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tradition!

14 Dec

Welcome to the December Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk Traditions

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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A certain newborn may be faulted for our procurement of a 2009 holiday tree at what some might call the last possible second — Christmas Eve — but in actuality I think we could’ve managed a trip to the tree lot if there’d been some kind of pre-set plan. A presumed time with corresponding stop at cute cafe and a swing by the most festive neighborhood lights display before heading home to drink cocoa in our matching Hanna Andersson jammies. Also, you know, two-thirds of us are Jewish, so this may not have been a realistic scenario. But you get the idea.

Since George has been alive, I’ve put my holiday planning into overdrive which, to me, is really intense but, to you, might look significantly…um, less so. Not impressed by that L’Shana Tovah banner I hung in the front window for Rosh Hashanah, eh? Well, I tried.

This year, we’ve persevered despite having a two week-old sapping our energy as one of our thirtieth birthdays passed by and realizing the night before Thanksgiving that we may not have money to buy the makings for the standard Macy’s Parade-watching quiche (we scraped it together). But, do I want George to be a part of a make-it-work-with-a-little-felt-and-a-WIC-check kind of family? Little by little, we’re getting it in gear and I’m pleased to report that Hanukkah has been our best showing yet. Homemade food, homemade gifts, thoughtfulness in the place/face of blatant consumerism and as much family time as we could muster with a papa who works two jobs. That said, our biggest, most tradition-y effort still lies ahead.

I’ve talked a little bit about George’s naming ceremony, or brit shalom, in the past, but it, like his first birthday, always seemed a loooooong ways off. We chose a name to honor a very special lady, picked a date for the party and made the invitations, and even THEN its imminence didn’t sink in. We’re now at T minus about two weeks, and I am staring down the barrel of the first culturally significant milestone of my baby’s life. An event steeped in tradition. And meaning. And I’m a floppy felt banner in the window sort of mom.

This was all giving me a serious case of the worries until one of our dear friends said something that I know resonated with, well… everyone in the room at the time, because it applied to all of us in different ways. Your children won’t remember that you’re poor; they’ll remember that you loved them. Will George look back on photos of his naming ceremony and birthday party and think, “Wow! What a tiny, crappy house! And you couldn’t spring for a real mohel?”? Or will he see all the friends and family? Will he see the homemade food and decorations for the loving contributions they were? I needed to check myself and stop reading so many design blogs.

The facts are these: We aren’t wealthy. We aren’t organized. We aren’t a traditional family. But we’re creative, and as I assembled and addressed the invitations to George’s naming ceremony and birthday party this evening, I took heart in that. Because some years, we might not get a tree until Christmas Eve. We might have fettuccine alfredo for Thanksgiving dinner and make Purim costumes out of the Goodwill bag. But I’d bet money that in the pictures, we’ll be smiling. And that’s a tradition I can get behind.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

the big One

13 Dec

One year ago this evening, we were on a snowy freeway, heading home from a day in Anacortes, making jokes about giving birth in a snowbank on the side of the road. When I awoke at nearly 3:00am — fewer than six hours after arriving safely home — I had no idea that I’d be a mother before the sun came up.

That morning, my body’s efficiency — my own innate and unwavering knowledge of what to do (or what to allow my body to continue doing) amazed me. Being so totally powerless to biology, to oneself isn’t something I’d have guessed I’d enjoy, but I got out of that birthing tub feeling like I could do it all again, immediately, and love it just as much. My birth experience was a lucky one: short, comfortable, in the most perfect venue I could imagine (can you think of a hospital that would welcome an already-pushing woman with a warm bath, dim lights and candles? Or a home birth you don’t have to clean up [yes, this heavily influenced my decision; I am lazy]? Didn’t think so.). Of course, the luckiest part of my birth was the result: the tiny, bald grouch we got to take home.

Every day of motherhood, at least so far, is different. Some are so good I feel almost as triumphant as I did when they first plopped George onto my chest and I knew I had done it. But those days wouldn’t be so great without the converse: the sleep-deprived, rainy, shit-on-your-clothes days when you’re begging an infant, please, just tell me what to do. I’ve found, though, that despite the insistence that I’d forget childbirth — the “so the species can go on” half-joke that serves only as one of many sexist scare tactics pregnant women and mothers face — what I’m forgetting instead are those regrettable, difficult why-won’t-you-end days, in favor of the wins.

This year, I’ve gotten to know myself in a different way. I’ve become less self-conscious in order to be present with my child. I’ve made stupid faces and funny noises and sung in public and been (mostly) unconcerned with how I look to all but one little person. I’ve changed my expectations, let my sleep, my free time and my body be temporarily hijacked. And, you know what? I’m doing a good job. He’s a happy, loving, trusting, communicative, confident boy. Not afraid to make friends with strangers, proficient signer who’s finding his words, giver of unsolicited kisses, giggler and enthusiastic try-er of anything.

The way we all begin is common by definition, and in the past I may have been tempted to apologize for parenthood’s inherent cliché, but having a child has given me an appreciation for our individualities, for the fact that we each have a story. George’s started a year ago and I’m a lucky sucker for getting to be a part of it every day. Celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite things to do, and this is the big one. The big One.

Happy birthday, chicken. I love you the most.

(black and white photos by Tiffany Burke. Hire her; she rules.)

santa

13 Dec

I try not to do things at my child’s expense, but sometimes laughing at someone’s expense so as to create a Treasured Memory is excusable. …right?

Don’t answer that. The Santa at Yeager’s ruled.

disappointment

28 Nov

With the holidays approaching (and with them, the birthdays of most of George’s little friends), I’ve been waist-deep in production and all the stuff that comes with it. Trying to figure out what to make. Pick fabric. Choose trims. Do it right. And once it’s made, hope the recipient likes what I’ve done. Anyone who handmakes gifts has made something that was poorly received. My own favorite story — the word ‘favorite’ being a relatively recent development, as the multi-level bummer finally wore off — is of making something for someone who probably thought she was being tactful by tasking someone else with the chore of asking me for the gift’s receipt. Whether I should’ve taken the fact that the thing passed for storebought is the only possible positive of the whole deal, because when the middle-woman asked for the receipt, she turned what may have otherwise been a somewhat laughable oh-haha-err-awkward! situation into a fight. “It’s HOMEMADE?! What were you thinking? You should’ve just gotten her NOTHING. Can you at least get her a real present now?” Seriously. If you will, dear reader, please imagine my response and make it as — ahem — colorful as you’d like.

Regardless of how shitty that lady was, the sting of disappointment is harsh when you’ve worked hard on something that isn’t well received. It can feel like a personal affront; your choices and efforts are entrenched much deeper in a handmade present than one bought in a store. And sometimes that fact falls on deaf ears…or into unappreciative hands.

When I was pregnant with George, I told my mother — a longtime smoker — that she could not continue to smoke and have a relationship with my child. As a child myself, my parents’ smoking was a constant embarrassment and nuisance. Like when you give someone a homemade gift (George is, afterall, about as homemade as gifts get), the gift my mom got in her grandson was not customizable after-the-fact or exchangeable for another size or color. But the gift she got was good. The only appropriate reaction, in my book, is akin to mine when I was given my first, beautiful handknitted wool sweater: what do I have to do to keep this gift as perfect as it was the day I got it?

My mother’s reaction was… not that. Over the past year and a half, she has lied about giving up smoking, told me the cigarettes in front of her weren’t hers, insisted the smell on her clothes wasn’t smoke, and snuck away during Thanksgiving festivities to light up in the bathroom, bringing with her upon her return a foul stench that required my entire family to bathe when we got home. Before we could collapse into bed with a tired infant whose sling also reeked of cigarettes, who was exposed to third-hand smoke for an entire day. And that was my last straw.

I love my mother. We have our issues, most of which revolve around situations just like this one, wherein she has sold me out in favor of someone or something more important to her. But there will be no selling out of my kid, and I didn’t hesitate for one hot second when I called to say we’d made it home through the snow to add that until she stops smoking, she will not have the privilege of seeing George. Because she’s setting a bad example. And even if you don’t believe the studies about third-hand smoke, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that a baby should not smell like cigarettes.

I wish I could say that my mom’s reaction was a hearty hey-whatever-it-takes-because-I-love-that-kid. But it wasn’t. And my feeling was similar to the one you get as you watch your friend or family member’s face go from I’m-opening-a-present-this-rules! to ummm, WTF? when they peel back the tissue paper on your homemade table runner and matching napkin rings. But, like I’ve had to do with people who felt my gifts missed the mark, I’m letting go of my mom’s complete lack of appreciation for what she’s been given. If she chooses to throw it out, that’s entirely up to her.

eleven

15 Nov

Dear George,

You’re under the weather, lately. Getting some molars, disagreeing with kiwi, sleeping funny and copping major attitudes.

You’ve started pushing me away when I’ve pissed you off, smacking me in the face for taking away whatever it was you wanted to put in your mouth.

Sometimes it drives me crazy. Nobody likes getting slapped in the face. But this newfound will of yours makes the times you reach for me, the unsolicited fly-by kisses, the resting of your head on my knee that much sweeter.

You shake your head yes and no. You greet the cats every morning when we (finally) get up and around with an “at, at, AT!” When you think we’ve missed your emphatic ‘all done’ sign, you garble it — “AHH DAA!” You say ma ma mamamamama. You gag on anything sweet.

You are my favorite and my best and I can’t wait to hear what else you have to say.

Happy eleven months.
Love,
mama

tiny dancer

13 Nov

There is no denying that this boy is mine. His preferences are becoming strong and obvious. I do my damnedest to keep my own likes and dislikes, however emphatic, out of the equation, expose him to everything I don’t find strongly objectionable. Bananas, even. That is how committed I am to creating a well-rounded child. I will stomach the handling of bananas, my own personal kryptonite.

We listen to a lot of different music, as his newfound love of dancing is so intense. We’ve always had a few iTunes playlists for different occasions, and we’ve listened to them over and over, like I am wont to do. We listen to the news while we eat breakfast and lunch. But he’s come up with his own sign for music, which involves a little shimmy and half of the ‘more’ sign. Imagine a really uncoordinated, wobbly Bollywood dancer, sitting down. The extended version of this is him actually dancing. And the more enthusiastically he does it, the more he likes the tunes.

Last night, we took George to our friend Amy G.‘s show. It was energetic, slightly awkward and dank. Just the way I want him to come to know basement shows. I am especially thrilled to have a little night owl on occasions like that one. He got to see a woman he likes in real life show off her talents. Sing honestly. Scream a little. And the music was good.

BUT.

This morning, as he has done every morning for the past several weeks, when he woke up, he did his little turn-on-the-tunes wobble and I scanned the radio for something good. I stopped on KUGS but whatever was playing went completely unnoticed. Then, the classical station. Nothing. Also, THANK GOD — no reaction to the (already?! seriously?!) all Christmas station. Finally, we settled on the classic rock station. Roxanne. Both hands in the air, little body swaying, grinning like a goon. Then, Southern Man. Head bobbing, hands waving. Grunts! Neil never got a better review. Classic rock, my (not so) secret love. The music that feels like home, like being young. I’m glad it’s what resonates with him and I hope that doesn’t change so when we roadtrip it down the coast, or when I surprise-pick him up from school for a pizza lunch and movie date, we can turn on the radio and sing along together. Because it’s fun to put on your hipster best, to lament that you forgot your earplugs (again) and shiver the November night away to punkrock in a semi-familiar house/garage/basement. But sometimes, what fits is pajamas in your bedroom with your baby…and America.

wherein i pretend i know anything about anything

9 Nov

When I’m not listening to the same mix cd that’s been in the car for a year, which I do, which is undoubtedly the source of much frustration for anyone who has to ride in a car with me, I am listening to NPR. Or Coast to Coast AM, no lie. Because I have a soft spot in my heart for crazies and the entertainment of their theories. A few days ago, George and I were on our way to the store when we heard a story on NPR about the global market. The gist of it (because my googling skills are failing and the NPR website isn’t yielding anything pertinent) was that children born now will almost assuredly live and work abroad at some point in their lives if they are successful adults.

Of course, the definition of successful is subjective. Many people (myself included) would judge a life of homesteading, tending land and babies, as a successful one. This, however, is not what they meant and not a luxury everyone — or even most people — can afford, kind of ironically. Living simply is often an expensive course to chart. It takes space to grow and raise your own food. Money to buy that space. Money to cultivate your land, get yourself some animals, house them. If you really wanted to know, I could give you the going rate for any kind of livestock you’ve got your eye on. And what they eat. And how much. And how cute they are. Because I’ve been begging for sheep, goats, ponies, a cow — you name it — for years. But this is not the point of my story (please buy me a pygmy goat for the love of god, anyone).

The report talked about the global community, how it effects the global marketplace and what that means for the future. Trends we can expect. I would’ve found it dreadfully boring if I didn’t happen to have a baby, about whom they were actually (indirectly) talking. He will, if successful, live and work abroad at some point in his lifetime. My first thought: he can’t live across an ocean from me. No way. After that, I began thinking about what that potentiality meant for him and his little friends. Ordinarily, I think about the “global marketplace” with some disdain like they just mean jerks in business class and ill-fitting suits, but this particular piece referenced many occupations that would be borderless in the future: teaching, journalism, even service jobs. And that lead pretty seamlessly into what he would need to be well-equipped in another country. Any other country. And my first thought was his health. Vaccines.

Ughhhghladgnslkngnblfdknb you are so not doing this, are you? Oh, but I am. Because I’m a hippie, totally, sort of. But, still, part of me breathes in Barney’s and wants to do a fraulien Maria hilltop twirl, wishes on eyelashes for a Jaguar despite Consumer Reports’ horrible reviews, eats Velveeta nachos once a year… and vaccinates my child. Against horrible diseases that kill people daily in other parts of the world. Parts of the world where he may, someday, live and work if he is a “successful” adult. Of course, he could get these vaccines later, should he decide to do as NPR suggests he will. But, you know what? I have a friend who lives in Indonesia. And one in Venezuela. And Morocco. I think George would like those people, and they would like him. Should I restrict my travel to places the CDC deems “low risk”? Should I rely on my own assumed immunity and the assumed immunity of those around me? Or should I abide by the adage about those who assume?

Mine is a somewhat unpopular perspective among the people I know with babies and young children. Many friends have opted out of vaccinations completely and some are on an alternative schedule (which I can appreciate, Dr. Sears aficionado as I am). I’ve done plenty of research. I’ve been selective about the manufacturers and combinations and presence of preservatives. We’ve been lucky enough (if statistical unlikelihood = luck) to not have any side effects from shots other than an extra long nap. If that weren’t the case, I may be singing a different tune. But probably not. I’ve had the vaccine debate with lots of people and while travel has entered the discussion, it’s been considered a luxury — a hope for which I’d like to be prepared. Now I have one more talking point. One that doesn’t amount to your child could, basically, kill my child, before he’s old enough to be properly immunized against whatever’s going around the playground (ahem — whooping cough). So, yes. I am a hippie parent and I vaccinate. You know, just in case George doesn’t grow up to be a pygmy goatherd.

wordless wednesday: one year ago today

3 Nov

the best costume for the day

23 Oct

Today we went to the pumpkin patch. I had never been to a pumpkin patch, at least not one that I remembered. This one kind of blew my mind: apple pull-aparts with caramel and ice cream, photo-ops a plenty, a rocking horse corral, chickens(!) and a contraption that lead a goat through a path into the air where it stopped to take a nap and your child could ring a bell furiously from a seemingly related station on the ground. What? I know!

The farm was huge and beautiful, with an apple orchard where you could choose an apple and eat it straight from the tree for a mere 25 cents, which is a markup of about ten percent from the grocery store down the street from my house that sells exactly the same apples. If you care about those things. But I don’t! So we did that.

I dearly love dressing George for these sorts of outings. Wondering which jacket, romper, hat or t-shirt will become one of his signature pieces — the kind you look back on in photos and remember wearing — is such great fun. This was no exception, and since I knew we’d be taking lots of pictures of him, his little baby BFFs and us as a family, I made sure his outfit was representative of what he normally wears but still festive. I tried to do the same for myself, but there’s just no competing with a vintage Izod hooded, argyle sweater. Without further ado, here we are, as style-y as we get with any regularity:



I simply can’t bring myself to take a straight-on, posed photo of myself, you guys. Those who do this monthly or weekly, my hat is off to you.

On me:
t-shirt: art in the age of mechanical reproduction
cords: old navy
jacket: Ralph Lauren, from Macy’s
sneakers (almost dead, alas): Jack Purcell, from (I think) Famous Footwear, like 3 years ago
sunglasses: F21

On George:
sweater: vintage IZOD, Value Village
pants: Target
onesie: Carter’s, but probably from Value Village
legwarmers: mama-made, from some ladies’ cashmere socks
shoes: Robeez, hand-me-downs

ten months

14 Oct

Dear George,

Everywhere we went this past month, people asked how old you were.

Nine months, I would say.

Oh, big boy! they’d reply, almost invariably.

Big boy, indeed. Happy birthday, chicken.

Love,
mama

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