Snapshots of SAHM Life

Being a stay-at-home mom is draining and priceless, stressful and fun-filled, chaotic and routine. It’s overwhelming and unglamorous, messy and lonely, but it’s all I ever wanted… to spend my days raising my children and experiencing their days, their fleeting childhoods. To be there.

Still, days as a stay-at-home mom often involve lots of this.

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Caffeination on the go

A bit of this.

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Multi-tasking (with now-cold caffeine)

Too much of this.

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Toy mayhem

And always this.

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The insurmountable and ever-present, Mt. Laundry

Your days may also involve this.

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Grocery shopping and babywearing

Some of this.

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Nursing

And a bit of this.

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Playdate fun

Then, of course, there’s this.

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Mid-errand tantrums

This.

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Bizarre mishaps

A lot of this.

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In-cart public meltdown and sibling brawl

And, what day would be complete without a touch of this?

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Self-dressing drama

After all of that, you get this.

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Quirky cuddles

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Family time

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Simple fun times

Because you’re there for it all, you also get to witness this.

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Proud parenting moments

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Proof of your hard work shining through

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Love between your children

And this.

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Hard-won skills blossoming

And it’s all worth it. All of it.

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Moments It’s All Worth It

Every day contains moments of laughter, frustration, disbelief, relaxation, anxiety, disgust, and happiness. Some days contain more memorably good — or not-so-good — moments than others, but that’s life. Moments like this, though, make it all worth it.

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It’s the quiet, unexpected moments that snatch your breath and make your eyes well. It’s the little things that spur you to press the mental “save” button with frenzied intensity, like an impatient elevator rider battering an elevator call button. As if you think the more you tell yourself, “Remember this! Remember THIS! REMEMBER THIS!” The more likely you will be to ensure the recollection is stored away safely in your mental files. And not have it instantaneously forgotten, like the fellow mom’s name you’ve re-asked too many times already to possibly question again without seeming senile.

Seeing the people you love most love one another is unlike anything else. It’s one of the biggest rewards of having multiple kids.

For that moment all of the tantrums and boundary-pushing, the intentionally soiled clothing and mealtime drama is forgotten. For that breath in time everything is blissful and magical. Parenthood is the most rewarding endeavor ever undertaken. You are the best parent on earth blessed with the most angelic cherubs ever dreamt.

Then someone wipes a booger on you, and you’re back to reality.

Savor those moments. During the rough times, remember they’re there… those glimmering mementos of beauty, those cherubs you see shine through the crusted snot and marker-streaked faces. Those moments of joy, they’ll carry you through. Treasure them. You earned it.

When You Realize You’re Making a Difference

Some days — if not most days — parenting is a pattern of cleaning, dressing, feeding, refereeing, playing, disciplining, and surviving. Often you wonder if your voice fizzles into nothingness as soon as it escapes your mouth. No matter your tone, your volume, or your phrasing, your offspring refuse to acknowledge your utterances. Then, there are the moments when you witness the impact of your efforts. You have undeniable proof that you are making a difference. That your hard work is worth it.

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Yesterday was one of those days for me. After school, I headed to the nail salon with my kindergartener for a surprise mother-daughter pedicure. We were overdue for one-on-one time and my toes needed some TLC. Perfect, right? Until we approached the intersection just before our destination.

Emergency vehicles swarmed in the center of the 4-way stop. Cars were being detoured. There had clearly been a significant vehicle accident. This is when people’s true colors shine through.

Those who understand the gravity of the scenario, let others in front of them in traffic, increase their politeness, and decrease their sense of urgency. Others try to take advantage of the situation and try to creep ahead of fellow travelers or, worse yet, become rude and abrasive toward those around them. Some think “us” while others think “me.”

Two cars back, a driver laid on the horn. “He shouldn’t be honking,” my daughter said, “those people just got in an accident. They could be hurt and he’s being grumpy to other drivers. He needs to be nicer right now.” The girl was spot-on. Shifting priorities, empathy, perspective… all of those talks had gotten through!

We arrived at the nail salon. The parking lot was unexpectedly packed. I’d never seen it so full. We entered the busy salon and my daughter went to pick out a nail polish color as I signed the guest book. “Do you have an appointment?” Asked one of the nail technicians, holding her client’s lotioned foot in her hand. “No, we don’t.” I replied. “Sorry, we’re busy. You come back another day.” I looked at my daughter, expecting to see tears and reddened cheeks. Instead, my 5-year-old calmly stepped away from the nail polishes, walked back to me, and grabbed my hand. She wasn’t upset. She wasn’t resentful. She was completely accepting of the plan change. All of our discussions about the value of being amenable, of accepting that life doesn’t always go as planned stuck!

We exited the nail salon and I knelt on the sidewalk. “I’m so proud of you,” I told my daughter, looking into her blue eyes, “you didn’t complain one bit about not being able to get a pedicure. I’m sorry I didn’t think to make an appointment. Thank you for being so flexible!” My daughter smiled and said, “You didn’t know it’d be busy, Mommy. It’s ok. We can just go do something else together. Maybe we can get doughnuts and I can bring some home for my brothers and Daddy.” I encircled her in a deep hug. She’s learning… it’s getting through!

Some days you end the day as a human petri dish with a sore throat from yelling, a headache from frustration, an aching back from wrangling tantrums, and a full bladder from being unable to stop to pee. Then there are those rare moments when you glimpse the success of your toils. They’re the parental trophies. Proof of our efforts.

You’re making a difference, even on your hardest days.

Wracked with Mom Guilt

The house is quiet. I desperately want to be asleep. Instead… mom guilt.

I yelled too much. I didn’t cuddle enough. They’re growing too fast. I should be more Pintrest-y. I don’t give this child enough one-on-one time. I should do more cool things with the other child. Am I teaching the youngest enough? I should make a sensory box. I should savor bedtime instead of surviving it. Should I let my littlest move forward with ridiculously early potty-training even though I really don’t want to do it right now? I’m letting the memories all slip by. I need to exercise more. Why can I not remember when my middle son first stood on his own? I feel like I failed today.

So much guilt. SO much!

So much pointless self-flagellation. If I’m going to berate myself and sacrifice much-needed sleep to do so, I might as well make it worthwhile. But how?

Tomorrow! Tomorrow is a fresh start. A new day. An opportunity to yell less, hug more, be more present and patient, be more creative and encouraging. I will do better tomorrow. At least I’ll try.

I won’t be perfect. I will slip up. I will do my best.

And that’s all we can do. We must accept our faults, learn from our mistakes, actively do better, and forgive ourselves. For what is the point of suffering guilt if not to move ourselves in a positive, remedying direction?

We are human. We are flawed. We are parents. We have tomorrow.

To Dive or Swim?

“Congratulations,” the pediatrician said to #3 during his 1-year well-check, “you’re a toddler now!” And with that, I am now in a weird state of mourning, confusion, and relief.

#3 just had his first birthday and, being the delayed processor that I am, I am only now emotionally experiencing the life event. I am only now coming to terms with this possibly being my last baby.

No more heavenly calm of a newborn asleep on my shoulder, no more hourly nighttime feedings, no more infant coos, no more labor and delivery recoveries, no more baby cuddles, no more diaper explosions, no more tiny footsie pajamas. There is so much that would rest sadly and happily in the past.

As I process my mixed emotions I begin to wonder if we should have another. In no way does my body yearn to become pregnant again. In no way do I look at an expectant mom or new baby and palpably yearn to be in that life season. For the first time in 7 years, I am not craving a baby. But yet I fear letting go of this life stage.

Will I regret it later if we don’t try one last time? Will I regret it if we do? Would the extra addition prove to be just too much?  We’re already testing all of our limits with 3 under 5. Still, as ridiculous of a reason as it may be, having a baby would keep us in this life stage longer.

My children will keep growing, moving further into their own lives and away from me. They will develop and mature, they will identify as individuals instead of as my children. I know that having one more baby wouldn’t halt that eventuality, but it would prolong my stay in this harried, exhausting, yet wonderful time… the glory days of my maternal career.

Then I think of how much easier things are with #1 and #2, being past the infant neediness and the toddler self-endangerment phases. Potty-training is done, strollers are gone, self-sufficiency is increasing. They can communicate their needs clearly. They understand social expectations (though they don’t always meet them.) They can play in a room independently without risk of grave injury or damage. They squabble and tantrum, but they are increasingly independent. It’d be nice to have the demands of very young childhood behind us for convenience’s sake.

With a 1-year-old, 3-year-old, and nearly-5-year-old, I feel as if my head is just surfacing above a rough swell. It’s beautiful beneath the waves, simultaneously tranquil and perilous, but I can only hold my breath so long before I must rise for air. Once I see the world above the sea and breathe freely, can and should I dip down again knowing my submersion will only be temporary? Knowing that the surface I see now would be entirely different the next time I reemerge? Will the sea be too rough next time? But if I don’t dive soon, I’ll lose my chance for good. Will I mourn my missed opportunity?

I know I have months before I could even begin trying (thank you, breastfeeding for delaying that cyclical annoyance!) and I wouldn’t even want to start for a while (I survived 2 under 2 once… once was enough.) Still, as a planner, I want to know. I don’t feel ready now, but will I later? Will life simply make the choice for us one way or another? Who knows?

In the meantime, I’ll just tread water and enjoy the view.

Letting Yourself Slip Through

Sometimes I get so worn down, so caught up in life drama, in external demands, in internal expectations, in arduous plans, and the infinite mom to-do list that I forget about me. I allow myself to fall through the cracks.

I have a few immovable selfish musts that I maintain every day: doing my make-up each morning (as a form of meditation and “me” time) and my pre-bed shower. They are key to me for feeling human.

Still, there are periods of time when I over-exert myself. I give too much. I over-schedule, over-plan, overachieve. In the end, I wind up under-performing (in my own eyes) and suffering mom guilt. Catch 22, right? Do too little: guilt. Do too much: guilt. Dammit!

Nearly five years into this parenting journey, I can distinguish the warning signs when I begin to enter into dangerous over-extended territory: emotional fatigue, lessened patience, foggy memory, and constant underlying or obvious stress. If I don’t watch myself I’ll begin to feel this hazy sense of loneliness even when I would have no logical reason to feel as such. During such times, I feel pressured to do more despite knowing I am already overdoing. If I didn’t heed the warning signs and factor myself back into the to-do list, eventually, I’d burn out.

I’ve never fully burnt out but I’ve definitely had the gas tank light flashing a few times. And so I must seek respite. Without it, I cannot effectively give of myself. And giving is the entirety of motherhood.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” They say. So I must fill my cup, and take meaningful time for me.

Don’t forget to put yourself on your to-do list. You’re important too.

A Carseat Wish

Some days you buckle and tighten the carseat straps in seconds as your child contentedly smiles up at you. Other days the straps and buckles are more like a Rubik’s Cube than restraining devices, twisting and misaligning with each effort. Certain days your child  contorts and flails making carseat buckling an olympic contact sport; facepainting a hyperactive octopus would be easier. Then there are the days you get stuck trying to get out of your own carseat.

#2 stuck exiting his carseat

#2 stuck exiting his carseat

May your carseat straps stay untwisted, your toddlers amenable to buckling, and your carseat exits unimpeded today, my friends!

 

Scared of Being a Boy Mom

When I found out #2 was a boy I was simultaneously terrified and sad. I wasn’t ungrateful for my child. I was mourning a life vision and fearing a new life long challenge. But people don’t admit these things, so I tried to hide my inner turmoil.

I had always understood girls, I had already birthed and begun parenting one daughter, I came from a predominantly female and matriarchal extended family… boys were unfamiliar territory. I had always envisioned having daughters. I hadn’t really considered having a son. Of course I knew it could happen, I just hadn’t banked on it. My life expectation had shifted, I was sad at my dismantled vision and felt wholly unprepared for my impending undertaking.

I knew my fear and mourning were natural, but I felt immense guilt for experiencing the emotions. I wanted to hide my feelings to protect my son from assumed and projected eventual hurt. I would never want my child to feel lesser, unloved, or unwanted; each of my children is a precious and unique gift. However, my gratitude didn’t dismiss my worry of being unfit or my mourning of a broken dream.

20-weeks pregnant with #2, my anatomy scan neared. My mind circled on the baby being a girl. As if sheer thought could solidify my intention. I knew in my heart that the baby inside was a boy, but I was so fearful of my perceived incompetence as a “boy mom” that I willed and wished otherwise. I would repeat the girl name we’d chosen over and over in my head. I wore pink to the anatomy scan. I said a quick prayer in the waiting room. Though I felt — I knew — this baby was a boy.

Just minutes in, there it was on the screen: #2’s manhood in full spread-eagle glory. There was no doubt, #2 was a boy. My heart raced. I choked up. Not in regret, but in fear.

I seriously doubted my ability to parent a boy, to connect with a boy. I adored the pink and the ruffles, the outfits and the sass of girls. I loved the wide open field of options to girls: be a tomboy, be a girlie-girl, be a science enthusiast, or a theater buff… society allowed for it all. Boys, though, their socially accepted fields of interest were narrowed and dangerous prejudice provided steep fences between sanctioned and unapproved interests. That scared me.

And so, I grew rounder and #2 grew larger. 17.5 weeks later, he made his debut. He looked exactly like my husband: nearly black hair, almond shaped eyes, and pointed features. He was precious. He was calm. He was perfect. He was healthy. I could not possibly love him more.

Days turned into months and #2 grew. He lengthened and pudged, transforming into a fair-skinned, round-featured infant with thick black eyelashes and big, crystal blue eyes. He was cuddly and playful, easy-going and a great sleeper. He was the opposite of my needy, assertive, headstrong, sleep-challenged daughter.

#2 turned 2… the tantrums ensued. They never reached the 30-minute screaming fests #1 waged. He didn’t have the stamina, the focus, the stubbornness. He was open to relenting. He also caused a whole new type of mischievous mayhem than #1 had ever attempted. Gates were obstacle courses, air vents were portals of mystery, toilet paper rolls were activity centers, mud puddles were for sitting, and his genitalia was his own personal fascinating, ever-present amusement. The world was to be deconstructed to be understood, limits were to be repeatedly tested to be accepted.

Months turned into years and #2 became a preschooler. Unlike my fashionista daughter, he didn’t care what clothes he wore; mostly he just preferred to go pantless. Best friends with his big sister, enthralled by princesses and mermaids, fascinated by airplanes and helicopters, #2 didn’t fit a standard mold. I learned each day from him. He saw the world differently from me. He opened my eyes. He made me laugh every single day.

Now, I look at my silly, sweet, professional-little-brother son and think how perfectly it all worked out. I am so glad someone much smarter than me is running the show. I am happily a boy mom, though I still have much to learn.

 

Beach Trips Then and Now

“This will be your last relaxing vacation for at least a decade. Enjoy sitting now!” A mom wrangling three young children on the beach once told me as I sunned my 34-weeks round self on a pre-first-baby vacation. I smiled, thinking that Hubs and I were excited for just that eventuality.

As young beach-going adults, Hubs and I would wake up late, go out to a lazy breakfast, get dressed for the beach, walk to the seaside with a towel over our shoulder and drink in our hand, and find our sandy spot as young families made their naptime exodus.

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Hubs would get restless after a while, but witnessing the antics of children on the beach was enough entertainment to satisfy us both. We loved watching their wobbly trudges through soggy sand, reveled in their youthful fascination with the surf, and speculated about how we’d address hypothetical tantrums. “Beach trips will be so much fun when we have kids,” we’d say imagining sand-dusted baby rolls and seaside castle-building.

After a few hours on the beach, we’d head back to the house, shower, nap, get an afternoon coffee, relax, wander through town, and go out for the evening. Now, a decade and three kids later, our beach trips are much different.

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#3 wakes at 6:15, I lumber downstairs with him to pump while trying not to wake the entire house with his pack-and-play protests, #1 awakes around 7:30am and eats her breakfast while watching a show on the Kindle, #3 plays in the tub while I get ready for the day, then #2 awakes by 8:00am to eat. By 9:15am our cooler is packed and we’re lotioning up for the beach.

Seaside, we unload ourselves from the minivan. With #3 strapped to my chest, #1 and #2 hold my hands as I walk ahead of Hubs who pushes the fully loaded beach cart stacked with beach chairs, a foldable tent, beach toys, the cooler, the diaper bag, and towels. Our herd sets up camp near the ocean and there our morning of wrangling and digging, refereeing and shell-hunting, laughing and eating begins. Sitting happens in 2-3 minute increments. Lounging is a distant memory. Boredom is a forgotten sentiment.

Around midday, #2 and #3 begin to melt. It’s naptime and time to head back. We fold, stack, and pack our beach plot into the cart. We trudge to the minivan, the beach clinging to our sweaty, SPF’ed skin. “Get in you car seats. I’ll check your buckling.” I call to #1 and #2 as they scramble into the van while Hubs loads the trunk and I harness #3 into his car seat.

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As we pull out of our parking space, our former selves walk past us, towel over their shoulder and drink in their hand. By the time they hit the sand, we are home. Exactly where we always wanted to be.