Crying in the Library of Congress

My family are library super-users. We manage holds, checkouts, renewals, and returns with a carefully balanced choreography. We love libraries so much that when my children go to bookstores, my daughter spends an hour reading portions of books, taking note of the titles she wants to check out from the library, even when we’re there for the express purpose of buying a book to take with us while we’re traveling.

When my children learned that on our recent trip to Washington, DC, they would have the chance to visit the largest library in the world, they were thrilled. “How many books do they have?” “Do they have translations?” “Do they have movies?” “Do they have the Warriors series [by Erin Hunter]?” “Can you check things out?”

Most of our questions were answered by looking at the Library of Congress website. 164 million items, including 38.6 million+ books in more than forty languages. They do have movies. They probably do have the Warriors series. You can’t check things out until you’re sixteen, when you can get a card to check things out within the library.

“How do you check things out within a library?” they asked. I assured them that was a question that we could ask our tour guide. Even not being able to check things out, they were excited to look at so many books.

The afternoon we’d set aside for our visit, we set out from our hotel to walk to the library. It took a little longer to walk there than we’d anticipated, and we found ourselves running up Capitol Hill, getting through security at the library, and arriving, breathless, just in time to join the tour group as they were walking up the stairs.

The tour was really cool. The library is incredible, with murals and statues and mosaics on every surface; you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an allegory. If security would let you bring a cat into the Library of Congress. And if you felt like swinging it.

My children waited patiently throughout our hour-long tour, learning all about the art and the history of the library.

Once my daughter pulled me aside and in a stage whisper said, “It’s been forty-five minutes, and we haven’t even seen any books.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “It’s a library. We’ll get to see books.”

And just a few minutes after, we did get to see books…from the Main Reading Room observation deck a couple of stories up and enclosed in glass. There were rows and rows and rows of books, and my children were practically salivating to get in there with all of them.

And then that was it.

As the tour ended, our tour guide, Harvey, said, “The greatest thing about the Library of Congress is that it’s for everyone! You just need to be sixteen or over and have a valid drivers license or passport to use the reading rooms.”

My daughter asked, “Is there any way someone under sixteen can go into the reading rooms?”

Harvey looked from my son to my daughter and then to me. “No, I’m sorry. Maybe you could ask Congress to make an exception.” Laughter from the rest of the tour group.

It turns out that not only can someone under sixteen not check things out, they can’t even go into the reading rooms. They can’t even, ironically, check books out from the Children’s Literature Center, the contents of which are held in the General Collections, which are only available to those with a readers card, i.e., those over sixteen.

For example, they do, in fact, have Erin Hunter’s books—like her Firestar’s Quest, but you have to request them from the Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms, to which my children do not have access. Screenshot of what you get when you look up Firestar’s Quest in the the LOC online catalog:

My children were not prepared for this.

Crestfallen, we went across the entryway to visit the re-creation of the Jefferson library. There my son looked up at me and began to cry.

“Mommy, he lied.” (“He” meaning Harvey.) “He said that the library is for everyone, but it’s only for people sixteen and older.”

My daughter was more stoic, but still I found myself hugging and comforting my children in the middle of the Library of Congress, surrounded by books they could neither read nor touch.

Luckily there was a Young Readers Center, a room where my kids could sit around reading books that were great for middle-grade readers but lacking for those between the ages of twelve and sixteen. It was like margarine when you’re expecting butter, but it was down an echo-y and very reflective hallway, which they enjoyed. It salvaged the trip for them a little, but the injustice still stings.

At bedtime that night, I told them a story (shamelessly paraphrased from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) about two children and their mom who hid out in a bathroom at the Library of Congress and then snuck out after the library was closed to read books all night in the Main Reading Room. We talked a bit more about how unfair it was that they couldn’t use the library.

“I know Harvey was kind of joking,” I said, “but you really could write to Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey when we get home. And to our representatives. And we can ask all of our friends in different states to write to their representatives in Congress and ask them to change the rules.”

“Senators must get a lot of mail,” my daughter said.

“Yes, they do. But if enough people write, the letters will catch their attention. They’ll think there’s a groundswell of public support for allowing people under the age of sixteen to use the Library of Congress.”

“What’s a ‘groundswell of public support’?”

“Time for bed now, my darlings.”

Car Light in Boston

Monday through Thursday this week, my kids and I drove the 20 minutes to the commuter rail station and then took the train into Boston, where we spent the morning riding swan boats, playing on playgrounds, sketching artwork in the MFA, and measuring our ears at the Museum of Science. After lunch, we headed to my son’s ballet class and then took the train back to the middle part of the state, getting home in time for dinner.

The carousel on Boston Common
The carousel on Boston Common

The upshot:

We had a blast.

By the fourth day, my kids both had a decent mental map of the portions of the T that run south of the Charles River. I estimate that we walked about five miles each day in the July heat, and my amazing children kept up with a minimum of complaining. They returned home worn but excited to share their adventures with their dad.

The kids loved the dance class and the museum visits and the Frog Pond on Boston Common, but each day they would spontaneously proclaim, “I LOVE public transit!” Which is good because we spent a lot of time traveling.

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Which was more fun: Riding the train to the Museum of Science or actually playing at the Museum of Science?

From our house to our Boston destination each morning, it took about 2.5 hours (20 minutes driving to the commuter rail station, an hour or more on the train to Boston, then an hour on the subway to wherever it was we were heading). It took about an hour to get to dance class from our morning activities, 45 minutes to get from dance to the train station, and then an hour and a half until we got back home. And that’s on the days the rail system ran smoothly and on time.

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Parking at the commuter rail station was $4.

It was also pretty spendy. For four days, it cost us just about $100 just for train and subway fares. And the kids both ride for free. But really, it would have been at least that much in gas, tolls, and parking if we’d driven, so the expense doesn’t bother me that much.

So my kids and I love public transit, but what is it we love, exactly?

1. Together time. It’s great to sit on the train and read or talk and interact with each other instead of navigating traffic. My daughter loved that she could read on the train and not get a stomachache. My son loved that he could sit on my lap for an hour while I read his Ladybug and Ranger Rick magazines to him.

2. Novelty. There’s something magical about climbing into a hole in the sidewalk and finding a train down there that will take us all over the city via a simple, colorful map. I wasn’t too keen on how often I found my four-year-old licking the metal railings, but by Thursday that novelty had worn off, thankfully.

3. Friendly people. Public transit seems to bring out the best in Bostonians. In their cars, they range from unpleasant to hostile, but on the subway, they’re practically magnanimous. Every time we got on a train, someone would stand up and offer my children a seat. When my kids squirmed and knocked into the strangers on either side of them, I would apologize and would inevitably be greeted with an understanding smile. When my son dropped his dinosaur book, the man across the train retrieved it and handed it back. One conductor on the commuter rail called my son “little man” and another gave my kids “tickets” he’d then come back and check for later. My son kept his safely in his pocket, and checked for it before we boarded each train.

4. Self-righteousness. For part of our commuter rail journey, the train runs parallel to the highway, and each day I would look out the window at the cars and think, “Those poor bastards.” And each afternoon when the mom across from me in the dance class waiting area said, “Of course, you drove today, didn’t you?” I sat a little taller when I said, “Nope. Why would we?” (I’m not particularly proud of this one, but I have to admit that it’s probably part of what I liked about taking public transit. I feel so self-sufficient getting from A to B without my car, and it makes me a little smug.)

It’s been a bit of a letdown to return to suburbia where we can get hardly anywhere (safely) without taking the car. There are good things about living out here—we’re close to berry picking and cool hikes and we get to see spotted turtles and foxes on our morning walks around the neighborhood—but it’s tough to see an alternate way of getting around and know I can’t access it in my daily life. It’s triggered another round of Salt Lake City nostalgia.

Each day since our adventure, my son has asked, “Mommy, when are we going to Boston again?”

I’m not sure when we’ll get back, but I’m happy to know that when we do, it’s possible that the journey will be as rewarding as the destination.

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Not only was this a great way to avoid the internet this week, it was great practice for September’s habit.

The Gift Of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar

Gift Of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children
The Gift Of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shortly after my spouse and I married nearly fifteen years ago, we joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation. When we moved across the United States, we found and joined a congregation in our new state. When we moved again, we tried the two UU congregations near us, and neither was a good fit. After our first couple of visits, my pragmatic spouse was no longer interested in attending. I, however, couldn’t quite accept that it wasn’t working for us. For nearly two years, I took our daughter every Sunday, taught religious education, volunteered at coffee hour. After an embarrassing winter morning when it became dramatically apparent that this church wasn’t going to work for us, I started trying other religious congregations in the area. I visited Episcopal, Congregationalist, and Catholic churches, Baha’ai gatherings and Buddhist temples. None was quite what we were seeking (although one Buddhist temple came very close).

My spouse couldn’t understand why I was so fixated on finding us something to do on Sunday mornings, and I couldn’t really understand it myself. But since reading The Gift of Faith, I think I have a better idea what drove me to try and find a spiritual home for my family.

Nieuwejaar says it well:

“With extended families scattered across the continent and beyond; with telecommuting replacing the social context of the office; with shopping malls replacing the local marketplace; and with neighborhoods characterized more by fences and alarms than by open doors and shared backyards, our experience of community is becoming rarer and rarer. To nurture spirituality of children only within the family is to perpetuate the isolation of the family unit and to bypass one of the finest opportunities for community available to us.”

I knew that I could nurture my children’s spiritual lives at home, I knew I could establish rituals that would help support our religious beliefs even away from a spiritual community, but we would be missing the embrace of a loving community of seekers.

As much as I felt the need for this community and felt keenly its absence, I didn’t really understand how much it meant to me until we moved across the country again and found a congregation that feels like home to us. There really is something powerful about going to a place where everyone is committed to honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person. My children are friends with the other children in the congregation and with loving adults they see multiple times a week, not just on Sundays. They are developing the kinds of close relationships they would (I hope) have with their extended family were we closer to that family.

And of course, the benefit isn’t just for our kids, although that was the focus of this book. My spouse and I know that we can rely on our spiritual community to support us through hard times and celebrate with us through happy ones. The Gift of Faith is a lovely echo of all of those things we value in our spiritual community.

One more of my favorite quotes:

“In religious community we may honor one another simply on the basis of the inherent worth and dignity, the inherent divinity of each person. Then from religious community we must take this attitude back into the larger world in whatever small ways we can, chipping away at the barriers and indignities of public life, the deceptions and impatiences of the marketplace. And as the indignities and injustices of those places begin to touch and tarnish us again, we need to return to communities of the spirit to be reminded of trust and love, to be made whole and to remember the possibility of a world made whole.”

A healthy spiritual community is an oasis of love that recharges us so we can engage in our daily lives with compassion. And if we can do that, we’re doing our small, local part to change the world.

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The Childhoods of Trees

Have you ever seen a partially or completely hollow tree, still quite leafy and alive? This is possible because [the tree’s] “veins” are in the outermost layer of the tree, just under the protective “skin” of bark. Every year, going through the cycle of generating new xylem, cambium tissue, and phloem, a tree adds a ring. The interior rings, literally relics from the tree’s sapling childhood, need not remain alive or intact for the overall plant to stand and survive. If they do, their role is supportive but not essential.

-Teri Dunn Chace in her article “Tree Work” from Sanctuary, Fall/Winter 2013-2014

CIMG1128My daughter has been learning about trees in her homeschool nature class the past month or so, and since I’ve been tagging along to the classes, I’ve been learning, too. Last week, the class investigated tree rings and tried to piece together what factors may have influenced the growth of the tree in years past. Apparently, there is a lot that will change a tree’s growth pattern without killing the tree. Was there a drought? A forest fire? An insect infestation? Was a house put up too near the tree in its youth, blocking the sun? Was a building or other obstacle taken down, allowing the tree more light and a boom in growth?

All of this is in the rings.

Certainly, not every tree survives every challenge, but it’s comforting to think how many live for hundreds of years, holding in their heartwood everything they’ve survived but often not showing these effects from the outside.

CIMG8648While I recognize that there is some risk in comparing human beings too closely to trees, I also find the comparison irresistible.  As a person who was once a child, I find the notion encouraging that a healthy childhood is “supportive but not essential” to a healthy adulthood. Each of us experiences different challenges of varying degrees and types, but there is a way to grow and be healthy despite these challenges.

As a mother of children, I find comfort in the idea that things will come into their lives that influence their physical, emotional, and spiritual growth, but none of this necessarily keeps them from becoming strong, healthy adults. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t protect my children as much as possible from harm but just that when bad things happen—which they inevitably will—they don’t automatically bar my children from healthy adulthoods.

This idea of the hidden childhoods of trees also helps me remember the wise words a friend once shared with me:

“Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides.”

We can’t tell from the surface what relics are stored within.

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Motherhood and Planned Obsolescence

People write about “leaning in” and “opting out,” and I just feel entirely outside of that conversation.

Ever since I was a little girl, the only thing I’ve really aspired to is motherhood. I had other careers in mind—waitress, clown, firefighter, long-haul truck driver, writer—but those were always secondary to being a mom. Read More

Reader’s Request: Child Spacing and Family Size

My friend Stacy (of Sanity for Stacy) suggested this topic for a Reader’s Request post. Stacy wrote, “I’d like to hear your thoughts on child spacing, how you decided on the spacing between your two children, whether or not you’re planning on having more, and how you came to that decision.” So, this is that post.

These are the reasons that have influenced my husband’s and my decisions around family. Some might resonate with you and some might not, but none of them is intended to be prescriptive. How many children to have and how close to have them is a very personal choice that I wouldn’t presume to make for anyone but myself (and sometimes I feel unqualified to even make those choices for myself).

For more about Reader’s Request posts or to suggest a topic, please click here.

My husband and I have two children born four years and three months apart, but until my daughter was three years old, my husband and I were pretty sure she would end up an only child.

Growing up, I’d experienced with joy the chaos of our extensive extended family when my mom, dad, two siblings, and I would travel from California to Ohio for visits, and I decided that I wanted a big family. Five kids, at least. That’s how many were in my dad’s family. My mom’s family had eight kids. Both sides of the family were pretty fruitful. One of my maternal great-aunts gave birth to twenty-one children. I knew I didn’t want that many, but five seemed like a good starting point.

As I grew older, my ideal family size shrank. By the time my husband and I decided to start our family, we figured we’d have two kids.

We had specific ideas about the kind of life we wanted our kids to have: lots of opportunities (sports, music lessons, travel), the luxury of being able to attend a liberal arts college without needing to worry about coming up with money for tuition, time alone with each of their parents as well as time together as a family. All of this would be easier with two kids than it would be with more. And if we stopped at two, we could keep our Volkswagen Jetta and not have to upgrade to a station wagon or (gulp) a minivan.

We decided that we would have one biological child and then we’d adopt one so that we wouldn’t be adding too much to the world’s population (especially adding American children, who will grow up to use a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources), but we’d still get to have a family.

We planned to have our kids three years apart, so that the first was out of diapers before the baby came along (I did not want to have two kids in diapers at the same time). We also had an idea that this spacing would allow our kids to each have the benefits of only-childhood as well as those of having a sibling.

And then our daughter was born. She didn’t change everything, but she did cause a shift in our thinking.

For one, her birth wasn’t the empowering, bonding experience I had expected. I felt cheated; I wanted a do-over. So, we decided to have our second child the old-fashioned way rather than adopting so that I could have that second chance. We were still just replacing ourselves, we reasoned, rather than increasing the population overall. And who knows: maybe one or both of them would grow up not to have children and they’d make up for our over-use of resources the next generation down.

For another, our daughter was not the baby I was expecting. From the night she was born when the nurses assured me that she would sleep all night long and instead she stayed awake nursing…all night long, she did not act like I’d been led to believe babies act. My daughter, it seems, had not read the baby books. Or perhaps she’d read them and was just determined to prove them all wrong. I was under the impression that babies sometimes slept. And that when they slept, they sometimes slept on a surface other than their parents’ chests. And that when they were awake, you could sometimes put them down without them crying. I knew that most babies don’t sleep through the night by any grown-up definition of the word until months after birth, but I was sure that most of them slept longer than four hours at a stretch before they turned three. My daughter was not born with these same impressions.

Add to this our relative poverty during my daughter’s first three years. My husband had a pretty low salary in one of the most expensive areas in the country. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t far from it (we qualified for subsidized housing, but not food stamps). Still, we were comfortable. Our apartment was small, but it was in a safe neighborhood that was close enough to work that my husband could commute by bike. I could also get to most of the places my daughter and I frequented without driving, so maintenance costs were lower on our one vehicle. When we needed more money to see a particular doctor to help with our daughter’s digestive issues, I took a part-time job at a place where I could bring my daughter to work with me. We had everything we needed and a fair number of luxuries, but we didn’t feel like we had the financial reserves for a second child.

Then just before our daughter’s third birthday my husband got a job in Salt Lake City, and everything sort of came together. The financial issues were mitigated, and our daughter not only started sleeping better, she began to be able to entertain herself for short periods of time, long enough at least for me to take pregnancy naps. She’d also stopped nursing, which was something else I’d been waiting for. (While I knew it was possible to nurse through a pregnancy, I didn’t really want to.) So we made the leap and made another baby.

The birth of our second child was exactly the experience I’d been hoping for, and as a bonus, he was a happy, “easy” baby. I remember one weekend afternoon a few months after the baby was born, I was alone in the living room with my husband.

“Where’s the baby?” he asked.

“He’s in the bedroom,” I answered, incredulous even though I knew I was telling the truth. “Asleep. With no one holding him.” We exchanged a glance and together we looked in on the little guy because we could hardly believe it was possible that we had a baby and a four-year-old and yet had found ourselves alone together.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. I experienced some fairly deep post-partum depression/anxiety, and our daughter had a lot of trouble adjusting to our new family dynamic. We sought help, and gradually things improved. Still, when a friend with one child asked me when I thought was a good time to have a second, I answered, “Never.”

Now, I love my son—and my daughter. I love my children with a love so big that it overwhelms me and causes me an almost physical pain, but had I known how incredibly challenging this whole thing would be, I might not have been so sanguine about increasing the population of our household.

My husband and I did, for a few months, consider adding a third child to our family. I was still very much enamored of the idea of adoption, and on the good days, I felt like the addition of another child could only serve to grow exponentially the love that was already in our house. We started looking into different adoption options, but put the process on hold when my husband lost his job. By the time we were settled in Massachusetts, growing our family no longer seemed like the best plan. The dust had barely settled from the fairly harrowing experience of joblessness followed by a cross-country move, and while we were doing okay now, we were hesitant to rock the boat. Plus, our son was now old enough that we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. You know, the light that heralds the end of infancy and the beginning of the long road towards individuation? If we added a baby to our family now, we’d be signing on for at least another five years of the intensity of early childhood parenting. Neither of us felt up for that.

There are times, though, when the visceral memory of the weight of a sleeping infant on my chest is particular vivid that I think…maybe. There are times when I even wish to be pregnant again, although those wishes are usually dispelled very quickly by thoughts of the three-finger separation that remains between my rectus abdominus muscles, the varicose veins that criss-cross my legs and cause my inner thighs to itch, and the constant fear that I will, in fact, pee myself next time I sneeze. My midwife told me after my son was born, “If you can birth a nine-pound baby with a nuchal arm this easily, you could birth an eleven-pounder, no problem!” I take that as a compliment, but that doesn’t mean I want to try it out for real.

My husband and I have made choices about our family. I believe that they are the best choices for us, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel some ambivalence. Choosing to have only two children means choosing not to invite a third into our family. And sometimes the craving for that third is strong enough to make me forget just how harrowing parenting just two can be.

For now, our family feels just about right. But who knows what the future holds?

Hot Chocolate Etiquette: Your Input Requested

Hot Chocolate
Elbow on the table? Legs crossed at knees rather than ankles? I’m sure not asking her about hot chocolate etiquette. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A neighbor invited my spouse and children over the other day for muffins and hot chocolate. When they arrived, they were served muffins, but did not immediately receive hot chocolate. My daughter alerted their host to this omission by saying, “Umm…you forgot the hot chocolate.”

My spouse was appalled. Back at home, we had a dinner-table conversation about what the most elegant and respectful way to handle the situation might have been. Unfortunately we had three different opinions, and we could not reach a consensus. I’d already returned the three etiquette books I had out from the library to help me polish my social graces (turns out I shouldn’t spit food into my napkin or use my butter knife as a mirror to help me when I apply lipstick at the table…who knew?), so I’m putting the question to you.

Which of these is the proper way to alert a host that he’s forgotten to provide a specific item he previously offered?

a) “Umm…you forgot the hot chocolate.” (my daughter’s actual response)

b) “When we were out shoveling snow a little while ago, you mentioned hot chocolate. May I please have some hot chocolate?” (my spouse’s suggestion)

c) Say nothing. It’s rude to request something in someone else’s home. If they remember, fine. If not, you must do without. (my suggestion)

Other suggestions are welcome. I’m looking for a best-bet response, something we can offer our daughter as a guide for her future behavior in a variety of similar situations. (Sure, I could Google it, but this is more fun.)

Children’s Book Review: Let’s Join In by Shirley Hughes

Let's Join in
Let’s Join In by Shirley Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned of Shirley Hughes from Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. We just picked up this one and another of her books from the library this morning.

Let’s Join In is an adorable book. It’s a collection of four short stories for the preschool set, “Hiding,” “Giving,” “Chatting,” and “Bouncing.” The illustrations are detailed, kinetic, and fun, and the stories capture the spirit of young childhood well. I love the feeling of togetherness and love that’s evident between the big sister and the baby. The stories convey a sense of understanding and empathy with the joys and trials of both the children who enjoy the stories and the grown-ups who read them aloud. The picture that accompanies the text, “When Mom is busy, she says that there are just too many chatterboxes around,” could have been of me and my kids during dinner prep.

This is one my two-year-old asked me to read again as soon as I closed the back cover. (Actually, I’m not sure if this is a positive or a negative.)

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My Son Celebrates Child Safety Awareness Week

What do these items have in common?

Apparently, there is a Child Safety Awareness Week in June in the UK. Despite its being August and despite the fact that we’re in New England rather than England, my son has been raising my awareness about the hazards that lurk all around us during our move this week. But then, he doesn’t turn two until next week, so perhaps I should cut him some slack for getting a couple of the details wrong.

Last week, he geared up for the main celebration by spraying bug spray into his mouth and prompting a call to Poison Control. I’m very happy we buy the hippie citronella bug spray because the Poison Control guy said the little guy should be fine as long as he didn’t inhale it. And as he wasn’t coughing and seemed fine a few minutes later, it appears he did not, in fact, inhale any (or at least not enough to cause trouble).

This week, he’s been going all-out with his awareness efforts. He fell off his tricycle multiple times, he sprayed window cleaner in his eyes, he did something to set off the carbon monoxide detector (he said his mouth hurt afterward, so maybe he licked it?), and he fell down the second half of our stairs and hit his head on the (well-padded) rug at the bottom. (One of the nice things about living in a split-level home is that there aren’t so many stairs to fall down at once.)

Wednesday his focus seemed to be on choking hazards. Every time I looked at him, he had something else in his mouth. “Sorry” game pieces, coins, tiddlywinks (I didn’t even know we had tiddlywinks), keys, puzzle pieces, Legos. He would look at me with a little close-mouthed grin on his face. I would hold out my hand, and he would just spit whatever was in his mouth in my hand, then laugh and run off to find something else to try to choke on. I’ve begun following my daughter around and picking up the tiny toys she’s so fond of playing with, which in itself is a full-time job.

After alerting us to all of the choking hazards around, my son demonstrated the dangers of the concrete stairs in the front of our home (scraping his nose in the process) and then tried to stick his finger in the light socket.

Throughout the rest of the week, he’s fallen off chairs, been bitten by the neighbor’s cat, smashed his fingers in doors, hit his head on the handle of the shopping cart, and stood up in the seat of the same shopping cart, exposing the shortcomings of the child safety buckle.

And these are all things that he’s done within five to ten feet of an adult at all times. I clearly need to up my vigilance.

I am very much looking forward to the end of Child Safety Awareness Week, although I’m a little concerned about what next week’s focus might be. And I’m very glad we don’t have a pool.

Reflecting on Six Years of Motherhood

My daughter turns six years old today. She’s lost one tooth. She can read novels and children’s encyclopedias. She plays the flute. She recites poetry. She does second-grade math.

She and I are very similar in temperament. We both like ample alone time. We both like to spend time with our friends but need to balance it with quiet time at home (and if given the option, home is where we prefer to spend most of our time). These similarities help us with scheduling since it’s not often that one of us needs more time out and about at the same time the other needs quiet time.

But we also both have hot tempers, and we have little patience with ourselves when we can’t understand something or master a task quickly. Neither of us likes to admit she’s wrong. These similarities bring on clashes, but they also help us both to confront the negatives of these qualities and learn to face them. Having a mirror for these qualities allows us both to be more aware of them.

And from the moment of her birth, and maybe even before that, she’s been teaching me more about who I am and challenging me to be my Best Self. Her arrival began with a battle between me and a doctor who insisted that healthy me and my healthy baby were simply taking too long and needed a surgical birth. My daughter and I worked together to shift her position and move things along more quickly. Together, she and I were able to win the argument, although this didn’t guarantee smooth sailing during those early weeks.

She didn’t act like I expected a baby to act. She wouldn’t sleep, we had trouble nursing, she cried a lot. I cried a lot. It was a time of great darkness for me during which I doubted whether I was truly the right person to be raising this little girl. I still visit that place on occasion. After so many visits, though, it’s become easier for me to see the way back out, or at least to know that there is a way out, if I look hard enough.

She pushes me beyond my limits, makes me stretch and strain to keep up with her. I am a stronger person for these exercises, even as I dread the constant challenge some days.

I love watching her grow and change. Looking at her now, I see how her limbs have lengthened, how her muscles are becoming more defined, how her face is thinning out. She moves with confidence and enthusiasm. She still comes back to me for reassurance, but she does this less and less frequently as time passes.

Watching her grow, I realize again and again that my job is to launch her away from me. I bore her in my body and every year after that closeness brings greater distance. It’s bittersweet. And I feel privileged that I get to be a part of it.

My daughter's little feet six years ago.