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In which I don’t mind if my tinies see me on the computer

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for our littlest girl two mornings a week while the older two are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but I am usually at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour. Find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or the classroom – as unto the Lord. Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source: Getty Images Lean In Collection as shown on Buzzfeed

Continue Reading · family, parenting, women, work · 110

In which the moments are now ours alone :: on (not) blogging about my tinies

Sarah and Anne

photo by Tina Francis Mutungu

In the fading of the day, Anne was curled up against me in our beat-up old leather chair. I was reading, and she was just resting, watching me. We were rather quiet because the other two were watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood together. I had my hand in her blonde hair, slowly running my fingers through, she was precariously balanced, a noodle of a girl. Then we had a lovely conversation.

Maybe you’ve noticed or maybe you haven’t, I don’t know, but Anne and Joe have steadily been disappearing from my blog for a while now. I used to tell a lot more stories about them – their spirituality, their daily lives, their quirks, their new experiences, their wisdom, their frustrations – but the “mum-blog” aspect of my writing has wound down.

(It’s likely I’m the only one who misses it – the world hardly needs another over-sharing mother with a blog.)

I made a conscious decision to stop blogging about the tinies when they started kindergarten. I figured at that point – when they had friends at school, a presence in our community, a life of their own beginning to emerge – that they needed to know that their life was their own. So when they headed off to school, they headed away from my blog, too.

It’s been hard sometimes because, well, I’m a writer. It’s hard not to write about the most precious part of my life, the most inspiring, most rich and challenging part of my days. But I don’t write about the intricacies of their lives anymore – at least not publicly. (Babies and toddlers are fair game, so Evelynn still shows up a lot, particularly on Instagram since we’re together all day while the older tinies are at school. I tend to treat that medium as a her baby book (poor little third baby). But even with her young age, I try to be respectful with an eye on her future life.)

The tinies all know about my blog, of course. Before I post a picture of the older tinies, I ask if it’s okay with them. “Is it okay if I share this on Facebook? on my blog?” Most of the time they say yes, they get a kick out of it. Sometimes they say no, and then it’s just our moment. Sometimes I don’t even ask, I just know: it’s not for anyone else but us.

I do write about motherhood still, of course but now it’s more about Me As A Mother, my own journey. Details are obscured. No one is named if a particular situation warrants a mention. A couple of years ago, right about the time I was having these realizations about “war photographers” that I eventually wrote about for D.L Mayfield, I was having very similar thoughts about my own tinies.

And I’ll be honest with you: there are a few posts back in my archives that I wish now that I had not written about the tinies - I feel sad that I took a private moment and made it public, let other people weigh in on their lives. I was learning, and I get that, but still I have regrets. I have deleted them. I will make apologies when they are older: “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have written about that. Will you forgive me?” I’m trying to figure out a way to keep writing about mothering without using my children as fodder – and until I do, I’ll just keep erring on the side of silence and protection.

So that moment on the chair earlier today with Anne, it was ours alone. Even though the Writer-Me wants to capture the narrative and make some art, some connection, out of it, the Mama-Me is holding it close to the heart, protecting them. The days are moving too quickly sometimes. Anne is seven and a half, Joe is five and a half, Evelynn is nearly three. We have a lot of laughter, a lot of mess, a lot of frustrations, challenges, victories, and sacred moments. We have conversations that end well and other ones that end in eyes-rolling or yelling. There are things about the tinies and about this new season of our lives that are so incredible. But most of those moments will go unblogged. Those moments, those conversations, they’re ours alone now. I’ll jot them down in a journal, maybe someday they’ll show up in my writing but that day won’t come for a while – if ever.

I need my children to know that they aren’t blog fodder. I need them to know that they can grow up without an audience being privy to their sacred moments.

I need them to know that when they curl up around me in that old leather chair that their secrets are safe with me.

 

 

Continue Reading · blogging, family, parenting, writing · 83

In which I am learning to live with the ache

Evelynn newborn

Evelynn at two months old, photo by Rachel Barkman Photography

Our old baby crib is now sitting in pieces in the garage. We will take it to the dump soon (it has one of those now-outlawed dropsides so we can’t resell it or donate it). Whole sections of the bars are gnawed to bare wood by little teething babies, there are bits of sticker glue and swipes of Sharpie marker here and there, the screws are a bit loose. It’s in rough shape after nearly eight years and three big babies-to-toddlers in quick succession. There are a lot of sacred memories hidden in that dismantled old crib. The day we took it apart, I cried over that junky old crib. Goodbye, old friend.

It is likely that there are no more babies for us.

I was never one of those girls who wanted to have a houseful of babies, who just wanted to get married and have babies and stay home with them. I mean, I was okay with kids but it wasn’t my thing. I quit babysitting at 14 because I figured there had to be a better way to make money than that. And even after our miscarriages and challenges with fertility, I was unprepared for how completely transformative I found motherhood, how I loved even the mundane dailyness, how I found joy here.

I know that everyone’s experience is different, and I’m not saying that mine is normative but it’s real and I can’t deny it: I came into myself when I became a mother. I was reborn, all over again. The experience of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding my babies profoundly changed me AND it changed my view of God entirely.

So, of course, it’s hard to know that stage of my life is done now.

But it is.

It’s likely that I won’t ever be pregnant again, that I won’t carry a baby within me again, that I won’t ever give birth again. (Yes, I’m one of those awful women who loves pregnancy and giving birth.) When I think about not breastfeeding – one of the most real things I’ve ever done with this body – ever again, I catch my breath with longing.

And yet, I love this new stage of life with the tinies. Just when I think we’re at my favourite stage with them, something new comes along and I think, “oh, wow! no, this part is my favourite!”

People tell you a lot about how much parenting will change your life and they’re right. But usually they mean that you won’t ever sleep in again (you won’t) and a few other things about how much we “give up” to become parents. No one tells you how much you’re going to laugh. No one tells you how much wisdom resides in these small humans, how much they will teach you about love and life and friendship and forgiveness and worship. No one tells you how good and freeing it is to leave your selfishness behind. No one tells you about recapturing your own wonder and innocence, about re-reading the Ramona books, about playing football in the basement, about birthday parties and snow days and every day beauty. All the best things I know about the big nouns and verbs of a life came back into my life because of them.

But there likely won’t be anymore Bessey babies for us. Our family is complete, it seems, we’ll always be a Five-Family, as the tinies call us. There are many personal reasons why we’ve come to this decision as a family.

In my head, I know that this is the right decision. In my heart, I know this is the right decision. Brian and I are in complete agreement.

And yet there is The Ache.

Always The Ache, right underneath my lungs, in the pit of my gut, the ache of what that means and the grief of moving on, of love, of knowing: No more babies. No more nursing quietly in the night. No more flour sack of milk-drunk baby bliss. No more gummy smiles. No more tiny diapers. No more baby clothes. No more crib. No more baby wearing. No more new baby smell. No more of the millions of moments that knit your heart so completely to another small soul.

The season of having babies – the one that so radically changed me – is over. I’m okay with that. Most days, I’m even very happy about it, relieved perhaps. It’s an intense season of life, make no mistake. We’re ready for this new season, looking forward with anticipation to new things. Other days, it’s hard.

I know we like to pretend like we can have everything all at once. It’s a nice illusion. But there are transitions in our lives: times for certain seasons and times when those seasons end. Are we happier for pretending that we can have everything anytime we like? Or are we better when we acknowledge the end of one chapter of our lives, grieve and sing and give weight to the passing of it, and move forward? To everything, there is a season.

I am starting to think that, no matter how many children we have, no matter the reasons why, no matter how old we are, when you’re done having babies, we always carry The Ache.

I have a friend who had six children, and she said that she had The Ache when they were done. I have other friends who had two, who had The Ache. Other friends who had four or five or six. I have friends who are in their thirties with toddlers, in their forties with teenagers, other women in their fifties and menopausal, and they still talk about The Ache: I miss that still, they say wistfully. That was a nice time in my life.

I don’t know that we ever lose that ache. I don’t know if we ever get rid of it. I don’t know if we should. Maybe it’s meant to be there with us. So I’m learning to live with The Ache now.

I’m learning to let it be there, part of me, probably always a part of me, without justification or change of circumstance. When you have been given the tremendous gift of being able to have a baby, to give birth to that baby, to love that baby, it marks you. It should, perhaps, and so this season has marked more than just my stretched-out body, it has marked my soul.

The Ache reminds me of the great and terrible beauty I have seen, of what love I have experienced, of the sorrow and brokenness of loss, of all the love that is still here, of the wonder and miracle of life, of the sweetness of co-creation, of the labour and release, of transcendence.

Praise God, my babies are growing up and that is its own joy and beauty. I’ll miss toddlers in the same way, I’ll miss preschoolers, I’ll miss their kindergarten self, their Grade Two self, as well, and so on through their lives.

Right now, the Ache is for no more babies in my life. This was a beautiful time in my life, please notice that it’s changing. But the Ache changes and grows as we move through our years, I imagine, perhaps in proportion to the life we live, the love we gather and give. Someday, I’ll miss these very days, talk about them with the same language, perhaps.

And in another few years, the blink of an eye, I’ll be sitting in a house, alone: the laundry will be done at last, the house will be clean – and it will stay clean, and the floors will be quiet, no one will be asking me for anything at all, my time will be my own, and I will feel the full weight of The Ache for which I’ve been holding vigil at last. 

It’s simply the Ache of time passing, because this is what time does, and our souls are noticing the passing of a season, and it’s okay. It’s okay to let it Ache. It means we’re living and it means we’re loving our life as it stands, loving it enough to notice a transition away.

I am making my peace with The Ache, holding a bit of space for its presence in my life today. Someday it will be my old friend.

Continue Reading · baby, babywearing, family, giving birth, gratitude, journey, love, parenting, women · 307

In which I praise the village

it takes a village

 

image source

When I was in high school, I  heard the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” for the first time. But it wasn’t in a positive way – oh, no. It was being mocked by someone who had Very Strong Opinions about how a child should be raised.

“It does not take a village,” they countered back. “It takes a family! That kind of attitude just undermines the importance of parents in a child’s life.”

I’ve heard or read varying degrees of that same attitude when it comes to some of the conversations about “biblical” womanhood as people heap guilt on mothers or fathers for everything from choosing public school education to relying on babysitters or daycare, from Sunday School to family structures.

“I’ve seen the village and it is not raising my child!” I get that sentiment, I do. There are parts of our culture that I don’t appreciate or want to emulate in our home but those aren’t limited to sex and violence, it’s often also the consumerism or materialism, the prideful arrogance. Yet not too many of us think that we need to throw our children to popular culture willy-nilly, I can’t think of anyone who denies the importance of a stable and loving family for a child, anyone who thinks that by creating a strong community we are abdicating our roles as parents, not at all. Perhaps this has been a straw-man, political argument, one that doesn’t do us in the trenches any favours.

I spent a fair bit of tears as a young mother on the fallacy that I had to do it all on my own. I didn’t realise how much I had internalized the lie that I should be all things to my tinies until I was unable to do it. That lie made me feel guilty for hiring a babysitter, guilty for using a daycare, guilty for putting the tinies into school instead of homeschooling, even guilty for asking for help from my family when I needed help. Surely, I should be able to do everything on my own!

Our village has made me a better mother.  My old belief that I had to “do it all” myself and that I didn’t need anyone else to help left me exhausted and filled with guilt, drowning in misplaced pride and bad theology. And I didn’t do my tinies any favours.

Praise God for our public school teachers.  I look at my tinies thriving in their little community school and think, “Thank God!” Thank God for dedicated teachers who truly see and know and love our tinies. Thank God for their hard work, their patience. I can’t imagine the tinies’ lives without their beloved teachers. Bless the school principal who knew the kindergarteners’ names that first week of school, who plays the old upright piano at school concerts, who  stands sentry during pick-up and drop-off herself. Bless the teacher who isn’t afraid to say “I love you.” Bless the teacher who has high standards, who says “you can do better.” Bless the teacher who keeps an open door to parents and partners with us. Bless the school Christmas concert which single-handedly restored my faith in humanity.

Praise God for our babysitters, nannies, and daycare workers, for the ones who change diapers, who help with potty training, who serve up lunches, who show up “off the clock” to Christmas concerts and birthday parties, who sit and fold laundry beside us even after “quitting time” just so we can talk the little ones over together. Our two-day-a-week babysitter has become a beloved part of our family, and now we’ve adopted her entire family, too. Praise God for another family who delights in my tinies, for teenagers who serve as adopted cousins for tinies to look up to with big eyes, for another home where they are welcome and loved, for older women who not only care for my children but care for me, too.

Praise God for the church nursery and Sunday school workers, for the young ones without babies themselves (and all of their energy), for the older couples who have raised their babies (and all of their calming certainty), for the other tired parents who take their turn so that they could perhaps listen to the sermon next week. Praise God for the ones who go home from church covered in glitter and Elmer’s glue, who sing Sunday school songs all week. Praise God for them because my tinies love to go to church.

Praise God for the neighbourhood parents who stand outside to “keep an eye” on everyone, who buy the biggest bucket of sidewalk chalk so that all the kids on the street can use it.

Praise God for the aunties, for the grandmothers, for the uncles, for the grandfathers, for the friends who feel like family, for the public health unit, for the community centre, for the pastors, for the music teachers, for the dance teachers, for the hockey coaches, for the preschool teachers, for the carpool.

In my experience, the more people who love our babies with us, the better.

The more people who support us as we raise them, the better.

The more people who make little people feel seen and cherished and beloved, the better for us all.

There isn’t any need for guilt because we rely on our village as parents, because we are part of someone else’s village. This is the way we were created: to need one another, for family, for one another. It’s not something new, folks: this is called community.

I’m a better mother, we’re a better family, because of our village. It takes a village to raise a child because it takes a village to raise each other.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, parenting · 25