Monday, March 29, 2010

Shabbat-ing It

The rain is pouring down outside. Vancouver is wet year-round, but it's more commonly a constant drizzle than a downpour or fierce storm. Today it's rain-storming and I am shuttered up inside with Finn and Ephraim. Finn is singing songs he's made up about God while doing his WC business, Ephraim is sleeping soundly (and I wish I could join him...alas for brother Finn's delayed nap).

Yesterday was my Sabbath. It is for most Christians, but it's taken on a different rest-note for me in the last few years. In late afternoon on Saturday I start a frenzied cleaning. If the boys and Matt are around I tend to recruit them, but it works better if it's just me. So Matt took all three boys (and Yofi) to the park and I did my thing. Put all the toys away. Washed all the dishes. Got the last of the laundry moved to the dryer. Vacuumed, surveyed the house, and and then rested. We went to our friend Tracey's for dinner that night and came back to a lovely, clean home and continued our rest.

Sunday morning started out slowly. Coffee. Oatmeal. Eggs for Isaac. And then, because we had cleaned the house but not the boys, the decidedly unrestful battle began. Isaac and Finn had to shower, which produced tears. (Not that I blame them--I remember hating Sunday morning showers when I was a kid). They got out and dressed without much fuss, but by the time we had to leave there was another battle...over light sabers! The boys wanted to bring them to church and, for the first time, were willing to duke it out with us. They lost. We "won". But we were all miserable by the time we made it there and the boys are without light saber and Star Wars movie privileges for the rest of the week thanks to some hits, yells, and shoves at Mommy and Daddy.

Church--glorying to God in the highest, "blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Palm Sunday, and it was a good day of worship and preparation to start Holy Week. Now that I am on maternity leave, worshipping with my brothers and sisters has become much more precious. Not that it wasn't precious before, but it isn't guaranteed now with an infant in the mix. Ephraim may need to nurse, may be sick, may be grumpy, etc. But yesterday he wasn't any of those things and he and I stayed through the whole service.

We got home, ate a quick lunch, and the boys went to bed. I don't do any housework from early evening on Saturday through early evening on Sunday, which frees me up to watch a movie with Matt, read, or sleep. Yesterday we finished "Mrs. Miniver" and I crept into bed next to Ephraim and took a delicious, 1 1/2 hour nap. I woke up rested. Nicely Shabbat-ed up, if you will. It was 5:00, which has become my time to re-enter the regular week, so I started folding clothes, then moved into the kitchen, and became Mommy Housewife again.

I have to be careful in the 5:00 re-entry, because I tend to get really irritable. The clutter and dishes that have accumulated in the 24-hour period always tempt me to nagginess, and Matt is the primary recipient. I could feel it coming on last night, and, after a few snaps, remembered that it's not much of a Sabbath blessing if I became a post-Sabbath terror to my family. I asked God to make me mindful of my words and my irritability and just did the dishes..bit my tongue a couple of times...and finished the night without [too] much more grumpiness.

In the few minutes it's taken to write those words, the rain moved on, the sun blazed forth, and Ephraim woke up. It's a new week, Holy Week, and I feel myself simultaneously slowing down and speeding up in preparation for Easter. I told Matt the other day that I feel like there's this new-life energy flowing through me. Whether it's the flowers or Ephraim or just the Spirit continuing to make all things new, life and all its possibilities are lighting up before me. I want to make plans, start projects, capitalize on this joyful energy while it's here.

But Ephraim, who is sitting at my feet, is smiling and trying to catch my attention. And I will give it to him. Plans and projects will still be there when he's gone back to bed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Star Wars and Forbidden Love

My baby is currently sleeping and my former baby (Finn) is watching the second Star Wars prequel. Again. This would be time number seven this week. I'm starting to think in Star Wars, and so are my sons (Mommy, did you use The Force on him?) Currently, Anakin and Padme are confessing their love for each other on TV, with Anakin's "I thought we'd agreed not to fall in love" unable to halt Padme's confession. How nice.

The other night, as I was nursing Ephraim and watching this same movie with both boys, I started thinking about the allure of the forbidden love story. Anakin and Padme. Romeo and Juliet. Edward and Bella. I still find the stories arresting, but not nearly so much as I did ten years ago. Edward's and Bella's especially: any man who tells you, "Stay away, I'm dangerous"...listen to him! Stay away! If a man is good enough to give you a warning up front, heed the warning and run far, far away. Likewise if you have made certain vows to God or others that would prevent you from marrying someone, be very wary of breaking them. The broken vows may break you. George Lucas, in his commentary on Padme and Anakin's relationship, noted the destruction that came as a result of their marriage, not just to them but to those around them. I've seen it in this galaxy too.

It's been funny watching a romance/action flick with my boys. I'm constantly telling them, "See, if you say that to a girl they will like you," or, "Don't ever say that to a girl." I know they're a good 10-15 years away from a serious relationship, but I think about these things even now. Isaac, with his good looks and brilliance, Finn with his big brown eyes and amazing sweetness and compassion. Ephraim has looks on his side so far, and we'll see what his personality is like. All of them, I think, will have no trouble loving and being loved, but I pray they will do it in wisdom and integrity.

It's funny...I really wanted to have little girls, so I could raise them as strong, intelligent women of God. And here I am with three beautiful boys. The more I look around the world, the more I realize the tremendous responsibility I've been given. For the world but particularly for its women, I can with God's help teach my boys to love and respect those around them, and to treat the women in their lives with dignity and compassion. What a huge task! What an awesome responsibility. They've got a good daddy to model it, and I'm thankful for that. It's not an easy thing though, learning to navigate male-female relationships. I've known men who, in ideology, are rabid feminists, and yet treat their mothers, their sisters, their wives/girlfriends with contempt and disrespect. And I've known men who have been leery or resistant to feminism who have honoured and respected the women in their lives. If I had to choose, I'd take the latter over the former, and I had to choose once. When I met him, Matt was very leery of feminism, but treated his mom and sisters respectfully, so I knew I'd be okay. (That did change, slowly but surely, and Matt is now counted among the feminists of this world).

The movie has moved onto a light saber battle, Finn needs a snack and Ephraim will be waking soon. Light sabers are much more interesting to my boys than the annoying love story accompanying it, and I should be glad for it right now. Soon they'll be negotiating their own love stories and life will get much more complicated. And, hopefully, when that day comes, they'll still feel like they can come to their mommy for wisdom. Until then, we'll stick to the simpler things: Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Force. I'm content.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reluctant Dinosaur

I woke up this morning with a scratchy throat and achy body. I made it six weeks in a house/world full of cold germs, but my sleep-deprived immune system has apparently had enough. So my plan is to green-tea and fruit-eat my way to health.

That has nothing to do with the reason I got on to post, though. I am a dinosaur, not so much in age (although my sons might disagree) as in my lack of willingness to advance, technologically, with the world around me. I don't like cell phones. Or iPods. Or Twitter. With Facebook I have a love-hate relationship, because it has connected me with friends and family I would otherwise never hear from--but I'm keenly aware of its effect on my (misspent)time and have been encouraged by Matt to limit my use of it as much as possible.

My husband loves technology. He has, within the last few months, acquired a bluetooth and an iPhone, and would probably do more if he didn't get dagger-eyes from me with his every embrace of technological advancement. It hasn't always been this way. When we moved to Canada, we both gave up our cell phones because we couldn't fathom paying so much money for (relative to the States) so little service. We went back to dial-up internet. We went without a car. Life. Slowed. Down.

And I was amazed at what I discovered. I had been racing, quite happily, with my friends and family to be able to talk to whomever, whenever, and get wherever I needed to go as fast I wanted to. Suddenly I had carved out spaces and places where I could reach no one and no one could reach me. I started paying attention to the people around me, on the sidewalk, on the bus, at my school, instead of paying attention to the people far from me whom I had chosen to be with via the telephone. And I felt such a freedom to be present with the people and creation in my presence that I decided, if I could help it, I wouldn't get a cell phone again.

Fast forward, six years. I am very pregnant, often bussing and walking on my own, while Matt is working full time and has our only car with him. Not only that, but in his new job he often can't answer his phone and is best reached by texting, something I can't do from our home phone. The possibility for emergencies arose and, to avoid a catastrophe, Matt bought me a cell phone. I wasn't even there when he did it. We got the most basic of basic, a black, pay-as-you go, "I hope I'll never use this thing" cell phone. I couldn't tell you my phone number on pain of death, only Matt and my friend Yung know what it is.

But, true to the purpose for which it was bought, the cell phone got used. I had, after numerous mishaps of being unable to get ahold of Matt at work, agreed that I would text "911" to him if I was in labour (Michael Scott, from the Office, gave us the idea). And on January 29, 2010, Matt was at work with the car when he received the long awaited "911" text from me. I was at home, calmly having contractions. The funny thing is that, rather than prompting Matt to race home, he called me at home to see if I was joking. Only after the in-person confirmation did he jump in his car to come rescue his labouring wife.

So thank you, technology, from this dinosaur woman. I don't like you, especially when you keep me and others from being mentally or emotionally "with" the person who is physically in front of us, but I thank you for helping me in my hour of need. I will do my best to have as little to do with you as I can, but I confess, it does help to have you around.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grown-Up Mommy

So it turns out there's a big difference between [me] being a 24-year-old mother of one son and being a 30-year-old mother of three sons. That may seem obvious...I just keep pondering its immensity with every changed diaper, sleepless night, and broken-up brother fight.

I've watched some parents take first-childhood in great stride. I wasn't one of those parents. I had Isaac and it nearly broke me, mentally. It's amazing to me now, because I loved him so much then and can't imagine life without him now. But, love or no love, it was very hard for me to become a mother. Almost immediately after having Isaac I felt chained down--or maybe chained to is a better word. Isaac was an intense little baby, but more obtrusively, I was an intense mother. I didn't know what I was doing, and that terrified me. I, who was so defined by my brains and my looks (God help me, that sounds so arrogant) was suddenly defined primarily by my relationship to this beautiful, utterly dependent baby boy. I couldn't breastfeed him, couldn't keep him from crying, couldn't take him out with being terrified he would shriek and people would think I was a bad mother. I was utterly responsible for this child and felt that someone would come at any point and say, "No really, you just can't handle this." I look at pictures of Isaac and I from that time period and, while appreciating my beautiful baby, am so thankful to not have to relive those days. Strange, isn't it?

When Isaac was nine months old, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression--initially the diagnosis was devastating, just another bit of proof that I was a failure at what I should naturally be able to do. Being a grad student, I took that diagnosis and incorporated into a paper I had to write for a counselling course. One of the most insightful things I read came from a book borrowed from the UBC medical library, where the author posited the theory that postpartum depression is, at root, a woman's mourning of what she has lost.

You lose things when you have a baby. You gain things, of course--and we hasten, appropriately, to remember and emphasize the blessings gained. But I lost my independence, and lost my identity which centred, I found, mostly on my ability to be articulate and interesting in academic circles. That didn't have much to do with changing, feeding, and carrying my son. Making "mommy" my primary identity was a mental move I wasn't ready to make. And compounding the difficulty, I couldn't voice in most circles that I hated to be a mom, that I wanted very badly to just be a carefree, newly married grad student.

One day, while in Idaho visiting my sister, I went to see a mentor of mine at NNU. And as we were talking, I voiced to her what I had such difficulty saying to others: "I love my son, but I hate being a mom." She replied, without hesitation, "I totally understand." What a relief to know I could feel that way, and that other people did too.

I don't know when it happened, but at some point, thankfully, that feeling changed. It was gradual, like all these things are, and aided largely by a grad class I took in fall 2005 on Women's Faith and Development. That class gave me space and time to process the massive changes I was undergoing, and to incorporate "Mommy" into my identity. I finished that class in December of 2005, and in February of 2006 had my second son, Finnian.

The difference between Finn's post-partum days and Isaac's was like night and day. I was no longer terrified of having someone utterly dependent on me. Breastfeeding went well. I carried Finn everywhere and loved it, and treasured the times I had with Isaac too. I was mommy--and it was good.

Ephraim's birth was four years, almost to the day, after Finn's. I lost two babies in miscarriage between their births, and their loss added a poignancy to these little, ordinary moments of baby life with my son: I nurse Ephraim, and am thankful. I hold him close, and remember the times I ached to see moms with babies after I had lost mine. I change him, carry him in one arm while cooking, cleaning, and caring for the boys, look at his little face and give thanks to God. The sleepless nights are hard, but I have some perspective on it--they will end, and faster than I can even imagine Ephraim will be, like my Isaac and Finn now, building forts, pretending to be Luke Skywalker, and off to school. The grown-ups in my life always told me to treasure every moment, and now I feel I've joined their ranks. I'm a mommy, a grown-up mommy of three sons, and by the grace of God I'm glad to be.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Grandma Verbeck Morning

I walked the boys to school to day, Ephraim slung sleepily across my chest, Finn and Isaac decked out in their Vancouver-essential rain boots and jackets. After getting Isaac safely delivered to his classroom and spending a few minutes at the free drop-in, Mr. E., Finn and I headed on to Finn's preschool class. It was just barely raining. The pin-point droplets that brush your cheeks every once in awhile and almost immediately disappear. Normally my umbrella would have been put away, but with Ephraim still so little and without his own rain jacket, the umbrella was up. Flowers bloomed all along our way--cherry blossoms, irises, crocuses, and the burst of yellow whatchamacallits that Finn told me were dandelions (they most assuredly are not, but they are the same colour).

When Finn was dropped off, it was just me and Ephraim. I tucked him further into the sling and, with the umbrella closed and hanging at my side, heard the magical sound of rain on the petals, droplets on leaves. It's light rain, gorgeous spring rain; and invariably it takes me back to my Grandma Verbeck's house. When I was a sun-soaked kid from California, Grandma Verbeck's house was a bit of dew-laden, green heaven. And one of the clearest memories I have of being at her house is the sound of rain falling on the rows of flowers ever-growing in her garden. Intertwined with the music of the rain was the sense of welcome, of home, of being cared for and connected with Creation in all its glory, tended by a loving gardener as it was meant to be from the beginning.

The last few steps home, I looked down at my little, precious Ephraim, so recently returned to health after a venture into the wilderness of Unwellness. And I thanked God for life, in all its blooming glory and spring rain beauty and newborn wonder. Its gift is not lost on me today, and for that I am also thankful.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bereshit (bear-eh-sheet)

Ephraim is one month old tomorrow which means, among other things, that I currently spend about 50% of my waking hours nursing him. And it struck me today, as I was feeding Mr. E., how much blessed thinking time I have. Time to think about everything. About anything. My mind mulls over conversations I've had, lines of books I've read, scenes from movies I've seen. And in the quiet of my rocking chair, these streams of thoughts converge together as they can only in the forced timeouts of early newborn life. And so, I thought while I nursed just a few hours ago, maybe now is the time to get some of my thoughts out for the rest of the world to see. Matt has been wanting me to "write" since we were first married (term papers and sermons don't count, according tor Mr. Smedley). So here we go, in the beginning (bereshit) was this motivation, and it was to put into words the thoughts that rattle around my head at 3am, 3pm, and all wakeful hours in between. Hopefully it is worth something, if not to the world, then at least to me.