On Moving

A partial list of things about which I am capable of feeling guilty:

  • entering a restaurant within 30 minutes of closing time
  • never making pie crust, and never making pie at all if it can be avoided
  • those face wipe things which I secretly love but find inexcusably wasteful
IMG_4052
Big belly, backyard strawberries, late June

So it’s no surprise I feel way guilty about moving. We’ve lucked upon the dearest little slice of suburbia imaginable, and I will miss it terribly.

We have loved this backyard like no other place I’ve ever lived. Part of it is Pippin’s age — it makes getting outside imperative — but so much is the beautiful place we’ve found ourselves. We have the best view in a pretty neighborhood, and situated on the top of a hill, the mosquitos are beat back by the same winds that whistle cruelly through the house in winter.

IMG_4045

After six years of basement living, we have a lovely, light-filled space. We could really expand, and with the arrival of first Scout and then my in-laws’ U-Haul of hand-me-down furniture, we did, joyously.

And our neighbors — well, I’ve gushed about them before. They’ve been dear presences at birthday parties and blizzards, Christmas and the baptism. People stop to talk to us in the neighborhood, and we can walk (if I can bear the hills), to a little park not far away. We told one set of neighbors about the move over a home cooked dinner; we told the others when we went to pick up Bonnie after they’d watched her for us. Both times made me feel queasy.

The truth is, this house isn’t perfect, though, and after some soul-searching, we didn’t consider it, even though it’s technically up for sale. It’s drafty, and carpeted, and most importantly, we just don’t see ourselves living forever as a one-car family this far out of town. So we found a little Craftsman in the city limits we love, and we’re in the process of some very scary financial stuff I only vaguely understand, and every time I look out our bedroom window at That View, I’m heartbroken all over again.

Advertisements

Motherhood and the Redemption of the Body

1923301_505191390684_8110_n
As for me, I will read while you boulder, silly people, circa 2007.

When I was in college, I was your proverbial brain in a jar. I read and wrote all day, and grew cold on the sofa of my 80 degree studio apartment, sipping microwaved tea to warm my sedentary bones. Almost all my memories of the time are cerebral: the excitement of defending Milton’s Adam to a classroom of Satan sympathizers, the frustration of my first crack at Nicomachean Ethics.

In fact, the only real exceptions are a.) sitting outside on a warm spring day to do my reading in the cherry blossoms and b.) the terrible tension headaches that plagued me throughout college, especially my underclassman years. (Also the college cafeteria ice cream bar.)

As a stay at home mother now, I struggle to find space for the cerebral, slipping in an audiobook with chores, carving out time for a book club, writing letters to basically anyone who will write me back. On the other hand, though, in a very real sense, my babies have helped me transcend the brain-vat, into the life of the body. I feel healthier, and more whole, though I miss that dear, unbalanced, brainy old life.

547959_716211030634_884774692_n
A rare pregnant day on which I did not throw up; second trimester, Dales Way, circa 2012

This wasn’t a given, going into motherhood. Pregnancy is a series of unpleasant sensations for me, and while I am indeed much more aware of my embodiedness as waves of nausea engulf me, it’s far from a pleasant experience. Give me the life of the mind any day!

So my babies surprised me. Their physical need for me — and, unexpected by me — my physical need for them. So much of my experience of motherhood, so much of my current day to day life, is centered on the body: the press of a soft, marshmallowy cheek against mine; the relief and relaxation of sleepy night nursing; a toddler making my hair “beautiful” while I pray he doesn’t get the hairbrush stuck. Now that I’m no longer cramped in the same tense position, hour upon hour, but instead constantly interrupted, my headaches have faded to the background.

And then there’s the rhythm of housework, of course. A critical eye cast to the texture of the brownie dough, when once I’d only scrounged the cafeteria. The realization that about 60% of housework is moving material objects from one room to the other.

I fall asleep at night more readily, most nights, the soft breathing of my sleeping babies in the rooms beside me. My body is squishier, but also softer, stretched and sore from lifting fifty pounds of progeny all day, from a long nap time on my feet fussing over dinner, from the weight of milk I carry.

I’d failed to realize, back then, that in giving my children their bodies, they’d give me mine.

P1014815.JPG
Mi body es su body, or something like that.

Learning to Love Housekeeping, Part 3

IMG_7205

It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • I’ve been working on refining my to-do list and meal planning (above). I’ve had grocery and to do lists since about 30 seconds after I made fun of my mom’s in college, usually on scraps of paper or in my planner. I’ve tried a few templates for meal-planning, but for right now, this kind of embarrassing grid my mother-in-law got for a school fundraiser is working well. I can have everything together at a glance, and even if the categories aren’t perfect, the magnet so it sticks to the fridge definitely is. I carry it around the house part of the morning as I begin to get organized, and once it’s up on the fridge, just above the water dispenser, I can reference it throughout the day.
  • I cleaned out the car on one of our first warm afternoons — the first time I’ve done it since Advent. Awhile back I read an analogy about cars being, basically, just a means of getting from place to place when we couldn’t make the distance with our bodies, and it’s helped me to feel better about our philosophy of car ownership: one fairly reliable, very unkempt vehicle to haul our family around when nothing else will do. And cleaning it out — at Advent I even vacuumed! — helps me to feel a little less embarrassed by the car’s homeliness when we give someone a ride, and a little less panicky when we’re drowning in kid stuff and filth on a long car ride.

    unnamed
    Will keep you company for the price of chewing on her brother’s claw cup. To the left: the giant bag of jackets, blankets and books salvaged from the car.
  • Speaking of panicking, how do you keep from panicking when packing for the whole family? J does his own bag, and loads the car, but I’m in charge of laundry, lists, preparatory shopping, and actually gathering up all the materials for three humans. Part of me loves picking out the tiny travel wardrobes and the mini libraries, but the weight of responsibility usually makes me really crabby and anxious and unpleasant, especially on the day we leave. Some of our most successful travel days have been when we’ve decided last minute to leave the night before. No time to panic then! Just listen to an audiobook and sleep and try not to dwell on how you forgot the travel toothpaste. What are your packing tips?unnamed-1

Feeling Weird About Weaning

For the most part, I’m not usually sentimental about my kids growing up. I’m excited about each new development, and optimistic about the future. I’m not hugely a newborn baby fan, and I like seeing the people they’re becoming. Sure, I feel nostalgic when I look back at pictures of Pippin as a white marshmallow baby and Scout as a tiny pink bean, but I don’t long for time to slow down or anything.

The exception, for me, is weaning. I mean this in the British sense of introducing real food, not in the American sense of completely leaving behind nursing.

IMG_6311
Eleanor Babyperson, nursing

The thing is, I really like breastfeeding. I’m good at it (though it’s nothing I can really claim as an accomplishment; a lot seems to be luck and disposition), and I don’t mind it — though I might tell you differently at 2 a.m., or when positioning a noodly newborn. What’s not to like? I could handle more hours in a quiet room by myself with a cuddly baby and a book, I’m pretty sure.

IMG_0930
Pippin the Never Wean

And introducing a baby to real foods — it’s messy, and it’s another thing I have to remember to pack, and it generates a ton of waste, and there are lots of conflicting opinions, and it all seems so fraught.

Our pediatrician (DR. LITTLE, BEST PEDIATRICIAN NAME EVER) told us to start solids with Pippin at 4 months, so we did, with pureed sweet potato, and he hated it and pretty much kept on hating everything. (See photo below.) I had planned to wean him (in the American sense) at 12 months, but if I had, he would have been forced to subsist on boogers and raisins (pretty much what he lives on now, along with peanut butter). He seems to have inherited my gag reflex, which sucks for all of us. Recently, we bribed him with ice cream to try Scout’s avocado. When he finally did, he promptly puked all over himself. J was appalled. “Can I have my ice cream now?” he immediately asked, unfazed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This is Pippin’s opinion of birthday cake. Cake, people. He fed the rest of it to the dog.

 

With Scout, we are doing things differently. We didn’t bother starting her until a bit after six months, and we’ve been loosely trying Baby Led Weaning principles. Things are going well, and it could be because we are so wise, but is probably just because she’s her own person (and maybe because she takes after her father, John “I Like All Food” Bowers). This weekend at book club, I wouldn’t give her any brownie or tea cake and she kicked her legs with energy and indignation. FEED ME!

Cool it, girl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Fried egg, a Bowers breakfast specialty

But it turns out having a baby who’s an enthusiastic eater carries its own challenges for me. And so, just as I felt weird and conflicted about my reluctant eater, now I feel weird and conflicted about my enthusiastic eater. I worry that she’ll choke on something I’ve prepared incorrectly (unlike Pippin, at the same age, she still has no teeth and enjoys nomming on such exotic fare as pesto meatballs and smushed blueberries). I worry about all the food stains I’ll have to get out of her clothes, and mine. I worry that she’ll stop nursing entirely before I’m ready.

In the early months, nursing feels like a project my baby and I tackle together, and it takes both of us to make ecological breastfeeding work. Moving on to the next chapter is a tricky, messy transition to navigate.

 

Learning to Love Housekeeping, Pt. 2

IMG_4938

It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • Stepping up my bread game with ciabatta — I’ve been using this recipe, which is a nice baby step away from the bread machine. The first time we had it for dinner, J was completely incredulous when I told him I made it, and I love that it makes two loaves, so I can share one. (When we show restraint, that is.)
  • Compound butter — I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I should. I’ve been making compound butter occasionally for the last couple of years, and this year I made it for Christmas. I bought two two-pound logs of Amish butter and softened it, then added sea salt and chopped parsley and a ton of garlic I’d roasted in the slow cooker. I tried to shape it into attractive pucks with a silicone mold (which I do not recommend — stick with little logs or balls), and gave most of it away for Christmas gifts. I froze the rest, and we are on our last couple bits, I think, although I keep fishing more from the depths of the freezer. Anyway, it’s been really nice to have it to break out when we have guests over, or to use in mashed potatoes, or to sauté something special. I loosely based mine on this recipe.
  • Compiling my own cookbook In the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into the bad habit of either a.) printing a recipe and then stuffing it on my cookbook rack or b.) just risking my phone (or laptop) to read the recipe online as I go. The stack has gotten so out of control that I now just print a new copy instead of trying to find the old one. So I’m putting together my own cookbook using Createmycookbook.com, which I don’t love, aesthetically, but it’s very straightforward and affordable.
IMG_7081
This is my first cobbled-together cookbook, which I love, but which is pretty well unnavigable, except by memory.

Also, because I was embarrassed after posting about it last week, I finally straightened up my (side of the) bedroom.

IMG_7156

I should really hang the bat print from my sister (which is framed, at least!) and tuck away cords better and so forth, but since it looks like we’re moving soon (!!!), I don’t really see the point. Still, my bits of the bedroom are no longer a festering wasteland of not-clean-not-unclean-laundry-and-baby-hazards, so that’s something.

The Perks of Being an Adult

For me, one of the best parts of being an adult is getting to finally respond in kind, to turn around with all the generosity and love that’s been showered on me, and pour it back out.

Last night was one of those nights. We had over J’s research students in the evening, and the morning before was spent vacuuming and baking bread and quiche and brownies, waffling about whether to say grace at dinner (yes) and whether to get fancy sodas for the kids, since we wouldn’t be serving alcohol (also yes). Should I introduce myself as Katherine? Mrs. Bowers? Mrs. Grimm Bowers? It was all new territory for us.

As a college student at a lovely, tiny college, I enjoyed the same occasional hospitality from my professors. Though I loved my college years, I was terribly, incurably homesick, and being a part of a family for an evening meal, or stopping by for tea, or attending a backyard cookout, helped me feel more a part of the wider world, not some untethered dorm-dweller, wild and free.

The best parts of parenting are the same. I remember my dad’s voice hoarse from bedtime renditions of Frog and Toad Are Friends, and recently we snagged our own copy at Goodwill. I remember the feeling of surest safety as my mom or dad carried me not-quite-sleeping into the house, and now I heave my own children, limp with sleep, onto my shoulder. People, older people, pour out their loving kindness to you, and you, in turn, pour that same kindness out to others when you grow up.

Hosting students was one of the things we talked about in fall 2014, as we started to position our family for the endless hurdles of academic applications, unaware the situation would instantly get stickier with the sweet surprise of Eleanor Ruth. I had these visions that followed me as I lay morning sick on the couch and J left for interview after interview in places I could only imagine. (Iowa!) Someday, we’d have a house of warmth and hospitality, humble and homey, people coming and going, always room at the table for one more.

Last night, as we sat in our living room 500 miles from those dreams, surrounded by young voices, eating brownies and discussing Narnia and Hogwarts, I felt the satisfaction of a dream achieved.

It was a good feeling, and one that sustains me this morning, in the wreckage of dirty dishes and alluring leftover brownies. Maybe it’s different for you. Maybe you’ll love the world with your medical expertise, or your lawn mower. But be sure that you do. You’ve been loved, and you owe it to the world.

 

Learning to Love Housekeeping

It’s an ongoing thing for me. It helps that I was raised in a family that values housework, in which both parents adopted and enjoyed certain tasks. (Except ironing, which nobody claimed.) It helps that I’m an introvert who also enjoys structuring her own time. But beyond this foundation, I’ve had a lot to learn — I was a pretty useless kid, and until I was about 25, I moved often enough that I never had to clean baseboards or ovens. (Though I really probably should have.)

Still, here are some of my professional (homemaker) interests at the moment:

  • Roasting vegetables: For the first five years of our marriage, there were only two varieties of vegetables J and I prepared at home: green salad and jarred pasta sauce. We aren’t a lot better now, but I’m trying, honest. Lately, I’ve been moseying over to our local Sharp Shopper (which really deserves its own post on its manifold attractions), where I snag a bunch of vegetables that look attractive (HA, says 15-year-old Katherine), and then one day when the babes are sleeping or playing independently, I prep and roast them all on one pan, then divide them up and use them in stuff. I get to feel smug about serving crispity roast brussel sprouts, and roast broccoli in my pasta sauce and mushrooms and asparagus in my quiche. It reminds me of the line in Sisterland — “I heard myself say to Ben, ‘I’m going to compost the rest of the bok choy,’ and pretty much everything I was smug about then was encapsulated in that single sentence.
  • Hampers for the kids: I asked my parents to get Pippin a truck hamper for Christmas, and they did, even though now they think I’m even lamer than the year I asked for a vacuum for my birthday. (It’s a really great vacuum.) So now we have a hamper for Pippin’s room and I appropriated a toy bin for Scout’s room to use as a hamper there, and WHO KNEW, Pippin actually loves to put dirty clothes in the hamper. So each weekday morning the three of us straighten up the kids’ rooms. It takes about ten minutes and then their rooms don’t look like crap. Please note: our room still looks like crap, because ten minutes won’t begin to put a dent in it.
  • Evening audiobooks: I’ve mentioned them before, but seriously, one of my favorite parts of the day is now cleaning up after dinner. J takes the kids downstairs to “bond” with them (wrestle and watch David Attenborough documentaries, as far as I can tell), and until Scout starts up her dinosaur chorus of shrieks summoning her personal milk truck, I wash dishes and straighten up and fold and put away laundry. And all the while I listen to Librivox recordings of classics, or, more recently, digital audiobooks from the library. Free hands, clear head, can’t lose, or something like that.
  • Slow cooker batch prep: On the days when I’m not using the slow cooker to make the meal itself, I try to put it to work for something else. Great things I’ve found to make in there: caramelized onions; roasted garlic; and even my arch nemesis, dried beans. Having these pre-prepared ingredients makes it easier to make meals special, and if I never have to sauté another onion at dinnertime as the baby bounces frantically in her exersaucer and the toddler hurtles trucks under my feet, it will be too soon.

Mater’s Tall Tales

Some of my most-regretted purchases as a parent come from thrift shops.

At the time, it seems like such a small price to pay. $.50 for a toy or book and Pippin will give me leave to wander and browse, to find myself a pair of jeans, or score some pajamas for Eleanor’s second winter.

But then we end up with bizarre stuff, because inevitably he chooses the worst item on offer. We’ve lugged home decrepit fire trucks immediately (and eternally) relegated to the “repair shop” of Papa’s desk. It’s how we ended up buying back (!!!) a terrible Bob the Builder board book I’d donated to the family center tag sale. And fairly recently, we came home with our very own copy of Mater’s Tall Tales.

Pippin loves Tow Mater, and this book has become the bane of our existence. He wants it read to him day in and day out, and when we aren’t reading it to him, he’s “reading” it to his poor unsuspecting little sister. He’s memorized it to a hitherto unprecedented degree, and when a sweet guest tried to skim it in her reading, he firmly pointed out the passages she’d skipped.

At first it was kind of fun to channel my South Georgia college roommates and lay the accent on nice and thick, and to be fair, the book is gently funny for the first 37 readings. (It beats the hell out of that Bob the Builder book, anyway.) Eventually, my hatred of Mater began to fester.

All the while, though, these last few weeks, we’ve been making grownup plans for Pippin. We joined waitlists for a preschool and a homeschool co-op, and started him on swim lessons, which he bravely attends in order to earn a yogurt raisin reward afterwards.

And I realized I’ve been overlooking what a big deal Mater’s Tall Tales is in Pippin’s life: not just another truck book, the fruit of a lifelong obsession, but a step toward literacy. As he flips the pages himself, quoting the adored book verbatim, I find, for the moment, I can remain patient.

After all, ladies and gentlecars, soon he’ll be reading on his own, and maybe I’ll miss this endless stream of inane truck books.

 

on being the kind of person who contemplates purchasing a diaper cream applicator tool

A few weeks ago, I sat at the local gelato shop with a friend and mother of four. As I chipped away at my chocolate gelato with that tiny shovel they give you, savoring the freedom granted me by my babysitting parents — unaware that the baby was about to wake up wailing — we talked about how our Christmases had gone.

Mine was one for the books, in which we survived and even at times flourished while traveling 2,100 miles in three weeks with two little kids. But it was also a time when I had to get into diaper cream in a big way — those little bums didn’t take well to so much car travel, after all.

My friend was talking about how there was a period in her life when two of her childhood friends kept racking up personal achievements while she mostly just kept having babies. I think I know what she meant — how you can feel comically divorced from the life you thought you wanted, the one that keeps marching on beyond you as you become an expert in realms you never expected to even visit.

For awhile at that point, I’d been eyeing the Baby Bum Brush Diaper Cream Applicator Tool (Blue). I was beyond sick of applying butt paste a half dozen times a day, and ready any break I could get in the routine. But another part of me couldn’t believe I was the kind of person who’d even consider a ridiculous purchase like this. I did really well in college! I have a master’s degree! My soul rebelled at even having to apply diaper cream at all. It’s way below my pay grade.

Except, of course, that I don’t actually have a pay grade anymore.

Then last week, Scout underwent a round of antibiotics and it was back to the Desitin in a big way, and I still didn’t have my Baby Bum Brush Diaper Cream Applicator Tool (Blue). I muddled on just the same as the antibiotics blasted through her system, smearing it on over and over with a thousand diaper changes, staring vacantly out the window at the melting snow.

But something happened, in time. I still don’t like having to touch that little rashy butt, but I began to appreciate the small rhythm in my day, the pause from the noise of toddler play, moving to a quiet room, staring out a sunny window, and waiting a beat or two for a little bum to dry. I’s a moment where I can think my own thoughts uninterrupted, can tickle a soft, warm baby belly, then sit in a dim room and read a snatch of e-book.

I am still not sure if I’m the kind of person to buy a Baby Bum Brush Diaper Cream Applicator Tool (Blue), but I might be becoming the kind of person who doesn’t mind applying diaper cream and soothing a little person, and that seems no small accomplishment.