August 12, 2010 at 11:22 am 8 comments

Me: Do you know how much I love you?

Echo: Yes.

Me: How much?

Echo: As much as a… camel.

A camel? She said it so matter-of-factly, like we’ve gone over this a thousand times and the answer is always the same: As much as a camel. I was having one of those moments, you know the kind, where I am filled with so much, almost uncontrollable love, that I want to pop the child. Or eat her. Or scrunch her. The safest way to express myself in these moments is to use my words, repeat my declarations of love, and quiz the child on the degree of that love.

But a camel?

I suppose camels are big, and I’m sure they love their babies, (calves?), a whole lot, but I’ve never mentioned camels in my love confessions before. Although if I think about it, any answer that describes a volume of love is satisfying. I simply want them to know about my feelings and if desert mammals are the current measuring stick I guess that’s alright with me.

Sometimes I totally blow it. I say no before I even think through my reasons. I assume the worse before finding out for sure. Sometimes I yell and use intimidation.

In the check out line in that Wal-Mart Supercenter on our road trip, buying snacks and flip-flops for the girl who forgot to wear shoes, I juggled annoyance, debit card swiping, and a lurching toddler while noticing that Bella was systematically and subtly body-blocking Xi from getting closer to the cart. I watched as she silently and surreptitiously bullied. I didn’t offer empathy, followed by information. Oh Bella, I see you’re upset by something. Are you wanting to bother Xi because you’re mad? Yeah it’s hard to feel that angry isn’t it…. Nope. I produced a guttural, whale-like, quiet bellow: BELLA. QUIT IT. GET AWAY. It was under the radar enough, like a dog whistle, that other shoppers were unaware, but my children were like deer in the head lights.

Or at Pickathon where Emily had her beautiful clothes displayed, and dust fluffed up with every step, and the children were coated in not only dirt, but also stickiness of an undetectable sort, and I watched Xi run through the booth, squeezing between dresses, I didn’t gently approach her and remind her once again that clothes that are for sale need to be clean. Nope. I used my dog voice. The one I save for when Henry is eating barf off the fraternity-house lawn, or stepping off the curb into the street before I’ve given him the command to cross. It was a huge voice, loud, and primal. XI! NOOOOOO! Her dirty face clouded and darkened, and not because of dust or dirt.

Or yesterday morning when Echo wanted to nurse for the fifteenth time and I didn’t have any milk left and my nipples were raw and she ferreted out my breast from behind my gridlocked arms anyway and locked on with a vise-like suck, I didn’t draw on a motherly reserve of patience. I didn’t explain once more the state of my nipples, the low supply of milk, or the state of my feelings. I whipped her mouth off of me quick, like lightning, and had her flipped over and tucked into a prison-like spooning position before she could let out a squeak of protest. The protest did indeed follow fairly rapidly, a freaked out wail of surprise and anguish that would have torn my heart in two if it hadn’t been temporarily hardened by stored up martyrdom and justification.

Sometimes I fail to meet my own standards of parenting.

Which is to say that if Echo believes whole-heartedly that I love her as much as a camel, I’ll take it. After shameful parenting moments I’m glad that the notion of me loving them is ingrained, a fact, a question that results in eye rolling because the answer is obvious.

When I was little and my father asked me the same: How much do I love you?

My sister and I always responded with feigned irritation at the repetitive question and then the correct response: Jillions!

Jillions was the self-coined term my dad used to describe the immensity, the impossible grandness of his love. If I could only provide a bank statement that indicated the jillions I feel for our girls, the towering pile of love I have for them, they would have proof that they could pull out and check after I yell at them or rip their mouths off of my body, and I might rest a little easier. But statements of that sort don’t exist. For now I’ll have to make-do by making every effort to operate with a calm voice, to use empathy, to provide information, and to draw on deep reserves of patience, so that ninety-nine times out of a hundred they can see my love in my treatment of their tender souls, and feel no need to ever question its volume.

On other days, or in less than stellar moments, I will have to be content with the reassurance that comes with an answer like camel.


Entry filed under: parenting principles. Tags: , , , , , .

Deja Vu Normal

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alyssa  |  August 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Have you seen “The Story of the Weeping Camel”?

    • 2. nataliechristensen  |  August 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

      No, not yet. I’ve been told I must see it but haven’t had the opportunity. Attachment parenting with camels? Is that right?

  • 3. Keely  |  August 12, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    thank you for this always I feel connected, relieved, and inspired after coming here. camels….they store a lot of love…patience…empathy, but like us need to replenish their stores, too.

  • 4. isa  |  August 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    oh that beautiful movie! mom babe bonding, life in a yurt, music, risk taking… i am sure you would love it!

  • 5. Alyssa  |  August 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I really enjoyed it. My midwife gave it to me after I asked her if any other mammals experienced birthing trauma…difficulty in attaching after a difficult birth experience. Your post made me think about the movie and wondered if Echo had seen it. The attachment between the mother and baby camel was so emotional for me.

    • 6. nataliechristensen  |  August 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Now I really have to see it!

  • 7. Lindsay  |  August 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    thanks for this post. when i mess up like this, i face all kinds of (mistaken, i know) beliefs that other people don’t screw up as often as i do. i have this refrain that rattles in my head: “if i can’t keep from lashing out, how could i possibly expect (insert any one of three kiddos names here) to stay calm?” practice, practice, practice. i’ll have to ask them for their measurements of how much i love them and see what they say…. 😉

    • 8. nataliechristensen  |  August 22, 2010 at 7:59 am

      I know, I always assume everyone else’s house is cleaner than ours. We just make those kinds of assumptions no matter what our logic tells us. and you’re right, practice, practice, practice…


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