28 June 2018

The Overcomplication of Parenthood

Now, don't get me wrong, parenting is complicated. Very complicated.

I mean, there's quite a bit to balance and to consider: health, family culture, language, child development, education, germs, finances, values, behavior, etc.


We received a very sweet little recipe book for making baby food and, among the recipes included was this one.

The riveting information contained on this two-page spread, including an artful, Pinterest-worthy photo, is that is possible to mash up a banana with a fork and feed it to a baby who has attained the age of 6 months or greater. Additional information is that 2 bananas will yield about 1.5 cups or 3 baby servings, and that bananas are a source of dietary fiber and vitamin C, and get this, they are also naturally sweet.

Who knew? 

Now, perhaps it is slight bitterness on my part that the publishing industry is one that seems so very limited in what books they accept for publication, and yet, also publishes books which contain 2-page recipes for a mashed banana...

But I think parenting has become overcomplicated in our modern era.

No longer is it a matter of holding your baby or wrapping baby up in a carrier so that your hands are free for other tasks, it's a "babywearing lifestyle" and an endless discussion of the pros and cons of ring slings and wraps and organic cotton fibers and structured carriers and a variety of Tula patterns and prints.

Where baby sleeps is of great concern with loud advocates for both bedsharing and sleeping alone, on their back, with nothing in the crib.

It's natural for parents to worry about their child's health, but now every possible decision is questioned. Vaccines are good or evil? Mainstream medication or essential oils or lifestyle choices? Breastfeeding is best or fed is best?

What is the precisely correct formula for the amount of screen time beginning at what age a child ought to have in order to achieve the balance of maximum intelligence along with maximum fun of just being a kid and having good memories of watching Mr. Roger's Neighborhood with their family? Has anyone calculated the numbers, yet?

As parents, we need to know our kids. We should be putting thought into how we raise them, and we should advocate for their health and take initiative...although sometimes I think we should put a little more thought into how we train and raise their hearts and characters in comparison to the amount of thought we put into what organic foods we feed them.

Maybe, in this world of alarmism and clickbait on social media, what we need a little bit more of is to relax, and if you want to feed your 6+ month old baby a banana, get out a fork and mash it without becoming helpless and looking to baby cookbooks for advice on whether that is a thing that can be done. Maybe we need to trust our God-given brains and eyes and ears a little bit more in a world where the simplest decisions are debated endlessly. I mean, I don't know a whole lot about babies, but even I knew that feeding them mashed banana was a thing. Let's not "major" on the "minors." Let's make decisions about what is most important to prioritize for our families and our children, and not stress for days or weeks about the things that don't matter quite as much.

However, if it's too late, and you've already dove headfirst into the pool of overcomplicated childrearing, I've got a great recommendation for a baby cookbook. They also have recipes for pureed peas and pureed carrot, although carrots grown in your back garden with no fertilizer are really what's ideal if you want to do best by your child.
25 June 2018

Tales from June

June is almost over, and it went by in a flurry of large events and visitors from afar and family fun. Here are some of the most memorable moments:

Funny story: Angel's been carrying around in his bag a fake cockroach that my sister gave him a long time ago, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it. It has recently dawned on him that the most perfect use for a fake cockroach is to place it on his son and wait for others, family members or strangers, to notice it and freak out.

Favorite Purchase: MaryGrace and I found blue-and-white striped circle skirts at Uniqlo on clearance, and each bought one. Later, we went back to Uniqlo, and Anna found a black-and-white gingham version of the same skirt, and bought it for herself because she loved it. After seeing all of us in our circle skirts, Mom thought she would give the circle skirt a try, and bought a bright blue one for herself. Not to be outdone, after noticing that all the other ladies had circle skirts, Sarah asked if she could get one, and picked out the bright blue one so that she could match with her mommy. It might have been much more efficient if we had just all decided to buy our skirts together rather than over the course of 4 separate visits to Uniqlo, but hey, I guess that's the power of seeing someone else wearing a gorgeous skirt.

Exercise: A big theme of Anna's visit was encouraging each other in healthy lifestyle choices and exercise! Anna and I did some of the 10 or 15 minute Robin Long Pilates videos on Youtube nearly every day, the family took frequent walks with Cyrus in the stroller, and on some evenings spent nearly an hour dancing to dance cardio videos on Youtube. It's fun to encourage each other to get stronger and build endurance!

New Experience: Living on a small island, we are literally surrounded by beaches and pathways by the water--some are nicer or more accessible than others, but we managed to visit a beach I've never been to before which was completely empty of anyone except my own family and it was so beautiful and peaceful that I irresistibly found myself running around waving my arms and shouting, "I am SO HAPPY! I LOVE THIS PLACE!"

VBS: We were livin' the VBS life for a full week of June over the short June break, quite a big project. I'd originally said that I'd step out of being involved in this VBS because I knew I'd have a 3-month-old baby at the time, but as these things usually go I ended up being put in charge of decorations and being the emcee/on-stage host for the whole week. There were a lot of really special moments throughout the week, and baby did a great job with being passed around from one person to another while I was busy in the mornings.

Favorite New Recipe: Dumplings. And sorry, but we don't really use recipes, but we decided to have a dumpling night and make three types of potsticker-style dumplings. We made one batch of more classic pork/chive/carrot filled dumplings, one batch of dumplings with an apple cinnamon filling, and then, at Angel's suggestion, we made dumplings with a "cheeseburger" filling of ground beef, onion and real cheddar, which actually turned out quite tasty. We really enjoyed dumpling night!

Favorite Photo: Currently my all-time favorite photo of Angel and Cyrus, taken this month. I'm not really sure I could explain why, just merely that it is perfect.

June was a big and busy month, and we managed to squeeze in a good amount of fun with our visiting family members. July will bring in new and big changes for our family! Looking forward to the second half of 2018!
10 June 2018

Make Someone's Day

One evening last week, as the whole family sat down for a night of playing "Golf," a favorite card game, my 11-year-old sister declared, joy clearly spilling out of every pore, "This is the best day of my life!!"

All of us stopped for a moment and looked at her in surprise. I stopped shuffling the deck of cards. This is a kid who has been to DisneyWorld and Paris and London and Angkor Wat...she's had lovingly-planned, elaborately-themed birthday parties...and here she is calling this day, as we're about to start our game, "the best of my life"??

She noticed our confusion and went on to clarify that this is the "best day of my life right now." But I know what caused her exuberant joy and dramatic declarations of best-ness over a seemingly simple family game night. This girl loves to play games. She loves to gather the family around the table for a board game or party game of any sort. She's not picky. She even occasionally plays Monopoly with her teddy bears as the other players when she can't convince anyone to play with her. Game nights with her family are her idea of the good life.

And yet...they're rare. Because Angel wants to go for an evening run, big sister is working on an art project, other big sister is playing with the baby, mom and dad have work or meetings...or we're all too tired and there's the draw of Youtube or an episode or two of a television show. And somehow in the midst of all these things, which are also fun and important in their own ways, the chances for "best days" are frittered away. Still, we all know how to turn a normal day into the "best day" for her, and maybe if we make an effort to keep that knowledge at the forefront of our minds, we'll do it a bit more often.

In fact, I'd guess that most of us know how to make our loved one's days...and most of the time, our excuses for choosing not to do the simple things that would make their day a "best day" a little more often are a little too flimsy. The easy ways to "make someone's day" vary greatly from person to person--for one person, it might be buying takeout so they don't have to cook, while for another, it might be cooking a favorite meal, doing a chore that they usually have to do themselves, or making time in the schedule for participating in their hobby of choice. Telling them you'll take care of the dishes and the laundry tonight and they can pull out their art supplies. Many times, it might be sending a postcard to someone you know loves happy mail, or typing out a quick text to tell someone that you noticed the effort they put into a project and that it was well done. Most importantly, KNOW the person when you're trying to turn their day into a "best" one. Bring me a cup of coffee while I'm working at my computer and I'll just be mystified...and I won't drink it, sorry. I can't get myself to drink the stuff, not even for social purposes. But bring one to my mom, a cup of coffee made in her favorite cup with the right amount of milk added, and her eyes will light up.

There will always be a reason to not put in the thought or time or effort to make someone's day...but in reality, most of the time, it's far easier than we expect it to be to put a big smile on someone's face. All we have to do is keep our eyes and ears open: notice the little favorites and wants and likes of those in our everyday lives, and then instead of zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a long work day...pull out a deck of cards. It's worth it.

What are some of the simple ways that you've found to turn everydays into "best days" for your friends and family?
05 June 2018

Loving a Baby after Loss

I wasn't able to write about it the entire time I was pregnant. That's how unsafe, how fragile, I felt. The normal me needs to write to process everything. I still don't fully feel able to write about the experience. But let me share glimpses of what pregnancy after miscarriage looked like for me.

30 weeks. 

- The positive pregnancy test was a very, very joyful day. And a terrifying one. Because now I knew, most vividly, that a test that reads "pregnant" doesn't necessarily mean you'll be allowed to have a baby. I calculated the due date right away, but I didn't know if it would be a "real" due date or not.

- I had scary symptoms throughout the first trimester--and thankfully a very proactive doctor and pills that helped. But I remember one night around seven weeks being very sure that this was the end, it was so much like last time, and falling into bed, exhausted, crying myself to sleep. I fought the fear as much as I could even in the face of symptoms that reminded me of last time. What I would say fiercely to myself is: "This isn't your story. Your story isn't that of losing two babies in a row. If that becomes your story, then you can feel that way. But right now your story is that of being pregnant again and you're going to choose joy as hard as you can. The only story you're allowed to tell yourself is the one that's actually true."

- We still shared our news early--with Angel's family on the same day we found out, with mine, a week later (because of distance/location issues). We announced to our friends on our birthdays a few weeks later, though still in the first trimester. What I learned from Baby Em is that I believe life deserves to be celebrated, and that sometimes you don't have as much time as you think you will to celebrate that life, so make the most of the time you have.

- I counted every day. Every single day. I had a routine. Every morning I'd wake up, and I'd color in one more box on the 40-week chart of boxes that I drew up on the very day I found out I was pregnant. I'd drawn up a 40-week chart last time, too. I didn't get to fill out very many weeks. But I didn't let that stop me from being brave enough to draw up a chart right away and fill out every new day. I also wrote down what number the day was--how many days I'd known about the baby, in my planner. I knew about Baby Em for 25 days. I waited on tenterhooks for the first 25 days this time. I at least wanted to get to be with this baby for longer than 25 days. At the very least. I wanted more time. I eagerly showed Angel my planner every time we reached a new milestone. I remember excitedly showing him the planner when it read 10 days--double digits. 50 days--a half century. 100 days--triple digits. Baby was born on Day 251 and I finally stopped counting days.

- I was so happy to have such noticeable morning sickness. It's harder to let your mind play games with you when you're throwing up most of what you eat, 2-3 times a day, for weeks at a time.

- I never felt like I was in any "safe zone," though I celebrated 24 weeks and 28 weeks and 33 weeks. Once the baby was big enough that Angel could hear his heartbeat, I had Angel listen for his heartbeat a couple times a day. I never felt super confident and ready to prepare for the baby. My baby shower was when I was 33 weeks along and I still felt nervous--what if it's too early? What if I don't get to bring my baby home? How will I give the gifts back? Preparing his nursery was a regular exercise in faith--faith that it was possible that I would get to bring my boy home. I prayed every day for his little body, at the same time accepting that sometimes babies don't get to live, though I prayed fiercely that this one would.

- I tried to be as 'safe' as I could the whole time. I didn't drink anything with the least bit of caffeine until well after the first trimester. I didn't color my hair or paint my nails during the first trimester. I didn't visit Subway or eat any deli meat for my entire pregnancy. I took my pills at the same time every day, never skipping one. I never missed a prenatal vitamin. And at the same time...I knew, most vividly, that in many situations it truly "doesn't matter" how 'safe' you are or how much you really really try to stay pregnant. Because I'm not in control of what happens to my baby or how they develop, and that's so very hard to accept. I did know it, and sort of accepted  it, but there's still that feeling of, "Well, at least I don't want to leave something undone that I could have done to help give this baby a good chance!"

- I documented more than I otherwise would have. I'm so not the "maternity photo" type. But I took belly photos every few weeks or every month because I knew I needed photos "with" my baby for as long as I could get them.

- I froze when people asked, "Is this your first pregnancy?" I must have seemed so weird. I know that lots of people can go through this experience with calmness and sensibleness and practicality but somehow that's not me.

- In the aftermath of well wishes and congratulations and everyone wanting to love on Cyrus and take care of him, I missed her even more.

- It was a 36-week journey of fighting to claim "He is able...but even if He does not" as Daniel's friends claimed in front of the fiery furnace. And the journey didn't end when I went into labor and they couldn't find his heartbeat for a while (even though I knew they were just looking in the wrong place and if they'd handed the monitoring thing to Angel he knew exactly where to find it), or when he was born and was purple and they took him away for a long time and didn't tell us why or even three months after we've brought him home, and it doesn't matter how much it makes sense because I'll wake up throughout the night to put my hand on his chest to check his breathing anyways.

For me, nothing before parenthood has caused C.S. Lewis's famous quote from The Four Loves to cut so deeply:

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. 

But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
03 June 2018

Target Practice

This weekend, we attended a formal 8-course Chinese banquet dinner celebrating our church's 60th anniversary. We took the "formal" part of the invitation quite seriously, and enjoyed a chance to dress up. It's a rare occasion that can get Angel to bring out the vest and tie! I even got a brand-new dress for the occasion, and brought out my pearl necklace that Angel gave me for our 3rd anniversary and the nice pair of heels I haven't worn since before my pregnancy.

The heels are important to this story. We'll come back to them.

The dinner was such a fun occasion. It was great to see our friends dressed in their best, everyone was happy and celebrating, and our table rejoiced in the fact that we successfully ate every last bite of each of the 8 courses, which is no small feat.

But...don't we have a baby?

Yes, he was there. Impeccably handsome in his jeans and collared shirt...and bare feet. Shoes is next-level, we'll save that for a black tie event.

He even stole the hearts of a few of the caterer's staff people. And he was passed around our table as various people wanted to hold him. He spent some time visiting my parents' table (an 8-course dinner is a lengthy affair), and when I went over to visit him at their table, I took off my heels for a bit to give my feet a break while I stood there and chatting with my sister, who was holding Cyrus.

Remember that I said the heels were important?

During our conversation, Cyrus leaned out from my sister's arms, and neatly threw up...into my shoe. Not on the church's carpeted floor, or anywhere else, but my left shoe now contained a puddle of milk.

One has to admire his aim.

I may stubbornly refuse to succumb to the old-fashioned "motherhood" style which involves fewer dresses and less blue hair....

But even the most stubborn of us cannot always escape from a shoe-full of regurgitated milk, apparently.