Friday, August 17, 2018

The Perfect Summer

Recently (for pretty much my entire marriage), I've dreaded summer.
I know this is completely opposite of everyone on the planet (it feels like), but let me explain:

-We always move in the summer. Sure, we don't move as much as some people (only three really big moves in the past 10 years), but nothing is worse than moving, and it completely ruins my summers.

-I've been pregnant three times in the summer. Twice, it was through the whole awful just-kill-me-now-because-I've-lost-the-will-to-live first trimester, and with the middle one, it was through the huge-as-a-beached-whale final trimester. Something about being pregnant in the summer, when you're supposed to travel and be out and about doing fun things and your kids stay up late and wake up early because of all the extra light... doing summer while pregnant just depresses me.

-I'm a creature of habit and routine. And summer throws it all off. Sometimes in a nice way, but mostly in a disruptive way that leaves me feeling slightly off-kilter.

-I HATE being sweaty. I also hate the artificial feeling of air conditioning (especially when it feels cold enough that you actually need a sweater in doors to be comfortable!). Do you see the conundrum here?

-I do not know how to wear summer clothes. Layers are kind of my thing for putting outfits together, but that doesn't work in the summer. And I feel like shorts are so awkward, but skirts are too dressy, and pants will just kill you. Why are summer clothes so hard?

-I love soup. And hot chocolate. And roasting vegetables in the oven without my kitchen feeling like the surface of the sun. I do also love salads and fresh summer produce, but my husband is so sick of salads right now that I'm looking longingly at my soup recipes and wishing for colder weather.

So yeah, summer has, at least for most of my marriage, produced in me a feeling of low-level anxiety and annoyance that means I usually don't look forward to the season.

But all that complaining is to preface that this year! This summer! This summer has felt like the start of something new and wonderful and beautiful. This is the first summer in a long, long time that I've felt sorry that it's ending. And so I just want to take a moment to stop and reflect about what was so good about this summer.

-We didn't move! And it's likely we won't be moving for a long, long time. Which means I finally feel settled. Like we've arrived. I think that feeling of being "home" has really helped me feel more content with summer. I know we lived in our place in Houston for almost four years, which is pretty settled, but it was an apartment in not perfect school boundaries, and we always knew we would have to move someday, so I thought of it as temporary. And even though we will very likely move again at some point in our future, we are pretty sure we're here for at least another five years, and there is the possibility we'll stay here forever. We talk about things like "If this is our forever house, then someday let's (insert whatever house project dream here)." Apparently, I need roots. I need to be "home". And while I need this all the time, I especially need it during summers of travel and relaxed routines.

-My kids are at great ages. Seriously, it has been so fun to be home with them this summer. The baby is just big enough for adventures, but everyone's still young enough for nap-time/quiet-time (yay!). Everyone's sleeping tolerably well, no one got sick, they've played well together for the most part, no one was potty training or going through some otherwise horrible phase, and it was just fun to be with them! They are all at a really cute age for their personality. The baby's vocabulary has just been exploding this summer and she's becoming so much more reasonable and pleasant to be around now that she can communicate a little better (also, she's just so stinking cute!). My three year old is absolutely the most adorable child on the planet (I never thought I would say that about a three-year-old, I hated this age with my oldest son and predict I will hate it again with my strong-willed youngest). And my six-year-old is just the coolest kid ever, so helpful and responsible and full of enthusiasm for life. We spent lots of time going on walks or playing at the park or hanging out at the library or reading together, and it was just sort of the summer of my motherhood dreams. I'm really, really sad we won't be getting to hang out in this chill, relaxed, always reading kind of way anymore.

-We went on a fabulous trip! And my kids got to have a fabulous Grandma Boot Camp with their cousins! But then (this is the key), we all came home and just had a quiet rest of the summer, only a few weekend trips. I need balance in my life. I need big exciting vacations, but then I need lots of chill downtime to recover, and this summer was perfect for me.

-I know summer will end! Honestly, I think this was one of my biggest problems with summer in Houston, the fact that it never ended! Hot and sweaty temperatures just kept going and going and going, and it depressed me to no end. What I've decided about myself is that it's not so much that I love winter and hate summer, it's that I need my seasons to change! This sounds really funny, coming from someone who just spent paragraphs complaining about how I need roots and hate moving and need reliable routing. But for whatever reason, I crave changing seasons. I know by the end of last winter I was thoroughly annoyed with cold weather and just ready to see the sun again. That's what I need from my summer weather too. I need it to end. I can't love it unless it's temporary.

So yes, despite the fact that I need the season to end in order to fully enjoy it, this summer I do feel like it's ending too early. I'm already mourning the end of this perfect, golden summer. I don't want my children to grow up, I don't want to go back to school and spend so many hours away from them, I don't want this happy moment to vanish. I recognize that this is it. This is the moment, the season I will look back on and long for in years ahead. Yes, we'll have plenty of good times and good summers ahead of us, and there are many wonderful things to look forward to, but also there will be hard times too. There will be less than happy seasons ahead of us too, so I want to stop right now and recognize that this is it! This is happiness! This is beautiful! This moment, this season, was a pure gift of joy.

I'm sad it's ending, but I'm also grateful. I'm so grateful we got this summer, this summer together of all sorts of small golden moments. And I'm hoping that writing about it here will help me always remember. No matter how life changes, no matter how great or how horrible future seasons of my life are, I want to look back on this summer and remember what a gift it was.

We have a moment of happiness and sunshine, and life is good. Life is so, so good.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

You Can See it in Their Eyes

We were standing in the church hallway with our squirming and screaming babies when the bishop's wife walked by. This woman, the bishop's wife, is one of those people you can't help loving. She's just so full of light and joy and infectious love. She is one of the kindest people I know.

Which is why I know she wasn't trying to hurt me. She wasn't trying to wound anyone. She was merely trying to be encouraging when she stopped, and in her effusive and loving enthusiasm gave both me and my friend a hug and said, "You young mothers are doing such great work here! You are doing the truly important work! It may feel hard now, but the love you're giving your babies now, the time, the sacrifice, it will stay with them forever! I know! When I go to the high school, and I look at all those grown up kids, you can tell the difference between those kids raised by good mothers, and those raised in daycare. You can see it in their eyes!"

She hurried on to her Sunday school class or wherever she was going, probably never giving a second thought to her comment or that small moment in the hallway.

But I think about that moment often. Her words echo in my mind almost every day. "You can tell the difference between those kids raised by good mothers, and those raised in daycare. You can see it in their eyes."

My kids will be starting daycare next week.

To say I have conflicted feelings about this is a massive understatement. Because, you see, if you had asked me just a few years ago, I would've agreed 100% with my bishop's wife. Not that I ever would've said it out loud like her, but I totally felt that way. I felt that really good mothers stayed home with their kids. Really good mothers did not pass off the responsibility of caring for and raising their children to someone else.

I had a hard enough time coming to terms with the situation when we hired our first nanny. Not only did it feel strangely privileged and extravagant (I did not grow up in a world where anyone had a nanny), I struggled with the idea of giving up my responsibility to raise my children, even if only for a few hours a week. But at least, at the very least, it was still one person in our home, keeping my children in the routines I set, with the toys and activities I provided for them, giving them the individual attention they needed. If I couldn't be there myself, a nanny felt like the next best thing.

But daycare? The image of daycare in my mind was one of flickering fluorescent lights over threadbare dingy carpets illuminating a sad and stringy selection of secondhand toys, with a bunch of kids crying in soiled diapers while frazzled and overworked care providers tried to keep too much snot from spreading around. Daycare, in my mind, was neither happy nor loving, the opposite of the kind of environment I wanted for my children. That person I was long before I married or had kids would never, never in a million years, have imagined daycare as an option for my children, my future precious babies.

Funny how life turns out. Because like I mentioned earlier, my kids are starting daycare next week.

So, how did we get here?

Well, the decision process was long and winding. We had a wonderful nanny this past year that I was so grateful for. Having a nanny in my home solved a lot of headaches (like what to do when my oldest was sick and needed to stay home from school), but created other headaches (what to do when she gets sick and can't work?). Plus, there was the conundrum of what to do with our middle child, who really ought to be attending preschool (alas, the wonderful days of Joy School co-ops are behind me). So we started looking into the daycare option provided on my university campus, and it looked good. Really good actually. After visiting and getting a tour, I was very impressed. They have an incredible staff-to-student ratio, three separate playgrounds, a garden that provides produce for the meals (lunch and snacks) prepared on site for the kids, and a fleet of vans and carseats for quarterly field trips. They had a sparkling accredited curriculum, and a shiny beautiful facility. It was not the dismal daycare center of my imagination. Plus, it was on campus. I could bring my kids to school with me, drop them off, then walk over to my building just a few minutes away. I could come eat lunch with them, or check on them whenever I wanted. It sounded perfect.

So we applied, and got accepted, and put down the deposit, and started making all the other arrangements. I would have a wonderful, reliable daycare option for my younger two children (the oldest one will be in full day school).

But then, the memory of my bishop's wife surfaced, and started haunting me daily. "You can see it in their eyes." You can see it in their eyes.

What can you see in their eyes? Neglect? A lack of love? A lack of connection? Is that what is destined for my children, now that they will be attending daycare? Does it mean I love them less? That I am less devoted, less involved, less of a mother?

I know there are many women out there who are rolling their eyes at my concerns. Of course it doesn't mean I love them less! Of course my kids will be just fine!

But I know some of you will understand why I feel so conflicted about this. These are my children, the single most important responsibility in my life. Nothing is more important, not a job, not a degree, nothing is more important than making sure they are well cared for and all their needs, physical and emotional, are being met. So, when I fully believe that, why am I doing this? Why am I sending my kids to daycare?

Honestly, my only answer is that I sincerely believe God wants me to. I don't think I could do this any other way, and I question Him over and over again, because it feels counter to everything my culture has taught me to believe about what He wants. But this I know: when I pray, I know that I am supposed to be getting this degree. And when I pray about my children, I know that God is taking care of them.

When my baby started nursery at the end of June, and screamed for forty minutes straight before the desperate nursery leaders finally found my husband, I came home from church, knelt, and prayed, "If she can't handle two hours of nursery, how is she going to handle a full day of daycare? Are you sure this is right?" And the answer I got was, "She'll be fine. I'll look after her, for remember, she's my child too."

When I found out about the daycare's policy that absolutely zero super hero paraphernalia is allowed, and my sweet boy who has worn his Catboy cape and mask day and night since March would not be allowed to wear it at school, I came home and prayed again, "But he loves that outfit! And if I were a stay-at-home mom, he could wear it as much as he wants! It's his security blanket against all his anxieties! Are yous sure this is right?" And the answer I got was, "He'll be fine. I'll look after him, for remember, he's my child too."

They'll be fine. They'll be fine.

They will know that I love them. They will know I am not abandoning them. They will not lose the light in their eyes.

And so, I write this, partly to justify my decisions to those of my culture who I know will question me, and partly to say that I now believe differently. I believe I can love and care for my children just as much as ever, and also let someone else watch them for a good chunk of their waking hours. I believe I am still a good mother. I believe my children will still know they are loved and cared for even if they will grow up in daycare. I believe it is all about perception, and my perception has changed.

My children will be raised by a good mother, a mother who has made many sacrifices. And you will be able to see it in their eyes.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Books I Read in July


Well, it's that time of month again. Time for me to report on my reading for July, and I'm happy to report that my reading pace continues to be quite positive, despite the lack of commute/audio books this summer. Of course, I'm probably ignoring all the housework/school prep/children more than I should be to read these books, but I'm not sorry. Summer days were meant for pleasure reading!

The Black Moon by Winston Graham

I zipped through the first four books in this Poldark series a couple years ago, after watching the first season of the TV show, but I quit because ughhhhh! The drama, and I was so unbelievable angry with Ross, and I just didn't see how I could view him as a hero to root for anymore. So I was done. But then, over a month ago I read a blog post or article or something from somewhere talking about Ross and Demelza's marriage, and how it develops over the years, and I got intrigued again, and decided to jump back in. So I read this one, and remembered that yes, there is so much to like here. The time period is super interesting (French Revolution!), and the historical details are great, and maybe I do like the characters after all...

The Four Swans by Winston Graham

Or, maybe I don't. Demelza's the one who let me down this time. Plus all the other nasty drama from other quarters. Sigh. But it is such a soap opera I couldn't quite pull myself away yet, and picked up...

The Angry Tide by Winston Graham

I think it was the point in this book when I actually agreed with George Warleggan's assessment of Ross that I decided I need another break. I've just got to be done with the gross masculinity that gets thrown around here. So, I may finish this series off some day (I'm a sucker who just needs to know how the story ends!), but I've hit my drama saturation point for now, and will take some time off.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

So I delightfully threw myself back into this series, after loving Emily of New Moon so much last month, and guys! So wonderful, so wonderful! I can see why this series isn't quite as popular as the Anne series, but I really think I relate to Emily just a touch more than Anne, and this second book in the series did not disappoint! If you love Anne, and you haven't read the Emily books yet, you really, really should!

Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery

Oh Emily! This was my least favorite in the series, mostly because I was so frustrated by the stupid pride and lack of communication that kept Emily and Teddy apart for so many years! (Not to mention the near miss with Dean!). But it all still ended happily ever after and was completely wonderful and is fully worth your time! Read it! I know you'll love it! (And I'm sorry I ended every sentence in this brief review with an exclamation point, but as Emily says about her use of italics, sometimes I just can't help it!)

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Based on the real life story of one of the first practicing woman lawyers in India, this fictional mystery set in 1920s Bombay was a lot of fun (which feels weird saying about a murder mystery with some heavy thematic content). Perveen Mistry studied law in Oxford, and while she can't argue a case in court, she is allowed to act as a solicitor in her father's law firm, and finds herself in the unique position to cater to certain female clients, specifically a family of Muslim widows who have chosen to live in Purdah, cutting themselves off from the outside world and having no contact with men other than their husband. It was a fascinating culture (Perveen herself is Parsi, another sect I learned a great deal about), and I enjoyed all the cultural/historical details. The story itself was compelling, and I enjoyed it, but it did seem a bit under-polished. However, I think I'd be willing to pick up another book by Massey in future. We shall see.

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

I would love to have a conversation with Bryson, because while I have no idea if he would find me interesting at all, I'm pretty sure I would find everything he has to say fascinating and hilarious. I don't think his books are for everyone (he can be tedious, I'll admit), but everything about this book tickled my nerdiest spots. While I already knew a lot of this information (after all, I am getting a PhD in English, I have learned a few things about the history of the language), I still found his geeky enthusiasm completely infectious. I just wish I'd read this prior to my last semester when I made my students do research papers on the English language, they would've found certain chapters here to be great resources. Lots of fun! (Note, I listened to this on audio, which was both great and terrible. In the sections where pronunciations were being discussed, it was great to hear how things were pronounced. But in the sections where spelling was the main topic, it was terrible to listen to words spelled out too quickly to really catch it all, and I much would've preferred to see it written on a page. Just something to think about if you pick this one up!)

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

I read (well, heavily skimmed in parts) this one for book club. And while I can't say I *loved* the book, I do think it was a fabulous book club book. It was fascinating. I learned a lot about the Hmong culture, about medical practice, and even though most of this story took place over thirty years ago, the issues of refugees and culture clash provided really relevant discussion fodder for book club. However, I feel like Fadiman needed to give this book a serious edit. She includes so. much. detail that I did not find useful or interesting (she details so many of the medical records from encounters, or goes off on really long historical tangents, it just needed to be summed up more quickly to keep the story flowing). Still, very much a recommend if you're interested in refugee issues or thinking about modern medicine vs. traditional/cultural medical practices. Lots of food for thought.

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

Oh, I just needed some more Montgomery in my life. I believe this one wasn't published in her lifetime, and I wouldn't say it was my favorite, but there was still so much to love! Bless Montgomery forever for making the lives of  adolescent girls feel meaningful and important and worthy of being written about! And bless her for writing heroines that are flawed and face really hard circumstances but are deeply good and strong and full of all the things I want my daughter to be. This one is very much worth reading!

And there we go! What a lovely month of summer reading! Have you read any of these books? I'd love to hear your thoughts on them!