The trip that changed my mind about parenthood

Just a couple years ago, I counted myself among the women who didn’t really see themselves ever becoming a mom. For those of you firmly set in that camp, I totally understand why you’d feel that way and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. I was never interested in holding other people’s babies, and while I liked kids enough, I liked my freedom more: I could sleep in until crazy hours–for example, 8 a.m.! I could spend my money on extravagant things like shoes or student loan payments! I could leave the house unburdened by a 75-pound infant car seat, and wear my hair down without getting it yanked out by sticky little fingers.

In many ways, being childless felt to me like a way to hang onto my youth. Having gotten married at 24, I felt like I had an eternity to figure my life out and eventually decide if I wanted to switch gears.

When did this all change?

As The Husband was approaching his 30th birthday in 2014, I remembered a promise I’d secretly made to myself years before as we were getting married, that I would find a way to take him to Greece, where his father was born, for his 30th birthday. I did a bunch of extra freelance work and saved and saved, and we were able to book a two-week trip in July 2014.

Neither of us has really been abroad before (except for a sequestered resort honeymoon in Jamaica, which I submit hardly counts), and flying into Athens and seeing the sights, tasting the tastes, experiencing the jet lag and trying to pick up tidbits of the language here and there made for an awesome vacation.

But it wasn’t just a vacation, it was a pilgrimage.

The Husband and I didn’t stay in Athens for more than a few days; we took an overnight ferry to an island just off the coast of Turkey, where his family is from. With the generous and welcoming guidance of a cousin we’d never met before but who became an instant dear friend, we got acquainted with the land and the history of The Husband’s family.

Greece 2014
The village

The villages in the north of this island are built like amphitheaters around the curve of the road, houses stacked like stairsteps on the mountainside.

The village we stayed in was like Eden. Fig, almond, mulberry and olive trees surrounded the houses, except in the small terraced gardens carved out by a few old-timers.

Most people have moved out of the village. While harvest time brings families back, the year-round population hovers around four. (You did not read that wrong. Four people.) A few residents and visitors we saw spoke English, but many did not. Nevertheless, each time we came back to the village after a trip to the beach or to the town 20 minutes away to check our emails at a cafe, we’d be summoned to a shady porch and served freshly peeled almonds, bricks of feta, sun-warmed cucumbers and over-generous pours of the  local liquor of choice. The love and warmth of this extended family surpassed any language barrier.

Greece 2014
The view from the house that Papou built

At night, the quiet was so enveloping that I could hear the blades turning on a wind turbine miles and miles away across the valley.

I know international travel is often a transformative experience , but I was surprised to find myself sitting outside watching the sun go down one evening with tears streaming down my face. This also surprised The Husband, who asked me what was wrong. The closest I could come to putting my feelings to words was, “I just never imagined I would be here, doing this.”

But looking back, that feeling was a profound sense of my own smallness in the vast world and the arc of time. The village with its old houses and its ancient history made me begin to really appreciate how we are linked to each other by the love we share. The stories and traditions and all the other good things surrounding me existed because people in the past took it upon themselves to hand them down to the next generation. While I guess I always understood this in the more immediate sense, this was a macro-level view of just how precious family can be.

Greece 2014
These were the crashing waves I envisioned while in labor with The Baby.

It still took another year for me to feel anything approaching readiness to have a baby, but the seed of wanting to share the beauty of life with another generation was planted in Greece.

The Husband’s grandfather (Papou), builder of the village house we called home for a week, who shoveled sand on the northernmost point of the island, who along with his wife raised four children in that village, who dared to cross the ocean and immigrate to the United States, who was even through a language barrier always just as exuberantly generous and kind to me as the relatives we met in his old village, died last week, just a few days after my grandmother.

(Remember I said that it’s been a rough few weeks?)

I’m grateful to have had the chance to see where Papou came from, and even more grateful that place made me realize my role in the world could possibly include motherhood.

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The trip that changed my mind about parenthood

First Father’s Day Card from The Baby

DIY Father's Day Card from the BabyI’ve been meaning to share this craft since last weekend, but life got in the way again. It was The Husband’s birthday last weekend, and The Baby and I decided to make him a birthday card. I love how it turned out, and it was easy and fun to make, so I thought I’d share it with the wider momosphere in time for Father’s Day.

The Baby has been a kicking machine since he can-canned his way out into this world. He’s one of those babies who prefers to stand assisted on your lap than to sit. As I’ve mentioned before, his nickname is Kickpuncher because of all his flailing.

This craft actually first emerged on Mother’s Day, when I woke up early in the morning and tried it out on a pair of canvas totes for both of The Baby’s grandmothers. My tactics got a little more refined for this birthday card, but the essential formula is:

paint + kicking baby feet + surface = awesome abstract art

DIY First Father’s Day Card from the Baby

Materials

  • Watercolor paper
  • Non-toxic paints
  • Masking tape
  • Sponge brush or other paint mixing tool
  • A big piece of cardboard or wide, shallow box
  • A large container to use as a palette – even big paper plates work
  • Dish tub or other baby-sized bucket
  • Old towels and old wash cloth
  • Baby soap
  • Blank card and envelope
  • A helper or a place to put baby where he can’t reach his feet
  • Mod Podge

Instructions

Take some time to prep. This is best done outdoors or on a floor you can wash up quickly (obviously, avoid carpeting.) Put on some old clothes, strip The Baby down to his diaper and let him play nearby while you set up.

Lay out the cardboard or box and tape a few pieces of watercolor paper to it. You can also use the masking tape to mask off some parts of the paper to make a decoration.

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Tape your paper to the cardboard.

Fill the dish tub/baby tub with warm water and add a few squirts of baby soap.

Pick your paints. I used acrylic because it’s what I had on hand and it says on the bottle it’s non-toxic, but do your own research. Tempera paint is probably better. I like to hold up two paints and let The Baby pick his favorite. I squirt out some of this color onto my palette (I used big paper plates for the Mother’s Day craft and that worked really well; I couldn’t find them so I used bread pans for this one. The Baby has monster feet so this was kind of tough.) Anyway, for the Father’s Day card, I cut in some white to whatever color he chose, but only with about half the paint, to give it some variation. The picture below is just the tinted paint, but in the other half of the pan I squirted just the red, so he’d basically get a foot with each color. You can also do two similar colors (red and orange, say) in one go.

paint palette
Paint palette with The Baby’s first color selection, mixed in with a little white paint.

Pick baby up and hold him over the palette and let his feet press into the paint. Then pick him back up and hold him over the paper. If your baby isn’t squirmy, maybe you’ll get some neat footprints. But as I said, my baby is part Tazmanian devil and I wasn’t expecting or intending to get footprints, just fun colorful smears.

Once you’ve gotten a few good smears of your first color, dunk baby’s feet in the dish tub and give them a decent wipe-off with the wash cloth, pat dry. (Don’t worry about getting them immaculate; as you’re going to repeat the first several steps again.)

This is where it’s nice to have a helper to hold the baby, while you reset your paints. The goal is to keep baby from reaching his lower half, where there could be paint, at any time during this activity.

I did a total of three colors (with the white tint each time), as selected by The Baby. I let them dry for just a few minutes, basically the time it took me to clean baby’s feet and get new paint ready.

Baby footprints painting
A blurry photo of the finished painting. The Baby is an athlete and an artist!

Once you’re done, give your baby an actual bath. (Full disclosure: The Baby had green toenails for a few days afterward… whoops.) Also, the underside of your baby’s diaper will probably be a beautiful piece of art all its own, but resist the urge to keep it.

Once your baby’s artwork is dry, you can cut it to fit the front of your blank greeting card. (I suppose you could paint directly onto the card, but the watercolor paper doesn’t wrinkle when it gets wet, so it looks nicer.) I used Mod Podge to glue the painting onto the card and then put a coat of Mod Podge over the top of the painting too, to give it a little sheen.

Finished Father's Day card
Here’s the finished card. I cut and glued The Baby’s painting to a blank craft-paper greeting card.

There you have it! Easy, colorful Father’s Day card. I still have the other half of the painting that I plan to cut into strips and glue onto other, smaller cards I have, to use as thank-you notes. The next time I do it I think I’ll mask off the center of the card so I have a blank strip to write “Happy Birthday.”

It’s clear that The Baby has a blast when we do this, feeling the slippery paint on his feet, seeing the cause-and-effect of his kicking, and getting to splash around in the tub. And I like to think I’m instilling in him an early sense of generosity and the importance of appreciating others. I know he’s too young to really understand what we’re doing, but I figure if I start early, he’ll absorb the lesson more thoroughly as he grows.

Join the conversation: Have you enlisted your baby to help with any gifts or craft projects? How are you planning to celebrate your partner’s first Father’s Day?

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First Father’s Day Card from The Baby