Three Things I Learned from My Kids

Being a parent, it isn’t always about what we teach our kids. It’s often about what they teach us. About the world, life, ourselves, happiness. They may be small, our needy germ-covered offspring, but they are wise in that, “I may eat Playdough and lick trashcans, but I know how to be truly happy” kind of way that only dogs and children master.

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1) Wonder. As my 2.5-year-old youngest child and I attempted to complete an errand at a local craft store — frequent tantrums firing and fizzling like bottle rockets on the 4th of July — I experienced the store through his eyes. THE WONDER!

“Look, Mommy!” A wall of model vehicles towered above him. “So many colors!” He exclaimed, walking among the silk flowers. “One more second, Mommy!” He pleaded as he gazed in awe at the miniature fairy house decor. “Mommy, I hold your hand. Come over here!” Basket upon basket of vibrantly hued faux fruit. This wasn’t just an errand for him; this place was a marvel.

He ooo’ed as we walked past the bike store, ahh’ed as we strolled past flower displays in the pharmacy, stopped short in amazement as a suped-up pick-up truck idled outside of Whole Foods. An errand was more than an errand because his world was full of wonder. In turn, the world became more beautiful and vibrant for me too.

Since parenting three children, I find myself seeking out the beauty, the wonder, the “wow” in the ordinary. The heart-shaped leaf on the driveway. The massive construction vehicles as I sit in traffic. The budding trees as I walk down the sidewalk. The colors in the produce section. The world is amazing if we choose to see it. My children have reminded me how.

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2) Play. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I play every day. What a gift! Walking down the sidewalk, I crouch down with my littles and hop over cracks. On the playground, I bounce with them on the seesaw. At home, I do silly voices while reading and chase them in the cul-de-sac. We bring snack time outside. We play “Go Fish”, “Connect Four”, and “Guess Who?” I become a human rocket launching my littlest into the air by way of my lifting legs.

Life is more fun when we play. My kids help remind me to not take myself and my life so seriously. They reintroduced me to the beauty and necessity of play. With play we are more active, vibrant, joyful, and full of life. There’s no better way to be. If you’re not full of life, what are you full of?

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3) Shift. Priorities, attention, schedule, route, perspective, goals, plans, outfit choices… my kids have required and taught me to shift often and in countless ways.

What childless me thought I would do or say as a parent has shifted. My priorities have greatly shifted. What used to be my plan a year ago has shifted. Who I used to be has shifted. How I eat has shifted. My hobbies have shifted. How I see and engage with the world has shifted. My body has shifted. My tolerance for others’ crap has shifted. And that’s OK, no matter what “Jenny from the Block” may proclaim. Shifting is good.

I’m stuck in a long check-out line, I shift my attention and find ways to distract the kids: “Where’s the color blue? Do you see a balloon? How many lights can you find?”

I’m in traffic and I decide to downshift my emotions, releasing my plans and accept that, “what will be will be.” I shift my focus away from the brake lights and my filling bladder to any surrounding fun I can find. “Look at that loader, kids! What do you think is in that box truck? Look how pretty the sky is! Who wants a car dance party?”

I shift to survive. I shift to keep the peace. I shift to feel peace. To be happy.

How Not to Throw a Grenade into Your Spouse’s Day

Ever wonder why your stay-at-home significant other mutters under his/her breath or gets agitated when you delve into work (or hobbies or gaming or ass-sitting) on the weekend or evening? This is free time, right? You work all week. What gives?

You’re right, this is unscheduled time to get accomplished — or simply choose to not do — what didn’t get done during the day or week. You’re right, you do work hard all week so the family can function and live. Yep, this is the case for both of you. This time belongs to both of you.

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If one of you checks out to do work or rest, that firmly places the other parent on duty. So this means, if your work day is extending into the weekend or evening, so is your stay-at-home significant other’s. If you decide to pound out some work without telling him/her first, you’re saddling him/her with kid duty without warning. You’re making an insulting assumption that he/she is willing and available (in all capacities) to drop any and all plans to pick up your slack. But that’s the stay-at-home parent’s job, right?

Let’s make this easier for corporate minds to grasp. It’s the end of the day on Friday. You have been counting down the seconds until end-of-day Friday since 7:00AM Tuesday. Then, just as you log off, an email pings on your phone. Your colleague dipped out — either for a business trip or weekend plans — and dumped a project with a yesterday deadline on your lap. Was there a “please”, “thank you”, or “I owe you one” in the request? Nope, just task list and spreadsheet attached to a blank message. Curse words, right? A steady stream of them pour through your head. That colleague is now officially on your shit list. You have neither the time nor mental energy for this. Guess what? You’re that shit list colleague to your stay-at-home significant other when you wordlessly drop childcare duties on his/her lap.

As the stay-at-home parent, one is officially the default parent. The one immediately assumed to be one duty day and night. The one who must clearly communicate, “I’m not here” or “I need a break” to be temporarily taken out of the line of fire.

This parent is the one perpetually honing the running home to-do list, tending the kids’ schedules (from extracurriculars to school events, playdates to check-ups), preening the family calendar (vacations and extended family get togethers, outings and downtime), and running ongoing inventory for shopping lists, all while noting who’s gone potty or snacked when. Who’s watched too much TV or had a privilege revoked or needs to practice one skill or another. Who’s in a bad mood or who needs cuddles. Who’s in desperate need of one-on-one attention. Who asked for what playdate with whom and where haven’t we played recently. The mental load is an unending, ever-growing burden. It is a significant downside of the stay-at-home parent’s career path. But we all make sacrifices. As a working spouse, though, it’s worth the due diligence to be acutely aware of your partner’s taskload (if not for his/her sake, then your own.)

We all have stuff pop up. And you know what, sometimes we’re all selfish or tired or tapped-out or busy. It happens. We screw up. We take advantage of our significant other sometimes, but don’t be surprised when it bites you in the ass if the bad behavior becomes a pattern. Because it will bite you.

So, don’t want an angry partner or muttered aggressions littering your auditory space? Then don’t throw a grenade into your significant other’s day.

Communicate. Review expectations. Ask if this is a good time. You know, don’t be that shit list colleague. And if you know he/she is toast but you need to just get this one thing done or sit on your ass for a beat, own it and make up for it later. But expect a curse word or two. You can tune that out though, right? I mean, you do have kids after all… the ability to tune out is parental survival.

You can do this. I believe in you.

Beach Yoga Life Lessons: Inspiration and Surrender

I recently attended a free beach yoga class. Beautiful, right? Yes. Who knew I’d walk away with poignant life lessons?

8:00 in the morning on a glorious day, a herd of men, women, and a few pubescents gathered for a free beach yoga class. We were an eclectic group of soccer moms, military servicemen, corporate cubicle-dwellers, retirees, yoga enthusiasts, significant others dragged unwillingly to participate, and school age girls joining Mom for a morning stretch. Our skill levels clearly varied.

As we settled onto our mats, the instructor said, “Do not compare yourself to your neighbor. You may look to one another for inspiration, but never judge yourself or each other. Your bodies, experiences, and circumstances are completely different. Look to others for inspiration only.” Can I get an AMEN? If only that could be written on every school entryway, every social media login screen, every magazine cover!

So often I find myself pointlessly comparing myself to others. I know it’s an inaccurate comparison. I realize it’s fruitless if not self-defeating. It still happens. I see that fit mom confidently strutting her toned physique, that former schoolmate who always has it together and is forever strikingly beautiful, that mom who does it all with boundless patience, the friend with an immaculate home, the neighbor with a pristine yard, the waitress with an impeccable gift for remembering names and faces, the woman with the seemingly ideal work-life balance, the outwardly perfect family … I see all of them — and so many more — and instead of mentally praising their gifts I feel a twinge of envy. “How does she do it?” I wonder. “What am I doing wrong?” Nothing. The answer is nothing.

They are gifted and beautiful with strengths and flaws like everyone. Like me! I know just part of their story. We are on different journeys with different circumstances and experiences. Our lives cannot be compared for competition, just glanced upon for inspiration.

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The instructor lead us through yogic breathing as we laid on our mats. Walking amongst our deep-breathing bodies, she asked if any of us had watched the recent rocket launch, then laughed when she realized she had been the only one willing to awake at 4AM to do so.

“The launch was inspirational for me,” she said. “11 separate times they had attempted to launch this rocket but each time there was something that stood in the way. Still, the team persisted. They knew when to hold back, when the environment and circumstances were not appropriate for a successful launch. They knew when to surrender.” She paused before continuing, “It is much like in yoga, that knowledge of surrender. We need to be in tune with our bodies. We learn just how hard to push and when to relent. It is not a ‘white flag’ surrender, but more of an acceptance that ‘today is not the day.’ Surrender for now. It is not defeat. It’s simply for another day.” That note struck me.

My littlest had just celebrated his second birthday. As he blew out his candles, my life’s babyhood chapter extinguished. Internally, I rejoiced at all I’d accomplished and survived, how I’d changed and grown in the last nearly-6 years. I lamented the end of a beautiful chapter filled with countless treasured memories. I looked forward to all we could do now that our herd was growing older; the trips and experiences we could share with our maturing children. But I couldn’t help but feel lost… uncertain. Wondering what my next chapter would hold.

While pregnant with my littlest, I was laid off from my corporate job. I took that opportunity to complete the initial coursework to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. However, the remaining courses were time-sensitive (they expired after a few years, so I would have to pay to retake them if I couldn’t fulfill all of my certification requirements in a timely manner) and the credits would ideally be completed while conducting significant in-hospital patient hours. With a newborn, 2-year-old, and 4-year-old, I was not at a point in my life at which I could undertake such responsibilities. Even though I knew my choice was right, I felt defeated. Embarrassed.

Still, two years later, I am not at the appropriate life stage to fulfill my goal. Like the rocket launch team, I am aware of my environment and circumstances, and know I must delay to achieve success. I must surrender to the elements. Whether I like it or not. Today is not the day. My goal is for another day. My surrender is not defeat.

And so I walked away from the beach yoga class a bit calmer, a bit more limber, and a bit wiser. Secure in myself and my present surrender. What a gift!

 

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.

Swimming After Undertow

At the beach, my 5-year-old daughter, 3-year-old son, and husband entered the sea for a swim. The ocean was tame, neither harsh nor placid. Still, swimming near the lifeguards, the children wearing flotation vests… the three were cautious.

My littlest and I played in the sand, nursed, and watched passing sign-towing airplanes as the rest of our little family reveled in the sea. Then my daughter came running towards me. Blood dripping from her mouth, tears from her eyes. Shocked, I ran towards her.

“I hit the bottom!” She sobbed. My husband and son lumbered up the beach in a daze. Their hair matted and splattered with sand. “A big wave broke farther out than usual. We all got taken down. We’re ok though.” My husband explained.

I put a towel to my daughter’s lip; nothing but a quick-healing scrape. My son was unharmed. “I’m sorry that happened,” I told her, “we all get undertowed at some point, but do you know what’s most important?” She shook her head, now calmed after her tumble. “The most important thing is that you get back in.” “Noooo!” She protested. I needed a different angle.

“You’re going to kindergarten. When you tell your new friends about how you got bowled over by a wave and hit the bottom of the ocean, what would be a more rockstar ending: ‘I didn’t go back in because I was too scared’ or ‘I went right back in because I’m not afraid’?” She smiled. “I should go back in.” She said. Then her eyes widened and her eyebrows tilted, “What if I get pulled under again?” “You likely won’t,” I reassured her, “but if you do, Daddy will be right there with you. You’ll swim right in front of the lifeguards like you did last time. You’ll be safe.”

A few minutes later, into the sea she went. She exited victorious, smiling, and proud. That’s my girl!

 

Ups and Downs

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#2 on his first rollerblading attempt

Falling. It’s a part of life. Bumps, bruises — to the body and the ego — are life’s way of teaching you, molding you, and keeping you humble.

Getting back up from a fall is painful, trying, and necessary. Learning how take a tumble and pull yourself back up again without becoming disheartened, that’s a valuable life lesson.

On this beautiful April afternoon, #2 tried rollerblading for the first time. “You will fall,” I warned him as I strapped on his safety gear, “it’s ok. What you need to do is learn how to get back up. Soon, with more practice, you’ll fall less and get up faster. Just know you will fall today. You’ll fall but you’ll get back up and be fine.”

He wobbled and rolled and tumbled. He scrambled awkwardly to coerce his bumbling toddler limbs, encased in oversized safety padding, to pull his 30lb frame upright. He’d try and fail, get halfway up and fall back down. I offered my hand for stability only. He — determined — refused. He plopped down on the driveway, deflated.

“You can do this. You’re strong and you’re smart. Think before you move and you’ll be up on your feet in no time.” He looked at me through the visor of his helmet, paused, slowly pulled himself up to squatting, and then to standing. He did it!

“My ride my bike now.”

Learn how to fall and get back up: check.