Magic Elbows

Being a new parent is hard. Everyone is willing to give advice, and that’s great, but what often happens (at least, in my experience) is that everyone gives you boundless advice on what you can manage, while only giving you minimal advice on things you’re unsure of.

For example, everyone knows not to make bath water too hot for a baby. Babies burn easily. How do you check the bath temperature? “Stick your elbow in it.” Okay…and what? Parents have magic elbows that light up when it’s right? Nope, no magic elbows here. Thankfully, we were given a magic duck that lights up when it’s the right temperature (about 37 degrees celsius).

How about checking the temperature on a bottle? “Pour a drop on your wrist.” Ah, I’m supposed to acquire more magical body parts. Good to know. Oh, it’s supposed to be the same temperature as my wrist, so when a drop is placed on the wrist there is no noticeable temperature difference? Well, that makes more sense, doesn’t it?

It’s funny: everyone says the same thing when asked. “Put your elbow in the tub. Put a drop on your wrist. If they seem thirsty, give them some boiled, previously cooled, water.” Rapid boil for two minutes. Cool to prevent burns. Try a cup after 9 months. Thanks, but how do I tell if a baby, who can’t talk yet, is thirsty? I dunno. Stick my elbow in his mouth, maybe?

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Fear of Hypocrisy

Lots of people like to use the word hypocrite. Often it’s used for politicians or religious leaders who insist on enforcing one set of morals, but practice another. It’s used in TV and movies all the time, often when the main character realizes their code of ethics doesn’t work in a situation they encounter. Sometimes it seems to be a word to throw at someone when something about them is just bothersome. If the annoying quirk can’t be pinpointed, just say hypocrite. It’s probably true, right?

At some point in time, I think we all say one thing and do another. Are we all hypocrites, then? Maybe. It fits the definition, right? Or does it? I’m not sure. I think being a hypocrite means pretending outwardly to ascribe to a system of beliefs, or morals, or code of ethics etc, but then ignoring it when it comes to personal behaviour. I don’t think it includes the times we all believe something is right, but fail to meet our own standards. I think ignoring our supposed beliefs is being hypocritical. I think there is another word for what we are when we simply fail to meet our goals. Human.

I think a lot of people are quick to condemn someone as a hypocrite because they set a standard, but fall short of it. I think that’s a problem. What do you do if every time you make a mistake you’re call ‘hypocrite’? Give up and stop setting lofty goals? Stop aspiring to a set of values you’d like to live by? Refuse to discuss your ideals and beliefs so that no one knows what your aims are?

I think aspiring to great things is good. I think failure is inevitable. I think having a little grace with each other is necessary.

That’s one good thing about Christianity. Fail to live perfectly morally? God forgives. Fall short of the goals you set to grow as a Christian? God forgives. Actually go out and choose to do the opposite of what you say you believe? God forgives that, too. As long as we admit we messed up, get turned around again back to the direction God’s pointing us in, and follow Him as best as we can, God gives us grace.

We all look like hypocrites at some point. That shouldn’t make us afraid to try again. It should point out our need to give grace to others when they make mistakes. We’re all human, after all.

Who Do I Want To Be?

When I was younger, I thought having a kid meant figuring out what to do as a parent. Now that I’m a parent, I’m realizing that having a kid means figuring out what to do as a person. Being a parent is not just about what forms of disciplines to use, or what toys to buy, or whether to buy or make pureed carrots. It’s about remembering that little eyes are on you all the time, and it’s about trying to be a person that you want those little eyes to see.

James is already imitating us. From us, he’ll learn how to communicate, how to solve problems, how to resolve conflicts, and how to react to the world around him. That’s a frightening responsibility. It makes me look back on my day, at the things I’ve done and said around him, and wonder if I want him to be the kind of person I was.

I’m trying to find the flaws in myself and fix them, the good things about myself and not neglect them, and the grace to forgive myself so he doesn’t grow up so afraid of making mistakes that he doesn’t try in life.

I realize at eight months old he’s still working on saying, ‘Mama’ and not falling over when he sits by himself, but he’s also seeing how quickly I get frustrated at diaper tabs sticking where they shouldn’t, and seeing how alarmed I get when he topples over.

I’m trying hard to mature as a person: using better strategies to deal with frustration, correctly categorizing big problems and small problems, trying not to panic at small things, cleaning up messes right away, and remembering to inspect myself regularly for any behaviour I don’t want James picking up on.

I want to be a good parent. I also want to be a good person. It’s a good thing I can work on them both at the same time, or I think I’d run out of steam very quickly.

 

Diamonds

When  a loved one dies, those left behind are responsible for the remains. Different people have different wishes for what they’d like done with them after they die. My husband has told me that whatever I want is fine. A nice funeral, roll him into a ditch – whatever works for those of us who are grieving. Just a note, I have strong objections to the ditch idea.

One of my brothers has strong objections to a traditional burial. Ideally, he wants to be launched into space. Realistically, he’ll take anything but being buried in a box.

I don’t know what I’d prefer. It’s not a pleasant topic for contemplation. I do like the idea of a tombstone. They’re great for a lasting memorial to the deceased, and they can reflect in some measure the person’s life, or the way they influenced the people around them. They’re also a good way to trace one’s family history, if there’s a family plot to explore.

I know what I really don’t want. There’s one way to handle remains that creeps me out. A person can be cremated, and their ashed compressed into a diamond. In theory it sounds almost touching, almost romantic. A loss transformed into a lasting and beautiful reminder of the lost loved one. I can’t help thinking, though, of the awkward conversations down the road.

“What a beautiful diamond ring!”

“Thanks, it was my great aunt.”

Nope.

Just nope.

I don’t want dead me on someone’s finger. I don’t want dead anyone else on my finger.

This came to mind while listening to a Hawk Nelson song earlier today. The song was called Diamonds.   Here’s the link:   Hawk Nelson – Diamonds

It’s not a creepy song about dead-people diamonds. I just occasionally remember that you can make cremation diamonds when I think about diamonds. It’s a song about God’s use of life’s pressures and trials to purify us into something of great value.

The Bible talks a lot about trials in life being like a refining fire. It also talks a lot about dying: dying to sin, dying to self, dying to our own nature and taking up the nature of Christ instead.

I used to find those concepts unsettling. If I died to self, who would I be? If the ‘dross’ was burnt up, what would be left? Hawk Nelson says it well: Here and now/ I’m in the fire/ In above my head/ Being held under the pressure/ Don’t know what’ll be left.

They also answer those questions: But it’s here in the ashes I’m finding treasure/ He’s making diamonds.

These are not creepy dead-people diamonds. We’re being made into God’s diamonds – living, highly-valued, purified children of God who reflect His Son and shine beautifully.

Some days – or if I’m honest, many days – I don’t feel much like a diamond. I feel like an unattractive lump of carbon, and I sit there complaining about the refining process. But God knows what He’s doing. If He says so, I guess there will be a diamond there someday, and He’ll get me there in His time.

Happy Mother’s Day

Last weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day. One person I was talking with prior to the weekend wished me a happy Mother’s Day, and commented on it being my first. She wasn’t entirely right about that. I count it as my third. Still, she was close. It wasn’t my first Mother’s Day, but it was my first happy Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2015 Jon and I were living with expected loss. Micah had been diagnosed with anencephaly, our induction was a month away, and we were miserable. I really didn’t feel like celebrating Mother’s Day that year, even though I was a mother. I was given a few things, among them an outfit for Micah made by his grandmother, and a single red carnation. Micah was buried with his homemade hat, and with my Mother’s Day flower.

I dried my flower, wanting to save it because it was my first Mother’s Day flower. While I didn’t feel like celebrating, I’m glad I was acknowledged as a mom because it meant Micah was acknowledged. When we buried Micah, he was surrounded by things people had made and bought for him – things to show he was loved. My first Mother’s Day flower was tucked into his tiny hand.

Mother’s Day 2016 was better, but still hard. I was pregnant again, and I believe at that time we were still waiting on final test results to see if James was healthy. With one loss not that far behind us, and uncertainty ahead, it was an anxious Mother’s Day. Once again, I was included in the celebration. I remember two gifts in particular. One was a housecoat to take to the hospital. One was a letter from my dad, telling me I was going to be a good mom.

That Mother’s Day was full of anxious hope. I had my hospital wear, and I had my family’s prayers and encouragement. It was still a hard day, because I was struggling with being pregnant, and missing Micah. But we were looking forward to meeting James, and I took Micah flowers to show he wasn’t forgotten.

This year, 2017, was a happy Mother’s Day. I got to hold my baby James in my arms – much more than usual as he was having a rough day and needed snuggles. I cuddled my healthy little baby, smelled my bouquets, and tried to figure out how to assemble my new fountain pen.

The best gift came from James. Mama was his first word. It was more a coincidence of syllables than anything, but he said it. Twice. Then he switched to ‘dada’ and refused to say ‘mama’ again for weeks. He said ‘baba’ all the time, ‘dada’ when he was happy, and ‘mama’ was a thing of the past. Until Mother’s Day weekend. He’s said ‘mama’ multiple times every day since. It’s his new word to say when he’s upset. And I come running, snuggle him up and say, “Mama will take care of you. Mama’s got you.”

It makes my day knowing that even though he is just making noises, he calls for me when he needs help. I need him, too. I’ve had three Mother’s Days, but only one happy Mother’s Day. James is my little, God-given reason to celebrate.

Would You Rather…?

Would You Rather is a game we played one year at summer camp.  It was not a game I liked.  One person laid out two options and then everyone in the group would pick which they preferred. For some reason, it was always two bad things.  The only one I remember from that summer was this: Would you rather not have a white wedding dress, or have nose hairs that were incredibly long?  After much discussion about off-whites and nose hair trimmers, the rules were clarified.  The dress had to be yellow, and you couldn’t cut the hairs – ever.  I don’t think I picked.  I just thought it was dumb.

I like right answers.  I like to be able to look at the options, and make a good decision. Picking between two unpleasant options, therefore, did not amuse me in the slightest. As it turns out, life is much more like Would You Rather than I like to admit.

As an adult, there are many times I’m presented with two options, and often they are unpleasant.  For example, would you rather get an hour less sleep but shower and eat before going to work, or get an extra hour of sleep but have bedhead and be hungry?  That one’s reusable.  I can play it every day. Hurrah.

Here’s another one: Would you rather make the effort to make dinner even though  you’re tired and then be exhausted, or buy dinner and then be broke?  See how much fun this is?

In real life, the choices are varied.  Sometimes it’s between unimportant things, like which socks to wear.  Sometimes it’s between very important things, like which major to choose. Sometimes it’s life and death, or sometimes it’s whether to drive a bit further for slightly cheaper groceries.  Sometimes it’s whether to trust God, or do things our own way. Sometimes it’s even between two good things, like flavours of ice cream.

I still don’t like the game.  Perhaps because it’s too much like life.  You have two choices. There might not be a pleasant one.

I suppose the advantage the game has is that you can take back your choice if you change your mind.  Real life doesn’t always have take backs.  Although, real life does have off-white, and nose hair trimmers.  So perhaps not all is lost.

Speaking Carefully

Now that I have a baby, I’m starting to pay close attention to how I say things.  Sometimes a small shift in how a sentence is constructed can radically change the meaning, and I want to make sure that when my baby learns to understand what I’m saying, I’m saying good things.

One phrase I’m trying to stop saying is, “I love you but…”  It’s an easy one to fall into.  I tell him I love him many times a day that I love him.  I also tell him he’s messy, and that I don’t like changing diapers, and that he’s very heavy.  It’s simple enough to join two thoughts and say, “I love you, but you’re so messy.”

I was thinking about what that implies.  Is that saying I love him despite his messiness?  Is that saying I love him, but my love is dimmed by his messiness?  Is that saying I’d love him more if he was cleaner?  Are any of those how he’ll interpret what I say when he grows up?

If he thinks I’m saying I love him despite the mess, that’s okay.  If he think I’m saying I’d love a clean baby more, that’s a problem.

I’ve found an alternative to “I love you but….”  I’m trying to get into the habit of reversing the sentence structure so that I’m saying, “….but I love you.”

“You’re messy, but I love you.”  To me, the shift in focus is important.  Instead of saying, “I love you, but right now I’m focused on this mess,” I’m saying, “There is a mess, but no matter how messy you are, my love stays the same.”

I realize a baby doesn’t overthink a sentence the way an adult does, and I realize that to some people, either way of saying it feels the same.  I, however, am an English major and an overthinker, and just in case our little one takes after me, I want to make sure I start right now to say exactly what I want him to hear.