Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why I'm ditching the word "threenager"

My son Henry is three now. Three years is simultaneously one of the hardest and best ages. I can't deny it is hard. Everyone talks about two year olds as the worst but three has been by far the hardest for us. It isn't easy! Three is full of independence, self sufficiency, expression of complex emotions and learning social skills. These are not easy for child and caregiver to navigate. It is exhausting and frustrating. One moment they act like a "big kid" and the next they seem like a baby. They are in transition.

There's this phrase people use to talk about three years olds. Have you heard it before? "Threenager". "My kid is being such a threenager today!" This phrase has become quite popular in parenting circles and I hear it all the time.

I think the reason using the "threenager" phase is so popular is because people can see so many similarities. The problem is that we use this phrase for three year olds so negatively and consequently so negatively for teenagers. Teenagers are changing and growing in their independence, there can be a lot of high emotions and they are focused on their social circles. Teenagers are also deepening their sense of love and commitment in relationships, finding their passions and taking on new responsibilities. One moment they act like an adult and the next they seem like a child. They are in transition.

I have worked with both preschoolers and teenagers at the same time for most of my adult life as a preschool teacher and a youth worker. They do feel very similar some times (Like that time I finger painted with middle school kids at youth group and it was the best thing of their life). Three year olds and teenagers have much to teach us if we listen. If only we could just slow down with them enough to find the root of the issue they are having and lead with empathy. You are an example when your child is three years old and 13 years old. You are the adult. The way that you solve problems, communicate with family and friends and manage your emotions are the example they will see and emulate.

And I know you're probably going to call me a killjoy. "Gosh Amanda, it's just funny.  It's just a way for me to get out the frustration of dealing with them." And you can and should find healthy ways to release that frustration in a very difficult time of development. But I would challenge you to see the ways in which using this phrase could be coloring the lenses with which you see your child. What if we started calling three's the "transparent three's" the "thoughtful three's" or the "tender three's." How would these change the way we see them? Maybe it won't. But maybe, just maybe, it could predispose you to see the wonder, excitement, imagination and creativity of three (and teen).

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Going forward:

1) Spend some time thinking about your child and list three things you admire about their personality. Post them in a place you will regularly see them.

2) Try to find space for yourself to recharge once a week. One moment of filling your own cup can extend the longevity of pouring from it and giving of yourself. Even if you only have 10 minutes, do something that is just for you.

3) Try to make connection a regular part of your routine with your child. Go out one on one and spend time doing something they enjoy and enjoy them! Schedules get busy, I know. Set a goal that works for your family. Once a week? Once a month? You will know.





Sunday, January 8, 2017

Rhythm


Every year I try to pick one word to guide me.  One year my word was “Generous” another year was the word “Moments”. This year my word is:

Rhythm. 

I feel so busy all of the time. Being a pastor’s wife, a mother of two children ages 3 and 3 months…not to mention cooking and cleaning and play dates and music class. My 3 year old Henry is feisty and fierce and kind and loving and I love him so much but the days are hard sometimes. 3 year olds need so much connection and communication. They need a calm presence to get through big emotions. They take a lot of patience and intentionality. 

My 3 month old Bonnie is, well, 3 months old. She nurses all day, and although such a patient baby who loves to play alone on her play mat, sometimes she is just so very particular, like, “Hold me, but not while you sit, you have to stand. Don’t move either when you are holding me, just stand riiiight here. Oh you think you can sit down since I don’t want you to move? I SAID STAND, WOMAN!” And honestly my 3 year old wakes more often at night than my tiny baby and then everyone wakes at 6 am. 

I try making weekly date nights with my husband but that never works out. We're too tired and too overwhelmed. I know it's an important relationship to maintain but at the end of the night he wants to watch a movie and I want to watch youtube videos and so we do these things in the same space but we are not together. 

I am so happy in this messy life, I really am. But I am also tired and I often feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above the water, and I have to keep treading and treading or else I’ll drown. I have no time. I want to give my kids time. I want to give my husband time. I want to give myself time.

I don’t want to be a slave to time and routine either though. I don’t want to be strict and limited. I just want some healthy rhythms. 

I want to say that every day I will give myself space to do something just for me. 

I want to spend every dinner together at the table and talk to each other. 

I want a moment to spend outside every day with my kids (even if I really, REALLY don’t want to…it’s too cold!)

I want time with just Henry.

I want time with just Bonnie.

I want time with Just Wes. 

I don’t want a schedule. I don’t want a routine. 

I just want a rhythm. 

How can I create the best conditions for these rhythms to happen naturally? These are my ideas that I think will work for me:

  1. No social media while my children are awake. 
  2. Wake up just a bit before the kids do.
  3. Spend a little time right after they go to bed doing a quick tidy up.
  4. Reserve the evening for one on one reconnecting. 

Will I always do these every day? Probably not. But it’s a posture. It is a direction I want to go. It is not one more thing I need to do. It is a rhythm. A rhythm, I pray, that lifts me out of the overwhelming waters, and instead lets me splash and play in the waves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bonnie - Our Birth Story

My sweet Bonnie, this is the story of your birth. On the night I went into labor we were watching a movie called "The Little Prince". It is a beautiful story. We were almost finished watching it at 10:30pm when my water broke - which was quite surprising for me! I wanted you to come early, and most of the pregnancy I felt you would, but I had given up that idea because nothing in this pregnancy had gone the way I thought, and you were quite cozy and content in there. I had no signs that you were coming. I called my midwife and let her know what had happened. And she trusted me to come in when I felt ready.

When I got off the phone, I couldn't stop smiling. My baby was coming. I felt my heart fill with peace - something that wasn't always present during this pregnancy. You see, this pregnancy was rough. Not only was I physically sick for more than half of the pregnancy but I was also emotionally and mentally unstable for almost all of it. I was diagnosed with prenatal depression and anxiety. I did not have it before getting pregnant, but from 8 weeks - 8 months I had what often felt like debilitating depression and anxiety. My doctors, midwives and counselor all thought it might be hormone related due to the extra estrogen my body was producing (I think they were right as it almost completely disappeared as soon as you were born). I was also diagnosed with thrombocytopenia - a condition that can happen in 5-7% of pregnancies that causes low platelet levels in the blood. Low platelet levels can cause issues with the blood being able to clot properly. Levels under 100 get refereed to a hematologist. Levels under 90 cannot get an epidural. Levels under 70 are often treated with steroids, and at 50 is where they really worry about the blood not being able to clot. My levels went all the way down to 66. I was so nervous about this, even though it is well managed when the medical team knows the numbers are low. And to add even more onto my stress I was gbs positive which meant I had to get to the hospital earlier than I had wanted in order to receive antibiotics every 4 hours that I was in labor.

But in all this, I had peace and joy.

My contractions started an hour later and we decided to head to the hospital once they were consistent.

On our drive to the hospital I listened to George Winston, my favorite pianist, and continued to listen to his beautiful music throughout. We arrived at 1:00am and by 2:00am I got my first dose of antibiotics and was told I was 4 cm dilated. Since it was the middle of the night I told Wes to sleep. I didn't see anyone else for the next 4 hours until my next dose of antibiotics at 6:00am. Those 4 hours I sat on the hospital bed in the butterfly yoga pose with the lights off. I didn't want to move into any other position. My contractions were getting pretty intense but were never closer together than 8 minutes a part - with many being 12 minutes a part. Although Wes slept, I held his hand and he talked me through the contractions when they were too much for me to get through on my own. The contractions were painful, yes, but they are a beautiful pain. Because each one brings me closer to you.

At 6:00am I was given the dose of antibiotics and was checked again. I was 6 cm and so disappointed to hear that. If things progessed in the same timing as the rest of the labor I didn't know how I could go another 4+ hours with the pain. Oh, and I hadn't even see my midwife yet. She was planning on waiting until the nurses called her when my contractions were closer together or just come in at her regular scheduled arrival time to the hospital at 7:00am.

At 6:45am - 45 minutes after being told I was 6 cm - I had a very intense contraction and my body pushed. At 7:00am my midwife Patty arrived. Did I mention I had not met Patty before? Half way into my pregnancy I switched care because of our move, to a group of 3 midwives and Patty was the last one I needed to meet but just hadn't yet. She was a wonderful and kind spirit as soon as she walked into the room. I promptly told her that at the last contraction I had to push. "Alright! Let me go put my things down and get some stuff together and we can see how things are going."

When she left I had another contraction and could not stop myself from pushing again. My baby, I felt you move down into the birth canal. Patty came back in and I said "I'm so sorry. I pushed again!" She laughed and said "That's ok! Let's check you." When she did, she confirmed what I knew - I was 10 cm and you were there and I was ready to push. "We're going to have this baby now." She said as she looked into my eyes. This woman exuded compassion and wisdom and connection. "When you push I want you to look at me and keep looking at me. I will help guide you in your pushes. You can push whenever your body tells you to."

I pushed two times. On that last push, at 7:34am, you were born. As I pushed I reached down and pulled you out and brought you to my chest. You were so peaceful. You didn't cry, you just stared at me. My heart grew a million times bigger in those first moments with you. Every thing else faded away. Daddy kept trying to get my to pick your name (since we went into the birth with 3 names) but I didn't want to think about anything. I just wanted to look at you. You nursed right away and perfectly and we got to spend an hour of skin to skin with you before they weighted you. 7lbs 4 oz, 20 inches long. Your daddy was instantly in love with you, and of course let you stay on my chest for awhile, but he could not wait to hold you and talk to you.

Bonnie Irene Ellis, you are so special. You are 2 weeks old now and I feel like you've been with me my whole life. We love you so much and we have loved you before we even knew you. My pregnancy was hard. So very hard. It was awful. But you, my sweet, are good. You are peace. And you are love.





Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bonnie Irene - How You Chose Your Name

Naming this baby was anything but easy! When we were pregnant with Henry we picked his name about half way through the pregnancy and even announced his name to the world before he was born. With Henry, it wasn't really that we both just "knew" his name - it's just that we do not agree at all on boy names. We went through so SO many names that each one of us would immediately veto. Once we found one we both liked, Henry was named!

But with girl names we are the exact opposite. We BOTH liked the same 20 names on a list we made. 20 names!!! Eventually we got down to 6 names and stayed there for many, many months. I just couldn't decide. Every time I would take a name off the list, I would miss it and add it back. I really liked them all, and no one name jumped out at me as hers. They were all special to me and meant something particular. We eventually decided to take 3 names into the birth with us and hope that seeing her helped.

One of these names was Bonnie Irene.

Bonnie was on the list very early on. Both Wes and I loved the sweetness and simplicity of the name. We loved that it was a name people were familiar with but that wasn't used often. We loved the nickname Bo. It went nicely with the style of Henry's name. We even interviewed a friend named Bonnie on her name and how she liked it! It was one of the names that Wes favored the most from the very beginning.

I will elaborate in our birth story just how difficult this pregnancy had been, but it was not easy. A few months before she was born I was writing in a journal about how awful things had been emotionally and physically for me "But my daughter," I wrote "she is good."

Bonnie means "Good."

For a while I thought that maybe the way she was born might help narrow down her name. My birth with her turned out to be quick, uncomplicated, beautiful and calm. When I grabbed her and pulled her to my chest she just stared at me. She didn't cry. She just looked into my eyes. She was so peaceful.

Irene means "Peace."

Irene is also, more importantly, my wonderful Aunt Debi's middle name (and my great grandma's middle name as well). There is no one more perfect as my daughters name sake. Anyone who knows her can tell you how sweet, loving, caring and very silly my Aunt Debi is. She is someone I have always felt loved by. I have always felt I could trust. She has lifted me up when my depression and anxiety seemed to take over my life, and she has lifted me with joy as we have shared countless memories of laughter. She is someone I want my daughter to have as a quietly powerful woman to look up to. To remind her that love is not aggressive or manipulative but patient and kind. I love my Aunt Debi more than I can say, and I know how much my daughter will love her too.

I took about an hour after she was born to officially name her, but I knew right when I saw her. Together one interpretation of her first and middle name is "Beautiful Peace" or "Good Peace" and really, she named herself.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Birth Body


I'm coming to terms with my post birth body. We were at odds for a bit.

After I had Henry, the first time I got up in the hospital to walk, I knew this body was different now. And as weeks went on and I healed, I still noticed that this body isn't the one I knew before. All my bones and joints felt different. My hips felt literally stretched out. I even walked differently! It took so long to get use to the one I had before (Yes, "skinny girls" wish they had different bodies too. We all want what we don't have! I wanted those curves, girl!), and now I had to get to know this one too.

Most women have scars and stretch marks after birth. But some how they are still "shameful". People are terrified they will get them, and are mortified when they show up. BUT IT'S NORMAL!

I read this article http://weseekjoy.blogspot.com/2013/12/babies-ruin-bodies.html?m=1 and WOW. I began to see my body differently. I hated my post birth body. My stretch marks are mostly on my breasts, and one in particular. They aren't pretty. The marks on my left breast cover the sides and all underneath and will peek through if I wear anything low cut. There go the days of bikinis on the beach! I know I am blessed in the weight department. All the weight I gained was the baby and as soon as he was out, so was the weight. Cool I suppose. Everyone comments on it. "You don't look like you had a baby!" But I do underneath what you can't see. I bear the marks of a baby who lived inside of me. I have a small section on my side that has stretch marks from where I kept him safe and warm inside my body which doesn't bother me at all, and the majority of the scars on my breasts after he came into this world as I fed him with this body that God made.

A couple of months after my baby was born, and I was still down every time I looked at my body, I asked my husband to take pictures of my stretch marks as a way for me to heal and process them. And it was healing for me. I didn't just want to take pictures of the scars, but I wanted to take pictures of them with my baby next to them, as a reminder of the breathe taking creation they came from.



                       





So why do I feel like I need to share these publicly? I could just have them for myself for my own personal healing. But I guess I just want others to know it's okay. My body is perfect. Your body is perfect. I want to be another voice to eradicate the media's ideal of a perfect body. All bodies are beautiful. Especially when I think that these particular scars are directly tied to the birth and life of my son.

You may have more or less scars than I do. You may have a lot more. But this is my story. No one is more or less fortunate in their post birth bodies. They just are. And they are beautiful because they carried LIFE.

Look, I don't LIKE them. But they are mine. These scars are a part of my story. They will stay with me. They remind me of the journey we took as a family, growing and preparing for this baby to join us. They tell me I am strong. They tell me I am patient. They tell me I am loving. They tell me I am mom.

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I wrote the above post 2 years ago. I have written many versions of it but I wasn't quite ready to share it. But I am now. And when I look at these pictures 2 years later and see that gorgeous start of a smile on my sons face, the scars fade away. And just as a reassurance to some, all those scars faded away. You can still feel them, but you can't see them anymore. The ones on my side are special to me as they are so close to where I carried my child. When my hand accidentally brushes up against them I am reminded of those days when I pondered if I could ever love him as much outside the womb as I did inside. Well of course I love him more outside but it's still a very special thing, those months with your baby so very close, just you and them, growing together. Our bodies are weird. And strong. And precious. And bad-A. Be kind to that body. Learn to love that body. It is yours. It is not perfect. But it IS perfect.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

How (Not) to Inspire a Child's Creativity

Last week I let my son paint with some oil paints. Art has always been very important to me. I come from a family of very artistic people and my parents never withheld quality art supplies for us to experiment with. Crayola colored pencils? NO WAY. We had Primsmacolor colored pencils - the good stuff - at our finger tips as young children. And I want this for my son too, even at 2 years old. I want him to experiment with all kinds of mediums and create how ever and whatever he wants to.

So back to the oils paints.

I thought this would be a fun idea - something we could hang in his room. And then I immediately regretted letting a 2 year old paint with oil paints. Not only was this messy - like how the hell are you suppose to get oil paint out of clothes?! - but he mixed all of the colors together and the canvas literally looked like a giant poop smudge. And I might not have even minded a poop colored oil painting if there was any kind of pattern or cool splattering effect. But it was all covered in a giant blob.

A few days after letting it dry, that poop colored blob starting me in the face, I decided to make it usable. I couldn't have that hanging in his room...but maybe I could fix it. So I took my son Henry's painting and I used the back of a pen to carve out a big letter "H". Ahhh much better. Now it has purpose. Now it looks cool. Seriously, it looked kinda cool because the colors underneath shown through. So I carved it out and let it dry for a few days.


But each time I passed that big "H" my heart felt heavier and heavier. I had taken my child's work of art and made it my own. My son is only a toddler, but toddlers are smart. This says to him "I'm better at this than you." "What you made isn't creative" "Your vision of art is ugly" "Your art is not good enough" "You are not good enough". 

Henry liked his painting. He smiled when he made it. He laughed when he mixed the colors. He was enjoying being creative. He was delighting in his art. It was beautiful simply because it was beautiful to him. 

And I ruined it. 

I took a beautiful painting and I made it into something I thought had been redeemed but in turn I ruined it. How could I do this when creativity is something so very important to me? Giving my children full reign of their art experience is a core philosophy for me! How could I have done this?

And while I am sad that I took my sons art and made it into my own, I am glad it happened. 

It reminded me of what matters. It reminded me that art and creativity are vital parts of humanity. It reminded me that art is about the process, not the product. And if art only exists to please others, we've missed the point. And I never want my child to make art solely for others. I want him to do it for himself. Because he finds joy in the process. Because he laughs when he experiments. Because HE finds it beautiful. 

I decided to take a better look at his art area in our house and make it even more Henry friendly than I had it set up like before. My goal is for him to have an creative space where he has: 

1) Access art materials at his level at all times and that

2) Those materiel be appropriate for use without close supervision.

I removed all of the art supplies that were at his reach that I could get frustrated over ending up on the walls or floors: basically I only left washable materials at his reach: ultra-washable crayons, markers ink pads and stamps. If any of these get on the walls or floor they are very easily wiped away! No problem!  

I moved the sheets of paper down at eye level so he could grab one whenever he wanted. I moved all the paints, watercolors, colored pencils and other materials that needed more supervision up high so I could bring them down when we wanted to try a new art medium with careful supervision. 





Friday, January 15, 2016

Down to the River to Pray - A Self Weaning Journey

My sweet babe has begun to self-wean. I have been asking my husband Wes to take pictures because very soon, any day now, I will look back and realize it was the last day I nursed him. So I am cherishing these moments. Remembering the long nights of nursing every 45 minutes during a growth spurt. Nursing to sleep every nap and every night and every wake before the sun came up (until just a few weeks ago).

For those unfamiliar with breast feeding beyond a year, it is commonly referred to as extended breastfeeding. The World Health Organization recommends "Exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond." There is no real number for when a child is ready to wean on their own, but it's generally going to be between 2 and 3 years old. 

Extended breastfeeding looks much different from the early days of nursing, but it is still very important for the toddler as well. We often see breastfeeding as purely nutritional—only nurse to feed the baby—but nursing is calming, centering, and soothing too. My child will nurse when he falls down, when he's having a tantrum, or when he is overwhelmed and just wants to be close. I am a centering figure for him to look towards to feel confident and independent and curious and adventurous. And I am blessed to be that. I know not everyone is able to breast feed, for various reasons, but if you can breast feed—do it! It is messy, it is frustrating, it is beautiful, and it is glorious. Now my child is finishing this journey. And all children do. I am so thankful that I’ve been able to wait until he is ready to wean on his own.

It is a hard journey to breast feed. It is one of the most tangible ways a mother gives of herself. It is giving your body up to nourish that precious baby who needs you to live. What a wonderful gift that is. An amazing thing to go through...my body sustains life! I remember being pregnant and thinking "Yeah, sure I'll breastfeed. It's cheap - it's FREE." (If you know the penny-pincher I am, this shouldn't surprise you). I had no idea. I had no idea the power it would give me. The love it would trigger. The bond it held together. The sisterhood it created.

I could not have gone through this journey had it not been for the amazing women who came along side me, who told me it was okay to text them at 3am if I didn't know what to do (and I did text them!), who skyped me and watched me nurse and helped me position my baby in a more comfortable way to promote a better latch—the women who came over the week after his birth and listened to me cry because it hurt and because I didn't know if he was getting enough—and the women who told me it was okay to nurse as long as both my child and I wanted to. (Thank you. All of you. You know who you are).

A few weeks ago, on Christmas Day, my family was sitting around and singing (as we often do). My brother and Aunt and I started singing "Down to the River to Pray" and we began to sing the verse that says:

"O Mothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O Mothers let's go down
Down to the river to pray"

Just as I started singing the words, my sweet baby came up to me and asked to nurse. I cradled him in my arms and sang these powerful words about mothers as I looked into the eyes of my child. Love overflowed in my heart and tears welled up in my eyes. Everything else faded away as I sang about mothers while participating in a part of motherhood that is as old as they come. That ancient practice that connects child and mother to one another. It was as if the voices of those women of the past enveloped me with love and courage, swirling around me, binding us all together in beautiful harmony.

That night I felt incredible joy as I reflected on my story of breast feeding and the community of women who surrounded me in love and wisdom. I have had a beautiful breast feeding journey. Everyone's journey is different. And this is mine. 

Just a few days old

Look at those eyes!
Look at dat latch! :O
One of my favorites - a candid shot
Beautiful Photoshoot I got to be apart of for Breastfeeding Awareness
taken by the amazing Kristy Powell
(Henry and I are on the far right)
Self Portrait for World Breast Feeding Week
All the laughs
My happy boy
Early morning hammock nursing - relaxing!
I call this "Selfies and Nursies"
More Selfies and Nursies
Most recent (and probably last) picture of Henry nursing
"I'll love you forever, I'll love you for always
As long as I'm living my baby you'll be"