Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}

A search for postpartum depression a few months ago turned up this link, in which the author laid out 6 common myths of mothering that contribute to postpartum depression.  I have believed or been affected by all 6 at one point or another in my journey of mothering, so I decided to address them in a series of posts.  This is the third.  In this post, I will address:

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}
"The myth of the perfect mother ... "
When I was pregnant with Sophie, I had fond daydreams about what mothering would be like.  In my mind, it was a cross between an L.M. Montgomery novel and a Victorian tintype, where I would spend hours looking lovingly into my daughter's eyes, or breastfeeding her endearingly as she snuggled against me.  Of course, the moment she was placed into my arms in the hospital we would experience a mystical connection that would endure until I weepingly sent her off into the great world after high school graduation.  I would gaily wash and hang her little pink clothes on the line while she cooed at me from a blanket in the grass.  She would lie still and look adorable when we went to the grocery store together.  Maybe I'd stop by a department store and try on clothes while she napped in her carrier.

That was the dream.

Here's the reality:

Breastfeeding was hell for the first three months.  I mean, really.  It was extremely difficult to get her to latch on, and I didn't really know what I was doing.  I thought you were just supposed to put a baby's mouth on you and she immediately started eating.  No such thing.  We would spend entire half hour stretches with her crying, and me hysterically trying to get her to eat.  Each failed attempt after another disintegrated my confidence in my mothering capabilities.

Meanwhile, everyone around me seemed to have the answers.  I'd take Sophie to the nursery at church, and the ladies would hold her with such confident tenderness that I'd slink away in dejection.  She was MY daughter.  Why couldn't I have that confidence?  She didn't calm down for me like that!

My days were spent covered in spit up, pee and yellow newborn poo.  The only way I could get Sophie to be content was to hold her and bounce her while we faced the window, so she could look out.  So I held and bounced her and paced from window to window of my tiny house for hours.  It was exhausting.  When we did venture out into the wider world, she would scream in her car seat.  I had to carry her, and would eye the calm little babies content in their carriers with frustration.  What was I doing wrong that my baby wouldn't do that?

Mothering came slowly to me.  Really, it's only now that I'm on my third kid that I have enough perspective to understand what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out - there is no perfect  mother.  This is because every mother is different.  We all bring our own unique personalities to the table.  On top of that, every child is different and add their own personalities to the mix.  It is extremely unfair (to herself!) for a new mother to measure herself by any external standards.  Her mothering will not be like anyone else's, because she is unique, and her baby is unique, and what she and her baby have together is unique.

Now that Sophie is older, I can see that the reason she hated to be put down as an infant is because she has an unquenchable interest in the world around her.  This is the child who notices the single light in the darkening sky, and identifies it as a planet, rather than a star.  The child who can tell you where to find rolly pollies in our back yard.  The child who has a keen artistic eye and picks out library books for their illustrations (she likes collage and odd proportions the best).

What I wish someone had told me when I was a new mother, is that what you see in an infant, the inscrutable idiosyncrasies, are really the little buds of your child's personality.  Buds that slowly bloom until the child begins to talk, and you start to realize who this little person really is.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  You are an individual, and so is your child.  And mothering isn't really about breastfeeding the right way, or having a calm child, or having all the answers.  It's about ushering your child into the world and helping her realize her unique gifts.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In Which I Meet God

The Anglican church on Luaniua was already established when we got there.  It is an airy pavilion, with concrete columns supporting an aluminum roof that feeds rain water into tanks the entire village drinks from.  There are two long rows of benches down each side of the church.  The women always sit on the left, the men on the right, children up front, teens in the middle, with married men and women in the very back.  In the front there is a dais, the concrete raised a step.  Here is where the catechist leads morning and evening prayer.  At the very front, the concrete goes up another step and here is where the alter stands.  It's rough, made from simple lumber, and covered with a white cloth.  Behind the alter a mat covers the wall, woven from died blue, purple and green pandanas leaves.

An empty propane tank hangs from the eves of the church.  It serves as the bell, and its harsh clanging reverberates through the village every dawn and sunset, calling the villagers to prayer.  The services themselves are simple.  They are repeated every day from the Melanesian Anglican Prayer Book With Hymns, with scripture readings and daily prayers the only variations from the script.

I used to go every evening.  Our house sat right behind the church, and I'd answer the bell's summonings every day as dusk fell.  The benches, little more than long planks, made day dreaming difficult since it was hard to get comfortable.  Mostly I just followed along, repeating the 'Lord have mercies' and 'Hear our prayers', my voice just one among the many supplicants.

It all didn't really mean anything to me.  I believed in Jesus, I knew the 'Gospel'.  I'd grown up hearing it.  I'd grown up  hearing about God's love for me, and how Jesus had came and died.  I believed it all.  But I'm not sure what type of a faith that was.  Was it faith in God?  Or in the God-idea?

Miguel de Unamuno, an early 20th century philosopher, said,
"Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair ... believe only in the God-idea, not in God Himself."
There came an evening, similar to all the rest, just a bead in the strand of the days of my childhood.  I went to evening service, and sat in the slowly darkening church as we recited the prayers.  Our Father.  The Apostle's Creed.  The Magnificat.

"O Lord, have mercy on us", the catechist said.

"... And give us your saving power," we answered.

"O Lord, save your people."

"... And bless those who belong to you."

"Give peace in our time, O Lord."

"... For there is none who rules the world, but only you, O God."

And then, as if the lights had dimmed all around me, a spotlight suddenly shone on my heart.  Everything around me, the fidgeting kids, murmuring audience, clattering palm leaves outside, receded.  I was suddenly alone, an audience of one to a great, heavenly unfurling.  My heart, my soul, every cell in my being, quivered with awe, with reverence, with fear.  I beheld God.  Not all of Him.  Not even part of Him.  I saw just a hint, just a minute corner of His robe.  It was all my small understanding could bear.  It was as if, in His infinite understanding, God chose that moment to pull back the curtain of heaven just a fraction so that my soul could meet Him.

I read in the book of John this morning,
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was the life; and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it ... There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  (John 1: 4 - 9)
It is true that we can believe that we believe in God.  Our limited, human understanding is easily appeased with a list of rules or Godly attributes.  God is love.  God is light.  But we cannot truly comprehend Him, not without His Light first shining to illuminate our hearts.  That's grace, in that while we are still in the darkness, unable to even know that we don't know, God shines His Light.

I guess all that we can do, is to in faith pray,
"... having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints." 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Small Town, USA

My day starts before dawn.  Manasseh stirring in his room down the hall is the first sound that breaks through my subconsciousness.  He squawks, then finds a fist and sucks in silence for a while, then squawks louder.  His insistence pulls me out of bed.  

Luaniua, Solomon Islands

Roosters crowing.  Not the romantic cock-a-doodle-do you hear in Saturday morning cartoons.  More like a strangled croak, as if someone had kicked the bird off its ridgepole.  Except for the roosters, the village is still muted, everyone rustling awake in the dimness of their huts.  The ever present surf pounds the day's rhythm, deep bass.

Small Town, USA

His cries a homing beacon, I pad down the hall to Manasseh's room.  He's flipped over on his back, a stranded, hungry little turtle.  I scoop him up and hold him against my chest.  He calms right away.  "Shhhh sh sh, my little man,"  I whisper.  "Hush now."  Four steps away is the rocker.  We settle into it and his whole body tenses in anticipation.  He opens his mouth and begins to root desperately, then clamps down with a hungry grunt on my breast.  I rock, he eats, the ceiling fan whirls overhead.

Luaniua, Solomon Islands

My bladder is full.  I lie for a moment, listening to the crunch, crunch of our neighbor's feet on their crushed coral floor, the baby's cry, the mother's murmuring.  The baby's quiet again.  I swing my feet to the floor and tighten my lava lava under my armpits.  Our house shudders gently on its stilts with each step I take.  Then I'm outside and the air is fresh and the coconut trees are quivering awake.  Someone somewhere is chopping wood.  I find the familiar trail through grass huts that hunch low and shaggy, and a few minutes later am standing on the beach, facing the morning waves.  Taking a deep breath against the Pacific coldness, I wade in, and do my business.

Small Town, USA

The baby's fed and back asleep.  In the kitchen, I punch the button to start the coffee, then spend a quiet 30 minutes on the couch.  This is where my batteries charge for the day, when I feed my soul breakfast and fill my reserves in order to be poured out for the rest of the day.  I finish one cup of coffee, and pour another.  Through the wall I can hear my husband's shower start.  A face appears around the corner of the hall.  Xander, my early morning buddy, climbs onto the couch next to me and lays his head against my shoulder, looking up at me with sleep heavy eyes.  I kiss the top of his head, his blond hair rough on my lips.  

Luaniua, Solomon Islands

On the way back from the ocean, my wet lava lava sticks to my legs, and sand sticks to my feet.  There is now a haze of smoke from morning cook fires across the village.  I pass a young girl of about 8 as she settles a blackened and dented kettle into the fire outside her family's hut.  Back at home, my mom's whisking powdered milk into a bowl of water.  Dehydrated papayas and pineapples are on the counter beside her, ready to cut into our bowls of granola.  The gravel crunches down below as my brother returns from his morning trip to the sea.  A few minutes later, the six of us have gathered around bowls of granola and instant milk.  We bow our heads and pray for the day.

Small Town, USA

I've got bacon sizzling at one side of the griddle, and scrambled eggs are quickly firming up on the other.  Toast pops.  I fetch it quickly from the toaster, spread on some butter, give the eggs another swirl with my spatula, and flip the bacon.  The sound of the shower has ceased in the back of the house.    Xander's got his knight dress up gear on over his Elmo Christmas pajamas.  "Hi-ya!  Hooo-ah!"  he yells, swinging his sword.  He's still the only kid awake.  "Bubby, come here and take Daddy's coffee to him,"  I call.  He's dispatched down the hall.  

Ten minutes later, Sophie stumbles into the kitchen with a storm cloud over her head.  She slumps into her seat at the table as Scott emerges in his suit and tie, coffee cup in hand.  We all settle down, Cheerios and bacon for the kids and eggs, toast and bacon for the adults.  The day has begun.