Monday, January 31, 2011

Mothering: Trying to Find a Middle Ground

Before Kate was born, I never gave much thought to my parenting style. I think I thought parenting, or mothering, would come natural. By instinct. I knew about "maternal instinct:" Mothers know when their babies are tired, when their cries communicate hunger, and when their little ones just need to be snuggled. And I believed that once my child was born, I would attain this instinct and only have to act. Boy was I wrong!

Like most first time moms, I made A LOT of mistakes (still do)! I nursed Kate every time she cried. I didn't realize that sometimes babies cry because they're bored or lonely or wet. I just assumed she was always hungry, and her incessant wailing sent me over the edge. A good mommy, I thought, could stop the crying. I couldn't. Therefore, I thought, I must not be a good mommy. I rocked and nursed and rocked and nursed, and when Kate was finally asleep, I would tip-toe to the crib and very, very gently lay her down. Of course not a minute later she would wake up crying. I couldn't let her lie there and cry so I would repeat the process over and over until we both fell asleep in the glider. This happened for many nights until I realized how much I missed my bed! But at that point instead of putting Kate in the crib, I brought her into bed with us. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. I could nurse so much easier without getting up and then we could both go right back to sleep. But then as babies do, Kate grew bigger and bigger until at a year she was still in our bed. Daniel ended up sleeping in another room and Kate and I in another. Our full-sized bed just wouldn't cut it with three.

I was exhausted too! Kate was not a good sleeper, and she would only fall asleep either in the Ergo (baby carrier) or nursing. So, when she needed to nap, I had to either walk for an hour or lie down with her. While the exercise and rest were good for me, I felt trapped, enslaved to my child. Needless to say, my parenting style was to do whatever it took to keep Kate from crying and becoming sleep-deprived.

I remember thinking that if I ever had another child, I would do everything differently. So, when I found out I was pregnant with Cora, I began to do some serious soul-searching and research to determine the best way to mother my children without losing myself and my mind in the process. What I found was a parenting style that fit my type-A organized personality to the T. First of all, Cora would sleep in her crib, not in Mommy and Daddy's bed, and when she cried, I would not automatically assume she needed food. She would eat every 3 hours, give or take, followed by some playtime and then nap time. I liked the idea of knowing exactly when she would need to eat and that I didn't have to nurse her every time she cried. Everything about this parenting style seemed perfect until Cora came and I had to implement it. Then, I learned that while having a schedule served me very well, it did not always consider her unique needs. Sometimes she needs to eat before the three hour mark, and sometimes she needs to sleep longer than the schedule allows. And sometimes Mommy has to get out of the house or she'll go nuts!! This time I was not a slave to my child but to my schedule.

Let's just say I am still learning how to become the mother God wants me to be. He is teaching me how to love my babies and meet their needs while at the same time remembering the needs of my husband and myself. A strict schedule isn't the answer and neither is no schedule. Crying is part of being a baby and will not traumatize my children so that they become serial killers later in life. There has to be a middle ground. On my journey to joyful motherhood, I am developing a maternal instinct that is in tune with myself and my little ones. I can only imagine what the Lord will teach me next!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mema, we miss you!

It is hard to believe that one year ago today I lost my Mema Garner. Looking back at a CD of pictures from her 80th birthday party in 2008, I remember quite clearly why I miss her so much. She was a beautiful woman with a calming presence who made everyone who came in contact with her feel comfortable and loved. When I would come in and sit with her from time to time, she and I would talk at length, mainly about me. She was just that kind of person. Easy to talk to, patient, never quick to judge or criticize (although she did have her opinions and would express them freely when necessary), and an accommodating, hospitable person always concerned with others' comfort.

I am sad that my daughters will never get to sit and talk with my Mema and know her the way I did. Yet as I look at my Mom, I believe they will have that opportunity if only in a slightly different way because my Mom is so much like my Mema: someone who loves people and cares dearly for others' happiness. It is amazing how as teenagers we swear we will never be like our own parents and yet in many ways they are who we actually become. Looking at my Mom, I see my Mema. And I hope that one day my children will see their Gram Gram in me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Imitate Me?

Daniel and I have been watching a parenting DVD by Chip Ingram that has really gotten us talking about how we are raising Kate and Cora, our strengths and weaknesses as parents, and how important it is to model the behavior and attitude we want our children to have. It's amazing how Kate watches us so closely and repeats things we say and do, saying things we don't even know she's heard although it's usually from one of us. When I heard her say, "I swear, honey. That stinks!" the other day after changing her diaper, I knew she'd heard that one from me. She's recently started spitting too because she sees her dear Daddy doing it. We're working on that bad habit now too!

And sweet little Cora, although still so little, is carefully observing and making mental notes of what her big sis is doing too. It's scary to think that I am under so much scrutiny and yet if I were living my life as I should, I wouldn't be so concerned.

In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul tells us to: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God." Verse 1 is what really hit home to me today. As a child of God, I am called to imitate Him, that is, to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 11:44).

Am I living a holy life? I must set myself apart from the world, which pulls me in so many directions but always away from God. I need to rededicate my life to God every day, giving Him free rein. And I must allow His Spirit to work in me and help me to overcome sin. The stakes couldn't be any higher: our children are watching.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"To-Do" Lists

I'm a planner. One of my first tasks of the day is to sit down with my coffee and make my daily "To-Do" list. My "To-Do" list for today reads as follows:

1. Split up pork loin in fridge; freeze half.
2. Pay bills.
3. Pinnacle Bank: deposit missions check.
4. Call Vanderbilt regarding bill.
5. Pick up Daniel's meds at Kroger.
6. Library.
7. Dinner: Red beans & Rice.

Blah blah blah blah blah. To anyone else this list is utterly meaningless, but to me, without it, our bills wouldn't get paid on time, the meat would spoil in the fridge, Daniel would not have his medicine, and, well, I would just be lost and panicky. I can't survive without my "To-Do" lists, especially with "Mommy brain." Yet, as I sit and contemplate my list I wonder: "Really how important are these items on my list?" Surely not everything I need to do today is on this list.

As I sit here and think about the other things not on my list but that I hope to accomplish--time with God, cleaning the bathroom, playing with Kate, sewing--I am immediately struck by that first one. Time with God. Wow! The Creator of the Universe didn't even make it to my "To-Do" list. Instead, He has been relegated to a mental "To-Do" list that I can't physically check off and that, if I don't get to, I don't feel too guilty about. I wonder how this makes Him feel.

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus tells us: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [what I will eat, drink, wear (i.e. all those things on my "To-Do" lists)] will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

God, not bills or meat or library books, needs to come first. My time with Him each day should be the top priority, not simply something I will do if there is an extra fifteen minutes in my day. When I set aside my "To-Do" list and focus on Him, He will meet all my needs.

Lord, help me to put YOU at the top of my "To-Do" list each day and to turn the events of my day over to You. Let me commit my day to You by meeting first with You and then making my "To-Do" list. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sisterly Love

When my brother and I were growing up, I can recall only a handful of times when we actually played together; we were usually fighting or I was trying to convince Brian to play school or read books with me. Of course, if you know Brian you would know that did NOT work! He is not one to sit down and read but preferred to blow up his Ghostbuster figures or run around outside. Perhaps personality has something to do with it, but I think our gender differences played a far greater role.

As the mother of two little girls, I can already see personality differences between Kate and Cora: Kate is stubborn, too smart for her own good, energetic, and easily frustrated when she isn't able to do things on her own, and Cora, though only 3 months old, is much more mellow, laid back, and generally very happy. Kate sits on Cora and "smothers" her all the time, but Cora never makes a peep; she doesn't seem to mind anything as long as she eats and sleeps when she needs to. Kate, on the other hand, was a pretty fussy baby.

Yet, despite these differences in personality, Cora already adores her big sister and laughs and smiles at Kate whenever she hears her big sister talking. Kate also loves her little sissy dearly. Kate reminds me so much of myself, trying to teach my little brother. She sits with Cora and reads books to her, and Cora appears to hang on to every word. I know Cora is already learning so much from her big sister. Who knows if Cora will still sit and listen to Kate when she is mobile but for now she is definitely interested?

What a blessing for Kate to have a little sister to love, teach, and take care of! I always thought I would have a boy and a girl, like my Mom, because that is what I was accustomed to growing up. But I certainly see the beauty of sisterly love already in my two girls, and it makes me very happy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Snow Day: Snow Angels, Snow Cream, & A Snow Man

This morning we had a pleasant surprise when we awoke to about 4 inches of snow outside. Yes, I know the weather people had predicted snow but I am always a skeptic, especially when it comes to snow. Needless to say, Daniel wasn't able to go to work so we made the most of our snow day, complete with hot cocoa, homemade chocolate-chip pecan cookies (courtesy of Daddy), and lots of fun outside playing in the snow. Poor Cora was asleep and missed out on all the fun.

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Can't you tell we ate healthy today? Guess we have already broke our New Year's resolutions with all the sugar, but we sure had fun! And an extra day with Daddy home is always a treat! What a blessing a snow day is!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


As a new mom of two, I have found that the hours (or rather minutes) in the day that are exclusively mine are few and far between. Naptimes and bedtime are really the only opportunities that I have to myself, and yet those times are usually spent cleaning up the kitchen, folding laundry, or tidying up. And at night when Daniel is home, I enjoy spending a few moments with him before crawling into bed.

Yet, I crave more: More time to read, to write, to try out new recipes, to learn how to sew, even just to think. I miss graduate school because of the interaction with other grown-ups and the reading and studying of great literature that I love. However, while I do hope to return to my scholarly pursuits one day, right now I am blessed to be a part of two incredible Bible studies with friends who can empathize, advise, laugh and cry with me as I detail my current struggles with Kate's stubbornness or Cora's crying at night. And I know that all too soon Kate will be going to kindergarten and Cora won't be too far behind her, and then I'll be so lonely that I will actually wish one of them would come into the bathroom and ask, "Mama, what are you doing?"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A New Year, Some New Changes & Our Menu Plan

Last year I worked on minimizing our use of white flour, substituting whole grain brown rice and pasta and whole wheat bread for all the white stuff we'd been using. Mission accomplished. I also attempted to remove most of the preservatives in our diet by eliminating foods with nitrates, artificial colors and flavors, MSG, and other ingredients I can't pronounce. We did pretty well in that area although Daniel refuses to relinquish his pepperoni and I haven't found an affordable alternative.

This year my goal is to minimize our red meat intake so that we are only eating beef and pork twice a week and bringing in more fish, seafood, chicken, beans, and whole grains. The purpose is to improve our overall health by reducing our saturated fat and cholesterol consumption and increasing the fiber and antioxidants in our diet. Daniel agreed as long as I stopped fixing sweets! Whoa! What a minute! How will I survive without cake and icecream?! But I agreed. We don't need all the fat, excess sugar and calories, so instead we are going to try to eat more fruits and naturally sweet foods. This will be quite a challenge for me! I have also discovered that I don't have a lot of cookbooks with good recipes for beans, lentils and other whole grains so I am going to have to do some researching to find some that we like. As I found out last night, some recipes just aren't very good!

Here is our menu for this week:

Sunday: Taco salad with ground beef

Monday: Chicken parmesan with whole grain penne pasta, broccoli, and a sugar snap and carrot medley

Tuesday: Quinoa with cinnamon, feta, and cranberries (This crockpot recipe was DISGUSTING! I had to throw it out, which was disappointing because I like quinoa.) We ended up eating salad with spinach, hard boiled eggs, carrots, mushrooms, and beets and baked potatoes.

Wednesday: White beans, kale, and cornbread

Thursday: Breakfast Burritos from The Pioneer Woman's cookbook but minus the burrito shells [Eggs, hashbrowns, sausage] and biscuits and jelly

Friday: Pizza Night! A family tradition [Instead of pepperoni, I plan to use some sweet Italian chicken sausage for my lovely husband who HAS to have some meat on his pizza.]

I don't know how long I can keep up the menu plan each week but I've found that when I plan for the week, I am much less stressed and save a lot more money than if I'm trying to decide at 4:00 what we'll be having for dinner that night.

I've got some yogurt in the slow cooker for tomorrow's breakfast that I need to check on and Cora should be waking up soon.

Family Fun at Christmas

It seems like only yesterday that I was stressing about Christmas and now we are into January and a brand new year! This holiday season was the first time in which Kate really understood Santa and although she didn't necessarily enjoy opening her presents (she got way too much stuff!), she did thoroughly enjoy all the trips to Mops and Pops' and Gram Gram and Papa's houses and all her visits with her cousins. I think I had as much fun on Christmas morning as she did. Watching her go through her stocking and open her gifts made me even more excited about how much fun future Christmases will be when Cora is bigger.

We spent Christmas Eve at Gram Gram and Papa's with Brian, Jen and the kids, including our newest addition, little Holly Garner Mayes. What a doll!

Here are some pictures of our time with my family:

Some pictures at home Christmas morning:

Some pictures at Mops and Pops' house:

Speaking of little Cora (or Cora Jane as her big sister affectionately calls her), she is growing into quite a "chunky monkey." Kate gets very upset when I call her my "skinny Minnie" and Cora my "chunky monkey" but I'm sorry, honey, but there is nothing chunky about you. Here are some pictures of my Chunky Monkey:

As you can see, we have been richly blessed this year with material gifts and more importantly, with the wonderful gift of a precious new little girl. Happy New Year to you!!