Friday, November 6, 2009

We Carry Them

We are both wearing babies, me and this girl, barely eight.
I am folding laundry and she is walking for water, or for food,
or away from bullets, from fire, from rape. We are both barefoot,
but I am standing on carpet and she is crossing sand,
wading through deserts. We have both made our carrying cloths
but mine is soft and clean while hers is a tired shawl, barely a rag.

I want to take her into my house and hold the baby so she can rest.
I want to feed her macaroni and cheese, to give her my shoes and
my good jacket. I want to knit her a hat and make the baby a blanket.
I want to tell her that wherever she is going, she will find shelter
and that the baby will live.

It's easy to have these good intentions towards a photograph.
Nothing is required but sympathy, that delicate ache that rises and falls
like an ocean swell....and that can be just as fleeting. It would be
easy to turn away from the picture and forget both of them by the time
I finish putting away towels. Chalk it up to a moment of rich American guilt
and move on. After all, the things I want to do are silly and impossible.
She's half a world away, buried under war and hunger and plague like
a survivor of earthquake under a collapsed house. It seems foolish-- even arrogant-- to think that I can do one thing to help her or the thousands upon thousands like her. It's like trying to stop the tsunami of human pain with
a bucket.

But I know Someone who can help her, who knows her name and the name of
the baby on her back, Someone who fathers the fatherless. When I pray for her,
He listens. And I have to believe that my kindness matters, even if she can't receive it herself. All of the tiny threads of love-- carrying my child, cooking for my daughter, teaching little ones about God, giving what I have so that others may go serve-- form a web that can blanket the world. I cannot love her but I can love those within my reach, and they may love those in their reach, and link by link the chain stretches even to Africa. Blessed are the feet that may take her the gospel, blessed are the hands that may give her a cup of cold water cold water in His name. May my feet and hands be blessings to those in front of me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


You pull me out of the ether
down from the nebulous dark

When my heart drifts,
a black balloon under blacker clouds,
you tether me to earth
with your cry, your hunger,
your relentless need.

I never knew that
helplessness could be so powerful
that you are caring for me
by your inability
to care for yourself.
Your fear makes me
Your weakness gives me

You pull me down out of the ether
out of the nebulous dark
You shepherd me through storms
until we rest by still waters,
until we sleep on solid ground.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Laundry Prayer


Thank you for this pile of laundry.

Thank you
that my house is filled with people whom I love
who have health and vigor enough to get dirty,
who live and laugh well in their clothes,
which you have provided.

Thank you
for machines to help me wash and dry,
for the little hands that help me fold,
for the closets and drawers to hold what is clean.

Thank you
for baby drool on my t-shirts
and chocolate milk spots on my daughter's playdress,
for the endless parade of dirty work socks in my husband's boots.
These things are the footprints of blessing
and if those footprints are at times muddy,
it is a grace that we may tidy up in their path.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Skinny Saturdays: What Goes Up

Today was my first week back on the Weight Watcher wagon and I went up-- seven ounces. Not the most spectacular start, but in some ways it's more motivating than a loss. I remember now how hard it is to lose weight and how much focus, drive, and genuine lifestyle change is required. I have to ask myself why I'm back on the program-- to convince myself I'm making an effort so I can feel better or to truly change my relationship with food so I can live better.

I'd like to say I know for sure which one it is. I'm not thrilled at the thought of giving up the drive-thru hamburgers and french fries, the chocolate and the cookies; I'm not ecstatic at resuming my clumsy and awkward attempts at an exercise regime. Eating wrong is effortless. This time around, I'm more aware of what is required for long-term weight loss. Life overhaul anyone?

Small starts. This week is the launch of my incredible ingeniously inspired Pounds of Yarn project. Fast food is keeping me fat. The illusion of convenience, the easy's looking for love in all the wrong places. I needed to find something I loved more than Wendy's. Hello yarn.

For some reason, I have lately been struck by the inexplicable desire to Knit Something Big. Something exquisite, something indulgent, something voluptuous. Then, as if the stars themselves were aligned for me, I discovered Cherry Tree Hill's design contest, a challenge featuring their beautiful new line of semi-solid hand-dyed yarn. The rules called for substantial garments of at least six skeins, which fit my Big Knitting dream perfectly.

So over the next few weeks, the twenty bucks a week I've been blowing on artery-killing hamburgers will be going for yarn. I'm designing a full skirt that will satisfy my knitting muse and keep me out of the drive-through. My goal is to be at least five pounds smaller by the contest deadline, which is Dec. 31st. What will triumph....fiber or french fries?

Only time will tell. Stay tuned for the next Skinny Saturday update.

my biggest fiber obsession, sponsors a design contest every year, and this year's challenge features a beautiful new line of hand-dyed semi-solid yarns that just beg to be knit into something glorious. The contest requires at least six skeins of yarn, which is no small investment.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Little Pretty Things

I love! It's become quite an addiction-- who can resist beautiful handmade pretties, especially when you have two little girls? My latest find was these two headbands from bohosoulchild, a spunky little accessories boutique. I couldn't resist posting a picture or two of my ladies modeling their fashionable new look.

Aren't they cute?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blogging Baby: My Sling Makes Me Brave

When my daughter River was about three weeks, her older sister Ember and I were in serious need of a change in routine. A walk to the playground was not going to cut it this time-- we needed to emerge from the New Baby Cave and do something radical. I took her to the beach. By myself.

How does a mother survive a trip to the ocean with a three year old and a three week old? I had a plan of action, plenty of snacks, extra pairs of underwear for everyone.... and I had my wrap sling. We came, we swam, we conquered. No one drowned or disappeared or lost a sandal. Cue the superhero music.

Now I am not one of those mothers who are blessed with organizational skills that make five star generals turn green with envy. I am...scattered...more often than I would like to admit and still learning how to properly keep my home, my kids, and my husband (who needs more care and feeding than he'd like to admit). I don't have a daily planner or a dry erase board with a week's worth of projects assigned to their neat, orderly boxes.

I do have a sling.

You see, wearing my baby makes me brave. With River tucked up on my chest, a modern day papoose, I feel that I can go anywhere or do anything. I can clean house! With a newborn! I can go to the beach in the middle of tourist season! I can go grocery shopping or clothes shopping without fear! I can even go to my local writer's group without worrying whether or not my baby will meltdown in the middle of the group reading. I have my baby sing and I have my breasts and that's all I need for a happy, secure little girl.

People tell me that River seems like such a "good" baby-- a term I have never liked because what mother wants to be told her baby is "bad"-- because she is so contented. She is pretty easy going but I don't think its just her disposition that makes people marvel at how peaceful she is. For most of her day, from the time we roll out of bed until the time we tuck in for the night, she is worn. We do everything together and the benefits are already obvious. She is bright and curious about her world. The prolonged periods of fussing I expected with an infant have never happened. Nursing usually solves her moments of unhappiness and when that doesn't work, a ride in the sling is like magic.

Sometimes I wonder how much "progress" helps us as mothers. At one time, everyone wore their children. Then we became more civilized-- supposedly-- and caring for young children became more and more like a battle...parents vs. the relentless demand for attention that comes with a newborn. Popular theories advise parents to "show their kids who's boss" and "let them cry it out" and are based in the assumption that a newborn is a manipulative little tyrant. Hold your baby and you'll ruin her for sure! This same logic encourages women to force their babies onto a nursing schedule and wean early because it is more convenient than prolonged breastfeeding.

These theorists forget that maybe babies just want to be held, that maybe the Creator designed them that way. My daughter Ember was worn much of the time and breastfed until she was two and a half, and she is nothing like the spoiled, clingy baby the "experts" said I would create by these practices. I look at River and see a beautiful peace that comes when she is in the sling and I know that this is how we were designed. It just fits. Instead of controlling my life, my babywearing allows me to include River in our daily routines, meeting her needs for comfort and security while still getting my work done. It makes me believe in myself as a mother-- that yes, I can love and nurture two children and still get the dishes done most of the time.

Babywearing makes me brave.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Blogging Baby: Mothering Deconstructed

Tonight, I'm ripping apart a half-finished nightgown I was knitting for River. I started it a month or so before her birth, visions of a cherubic infant clad in an organic cotton sleeper dancing in my head. A serious pattern misstep led me to set the project aside and I've just now picked it up again. My first intention was to finish the project...until I held it up and realized it was long enough to cover two of River. The real baby-- the one in my arms-- looked quite different than the dream baby I saw while I was knitting.

Mothering is like that too these days.
I prayed for River for almost a year, carried her for nine months, and birthed her; I carry her next to my chest, over my heart, and give her milk that my own body has made-- even if it's three in the morning. But will I be a nominee for the Bad Mama awards if I admit that there are times-- daily-- when I miss life before this much-loved little tornado came into ours lives? While I couldn't imagine not having River, I find myself missing the days when life was routine and predictable. Everything fit into a pattern, like my knitting project. Now all of a sudden there's a newborn around and nothing is business as usual. Bedtimes, naptimes, housecleaning, cooking, bath times, play time....all have an added dimension of challenge. I find myself looking at this stage of mothering like I looked at my baby nightgown-- quite different from the mothering to which I had grown accustomed with Ember.

So I find myself ripping out those ideas too. I'm not the mother I was before River came. Instead of a mother of one, I am a mother of two. When I started to unravel the flawed nightgown, I was surprised at how much relief I felt. I was surrendering my idea of how things were supposed to be and accepting how they were so I could make something better. The same goes for mothering my two little ones. What worked before may not work now but that's where God's grace comes in. He sustains me, daily, while I put together a new pattern, one that fits the joys and challenges of our growing family. I don't know what the finished project will look like but I can rejoice in the process because it's not my work alone but His work in me that will bring us to what He meant for my home to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blogging Baby: Wild Horses

If you were to ask me what my strongest emotions were during the first two weeks of River's life, I would say wonder and gratefulness and joy. I would also say grief.

Grief? Wait, this is coming from the mama who experienced an amazing birth followed by recovery so speedy that I went to a play at my sister's church two days after the baby was born. This is coming from a mama whose newborn slept for three hours stretches at night almost immediately and is content to nurse and ride around in the sling during the day. Why would I grieve in this profusion of blessing?

In a nutshell, heart expansion hurts. Like my belly grew and stretched during the nine months I carried the baby, now my heart must grow and stretch from loving one to loving two. Ember captured my heart completely from the moment I pushed her out...I had no idea how much one human being could love another. For three years, we have been two stars in the same orbit, Mama and Baby. When I held River, that same tenderness and caring surged through me but at the same time came an ache. I knew that my relationship with Ember would forever be changed-- for the better, yes, but not without thorny places. For many of these early days I've felt as if I was between two wild horses. My love for Ember and my love for River pulled at me constantly....the intense demands of a newborn matched against a toddler's desire for attention and affection. Even though Ember loves her baby sister, the process of learning to share Mommy hasn't always been easy for both of us. She's stretching too.

Now that River has been around for three weeks, the growing pains are easing. There are still moments when the grief-ache returns, when I miss the time when I could give Ember my attention exclusively, but I know that she needs this transition. Part of bringing her up into maturity is teaching her how to share Mommy's love with her siblings and how to put another person's needs ahead of her own. Her sacrifices look different than mine-- she has to give up some lap time and wait longer to get a snack or a juice-- but they are no less significant.

And then there are the times when I get glimpses of what our family will become, when Ember and River are both content and peaceful. I lean back to enjoy the moment with my little ones and know that even wild horses learn to run together.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blogging Baby: A Well-Used Minivan

Our normal-- perhaps at times mundane-- lives are occasionally punctuated by moments of brilliance, of sacred and profound beauty and jaw-dropping amazement. Pushing Ember out and holding her in my arms was such a moment; the birth of my second daughter River was another, though in a startlingly different way.

River Lynn McSpadden came into the world at 6:20 a.m on June our minivan.
Yes, the minivan. In the driveway.

Everyone-- the midwives, my doula, myself-- expected me to go over my due date by at least a week since I went over with Ember. The contractions I felt at night on June 11th were identical to the practice contractions I'd been having for weeks, so I went to bed as usual. I woke a few hours later when the contractions continued and decided to take a bath to see if that stopped things. Nope. I was still skeptical that I was in labor so I spent the next few hours walking, dozing, sitting in the rocking chair. The contractions remained mild-- to me-- and were five to seven minutes apart, which made me think I had a while.

At 4:45, the intensity had increased a little and I woke Josh to tell him I was calling our doula to get final confirmation that I was in labor. I explained to her what was going on and she confirmed that I was in early labor and most likely had a while to go because the contractions weren't that strong. She suggested I eat some watermelon and brew some red raspberry leaf tea to get things going. We called my Mom to come get Ember, who had been such a big girl during my labor. She would hold my hand and remind me to use my "special breathing" and she'd rub my back during contractions. A future midwife indeed!

After Ember was gone, the contractions began to intensify quickly and we called our doula back to tell her that we were headed for the birth center.

We never made it out the door. Because we hadn't anticipated to actually go into labor on my due date, we had nothing packed. My poor husband was rushing around the house trying to find the number for the midwives, clothes for both of us, a bag to take to the hospital....all while I was in the bathroom hollering my way through transition. The contractions were incredibly strong and at the same time I felt a pushing sensation so intense it was practically subconscious. It seemed my body was pushing on its own without my brain telling it to do anything.

Shortly after 6 am, we gave up packing and just tried to get me to the car. My mother-- who had come by with watermelon-- dialed 911 for a police escort so we could get to the hospital more quickly. River had other plans. We were halfway down the sidewalk when I felt her crown. I reached down and held her head, and told Josh the baby's coming. He said "I know, we have to get to the hospital". I said "No, the baby's coming now"

He managed to get me to the minivan, where I knelt on the seat to deliver the head. He helped me get my clothes off just in time to deliver her shoulders. She slid right out and my husband caught our beautiful baby girl. He cleared her airways and got her breathing-- and crying-- and we moved the umbilical cord, which was very loosely around her neck. He wrapped her in whatever we could find and handed her to me to nurse for the first time. She latched right on and our journey as mother and daughter began.

Few other times in my life have been so sacred.

Josh is my hero-- I don't know many guys who could deliver a baby in their driveway without so much as breaking a sweat. The Lord blessed us with a rare gift--catching our daughter together-- and I thank Him for safely bringing River into the world.

And yes, we did have the minivan cleaned.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Once Bitten: A Twilight Review

Until recently, I've been leery of the Twilight book series and the recent movie adaptation simply due to the insane amount of hype. Any cultural phenomenon that attracts hordes of rabid teenage females for its fan base garners my instant suspicion, although Lord of the Rings had its share of such admirers and I never held it against that franchise. Beyond my aversion to participation in a frenzy over anything, something about the series made me uncomfortable. I read part of the first book and found the writing bland but serviceable. the characters mildly stereotypical but companionable, and the plot interesting enough to keep me meandering from one page to the next. I put it down when my morning sickness became too much for me to read at that moment and I've never picked it up again.

As far as the movie goes, I found myself wanting to watch the movie just to see for myself what caused all the fuss. It never made it onto my list of movies worth buying a theater ticket so I waited for it to be available elsewhere and generally forgot about it. The ever-present merchandise only heightened my skepticism of the movie-- everywhere I looked there seemed to be t-shirts and posters of the brooding Edward Cullen hovered protectively over the doe-eyed Bella Swan.
It looked like the Red Bull of teen melodrama. Not my cup of tea, I thought, and moved on. This past week, however, my husband was out of town and my curiosity returned so I took a few nights and watched the movie after my daughter was asleep.

And I liked it.

::smacks forehead::

Maybe it's the fact that I'm a hurricane of pregnancy hormones right now. Maybe underneath my independent exterior I'm a swooning little romance addict. (Perish the thought) Or maybe, just maybe, Stephanie Meyer did a few things right with her vampires and teen angst. I didn't have to look far in the movie to find flaws or creative choices with which I disagreed but what hooked me was the strong archetypal pull of Bella and Edward's relationship. It is as if in the midst of all the teen melodrama Meyer stumbled upon something truly resonant about masculine and feminine interaction. Forget the cliched talk of vampire-human love as metaphors for sexual confusion or isolation; these lovers have a more mythical appeal. Bella, the damsel in distress, is a strongly feminine character and Edward, brooding and sometimes painfully uncomfortable with his own power, is masculine in the vein of classic heroes. Their interaction showcases an idealized version of what men and women have to offer each other that each gender uniquely can provide.

And let me tell you, underneath all the feminist talk and modern propaganda, teenage girls want to be feminine. They want to respond to strong masculinity...not the brutish repressive stuff but the "protector and provider" role that God originally designed for men. Heavens knows we don't see much of that in reality these days, so when it pops up in such a clear way in a book or a movie, girls are drawn to it en masse.

Perhaps that's why I found the relationship compelling, despite certain somewhat silly aspects of the story and the hyper-emotional trappings. Archetypal characters draw us in and remind us of the larger ideas-- not necessarily what masculinity or feminity looks like in a fallen world but what it should look like. From ancient times to the modern multiplex, human being crave stories of male and female heroes bound together in epic, dangerous love. It is refreshing to me that such tales continue, even if it's in a hyper-popular teen melodrama.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Real Babymoon

You don't have to pick up too many pregnancy magazines to hear about a babymoon, a popular trend in which couples take a vacation together to celebrate their last months of independence before baby arrives. The concept has merit-- after all, the introduction of a new life changes the dynamic of a couple's relationship forever and expands their focus. Rather than exclusively focusing on meeting one another's needs, now there is another demand on their attention, one that is loud, messy, and exhausting. Taking a trip to savor one-on-one time isn't a bad idea, but like many other areas of pregnancy preparation, the idea of a babymoon has been blown out of proportion by the commercial machine. Lavish vacations to Europe, the Carribean, grace the pages of the magazines, advertising extravagant resorts or ritzy cruises. The indulgence is excused because it's an escape from the impending reality of parenting.

Now, I'm all for a romantic getaway. My husband and I did just that a couple weekends ago. To celebrate the small window of time that we have a weaned toddler and no nursing infant, we sent my daughter to her grandparent's for a night and headed down to the beach. Eighth floor view of the ocean. Private balcony. Whirlpool tub. Dinner at a restaurant fancy enough to require a new dress. It was great fun and a refreshing chance to just be merely husband and wife for an day. But it wasn't extravagant and it wasn't an attempt to forget the "harsh" reality of parenting.

Throughout my pregnancy, but particularly in these last few months before Baby M makes his or her debut, I've been thinking about another definition of babymoon. It would read something like this--- babymoon: a time of celebrating the relationship between you and your child before your attention is divided by a new baby.

See, my daughter Ember and I are buddies and we do everything together. Since she's only 2 and 1/2 that goes with the territory but it's not merely baby-wrangling that I'm talking about. She gets all of my attention--- whether it's playing in the soapsuds after we wash dishes, cuddling on the couch for an impromptu snuggle, reading stories before we take a nap together, playing tea in the bathtub. We take trips to the library, to the merry-go-round, to Target for pizza and breadsticks or Panera for hot chocolate and a muffin. Just the two of us. As much as I anticipate the arrival of the new baby, as much as I rejoice in the expansion of our family, part of me will miss these days of special togetherness. She's going to have to learn to share me and I'm going to have to learn to share myself, which shouldn't be too much of a problem as soon as I hold that little one in my arms and fall in baby love.

To savor these last few months of Mama-Ember time, I've declared us to be on babymoon. We're not going to Europe but we have gone to Starbucks on a Big Girl Date. We've gone to the beach to get sand. We do small crafts together or snuggle a little longer before bedtime. We read more stories. Little, tiny things that not only celebrate the time we've had as peas in a pod but also celebrate the change that's coming. I have to say that I've enjoyed this far more than I would some break-the-bank trip meant to escape from parenting. My babymoon is a time of small, simple celebrations of the sweeter side of parenting, praising God for the daughter He's given me even as I make room in my heart-- and my lap-- for the child yet on its way.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Stuffed Animals

Warning: this post contains explicit reference to stuffed animals, a known source of cuteness and even corniness, so go ahead and roll your eyes now

You never forget your stuffed animals.

We adults may not be able to remember most of the Christmas presents or birthday presents we received in our childhood, much less every toy we loved, but there seems to be a wrinkle in our brain reserved for our first-- and best? -- friends.

The queen of the nursery in my case was Red Baby Doll, so named for her red cotton braids and velvet red dress (with matching cap of course). She shared my cradle, my crib, and my bed for many years and naturally we did almost everything together. When I packed a tiny suitcase for my first trip away from home, she was with me. When I developed my bad habit of biting my nails, I chewed up her plastic fingers as well so we'd look alike.

While she was certainly the ruler of the roost, I had an entire collection of well-loved, well-used stuffed animals. My love for narrative surfaced at a very early age and the gallery of stuffed animals were characters in stories I made up for us to play. I remember once turning my entire room into a cave that was a secret hospital for wounded soldiers hiding from the Nazis. The animals, of course, were my soldiers and I was the brave army nurse, tending their wounds with the sound of German boots above my head.

My daughter, at two and half, plays more simple games with her animals-- trips to the cookie store or horse riding lessons on her toy pony-- but it's already clear they have her heart. There's Daddy Monkey, who is currently Head Animal and the one most likely to cause meltdown if he's absent come bedtime. Daddy Teddy is newer, a thrift store find we brought home for a quarter, but he's also popular on the pillow circuit. We have a whole slew of baby animals-- Baby Monkey, Baby Teddy, Baby Bear, Baby Lamb, and Baby Tiger. (Baby Tiger, she informs me, is often mean to Baby Monkey and has to go into time out). Some of the animals, such as Mama Lamb, were mine when I was her age and have been called out of attic retirement to serve a second generation. All are loved and all have a unique role. Daddy Monkey is an essential sleeping buddy, now often joinred by Daddy Teddy. The Babies are her story-making friends-- she can spend forty-five minutes enacting her made-up narratives, which often mimic her life. She nurses them, puts them to sleep, pushes them in her stroller, disciplines them when they fight. Often our errands are not complete unless one of them is with her, along with his or her "diaper bag" of essentials. Some of them don't look quite as plush as when they entered our home-- Daddy Monkey, for instance, has weathered at least one bout of stomach flu---- but even the smallest animal is missed when he's not in his place at the end of the day.

Tonight I was cleaning up her little family, noticing how one looked worn out from washing or another had managed to (yet again) lose his shirt and the thought occurred to me--- this is a lot like the family of God. Some of us are missing a bit of fluff or a button nose; some of us have been through the washer a time or two. Our stitches show, evidence of loving repair jobs on the rips and tears we've accumulated along the way. We do different things, have different purposes, but we are all very much loved. We are all part of the story God is telling, and He has specific roles for each of us to play. At the end of the day, when He gathers up his family to bring them home, we'll all be in our places around His table.

The thought, while not terribly original or profound, made me smile. Sometimes the best role models for our daily walk are right under our noses, or in this case, on my daughter's pillow.