What Words Can’t Describe

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It’s all been said before I suppose; hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of mothers have put pen to paper – or more currently, finger to key – in some desperate, yet wholly inadequate, attempt to summarize motherhood. To grasp for a tangible explanation, searching for sentences among the unending diaper changes and middle-of-the-night feedings, and all those events that transpire between first haircuts and first dates. So we piece together the wonder and frustration, the sacrifice and the reward – the overwhelming juxtaposition that defines motherhood. But I, like those before, must ultimately raise hands in defeat.

It sounds trite to say, but I know it now as truth, that there are no words, nor collection of words, that can completely describe what it is to mother. The act of mothering a verb – is an action and thus in its truest sense can only be lived first hand. These concepts are admittedly abstract in a world that demands the concrete – action plans and step-by-step guidelines complete with glossy pictures. So we acquiesce and strain for words. We write books and blogs and journal entries. We weave stories about being stretched – sometimes wrenched – beyond comfort zones; we compose love sonnets about dewy skin and dimpled elbows; we describe tales of skinned knees and spelling bees and reading stories under the covers at midnight. And they’re true, every story told. And inspiring and insightful. But they always fall short – because no one conception or articulation can come close to summarizing the experience that, intuitively enough, must be experienced.

As incomplete as our renderings may be, each story of motherhood is so unique and beautiful that they deserve to be told. Honestly. And as I sit here now, watching my own little girl sitting askew under her rudimentary fort, set up haphazardly along the outskirts of our living room, I can’t help but notice she’s already mothering. She sits, concentrating hard, tending faithfully to her menagerie of penguins and monkeys and lambs. And some day, Lord willing, she’ll experience this mothering gig first hand. And I’ll sit down, wrinkled and grey and still as much in love with her as I am now, and grab a steaming cup of tea and listen to her story. Because she’ll have a good one to tell – one all her own.

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I guess that brings me to my own story. I always loved that portion of Luke (2:19) that describes how Mary, after the pain and the birth and the exhaustion and the triumph and the glorious announcements by angels and bowed knees of shepherds – after all of that – “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Other translations say she “remembered them often.” I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately, mulling over my treasures, and absorbing the lessons learned and the distance come. Memories of two years past – two years that have brought the most dramatic change in my life. Motherhood.

The preface to this story was the swollen belly where life was nourished for nine months. This awe-filled, Divinely-orchestrated, mind-boggling span of growth. Dizzying mitosis takes us from two celled blob to an eye-lashed infant with opposable thumbs. Some mothers sit in rapt wonder at the process. I was too busy studying the inside of the nearest toilet. As the prenatal term drew to a close, I felt…unprepared. Not physically or logistically – I was surprisingly calm about the birthing process, and had read the requisite books (mostly to conform to some culturally-implemented ideal that new mothers must consume a certain ration of public opinion and advice before birthing can commence; also a cultural construct…that any of this reading will be worth a nickel once the screaming child is in arms). I washed the onesies and folded them neatly in the drawer, but I felt emotionally stunted. My detachment, neutrality even, was maddening. I enlisted the help of my sister – a veteran mom with three kids and another on the way. I sought encouragement and she delivered. Why, I asked, was there no flurry of excitement. No welling of anxiety. No wild love and unhindered connection to the life inside. “I’ve felt the same way” she assured me, “but trust me, once your little one is placed in your arms, you’ll feel it.”

So I waited. Pregnancy passed like one surreal dream. Suddenly the dream – and the quiet – was punctuated by loud, hearty cries. She was here, and just like that we were parents. And I waited some more. For that feeling. That magical feeling you read about in books and watch on TLC shows. That feeling that deep down I know I was dreaming about all along. Expecting while I was expecting. But it didn’t come. Those first days, weeks, and even months I felt like I was caring for a stranger – nourishing, bathing, changing, rocking what seemed, at best, a distant relative. Flesh-and-blood instincts failed me, and I felt betrayed, and worse, guilty. I felt as though I had been denied that love-at-first sight experience that any good mother would surely feel. I willed myself to feel. To experience uninhibited love. Why is this so hard I lamented, shamefully at first?

I know now. God orchestrated all those emotions and experiences to demonstrate just how complete my love could become. And with less than two weeks to go until the birthday descends on our abode, I can’t find the words to say how much I love her. To the moon and back sounds like a good start (thanks Sam McBratney). Motherhood is all those things you’d expect. All the things the books tell you. Exhausting and terrifying and hilarious and wonderful. But it’s more. More in ways that I can’t describe and could never have imagined. I love her so much I ache. I love her so much I just want to squeeze her little body so close to me that we morph into one. I want to bottle her toddler smell to spritz in years to come when she smells like hairspray and nailpolish. I want my skin to forever imprint the feel of her soft hair under my lips each night as I whisper lullabies. All this still fails to describe my love. It is unspeakable. And ultimately, it gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm where we grapple to comprehend “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:18)

And so, just like Mary, I treasure and ponder and hold all these things close to my heart.

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Some Parenting Inspiration – On a Dreary Wednesday

It must have something to do with early onset second-birthday-syndrome. Maybe I’m in denial that this little creature, once so tiny and dependent, is growing leaps and bounds every day.

This all makes me even more grateful for all the hard-working parents before me, and the ideas they have so kindly left in their wake. Periodically, I thought I might highlight a few of the new insights I’ve picked up. Most of the things I take note of aren’t yet applicable in our own parenting adventures, but I jot down fun traditions, practical discipline tips, and everything in between as it crosses my path.

Here are a few things that have piqued my interest lately. These are completely random in nature, so bear that in mind as you read!

Sweeping Guide: Tape off a small kitchen tile with coloured/patterned tape, and have your child sweep dirt (or, if they’re younger, maybe something more exciting like toy blocks) in to that area.

Praise Report: Each evening at supper, go around the table and give a “praise report”, noting something positive you’ve noticed another sibling/parent do throughout the day.

Pirate Supper: Cover the table with newspaper, and make a “hands-only” supper (pizza, finger foods) – no plates, no cutlery. How COOL would that be for the kids and such an easy clean-up for the parents.

Practice Birthdays: On a random day, at breakfast, bring your child a mini-cupcake with a lit candle. Tell them it’s to help them hone their candle-blowing techniques before their real birthday.

Half-Birthdays: Along the same lines…celebrate half birthdays with half a cake and a half-used candle.

Memorizing Numbers: If you want your child to remember your phone number, make it the pass code on a smart-phone/tablet device. For addresses, take some index cards and write the number, street name, city, province/state, postal code, country etc., on different cards. Mix them up and have the children learn to put them in order.

Fair Doesn’t Mean Equal: While we don’t have any sibling rivalries to deal with yet, I remember complaining about “fairness” and “equality” lots when I was a little girl. One Mom used a simple object lesson to show that fairness doesn’t always mean “equal-ness”. She picked a favourite family recipe and had the children all add the same amount…of every ingredient. Same of sugar, flour…baking soda…salt. It’s a pretty powerful lesson that sometimes fair doesn’t mean equal, and being equal in all things (maybe having the same bedtime as an older sister) doesn’t always give a favorable result.

Indoor Campouts: No electricity, no TV, no microwaves, and everyone sleeps on air mattresses in the living room. I loved camping out in the backyard as a kid, but this option would work year-round!

Banana Sushi: A banana, covered in peanut butter, rolled in Rice Krispies. You could take this to a whole new level with melted chocolate for wasabi. Adorable.

Birthday Interview Book: Ask your child the same set of questions (there are templates ALL over the web) on their birthday from ages 3-18 (favourite colour, what they want to be when they grow up), and watch how they change!

I have a whole notebook full of more ideas, and I’ll post some more in the near future!

Operation: Soother “Bye, Bye”

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You know that saying: “All good things must come to an end.” Well the time had arrived in our household – the soother had to go.

Abby’s start with a soother was precarious at best; we tried multiples shapes, sizes, and brands to no avail. Girl was picky from the start. Given that she seemed to cry round the clock those first few months, I was understandably disappointed that all my attempts to introduce a soother to the equation were thwarted.

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I suppose I should have left well enough alone and even been pleased since no soother meant no soother habit to break. When she was two months old we moved to a new apartment, and I stowed her defunct batch of soothers – all adamantly rejected – into an obscure pocket in her stroller. It was a stressful, sleepless few days, and when I couldn’t get her soothed in the midst of boxes and boxes and feeling the overwhelming desperation for her to just be happy (I’d have settled for a grumpy quiet) for a few minutes, for some reason I thought of those rejected soothers…all inaccessible in her stroller.

Coincidentally, the previous evening we had been gifted a “gag” gift of sorts by our close friends who had just returned from the UK. Their purchase – a pair of soothers (which were a “gag” since one bore the Union Jack as a shout-out to their native land). They were in my purse; my accessible purse. I popped one in her mouth, not expecting much. My reward – utter peace and quiet for 30 long, glorious minutes.

She adored her soother and, after learning to talk, affectionately called it her “soggy.” We were quite firm about her soother being used only for bed/nap time, long car rides, or any distressing circumstances (like doctor visits). One day we had a long, long standoff when she refused to put her soother back into her bed after a nap. Our first real mother-daughter battle of wills – I won. And so for months she would toddle down to the bedroom and slip her soother back into bed when we requested it, but she would invariably have one stashed somewhere hidden in her room, and come out proudly with it firmly gripped in her mouth. We couldn’t help but smile. Who couldn’t…

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If we slipped in to watch her sleep, she would invariably have one in her mouth, and one clutched in her hands. The soother was wonderful for travel purposes too, and she loved having access to one in the car, or on the airplane.

Unfortunately, her soother use was getting harder to control. She was asking, nay, whining, for her soother outside of bedtime. When we’d leave for a long walk, it was always a dilemma: do we take a soother for backup or not. And then there was the simple fact that she’s nearing two, and well, it wasn’t going to get easier with time. Let’s not forget the fact that I was convinced I’d have her off the soother by one year, and our family doctor recommended such a stance. We actually did try to break the habit once, in an ill-timed, poorly executed attempt. Within 24 hours we’d caved and she was happily sooking away on her soother.

This time I think part of the success has been the last-minute decision to attempt another take-away. I happened upon a blog post mentioning breaking the soother habit. So that afternoon, on our family walk, I broached the subject. We gave her a soother one last time, and decided then and there we were going to do this.

And we did.

It has been a remarkably smooth transition. For a few weeks we’d been watching a video by Elmo (Abby’s favourite), and she was already toddling around singing ‘Bye, bye binky, binky bye, bye.’ I’m still singing it!

So when we put her to bed the first night we explained she was a big girl, and just like Elmo said “bye, bye” to his binky, Abby needed to say “bye, bye” to her soggy. She waved and said bye, bye soogy, and seemed pretty thrilled by the idea. Until a thorough examination of her bed revealed no soother.

She cried and whimpered off and on for 30 minutes or so. She woke at 2:30 for another 30 minutes of whimpering, and woke up at 6 AM standing in her bed, waving, and saying “soother go bye, bye.” The first nap was a bit rough too. But really, that was about it. A few more tears along the way, but hardly a single mention of her beloved soggy.

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They’re stored away for now, but once she’s past any potential relapse, my plan is to pull them out of hiding, whip on a coat of ORB spray paint, and add them to our Christmas decoration stash. She loved these hunks of plastic with all her wee heart, and so, in turn, I’m pretty attached to them myself. The soothers have crossed the Atlantic and visited three foreign counties, attended a wedding, and traveled 1000’s of kilometers by car. These soothers have comforted her through colds and teething and vaccines and long hikes. The designs are no longer distinguishable, but just like a well-worn pair of jeans, this is just a sign of a perfect fit.

But for now, we bid adieu to soothers in this house.

Bye, bye soggy.