You’re creating culinary art together! Food isn’t just sustenance, it is a delight. And you’re also providing your kids with skills they can take beyond your kitchen. When they move out, they can take positive eating habits with them!
  4. Grow a Garden: OK, so now you’re cooking together. Great. Now, start a garden in your yard. Begin with just herbs if you’re overwhelmed! Fresh herbs are easy to grow and so fun to use in recipes. Grow some veggies in a little raised bed and let your children be involved in every step. Then food isn’t just associated with sustenance and positive family experiences, but it takes on an entirely new role: the bounty of nature, God’s creation. Watching plants grow is exciting to children! My 3-year-old will run inside to tell me that the tomatoes “ARE TURNING RED! And RED MEANS RIPE!” Then we will go out so he can pick them off our tomato plants and he will devour a juicy, sun-ripened tomato that HE GREW. Often before cooking begins, he will participate in harvesting what we need for our meal. He sees us prepare it and then we sit down to eat it. Food becomes downright miraculous!
  5. Tell Her That She Is Beautiful: She needs to hear this from you and, perhaps more importantly, from her father. She must know that you think she is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. And start using the word “beautiful” to mean more than physically attractive. Say, “that was a beautiful thing to do,” when she acts kindly. Note that a woman you admire is a “lovely person.” Help her expand her idea of beauty from what our culture says it is (sexually attractive) to include: virtuous, feminine, courageous, self-sacrificial, loving.
  6. Tell Her She Is More than Beautiful: Note and praise her other attributes. Mention that you think she’s clever, interesting, determined, kind, fun, delightful, talented, etc. Don’t allow her identity to be limited to her physical appearance. Nurture in her the understanding that her identity rests in her status as God’s child—so beloved that Our Lord sacrificed himself for her.
  7. Be Honest With Her: When we as mothers fall short of #1 (confidently loving our bodies) we should offer those experiences to our daughters to learn from. It was incredibly helpful to me to hear about my mother’s struggles with healthy body image as a college student. She was very open with me about her bouts with anorexia. She explained what pressures caused her to harm her body by not eating, her need for control over her weight, the dangers of her behavior, and her road to recovery. This provided me with the ability to see red flags in my own thought patterns when pressures arose in my life and environment. When, knowing intellectually that I was at a healthy weight, I looked in the mirror and didn’t see a thin girl, I remembered her explanation of how our minds can get sick and our perspective warped so that we can no longer see reality and, instead, become obsessed with being thin. I was able to stop those negative thought patterns in their tracks because of the honest conversations my mother offered me.
  8. Discuss Cultural Messages of Beauty: Another awesome thing my mother did to guide my way to healthy body image was to point out positive and negatives messages in advertising, toys, movies, etc. For example, although my mom never bought me a Barbie doll, she didn’t ban them from the house when they were gifted to me by others. Instead, we talked about them. She noted the length of the Barbie’s legs and her tiny waist in proportion to the rest of her. “Have you ever seen anyone who looks like that?” she asked. No, I hadn’t. “That’s right. This isn’t what women really look like, is it?” she explained. “Do you think the people who made this doll want us to think she’s pretty? How do you think a girl would feel if she thought she was supposed to look like Barbie since no one really looks that way? Do you think she might feel bad about how she looks—how women are really made to look–since she can’t ever look like that doll?” Open a dialogue. Teach your daughter to question the subtle messages that are being presented to her. Teach her to distinguish between lies and the truth about her body. Expand her views of what beauty is beyond the narrow box of the runway model.
  9. Don’t Watch Commercials: When I see a commercial for makeup or clothes or razors or whatnot presenting skinny models as the epitome of beauty that I should be seeking to imitate, I know it influences my thoughts. I’ve got almost 3 decades under my belt of learning to fight those messages. How much more dangerous are those messages to a young girl who hasn’t yet learned to see the lies presented in commercials for what they are! Your daughter will be receiving negative messages about her body every time she steps out of the house. Don’t let those messages invade her household as well.
  10. Provide Her With Positive Role Models: There will come a time when she will struggle with these issues, so give her some good company for her journey. I grew up with my head full of wonderful characters like Anne of Green Gables. I watched Anne struggle with her body: she felt ugly and wished she was pretty like her best friend Diana. “Why doesn’t Anne like herself? Anne is SO COOL!” I would think. Then I watched Anne grow up to be a confident, amazing woman during Montgomery’s wonderful series. These sorts of tales served me well when I felt awkward or ugly as a girl and compared myself to friends I thought were prettier. Anne was in it with me. I wasn’t alone and I wanted to be as confident, clever, funny, and kind as Anne. Because after all…who wants to be boring and pretty Diana when you can be amazing and exciting ANNE?! Here’s my list of the 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter that might help you get started. And even more importantly, give her the wonderful gift that Our Lord gave to us when he was on the Cross: the Blessed Virgin Mary as her mother. Pray that Our Lady will be her model and guide. For who is more truly beautiful than the Mother of Our Lord?

Do you have anything to add? How do you nurture positive body image for your children?



Tomorrow You’re THREE!
February 7, 2012, 4:31 pm
Filed under: Birth, Children, Motherhood | Tags: , , , , ,

Oh, Benjamin, my little paleontologist,

Tomorrow you will wake up and you will have turned the venerable age of THREE. The twos that I have loved so much will be over.  I loved the day when you turned two.

And I loved your First Birthday, too.

So many gifts of grace you have brought to our lives. The Blessed John Paul II wrote that the enemy of true love is selfishness. Being your mother has made me (a little) less selfish and therefore more able to love. I love your daddy more, your grandparents more, your uncles and aunt more since you were born and taught me what true love is. Every morning when your precious arms clasp my neck and every night when you demand one more snuggle, a drink of water, a song, a prayer, and an extra kiss you are vessel of God’s grace to me.

Just look how precious you were that first week you were born!  On the night you were born I began to learn, and am still learning, that to die to myself everyday for love of you, your sister, your father, that is freedom. Freedom to love without limit or bounds. Such a gift. And when I held you, dearest, on that first night after waiting so long and through the pains of labor to meet you, love for you was overwhelming. So precious, so sweet that it hurt. And it hit me like a blow as I looked down at you, that Our Lord loves us like that. Like a mother loves her newborn. Even more than that.

My soul, I loved your babyhood.

And I’ve loved the twos as well. Oh how I’ve loved the twos! You have been such a lovable, clever, amazing chatterbox! From the moment you wake to the moment you crash you are talking up a storm: stories, jokes, and QUESTIONS. SO MANY QUESTIONS. Sometimes, I’ll admit, after a bazillion questions, you mama will be about to lose it. And I have to remind myself how amazing you and your “why”s and “how”s are. “Why can’t a real owl sleep in my bed?” “Why does that tree have white bark?” “How do robot arms work?” You never stop. And that is just how it should be.

This year you had to learn to share the spotlight with your baby sister. And you have done it brilliantly. You love her SO MUCH. The gentle and loving way you have with her makes Daddy and I so proud. You are so caring and sweet and seeing you two together makes me love you even more.

Little bear, I have loved every day so far with you. But as I was baking your birthday cake for your party the other night, I told Daddy, “I love now. I love now the best.” I love now, dearest. And I will love your now no matter what birthday you’re celebrating. Happy Birthday, big three-year-old guy.

(Birthday party post to come!)



3.5 Months
February 5, 2012, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Children | Tags: , , ,

I can’t believe Lucy is already nearing the 4 month mark. Because I see her every day I don’t notice how much she’s grown, but check this out.

First Bath:

This week:

Well, she’s certainly getting cuter. And as my brother tells me, girl isn’t missin’ any meals.

Her smile is absolutely heartmelting.

Baby cute attack.

This morning Daniel ran a half marathon while Benjamin and I ate enough bacon to balance out his absurd fitness skills.

I love that big brother loves Lucy almost as much as she adores him.

After we ate our weight in bacon, I took pictures of Lucy instead of tidying up for B’s dinosaur birthday later. Priorities.

Last night I had Daniel document my attempt at Downton Abbey hair (this show is my current obsession). Sorry for the blurryness.

My, how I love this girl.

Now I’m really going to sweep the floor for the party (or procrastinate by taking a bath with Garden and Gun in hand and a cup of coffee on the edge of the tub).



10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Ending Up Like That Horrid Girl in Twilight)

So now we have a baby daughter. Look how she slumbers. She doesn’t even know that I stay up at night worrying about her self-image. And, oh horrors! What if someday she wants to read Stephanie Meyer’s literary atrocity, the Twilight series? You know the one, the books featuring a non-descript female protagonist who, in addition to having no interests or talents of any kind (other than smelling delicious to a sparkly 100-year-old vampire), is helpless, boring, and basically suicidal when her 100-year-old sparkly vampire boyfriend breaks up with her? Yeah, those books. So, I’m coming up with a reading list containing female characters that could put a smack down on Bella Swan any day of the week and reveal what a real woman looks like.

1. The Anne Books by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables and the 7 sequels that complete the series were a staple of my childhood. Anne is fantastic. She’s clever, charming, resourceful, imaginative (to a fault), and hysterically funny. And she goes to college and gets a BA during the Edwardian era. So that’s impressive. I actually saw the miniseries first and read the books later. IMPORTANT: Anne of Green Gables the film and Anne of Green Gables the sequel (Anne of Avonlea) are wonderful but for Pete’s sake DO NOT watch Anne the Continuing Story. Pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s an absurd and wretched thing that dishonors the very name of Anne. Really. Part of you will die.

2. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: I was probably a little too obsessed with the Little House books in my day. I may or may not have worn lace-up black boots, braids, and read under an old-timey quilt next to an antique hurricane lamp most of the time between the ages of 6 and 8. File this one under the category of “capable women doing cool stuff.” Laura Ingalls is awesome, obvi.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I have a distinct memory of finishing the last pages of Louisa May Alcott’s finest mere minutes before heading to the theatre to see the 1994 film on Christmas Day with my mom. What girl doesn’t adore the awkward and gutsy Jo March? I have to confess though that when I read it last year I realized I’m probably more like Amy—not because I have the slightest visual artistic talent but because we’re both selfish. I love that each of the four sisters are so different and yet each one exudes a positive kind of femininity, although, to be fair, Meg’s “I-don’t-worry-my-pretty-little-head-about-it” attitude isn’t quite what I have in mind for my daughter. Warning: after reading this I was rather bitter that I didn’t have sisters. Just a heads up.

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling: You’d be hard pressed to find a book series with better female characters. There’s a quote swimming around the internet attributed to Stephen King: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” I concur. I love that Rowling can depict a strong, brave, capable, intelligent, and compassionate woman in such a variety of characters: a middle-aged stay-at-home mom of seven, a pink-haired dark wizard catcher, an elderly spinster teacher, and an overachieving teenaged student, to name a few.  If my girl emulates Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks, Minerva McGonagal, or, of course, my beloved Molly Weasley, I’ll be a happy mama. And it doesn’t hurt that the whole plot pivots around the sacrifice of one amazing mother (Lily Potter) for her son. Anyone who’s down on these books can’t have read them.

5. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis: This complex book is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth and Orual, the main character (Psyche’s older unattractive sister), is an incredibly complex character. It’s not so much that Orual should be a role model, but her spiritual journey is worth reading and the book is sure to lead to some good discussions about what a good woman should be. It’s notable that Lewis had lots of help from his wife, Joy Davidman, when writing this book. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine how a man could be so amazingly insightful about a woman’s mind.

6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: OK, so definitely not a girlie book (not that any book in this list has an exclusively female audience), and there’s very few female characters. However, the ones it depicts are fantastic. Galadriel? Eowyn? Yes, please. The book also exudes so many virtues that it seems hardly possible that having completed it your daughter will care two cents about Stephanie Whats-Her-Name. See? I can’t even remember because I’ve read Lord of the Rings. Also, it’s full of real men which is an important thing for a girl to be able to recognize. I’ll take Faramir, thanks.

7. Anything Jane Austen wrote: Want your daughter to know a thing or two about interesting women? Read all six of these novels to her. After reading them, one should know exactly what kind of woman to be and what kind of woman to avoid. Elizabeth Bennet has more clever things to say in one page of P&P than Bella Swan could mumble in her entire miserable existence. And none of Austen’s heroine’s decide to curl up and die when they’re “crossed in love.” Philosopher Alasdair McIntyre supposedly said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Jane Austen.” I quite agree.

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: A plain little orphan stands up to terrible relatives, survives a childhood of neglect and abuse, strengthens her mind with education, is the intellectual match of one of the most imposing and fascinating male characters in British literature, and makes the prettiest girl in the county look like a spineless nothing in comparison, among other impressive exploits. Supposedly, Charlotte Bronte bet her sisters (and fellow authoresses) that she could write a successful novel around a female character that was neither pretty nor charming. She won, obvi.

9. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter: Lesser-known book published in 1909, but a real treat. Stratton-Porter’s main character, Elnora Comstock, is so wonderful and endearing. Also she collects moths, so that’s cool (or at least Phillip Ammon thinks so). The prequel, Freckles, is also charming and delightful.

10. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: This three-part saga by Norwegian author Sigrid Undset won the Nobel prize for literature and is one of the finest works you will ever read with a female protagonist rarely paralleled. Kristin is an amazingly human character with as much depth as any female literary character I have encountered. Her spiritual journey is fascinating and the saga is set in 11th century Scandanavia which makes it way more awesome to my medieval-loving heart. However, there are some sexual themes which might make it inappropriate for younger girls. Absolutely worth reading and discussing.

At three months, I don’t think Baby Lucy is ready to dive into these, yet. In the mean time, this mama will be praying lots of rosaries. Anybody else have so many more worries about raising a girl?

Did I leave anything out? What are your recommendations? Any advice on how to raise strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, confident women? I’m all ears…

If you enjoyed this post you might also be interested in 10 Books You Must Read to Your Son.

 



Sleep During the Newborn Stage: How to Get Some (Or, How to Survive Exhaustion)
January 24, 2012, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Children, Motherhood | Tags: , , , ,

After Benjamin was born I thought I would go mad from lack of sleep. I would sob from sheer exhaustion during the early morning hours when he would inevitably be awake–night after night after night. But this time it’s so different. Mostly because Lucy is such a champ at sleeping (up only once or twice a night) and doesn’t have the colic and reflux that plagued our boy, but also because I think my attitude is different.

So here’s a few tips I want to remember next time I have a newborn (particularly if they’re more like Benjamin) that might also be helpful to other new moms:

1. Don’t expect a full night’s sleep. I would get so frustrated when Benjamin wouldn’t sleep through the night (he really didn’t consistently until he was 1) making it only harder for me to fall asleep again once (if) he did. I would dwell on the sleep I was missing as the minutes ticked by. I would count up the scant, interrupted hours (or minutes) of sleep in horror. This time around, I expected to be up at least every couple of hours for the first few weeks and 2-3 times after that. Lucy surprised me by only getting up 2 times a night from very early on. Sometimes now (at 3 months) she will wake only once between 9ish and 6ish (AMAZING!).

2. Sleep close to your baby. Co-sleeping with Lucy is going great. I love snuggling up with her at night and never having to listen out for her or go to a separate room to make sure she’s still breathing. I don’t think our pediatrician supports co-sleeping but…oh well. It works great for us. Lucy never even fully wakes up. I just hear her rustling around a little bit and I nurse her on my side. She’s done snacking in 5-10 minutes and I hardly even have to wake up. I know all babies aren’t as easy as she is (Benjamin certainly wasn’t) but I think being close helps them settle back into sleep more easily. Having her so close helps me turn down my mommy radar that’s constantly listening out for my babies, allowing me to relax enough to go to sleep. Benjamin also co-slept with us for the first few months and then slept in a crib in our room after that. I so wanted him out of our bed that his inability to sleep by himself drove me nuts. This time around I’m enjoying it so much because I know it won’t last forever.

3. It won’t last forever. It feels like it you’ll be tired until you die of exhaustion. You won’t die. Probably not, at least. There really will come a day when you wake up in the morning and realize that your baby slept all the way through the night. I know it sounds crazy but try to give up control, resign yourself to exhaustion, and enjoy the sweetness of your baby. If your baby is extremely colicky and screaming through the night this is really really hard to remember. I understand. I’ve been there.

4. Be a team. Daniel and I were so tired and so new at being parents when Benjamin was born that we struggled with this. It started to be a competition of who was most tired and miserable. When Daniel was up with Benjamin and exhausted the next day, I felt horrible and guilty. And still tired. When I was up with Benjamin and exhausted, I hated Daniel for being asleep (which he probably wasn’t because of the aforementioned screaming). Oh, and I was even more tired. This time we’re a team. I do the night feedings (well, it’s not like he could help me out with that) and Daniel gets up with Benjamin early in the morning and takes Lucy, too, if she’s already awake. That way I start the day with, at the very least, a couple solid hours of sleep to get me going. When I start to lose it, Daniel helps out and I’m trying to learn not to feel guilty when he’s tired. He wants to help. When he gets really tired, I try to make sure neither babe wakes him up and I don’t resent him for a full night’s sleep. He tells me what a good mom I am when I gulp down my second cup of coffee with blood-shot eyes.  I tell him what a stellar dad he is when he sleeps in a sleeping bag in Benjamin’s room to help console the little sick and congested guy when he wakes up from coughing so that he doesn’t wake up Lucy and I (that was last night. Thanks, Daniel!) Anyhow, encourage each other. Appreciate each other. Lean on each other.

5. White noise. Having some white noise where the baby sleeps helps soothe them and keeps them sleeping longer because it makes them feel like they’re in the womb (who knew wombs were so loud?). It also keeps me from hearing every tiny baby sigh or every time Benjamin rustles his sheets across the hall.

6. Pray. Sometimes I can get through a whole rosary during one of Lucy’s feedings. Or I can start one and pick it up again the next time she wakes. Then I feel like I’m doing something important (as if feeding my baby wasn’t important enough). But you know what I mean, I pray for my family. I pray for my friends. I ask the Blessed Virgin to help me be a good mama. I ask forgiveness for flying off the handle when Benjamin asked me the same question 3,086 times the day before. You get the idea.

7. Swaddling. Swaddle. Do it.

8. Eat well. When I cut sugar and too many carbs from my diet, I am significantly less tired. When I take care to eat plenty of the delicious veggies that Daniel grows in his garden and have lots of protein at breakfast, I can avoid a horrible crash at 2pm.

9. Coffee. Let’s be honest. It’s hard to survive no sleep without coffee. But, to give hope to you non-coffee drinkers, I survived most of Benjamin’s first year without coffee because of health issues. Hot water with lemon does help jumpstart your day. But, it’s not really a substitute for that happiness in a cup: COFFEE.

10: Be thankful. If I recollect how thankful I am to have my babies, I can circumvent some of the frustration at being tired. Fighting some exhaustion is a small price to pay for these little ones and I can’t forget that.

How bout you? Do you have any sleep advice? Any suggestions for how to survive seasons of no sleep?