Put a Bib on It

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An Absolute of Motherhood

Motherhood is humbling. And that's okay.My husband comes into the bedroom after tucking Miss E in for the second time tonight, his expression fretful. She’d been crying despite being given one last story, one last song, one last drink of water, one last gentle back scratching. I’d lost my temper and scooped her up from where she threatened to screech Little Sister awake and put her none-too-gently back to bed.

“What did she say to you?”

I can tell by the look on his face she said something, or was especially sad or adorable. It was the My-Heart-is-So-Full-Because-I’m-a-Dad look he was giving me.

“She said, ‘Mommy put me back in bed and it scared me.’”

And my own heart sank. Less than an hour ago I’d been crying in the car over the big girl who’d been the baby who’d made me a mother, and then I’d gone and been cross with her for being understandably wound up after getting to bed too late and in a strange place. We’re staying with family while we’re between houses – ours is sold and we’re looking for a new home – and after more than a week she is still asking to go home to “my house.”

I was up the stairs with only a little consideration for how foolish it might be to wake her after he’d settled her, but she was lying in bed with her eyes open, the blankets pulled up to her nose.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t kind,” I whispered, kissing her forehead, her hair, her cheek. “Mama loves you so much. I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.”

Maybe I’m a softie. Maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe I’m permissive. But the idea of her going to bed with fear of me in her heart was too much.

Brushing her sticky bangs away from her forehead, I kissed her again.

“I love you. Do you love me?”

She didn’t speak but she shook her head yes and burrowed into her blankets, ready, at last, for sleep.

All I ever want her to feel in the quiet dark is my boundless love for her. If that means humbling myself before an irrational two-year-old every now and then, I’ll do it.


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Grandparents are Golden

I have always been close with my whole family, especially my maternal grandmother. I have memory upon memory of the times I spent with her. We attended church every week, followed by lunch and shopping at the local mall. We spent many summer days wandering around the small town she lived in, picking apples from the trees in her back yard, swinging and climbing on the swing set, and jumping and fighting over who got to jump next on her old school single person trampoline!

She also owned a lake house in Michigan where we spent much of the summer swimming, boating, exploring and building family memories. Every year on my birthday she took time to send me a birthday card, and every year it came with a five dollar bill, up until the year she passed when I was in my twenties. I can’t imagine my childhood without her in my life.

Part of who I am is because of my grandmother, and I want my children to look back on their childhood and have the same kinds of fond memories of time spent with their grandparents. I want them to have a special place in their hearts for their grandparents, just as I do.

We recently went on a family trip and happened to be heading close to where my paternal grandfather (the boys’ great grandfather) lives – about three hours from us. We decided to take an extra day so we could spend a day and a night at his house. As the boys got to know and spend time with their great grandpa, I couldn’t help but smile.

And after the boys went to bed for the night, my husband and I got to sit up and hear him share stories about the past, stories that I had never heard. Stories about my grandmother that I never met. Stories about my dad as a child. Stories about my grandpa and his life over the years. Stories that made me sad that I hadn’t had more of a relationship with him when I was younger.

I vowed to myself that next day when we left that our children would have a relationship with each of their grandparents. More than just the holiday or special get-together. I want them to truly experience who their grandparents are and the things that make them special. I want my children to look back someday and be thankful that they were able to get to know their grandparents before it was too late.

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What I Never Expected About Motherhood

Two things I never expected about motherhood? Babies are funny. And gross.My daughter will be a year old this month. Part of me can’t believe that my tiny little girl is already a (tiny) 1-year-old. And there’s another part of me that can’t believe that she isn’t already in kindergarten because I don’t remember what our lives were like before she was part of them.

I’m an over-preparer. A year ago when I was waiting for Elliot to make her big arrival, I read everything I could get my hands on. I didn’t have a baby so I actually had time to do things like read. I made a plan for what I would do if my water broke at work. I researched what contractions felt like so I would recognize them when they started. I prepared myself emotionally for the fact that breastfeeding would probably be hard for awhile.

We had a pretty easy adjustment to parenthood, which I credit partially to my daughter being an easy baby and partially to the fact that I felt emotionally prepared. Yes, I wasn’t sleeping much, but I knew that would be the case. I had prepared myself to be exhausted. Yes, she seemed to nurse constantly, but I knew that would be the case. I had prepared myself to do nothing else for a few weeks.

But of course, there were also surprises. Things that I could never have planned for or things that I just didn’t realize came along with motherhood.

I was totally unprepared for the amount of time my daughter would be… kind of a blob. In my head, babies were a lot like the 11-month-old I have now, not like the newborn that we brought home. I didn’t realize it would be months before she’d even smile at us, let alone laugh. I didn’t realize that she really would be small and helpless and unable to even grab a toy for what felt like an eternity.

I was totally unprepared for the snot. I knew there would be poop. I knew there would be spit-up. I didn’t realize that the disgustingness of baby boogers would far exceed either of those—and that one of her early talents would be blowing snot bubbles out of her nose. Ew.

I was totally unprepared for the amount of time I would spend doing new, baby-related chores. Pumping at work, washing bottles and pump parts, washing her diapers, packing her food for child care, doing her laundry, making sure that her favorite blue bunny gets washed at least once a week because he spends the majority of his life alternating between her mouth and the floor. It’s probably close to an hour a day, more on some days.

I was totally unprepared for how funny she’d become. The simplest things are really, really funny when she does them. Have you ever seen an 11-month old shake her head “no”? Because it’s seriously hilarious. Especially if said 11-month old has hair that looks a lot like Justin Bieber’s.

I was totally unprepared for how I’d want to be with her all the time. The hardest part of being a working mom for me is that I miss her. All the time. I love spending time with her and if I could figure out a way to permanently strap her to my side and never let anyone else hold her, I would probably do it.

I know that the next year of parenting adventures will only bring more surprises, though I’m sure that at some point shaking her head “no” will become a lot less funny.

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Down on the Farm

Why not extend your child's learning from books with real experiences?Bryce has recently become really fascinated with a book we have that is all about farms and the animals that live there. It has become one of those books that we have to read every day, often over and over and over again. He loves to go from page to page, pointing at the animals while we tell him the name, often followed by the appropriate animal sound. When we started getting some nice weather, I knew just what we needed to do: take his learning one step further by visiting an actual farm!

You could see the wonder in his eyes as we approached the animals from his book. Bigger than him, yet looking so much like the tiny pictures. We talked about the animals and he instantly made the connections to their sounds. We talked about all of the things we saw around the farm that we had read about in the book. Although much of his language is still hard to understand, we could definitely tell that he recognized the things he saw. He pointed and smiled and babbled and talked.

Now that we have visited the farm, the book is even more popular. Whenever he gets it out we talk about all of the fun we had at the farm and how we saw so many things from his book. It truly is something delightful to see your child learning – to see that “light bulb” come on. Books are great, but experiencing the real thing is truly magical. Children’s books are especially great for making those real life connections, so I encourage you to get out there and do it!

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I’m a Mother First

I'm a mother first. Even if sometimes it doesn't look like it.“I’m a mother first.”

I heard this recently from a high-powered executive, a woman who has accomplished great things. She wanted to be clear about the fact that above all else, she is a mom. I want that to be how people see me, too. I want my son to know that regardless of whatever else was going on in our lives, he has always been my top priority.

But I’m not sure that’s how he’ll remember things.

The other day when Ev and I were sitting at the kitchen table finishing up a snack, I asked him if he wanted to play in his room with me. His response was startling.

“Yes, but will you please not bring your phone?”

Hashtag parenting fail.

I was stunned and for a moment, at a loss for words. Luckily, I was able to contain my remorseful tears. And after the world started turning again, I said, “Did you say that because you don’t want me to be on it while we are playing together?” To which he of course said, “Yes.”

I feel the need to defend myself a little and say that I am not typically on my phone a lot when we are together. Because I am a working mom, our time together always feels limited and I try hard to make the most of it. That being said, sometimes Ev doesn’t have my undivided attention. Sometimes, Ev gets clingy. He doesn’t want to be in a room without my husband or me and can’t seem to engage in independent play. When that happens for an extended period of time, ever since he was a baby, I can take him to his room, shut the door and let him at it. With me in the room, he’ll play for hours. And up until now, he would do so alone while I was on my phone or iPad. It provided a break for me and he was content.

I do feel guilty that Ev asked me to leave my phone and quite frankly, embarrassed that my preschooler straight called me out. But it was a wake-up call I needed. I realize now that I need to be clearer about whether it’s time for us to play together or time for him to play by himself. And when it’s time for us to play together, he’ll get my undivided attention. I’ll still get my time for me, time for “breaks,” but it won’t coincide with time with Ev. While that me-time is necessary for me to energize and be a good mom, I never want Ev to feel that he isn’t always my first priority.

I’m a mother first.

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All or Nothing Parenting

I'm not an all or nothing parent. And I don't want to be.

They’re both rear-facing. I already feel guilty about having to turn Miss E around eventually, given she’ll probably be seven years old before she weighs 40 pounds.

I recently checked out a book from the library about instituting Montessori practices at home for children from birth to age three. Miss E goes to a Montessori school, and we love it. I thought it might be nice to do some things with the Montessori philosophy for Little Sister, so after a bit of reading online I set up an infant space in our living room and it was actually a lot of fun. I only used materials we already had in our house, and Little Sister loved rolling around next to the mirror straightway. I thought the book would be a way to keep this low-key, child-driven approach going strong.

I was wrong.

The thing about contemporary parenting philosophies or teaching philosophies, at least as I’ve found them, is that everything feels all or nothing. The minute I cracked open this book and read about all of the things I hadn’t done when Little Sister was two and three and four months old, I felt defeated, sure there was no way to correct the irreparable harm I’d unwittingly done to my now-six-month-old baby by letting her mouth plastic toys or take the occasional nap in her car seat. So, why bother?

Friends and I have complained about this in regards to lots of things. It feels like if you can’t buy in completely, you might as well just adopt your child out to a pack of wolves. Because you’ve failed.

If you’re a babywearing mama, you’d better really go for it: soft-structured carriers worn for trips to the zoo or the grocery aren’t cutting it. Invest in a boutique wrap and master a back carry that lets you wear baby all day long. Are you breastfeeding? Nurse on demand, give up coffee and chocolate, never offer a pacifier or a bottle, and resign yourself to co-sleeping. Cloth diapering? Don’t you dare slap a disposable on that baby’s bottom, even during the problematic transition to solids. And if you’re going to buy organic strawberries for your toddler to munch, you’d really better dip into their college fund to buy organic everything.

But here’s the thing. It’s not possible for me to parent this way, no matter what beauteous images of complete parenthood the internet produces. Sometimes Little Sister will have to settle for a squeaky plastic teether rather than a sustainably-harvested and hand-crafted wooden rattle (seriously, she’ll have to settle for this forever, because, no). Sometimes her daddy or  I will stand her up on her legs because of the great big smile she gets when we do, even if she spends the rest of her time on her belly or her back, free to explore. Sometimes Miss E will eat white rice and bread for dinner because I’m too tired to fight with her. Sometimes the television will be on when my children are awake, or I’ll drive them both around in the car for an hour to get them to sleep, or we’ll get to bed too late for stories or bribe with candy or forget to do any of the positive, respectful, empowering things we intended to do with our children.

The reality is that no matter what I choose to do, or how inconsistent my ability to follow through, I believe my girls will benefit from a mother that really thinks about how I can do best by them.

And only sometimes totally screws it up.

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No Such Thing as Too Much Love

When you disagree with friends and family, remember: what matters is how your child is loved.I had a conversation with my sister-in-law recently where I said some things that made me feel like a real jerk.

To be fair, I texted them, but still.

She’d asked for some measurements for something she was having made for Miss E, and I’d obliged until she asked for her head measurement. The first thing I imagined was a tiara, because they’re all too often seen adorning the brows of under-fives, especially, and almost exclusively, if they’re girls. Not only is Miss E not into princesses, I’m eager to protect her interests and her exposure to a culture that can, for some girls, be quite toxic.

While I had no idea what my sister-in-law had in mind, I fired back,

“Sure, if you promise it isn’t for a tiara.”

As soon as I sent it I thought that I probably shouldn’t have. Not only do I feel like it’s a fruitless endeavor to tell other people what they can give to my children, it’s also just not my call. I try to be very vocal about how we are choosing to parent, and while I always hope that our wishes will be taken into consideration when gifts are given or conversations with our daughters are had, I can’t control everything. And I don’t want to.

Still, every once in awhile, when a situation like this one arises, I push back. I can’t help it. Standing between Miss E and an endless stream of marketing attempting to aggressively shape her childhood into something we have to buy is exhausting. Not to mention something that I feel has the power to do real damage.

But it wasn’t for a tiara. And my assumption was hurtful.

We traded several more texts, me trying to explain myself, my sister-in-law feeling rightfully defensive. Ultimately, she said something that reshaped the entire conversation.

“I just have to remember that she is your child and not mine. I should have asked first.”

Miss E has been to the museum with her auntie, the aquarium, has spent the night with her and gobbled pancakes and had dance parties. My sister-in-law has brought out all of her childhood toys for Miss E to enjoy, some of which had been mint in their boxes since the eighties. She is so ardently loved and loves in return.

And that’s really what this is about. Yes, she’s my child. But I am far from the only person who loves her. Before she was born I always said that a child could never be loved enough, that even if I disagreed with how family or close friends spoke about her or chose to interact with her, what mattered about those interactions was that they were grounded in love. It is absolutely my job to protect her, but not from affection.

Even if it might be covered in glitter.


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