It’s Just One Christmas

This year my family’s holiday celebrations are low key, low effort, and carried out with even lower expectations. You could call it a lazy Christmas, a minimalist approach, or a scaled-back yuletide season.

I am calling it survival, and I’m one hundred percent, guilt-free, okay with it.

The festivities we skip, the traditions (only a few years old anyway) that fall by the wayside, the days we are decidedly not merry  … they are all just days, and it’s only this one, decidedly busy, Christmas.

Being 99 weeks pregnant with our third baby, I have to let a lot of things go. Like, most issues of daily life, and every single extra thing that comes up. My energy is intensely prioritized: actual trauma; basic necessities; remembering how to form sentences and when to pick up my 4 year old from preschool; and then celebrating Christmas. On a separate list, there’s prep for baby number three (if you could really call a box of diapers, a car seat, and a clean outfit hanging around somewhere “prep”), plans for where everyone else will be, and some things resembling food stashed away in the pantry and freezer.

Completely maxed out. Sorry Christmas, but it’s just this one year.

Chances are slim that we will get pictures with Santa in matching outfits, if we even make it to see him. With our non-existent budget, there are fewer decorations, fewer outings, and not a single holiday party (family gatherings aside).  Our (let’s face it) super fussy kids, have caused us to happily abandon many festive plans because they are JUST NOT WORTH IT.

I even have to skip my favorite tradition: an annual cookie baking extravaganza, followed by delivery of treats to friends and neighbors. But hey – we made some 2-minute-fudge yesterday, and cookies from a mix. My little bakers, whose hearts and sugar obsessed bellies are full, got in their messy mixing and used way too many sprinkles. (Although … if anyone wants to supplement our holiday cookie fix, we don’t turn down donations.)

And it’s all good – really. It’s just one Christmas.

What we have found so far, with a couple weeks left, are a few simple joys.

Since I spend a great deal of time coaxing the kids to let me sit and put my feet up these days, we’ve cuddled on the couch with our favorite Christmas books and movies over and over (and over).

The kids have spent whole days in Santa jammies, listening to holiday music, and making simple construction paper chains (in lieu of Pinterest style daily crafts).

We’ve made special trips out to buy simple gifts for each other, and made inexpensive and low effort homemade gifts.

Energy, time, money and patience have been spent on a few things we can’t live without. The kids require all things possible relating to the Grinch – movies, books, songs, and holiday shirts. I don’t have an ounce of merriment without hanging up my mom’s 12 Days of Christmas decoration and watching our shared favorite movie: Christmas in Connecticut. Kevin cannot go without a tree or hanging lights along the eaves of our cozy home. And Penny doesn’t get into the holiday spirit without stealing a stick of butter from the counter, left out from making (human) treats. All of those bases have been covered, and there’s still some time to spare.

It’s a simple year, all we can manage, and I am surprisingly okay with it. In the grand scheme of family life, it really is just one single Christmas.

Happy holidays to all my friends and readers out there – however much or little you are celebrating! More from this human after the New Year, or when I come up for air after labor and newborn number three.

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39 weeks. I exist like this all day, and yet I don’t see how it is humanly possible …

Why I Teach my Kids That the Most Important Thing to be is KIND

As per usual, leaving the children’s museum after a morning of fun has become a struggle and a half. Tears over the things we did not do on this trip. Tantrums over wet pants (despite reminders that playing in the water is both against the rules and, as evidenced, leads to wet pants). Full body, pregnancy aches and pains. The kids and I are tired, hungry, and over stimulated, but we make it to the parking lot via patience and promises of skittles.

A young mom approaches; her stress shows in the sweaty gleam of her makeup and the exasperated movement of swinging a toddler held for too long from one hip to the other.

“Excuse me, but do you happen to have jumper cables? My battery’s dead and we’re stuck.” I can hear in her voice that I am not the first person she has asked. Over her shoulder I see an SUV with the hood popped, a few cars down from my own. I flash from fuck, I really just need to get out of here to I would be so pissed if that were my hood up and my panic brewing.

“Yeah, I do. Let me just get my kids changed and in my car real quick.” She looks relieved and a little guilty (which she should not be) as she apologizes, noting that I obviously have my hands full. I tell her I do, but it sucks that she’s stuck and it’s really no problem to help out.

I can feel four little eyes and four little ears – all attached to the humans I created and am raising to be civilized – at attention for this exchange. As they stand in the back of our car, waiting for dry clothes and treats, I ask: “What’s the most important thing to be?” The response is quick from both: “KIND.” No further explanation is needed – they get it. Stalling our day briefly to help a stranger in need takes priority over our slight levels of discomfort.

♥♥♥♥

Why do I teach my kids to be kind, above anything else?

To counteract all the ugliness around us. In this shitstorm of a society filled with hatred, horror, and division, the only way to fight back is to create a little army of humans who will do better someday.

My kids need to be decent to each other, to their parents, to our dog, and to an overwhelming number of people with whom they must coexist daily. At 2 and 4, they are vastly selfish and need every possible bit of practice in kindness.

As they grow and form relationships, they should expect the same treatment from others. Accepting that this two-way street is mandatory will be a lot easier if they’re already following protocol in their own lanes.

It doesn’t cost or hurt anything. Seriously. 90% of the time, being kind takes absolutely nothing away from us.

The lesson reminds me to dish out compassion throughout my own day. I’m grumpy, and I don’t always like people. I go from neutral to irritated in seconds flat, and have to work hard to have a filter when I do. So I guess, at 38, I still need the practice too.

♥♥♥♥♥

The most important thing to be is kind. No day is left lacking in opportunities for this reminder.

When one of them is cooling off from hitting the other, of course, but also when one is basking in a compliment, a toy shared, or some other act of sibling sweetness.

When we bring dinner to friends, or when friends bring us dinner.

When we see a man sleeping outside and talk about how not everyone has a place to sleep, how a smile is better than a stare, how much we have come to like a particular homeless couple who we visit regularly with homemade lunches. Kind is the most important thing to be to all humans, no matter how different they may seem.

When someone holds a door open for us, remarks on a kid’s cuteness, moves their grocery cart to let us pass, or picks up one of the thousands of things that I drop and can’t reach – all small acts that could go unmentioned. Of course I model by saying thank you, but I also work to tell my kids explicitly “wasn’t that so kind?” or “that kindness made me feel good.”

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As an adult, I understand the complexities and nuances of life within a society. We often have to balance our idealistic qualities for protection. At some point, a person or situation may prove that our kindness has been exhausted and abused. It is possible for more than one thing to be the most important way to be. I want my kids (and myself) to strive for happiness, health, empathy, intellect, and success. But those all follow kindness, and my 2 and 4 year olds need to get that one down first.

So when an out of the ordinary circumstance – like someone asking for help with car trouble – presents itself, we choose compassion over convenience. That afternoon, on the way home from the museum, our conversation takes great turns. We talk about how it would feel to need help from a stranger – how it may be hard to ask, and feel upsetting to not know what to do. We talk about how it felt to stay calm and patient for long enough to figure out how to use jumper cables (or sit in the car quietly during the process, at least). We talk about how it feels when a little kindness that gets us out of a jam. We talk about how car batteries and engines work. For the last ten minutes of the drive, we listen to my son lose his mind screaming and crying, because it’s long past nap time. But the example of how to be a decent human is still more important.

My myriad of hopes and dreams for my kids, of course, doesn’t end at kindness, but it starts there. And so I drill it into their little minds:

“What’s the most important thing to be?”

“Kind.”

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PSA: There are Some Problems Even Mama Can’t Solve

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The cry comes in the middle of the night, in the deepest part of my rare third trimester pregnancy sleep (as it always does). Groggy and slightly irritated, I zombie walk into the kids’ room, not knowing which kid is upset. Owen is sound asleep; I cover him with his blanket on my way to Addie. I sit on the edge of her bed, move the pillow covering most of her head, and push a chunk of sweaty hair out of her face.

She rolls toward me, eyes barely open, and reveals her sorrows in wails. Awakened from a dream, she mourns the loss of a ladybug once grasped in her little palm.

“I’ll never find a ladybug again!”

The source of the dream: an afternoon spent digging in the backyard garden bed, recently abandoned until next spring, and hunting under rocks for bugs. My irritation fades and my heart clicks with the genuine sorrow in hers.  I search for a way to tell her she is just reliving her day without diminishing the real weight of her emotions.

“Your beautiful imagination gives you such big dreams. It’s hard to have a bad dream when it feels so real.”

I help her get comfortable again; what a disaster she is in sleep. Most nights I find her hanging off the edge of the bed, with blankets and pillows in mounds. Her stuffed animals are tossed aside in favor of armfuls of Kleenex and the nighttime water bottle that lives on the shelf above her head. I reposition limbs, blankets, garbage, and loveys.  Since she was a newborn, she has slept with arms and legs outstretched – body and heart open to the world. No wonder she feels so much hurt when her dream ladybug disappears.

After a moment, she opens her eyes and I hand her a stuffed ladybug: “Look, you found one already!” Skeptical, she holds it for less than a second before chucking it. My first attempt at righting the wrongs of dreamland has failed.

I try again, stroking her hair softly: “Close your eyes and think about ladybugs flying around you, red ladybugs crawling on the green grass, sweet ladybugs landing in your hands.”

She turns back to me, locks my eyes in hers, and exorcist style grunts. “I want to smash the ladybugs”. Then she rolls away from me again, and drops back into solid sleep.

Bewildered and slightly concerned about the real ladybugs in her future, I leave the room. I have dug deep on this one (for the middle of the night, especially) and come up without a fix or an understanding of what she wants.

•••••

It happens on occasion – usually when I’m feeling a little overconfident in my maternal capability – that an issue arises for which I have no immediate or ongoing solution. No matter how deep I dig into my Mary Poppins carpetbag full of parental tricks, I come up short. There are some problems that even moms can’t solve.

I can’t fix it if the kids each insist on singing different versions of The Wheels on the Bus simultaneously, but fuss about the other one singing.

Repairing broken granola bars is out of my wheelhouse. (“If you eat both pieces, they will go back together in your tummy!” is a common phrase in our house).

I can’t get Owen five hours away to visit Grammy, even when he spends a full twelve hours in a meltdown over wanting to, out of nowhere.

When too much glue leads to a rip in the construction paper jack o’ lantern face, I can suggest covering it with the mouth. I can offer empathy, or a do over. But I cannot bend the laws of physics and unrip the paper.

When Owen refuses to participate in an obstacle course at soccer, no matter how cool he thinks it is, and then cries that he missed out, I don’t have a fix. I can only offer a consoling snuggle as we watch from the bench.

 When Addie still hasn’t put on her underwear after half an hour of warnings that the pizza will be delivered soon, and then cannot be the one to answer the door (because c’mon – we have some decency left), I can’t solve the problem she has created. I can’t deescalate her meltdown or keep it from spiraling into ruining the whole evening, no matter how many ways I suggest to move on.

As much as I want them to believe in the all-powerful nature of their Mama, I cannot literally make the sun rise or the rain stop falling to suit our desires.  

•••••

The reality is some things are beyond the scope of my control. And isn’t there a lesson in that somewhere? It hurts me when they hurt, but accepting the flow of the universe is a must for survival and happiness. Things will come up when we are apart; unexpected transitions at school will throw Addie, and Owen may need something only I understand when he is at Mimi’s house. ALL of the issues created out of their own willingness to participate or cooperate are sometimes better left as teachable moments (right???).

As they grow older, and life changes, we all have to reconcile new challenges. Hopefully this Mama’s continued snuggles, love, and middle of the night presence will solve some of the problems – ladybug dreams and beyond.

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Fallish

The change in season is palpable from my chair in the front yard. The heat of late summer is (mostly) behind us, the endlessly lit evenings have passed, and daylight savings ends in a few short weeks. Fall is here, and my whole body relaxes into it, while the kids soak up the last of the sunny, late afternoons.

It is still warm enough that the kids are in tee shirts. Owen is practicing soccer: kicking the ball into the goal, rolling it back and forth under his five inch foot, and throwing it up as high as he can into the sky (“Now clap!”). That last move may not be part of the World Cup practice drills, but it is helping to release his restless energy.

Addie looks wild, in unicorn pants that would stay up better if not for the too small, star “leg warmers” bunched around her ankles. We have yet another talk about the leg warmers (which are sized for babies but have been unsuccessfully removed from her drawer countless times since she, in fact, stopped being a baby). I remind her how tight they are, that we should find her new leg warmers and pass those down to baby sister. The kid fears change though, so a meltdown begins, and I let it go again. Who has the energy to provoke a preschooler at five pm? It’s never worth it.

I sip on iced tea (one of the few beverages that doesn’t give me debilitating heartburn), but in a month or less it will be replaced by a hot beverage. A little warmth of the day lingers in the air. Not the blazing summer heat but a gentle glow that never gets oppressive, loses its luster in the slightest of shade or breeze, and dies out with sunset. I breathe in the mild air and sigh it out of my cramped-by-baby lungs.

The kids start a new project: something involving piles of wood and gravel leftover from the summer’s yard remodel. I sit in a broken glider chair, recently relocated outside to make room for its replacement. I find it hard to let go of this chair – a gift from my grandmother during my first pregnancy. I nursed each of my babies in it (the spit up stains deep in the crevices serve as a reminder). In the last year, they have flung it wildly backward to the point where it no longer sits straight, and bent an arm so far to the side that it’s roomy enough for us all now. The glide has been replaced by broken clunks, and the footstool died months ago. Not everything can last through all three babies, I guess, but I’ll cling to this one until the rains hit.

Rousing myself from memories, I realize evening is almost upon us and this late afternoon peace is fading. The light shifts to an impending sunset. The breeze picks up to a cool, fall pace. The kids shift into witching hour mode and there are all the fires to put out: fights over bubbles, dog toys, chalk, and space. Issues over a bike not to ride on the new lawn, a piece of wood unsafe to fling around in battle, and flowers not to be picked, push us toward the warm living room. I have skinned knees to kiss, dinner in the oven to check, big feelings and problems to talk through, and I need to pee (obviously).

The moment was nice to savor, though – taking notice of fall finally feeling like it. Some days are so full of heavy, serious issues. Busy, mundane weeks can fly by without the time to contemplate the way I feel about anything, in any moment. I often have no energy for reflection, passing out from exhaustion the second the kids fall asleep.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, the focus on kids, pregnancy, and the daily grind, I’ll take a little gratitude in something so simple as the time passing into my favorite season.

 

 

A Pledge to my Spirited Daughter

My first born daughter, my whole heart and soul, it has taken me four years to wrap my mind around your spirit, acknowledge and be okay that it came directly from me, and resolve to work with it, instead of accidentally breaking it. Here is what I commit in my heart to you.

♥♥♥♥

You are the daughter I have, want, and love, and I accept every part of you.

We will get through the ages, stages, and phases when this drive of yours is toughest – maybe not all with grace, but we will learn from every struggle. Together.

I promise to celebrate the times when you thrive, and you lift the rest of us up, because of your dedication to doing things your own way.

You will know and feel my love for YOU more than you will feel my disappointment or frustration in your behavior.

I will not compare you to your siblings (or any other children) because you are different; you are beyond and more, for better and worse. We celebrate differences in our family, instead of counting them against each other.

Your strong will and unique needs are a part of your very core. I will not diminish you by apologizing to others for your nature; I will help guide you toward behavior that requires fewer apologies.

I vow to separate (as much as possible) my feeling about you from my feelings about myself. We are similar, but not the same person. You are not responsible for my errors, nor doomed to repeat them.

Most of all, I commit to finding renewed patience for you every day. It can be hard, with a spirited child, to maintain the level of empathy a parent has for another child. But you deserve it, my little love. When your actions are frustrating, harmful, and hurtful they are showing me how you feel. I will meet you there, love you wherever you are, and help you through.

♥♥♥♥

I know all the labels and buzzwords people will use to describe you: spirited, wild, challenging, defiant, out of control, difficult, misbehaved, or unruly. Spirited sounds kinder and gentler to me, gives me insight to your temperament, and hopefully takes up enough space to rule out the other labels.

While your intensity and inability to conform makes some parenting moments truly suck, you are a future world leader, an innovator, a dreamer. You are strong, larger than life, and the world will have to adjust to you as much as you adjust to it. I am forever in love with your spirit, and future proud of where it will take you.

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It’s Owen’s Turn

When it’s pancake breakfast day at the 4 year old’s preschool, there is no getting around taking the 2 year old out for a pancake breakfast of his own. And who am I really kidding: I am not one to turn down second breakfast (or any other meal). So along with the hullabaloo of Addie going to school in pajamas, with her teddy bear, to eat pancakes with her school friends, Owen and I had to plan our own brunch date.

It was the last thing they both talked about the night before, and the first thing that morning. While the excitement was not quite enough to curb the getting ready for the day fussfest, it eased it a bit. After Addie was settled at school, Owen and I started off on our morning: soccer, pancakes, and then a run to Trader Joe’s.

It was all talk of pancakes for the first hour or so, and airplanes, since our favorite breakfast spot (Two Niner Diner) is by the airport. Somehwere along the way, the Trader Joe’s stop began to compete for his enthusiasm. Over SOCCER and PANCAKES.

His reasoning: “It’s my turn.” With the boss big sis at school, it was finally his turn to push the pint-sized, kids’ shopping cart. It sums up his whole attitude about this phase of daily life; it’s Owen’s turn. These days are (finally and temporarily) the days of Owen and Mama. And they are amazing.

Owen 4

My little shadow runs rights along next to me as we get things done, sits with a little hand on my leg at doctor’s appointments, helps with Penny Dog at the vet, and thanks me for taking him to the library for toddler story time. When he wakes from nap he runs out of his room to be greeted by me and only me. We take all the time we want to snuggle, build block towers, read books, and talk. I honestly don’t know which of us is enjoying it more. He is fully embracing the attention and freedom, while I am luxuriating in this one and only chunk of time with just one kid (basically a vacation).

Owen 3

Every moment is beautiful and magical … except the ones that are not at all.

At two and a half, Owen now spends large amounts of the day throwing himself screaming to the ground. He whines a lot. I mean, a lot. He pushes, hits, and throws things. He protests, and insists on independence in the most inconvenient of times. Some days I drown in a barrage of needs, inconsolable moods, and tantrums.

Some of his meltdowns, so far from anything rational, are surely a joke – a parody of himself. We decide one day on a lunch stop for bagels (I seriously never turn down food), and he asks, “is there milk at bagel shop?” My answer, while seemingly reasonable, was clearly not. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen milk there, bud.”

He catches and clings to the tiny, semantic, implication in that “pretty sure”. “I want milk with bagel! Bagel shop don’t have milks!!!” Throughout the entire drive across town he wails, mourning the milk that he has convinced himself he will not get. No matter how many times I reassure him that they will have it, he can’t let it go.

When we get to the bagel shop, of course, there is milk, but the little stinker steals my orange juice instead. His big feelings of grief are suddenly replaced by joy and mischief.

Owen 1

As taxing as it all is, I’m glad to have this one on one time to help him through the perils of being two. I can protect our future emotional selves by getting down to his level, helping him name his big feelings, offering some empathy, and taking as long as he needs to get to a solution/distraction/reconciliation.

Most days are on the sunny and fun side, despite being filled with huge struggles and/or overwhelming joy. We have plenty of minor issues and blissful connection through simple grins, giggles, and snuggles. We have daily battles over holding hands in the parking lot, me being allowed to go use a bathroom (all the time, thanks third pregnancy), or wear a hair tie. We have glorious bike rides, read endless Curious George stories, and bond over building “big, huge [Lego] trucks”.

Most importantly, I have a stellar eating buddy (until this baby gets so big that I have no room for food any more).

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Is It Bedtime Yet?

“Life is filled with sunshine and rain. Some days are fancy and others are plain.” – Remember Forever, Rainstorm Publishing

And some days – like Tuesdays – are very, very long. With a mix of sunshiny joy, rainy tears, stormy tantrums, bright blue skies and eyes, foggy pregnancy brain, and everything in between.

Tuesdays are my least and most favorite days right now. Addie is home from preschool. Kevin is gone from long before the kids wake up to after they go to bed. It’s just the three of us (and Penny Dog) to fill the day which, right now, takes every minute of my focus and energy. We have little independent play, frequent cries of boredom, and much fighting. It’s utterly exhausting.

At the same time, I am relishing my two big kids before baby sister arrives, enjoying how capable and fun they are, and being constantly wowed by their interests and achievements. By this time next year, Addie will be in full time school, Owen in preschool, and I will be back to baby business.

I try to cherish every moment, like I am supposed to be doing, but in reality I’ll settle for enjoying some and surviving others. Here is how we fill an average Tuesday.

 

First thing: scooter ride, dog walk, Mama-sore-hips-stretching walk, playground. Exercise and fresh air for all.

Cheese Meltdown

Back at home, we had a string of five back to back meltdowns within the span of ten minutes. A fight over who got to sweep which outdoor table; a little brother destroying preschool artwork (fixable); tears over sweatshirts; screams for treats; a piece of cheese that broke and will never be whole again. Tragedies, all of them, resulting in tears (from all of us).

 

Luckily, I had some preplanned activities for the day/week (a must right now, although they sometimes fail to even launch). After everyone recovered and snacked, a little structured creativity was a good breather. This one was a hit: Disappearing Letters.*

11 am when we wrapped up  – only 7.5 hours until bedtime. They begged to watch their current favorite movie, Sing, so we made it special by eating lunch in the living room (a rare treat from this clean freak Mama). Anything different from routine can go two ways: total disaster or fresh and exciting. Maybe because food and screen time were combined, maybe they were getting tired, or maybe I just got lucky, but this was a solid hour and a half of quiet time. Plus Owen was fed and sleepy at nap time on the dot.

 

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While the young monster napped, the older beast had be restrained for quiet time. Since dropping her nap over the summer, this is often a battle. But some golden days – like this one – it becomes an opportunity for sweet together time, side by side downtime, or a combination of the two. **

By the after nap portion of these kinds of days (okay, of every day) I am seriously wiped out. Today required an afternoon outing, somewhere that the kids could run wild and I could sit and watch, conserving energy for the evening hustle, intervening only when needed. One of our new favorite spots for this is an indoor kids’ play space in town, called Time Out.*** After a hour and a half here, they were sufficiently beat, and it was technically late enough to start dinner.

Dinner … I have learned my lesson about making a “real” dinner on the nights that Kevin is not home to eat with us. It’s kid food all the way. For a final, fun, activity, I put them to work on their own mini pizzas on english muffins. Classic kid dinner.

Dinner

Eyelids and spirits were drooping fast at the dinner table. Tuesdays are a firm no bath night. Neither kid had the energy to protest getting wiped down, putting on pajamas, and only getting one book each before lights out.

At the end of it all, I am about to fall over from exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional. My back is shot, my belly has been one solid Braxton Hicks contraction since 2 pm, I am craving silence and stillness, and have no energy to face the regular chores. But, while brushing her teeth, Addie reached out to give me a hug, saying “Thanks for the nice day, Mama”. And, on his eighth time out of bed to go pee, Owen said “That was fun make pizza, Mom, and watch Sing, and go Time Out, and scooter ride.” Their little faces and words of gratitude make it all worth it.

Signing off now for a giant piece of pie and the season premiere of This Is Us (if I can stay awake for it). Nighty fucking night. May everyone stay in their own beds until sunrise.

*https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2012/11/disappearing-letters-alphabet-for-starters-activity.html

** Fall counting worksheet and matching/memory games from: https://www.giftofcuriosity.com. This site is awesome – tons of free printable and activities, and a $10 credit to buy others when you subscribe by email. They’re not paying me to say this or anything, I just love when I come across a good resource for keeping the mini beasts entertained and learning.

*** http://timeoutnplay.com I promise, they’re not paying me either. No one is paying me, actually. No one at all.

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