“Mommy, Can I Wear Girl Clothes?”

My 3.5-year-old son wants to wear “girl” clothes. Why? Because they make him happy, and he doesn’t give a hoot what outsiders say. As a parent, what do you say to that?

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Part of me wants to convince him to dress in accordance with social constructs, purely to protect him. Because, let’s be honest, some people are real assholes and no one wants their kid to be targeted by bubble-busters. Then, there’s the proud liberal mama part of me that wants to cheer him on, wave a big foam middle finger at naysayers, rally vehemently for his happiness, and celebrate his bravery to unabashedly seek his own contentment in a way that in no way harms others. Seriously, now, my preschooler has more self-direction and more internal fortitude than I do at 33!

Here’s the background story on our light-shedding conversation. We were driving back from a morning at my parents’ house and I asked my 3.5-year-old what he wanted to be when he grew up. “A teacher,” he replied. I asked if he’d teach little kids or big kids. He said he’d teach big kids and, “wear a long, long wig and a beautiful dress.” I asked him why he’d wear a wig and dress to teach, to which he simply answered: “Because girl clothes make me happy.”

Seeing as he was, at that moment, wearing the outfit I’d laid out for him — overalls, a long-sleeve shirt, rain boots, and a rain coat — I asked how he felt in his present ensemble. He looked down at his denim overalls, “Not happy,” he said, “I’m not beautiful in boy clothes. Girl clothes are pretty.” Fair point. Dresses, tutus, and gowns are pretty spectacular. Traditionally male attire just doesn’t carry the same pizzazz.

“How about your pink and blue button-up shirts,” I asked, “do you feel handsome in those?” He thought for a moment. “I’m not pretty in those shirts. I want to look pretty.” I asked how being pretty made him feel. “Happy!” He grinned.

My internal dueling parts battled within me as I drove down the highway. If I discourage this desire now maybe I’ll be able to protect him. Or maybe I’ll simply make him feel as if it’s wrong… as if he’s wrong. I can’t risk that. But people are assholes, I lamented. People are also wonderful, supportive, and open-minded, I countered. I took a deep breath.

“You know,” I said, “Mommy loves you no matter what you wear. However, some people only like others to dress a certain way. Those people can sometimes be mean if they see someone dressed in a way that’s different from what they think is right because the difference scares them. What would you do if someone like that was unfriendly to you.” He thought silently. “I’d say, ‘I’m sorry!'” “You apologize? Why?” I asked him in shock. “I’d say, ‘I’m sorry I scare you.’ Then I’d ask them if I can wear the dress because it makes me happy and they’d say, ‘ok. You can wear that.’ And I would. And I’d be so, so happy.” I praised the thoughtfulness of his answer.

“Your boy friends,” I continued, “wear clothes boys usually wear and your girl friends wear clothes girls usually wear. What if one of your friends asks why you’re wearing a dress?” “I’d tell my friend the dress makes me happy.” “What if someone makes fun of you?” I asked. “They should say, ‘I’m sorry.'” He replied. I asked if being teased about wearing a dress would hurt his feelings. He thought. “I’d be happy I’m wearing a dress. I’d be pretty.”

I told him that in first grade, if he attends his sister’s school, that he’d need to wear the boy uniform. I asked if he’d be ok with that. He said he would because he would wear girl clothes at home. “I can wear girl pajamas!” He exclaimed. “Please you get me girl pajamas? Today?!” I laughed with amusement at his problem-solving and excitement. “Let’s look for your sister’s old nightgowns. She has ones she’s outgrown.” “Ok !” He said as he kicked happily in his car seat, grinning wide. “We have to ask Daddy first though. If he’s ok with it, then it’s fine.”

The moment The Hubs walked through the door, our 3.5-year-old hurled the question: “Daddy, please may I wear girl pajamas?” And so tonight our middle son will be donning an Ariel nightgown to bed.

Because it makes him happy.

 

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The “Two Toy” Christmas Plan

If Halloween is the season of crap, Christmas is the tsunami of stuff. Excess is the name of the game during the holiday season but, if you’re anything like us, living with multiple kids and all of their belongings every day feels like a Christmas hangover.

Three kids 5 and under means toys… SO many toys. My kindergartener is securely in the hoarding phase, when acorns and no-longer-sticky stickers hold the same value as Barbies and princess dress-ups. She tries to clean up her room at the end of the day but the volume of stuff overwhelms her limited organization skills. Her yelling, “I can’t clean up! I have nowhere to put all of my things!” Spurred concern about the impending Christmas deluge.

With our bank accounts hemorrhaging and playroom brimming with 5 years and 3 kids worth of toys, I knew we needed a Christmas plan. And so I devised the “two toy” rule.

This year, I have told the kids that they get to choose two toy gifts and they will, otherwise, receive just books and needed clothes. How did they respond? Not a single complaint!

On our way to see Santa, I asked what each would be asking for from the big guy. “Rockstar Barbie pink hair and dress-up,” exclaimed my preschooler. “A music player,” said my kindergartener. Knowing that my husband had ordered both of them children’s Kindles for Christmas — thank you Amazon Daily Deals! — I knew the Kindle would already suit her music player needs. So, I asked what else she would want if Santa asked her for a second gift idea. She hemmed and hawed saying a music player was all she wanted.

I didn’t process it in the moment but she only wanted one thing for Christmas… ONE THING! At 5-years old I was circling nearly 90% of the Toys ‘R’ Us catalog for my Christmas wish list. I’m so proud of her, and I’m so glad we limited the Christmas purchasing.

A little less stress. A little less financial burden. A lot more smiles. The makings of a happier holiday season.

Hating on Homework

What do I fear more than public potty-training mishaps, raucous meltdowns in kid-unfriendly locations, and realizing my nursing cami has been obviously unclasped for an undetermined amount of hours as I went about my errands? Homework.

With a 5-year-old, 3.5-year-old, and a 16-month-old, I am securely within what veteran moms call “the busy years.” I wipe butts and noses. I avoid family meals out in public with nearly the same ferocity with which I dodge porto-potties. I navigate simultaneous meltdowns and dual nap schedules on the regular. I can buckle a car seat, settle a toy squabble, and nurse a baby at the same time. The need level is high in these early years. However, we have yet to enter the homework phase.

As much as I like to look ahead with naive aspirations of tantrum-free days and nights of uninterrupted sleep, I fear homework as a looming monster. I am a stay-at-home mom, I love my children, I adore witnessing them develop and flourish, but I am no teacher. Patience is a virtue in high demand but low in quantity for this mama, especially come dinnertime.

Evenings are treacherous territory now with my kindergartener feeling exhausted after a full day at school, my preschooler being his “professional little brother” self catching up on all of the mischievous sibling annoyance he was unable to accomplish during his sister’s school day, and my toddler demanding nursing sessions any time he sees my face. I cannot imagine adding homework drama to this.

Two ill-fated summers in a row I purchased summer workbooks for my then-preschooler eldest child. The goal was to keep her learned skills fresh. The outcome: mother-daughter battle. Every afternoon we sat down to review the material. At first, things went well. Then, the winds changed and the sky grew black. My daughter would say she couldn’t do things that she clearly could. She’d rebel against any guidance I provided. If I gave her distance to complete the work independently, she’d come find me to start a rumble. I quickly realized homework would be the death of me.

Bless my friends who homeschool. This mama was not made for the task. There are not enough vineyards in the world to make that a feasible option for us.

And so I look ahead with hopefulness and dread, wishing for the best and bracing myself for fallout. Taking a cue from The Little Blue Engine: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

 

 

Mommy Burnout

I’m a stay-at-home mom of 3 kids and I’m burnt out. I am mentally, emotionally, and physically tapped. I have no more left to give, but keep giving I must because my 5-year-old, 3.5-year-old, and 16-month-old need me. My husband needs me. My family needs me. My friends need me.

My 5-year-old needs to chatter about her social escapades, ask random questions (“What do mermaids eat for dinner?”), and safely lose every one of her marbles in evening meltdowns while I listen, answer, and herd her back into wholeness. My 3.5-year-old needs to ramble about Rock Star Barbie and princesses’ hair, ask 15 times in 1 hour if we are going to Meme’s house even though his book bag and lunchbox are clearly set out for school, and request impromptu cuddles, while I act enthralled, calmly respond, and happily embrace. My 16-month-old needs to cause calamity, rough-house, and breastfeed on demand, while I ensure safety, fun, and nourishment. My husband needs me to communicate and interact like a loving, appreciative, present, well-mannered partner. They all need me to cook, clean, wrangle, organize, referee, chauffeur, and schedule. And just generally be a decent, happy human.

I have neither the energy nor the wherewithal to effectively do any of this right now. Nope. Not a bit.

I’m done. Keg’s tapped. Peaces!

So what do I do when I’m burnt out? Honestly, I snap more than I should. I lie awake wracked with mom guilt from all that I expect myself to do but can’t due to lack of time. I mentally berate myself for each of my accurate and perceived shortcomings. I replay every misstep and lament what was left undone. I feel every ounce of my overwhelmed state. I feel guilty for being overwhelmed instead of savoring this fleeting precious life stage that, one day, I will earnestly wish back into present time. Then I self-defeat by piling more tasks and to-dos onto my rambling list of expectations. Because I’m a mom… that’s what we do. Life does not stop simply because we are exhausted. There is no vacation day for us… no breather.

Without true respite, how do I pull myself out of these natural and normal burnout blips? Self-care, fortitude, and friends. Mainly, though, patience. I try to focus on things that fulfill me, fuel me, and make me feel healthy overall. For some that may be painting or jogging, yoga or reading. For me, sneaking exercise into my daily routine helps immensely. I fuel myself by focusing on hydration and nutritious foods, without depriving myself of whimsical treats. I surround myself with fun friends that leave me feeling supported, happy, light, and positive. I afford myself patience knowing this blip is reasonable, understandable, and temporary.

I cut myself slack. I forgive myself for my abbreviated patience. I remind myself this is temporary. I’ll be back in the game soon.

Mommy burnout doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It means you’re human.

 

 

My Amoeba and Me

“You’re an amoeba; you can fit in anywhere.” My husband told me. As it turns out, our 5-year-old is an amoeba too.

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“She does well socially in the classroom” my eldest’s kindergarten teacher said during our parent-teacher conference, “she finds friends easily in here. It takes her a little while on the playground to find which group she’d like to join. I think the playground environment is a lot for her with the big equipment and all of the children running. She has many choices at her disposal.” I nodded deeply in distinct personal recognition of this tendency. “Sometimes she chooses to play alone,” the teacher explained, “but, more often than not, she joins different groups after getting acclamated. As long as she’s not always playing alone, it’s not of concern. She gets along well with others.” I was not worried. I understood.

As a person who is anti-clique and pro-inclusion, I rarely allow myself to settle comfortably into the boundaries of a clique. Our daughter, it seems, is the same way. I knew I needed to talk with her so that she knew this nomadic social tendency was ok. That, though stressful at times, it can be a wonderful trait.

On our way to the playground that afternoon, I brought up the parent-teacher conference. I turned off the car radio and glanced in the rear view mirror at her as I talked. “Your teacher said you behave beautifully in class,” I said, “Daddy and I are proud of you. Good job!” She smiled. “I heard you have an easy time finding friends when you’re in the classroom. That’s nice!” She listed some of her favorite classroom friends. “I heard that sometimes on the playground it can take you a bit to choose which group you’d like to join. Do you know why you hesitate to join a group?” I asked. “Sometimes I don’t know what I want to play, so I don’t know who to play with.” She explained.

“I know it can be hard sometimes not knowing right away what group to join,” I said, “it can make you feel nervous and lonely. But it’s also really good to be like that too. Do you know why?” She shook her head. “Say you’re on the playground and want to play ‘family.’ If you were only friends with one group of people and they were playing ‘My Little Pony’, you’d be stuck either playing by yourself or playing what the group was playing. But, if you’re friends with people from different groups you may find one group is playing ‘tag’, another is playing on the monkey bars, and one may be playing ‘family.’ You’d get to choose which group to join because you weren’t stuck with just one group. Then, the next day, you may feel like playing ‘My Little Pony’, so you’d know exactly which group to find that day. Does that make sense?” She said it did and rehashed the lesson in her own words, telling me which group she enjoyed joining for which games.

“It’s ok to play alone sometimes too,” I said. “Mommy liked to play alone a lot as a kid. It’s good to be able to entertain yourself. As long as you’re not always playing alone.” She agreed. “And we never exclude. Do you understand?” She got it.

My little amoeba. Like mother, like daughter.

Life Lessons at 5-Years Old

“Other kids say I’m not a good artist,” my exhausted and melting 5-year-old lamented after I’d praised the self-portrait she’d drawn at school.

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She had been an emotional disaster since lunchtime, so I knew this upset was going to feel larger to her than usual. She was feeling raw, tired, and completely incapable of handling life.

As much as I was over her pendulum swings, I knew I needed to dig deep past the frustration and nurture. There in the kitchen, I crouched down, opened my arms, and asked if she needed a hug. She tearfully nodded and walked over. I sat cross-legged on the tile floor and she folded herself into my lap.

“I’m sorry the other kids hurt your feelings. I think you’re a great artist.” She smiled and sniffled. “It’s important to know, though, that for all of your life there will be people who are better than you, worse than you, and equally as good as you at all kinds of things. And that’s ok. Just because someone else is a great artist, it doesn’t mean you’re not good too. We all have different gifts. Some people are good at math, some are good at art, some are good at running, some are good at getting their heads stuck in holes.”

“I like running!” She said excitedly. “Good,” I said, “and your brother likes sticking his head in holes. You both have things you like doing.” We both giggled.

“You can be good at lots of things,” I told her, “but you won’t be good at them all, and that’s ok. I still think you’re a good artist though.” We hugged then off she went. Repaired for the moment.

Life lessons at 5-years old. Puberty should be fun.

Vegan Black Bean Chili and Legit Vegan Nachos

Looking for a vegan chili recipe? Searching for a way to make legit vegan nachos? We’re talking a “dairy-eating omnivores will ravage the dish” kind of recipe? I’ve got you.

When I made this flesh-free, dairy-ditching nacho dish, my omnivorous husband, 5-year-old, 3.5-year-old, and 1-year-old all cleared their plates and asked to eat it again the next day. No “eat your food!” fights for a meal almost entirely comprised of veggies? If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is!

VEGAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

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Vegan black bean chili

Ingredients:

– 1/4 vidalia onion (diced)

– 3 cloves garlic (minced)

– 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

– 1 can cream style corn

– 3 tomatoes (diced)

– 2 handful baby portobello mushrooms  (diced)

– 1 green bell pepper  (diced)

– 2 Tbl garlic powder

– 2 Tbl smoked paprika (yes, it must be the smoked variety)

– 2 Tbl chili powder

– 1 Tbl basil

– 1 Tbl thyme

– 1 Tbl cumin

– .5 Tbl Spike Original Magic seasoning

– .5 Tbl Braggs Liquid Aminos 

– 2 Tbl vegan barbecue sauce  (ex: Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce)

– 2 Tbl prepared yellow mustard

– salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

– Drizzle olive oil in a large stock pot and place on stove over medium heat.

– Once the oil is warm, add the onion and garlic to the pot and allow to cook while you dice the mushrooms.

– Add the diced mushrooms and let cook while you chop the pepper and tomato.

– Add the the chopped veggies and all of the remaining ingredients to the pot.

– Bring pot to a gentle boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

– Simmer covered on low for a minimum of 30 minutes but ideally two hours.

– Serve as is or as nachos.

LEGIT VEGAN NACHOS

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Vegan Nachos

Ingredients:

– Vegan black bean chili (recipe above)

– Tortilla chips

– 4 slices of Creamy Original Chao Slices dairy-free cheese 

Directions:

– Grab a walled baking sheet, line it with tin foil, and spray with cooking spray.

– Set the oven to broil.

– Pour the desired amount of tortilla chips on the pan.

– Cover the chips with the chili.

– Break up the Chao Slices into shreds and spread evenly over the top of the chili.

– Place the nachos under the broiler until the Chao is melted and blistered (watch carefully to avoid burning.)

– Carefully remove from oven and serve.

* optional: serve with vegan avocado crema (1 avocado blended with 1 cup Tofutti imitation cream cheese, 1/8 cup dairy-free milk, the juice of 1 lime, salt, and pepper)

Mental Snap Shot

Some moments something inside of you tells you, “remember this!” “Freeze-frame this!” And so you do.

You study every detail of the moment, as if taking a mental picture to file away in your mind. You feel the magnitude of the possibly trivial-seeming or overtly significant moment. You are beyond present in the moment; your are memorizing its every facet.

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Last weekend, on a beautiful fall afternoon, I took my troublesome trio to their preschool playground. My eldest — now a kindergartener — happily played on her alma mater grounds as my preschooler scampered to the familiar swings.

My littlest, at 16-months old, was excited but challenged by the uneven ground and play structures. As he attempted the steep equipment’s stairs, my mind commanded me to store this memory.

I memorized his struggle, his efforts to master the play structures, his bumbling gate and toddler stature. I realized that next year he would not be bumbling about the rocky, toy-strewn area but would, instead, be climbing and playing with ease. In less than one year, this would be his school’s playground. My baby will be a preschooler.

Time goes so fast.

For now, I’ll soak in all I can. Freeze-framing and mentally snap-shotting with abandon. Surviving and savoring one day at a time.

My Preschooler’s Parenting Goals

On the way to preschool drop-off, I chatted with my 3.5-year-old. After discussing who he hoped to play with on the playground that day, we delved into this conversation.

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Him: I’m bigger today.

Me: You are! You’re bigger every day.

Him: I grew when I sleeped.

Me: Yep. When you eat your fruits and vegetables, you’re giving your body fuel to grow. When you sleep, you’re giving your body the energy it needs to grow. What do you think would happen if you didn’t eat healthy foods?

Him: I would get sick. I wouldn’t get bigger.

Me: What if you didn’t sleep?

Him: I would be tired. My body couldn’t get bigger.

Me: Maybe!

Him: When I’m bigger, I’ll be big like Daddy.

Me: Yep.

Him: When I’m big like Daddy I’ll be a daddy, like Daddy.

Me: Oh, yeah? How many kids do you want?

Him: **pauses to think** Five.

Me: Five, huh? All boys, all girls, or some of each?

Him: **pauses to think** I want five girls. All girls.

Me: That’s a lot of girls! Why do you want just girls?

Him: I’ll have five girls and they all have long, pretty hair. I can help them brush it so it not get tangled.

Me: Will you help them do their hair?

Him: Yes. They won’t sleep.

Me: Why?

Him: Because I will love them and will want them to be kids forever. If they sleep, they grow. I want them to be kids because I love them. I love them one hundred. (Translation: he will love them immensely.)

For a quirky kid who is just graduating from speaking like a New Jersey caveman, how does he already understand the parental juxtaposition of wanting to help your child grow and develop but simultaneously wanting to keep your child little? There’s a lot going on in that bobble-head of his. Who knew?

 

Mom Regret

Lately I’ve been stewing. I keep returning to the same pointless, irrational line of thinking: “I wasted 3 years of my life struggling, stressing, and straining to work part-time when all I really wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom.”

I know some people, especially those thoroughly invested in the corporate world, hear my stay-at-home mom career goal and think, “Oh, she’s lazy. She just wants to hang out at home all day.” Let me attempt to stifle my laughter. I’m sorry… I can’t.

Being a stay-at-home parent isn’t glamorous, easy, lucrative, or even widely valued. People assume that there’s endless spare time and immeasurable ass-sitting. They think about their days off and assume that must be the stay-at-home parent’s life. Maybe that’s the case for some mythical stay-at-home parents but I know no such existence.

This week, when the neighbor girl I drive home from school each day asked me how my day went, I said, “It was pretty good. Your standard day of a stay-at-home mom; both shoulders were smeared with someone else’s snot by 9:30am.” And that’s my life. Pick-ups and drop-offs, meal planning and playdate arranging, errand running and snack making, school calendar tending and social calendar pruning. I wipe butts and feed faces. I tame emotional swirls and referee skirmishes. I kiss boo-boos and read books. I balance activity time with learning time, with quality time with quiet time. I’m a chauffeur, hairstylist, counselor, nutritionist, human facial tissue, and 24-hour wet nurse but don’t get paid a dime.

But do you know what? I love it.

Even on my worst days — the ones when my throat is scratchy from yelling, my clothes are a petri dish of bodily fluids, my dark circles have dark circles, my mom guilt is raging — I still love it. “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life,” they say. I work… I work my ass off, but I cherish the opportunity and would never trade it.

Instead, I look back at the years I worked part-time, out of both financial necessity and fear of change, and I lament the stress, the loss of time, the things — imagined and real — that I missed. Still, not only can I not undo the past, I shouldn’t. My life and myself are the way they are now because of all I learned, did, and experienced then.

I grew from those struggles. I met some wonderful people. I developed a greater appreciation for the ability to be a stay-at-home mom instead of standing with a foot in both the stay-at-home and corporate world, not truly belonging to either.

My children got quality time with their grandparents and great-aunt because I worked part-time and relied on them to care for my children. My husband, who also provided childcare while I worked, became adept at caring for our children on his own and developed a profound awareness of the demands of being a stay-at-home parent.

I wouldn’t trade those things. I wouldn’t change them. So why am I lamenting something I wouldn’t undo?

Because I’m a mom. And that’s what we do. Even when we give all that we can, we strive to give more. So much so that we delve into our past — one thing we can never change — to examine how we could have given more… how we failed. What a waste of energy and mental function!

I need to take a cue from Elsa and “Let it go!”