Sunday, November 25, 2012

Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you're on my mind)

My family of four is going to board a plane for 14 blissful hours of airline food, movies and sleep and land in my husband's country of Canada.  We have holiday time in Canada and the US, our first trip with Saf since he was 5 months old, our first trip with Jubee, ever.  I've recorded my first sentence in this paragraph and have it playing quietly in my children's ears as they sleep.  Just kidding.  But would that work?  I'm not sure how we'll make it across the Pacific, but that's okay.  It's a direct flight, Sydney to Vancouver, and half of the plane may give us the stink eye for over half a day, but we won't even look at them, we'll be enjoying restraining our two angelic children in a small space 30,000 feet over the world.

We need to pack and clean.  We are so excited to see family and friends and snow and Tim Horton's and the Amish.

But there's been lots on my mind lately, world events that have caused so many too much grief, and I carry some of it with them as I am able.  My husband and I watched crazy video footage from Gaza in 2009, a raid that is similar to what was happening this past week in the violence between Israel and Hamas.  Missiles devastating Palestinian neighbourhoods, traumatizing families, killing children and mothers, bodies pulled from crumbled buildings as people flock to the site of impact offering help.  It's a 20 minute video that is extremely hard to watch.  My husband said the F word and was wiping tears from his eyes, two things he rarely does.  I felt the urge to vomit, picturing my own babies on those stretchers.  I wonder how those mothers are now, how they have survived the grief, if they have found a way to carry it or if they feel buried in it's weight and rubble.  I went to bed that night in between my two children, I had never been so aware of their breathing, never wanted them even closer than against my skin.  While I tried to fall asleep my husband stayed up a bit longer reading, and bought a documentary called "War Child".  You can watch the trailer below, some of the footage is the same as in the video we had watched.  If you live in our neighbourhood we can watch it together  and talk about it soon.

Ten years ago I studied in the Middle East and it was likely my most transformative months.  If I was willing to listen, everyone was willing to teach me.  I soaked it up.  History lessons in the back seat of a taxi, nutrition from the old woman selling fruit and veg, the unwritten laws of hospitality from my home stay family who forced me to eat more, always more, with threats that their eldest daughter's marriage was at stake.  Joyful musicians in Damascus versed us in the oud and tabla, melodies and rhythms so prophetic against the desert and dust and quiet instability.  And young Palestinians, born in Beirut's famous Shatila refugee camp, embodying hope and passion and trust that despite what we see now, the future that waits is good.  l returned to Pennsylvania passionate, I don't think I had a conversation about my experience without crying, especially if we talked politics.  I engaged in every discussion in my college classes by starting with the sentence, "When I was in the Middle East ...".  I knew I would return, spend my life in the urban desert drinking tea and eating koshery, Arabic would be my children's first language and they would call their father "Baba".

I feel so far from it all, the dust has long since washed off of my feet and only a small amount of Arabic made it to my long-term memory.  I've come to love many parts of the world, I've found God there, always there already, and I truly enjoy sitting on floors in the colours and scents of new cultures.  But there is nowhere like the Middle East.  I have never met a more hospitable people, whether in their homeland or in exile.  To this day, if I meet an Arab woman, I know I have already made a friend. I met a woman at the pool this afternoon, she's from Libya, war-torn, unstable, and has been here for three years with her husband and baby girl the same age as mine.  We connected easily, me in board shorts and a tank top, she in long sleeves and a headscarf.  I expected judgment, was embarrassed by my attire, but she didn't flinch, inviting me to her home when we return from our trip.  My husband said I need to give people more credit then I do for their ability to look beyond appearance. 

We talked about her country and about Gaza and it felt good to say I was sorry, that even though I was enjoying the pool with my children so far from the violence of war, I wasn't oblivious.  I cared about her part of the world, about her people and her family and her nation, which she will return to when her husband finishes school.  She stood as my priest, acknowledging my confession, and it was something.  "Your apathy is forgiven, go in peace." Ten years ago I was inviting guest speakers to my college campus, facilitating peaceful protests, collecting toiletries for refugees.  I feel it stirring again, the call to action, although it will be different now.  Friendship is part of it, the sacrament of dialogue and acceptance, acknowledgment, apology and laughter.  This is the slow way perhaps, but what if we all welcomed one more stranger into our lives this week, someone who is different than us, and they stayed long enough to be called our friend? 

And I hear the call to action in my marriage and the way I parent my children.  It's so much easier for me to strike up conversations with women at the park or the pool than it is to face my selfishness, my short temper and frustration.  The same seeds of violence that launch missiles into homes are in my own heart.  I know the way to shalom in the world is enemy love, forgiveness even when we've been severely wronged; and yet I find it so difficult to forgive and release my husband from minor offenses, I want to stew in my annoyance a little bit longer.  The recalcitrance of my own heart leaves me feeling hopeless for the whole world. 

I love this excerpt of Patty Griffin's song "No Bad News", how our simple love of the people closest to us isn't simple at all.  It's the way we must go, loving each other well and making room for another stranger, and another:

I'm gonna find me a man, love him so well, love him so strong, love him so slow
We're gonna go way beyond the walls of this fortress
And we won't be afraid, we won't be afraid, and though the darkness may come our way
We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore

... And the bird of peace is flying over, she's flying over and
Coming in for a landing

The women dressed in white changed the history of Liberia, I wrote about that here:  "Women, Weight and War".  The Women in Black movement keeps vigil in city centres around the world, reminding us that things are not okay, they will not accept the violence towards our children as the way things will always be.  How will I protest in my own way here?  How will I reject hatred and anger and violence in the relationships closest to me, with my husband and children, and choose the forgiveness and self-giving love that Jesus taught us, that his resurrection empowers us to embrace.  This is my daily question, my daily living out the answers, my daily failing and receiving the grace of tomorrow.  But this is the way, this is my part in the struggle for shalom in the world.  At least for today.

I highly recommend the book "Parenting for a Peaceful World" by Robin Grille.  I'm ordering a copy of my own as I borrowed the one I read from a library, so hopefully I will write about it soon.  It's also available on Kindle.  This is a must read for parents - Grille lays out a very historically supported argument for the necessity of non-violent parenting, how our collective responsiveness to our children changes the destiny of nations.  It's a great Christmas gift to yourself!  (And that is not an affiliate link.  I don't really know what that means yet.)


We appreciate prayers as we travel and adjust to jet lag.  Any tips for long flights with small, noisy people in tow?  Any tips for helping toddlers adjust to jet-lag?  I welcome your wisdom. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

tandem nursing (10 months in)

We had a friend over for a dinner this week, a young man in his early 20's.  We talked about my blog briefly and I asked what he thinks when I write about topics like breastfeeding.  I hesitate sometimes as I have a good amount of single male friends who read my writing and I assume they wouldn't find lactation to be that interesting.  I was surprised by his answer - he really loves learning about the subject, he said otherwise he wouldn't have even known that women actually feed their babies that way.  It's helped to normalize nursing for him (and doesn't western culture need it to be normalized), to read about the benefits and outworking in our life.  I felt inspired to write a short update about how tandem nursing is going these days, 10 months in.  I won't even use the word 'nipple' but if you aren't interested to read on, I won't be offended.  I won't even know.

nursing my daughter, glamour shot
Six months ago I wrote "4 months in:  the good/hard" - a review of my experiences nursing my then 4 and 21 month old babies.  The past six months have flown, for real, right by, so fast.  I can hardly believe baby girl just hit the 10 month mark and baby boy is 27 months.  [How long will I refer to his age in months?  I have no idea.  Maybe until he weans or until he is 12, whichever comes first. ;)  Saying he's TWO is just is so... broad.  Maybe I should go back to using weeks.]

Yes, so ten months in, here is the honest.  Nursing Jubilee is almost completely enjoyable.  She has always been a quick feeder (second child survival skills?) and while she did become distract-able around 4-5 months when there was something to look at, she now is back to nursing in public easily and contentedly.  I don't use a nursing cover with either child.  I almost always am wearing a singlet (tank top) under my shirt, so I pull my top shirt up and the neck of my singlet down so I'm always covered.  I'm very comfortable that way, my babies don't have to fight any blankets on their heads, and my community sees me nursing my children, even Saf when he asks (which is not too often in public unless he is hurt or upset).  We work/live near our international community full of young people (18-25) and I love that I have conversations about nursing often, that people can see the benefits clearly.  The other afternoon I was teaching in a workshop setting and Jubilee was in the back of the class being held by a friend.  She started to do the "You better give me my mom or else" cry so I put her in my faithful Ergobaby carrier on my chest, put up the hood, and suddenly it was quiet.  Everyone laughed, she nursed happily and I continued to teach.

Jubilee (who weighs 9 kgs/almost 20 lbs) nurses at night probably 3-6 times depending on how she is feeling, if she's teething or a bit sick.  I really enjoy sleeping next to her and she usually nurses for a minute or two, unlatches on her own and rolls onto her other side.  She doesn't have the need to suck all night (although she does occasionally) which gives me hope that in time she will night-wean on her own without much help from me.  My husband accuses me of ridiculous optimism.

During the day she nurses every hour or two unless she's with dad and I'm away, then she probably can last 3-4 hours.  She took interest in solid food around 8 months (we'd just put soft table food in front of her, like steamed broccoli or roasted pumpkin, 1/4 of a banana) and now she has started to chew it up and swallow well.  She has continued to gain weight steadily being basically exclusively breastfed until very recently,  and I would have continued that longer had she not been interested in solid food yet.  I think she's getting to the point of eating to satisfy hunger (maybe) and that means she will eventually start taking less milk when she nurses.  She has taken a pacifier (soother/dummy) since 12 weeks to help with persistent evening vomiting (it helped a lot) so she hasn't nursed for comfort nearly as much as Saf but she does more and more these days.  I'm trying to keep her using the pacifier until we return from our 8 week trip to North America, mostly for the flights and car rides or if Chris and I go .... on ... a.... date.  (Shhh, please don't tell the children.  They will be furious.)

Safran is 15 kgs/ 33lbs and people that hear he is still nursing ask sometimes if he eats solid food.  Yes, very much so.  He is a decent eater although he has his moments of being picky or disinterested which I don't worry too much as he is getting lots of nutrition from my milk.  If he doesn't eat any vegetables one day I don't stress about it or force the issue at all.  Safran still asks for 'nai-nai' 8-10 times a day if we are mostly at home.  If we are out he will ask much less often.  I probably let him nurse 4-8 times a day.

It's not always easy having a 33 pound nursling.  Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by his need for me and he is extremely persistent when asking.  If I'm redirecting him, the best alternative is to hear a story about 'when dad was a little boy'.  Sometimes I'll let him nurse for a few minutes and then do the slow count to ten (in English, Spanish, French or Arabic).  If he's very unhappy to be finished I'll relent with 'one more' and he will be content with another minute.  I have moments where I have an aversion to nursing Saf - I think it's related to hormones and also my frustration level.  During those moments/days I really have to limit his nursing and then rely on Chris (or stories about Chris) to do the job.  Sometimes that means letting him cry in my arms, explaining that I need a break.

On the other hand, nothing ends a meltdown like nursing.  If I've set a limit that Saf is very unhappy with he will definitely protest, usually standing at the door crying to go see Dad and at work.  I usually sit on the couch (nearby) and say that I understand he's upset/frustrated/sad and that I'm here if he wants a cuddle.  I don't want to distract him from his emotions but I also don't want him to feel abandoned.  After a few minutes he'll usually come over, still crying, and ask for nai-nai.  I understand that as his way of reconnecting with me and comforting himself in a healthy way.  I really believe that as I meet that need with him for comfort that he will eventually learn to replicate those feelings himself in good ways.  I usually cuddle him first and help him practice taking deep breaths.

Our nights have been getting better.  I wrote a series when he was about 20 months, "On Sleep (and how we try to get some of it)" about our struggle, but commitment, to gently parenting our children in the night.  When Safran hit about 24 months he started to nurse much less in the night on his own.  I had read on a mothering.com forum that toddlers are often nearly impossible to night-wean from 18-24 months, but will often almost night-wean on their own between 24-26 months as their need to suck naturally decreases.  He's nowhere near night-weaned, but he does wake and nurse less, usually 1-2 times a night.  We do, however, still have rough nights with 6+ wake ups usually when he is sick with a cough or snotty nose.  That's tough, but we survive.  When we return from our holiday he will be 2 1/2 and I would like to give active night-weaning another shot.  Nursing two children in the night isn't ideal, but one great benefit is the suppression of ovulation, which is already 4 months longer than when I was only nursing Safran.

I would have imagined tandem nursing would keep our family extremely healthy through the winter season.  It did not.  My children seemed to catch everything that went around, from colds to croup to stomach bugs.  And the only thing I can think to comfort myself is that, without the immunoglobin laden milk, it would have been worse.  Nursing was definitely a source of comfort and re-hydration during the sicknesses even if it didn't prevent my kids from catching the illnesses. 

nursing my son at our home.  just kidding.  at the public swimming pool.

In the early days of tandem nursing I would nurse the children simultaneously quite often, as emotions were high and life seemed to demand it.  Now they usually nurse separately, but if Jubilee is grumpy and she spots Saf having milk she makes a beeline for us (army crawling at top speed), crying.  It's quite sad and funny and we let her join.  They hold hands, she'll pull his hair and he won't keep his hand on his own side and I wonder if they'll remember any of this sharing of milk, space and intimacy.  The explicit memories may not remain, but I'm pretty sure the joy and comfort they experience together is etching itself deep on their hearts and will hopefully shape their friendship for the rest of life.  That could be my optimism speaking, but I guess we will see.

** I'll write my thoughts on weaning another time (hopefully by then I'll know what I think), but in the middle of processing some of my nursing frustrations with Chris, he told me to read this blog post, Still Dulce de Leche:  On Choosing not to Wean, Again. **



Sunday, November 4, 2012

the lost art of Cry It Out (in someone else's arms)

Saf at 3 weeks saying, 'no more pictures please.'

My son, at 27 months, is just starting to semi-regularly produce tears.  They still don't run down his cheeks, but at least they well up in his eyes now and then.  My daughter has had tears welling and running since 8 weeks, like most other babies.  I never worried about my son's tearlessness since his eyes otherwise seemed normal; my friends joked that it was our parenting style, never letting him be upset enough to actually produce tears.  It's true we don't let our children cry alone, but our children do cry with us present.  And they Cry.  And CRY.  And CA-RYE!!!!!!

Crying is good for us sometimes, no?  Do you ever feel like you need to have a good cry?  I've been feeling that recently - my post-baby hormones are betraying me and the things that usually release my sobs (my husband asking me to help him with the dishes, for instance) haven't been doing the trick.  Crying feels really good, a language of it's own that can express sadness, grief, anger, frustration; it's healthier than swearing at your spouse or punching a hole in the wall.  (I've possibly done the first, but not the second.)  

Our children need to cry, too.  I don't believe babies and toddlers cry for "no reason", but I do think sometimes they need to process or vent or release big emotions and crying is the best way to do it.  They aren't hungry, wet or in pain - they just need to cry.  Crying alone harms the child and their attachment to care-givers, but crying-in-arms is a different story. I remember holding my son when he was about 6 months old in my lap, looking him in the eyes as he screamed for about ten minutes.  I had just read this article, about crying for comfort, and rather than distracting him from his emotions I engaged him there; when he was finished he cuddled into my chest, at peace, and that night he slept surprisingly well.  I lost my fear of his big emotions then, and I'm still not afraid (although I do find them inconvenient sometimes, especially when large groups of strangers are staring).

My daughter, nearly 10 months old, sometimes seems to need to cry in my arms for a few minutes before she falls asleep.  She will be obviously tired and I'll take her for a nap.  I'll offer her "nai-nai" in the rocking chair which she will refuse, desperate to stay awake.  I'll hold her close and rock her for 2-3 minutes and she will cry there with me.  Then she will nurse quickly to sleep.

I was a sensitive teenager.  I cried very easily, especially if someone in authority was unhappy with me.  My highschool basketball coach was a great person and excellent coach.  Over the four years I played for him, he took our team from a very much losing record to a very much winning record.  He yelled a lot in the process, and especially in my first couple of years on the varsity team I really struggled with that.  I probably cried at some point during most practices and every game.  Yes, crying while running down the court, or waiting for the girl I had fouled to shoot her free throws.  It must have been excruciating for people to watch me try and hold in my tears, which was nearly impossible, teenage hormones and all.

thanks, husband, for digging up this photo.  it's really great.
I would often cry after games, even when we had won.  There was something I wish I had done better, or something my coach or teammate had said that stung my uber-sensitive heart.  And you know what my mom would do?  She would hold me in her rocking chair, all 150 sweaty pounds of 17 year old me.  And she would let me cry there, in her arms.  I often ask myself in parenting, "What would my mom do?"  She would definitely let me cry in her arms, no matter how big or old or supposedly mature I was.  I still call my mom crying (although admittedly it has been a long time since she's rocked me.  Maybe when we visit over Christmas? ;)  She's honoured to be invited in to that vulnerable place where I've lost control and my sobs flow free.

It's hard to cry in front of people, isn't it?  I recently asked our power company to give us some kind of financial grace when a leak (we didn't know about) caused our hot water bill to sky rocket.  The woman on the phone kindly declined and the tears started to flow - I quickly said, "Okay, goodbye" and hung up, lest she feel bad for her message-bearing.

It was also difficult to cry in front of my friendboy and fiance (now husband).  And "in front of" I mean in real space but also through cyberspace, as most (maybe 80%?) of our communication when friend or dating was through email and Skype or phone calls.  During our three month long distance engagement I had a lot of body image stuff surface and it was dark.  It was ugly.  I was embarrassed, hesitating to admit my fears and struggles and low self-esteem as it surprised me, I deemed it unattractive, I wanted to shove it down.  But I couldn't shove it, it was that big.  One conversation, probably a couple hours of internet time in, we were talking about our impending marriage day (and night) and I had this huge sob welling up from way down deep.  "I need to go", I said.  "I need to cry."  

Chris encouraged me to cry with him there, he wanted to hear and be present.  I insisted I needed to hang up.  "Do we do that, becca?  Do we just hang up on each other when we are upset?"  I did.  And I ugly cried into my pillow alone, disconnected from the man who was preparing to share the totality of his life with me.  It was too vulnerable, I couldn't go there with him, into the dark and unknown of my tears.  When I was done, I called him back and apologized.  I wanted to get there, to that space where we share it all.

Our early months of marriage were full of tears.  When it wasn't money issues it was the loss of our first baby, a loss that I cried about for many, many months.  I had to learn to let Chris in to those tears as my instinct was to cry alone.  If I would have walked that grief independently I would have forced a huge chasm in our new marriage.  For us to survive as us, I had to let him in.  It was very hard and often he wouldn't even know what exactly was going on or was wrong or what had triggered the onslaught of emotion, but he would stay there with me.  As I laid face-down in our bed wailing, he laid there next to me.  He would stroke my hair and maybe whisper prayers or maybe do nothing at all but listen and validate my sanity with his presence.

And it's not just our spouse, but we need our friends to witness our big emotions and tell us we are okay.  The most healing spaces for me in grief have been with people to listen to me cry, pass me tissues and accept how my face gets red and my nose drips snot and my eyes stay very small for hours after.  Letting people in, to share and minister prayer and encouragement and even just to listen has saved me from having a trauma-induced bitter heart that lives in a constant state of crisis. 

Our culture pushes for babies and toddlers who are independent:  they can fall asleep alone, pick themselves up after a tumble, handle bad dreams in bed without a cuddle, and let mom and dad leave without a tearful display.  This makes our lives as parents easier for sure, and people genuinely think it benefits the child in the long-run.  They will be able to self-soothe, to handle themselves in public and not be so dependent on parents or carers or friends for comfort.  They can go it alone and be content.  But I wonder if we actually spend so much of our lives un-learning this independence that doctors and pastors told our parents was so important for us.  We find it hard to open up, to share our hearts in vulnerable ways, we carry shame over our tears rather than freedom.  We move into relationships and marriage with our boxes half-packed, no one is trust-worthy enough for our heavy bags of secrets.  We struggle with intimacy in relationships, we run away when people get too close to our real, insecure, needy selves.  We want our toddlers to be independent, but don't we long for teenagers who will reject the false comforts of sex, pornography, alcohol and self-harm because of their ability to openly communicate with us?

We also struggle to be open with God about how things really are with us.  We hide our fears under proclamations of trust and "God's will", we bandage our broken hearts up tight and pretend things are the way they are meant to be.  The sun's still shining, isn't?  It is well with my soul.  Except it's not: I'm angry, disappointed and confused.  We think creation's groaning in labour pains is for the faithless, and that is not us.  

The truth is, the depth to which we are honest with our pain with God and each other, the openness with which we will cry and ramble and pray in front of others, that's the depth to which real comfort can come.  It's comfort that finds all of our attempts at self-soothing shallow, a comfort that actually heals our hearts wide open and invites us into a future that is good and full of hope. 

I want my children to keep crying in my arms, even if it's about petty things, even when they are bigger than me and covered in sweat still in their basketball uniform.  Healthy self-control of emotions will come when they are ready, but I never want them to hide their true hearts for shame of being found unworthy.  And when they cry publicly in their toddler-esque meltdowns, I want to take it as a challenge to share my own tears with others in a way that feels vulnerable but I know will set us free.  I want to re-kindle the lost art of cry-it-out, but in someone else's arms.


I highly recommend this fascinating clip from Dr. Gordon Neufeld on the importance of children attaching to their parents rather than to their peers.



And now I must go clean my kitchen.  Yes, I must.