Sunday, May 23, 2010
When the new year came around, I thought a lot about what I wanted to accomplish in 2010. There are a million areas in my life that need improvement: I could exercise more, eat less, read better books, write more consistently, keep in better contact with my friends and family, be a better wife, improve my parenting skills, learn more about Microsoft Excel, etc, etc, etc. But my thoughts kept coming back to love. And I realized that what I really wanted was to end the year a more loving person than I was when I began it. Not very concrete, I know. But it's what I felt I needed to work on.
Thus far the bulk of my work towards this goal has simply been keeping the idea simmering in a pot on the back burner of my mind. I think having it there has helped a little in helping me cultivate a more loving attitude toward others, but more importantly it has given me an opportunity to reflect on the nature of love, helping me to solidify in my mind the nature of the thing that I want to comprise a larger portion of myself.
Following are a few of my thoughts and I'll apologize in advance for getting a little religious on ya'll-- I actually tried to write this post without doing so--but after many attempts I realized that, for me, God and love are inextricably entwined, so I decided to go ahead and leave it in. But there it is, your warning: there's going to be a little bit of Jesus Talk in this post, so proceed at your own risk.
Love as Purpose
My cousin Marc spoke at his younger brother's funeral this summer. He remarked, "When I was twenty-two, I knew everything. I could have told you exactly what you were doing wrong and how to live your life and fix all your problems. Now I'm fifty-three and I don't know much of anything at all. Except one thing: that God loves us. And that we are here to learn how to love."
During my pregnancy with Soren, I experienced some spotting. After a panicked visit to the Doctor's office in which our fears were neither fanned nor squelched, Abraham and I went to his Great Aunt and Uncle's house, where Uncle Bob joined him in giving me a priesthood blessing. I don't remember everything that was said in the blessing, but the line that brought me the most joy was this: "God gives us life that we may know love. Your son will experience that gift."
The words of both these men resonated with me in a deep, meaningful way, down in that part of me that recognizes goodness and beauty and truth. I truly believe that love is the only reason we are alive. And I am deliriously grateful that my son has, indeed, experienced "that gift."
Love as the Opposite of Fear
I've been learning recently about dialectics, the art at arriving at truth through a study of contradictions. The basic concept behind dialectics, if I'm understanding it correctly, is that two apparent contradictions brought together will produce a closer approximation of the truth. Self-preservation and selflessness are two seemingly contradictory concepts that were brought together when Jesus taught that "whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."
Living a life of love fleshes out the spiritual portion of our beings, it builds up the substance of our souls, it frees and brightens the light that makes up the core of every human being. People who live their lives based on the principle of selfish self-preservation will ultimately lose the best parts of themselves, because in refusing to let go and love they will never have the pure loving experiences that will bring them to the best of who they are.
Love is about seeing the very best an another person and encouraging her along the path to fulfilling her greatest potential. When she reaches a new height, love cheers. And if she's stumbling, or climbing back down the mountain, or even being rotten and tripping other people--maybe even trying to trip you--love will reach out without anger or criticism, gently steady and re-direct, and guide her back to an understanding of who she is and who she can become.
"There is no fear in love," wrote the Apostle Paul, "but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." Love is about letting go of yourself and giving to someone else-- regardless of what you think that person will do in return. Love is, as has been said in many contexts, the opposite of fear. Love is recognizing that you are merely a part of a greater whole-- the whole of humanity-- and that one person's joy, one person's accomplishments, and one person's happiness contribute to everyone's happiness.
Love as Sacrifice
Love is so much about giving. Giving when you don't want to. Giving when it's inconvenient. Giving what you don't want to give.
During my pregnancy with Liam, I felt overwhelmed by the misery of the endless nausea that, for me, accompanies those first several months. Hoping for a miracle, I asked Abe to give me a blessing. As part of that blessing he said, "Remember that eternity is a long time to love." I was still miserably nauseous after that blessing-- but it did help to remember that those few months of suffering were well worth the eternity of love that would follow.
Motherhood has taught me so much about this aspect of love. It has provided me with myriad opportunities to give even when I don't particularly feel like giving and to sacrifice the things I want (unbroken sleep, free time, peace and quiet) for the things that someone else needs (food, comfort, redirection, room to learn). And having the opportunity to give up my wants for their needs has been wonderful-- it has underscored and increased my love for them.
Love as Celebration
Love is finding joy in another's existence. This represents the bulk of the love I have for my husband. I simply adore the fact that he exists, the way he moves, the way he thinks, the things he says. I am happy that he is alive and that he is who he is.
People (ahem: me) often have a tendency to be critical of one another, to pick at differences rather than celebrate them. But love, in all her confidence, casts aside criticism and just celebrates.
I often muse that the best way to solve all of the world's problems would be to issue what I call "breeding licenses" to a very select group of people, people who have been properly screened for good sense and fully prepared and educated for the great task of parenting. But (I guess) a more ethical solution might be to teach the whole world to love. If humanity could just learn to give and accept real love, all its problems would melt away.
Those dang Beatles. They were right: All you need is love.
Love is all you need.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
mouth slightly open,
the very tips of two teeth peeking out.
Under one thick wrist is a cotton receiving blanket, the print a jumble of baseball bats and hockey pucks and catchers' mitts. The other arm supports the white-diapered bum of a sleeping infant whose thick legs, like yeasty blobs of sturdy dough, are curled together on Daddy's denim lap. The little one's three-dimpled elbow is bent just slightly, his five-dimpled hand rests on Daddy's chest.
They breathe together and the little one, lashes pressed against smooth curved cheeks, contentedly draws peace from his pacifier.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
There's a section in my "Positive Discipline for Toddlers" book entitled "Sleeping, Eating, and Toileting: You Can't Make 'Em Do It." My response to that? "AMEN/AAAARRRRRRGGGHH!" Sometimes it feels that my entire life with my three-year-old is one never ending power struggle, generally centering on these three things—plus sibling rivalry issues. What frustrates me the most is Soren’s utter lack of ability to use reason. I realize this is a developmental thing that will come with time, but his complete irrationality drives me to the brink nearly every day. An example:
Soren: NO! I DON’T WANT YOU TO CHANGE MY DIAPER! IT HURTS ME!
Mommy, patient and cheerful: I know it’s not fun, sweetie. But it will hurt a lot more if the poop stays on your bum for a long time.
Soren: I DON’T WANT TO HAVE MY DIAPER CHANGED!
Mommy, patient and cheerful: Just think: if you put all your poopoos in the potty, you would never have to have another diaper change again! Wouldn’t that be great?
Soren: NO! THAT NOT BE GREAT!
Mommy, a little less patient and cheerful: But anyway, for now we need to change your diaper. Come lie down.
Soren runs and hides behind the chair.
Mommy, trying to maintain semblance of patient cheeriness: Soren? Would you like to have your diaper changed on the rug in the hall or the one in the front room?
Soren: I DON’T WANT TO HAVE MY DIAPER CHANGED! I DON’T WANT TO HAVE MY DIAPER CHANGED!
Mommy, hurling positive discipline book over the stairwell: Dammit, Soren, if you don’t come out here and lie down by the time I get to three, you’re going to go to your bedroom for a long, long time! ONE…TWO….THR**
Soren comes and lies down. He waits until he is in a very precarious position in which poop could potentially be smeared given a wrong move, then starts thrashing around and kicking. This, of course, leads to lots of mommy fury, enraged bum wiping, and an unceremonious flight into his bedroom. And when Soren has been freed from his room, a similar battle follows. (Mommy: “Soren, here’s a rag. Come wipe up this poop.” Soren: “NO! I CAN’T CLEAN UP THE POOP! IT’S YUCKY!)
But Soren’s lack of rationality really rears its ugly head when Liam is around. Soren might spot Liam looking at him and immediately break into a series of convulsions and shrieking that closely resemble a multi-spirit exorcism. Last week Liam smiled at and began crawling towards his big brother. I initially thought this was cute; however, seeing Soren’s reaction, I had to look at Liam again to make sure he hadn’t morphed into a homicidal maniac crashing unleashed through the room with a freshly sharpened chainsaw. And if Soren reacts this way to Liam’s existence, you can only imagine what happens when Liam looks at or—oh, my various gods!—touches something that Soren thinks is his.
But it’s not all chainsaws and exorcisms. Sometimes Soren is cute, too. This is why I have not yet succumbed to the urge to list him on Craig’s List as “Free to a Good Home.” For example, last Saturday I took the boys to watch their cousin Arielle play in a volleyball tournament at the middle school in Shelley. Soren became quickly bored with the game but turned his attentions to the two “older women” sitting in front of us: a couple of volleyball players from Aberdeen waiting for their team’s turn to play. To win them with his many charms, Soren asked them their names (Kayla and Ashlee) and then proceeded to sing the alphabet song to them— not once, not twice, but three times. He informed me that Kayla was his “favorite,” and then told her, “I love you, girl.”
Soren’s been working on developing his sense of humor. It’s not uncommon to hear him say, “I was just teasin’ you, Mommy,” or asking “Are you just teasin’ me?” Occasionally when it’s time to change his diaper, he’ll lie down in front of me with his head where his bum needs to be. “Change my head!” he’ll say, and you can tell he thinks this is frightfully clever. (And yes, I do put a clean diaper on his head; it turns out that diapers make pretty decent adjustable hats.) One morning I put him in his room and told him not to come out until he was dressed (he is fully capable of dressing himself; he sometimes just thinks it’s more fun for mommy to do it instead). He was quiet for a few moments and then called, “I dressed, Mommy!” I came to check and found him still wearing only a diaper. I closed the door and waited a few more moments until he again called, “I dressed, Mommy!” This time when I opened the door he was running around the room with the upper half of his body stuffed into his pillow, bumping into things and giggling like a madman. “See Mommy?" he said, "I dressed!”
My kind parents, may peace be upon them forever and ever, took Soren to their house this fine Sunday afternoon around nap time and, after much ado, Grandma finally got him to fall asleep on her lap in front of the TV upstairs. Grandpa, not realizing that Soren had drifted off, began hollering from the basement: "Kathy! Kathy? Kathy!?" Soren stirred, woke up, and then said, just like Grandma would, "Yes, dear?"
And I must write about Walter. Walter is the name of the sunglasses holder on the ceiling of my car. Soren decided one day that the sunglasses holder, with its mouth-like veneer and two ey-lights above, was a man and that he, Soren, wanted to talk to "that man." Through their conversations, it came out that "that man" was named Walter, and Walter and Soren frequently have conversations when we're driving places. After we've arrived wherever we're going and Walter goes back to sleep, Soren frequently remarks: "Walter is a nice man. I like him."
Soren's been singing a lot lately— he sings a lot of childhood classics: “Skip to my Lou,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “The Farmer in the Dell,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” He also sings the Dora the Explorer theme song, a couple lullabies, a few primary songs. He makes up his own songs as well. Several times a day he'll ask me, in all sincerity, "Mommy? Do you know the muffin man?"
Tonight when I put Soren to bed I lay down with him and sang a few songs. He sang along a little, but my favorite was when I sang him “La La Lu,” and he sang along with me in his quavering little boy voice. “Wah wah woo, wah wah woo, my widdo star sweeper…” That sweet little human being, those gigantic blue eyes, the uninhibited little voice, the “w” sound instead of the “l”, the innocent tenderness captured in that disproportionate little body…it was enough to give me the strength to sustain his little life for at least another day.
Trying out Daddy's boots. Walking was a bit arduous.
Trying out Daddy's boots. Walking was a bit arduous.
**No, I do not actually swear at my child. But sometimes I want to.