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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Let’s Talk About Sleep, Baby

With less energy and more baby weight every minute, these days feel endless. By the time I shove gently lay my monsters sweet children in their beds, I am more than ready to sit in quiet and zone out on my phone for a few minutes. Unfortunately, this interlude between bedtime and chores has lately been taking place outside of their bedroom door, to keep Owen contained in his new toddler bed for long enough to fall asleep. Not so restful.

Please let my independent sleeper reappear soon.

He will; he always does. Mostly, I am appalled at how easily I can put him down for nap and bedtime: a big hug and kiss, binky and blankey in chubby hands, sound machine on, and it’s “night night, Owen”. Not a peep until he’s awake again. Each day we are a little closer to being back there. I just need a little extra patience for now (can I order some from Amazon?).

The saving grace in this current fiasco has been Addie, my other great sleeper. Now that they share a room, it could be a quick downhill shitshow if she joined in the fun when he protests, hopping out of bed 600 times a night. She amazes me – my wild child who rarely does anything I need – by staying quiet and sticking to her usual sleep-2-minutes-after-head-hits-pillow routine. Thank you preschool, for wearing her out.

I have now spent 4+ years, and counting, getting tired babies and kids to go the fuck to sleep. Over and over and over. Soon I will start over with Baby 3, learning her natural tendencies and working on healthy habits, while trying to stay sane.

The thing is, baby sleep (then toddler sleep, then kid sleep, which all lead to adult sleep) is EVERYTHING. No one, in this house at least, does well without it. As a natural insomniac, I try to prioritize lifelong, healthy relationships with sleep for all of our sake.

Secretly, I love the challenge. Sleep is one of my favorite kid projects. The individual and universal sleep needs of tiny people fascinate me. A sucker for schedules, routines, and tricks, I love researching this topic. I have learned a few things along the way (the details of which I would be happy to discuss with anyone, at any time). And when all the plans go awry, as they do, I like to rethink, change course, and fine-tune our habits. What a loser.

Of course, habits are only one half of the equation – every human has their own little ways. One baby fought me on sleep for his entire, insanity provoking, first year of life (and grew out of it). The other was born with the ease to sleep well, in predictable patterns, from only a few months old (not a thing about her since has been so smooth).

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Miss Dream Sleeper

Even before Adelaide was born, I began a slight obsession with baby sleep. It started with unrealistic anxiety over what she would sleep in as a newborn. There were far too many options: 6,000 bassinets, co-sleepers, pack n play, rock n play, a literal basket on my bed; the list is ridiculous. How is any new mom to know that you go with whatever burlap sack will get them to actually sleep?

When she was a few weeks old, I fell far down the baby sleep research rabbit hole. But I went by choice, diving happily into every book, blog, Facebook forum, and conversation with other parents and experts. My anxiety lessened with each new idea and insight – research usually does that for me. And I learned quickly to pick and choose what I wanted from each program about what babies and parents MUST do to get sleep. No drinking any one particular Kool-Aid here.

At Addie’s 6 month checkup, our beloved pediatrician said we were incredibly lucky for her solid two naps a day and single night waking. She informed us that Addie was cleared to sleep through the night, if we were interested in gentle sleep training. We were, we did, and it was the easiest thing ever. Kevin and I got used to the 7 pm bedtime, leaving evenings to work and wind down, and mostly sleeping through most nights. Even in regressions, teething, and illness she was barely thrown off and went back to good sleep within a few days. Blissful.

O and mom
Mr Only-Sleeps-on-Mama

By contrast, Owen – tortured and inconsolable– rejected sleep with a vengeance as a baby. He could not be set down, for the first four months or so, without screaming bloody murder and projectile spitting up in volcanic amounts. No habits emerged with which to work. Sleep training was a constant fail. Self-soothing seemed impossible. He is damn lucky to be the cutest, most loving human ever. Within days of his first birthday, everything in his life (including the ability to sleep) suddenly clicked into place. And he has been a dream ever since, until this current derailment.

What strange, fascinating, infuriating, and exhausting human behavior. Sleep. It is EVERYTHING. Between evenings camped outside the kids’ door, middle of the night pregnancy hunger and insomnia, and early mornings when Addie comes flailing in to my bed – I need more of it. At least I have enough experience, at this point, to know this is all temporary. Someday, when they become lazy teenagers, I will be dragging them out of bed in the mornings just to see their grumpy faces.

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You Can Mom Your Own Way*

A stranger, a checker, eyes my belly and says “I’m guessing you’re 8 months?” He smiles kindly enough as he bags my kids’ cold medicine and disinfecting wipes. I have an impulse to correct him (more like 6) and offer an explanation (it’s my third). Instead I give a raised eyebrow and tight-lipped smile, waiting until I walk away to roll my eyes.

I mean, it’s only the tenth time this week, only the thousandth time since my first pregnancy, that someone has interjected an assumption, a misjudgment, or personal inquiry. Why did this stranger, and so many others, feel entitled to information about my life? Only in pregnancy, and parenting, is this paradigm so widely accepted.

Why is it that pregnancy and parenting seem to be public business? Is it human nature? Caring interest? Some instinctual curiosity to compare lives, reminisce, or project onto our own? My size during pregnancy (and everything I ingest, take part in or sit out, and my general attitude) is only the beginning.  I know people mean well (and if they don’t I pretend it, to curb my anger). Either way, it isn’t the nosiness that I mind.

My problem is with the widespread, mistaken belief that personal parenting choices are up for public debate. I take issue with the follow-ups to innocent questions that convey: you should never; I always; you have no idea what you’re doing, so let me tell you, as an expert on your life, stranger.

Without realizing it, I fell a few times into the trap of buying that bullshit. Giving out answers I didn’t really want to discuss, listening to advice I didn’t ask for, and questioning my decisions based on someone else’s ideas.

Although I have never cared much what others think (no secret where Addie gets it), I sometimes get caught off guard by a judgmental busybody. The trick for me is to remember that I can only Mom the way I Mom, to my actual children I. If I got sucked into worry over everything anyone may think I’m doing wrong … well, I would never have time to do any actual parenting. I would be forever in the corner banging my head against the wall.

I couldn’t please everyone even if I wanted to try, and the issues up for debate are endless. In my effort to remain uneffected by outside opinions, I have also learned that I am pretty neutral to how anyone else parents.

Please, by all means, you do you, and let me do the same.

I had one baby with an epidural and one without. I strongly preferred the birth without it, but I have zero preference on how any other baby comes into the world.

Both of my babies breastfed, but I was never in love with it and stopped right at one year. When I see older babies nursing, it looks beautiful. When I see a baby chugging a bottle: adorable. When I see a baby who looks hungry and a mom who looks flustered, I don’t pretend to know all of what’s going on in their moment.

Ideals change along the way too – I have found myself on the flip side of my own philosophies a few times.

I’m strict about sleep habits, family dinners, clean hands and feet, manners, and a tidy house. I’m probably a little too loose about sugar, screen time, and a clothing optional home life.

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One in pants, one in a shirt … at least they have a full outfit between them.

Pre-motherhood, I never thought I would buy  “kid” foods, like GoGurts (not that I thought about it much), but they are in my refrigerator at this moment. I also make homemade yogurt, but sometimes it’s GoGurts. So let me be the first to say: I don’t care what kind of yogurt you feed your kids, or if you do at all. I don’t actually care what or how you feed your kids.

I no longer scold my children in public; all it accomplishes is riling all of us up further. That’s not to say I don’t work on behavior, I just try alternatives: discussing it privately later, and lots of preplanning (bribes) for when beasts appear in place of my humans. But public threats, strained reprimands, issuing of consequences … they don’t work for us. It was when I realized I was scolding mainly to please onlookers, in defense of my parenting and in attempt to show faux control, that I let that shit go.

This is all different than giving zero fucks about anyone else or their choices. It fascinates me – the variants, options, and wide-open spaces that allow so many ways to parent. I give all the fucks about it.

I just respect and assume that everyone chooses what works best for the actual humans they raise, and for themselves.

It used to get under my skin, the unnecessary and unhelpful judgment. Okay it still does at times, because I’m so irritable and easily set off. But I smile and nod, shrug it off. And I hope to remember not to do the same when I get past these wild years and feel the urge to pass my reflections on to strangers in parking lots.

For now, I will do my best to Mom my own way, and remember that my fellow parents are doing the same. All the kids will be screwed up anyway (half-kidding).

*Or Dad your own way. Or grandparent, or foster; there are a million wonderful people who raise beastly little children in a million ways. I just happen to be a Mom, so I write as one.

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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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The Snail Days of Summer

Summer break is here, in all its snail-paced, infuriatingly unscheduled, glory. We’re relishing the relief from the mad morning dash, from shuffling people around (and being shuffled around), and have quickly relaxed into the slow.

It has only been two weeks for Addie (Kevin’s break starts today), but we have glimpsed many phases of summer already.

The best times have been the luxurious morning snuggles while watching cartoons and snacking on dry cereal. The kids lounging in their cute pajama shorts and nightgowns until way too late in the morning and in tank tops in front of the fan in the stale afternoon heat. And all the lounging in between.

We have done pool days, sprinklers in the backyard, and popsicles. The kids have attended birthday parties, parks, and library events. Home has been filled with hours of reading, Lego fests, and movies. Art projects have been created from kid imagination, and also completed through Mom/Pinterest instructions.

There have been copious amounts of fussing, whining, fighting, biting, destructive behavior, and spinning in wild circles. We have had a solid taste of summer grumps. But mostly, the tone has been downtempo.

The days are literally long; the sun is out, so we are up, early and late. We move slowly and so do the hours. The minutes often drag past. In the snail days of summer, everything slows down.

This pace, these lack of plans, are hard on my nerves. Having an idea of what is coming next, having some structure, curbs my anxiety. And it doesn’t help when the kids get wild and troublesome from too much free time. But everyone needs a break from the scheduled, at least for the start of the summer.

Addie needs the break from structure and transitions. She needs free time and fewer restrictions, after a tough year of preschool. Her emotional health is my number one priority this summer. The year was damaging, and she needs to feel like the good kid that she is on the inside, so she can act like it on the outside, when she starts a new school in the fall.

Owen is thriving on independence and the need to figure things out for himself – whether it’s how to put on his own clothes, or how to pass the time when left to his own devices. He needs me next to him without holding his hand, reminding him of the rules of life and patiently standing by while he absorbs their weight. And it all takes time that we don’t have during school days.

I need the slow pace too. I’m wiped out, and on my two week vacation from babysitting. I miss the baby shenanigans already, but am regaining some energy from a lighter workload.

This is how the first chunk of the summer will go: snail days, in which we soak up each other’s company (for better or worse), take things day to day (mostly), and slow down to relax and recover. Adventurous days will follow soon, and then the dog days of summer will be upon us before we know it.

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Letting Go Of “You Always” and “You Never”

You never listen. I have to refrain from saying this to my kids eighty-five times a day. Even though it may feel true in the moment, it is not a never, it is a right now. You must have forgotten to turn your good listening ears on. That is what I say instead, in good parenting moments. In worse, I command: Listen to me right now! In between, I try for a silent pause – anything to prevent me from saying you never.

Why are you always such a messy eater? I think. Owen makes accidental messes from eating with speed and gusto. His chunky, 2-year-old fingers can’t quite pull the foil off the top of a yogurt cup without toppling it, but really insist on trying. He also makes mischievous messes: turning over a cereal bowl on top of his head, throwing slobber-covered bread crusts, and rubbing food on his neck (I have no explanation for that one).

You always make such a mess. I try not to throw the words at him. I know they will not help. Be a neater eater, I say instead. Use your napkin, like Addie does. He will get there. Owen will (probably) not be a pigpen his whole life.

You kids always fuss when it’s time to get ready in the morning. I do say this one, but does pointing out their flaw help? Are they suddenly better about getting ready because I toss out a label? Quite the opposite. I say they are fussing for no reason, and they dig in their heels and commit to the fussfest. There is nothing I should say instead. If they fuss about getting ready, so be it. There are lots of ways I can still get us out the door. And if I keep you always out of my mouth, eventually they will get over the fussy mornings. Or maybe not – everyone has issues.

In these long days of motherhood, repetitive, but temporary, little things get under my skin. In order for me to not lose my mind during these phases, I need to let go of you always and you never.

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NOT fussing about getting ready in the morning.

Why can you never go to the bathroom by yourself? I mean really, sometimes I cannot leave what I’m doing to watch you pee.

You never agree on anything. Obviously not.

You always kick me during diaper changes. Maybe it’s time to potty train.

You always fight at Costco. Like every other kid, and most adults.

You always splash water out of the bath. Only sometimes.

You never eat that, so I’m not making it. Except really, I will.

You never keep your hands to yourself. Almost never.

You always run away from me. Only most of the time.

The list is endless.

The danger (to the kids) in you always and you never, is hearing absolutes that they have to live up to. They internalize the labels, they feel bad, and they keep it up to save face. It backfires a hundred percent of the time.

The benefit (to me), in letting go of that vocabulary, is I can skip getting panicked into tunnel vision about little behaviors. I can avoid making catastrophic plans for how to deal with their (genuinely atrocious) issues FOREVER. In letting go of you always and you never, I leave room for the frustrations to become distant memories.

No good can come of making someone relive, and pay again, for minor instances that collectively turn into an always or a never. And so my new mission (among all of the many in progress) is to drop the labels from my kid related vocabulary.

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NOT fighting at Costco. Ridiculously cute.