*That* Kid

Have you ever noticed how something seemingly small – a slight remark, a subtle expression, a wave of a hand – has the power to take you from a peak to a valley almost instantly?  Everyone has these moments; I’m sure it’s not just my overly sensitive interpretation of the world, right?

Here’s what I’ve learned as a parent: you never stop learning.  With each new age for you child comes new joys, but also new challenges, leaving us the task of learning to navigate these uncharted and sometimes raging waters with our wits and our faith.  And the stars.  Isn’t that what sailors did hundreds of years ago? As a mom of two boys, I do feel like a Viking conqueror, especially after bathtime.

Today I was surprised with a short but important conversation with an educator from our boys’ preschool.  My usual emotional state is challenged by surprises like this; I like time to gather my thoughts and gain perspective, but I’m also learning we aren’t always afforded that luxury in the world of education.  Since this chat left me with big feelings I wasn’t quite sure what to do with, I’m putting them in a popular place for me: written words.  Make way for my emotional dump-truck.

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Also:

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If you know my older son, you know he’s spirited.  He’s energetic.  He’s fully embraces life with every fiber of his being.  He’s strong-willed.  He’s bright.  He is me, made over.  These are a few of the sometimes-challenging but always-endearing qualities of my firstborn.  As a parent, it’s very difficult to hear your terms for your child’s personality phrased in ways like “He’s boisterous.  He’s disruptive.  He’s distracting.  He’s defiant.”  It’s difficult because you see the best; you see your child, and know that while there are times of struggle, they are far outweighed by the times of great joy.

It’s been said that comparison is the thief of joy – this rings truest when you become a parent.  From the moment your tiny human arrives in this world, people will unknowingly (or, in some cases, intentionally) cause you to second-guess your abilities, your choices, your methods.  Is he crawling?  Walking?  Eating solids?  Using the toilet?  Counting to 20?  Writing is name?  You begin to look at other kids, other families, and wonder if you just might be doing something wrong.  It’s a natural train of thought.

Where behavior is concerned, your feelings of inadequacy increase.  When you see a classmate sitting quietly, writing their numbers, after you’ve been told that your child is “unable” to do the same, it gives you pause.  It sometimes wakes up a small voice in the back of your mind that starts a sentence, “I wish my kid would…”

Would…what?  This is the truth that not many share: we’ve all had the thought.  You wish they would sit still, listen, learn their sight words, learn algebra, the list goes on and on.  And as soon as you allow that tiny, little voice to occupy space in your brain, the next voice moves in with it: guilt.  You wonder: Why do I think this?  And you feel an overwhelming sense of guilt, because you find yourself suddenly not appreciating your child’s unique personality.

The truth is, you don’t need to feel guilty.  Yes, our children are a joyous blessing, sweet little miracles who fill our lives with happiness.  But do you know what else they do?  Fill the vegetable crisper with LEGOs.  Fill the dishwasher with the 15 Batman action figures they own.  Fill the bathtub with markers without caps.  Fill your brain with the sort of “where am I?” fuzzies you sometimes had in your early 20s.  Oh, there are some very full days around here.  Human emotion is raw and honest, but it’s not bad.  It’s essential to know how we feel, so we can accept it and move on.

You also don’t need to think I wish my kid would…

Here’s what I’ve learned: your kid will, but in his own time.  Your children are snowflakes.  (YES, I SAID SNOWFLAKES)  Of course they are delicate creatures, but I also mean it in the sense that they are different.  They are unique individuals, capable of a whole heck of a lot, but not always when we expect (or prefer).  As a parent, I’ve learned we have to seriously let go of our own expectations.  Our children are humans, just like us.  They have thoughts, feelings, ideas, and plans.  They bloom in their own time, and it cannot be rushed.

But how does that knowledge help me now, today, when I’m realizing my spirited and unique child is suddenly being viewed as “that kid” by others?  You know the one.  It’s the child who makes others, total strangers, say a very similar line: I wish that kid would…

And those words put in that context, man it hurts.  It breaks my heart.  It leaves me feeling as if I’ve somehow failed over the past 4.5 years, without realizing it.  And when I hear those words from a stranger, it makes me realize what it’s like when we think those words.  When did we forget that children are just that – children?  When did we begin to expect they would do things far beyond their young years, far beyond their emotional maturity, far beyond what they should be doing?  When did we deem it acceptable to put pressure on them from such a young age?  Heartbreak territory, when you see the world is trying to make your child grow up before they should.  I want to treasure these wild moments, and remember them forever…not squash them.  When did being a kid suddenly become something we need do address?

So, what do I do?  No clue.  I’m not sitting here with the answers tonight; in fact, this is Great Parenting Truth #476: sometimes (okay, lots of times) there are no answers.  At least none that immediately present themselves.  This is like typhoon waves at midnight, with my compass going overboard and clouds covering the stars.  The Loch Ness Monster is probably waiting for me next.  Mrs. Loch Ness is probably teaching kindergarten next year, right?!

When folks say hindsight is 20/20, I can tell you this: those folks are parents.  I know that we’ll continue doing what we do: loving, supporting, nurturing, learning, growing.  I will remind myself daily (or hourly) that there is no growth without challenge.  I will embrace every minute of this, because I know it will continue to pass quickly, and I’ll miss finding rocks in my shoes one day.  I will try to remind others that these are still children, and we should have little expectations.  And I will remind them that they are humans, like us, and deserve the same respect and grace we (should) extend to each other.

Give it some time.  Even the lotus blooms from muck.

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Three and One (working title: My Hormones are Trying to Trick Me)

The past two weeks have been a blur of joy and smiles and wrapping paper and frosting and sprinkles.  On April 21st, Miles turned three, and on May 1st, Grant turned one.  It seems like I say this with every age/milestone we meet, but really, these are my favorite ages (right now).

Miles is at an age of discovery and wonder, and to see the world through the eyes of a three year old is a magical thing.  Grant is at an age where we no longer need bottles, multiple naps or baby food; officially veering on toddler.  He follows his big brother and bravely tries to do everything that Miles does, and it’s amazing to watch him grow.  We’re hitting a sweet spot in parenting, and it’s so awesome.

But do you know what happens when you enter a sweet spot?  When life is getting really easy?  Your hormones try to trick you.  Because someone you know is definitely pregnant, and someone else you know definitely has a newborn.  You see that tiny little baby, swaddled in a flannel receiving blanket, blissful face of milk induced sleep, and you think, “Let me just smell the baby.  Okay, let me just hold the baby.  Let me take a small, soft bite of the baby.”  And your hormones are all, “YOU NEED A SMALL SOFT BABY TO NIBBLE!  YOU NEED A BABY TO WEAR AND ROCK AND PUT TINY LITTLE SOCKS ON!  YOU NEED SOMEONE BESIDES THE CAT WEARING ONESIES AGAIN!”

And your hormones make you think yes, you’re right, we need another one!

But your brain, your sweet, logical brain, helps you get back on track.  Babies are so awesome.  Babies are wonderful, they are truly blessings, and there is no greater joy I have found than being called Mama.  BUT…when your family is complete, you know it’s complete.  And we feel complete.

We have reached a time when Grant is finally finally FINALLY sleeping for twelve straight hours at night, praise the angels of sleep.  I switched from Café Bustelo to just REGULAR COFFEE.  And I still feel like a human.  Miles can put away his own laundry, help water the plants, and put more sprinkles on the cupcakes than in his mouth.  The boys play together, and I can just sit and watch and drink wine.  The DVR is empty.  I am reading books.  MY NAILS ARE PAINTED.  Evan and I might even go out for an adult meal during dark hours alone.  Oh yes, this is the sweet spot.

But every night when I put Grant to bed, after we read and rock a bit, I recognize his toddlerness and I realize I will never rock a baby of my own to sleep again.  The bittersweet feeling of the end of infancy is upon me, and I’ll fondly remember those newborn days and my hormones say well, maybe…

I see a mama wearing her tiny baby, wrapped sweetly to her chest, and it seems like it was just yesterday that I was wearing a baby on my chest, snuggled up close to my heart.  And my hormones say well, we could always…

I pack up the baby clothes and know that this time, I’m giving them away, but my hormones say hold on a minute…

Then I make PB&J for the kids’ lunch and wonder if I should really give this to them, or just open face the sandwiches and directly apply the jelly to obscure places in the house that I will touch and step in but never actually find so that I carry about my day slightly sticky and obsessively searching for strawberry preserves, and I think, “yes, we are complete.”

And before you say anything, of course I know God has a plan, and sometimes we get together and our plans match and sometimes the unexpected happens.  So could God surprise us?  Sure, he created the entire universe in seven days, so surprising us wouldn’t be an impossibility.  But it would be one heck of a surprise.

And before you speculate anything, know that I am not pregnant but that I am under the influence of allergy medication and red wine, and this post was inspired by a damn Publix Mother’s Day commercial because if there’s anything that tricks your hormones, it’s a Publix commercial.  I can’t even have proper holiday salt and pepper shakers without crying.

DAMN YOU, PUBLIX.

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Can we please just pass them back around the table already?!

 

The Trifecta

A few weeks ago, we had a pretty big weekend.  First, Grant slept all night.  ALL NIGHT.  Like, ten consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Second, Grant got his first tooth.  Seems counterintuitive to sleeping through the night, right?  But those things happened.  And third, Miles officially learned how to use the toilet full-time.  That was The Trifecta.

But we’ve learned that with all things awesome, there can sometimes be a little catch.  A little something unexpected.  Or expected.  It happens.

The caveats to our trifecta weekend:

Sleeping through the night.  In all of Grant’s time on earth, he has slept through the night less than a handful of times (that’s less than five, people).  It’s no biggie, really, because we’ve learned that after you have one kid you never, ever sleep the same again.  Every sneeze, roll, squeak and meow will awaken you, probably because parents never truly enter REM sleep.  It’s the sort of insomnia in which you can fall asleep just fine, but wake up shortly thereafter, and repeatedly throughout the night.  Grant settled into the routine of waking up once overnight to eat, and he’s kept that same pattern.  Around 2am, I know he’s going to call us to cash in our “ha, you thought you were going to sleep?!” tab.  He’s only up long enough to eat, but I often find myself up long enough to watch three episodes of Roseanne (side note: I can tell you TV Land’s entire overnight programming schedule).  When Grant did sleep through the night, we relished in the uninterrupted hours (although I woke up twice just to make sure I was actually sleeping) but we did know it was probably a fluke.  And it was.  One day, he’ll be a teenager and he’ll sleep all night and then some (right?  please tell me he’ll sleep one day…) but until then, we exhaustingly enjoy our special time at 2am.  Every night.  Without fail.

The first tooth.  Aah, the first tooth is awesome because IT’S THE FIRST TOOTH!  But the first tooth can also make your sweet baby a total asshole.  So, there’s the caveat.  Grant has been an adorable jerk for a week or so now, and this tooth popping up explains it all.

Learning to use the toilet.  This is awesome, right?  I mean it’s one less kid in diapers.  But it is also a weapon to be used against you.  For example, Miles thinks he should get marshmallows every time he poops now.  He also manages to make bedtime last a full 45 minutes longer than usual because he knows that we don’t know if he really needs to go to the bathroom and we will naturally respond to every “Moooom, I have to peeee!” by escorting him to the bathroom half a dozen times until he finally gives up and realizes that 1). we aren’t letting him stay up and 2). you do not get marshmallows every time you sit on the toilet.  Yes, our lives are controlled by this three foot tall dictator.

All of these things are awesome, and we are super proud.  Super tired, but super proud.

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I buy Café Bustelo in bulk now.

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Winning isn’t everything (unless it’s bedtime).

The Global Parenting Truth: Consistently easy bedtimes are the unicorn of the toddler universe. That’s not to say bedtime is a never-ending battle of wits (although I’m sure it is for some – and for you, parents of bedtime battlers, I send you wine and chocolate and coffee) but bedtime, at least in our house, is always an adventure.

Bathtime has always been a dad thing. Maybe Dad is the fun bathtime guy because he lets Miles bring 847 Batman toys into the tub, along with every triceratops, stegosaurus, t-rex and other –aurus type prehistoric creatures. Once Miles hit a certain age, he decided that just because bathtime had ended didn’t mean he needed to say goodnight to these metal and plastic toys of bedtime weaponry. Oh no; we needed to bring them to bed with us.

So my husband is sort of a pushover when it comes to things like this. He’ll admit it himself (LOVE YOU, HONEY). The nightly challenge of choosing two toys and two toys only to bring to bed began. And, as with any toddler negotiation, this easily escalated into three, four, five, and then seventeen thousand toys. I’m positive there was a night I asked Miles if he would just prefer sleeping in his toy box with a pillow because clearly that’s the direction in which we were headed. (Note: don’t ask toddlers questions like that, because the answer is always YES)

But it wasn’t enough to bring all the toys to bed; oh, no…we had to bring the toys with pieces. Legos. Guys who wore hats. Dogs with construction trucks. Do you know what happens to a toddler’s world when his Lego guy loses a hat before he falls asleep? CHAOS.

Miles: “Mama! Daddy! Mama! Daddy! Come in! Quick!”

Me: *running because clearly this is an emergency* “Hey buddy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Miles: “Ryder fell off his motorcycle.”

Me: “…”

For those who aren’t as “with it” as parents of toddlers are, you should know that Ryder is on Paw Patrol. He rides an ATV and leads dogs around town to save the day. I could give you a more detailed explanation but A). It’s sort of weird I know this much about Paw Patrol and B). It’s even weirder that I really like Paw Patrol and could write an overly lengthy thesis on it because C). I was like a NO TV EVER mom and now I’m like an “Okay, some TV is fine if it means I can cook dinner and go to the bathroom without worrying about you climbing on the dining room table.” What were we talking about?

BEDTIME.

So, Ryder fell off his motorcycle. And guess what? I put him back on. Then at 8:17p, he fell off again. He fell off at 8:23p, 8:35p, and 8:52p. Like good hippie parents, we want Miles to have his things in his space, but we had reached the point of needing to stop this incessant Ryder falling off his ATV thing. And so, we instilled A LIMIT. Dun dun dun.

Miles: “Mama! Mama, come quick!”

Me: “Yes, Miles?”

Miles: “Mama, Ryder fell off AGAIN. He’s so silly.”

Me: “Okay Miles, I will put Ryder back on one time, and one time only. If he falls off again, you will need to either learn how to put him back on yourself, or let Ryder sleep without riding his ATV.”

BOOM. Limit = set.

The following night, Miles wanted to take his entire menagerie of rubber insects to bed. And this time, we introduced yet another limit: two toys, and two toys only. And the nightly process of choosing which two would stay began again. Just like that, the limit was set again.

But of course a child can’t just take a toy to bed and go to sleep. No, toys are to be played with, and we both understand and expect that to happen. The reality is that none of us just lay down and fall asleep. We read, we watch TV, we think about the day, but we need some time to unwind. For Miles, that time involves our nightly routine of bathtime, jammies and the longest Dr. Seuss books he can find, but even then, he’s not necessarily ready to sleep. And so he usually talks to his stuffed animals or toys after we’ve said goodnight.

The occasional chat with his four teddy bears or Thomas the Train turned into what sounded like a demolition derby through the monitor. Certain toys – ones with wheels – must be played with on top of the dresser. WHO KNEW?! And so, another limit was introduced: no toys with wheels. Something along the lines of, “Fine, Mom” was the response, but I ignored this because I’m not ready to have a teenager.

Miles would still get a little rambunctious with his bedtime companions, and so I reminded him that if it was difficult for him to fall asleep with the toys, and that if he felt the need to play instead of just putting them to bed with him, we would need to say goodnight to our toys in the tub. He nodded in understanding.

And now…NOW, I was winning. The next night, we had our regular routine. Miles chose his two favorite Batmen of the day. We put on jammies, we read The Lorax and Little Blue Truck and Goodnight Moon. We snuggled and talked about the day. We said goodnight. I closed the door.

Standing in the kitchen washing the days dishes, I noticed how calm and peaceful and blessedly quiet it was in the house. No one was asking me to put some guy back on an ATV, or put a hat back on a Lego, and no one was mashing buttons on a damn Thomas the Train that can’t stop telling me he has big important jobs to do (JUST GO TO SLEEP, THOMAS). I was winning!

I washed dishes. I put on my PJs. I sat down to read. I silently patted myself on the back and congratulated my ability to set limits and talk to my child and come to a mutual agreement. For the love, I actually knew what I was doing.

Then my husband got home, and asked why Miles’ bedroom light was on, since it was now 8:30p.

‘Scuse me. His light is on?!

I walked down the hallway and as sure as the sky is blue, there was a sliver of light peeking from beneath his door. I opened it, and found Miles playing very, very quietly at his train table, with soft toys that make no noise.

“Mama, look how quiet I can be!”

And I laughed, because he’s cute, and he’s also much smarter than me. You see, our discussion had frequently involved the fact that bedtime was a quiet time. Well, here he was, being quiet. Who am I to argue when he’s truly doing the one thing I was asking him to do?

The truth is that I am consistently outsmarted, but in the most adorable way. You win some, you win some.

PS – It’s important to know that as I sat here writing, I was summoned by my tiny dictator to come to his room so he could tell me that his new big trucks do not, in fact, fit behind his headboard. IMPORTANT. Kids are so weird.

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