Independence and overparenting

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Independence and overparenting

As Miss M gets older, I’ve been thinking a lot about free range parenting. That’s definitely my style and I’m loving the independence it’s building in my toddler.

So far, we’ve been really lucky to not have people freak out when they see my two year old running around without mommy right there next to her. In fact, we were at Lagoon on Saturday and she wandered a little bit away and just stood by herself while lots of people came and went around her. Eventually, someone knelt down at eye level to ask if she was lost (I think; I couldn’t hear the conversation), and while a part of me is a little disturbed that it took as long as it did, part of me is glad that I didn’t have to be right there to ward off strangers and she explored a little on her own.

It was so different than an experience I had several months ago.

We took Monkey and two “cousins” to a playground for a couple of hours while our friends went to a concert. While it was a glimpse into what our life could look like if we had had another baby sooner after M, instead of “waiting” longer like we are, it was also an experiment in hands-off parenting. With three kiddos under six, it’s impossible to play “hands on” with each of them. Moreover, grownup-free play is important to child development, even at a young age.

In fact, this situation was the perfect kind of tribal play that evolutionary developmental psychologist Peter Gray champions.

The play area was full of kids. It didn’t occur to me to count, but Mack remarked that it was busy. There were kids that were toddlers, a few who were older (8 and 9ish, possibly older) and most in between. From time to time, I would lose sight of a child as others would get in my sight line or they would climb into a tunnel or behind a structure. For the most part, I could see them, but they couldn’t see me.

These kiddos knew where we were and that we were there if they needed us, but for the most part, they were free to play independently.

We sat outside the playground, instead of on the parent benches within the enclosure where most of the adults were. This wasn’t a problem until Monkey got up somewhere she couldn’t immediately get down from. After only a few moments another parent jumped right in and helped her down.

This “other mother” looked around and then at her friend and said something like “where is her mom?”

It struck me then (once again) how much I am not a helicopter mom. I definitely would’ve stepped in if M had been seriously stuck, but she hardly had a chance to try to work it out herself. It seems that we’re robbing our children of important opportunities to learn.

Free range parenting has come under a lot of scrutiny and even resulted in CPS and other “legal” action against parents who subscribe to it as it’s gained popularity. The crazy thing is, in many ways our lives are safer than they’ve ever been. We’re just extremely risk averse.

One of my many-greats aunts wrote in her journal about their trip across the plains to Utah. She and her friend would depart early, ahead of the handcart company, so they could play on the trail during the day and not get left behind the company. Agnes was nine at the time. It seems a little unbelievable to me that a nine year old could just be trusted like that. Even in my very free range parenting, I’m not sure I’d be ok with my child heading out on her own across the plains of the US unsupervised (and I’ve been out there; there’s still nothing there).

Sometimes I wonder what the cost is. Do we overparent our children into a perpetual childhood? Am I raising a child who will be unable to cope in a society of adults babied first by their parents and then by their government? Am I running a great risk of losing my child to a CPS worker because I admit on a public blog I let her wander even a little ways off at a crowded amusement park? I really worry about all these things.

No doubt we’re all doing our best. Even the other mom was just stepping in to make sure my child was ok. I want my kids to be empowered and independent (age appropriately so), not always looking to me for rescuing. I think a more free range attitude does that. As I’ve let go and let M explore, I’ve been amazed to find out how capable even a 2 year old can be. It’s exciting to see. I can’t wait for more to come!

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Photo from Fox13

 

Trying to keep track

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We have a terribly bad habit in my extended family: we don’t really keep personal records. I have an aunt who is a professional genealogist, but she “married in” and is not related by blood. Beyond that, I don’t think any of us are really good record keepers (I took an informal survey of my family on Facebook and most of us admitted to “trying” and doing it in stops and starts but not with real consistency).

In some ways, it’s not our “fault” as this bad habit has been passed down from our ancestors (and, yes, the irony in that strikes me), according to my mother. For example, Elizabeth Caldwell, a grandmother of mine, who came to Utah with the Willie Handcart Company, wrote little to nothing of her experience. Meanwhile, her sister, Agnes (who is an aunt), was much more prolific and her stories have been told repeatedly in LDS general conferences, the movie 17 Miracles and elsewhere. Elizabeth was one of many who passed down bad habits.

I come by this weakness doubly cursed. My father’s family kept very few records and most of the little I know about my ancestry on that side comes from government records and the occasional story from a long lost cousin (who could share about my ancestors because his ancestors mentioned them in journals). My grandfather saw so little point in family history, he threw away boxes of it (a thought that still makes me want to throw up).

This lack of family record keeping makes me sad, especially as I try to get to know my ancestor better. I want my own children to know more than I do about who they are and where they came from and I want to know the angels who surround me better. I’m also a writer and I feel like if anyone is going to do a decent job of keeping a written record, it “should” be me, the writer.

More than any of that, though, I want to remember my own life better and keep better records of my children as they grow. I want my children and grandchildren to know who I was and how I became who I am.

I recently purchased a “one line a day” journal in an attempt to help me along. I’m finding that it’s helpful to have, although it definitely doesn’t automatically make a habit. Rather than doing it daily, I’m finding time every week or two and while I remember “big” things, I’m left with a lot of holes.

In fact, that’s bee the most disturbing thing to me: there are many days I don’t remember a single thing that happened and that those days I’m forgetting are just a week or two prior. There are literally huge blocks of my life which I have completely forgotten.

It’s a horrifying thought to me.

It also leaves me sad as a mom because that means that there are blocks of my child’s life I’m forgetting. There are things I want to remember, but can’t because there’s not space in my brain and I’m not writing them down.

I even have a journal for Little Miss because I wanted to keep track of “things” and I wanted her to know who she was as tiny human person. I write in it rarely and while I’d rather spend time with Little Miss than write in her journal, I know when I have time, I’m choosing to make other choices. I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt on that one, but I’ll admit I sometimes feel like a bad mom because of it.

As I’ve been evaluating my own record keeping, I’m learning that I want to keep better records as much for me as for anyone else.

I’m trying to keep track of my life better. Photos, videos and journal writing – even one sentence journals – are some of the ways I’m trying to do that.

Maybe one day my great-grandkids won’t curse me the way I curse my great (great, great, great, great)-grandparents and perhaps I’ll be able to hold onto the fleeting moments a little better.

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Lessons from the Nativity

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Have I shared how much I love Christmas? I hate and despise winter with every bit of me but I love Christmas with equal intensity. It’s a magical time where I get to buy gifts for those I love (giving gifts is one of my love languages), spend time with family, follow traditions and rituals I love and turn my mind to Christ. Love is a big element of Christmastime.

This year as I’ve been preparing for Christmas, I have been impressed repeatedly by the story of the Nativity and what it has to teach us. I want to share a few of those with you.

Lesson from Mary

Mary shows us the ultimate humility of anyone except for perhaps Christ and more courage than anyone other than Eve when she says to Gabriel “Behold the handmaid of the Lord;…” Later, Mary travels with Joesph to Bethlehem. There, her baby is born in a stable, amongst animals, probably without the birth attendants of her choice (which likely her mother and sisters and the midwife who had cared for her in the beginning of her pregnancy). After childbirth, Mary received guests (the shepherds and probably others) to greet her newborn son. This was usually a time when women were somewhat isolated as they were “impure” (which is a really amazing study topic if you have some time and not associated with sinfulness like we may think), and here she was receiving guests! Now I’m not suggesting she was up on her feet, fixing meals or refreshments, but the grace Mary must have had to receive these strangers teaches me to be more generous with others in my life. Her humility to be the Mother of Christ, to bear the trials which came with that calling and welcome the worshipers who were sent at one of the most sensitive and vulnerable times of her life reminds me to be humble as my Heavenly Parents and Savior shape me into who They want me to be.

Mary also teaches me to be thoughtful, meditative and reflective. In possibly one of the most beautiful scriptures about spiritual experiences, we learn “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” By pondering, I create space for God to teach me more about experiences I’m given to help me grow.

Lessons from the midwives

I have to read between the lines a little here, but as a birth worker, I’m well familiar with the fact that Mary was probably attended to by midwives and gave birth in a stable or a home. Her sisters- and mother-in-law were probably there as well. It’s possible that they weren’t planning on attending to Mary who lived in Nazareth (about 70-80 miles away). It’s likely that Mary had been in Bethlehem a few weeks before her baby was born but the midwife there probably hadn’t had a lot of time getting to know Mary. This untold story teaches me to be willing to helping those in need, no matter what circumstance we find our lives cross paths or how much or little I was planning on being of aid. It also teaches me to be open to opportunities to serve whenever they come.

They also teach me that just as men witnessed the Christ child, so did women. That’s a powerful message of equality in a world which largely ignores or misunderstands the contributions of women to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lessons from the shepherds and the wise men

Christ was actually likely born in the spring. This was “lambing season” when mother ewes were giving birth. This was (is) a very intense time of the year for shepherds. However, at the angels’ direction, the shepherds “came with haste” to find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. I don’t know if they left their sheep all at once, or if they took turns, but they all left their livelihoods and something that was very important to them at a very critical time.

Similarly, the wise men left their livelihoods and lives and traveled a far distance to meet Jesus. Their journey was not short and was likely expensive. These stories teach me that following Christ is something worth giving up everything that’s seemingly important. This is a lesson repeated throughout the nativity (with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and Anna) but also throughout the scriptures as Christ calls apostles and disciples to follow Him.

The shepherds were also ordinary people. They weren’t Jewish religious leaders or important rulers. They were humble men without much to garner them an invitation to the most important event in all of history. Similarly, the wise men were foreigners, possibly even gentiles from Babylon, who would’ve been looked down upon by the Jews no matter their status in their own kingdom (where they were probably admired and respected). This teaches me that Christ doesn’t just want to speak to the leaders of the church or those who are deemed appropriate or worthy by “the world” (and that includes the body of the Church). Christ reveals himself to the mighty and the small, the poor and the wealthy, those who lead a church and those who never do “more” than show up to worship. Anyone who will hear the call to come to Him are welcome.

Lessons from Christ

Christ came to earth in the humblest of circumstances. He became an infant, tiny and helpless, descending physically to the lowest a human can be, utterly dependent on another for care. He became as we are in order to do the Father’s will. Like the shepherds and the wise men He gave up everything to come serve us. As He grew, He learned grace by grace, not all at once, just as we do. He became like us so that we can become like Him. He was willing to submit to all things, including the complete loss of autonomy and self-sufficiency, to follow God’s plan. The message couldn’t be clearer to me: following Christ means being willing to recognize our infant state and our complete and utter dependence on someone else (Him) for our salvation.

 

The nativity holds so many other lessons for me, too many to tell here. It’s a beautiful story with so much complexity and depth, with untold stories and silent lessons waiting to be discovered.

At this time of darkness, we celebrate the greatest Light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of Israel and the Savior of my soul. Christ came to earth a baby, as we all did, and became what we all hope one day to be. He shows the way and He enables our salvation as we come to Him and be perfected by his blood.

Merry Christmas. May the light of Christ shine on you at this season and always.

Image credit: the Mormon Channel and Simon Dewey.

Image credit: the Mormon Channel and Simon Dewey.

An insatiable desire to learn

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If you get to know me very well, you will learn two things about me: first, I am completely and entirely incapable of settling and, second, my favorite question – perhaps even my favorite word – is “Why?”

While these two character traits lead me to a life of constant discontentment (which can be a source of frustration and disappointment), they also drive in me an insatiable desire to learn.

When I begin to count up the things I have actively sought out to learn in the last year, the list grows dizzyingly long. My knowledge base has expanded significantly in the last year. Every time I come across something new, I find myself digging in to research more.

That’s one of the major joys about my childhood upbringing: I not only learned, I learned how to learn and I learned to love to learn. More than that, because I wasn’t forced into learning particular subjects (most the time), that love of learning was neither tarnished nor curtailed. It was allowed to expand to become insatiable.

This point was driven home to me in a really unexpected way recently. In a Facebook group I’m in, a mom posted, looking for recommendations for memorization aids for her kindergartner who was struggling with memorization. To “pass” kindergarten, the children (keep in mind these are 5 and 6 year olds) have to be able to read and to count to 100.

I wanted to scream. WHY are we attempting to force our children to memorize and WHY are we guilting parents into trying to force their children to meet these ridiculous standards?

We are killing the joy in learning. We are utterly destroying the fun, the drive and the desire in both children and their parents.

Children are born to learn. Humans are born to learn. We can’t improve on that desire by force nor harness and guide it through ridiculous, overreaching expectations. While there are exceptions (particularly in cases of learning disability), most children learn at a completely acceptable pace for them.

Of course, the methodology of allowing children to learn at their own pace doesn’t work in the factory system through which we put our children and it doesn’t work in a society in which control is the end-goal of education.

An insatiable desire to learn is dangerous for the people in power because well-educated citizens, especially those who won’t take the pat political answers, cannot become slaves. They are the ones who lead the rebellion.

I wish we could get rid of our modern public education system completely. Throw it out the window like the Prussian relic it is. In it’s place I wish that we would implement a system that would take advantage of the natural inclination of all humans to learn and craft it, guide it and grow it into an insatiable desire to learn.

Happy birthday, Little Monkey

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Today my Little Miss Monkey turns two. Holy smokes, where has the time gone?

Since this blog has officially crossed into “mommy blog” territory a time or two, I’m going to share a little bit about my little girl before sharing her birth story (which I have promised to a number of people for today’s post).

At two years old Monkey can identify the letter “O” and sometimes the letter “A”, can climb stairs – up and down – by herself, throws and catches a ball, tries to “play baseball” but can’t usually connect with a ball (her favorite “bat” is whatever’s handy but she connects most frequently with a spatula), draws tiny circles, identifies animals and their “sounds”, speaks short sentences, asks to sing favorite songs, dances adorably and gives the sweetest hugs and kisses ever. She loves her monkeys (a yellow monkey called Reeses and a sockmonkey called Sox… I know, we’re so creative), reading books with us, watching Daniel Tiger and Super Why!, recently discovered Teletubbies (oh no!), asks to call YiaYia, Bumpa and Mya and Granny and Papa and pretends to talk to them on the “phone”. She says “sheehar” (sweetheart) and “Aw, Honey”, “No thank you” and “Yes please”, talks to herself in the mirror and puts her “babies”, our cell phones and my purse down for naps (“Shhhh… is sleeping”).

Today, and for a while now, she is no longer a baby but a little girl.

Two years ago, she was a six pound, two ounce beautiful October 1st surprise.

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Addressing Essential Oil Safety

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I’ve been contemplating how to write this post for a while. I feel somewhat unqualified to address it because I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic of essential oils. However, as essential oils gain popularity and more and more people I know start using them, I feel like I need to speak up.

I love essential oils. I grew up with them. My mom started using them over 20 years ago and using them are part of my mentality.

As I’ve changed from a passive user (meaning that someone else has told me how to use them and what to use) to an active user, I’ve spent a lot of time researching them. I’ve learned a lot about the oils I grew up with and added new favorites. They are wonderful, powerful tools.

However, essential oils are not inert. They are powerful tools and need to be used with respect.

Lavender oil can increase prepubescent breast tissue. Peppermint oil can cause laryngeal spasms which can close a child’s airway. Clary sage can induce labor and cause miscarriage. Tea tree oil can cause nerve damage.

My purpose in sharing these oil dangers is not to scare anyone away from using oils, but to illustrate a point. Like all powerful tools, there are benefits and there are potential risks. The important thing is to be informed of these risks and how to minimize them.

There are essential oil companies on the market whose recommendation for use is unsafe.

Most oils should not be used “neat” (undiluted), taken internally, used at “normal” strength on children or “diluted” with water (come on, people… oil can’t be diluted with water; this is basic chemistry). If you react to them, it’s not your body detoxing. It’s you having a reaction to them and if you do not discontinue use, you should only continue with extreme caution.

Many of the essential oil sales reps are my friends and neighbors. I don’t blame them for not having proper information. It’s a corporate issue and it’s at least a little bit profit-driven.

If you use one drop of oil diluted in a teaspoon of carrier oil, you will use your oil more slowly than if you need six to ten drops of neat essential oil to cover the same area. The company is going to sell less.

I’m not saying to never use oils neat, to ingest them, to use them in a bath or on a child. We do all of those things at our house. But we research them, consider the risks and the benefits and make a decision based on those things.

Even still, we aren’t immune from negative reactions. Little Miss Monkey has a lavender allergy (I have a sensitivity) which made it difficult for her to breathe when we used it on her. That was VERY scary as a mom. I also recently discovered I have a thyme allergy. Thyme was/is a new oil to me and I had a very painful reaction to it. In both cases, we were using best practices and following safety guidelines. If we weren’t, both of our reactions could’ve been much, much worse.

If you are new to essential oils (or even if you’re a veteran user), I love the web site Learning About EOs and the Facebook page Using Essential Oils Safely.

I’ll begin the way I started – I love essential oils. They are wonderful, powerful tools. They have risks and it’s important to be aware of them. By doing so, we can use them for their incredible benefits in a safe way.

 

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An Open Letter to the LDS Church on Breastfeeding

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This letter was written on behalf of an acquaintance who was facing challenges from church leadership to her decision breastfeed “in public” at church (meaning that she did not excuse herself to the Mother’s Room). I spoke at length with her about the situation before I wrote my letter. Out of respect for her request that this situation not become public, I have held this letter for many months. Now, I feel comfortable sharing it.

Given that today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and a breastfeeding in church situation just came up again, I feel like now is an especially appropriate time to share this.

While it is addressed to the members and leaders of my faith, the same principles apply to members and leaders of all religious congregations and to members and leaders of the community at large.

Our Little Miss is now 22 months old and still breastfeeding. I still nurse her in public if she needs to. My hope is to encourage people everywhere to support women who breastfeed so that they and their babies can have the benefits of  breastfeeding until the physiologically normal age of weaning.

Dear members and leaders of the church,

I am an LDS mother. I have a beautiful almost-5-month old girl. From long before she was born, my husband and I have been making decisions with her best interests at heart. We have had long, intense conversations about the choices we are making.

It is important to us to give Monkey everything she needs to grow up healthy and strong and smart, with a conversion to the gospel and reliance on Heavenly Father.

One of those keys for us is breastfeeding her.

My husband and I have had long conversations about breastfeeding “in public”, which means anywhere from an intimate dinner with friends to during a trip to the mall. Somewhere between these two is attending church.

After those conversations, we have decided that not only is it appropriate for me to breastfeed M in church – in the chapel, during Sunday School or Relief Society (or during Young Women’s if I got called to serve our young sisters) – it is valuable to more than just M and me.

When Little Miss was born, breastfeeding was not easy for me. Like many modern women, I had not been exposed to it the way my grandmothers were. I had to learn how and I nearly gave up. I wish I had known someone in my ward who could help as my family is all far away. I wish I had grown up more exposed to breastfeeding (and since I am the oldest of four and my mother breastfed all of us, I was exposed to it some and it was still not enough). I wish that it had not been so foreign to me.

Ultimately though, when I breastfeed Monkey in public, my goal is not to offend. It is not to make a statement. It is not to educate others. It is simply to feed or comfort my baby.

When I do not “excuse myself” to another room, I do it not to throw my beliefs in someone else’s face. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I simply want to be a part of whatever else is happening or be blessed through participation in church and still do what is best for my baby.

We live in a world that is increasingly sexualized and our exposure to human bodies increases while our comfort level with our own bodies decreases. This is especially new of women and new mothers.

Like me, few women instinctively know how to breastfeed and there are many, many barriers to doing it. Unfortunately, one of these for LDS women is a culture that discourages us from any sort of familiarity with our own bodies. In an effort to stay “morally pure” we are not given the skills we need to be good mothers. This is tragic.

It has long-reaching consequences for the young men in the church as well. They are taught (as girls are as well), that “sex is bad, until you get married”. At the same time, they see semi-nude images almost everywhere they go.

For many, the taboo nature of a woman’s body in the LDS faith coupled with the sexualization of her in modern culture leads our young men to be curious. Some of them turn to parents or church leaders for answers while others, sadly, turn to friends and peers and the internet. This natural curiosity leads some of them down dark paths of addiction to pornography that takes excruciating work to overcome.

When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.

Church leaders and other members would do woman an incredible service to every member of the church if they actively supported breastfeeding moms who care for their children (sometimes despite personal discomfort or inconvenience and public, cultural and familial disapproval) in the way their children most need. Sometimes this means uncovered at an unclothed breast.

A woman’s body is sacred and should be honored and respected, especially when it is being used to do exactly what our Heavenly Father purposed it to do: provide bodies for His spirit children and nourish and rear them.

Thank you so much for your support of us as breastfeeding mothers.

Lacey

P.S. This little package – a nursing cover – was delivered to an acquaintance of mine this week. It came from the Young Women of her ward. I am beyond horrified that this lesson is being taught to the Young Women by their leaders. Breasts, like nearly every part of the body, have both a utilitarian and a sexual purpose. This attitude creates shame, fear and unfamiliarity with breastfeeding. It should never, ever happen. Let’s work together to normalize breastfeeding, end the modesty debate and support mothers and babies everywhere!

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