Parenting is just a bunch of letting go

Kid Henry
Kid Henry

Tonight Henry fell asleep in my arms, nursing before bed in the rocking chair in his bedroom. There’s nothing unusual about that. It happens most every night. But tonight.

Tonight I looked down at my sleeping baby in my arms and realized how big he was. His body’s bigger than my torso, now. His baby hands are kid hands. His baby butt’s a kid butt. Kid legs. Kid face. He’s not my little newborn Henry Austin-Avon any more. He’s crossing the baby line into kidville.

I’ve been so busy counting milestones, looking into the future. Excited that he’s sitting up. Excited that he can play on his own. Excited that he can hold my hands, stand up and walk across a room. Excited that he can put a carrot in his own mouth and eat it. That’s a good thing, probably.

Because the sadness, pain and loss in looking backward is almost unbearable.

Never again will I have to hold his floppy head to my breast to teach him to nurse. Never again will I cup his tiny little body close to mine to calm him, hoping he remembers the sound of my heartbeat. Never again will I have a six-month-old Henry. Or a five-month-old, four-month-old, three-month-old, two-month-old, one-month-old, three-weeks-old, two-days-old, newborn baby Henry.

Feeding himself.
Feeding himself.

The thought’s occurred to me before that it’s okay that time’s passing, because I want to have another baby. That I’ll be able to do it again; to hold my own little newborn baby, to be the only one to calm them down, to be so close.

But I realized tonight that it won’t be the same. I’ll have a two- or three-year-old son running around as a distraction. I’ll be worn out. And it won’t be Henry. It won’t be the first time; like watching a movie the second time or reading a book the second time. The surprises don’t hit you the same way.

I worry that I’ve missed it. I was on my phone, or talking to someone, and I missed it. Henry will never be seven months, two weeks and five days old again. That was just for today, and I was working, Facebooking, sending a press release, designing a postcard, chatting, hanging laundry, driving, in a meeting. I missed it. I missed him today.

Sleeping on Daddy.
Sleeping on Daddy.

Every day is letting go. Every day he is further from me. No longer a part of me. When he doesn’t want to breastfeed any more, our bond will just be a token. I won’t need a babysitter to bring him to me every two hours. We could go our lifetimes apart and he would probably be okay. Someone else can comfort him, after that’s gone.

It breaks my heart. Seriously makes me well up with tears to think about.

From birth, parenting is just a bunch of letting go. First he’s no longer a part of me. Then as he can hold his own head up, feed himself, eat food other than my milk, no longer needs to be carried around. Parents of teenagers, I don’t envy you.

I’m starting to realize why everyone glows at you when you’re pregnant or carrying a newborn.

It’s the best. It’s all ahead of you.

A fleeting moment.
A fleeting moment.

It’s the very very best. The closest. The part where your child needs you the most. The road into the unknown stretches out ahead, all sunshine and blank canvas.

My baby is growing up. He’s still so new, but no longer a newborn. This is so painful. I miss my newborn Henry so badly. It hurts, makes my chest cave in, to think that I will never hold my newborn Henry again.

He doesn’t exist.

My newborn Henry doesn’t exist any more.

I can’t think of anything more awful than that. I mourn for my son. He’s gone; the little curled frog legs, the long wispy brown hair, the twitchy breathing and high-pitched sleep squeaks. I wish I took more video. But it’s just not the same.

I console myself knowing that newborn Henry has grown into infant Henry, and infant Henry is the most beautiful, bright, happy, funny boy in the history of children. He’s amazing. He’s perfect.┬áHe’s a shining star, radiating joy and love.

And when he doesn’t exist any more, I’ll have toddler Henry to keep me busy. And then little boy Henry, and older boy Henry, preteen Henry, teen Henry, young adult Henry, adult Henry and beyond — all wonderful people I look forward to meeting.

… If I can just try to let go of his past selves.

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What to feed the kid

Henry doing baby-led weaning with some steamed local organic sweet potato
Henry doing baby-led weaning with some steamed local organic sweet potato

Man, my head is spinning about what to do with food. For six months we’ve had it pretty easy with breastfeeding, and now starting solid foods is boggling my mind. Like an issue of Women’s World where you’re told to eat cranberries for your bladder and eat chocolate for happiness and eat blueberries to live longer and eat flax seed for your brain…

You start off like, oh sure, I could eat more cranberries. I could get them and eat them every day, I guess. I want to be healthy. And then by the end of four pages, you’re just like, wow, I need to eat one of everything in the entire grocery store to be healthy. Which isn’t possible or true, of course.

So yeah, feeding Henry. We have our own dietary choices in place, already.

  • We are vegetarian and inching more and more toward wanting to stick to a vegan diet.
  • We’re not always awesome about it, and are far from exclusive on it, but I would like to be as much of a localvore as possible. Given the choice between paying more for something made or grown locally, I’ll usually pick the local thing.
  • Same goes for organics – not everything we eat is organic or GMO-free, but we lean that way.
  • I try to buy foods with as few different ingredients and additives as possible, especially random stuff like dyes and corn starch and chemical-sounding names, and definitely steer clear of the obviously awful stuff like high fructose corn syrup (of course there are exceptions, but they’re conscious choices when we do make the exception). I also try to avoid stuff that’s super processed. For example, I’d rather just buy a butternut squash than buy a prepackaged squash soup.
  • Also, I am bugged by food with lots of packaging.
  • AND I don’t have a TON of time to make stuff from scratch, so while I will soak dried beans and do other stuff like that, it’s not always super convenient.

So… Basically, we do okay, indulging here and there, of course. We are far from perfect. But when it comes to Henry, we can’t just assume that he’s getting everything he needs. He’s growing, just starting out and his diet is really important. So then in addition to the guidelines we already have in place for ourselves, there are additional parameters.

  • We like the idea of baby-led weaning. Which is not “weaning” as we know it, but rather the British use of the word, which means adding foods rather than taking milk away. So baby-led eating.
  • I really think I want to raise Henry as vegan. More and more I’ve been aware of the practices involved with producing dairy and eggs (especially as a dairy-producing creature myself) and I’m really disgusted. While I phase out that stuff from my own diet, I don’t want to be introducing it to him.
  • For his introductory foods, I want them to be simple, one-ingredient things like a single veggie, etc.
  • Also needs to be easy to digest, not causing him discomfort with gas (like beans might, for example).
  • Also needs to be easy to gum since he doesn’t have teeth or know how to chew.
  • Also can’t be an allergen.
  • Also needs to be palatable and tasty to him, which right now means sweet-ish because breast milk is sweet.
  • But not too sweet like fruit because then apparently he won’t like to eat anything but sweets and will be a victim of the horrible childhood obesity epidemic.
  • Apparently he needs to start getting iron elsewhere, starting now because he’s 6 months old.
  • And right now he gets enough protein from breast milk, but after he is done nursing (we have time to figure this one out, thank goodness), we need to make sure he’s getting all the amino acids he needs.
  • And rice cereal has arsenic in it, I guess. Plus is processed.

I want to do the right thing, and my crunchy mama guts say there’s a way to make it all work, but this is a hard puzzle to navigate, with my child’s health at stake in every which way. My eyes are crossing.

I know that nobody’s perfect. My own diet isn’t perfect. I have ideals, but I don’t stick to them ultra-strictly. I’m glad that at least I’m aware when I make a choice that isn’t ideal. But Henry’s a clean slate. We have a chance to do everything right because we haven’t fed him anything but sweet potato (and accidentally salt clay). I know we’re going to screw him up in all kinds of ways through the years, but with the blank canvas ahead of us, I just want to start it off right. It’s so tricky to know what to do.

What did you feed your kid as their first food?

Veganism, the Apocalypse and the Meaning of Life

I had read about how background reading aloud is good for a child’s developing brain in the opposite way that background TV is bad for him, so I picked a wordy book off the shelf to read to Henry today while he played on the floor with Daddy: Catherine Marshall’s Story Bible.

Catherine Marshall’s Story Bible

I had this book as a kid, and a lot of my Bible knowledge stems from it. Of course, it’s way simplified and not all the stories are there, but it has a good synopsis of the main points, and illustrations by kids.

My religious stance is that I made up my own religion, Katethysianism, which is my own plate from the ideological buffet. I like to describe the tenets of Kathethysianism as, “Whatever I feel like believing in at the time.” It’s a mix of this story bible, new-age spirituality, and other things I’ve picked up from books like Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and the like.

I think the Bible is just fine and dandy, but it needs to be interpreted – run through the translator – and not taken literally. I’m not so into organized religion because I like that I have my own pick-and-choose interpretation that doesn’t quite fit in with the package deal, but sometimes I do like to go to church for the familiar and holy-feeling routine of it, and as a place to remember about your spirituality. The same way sometimes I like to go for a hike, or to sit in a tree. I want to pass that on to Henry; that beliefs don’t have to be a package deal, and that he can opt to compile his own plate from the buffet.

So anyway, I’m reading this story and right in the first few pages there it is: The meaning of life.

Wowza! It ain’t some big secret, folks. I’ll tell you what it is.

The Story Bible says: “Now another kind of creature was needed to enjoy all this beauty and to take care of it.” A little later it also says, “God was making Man so wondrously that he would be able to understand Who had made the animals and the amazing world around him. Understanding that, Man could then know and enjoy his God… Thus God would never again be lonely.”

That’s our job, simple as that. The meaning of life. (Of our lives as people, that is.) To enjoy the world, to take care of it, and to appreciate the mysterious ways it came into existence, and be glad it did happen.

After reading that, a sad thought occurred to me: We are NOT doing our job.

We are not taking care of nature and the world’s animals. We are destroying their natural habitats, mass murdering the world’s amazing creatures for food, clothing and other unnecessary reasons, dumping our trash all over the place, torturing via animal testing and on and on.

And we don’t appreciate it, either.

We whine, complain, are generally mopey and sad. It’s rare that we just look at a sunset or a tiger or the inside of a starfruit and muse on how incredible and unlikely it is that any of it exists, much less how incredible and unlikely it is that we would actually be aware of the incredibility and unlikeliness of it all.

IMG_7655Then, reading the story of Noah, it occurred to me that 2013 isn’t the first time we didn’t do our job.

Climate change is our own self-imposed apocalypse.

Landfill in Poland, from Wikipedia

We screw up and we wipe ourselves out, except for a few who catch on early and escape it. Call it God’s wrath or call it a bed we made and need to lie in, it’s headed this way and it’s dang scary.

I can’t figure out the translation of the rainbow, though, because in the Bible, God says he’ll never do that to us again. And the whole Jesus thing was supposed to be about forgiveness. I suppose we will get there later, though – right now I’m just up to Noah.

Anyway, I do think there are lessons to be learned from reading the Bible. Not literal lessons about avoiding women on their periods and hating on gays, but lessons about being nice to each other and caring for animals and the environment.

Part of me wants to toss the book aside and get back to Facebooking on my iPhone, watching videos of cats doing cute things and buying mozzarella sticks to eat during the super bowl… and part of me wants to sell the house, donate the money to charity and live in the African outback in a hut, away from plastics and factory farms, living a vegan lifestyle and preaching my own interpretation of the end times and how we should all just get along.

I guess I’ll have to find an acceptable compromise.

But I want to do my job, and to help others — especially Henry — to do theirs.

I think we’d all be happier.

Stuff. Aspiring to zero waste…

I hope to raise Henry with a healthy, educated view of stuff. It’s tricky. My own relationship with stuff is conflicted. I like to hold onto things that trigger memories, but I also don’t want anything new.The Story of Stuff films and book have really influenced the way I live my life.

http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies/embed_SoS.html

When you start to think about the resources spent on every single thing that passes through your hands, and especially when you’re like me and wouldn’t use any non-renewable resources at all in your ideal world, it can be really overwhelming. I actually think that if we all thought rationally about it and made choices based on our beliefs rather than convenience, most of us wouldn’t be living the way we do. But we have to get along in society the way it currently is, and so we take baby steps to be greener and less wasteful. I’m trying, anyway.

I was cleaning out my studio at the Shirt Factory and got together a big garbage bag full of things that I couldn’t reuse, give away, recycle or compost. I sat there looking at it and it made me really sad. Cory takes the garbage out at home so my hauling a full garbage bag to the dumpster was kind of a rare thing. I felt like I may as well keep the bag there at the studio, because in my head I visualize bringing it outside to the dumpster basically the equivalent of dumping it all over Bambi and Thumper out in the woods. That bag of trash isn’t going to break down any time soon. Just because I don’t have to look at it doesn’t mean it isn’t sitting around somewhere. Because of me and the choices I made. I hate to think about it.

I’m inspired by the zero waste lifestyle, and while I’m not there yet, I aspire to it. This family in particular, and this video, just awe me. I love the idea of nothing in the trash can; of dry goods in jars. I used to daydream about opening a store where you could bring all your own containers in and fill them up with anything from orange juice to shampoo. Some shops are like that — the Glens Falls Food Co-Op, Pure ‘N Simple, and this shop on the main drag in Poultney, Vt. that opened up.

It’s tricky, though. Most of our garbage is food packaging. I’m a picky eater, we are vegetarians, short on spare time and not very clever in the kitchen. I try to buy things that don’t come in packages, but in a lot of cases it’s just unavoidable.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Stuff. And how to be responsible for less garbage. I’m open to suggestions. I think I just need to keep being conscious about what I buy, and to do better at cooking things from scratch and shopping in places where I can buy in bulk and bring my own containers. It’s a step, anyway.

Climbing through the branches of the family tree

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree
where the fruit would grow to laugh
– Andrea Gibson, Say Yes

This weekend I am going to Alfred, New York, with my grandfather Poppy. Mimi and probably my Dad are also coming to help with the driving. Poppy’s going to show me the Homestead; a house built by his great (great?) grandfather Nathaniel Austin and where he spent his summers as a boy. It’s still in the family, but in another branch. We’ll meet cousin Eloise, visit some family graves and see Poppy’s old school.

A few of my family members have expressed their disinterest in all this genealogy stuff. I thought I’d write about why I care.

Mom and Dad uncovering their 25-year-old love letter written in cement at the West Bridgewater house
Mom and Dad uncovering their 25-year-old love letter written in cement at the West Bridgewater house

To start at the beginning, I’ll tell you that I wrote my name on the inside of my closet doors at my parents’ house when I was a kid. It didn’t occur to me at the time that closet doors can be replaced. I didn’t want whoever lived in the house after me to never know that I existed and that I had lived there. It was something I did very young, and wished I did in our old house before we moved when I was five. My parents wrote their names on a cement block out in the backyard of that old house, though, and maybe I thought that was enough. We went and uncovered it from beneath overgrown bushes before they finally sold it in 2008.

“But what does that mean–‘ephemeral’?” repeated the little prince, who never in his life had let go of a question, once he had asked it.
“It means, ‘which is in danger of speedy disappearance.'”
“Is my flower in danger of speedy disappearance?”
“Certainly it is.”
“My flower is ephemeral,” the little prince said to himself, “and she has only four thorns to defend herself against the world. And I have left her on my planet, all alone!”
– Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I remember thinking as an elementary school-age kid I wanted to carve my name into rocks; to send time capsules out into space; to do something extremely horrible or extremely great to go down in history books.

Le Petit Prince and his flower
Le Petit Prince and his flower

My point is that I was never okay with the fact that life is ephemeral and that I might be forgotten about in a few generations’ time. In high school I bought aephemera.netand still own it (and the username “aephemera” in a million different places) to this day, more than 10 years later.

It’s always been something that bothers me. So it has been a long time that I’ve been aware that life is fleeting.

Certainly your friends and family will remember you after you’re gone. But likely only for a generation or maybe two or three if you’re lucky. Then you might just be a photo that’s found somewhere; maybe a recipe or a jumbled version of a funny story – a name on a genealogy project at your great-grandchild’s elementary school, and nothing more. Your whole life, just reduced to that. What I actually remember about my great-grandparents or even my grandparents’ childhood is limited and blurry. When I try to retell the stories, they swim together in my brain and it comes out like “My grandfather’s parents owned some kind of… well, a… It wasn’t like an inn, but it was a place where people stayed. I think the people who stayed there were ex-alcoholics and it had something to do with their religion why they were there. And his dad was really into the garden and helping these people out.” I’ve got crummy recall. This was a person’s whole life, and that’s all that’s left to pass to future generations!?

It doesn’t sit well with me.

So I’ve been trying to iron it out and nail it down and to get my parents and grandparents and Cory’s parents to write this all down so it’s not completely fudgy for my kids and great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids and so on. So it’s not just completely lost or garbled.

Excerpt from Lois Wyse's "Funny, You Don't Look Like A Grandmother"
Excerpt from Lois Wyse's "Funny, You Don't Look Like A Grandmother"

There are generations upon generations of my ancestors that lived their lives so that they could offer something better to their children, as in the Andrea Gibson poem I quoted at the top of this post. I want to honor them with more than just that better life for myself. I want to pass along some recognition of them. Not only their legacy and sacrifices made flesh, but their story as well. Not because I’m so into old stories, necessarily. But because it’s my duty if I want my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to make sure I’m not forgotten, either. There’s more to pass along than just my own generation’s story.

This is bigger than me, too. There is so much to be learned about the past (and not just the boring stuff you cram in your brain in high school) that has already been done, studied and recorded. I think that my generation and the future generations sometimes reinvent the wheel. I realize that there’s some of that to be done anyway; that we need to learn from our own experiences. But how much further along would we be if our children and grandchildren could instantly upload our entire lives of learning into their brains and start from that launching pad into a whole new lifetime of learning rather than starting from square one?

Internet meme that's been bouncing around
Internet meme that's been bouncing around

Of course, when my mom tried to show me her poems from the tough times she went through in her teens and early twenties I wanted nothing to do with it, saying I’m sorry she had a rough go of it but it was nothing like my own personal misery. Which is and isn’t true. So why am I saving mine for my children? I guess I have hopes that my kids will somehow realize that we have gone through all this before, and hopefully so they won’t have to. That they can take the things that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on have already gone through and avoid that path on their way to even more glorious things.

And I know that the success I have is a result of my ancestors caring about their offspring and the future generations. Why else did they come to America, in some cases alone and young and at great risks with only $15 in their pocket? Why else did they work so hard at their many jobs? Why else did they raise families? Why do I work hard at my jobs? Why do I care about the future and try to make the world a better place?

I can only think that it was to offer their children and future generations a better life than they had. I owe them for that. I can at the very least learn about who they were as a thanks for the upper-middle-class upbringing and great childhood I had, and try to pass that to my children too. Nobody else is going to do it.