Parenthood

Photo of shadows of a family on sandAn old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.

I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.

Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.

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Hello 2014

It’s a brand new year! I didn’t stay up until midnight, but that turned out to be a good thingPhoto of Alex and her son on New Year's Eve since a certain small fellow in my household woke me up at 2:45 a.m. and didn’t go back to sleep until the sun began to rise. So really, I just observed the turning of the year with the west coasters! Prior to middle-of-the-night wakings, we had a blast celebrating New Year’s Eve in downtown Bangor. Our evening was complete with Indian food, admiring the festive lights adorning the trees and streetlights, running around the Discovery Museum (after-hours at museums are the best), and attending a great New Year’s Eve Party at the Bangor Public Library. I am thrilled to live somewhere with such family-friendly activities and festivities! Sometimes having a very young child makes me feel…not like we’re missing out, that’s not right, because we’re partaking in a different kind of excitement at this stage of our lives, but it makes me miss staying up late and being out and about in the evening. So it felt NYE_Hinrichs_familygreat to be out with other families after sunset! It was also fun to see restaurants filled to capacity and everyone preparing for the street party later on. The sidewalks were buzzing, and I suspect that crowds might have been thinner this year even given the sub-zero temperatures. As we scurried from our car to dinner, the little one managed to lose a mitten. We had strategically parked closer to our final destination, and decided not to trek back looking for the too-big mitten. It was just too cold. When our bellies were full and noses warmed, we retraced our steps. And here’s what makes Bangor fabulous. Someone had picked up the mitten and placed it high up on a snow bank, balancing it on the cuff in a little wave so that it would be easier to see. We found it effortlessly. The reason I know this is a trait of this community and not just a coincidence is because this was the third time I have lost something belonging to my son (yes, I know…I really shouldn’t admit that. But honestly, how do babies and toddlers lose articles of clothing that quickly and quietly?!) and found it again thanks to the good graces of caring individuals. To me this was the most impressive instance because somebody stopped in the freezing weather and thought about where a worried parent might look. It would have been so easy to just continue walking. Thank you to that somebody. To all the thoughtful somebodies out there. You make parenthood a bit easier and more forgiving, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

At one point a news crew asked my spouse if he had any New Year’s resolutions (I was too busy trying to cover the little guy’s mitten-less hand to respond), and that got me thinking about resolutions in general. I’ve never been one to make specific resolutions. In some ways I stash them away in the same category of my brain as diets — things that seem temporary and often unpleasant and/or unrealistic– perhaps because diets are so often included in resolutions. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t do that, though. Where I dislike many specific resolutions because I think I would just set myself up for disappointment and dissatisfaction, I do find vague resolutions in the form of broad goals helpful. Last year was the first time I really made one, very casually, by saying out loud that I wanted to become a more organized and neater person. I feel like I achieved this, but given the level of organization I was at to begin with, that wasn’t hard to do! Our house is still a disaster most days, ha. Still, though, I feel satisfied that I made some improvement in that category of my life. Now rather than dirty laundry piling up, the clean laundry piles up! I should probably just keep organization and neatness as my resolution this year, too, given there is so much more room for improvement, but I think there are more urgent things in my life at the moment.

Namely, I would like to work on growing my patience. And I would like to size down my stress triggers and habit of worry.

So there you have it. My shiny new resolution that leaves me plenty of room for missteps and backwards steps, making me feel confident that I can fulfill it.

Happy New Year, everyone! May the year bring much joy and laughter. And, of course, many wonderful children’s books to read.

Photo of an icy shrub on a sunny day in Bangor, Maine

Music, Summer Camp, and Motherhood: A review of Rise Up Singing by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson

Cover of "Rise Up Singing"Blood, Peter & Annie Patterson, eds. Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook. 15th ed. Illustrated by Kore Loy McWhirter. Introduction by Pete Seeger. Bethlehem, PA: Sing Out, 2004.

Description: Rise Up Singing, first published in 1988, is a songbook that, as the cover describes, contains the lyrics, musical chords, and sources to over 1200 songs. The songs are organized into themes that the book explores alphabetically, beginning with “America” and finishing with “Work.” In between you’ll find a huge range of categories, from “Farm & Prairie” to “Mountain Voices,” from “Good Times” to “Hard Times & Blues.” Themes of travel, the sea,

Sample image of a page from "Rise Up Singing"

Here is an example of the page layout. This is from the section of “Hope” songs, and on this page is one of my favorites, “Julian of Norwich.”

lullabies, hope, love, and struggle are other examples. The songs are organized alphabetically within each theme or chapter, as well. Six indices make this songbook particularly useful, and these are: Artist Index, Cultures Index, Holidays Index, Musical Index, Subject Index, and Title Index. The Title Index helpfully includes titles that you might think songs are called by. This book will help save you from awkward moments of humming through lines of lyrics you can’t remember (or from making up your own lyrics to fill in the blanks of your memory, not that that’s always a bad thing), and its bountiful selection is sure to teach you some new tunes, too.

Personal Reaction: I’m a camp girl, myself. I went to Camp Betsey Cox in Pittsford, Vermont for thirteen years (a couple as a daycamper, which I’m not sure is an option anymore, a couple as a counselor-in-training and counselor). Why is this relevant? Because summer camp furnishes you with a lifetime supply of songs: silly songs, rounds, active movement songs, and lullabies. Indeed, Camp Betsey Cox is fondly known as “the camp with a song in its heart.” Even as a babysitter I found my musical camper background always coming in handy, but honestly, learning all those songs might have been the best preparation for motherhood that I had. And motherhood is the excuse I’ve been looking for my entire life to sing those well-loved tunes whenever I damn well please! But with the vast number of songs I know comes an equally large number of lyrics I’ve always fudged my way through or long since forgotten. This book, a gift a number of years ago (I’m on my second copy now because my first disappeared during the misadventure that was college dorm life), has come to my rescue. It’s more than just a rescuer, though. I’ve spent hours poring over the pages and singing to myself or with friends. Friends have joyfully picked out songs they love and taught them to me, because nope, even thirteen years at summer camp did not teach me ALL the songs. This songbook is truly a treasury, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves to sing, is a parent, is a teacher or librarian, or yes, who went to summer camp.