In Praise of My Mother-In-Law

Mother… a name revered by all.  Even the most unsavory criminals love their Mothers.  Bikers tattoo the title on their bodies.  Thoughts of warm apple pie, unconditional love, trust, and devotion fill the mind.  She is the one who changed your diapers, sat up with you all night when you were sick, and listened to you when other’s judged.  She is often the most revered member of the family unit.

Mother-In-Law….  Oh the sound of that title sends many a wife (and husband!) into a terrified frenzy.  Words like meddling, nagging, crazy, or even evil may come to your mind.  If you are a wife, she may be the woman you’ll never match up to.  If you’re a husband, she may be the one reminding you that you’ll never be good enough.

I have a Mother-In-Law.  We’ll call her MILli.  When I first met Milk Man’s mom, it was a Sunday morning.  I didn’t know she was coming to church that day.  I remember I wore a retro black dress with red bows all over it.  My hair was high in a pompadour, and I was wearing my black and red chucks.  I wanted to kill Milk Man for not telling me earlier that his parents were visiting, so I could have worn something a little less “me” to church.  See, Milk Man comes from a family a bit more conservative than mine.  They are quiet, calm, and very normal.  I, however, come from a family of comedians, loud mouths, entertainers, and over-the-toppers.  I wear weird clothes.  I listen to metal, I love swing dancing, and I absolutely love dressing up.  That day, however, I wished I had worn a long jean skirt, a turtle neck, and black flats.  First impressions are so important, and I knew this one could affect me for a long time.  She was gracious and sweet, though I remember her looking at my shoes, and I wished I could hide them!

MILli and I couldn’t be more different.  We are dissimilar in nearly every way.  I have been mortified that I’ll never live up to her standards or be just like her.  Thankfully, she doesn’t require that, Milk Man doesn’t require that, and neither does God, because I am pretty sure she is the closest thing to perfect on this green and blue sphere!  She is creative, chaste, a gourmet cook, quiet, a servant, and intimidating (though not intentionally).  She is a dutiful wife, a loving mother, a doting grandmother, and she is a most giving daughter.  She is many things I am not.  I have seldom seen her sit at a family gathering.  She is always the last to eat.  Serving all, never being served herself.

I remember wondering how I ended up with MILli’s son when she and I were so completely different.  But, as time has gone on, I have figured it out.  Yes, MILli!  I got your number on this one.  Milk Man was your project.  Milk Man has so many of your traits and qualities, I began to realize that he was raised by you to be everything you felt a man should be.  How could I be intimidated or withhold friendship from the woman who made my husband who he is?

MILli is old fashioned in many of the right ways.  She has seen how the world has become a less polite, kind, and respectful place, and she worked over time to nurture a son who would go against the status quo.  I have often told Milk Man that he is a result of his mother’s rebellion against how most men treat women!  Milk Man is something out of a book or a movie most days.  Kind, loving, respectful, romantic, affectionate, giving, a servant, and a gentleman in all ways.

Now, of course, Milk Man was raised by his father as well, and MILli and FIL are in love and have raised a loving family together.  But Milk Man is especially MILli.  (Much like Milk Man’s brother is especially like my FIL!)  I think Milk Man is everything MILli wanted to see a man be in our society.  He treats women as she would like to be treated.  He serves others just as she serves everyone.

Now that I have my own son, I can’t help but think our wedding day must’ve been terribly hard for her.  Giving your son away to another woman has to be incredibly difficult.  She put so much effort into raising him right, and shaping him into the man he is today, only to send him off to marry Miss Loud Mouth McCrazykins (that’d be me!)

Every time he makes one of her expressions, gently encourages me for better, opens my door, treats me like a queen, helps me cook a meal, changes a diaper, or cuddles me after a rough day, I am reminded that he learned those things from his mama.  I can only hope to be half the mother to Captain that MILli was to my Milk Man.  (Thankfully, Captain has his daddy’s example to learn from, even if I sell him short on manners!)

So, thank you, my sweet Mother-In-Law.  We may not see eye to eye on much (though we have the thing that matter MOST in common! Our faith, our morals, and our views on family).  We may be incredibly different.  We may have very little in common.  We may disagree on some (or even many) things.  But you shaped Milk Man into the gentleman he is today.  I owe so much of my happiness to you.  I am forever in your debt!

And to those of you who don’t get along with your Mother (or Father-In-Law…) Look at your spouse, and if you love them (which I hope you do!) I can promise you that there are pieces of your In-Law’s souls, blood, sweat, and tears woven into your spouse’s personality!

Eating My Words With a Side of Humble Pie

Working with other children (and their parents!) before I had kids caused me to swear there were a lot of things I would NEVER do once I had my own.  My baby would be sleep trained at 3 months.  My baby would be nursed for 6 months if I could make it that long.  My baby would not have any baby gadgets.  My baby would not have tacky plastic toys.  My baby would cry it out if he couldn’t sleep.  My baby wouldn’t be like other babies.

I had a typical case of “know-it-all”.  You know, the kind that people without kids have?  Just like people who aren’t married know how everyone else’s marriages should be run?  Yeah.  Things are always so much clearer when you aren’t in the trenches.  I have judged how people cared for their children, how their children have turned out, and often thought how much better I would have done in their situation.

Fast forward to being a parent.  My baby, The Captain, doesn’t sleep, if the Lord allows it, I want to nurse til he self weans, my mother bought him a jumperoo that is plastic and makes noise, and he loves it, when my baby cries too much, he chokes, vomits and becomes inconsolable.  My baby would be labeled “high needs,” “colicky,” and maybe even “difficult.”  I have spent many nights, and continue to, awake, feeling alone, beside myself, and frustrated.  I haven’t gotten more than 90 minutes of straight sleep in Lord knows how long, and I often tell my husband, The Milkman, that the longer this goes on, the more alone I feel.  No one seems to understand.  It’s amazing how many people stop you when you have a baby to smile at them and look at their drooly, toothless little faces, and the questioning goes like this, “Oh!  How precious!  Boy or girl?”

I respond, “Boy!”

“Oh, wonderful.  He your first?”

“Mhm. Sure is!”

“Congratulations!  How old is he?”

“Thank you!  He’s four months old!”

“Oh, well isn’t he a happy little guy!  Does he sleep through the night?”

And then I get anxious.  Here we go again.  Why do they want to know?  I already know what their response is going to be. I answer with a smile, “No, no… He isn’t much for sleep at night.  It’s rough, but he’s worth it.”

And then the response I know is coming, first a furrowing of the brow, a pursed lip, and a lower tone of voice than before responds, “Oh, that’s too bad.  Are you letting him cry it out?  That’s really the best way to get them to sleep at this age.  And if you are nursing, don’t let yourself become a pacifier.  They really don’t need to eat through the night at this age.”

I smile hesitantly, and nod my head slowly.  I didn’t ask for their advice, but they sure gave it.  The don’t know me, but with my response, they began judging me, just as I would have done to another mother before I had my own.  I thank them for their concern and give a general, “Well, we are working our way through it.”  They are no longer smiling, we part ways with them giving a concerned head shake and walk away.
Alone.  No one seems to understand.  And can I blame them, when I did the same to others just months ago?

Everyone is an expert.  Everyone knows how you should rear YOUR child.  Everyone thinks that how they did it was the best and only way.

There is a fable of Aesop about a man, his son, and a donkey.  Here’s what it says:

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:

Moral of Aesop’s Fable: Please all, and you will please none


This is a lesson I am having to learn.  I am bombarded from all sides by well meaning people.  Their voices all jumble into one voice in my head. “Put him on a schedule… stop spoiling him… let him cry it out… stop eating this… stop eating that… start him on formula… start him on rice cereal… stop tending to him every time he cries… stop spoiling him… he can’t be hungry AGAIN… toughen him up, he can handle it… he needs to conform to you, not you to him… have a consistent routine… get his daytime naps down… forget the daytime naps, get his nighttime sleep down… put him in another room…”  So, I second guess my maternal instincts that tell me that when my son is crying, he is trying to communicate with me.  I tell myself maybe I should try that.  So, I do.  And I cry, and Milkman holds my hand.  And after testing each thing out, we agree, it isn’t a good idea, and we need to trust our instincts.  We have tried to please everyone, and have pleased no one.  We have tried to do what other’s tell us, rather than doing what seems instinctive for loving parents to do, and Captain ends up exasperated, and we feel defeated.

A dear friend of mine offered me the following bit of advice (hope she doesn’t mind that I am quoting her!): “ I just keep coming back to the conviction that you can’t know ‘all about babies’ any more than you can know all about Koreans or all about autism. Babies are individual people and no one who doesn’t know my baby and love him can advise me on how to ‘handle’ him. He isn’t a Buick.” So, each time someone offers me their “expert” advice, I have to remind myself of this.  No one is better suited to read and care for Captain’s needs than Milkman and I.  But the thing that I keep coming back to is that once again, I am the student in this life lesson.  I am having to eat my words, thoughts, advice and expertise that I have used to silently judge other’s kids and parenting styles.

You wanna nurse your kid til they are 3 years old?  Go for it.  You wanna co-sleep?  Go for it.  You think your kid needs to cry it out?  Go for it.  You wanna give your kid solids before 6 months?  Why, not?  See, unless you are doing something that will harm your child, cause them emotional trauma, asking my advice, or putting them in danger’s way, it’s really none of my business.

I feel like God has had to teach me so many hard lessons since becoming a mother.  Most days, I realize that there is no better gauge for raising your own child, than following common sense and doing what you feel most comfortable with.  I told a longtime friend of mine today as we were out for a walk that I want to scream, “Okay, God, I get it. Can we stop learning this lesson now?  I won’t judge people anymore!”  But I suppose there is more to learn.

In the meantime, I still feel alone.  I still feel a bit depressed.  I still cry a lot.  I still break down after the 6th wake up every night saying that I don’t know what to do anymore.  I still second guess myself.  And Milkman and I still have many conversations about what we should do.  In the end, the answer is always the same.  We are doing what we can.  We are doing what we are most comfortable with.  Milkman reminds me all the time that the 3 of us are all that is allowed in our family’s inner circle, and that since we are the one’s getting up all hours, tending to our child’s needs, and are responsible for Captain, we oughtn’t to let other’s advice upset us or penetrate our family choices.

All that being said, I can’t change other people.  And though I know I will be tempted to be judgmental again, I hope that I can look back on this chapter of my life and remember to be charitable.  To be gracious.  To be loving.  And to remember how I have had to learn this lesson the hard way.

So if I have judged you or offered unsolicited advice, I am so sorry.  And if you have ever felt judged because of something you cannot control (like your baby not wanting to sleep, or take a bottle, or weaning early, or have become super forgetful), you aren’t alone.  I’ll listen and unless you ask for advice, I promise to do my best not to offer it and just listen.

Okay, Lord, NOW can he sleep through the night, I get it!

On second thought, maybe I don’t quite have the patience lesson down, just yet!

Who Is Teaching Whom?

(I wrote this a while ago, but we have lousy internet access at home, so am only now getting aorund to posting it!)

My original intent of this blog was to talk about the power that women, teachers, day care workers, and nannies have over changes in each subsequent generation.  That’s because I started this blog before I became a mother!  I do plan on discussing those things as well, but that is not my focus today.

I knew in part that motherhood would be challenging, tiring, and there would be a learning curve.  Boy, was I underestimating moms!  It is all of those things and more, but on steroids.  I knew that I would learn things from my child, but I did not realize how profound, hard, and tiring these truths would be.

Following my surgery and hospitalization on Mother’s Day (you can read about that HERE), I had a lot of obstacles working against me.  I was tired, on meds, in pain, and without my own mama!  (She was out of state with my Papa for a conference).  Captain ceased to sleep well.  He had been getting up 2 or 3 times, but began waking anywhere from 5 to 11 times a night.  He had always been a non-stop nurser.  And all of the sudden, he stopped.  Stopped what?  Nursing. Eating. Being nourished.

There are a lot of things you can control in this world.  A baby refusing to eat is not one of them.  When I was in the hospital, I pumped around the clock.  My mama fed Captain my milk via bottle.  When I came back to him, there was a little hesitation, but he went back to nursing fairly well.  One day, I was nursing him in my parent’s livingroom where I was convalescing, and Captain began to thrash around and grab at my nursing cover.  I tried to latch him back on, but it was to no avail.  He went insane with anger.  Screaming, coughing, choking, spitting up, the whole nine!  The next feeding, he latched well, and the tiniest little sound sent him into a similar frenzy.  I thought perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.  The next day, this continued. And the next, and the day after that…  The only times I could get him to nurse for longer than 45 seconds was in his sleep or walking around.  Even that was not foolproof.  He would still get angry and push away.  His nursing sessions continued to decline, as did his wet diaper count.  At this point, it was time to call in the big guns!  I called Great Starts, which is Kaiser’s lactation consulting help.  I went in for an appointment, and sure enough, she confirmed what I had suspected.  Captain was on a nursing strike.

Because I didn’t want him to prefer the bottle, I refused to give him one.  I am stubborn too, and I knew that one of us would win, and it had to be me!  This went on for 17 days, and then began to get better, slowly but surely.  This was so very frustrating.  A mother has no greater desire than to see her young baby thrive and grow.  She wants to see him nourished and healthy.  She knows what’s best for him.  So when Captain pushed against me, screaming and flailing violently, every time it was feeding time, I was discouraged.  I spent a lot of time crying, upset, and passing him off to my husband, The Milkman, and my dear sister, who was helping me with the baby while I healed.

I don’t know why babies go on nursing strikes, least of all, MY baby.  The one who would nurse for an hour, take a 20 minute break and eat again for another 45 minutes every day beforehand.  There is no real definitive answer as to why babies of this age go on a nursing strike, but, as it went on, I realized exactly why Captain decided to test me.

I began to look deeper, and I saw a picture, a truly heartbreaking one, of myself.  God offers Himself to nourish me spiritually.  He is the best thing for me.  He nurses and cares for me, as I feed on His Words.  He tirelessly tends to me when I am hungry, and patiently loves me while I grow.  And then, just like little Captain, I get a little more independence, and one day, I think I know it all.  I push against His loving arms, thinking I don’t need to eat.  Thinking I am self-sufficient, all-knowing, and in need of no one but myself.  I scream when I don’t get my way and I don’t even realize what I am doing.  By the time I am starving, I have been so wrapped up in myself that I have forgotten how to listen, be nourished, and feed on God’s love.  Thank God he does not put me down, let me scream, and leave me to myself!  He picks me up, and actively teaches me how to come back to him.

I have been so struck by this reminder of my own infantile ways, and wanted to share, that I, with all my lofty experience and knowledge that I couldn’t wait to pass onto my son, have been schooled by a 3 month old on the Love of God.

Thank you for teaching me, little one, and Lord, hold me close.