Thursday, January 25, 2007

Emma as the teacher; Momma as the student

Motherhood is definitely a learning experience (there's an understatement, right?)
One of my fears about motherhood was that it would limit my opportunities to grow intellectually. I feared that my mind would be so filled with dirty diapers, bottles, and sippy cups that there would not be room for anything else.

In some ways this is true. Some nights (like last night), I come home, change clothes (I have a spitter), change Emma's diaper, feed Emma a bottle, create a wonderful and satisfying meal that Martha Stewart would envy for my family, play a rousing game of peek-a-boo or try to teach Emma to clap (it isn't going so well), feed Emma cereal and some brightly colored vegetable, feed myself and say at least ten words to Brad, clean the brightly colored vegetable off the table, the high chair, the floor, Emma, and myself, experience bathtime with Emma, feed Emma another bottle, rock Emma to sleep for exactly 30 minutes, put Emma in her crib, wash bottles, prepare the Margie bag, straighten up the house (or at least remove all the embarrassing clutter--diapers on the bed, bottles underneath the couch cushions, spit up stains EVERYWHERE), and collapse into bed. In that nightly routine, there is very little time for profound thought; in fact, to be honest, there is very little time to go to the bathroom. Yet at the same time, I am learning more now than I ever did in graduate school, and it is more satisfying.

Emma, teacher extrordinaire. She has taught me:

1. To stop and smell the top of an adorable baby's head. If I want Emma to sleep through the night (and I DESPERATELY want her to sleep through the night), she must be rocked exactly 30 minutes, not a second less. There is something within her that needs this nightly cuddle time, and if she does not get all of it, she will cry inconsolably and will take an hour or more to get to sleep. If she gets this 30 minutes, she will go to sleep and sleep until Brad wakes her up in the morning. So I must sit there quietly in the dark and just be. I can't clean up that spill that I see on the coffee table from earlier in the evening; I can't start on the sanitizing of the bottles; I can't wash the supper dishes-- I must just rock and hold my baby tight and remember that soon she will be 13 and she'll be too busy to just be with her mother. And she'll smell like Clearisil which I doubt is as intoxicating as baby lotion.

2. To enjoy the present because it quickly will be the past. Emma has grown so fast! It seems to me that God makes it so that each stage of a child's development has delightful attributes and not-so-delightful attributes. When Emma was a newborn it was delightful that she would snuggle up and fall asleep on my chest. Now it takes more work for Emma to fall asleep and she really is not a snuggly baby; she is a wiggly baby who wants to play until she just can't stand it any more and then she cries (wails) until she finally falls asleep. Not as fun as having her snuggle into the perfect position in my arms and blissfully fall asleep. Yet, when she was a newborn she would have days when she would fuss all day long. Now she cries with purpose. She also giggles, squeals, flaps her arms, looks intently at things, and takes delight in everything. Each stage is short, so I best delight in it.

3. To check periodically to make sure that Emma's diaper is covering what it should. Having pee or the other matter that is expelled from my daughter (and it is expelled and propelled) run directly down my leg is NO FUN!! Plus, the first time it happened I feared I had lost control of my bladder.

4. Learning takes practice and it is fun. One day Emma spent the entire day teaching herself to sit up. She practiced certain movements over and over again until they were second nature, and then suddenly she was up (and oh so proud!) She is now working on crawling. It is amazing to me to watch how she develops skills and how she practices them until she can do them effortlessly. It also amazes me how interested she is in exploring her environment. If I just give her experiences in which she will experiences different types of stimulation, she will explore, try out new things, and learn. She has taught me a lot about what I should be doing in my classroom. I should be giving my students more time to explore and use their new found skills in an environment where falling down is part of the learning process.

5. To smile at as many people as I can and try to get them to smile back. This is a little game Emma plays (especially at church). She will find someone who is not looking at her and she will smile wholeheartedly at them until they notice her. And then she will smile even harder at them until they smile back and her. She loves to make this simple connection with people, and shouldn't I love to do this too?

6. To be flexible. Emma is an ever changing creature. Everyday is different for her. As soon as I think I have the game figured out, she changes the rules--she doesn't want a nap at 10 anymore; she wants a nap at 12 (or not at all). So plans mean nothing in my house right now. I have to be willing to adapt because my baby is not the same each day.

7. Life is amazing. There is something new to learn and be astounded by each day. The miniblinds intrigue Emma--so does the fireplace hearth, the remote control, her baby brush, the spoon I use to feed her, the bulletin at church, my sweater, my hair, her daddy's stubble, the quilt on our bed, the computer key board, the basket that her toys are in, etc. She is delighted by everything new and different that enters her world. I should have the same attitude; I should look daily for things I can delight in.

8. I am the adult. Emma looks to me for guidance. She looks to me to make sure things are safe, and she likes to explore new and somewhat scary things (like the vacuum cleaner) from my lap. Therefore, I have to take care of myself. I must get enough sleep, eat right, and exercise (although the exercising right now is just getting her in and out of the car and carrying her around to the various mirrors in our house so she can look at herself). I am the one incharge of creating learning environments for her, of shaping her world view, of introducing her to God, of organizing her socialization. If I indicate that she should be scared of something, she will. If I indicate something is safe, she will believe me.

9. Parenting is important, but God creates people. I am not creating Emma. She is already created and she is her own person. She responds to me, listens to me, analyzes my behavior, but she also interfaces with the world in her own unique way. Her personality is her own and very little of that is influenced by me or Brad. It is just her, delightfully the way God made her. She is happy, not because I am a wonderful mother, but because she just is. She sleeps through the night, not because I have "night-time parented" her correctly (I definitely have done EVERYTHING wrong), she just does. She is observant, not because I have taught her to be so, that is just her. She came out that way. I detest those books, now, that seem to blame parents for their babies not sleeping through the night or being fussy. Some babies fuss; some don't. Some babies sleep through the night; some don't.

I could probably go on indefinitely. I feel that Emma is the best graduate school experience that I could ever have. Yet instead of creating papers and projects, I am watching and experiencing the creation of a toddler and then a child and then a teenager and then an adult by God.

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