Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My (Over) Extended Metaphor

This week I am attending an intensive course about World Religions and a major part of the class is visiting various temples/mosques/churches/centers/etc. to learn first-hand about those religious communities. So far we have been to a Native American community center, a Hindu temple, a Jain temple and an interfaith labyrinth at a Presbyterian Church. Since it's only Tuesday, you can imagine how many more there are to come!

Each visit has been profound in different ways, but the labyrinth was especially moving for me when it comes to my view of parenting. If you're not familiar with a labyrinth, they are not mazes in that you can't get lost - you follow a winding path to the center while meditating/praying and then follow the path back out again. (see http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral.JPG for a pic of the labyrinth this one was modeled after)

The interesting thing about labyrinths is that everyone uses their own contemplative approach and therefore they interpret the metaphor of walking the path differently. For me it was inward-focused meditation and as I entered the path, I tried to think about what kinds of things I need to "let go" of in my life. It didn't take long for my mind to focus on the pain and frustration of dealing with albinism and how I can approach the possibility of having two young sons with special needs. I know that as Emerson gets older and more aware of the world around him, it's becoming increasingly important for me to approach our family challenges with more strength and optimism.

The thing about the labyrinth path - especially when you walk with a large group of people going at different speeds and in different directions - is that at times it's easy to think that somehow you got turned around and "messed up." Sometimes the path leads you close to the center and you think you're almost done, then suddenly you find yourself on the outer edge again. The hard part is trusting yourself enough to keep walking forward and only focus on what's immediately ahead. This is the second time I've done a labyrinth walk and yet I still had doubts along the way.

What came out of this experience was the realization that in many ways, parenting Emerson is my labyrinth. The parenting path I laid out in my mind before he was born was certainly very simple and clear, but what I got was a path full of twists and turns! I constantly doubt myself and beat myself up for "messing up," but there's no going back. I think the hardest part of our journey so far is that lack of control ...not being able to see where the path is heading.

The labyrinth offered the perfect metaphor for what I've known all along - I need to focus on what's immediately ahead. I should say that I personally don't believe in divine plans or destiny, so in that sense I don't think the way is already laid out. But I do believe that I have to make critical choices: I can choose to move forward resolutely or I can choose to waste time retracing my steps and trying to discern what's coming up.

How I move forward and become a good example for my sons will take a lot more time and reflection and discipline. I probably won't stop writing "depressing" posts (as much as some friends and family wish I would!) because I find this forum to be very therapeutic for myself and other parents of children with albinism who are dealing with similar issues in similar ways. But obviously I still have work to do on my own.

To finally beat this metaphorical horse to death, I just want to recognize that every parent has twists and turns in their path. Some have more than others; some are more obvious or dramatic than others...whatever it looks like, parenting is rarely simple or clear. I'm just glad to have crossed paths with so many amazing parents and wish every one the strength to keep moving forward!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Celebrate!! I Think...

Ever since the day Emerson started crawling, I looked forward to posting the exciting news that he was officially walking. I don't know why experience hasn't taught me better by now, but I assumed that once he got a few practice sessions under his belt, he would take off on his own at last. And when that happened -ta da!! he's walking!!! I even told Robbie I wanted to throw a mass party for the occassion and invite all the friends and family who've listened to us worry and gripe about it for months on end.

However, Emerson had a different plan in mind. The night before I left to visit Utah, Robbie decided to give an old trick another try. For a while we could get him to stand for a couple seconds before throwing himself into our arms. Pretty soon he caught on and instead went limp in anticipation, so we eventually gave up trying.

Anyway, Robbie tried it again and to our amazement, he took a couple of steps! We tried more and more, getting a little further apart each time until he was walking the length of the living room!

Robbie and I both said we didn't care if he took his first steps at grandma and grandpa's house when we weren't around - we just wanted him to learn. But after that exciting night, we were glad that he timed this momentous occassion so perfectly.

Since we've been in Utah, grandma and grandpa have worked diligently to take this initial success and make it official, but Emerson can out-stubborn the best of them. Some days he's willing to toddle between outstretched arms for several minutes (earning massive cheers and applause from his audience), other days he employs the totally limp or totally stiff technique along with screaming protests. One step forward, one step back...literally.

Tomorrow afternoon I leave for my week-long intensive class and Emerson will be staying with his grandparents here in Utah. They are determined that he'll practice his walking skills as long as it takes, but for the sake of their sanity I hope they don't work too hard!

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about how hard we have to work to get him to hit every milestone and how many more milestones stretch out ahead of us. I'm trying to adopt the "who cares...he'll do it when he does it" approach, but that laid back attitude is hard to maintain when endless therapists and doctors question you weekly on his progress, what you as parents are doing or not doing, what he should be doing and what we need to do to make it happen. Every few months we get a stack of papers evaluating all his milestones and goals and then listing activities we need to do. It's very helpful to have, but also daunting when most days you're just trying to survive.

I wonder how many parents out there even know that holding three objects at one time is a major cognitive milestone much less know when their child reached this milestone? Their child just does it one day without fanfare or pushing and they blithely move on. Oi...sometimes ignorance truly is bliss!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Tribute to My Dad

I decided that since I did a Mother's Day tribute in words, I would do a Father's Day tribute in pictures:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In the mother-hood

Apparently there is something in my town's water because pregnant women are popping up (or rather out) everywhere! On our little section of the street alone there are three of us pregnant due September, October/November, and December. And since another neighbor already has an 8-month-old and we already have Emerson, that will make 5 little ones by January. Heaven help us!

I feel so lucky to have such great neighbors and it's been nice to share pregnancy with close friends this time. (We were the first of our original group of friends to get pregnant the first time, so rather than comparing pregnancy symptoms, they just kept asking me what the heck I was thinking!)

But the other day us preggos got into a discussion about childcare issues and it came up that all of them are eventually either doing part-time or full-time work and putting their kids in daycare. I realized that once all the babies are here, I'll still be the only full-time stay at home mom on the street. Among my 11 "mommy" or "mommy-to-be" friends, only 4 are full-time stay at home, which is amazing when you think about the fact that only 30 years ago nearly every woman in my mother's generation stayed at home!

Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want to go back to those days. I am so grateful for all the feminists who have worked for generations to give us the choices we enjoy today. And I certainly don't think one childcare arrangement is better than another. It just feels strange to be such an anachronism...and it's a little lonely.

I realize now more than ever how amazing the "baby posse" was when Emerson was first born. It was a group of us that met in our natural childbirth class and we all ended up having boys within a month or two of each other. Every week, no matter how hard it had been, I knew I could look forward to spending a Friday afternoon talking and eating with a group of friends while our little guys did their thing. We compared notes, eased each other's fears, vented about hardships, celebrated the accomplishments, and in general kept each other sane.

After a year, Michigan's economy forced three of the five of them to move to other states, and the other mother returned to work part-time. I still try to get together with her and other part-time working moms I know, but scheduling around naptimes is hard enough without work schedules, so our get-togethers are scattered at best.

There are a couple mom's groups in this area, but the wide age ranges and high number of participants makes it nearly impossible to carry on a meaningful conversation. Not to mention that they are based on a certain parenting theory which, even though I agree with, many of the parents view as dogma. I think parents are too judgmental of each other as it is, so I don't want to sit around and bitch about those "bad" parents who don't follow the parenting theory I espouse.

The importance of being around other moms really hit me last week when we got together with some friends who have a 14-month-old boy. (We don't get to see them much since they live so far away.)

I have to admit, we were SO excited to see them struggling to diaper their son as he writhed and wriggled. The mom confessed that she has been brought to tears of frustration by diaper changes - especially since little boys always try to grab for their poop-covered crotches and then proceed to wipe the mess all over their hair, floor, clothes, etc. I wanted to hug her I was so relieved to learn that I wasn't the only one struggling with this! I kept beating myself up over the fact that a simple diaper change turned into a nuclear disaster almost every day. I figured other parents had it down and there was something wrong with me!

Hopefully just being around my neighbors as all our babies grow together will help in the same way, even if we can't talk for hours on a Friday afternoon. And who knows - maybe another "baby posse" will take form someday? In the meantime, I take comfort in a little bit of trivia I learned recently:

There are times when I feel overwhelmed by the one child I do have, so I try to think about all the tribal women in National Geographic who sling babies on their backs as they work the fields, cook, clean and generally scrape out an existence for their families. If they can do it under those circumstances, what the hell is wrong with me?

Then our neighbors who study monkeys in Ethiopia mentioned that tribal women there not only have the benefits of help from the other mothers in the tribe, they also expect that a young woman will come and live with them to help take care of the children in exchange for room and board. So I guess even the toughest women need some help.

Maybe I should just move to Ethiopia!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It's a.....


Thanks to all of you who sent girly thoughts my way, but I guess dresses and bows are not in my future.