A summer vacation well spent

Photo by Bill Ofenloch.

Seamus is chirping on the sofa behind me. For the time being, these are happy noises. But who knows how long he will stay happy before devolving with cries of hunger and wet distress. He was seven weeks old on Wednesday, and he is still a mystery to me.

This is what I have been doing since taking a leave of absence from Waging Nonviolence in June — getting to know my kid. We named him Seamus Philip Berrigan Sheehan-Gaumer. Seamus (Irish for James) after Patrick’s cousin and grandfather, Philip after my dad. We threw the Berrigan in there just so he could have two lines on his social security card and driver’s license and so there would never be enough boxes for all the letters in his name on any standardized form.

(For the record, he stayed happy for another ten minutes and then began crying. He nursed, we rocked and he fell asleep. He is in a classic baby pose — arms spread wide, feet tucked up like frogs legs, face an ever-shifting palette of surprise, repose and hilarity. Now he is really out and I might have an hour and 20 minutes of grown-up time ahead of me. The challenge is to use it wisely. And it is a challenge!)

I have watched a lot of TV on Netflix in the past two months. That has been fun. While he nurses, I have consumed all of Better Off Ted and most of IT Crowd and caught up with those zany kids on That 70s Show. I have figured out what all the fuss was about Mad Men (though it is hard to get into a show when you don’t like a single character) and watched all six seasons of Lost. Occasionally it occurs to me that I could/should be watching A Force More Powerful  or a Ken Burns documentary instead — something edifying — but then another sitcom cues up, Seamus pulls hard and I happily press play.

When I am not nursing (which, depending on the day, might be stretches of a few hours or just 20 minute snippets), I am washing his poopy diapers, frantically eating everything in sight (mostly raw), and trying to stay on top of one or two other things.

My to-do list used to be a page and a half long: War Resisters League conference calls, Witness Against Torture meetings, my responsibilities at the local food co-op, tending my community garden plot, volunteering at church, writing assignments and speaking gigs, and family responsibilities. Now, I barely keep a to-do list, and when it is written down it consists of assignments like cutting Seamus’ nails, washing hair, going for a walk. If I can do one of those things in a day, I am happy.

My friends and family reassure me that this is my job right now: nursing Seamus, discovering who he is, taking care of him and recovering physically from an epic labor (the details of which I will neither bore nor terrorize you with… just to say that the water broke Sunday morning, the child was born Wednesday morning and there was an unscheduled and very uncomfortable 40 minute ride in the back of a Toyota Corolla to the hospital stuck in there somewhere).

I know I am lucky to have this job. Many women have to go back to work right around this point, and most daycare centers take kids at six weeks old. Is it just luck, though? Not really. My husband and I have made a choice to live on one salary. This choice means we don’t go out to eat or to the movies that much, we don’t buy new clothes or expensive computer devices. We don’t have a lot of extra money, but the idea is that we do have more time for family, for each other, for the world.

The editors of Waging Nonviolence would like to see my Little Insurrections column focus on nonviolent parenting. I am still mulling that over (and I welcome your thoughts on the matter). Within that framework, I can see myself writing about how parents can create lasting and meaningful bulwarks between their kids and the violence endemic in our culture, or exploring the wonderful world of discipline without spanks or slaps or threats of same, or considering how one raises thoughtful, compassionate, fearless young people committed to social and political change without scaring, hectoring or scarring them about all the wrongs in the world. I might also cover the new genre of parenting memoirs and how-to guides that crowd bookstore shelves — French moms and tiger moms and mean moms (where are the dads in all these books?). Maybe I could plumb the depths of different parenting styles: Attachment, Helicopter, Love and Logic, Duct Tape or Simplicity (becoming a simplicity leader only costs $880 if you are an “early bird”).

But at this point, nonviolence in parenting means trying to figure out how to be nice to myself when the dishes don’t get washed, the newspapers don’t get read, the projects don’t get finished and I am unable to get from point A to point B because Seamus is grumpy and incessantly hungry. It means being okay with measuring my accomplishments in ounces and pounds gained on a happy baby (7 pounds 14 ounces to 12 pounds 6 ounces in five weeks all from nursing!!!) instead of measuring it by items checked off a to-do list. It means learning to fully embrace (and enjoy and celebrate) my new role as mother and integrate the new responsibilities and graces and challenges into the person I already am. Sounds like a plan, right? Okay, I got to go. The little man has started to cry.

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