Friday, October 29, 2010

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, You're Only A Day Away...

A super fabulous idea was suggested to me recently.  A "Tomorrow Drawer" for my kids to put everything they will need for the up coming day.  My kids share a pretty small room where there is only enough room for one dresser (don't ask me what they will do when they're teens).  They have three drawers each so I can't really spare a drawer for staging the next day.  I did however have two hot pink beverage tubs (leftover from the best 30th birthday party ever decorated in riot grrrl colors!).  The girls are using these to put in everything they need for the following day.  Their outfits down to shoes, any dance or swim stuff, even jammies.  It's been working out really well.  I am primarily filling the drawer of the soon-to-be three-year-old, but my oldest (the soon-to-be five-year-old) is having quite the time picking out her crazy fashions the night before!

Ahhh! Sweet, sweet morning sanity...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Parenting: Sometimes I'm Just No Good At This

I don't read a lot of blogs.  A friend once accused me of being something of a technology-phobe, and I blurted out that "I can't read the computer!"  It's true, I have an astigmatism and it's tricky and a little annoying to read on the computer screen.  (Now that I have glasses, so that makes it a little easier.) I also don't have a lot of time to sit and read anything.  Shortly after this surprising observation I and went in search for some blogs I could read (I'll show her who's a techno-phobe!).  I found the whole culture kind of scary and intimidating.  You have to find these "bloggers" in the Internets and then "catch up" with them so you can get to know them a little.  It's quite an investment, you have to start at the beginning so you can get a sense of where the person started from and where they're going.  But I found a few that I started reading regularly.  So regularly, in fact, that I started talking about these people to my husband like they are my close friends.

"You know what Hannah said?  She said that she just uses a  meat grinder to process her zucchini and then she freezes it like that."

"Who's Hannah?"

"She's my friend on the internet."

"Does she know who you are?"



What I have found in the internet is a community of women who are very similar to me.  They homeschool, garden, can, craft, take pictures, and want to do their best at loving their kids.  They just seem a lot better at that last part than I am.  Admittedly just about all of these mothers have stated somewhere on their blog that they are intentionally leaving out aspects of their lives that they don't want to focus on.  There are raised voices, tears and impatient moments, but these are not the moments to be reveled in and are left by the wayside.
I admire this so much, and gain a lot of focus and gratitude in my days with this philosophy in mind.  Whatever your mind is on is the reality, you know?  Your focus is your life and all that.  However, in most of my days, these less than ideal displays of impatience or frustration  are so dominant that to leave them out would be pretty much like lying. 

I have a hard time with parenting (what seems like to me) most of the time.  I have not-so-proud-moments more frequently than I would like to admit.  I worry a fair amount about messing the kids up or missing my chance to give them the mother I thought I would be giving them.

You see, I've thought about "Jannelle the Mother" for a long time.  Way before I was ever in a position to have kids I imagined the little dears, but more than them I imagined me.  I imagined the things I would do with them, the way I would listen to them, the patience I would have, the hugs I would offer, the appreciation and interest I would take in them. 

I fixated on this future dream mostly to heal the part of me that didn't get the things I felt I needed in my own relationship with my mom.  We had a rough time when I was younger.  We didn't talk for a long time after I left home.  In the end, things were so bad that I had forgotten a lot of the good things, pushed them out of my mind like they were the painful memories.  The good times were so jarring and incongruous that I couldn't have them co-exist with the hurtful memories of my childhood.  I needed a clear definition--either it was good, or it was bad.  It couldn't be both.  So I chose all bad.  I got angry, I got sad, I got older, and then I got pregnant.  When I was pregnant the tiny, careful relationship that had been forming with my mom sort of exploded.  She seriously called me almost every day.  All of a sudden she was so there, and I found myself withdrawing.  It was freaking me out!  So with long letters, some miss-communication and a few phone calls, I explained that I was still carrying around some hurts and that it would take me some time to warm to this new way.  All of this resulted in me remembering that it wasn't all bad, that my young mother absolutely did the best that she knew how.  It left me with a new choice.  And I chose the future instead of the past.  She is a great grandmother and our sometimes cautious relationship becomes less so with every passing visit and conversation. 
 I figured with all this healing and fixating and planning that my heart's desire to be a patient, elastic mother would just, you know, happen.  Doesn't that make nice neat sense?  And it was true when I had one kid.  Hunter wasn't born until Athena was 22 months old, and for those 22 months I was the best mother in the world. Well, it sure felt easy anyway.  I had wells--no giant aquifers of patience.  I could listen to a scream forever and not respond, making sure that the screaming fits never lasted for long.  I could hold out on a tantrum longer than you would believe, so those tricks weren't tried very much either.  After I had Hunter my patience started to stretch to uncomfortable lengths.  I remember lamenting the loss of my patience to my mom friends.  I was assured it would return once I got the hang of things.  Well it's been almost three years now, is that going to happen?  To be fair, I have gotten better at it. Much of my patience has returned.  I even manage to find time with each of my kids alone which helps tremendously in actually seeing them and their person hood.  Even when they're together I can hold it together for a good long while.  I hear them screaming at each other--I've read the books, I know not to get involved--and I'm good, I know it's important for them to work it out themselves.  I focus on whatever task I'm doing while I monitor from afar what's happening in the bedroom next door.


"no.  No.  NO! I'm not done yet.  stop. STOP!!"

"But it's taking so looong..."


(scuffling, blocks begin thrown,  the "FWUMP" of someone hitting the bed)

"High pitched screaming" (I'm not sure how to spell it)


At this point I have a slight nervous twitch forming in my right eye and my upper bicep has gone spastic.  I'm gritting my teeth and telling myself things like, "If I hear that scream one more time I'm going to go completely insane and have to be institutionalized."


And now I'm charging into their room, heading straight toward the tower-in-process.  My mind has somehow laid the blame of this argument on the fact that this tower exists. Without thinking clearly (obviously) in any way at all I pull my leg back and land a kick right into the middle of the thing.

Before my foot makes contact, I know I am wrong, and can't stop myself. 
Before you use your energy to judge me, know that I probably have it covered for both of us. Just take this time to feel good about how you handled this. 

On days like this I have to console myself by pointing out that no one was physically hurt.  Which wasn't always the case in my childhood or the childhoods of my parents. I have to make pleading prayers that sound something like, "Please make them able to see my effort."

Because, really, my effort is so tremendous.  I am trying my very hardest to do something that I don't know how to do.  I'm trying to be a parent that I didn't see in action.  I am attempting to have a family that I have no model for.  And when I'm pushed to the edge of my person by repeated accidental kicks to the stomach, relentless bickering and screeching, or nagging, or whining, or pinching, I snap out of the carefully crafted person I have created and into the well-defined grooves of my core patterns.
I'm not trying to give excuses for childish or impatient behavior.  Really, I'm not.  Neither am I being overly hard on myself.  It's just that the older I get and the more I wittiness this sort of personal primitive behavior, the more I realize that my intentions are not stronger than my defenses. This news is a total bummer.  It's a bummer because it means it will more than likely take (more) time to remedy.  My imperfect person-hood will never be remedied, but I'm sure I will be able to learn how to not take my internal frustration out on my kids.  But I won't be able to do it right this instant! And this is the time that really counts!

I knew I would learn from the mistakes of my childhood and that I would find new and exciting mistakes to make.  (I am very creative, you know).  But I didn't realize I would unwittingly take up some of the same patterns of my childhood, however faded they may be at this point.  And they are faded.  They were already beginning to fade when my mother took them up in her parenting with me.  If any one out there is a child in a long line of what is now called child abuse, but used to just be discipline, maybe you have seen these tendencies lessen and fade over the generations.  Maybe you have been lucky enough to see the Herculean effort in your mother not to make the mistakes of her mother.  Maybe you've even heard her tell stories of how her mother attempted not to make the mistakes of what would have been your great-grandmother.  If you haven't been one in this line, let me just tell you, it's harder than you think not to repeat these mistakes. 
On really hard days, when I've screamed myself horse, carried children upside-down to their rooms for time-outs, or smacked my little one on the hand for pinching me for the 1,000th time, when I have completely lost myself in impatience and anger, I...well, I cry.  But then, maybe the next day when I figure I'll try again because motherhood is one job that you really can't quit, I remember that no one in the house is terrified.  No one is questioning whether or not I love them.  No one is getting bruised or bloody.  I imagine the tendency to loose control of my anger with the kids like poison in a glass.  With each generation's effort of love toward their children and forgiveness of the past the poison is diluted.  I had thought that I could just take up a new cup, but that now seems highly unlikely.  My mother before me, my grandmother before her, and now I am doing my very best to pour so much love and understanding into my relationship with my children that the cup will overflow and wash the poison out forever. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Second Chances

A while ago I spied in my driveway a fat little bug sitting upon a milkweed plant that had wriggled it's way up between the driveway and the border of a garden.  It was a pretty poor specimen (the plant, not the bug) and wasn't going to provide this little guy with much of a buffet.  I snatched him up and put him in the jar along with a new plants, a stick and a prayer.

"Please, Please, Please don't die."

I was still feeling the sting from our last try and didn't want to have to go through that again, so I didn't even tell the kids. I thought, "I'll give it a couple of days, if it seems ok, then I'll tell them." To be fair it was in plain view over their desk.  But they didn't notice, I think because that's where the jar always sits.

It made its transformation into a chrysalis with no troubles this time and hung there for a few days.  They should be in this state for 10-14 days.  We checked every morning waiting to see the color of the wings through the clear casing.  Then one day we looked up and there was a butterfly in the jar!

We took her outside and let her go. Athena had really wanted to hold her.  It jumped onto her finger and flew away into a bush where it waited for a while before going wherever it went.
(The last picture is the face mask and skin casing that it shed in its last instar.)


Thank God for second chances of all kinds.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Herbal Medicines and Trips to Western Massachusetts

When swine flu hysteria started making my world feel like Salem, Massachusetts 1692 style, I did two things.  I stopped listening to the news and I decided not to give myself or my family the vaccine.  I wouldn't put myself in the category of vaccine-fearing-government-conspiracy-believing-wacko, but I am wary about them, especially when there are signs everywhere shouting: "Vaccinate NOW!" "Get your free vaccine here!"  "If you vaccinated here, you would be home by now," I mean, that doesn't even make sense.  The news was just wiggin' me out and I didn't want to put my carefully reserved positive energy into worrying about the pig flu. 
I'm a big fan of protecting yourself by eating dirt.  What I mean by that is my kids get dirty. Despite evidence to the contrary, we don't actually eat dirt. But, we don't use hand sanitizer, we wash our hands but not obsessively, we play with other kids and sometimes those kid our direction.  All that said, I had already been partially poisoned by the news I was listening to before I quit the junk.  So, I was freaked out.  Freaked out enough to imagine the system shutting down and needing to dig up Day Lilly tubers and heat them over a fire made from my dining room chairs.  I thought if I was going to make the "crazy" decision not to vaccinate I should have some knowledge of what I would be in for were we to sweat out the flu. 

When I was a kid my mom got into natural remedies.  When we got sick there was always a piping hot mug of something bitter and sluggish to choke down (sorry mom), which we would do, dutifully.  To my recollection, we were always cured right up.  I didn't inherit this knowledge from her, but it did foster in me a love and interest in herbal medicine.  It gives me a real witchy feeling and makes me feel like a natural woman, makes me want to wear a hooded cape and carry a basket instead of a courier bag.  ...Anyway, I have a couple of medicinal wild plants field guides, and along with my wild edible forays, I have picked up some info about what I could use out there in the woods for various aliments.  I am forever running out to the yard to grab some plantain for a poultice, but I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know enough to feel comfortable keeping my kid away from the doctor's office were she to have a fairly high  fever.

I stumbled across this website.  Tony(a) Lemos runs Blazing Star Herbal School in western Massachusetts and was offering a workshop called "No Fear Flu." How's that for a made-to-order gift from the Universe? It's quite a hike from where I am, about a three hour drive. But as many of you mommas out there can imagine, a trip to beautiful western MA in the fall, with no kids in the car, a scarf, a warm mug of tea, and some historical fiction on cd is something of a beautiful nerdy mini-vacation.  When I got there, I quickly realized that I was by far the least knowledgeable person in the room.  It seemed like the class was full of people who (all knew each other) and who had been practicing either professionally or for a long time.  This was great news because I was bound to learn a lot, especially if I could get over a childhood fear of "asking stupid questions."

Tony(a) covered a lot of material, and I'm no herbalist, so I won't be giving any medical advice.  But I will say this, she made me feel really comfortable, and not crazy, with my decision to deal with potential sickness at home with plants. I guess that's no surprise given what she does for a living, but I am a New Englander and skepticism lives close to my heart, despite my fairy-loving beliefs.  It was really down to earth with great advice.  Like what?

Get Sleep.  Get as Much sleep as your body needs.  Not just when you're already sick, that's how you keep from getting sick in the first place!  If you are going to get sick, you'll get sick when you are tired and your body is not getting a chance to repair itself when you're resting.

Take a hot bath.  Like  98 degrees.  Keep your kids in a bath over 98 degrees for over 20 minutes and it will kill the flu virus.  So, if you're out an about and someone wipes their nose and shakes your hand (or kids do this or something even grosser) take them home and plunk them in the bath.  They will complain, I can tell you, just read them a story or something, try to keep them in there for as close to 20 minutes as possible, and try not to giggle at their super red bums.  That's pretty easy, isn't it?  My older girl got in the habit of saying to the little one, "Hunter, it's hot for your health!"

Eat well. This is pretty straightforward, but it's easy to forget. Your body works only as well as the fuel it runs on, you know?

I also learned some other things like:

Don't suppress a fever up to 103 degrees.  This is a healthy fever.  It's doing its job, cooking out the virus, let it be.  If the fever rises above that gently reduce it using lukewarm water and wiping the patient (a.k.a. whimpering child) with a rag. No ice, this can cause shock.  I asked how long would you keep your feverish kid feverish before you started to worry about...what?...brain damage?  I mean, I don't know about you, but I have loads of cultural images in my head from my full childhood of TV watching that tells me that fever=insane person in like, 2-4 hours.  She said she would be pretty comfortable with a fever of 103-104 for three to four days.  (Let me just say here that I am not offering medical advice here, I'm just a lady who believes the herbalist and would wait out a fever for a few days.  You should do whatever makes you comfortable...just so we're on the same page.)  I also know that a little peppermint essential oil on the bottom of a kid's feet will drop a fever, as will wool rags soaked in vinegar or lemon justice and applied to the calves.

Stimulate a low grade fever.  A prolonged low-grade fever is something more to worry about and it might be helpful to stimulate the fever with a little cyan to induce sweating and get the circulation going. 

When the fever is broken eat protein.  Scrambled eggs are a good choice.

I also learned a few great recipes, some of which have become staples for my family.   One of which is FIRE CIDER!  I imagine this being advertised 1800's style with slogans like , "Dr. Stinky's Fire Cider! Impress your friends! Made from roots that come from the center of the earth!  Breath fire! Grow hair on your chest! Keep the common cold at bay."  Fire cider is an immune strengthener, you make this tonic and take a table spoon a day.  Although, over here we like to down a shot glass every morning.  Then we beat our chests and growl a little.  It makes us feel like animals with super immune systems. 

Fire Cider:

Fill a quart mason jar 1/3 full equal parts peeled and chopped:
ginger root
horseradish root
burdock root
pinch of cyan

then 7/8thfull of apple cider vinegar and 1/8th full raw honey.

You should let it sit for about a week and then use it until it runs out.  You can cook the roots with some chicken once you've finished the cider. 

Another standby in our house (just administered to the wee one this morning after)  is sage honey.  Sage is an antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal.  Taken internally, it will fight infection.  Honey is awesome.  I made a big 'ol jar of it this year.
Fill a jar with chopped fresh sage leaves.  
Pour (preferably raw, local) honey over the leaves about 7/8th full. Mix it around as much as you can to get the honey over and through the leaves.  Pour in more honey.
 Fill 1/8th with brandy.  This helps it mix a little better and pulls more of the sage-y goodness out of the leaves and into the honey.  If you are doing a double take and reading back to make sure you read what you thought you read, yes I do give this to my children.  When administered in tablespoon doses, there is more alcohol in an over-ripe banana than there is in this medicine.  Probably.
 It is also a great addition to a warm tea when you or your youngsters are feeling sick. 

The same concoction can also be made with thyme.  I believe I was told that sage is more for lower respiratory congestion, while thyme is more upper-respiratory. 
I will be sharing more of our herbal experiments, but these are great stapes to start with.
And don't forget to eat some dirt.