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parenting

Kid Number One AND Even Santa Has Limits

Photo by Kristen Laing Photography

This is a story about kid number one. The original baby. The girl who made me a mama. This girl has taught me more in this life than even I can fully comprehend. And it sounds extreme to say, but I think it might be true, that without her, there wouldn’t be any of the other little members of our family.

Because when she came along she changed everything. She made me want to give her the world and be the best I could possibly be for her. And as it turns out, I wasn’t being my best. So I had to make some changes that were hard and scary in my own life. And I didn’t always know for certain that I was doing the right thing. But every time I doubted myself, I went back to this bright little girl and looked into her eyes and asked myself what I wanted most in the world for her. And she helped light up the path, one step at a time. On my arm, she is featured as the sun, bright and warm. A sign that it is time to wake up.

And wake me up she did. She is still teaching me things all the time, even when I’m not ready to learn them. Since she is kid one, she is my first trial run for all the complicated parts of parenting–friend issues and body questions and vocabulary lessons and so much more.

Even Christmas, a time when I used to get to be on “break” is now a time in which she puts me through the paces with a new lesson. For example, this year, she asked for the Playmobil Hotel. For those of you not familiar with Playmobil, they are actually pretty awesome toys. They come with a billion little realistic pieces and are great for imaginative play. Kid one has been into them for a while and has acquired quite a few great pieces over the past holidays–a tree house and a hospital and a “modern suite” and so on. So it didn’t really surprise me that she was asking for another piece and since kid two loves playing with them as well I don’t mind getting them as gifts.

Then I visited my trusty old Amazon account. And here is what I found.

If you look down toward the bottom, you will see the prices from available sellers. New models STARTING AT $549.95 PLUS $45.20 SHIPPING.

(Insert crazy laughter here.)

I love my children, but I will never, ever pay six hundred dollars for a little plastic toy. EVER. I would much rather stay around $100 per kid for the holiday. Like for all the presents combined. However, I’m willing to stretch it in certain cases if it is a toy that the other kids will also benefit from playing with.

But I will never stretch that far.

So it dawns on me that this very well might be the year she is disappointed by Santa for the first time. She has been talking about this ridiculous hotel for months. MONTHS. And when prompted to give some “backup” ideas she doesn’t show much excitement in any of the options presented. So I finally break down and explain to her that this is a really expensive toy she is asking for. And I explain that I don’t understand Santa magic, but I reason that he can’t get her a $600 toy and not get one for everyone else. And I explain that “stuff” really isn’t the point of Christmas and that maybe it’s better to ask for something a little more reasonable.

And I totally believe all these things. But I’m also a parent and that means I have the privilege of making the world seem magical to the little humans in my care for a short, precious time. And Christmas is one of the most magical times of all. And I’m not ready to give up on that magic.

So I decide to exhaust all the possibilities. I scour the Internet and my search leads me to Ebay, where I find a complete used set with instructions for $140.

And then I encounter the moral dilemma: she already knows this is an outrageous toy to ask for considering the price. What does it teach her if it appears? Would it be better to just let her be disappointed and encourage her to be grateful for the things she gets instead? Maybe.

I don’t know the right answer. But I told her dad about my discovery and he agreed to split the cost of the Ebay purchase with me, which means after bidding and shipping it ACROSS AN OCEAN and splitting the cost it still came out to be less than my $100 per kid goal. So I bought it.

And I’m thinking I will probably find a way to sneak a note from Santa into the package explaining how, when the elves run out of materials for a certain toy, they can’t make it any more and those toys become hard to find. But lucky for her, a little girl on the other side of the world outgrew her toy and decided to pass it along so another child could enjoy it. And that the real reason Christmas is special is because of the magic we share with others, not just the magic that is shared with us.

And the same is also true for parenting. One of the many reasons the journey of parenting this little ray of sunshine has been so profound is not because of what I get to share with her, but because of what she shares with me.

This girl is generous. She is grateful. She is kind and bright and loving and helpful. She makes me unbelievably proud every day.

And best of all, she reminds me to see the magic in the world around me. And that is the greatest gift of all.

 

Daniel Tiger and Two

Photo by Kristen Laing Photography

This is a story about kid number two. Oh, how I love this child.

We had family pictures taken recently. Two doesn’t love family picture time. She doesn’t love it when too much attention is focused on her. She doesn’t love having to do new things until she is ready.

But lately we have been doing new things. We do gymnastics and we do story time at the library and art time at the children’s museum and speech therapy. We go on vacations and ride ferry boats in our car and swim in indoor water parks and go to the zoo.

Halloween 2017

And we watch Daniel Tiger. We watch Daniel try new foods and try new things and little by little we learn that trying new things can be fun. So we talk about getting our picture taken and we practice smiling for the camera and we look at our book of past family pictures. And when the day comes we get dressed up in our fancy new dress that looks like our sister’s and we comb our hair and we do our best. And we try, just once, to have Daniel watch us get our picture taken from a few steps away, but in the end it’s better if we hold on to him.

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s perfect. I love that Daniel Tiger is now cemented in our family history via photograph. Because, right now, he is Two’s best friend. The kind of best friend that helps you grow and changes you for the better. Those kind of friends leave a mark on you. Even when you’re two. Especially when you’re Two.

So we embrace it. Daniel follows us to gymnastics and story time and the children’s museum and speech therapy. He sits beside us at dinner and sleeps beside us at bedtime. And the truth is, I love that. Sometimes we all need a friend who is there whenever we need them.

Snuggling mama

As a parent, we want our little people to have everything they need. Some kids make it easy to know what that is and other kids are a bit more complicated. Two can be a little complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to know what are the things I need to help her with and what are the things I need to accept as part of who she is. There’s no doubt she is different than her siblings in many ways. In some profound ways. She amazes me every day with the things she remembers, the things she notices. She is aware of her surroundings on a bigger level than even I am sometimes. Since she was very little, she could always recognize where we were while driving in the car. She would comment on where dada worked as we drove past or notice sister’s school. She picks out tiny details off in the distance or sounds coming from another room. She picks up on it when people are nervous or uncomfortable. She picks up on it when attention is too direct.

And then in the next moment she is just like any other toddler. She laughs and chases her sisters around the room. She asks me to tickle her. She loves brushing her teeth and reading books before bed. She loves hats and music and “dance parties” and suckers and snuggling mama and apple juice. She is stubborn and hilarious and brilliant and attentive.

And brave.

Playing

And she has the best, most contagious laugh in the whole world. She laughs from deep down in her belly. (So much so that if she laughs for too long she will barf.)

 

She is featured on my arm as a moon, clear and bright. Reflective. Powerful enough to move the oceans, but preferring to do so from a quiet, discreet distance. Perfectly situated between her star and sun sisters. And just like them, the sky wouldn’t be the same without her.

Two is incredible in ways I can’t even comprehend. And I’m not always confident in my ability to do justice to the task of being her mama. But I am in awe of her every day. And that makes me the luckiest.

Three

Photo by Kristen Laing Photography
Kid One snuggling Kid Three

This is a story about kid #3. She’s the littlest of the crew, and not just in age. At fourteen months old she is barely 17 lbs in her heaviest outfit, but since she started at just 5 lbs 8 oz we cut her some slack. Her size makes her a convenient play-thing for her sisters. Kid one likes to cart her around like a toy doll, or pull her up onto the couch to snuggle while she watches tv along with her other snuggle toys.  Three doesn’t seem to mind because it saves her the work of climbing.

In other ways she is the biggest of the three. For example, appetite. While the older two are firmly in the picky eating stage, number three is a bottomless pit when it comes to food. We joke that she has the metabolism of a hummingbird to eat so much and stay so small. It’s probably a pretty accurate comparison because she never. stops. moving. Thus earning her the title of biggest flight risk/safety hazard as well.

Snacking

She is officially walking, and not far off from full blown running. She is also a climber with no concept of gravity. Yesterday she climbed up the two stairs to the landing of the basement steps. I sat back and watched to see how she would handle herself. She promptly turned and walked right off the edge of the steps as if she hadn’t even noticed they were there, despite having just climbed up them moments before. So our next lesson will be developing an awareness of ledges and gravity.

And as with all her lessons, I’m sure it will be an adventure, because she is actively competing for the title of biggest personality of the crew. For those of you that know my children, you will know that this is quite an accomplishment. But three has a real shot at it. She has known exactly what she wants since the day she was born. You might remember a post from 

The princess watching over her kingdom.

several months ago in which a much more tired version of myself shared the challenges we were facing with sleeping and eating and basically all the biggest parts of the baby stage. I am happy to report that there was a light at the end of that tunnel. And now there are new tunnels, like weaning and learning not to throw food off the high chair and other pre-toddler related life lessons.

Back when we were in the thick of it, I wondered if I would miss the baby stage with my last baby.And sometimes when I look back on pictures of her snuggled into my arms as an itty bitty little thing, my heart twists a little in a way that hurts just a bit. But mostly this stage is so fun and beautiful that I’m too busy laughing to bother with missing things.

BUBBLES

And boy can this girl make me laugh. She loves to wear hats, crowns, scarves, necklaces, and pretty much any accessory. It’s not uncommon for me to look up and see her sporting a pair of pajamas from the laundry basket around her shoulders or a toy oven mitt on her hand. She laughs and plays peek-a-boo and does Itsy Bitsy Spider and loves to sneak her sisters’ toys away from them when they aren’t looking. She blows kisses and puts everything she finds in her mouth and loves it when her dada comes home from work. She ADORES dogs of all kinds, but especially our two, and loves to stand in the hallway saying “ooof ooof” (her version of woof) until someone lets a dog in to see her or takes her out to see them. She loves baths and is endlessly fascinated by bubbles. She is super ticklish and her laugh is infectious.

In my new tattoo she is featured as a tiny constellation, my star, my bright little ball of fire who watches over dreams and inspires wishes. She fits right into my sky beside her sisters. She is like them in so many ways, but she is also very much her own little person. She amazes me every day with how quickly she learns and how curious and adventurous and funny and sweet she is. I’m thankful every day that I get to be her mama.

 

 

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