Put a Bib on It

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A Cake Is Just a Cake

Happy-Birthday-EAt a recent doctor’s visit, the pediatrician asked Miss E how old she was going to be at her next birthday, and she explained that she’d just turned three.

“Was Elsa on your cake?”

The doctor’s tone was kind, but Miss E merely gave her a blank stare.

“Or Anna? Who was on your cake this year?”

Miss E looked at me for clarification, and I gently steered the question into more familiar territory.

“What kind of cake did you want for your birthday?”

Given when I’d asked her what she wanted for her birthday the nature of her cake had been her only response, this was an easy one.

“Chocolate cake. With sprinkles.”

The pediatrician smiled and continued with her examination, and I reflected on the brief exchange. Elsa and Anna are not fixtures in my house. This is a tremendous relief, and not just because I found the movie monumentally irritating. There’s not a Disney princess in sight in our house, and not much talk of them, either. While she’s just recently started to recognize Elsa thanks to attending preschool, I feel relatively confident she couldn’t pick Belle or Ariel or Aurora out of a lineup.

Who could she name if not the princesses? Han Solo. Princess Leia. R2-D2. Batgirl. Supergirl. Wonder Woman. The fact that these characters are increasingly beloved to her despite having very little exposure beyond thrifted t-shirts and my old action figures makes me think all the more that we really have some measure of control over what’s being fed into her brain. She loves what my husband and I love, what we choose to share with her, and that can be a lot of fun for us.

So while she wants to be Batgirl for Halloween this year and I think that’s pretty cool, ultimately I really just want her childhood to be about being a child, her play to just be play, her cakes to be cakes. I don’t want to buy all of the stuff and contend with all of the media exposure, because so far not doing those things has been really positive for us and for the way we choose to parent. I often joke that I want to give my girls an 80s childhood, which seems a whole lot less complicated than a 2010s childhood, more about getting messy and real and unplugged. More about just being a kid, and not being a character.

Maybe it’s just Miss E’s temperament and I’m in for a whole new world with Little Sister, but I just don’t know. Either way, I’m not going to be inviting Disney into our lives for awhile yet, if I can help it—and when I do, it will be something I won’t mind watching a thousand times, like Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Ready or Not

baby on the wayThe time is almost here! September 29—the baby is coming. It isn’t my first; I feel like I should be ready. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Yes, I have all the material things I need, but am I ready?!

To the women who love being pregnant—I envy you. I want to love it. I really do. I love the idea of it. I love the magic of it (That we can grow little humans from microscopically small eggs and sperm is amazing). In fact, before I got pregnant again I even missed being pregnant and told my husband I was ready to do it all again. Apparently I had motherhood amnesia (where you temporarily forget all the “bad” things about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and newborns, just long enough to want to have another little one). Well, it’s all clear to me again now.

Pregnancy is rough on my body. It was with my first and this time has been even tougher. I spent over five months sick as dog, vomiting in “ideal” places like parking lots and out car windows, three weeks with a very rare infection in my neck believed to be caused by the relentless vomiting that lead to four emergency room visits and three days in the hospital. And let’s not forget, I have a 2-year-old at home. Add all of this to the growing abdominal region (I am one of those women that everyone asks if it is twins—if you know what I mean), a painfully uncomfortable pulled stomach muscle, working full time, and a bladder the size of a quarter and you have the joys of my pregnancy.

You would think with all of that I would be chomping at the bit to get this baby out of me, but I’m not. I don’t know if I am ready. Actually, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. I have all those insistent questions bubbling in my head all day long: what kind of personality will he have, how will the family dynamic change, will I ever sleep again, will our marital relationship suffer as we deal the stresses of three children (including a newborn), what if there are problems during the delivery, what if there are other unforeseen issues with the babies health, what if the baby cries all day, what if the other children don’t feel the love they deserve, what if I don’t have enough love for ALL of my children and husband… Ahhhh. I could make (read: am making) myself crazy.

I suppose, there is no choice. The day is coming. Within the month he will be here and I will be living the answers to all of my questions. I suppose, all I can say is, ready or not…here he comes!

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Never Underestimate a Baby

never underestimate a babyI have this irrational fear that Little Sister is going to be loved the least.

Not that she won’t be loved, mind, but that she won’t be loved quite as much as her big sister.

It’s pretty challenging to outshine a walking cartoon, which is what Miss E is daily becoming. The conversations she has with herself make grown, stoic folk giggle. She dresses herself, so, no explanation required there. Miss E is just so intensely involved with the world and present in a way that a pensive, crawling girl sometimes gets a little sidelined.

In a recent conversation with my husband, we were talking about how much we love Little Sister, but also how different it is with a second child, another baby. My husband said we have “history” with Miss E, and it’s true. We’ve shared our lives with her in a way we haven’t yet with Little Sister, or are only just beginning to. I can see now that we weren’t complete without her, but it’s also such a strange dynamic, having experienced things in a big way with Miss E, to slow down and remember that life with a baby is a whole lot different.

I never thought it was strange that Miss E couldn’t talk when she was a baby, or feeling like she was perhaps missing out because of all of the things she couldn’t do yet. But sometimes I look at Little Sister, yammering around a mouthful of Cheerios or stubbornly scooting around the house after me and I think, it’s like she’s locked in. There’s stuff she wants to tell me and can’t. There’s things she wants to do and can’t. And because I’ve seen now what babies grow up to be and do, I have complicated feelings for her. Honestly, I feel a little sorry for her, which is just silly.

Because there’s another thing my husband said that truly resonates with me, and grounds me again in appreciating babies for who they are and what they CAN do: she’s experiencing the whole world, every little thing, for the first time. I loved observing that process with Miss E and I relish getting to see it all over again with Little Sister, too.

And she’s just as loved, likely more loved, because having done this before, I know now just how much I’ll miss this age, and all of the joys I have to look forward to.

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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.


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.