Wedding Vows, Remembered

My husband and I didn't exchange vows when we were married. Instead, I chose one of my favorite sonnets from my very favorite poet, Elizabeth Barett Browning, for us to recite to each other. Part of it was probably my desire to do something "different"--an urge that has plagued me my entire life, and most certainly extended to my nuptials. But mostly it was because these words are so powerful to me, and they are steeped with the devotion and unity that marriage entails.

Sonnet VI

by Elizabeth Barett Browning

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand

Henceforth in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore--
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

It's similar to wedding vows, in a way. It is a pledge of unity, and a description of the way a marriage unites two souls. At first, it seems melancholy, but after the thousands of times I've probably read this, it is simply beautiful. So succinctly it portrays lifelong, deep love. And it reminds me of all those same vows that many speak on their wedding day, but in a deeper, more provocative way.

I'm glad we used these words on our wedding day. I was thinking of them today; we have had a long, tough week in terms of our marriage, snapping at each other more often than normal. But we still have this commitment--this vow--that we know neither of us will ever break. My heart will forever have pulses that beat double.

Six Word Fridays: Perfection

a perfect life: a pipe dream.
life's a messy, seldom simple thing.
goals not completed, plans are misplaced--
still, there's perfection to savor, taste:

baby fingers and baby toes, wiggling;
soft kisses and your hand's caress;
knowing what's ours, is ours completely
whether it's perfect (or slightly not).

a perfect life? not for us.
but what we have is abundant.
abundance of perfections wrapped in complication.
perfect seems a little boring, comparatively.


Playground Parenting: Encouragers, Tolerators, and Refusers

There are three kinds of parents here at Discovery Playground, with its rock climbing wall, splash pad, and gigantic sand pit: Encouragers, Tolerators, and Refusers. I've seen them all in the last few weeks, and the ample amount of time we've spent here has given me plenty of time to observe these creatures as they play out their parenting tactics here in the park.

The first group, the Encouragers, are by far my most favorite group; it's a fairly biased opinon, however, since I count myself among them. Encouragers are good at two things: playing with their children, and encouraging explorative play, and letting their children play without them, letting them explore the park with an entirely minimal amount of supervision. Encouragers are often found on the opposite side of the park from their children, although you can tell they know exactly where each child can be found. Should they lose sight, Encouragers will go on excursions, often stopping to praise their kids for the fun things they've found to do. Encouragers can also be found frolicking on the splash pad or digging tunnels in the sand pit. Their children may or may not be with them when they do this.

The second group, the Tolerators, can sometimes be mistaken for Encouragers, because they tend to give their children a little space still, and they still let them play with everything--even if that means letting them get wet or dirty. The biggest difference is plain on their faces, though-- they really don't want a wet or dirty child. But they also don't want to deny their child the fun they're obviously having. So they tolerate it, but their tolerance wears out quickly. For this reason, you'll find Tolerators slightly closer to their children, usually only a few paces from arm's reach, ready to grab a child who has gotten too dirty or wet, encouraging them to move on to something less...messy. Like how about the slides? I understand Tolerators, and I think that some of them are Encouragers at heart. Maybe this particular day, though, they have to meet someone for lunch or go to the grocery store. And maybe they don't want to do that with a wet child with sand in his diaper. I get it.

The third group, however, I don't think I'll ever understand. Refusers are people who should never have brought their child to the park in the first place, because they are so obviously uncomfortable with being there. Refusers lead their children through the park, gently pulling them past anything they don't want to get in to (which is usually everything). Case in point: I just saw a mom walking her son around the park, holding on to his collar. When he reached to open the gate to the sand pit, she quickly turned him, and told him the sand pit was closed and he couldn't go in. Next, she gingerly coaxed him around the splash pad and on to the other side of the park. True Refuser style often includes little white lies such as "that part of the park is closed," or "it's time for the park to close now." I actually saw one mom bring her little girl in, walk her around the park with her nose up, telling the daughter not to touch anything, and then leave 5 minutes later. Seriously. Why did you come here? It's like they're punishing their children, bringing them to a Museum of Childhood to show them all the things they're not allowed to do.

It's interesting to watch the dynamics of families at this park, and the way each type of parenting style affects the play of their kids. I think that this particular type of park is a perfect place to observe such interactions, since it was made specifically as a place to explore. The different types of playground parents are really just different parenting styles being acted out in the park. Some of us think that kids should be kids, even when that's a little (or a lot) messy. Others think they should constantly be steering their children in the "right" (clean, dry, non-dangerous) direction. There are, of course, benefits to both angles, and the "best" parenting techniques are probably a combination of the two extremes (although even the Tolerators don't seem to have it just right, because they just look so uncomfortable with their children's freedom).

I'll never be a Refuser ('cause if I'm in that bad of a mood, we just won't drive to the park), and sometimes I might be a little bit of a Tolerator. At the end of the day, though, when I take my children to any park, I try to let them be in charge. They so rarely get that opportunity, and the amazing, fun things they discover when you let them loose is worth sandy diapers and wet shorts any day.


It's all too much

Lately, it's seemed like there's entirely too much on my plate. And I've been having trouble coping. There are so many things that I want to do, but they all get lost in the ins and outs of our day-to-day. Summer is in full swing, and I've been making an effort to take my children to the park every day. Not because I have to, but because I want to. But just that simple task creates complications for the rest of the day. Going to the park means taking my husband to work. Taking my husband to work means coming back in four hours to pick him up for lunch. And then the kids fall asleep in the car, later on refusing their "real" nap because their little kid logic is convinced that the 10 minutes in the car was long enough.

This cycle keeps repeating itself. And some days I'll forgo my park-every-day goal and decide to just stay home, because it feels like we're never here lately. But then my husband will need me to run an errand. Or my grandma will ask me to stop by for something. Or my sister will want to spend the day at the lake. None of these things are bad or wrong or even undesirable. But they do manage to suck us back in to the cycle.

Then there's stuff like this blog. Things that I love so much and hold so dear. And even when there is time, I feel so anxious about the other things that I'm not doing that I can't concentrate on it. I open this interface to write a post and nothing comes. Or I write half of something and decide that it's unworthy. Then I decide to read other blogs and can't even muster the energy to leave comments.

I haven't cleaned my entire house now for two weeks. My laundry is done, but is wrinkling in baskets as we speak. I have 3 days worth of dishes sitting on my kitchen counter. When I decided to stay at home, I thought this would be my "job"--the upkeep of our house. It can be spotless! I'll have so much time to do it! I thought. Man, I was wrong. Either that, or I'm just really bad at being a homemaker. Either way, my job description now is child entertainer/errand runner. Oh, and do a load of laundry before you leave for the library.

I'm coming to terms with all of this; I'm trying to work on some of it, and I'm trying to be ok with letting some of it slide. Because even though I stay at home with my children all day, I still don't have time to "do it all." Maybe some people do. And I applaud them. But for me, a day with smiling children, and perhaps dinner on the table at a reasonable time, is enough. It has to be.


Six Word Fridays: Together

I saw a friend this week.
She'd been away for several years.
And when she looked at our boys,
She said, "It's so amazing seeing
Half you and half husband combined."
And it made me smile wholeheartedly.
Because I always see YOU there.
Maybe you always see me there.
But it's both of us, together.


Six Word Fridays: You

Big hearted procrastinator, two screws loose.


Conservation of Youth

My younger son has just turned two, and even though I've already done this once, I am constantly blown away by his rapidly developing personality and skills. The day he turned two, he began chanting, "I do it! I do it!" as if someone had given him instructions on how 2-year-olds were supposed to act. yesterday, he sang me "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and got (almost) all the words right. Both of my boys surprise me with their newfound talents almost on a daily basis. I am in awe of how fast they are growing; increasingly, I'm aware of how quickly time has begun to move.

It's cliche, I know but also terribly, beautifully ture: they grow up so fast. For all my wistful longings to have my "life" back, I don't want to turn around one day and realize that my children are all grown up. As Thoreau would say, this is truly a time to "suck all the marrow out of life." My children change daily; sometimes it almost seems hourly. As beautiful as it is to witness, it also fills me with anxiety: I'm so afraid of missing out on the little moments that make up their lifetimes!

Yesterday, as I watched my little Jake eat his dinner, chatting to me about his day, I started thinking about how fleeting each phase of childhood can be. What he does repeatedly today could easily be a thing of the past tomorrow. I couldn't possibly recount the path he took from one-year-old to two-year-old, or remember the exact moments when he started acting so grown up. They are too small and varied, but still startlingly important. I decided as we sat at the dinner table that I should treat each day as its own age. Jacob is two all year, but he's only THIS kind of two today. I'd like to strive to celebrate the joys of each day, remembering that today's mundane is tomorrow's faded memory.

While it's inevitable that we won't have time to revel in every "age of the day" because of other responsibilities, it's important that we recognize it as often as we can. Protecting those little moments that sometimes come only once in their lifetimes is essential to truly savor every day of their lives. It's a kind of conservation of their youth, and we are the rangers, ensuring things remain the way they're meant to be.


Mommy, Off Duty

I sent my children to their grandma's house this afternoon. She has the day off, and she loves having them come play with her. They love it too. And, frankly, I love the break it gives me--the uninterrupted solitude it provides. I feel a little guilty for how much I enjoy it, especially when I think about all of the poor mothers out there who don't have as much opportunity as I do for a break. Every time my family makes me want to pull my hair out with their meddling and such, I try REALLY HARD to remember why it's nice to have family so close. Because for all the little things that get annoying about having both of our families live nearby, there are some obviously huge benefits.

Today, though, I feel especially guilty about having surrendered my children to grandma. Because I didn't even *really* feel like I needed a break. My house is in terrible need of a deep clean, which is what I intend to do with this sudden "free time," but I already miss my boys and it's only been an hour. Usually I don't really start to get anxious for them to be home for at least a few hours, if not more.

The wind is terrible here today. It's the kind of wind that makes you feel like you could be blown away in it. And just this morning, James was anxiously trying to make his kite fly, to no avail. The wind wasn't strong enough this morning. Now, I see the little boy from down the street--the little boy James begs me daily to go play with--out in the empty field across from my house, flying a kite with his mom. And James isn't here. And I feel terrible.

Is a little "break" from my children worth the possible missed opportunities for enjoying them? Is it selfish of me to want some time that isn't dominated by toys and tantrums? Maybe yes, maybe no. I have friends who think it's ludicrous that I ever send my children to stay with their grandparents overnight, and I have others who are happy that I have the opportunity. I suppose it comes down to a matter of opinion. But today, instead of feeling recharged and relaxed from this break, I kind of just feel lonely.

Remind me of this tomorrow, when the boys are back home and the toys and tantrums reconvene. Perhaps my outlook will be slightly different. :p



At first, when there was only one, my husband and I looked at each other and said, "We could be done." Because having him was more than fulfilling. We were satisfied. And yet.

Yet we knew we weren't done. For a few reasons. Because he was growing up and I was craving more tiny fingers and baby breath. Because we'd always wanted at least three. But mostly, because we didn't want our first to grow up without a sibling.

My husband and I both have siblings; he has four, I have two. Although we both have our share of horror stories about the trials of sibling-hood, we never considered having only one child. It was a strange feeling, being content with just the one. Our desire for our son to have a sibling overcame any doubts we may have had, though.

When I imagined James interacting with his new little brother, I thought of them happily playing in our yard, laughing and smiling and enjoying each other. "Let's have them close together," I told my husband, "so they'll have more in common as they grow."

That idea makes me laugh now. Because right now, the 18 months between them feels like a lot more than a year and a half. And they have things in "common" (like both wanting the SAME Buzz Lightyear toy even though we have 3. identical. toys.), their commonalities usually end in screaming and wrestling and forceful separation. James is quiet, contemplative, and analytical; Jacob is loud, rash, and dangerously curious. Right now, they don't get along. At all. And yet.

Yet I hope for the future. They're still so young now, and I have a hope that as they grow, things will get a little better. I'm trying desperately to ignore my own history--the fights with my sister that lasted until she graduated from high school and went away to college. But there were good times, too. Great times. And I hope my children can have some of those.

I look at myself and at my husband now, and I see the gaping hole in our lives where our siblings should be. They are "here," but not really. Not like I want them to be. Siblings should be built-in, lifelong friends that share an entire lifetime of memories with you. But our lives have changed and we've grown apart, and it's the hardest growing apart to experience. My sister--for the first seven years of my life, the only sibling I had--lives in the same city I do. We see each other once a week, most of the time. But our interactions feel strained. We chit-chat. I think we're both afraid to really talk. Our lives have taken us down such drastically different roads that it seems we never really see eye to eye any longer. I see my husband interact with his 3 brothers in almost the exact same way. There's still love there, but almost no kinship. As the years roll by, I fear we'll only interact with our siblings at the standard holiday and birthday celebrations.

As I watch my boys yell and wrestle now, I worry that their future will be the same. Is this just part of growing up? What can I do to make sure the bond of brotherhood doesn't decay over time? Sibling kinship is what I wanted for my boys. I'm desperately hoping sibling rivalry doesn't overshadow it.


Six Word Fridays: Feeling

"You hurt my feelings," James says.
I've just punished him for something.
And it breaks my heart to hear.
I remember being young like him.
I remember when I got reprimanded.
And it hurts despite probable guilt.
I know I can't always recant.
I know I shouldn't do it.
But sometimes I would like to.
Because hurting feelings isn't mommy's job.


The Great Homeschool Debate

I know that my children are only 2 and 3, but discussions of their entry in to school have already started to surface between my husband and myself. He, having had an extremely terrible experience in the public school system, is insistent that I homeschool our children. I, having loved school and having thrived in a public school environment, am perfectly fine with sending my little ones off on that big, yellow bus to public school. And, strangely, I feel a little stronger about it than I would have expected from myself.

There is a lot of emotion tied up in school for me. Things that have very little to do with what I learned there, and a whole lot to do with the friendships I forged over recess and study hall. I moved quite a bit while I was growing up, and the friendships I managed to create every time I started school made each new transition bearable, albeit slightly melancholy for the friends I had to leave behind. So many of these people-- quite a few of whom I still love and count as friends today--I would never have met if I had been homeschooled.

For my husband, the opposite argument can be made. He hated school, didn't do well in his classes, and suffered from a kind of all-around bullying that I thought only existed in movies. He went to the same school for much of his public school career, in a small town that couldn't have had more than 100 students at any given time. Once he got branded (for whatever reason), he became the kid that got picked on every day. In high school, he even had a teacher add to the bullying, opening his locker so some kids could get his brand new Stetson that he'd been saving for all summer so they could cut it in half. He has true horror stories. When he finally decided to change schools and be bussed to the city for his last two years of high school, his only comment on the improvement was that people didn't care that he dressed like a "cowboy" any more than they cared about the kids with baggy jeans or the ones who looked like hippies. But, he reminds me, it is also where he was introduced to underage drinking and drugs.

Even my mother-in-law has started in on this debate, lamenting the downfall of public schools. They're so DANGEROUS now! I'd NEVER send my kids there! Gangs and sex and drugs! Oh my! She's pretty worried about the kinds of things we'll be exposing the children to if we send them to public school. I, on the other hand, have trouble trusting the opinion of someone who counts Fox News as her only source of "facts" when it comes to something like this.

For a long time, in my mind, the issue has been settled. I want my children to go to public school. I want them to get the entire school experience. I know some of it won't be pretty, but I'm willing to trust my parenting skills enough to think we can make it over most of the hurdles that will come along. Even though my husband still brings up homeschooling occasionally, this is one fight I don't think he really expects to win.

Yesterday, however, a friend of ours got me thinking about this all over again. She asked if we were planning on homeschooling our children. I told her, "Uh, well, it's still in debate. We've got a few more years to decide," and she started telling me about a program she's been researching that helps you fund field trips and science experiments for your homeschooled children. She was homeschooled, and for a very long time she's been absolutely sure she wanted to send her children to a school (although she ideally would send them to private school). She disliked her homeschool experience, partly on the basis of things similar to my fears (lack of social interaction being the biggest), but also for reasons of her own. She didn't get to experience a lot of hands-on learning because her mom couldn't afford to buy a lot of materials for them. So her homeschool experience was lackluster; she didn't have a desire to repeat that for her children. After having done a little research, however, she's changed her mind and she's ready to dive in to homeschooling.

I'm definitely not convinced that I want to homeschool my children, but this did put a bug in my ear. My husband, when we discuss the Homeschool Debate, always reminds me of the amazing things I can do with my children that a public school wouldn't be able to provide--the caring, hands-on attention I would be able to give them. And this is tempting. But it also feels a little selfish. Or maybe sending them to public school is the more selfish option, and I'm just coming up with reasons not to keep my kids at home for the next 12 years? I don't know. I do know that my older son already has a passion for other children, squealing with glee when he sees other kids his age on the playground at the park. Can I deny him the sweet savor of daily peer interaction just to protect him from possible unsavory interactions? Would the exciting hands-on activities I could provide from home be enough to fulfill his mind and win over his heart? I'm not so sure.

I know people on both sides of this debate, and I would love feedback on this. What do you love about homeschooling your children? What's nice about putting them on the bus every day? Do you feel like your homeschooled children get enough social interactions with their peers? What have been the drawbacks of public school--bad habits, peer pressure? I'd love to know. You can leave a comment, or if you have a longer message to contribute, you can email me at jhildebr at gonzaga dot edu.


Six Word Fridays: Found

Just this morning I was searching.
Searching for something haphazardly set aside.
Now, because my search was unsuccessful,
We'll consider that item officially lost.

Who knows when we'll find it.
Probably when we don't need it.
And it will irk me terribly.
Why does that always happen, anyway?

It makes me so very frustrated.
But then I start to think.
I feel lost on occasion, too.
And I find myself unexpectedly, too.

I find myself in little moments.
In my morning cup of coffee,
In a cuddle from my children,
In a smile from my husband.

Maybe we lose things on purpose.
So we can recall their necessity.
Or just so we can reflect
On what things really need finding.


Happy Birthday, Little One

Two years ago on this day, I was a bundle of nerves and anticipation. I knew exactly what day you were coming, and I knew what time. Somehow, all that knowledge made me even more nervous than the first time around. Maybe because I knew what to expect. Or at least, I thought I knew.

Just like with your big brother, I had a c-section. This one, though, was planned, unlike the scary emergency one when he was born. In some ways, this made it more frightening; I didn't have my adrenaline pumping already when it was time to enter the operating room. I kept holding on to an image of me holding my new baby--my little Jacob--to keep myself from crying. I couldn't wait for you to be here. My excitement to meet you was laced with anxiety over needles and scalpels and masks and sheets.

Time seemed to pass so slowly once I was ready for surgery. I held my breath as I waited for your father to come sit next to my head; he stroked my hair and kissed me gently, excitement growing on his own face. I couldn't help but wonder what your brother was up to; he surely had no idea what his parents were doing. But the thought quickly passed and my attention was back on you. It was time.

It seemed to take forever, although I know it wasn't really that long. I ached to meet you, but the doctors near my feet were treating this like break time around the water cooler, chit-chatting about vacations and their own children, occasionally slipping in an order to a nurse or noting some portion of my anatomy. Your father stood up to watch as the doctor finally pulled you from my womb. I thought I knew what to expect. It would take a moment, and then you would start to cry.

You were the loudest little baby I've ever heard. Much louder than your brother. Instantly, you announced yourself to the world.

When they brought you to me, I was shocked. At your size, at my instant and total love, at your booming baby voice echoing through the operating room. You were big, loud, and beautiful.

And absolutely nothing like I expected.

You and your brother are so different, but so equally amazing. You have a huge heart and a mischievous mind, and your booming voice is still a notable attribute.

I love you, little Jacob. Happy birthday, Little One.