Renewing the sense of wonder

I've recently been reading a couple of books about how to share nature with children and they have made me realize how I've been a bit starved myself of the wonder Mother Nature instills in me. I notice in myself the desire to be WOWed by Nature. I want her to show me something great and new, something spectacular; I'm like a child who clings to her mother claiming she's bored and demands to be entertained even though I'm surrounded by toys. Maybe reading these books has simply brought out the child within.

Last night I lay in my hammock gazing up at the sky, hoping to see the Perseid meteor shower, but to no avail - likely due to Kampala's light pollution. I wasn't shown the spectacle I wanted, but soon, the waxing moon and the few stars that shown through became enough and that wonder began to return.

Today, I turned my attention to the backyard. I took my camera to test out some macro lens extenders and soon became engulfed in common nature - the colors of leaves, the texture of a mushroom, bugs piddling about. And soon the common didn't feel so common anymore. I watched ants in a twig carry eggs back and forth and a bug that I had never seen before landed on my shoulder. I spotted a small spiders web and then noticed its owner tucked under a blade of grass, waiting for the right visitor.

From the great cosmos to life in the backyard, my sense of wonder has been renewed in the last 24 hours - not because I was shown anything new and incredible, but because, as Aldous Huxley reminds us, "discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

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Books I recommend about sharing nature with children: 

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (Truly a gem of a book!)

Vitamin N: The essential guide to a nature-rich life by Richard Louv

One year of motherhood

Last year on Mother's Day, I was 2 weeks over-due for my first baby and I desperately wanted to make my motherhood official, but Leo still left me waiting a couple more days.  In my desperation and expectancy, I drafted this letter to my baby that day.

May 10, 2015:
Dear baby,
Today is Mothers' Day and I hoped to hold you in my arms by now, to get to know you a little more beyond your kicks and movements. I am already your mother here on this Earth and in this lifetime and I am beyond excited to begin such a privileged job.
You are currently 15 days past your due date and each morning for the past 3 weeks I have woken up hoping it would be the day you leave my womb and join us in this world. I wonder about who you are and who you will become. As your mother, I see my job as providing you with the opportunities, the space, and the protection to simply become who you are and mostly to give you the best love to affirm that.
Just as I wish I could be in control over the day you arrive, I know I will wish to be in control over many other things in our life together, but I promise to do my best to simply trust The One Who Knows and to relish in the moment, in what is.
I don't even know you yet, but I already love you immeasurably and I know that even 20 years down the road, there will still be so much I don't know about you, but I will always be watching anxiously to see who you become and I will always love you, no matter what, every step of the way.
Your father and I await your arrival with so much hope and excitement.
Love,
Your mother


Two days later, I became Leo's mother.  It has been quite the year of motherhood, with so many emotions and milestones wrapped up in the first 12 months, as any parent will tell you.  In looking over my daily journal, I'm reminded of the lessons, the emotions, the hardships, and the joys from this past year.  Here is a glimpse of it all, through snippets taken from my journal:

May 12, 2015 (the day of Leo's birth):
I am in total awe of this experience and so thankful for this life.

May 14, 2015:
The night was really hard.  My milk has started to come in and nursing is painful.  In the middle of the night, Leo was crying and I went over to pump some milk so we could spoon feed him, but instead I just started sobbing.  Poor Eric had to go in between the two of us criers.  All my emotions of the past few days just came out - emotions about the birth not going as planned, having to deal with the pediatrician and hospital policies, the pain of breastfeeding, and the fear of being on our own.  It has been the hardest 3 days of my life.  I just keep thinking of all the mothers in this world and I now have a much deeper appreciation for all of them, most especially my own mother.  I wanted to go over to her house and hug her.  I also thought of how incredibly strong African women are.  I can't imagine how they do it, giving birth over and over, often in the village and then they are soon on their feet making meals, fetching water or firewood, etc.  I think they are the strongest people in the world.  Here I am, with my breast pump, amazing support around me, and lots of privileges and it's still so hard.

May 16, 2015:
I had another good cry today as I talked with Eric and told him that I felt overlooked by him and even a little jealous of his love for Leo.  I feel like I have gone through a lot of work and hardship to produce this baby and he just gets to be enthralled by him.  I love that Eric is so in love with Leo and that he's bonded so much with him.  There is nothing more attractive than my husband being a loving father.  But I told him that I need to know that he still loves me, too, because I feel so vulnerable right now and I don't want to be overlooked.  I badly need to hear that I'm strong and beautiful and that he's proud of me and loves me.

May 17, 2015:
Breastfeeding went smoother throughout the day today, although I hate that I have to leave company when it's time to feed.  It's so sad to ostracize myself to feed my child, but I know it is awkward to nurse in front of some people.

May 18, 2015:
Today I felt so many fears arising, but also hopes that go along with those fears: What will Eric and my relationship be like now with Leo here?  Will he still see me as ME, apart from being a mother?

I also have so much hope for the man Leo will become.  I've thought of how great a responsibility it is to raise an American middle-class white male, one of the most privileged people in the world according to demographics.  However, my biggest two wishes for him is that he will simply be a compassionate man and that he will follow his heart which I know will lead him to his true purpose and identity.  I have so much hope that Leo will be an incredible man.

 
 

May 21, 2015:
The good news is, breastfeeding is going quite smoothly now.  However, it seems I have a hemorrhoid.  Also, Leo has also developed some baby acne and a worsening diaper rash.

May 26, 2015:
I really don't feel ready to go back to Uganda so soon. The thought of it really scares me because it just seems like one obstacle after another keeps coming up.  I don't feel like I've established a rhythm and I'm so nervous about the long trip back home and all the adjustments waiting for us.  It was another night of crying - for me, not Leo!

May 27, 2015:
The rest of the day was pretty much filled with pumping, nursing, and resting to deal with this mastitis.  I feel pretty useless right now.

May 28, 2015:
I still don't feel very on-track.  My right breast is producing next to nothing while my left is so large and full, it's like a fire hose when Leo drinks from it.  He can only suck for a few seconds at a time before he becomes so overwhelmed and he has to unlatch and swallow.  We have to take several breaks when he's on that side to burp.  So my breasts have completely opposite issues and neither one of them is really satisfying my baby right now.  It's such an emotional thing.  I fed him and pumped while we watched episodes of Parks and Rec tonight and afterward I had another good cry.  It just seems like it's one thing after another. 

In these past couple of weeks, there has been so much pain and hardship all wrapped up with an incredible amount of joy and love.  There have been many moments so beautiful it breaks my hearts and I want to stop time to take it all in.  He's already growing so fast and I just want him to stay this tiny and perfect!  But there are other moments that are just hard and frustrating, mostly in relation to my body and to nursing.  It's incredible how closely the physical is tied with the emotional.

Sometimes I feel so weak when I think of all the billions of other women who have had a baby and who did just fine.  What is my problem?  But then other times I feel very strong because I think of how much I have persisted in the past couple of weeks through the problems that have arisen.  I persisted in having a natural birth and to keep breastfeeding, something that is increasingly rare in my own culture.

May 29, 2015:
Every day, I fall a bit more in love with Leo and here are some of my favorite things that he does:
-He reaches back with one hand behind his head when he's nursing and holds my finger
-When he's wide awake and looking around, it's almost as if he has something to tell me.
-He makes me laugh with the smallest things.  Yesterday he burped so hard he almost gave himself whiplash!
-He gets his arms waving around and bonks himself in the head
-When he's on my chest, he crosses his arms and rests his cheek on them
-He nuzzles up under my chin
-He places his tiny little hand on my breast when he nurses

May 31, 2015:
In our culture, it seems that a mother can't be as close to her son, that we cannot be buddies after a certain age without Leo being labeled a "momma's boy."  Boys who are close with their mothers are seen as weak, but boys and girls can have close relationships with their fathers without a social stigma attached to it.  So I worry that I will somehow be left out, that we won't be close after he gets to a certain age.  I know it's silly to worry about this now, but I just do.

 
 

June 1, 2015:
Mastitis is back.  The rest of the day I did the mastitis care.  I nursed, rested, pumped, yada yada yada.  I accomplished nothing else and I still feel useless when this happens.

June 13, 2015:
I just can't believe how much I love Leo!  It is such an incredible thing that I had heard about, but I couldn't have imagined feeling so much in love with my baby.  I have come to love breastfeeding and our moments with just the two of us.  I find that I miss him after not holding him for a little while.  I could stare at him and watching all his little movements and expressions all day long.

I feel like there is so much to do and I'm not sure when I'll be able to catch up, but I also feel like Leo is the most important thing for me right now.  I just know deep inside that being there to admire him and to talk to him is often the best thing I can do with my time.

 
 

June 14, 2015:
Last night was a really rough one.  I only got 1 hour of sleep until 7am when Eric woke up and took Leo.  I was about to lose my mind and I cried myself to sleep after Eric took him.  Then I slept until 1:30pm.

June 16, 2015:
I thought today about the spirituality of motherhood and how much has changed for me in this area since being a mother.  Suddenly, words mean so little to me and the typical "spiritual" things that I would try to incorporate into my life like meditation and yoga aren't as important.  I have so much else to do, but I also don't end up doing much during my days except nursing, eating, and sleeping.  There is also a bit of time for cleaning around the house.  I'm finding that motherhood is this intersection between being and doing, which really has a lot of depth.  I think this has always been something women have offered the world, but has been so under appreciated and under valued.  Many women are left out of religious conversation, the formation of theology, and spiritual practices, often because we are considered lower, dirty, or that we have nothing to offer.  In these first few weeks as a mother, I found an opposite truth - that mothers have much to teach us in these areas should we decide to listen (or maybe just watch), but the words and the theories are often unimportant to us.  Ours is a spirituality of the moment, of doing and being all at once, of serving.  It is not one formed in the mind and argued, but one given from our very bodies and lived out in the most simple, yet moving, way.

June 18, 2015:
It was a long night last night.  I didn't get much sleep and the whole night was up to me because Eric had to leave early in the morning for his guys' group.  Leo was wide awake in the morning and I was exhausted, so we just lay in bed talking and cuddling while a rain storm went on outside.

June 20, 2015:
Tonight Leo gave me his first real smile!  It was so wonderful!  He wouldn't fall asleep, so I was patiently nursing him.  I got up to go to the bathroom between nursings and when I came back, he gave me a big smile!  I just knew it was a real one and that he was happy to see me again.  It made my day!

 
 

June 23, 2015:
Here are some more things I love about Leo:
-His crazy huge farts and adult-sized burps
-How he plays with my shirt when nursing or just moves his fingers on my breast
-How he comes up for air sometimes when he drinks too much too fast and then gulps down what is in his mouth that he hasn't yet swallowed
-How he kicks his legs when he gets excited or impatient to feed
-How he pumps his left arm when he's really working hard on a burp or fart, as if he's "tapping out"

July 12, 2015:
Leo didn't want to go to sleep tonight, so it took a little more work.  I sung a couple of lullabys to him and slowly his eyes started to shut while his mouth gave little smiles.  It was one of those tiny, beautiful momma moments.

July 16, 2015:
I was home all day today with Leo.  I'm starting to figure out how to get things done when I'm with him.  When he's awake, I'll do things around the house like clean or cook or garden.  Then when he's sleeping, that's my chance to do work on the computer.

July 20, 2015:
I'm afraid I may have scheduled too many things for myself this week.  I have this habit of wanting to please everyone and of wanting to prove that I can do it all.  I want to be the woman who can have a kid and a job and take an online class and start a small business on the side.  I've been this way for as long as I can remember - taking on all I can, especially when I feel that others want me to.  It's so deeply engrained in me and I'm just now starting to see how deep it is.  But then when I overdo it, I inevitably have a day where I crash.  This evening was one of those crashes.  I don't know why I do this to myself.  Who am I proving myself to and why?

July 21, 2015:
I'm so thankful for a work environment that is inviting to my baby.  Eric was holding Leo during our meeting until he started crying and I was able to just nurse him and change his diaper during the meeting.  Nobody even blinked an eye!

August 5, 2015:
Tonight, I nursed Leo to sleep and stayed with him for a while to just cuddle.  I’ve been trying to be mindful about the time when I nurse him.  I try, when I can, to let it be a time to meditate and be entirely present.  It is such a gift.  He brings me so much joy and peace.

August 31, 2015:
I stayed up late tonight, although I didn’t intend to.  I need to get out of the habit of using my night hours when Leo is sleeping to get everything done.  I found myself pumping milk and hanging out cloth diapers all at the same time.  I had a moment when I laughed to myself and thought, “So this is motherhood.”

September 2, 2015:
I stayed home today with Leo and got little accomplished. 

September 23, 2015:
Today, in the midst of the rush to prepare for the dinner, I had a big motherhood fail moment.  Leo fell off the couch after I set him beside me and looked away for just one second!  He banged his head and I felt absolutely terrible.

November 4, 2015:
I stayed at home today with Leo.  For a while, I sat him in a basin on the porch where he could look at the dogs while I took some product photos for the Baby Lionheart website.  He was entertained for at least an hour there, happy as could be.

November 13, 2015:
Today, I took Leo's clothes off and lay him naked on a mat on the floor, letting him play in the buff for a while.  He was satisfied on his tummy, looking at the dogs, so I stepped into the kitchen to warm up my lunch.  When I came out a minute later, he had moved off the mat and pooped all over for floor.  Of course, he had scooted around in it, too.  I plopped him right in the wash basin.

November 16, 2015:
I took Leo in for his 6-month check-up and vaccinations this morning.  The doctor said that all is well and said I was “doing everything perfectly,” which definitely felt nice to hear. 

January 12, 2016:
Each night during this training, when Leo falls asleep, I still have to go over the lessons for the next day, not to mention try to keep up with my other emails and responsibilities.  It’s a lot to juggle.

February 19, 2016:
Leo has been taking so much food lately and it’s making me SO hungry.  My body is hardly able to keep up in producing milk.  Then I’m trying to watch what I eat, so I get stressed over what I can and cannot eat.  Then I get hangry.  This morning I ate an entire pack of bacon along with a couple of eggs and a grilled tomato.

April 3, 2016:
There is nothing quite like the smile he gives me when we are apart and then he spots me.  There is no question that we are head over heels for each other, so I guess I’ll soak that in because maybe there will come a time in his teenage years when I don’t get this look!

April 5, 2016:
This morning, as Eric and I were pulling out of the house, I reached back and gave Leo a cassava chip.  Eric jokingly said, “Thanks Mom!” and Leo imitated him!  I’m not sure if he knows what he said, but I would say it was his first word!  Then, after ladies’ fellowship, Lindsey and I were playing with Leo in the basement of the office and when I put him down, he stepped toward Lindsey without hesitation.  It was only a step or two, with a lunge toward her, but it was his first steps!  Two firsts in one day!

April 11, 2016:
Leo hangs out all day with Justine and many other women who fawn over him constantly in the office basement.  He has quite the life down there and I’m incredibly thankful for it.  Justine is great with him and it’s a huge blessing to have him at the office where I can go down and nurse him or play with him in the middle of the day.

April 25, 2016:
I haven’t been back to the states in nearly a year, which may be the longest time I’ve been away.  I’m actually a bit nervous to go back.  I have only been a mother in America for a few weeks and during that time, I was mostly holed up at home.  I worry about breastfeeding a 1-year old in public and the reactions I will get, but I’m more worried about breastfeeding in front of those who I know and making them feel uncomfortable.  I worry about judgment on how I’m raising Leo and I worry that I can’t even predict what I will be judged about.  But I guess if there is one thing I have learned about being a mother, it is that you must choose what to do and stick to it with confidence – that it doesn’t matter what others think, as long as I know I’m doing what is best for me and my child.

An Easter ritual

Friday, the day of dying:
We reflected on the fears, old habits, and limiting beliefs that are affecting us, preventing us from the realization of our Selves.  What do we want to die to?  What within us must die? We wrote it down.

Saturday, the day in the tomb:
We walked into the forest, symbolizing going inward to the dark places, the tomb where transformation takes place.  While walking, we spoke of these fears, old habits, and limiting beliefs we wanted to release.  We stopped near a large tree and burned the papers inscribed with our most personal struggles.  We buried the ashes and, there, made a mandala from small items the forest offered.  This simple circle represented the cycle of life and death, the impermanence of all, including our fears, and the transformation of death to life.

Sunday, the day of new life:
We worked on our vision boards, knowing that the women we want to become might better be expressed in images than in words.  The life we want to manifest begins by envisioning it.  These images, we hope, will fill the spaces left by those things we burned and buried.  New life comes after death.

Motherland

My body
Your first home,
first nation
first residence.

My breasts
Your first dinner table.
Your first bed and pillow
with my arms, your first blankets.

My body
Your first jungle gym,
roller coaster,
mountain to climb.

My face
Your first love,
first toy,
first discovery you ever explored.

My body
Your first mode of transport.
Your very first safety net.

I was your beginning.
The notch in your belly
demands you never forget
your Motherland.

A poem passed on

This morning, as I did yoga in our small library, Leo crawled around me and explored the room like active babies do.  At one point, he found the shelf with my old journals and yanked one out, leaving it open on the floor.  I went over to pick it up and it turned to a page where I had transcribed a poem given to me by my mother, to whom it had been passed from my grandmother and to her from my great-grandmother, Blanche Horner.

In the journal, I wrote: "My mom said that my Great-grandma Horner liked this poem so much that she sent it to all 10 of her kids.  She said, 'If you read it carefully several times and sort of take it as a philosophy in life, perhaps I will have served just a little.'"

Here is that poem, one withholding much wisdom, passed through the women of my family:

The Pleasure of Serving

All nature has an eagerness to serve.
The cloud serves, the wind serves, the furrow serves.
Where this is a tree to be planted, you plant it;
where there is an error to be corrected, you correct it;
where there is a difficult task that everyone shuns, you accept it.
Be the one who removes the stone from the road, hate from hearts, and difficulties from the problem.
There is the joy of being honest, and that of being just; but above all, there is the beautiful, the immense joy of serving.
How sad the world would be if everything in it were already done!
No rose bush to plant, no enterprise to undertake!
Do not feel called to do only the easy tasks!  It is exhilarating to do that which others shun!
But do not fall into the error of thinking there is merit only in doing great things.
There are small things that are real service; to decorate a table, to put books in order, to comb a little girl's hair.
That one criticizes, this one destroys; you be the one who serves.
To serve is not just a job for inferior beings.
God, who gives the fruit and the light, serves.
It would be well if He could call you, "(S)he who serves."
With His eyes on our hands, He asks us daily, "Did you serve today? Whom?  A tree, your friend, your brother?"
-by Gabriela Mistral of Chili, 1945

P.S. After further digging, it seems that Gabriela Mistral is quite the woman.  I'll be ordering Madwomen, a book of her poems, very soon.