Wednesday, December 25, 2013

when Christmas makes you stressed out and crazy (and the God who still comes, anyway)

The air is cool for Australia in late December, the rain falls gently on skylights, my three next-of-kin sleep in a darkened room together with white noise lullaby.  It's Christmas, this morning we opened some gifts with Nana and Papa visiting from Canada, had a late breakfast and the over-sugared children needed a sleep to make it through the rest of the day.  So did their dad.

It's been a difficult few weeks for me, with nothing and nobody to blame.  I had high hopes for December, for Advent, for the memories we would create and the traditions we would begin with our toddlers, but only a few of them happened and were definitely not "pinnable".  (My homemade advent calender was pretty much the worst - I couldn't wait for the last paper to be torn off so I could throw it in the bin today - Merry Christmas!)  I appreciated D.L. Mayfield's writing this week on what is actually sustainable at Christmas time, and for me the trouble hasn't been financial; my expectations on myself are what I can't keep up with.  I didn't "do" nearly what I had hoped to accomplish and I still ended up a crying, stressed out, less than festive mess on too many occasions in the past few weeks.  If you don't believe me, just ask my husband.  Seriously, ask him - he could probably use some support.

The few things that have felt deeply meaningful had very little to do with me at all.  I saw some friends give anonymously and generously to some other friends of mine whom they had never met; inviting someone to our home for Christmas who didn't come but hopefully at least felt cared for and included; enjoying the hospitality of others, having meals in homes or sharing drinks outside while children play barefoot.

The line in the carol 'O Holy Night' has been rolling around in my heart for the past few days.  "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared, and the soul felt it's worth."  I've spent so much of this month (and maybe my whole life) trying to prove my worth, and mostly just to myself.  Do I deserve to be a friend to circles of beautiful people, a mama to bright and crazy kids, a wife to the gentlest man?  I try to answer this question by packing my days fuller than I can handle, full of such good things and people I want to be with, it's not the doing that's the problem, it's the questions my heart is asking, the things that I don't believe true about my most secret self. 

It's not in our doing that our souls will feel their deepest sense of worth - it's in His Coming.  And like I wrote two years ago, very pregnant but not ready for our new baby to arrive yet, I feel it now.  "God came because it was time.  Not because we were ready, but because we were in need.  The beauty of Advent is in God's willingness to come to us, not our readiness for Him to come."

The kitchen doesn't have to tidy, nor the Christmas cards in the mail (or even on your mind).  Maybe you just shouted at your children or your spouse, or cried over an oven full of burnt baking; the gifts might be few or hurried, loved ones too far away, exhaustion holding you hostage for a good, long time.  You might feel disappointed with yourself.  It's okay.  Advent isn't about us preparing beautifully, lighting candles or creating the perfect family memories.  It's about recognizing our deep, deep need for a God who still comes, anyway.

As much as I despise all of this seasonal stress I've experienced this month, maybe it's been good for me.  Maybe not feeling like I measured up is exactly where I need to be.

Merry Christmas.  May your soul today feel it's worth, no matter what.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

things are messy, we are loved

Theotokos, from House for All Sinners & Saints

I live in the kind of place where you get to know your neighbours, maybe you do too.  They remind your kids to wear hats outside and gift them their first cricket set, you chat while hanging laundry in the Australian sun, or you overhear a (sometimes very loud) dispute. We live in an interesting place and our neighbourhood isn't just the people who live next door or around the corner.  There's also the people who come in and out of our street, often in need of cash or desperate for some kind of fix.  I've written before about how honest my neighburhood is about the power of addictions.

Sometimes I want to meet people, like other moms at the park who become your really dear friends over a couple of years; sometimes I don't want to meet people, like the men coming in and out of our neighbourhood for a drink or to watch topless women dance.  But my kids don't know any better, they don't know how I quietly classify people - my son asks men their names as we walk past a pub; I try to smile nicely while also slightly glaring at them.  I'm working on it, but it's still a reflex, that smile/glare.  I wish I could see like my kids do, like they know how the world is meant to be.

They have fallen in love with this one lady who is at the corner every day, they give cuddles and kisses, my daughter says her name all the time, even when waking from a nap as if maybe she has just been with her in a dream.   I used to be scared of her boyfriend until we started to chat regularly - their relationship is complicated and they are trying to care for each other despite themselves, and aren't we all limited in our capacity to love and be loved?  I was scared of him until I met his kids, until he introduced us as his friends.  

I just finished "Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattoo covered Lutheran pastor who lived in bondage to her own addictions for many years after leaving her childhood, fundamentalist church.  Her use of coarse language is plentiful (just a warning in case you were planning to gift it the book to a great aunt or something) and her understanding of life as continual death and resurrection has opened up my eyes.  Rather than be ashamed of ourselves, we can trust in a God who delights to scoop us up from our graves over and over again.  She writes freely of her own failings and need for resurrection, how God requires nothing of us in order to be loved.

I can be so ashamed of myself sometimes, I fall back into my grave and just want to stay there, want to let myself be covered over by disappointment, tiredness, hopelessness.  Rather than ask for help I'd choose to stay buried until I can slowly collect the will power to dig myself out.  But there's no self-digging required; God is proud to have dirt under His fingernails, unfatigued by another rescue, overjoyed by a child in Her arms.  My friend was telling me recently about a difficult situation she's in, "I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this."  And she's right.  If only I could take on that same language for myself, when I'm laying in my grave again: I'm a troubled person, but I don't need this.  I don't need to stay here, ashamed in my grave.

What if I can start to truly see other people as God's beloved, hear it sung loud over their heads, louder than anything else that has ever been spoken over them.  Imagine how I will think and feel about my neighbours then, not even judging their potential, but just believing who they already are at the center of it all.  My longing this Advent season, like Nadia Bolz-Weber, is for my heart of stone to (again and again and again) become a heart of flesh.

Things are messy in our neighbourhood and Lord knows they are sketchy sometimes, but it's a place filled with God's beloved children and it's still a beautiful day.
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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gently Weaning Our 3 Year Old

*This post may not be interesting to everyone.  Unlike the rest of my posts which I'm sure are EXTREMELY interesting to EVERYONE. :)*

Since January I've known that I wanted to wean my son by the end of the year.  At that point I had already been tandem nursing my children for a year and although I mostly enjoyed it and believed it was the best option for our family, it was starting to feel like it was too much for me to handle.  Giving myself an end goal seemed to alleviate much of my angst.  I could slowly start working towards weaning my son, who at that point was almost 2 1/2.  I wanted it to be as smooth a transition as possible but I did not feel that I could leave the timing completely up to him.  The weaning advice of 'don't offer, don't refuse' didn't work for me as I had been 'refusing' sometimes since he was probably 12 months old.  At 2 1/2 I rarely offered, and he was still nursing 8 times a day.

In giving myself a time period to be finished by, I suddenly felt free again, that I wasn't being held hostage in this nursing relationship.  That was very helpful.  And it also gave me more of a motivation to set some healthy boundaries and continue to help Saf to find other ways to be comforted.  We were in Thailand in April and May and being able to nurse through all of that change and transition was very helpful, not to mention that he stayed very healthy on our trip.  On that trip we night-weaned him for good (unlike the two other times) although I would let him nurse early in the morning if he woke up and that would usually knock him out for another hour.  

When he was turning three in August he started to say that he would be all done with 'nai-nai'.  He even told someone that nai-nai was gross (um, excuse me??) but he continued to nurse, although less frequently, maybe only 3-4 times in a day.  The one time that it was so helpful was when he needed to have a nap and I could easily nurse him to sleep in under 5 minutes.  His dad had a lot of other skills to help him fall asleep, but I did not.  

In September we had an incident where he cut his finger on a sharp can lid and it was a bit deep so his dad and I took him to the doctor to have it looked at.  He was crying quite hard while we were there and I offered him milk, thinking it would calm him down, but he wanted his dad instead.  That's when I realized that we were moving out of the breastmilk as comfort stage; when he was really upset he usually wanted his dad, or he wanted me to put all 17 kgs of him in the Ergo and wear him but he actually rarely asked for milk.  

Also in September I became pregnant.  I'm assuming it's safe to nurse two children through a pregnancy (I know that Dulce de Leche has triandem nursed) but I don't personally know anyone who has done it.  And I really, really did not want to.  I also wanted my daughter (who was 20 months) to have a chance to nurse on her own for a while, until the baby came (if she didn't wean before I gave birth).  Jubee would take it very personally when Saf nursed - she would cry, whine or start counting to ten the best she could, trying to let him know that his time was up.  I also remembered how hard it was to nurse through pregnancy last time, the pain and feelings of aversion, lack of milk - I couldn't imagine going through that again and having two nurslings this time around.  So Chris and I decided it was time, for real (FOR REAL) to wean.

We began talking more frequently about Saf being all done with my milk, explaining that the baby in my tummy needed some of the milk to be able to grow strong.  Saf seemed to understand that and I think we only talked about it once.  When he would ask for milk at his usual times, which were pretty much boredom moments I think, I reminded him that we were going to be all done.  For the last few weeks he only had the early morning milk and it was painful to give it up as it helped him go back to sleep, but it had to go.  One day he didn't ask for milk, the first time ever, and I knew we were just about done.

A friend mentioned to me about having a special present for when the child is weaned and we told Saf that when he was ready to be all done, we could pick out something special that he could have instead of nai-nai.  On a shopping trip saw a big stuffed carrot that he desperately wanted.  We said it could be his special weaning present but we would hold on to it until he was ready to be all done and he grabbed the carrot from my arms and said, "I'm finished."  We had one last special nursing time the next evening, when I was 8 weeks pregnant.  It was fairly typical/hilarious because Jubee was crying and trying to climb on me while Saf nursed for the last time.  We took a picture together, which is pretty blurry, but he really wanted a picture with his carrot.  He asked most mornings for the next few weeks but when I would say no and remind him that he was done, that was it.  No fussing or begging or complaining.  He was three years and three months old.

He has been weaned for seven weeks and I barely miss it.  I cherished the time, (especially considering his traumatic birth and our initial separation), I'm so glad we got to have that in our relationship as long as we did, but I was ready to be done and I think he was nearly ready as well.  It's possible I would miss it more if I didn't already have a 23 month old nursling still having milk multiple times in the day and night, but my arms are still very full at the moment.   I do think mother-led weaning can be gentle and with minimal tears, but you probably have to take it pretty slow.  I think Saf being 3 also helped a lot in that we could converse with him about what was going on in our family and what our needs were, while still considering his. 

first nursing session - 30 hrs old
our special last nursing session - with a giant stuffed carrot


And a small sleep update: A few people have asked lately how our nights are going and what our bed situation is.  I am very happy to report that Saf usually sleeps 11 hours a night without waking up, with our day usually starting at 6am.  Occasionally he will wake in the night to pee, or for a drink, but it's pretty minimal.  We did have a 'wake-up at 2:30 and can't get back to sleep until morning' this week but those are so rare now that we can handle them when they happen.  In our bedroom we currently have a queen bed and a double bed pushed together, with bedrails on both sides.  Chris and I sleep in the middle, although technically on separate beds, and usually with separate blankets.  Jubilee still wakes and nurses 3-5 times a night.  I would like to night-wean her in the next few months before baby comes but I don't feel nearly as stressed about it as I did last time around.  I have nursed two babies in the night for many, many months and while it is not ideal, it's also not the end of the world.

The second bedroom in our flat is right on the main street that we live on, across from a pub.  We've had guests lately staying there and they've been woken up by arguments or just general loudness on the weekend nights.  We couldn't put our kids back there by themselves and would prefer not to be woken up by it either so we are all pretty happy to just sleep together in the windowless middle room for now.  I think there is plenty of room for the new baby in there as well.  Right? :)

**I'd like to take a moment to thank my husband of four and a half years, Christopher.  He has been extremely supportive from the very first nursing session to the last.  He actually has encouraged me to keep going when I threatened to wean my children (usually in the middle of the night) and he wasn't even keen on me weaning Saf, although he was supportive nonetheless.  He's a good one.**