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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.  

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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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The Only Things to Hold Onto at the End of the Day

Friday afternoon, 4 pm, at my house is predictably chaotic. This has been a particularly brutal week, and it’s still a long-ass time until dinner. It is my last day of babysitting, and Addie has just gotten home from school, so everyone is underfoot. One kid is overtired and on day five of the constant unhappiness in the life of a four year old (“I don’t like how my life has turned out!”). The other kid, lacking in physical activity for the day, is running wild laps and jumping off the couch (standard issue two year old crazies). I am getting worn out from the baby’s game of pulling up to stand on my legs, swaying unsteadily with wild eyes and arms for 1-2 minutes, and then crashing into my massively pregnant belly, laughing like a tiny psycho. Addie and Owen are making up for the time they spent apart by cramming all of the screaming and hitting they can into each second.

I am suddenly saved by my handsome husband getting home from work. He is exhausted –meetings and back to school night this week have left him fried. Maybe it’s because of this that Owen quickly talks him into a scooter ride. With the dog.

So that’s one tiny human and a dog occupied, out of my line of sight.

My little sprite, Addie, needs some downtime to unwind from the work of preschool and gear up for the evening (including having family friends over for a pizza party). I toss out my first suggestion for a quiet activity, bracing for the usual battle: me offering six to ten choices, her screaming at the ludicrousness of each one, and then an argument in which she says “I never have anything to do. Life is so boring.” and I say “We can throw out all the toys then! You can just sit in silence.”

This day, though, the occasionally reasonable side she has developed since turning four kicks in, and the fight never happens. I say “Sweetie, why don’t you take some time to relax in your room. Please go sit down quietly and read all of your new library books.” She says (drumroll please) “Okay Mommy”. What just happened? Never mind, don’t question it.

And then she does it; she walks into her room without whining, growling, or stomping, and is silent (save for a little rustling of paper).

That makes two small people, and the dog, out of my personal space.

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Jacob gets a bottle and a snuggle. I get as deep of a breath as the baby pushing on my diaphragm from the inside will allow. We may survive the witching hour.

My amazing little book lover stays in her room quietly for a full twenty minutes. She emerges with calm, renewed energy that shows in her smile and lack of screaming or flailing. She sits next to me on the floor and hugs Jacob, asking again “Is this our last day babysitting? Will we still get to see him?” Yes it is, but of course we will. Answers which previously caused her to melt down in tears and anger make her hug him a little tighter, telling him what a sweet and clever baby he is.

I ask how quiet reading time was and she says (I don’t even need to embellish here – I swear – because the phrases are now engrained in my memory forever): “Mommy, there are two books that you picked that we read before, and I love them so much. Thank you Mommy, for picking such good books. You’re the best Mommy.”

It’s a fleeting moment of peace, wrapped in a feeling of relief, and rolled into a four year old who is turning out to be more perfect all the time.

I offer to read her the two she loves so much, and she leaps at the chance. She snuggles next to me on the floor, with her funny way of wrapping her little arm around my shoulders, as though she is the adult. We read Poppleton in Fall, and PJ FunnyBunny Camps Out. Jacob starts his wild standing and flopping game again, and we laugh. The guys and the pup get home.

Chaos resumes and grows as our friends arrive. The house is full of wild kid noises, pizza and countless interrupted adult conversations until the evening ends and we ruin the tiny humans’ lives by making them say goodbye to each other. Kevin and I have a quick bedtime strategy conference: definitely no baths, just wipe them down; which one do you want?; what kind of bribe can we offer for cooperation?  We do the bare minimum, roll them into bed, make the rare decision to leave the house messy, and drag our tired old selves to the TV.

These are the things (the only things) to hold onto from today. The beauty in all that chaos; the fact that we survived another week; that calm moment when I soaked in my girl with pride; the last day with Jacob going smoothly and culminating in a perfectly crazy dinner with both of our families; the quiet after the storm and the short chunk of time with my husband before another wild day begins.

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Rylant, Cynthis. Poppleton in Fall. The Blue Sky Press, 1999.

Sadler, Marilyn. P.J. Funnybunny Camps Out. Random House, 1993.

An Ode to the Perfect Part-Time Baby

Jacob (aka J-Baby, aka Part-Time 3rd Baby, aka Jake The Slug*) is doing one of my all time favorite baby moves these days. Every few minutes, as he plays with toys and big kids, he looks up at me to check in with a goofy, dimpled grin. Then he rapid crawls over, flings himself into my lap, and grabs a quick snuggle. Sometimes he pulls himself up into my arms for a full hug, leaning his head on me and sucking his finger briefly before flinging himself back to the carpet. It is one of the things that makes sitting on the floor to play endlessly (when I have to heave my baby belly back up to stand) totally worth it.

Oh. This. Baby. He has a special place in my heart.

I have been lucky to provide childcare for a baby I am allowed to fall in love with, because he belongs to one of my oldest and best friends, Melissa. While it is paid employment, he has come to feel like family. The months of intimate caretaking – all of the soothing and rocking to sleep in my arms – has formed a strong bond between us. When he leaves my care (freakishly soon) he will remain in my life. I will be able to hug and kiss him for years, watch with pride as he grows, and be there at his high school graduation to remind him that I used to feed him baby bottles and wipe his butt.

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4 month old squish during week one at my house.

Jacob was only a squishy four month old baby when I started watching him. He spent his time observing the chaos of my house from the rock and play, being hauled around in the carrier while we chased Owen, and trying tummy time on the playmat (with TONS of help from my toddlers). I learned the differences between feeding him and feeding my own babies (no spitup!), and the particular bounce and rock that soothed him to sleep.

We played and snuggled and got used to each other during the first couple of months, through an amazing phase of growth and change. I got to watch and help him learn to grab toys and play, to move his arms and legs, and to mimic facial expressions.

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All of the help, all of the attention, none of the regard for personal space.

I had him in the six to nine month phase, when routines had formed and fussiness had (mostly) subsided. We experimented with food together, Melissa telling me the new things he was trying each day. Feeding babies is one of my favorite messy activities; it gives so much insight into their personalities and preferences. J-Baby (the nickname my kids gave him) quickly exhibited his desire to self-feed, long before he was able, like Owen did. He vehemently spit out any food that did not please his taste buds, like Addie did.

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Happiest, busiest, little bee.

In the nine to twelve month phase, we survived spring colds, teething, and ever changing needs together. The kids and I moved furniture and play spaces around to help Jacob learn to pull up to stand. We worked on baby sign language. He left the carrier to wiggle at gymnastics alongside Owen.

Now I get to watch the one-year-old, as he gets busier, funnier, and sweeter. Every day he makes noises that sound more and more like conversation (if you speak baby gibberish that is, which I do fluently). He no longer accepts just any toy Addie and Owen offer as a trade to get something from him; he has the drive and ability to go after the red car, or the green ball, or any contraband items (paper, shoes, dog toys). He has finally increased from slug to normal human speed in these specific moments, or when a door is open that he would like to use as an exit.

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Caring for J-Baby, as meaningful and joyful as it is, is not without challenges. Babies are WORK. It has been a long effort (collectively, with his parents and other caretakers) to get him to self-soothe for sleep. He has his quirks, like all the rest – do NOT try to wipe his face or nose without protest. And he never gets my undivided attention, with my two around. Through exhausting sleep protests, clingy teething, and painful hair pulling phases, he has been mine three days a week, and I would not go back and give up this time for the world.

We have a daily, rhythm, the three kids and I, and the beginning of the end is bittersweet. This week I switched to only two days a week, and before long he will go off to new horizons and I will prepare for another third baby (who I do not pass off to someone else at the end of the day). I owe Jacob the world, though, for teaching how to care for three at a time.

* Slugs do not have feet, and so they – SLOWLY – drag the back of their body by inching the front across the ground, or drag the front of their body by pushing the back. This is also J-Baby’s preferred method of transportation. He does it around the floor, up and down the steps, and in and out of my arms. When not moving like a slug, he tends to drop like a limp noodle and/or curl into a ball. Although he has recently begun to crawl like a real baby, he has no need to move faster or better; his irresistible charm will have other people doing things for him for years to come.

Round 3: Just One More Baby

My recent 20-week ultrasound, for this third pregnancy, was quite different than for the other two. The first time I counted down the days, triple checking where to go, what to do, and that Kevin had the day off. I had no idea what to expect, and then the concept of new lives – my daughter’s and mine as a mother – solidified into reality when I saw her tiny body growing.

During my second pregnancy, we left the flailing 15-month old at home for the big ultrasound, but talked more about her than about the new life we saw on the grainy screen (oh, second babies). I was more aware of potential problems, and my anxiety was at a new and treacherous peak, so all I cared to see was that my son was healthy.

To ultrasound round three, we brought the whole four person family fiasco. The lab room is not large, the equipment is not indestructible, and my kids are (many good things but) not well behaved. It could have gone two ways: meltdown disasters or heartwarming sweetness. It was somewhere in between and perfect.

Addie was fascinated by the blue “goo” on my stomach (“Is it sticky? Can I touch it? I want to eat it!”). Owen, already used to going to checkups with me, settled right in and snuggled. He asked all morning “We go to doctor appointment? At Kaiser? See baby sister?” Kevin wrangled both of them, no one fussed too much, and I was relieved to see my healthy 3rd baby squirming.

I hoped it would make the idea of our family growing a little more real to the kids. Who knows if that happened, but they were excited and involved. They know that we are in this together, as a family, as we prepare for her arrival.

Ultrasound Snuggles

Not so long ago, after careful deliberation on the matter, Kevin and I were solidly done having babies. Turns out we were wrong, obviously. I blame this blog post: No More Babies. The natural law of parenting is that once you proclaim the way things are, they instantly change. Doubly true for announcing it on the internet.

Wherever the blame belongs (with Kevin, my super cute part-time third baby, or my bold public announcement) the new reality is pregnancy and planning.

The first round, pregnant with Addie, I was both plagued and relieved by the unknown of it all. With no images of what daily life would look like, no anticipations of the challenges, I was also blissfully unaware that crossing the line from no kids to kids would be a permanent shift in every fiber of my being. I was unencumbered by dreams of false perfection or preconceived notions of how things should be, and had no prior mistakes upon which to improve.

I started out by accepting less control over life and was forced to live in the vast unknown for nine or so months. It turned out to be great preparation for parenting; damn, this business is unpredictable. The only constants are change, chaos, and a love so heavy it shatters and puts you back together every day.

Round two, pregnant with Owen, I had a better sense of how much a new human changes everything, which was a source of grave anxiety. I spent those nine months anticipating every challenge from the first time reoccurring. I was prepared for an early baby with jaundice and months of extra concern over growth charts and milestones. I was braced for the spit-up, the sleepless nights, the unexplained crying, and the total lack of personal space and time. I dreaded postpartum anxiety and the anguishing recovery from giving birth.  Knowing that babies are 24-7 curveballs, I figured we were in for a whole heap of new issues too. I felt doomed.

I doubted my ability to handle it all – the moment to moment, day to day, around the clock, work of parenting two under two. What would I do when both babies were crying, sick, or clingy?  

More than anything, I worried for Addie. I did not yet appreciate the resilience of kids to change. My heart broke every time I imagined having to put off soothing her to tend to the needs of some stranger baby.

I took comfort in the overwhelming, automatic, primal love that I felt for my baby boy.

I took comfort in knowing that, even if Addie’s life was temporarily destroyed, she would get a sibling out of the deal – a lifelong companion, a little buddy to boss around.

I took comfort in her being so young that she would never remember life without him.

Everything (and everyone) is different this third round – from the group appointment to the ultrasound photos tossed haphazardly on the coffee table, instead of on the fridge or placed carefully into a baby book.

This round, I make no assumptions about her personality, our challenges, or the kids’ reactions.

This round, I am not focused on every little pregnancy symptom – I have no time to do that.

This round, I have less concern for the logistics; I pretty much know where she will sleep, and I have a car seat for her – that seems good enough for now.

Baby #3 will find her place in our home, our family, and our hearts. I know now that all of those areas of life stretch and multiply to make room for more love.

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Fruitless Efforts

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A friend posted this quote recently and I made a half-kidding comment that it was a good #parentingtip. It echoes a true sentiment in raising the under 5 crowd, at least. The gist of it – that trying to alter permanent conditions (or people) only brings misery – keeps rolling around in my mind. It has been guiding my moment-to-moment parenting in a positive direction since, or at least pushing my mood up a notch.

Although not a new philosophy (in parenting or life), and certainly not my original idea, it came as a well-timed reminder. Addie is a homebody-to-the-bones by nature, but I cannot change that school starts at 8:30 am and does not take place at our house. What I can control, for my own happiness, is how I reconcile the two conflicting facts. She also cannot change (at least until more of her frontal lobe develops) that transitional times feel, to her, like an emotional assault, or that she has to cover her body with clothing anyway. All I can do is give her the tools to smooth it all out and wait until she grows up.

Owen, to his core, maintains high anxiety about talking to unfamiliar people. Neither of us can change that he is sometimes inclined to clam up, look away, and tremor when a waitress tells him “good morning, cutie!” But we are not interested in disrupting the social nature of pleasant greetings among humans. I am long past the times of stressing myself out in navigating his interactions, or attempting to cajole a reply from him. I refuse to thwart his genuine feelings by telling him not to be shy or that it is all okay – when it is so clearly NOT okay, to him.

Instead, I try to help him balance his need for space with the common courtesies required to participate in the world. I pat his back so he feels the safety of my presence; I gain his eye contact to keep him from checking out of the interaction; I ask him if he wants to say good morning back, or if he wants mommy to say it for him; I show warm smiles to both my bashful boy and the kind waitress.

As humans (I think) my kids have no control over fears and preferences that are parts of their temperaments, or of the natural occurrences in life that stir them up. I want them to learn that they can work with their own outlooks, attitudes, reactions, and behaviors instead.

Do not waste your lives in fruitless efforts to change others: an important lesson for my kids as well. Owen took your fairy tales book and pulled your hair? Addie stuck her finger in the frosting on your cupcake? That behavior was not okay but you still need to use your words, move away, ask for help, or let it go.Those are the reactions my kids can control, the responses for which I want them to strive, and the behavior that gets everyone back to copasetic with the least grief.

The most fulfilling shift is when I can reframe things that may not be permanent, but make me crazy in the moment. If I change my verbal reaction to their shitshow, and help them to look at themselves more positively, it is a win for us all. It sure feels better to hear: you are so creative and have the biggest ideas for art projects, BUT we will have to save that one for another time, than: I told you six times already I am NOT getting out glue and scissors and making a mess right now – stop pestering me! It feels better to say: it is so great that you love to drive your trucks around, and you are such a good boy to play quietly by yourself, BUT we have to say goodbye to them now and take a nap, than it does to get exasperated and toss him into his bed while he cries.

“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he proposes to remove.”  – Samuel Johnson

I realize, with these wise words in mind all week, that it is foolish trying to control other humans in the first place (not to mention infuriating, exhausting, and utterly pointless). In no other circumstance would I attempt it. I cannot make the person in front of me in line move faster because I am running late, or expect my husband to change into a mind reader to better suit my needs, or require better grammar from strangers just to please my picky ears. All fruitless efforts, and who has the energy for those?

As for my mama mental fountain I am finding it unfair to rest my feelings of content or discontent on my kids. They are small, and their own people, and right now there is a disconnect between their true nature and the rules of the civilized world. My happiness is instantly thwarted when I get sucked into the why can’t my kids be different vortex. I can guide and assist them, and I can control my reactionl when they act like monsters, and that is it. Except when they have I love you more contests with me, or offer unsolicited acts of kindness to each other. I am more than willing to let those good vibes change my disposition.

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38

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37 … 38

38 years old … What does this feel like? Is it the same as 37, as 36? It should be, but instead it feels like a long stride closer to 40. 38 is the difference between picturing my 40’s as a blurry time in the future, and realizing that it will just be another year, then another.

When I was a kid, my grandma claimed for a few years in a row – with her unique and baffling tone of kidding, but really was she? – that she was turning 38. I remember knowing it was a joke, but not quite getting it. It does seem like a good place to stop.

In my memories, she – eerily and eternally young – could have been 38 all those years. To my brother, cousins, and me, in our little kid days, she gave a plethora of her time.. She owned a huge part of our weekends, holidays, summer breaks, and the joyful spaces in our hearts. Technically 38 or not, the memory is my standard for the energy and dedication of the age.

Clearly, I am in a different place than my grandmother, who was packing seven grandchildren in the Suburban for a day trip to Marine World. 38, for me, is growing a third human while chasing the first two (as depicted in the family portrait birthday card, by Addie my artist, below).

 

How about my mom at 38? That would have been 1992 and right in the middle of her new lease on life and passion as a teacher. Like everything else, I failed to note how inspiring her drive to start a career late in life was. I try to imagine now how she managed to go to college, get her credential, and start teaching when my brother and I were elementary school brats.

I would be tempted to derail at every station of that nonsense. Not Sandi, though. At 38, she would have been in her first few years of that madness and – if memory serves – loving it all.

Oh the irony that my plan is basically the same. At 38, I’m not exactly marking off days on the calendar until I can go back to a life that isn’t overwhelmed by tantrums, needs, nagging, and carseats, but I do have a countdown to it in mind. (Obviously, Baby #3 is pushing back that timeline.)

My mom’s 38th was also one of the first years when we clashed over each wanting to be the sole epitome of the grunge movement. We fought over being the most disaffected, multiple pairs of Doc Martens and jars of Manic Panic, and loving Pearl Jam the most (she won that last one hands down).

We both wanted independence during these years, while somehow retaining our mommy and daughterness. I can feel that, now that I am on the mommy side of the equation. Addie and I are years off from clashing our teenage and middle age angsts, but I have a taste of my mom’s perspective now.

So how do I feel then, if not the same as 37, but not different? If not like my mother or grandmother (in her real or faux 38th years), but not totally unlike them? What is 38 to me, if I’m not unsettled with my daily grind, nor perfectly satisfied with my place in the world?

I have no concrete answers to those existential questions – not yet nor maybe ever. 38 is peachy keen so far, despite feeling older and slower all day every day (which could be my symptomatic of my geriatric pregnancy). 38 feels fine; maybe it will get good enough that I too stay here for a few years.

Birthday Present
Gifts at 38, from my husband: paintings by my favorite local artist (more on him in a future post).