Monday, July 28, 2014

In the In Between

When the hours burn up in front of my eyes like newspapers on fire, when I go from nursing, to scrubbing poop off the infant swing, to picking up little pieces of shredded paper, to filling up a sippy cup, to reorganizing my storage systems, to scheduling when I'm going to blend up the humus for tonight's dinner, I look back fondly on the days when I could choose whom I wished to serve and when I would serve them. Those days when I could listen to the refrigerator humming and the planes outside powering down, when jumping in the car and running to the grocery store to pick up a dozen eggs was a quick and simple task, when all my time was MINE and all my body parts were MINE and all my thoughts were MINE MINE MINE!

So I tell myself, it’s just a phase. Soon the children will be able to do these things on their own. One day they’ll be able to take care of themselves. One day they’ll move out, and Phil and I will be able to travel, have decadent meals to the sound of our own voices, install double-paned windows and A.C. It’ll come to pass.

But then I see my mom accepting more and more responsibilities as she cares for her parents and her mother-in-law. I see her days often occupied with doctor’s appointments. I see her handwriting on a sign on my grandpa’s desk, “Correo de semana.” She’s helping to keep him organized like she did with us when we were children. She made signs like that for our dressers: shirts, pants, underwear, socks etc. She taped them to the fronts our drawers. 

Once my mom was where I am now, caring full time for little people. Giving all her energy and thoughts to the raising of us children. Now she is doing it again, on the other end. She has passed beyond the stage that I long for.

My aunt, Terri, too. I hear of the little lists my grandma gives her, of the Sunday trips to Trader Joe’s for groceries, of the new reverse osmosis spigot in Terri’s house so that water is more easily acquired.

I watch it happening on both sides. 

Phil’s grandpa, Jerry, is now living under Kirk and Gretchen’s full time care. I see Gretchen serving Jerry in all capacities. She wonders about the vacations that she has planned and longs to go to church with her husband again.

And that generation—George and Grace Latapie, Jerry Stevens, Mary Taylor, Barbara and Robert Seelye—they too are losing their freedoms: the freedom to move about unhindered, the freedom to drive, the freedom to be alone, to shop, to write checks, get a hair cut, and bathe oneself. They’re coming to the end of this mortal life, and it seems that God demands we leave with our hands unhinged from these freedoms.

Oh God, is this what awaits me? Shall I go from one stage of lost freedoms to the next until I lose the capacity to serve anyone and I myself must have others serve me as if I were a child?

Then this selfless state of motherhood is not just a phase. It is life. Those stages of no responsibilities, of being able to do what I want when I want, serving only when it’s convenient or easy or agreeable with my spiritual gifts . . . that's not the ideal life at all. Those so called easy times are merely breaths in between the panting, the blood flowing out of the heart before it flows back in, the drawing back of the hammer as it raises to strike the hot metal again. What a job! What a work! 

How then shall I live if this striking of my soul is the work of my life? It is the whole of life and not a stage to just get through so that I can enjoy myself with no one in my care. How might I better bend to the potter’s hands or allow this constant cleaning, caring, washing, listening, and feeding penetrate through to the heart of me and make me clean within? 

Dear God, have mercy on me. This is the part of the show where your Holy Spirit must come in and leaven this bread so it will rise. Otherwise I will be a deflated, self-seeking, lump of soul at the end of all things. 

May our hearts turn gold as our bodies grow cold.

Monday, July 7, 2014

What's Convenient and What's Necessary: Having a Baby in a Small House

When I became pregnant with our first child, my husband and I were living in a small two-storied apartment, which we called the studio. The downstairs was the kitchen, living room, and office. The upstairs was the bedroom and bathroom. The entire place was about 336 square feet: the size of a two car garage. So when we began registering for baby gear, I didn't want anything but the basics. Here's what I discovered was necessary. 

For the first 3 months you need only concern yourself with the baby’s basic needs: eating, diapers, clothes, sleeping, transportation, and medical needs.

1. Eating: I kept the following supplies next to the chair where I nursed/pumped: burp cloths (you can just use towels, though), a breast pump, lanolin (nipple cream), a stop watch, reading material, and breast pads, which you wear under your clothes for the first few weeks so that if you leak, you don’t leak onto your bras. Some people need them longer. If you’re returning to work, you’ll need a case of bottles (5-10) and a nursing cover.

2. Diapers: For a changing station, which ended up just being our bed, I had: diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, and a changing pad, which protected our bed from pee and pooh. If you use cloth, you’ll need a waterproof sack or pail for dirty diapers. We used disposable for the first 3 months while everything was so new. During that time we used our kitchen trash to dispose of diapers. Now that we use cloth, which by the way is WAY more work, I need no extra supplies aside from the diapers. Baby's bottoms don't stay as dry when using cloth, so having some baby powder is a good idea.

3. Clothing: You may find yourself changing baby more at the start as you figure out how to make diapers fit properly. Depending how often you'd like to do laundry, you'll need about 5-10 outfits for cool weather and 5-10 for warm weather. Keep in mind that drool and poop stain clothes yellow, so white outfits aren't ideal. Unless you’re planning on sleeping with baby, I suggest getting 2-3 sleep-sacks and/or 2-3 swaddling blankets.

4. Sleeping: At night I used Fisher-Price's Rock N' Play Sleeper, which has a small footprint. Here it is next to our queen-sized bed.

However, as soon as the baby was able to roll over (about 4-6 months), I upgraded to a co-sleeper (seen below), which is a small crib that can sit level with your bed. Ours didn't fit next to our bed, so we used it downstairs as another place to put the baby. One side flaps down giving you easy access to baby. If you use this, get 2-3 sheets and 2-3 mattress pads. No bumpers necessary.
Once baby was able to sit up, I upgraded again to a full sized crib. If you'd rather avoid finding a new place for the baby to sleep every few months, start off with a crib. If baby is going to be in another room I strongly recommend a baby monitor. I was anti-baby monitors at the start because I was convinced that only paranoid mothers used them, but when I was gifted one, it was a huge stress relief. It’s just too easy to worry at the beginning. 

5. Travel: car seat. If you want to go ultra minimalist, no stroller is needed; however, a baby carrier is the next best thing. We had a stroller that our car seat snapped into. This way, if baby was sleeping in the car, I didn't have to disturb him to get out and go shopping or what not. 

6. Medical needs: a humidifier (or when the baby is congested put him or her in the bathroom while a hot shower is running), baby Tylenol, thermometer, baby ibuprofen, and baby soap (normal soap and lotion can be used on a baby too, though). If you’re really concerned about space you don’t need a baby bathtub. Just use the kitchen sink with a towel for padding. Besides, as soon as the baby is able to sit up, he or she can sit up in the sink. We used a Baby Bathtub Bather for the first few months, which flattened and fit behind the couch.

It's nice, but not necessary to have different places to put the baby those first few months. We used a Boppie pillow, which can also be used in nursing too, and a jumper called Merry Muscles, which hung from our spiral staircase. Both are easy to store. We also used a Bumbo chair, which is not easy to store and can't be used until baby is able to hold up his or her head.

After the baby could sit-up, move, and walk, several more items came in handy. The bummer is that these items had to sit around the house unused and taking up space until the baby is ready to use them. If this frustrates you, as it did me, opting to gather these things at garage sales or just borrow them from friends to see if they’re worthwhile is a good option.

1. High chair: we got one with no footprint. It attaches to the side of the table and is good for traveling. You can use towels with ribbon for bibs but baby bibs are convenient. We used teaspoons and dessert forks for baby silverware.

2. Pack and play: I didn’t register for one. I regretted it later. While it does take up space and is heavy to carry, it was worth it to put my mind at ease when traveling. I’m also a believer that teaching baby to be comfortable being in a confined space is a good idea.

3. Sippy cups

4. Child proofing: plug inserts. We put rubber bands around our cabinet doors as opposed to installing hardware. We also made use of a baby gate. 

5. More Clothes: Again, depending on how often you want to do laundry you'll need 5-10 outfits for the following growth stages: 3-6 months, 6-9 months, 9-12 months, 12-18 months, 18-24 months. As soon as baby can crawl, usually between 6-12 months, baby will be getting his or her clothes much dirtier and you might find that having more outfits is necessary. Also, having pants that don't show dirt is ideal.

If you’re really concerned about space, here are things you don’t need: mobiles, bouncer seats, special nursing pillows, teething implements (use ice or celery or a cold cloth), bottle drying rack, bottle brushes (just put them on the top rack of your dishwasher, if you have one), pacifiers (take the hospitals), nose bulb (take the hospitals), swaddling blankets (take the hospitals, although having a few extra around is nice), scrub brushes (use wash clothes), entertainment centers, toys (everything is a toy at the start), tiny fingernail clippers (adult sized ones work), and towels (use your own).

Again, this was a minimalist approach. If you have a colicky or gassy baby or one that doesn't sleep well, you might find yourself throwing your minimalist ideals out the window. I lasted about three and a half months in that small space before the clutter made me crazy, and we moved into a two-bedroom apartment. 

With baby number two, I realized that I was willing to have the primary-colored paraphernalia (baby rocker, noise machine, Baby Einstein entertainment center, gas relief drops, anti-gas bottle, ear plugs, and baby bouncer) in order to keep the baby from crying.  The stuff didn't matter anymore. You might find yourself giving up many of your child-rearing ideals too just to keep the child from whining. Watch out! Having kids might just make you a big-old hypocrite.