Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If babies could talk...

Let's just be honest, parents participate in many traditions that could easily be construed as strange to a little person with no previous life experience (a.k.a. the baby).  But I think off all the things that parents do, photo shoots must be the strangest.  Popular directions to take in these photo shoots include a random and well-lit location, naked baby, HUGE flower, over-sized and bright colored tutu, a decorative basket or a combination of any of these.  And while parents think these pictures are adorable, what are our children thinking?  Put yourself in their shoes (or booties) and imagine being stripped down and stuck under bright lights.  It's like going to the gynecologist. . . or maybe like going to the dentist with no shirt on.  Either way, it seems like it must be unpleasant.  Curious to delve deeper into the infant mind I asked my research assistant (Andrea) to aid me in an experiment and then write up a detailed report.  Senario- Bucket, half-naked baby, big flower, outside in random places.  Here was the feedback:

Mom, why am I in this bucket?  And why am I just wearing a diaper?

Don't ya think it's kinda bright out here?  And hot?  Oh, I see.  You want to take pictures of me.  Okay, I'll try and smile.

New location, huh?  Courtesy smile number two.

 Location number three. . . is this for real?  Where are we anyway?

Okay, you are getting one more cute face and then you are taking me inside and putting my clothes back on.

  I'm so over this.  Let's go inside.  Please.

Did you not hear me?  Give me that camera.

Wait!  I have to sneeze.

Okay, NOW give me that camera!

 I give up.  I don't think you are listening.
 Mmmm.  Bucket. . .

This woman doesn't know who she's dealing with.  Oh, the noises I could make in the middle of the night. . .

 Location number four?!  You've got to be kidding me.  Alright, game on.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seasons may come and go

Summer, you are coming to a close and soon the ground will be littered with multi-colored confetti leaves as a sullen reminder that the party is over. I’ve already expressed my desire for an extension but I suspect it’s been denied. Moping seemed to slow down my last couple weeks before Paul started school. Unfortunately, it was the bad kind of slow where there is too much time to think. And I didn’t use my thinking time to ponder anything useful like global warming, the national debt crisis, or a cure for cancer. I instead thought about how different my life is today from what I thought it would be.

Four years ago I watched my friends go off to college and I stayed behind working, waiting really, for my turn as I tasted my first real dose of adulthood. I was facing circumstances that my mom wasn’t obligated or even permitted to step in and fix for me. But I was a dreamer and couldn’t possibly believe that all would not fix itself in due time. I would still go to school, just a semester after my peers, and I would eventually graduate, teach high school students how to write and express and read and think, and I would be happy. Then, when I’d least expect it, some insane man, most likely a real estate agent or sales rep for a small pest control company, would show up and sweep me off my feet. He’d show up in the middle of one of my classes with a bouquet of green daises and a little velvet box containing a gaudy square rock that his sister picked out for me. We would get married that summer and honeymoon in Mexico before school started. I would go back to teaching while I’d struggle with years of infertility like my mother, and on my thirtieth birthday I would surprise my husband with the big news: A positive pregnancy test.

That’s the most honest interpretation of my life plan I can recall from so long ago.

But God had something else in mind and sent me Paul. I married young, got pregnant within the year, dropped out of college for lack of funding, and quit my job to start a new season of life: mothering an infant.

As I struggled to keep up with all of the changes I wondered of it was too much, too soon, and too different. Yesterday I sat on the floor with Andrea watching her lick and chew on my watch. Occasionally she would take it out of her mouth, a string of spit still connecting it to her lips, and she would giggle profusely, eyes glowing with pure delight.

I was then taken back to the first six months of her life which I mostly try to forget. I recalled those first few weeks when every cry panicked me-- every noise woke me. Every sneeze was typhoid fever and every grunt was diphtheria. I kept her beside my bed in a laundry basket so I could rescue her if she chocked in the night or feed her before she had the chance to cry. I sat on the couch watching informercials all night as I nursed and examined my new and not-so-glamorous life. I remembered all the nights and days that I laid her down to sleep and hoped the sandman would come save my tired bones. I cried, crouched over on the floor of her room as I listened to her sleeping breath turn to screams within a minute of being put down. I wanted the cup to pass from me. Not in a take-away-this-child way, but in a change-her-to-make-her-not-the-way-she-is-because-I-can’t-take-this-anymore way.

How I’m glad now, watching her tell my watch stories and giggle at the black band, that she is just who she is. The two of us have come so far and because of the trials we faced I’ve come to love her more than I thought possible. Yesterday, while folding a basket of clean underwear, I finally made peace with my new life. My new life that is so different from what I expected—but all my own. (And the season of baby is not so bad now that the season of newborn is over!)

Good bye, Summer! Good bye to your stormy nights and humid, cloudy days. Goodbye to your sweltering heat and cool, dry breezes. That’s the thing about you seasons, whether it is changes in climate or phases in life, you weren’t meant to last forever. But when you come again you will be just as different as I. In case we don’t recognize each other look for a young mom chasing a little girl. . . and smiling.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Splish splash

There is something very exciting about watching your first child experience a myriad of firsts.  I remember Andrea's first bath and her first big poo, her first sounds, smiles, and Christmas.  Paul and I recorded these events in her baby book, and I took lots of pictures.  But this week as Paul finalized his preparations for his masters program starting on Monday and Andrea's first summer came to a close I realized we never took her swimming.  Friday we drenched her in sunscreen and ventured out of our dark basement apartment to bask in the summer heat and some chlorine.

It's taken us a very long time to help Andrea adjust to baths.  When I brought her home from the hospital I discovered her amazing talent of peeing during diaper changes.  She not only scored high points for quantity of urine, but aim as well.  Her little squirts somehow managed to seep their way up the changing mat into her mullet and I would call for Paul to rescue me with a baby tub of bath water.  Poor little Andrea's face would turn a sad shade of violet from the pressure of her screams, but I hoped as she got older her tears would turn to giggles as she splashed in the tub.  Seven months later my wait ended and my sensitive and cautious baby decided that bath time was no longer fatal (provide I ensure she not drown).  I took this as a sign that she was ready for the pool.

Perhaps it was a little too soon.  I hadn't even put her into the water when she began to whimper, so I started slow.  I dabbed her feet with the chilly water before carefully dipping them.  Inch by inch her fair skin entered the pool until she was sitting on the top step of the kiddy pool.  She continued to complain and scrunch her face from the bright sparkly water.

The combination of bright sun, chilly water, screaming children, and splashing fountains no longer seemed Andrea-compatible.  I gathered her up in my arms and walked around the lazy river as she clung to my swimsuit and buried her face into my neck.  My sister, who came along to support her little niece, commented on Andrea's strangely cuddly behavior.  I worried this was too much for her.

Paul and my little brother found us to take a turn holding Andrea so my sister and I could soak in the hot tub.  Because she seemed so uncomfortable in the bright sun Paul retrieved her over-sized hat and within minutes she was fast asleep against his chest.  Apparently, she was just tired.

After a little nap we were ready to put Andrea back into the water.  Armed with her hat and a toy, she was all smiles as she sat on her kiddy pool step and practiced some light splashing.

I was so impressed with her new attitude I let her play for a while and took her for a few more laps around the lazy river.  She seemed be enjoying everything now (with the exception of the waterfall).

We left the pool while she was still happy hoping she'll want to go back.  I know I do!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How I'll talk to my girls

I can't stay quiet any longer.  This has been bugging me since the end of June when a certain article began to circulate on facebook on how to talk to little girls.  I think it was my band teacher who posted it first, and since he often posts interesting links I read the entire thing.  It was well-written and riddled with statistics that I had studied in my major at BYU.  I just love me some statistics!  Yet there was something about it that I didn't like.  I just wasn't exactly sure what it was.  Before the day was over the article was posted again and interested in my own reaction I read it for the second time.

If you haven't already had this article appear on your news feed I will sum it up for you.  Lisa Bloom relates an experience of meeting a little girl and resisting giving her compliments regarding her outward appearance.  She explains that the trend in our country is to tell girls how beautiful they are first, instilling into them that worth is correlated with good looks.  Bloom then issues a challenge to not speak to little girls about their physical beauty at all.  Ask them about books and politics and the environment.  Make them think and emphasize knowledge and ideas.

Sounds great, right?  Girls ARE investing too much in their appearance.  Then what is it that bothered me so much about this article?  I think it was the idea that beauty doesn't matter much at all.  It was too extreme for me.  While the obsession with being skinny, hot, and acne free in this country is unhealthy, beauty still matters.  And I have proof.

[a]Psychologist Alan Slater of Exeter University believes that "humans may have a biologically ingrained preference for beauty."  To test his method he showed pictures of faces to adults and had them rate the faces as more or less attractive.  When these pictures were shown to babies, average two and a half days old, he discovered that "babies invariably stared longer at faces which adults had rated as more attractive."  He received the same result with babies only hours old.

Amid this study and many others similarly conducted a common factor began to emerge.  The "beautiful" faces had one thing in common: Symmetry. Found in animals as well as humans, this attraction is just as much a survival instinct as a aesthetic preference.  Three words: [b]"higher mate-value. Scientists believe that this symmetry is equated with a strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes, improving the likelihood that an individual's offspring will survive."  Can well help that we like to look at that which is lovely?  No, we're born that way.  However, beauty is not 100 pounds or a large cup size or a small nose.  That is a product of media and peer pressure.  That is what we must be aware of.

Science aside, there is another reason that I believe beauty matters.  It's a gift from God.  In Doctrine and Covenants 59: 18-19 it says, "Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul."  Our Heavenly Father wants his children to have joy and he knows that joy comes from many places and all our senses.  This is evident in His temples.  If beauty didn't matter why would He require that so much time, effort, and money put into beautifying and maintaining temples?

Temples are places for God to dwell, but temples are not just buildings.  [c]They are our bodies.  Shouldn't we treat them just as well.  Taking care of our bodies by keeping them healthy, well-groomed, and clean we are creating a beautiful environment, inside and out, where God will want to dwell.  He tells us to use what we've been given [d]"with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion."  It's clear that the statistics given in Lisa Bloom's article are all examples of a misuse and abuse of what God had given.
"15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart"
And I'm not a proponent of this kind of abuse.  But I will not stop telling my daughter she is beautiful.  Nope, this is not the answer.  I will instead teach her what true beauty is, which is radiating joy and the light of Christ.  [e]Susan W. Tanner says, "Happiness comes from accepting the bodies we have been given as divine gifts and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world. The Lord wants us to be made over—but in His image. . . by receiving His image in our countenances."  And I think that is beautiful.

[a] http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/002338.html
[b] http://www.jyi.org/volumes/volume6/issue6/features/feng.html
[c] http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/john/2.21?lang=eng#20
[d] http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/59.20?lang=eng#17
[e] http://lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/the-sanctity-of-the-body?lang=eng