Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Stay at Home Feminist

[This is not a comment about working mothers vs. stay at home mothers vs. work at home mothers vs. part time working mothers... Nor does this issue just affect stay at home mothers, although I focus on that area. Sometimes  working mothers are respected only because they have made the progressive decision to work, and the whole huge part of their life that is being a mother isn't viewed as significant.  Sometimes working mothers are viewed as inferior mothers because they love or need their careers and don't spend every moment with their child.  All of this is stupid.  How about we respect and value mothers no matter what?]

The other day I read this super annoying, super stupid article from USA Today about this husband who wouldn't let his wife quit her job, even though she wanted to stay home with the kids, because he wanted better for her.  It made me really mad for many reasons, not the least of which is a controlling husband making his wife's decisions for her.  He won't "let" her quit her job? Someone I know said this kind of talk makes her feel "stabby," which I thought was an apt description. 

The ironic part is that this man clearly thinks he is so progressive.  I am all for supporting your wife working when it is what she wants or what is necessary for your family.  In this case it was not a financial decision at all, he just didn't want his wife to waste her degree and career accomplishments.  He is afraid of her "becoming stagnant."

I'm sure the article was written to get a rise out of people one way or another. Some applaud him.  Some rise up in arms, either because of attack on stay at home moms or because of his controlling egotism.  It was some random opinion of some stupid internet guy. It shouldn't matter. Except that it is published.  This idea and so many ideas like it are constantly circulated.  

You may have noticed that I'm a bit of a feminist (aka. someone who thinks women should be treated with equal respect and have equal rights as men).  Few things make me all stabby like oppression of women in any form.  And it does take all forms. Most recently I have found it particularly as a stay at home mom.  Not because I am being kept out of the workforce or chained to the kitchen, but rather because my decision makes me seen as less-than.

I often wonder why it is that mothers, particularly "stay at home moms" continually need to be reminded we are doing something worthwhile. Is it just because we are over-sensitive females who imagine we are being overlooked and undervalued?  Or is it perhaps because we continually experience very real, subtle and not so subtle slights? 

Honestly, from my experience, I have met very few "weak" females.  And when I think about women worldwide, I am astounded at the difficulties they face and still press through.  I don't think we are a gender of particularly fragile egos. 

I am a stay at home mother with a college degree in elementary education.  It will be especially useful as I teach my daughter. That's right, I'm also a home school mom.  Double whammy.  Where is my calf-length denim skirt? I am responsible for my children's education - if they learn how to read and to love reading, if they learn the countries of the world and a global perspective, if they understand math - that's on me.  So yeah, I think I'll be using my degree.

I am a stay at home mother in China.  I have a masters degree in intercultural studies.  My family and I interact in another culture every day.  I practice Chinese language basics with my girls and encourage them to use it.  I remind them of the importance of responding graciously in cultural situations they don't enjoy.  My attitude toward local culture affects the attitude they take with them onto the playground, into Chinese kindergarten, and into the future.  So I'm pretty sure that degree will come in handy.

I am no chef, but I cook for my family.  I may not cook vegetarian, gluten free, grain-free, organic, free range, (insert current most important health initiative) meals, but you can bet I am thinking about their health.  I am thinking about how to cook healthy things the kids will actually eat.  I am providing their framework for healthy eating later in life.  And I am figuring out how to cook without a pile of children wailing at my feet.

I do laundry.  Constantly.  Laundry -unlike stain removal- is not a skill.  Anyone can (or should be able to) do it.  But someone has to keep us all in moderately clean clothes. Laundry is pretty easy due to the marvelous (wonderful, blessed) invention of the washing machine, but the process never ends.  Wash clothes, hang clothes, take them down, fold them, search for missing socks, put clothes away, gather them off the floor and take them to the laundry hamper.  Perhaps I should save time and just take them straight from the drying rack to the dirty clothes hamper.

I clean.  Constantly.  You cannot imagine how much mess children can create until they are running free in your home.  Why are there dry beans in the living room, three changes of clothes in the bathroom, toys from five different boxes in the kitchen, and half of the children's book shelf on our bedroom floor?  Children.  Children are not known for their efficiency in most areas, but mess making - it's incredible.  Of course, anyone can clean as well.  It's a job of janitors.  And obviously janitors don't deserve much respect...right?

I change diapers and I potty train and I discipline and discipline and discipline.  I do all these things, over and over again, but I do something more too.  I gather up little children running to me for hugs.  I tickle and giggle and make giggle.  I point out the beauty all around.  I show my children that they are valuable, that they are loved, that they are worth my time.  I teach them the importance of kindness and respect.  I show them how to love God and others, and how to be loved by God and others.

Mr. Stupid Internet Guy said he didn't want his daughter "seeing mommy at home, thinking she needs to do the same because that's what she grew up seeing." He wants better for her. Well you know what, I don't have any problem with my girls seeing me at home. 

What do I want for them when they grow up?  I want them to be doctors or mothers or janitors.  I want them to be doctors because they feel called to be.  I want them to be mothers because they find joy in it.  Or I want them to be janitors because they are not too proud to work with their hands. 

Whatever they choose, I want them to know that they are valuable not because of what they do but because of who they are. 

And also, if someone steps in to make their decisions for them, I want them to feel all stabby.

Friday, May 8, 2015

All About Me at 32

Every year I try to record some things about the girls to remember what they are like and what they are learning each year.  I don't change quite so quickly, but I thought I'd record a few things about this year so I can remember what I was into at that oh-so-distinctive age of thirty-two.
Currently reading: Christy (Appropriately one of my favorite books. I haven't kept track, but I'd say this is the 6th or 8th read)
Currently watching: Kevin and I just finished the the series finales of Parenthood and Grey's Anatomy.  So I'd say we've gotten plenty of emotional drama lately!  Probably good Downton's not in season.  Also the Planet Earth series - it's pretty awesome except the part with the thousands of cockroaches in the cave.  They should have warnings about that.  Even Adalyn loves it (there's a lot of water, and she's obsessed with water, so...)
Listening to: Gungor and the Brilliance with a bit of country thrown in; also freakonomics podcasts
Favorite blogs: Sarah Bessey (on being a "Jesus feminist" and a stay at home mom), Velvet Ashes (honest conversation about all sorts of life topics for women overseas)
Favorite part of my day: Drinking my iced coffee (thank you Pioneer Woman! I'm a new fan).  Seriously, how do non-coffee drinkers get themselves out of bed in the morning?
Newest finds: Thred-up, an online consignment shop.  It's like thrift store shopping from afar -but you can sort by size, style, and even color.  If I was the kind of person who really loved shopping, I would be in trouble!
What makes me angry: Oppression of women in any form, devaluing of children, stupid people on the internet
What makes me laugh: Julianaisms, Adalyn's "sneaky" face, Adalyn’s perfect imitations of the things we say
What makes me happy: Sitting on the laundry porch in the sun, listening to the birds, watching the newly-leafed trees, a little kiddo climbing on my lap begging for "horsey"; having an incredibly clean house for 5 minutes; iced coffee (oh wait, I already said that)
What makes me sad: Feeling disconnected from friends, when my kids are hurt or disappointed
What I appreciate: Having incredible friends who strengthen my faith in humanity, even if I don't get to connect with them much; living on a really beautiful campus; Kevin being supportive of me; lentils; Juliana's sweet declarations of love; Adalyn's kisses and giggles; being able to buy almost anything in China on Taobao
How I have changed in the past year: Overall, I think I have gotten better at noticing and enjoying the small beauties of life.  Also, I have more white hairs.
I'm looking forward to: Going home this summer!  Family, friends, nature, my 10 year college reunion, In-N-Out...
What I’ve been thinking about: kindergarten curriculum for Juliana, summer travel, how to understand and connect better with students 
What I'm insecure about: Not feeling useful, having little to show for my time, stay-at-home/homeschooling mom stereotypes
How I hope to grow in the next year: Focusing more on loving and less on accomplishing

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tale of a Second Nursling

A few years ago I wrote Juliana's nursing story, and I wanted to record and remember my nursing journey with Adalyn as well.

I think even Adalyn was shocked by the speed with which she entered the world.  She wailed loudly, protesting the harsh transition. But as soon as the excitement died down, she happily settled down to nurse. I loved being able to provide her with such a safe place in the strange new world - the warmth of mama's skin, a known voice, a familiar taste, a first and continuing connection.

But after her good start, Adalyn was sleepy and not so interested in nursing. The hospital's lactation consultants offered assistance, but when we left the hospital after two days, she was still not nursing well.  I wish I had asked for more help, but I figured we could work it out at home.  Besides, I had already done this before so surely I should know what I was doing, right?  Of course, Adalyn was just learning everything for the first time.

My milk came in by the second or third day, and since Adalyn wasn’t nursing so efficiently, I quickly became super, painfully engorged.  It caused a high enough fever I had to trek back to the doctor the day after leaving the hospital so they could rule out uterine infection.  Armed with pain medicine and cabbage leaves, I improved over the next few days.

The first weeks were rough.  I contracted mastitis twice in two weeks time - super high fevers, painful swelling, the whole works.  I have rarely felt so terrible in my life, but a hungry baby was always waiting, and of course nursing - the last thing you want to do - is one of the things you have to do constantly both for your sake and the baby’s.  During the worst of it, Kevin laid Adalyn next to me in bed and helped get her latched on since I couldn't sit up.

Thank goodness we were still with my family.  My mom, who has years of experience dealing with sick kids in the middle of the night, took over when I couldn't think clearly.  She helped get my fever down, called my midwife, and made trips to the 24hr pharmacy for more antibiotics, and she took care of everyone during the days of recovery.

Around this time, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding arrived from the library.  I read it practically cover to cover, even the parts that didn’t really apply to me.  I realized how much I had forgotten about nursing from the first time around.  It was so affirming and normalizing.

The mastitis finally improved but I was left with what appeared to be a plugged duct.  After working at it for days with no success, I went back to see the hospital lactation consultant and was examined by my midwife, who thought it seemed more like a cyst than a plug.  She scheduled an ultrasound and mammogram.  We spent the afternoon at the hospital, but fortunately the cyst turned out to be harmless and didn't need any extra attention.

Finally we reached the end of the first month, and things really started turning around.  During that first month, I was so grateful for my previous nursing experience to look back on.   I kept reminding myself, "This is worth it. It will get better. You really loved nursing."

Even in the pain and difficulty, there were sweet moments during that first newborn month.  The wailing impatience of a hungry baby instantly satisfied by the breast.  The milk-drunk baby who cannot resist drifting off into sleep. The tiny hands that reach and knead.  Waking up to discover you and baby have both fallen asleep nursing side by side.  Such closeness.

And things did get better after the first month.  At least until the second month, when I discovered another plugged duct.  After working and working at it with no success, I finally went to see the doctor, who ordered an ultrasound.  The results of the ultrasound were inconclusive, so a biopsy was done.  The whole process took weeks since it was over the holidays, so I had plenty of time to imagine tragic scenarios.  Finally I got the results - everything was normal!

And then, it really was smooth sailing.  Adalyn was a faster nurser than her sister, averaging 20 minutes a session instead of 45, which made a big difference, especially during the night!  She nursed often during the day but went for longer stretches during the night, so I really couldn't complain.

As Adalyn grew, she was also a much calmer nurser - perhaps because she was used to constant distractions.  She focused without too much difficulty and attempted much less acrobatics.
Her first birthday passed by with no thought of weaning.  What was a decision with Juliana - extended breastfeeding - was never a question with Adalyn.  It seemed perfectly natural to keep nursing, not “extended” at all.  We gradually reduced sessions until she just nursed before nap and bedtime, or occasionally during the day if she was fussy.  I would sometimes bring her into bed in the morning to nurse, but she rarely settled back down.

She derived great comfort for nursing, and I loved the connection with my busy toddler.  She loved to hold my hand or play with my fingers while she nursed. When she was feeling tired or sad or lonely, she would cry, "Naptime! Naptime!" Which I eventually realized meant nursing.  

Then one day at about 19 months, Adalyn abruptly stopped nursing.  One day she was happily nursing and the next she refused. I thought it was teething, which were obviously making her miserable, but as the days passed with no further interest in nursing, I knew she was done.

She nursed longer than many babies do, of course, but I was still sad for our nursing relationship to end.  I wish I had warning so I could capture those last days of special closeness.  I missed our time of cuddling, which she now had no patience for, and we had to work out a new bedtime routine.

Now I sit beside her crib and sing her a few songs while she sits up and pushes her face between the bars for kisses.  It's not the most calming routine, as it keeps us both laughing, but it's also irresistible.

I am grateful for the 19 months I had nursing my sweet second baby!