What I do When Life Goes Sideways

As I tell my kids — especially my middle son who has a phenomenal gift for getting himself and things stuck in bizarre places — “If the way you’re doing something isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” Life is always going to throw curveballs — especially when there are kids involved — so what’s my hack?

1) Choose a different path.

2) Laugh.

It may seem simple but if you’re unaccustomed to the practice, it will take time and repetition to ingrain it as second nature. Let me use my own nutty life for example.

Yesterday was a sideways day, but instead of bemoaning it, I stayed flexible and laughed. When plan after plan for family activities went awry, when my endometriosis pain flared, I looked for a different path. Then I found a way to laugh.

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(In case you’re wondering, lunch was homemade broccoli slaw Beyond Meat vegan and gluten-free “sausage”, and grilled corn)

Today we rented a family paddle boat and ate a picnic lunch on the lake. All was going well until we were surrounded by a flock of fearsome feathered foe. You guessed it: Canada Geese. Ferocious beasts.

One brazenly stole a corn cob right from my 5-year-old’s hand! My 5-year-old sat slack jawed in shock. My 6-year-old screeched and crawled up the seat. My 3-year-old, husband, and I laughed. Needless to say what was “supposed to be” a peaceful paddle boat picnic turned into my husband and I laughing and feverishly pedaling the unresponsive Titanic of a dingy away from hungry geese while our 6-year-old hid her lunch and shrieked. The outing was a pure fail in its efforts to relax but it was an epic win for making a hilarious (well, for all except our 6-year-old) memory.

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The day continued on — geese left behind at the lake to harass other paddlers — when endometriosis pain flared again (this was day 2 of discomfort.) I knew I needed to take a beat. (Though I can only do this temporarily or else I feel worse. I am better when I am up and distracted. It’s like a mental game: if I act or look ill, I feel ill but if I act or look well, I feel (comparatively) well.) So I was a human car racing track for my toddler for a bit and then back to life: TO THE POOL!

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We arrived at the pool — suited, lotioned, and snacks ready — only to find it was closed due to thunder. So we devised another plan: SLIP-AND-SLIDE!

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I felt my endometriosis pain starting to rile my frustrations, so I knew I needed to change course. I dove in. Yep, 35-year-old me fully clothed sliding down a lubricated tarp in our yard. Classy? No. Medicinal? You bet! And that worked well until thunder rolled again and again making it clear indoors was the place to be. New plan: INDOOR PLAYGROUND!

We swiftly peeled off our wet swimsuits in favor of dry clothes then into the car we went. 20 minutes later, we arrived. The indoor play place was closed. I looked up the next indoor play option: also closed. Ugh! Right? No. Plan D: HAIRCUTS!

My middle son’s hair had transitioned from chic to shaggy and my littlest’s natural rat-tail was looking rather twangy. So, a trim was due. We drove just down the road to the hair salon: booked solid. I spotted another option across the shopping center. We scampered over. The hairdresser stopped me before I could even sign in warning me of the long wait. Well, Plan E it was. SMOOTHIES!

Our herd of five exited the air-conditioned store and were engulfed in the hot swampy breath of Mid-Atlantic summer. Then we notice it was raining. Seemed fitting. We laughed at the continuity of our misadventures. On we walked.

We arrived a tad soggy at the smoothie place, my curly hair now double its usual girth, but the store was open, there was no line, and it was serving beverages. Win!

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The Hubs doing a little smoothie stealing trickery

There we sat, kids slurping pureed fruit while perched on bar-height stools. And we laughed. It wasn’t the afternoon we had planned, but it was the one we had. And that’s all that mattered. That and the laughter.

If life doesn’t go your way find a new path and laugh. It’ll be worth it.

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3 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Baby Stage

For 6 years I had a toddler or infant in the house. Now, nearing my 7th year as a parent — with a newly minted 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a nearly-7-year-old — I can reflect with greater clarity on that precious, wholly exhausting, messy, beautiful time. In doing so I’ve discovered 3 important things every parent should know about the baby stage.

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1. EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY. If you haven’t yet learned that every single stage, phase, good time, rough patch, annoying habit, and terrifying challenge is temporary, you’re most certainly new to the parenting game. As soon as you gloat about your child’s brilliance at creating 3-word sentences well ahead of developmental norms, they’re licking the storefront window. As soon as you feel like your child will never poop in the potty, the digestive dilemma is no more. As soon as you wonder when you’ll ever get your body back, your child weans. As soon as you really begin enjoying the morning cuddle routine, it’s over and replaced with another habit. As soon as you begin to think you will never again not be a heap of saggy, leaking, oddly pillow-like human randomly crying into your 3-day-old breastmilk stained pajamas in a mixture of fear, deep sadness, exhaustion, and raging postpartum hormones, you exit the hole. As soon as you think, “Will these needy, week-long days ever end?” They’re over. All of it comes to an end; positive and challenging. And you may loathe reading this if you’re presently in the parenting trenches with no light peeking above your laundry piles of spit-up and diaper-blowout stained onesies, but it’s true: it goes fast — faster than you can ever imagine — these are the good, hard (incredibly hard), long, worthwhile days.

2. IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. Think of most any developmental leap, milestone, or change and you can pretty much guarantee that things took a nose dive before the ride got smoother. Potty-training: a regression is bound to happen before you’re in dry pants territory. Sleeping: you’re going to hit (multiple) regressions and blips before you get some semblance of solid sleep. Walking: they go from speedy independent all-fours (or some variant) mobility to a rickety, slow gait before a sturdy walk is established. The first high fever bug: that thermometer reading has to keep going up and up (along with your blood pressure) until it eventually inches down. And afterwards, all of that stress and worry and strain remains as nothing but a memory. So know that if you’re at a parenting point when you end each day exhausted in all ways, doubting yourself and your abilities, feeling frustrated and stressed beyond what you ever knew possible, and wondering:”Will this ever end?” Know it will. And trust that this is just the precursor to improvement.

3. IT’S SURVIVABLE AND SAVORABLE You will have days when you lower your personal performance bar to such a degree that you refuse to be witnessed by any outsiders… your goal is survival. That’s ok. Those days (or a week) are normal. Nope, you’re not a failure. Nope, you’re not doing anything or everything wrong. Yep, it happens to everyone — EVERYONE — just people don’t admit it. But amidst it all, you can find a way to savor it. Savor your child’s smile in between tantrums or the sweetness of your child’s finally sleeping face or your own strength for being there despite everything going sideways. You may read this in the thick of things and think I’m full of it, but just try it: savor it. I’m not saying relish the crappy moments. No, those can stay sucky. I’m saying ignore the big picture of awful and appreciate the snapshots of good. In those tiny hidden moments you’ll find something to savor. There’s always something, no matter how small. Just look for it. Squint if you need to.

In no time at all you’ll be looking back on where you’ve been and think, “Wow, that was a shitshow, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” This is your life, your child’s life; don’t wish it away for what it isn’t. Don’t ignore all the pitfalls and spin it into what it never was. Dig in and appreciate it for what it is.

Survive it. Savor it. One day at a time.

10 Pros and Cons of Having Close-in-Age Kids

I had 3 kids in under 4 years. My three kids were so close in age that I didn’t have a single menstrual cycle for 5 years (win!!) Of course, I also didn’t have a full REM sleep cycle for about that long. As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to having closely spaced pregnancies.

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1) Pro: Shared interests. Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol, Disney pricesses, kid concerts, indoor playgrounds… when your herd is close-in-age they share the same interests. Not only does this often make their bond stronger (at least in the young years), but this makes everything from playdates to day trips, birthday gifts to vacation planning a bit easier.

Con: Everyone’s a Spitfire. When your whole crew is in tantrum territory life is a minefield. Meals out are a gamble. Religious services are treacherous. Art museums are off limits. Grocery shopping is a three-ring circus. Travel is stressful. Needless to say, you quickly learn the law of 2/3: only 2/3 of your family will be happy at any given time. The extra fun part: the pleased vs. displeased campers can (and will) change without notice.

2) Pro: No Sleep. Once you get past the first indescribably torturous month of sheer sleepless exhaustion of your first baby, things get easier. You learn how to cope with less sleep than you ever imagined possible. (Seriously, you will laugh at how you could’ve ever claimed to feel “exhausted” pre-kids.) Once you get REM sleep it’s harder to live without it. This means it’s far easier to just be tired and stay tired than to taste the addictive drug of REM sleep only to have it ripped away from you. The sleeplessness of subsequent newborns isn’t nearly as painful as it was the first time around when you’re already running on empty.

Con: No Sleep. That’s right, it’s both a pro and a con! When all of your littles are little, so is your sleep accrual. Rising feeling well-rested is a thing of the past and (seemingly unforeseeable) distant future. You may go to bed early to make up for some of the lost Zs, but you have no control over your sleep pattern.

Pro: Diapers Days. When you’re already used to buying and changing diapers, adding another bundle’s bum to the mix isn’t a big deal. Same goes for scheduling around nap routines, carrying a hefty diaper bag, being accustomed to a easy-care-only wardrobe, having a baby-/toddler-proofed home, expecting tantrums, potty-training, and owning kid-safe dinnerware.  You’re already in that phase, so might as well keep it rolling.

Con: Diaper Debt. Diapers add up… and so do wipes. It gets pricey shielding the world (and your home) from multiple incontinent kiddos. Having multiple kids in the same helpless life stage can be challenging — buckling and unbuckling multiple car seats at every destination, putting on multiple tiny socks and shoes, putting on and taking off multiple coats, wiping multiple noses (and butts) all day every day, bringing EVERYONE into the public bathroom with you, bathing multiple kids, keeping multiple mini-humans safe in public — is exhausting and expensive. If you’re formula-feeding on top of all of this… OUCH! And if you’re shelling out for daycare… my deepest condolences to your wallet.

3) Pro: Gear Reuse. When you have your litter close together, the gear is easily reusable. And, if you do what we did and have your babies in just the right timeframe, you can even reuse the carseat and base for all of them before it expires. Win!

Con: Primary Color Pile-up. When all of your kids are young, the amount of toys and gear and primary colors overwhelms your home. Every corner houses kid items. Your bathroom is a bath toy menagerie. Your family room looks like a daycare center. To the minimalist, it’s unsettling at best, anxiety-inducing at worst. It’s a temporary phase but it’s a long one.

4) Pro: Nipples of Steel. Breastfeeding calluses the nipples. If you have your kids close in age, you can maintain that teat toughness much to your benefit. The more you pump and the longer you nurse, the easier it is adjusting to a subsequent newborn latch. Every nursing relationship is different and no matter how many kids you latch on, breastfeeding each baby has a learning curve. However, the soreness that you experienced with your first nursling is unlikely to happen if there’s little to no break between your weaned and breastfed babes.

Con: Milk Machine Malaise. After a while, you just want your body back. You want to be able to put on a shirt without considering boob accessibility.  You want to go out without considering nursing/pumping requirements or calculating engorgment. You want to sleep on your belly. You want to be able to take OTC medicine without worrying if it’s breastfeeding-compatible. Basically, as beautiful and beneficial and bonding as breastfeeding is, it gets old after a while (especially if you’ve been nursing a toddler.)

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5) Pro: Mom Identity. When you are in the trenches of motherhood, the role consumes you in the most rewarding, exhausting, fulfilling way. When you have raised baby after baby — one after the other — into toddlerhood and early childhood, you are unwaveringly secure in your maternal identity. Nothing else in your life — no other role, responsibility, title, or achievement — can come close to the one that demands every shred of you every waking and sleeping second of every day. When you have multiple wholly dependant offspring, your personal identity is: “Mom.”

Con: Lost in Mommyland. When you’ve been in the mommy trenches for years in a row, you forget who you were — who you are — beyond that role. Time simultaneously stands still and rushes by when you have baby after baby. You must focus moment-to-moment to survive but, once the babies all grow older and your focus can grow broader, you can feel lost.

6) Pro: Love Abounds. When you have multiple close-in-age kids, they often adore one another and you while they are young. Hugs, cuddles, kisses… every day is filled with genuine affection. Your arms, mind, washing machine, and life are full, but so is your heart.

Con: Marriage Bombardment. You and your children may share embraces and pledges of love daily, but you and your spouse will be permanently adrift if you don’t take heed. Each child demands attention. Each child deserves affection. Each child owns a piece of your heart. But your spouse does too. However, your significant other is further down the list than he/she used to be. Every additional child increases that distance between you in every conceivable way. Whereas it once was just the two of you bound to one another in love and fealty, now you’re bookends spaced further apart by each child you have together. If you are not careful to maintain your bond and make time, love, and space for each other, you won’t last. Children are a beautiful gift that can snuff out even the brightest marital flame, if you allow it.

7) Pro: Friend Finding. Mom friends for you, buddies for your babes… the (wholly necessary) search is an easier undertaking when your kids are closely spaced. It’s hard for moms with kids who are in vastly different age brackets to relate or spend time together. A 9-year-old doesn’t want to hang with a 6-month-old, so playdates are out. And no matter how exciting Baby’s first bite of solid food may be to the mom in the trenches, a middle school mom is going to have a hard time mustering passable enthusiasm when she’s eyeing tween social media melodrama and looming PSATs.

Con: Babies Steal Time. It wasn’t until I had my third child and had a brief moment of clarity that I realized babies don’t slow down or preserve time, they steal it. Your first baby seems to develop so slowly in comparison to your second and practically backwards in comparison to your third. Each subsequent child develops faster than the last but, what’s terrifying and sad: you lose 1-2 years of each pre-existing child’s childhood with each new baby. In other words, I “lost” 2-4 years of my first child’s toddlerhood and early childhood because of babies #2 and #3, and I lost 1-2 years of my middle child’s toddlerhood due to baby #3. Why? Because while you’re focusing on your newborn — as nature demands in order for the infant to survive — you lose sight of your older child(ren.) They seem automatically older and more capable to you in comparison to the newborn. As such, they require less of your mental attention. Not until the baby gains a bit of mobility are you able to return your focus to your other children. One day, you see your youngest at the same adorable age your older children once were and realize, with aching sadness, that you missed that stage… that those memories are faded in a hazy fog of newborn sleeplessness and rollercoaster hormones. That it was stolen time. Witnessing your youngest is your only window to what you missed.

8) Pro: On-trend Bump. If you have your kids close together, your maternity, postpartum, and nursing wardrobes won’t have a chance to go out of style. Sweet!

Con: Fashion Fatigue. By the time you pull that once-loved maternity top from the storage bin for the third time, it turns your stomach (not fun when you’re already fighting morning sickness.)

9) Pro: Pick-up Sync-up. When your kids are close-in-age, at some point their school schedules will sync beautifully. They’ll, for some time, attend the same school and have one another as a familiar in-school support too. Same pick-up and drop-off times = win!

Con: Sick Time Sinkhole. When your littles are all little at the same time, so are their immune systems. That means your paid-time-off pool is going to take a hit. Sharing is caring, and kids really like to share their germs (with one another and you.) If you and/or your significant other don’t have a rough plan for navigating repeated unexpected days off and midday pediatrician visits, get on it. Kids get sick and it’s generally at 2AM the night before a big meeting. It’s all about timing!

10) Pro: Rip off the Band-Aid. When you have your lot in a brief timeframe, you limit the pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, naptimes, and tantrums stage to a single block of time. You don’t exit the life season just to re-enter it again with one foot in two worlds; you are simply in it (really in those trenches) until you’re not.

Con: When It’s over, It’s Over. One day you’ll realize you’re exiting the deep infant-toddler trench. You’ll recognize the lessening stress and the availability of both of your arms. You can breathe! You’ll also realize that it’s almost over and there’s no going back. No more parent-and-me classes. No more middle-of-the-night cuddles. No more blissful sleeping baby on your shoulder. No more library story times. No more preschool parties. The door has closed, another has opened. What is ahead is beautiful but so was what is behind.

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This list of pros and cons could go on infinitely. But what really matters is what feels right to you, handling what life has handed you, and finding genuine happiness in your own life. Because, after all, we can really control very little in life, but seeking to find joy in whatever our circumstances is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

Real Life: Wednesday Absurdity

We had 3 kids in 4 years. Now, with our offspring aged 2, 4.5, and 6 years, life is — well — humorously absurd. They say you either laugh or you cry. We laugh. A lot.

These tree scenarios aptly described our run-of-the-mill Wednesday evening.

**My 2-year-old tantruming beside me at the dinner table seething that he simultaneously does and does not want eat his dinner… because 2-years old.**
Me: Remember when a kid fussing and crying used to stress us out?
The Hubs: **laughing** Yeah. Now it’s just the background noise of our daily life.
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**The 2-year-old squat-runs pantsless into the dining room holding his bum**
Me: NO POOPING IN THE DINING ROOM!
2-year-old: Bwahhhhhh!!! I wanna poop in dining room!
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4-year-old: What’s N + N + a banana?
Me: **staring blankly wondering how my life got so absurd**
4-year-old: 5

Sooo… yeah. That’s Wednesday in our house.

How to be a Happy Parent: Enjoying the Sh*tshow

My toddler lost his shit on an evening walk. A block from home, he began shrieking but my other two were happily biking along. I raced down the sidewalk — plastic tricycle under my arm as I scurried to launch my novice two-wheel biking daughter from a stop and tried to avoid getting run over by my middle son’s speeding training wheels — while my melting 2-year-old followed 10 feet behind me, still wearing his lime green toddler bike helmet, wailing and moaning at max volume. We were a scene.

I had three choices on that gorgeous evening: 1) get flustered and embarrassed and race everyone home in an anxious whirlwind, 2) get angry and yell a tirade while herding my brood home, 3) laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation and actually find a way to enjoy the calamity. Fortunately for me, I didn’t even realize my other two options. I defaulted to #3. I just laughed. I laughed hard. Because, why not?

A neighbor, fastidiously tending to her garden as I only wish I could, laughed at the sight. Some may have bristled if not barked at the gaffe. Instead, I laughed along with her because we looked entirely ridiculous. I mean, c’mon, what newlywed couple thinks ahead to eventual parenthood and sees that version of the family stroll in their future? None! And that’s why we procreate. Because we’re morons… naive, pompous optimistic morons.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is a little perspective and a diminished give-a-shit to survive our childrens’ childhood with any semblance of sanity or grace. We just need to choose amusement over anxiety.

Sure, I get mad and frustrated and yell… daily. You bet I lose my cool when everyone is asking for something at the same time but no one’s listening and I just. Need. To. Pee! You know I sure as heck have nights I careen into the sofa after a long day, feeling a mixture of mom guilt, emotional exhaustion, and a life-sustaining thirst for a glass of wine.

However, for the most part of most days, I try to laugh. I try to find the humor in the madness, the chaos, the misbehavior, the messes, the drama. I laugh because it is simply absurd what these children dish out. I mean, in what world would one expect to find a sock on a picture frame (unless at a frat house)?

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How is it normal to find a kid pantless in the playroom practicing W.W.E.-style rope dives from the sofa arm while another practices drag performances into a “Bubble Guppies” microphone? When did, “Don’t bite your brother’s bum”, “We don’t wipe our penises on the toilet”, and “No heads in the trashcan” become part of my daily vernacular? What have I done with my life?

Something awesome, that’s what.

I took an existence I once considered stressful and exhausting then added so much stimulus, so many demands, and so much ego-obliterating activity to it that it spun everything I thought I knew about the world and myself upside down. I realized I could choose to be angry, amused, frustrated, appreciative, flustered, calm, or joyful. I could choose the feel judged or I could choose to shamelessly own my mess and invite others to revel in the hilarity right along with me. I may not be in control of the chaos, but I am in control of how I respond to it… how I perceive it.

By shifting my perspective from, control-freak to laughter-prone, it changes everything. It changes the situational trajectory, the bystanders’ responses, and my emotional state. Being quick to laugh is a gift we not only give others but ourselves.

Why get defensive and angry at witnesses when we can let it go and just allow the audacity to amuse us? Soak it in as you would watching the scenario on a sit-com. Emotionally detach. Take a breath. Enjoy it. It’s always more fun to laugh with others anyway.

These are the hardest days, friends, but they are the best days. It’s up to us to find a way to enjoy them.

The Gift of Low Expectations: How to Survive Any Errand with Kids

This was me 10 minutes before we headed off to the grocery store. Yep, hiding from my bickering, tantruming, antsy, nap-skipping kids. So, how did I survive a grocery store run with all three mischievous minions in tow? Low expectations.

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Don’t get me wrong I love my kids. I mourned when I thought we couldn’t have our own children. I lament their return to school each fall and celebrate our time together. But some days… woo! Some days I hit a point after 500 snack requests, 20 sibling melees, 3 missing sock expeditions (only to find 1 in the toilet, another on the kitchen table, and 1 forever unfound), and an outing gone awry, that I feel the innate need to hide from my offspring. I’ll quietly slip into a room, close the door, and listen with equally anxious anticipation for the sound of incurred injury or approaching footsteps.

And so, yesterday, after I hid from my children for 5 calming minutes, I made the fateful decision to take my crew to the grocery store.  Because what else did I have to lose?

Had my ever-mothering mind gone berserk? Likely. However, I was armed with something so powerfully self-preserving that no childish onslaughts could undo me: a low bar.

That’s right. I entered the afternoon grocery run fully aware of my fate. I had low expectations, so diminished that simply surviving the errand would stand as a win. This would be a shit show. I owned it.

We shuffled through pre-leaving routine: pottying, pants finding, sock hunting, shoe retrieving, shoe fixing and re-fixing (because despite having only two feet, my 4-year-old can put his shoes on the incorrect feet 6 times in a row), and finally leaving. As I waited for my eldest to get buckled, I texted my dear fellow mom friend and told her of my expectation that my middle son would lose cart privileges before we ever left the produce section. My inkling that my eldest would publicly release a (understandable) fury of frustration upon her irksome younger brothers. My awareness that pushing my toddler in the shopping cart would be akin to maneuvering a rabid kleptomaniacal octopus through narrow aisles of glass jars and delicate produce. This would be a disaster. I knew it. I felt it in my bones. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t fear it. My shame had been whittled down by 6 years of parenthood. I had nothing left to lose but my patience. Her knowing response: “Good luck.”

And so we went. And so the trip descended into chaotic mayhem, with my uncoordinated 6-year-old attempting to simultaneously read a book and walk through the wine section, my 4-year-old hanging in a backbend off of the side of the cart despite my constant reminders that he shouldn’t because his head would get smushed, and my 2-year-old releasing random shrill shrieks just for the hell of it.

At one point, my 6-year-old took to poking plastic bags of bread “because it’s squishy” as my 2-year-old attempted to throw his shoes out of the cart. Then, as I turned to pick up the one jar I needed in the aisle, my 6- and 4-year-olds took off down the pasta aisle in a foot race. Yes, full-on discombobulated running complete with jabbing chicken wing elbows down the grocery aisle of dried noodle and glass-encased marinara. Who does that? Are they new here?

Then, as we reached the furthest back portion of the store: “Need pee-pee! Potty!” Shouts my potty-training 2-year-old. So we haul ass to the front of the store. Every few feet I rerun the kid count: 1-2-3, 1-2… where’s 3? “We’re not buying Fritos. Better catch up or find a new family!” Then we hit a slow moving herd with grandma pushing the shopping cart. They were the hair-ball to the shower drain. As I envisioned a deluge of toddler pee pouring from the shopping cart, I bobbed and weaved pushing my car-shaped cart through the clog, leaving my older two to either follow or flounder: “Better keep up! Your brother has to pee!” I yelled back to them.

We made it. He peed. In the potty. Then there was a meltdown over the hand dryer, but that’s normal. Well, our normal.

Back to the cart we returned. We finished or shopping, skidding into a register lane with the grace of a three-legged water buffalo. There were candy grabs, sibling squabbles, fussing, and “Are we done yet?”s, but we survived. I loaded the minivan and as I shut the trunk door, I felt accomplished. I survived the shit show. I was still smiling. I was certainly laughing. All thanks to my low expectations.

Pressing “Play” Instead of “Fast Forward”

Sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid foods, crawling, talking, walking, potty-training, riding a bike, tying shoes, starting school… we move through our children’s childhood with eyes forward. Some parents with more vigor and ambitious competitiveness than others. We look ahead to the next stage, achievement, or development. Being forward-thinking is positive except when it causes us to lose sight of the present.

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Yesterday, I sat in my 1.5-year-old’s darkened bedroom rocking and nursing him before his nap, just as I have every day for the last 19 months. In the dark quiet I began lamenting my lack of freedom, my breastmilk tether. To be able to go out to lunch, volunteer at my older children’s schools, exercise, or go to appointments without navigating naptime, which doesn’t exist without a pre-snooze nursing session, seemed lovely. To be able to go out with my husband or friends and not worry about getting home to nurse my littlest before bed seemed refreshing. To not have to remain home after my littlest’s bedtime in case he awakes, as only nursing can return him to slumber, seemed freeing. The longing for freedom was overwhelming. I craved the next stage.

I began contemplating when to wean to a bottle or sippy cup, at least for naptime. It was new territory. I’d worked part-time from 4 months postpartum with my first child until my first trimester with my third child, so my eldest two children learned early on how to find sleep without the breast. My littlest, though, never needed to welcome rest in any other way but in my arms. I chided myself for not introducing a nursing-free naptime sooner. What had I been thinking?

Then, my toddler placed a sweaty, sleepy hand on my cheek. I looked down at his blissful nursing state and realized that soon this season would be over. He will not nurse forever. He will not always need or want me to cuddle him in his dim bedroom each day and night before sleep. He will not always look to me for nourishment and comfort. “You’ll have your whole life to be free,” I thought to myself. “Savor the present.”

Like the tween sneaking into an R-rated movie or the teenager preening to look older, I was wishing away my present. I was being impatient with a fleeting precious stage in the hopes of reaching the next phase sooner. But getting there sooner doesn’t mean a thing since arrival is an eventuality. If anything it cheapens the journey and is fodder for regret.

And so, as I lie here now on the playroom sofa at far-too-early-in-the-morning after 2 hours of sleep and reading many baby storybooks by the light of “Max and Ruby” due to toddler insomnia, I feel his finally-asleep weight on me and I smile. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to delve into the Monday routine with 3 kids 5 and under, but it’s worth it.

These hardships, these swift sweet moments, these gems amidst the craggy rocks are what parenthood is all about. If we keep our eyes forward we miss the beautiful details of the present and there’s no getting them back.

We will get to that next stage eventually. No need to rush it. Just enjoy the ride.

Seeing my Former Self

I was standing in at the grocery store register, trying to entertain my 1.5-year-old to just get through the last 5 minutes of the errand without a meltdown. We’d made it this far — thanks to our Ergo 360 and nursing on the go — we just needed to last a few more minutes.

Then I saw her. The mom with what appeared to be a 4-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and infant. It was me last year. Outwardly, she appeared calm wrangling her brood as she awaited staff assistance, but I could sense her camouflaged stress and feel the familiar cloud of perpetual chaos.

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The sight took me back to that not-so-distant time. I remembered the constant demands, as no one was independent yet everyone had an attitude. I recalled that unshakable exhaustion, as I got little quality sleep but lived a life that required high energy and even loftier levels of patience. I remembered being in survival mode 24/7. I remembered the haze, the self-imposed guilt, the frustration of doing and giving it all yet feeling as if I accomplished nothing. I remembered the tenderness, the cuddles, the duckling fluff infant hair, the afternoon playdates, the chubby toddler cheeks, the preschooler lisps, the calmer schedule. I remembered my entire trio being younger, smaller, pudgier, needier.

After swiping and signing to pay for my groceries, I looked down at my toddler, squirming in the carrier, and realized how far my life had progressed. How quickly things had changed. And then it hit me: in no time, none of them will need me for the little things. They may reluctantly call upon me for a listening ear, life insight, or homework help, but I won’t be so central to their lives. If anything, I’ll be an irksome source of embarrassment and nagging. At least until much later years, if I am so fortunate.

My harried days are numbered. My children are growing faster than I’d choose and, with that swift development, adjusting my life, my identity, my purpose.

I have no control over the tide. I am merely swept along, clutching to memories and moments as they rush past. I see my previous life stages drift away into hazy memory as I careen towards an unknown destination. If I focus too heavily on the past, I miss the present. If I dwell on the ambiguous future, I miss it all. If I try to fight the tide, I’ll drown.

Bundling up my toddler, I looked back at the mom of 3 under 4 and remembered being her. Part of me was glad to have moved beyond the madness, but another part of me envied her. She doesn’t realize how beautiful her present exhausted state is, how much she’ll treasure those memories, and long to be so intrinsically needed. I certainly didn’t when I was her.

I gave my toddler a squeeze and batted away tears as I passed my former self. Leaving the exhaustion and beauty behind, I faced the day with a greater appreciation. I will survive the frenzied day-to-day but I will also savor, for it will be a memory in too short time.

Mom Confession: I Lost My Sh*t

Remember when I said, here, that I was not at all looking forward to homework? Well, homework happened about 2 minutes before bedtime on a Sunday evening after a long day. And I lost my sh*t… all of it.

6:55pm, my kindergartener realizes she hasn’t sharpened her pencils and crayons for school the next day. Her teacher is all about the kids taking responsibility for this task, and I am adamantly behind that perspective. The problem: my kindergartener hasn’t mastered the firm-yet-gentle pressure required to sharpen a pencil without snapping it, which means I have to help.

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So, instead of herding my trio upstairs for baths and bed, my daughter and I sit twirling writing utensils in a plastic sharpener. Then she realizes something: the class bear — which comes with a blank “all about me” poster and a weekend write-up to be completed with appended printed photos — was due back tomorrow, not the following week as she’d originally told us. Out come the project materials!

It is 6:58pm. My 1.5-year-old is melting down because it’s 2 minutes until his bedtime. My preschooler is repeatedly calling my name. I am at the kitchen table helping my kindergartener draw stick figures. This is not how I planned to spend my Sunday evening!

“Mommy! Mommy! Mooooommy!” My preschooler calls. I’m trying to hurriedly complete the ginormous blank poster that requires a sketch for each question. “What is your favorite song?” I read from the posterboard. How in the hell do you draw a song?  My kindergartener can’t remember her favorite tune. What conveniently timed senility!

My preschooler is STILL calling my name. “WHAT?” I growl. “I cleaned up.” My preschooler falsely claims, pointing at two books he returned to the shelf as he’s surrounded by toy calamity. I roar some unintelligible Mommy-has-lost-every-last-shred-of-patience retort. He shriek-cries. “Sia!” My kindergartener shouts. My husband stands in the middle of the kitchen bearing witness but not wanting to breathe for fear of drawing my wrath.

I take a deep breath and try to help my kindergartener draw her favorite song — we have a low bar… she writes the name “Sia” and draws a couple of  music notes — as my preschooler sobs. Now my 1.5-year-old is full-on crying too because it’s past his bedtime and our house is bedlam. I ask, with the gentility of a constipated bull moose, for my husband to comfort the preschooler as I coach our kindergartener through drawing a family portait. “Maybe you shouldn’t have yelled at him.” He says calmly. I shoot him a death glare. It is as if he wants to save money on the eventual vasectomy by having me castrate him right then and there.

Still, he’s right. I know he’s right. It doesn’t mean that I like it though.

I leave my kindergartener to draw a stick figure version of herself on a sliding board. I go to my preschooler, crouch down to his level, look him in his doe-like blue eyes, and apologize. We hug it out, him still crying in a mixture of exhaustion and release. I tell him to clean up the rest of the playroom, head back to the kindergartener, and shoot my husband one more glare to clearly communicate: “no more words.”

I sit down with a great exhale. “C’mon, let’s get this thing finished,” I tell her. “We’re aiming for ‘completed’, not ‘good.'” Parent of the year, right here!

By 7:20 my kindergartener has finished her portion of the project. Now I get to write a report about our weekend comings-and-goings while my toddler and preschooler serenade me in simultaneous fatigue freak-outs from the playroom. My husband takes the kindergartener and preschooler up for baths.

It’s 7:30… report complete. It’s a half-hour past my littlest’s bedtime. I decide to leave the photo collage until the morning and get my snot and tear smeared toddler to bed.

I apologize to my husband later that evening and thank him for being more patient than I. A hug seals the resolution. “I’m not that patient.” He says. “You’re a good mom,” He reassures me.

I lost my sh*t… all of it. I’m a mom. Moreover, I’m a human. It happens. Apologize, hug, and move along. This is life. It’s imperfect and so are we.