A Cycle of Grief and Joy

I’m starting this article on January 15th, 2018. It’s been many months since my last post, and I finally feel ready to take a stab at writing again.

On July 15th, 2017, exactly six months ago, my mother, Catherine, died. Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed her thoughtful comments on many articles. Any words I think of to describe the grief her loss has caused seem weak or trite. It was shattering.

Two days after she died, our second son was born. It wouldn’t surprise me if his birth was brought on by the physical and emotional stress I was going through. Chico, our Bug and I had jumped into the car the day she died, and rushed from our home in Germany to Switzerland. We were only two hours away from her when she died, and just remembering the moment my father called brings back all the pain of that first realization.

When I’ve thought about writing this article, I’ve experienced something of a block. My blog articles are usually quite tidy: here’s a situation, here are some tips, thoughts or facts, and here’s a tidy conclusion.

There is no tidy conclusion here.

And though I am experiencing deep loss and grief, it’s not really about me, either. It’s about my mother.

So I’d like to try and write about my mother.

Catherine was salty.

That’s how John Beach, long-time rector at Emmanuel Church in Geneva and officiant at my mom’s memorial service, described her. By “salty,” he meant she was, as Jesus says in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:13), “the salt of the earth.”

As salt is essential for flavor and life, my mom brought flavor and life to the lives of the people she touched.

She found people deeply interesting, and loved getting to truly know people. When Catherine made friends, they were friends for life.

She also knew how to find the good in everyone. As her favorite bible passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). She looked for truth, nobility, right, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence and praiseworthiness in everyone she met.

Catherine was a reader.

Mom thought and read deeply and widely on a number of topics: literature, politics, family, religion. In a tribute to her memory, a close friend from university said she was always in awe of Catherine’s life of the mind.

She had a great love for literature, but she also kept herself well-informed about the news and politics. She not only practiced her faith by participating in her church community, but she also read about faith, challenging and pushing herself to live her Christianity.

She was never intellectually lazy.

Catherine was a planner.

Mom always said, “I’m good at logistics,” and it was true. She organized events, travels, get-togethers–even the simplest meals–with grace and ease.

A dinner at my parents’ house, with Mom in charge of the planning, was always a success. Not just because of the food (she was an excellent cook), but also because she thought of everything to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

She used her skills for her community, taking charge of organizing monthly meals for a local women’s shelter in Geneva for ten years. She was active in her church, in our schools as kids, and at her local women’s club.

Catherine listened.

Most everyone can hear, but very few people really listen. Catherine was one of those listeners.

She not only listened, but she remembered. She heard sadness, joy, anxiety, grief. She knew when to be quiet, and when to offer words of comfort, advice or encouragement.

People confided in my mother, because they knew their confidence would be respected, and that she would, either by words or just by listening, offer help.

Catherine filled our cups with her love.

Mom made all three of her children feel loved and respected. Her deep respect for individuals showed in the way she treated us as kids, and then as adults, and in the way she treated her grandchildren.

A friend in middle school once told me she liked coming over to visit our house, because my mom listened to her and spoke with her like an adult, like someone worth listening to and speaking with.

Her respect and love for us taught us to respect and love ourselves, and to behave that way towards others. She gave us that gift, and set us that example.

Catherine is missed.

For all these reasons, and so many more, Catherine is missed. Her absence is like a gaping hole in my life; a vast darkness where such a strong life light once shone.

But as my dad reminds me: there’s nothing we need to know that my mother didn’t show or teach us. She is ever-present. She appears in my dreams, and I hear her voice guiding me through my days.

Time and life cruelly march on, when it doesn’t seem possible that they should without her. But even in my grief, the life and light of my boys, my nieces and my nephews, bring joy and hope.

Her light lives on in us, and in them.

God bless Catherine.

God bless her. God be praised and thanked for her life, and her memory, and for the example she was, and continues to be

second_pregnancy_syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome (or SPS as I like to think of it) is definitely a thing.

During a first pregnancy, you’re in a honeymoon period. Whether you feel sick or fantastic, you’re constantly aware of your pregnancy.

You get weekly update emails from websites like babycenter.com or pregnantchicken.com (these were hilarious and a personal favorite).

When people ask you how far along you are, you can tell them exactly how many weeks and days.

You have time to lie around the house, feeling those little movements that make your heart glow, and do all the nesting you want.

Your baby room looks ah-maaaaa-zing, like something off of Pinterest.

When you get home from work, you can collapse into bed without a care in the world.

Fast Forward to Your Second Pregnancy

This is an entirely different ball game. And it’s not as much fun.

You may still feel sick, or perhaps you feel fantastic. But you’re definitely TIRED. The fatigue of the first trimester hits you like a mack truck coming full speed out of the fog.

You think, “Ok, I’ll lie down and take it easy.” But as soon as you lie down, a little voice says, “Mamaaaaaaa… Let’s plaaaaaaay…”

Oh Right. You have a Toddler.

Your first kid is likely somewhere between 20 months and 36 months old. This is a notoriously difficult age: the Terrible Twos.

Any kind of change is a huge drama to your toddler. And at this point, your toddler’s emotional brain is hugely over-developed. So everything is ALL ABOUT THE EMOTIONS. They’re overpowering. They’re overwhelming. They lead to meltdowns and tantrums at the drop of a hat.

You’ve got to manage a tantrum, or somehow go through the mechanics of your routine without being sick all over your kid, or falling asleep in your chair.

Second Pregnancy Syndrome Symptoms: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

The symptoms of Second Pregnancy Syndrome are as follows:

All that time you had during your first pregnancy? Gone.

Regular nap time? Dream on (unless you’re lucky and your toddler still naps).

Knowing exactly how far along you are? HA! “What? I’m pregnant? I’d have forgotten if I hadn’t just barfed in the kitchen sink.”

Reading weekly email updates comparing your foetus to fruit and vegetables? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Doing your stretching, pregnancy exercises or labor breathing practice? See above.

Preparing that perfect baby room? Dang, this kid will be lucky if he/she gets a bed to sleep in!

Some Solutions for SPS

It’s not all bad news, though. There are ways to combat SPS, and to make life during a second pregnancy a little easier to handle.

1. Convert your toddler to a big girl/guy

Kids at this age love to be helpful, and to feel like they are trusted with responsibilities. Make your little one feel like a big girl/guy by asking for his/her help. Whether it’s help making breakfast, tidying up, getting dressed on their own like a big kid, or brushing their teeth, every little bit helps.

You can even take it a step further and potty train your kid. According to Jamie Glowacki (potty training expert and the “pied piper of poop”), 20-30 months is the ideal time to potty train your kid. We took that to heart and seized the opportunity to potty train and get one kid out of diapers before another one starts out with them.

We found that potty training our son gave him confidence, made him feel proud of himself, and spurred on his desire to be a “big guy.” He now climbs into his car seat on his own (hooray for not having to pick up 15kg of toddler while pregnant!), no longer sits in a booster seat, brushes his teeth on his own and gets himself dressed. All helpful.

2. Ask for help

No one is going to judge you for hiring a regular babysitter to watch your kid while you take a nap.

If your toddler isn’t in daycare, look into options. If you’re working and your toddler is in daycare, find a reliable babysitter who can come in on a regular basis to help out. Sometimes it helps just to have someone play with your kid while you throw some dinner together.

Get your partner involved. Work out a schedule whereby you can both be home at the same time in the evening (prime toddler meltdown hour), so you can work together to get that kid to bed before you collapse.

If you have family around, ask for help. Even if it’s your overbearing mother-in-law (I cannot speak from personal experience here, but I’ve heard they exist), bite the bullet and ask if she can watch your toddler for an afternoon a week, or maybe even do one overnight a week.

3. Remember to take care of yourself

This is the hardest one, and I’ve definitely failed at it.

Being diagnosed as dangerously anaemic reminded me that I need to eat better and take care of myself, not just my big guy.

Do what you can to eat well, and get plenty of rest. If possible, try and get in a gentle walk a few times a week. Getting outside will help both you and your toddler (and you can’t really do anything but gentle walking when you’re with a toddler).

It’s so much easier said than done, and I’m still struggling with this one. As moms, we often worry about everyone’s well-being but our own.

Remember: when you’re pregnant, it’s not just your well-being, but also that of your baby. So just do it: lie down for that nap instead of putting on a load of laundry. It’s good for you.

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The Joys of Being a Process Knitter

I’ve often wondered, with all the knitting I do, why I don’t have more finished projects to enjoy.

Most of the things I’ve made, I have given away. I give them to friends and family to enjoy (I hope), and then I make something else.

It’s not that I don’t care for the finished products. I am excited to see how they turn out, and I enjoy seeing people wear the things I’ve made. But I’ve realized that the finished object isn’t what makes me tick.

For me, it’s all about the knitting itself. That makes me a process knitter.

Process Knitter vs Project Knitter

Process knitters enjoy the act of knitting, figuring out the techniques and the stitches, etc. If you mess up, you don’t mind tearing it out and starting again (see my experience with my Rolling Rock sweater).

As a process knitter, you’re more likely to have just one or two projects going at once.

Project knitters work for the finished product. You get excited about casting on, and about the finished product, but the time between cast on and bind of might not be so enjoyable for you.

You’re more likely to have a bunch of projects going at once, and to jump around between them.

Most people fall somewhere on a spectrum, and it’s hard to be just one kind or the other, but these are the two big categories.

The Joys of Being a Process Knitter

Dr Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at UT Austin in the US, suggests that process knitters, on balance, probably get more enjoyment from knitting than project knitters.

In an interview on the VeryPink Knits podcast, he says, “Process people spend time enjoying the moments. It’s the problem-solving and the time spent that creates the enjoyment.”

For project knitters, on the other hand, “the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and probably overall it’s hard to be as satisfied on any given day to work on something.”

As a process knitter, it’s true that I get most enjoyment out of actually doing the knitting and getting it right. It’s a puzzle to figure out, a mystery to discover, and when I get a good pattern, it’s good fun.

How to Choose Patterns for Process Knitting

Now that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes find knitting a project a bit of a slog. If I’m not motivated by the pattern, if it’s boring or too repetitive, I’ll get into a slump.

In order to avoid such a slump, I pick challenging patterns. I look for new construction of a sweater, or new stitches or techniques so that I can learn something new.

I’m currently working on Carol Sunday’s Mia Francesca, a heavily cabled number with an interesting new construction I’ve never encountered before. It’s fascinating, and I’m enjoying it immensely. It will probably be finished, however, just in time for warm spring weather.

Finally Knitting for Me

Though I’m not a project knitter, I do want to make more items for myself that I’ll be able to enjoy. Since 2016 was the year of knitting for others, 2017 is the year of knitting for me. First this cardigan, and next up will be a new shawl to enjoy.

Dr Markman also notes that knitting is a great brain training activity for three good reasons. First, the fine motor control needed to knit engages your brain in a valuable way. Second, it requires problem solving, since you often have to figure out instructions or new techniques. That requires thought, which is always brain-healthy.

Finally, the social side of knitting is also beneficial. If you get stuck, or you need help, you can call up your knitting friends or go to a knitting circle, which is also good for the brain.

So if you’re in the Munich area and you’re looking for an English-speaking knitting circle, check out my new Stitch n’ Bitch on Meetup.com!

 

Image credit: Edel Rodriguez (source from Google Images).