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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Parenting with a Hero

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
David, 1 day old
(with me, age 7)
My brother David and I share a special bond. He was born when I was seven years old and from that very first day we have been close. To give you an idea about what I mean by "close", when David was 2 days old, I was changing his diaper and our brother Luke, age four at the time, instructed Dave to pee in my mouth. Right on cue, David did just that. His aim was impeccable. I should have taken it as a sign of things to come, because we all began laughing hysterically and I wasn't even a little bit mad at him. Pee or no pee, I was in love, and my little brother David (my original little dude) could do no wrong. I would endure any amount of pee to be close to him.

Why someone else was holding my doll
was beyond me. The audacity.
Growing up, David was like my own real-life doll. Until I had my own baby, the only way I could fathom how I might feel for a baby was to imagine how I felt for David and then (as I'd been told) multiply it by a thousand. I cared for him and looked out for him. His happiness was my calling. I was forced (yes, forced, mom!) to play the piano, and I hated nearly every moment of it. I say nearly because I do have some fond memories of the piano, and they all involve David. He would lay on the floor under the piano bench and I would use my extremely limited musical skill (which consisted primarily of playing C, D, E, F and G in various and assorted orders) to make up songs for him. We did this for hours and hours. Most of the songs centered around the theme of him hitting a baseball to China where it was found by a lovely young Chinese girl named Candice, whom he would then meet while on a mission to retrieve his ball, and fall in love with. They would go on to provide me with unlimited nieces and nephews. I would belt out the chorus "Ca-a-an-dice!", making the name last for several syllables. (You can imagine our horror when a cousin was born and given the name Candice.)

I read him stories at night, usually the Little Critter books. I read them so much that the pages wore thin and we both had all the lines memorized. I saved those Little Critter books and can now read them to Bennett without even looking at the words. When I began "dating" (which consisted largely of having crushes on dozens and dozens of young lads), David was my go-to man for venting sessions. We would lay on my bed, side-by-side staring at the ceiling, and I would give him tid-bits of knowledge such as, "Never do ________to a girl's heart, because it (sob) just hurts (sniff) so baaaaaaaaaad." David would listen and soak up the vast ocean of dating wisdom that was mine at age 15. He was smart enough to tell me that the guys were idiots and I was awesome. He was the perfect listener.

When I turned 18 and moved to Portland, David would come and visit me over breaks. Our tradition on the first night of his arrival in Portland was to drive in the West Hills of the city, gawking at all the rich people houses. We still do that sometimes. On his visits to Portland as a young impressionable teen, I took it upon myself to teach him things he should know in order to survive in a tough dog-eat-dog world such as my Christian liberal arts college. Worried that he may be tempted to drink alcohol at too young of an age, I once let him sip some white cooking wine I had in my kitchen. He said he liked the taste, which I had not expected. I laid awake all night that night fearing that I may have turned him into an alcoholic.

After David graduated from college in 2009, he came to Portland to stay with my husband and I while he figured out what to do with his life. 

Bennett, 1 day old
(with David, 24)
I could tell nearly 26-years worth of stories about David, but that would only be interesting to about three people, so I'll skip to the summer of 2010, the summer that David was one of my unexpected birth-team partners. I had an entirely unassisted labor and birth, accept for the very last moment when my midwife arrived at the house in time to push on my back and watch my son come out. My labor was so quick that Cameron, David, and David's girlfriend at the time were my birth team. I had not planned to have David attend my birth, but having him there felt perfectly natural. And I'll be damned if he doesn't love me so much that he fought his natural inclination to pass out and made it through the entire birth. David filled my birth tub so that Cam could stay by my side during my incredibly intense labor. David took photos and videos and sent them to my mom and sister who were driving as fast as they could from Montana. David was there to watch me pull my son out of the water, and David teared up with pride when we announced that Bennett was to be named Bennett David.

But this post is about parenting with (or without) extended family, not about how kick-ass my kid brother is. So how does parenting with extended family work for us?

David has lived with us since Bennett's birth. Having him here has made such a tremendous difference. David's key phrase in life is "Do what you like". Over the years, this phrase has often made me want to punch him in the face. (Like when I ask what everyone wants for dinner and he responds "Do what you like." PUNCH.) However, it is this mentality that makes him the most perfect extended family to have around all of the time as we tackle this beautiful task of being new parents. He doesn't judge or condemn. He doesn't advise or harp. He doesn't meddle with the natural order of us figuring out how to do this whole parenting thing.

David plays a completely supportive role when it comes to Bennett. He leaves all of the real "parenting" stuff up to us (such as poopy diapers, bouts of tears, delving out a firm "no") and takes on anything and everything else. It has been a dream having him around. Bennett loves him so much and they have an incredible time together. What more could a mother ask for her son?

After Bennett was born, I dug into my hope chest and pulled out the Little Critter books that I used to read to David. And now David reads those very same books to Bennett. I was there to help take care of David, to be an extra set of helping hands when he was a little guy. And now, he is the extra set of helping hands for my little guy. As you would expect, Bennett is quite similar to my husband and I. But he is also a miniature David in so many ways. He is incredibly athletic. He is funny. He does this thing where he likes to grab people's feet and make a hilarious squinty face while he kisses them, which is exactly what David used to do when he was a baby. One of the cool things about being an uncle is that you get to pass on the best parts of yourself, and David certainly has. He taught Bennett to say "Whoo woo woo" in a Borat voice, which Bennett nails. He plays basketball with Bennett every day. He baby-wore Bennett right along with us for the first 18 months of his life. He teaches Bennett wrestling moves. He gave Bennett his first haircut. He bought Bennett his second Bob Marley shirt when Bennett began to outgrow his first Bob Marley shirt. See what I'm saying? Perfect.

David, 1 year old,
at the beach with me.
As new parents, having extended family around on a daily basis can be challenging. But it is also so rewarding. The good outweighs the bad a million times over. David's presence in our lives doesn't just make Bennett's life better; it also makes our lives better. David and Cam are good friends with many similar interests, which I believe plays a key part in the success of our living arrangement. As for me? David knows me. How many people can truly say that they are known, really truly known? I think that having this sort of closeness is important if you choose to maintain a long-term living situation with others. It is this closeness that allows us to be honest and transparent. It is this closeness that drives us to offer grace and compassion and the benefit of the doubt when needed. It is also this closeness that motivates us to choose to laugh instead of cry, to apologize instead of hold grudges, to be real instead of phony.

Bennett, 1 year old,
at the beach with David.
I have spent the last 26 years of my life looking out for David, caring for him, wishing the best for him, and loving him unconditionally. There is no doubt in my mind that he will spend the next 26 years (and more) doing the very same for Bennett.

Bennett struggles to say "Uncle Dave" or "Uncle" or "Dave" or any other combination of those letters and words, so last week David taught Bennett to call him "Hero". Bennett says it so sweetly: "Row row!" I told David that the only way that nick-name will stick is if we all call him that, and it's just never going to happen. But if I'm honest, I hope it does stick. On countless occasions David has been my hero, and on countless more, I know he will be Bennett's. I can't imagine a better nick-name for my son to call my brother David than hero.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.


  1. Can I just say that I hate you? No, not really. But my brother is 7 years older than me and we were very rarely close. And now? Ugh, I won't even go there.

    Your story brought tears to my eyes. Tears for how beautiful David's relationship is with your immediate family and tears for not having anything like that in my own life. Amusingly, my brother's first name is also David. lol

    1. I'm sad that so many people don't have great relationships with their siblings, but I totally understand. I have three siblings and very different relationships with each of them.

      Sometimes that brotherly bond can come along in life in other forms. :)

  2. Yay for this post! You guys are so so lucky. Fist bump to David for his general aweseomeness.

  3. So sweet :) My brother and I are quite close too, so I can relate to your feelings about David. Plus, he just seems like a cool guy. Buying Bob Marley shirts for the little dude sold me. Bennett is so lucky to have so many people to help raise him and love on him!

  4. I have to agree with Momma Jorje, hate you, but not really :) I have always yearned for that type of relationship with my sister (she's 2 years younger than me), but I know now that it is never going to happen. I'm lucky to get a 5 minute phone call once a month from her.

    While neither the hub nor I have a close relationship with anyone in our families, we do have a very close friend who Isabel has dubbed Chreeno (Chris) who has been very supportive and helps us every chance he gets. He's our kids' uncle for all purposes of the words. We had to go two hours away to a hospital for the birth of our son and he volunteered to watch Isabel the whole time. We put them up in a motel across the street from the hotel and they hung out for a week straight, with very little help from us. He's 25 and hasn't ever really been around kids, nor did he ever want kids, but he's fallen in love with our kids and would literally give his life for them, just as we would. He too leaves the real parenting up to us, but is the very supportive person in the background. So while we don't have blood family helping us out, we do have our own made up family with close bonds.

    - Kristen

    1. I am ALL FOR creating our own families from those we find ourselves in community with! It sounds like you guys have found a family away from family. :)

  5. I'm not a crier Rachel... but this almost took me over the edge! What a beautiful story. I too am sooooooo blessed to have an amazing brother, Nate. Although he is older than me (4 years), I can totally relate to the relationship you describe here.


  6. I love your post! What a wonderful little brother you have. I was 9 when my little brother was born, so I understand the adoration and affection. The pictures of you with your "doll" are hilarious — I felt the same way! :) I love that your brother started out with peeing in your mouth — how hilariously awesome. Now I'm just jealous you get to live with such a heroic brother!

    1. There are days, every now and then, when he isn't SUCH a joy. When that happens, I'll lend him to you. Seattle isn't too far away!

  7. This is so great. My little brother is 6 years younger than me and that was one of the best parts about living at camp...he was right next door. It was so hard to move away from him, mostly because of the impact he had on my boys' lives. All of the boys' little buddies started calling him "Uncle Joel" and it has totally stuck, even now that we are gone. Even my friends call him that, which I love.

  8. Wow. That is so beautiful and... Well, it made me well up. How lucky you are to have such a relationship in your life. And how lucky your little boy is. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your brother.

  9. Aw, what a sweet post. Makes my mother-heart and grandma-heart happy! ♥ (Did anyone notice that "look" you were giving Lori in the family picture, like "Your time is up. Give him to ME!")

  10. Awesome! I love the special Row Row for his uncle Dave!

  11. Oh wow - how blessed you are to have such a beautiful relationship with your brother!! I'm praying my own children will feel the same way someday :)

  12. This is sweet . . . my youngest brother and I are 16 years apart, so our relationship is a little different. But I did take care of him a lot as a baby, and now he is completely in love with my son. He's great with him! At 13, he's changed and dressed the baby, and carries him around like a champ. I think he's baby's 3rd favorite, after me and my husband! Brothers are great!

  13. Awwww. Yup, jealous. You are blessed. And you know how to tell the story well.

  14. Ok, you've had David long enough. Pass him back over. Yes, there are so many ways that you two were cut from the same cloth yet complement each other!


  15. You guys are too kind! In fact, WAY too kind. David has now begun wearing a crown around the house and insisting that I serve him grapes and fan his head, on account of being so awesome. I should have thought it through more before I wrote that post. :)

    I'm kidding. I really do feel blessed to have such a great family. I guess it's easy to take them for granted and not realize how unique and awesome they are until I hear from others, you know?

    All of your comments have been great! Thank you!

  16. *sob* seriously. It doesn't help that my awesome little brother's name is ALSO David. I just adore him.

  17. Your brother David is really a team player! I don't have any brothers but I have two sisters. One I have been very close to for al of my life, and the other I have only regularly contacted in the last 2 years. Before that we hardly ever contacted each other. I guess we are both growing up and appreciating the importance of sibling support :)

  18. My baby brother (13 years younger) also peed in my mouth; it must me some kind of big sister initiation ritual. :) This is a great story about involving your immediate family closely in raising your children; while somewhat unique that you are able to live in the same home, I hope that I can take some of this closeness and apply it in our lives. Thanks!

  19. I totally GET this. Jesse and I are best buddies....I can honestly say 2nd to Adam, he IS my best friend. And, I so miss being around him. Keep enjoying David!! Someday some hot babe is going to scoop him up!

  20. Okay, I need to meet this whole family. Y'all are blowing me away with how much love you have for each other.