Put a Bib on It

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Two Years of Parenting Paradoxes

It happened. My baby turned 2. We celebrated the special day and I cried. I don’t even know why. Tears of sadness because he is getting older or tears of happiness because he is growing up?! I know—those are both pretty much the same thing— I’m confused too.

Birthdays are bittersweetI actually feel like everything in my life related to being a parent is essentially one paradox after another.

It started in the hospital. Soon after my baby was born, the initial exhaustion of childbirth set in. All I could think about was taking a nap. Thankfully, I have an extremely helpful and supportive husband who encouraged me to do just that. He took care of the baby while I got the rest that my body so badly needed. Even to this day if I have had a long day at work or just need a little nap my husband encourages me to take a break and get the rest I need. Then I wake up and instantly feel guilty for napping and missing quality time I could have spent with my baby. The same goes for date nights, baby-free shopping trips and girls’ nights. I know I need a break from motherhood once in a while but I always feel guilty for missing the time I could have spent with him.

Nearly every evening I look forward to bedtime, practically counting the minutes down until we start the bedtime routine and I get to sit down and rest. Then, every night after I tuck him in and he falls asleep I miss him and have a strong urge to wake him back up.

I spend hours trying to make sure my son is clean and presentable when we go out in public, however I often end up leaving with food stains on my own shirt and my unwashed hair in a bun.

Sometimes all I want is a little bit of peace and quiet. Then I get the silence I have been praying for and instantly fear and concern set in and I go into a panic about why it is so quiet.

Nursing was a year-long commitment for me. As we neared the end of our breastfeeding journey, I felt a sense of excitement and joy. I couldn’t wait to have my body back. Then, after it was over and the milk had all dried up I was sad and longed to have him nurse again.

Every weekend I pray that my baby will sleep past 7:30 a.m. But, every time it happens, I lie wide awake in bed checking the baby monitor constantly and wondering if he is OK!

I looked forward to the day my baby could walk. Then the day came and I envied the days when he couldn’t walk and I could actually still catch him without breaking into a run myself.

I willed my baby for months to say “mama”. We practiced it often and celebrated when he said it. Now 90 percent of what comes out of his mouth is “mama, mama, MAma, MAMA, MAMA!!!” Ugh—why must he say my name like that over and over and over and over?

And seriously, how is it possible that every day I love him with the most love I could possibly love him, but the next day I love him even more?

Isn’t being a mother the most confusing thing you have ever done?!

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Real vs. Ideal

real vs idealChildhood is messy.

It seems like that really ought to be a given, but the lovingly curated play rooms of Pinterest, with their mint chevron accents, and the merry, candid family photographs complete with color-coordinated sibling ensembles insist otherwise. Just Google “nursery” and prepare to experience the parenting fail. You know the sorts of images I mean. While they can be really quite fun to deconstruct, they also dominate the cultural picture of contemporary childhood. With these pristine images in mind, it can be hard to reconcile oneself to the cat hair stuck to the baby’s watermelon dribbled chin, her romper dingy from scooting around on a floor you can’t remember mopping this month.

I try to be realistic about my mothering, but I’m also seriously enamored of the lovely, playful, ever-elusive aesthetic that seems like it should be attainable – admittedly with an unlimited budget and very few children around to muck it up. It’s just pretty. I arrange wooden toys for my girls to knock down. My husband and I built an a-frame tent that regularly collapses from too much rough play. Miss E could find a way to messily consume a bowl of dry cereal, let alone the ears to toes festival that is spaghetti and meatballs. I’m lucky if I brush her long hair in the morning, let alone sweep it artfully up with a bow that matches her dress… and her sister’s, too.

I have to learn not only to give in to the mess, but the kitsch, the chaos, the ugly stuff of childhood. Miss E dresses herself and is every bit the ragamuffin I was as a girl; a thin layer of grime persists on her hands, face, and clothes no matter how frequently I wipe her down. Some days she prefers a BPA-laden plastic trinket from the dollar store to her Waldorf-aspiring doll collection. Little Sister pukes her way through three outfits a day and is still inexplicably damp when we’re about to show ourselves in public. No amount of vacuuming – let alone what I’m willing to do – can keep their bedroom rugs from boasting glitter, lint, and icky tangles of shed hair.

I’m challenging myself to love these images of childhood, too, because they’re not an ideal. They’re real. They bear the indelible marks of play, of zeal, of little lives lived fully.

Besides, I’ll take a (chocolate) mint chevron smeared on a chubby, flushed cheek any day.

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Though he’s young and hadn’t had a lot of interaction with his great-grandpa, my son still needs to process through this loss.

My husband and I went through something recently that we weren’t quite prepared for. (When it comes to parenting, when are you ever truly prepared? That’s a big, fat “never”). Sadly, my husband’s maternal grandpa passed away and we weren’t quite sure how to handle it with Ev. We had a lot to consider when trying to make the best decision for Ev because we wanted to allow him to say his “good-bye”. My mother-in-law’s family is huge and time spent together is highly valued. They planned to have two visitations and funeral service, then the funeral. As soon as plans were made my husband and I started wondering what we should do.

Question number one—would we take Ev to the visitations? All of the family would be there together and it seemed that Ev should be there as part of the family. I also knew that my mother-in-law likes us all to be together, and as part of supporting her during this time of loss, I wondered if I should bring him. Also, if we chose not to bring Ev, who would care for him? Most of the people we trust enough to care for Ev were going to be attending the funeral services and we would never ask them to choose otherwise. All of this weighed against the reasons not to bring Ev. He is at the age where he doesn’t quite know the difference between what’s real and what’s not. He is also a thinker and a worrier. The visitations were “open-casket” and I knew there was no getting around Ev seeing his great-grandpa like that if we were to enter the building. If he were a little younger, he may have run around, up and down that place without ever realizing what was happening. And if he were a little older I may feel more confident about his ability to think through what happened to his great-grandpa and what was happening at the visitation (and my ability to explain it). Not to mention that these services are typically a somber, quiet experience and Ev is anything but. As with all tough decisions I enlisted the advice of other parents. And as with all parenting advice everyone had something different to say that worked for their families.

When it came down to it, I really just had to go with my gut. In the end, Ev did not come with us to the visitations. Thankfully, two of our friends who have kids of their own jumped at the opportunity to help us out. My husband and I were able to give all of our attention and energy to the family and each other—and Ev had a blast with friends he doesn’t get to see that often, since they live out town. We did decide to take him to the funeral service and funeral. When we told Ev what happened, that his great-grandpa had passed away, he did have lots of questions. He was worried it hurt when his great-grandpa died and we told Ev he kind-of fell asleep (And then Ev was worried if he fell asleep he would die). He was also worried about his grandma when we told him that was her dad. He asked if she was sad. I told him that she was but that’s why we’re all together—to help each other. Ev wasn’t very close to his great-grandpa since he didn’t see him that often. We were able to visit recently before he passed away, so Ev was able to recall his great-grandpa when we talked about him. I feel fine about our choice to bring Ev to the funeral. It gave us the opportunity to talk about a new kind of experience that would be hard to talk about if he weren’t experiencing it first hand. There are always tough decisions about what is best for our children and when you follow what you think to be true for your own family, you really can’t go wrong.


Better Together

There's a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it's that I'm reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.

There’s a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it’s that I’m reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.

Working four days a week is an adjustment for everyone, and if Miss E’s request that I “stay, stay” at bedtime and Little Sister’s manic-excitement kicks and hand flaps when I return in the afternoon are any indication, I’m not the only one who’s missing something fierce. It’s tough and likely only to get tougher when Miss E returns to a preschool program in a few weeks and Little Sister is settled into a family child care home.

But the time we do spend together, it’s sweeter and better for our parting.

I’m home in the afternoons with plenty of time to jump around in the sunroom singing “Walking, Walking,” to tickle Little Sister repeatedly from toes to ears, to admire the day’s many drawings of ghosties and Miss E’s attempts to write her name; I’m also home with patience enough for requests to help make dinner and cries to nurse every half an hour.

As much as I love my sleep, there’s a part of me that wishes my girls were (a little bit) earlier risers, so we’d have more time for snuggles and stories in the morning before I have to go. Still, Miss E climbs down the stairs at long last and leaps at me, and I carry Little Sister through as much of my morning routine as I can.

On our most recent day home together, Miss E helped me to hang the diapers to dry and to sort her clean laundry, and we three worked together on the very important task of tower building and wanton destroying. While Little Sister napped, Miss E and I decided what to make for lunch and played a matching game. And then she had some quiet time, too, and while I caught up on work, I wondered over what a fine day it was. Sure, there’d been a hug that got a little too aggressive and the usual tug-of-war over the inconsequential that just comes of living with a nearly-three year old, but I felt less frazzled, less quick to anger, more willing to accept what could be done in the moment and move on. I was just happy to be with them, and that felt good. Really good.

There’s a silver lining to being apart from my children, and it’s that I’m reminded how golden our hours together have the potential to be.

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I Don’t Miss My Baby Being Little.

I don't miss my baby being littleI’ve been trying to corral the seemingly endless amount of photos and videos that we’ve taken of Elliot since she was born. While attempting to organize the chaos the other night, my husband and I ended up watching videos from this time last year when Elliot was only a few months old. She was so tiny and so sweet and I could literally feel what it was like to hold her little baby self.

“I miss when she was that little,” my husband said.

Hold the phone. I said that I thought she was tiny and sweet and I remembered how wonderful it was to hold her. No way, no how do I miss my baby being that little.

I have such fond memories of Elli’s first months and I can honestly say that I’ve loved every stage we’ve been through so far, at least to some extent. But I also feel that I’ve had enough time with her in every stage. Maybe it’s because she’s such a tiny little girl—at 14 months old, she’s officially fitting into her 9-month clothes. Maybe it’s because she’s fallen on the later end of the development scale for some major milestones, like sitting or walking. I feel like I had enough time with her as a little baby. I loved it, but I’m okay that we’re past that now.

Once she turned one, people immediately started asking us if we were ready for another baby. Unlike one of my fellow bloggers, this past year with our daughter has convinced me that we should have six children (my husband wisely disagrees). I love being a mom and I know that I want more babies in our family. But I don’t yet feel the ache to hold a newborn. I don’t miss being pregnant. I’m enjoying the fact that right now, my body exists for no one but myself.

Besides, I don’t have time to miss that little baby when I’m frantically running after a pigtailed toddler who is trying to simultaneously pet the dog and “pet” the TV. I’m too busy marveling in how amazing it was to realize that she now understands what it means when you ask her to “give that to Daddy.” I don’t miss newborn cuddles, because honestly, the hugs that my toddler gives me pull at my heart way more, and don’t even get me started on open mouthed kisses. I melt.

I’m sure that as my baby gets older, I’ll be ready to add some little back into our lives, but in the meantime, I’m loving every minute of this stage.

And now, I have to go hold the sweet girl who is sitting at my feet saying, “Mama!”


I Didn’t Choose Work

I’ve read a lot of great blogs out there about working moms—including some right here—and as I am reflecting on one last week of being (mostly) at home with my girls, I’m thinking a lot about the empowering, positive messages shared by mothers who work outside of the home. How they’re better mothers because they work. How they’re setting an example for their young sons and daughters about all of the things a mother can do. How they’re using their whole brains, and not just the part that repeats something about washing your hands after you potty. How grateful they are to have the privilege to choose to work, as many mothers in previous generations did not.

But for me, this is what it really comes down to: if you can afford to choose, you choose.

If you can’t afford to choose, you don’t have a choice.

It’s about money. Paying the bills, buying the things, saving for retirement.

And how am I supposed to feel about myself, about my parenting, if that’s what it’s really about?

Admitting that I don’t want to go back to work feels like a most unpopular opinion. I should want to use my degrees. I should want to contribute in a more significant way financially to my family. I should want to have the money to buy Jamberry without feeling guilty. Flippant comments aside, I should want, as a feminist, to do more than mother. Wanting to stay at home feels indulgent, even though I know it’s incredibly hard work. Wanting to stay at home feels like I’m saying wanting something else isn’t okay, which is not at all how I feel. A friend of mine often sincerely quotes Amy Poehler when she says of others’ choices, “Good for her, not for me.”

And that’s the truth.

I’ll be working for a non-profit, doing good. I’ll be writing and editing and many of the things that I love to do. I’ll have a flexible schedule that allows me more time with my children than many working parents get during the week. These were choices I made about the kind of job I was willing to take, but the real choice, the big choice, about returning to the workforce in a more significant way—that one was made for me.

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Life Is a Whirlwind of Change

A toddler transitioning to a bunk bed is a big change!Things are changing quickly at my house. My 11-year-old is preparing to begin middle school at a new building with new classmates, my husband has started a new job as owner and operator of our own family business, Bryce is transitioning to a big boy bed in a brand new bedroom, and I am 26 weeks pregnant with our third child! Life is a whirlwind of change.

Everyone is finding their own way to deal with the changes happening so quickly around our house. And even though everyone’s coping technique is as unique as them, we are dealing with all the changes together.

Although Ethan said he thinks he might get lost in his new, bigger school, he’s most concerned about figuring out how to open his locker. (It’s funny, because I remember that being a huge fear of mine when I first had a combination locker!) We purchased him a combination lock to practice so that when he begins school he can feel confident in his ability to open his locker when he needs it open!

Owning and operating a business has been a huge change for all of us to learn to cope with. Geoff is working longer hours, Ethan is spending the summer learning the ropes of the new business and helping out wherever her can, I am learning to deal with having very little control over something that is affecting us hugely—financially, mentally, and time wise—and Bryce is figuring out how to adapt to spending extra time at the new building during the occasional Saturday there: playing, eating, and even napping in a whole new environment.

Transitioning to the new bed and bedroom has honestly been one of the more trying changes for everyone. We began by just transitioning Bryce to a toddler bed (his same crib and crib sheet— just with one side of the crib off). We all worked together to change the bed and talked about how he was going to sleep in his big boy bed. He excitedly laid down that first night and fell straight to sleep (just like he had been doing in his crib for months). I was excited and thought that all of my research and preparation for the change really paid off. Boy, was I wrong. The next month yielded a nightly combination of tears, screams, and cries. We often consoled him and reminded him it was time for bed. Between the cries and the consoling, he would spend time dumping out tubs of toys, or emptying dresser drawers. The night usually ended with Bryce falling asleep on his floor by the gate we had to put in his doorway to stop him from visiting us in the living room, repeatedly. We maintained his nighttime routine and continued to support him through the monumental change that he was going through. The dedication paid off and he adjusted to the toddler bed and his new found independence in about a month. Only then, we threw on another twist. We moved him to share a bedroom with his big brother. This change went much smoother. It included a new bed, new sheets, and a whole new room. I think understanding he had support from his parents and brother helped this big change to be smoother. Plus, he really likes his new sports sheets!

Expecting a new child is obviously a monumental change that will rock the whole household. We have been working on preparing for the change by talking often of the baby and letting Bryce meet and interact with other babies. We have been reading books to him and encouraging him play with baby dolls. As my belly grows and the house shifts and rearranges for the arrival of the new addition to our family, I know his little mind is having trouble fully understanding what is happening. I can only hope and pray that Bryce feels as comfortable and confident as Ethan does this time around with the arrival of another little one. (Last time Ethan found out we were expecting, he cried and was upset about the news—I think a part of him felt like we wouldn’t have time for him anymore). I hope that Bryce will see that mom and dad have enough love for all their children. I hope Ethan will support him in coming to that realization, just like he had to.

Change is constant. Some change is easy, some change more difficult. All changes, big or small, affect us in some way and everyone adjusts to change differently. Learning to support each other— yes, even the smallest of children are affected by change—individually is key. Try to understand where the concern or fear is coming from. Offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on when it is needed. Celebrate when the change is worth celebrating. Most of all, as change happens, embrace it as a family. It makes it a little easier when you know you have others supporting you, through good or bad, 110 percent!


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