Wednesday, August 27, 2014

titles are for normal people

There is a very corny poem on my midwife's bathroom wall:

Cleaning and dishes can wait til tomorrow
For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow
So dust balls be quiet! Cobwebs go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep.

I told you it was corny! Imagine it on a sampler. It's catchy, though.

My first week of staying-at-home-being-a-mommy by myself will be over tonight when Matt gets home, because he only has to go to school Monday through Wednesday. The first two days were not bad; I resolved that I would set my sights on no higher accomplishments than getting the baby to nap and nurse as much as possible, and that meant that when I did sneak away to unload the dishwasher or feed myself or go to the bathroom I felt like a big success. I even had some nice long sessions of reading (Aristotle East and West by David Bradshaw in the morning and George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss in the afternoon, both excellent) and drinking coffee (bad! bad! but good...) while I rocked him in his car seat on the porch, with the overhead fan blowing the mosquitoes off-course. I felt slightly decadent but part of adjusting to this job is being okay with sitting around.

Actually, I've realized that it's pretty important to not just be okay with it, to not just excuse yourself for your apparently leisurely attentions to your child, but to own them. You have to sit there and hold this child, so why torture yourself by resolving to jump up and Do Something Productive as soon as his eyelashes stop fluttering? You are nourishing and comforting somebody else who can't do anything for himself. That's good in itself, and if you get to devour a book or binge on a podcast, then that's a bonus. Forget the dishes.

 So those days were good. But today was bad. This morning I abruptly handed the grouchy baby to Matt and said "I have to take a shower. You take him." I expected to hear screaming when I turned off the water, but I poked my wet (successfully no-poo'd!) head out of the bathroom door and found Matt serenely reading Plutarch's Life of Dion aloud to Scott as he sweetly slumbered on the bed. They were even holding hands.

So I expected it to be a nice peaceful day while Matt was gone, but it has been miserable. Bubs has been fussy about nursing for a few days now, so that I've somewhat flipped my protocol. Instead of nursing him to sleep, I'm sleeping him to nurse. If I can rock or walk him to sleep, he nurses before he wakes up fully, or I can sometimes slip him a nip while he's still conked out. The problem today was that I couldn't get him to sleep! The poor baby has been crying in the most weak little pathetic hungry tired fashion all day, shaking his head and grimacing when I offer him the breast, and making the saddest little lip trembles when I set him down. Finally I took him on a walk in the wrap, through a little wooded park nearby, and he fell asleep before I left our yard. I walked a long while but by this time I was very hungry and tired as well, so I gave him an early bath and with not too much screaming I rocked him to sleep, and there he angelically whimpers next to me now. He probably won't wake up except to nurse again until six a.m. or so.

My fifteen+ hour day of nearly constant fretting is now done and I think I deserve a beer. I always think I deserve a beer. We've become religious daily beer drinkers since becoming parents. I mentioned to Matt that perhaps we should cut back on this what some might call frivolous expense, as a 12-pack of non-donkey-piss beer per week adds up to $50 or $60 per month. He gravely rebuked me. "It's really important." I perceived my error and agreed that here I would not scrupulously scrimp. What price sanity?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

second nature

At my very last "girls' night" in Crawfordsville with the other young to youngish Orthodox wyves, which was conducted mostly on my floor amidst boxes of books and dishes, I suggested for conversation the topic of Habits. I had recently re-read Fr. Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims for Christian Living, and noticed that the word "regularly" shows up a lot (in addition to words like "practice," "discipline," and "always,") and then noticed that even where it doesn't, of course it's implicit that all these imperatives ("Be," "Do," etc) are progressive and so the reader should understand that these things are to be done as a matter of habit.

With new beginnings in a new home on my mind, I was reminded then of a saying that Fr. JB of XtS in Chicago attributed to some Gregory or another during a homily when we visited last fall. I can't quote it exactly but the gist of it was that although every day is a good day to make a new beginning, there is no time more perfect than autumn to start a new good work in Christ. Something like that. So I suggested that we talk about habits generally, and specifically what we'd like to begin anew this fall. I was naughty and beset by many moving woes, so I didn't do the homework and think about the habits I wanted to start, and we just talked about the 55 Maxims, which was good. But now we're here in our new home, mostly settled in, and I'm ready to start laying some track.

It seems to me that human beings are mostly made of habits and that is why it is so exciting to think about starting new ones. It's like a makeover. You really can make yourself into the person that you want to be. Is it Aristotle who points out that when we know how to do something effortlessly through practice, we call that our "second nature?" I don't remember. I like that because it recognizes that we have two natures-- the raw material given to us at birth, and the form into which we can sculpt that material.

Enough babble. I'm a bear of very little brain right now so I'll just tell you the habits that I want to start this autumn.

1. Baby/Family routines: We've found that Scott Maximos is much happier when we do the same thing every day. This is how the day is shaping up for him:
  • Matt changes his diaper when he wakes up. Daddy is a little goofier than Mommy about this so it's a fun way to start the day.
  • Prayers, which Bubs actually seems to enjoy. He likes to look at the icons and listen to our voices.
  • Nursing while Daddy reads the Bible
  • The rest of the day is spent in little naps, nursings, accompanying me in the kitchen or sitting on somebody's lap while reading. We try to get in a big nap in the morning and one in the afternoon. The more he sleeps and nurses, the happier he seems to be.
  • A bath with Mommy after dinner, pajamas and a big long nurse while Daddy reads something out loud. I was having a bit of trouble following Tristram Shandy by ear since it is famously composed of about 95% parenthetical digressions. Matt picked up a Trollope novel yesterday at a bookstore so we'll try that. Bubs falls asleep and we sneak away. I nurse him throughout the night when he grumbles but he doesn't wake up much.
That's it.  It's amazing how much easier it is to take care of him and get other things done when we follow this routine.

2. Yoga: It's dumb, whatever, but I'm starting to feel like a senior citizen in my knees, and yoga is pretty gentle on the joints. I went to a yoga class every day for one semester in college and it was the first time I ever felt fit and strong and brimming with health that was over and above my youthful vim. It's the only workout I know how to do, so that's what I'm going to do, damn the torpedoes. We have a sweet little patio in a green jungly yard where the baby likes to sit and watch me wiggle clownishly. I can do a little every day and counteract some of the effects of gravity on my spine, which have been exacerbated by baby toting.

3. Learn some dang French: This is ridiculous. I am 26 years old. It's time. Two of my younger siblings are fluent or conversational in another language (in my defense, that is because they spent time in their target countries,) and it makes me extremely envious and, as you can see, defensive. I'm going to do a little Duolingo every day (I only stopped because of a computer problem at work last year,) and surely there is some website that hooks up language learners for conversation? If not I will Skype my Francophone bro, although I think we know each other so well that I'd probably understand what he was saying in any language. One other idea is to learn Deutsch along with Matt, but I do not need to add another smattering to my collection.

That's probably enough new habits. Somehow this short list doesn't express everything that I want to be. The grandpa we're living with noted that I am always doing something in the kitchen and asked me if I was an ambitious person. I said that I wasn't ambitious in the sense of moving forward or upward, but that I was dead set on maintaining peace and equilibrium in my life. There are a lot of little habits which cultivate serenity and balance, which are probably best summed up in those Maxims above, but which are invisible and interior.

Crying baby, bye!