Friday, January 11, 2013

The reality of motherhood

I expected this time, the few weeks of really settling into "my" new city, to be all about the transition - where to go, who to meet, how to get around, what to do, and a constant little bugging question at the back of my mind "why exactly are we here?"

Instead (though all of those areas have needed some proper sorting out), the past two weeks have revealed a surprising focus - motherhood.

In Nairobi, something always pulled me away from home (internally or externally), the kids were never incredibly content, I couldn't figure out how to juggle the many things I was sorting through. In Seattle - well, motherhood has taken a new form.

It helps this is the most insanely child friendly place I've ever been to - car dealers have whole sections of their office dedicated to small children, parks are easily found within a 3 mile radius of anywhere, businesses have free activities for toddlers on various days of the month, certain coffee shops are designed with play areas, there are indoor sandpits for those o-so-dreary days - the list goes on and on and on. It also helps that for the first time, we have a house with a good space for the kids to play - both inside and out. It also immensely helps that both of my children are now communicative, incredibly communicative. About everything. About every, single, tiny thing. But still, it helps.

For whatever reason, I've reached a place where contentment is much easier to find and where impatience seems to emerge less often.

I've experienced happiness with my kids before, but in these past couple weeks I have had more re-collectible moments of sheer joy than I can recall ever having had in my role as a mother.

Kai played his first mind-game/joke on me:
As we were driving in the car, he dropped his water bottle on the floor and then announced (quite loudly, and with urgency only a 3 year old can give to a water bottle dropped in a car): "My water bottle!!"
I responded: "it's ok, it's on the floor."
Kai: "huh?"
me: "it's ok, it's on the floor."
Kai: "wha?"
me (with clearer diction - like a tourist talking to a local): "It's o-kay, it's...on...the...flooor"
Kai: "huh?"
me (getting annoyed - an annoyance exacerbated by the fact I was driving in circles, utterly lost): "Do you sometimes just do this to mess with me and see how many times I'll repeat myself?"
Kai (giggles): "yeah, sometimes I do that."
me: "you silly goose"
Kai: "huh?"
me: "you silly goose" (yes, you all know where this is going...I sure missed it)
Kai: "wha?"
me:" you sil - hey! seriously? Again?!"
Kai (bursting into toddler belly laughs): "yes! I gotchya. I gotchya. YOU silly goose."

Sheer joy.

Mika walked up to me, put her arms up, looked at me with huge eyes, said "up".  I picked her up, light little thing, as her sweet little hands held my cheeks. "noses?", she asked quietly - as she leaned her nose against mine and rubbed it back and forth, giggling - looking straight into my eyes. Sweet little lips kissed mine, then she said "lub you", and put her head on my shoulder.

Sheer joy.

Kai asked to pray at dinner time. He held Mika's hand tightly, and prayed a simple prayer, "Thank you God for food. Thank you God for happiness. Thank you God for Jesus. Amen."

Sheer joy.

I stopped to give a man on the street some money. As we drove away, Kai asked "mama, what did you do?" I responded (capitalizing on the opportunity to teach a life value): "I was helping someone who needed help." He said, "Oh, that's good. But mama, what was his name? You should ask his name."

Sheer humility - followed by sheer joy.

It snowed this morning, Kai bundled up and went outside to play in it. The second he stepped into the snow, he froze in his tracks. "Are you ok?" I asked. He glanced over his shoulder at me, silent. "Are you listening to the snowflakes land on your hood?" A single, almost imperceptible nod, and a slight smile.

His newness - my joy.

We went out for dinner at a small Ethiopian restaurant. After dinner, when the hostess was clearing our table, Kai said "oh, thank you. Thank you very much. But, um, could I help you?" Receiving an enthusiastic response, he hopped down and helped carry dishes back to the kitchen.

Sheer joy.

Mika slept on the floor of her room one night while we were waiting for her crib to arrive. Early, early in the morning I woke up to her little silhouette in our doorway. She walked over to our bed, as I pulled back the covers of our bed on the floor, she climbed in, lay down on top of my chest, head tucked on my chin, hand wrapped around the back of my neck, and fell back asleep.

Sheer joy.

Today, at lunch, Kai was helping Mika eat - modeling how to eat, helping her get food on her own fork, sometimes feeding her. I watched him cheering her on, and watched her deep interest in learning from her big brother. When she took a bite by herself, he said "Yeah! Good job, Mee-tah. That's right. I'm so proud of you. Great job! That's how you do it!" She beamed, "tangk ew". Kai smiled back, loving his moment as a teacher, "you're weltome. That was so polite, Mee-tah. So tind. So respectful. Dat is nice to say thant you."

And at that moment, a moment of sheer joy, riding on the back of a week filled with sheer joys, I had a thought: "this is the hardest job I've ever done. This is the hardest job I will ever do."  and an immense wave of satisfaction swept over me - not in myself and my accomplishments, but in finally seeing this job I've been divinely and miraculously given is bigger than anything else I will ever do in life. Ever.

I have done many challenging things. I will do many more. But this, motherhood, will absolutely require more of me than anything else - not in a "forcefully die to myself, I lost my freedom" sort of way - but in a "rise to the task, feel enthusiastically terrified you've been chosen for the job you never thought you could get" sort of way.

It was as if something in me finally recognized that the hours of changing diapers, wiping tears, kissing scrapes, putting away toys, doing piles of tiny laundry, turning thousands of little bites of food into magical airplanes, tucking in, re-tucking in, disciplining, apologizing for my lost temper - all of those moments I thought were breaking my own pride and self-fulfillment were simultaneously doing a part in creating the character of two people.

I get creation of new things. I get invention stemming from new ideas. I get the physics and chemistry of it all works. But creating the character of a person? Being in a position where I profoundly impact who these two little people will grow to be, and subsequently impact every future interaction they'll ever have with others? Well that...that's too much for my mind to fully absorb. And so, usually, I see my role as one of patience, modeling, and endurance - and I'm grateful for that.

But today, for a brief moment - my eyes clear after a week full of so much joy, I saw my role with broader scope. Creating people of character, raising a young man and a young woman (for now is when the foundation of adulthood is laid) who value kindness, generosity, respect, teaching, gratefulness, and selfless pride in other's accomplishments...that is what my every word, every glance, every action have the opportunity to contribute to.

I usually end my blogs with some sort of a universally applicable, encouraging statement. And there's plenty of room to do that here - something along the lines of "you must be the change you wish to see in the world", or something of that ilk.

But tonight, with this blog - I want to leave with a statement to any of you who are in the midst of, or ever will be in the midst of, contributing to the development of a child: yours is the most profound of tasks, yours is seemingly the least glorified, yours is the most revealing of your weaknesses, yours is the most mundane of duties, and yours is the most of unexpected trials. But yours is also the greatest of rewards, the sheerest of joys, the profundity of possibility, and the permanence of impact. Let your soul breathe deeply of it - your greatest is here.

And to those of you who have raised men and women of strong character - well done, and thank you. Your seemingly unnoticed words, glances, and actions are being passed on.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When Good Men Do Nothing

*****This post was originally written on Dec 14, and has been edited to hold accurate 'to date' data. There was another shooting this past week, again in Aurora, CO. It's easy to forget, it's easy to become complacent, it's easy to let the past drift comfortably to the recesses of our minds. But change doesn't stem from complacency, and while it's over quoted, I'll quote it again "All it takes for evil men to succeed, is for good men to do nothing."*******

Dec 14

Social media and news media have barraged us with posts, articles, and segments on the elementary school shooting. Those in favor of stronger gun control are calling loudly that now is the time for reform, if there ever was a time. Those not in favor of stronger gun control argue "it's not guns who kill people, it's people who kill people" or "we need stronger enforcement, not new laws" or "it's too soon to talk about such a topic, have some decency".

And so a petition to create a new set of regulations limiting who has access to firearms is created and signed by 135, 608 people to date (update as of 1.6.13 - 197,073), and various forums for gun owners are filled with threads discussing what the impacts of increased gun control could be.

I went for a search for information - to find out what current gun laws are, how they are enforced, and what reform would look like. The simple answer - it's not that simple. There are at least a dozen laws with sub-laws, laws that have been deemed unconstitutional, laws with addendum after addendum trying to re-create the law deemed as unconstitutional, federal laws, state laws, county laws, and city laws. And despite the plethora of laws addressing who can own a gun, what type of gun they can own, where the gun can be concealed, and where guns can be taken there are still articles that illuminate apparent discrepancies in gun control and articles that discuss statistics on mass shootings in the US. Gun control is anything but simple.

Furthermore, from the hours of online digging I've done, and the few conversations I've had with people regarding this issue, there doesn't seem to be any collaboration between those regulating gun accessibility and those working with the mentally ill. I'm not an expert on any topic related to this entire conversation, but it would seem the two parties should be working together. It seems a common argument from the defense after an unexplainable mass shooting that the shooter was mentally ill. If this is the case, the two parties - those responsible for gun control and those working with the mentally ill - should be working together.

I don't know what the solution is moving forward, but I know that now, even though I am only 27 years old, I have within my formed memory distinct recollections of 6 different mass shootings. I did a quick online search to make sure I wasn't mistaken in my recollection of how many shootings have occurred recently. I was wrong, massively wrong. There have been 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years in the US (as of 1.6.13 the number is now 63).

Apathy is dangerous. Ignorant apathy, it appears, has lethal consequences. I saw a lot of conversations and comments on facebook from people struggling with how to respond to the killing of 20 six and seven year olds, several comments on people unable to handle the grief. I sat at my computer and cried, and have felt a burden for the past 2 days that unmistakably is caused by thinking of those children, those teachers, and their families. Grief is the appropriate response, and if we have any hope of continuing to have a safe country and working against these sorts of tragedies, we must allow ourselves (and perhaps even force ourselves) to experience that grief. And after we have absorbed that grief, we must decide if our grief prompts us to act.

I do know this - it is easier to forget than to act. Much, much easier. But in 4 years, Kai will walk into an elementary school on a Friday morning - and I want him to come home that Friday afternoon. So now, I have to decide how to act. Because all the talk in the world cannot stop incidents like Friday from happening again. And all the grief in the world can't stop it either. But talk and grief can fuel a determination, a strong determination to actions.

So, for now, I'll leave my actions at this blog entry, and hope it acts as a reminder to you, my reader,  you have a voice and you have the ability to act. I know, theologically and philosophically, change comes from within and only with the help of Jesus - but I also know, absolutely know, those who say "only Jesus can bring renewal to our world" and don't seek to be that renewal have missed the fact they 'are' Jesus to our world.

I'm interested, incredibly interested, in your thoughts. The least we can do is begin this conversation, and to do so with open minds. Please, for the sake of our own dignity and out of respect for the hundreds of people who have died in the past 30 years in mass shootings, let's refrain from elitism, egocentrism, and hateful wording. Obviously there is no perfect answer. We can only hope for change, in whatever form, if we are dignified. We can only expect our political leaders to hear us if we have a united voice. We cannot stop violence with hatred, and we cannot create unity through force or belittlement.

And in the meantime, we must look at the people around us, look for the lonely people, the families struggling with having a family member who is mentally ill, the children in the foster care system, and the veterans returning from war to nothing and no one. We are remiss to not see these people, and remiss to think the only solutions to our problems are laws. So, if I can be so bold - feel grief, feel sadness, ask "why wasn't it my son or daughter or sister or mom?", don't be afraid to act, and as you consider - search around you for the immediate need. I guarantee it is close by. And I guarantee you can make all the difference.

We're Settling

We're officially living in Seattle. We have an address. The post office knows we live here, I have a mommy group I go to on Thursdays, Chris has his daily commute, and the kids are making friends. Our house is quickly becoming a home - pictures up on the walls, craft corners waiting to create new things, kitchen slowly filling with yummy food, freezer slowly filling with a hearty stock of what I like to call "bad day back ups". The smell of obligatory new paint is wearing off, the neighbors now wave instead of stare, and the back yard is scattered with miscellaneous balls, rakes, and buckets as the kids make their own little mark.

It's not hard for me to make a place a home - goodness knows I've had plenty of practice. Sure, I still get lost when I'm driving, I still don't have a plan for tomorrow (as in literally tomorrow, not metaphorically speaking), and we've only just begun to scratch the surface of all the amazing things there are to do in this city. Still, it's beginning to look like home.

As I sit here in our cozy living room, on my pea green chair from Goodwill (ye afraid of bedbugs, pretend you didn't read that),  with a cup of Earl Gray perched beside me, listening to Chris play his guitar, knowing the babies are tucked warmly in bed, I pause for a moment - calling my soul to  breathe deeply once again. It's easy to breathe deeply of the big moments, the striking moments, even the difficult moments - but it's restorative to breathe deeply of the peaceful ones.

It's the time of year when people talk about Resolutions, when they discuss what thing they're going to do or not do - I see it in advertisements, hear it in church sermons, read it in fashion magazines. And I think it's a beautiful idea - I blogged last year about how much Kenyans love the New Year for the immense hope it brings. I think Americans feel the same - perhaps not only hope, but more of a strong motivation catalyzed by our public recognition of time progressing in it's ever consistent linear fashion. Motivated by time slipping away, and somehow still rising up in front of us - at least for now.

I think resolutions are wonderful - here are mine:
* vegetarian dinner once a week
* salad dinner once a week (and this doesn't count as the vegetarian one)
* one homemade snack a week (banana bread, granola bars, yogurt, etc)
* grow a garden/get involved in a community garden
* have daily devotions
* work out 5 times a week
* do a craft or activity with the kids every day
* go camping at least once a month
* go to some event in Seattle once a month
* get involved in a Church
* get involved in a mommy group
* read more
* swear less (this may need to influence my choices for the prior list item)
* send cards for anniversaries and birthdays
* respond to emails within a week of getting them
* get to know our neighbors
* finish my half started sewing projects, start new ones
* successfully start a financialyl viable hobby of refinishing furniture

I could keep going. At about 'work out 5 times a week', we all probably realized I'm absolutely unrealistic in this endeavor - that while my intentions are good, the time in my day is simply not enough to accomplish all these goals. And a quick scan of my goals reveal some gaping holes...what's his name? that husband of mine? Oh yeah, he should probably be on here somewhere...I could be a better wife.  (Somedays I have it pretty nailed, though...)

In all seriousness - I do have goals in mind, and we'll see how well I do. But I have no anticipation of accomplishing all of them. And as I look at this list, and recognize the immense amount of time and energy it would take to even accomplish half of them, I find myself asking another question.

What are the things I learned last year, the ways I grew last year, the habits I formed last year that are worth consciously keeping?

Life often pushes us to the limit - and we form a habitual response to whatever stressors or comforts we're currently facing; some good, some not so great. And I think it's easy, when those stressors or comforts dissipate, when the trigger is gone - to lose not only the bad formed responses, but also the good.

When we were living in Nairobi, I often forced myself to take mental steps backwards from my life, to implement a habit of internal thankfulness for the dozens of tiny 'goods' in every day. I don't do that as much here - a quick prayer of thanks for the big basics, and I'm ready to keep going. But attention to the minutia proved to be character changing, and it's a forced response I would do well to consciously continue pursuing.

People talk a lot about not living in the past, and I agree - the New Year is an excellent time to look forward, to dream big, to enjoy now and trust tomorrow will be even better. But tomorrow brought us here - whether by gentleness or force, and as simplistic as it may seem, is worth a pause to remember. And maybe, if we've done it right (at least a bit of it), worth building on.


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