When I Realized I was Parenting Myself

If I had known as a kid that every bad behavior and poor decision I made would come back to haunt me in the form of my own offspring, I might’ve acted differently. (Maybe.) At least a little heads-up would’ve been nice.

Instead, I went about being a stubborn, verbally inclined, willful pain in the rear. And now — as fate would have it — my daughter is just like me. Joy!

As much as all of those qualities make me want to tear out my hair, they are undeniably phenomenal personal assets. And — as the now-adult version who shares these traits — I know it, which sort of adds to the parental frustration in a “what’s good for the world presently sucks for me” kind of way.

Stubbornness can be a beautiful thing because peer pressure and eschewing personal ethics for outside approval are non-issues. Verbal inclinations allow for vivid self-expression and aid in academic endeavors. Strong willpower is never to be underestimated in its value and is a fiery gift of endurance, resilience, and fortitude. However, sometimes these traits are a bit exhausting to harness and guide and just generally parent.

For example, toddler tantrums. A stubborn, highly verbal child with willpower like a steel-plated ox will tantrum for at least a solid half-hour without relenting. Why? Because that expression of discontent incorporates all of the child’s greatest assets. Whereas an easy-going, quiet, amenable child may only throw a fit for five maaaaybe ten minutes before getting bored. Same thing goes for potty-training, or learning to ride a bike, or doing undesirable chores, or… you name it.

However, despite all of the struggles of parenting a stubborn, highly verbal, willful child who is much like myself, there are moments that knock me backwards in awe. Moments that remind me how amazing this fearsome force of a child is. How much potential to grow and blossom and contribute and attain happiness and be truly and ethically herself the child has. And it’s all because of these innate gifts that drive me nuts. I had a such a moment recently.

I picked up my newly first grade daughter from school and asked about her day: if she made any new friends, who she played with on the playground, etc. She went on to tell me that she played with a couple of pals she’s had since kindergarten and a girl who has never been in her class before. Then my daughter said an old friend spotted her playing with this new-to-her girl and called my daughter over to talk. The old friend said that she didn’t like that new-to-her girl because the girl was bossy. Then the old friend disclosed that she didn’t want my daughter playing with the girl. That’s when my daughter did something I never expected her to do, and it both astounded and scared me.

“I want to be friends with everyone,” my daughter told the old friend. My daughter explained to the friend that the newer girl had not been bossy towards her so she had no reason not to be friends with her, but that she wanted to still be friends with the old friend too. Even when the old friend scoffed and tried to make my daughter choose and then refused to play with her, my daughter stood firm.

“I couldn’t choose, Mommy,” my daughter told me. “I want to be friends with everyone and I can’t be unfriendly to someone just because one of my friend doesn’t like them. That person didn’t do anything to me. That’s just not ok.” And that’s when I realized that I was parenting myself.

I’d never instructed my kids on how to handle this kind of scenario because I — foolishly — didn’t yet think it was necessary to do so. But she figured it out on her own.

This situation I’d painfully lived and relived countless times in my life, was only now just making an entrance into her young life. She had many more such tests of ethics ahead.

It’s such a challenging scenario to navigate because in order to be kind to one you often end up hurting another’s feelings, if not losing a friend entirely. Truly, it’d be much easier to just go with the social norm: kow-tow, prove loyalty, and forget personal ethics. But that’s not what I ever did and it seems that’s not what my daughter is doing either. Ethics above ego… it’s not a popular road.

As my daughter chattered on about her day, my mind spun on the drama and frustration that laid ahead for her. All of the friends (and “friends”) and sometimes family who’d tug at her to dismiss her ethics. I thought about how much easier it’d be to swim downstream instead of up. But I knew that easy road wasn’t within our morals. It wasn’t our path.

I recalled all of the upheaval it can cause having such an awareness of moral code, such a fervent stance against choosing sides. How some view it as a lack of loyalty. How some feel hurt if you don’t dislike the same people they do. How some draw comfort from a band of peers rallying behind them to be unkind to someone who somehow riled them. How sororities and cliques and organizational thinking and herd mentality don’t take well to this line of thought. How maintaining personal ethics can cause lost friendships and social woes, but it also enables you to look back at those same scenarios and know in your heart that you chose correctly. Even if no one else can see it.

Because someone else’s insecurity is not a reason to dash your morals. Because a true friend would never require you to abandon your ethics to simply prove fealty.

As proud as I was of my daughter, I mourned for her the easy path she’d miss. I fretted for her the heartbreak her morals would cause. I pined for the friendships she’d lose. I glowed with pride for her strength. I stood in awe of her youthful wisdom and fearlessness. I gave thanks for her fortitude.

That’s when I realized I was parenting myself. And I knew she’d be just fine.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_20180627_132653_409.jpg

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.

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.
———————-
**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!
———————
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.

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.

20170706_155243

Caffeination on the go

A bit of this.

20170711_131550

Multi-tasking (with now-cold caffeine)

Too much of this.

IMG_20170607_193941_382

Toy mayhem

And always this.

IMG_20170512_133707_660

The insurmountable and ever-present, Mt. Laundry

Your days may also involve this.

IMG_20161228_164229_968

Grocery shopping and babywearing

Some of this.

IMG_20170611_143300_126

Nursing

And a bit of this.

IMG_20170518_094645_963

Playdate fun

Then, of course, there’s this.

IMG_20170323_120553_309

Mid-errand tantrums

This.

IMG_20161213_185621

Bizarre mishaps

A lot of this.

IMG_20170524_110225_026

In-cart public meltdown and sibling brawl

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

IMG_20170406_142928_223

Self-dressing drama

After all of that, you get this.

IMG_20170622_072031_999

Quirky cuddles

IMG_20170625_195650_452

Family time

IMG_20170609_162144_797.jpg

Simple fun times

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

IMG_20170607_092410_612

Proud parenting moments

IMG_20170606_132704_701

Proof of your hard work shining through

IMG_20170505_125611_350

Love between your children

And this.

IMG_20170426_160444_346.jpg

Hard-won skills blossoming

And it’s all worth it. All of it.

IMG_20170713_121948_757

 

Surviving the “F’ing 4s”

“I love my middle son but he’s driving me NUTS!” I recently vented to a dear mom friend. “F’ing 4s,” my friend said, “that’s what we call them.” So aptly named!

Between dropping his nap — I know, we had a great run so I can’t complain –, finally ditching sleep time pacifiers, and turning 4-years old all in the same day, the last couple months have been rough with my middle son. I love him, he’s a sweet kid, but O…M…G! There are some moments in the day when I understand why animals eat their young. (I kid… sort of.)

Not listening, pushing boundaries, acting out, (poorly) lying, acting hyper then crashing into tiredness… each afternoon is a whirlwind of frustration. Fortunately, I survived my daughter’s 4s, so I can handle this.

“Their body is ready to stop napping but their brain isn’t there yet,” a friend once advised me when I asked how to safely pull my daughter and myself through the nasty nap-dropping phase and my friend responded, “Once their brain catches up, things get easier.” I asked how long that’d take, expecting the standard two-week phase timeline.”One month,” my friend replied as I choked on my own mortality, “but more like six months until you’re really out of the woods.” I think I blacked out for a bit there. Six freaking months??? Of demonic tantrums and mood swings, swirling energy plummeting into raging exhaustion. The stuff they don’t — but really should — detail in sex-ed. Forget VD and UTIs, talk real deal potty-training and the “F’ing 4s”, that’ll tame the teen libido.

My middle son doesn’t have the stamina or ferocity to maintain a meltdown anywhere close to my first child’s, but he is still checking that “F’ing 4s” box with a heavy-handed tick mark in his own slightly less mind-melting way.

20170529_094039

How can you tell how bad the day has been? Simply look up on top of the armoire in our entryway. If there’s a rainbow wig up there: it’s been dicey. If there’s a rainbow wig and a dress-up crown: there was major suckage. If there’s a rainbow wig, a dress-up crown, and a mermaid doll up there: buy me wine and run.

And so we survive this unglamorous, wholly exhausting phase trying to savor the scattered good bits amidst the mayhem. We’ll come out stronger for the struggle, but right now we’re just trudging through.

We’re imperfectly parenting our imperfect children because we’re human, and that’s what we do. Surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

Lessons of My Tantruming Toddlers

So this was my Target run this morning with my cute little, potbellied, snot-nosed companion.

img_20170303_110335_589

#3 Tantrums amidst candy and beer

Gold-star parenting, taking a photo of my raging 1.5-year-old, right? Pffft… the photo was worth it.

I remember back when my first child (now a sparkle-loving, highly articulate, graceful-as-an-elephant kindergartener) would throw public tantrums. Oh how I would shrivel! My face grew red, I could feel real and perceived eyes on me. I gave SO many shits about what others thought. Granted, when my bull-headed mini-me would rage she would do so for at least 30 minutes. No amount of distraction or redirection, ignoring or punishing would calm the storm. She just needed to let loose until the tides turned. And so she did. And so I learned.

Along came my second child. My daughter, but 20-months old at the time of his birth, was still in the infancy of her tantrum season. We’d walk the aisles of a grocery store and she’d wail. We’d shop Target and she’d walk behind me losing her ever-loving mind. Her infant brother, tucked neatly into his stroller, had been prepared for these animal noises in-utero, so he was utterly unaffected by her demonic yowl-and-flail maneuvers. I’d remain outwardly calm, inwardly reminding myself to stay steady, willing myself to pale the increasing blush in my cheeks. I’d nod at the reassuring smiles from on-lookers, I’d respond to kind words with a silently mouthed “thank you.” I’d ignore unsolicited advice to “teach her a lesson” or “get out the belt.” I kept on with my errand. I preserved.

My second child came of age and would tantrum in public. He’d sit down in the middle of a busy aisle or attempt to run across the street and I’d scoop him up into the crook of my elbow so that his belly rested on my hip, his squat legs kicking the air behind me. We’d go about our errand or family walk as he flailed in my arm, securely positioned in the “carry of shame.” Often both he and his sister would simultaneously unleash their inner demons. Onlookers would reassuringly smile and I’d smile back. Passersby would offer kind words and I’d respond in jest. After a few minutes, he’d relent, his sister would eventually follow suit. He knew his sister had calloused me; he could not win.

Then my third child arrived, 2.5 years after my second. He tantrums and I giggle. He hops with anger in a store aisle and I stop to take a picture. Do onlookers sneer or even notice? I haven’t the faintest. Do people seem unsettled by the fussing of a toddler in a public space? I neither know nor care. I’m just living the fleeting humorous moment, because this too shall pass.

The Loneliness of Motherhood

Motherhood is lonely. As moms, there’s always someone clinging to us, following us, needing us, demanding of us. Even when our children are not physically present, their needs are still in the forefront of our minds.

As mothers, we are constantly surrounded by humans — big and small — but rarely do we truly get to connect with them. We are too busy chasing and aiding our little herds to meaningfully socialize. No matter the size of our “village” or quality of our friends, we will have periods during which we feel alone. We are lonely amongst the madness, isolated amidst the crowd.

When we try to converse with others, it’s guaranteed that a majority of our thoughts and sentences will go uncompleted. “Mommy, I need to go potty!” “Mommy he’s not sharing!” “Mommy, watch this!” “Mommy, I’m stuck!” Each intercession permanently derails a line of conversation. Then there are the maternal sensors that ping every few moments interrupting you just as your child licks the floor, crawls towards power cords, attempts to fly, tackles her sibling, or uses a public drinking fountain as his own personal splash pad.

For many of us, social media becomes a form of self-medication. We use it to camouflage the isolation. We like, post, comment, pin, and tweet to feel less alone… to connect. But it falls flat. It’s not the same.

Occasionally some of us can break free and revel in a mom date. We order adult drinks and savor the ability to eat our meal without having to simultaneously referee. We chat and laugh, we feel human again. Then it’s time to go home to the children we adore and miss, despite knowing full well the level of chaos that awaits us.

We arrive home with our emotional tank closer to full. We’re refreshed and replenished from our social outing. This is temporary, and we know it.

Every tantrum, every meltdown, every sleepless night, every departure debacle and bedtime battle drains our emotional tank. Sweet moments and tender cuddles reverse a bit of the loss, but the loneliness is an emotional hemorrhage that will leave us empty if unattended. The sense of isolation will render us shriveled, aggitated, overwhemed, fatigued, and depleted. We cannot pour from an empty cup, but we must.

Motherhood is joyous and stressful, love-drenched and tumultuous, priceless and taxing. It’s a beautiful gift but it’s lonely.

Winesdays

I hate Wednesdays.

Every-other Wednesday we all have to get up extra early and be out of the house by the time I usually wake the kids any other day of the week. Every time — every single time — #1 is shocked and horrified by the early start, and battles me all the way through the morning routine. #2 moans and wails, trying to sneak back into bed. #3 decides to take this opportunity to unravel the entire roll of toilet paper, eat unwashed socks in the laundry basket, and tip over shampoo bottles.

Once dressed and brushed for the day, the boys and I drive an hour in traffic to my parents’ while Hubs has a breakfast date with #1 before preschool drop-off. The boys and I enjoy time with extended family (the bright spot in our day), then venture back home where I tell myself the boys will nap… they must nap. I NEED them to nap.

Despite the early start, no one naps. Because of the early start, everyone is an asshole.

Wishing coffee into wine

Pumping during what is SUPPOSED to be naptime and wishing this coffee was wine

To make things even better — because I am a genius — I signed up #1 for ballet after preschool on Wednesdays. She loves ballet… pink, tutus, what’s not to adore? However, an extra-long day paired with having to act like a decent human being in public for that many consecutive hours means meltdown mania from the time her tulle-bedecked tush enters the house until she’s shuffled into bed. Some days she even continues her tirade in her sleep, awaking refreshed and rejuvenated after unknowingly verbally eviscerating me All. Night. Long.

I hate Wednesdays.

Thank God for wine!

Bad Days

“So, I found a drive-thru vasectomy place.” Hub’s comment about sums up our day. The level of exhaustion anf frustration at the end of a very bad, very long kid-wrangling day is maddening.

#1 was snarky and stubbornly negotiating like a lawyer. #2 was  throwing one screaming fit after another. #3 was getting into everything and started a lovely phase of shrill chimpanzee-like shrieking.

I sit nursing #3, listening as Hubs bathes #1 and #2. It’s not going well. Both have had treat priveleges revoked for the next day and they haven’t even rinsed out the shampoo yet.

I don’t know how I’ll make it through the last half-hour before bedtime. I don’t know where I’ll gather patience for tomorrow. But I’ll do it. I always do.

Nursing session is done. Kids are bathed. Bedtime. #1 asks me to cuddle with her and tell her a bedtime story. I put my head on her chest. I feel her ribs rise and fall as she tells me which story she wants. I feel her excitement as I begin. She puts her hand on my shoulder as I reach the end. I kiss her soft, soap-scented cheek and wish her sweet dreams. “I love you!”

I am restored.

 

“All I Wanted…”

“Gahhhh!” “But whyyy???” “Nooo!” The moment of agitation and defeat when your seemingly innocuous plans have been thwarted by your own offspring.

“All I wanted was to…” it could anything: nap, pee in peace, make one phone call without stopping to referee or assist small humans, sleep, prepare a meal without having to drop everything to feed or wipe someone, exercise, have just one bedtime when everyone stays in their bed on the first try, arrive on time, have one drama-free playdate, pump, sit on my butt for five straight minutes, poop, wear clothes without stains, drink a hot beverage at its intended temperature, etc. Some days the plan change is easier to accept than others. Then there are those days when one untimely potty joke or one predigested milk deluge is beyond your patience level. You’re tapped out, the well is dry… and they can sense it.

As if driven by predatory instincts, our cherished offspring will claw, tantrum, and spew us into submission. Then, when we mourn the shattered want before us, they look at us with their saucer-like eyes in inocent bewilderment. As if they had no part in our mommy meltdown.

You have been defeated. Perhaps tomorrow you will be victorious… perhaps.