Monday, April 18, 2011

Stepping Into Parenting--Part II

When other adults are speaking into the lives of  the children in the family, troubles inevitably arise.  Such was the case with us.  We went through spurts of working together with the other set of parents to raise our oldest children.  The other mother and I even shared the podium at a Mother's Day banquet on the joys of parenting together.  We took care of the other parents' infant the weekend they got married and attended the wedding to boot!  The children were happy--relieved--but things are not always as they appear in these situations.  It wasn't until long after the initial severing of the relationship between our oldest daughter and our family that I realized she was not acting alone in her desire to get away from our home.  The groundwork had been laid over a period of many years.  Again, as smart as I am, I was pretty naive.  But things happen and God knows all.

I couldn't figure out why the children never invited friends to our house on weekends.  I thought they were wallflowers; I had no idea how rich their social lives were on alternate weekends.  I didn't know they smoked and were involved in romantic relationships.  I believed them when they answered my questions about their activities at the other parents' house.  I don't blame the children; they would have had to be nearly perfect to resist such freedom.  We were strict.  I don't even totally blame the birth mother--we were raising her children and the court system allowed us to call all the shots.  I don't deny that we were to blame for making the children become chameleons.  It was safer and easier to view both homes as out of sight, out of mind.  It was certainly more peaceful for them. They should not have been put on the witness stand and grilled by each set of parents.  We should have acted with maturity and not used them as weapons.

I am confessing my imperfections as a mother because I needed to read words like these about twenty years ago, and take them to heart.  The Bible tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."  (Proverbs 22:6)  I am pleased to say that our daughter has seen her period of rebellion and has paid dearly for mistakes made outside of her training, but she is lovely--a wise mother and a seeking follower of Jesus.  Our son has become a man who thinks before he speaks and does not make rash and emotionally-charged decisions.  He is brave and strong and always willing to bow his head in prayer. 

If you are a parent or a step-parent and these words ring true on any level, STOP IT.   Children are neither weapons, witnesses nor chameleons.  If you don't stop after reading this, shame on you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stepping Into Parenting--Part I

I was married six days when I became a mother.  I thought, "Cool!  This will be like ultimate babysitting and I LOVE to babysit!"  I smile now at my naivete.  My new husband's little ones--ages 15 months and 38 months--arrived without toys, diapers or directions.    Nobody could understand the three-year-old when she talked and she thought the little one was her sole property so she wouldn't let anybody touch him.  She also thought his name was:  My Baby. The baby of reference woke up screaming, with poopie diapers, at all hours of the night--every night--and suffered from croup and chronic ear infections.  To make matters worse, I had only dated their father for four months before we got married and both of us turned up VOLATILE on a premarital personality test.

The only things we had going for us were that our mothers loved and believed in us, and our church family embraced us unconditionally.  (Certain 40s-ish couples in our church even came alongside and mentored us.)  The three-year-old was jealous of me from the start and the baby couldn't figure out what the heck was going on.  But we became a family. 

On many, many occasions I was the evil step-monster.  People thought I was mean and bossy when in fact, I generally just tried to do the right thing.  I was the parent who made the children eat right, put away their toys, do their homework,  use good manners and brush their teeth.  I was not the parent who allowed them to do as they pleased, eat junk for three days straight, grow sweaters on their teeth, carry food around the house and have romantic relationships at eleven.  I refused to be any other kind of parent.  Did I make mistakes?  Yes. A lot of them?  Yes again.  I was often harsh and I have seen the worst of me reflected in my son's eyes.  But--I loved and kissed these children.  I told them stories and helped them through tough times at school and at play.  I became an active Cub Scout mom and went on most field trips.  I infused Bible verses and principles into our lives daily.  I even homeschooled when the going got rough in the classroom.  I fell in love with them. 

It was hard and I wanted to quit a million times over but I am so glad I didn't.  These two children have grown into amazing adults.  They are well-mannered and smart.  They both brush their teeth and know how to keep themselves clean and snappy.  They are treasures and I am so proud of them both.         

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ours By Adoption

I have a couple friends, young wives and wives-to-be, who are planning their families.  Naturally, they are concerned about whether or not they will be blessed with children, if the children will be well, if they will be good mommies.  Generally, things move along as planned with babies conceived and birthed in due time.  Sometimes, things don't move along as planned and disappointment becomes worry becomes panic becomes depression.  Options are considered.  Fertility testing and drugs, in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, adoption, continued childlessness.  Each option comes with its own set of considerations.

I feel compelled to write this today because it is the day we celebrate the birth of my dear neice.  She is twenty-one today--a bright, vibrant, wonderful young woman who oozes style and lives life with a passion all her own.  She is a junior in college, a strong and beautiful dancer, a comic and a devoted follower of Jesus.  Thirteen years ago, however, she was a child with little hope--orphaned, fostered, too old to be adopted by anyone looking for a baby.  She is also black.  My sister and her husband had nearly given up hope by the day they went to a picnic designed to showcase adoptable older children, but they went anyway, and it completely changed more futures than theirs.

My neice turned on her charm, flirted with the nice white couple (description hers) at the picnic and later, boasted to her friends that those people would be adopting her.  They did indeed.  They fell in love at that picnic and began the process to make this savvy little girl their own.  The morning my four children met their new cousin was amazing.  No ice to break.  No racial barriers to hurdle.  No cultural--or multicultural--awkwardness to conquer.  The five became cousins the second they laid eyes on each other.  We have been blessed beyond measure by my sister's willingness to become a mother by adoption, to join with her husband in creating an interracial family, and to embrace and honor a heritage that is not her own.  She made a decision to love unconditionally and sacrificially; that's the first act of motherhood.

Over the next couple years, we added two more children to our number.  One day I mentioned something to them about their cousin's adoption.  Both jaws went slack and they stared at me, stunned.  "What?" they asked incredulously.  "She's adopted?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tell 'em Stories

I never met either of my grandfathers.  My WV grandfather died in 1926.  The one from New York died in 1969, but I don't think he had much interest in meeting me.  An older cousin tells me he was generally drunk and not very sociable when it came to children.  I also never met a single one of my great-grand parents--neither the Scandanavian immigrants, nor the Germans.  I am most certainly not old enough to remember Jersey City in the 1920s, York, PA, in the 1940s, or what year we had the Husdon (actually there were three Hudsons). 

But, I will tell you this:

*I can hear my granddaddy Martin playing his fiddle, see his big size thirteens tapping in time to the music, catch the sparkle of his gold tooth as he tosses his head back and laughs. 

*I smell the shrimp my NY grandpa brings home and steams in the middle of the night.  I see what's behind the false front of his boat--bottle after bottle of hooch, illegal in the days of Prohibition.  I hear the those bottles clink just a little as his boat rocks in the tide. 

*I feel my great-grandmother's sorrow as immigration officials force her young husband onto a ship back to Sweden.  I feel her sorrow turn to excitement, to hope, to joy as she watches him jump ship and swim New York Harbor because of his love for her. 

*And my handsome, pouty-lipped, run-around of a German great-grandpa?  Well, I know, he left his wife and children so poor they had to walk the railroad tracks gathering coal for the cook stove while he played the dandy all over Harrisburg. 

I would not know any of these stories if my parents and grandparents did not have the good sense to tell them.  But since they did, I do.  I have a heritage, a geneaology filled with names and dates, but much more importantly, a history  filled with real flesh-and-blood people who carried deep sadnesses and dreams, who loved and sorrowed, who laughed, who killed themselves slowly.  And I am so grateful.

I think the best thing we can give our children besides siblings (if we are able), is the history of their own blood, their own bones.  Family stories die every day for lack of telling.  And usually, that lack of telling is for lack of asking.  Parents, grandparents, this is a call to you:  Tell your children their stories.  Learn them yourselves.  And children, ask.  Insist that someone tells you about the people who ran around in your family fifty or a hundred years ago, or more.  We all deserve to be talked about--one way or another.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Macro-flexitarian Momma

So, here's what we have settled on:  macro-flexitarianism.  In researching a diet that gained popularity here in the US in the 1970s, I determined that the Japanese macrobiotic diet is the one that most fits the way we desire to eat, or the way we would eat if we weren't so miserably inconsistent.  It combines a Zen Buddhist eating-for-life philosophy with a flexible form of vegetarianism in which certain meats are sometimes an option.

We are Christians, not Zen Buddhists, and don't subscribe to the philosophy of balancing our yins and yangs.  We don't give a whole lot of thought consuming an even amount of sweets, salties, bitters, sharps and sours in order to feel well. the philosophy behind this way of living, we do believe that you are what you eat, and that if you want your body to be well and work the way it's designed to work, you need to put the right stuff into it.   This macrobiotic diet includes foods that we love to eat in reasonable (and preferable) amounts:  
  • Whole grains, especially brown rice: 50%-60%
  • Vegetables (and seaweed): 25%-30%
  • Beans: 5%-10%
  • Fish, nuts, seeds, fruits, miso soup: 5%-20%
  • Soup (made from ingredients above): 1-2 cups/day
This diet also has certain rules that govern the types of foods to be consumed (essentially the most natural and least processed ones), how they should be eaten (by chewing slowly) and the ways they should be prepared.  It requires practitioners to stay away from a lot of stuff that we think is bad anyway:  refined sugar, white flour, fatty meats, caffeine, alcohol.  It prohibits the use of other foods that we feel are fine to use in moderation:  potatoes, hot spices, CHOCOLATE, poultry and zucchini.  (What the heck's wrong with zucchini?)

So, in short, here you have it: the way the inconsistent eat, in general, in our house.  Eat well, live well! 

Friday, April 1, 2011

It's Not A Fad (This Is How We Eat Now)--Part II

I was raised to chase down healthy foods and eat them for awhile.  Commitment has always been the's that eclectic living that causes me trouble every time, my parents' fault.  Ha!

Our foray into healthful eating began when dear hubby and I took a nutrition class on the Hallelujah Diet.  Our teacher, or health minister, is absolutely vegan.  That means she wouldn't touch an animal or its by-product to her lips unless threat of death was involved.  She is also 85% a raw foodist.  Our class was wonderful and we believe we were taught the absolute truth.  The problem was, we just couldn't hang--our kids begged for comfort food, we began cheating one night a week (pizza maybe), we began cheating on weekends, weekends began starting on Thursdays and lasting until Tuesdays.  We liked the beliefs, the practices and the recipes.  It was the impulsive trips to McDonalds that did us in.

Next we started thinking that meat (and eggs!) might be okay if you raised it yourself on healthy stuff, like grass, and didn't give it antibiotics.  Then we discovered sushi.  We added cooked crustaceans and bi-valved mollusks to our list of acceptable food items.  Over the years since our nutrition class, we have considered ourselves (for a spell) raw foodists, vegans, vegetarians (vegans with wiggle room), semi-vegetarians, natural foodists, fruitarians (more fruit than veggies in the vegetarian diet), pescetarians (vegetarians who will eat fish), and pollotarians (vegetarians who will eat chicken).  We like the Japanese version of the macrobiotic diet best--but that's food for the next post.

The bottom line is this:  I am very conscious of the garbage available for our consumption.  It is pretty and sparkly and delicious.  Much of it is also filled with chemicals and animal by-products that could kill us.  On top of that miserable fact, the marketing ploys for this stuff are aimed straight at seducing my children. Their bodies are growing and are super vulnerable to toxins.  So, in light of that, I read all labels, consider all warnings even if they sound a little kooky, research new products, and try to balance my family's meals and snacks.  We also eat some of this terrible stuff--knowingly and sometimes with reckless abandon--just to stay sane.    

It's Not A Fad (This Is How We Eat Now)--Part I

And on top of the quirkiness already mentioned in Clash of the Cultures (Parts I, II and III), you should know that the blending of generational behaviors is not the only place worlds became enmeshed in my home growing up.  We listened to music from every land. It was not unusual to drive by our house on West Broad in Dallastown and hear Hawaiian drumbeats, Rat Pack tunes, Gregorian Chants, Irish drinking songs, Elvis hymns, Pete Seeger folk melodies, Christmas carols, or Pavarotti emanating from our open windows.  We ate crazy foods, had nude oil paintings hanging all over our house, and practiced some manner of alternative medicine before it became popular.  One of my mom's best pals cured her daughter's cancer with green drink.  That's what she called it; we always figured she shoved all kinds of plants in a blender and turned it on for a few minutes.  (I know now they were specific plants.)  I recently found out that my grandmother's regular doctor visits in Lancaster were for colonics!  These eclectic practices extended to our kitchen, as well.

We were the first people on our block to have a microwave and use a pressure cooker.  We ate granola, yogurt, steamed vegetables, brown rice, tuna noodle casserole (My stomach still lurches.), carob, sugar substitutes, any drink with a fruit name, ice milk, and some type of terrible white stuff that masqueraded as salt.  We ate dutifully because my mother convinced us these new introductions to our diet were necessary.  But when we complained, or used the phrase food fad in her presence, she'd bellow:  "It's not a fad!  This is how we eat now!"  And that was how we ate...for a week or two.  Then, we'd be on to sweet potatoes, three-bean salad and zucchini.

Oh, my poor, dear children!  My mother and I now have an information system going, a healthy eating alliance.  Plus, it sometimes includes input from my Aunt Cora (now almost 91), the one who cured her daughter of cancer with green drink.  I interact with earthy-crunchy people who eat healthy stuff.  My mom watches The Doctors and Doctor Oz.  Together, we discuss the sorrows of the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) and the evils of prepackaged foods.  On Sunday mornings before church, Mom calls Aunt Cora and she chimes in.  We swap information we have received from other sources and form our own belief system about how all people should eat.  This belief system, however, is kind of fluid in nature.  But, that's all right because it is well-intentioned.

Stay tuned for It's Not a Fad (This is How We Eat Now)--Part II, in which I discuss the many types of eaters we have been and the ultimate reality as it presents itself in our household.