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parenting

The Things My Children Teach Me

At the risk of revealing too much of my crunchy side, one of the things you should know about me is that I believe people come into our lives for a reason. In fact, the lyrics of the song “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” say it best:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return

When I think of some of the most significant people in my life, I can often guess what it is they have come into my life to teach me.

And even though our society doesn’t typically emphasize children as “teachers”, some of the biggest lessons of my life have come through my children.

My oldest is teaching me about authenticity and strength. At the time she was born, I was in a marriage that wasn’t healthy for either of us. But I stayed because it was what other people told me was the right thing to do. After she came along, I started thinking like a mother. I wanted to give her the world. I wanted her to be happy. Most of all, I wanted her to be herself. I didn’t want to change her, I wanted to discover her. Because I could see from the beginning that she was perfect exactly the way she was.

But how could I teach this tiny human to be true to herself if I wasn’t living that example?

It wasn’t an easy decision. And even after I finally decided it was, in fact, the right decision, it wasn’t easy to follow through with it. But I did. Because I wanted better for her. I didn’t ever want her to be unhappy because of someone else’s opinion about her life. I wanted her to learn to live a life that felt authentic to her, even if it didn’t align with the opinions of those around her. Wanting that for her gave me the strength to finally live my own life that way.

Now I am constantly striving to see and honor my children for the people they are without trying to turn them into what I (or society) thinks they should be. It’s a lesson I will be learning for the rest of my life.

My middle child is teaching me about love. Obviously all of my children have each taught me something about love. The middle child just has a certain unique way of stretching my heart in ways it hasn’t been stretched before.

I still remember the moment in the delivery room, the first time I laid eyes on her. It felt like gravity shifted beneath me. I was head over heels for her from the very beginning. Even through her challenging toddler behavior, I’m still mesmerized by her. The color of her eyes. The curls in her hair. Her fingers, her toes. I cherish every inch of this child for the miracle she is. She reminds me daily to slow down and notice these sacred moments with all my children. She reminds me not to take milestones for granted. She opens my heart in ways I didn’t even know I needed. She makes me a better mother, not just for her but for all my children.

And some day she will teach me about loving and letting go. Perhaps it is because my oldest always went to daycare, so I was used to her having her own independence, and my middle is the first child I’ve stayed home with for her entire life. But I dread the days of being away from her. I dread her starting preschool and school. I don’t remember life without her by my side. But being her mother means it is up to me to help her learn how to be without me. So I will do what I need to for her, no matter how much it hurts.

Love is complicated like that. But that’s what she is here to help me learn.

My youngest baby is teaching me about humility. She’s showing me that I know less now, as I’m raising my third child, than I did when I started. She’s showing me that this parenting thing isn’t something that has a “right” or a “wrong” way to it. That every child is different and every parent is different with every child and that sometimes just doing the best you can is the best you can do.

She’s teaching me about asking for help. About not being ashamed when I can’t do it all. About not being ashamed to admit (often publicly on my blog) that I can’t do it all.

Humility may not sound like a complicated lesson to learn, but in many ways it is the most complicated of all the lessons I am learning. She’s pushing me to discover my own limitations, and helping me make peace with them. She’s helping me to be more graceful with myself and others. Lessons about love, patience, generosity and respect are all wrapped up in learning about humility. Lessons about peace. For being the smallest of my children, she appears to have brought with her some of the biggest lessons. Which isn’t surprising, considering what I know of her personality so far.

Even though we are still only just beginning this learning journey, the list of things my children have already taught me and will continue to teach me is more than I could ever capture in a simple blog post. And while I know the lessons won’t always come easy, I’m grateful for the privilege of learning.

Because I couldn’t have asked for better teachers.

 

It’s Harder for Her

Okay, friends. It’s real-talk time.

We are in the trenches with this baby. She still won’t sleep through the night. Which I could probably handle if that was the only thing, because she typically gets up only once. However, her new thing is to get up at 4 a.m. ish. And then after I feed her and get her laid back down, I lay back down and toss and turn, and about the time I start to fall back asleep shortly after 5 a.m., she wakes up AGAIN. And this time she stays up. Sometimes for several hours. Which means I basically start my day at 4 a.m.

Let’s just say, I have discovered there is a certain amount of sleep I need to be a decent parent (notice I said “decent”. I’m not even setting the bar that high here, people.) And getting up at 4 a.m. doesn’t give me that amount of sleep. On these days, survival depends on the husband letting me sneak a little morning nap before he goes to work.

Survival. That’s where we are at. Still. After nearly seven months, we are still in survival mode more day than I can count. I thought it was supposed to be easier by now. Or at least, I thought we would have short periods of relief here and there. But it seems like we jump back and forth between hard and harder.

After nearing two months of trying to feed her solids and her flat out refusing (clamping her mouth down, dodging away from the spoon), we are now seeing a therapist in hopes that will help. After going through a brief period of h-e double hockey sticks trying to get her to self-sooth so she could fall asleep on her own we are back to rocking her to sleep. She still doesn’t do that great in the carseat or at keeping a binkie in her mouth. It just feels like everything is hard with this child. Harder than it should be.

This morning was no different. The day started at 4 a.m. with a feeding, and after a failed attempt to fall back asleep I was up for the day at 5:30. After another feeding and then getting milk barfed all over me, I was in tears. Why is this so hard? It breaks my heart that I’m frustrated with my own baby. It breaks my heart that I’m not strong enough to handle this gracefully.

Luckily, the husband came to the rescue and I went back to bed for long enough that the desperate thoughts retreated back to their dark corners for the time being. Feeling slightly more ready to handle the day, the husband headed off to work.

Then the baby pooped and the toddler pooped and the toddler needed a snack and the baby started whining and I realized I hadn’t eaten breakfast. So I changed diapers and gave snacks and rocked the baby to sleep. I went to lay her down in her room so that I could finally get something to eat, and she woke up on the way there.

Ug.

So I tried laying her down awake, hoping that she was tired enough to fall back asleep.

She laid there for just long enough to get my hopes up and then started fussing. But we were already committed now and I wanted to follow through until she was asleep. So I went back, cuddled her until she was almost asleep again, and laid her back down.

Same thing. Back and forth between the baby upstairs and the toddler downstairs.

After several trips, I stood in the living room next to the monitor and the fussing started up again and I felt myself beginning to crumble. I pressed my hands to my eyes and I begged, “God, please. Please give me strength. Please help me be a better mom than this.”

And then I looked down at the monitor and she stopped crying, stroked her blankie and fell asleep. And in the relief of the silence, I thought, “This is harder for her than it is for me.”

Sometimes all I need is a change in perspective and everything feels different. This was one of those moments.

This is hard for me, but it is harder for her. Everything is new and she is figuring out how her body works and she doesn’t understand the waves of feelings that she can’t control. She doesn’t know what’s going on or what the point of the mushy baby food is or that car seat rides won’t last forever. She doesn’t understand why mom is so frustrated.

This is hard for her. And I’m the one who can help make it easier. But I’ve been too caught up in my own feelings to think about hers.

Sigh. Not my finest mama moment.

Luckily, it’s not even 10 a.m. I still have time to do better today.

I have time to be more patient at meal time when she refuses the spoon yet again.

I have time to be more patient when naps don’t go the way I wish they would.

I have time to be loving when the toddler throws a fit, because being a toddler is hard too.

I have time to be compassionate with the 1st grader when she tells me about her day, because being a 1st grader is hard.

I have time to do better.

These parenting face-palm moments, the ones where I am embarrassed to have needed to be reminded of something I already knew, the ones where I wish I had done better… these moments are not fun.

But I’m grateful for the reminder.

Because today I will do better.

 

 

If I Cherished Every Moment, I Would Lose My Mind

All three kids have been sick this last week. Nothing too major, just runny noses and coughs all around. So I knew it was just a matter of time.

And sure enough, I woke up this morning with a sore throat. On a Monday morning no less. I picked up my phone out of habit to do my morning scroll through social media, already composing my status update regarding the latest development in our family health saga.

And then something made me pause. And I thought, “Huh. It feels like I’ve been complaining on social media and the blogosphere a lot lately.” The baby still won’t sleep. The toddler hates being sick and won’t let me put her down. The six year old has a lot of really hard complicated questions and also has a lot of feelings to navigate, both of which seem to make their appearance only at bedtime.

And now everyone has been sick and the laundry still isn’t put away from last weekend and it’s Monday morning and we have to start a new week and I’m not ready.

So yeah. It feels like I’ve been complaining a lot lately. Then I started to wonder, “What if the people who read my blogs and status updates think I hate being a parent?”

And I immediately felt guilty. I don’t want to be the one who complains all the time. I don’t want it to seem like I’m not grateful for this amazing motherhood journey. I love being a parent more than anything in the world. What if I’m unintentionally leaving a legacy of whining for my children?

And I felt terrible for a little while as I considered that possibility.

But then I considered the alternative.

Of course I’d love to put nothing but sunshine and roses and inspiration out into my digital corner of the world.

But that wouldn’t be the whole truth. That wouldn’t be parenthood.

Because the whole truth is that, even though I love being a parent more than anything, the hard days are real. And they are hard.

So even though I’m supposed to be cherishing every moment, I’m not.

I’m not because some of the moments suck and I don’t want to cherish them. It’s just that simple. Waiting in the doctor’s office to find out what the mysterious rash is? Sorry, not cherishing that. Barely sleeping all night because stuffy noses are making both the toddler and the baby gag and cough and choke in their sleep? No thank you, not cherishing that either.

And then there are moments that I probably would cherish if I wasn’t so tired from wiping noses and being sick and mentally gearing up for a Monday morning that came a little too soon. I’d love to savor every snuggle, find the joy in them needing me so much, cherish their littleness for every moment of the day. But I’m human and sometimes I miss the moment.

The real problem with cherishing every moment is that my heart just isn’t big enough.

You see, if I really let myself feel how big these little moments are, my heart would break.

If I let myself realize how fleeting this time is. If I consider how fragile and precious these little lives are. If I remind myself what an honor it truly is to be a mother to these humans. If I reflect on what a miracle this life is and what miracles these little bodies are.

If I let myself think about how much I’m going to miss this, how much my heart is going to break when these days of “little” are gone, the time when this phase is over and I know it won’t ever come back.

If I let myself feel, truly feel, how much I love these little people. My heart would break. I would lose my mind trying to slow it all down, take it all in, savor every second. It would be too much.

So instead I cherish some of the moments. I really cherish them. I let myself catch tiny glimpses of the magnitude of motherhood. I let myself be in awe of all this love for the miracle of these little lives.

And the rest of the time I let myself off the hook for missing a moment or worse, intentionally distracting myself to get through the hardest moments.

Because the truth is I can’t cherish them all even if I wanted to. My heart just isn’t big enough.

 

The Weekend Conversation That Made My Brain Tired

Since I can’t take a picture of a conversation, here is a picture of the girl’s haunted house model we made over the weekend. Also, thanks to the hot glue gun I have blisters instead of fingerprints.

I’ve notice that when kids get older, their questions and issues become more complex. It’s actually a form of balance when you think about it: sure, they’re letting you sleep more but now they’re frying your brain during the day so you often feel as if you still can’t get enough sleep.

Kids, man. (Read: affectionate sarcasm)

The six year old and I attended the high school musical “Oklahoma” this weekend, which I had forgotten was actually full of content that is probably a little much for a six year old (flirting, dating, abuse, fighting, relationship drama of all kinds, etc.). So I probably should be grateful that the conversations from the weekend weren’t actually any worse than this one.

It started at the musical. The six year old was happily chatting away with my dear friend, and explaining to my dear friend’s mother that the “dad” she was referring to at home was actually her step dad.

Sometimes, when she gets on a roll in conversations, my little linguist can get a bit carried away. I should have seen it coming. She has a certain look on her face and an added dramatic flair when she is about to say something that will surely elicit a shock factor from her audience. But I didn’t catch the shift in time to get my hand over her mouth before she belted out that the reason he was her step dad was, in fact, because her mom “got divorced and HUMILIATED herself!” (Except she pronounces it “di-versed” because she is six and does not know as much as she thinks she does. Shocking.)

I laughed and jokingly (seriously) told her that the topic was now closed while I tried to regain my composure and resisted the urge to crawl under the auditorium chairs.

The next day at lunch, the opportunity to reopen the conversation presented itself.

 

Me: Do you remember what you said yesterday at the musical when you were talking about your dad and me getting divorced?

Her: About you humiliating yourself?

Me: Yes. Do you know what that word means?

Her: Um…. Not really.

Me: Okay… well, it’s not a good idea to use words if you don’t know what they mean. You should be careful about what you say and you can’t do that if you’re using words you don’t know.

Her: Okay.

Me: So, what it is that you were trying to say when you said I humiliated myself?

Her: I guess just that you, like, embarrassed yourself because some people think that divorce is embarrassing.

Me: (what is that candy bar that you cram in your mouth when you need a few minutes to think before responding? Twix?)

Me: Hmm. Okay, well I think the first think that I need to tell you is that I don’t feel embarrassed about getting divorced.

Her: You don’t?

Me: Nope. You dad and I thought very carefully about what the right thing to do before we got divorced was. In the end, we decided that it was the best decision for us as a family, and for us as parents. As your mom, I wanted to make sure that I was being the best mom I could be to you. That meant setting an example for you. If I was ever going to expect you to be kind to others and to expect others to treat you with kindness, then I needed to model that behavior. And for your dad and I, it was much easier to be kind to each other after we got divorced.

There are other people who feel that getting divorced is embarrassing. They feel that, if you get married, you should stay married forever. And it’s okay that different people believe different things. I don’t like divorce, because it is a very hard thing to go through. It is better to stay married if you can. But I also believe that sometimes it isn’t that simple, and that you have to make the best choice that you can for your own family.

So that is what your dad and I did. I’m not embarrassed because I still think that we made a good choice. Your dad and I are much better parents to you now, and we are much nicer to each other. And, now you have even more people who love you and help take care of you. Our family has grown.

And lastly, I know I’m talking a lot about this so I will give you a chance to talk after I say this. But I need you to hear one more thing: It’s not up to you to decide what is “humiliating” or embarrassing for someone else. You get to decide what your own feelings are about things, but you don’t get to decide what someone else’s feelings are. So when you talk about big things like divorce, you need to be thoughtful about how you talk about someone else’s decision. It’s not up to you to decide what is embarrassing for someone else. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Her: I understand. I’m sorry I said that. Can I have a snack now?

Me: We are literally still at the lunch table.

 

And then I reminded myself of all the reasons why it wouldn’t be in my best interests to drink wine out of a straw in the middle of the day.

Ug, you guys. These complicated conversations with kids are so hard and I almost always feel like I never get it right. But that seems to be the trend in parenting for me.The thing is I’m also pretty sure this was small potatoes compared to the complex conversations that await us in the future.

But that doesn’t make my brain hurt any less.

One Hundred Nice Things

The oldest came home from school sad. Some other kids had said things that hurt her feelings.

Y’all, there is so much about parenting that is hard. But knowing someone else hurt your baby in any way, that’s pretty close to the top of the list.

It’s hard because it just plain sucks that you can’t protect them all the time.

But it’s also hard to know how to react when they tell you about it. My first instinct was to try to downplay what they had said. “Maybe they were joking.” “Maybe they were having a bad day.” etc. I thought maybe if she could understand that if someone was mean to her it was about their actions, not anything she had done wrong to deserve it, then it wouldn’t hurt so much.

But then I sounded like I was making excuses for them. And I didn’t want to do that because I also want her to know that there’s no excuse for them being mean to her.

And then I thought about trying to make it better by cheering her up. “You’re amazing and you’re tough and you don’t need to listen to anyone who is mean to you. Period.”

But then it felt like I was trying to talk her out of her feelings. And I didn’t want to do that. Because the truth is, it does suck when people say things that hurt. Feeling sad is normal and it’s a perfectly acceptable feeling. I didn’t want her to feel like there was anything wrong with how she was feeling in this situation.

So instead, I just listened. Mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. But looking back now, I think it might have been the best thing I could have done. I listened and I acknowledged her feelings. “That sucks that someone said that. I’m sorry that happened. I would feel sad too. I wish we had a magic remote to control how other people treated us, too.”

And then I decided that, for every mean thing I heard someone else say to her, I was going to make it a point to say one hundred nice things.

I was going to tell her that I’m happy I get to sit by her at dinner. That I loved how well she was doing with her handwriting. That I was proud of her for tackling her homework right away after school. That I thought the flower she added to her hair was beautiful. That she was an amazing sister. That she made me laugh every day with her quick wit. That I appreciated her help. That her hair smelled nice. That I liked the pajamas she picked after bath.

One hundred nice things, even if they were the simplest of compliments.

Turns out, it’s actually not that hard. Kids are beautifully easy to compliment. They soak up love like a sponge.

I still don’t know what the best way to handle her hurt feelings is. But I do know that I can make sure she hears one hundred times more nice things than mean ones.

And, for now, I can still gather her up in my arms at the end of the day and hold her. And I can hope that showering her in love will make her strong enough to go back out into the world tomorrow with renewed optimism. I can hope that my love will be the voice that stays in her head above any others. I can hope that it makes her resilient enough to not only protect her from unkindness but to prevent her from spreading that unkindness to others, as we sometimes do when someone is unkind to us.

I can’t always protect her, but I can love her with all my might.

Maybe, in a way, that is better.

The Days That Should Be The Hardest

Baby’s First Stuffy Nose #milestones

Both the little kids have a cold, generously passed down from their big sister.

This isn’t the toddlers first rodeo, so she is mostly a trooper. She’s a bit of a zombie and her nose runs like a faucet so I’m constantly harassing her with Kleenex and saline spray but she mostly goes about her business as usually with maybe a few extra snuggles required. Until suddenly she doesn’t anymore and she needs me RIGHT NOW and little problems feel like even bigger problems than they normally would be for a toddler.

Meanwhile, the baby is basking in the milestone of her first official cold. Her nose is runny. And, much like her toddler sibling, her feelings are much bigger than usual. She cries her saddest cry if not picked up quickly enough, if asked to burp after a meal, or if put in the carseat or kept awake for too long.

As I was snuggling her to sleep in one arm while pulling an emotional toddler into the rocking chair with us with the other arm today, I couldn’t help but think that this should be one of those hard days of parenting. Confined to the house with two needy sick kids in a pool of germs should be enough to send anyone over the edge.

And don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. I repeat, NOT EASY.

But instead of drowning in stress in these moments today, I found myself filled with gratitude.

To be honest, the feeling surprised me. Of all the wonderful, beautiful, gratitude inspiring moments of motherhood, I didn’t expect to be overcome with love while under a pile of crying, snot-covered children. Yet there I was.

Since then I’ve been thinking about it and trying to figure out why that was my reaction in that moment.

And I’m not sure it’s something I can explain.

The closest I can come to an explanation is to say this: that helping them feel better reminds me what a privilege it is to be a mother.

I get to be the one their tear filled eyes look for first. I get to be the lap they long to crawl into. I get the awesome privilege and responsibility of being the one they rely on to help them when things are tough.

Most days they look to me for their basic needs. I am the one who changes the diapers, the one who drives the car and retrieves the Legos off the top shelf and the one who rescues blankie from the dryer. I am the Keeper of the Snacks. I know the importance of this work, but for the most part, in its day to day setting, it is thankless work. And that’s okay.

But when they are sick, their needs take on a whole new level of urgency, and thus, my work takes on a new level of importance. When the nose has been suctioned clean and saline spray has been administered and vapor rub and tylenol are doing their work, when a fresh drink of water and a warm clean blankie soothe discomforts and mama’s arms open up to an inviting snuggle, I can feel the relief in their tiny bodies.

And know that I helped.

I know that the time I get to be home with them matters. But on the days when they don’t feel well and need their mama just a little more than usual, then it becomes obvious just how much this work matters. It’s the greatest, hardest, most important work I will ever do.

And all it took was a few runny noses to remind me.

A Letter to My Firstborn – I’m Sorry, Thank You, and I Promise

The oldest and the youngest <3

My dear sweet first baby,

It seems like just yesterday it was just you and me. In less than two years you’ve gained not one but two little sisters. Needless to say, they’ve brought a lot of change with them.

I know it hasn’t been easy for you. At almost seven years old, you’re still on the cusp of the “little” stage yourself. Yet suddenly, your needs seem to have fallen further down the priority list. Just this weekend on our family trip to the park you announced that you needed to use the restroom. But we were in the midst of juggling a baby diaper change and a toddler flinging herself down the playground equipment, and implementing the parenting teamwork strategy that would allow one of us to trek with you to the bathroom took some time. I could tell you were aware of the fact that your sisters’ needs were taking priority over your own. But still, you waited patiently.

As I watched your brave patience with us, my heart swelled and there was so much I wanted to tell you.

First, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry your needs have come in last so often lately. I’m sorry that your little sisters’ needs are often so much louder and more urgent than yours so they seem to take priority more often than not.

I’m sorry that I rely on you so much for help. It seems like I’m asking you for something a lot lately–to keep an eye on the toddler or entertain the baby or hand over the iPad or bring a cup of milk or hold a door. So often you cheerfully help without complaint.

I’m sorry that my expectation for you to be an example to your sisters has led me to be more critical of your behavior. I know that it doesn’t always seem fair, that there are things they get away with that you get in trouble for. I worry that my critical voice is staying with you and making you more critical of yourself and others.

I’m sorry that, as you grow into this beautiful young woman, my parenting role is supposed to shift from managing you to trusting you and I don’t always get it right.

I’m sorry that I don’t tell you these things often enough.

Thank you for being kind and patient and big-hearted anyway.

Thank you for being sweet and understanding with your tired mama.

Thank you for everything you do to help, and for thinking of ways to help even without me asking. Thank you for your sweet notes and drawings that lift my spirits. Thank you for putting on a brave face even when you don’t feel like it.

Three Sisters <3

Most of all, thank you for adoring your baby sisters even though it would be easy to resent them for turning our little world upside down. I hope you see the way they look at you, like you are the most amazing and magical creature they’ve ever seen. Because you are.

I promise that it won’t always be this hard. They will grow and their needs won’t be quite so desperate all the time and a new kind of balance will calm the waves.

I promise that I will do my best to listen when you need something and not put too much on your shoulders just because you are the oldest.

I promise your sisters will become your best lifelong friends and that this tough stage will seem small in comparison to the years of friendship you have ahead of you.

I promise to do my best to see and honor your littleness. I promise not to make you grow up faster than you have to just because you are the oldest. I promise to carve out time for us to cuddle and for you to need me.

And last but not least, I promise you will be better for this. Growing up isn’t easy. Being the oldest isn’t easy. Sharing mom isn’t easy. But I promise that the lessons you are learning in patience and bravery and empathy and kindness and generosity and love and family will make it all worth it.

Always know how proud I am of you, and that the greatest gift in my life is being your mother.

Love,

Mom

 

The Best Last Baby

My third child is the best last baby I could have asked for. But probably not in the way you are imagining.

You see, somewhere along the line I got the impression that third babies are laid back, chill babies. They handle the chaos with grace and sleep through anything because they have to. They are born into a busy bustling family dynamic that is already firmly in place, so they don’t come along expecting to change anything. They just find their place in it.

So naturally, I expected a chill baby who slept through the night and smiled all the time and never fussed about anything. This misinformation probably contributed to my hesitation to officially call her our “last baby”. Deep down, the idea of having more than three made me gulp, for a variety of reasons. But when I felt her little kicks in my belly and imagined holding my sweet sleeping darling I couldn’t imagine closing the door on the stage of life.

Then she arrived.

And she is just as sweet and precious as I imagined she would be.

Aaaaand from day one she shattered my idea of what a third baby would be like. She didn’t slide quietly into our family dynamic. She marched in and dramatically planted her flag so that no one could possibly overlook her arrival.

And even though it was a shock to adjust my naive expectations to the new reality, as I sit here cradling her sleeping body on the six month anniversary of her birth, I can now see that she is the perfect last baby.

Because she has made it very clear to me that she is our last baby.

After two smooth pregnancies, hers came with complications, reminding me how nerve wracking growing a human can be.

After a night in the NICU for jaundice, she reminded me how heartbreakingly hard parenting can be when you have to watch your kids go through something difficult.

After six months of still not sleeping through the night she reminded me of the limitations of my own sanity.

After months of fussing every time I set her down she reminded me that my other children don’t stop needing me when a new one comes along.

After months of remembering how hard nursing is, after weeks of trying to convince her to eat baby food to no avail, after realizing she is going to start crawling soon in the midst of our lego-and-shopkins-and-Barbie-shoe infected living room, she reminded me that this parenting gig takes guts. Guts and heart and laundry detergent and wine.

After all this and more, I know in my gut that she is my last.

Sure, some of it has to do with finding my own personal limit to the number of children I can adequately parent. But actually, it’s more than that.

It’s about appreciating what I have.

She reminded me that pregnancy is hard, but she also reminded me that modern medicine is miraculous and that my own body is miraculous and that because of a combination of those miraculous things I have three beautiful healthy daughters.

She reminded me that parenting is sometimes so painfully hard that you can only survive it one hour at a time while you wait for the sun to come up after the longest night of your life. But she also reminded me what a blessing it is to love another human so much that it changes you.

She reminded me how much I need sleep to be a decent human but she also reminded me how beautiful the quiet night is.

She reminded me that children aren’t always what you expect them to be and that there’s a chance for me to grow from the things I can’t control.

She reminded me how hard the first few months of a new life can be. And she made sure that I slowed down and snuggled her long enough to see the beauty hidden in the struggle.

She is the perfect last baby because she reminded me why it is time for us to be done with this stage of life and she also reminded me of the beauty in being done with this stage of life.

Six months ago this tiny little five pound human showed up, planted her flag in my heart and woke me up in ways I didn’t even know I needed.

She’s been waking me up ever since.

(Literally. 😉 )

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

My toddler is sweet and funny and smart.

And she is also stubborn and independent and strong-willed.

(It’s possible she is also a little spoiled. Don’t judge. 😉 )

My oldest went to daycare because I worked at the time. But I stopped working when the toddler came along, so she has always been home with me.

In other words, this is my first rodeo when it comes to having a stay-at-home kiddo.

This seems like an appropriate time to acknowledge my oldest daughter’s amazing daycare teachers. I seriously took for granted how much they taught her–everything from eating at the toddler table to sitting still for a story, how to use a drinking fountain, lining up to walk somewhere, and tons of other simple social skills like taking turns and being aware of others.

I am overwhelmed just brainstorming this list of things, and yet I am now responsible for teaching them to my toddler and eventually my baby. Gulp.

ANYWAY… my toddler. She is entirely her own person, with a much different personality than her older sister, who was social and bubbly and fearless and talkative. The toddler is shy, sometimes painfully so. And she is still finding her voice.

So I’m learning that parenting one child is completely different than parenting another. As their mom, it’s my job to help them navigate new experiences and learn new skills safely so that they can learn and grow. However, guiding my my oldest social butterfly is a completely different process than guiding my shy introvert.

So basically, I’m “winging it”. Which explains why I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

In my latest phase of “winging it”, I decided the toddler was old enough that it was time to start seeking out more opportunities for her to “socialize”, hoping it would help with her shyness. So we signed up for the toddler art class at the local children’s museum. This is an amazingly perfect opportunity for us/her because it is short and simple and a no-pressure environment. They read a story and do a fun little activity and art project. And if they aren’t feeling it, they can go play back out in the museum.

Which is also awesome for me because it takes away some of the pressure to wrangle an uncooperative two year old if she isn’t feeling it.

As usual, she was thrilled to get to the children’s museum and promptly put on an Elsa dress and gathered up her favorite trains. When it was time to go to the art class area, she followed cooperatively and even sat mostly still for the story. After the book she sat with her trains and watched the other kids chase bubbles. But when it was time to sit down at the table to do the art project, she wasn’t interested. Instead, she headed back out to the museum to drive the fire truck, trains in tow.

Should I worry that she didn’t care about the bubbles? Should I push her to jump in or do I let her do her own thing? Do I push the art project or do I let her go play?

That’s basically the question that applies to everything, isn’t it? Do I push her outside of her comfort zone or do I wait for her to step out on her own?

I have no idea.

Because as I mentioned before, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Today my gut told me to let her go play. So I did.

She’s two. She wanted to learn by exploring the museum.  Who am I to tell her that she should be sitting and working on a project instead? There will come a time when teaching her necessary skills like sitting and project perseverance will be important. But I think, at two, my job is just to give her opportunities and let her choose.

Sometimes I think I forget that parenting is as much about listening to them as it is about telling them what to do. Sometimes I feel like, if I’m not in control, then I’m not doing my job. Then I’m not “parenting”. But maybe that’s making it about what I’m doing or not doing. Maybe it should be about what she is doing or not doing.

I helped her step into the experience of sitting through story time, which was new for her, and she did great. And then she let me know that that was enough for today.

And I’m glad I listened.

Because she played and explored and had an amazing time. She had a new experience that was ultimately positive, because it didn’t involve mom trying to make her do more than she was ready for.

And best of all, she had no idea that I had no idea what I was doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Can’t Have It All at Once

I wrote this whole post, and when I went back to re-read it, it sounded like a giant pity party. So this is take two.

Why the pity party, you ask?

Well for a the past couple of weeks, I was hopefully entertaining the very realistic possibility of having it all.

Having it all? Really?

Yep, that’s right. You see, it’s not too much of a stretch. I’m lucky enough (yes, even on the hard days) to be home with my sweet babies all day. I love this gig (yes, even on the hard days) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So what more could you want?

Great question. I love being a mom, but part of being a mom is being a human. I love being there for my kids but I also want to set an example for them. For me, that involves being something in addition to being a mom.

So I spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for me. It’s a surprisingly hard question. There’s a lot of things I could do with my time outside of motherhood, some more practical than others. And for somebody who writes about authenticity, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what my authentic path in this life is.

But a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I had found it. An online masters degree in English with an emphasis in writing. I could finally check a masters degree off my bucket list, I could study the thing I’ve been most passionate about all along. I could suck it up and be brave enough to get serious about writing. And I could do it all online, meaning I wouldn’t have to put my kids in daycare to attend class.

I knew when I submitted my application that I was a few undergrad English credits short of the requirement, but I thought, “What the heck? Go for it.” Once they reviewed my transcripts then I would know how many I needed and could complete them. The previous graduate program I had been enrolled in just lumped all my required undergrad and grad work into my program plan.

Not the case with this one.

This morning I received a very nice email from the program director explaining that I was short the required credits. And this afternoon I received the standard “We regret to inform you…” letter.

Turns out, even though my logical brain knew that it was a possibility, a stamped and sealed rejection letter is still a blow to the ego. And the morale.

Thus, the pity party.

You may be thinking, it’s just a few undergrad classes. Just get them done and then enroll in the graduate program.

You’re right, it is just a few classes. Classes I would happily take.

Except they aren’t offered online. Which means time in class. Which means daycare. Which means giving up time with my kids.

Which means NOT “having it all”. At least not all at once.

So, quick u-turn before we end up back in pity party land, that is where I’m at. I’ll admit, I was majorly bummed to have felt like “having it all” was so close to possible, only to have the hope dashed. Mostly, I was excited about this new possibility.

And it’s not that it’s not possible. It definitely is. I have several different choices of ways to make it work.

But I’m not going to. At least, not right now.

Because the truth is, it isn’t about the details. It’s about a big picture choice I have to make. I can either make it work, which means making sacrifices, the biggest of which will be time with my kids. Or I can be patient. Waiting a few years until my children are in school means a lot more flexibility when it comes to pursuing my own educational goals.

For me, it’s an obvious choice.

I know this time with them is a gift. One that I’m not willing to sacrifice.

And just to be clear, it’s not because I feel obligated to stay with them. It’s because I want to. With all my heart. Even on the hardest days, this mom gig is my dream job.

Waiting to start the program isn’t a sacrifice for me. Giving up time with my kids would be.

So the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this isn’t a simple rejection from a graduate committee. It’s actually a quiet little nudge from the universe. To stop trying so hard to move on to the next thing and just enjoy this thing. This time where I have the privilege of making motherhood my priority. This time where I don’t have to juggle all the things. I’m choosing to believe that someone up there is looking out for me and knows I need a little reminder to use this time wisely. There will be a time for classes and degrees. Right now is the time for little people. Because classes and degrees will always be there. Little people won’t.

Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to have needed the reminder.

This is also a good time to mention that just because this particular path isn’t the right personal growth path for me right now doesn’t mean there isn’t a personal growth path for me right now. It’s just not one defined by a university.

Someone who inspires me recently wrote on her own blog (in reference to her music career) that if there isn’t a gig, create one. In other words, don’t wait for someone to offer you a path. Make your own.

Just because my current personal growth path isn’t nationally accredited doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. I have piles of books to read and mountains of ideas to write. I don’t need someone else to assign me work for me to do work of value. And the best part is, when I’m writing my own curriculum, I can make sure it never interferes with the real work of value, soaking up the beautiful madness of motherhood.

Not having plans work out the way you thought you wanted them to isn’t fun, even when you know deep down it’s for the best. I will own that. So tonight I have scheduled a real-life pity party with a good friend, complete with beer and possibly some form of nachos.

And then tomorrow I’ll get back to work.