Why parenting never gets easier – and why it’s amazing.

The countless diaper changes, sleepless nights and dirty dishes create a blur of beautiful chaos those early years of parenthood. Add in siblings close in age and you lay your head every night thankful everyone survived another day. The kids get older, you become a bit wiser until eventually one day goes by unnoticed as anything other than unremarkable. And it becomes two and soon a few weeks and then you realize that without the pomp and circumstance that celebrated your entry to parenthood, you’ve entered an entirely new phase that involves noticeably fewer tears from everyone.

I am never so naive to think that I’ve got this parenting thing down. But we seem to have travelled through the survival phase known as babydom and toddlerhood and arrived at the other side: school-aged.

And things become markedly calmer and you think, “This is easy! We could totally have six kids.”

Then you’re kid does something awesome like break her arm in such a way that it’ll require surgery, pins and a full arm cast. Because, you know, God is hilarious and has awesome ways of gently reminding me when I’ve become too big for my britches.

The kids get bigger and so do the problems. I’m not talking strictly about physical injuries. While I’m no longer concerned with the perils of potty training, I’m now facing the challenge of raising two young girls with healthy body images and leading them through the maze of mean girls and self esteem. While this chapter of parenting is typically less physically demanding – although the shuttle service between school carpool and ballet classes and traffic is exhausting – it is a race of emotional and mental endurance. I’ve shifted my energy away from the day-to-day and toward the long task of character-building and emotional development.

They ask Big Life Questions that I usually feel wholly ill-equipped to answer. You must formulate a concise, spur-of-the-moment response when your five year old explains that sometimes she feels like God isn’t close and wonders if I’m sure He really thinks she’s special enough. Or when she confides that she isn’t sure she’s pretty enough. Or if I’m sure there isn’t even one thing that would ever make me stop loving her – what if she steals a rainbow? Because to a five year old, there is nothing worse than stealing a rainbow.

I want to blame the influence of peers and society but truthfully, I’m confident most women struggle with the same questions regardless of our age, social circle or upbringing. The lessons that we instill now – or don’t – will have a lasting effect far into adulthood. Nurturing a sense of value and self-worth, cultivating grace and generosity and taming arrogance and superiority. Are we ever good enough? Interesting enough? Thin enough? Strong enough? That stuff is hard.

When Josh and I decided to have kids, it was a pretty short conversation and a sudden shift from my career-oriented life goals. And my view of parenting was very short-sited and I, embarrassingly, didn’t think what it meant to be a parent past the first year. I never entertained the idea that God may bless us with daughters instead of the enviably less dramatic male option. Instead, He gave us and one then another incredible little female human with tender hearts that need guarded and guided and given a safe place to flourish.

I want them to grow strong – physically and emotionally. I will teach them to shine brightly and boldly. I will show them that vulnerability is not weakness. I will encourage them to embrace difficulties and remain joyous through the challenges.

I miss the simpler days of parenting when snuggles and Momma milk made everything better. But how fortunate am I to be tasked as steward of such precious gifts?

Please, please don’t let me screw them up.

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Farming.

I was raised on a 500 acre dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania. My childhood was spent constructing forts in the hay loft and chasing renegade cows down back country roads. Countless times I returned to the house with one less muck boot after rainstorms turned the pasture into a mud pint. But by the age of 8, I wanted nothing more than to leave the small town to fill the larger britches only found in city living. The arts, culture and community found in cities sing a song that harmonizes with my soul.

But the longer I live out of the country, the more I realize there’s another part of me that’s starving. I suppose this is why I feel most comfortable at the farmer’s markets discussing heirlooms and companion planting with the farmers. Seeing that I’ve spent my adult life between the corporate world and as a stay at home momma, I don’t have any real talent in farming but it’s more familiar to me than discussing family vacations to Disney or the newest gadget.

Real farming is far from the idealistic version Americana portrays. It’s a lot of sweat, swearing and heartache. But it’s genuine. It’s sacrificing the luxury of time and convenience for the sake of growing food and crop. There is no cheating or cutting corners. You are subject to the elements, acts of God and sometimes just dumb luck. I remember winters when the temperatures would drop dangerously low and my father would spend nights in the barn testing faucets to make sure water lines wouldn’t freeze and packing in extra hay around the cows. It makes me proud to be the daughter of a third generation farmer.

Sorry. That was a bit of a tangent, wasn’t it?

By the nature of Josh’s job and our relocations, we’ve been city dwellers since college. Or at least suburban settlers. As we eased into a more natural lifestyle, we wanted to source most of our diets directly from farmers and support those who’s practices we believe in. We started shopping at farmers markets and eventually joined a CSA in Savannah. With our move to Charlotte, we’ve had to rebuild our network of farms and it’s hard. Not everyone has good farming practices and many consumers don’t ask the questions that matter to me. So I was stoked to snag a LivingSocial deal for the seventh Charlotte area Know Your Farms Tour and get a chance to see the farms in person and meet the farmers face to face.

The event included 13 farms split between Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They spanned from far Northwest Charlotte across to the University area so with traffic and travel, we could only squeeze in three farms. But we weren’t left missing out on anything. We visited Wish We Had Acres (a dairy goat and herbal medicine farm), Apple Orchard Farms (beef, pork, eggs, honey – oh, I could go on) and Allee’Bubba Farms (ducks, chickens, vegetables and horseback riding in the most unusual suburban setting) and left feeling nothing less than inspired.

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SONY DSCIMG_2288SONY DSCSONY DSCFarming is hard. But it’s good. I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for a lifetime full of Disney adventures and a part of me worries I’m depriving my children of the goodness that comes with being a farm kid. The world is changing and I want to want less and apply my efforts toward those things that are simple and sustainable.

Will we become farmers? I’m not sure. But homesteading? I may be able to hang.

“When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
-Masanobu Fukuoka

Tea time.

When I was a wee babe, I like to think I was relatively easy-going. I was the youngest of four girls and learned early on to go with the flow. I loved to meet new people and even a trip to the grocery store was an adventure. But when I was around 2 years old, my mom returned to work and I was sent to daycare.

I hated daycare.

I didn’t like the dark basement playroom. I thought the teachers were bossy. The other kids were too noisy. I was convinced that one day my mother would simply forget to retrieve me and I’d be stuck with those idiots forever (hmm. I wonder where B gets it from?). I made my disdain known and with help from my spectacular persuasion skills, my mom worked out arrangements for my grandmother to watch me.

Grandma Irene was, and is, awesome. She pushed a kitchen chair over to the sink and let me help wash the dishes although now, I realize I probably wasn’t much help at all. She always chewed half a stick of Double Mint chewing gum and when we stopped at the service station – because it was so much more than just a gas station – she would buy me my own roll of Bubble Tape. Sometimes I would spend “darks” at her and my grandfather’s old farmhouse. The best part, aside from telling tales about my imaginary friends, was having some of Grandma Irene’s tea.

I never asked to for tea – it always had to be offered. That was probably one of my own silly rules but it kept the occasion special. I don’t know what made the tea taste so magical. I’m pretty sure it was brewed using just basic Lipton black tea bags. It was never made in the microwave but always with boiling water from the tea kettle. Maybe it was something about the well water that gave it a distinct taste that I’ve never been able to duplicate.

Regardless, my lifelong love for tea was born during those early years with Grandma Irene.

I’ve been drinking lots of tea in recent years. Echinacea and herbal tea when sick, green tea for its antioxidants, red raspberry leaf tea through my pregnancies, mother’s milk tea while nursing, jasmine green tea on cold evenings and many, many more. In fact, I have an entire shelf in my kitchen to house my varieties. I have a tea to meet any mood or ailment.

Lately, my favorite is the Emperor’s Bride from The Tea Room. It’s a black tea with bits of dried orange and pineapple. It has a great fruit flavor without being overly sweet. A perfect bit of joy in a cup.

black gold.

Here is a tidbit of knowledge for you: Did you know that you can decaffeinate any tea at home? Fill your mesh ball (I prefer the pincer to the chain) with loose tea and place it in your cup. Pour boiling water over the mesh ball and let steep for 30 seconds. Toss the tea water and with it goes the caffeine. Then fill your cup a second time and let steep to your preferred strength.

You can get at least two brews from a single serving of tea but the second may have to steep longer. Since I have trouble sleeping, I give him the first caffeinated cup and I enjoy the second decaffeinated one.

We’re drinking lots of tea this week and not a single brew goes by that I don’t think of Grandma Irene. Not just because of her mysteriously tasty tea but because of the incredible memories made with her.

I think one of the best parts of growing older is having the ability and perspective to remember your own childhood with fondness. Not because it was always perfect, but because it created you.