So a child climbs into mom and dad's bed at oh-dark-thirty for a little company and a snuggle. Dawn breaks and it's immediately evident that the ultra-absorbent pull up has failed to do its job.
What to do?
1. Wash the sheets and bleach the mattress pad?
2. Spot clean the damp area and spray a little Febreeze around?
3. Pull back the covers and turn the ceiling fan on high?
I have been dealing with a variety of stresses of late. My usual response to this is to attempt to batten down the hatches --clean and de-clutter, reinforce chores, jump start my prayer life. Good, useful ideas, one and all.
Lest I come off as some type A perfectionist (and nobody who either knows me IRL or reads this blog will think that for long), believe me, I know how to relax. Yesterday I was child-free and in the middle of errands on the far side of town. A friend called and asked me to lunch. Continue to run errands or enjoy soup and a sandwich with a dear friend? Errands abandoned! Off to lunch I went.
I read. I blog. I spend lots of time chatting with my sisters in Michigan. I also clean somewhat compulsively when I am stressed, and I do have a tendency to start throwing things in the Goodwill box when tensions are running high. I got rid of a load of stuff today. Order brings peace, I tell myself.
Not too long ago, while I was in the midst of an epic meltdown, a friend offered some advice for riding out the storm: Expect twenty-five percent less.
She didn't say abolish all standards and let the house go to ruin. She said dial it down a notch or two. Expect twenty-five percent less -- of yourself, of your children, of your spouse. There is a time to batten down the hatches and a time to let some things slide.
I just read Kate Wicker's comment on a piece she had written some time back on tips for children at Mass. The last thing Kate wanted to do was to burden anyone. She acknowledged that different children (and different numbers of children) require unique strategies.
From any number of angles, Dave and I parent differently with four children than we did with one or two. Adding a newborn to the mix requires a paradigm shift. God, in His great sense of humor, sometimes throws in a spicey child or two just to shake up the whole kit and kaboodle. We thought our second child brought all the zest -- then I birthed number three.
We go through varied seasons as parents. Some of us have had strongly held opinions on this issue or that. Breastfeeding! Pre-school! Nutrition! Co-sleeping! Discipline! Some of us may have been extremely vocal about these opinions. Some of us have eaten a few of those well-reasoned and articulated opinions. Believe me, I have downed my fair share. Some I have choked down in bits and pieces; some I have swallowed whole.
While pregnant with our first child, I devoured book after book on delivery, breastfeeding, and childcare. Some of these how to manuals err on the puritanical side, and they feed on the very thing that no new mother needs: fear. Fourteen years ago, while I was attempting to nurse for the first time, a well-meaning nurse put drops of sugar water on my breast. I was aghast, I mean, absolutely horrified.
It's all over, I thought. Look what she's done! My nursing efforts were surely doomed. In fact, I needed to resign myself to years of ear infections, obesity, and plummeting IQ scores. That's what the books so ominously warned. I had read them all and taken their counsel as though it had come down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets.
A few years later I sat on the phone listening to a mom cry as she described her painful attempts at nursing and her baby's failure to thrive. She just couldn't put her daughter on formula.
There are many ways to feed a baby, I told her. You can use formula and still rock and cuddle and mother. Do what you think is best for your baby, not what you read in a book.
I had come off my high horse on the issue of nursing. It's not because I don't retain strong feelings about nursing. Nursing is, hands down, my favorite part of having itty bitty babies. But it's One Part of the Big Picture. Just One Part.
Holding on to the Big Picture is a huge and continuous challenge for me. When we dial it down, when we expect -- in the best interests of everyone -- twenty-five percent less, we jettison some things that once mattered, maybe quite a lot.
Ainsley is a picky eater. She started attending Children's Morning Out one day a week this fall. For several weeks she wouldn't eat a bite at school. The teachers were flummoxed. I was flummoxed mostly because they were flummoxed.
I need to find something she'll like. Think: processed and palatable.
Here is the saga of getting Ainsley to consume something -- anything -- at lunch:
Week 1: I bought -- are you ready for this? -- uncrustables. Refrigerated, crust-free sandwiches on nutritionally bankrupt white bread neatly packaged for those sorry, sorry parents who can't manage to throw together a peanut and jelly sandwich. I bought 'em! She wouldn't touch them.
Week 2: I bought lunchables. More pre-packaged and processed food marketed to other sorry parents. She wouldn't touch these either.
Week 3: I turned to an old stand by, a tried and true friend -- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Just as processed, not quite as portable, chock full of yellow dye numbers 5 and 6. Parents who buy them? Just as sorry! Ainsley gobbled it up.
Sometimes when I reflect on expecting twenty-five percent less, I consider that in a few departments we already seem to be scraping bottom big time. I remember spying uncrustables in the grocery store one day long, long ago. Who buys this stuff, I wondered. Really, who can't slap together a simple sandwich? But it's just One Part of the Big Picture.
So I have bought uncrustables. I have attempted to coax my daughter into eating lunchables. I have turned the ceiling fan on high to avoid washing the sheets. I just returned from driving around the block for the sole purpose of putting Ainsley to sleep for her afternoon nap. I am trying -- not very successfully some days -- to expect twenty-five percent less of myself and others.
I am ignoring the One Small Part and in favor of seeing the Big Picture.