She saved the smell of bubble gum breath and cinnamon-scented hair, of coconut detangler and Vicks Vaporub. She stockpiled the feel of soft, tiny toes pressed gently against her lips. Of monkey-like legs wrapped around her waist.
She had a impressive collection of uppies and lay-with-mes and an infinite number of one-two-three-whees. She saved snippets of tiny tea cups clinked and plastic swords clanked. She saved bits of superheroes saving the day and puppet animals saying goodnight. She treasured her savings of sounding out words. Of listening to decoding, while praising and celebrating.
She held on to a handful of magical moments when elfs delivered and unicorns pranced. When fairies flew and night lights protected. She pocketed those times when the moon was bewitching and all of the rocks and shells were exquisite treasures.
She continued to make room for her growing conglomerate, clearing space for the feel of a small back underneath her fingertips. For the rinsing of strawberry shampoo out of long brown hair. For the tug in her chest that happened every time she noticed an indication of growth.
She squirreled away giggles and super silly faces. She kept her favorite misnomers and mispronunciations. Buckle seat instead of seat belt. Libary instead of library. She kept a lake full of tears and an assemblage of carefully bandaged wounds. She had a special place for small fingers that gripped her hands and skinny arms that wrapped around her neck.
She cherished her collection, even those things that were beginning to grow dust. She moved them around at times, brushing off some of the grit, yet she was aware that many of her goods were soon-to-be antiques.
Even when her stock appeared to be full, she continued to squirrel away more and more moments. She couldn’t help it. She was a hoarder.
Today my three year old self-reflected for the first time in her life. Or, maybe she didn’t. But for the first time ever, she shared her self-reflection with me. That – for sure – is true.
That’s the amazing thing about having kids. You get to witness their first-evers and those first-evers last……forever? I don’t know the expiration date on that but while it lasts, it’s amazing. Captivating. Thrilling. Watching your kids accomplish new physical or mental feats is tantamount to climbing Mt. Everest, or being treated to an all-inclusive resort that boasts five-star chefs and excellent bar service, or traveling to an exotic locale and capturing video of never-before-witnessed natives in their natural habitat. It’s unparalleled.
My daughter is a spunky little feisty-muffins with a penchant for silly faces, word play, cackling laughter, a side of sass, and possibly a slight anger management problem. She gives her fuzzy blankie with the pink hearts on it a hug more readily than she’ll give me one, and after three years of holding her, when she snuggles in close to me I know well enough to be wary of getting head-butted. She runs, hops, jumps, or skips, but NEVER walks. (Unless you ask her to run, hop, jump, or skip. Then she walks as slow as a sloth.) She is a tiny-yet-mighty strong-willed mystery. She is a beautiful conundrum.
Since she has been able to speak she has bested me during every verbal exchange we’ve ever had.
“Put your pants on.”
“YOU put your pants on!!”
“Put your foot in the leg hole”
“YOU put my foot in the leg hole!!”
“YOU sit down!”
“Sit down or you’re going to go to time out.”
*she stays standing*
“Do you want a time out?”
“YOU don’t hit!!”
(I don’t hit! … but do you see what she does? Here I am defending myself to you because of her.)
Usually, when I observe my three year old, I’m in awe because she surprises me so much. She surprises me with her many clever made-up words. She surprises me with her sense of humor and her creativity. She surprises me with the power of her fury. With her wit. Her breath-taking beauty. Her stubbornness. She surprises me with her cruelty – which might just be curiosity – but either way can be brutal. Her surprises never end. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she tells me she wants to be a donut.
We are not on the same wavelength – she usually doesn’t do what I expect she sh/would. She doesn’t do what I would do. She is a wild child being raised by a nerdy bookworm.
Sometimes this is infuriating. Sometimes it is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Since I can’t always predict or understand her behavior, she tests my patience. My flexibility. My coping strategies. In other words, my ability to be a good parent.
That’s all a little scary and intimidating.
Is that what “threenager” means? Scary and intimidating? Probably so.
My little threenager – who sometimes gets a bad rap for head-butting me in the jaw or screaming through clenched teeth as she punches and kicks (so hard!) – that kid of mine self-reflected today and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Here’s what happened. Every night we have our routine. Potty. Pajamas. Teeth. Books. Usually after we read a couple of books we lay together in bed and chat. Most nights, I take a few minutes and tell my children the strengths I see in them. I tell them they are hard workers and they are readers and writers and artists. I tell them they are good sharers and good sisters and they are nice and kind people. There are a multitude of variations to the list, it isn’t always exactly the same.
Tonight after I told my three-year-old she was a nice friend she said to me, “Ruby was mad at me today.” Her pal at daycare that she’s known practically from birth. They were born days apart.
“Why was Ruby mad at you?”
“Ms. Jodi was mad at me too.” she adds. Her beloved daycare teacher.
“Why were they mad at you?” I rephrase my question. I was used to her telling me she had time outs or had bad days. Not every day, but enough for it to be somewhat typical.
“I didn’t share the blocks.”
“I see.” I snuggled in closer to her and kiss the top of her head before resting my chin on it. A slightly risky move on my part.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked her.
To be honest, I don’t know what kind of reply I was expecting. Usually she’d make up a silly word and giggle, or ignore the question and make a joke about poop, or change the subject and talk about Anna, Elsa, or Olaf. I don’t think I was expecting her to actually answer, but tonight she did.
“Bad.” She looked up at me and stared me right in the eyes. She didn’t even head butt me in the jaw.
Whoa. She feels bad when she doesn’t do the right thing. When she makes others mad. This was huge to me. She released a bombshell I was not prepared for. I was blasted with an wave of pride.
Sometimes her behavior makes my eyes water, not because of the remarkably strong toddler-inflicted pain she is capable of administering, but because what she says is so refreshing to hear.
“Sometime nice people don’t act as nice as they know they should. Nice people just keep working to act nicer.” I reassured her.
I know this, after all, from decades of experience.
Maybe my three-year-old and I aren’t that different from one another, after all. I suppose that shouldn’t really surprise me.
Last week I felt like I was constantly rushing. Rushing downstairs when I woke up to make the coffee and get myself ready. Rushing to rouse the girls and help them get dressed and brush their hair. Rushing out the door and heading to daycare drop-off – making sure I pulled into the parking lot precisely at 7:15. I knew I had a one minute buffer but if I arrived at 7:17 I would pull out of the neighborhood later than I should and I would get stuck behind the bus – which would make me panic throughout the rest of my drive about being late to work. After work, I rushed to get a quick workout in and then rushed to pick up the girls. I headed home to tidy the house a bit and make dinner and before I knew it the whole process started again. It wasn’t very pretty.
Thankfully, there were moments when my children reminded me I needed to slow down.
“Mama!” she called from upstairs.
I was unloading the dishwasher so I could load it again with the dirty dishes that were overflowing in the sink and I hadn’t yet started prepping dinner.
“Come down, babe!” I yelled up the steps. If she came down, I could talk to her while I got some work done.
She didn’t come down.
“Sweetie, come down!” I yelled again.
She still didn’t emerge.
Annoyed at being disrupted from my list of chores I wanted to check off my list, I went upstairs and saw her sitting on her blanket, leaning her head against a pillow in her “fort” (which is really her closet). She looked up at me and let out a muffled sigh.
I took a deep breath and ducked down beneath her hanging dresses and sat next to her. She leaned into me.
“What’s up, kiddo?” I asked.
“Sister doesn’t want to play with me.” she replied.
I put my arm around her little shoulders. “Sometimes sister wants to do other things. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you, it just means she wants to do her own thing right now.”
“I’m sad,” she said.
“I’m sorry you’re sad.” I sat with her for a couple of minutes and then kissed her on the head and started to get up to head back downstairs.To where my work was.
She put her hand on my shoulder. “Stay with me.” she insisted.
I looked at her small shoulders hunched over and the downturned corners of her mouth and I took a deep breath and sat back down. To where my work really was. We sat next to each other in silence. I tried not to count in my head how many minutes we were sitting, and how many dishes I could put away in that same timeframe. I reminded myself that I enjoyed sitting next to my child.and feeling her warmth and her weight pressed against me. I reminded myself that sometimes the dishes really can wait. I leaned my head against hers and rubbed her back.
After a few minutes of silence, she said, “Thanks for helping me. I feel better now,” and she popped up and walked out of the “fort” ready to head back downstairs.
The anxiety I had felt about taking the time to head upstairs had been totally unfounded. In reality, it had taken only five to seven minutes of total time, starting from when I yelled up the steps from the kitchen. Five to seven minutes to help my daughter to feel loved and secure and able to regroup. Five to seven minutes are so important when you think about it that way.
The pile of overflowing dishes will get done, eventually. They won’t sit there forever. My kids won’t need me for that long.
Baby Grouch is still small but she isn’t really a baby anymore. She pretends she is a waitress and asks, “What would you like today?” and she says, “This is my coffee.” as she takes a swig of milk from her sippy cup. She “reads” her favorite books – We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Baby Giggles and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. She’s heard them so many times she’s memorized every word.
Currently, one of her favorite movies is Tarzan. Her favorite part is when Tarzan presses his hand against Jane’s and notices that their fingers align perfectly. She holds her own hand up, palm facing out and fingers pointing to the sky and says, “Go like this.” I press my hand into hers and I hold it there until she pulls away. It always surprises me how long this sustains her attention and how her tiny hand is able to push against mine with a firmness many adult-sized hands don’t possess. Tarzan leans his head into Jane’s chest and his eyes widen as he listens to her heartbeat. Baby Grouch puts her head against me and smiles when she hears mine. She pulls me close to her and I hear her rapid whumpa-whumpa-whumpa in return.
I get transported to the 12-week appointment where we waited anxiously to hear that sound. Just a week before, we stopped hearing the rapid beating from Baby A and Baby B so we were very nervous about whether or not we’d still hear Baby C. It took forever for the nurse to find that sound and when she finally did I pretty much lost it in the office.
She’s always been the fighter.
When she’s not playing Tarzan, she sings at the top of her lungs and she bangs loudly on her drum set. She presses so hard when she colors that waxy smears of crayon obliterate the image printed on the page. She deftly snips with tiny scissors and cuts a single sheet of paper into a million pieces that litter the art room floor. She screams when she’s happy. She screams when she’s not. She screams so loudly it hurts my eardrums. She demands that I pick her up and then put her down. She yells “Help!” and when I ask her to try again and “I can do it!” when I offer assistance. She tears off her shirts and her pants so they don’t encumber her as she leaps off of the sofa. She giggles when she lands on the floor with a thud.
She is tough.
When she takes off her shirt and tosses it aside, I can’t help but notice that the heart-shaped birthmark on her back – once blood-red – is almost imperceptible now. The doctors told me it would probably fade away but I wasn’t so sure. It was so bold before. For me, it’s always been a stark reminder that there were others with her for a brief time.
Sometimes I watch her with amazement and feel the odd sensation of deeply missing something I never really had in the first place. Sometimes I stare at her in awe and think that what I’m missing is what allows me to retain a small shred of sanity.
Lately, one of her favorite songs is a Phil Collins number from the Tarzan soundtrack. Like her favorite books and videos, she likes to hear it over and over and over again. I sing it with her, I sing it to her, I catch myself singing it even when I’m by myself.
“You’ll be in my heart. You’ll be in my heart….allllllwaaaaays.”
They sport their affiliation with their clothing or jewelry. Is their necklace hand-crafted from organic seed beads? Does it boast a little silver Tiffany tag? Or is it made from the macaroni noodles a toddler strung together? It’s a little more subtle, but it’s similar to spying a colored bandana or a tattooed area code on a forearm.
They’ve got territory that’s theirs and territory that isn’t. Elite preschools vs. in-home daycares vs.baby-wearing to work through the toddler years. Janie and Jack vs. Old Navy vs.Thrift Stores. Twistars vs. swim class at the Y vs. catching frogs and jumping in mud puddles on nature preserves. Whole foods vs. fast foods vs. Neighborhood Sustainability Gardens. There is not much crossing paths between groups.
They’re part of a family. Not a family they came from, but a family they chose. They count on their crew for survival – to keep them sane, to keep them grounded, to keep them feeling like they’re doing things right. They’re following the rules of the group, even if the rules are stupid. It feels good to pretend they know what they’re doing.
They’ve got intimidation tactics. They’re posting photos of their homemade baby food and organic veggies. They’re writing angry forum posts about how your child is going to have life-long hip injuries from that baby carrier you’re using or listing all the reasons their child is safer than yours in the car. Or, they walk past you in in the store flaunting their children’s goldfish, chicken nugget, and oreo cookie diet.
They fight over stupid shit that feels worthy of a life or death altercation. Things like breastfeeding and sleep training and when to introduce what kind of solids. Things like time-outs, t.v. time and, and the best way to throw a birthday party. Their “family” honor is at stake.
Someone’s bound to get hurt – whether it’s gang wars or mom wars – if someone messes with one of their family members. Parents might not always walk down the street in packs, but they most definitely appear in swarms online.
Here are some common gangs in your area and tips about how they can be identified:
MOTTO: “Feed them farro”.
GANG SIGN: The Gyan Mudra. Alternate: Connecting fingers with thumb to form a circle, which symbolizes a multitude of things such as, the Sun and Moon, a whole (as in Whole 30) and a “zero” (as in zero preservatives or artificial ingredients).
TERRITORY: Yoga studios, local natural food stores, baby-wearing meetings, the great outdoors (particularly in non-landscaped settings).
ATTIRE: Rainbow colored (as found naturally in the real rainbow, not as in artificially colored rainbows), earthy green, tans and ochre colors required. Paisley pattern allowed. Second-hand preferred. Beaded bracelets and crystal amulets as accessories.
PRIZE ITEMS: Organic, all-natural, baby carrier (the kind that doesn’t ruin delicate baby hips), crystal body deodorant, nutritional yeast, essential oils (especially frankincense), heirloom tomatoes, any book by Dr. Sears, crocheted teacup coozies.
QUESTIONABLE ACTIVITIES: Eating chocolate that is not at least 60% cacao or that is not fair trade. Letting their child cry it out.
DIALECTIC USAGE OF THE PHRASE “IN SEASON”: Used in reference to crops.
MOTTO: Go Get ‘Em!
GANG SIGN: A loose hug where no one actually touches accompanied with a fake smile and a slow, subtlety judgmental sweep of the eyes down, then back up.
TERRITORY: The pool at the high-priced gym, the benches in the high school football stadium, all-inclusive resorts on the right beaches in Mexico.
ATTIRE: Color coordinated outfits showcasing this year’s name-brand fashions. Preferably fashions not available in stores but purchased from an in-home hosted party. Perfectly coiffed hair, well-applied makeup, groomed brows.
PRIZE ITEMS: Ceramic Starbucks thermos, Current Books Focusing on Achievement and Success (such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or The 80/20 Principle), Beta Brand Yoga Pants.
QUESTIONABLE ACTIVITIES: Pinteresting incorrectly, not enrolling children in a minimum of 37 activities per year, kids attending less than elite preschools, overall not being good enough at everything.
The day has come. The sticky parts of the velcro straps no longer reach the fuzzy parts when they’re on her feet. They’re too small.
Up until this point, everything else that has become too small has immediately been thrown in a box and passed along to another kid who can use it. During my four years of being a parent, I haven’t been saving a box of special clothes that I couldn’t part with. I didn’t always understand why other people kept so much. They’re just clothes, right?
But these. After taking them off her feet, and replacing them with a bigger pair, I picked them up and stared at them. My heart surprised me with a pang!. I could not throw them in the box and give them away. This pair is special.
Before having kids the whole parents-being-sad-because-their-kids-were-growing-up thing never made any sense to me. Aren’t they supposed to grow up? Aren’t you happy your kid is growing like a weed, fit as a fiddle? And now I have my answer. Of course, we’re happy about that.
But it still makes us sad.
A few weeks ago I was at my mother-in-law’s house and my youngest, the youngest of all the grandchildren, ran behind the other kids, following closely behind them. She could finally keep up. We looked at each other and gave that little smile where the corners of your mouth go down and she said to me, “No more babies”. I frowned and nodded and we hugged. My oldest noticed our exchange and asked why we were sad. We explained as well as we could and since that day she periodically looks at me with a solemn expression and slowly shakes her head as she says, “No more babies, Mama. You’re not having any more babies”.
No matter that I am not trying to have any more babies, that I am, in fact, trying not to have any more babies. My heart ignores that kind of logic.
The other day I was at home with just the baby and we got to enjoy some alone time.
“What do you want to do now?” I asked her.
She wanted to play with her socks; she pointed to the pair she had just pulled from her feet and tossed next to the stove. I picked up the socks and brushed off the hairs and dust that were attached to the fabric and handed them to her. She tried to put them back on her feet. After about 3 seconds of trying, she got frustrated.
“You can! It’s hard!”
“I can!” She tried again but still struggled.
“Pull the edge open, then push your foot in.”
And then I saw her do it. She put on her own sock for the first time.
“YOU DID IT!”
“I DID IT!”
And then she did the other one.
“YOU DID IT!!!!”
“I DID IT!”
We both squealed and high-fived and she ran in circles, doing her weird little off-balance two-footed jump in the air. I seriously almost cried. I imagined what it would look like if a friend of mine came to the door at that instant. I was disheveled and smelly because I had snuck in a quick workout and I probably had dust bunnies stuck to my yoga pants from sitting on my unkempt floor. It would be hard to fully explain the greatness of that moment.
But, that’s what parenting is. Sitting on the filthy kitchen floor, in your sweaty workout clothes, with unbrushed hair, watching your one-year-old play with stinky socks. Jubilantly watching your one-year-old play with stinky socks.
She about killed me when she came back wearing a skirt from the dress up box, telling me “I can’t!” again, because she couldn’t pull the skirt up over her bum. I showed her how to do it and she practiced taking the skirt on and off and on and off. Each adamant, “I can’t!” ended up with the exclamation, “I can!” and “I did it!”
Each milestone that is achieved and each pair of shoes that is grown out of brings with it a pang! Because that’s the last time I get to witness the mastery of that particular experience. It’s over. Gone forever. And while some days and weeks and years might seem long sometimes, I know that I only have so many moments of these left.
I’m going to miss seeing every “I did it!” I’m going to miss witnessing the life events and the growth happen right in front of my eyes. I’m going to miss being included as a part of that process. Even though it will be as it should be, as it needs to be, it will still bring a pang! to be so much further removed.
Before having kids I understood the vague notion that becoming a parent involved taking care of and cleaning up after my offspring. What I didn’t realize before having children was just how much cleaning I would have to do, and on top of that, how disgustingly filthy my household would become despite all of the continuous energy being directed towards scrubbing and sanitizing.
It all begins with the bodily fluids.
Anyone who has had an infant with a smidge of reflux can confirm that while you can valiantly combat the infant puke that threatens to cover every square inch of carpet, couch and human being nearby, you will lose every one of those battles. Trying to contain infant projectile vomit is like trying to stop an avalanche – there is really nothing to be done other than to stare in awe as the alabaster releases, blanketing everything in its path. There was a significant number of months during my life where I would regularly evaluate whether the quantity or location of the spit-up on my clothing warranted a wardrobe change or if I could get away with just rubbing it in.
Even past the baby stage, I’m on full-time puke patrol. Digestive tracts remain immature far longer than I imagined. I’ve learned that a sudden cough, a bout of jumping, or eating too many french fries can result in immediate intestinal emission. There’s not usually much of a warning, there’s just vomit flowing out of faces. I once caught my daughter’s vomit in my hands before any of it hit the floor. I was ridiculously proud of that feat. I got a little cocky though and tried it again at a later point but it didn’t work out as well and I just ended up covered in puke along with the floor. A few weeks ago, my daughter threw up all over herself, and her car seat, in the church parking lot a moment before we were about to go in. When adults puke, we puke maybe a cup or two into the toilet. When a child pukes, they puke up enough liquid to cover the approximate volume of an African elephant, and it goes everywhere.
My husband is one of those people who pukes when he smells puke so for the entire hour plus car ride home after church he held a cup of coffee near his nose in an effort to block out the stench. He pulled through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a coffee, not to drink, but to sniff.
The car seat was so fully covered with puke, every inch of fabric strap and every crevice soaked completely, that he seriously contemplated stopping at the store to get a new one and just throwing the old one away. He mentioned this to me, and I just looked at the seat and shrugged my shoulders, because we can probably afford one, plus I knew I’d be the one who would have to clean up that puke and I loathe anything resembling manual labor.
Nothing can compare to what I did as a kid, though. I got sick while sleeping and leaned over the side of the bed and threw up straight into the heat vent (during winter, of course). I still remember the sound of my mom dry-heaving while cleaning up the stinking, steaming magma, equivalent in bulk to that of an enormous safari animal.
What puts us over the edge is the dirty dishes and the laundry.
I didn’t even talk about poop or pee but even without going there I think you are starting to understand why my laundry baskets fill up so quickly. While I consider the laundry to be a somewhat taxing chore, it’s the dishes that really kill me. From day one the bottles and baby food bowls caused the sink to overflow. In our household, we started cooking at home quite a bit more after having kids, which meant our own pots and pans were added to the already growing number of items getting thrown in the dishwasher each day. I take clean dishes out and put clean dishes into that damn dishwasher at least two or three times each day. And the dishes still pile up. I try to alleviate the stress and make one-pot recipes or quick fix type meals. I sort of hate it when my husband cooks because even though his food creations are restaurant quality, the clean up also requires a full-time dishwasher, and guess who that is? I love him when I eat his food, and curse him when I clean up later.
In my relentless pursuit to provide my family with clean sippy cups, I find myself abandoning the scrubbing of the actual sink itself. In my eternal exertion lugging loads of puke-soaked laundry up and down the stairs I find myself ignoring the spider webs that hang from the ceilings and that somehow manage to invade the window of the oven door. Ensuring that my family at least begins each day using sanitary utensils and wearing unsoiled clothing means I have no choice but to dismiss the dust bunnies in the corners of the rooms and forget about wiping down the baseboards.
Oh yeah. Then there are the cracker crumbs.
I distinctly remember a moment when I hopped into my friend’s car to head to lunch. Pre-Kid Me was appalled and disgusted by the amount of cracker crumbs that littered her vehicle. It looked like someone had crushed up a bag of Goldfish into minuscule pieces and then opened the bag and just sprayed the bits everywhere. I wondered what could actually have happened to cause such a mess. I swore that no matter what, my car would never look like that when I became a parent.
That’s all I can really say about that. I don’t have time to elaborate. I have to go do the dishes.
I distinctly remember the first time I was forced to interact with a car seat. I’ve teamed up with Tesco this week to share what it is about car seats that I find so harrowing. My nephew was an infant and I was pregnant with my first child. My sister-in-law, a seasoned mother of two, was getting out of her car, deftly juggling her iced tea, a couple of diaper bags, her purse and her toddler, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She quickly responded that I could, “Get Leo out of his car seat” and then smiled as she added, “It’ll be good practice”. I quickly regretted offering my assistance.
Then I remembered that I would soon become a mother and have to do hard things like this so I took a deep breath and opened his door, determined that I, a woman who had successfully four-pointed her Master’s program, could retrieve him out of the car. I ogled the harnesses and clamps and straps and I (remembered) realized I had no clue what I was doing. I had no clue how to begin tounbuckle this car seat and no clue how I would ever survive the demands associated with being a parent. I could blame my terror on hormones, but I’m pretty sure I felt this way pre-pregnancy as well.
I backed away from the car seat and told her I would just carry her bags into the house instead.
Now, two children later, I’m a car seat pro. Sort of. Okay, maybe I’m not a pro, but I at least buckle in, tighten straps, unbuckle straps, loosen straps, heave a kid in, and heave a kid out what feels like a thousand times each day. I’m at least car seat experienced and car seat comfortable.
I still panic. Car seats are intimidating, yo.
I panic about whether or not I buckled the car seat straps together (even if I know I already buckled the car seat straps together). I panic about when I should move my children from rear-facing to front-facing. I panic about the financial costs related to ensuring my children are in the correct type of car seat during each growth stage, about whether the fabric of their coats protects them from the climate while preventing them from being too puffy. I panic about whether or not the straps are tight enough and sometimes I worry about whether or not the car seat has reached it’s expiration date.
I worry about whether or not I’m worrying enough about whether or not the car seats are expired.
I panic about keeping my children safe in the car, even if I did manage to worry enough to do all of those things correctly.
Sometimes I just panic about the amount of energy I need to expend in order to get my kids in and out of the car, regardless of where it is I even need to take them. There are many days that I do not take a trip to the store because the thought of taking my kids in and out of the car sounds like too much effort. Because it IS too much effort. Carrying, lifting, pulling, strapping, unstrapping, lifting, carrying. Those are the steps of taking my toddler in and out of the car, and sometimes those steps seem insurmountable. At the very least, inconvenient.
Sometimes in a moment of clarity, I reflect on the fact that our kids are so much safer than they were back in the day. It wasn’t too long ago when kids literally swung from seatbelts in the backseat or played with their dolls on the floor of the car, their parents up front, unbelted. In these moments, I attempt, again, to take a deep breath and let go of the fears. As it turns out, letting go of the fears is one of the most difficult demands associated with parenting. Even harder than pulling that car seat strap tight.
Yes, the first child has so many photos. So many intricate descriptions in the baby book. So many mementos. So many journal and blog posts oohing and awwing over them.
As the second, you might feel a little neglected. Where are my eight million photos categorized by month? Where’s my blog post about the first coo or the first “Mama!” or the first taste of a lemon?
My first inclination is to apologize. However, that would imply we had some sort of choice in the matter. You want the truth? Well, kid. We were just busier after having you. It’s as simple as that. And some of the things we wrote about the first time are the same with you. So, we already wrote about it. What about all the comparing? The second is nothing like the first, you might have heard. In some ways that is true, and in some ways it isn’t. We don’t usually feel the need to discuss the ways it isn’t. We already discussed the parts that are the same the first time.
But, don’t think about it too much. Don’t over-analyze. Don’t worry. We love you. Just as much as your older sibling. You might think I have to say that to you, but guess what? I DON’T. I don’t have to say anything to you. There are trillions of choices of word combinations I could put together and shoot your way every day.
Everything I say to you, I mean.
And you might think, “How is it possible? How can you love me the same?”
And my answer is, “I have no idea. It is a biological mystery, how it works, but I swear to you, it just IS”. One moment we look at our oldest and we think, she might be the most beautiful person on the entire planet. And then we blink and look at you and think, she might be the most beautiful person on the entire planet, even if the two of you physically look absolutely nothing alike and, at least at times, act nothing alike. These thoughts may not always come to us within seconds of each other, or even hours of each other, but believe me, they happen. In equal amounts.
We don’t always love you in all the same WAYS but we love you the EXACT SAME AMOUNT.
Here are a few examples of how that makes sense in our heads:
She’s so calm.
She’s so energetic.
That trait will REALLY benefit her in the future. (And, wouldn’t you know it, when she wants to be, she’s damn good at being energetic/calm too. Impressive!)
She’s so serious.
She’s so goofy.
She’s so great.
She hardly complains.
She complains loudly!
What strength she has! It’s so hard to not complain/speak your mind. She will use this to her advantage in life.
She has a good sense of humor. She is happy.
She has an innie.
She has an outie.
She has the cutest belly button. Poke!
She observes by looking.
She observes by touching.
She is such a good observer.
She likes to be held.
She likes her back rubbed.
She’s able to connect with others.
She dives right in.
She loves her sister.
She loves her sister.
May they work together and complement their strengths and create the greatest force ever to be reckoned with.
She knows how to push my buttons.
She knows how to push my buttons.
She is not a lightweight. She will be able to hold her own.
She is my first.
She is my second.
She is my only her. She awakens me, livens me, fills me up. She is my child.
She surprises me.
She surprises me.
She is who she makes herself, not who I think she is or will be. She consistently proves to be a better person than I could ever imagine anyone could possibly be.
My daughter refused to walk down the stairs, to sit on the toilet, to wear pants, to put on her shoes. She complained about not being allowed to eat a donut for lunch, about having to wash her hands after using the toilet, and about having wet hair (after her long tresses dipped into the toilet water as she leaned in to watch her poop swirl into the abyss). When I tried to help her put on her shoes, she bucked and thrashed and managed to headbutt me in the face. I’m in that stage of parenting where it seems like I’m always getting headbutted in the face.
I remember reading somewhere that the supraorbital ridge, that bone beneath your eyebrows, evolved to counter the load put on the facial bones during chewing, and that eyebrows, located above that bone, evolved to stop sweat from pouring into the eyes, directing it down the sides of the face instead. While I imagine both would be useful for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, I propose a counter-hypothesis, that perhaps both structures evolved because children often headbutt us parents, and without the protruding bony bit they would punch out our eyes with their thick skulls, and without the thick brows, blood would pour into our eyes, preventing us from seeing the next blow coming. It’s plausible.
I might have been okay if it had ended with the headbutting, but then there was her refusal to stay in her bed, or even in her bedroom for that matter, during nap time. There was more, but my brain blocked it out to save my own sanity.
I snapped. I yelled. LOUDLY. I was exhausted and hormonal and at my wits’ end. It was a very ugly sight and it left both of us in tears. I was a bad mama that day.
So, I apologized.
While it might seem silly for a grown woman to confess to a two-year-old, that’s exactly what I did. After all was said and done, we ended the day with books, cuddles and kisses, and while I was glad we had smoothed everything over, I was still a bit gutted with guilt, playing over her words in my mind, “It’s okay, Mama. It was an accident”. Because it wasn’t an accident. I should have had more control. There are zero reasons to be a jerk to a two-year-old.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a lapse in judgement you acknowledge the mistake and do your best to prevent it from happening again. While it’s hard to apologize to anyone, and counter-intuitive to some to apologize to a small child, here’s why I think it’s important to do so:
Sometimes we screw up. And that’s okay, we’re only human. Learning the hard way that something doesn’t work is generally a precursor to eventually figuring out what does. Like when I used to look down at my phone every once in a while when my kids were running around the living room like wild bulls. I quickly learned to check my social media some other time, to keep my head up and my eyes on my little toros, so I would not get caught looking down as they charged towards me and CRASH! split open my brow. Again. Live and learn and Ole!
As parents, we strive to become better teachers, better negotiators, and better role models, but that doesn’t mean we achieve perfection on every attempt. If we acknowledge that we that we make mistakes, we show our children that it is okay for them to make them, too. Eliminating the myth that people are supposed to be perfect is probably good for all of us.
Providing structure and consequences doesn’t mean we need to resort to authoritarian (read: assholertarian) discipline. There are many ways to get the attention of your child, to make them comprehend the messages you are trying to get across. Some are founded upon the principle of routine, some are rooted in consistency, some are just plain old silly (I know I cannot be the only parent that has a rap routine called “We Brush our Teeth”, complete with horrible beat boxing and “spinning the discs” hand motions). Shock value works too. Sometimes, the only way we feel heard is if we yell. But there’s a definite distinction between needing to raise a voice every now and again and completely losing your cool. Trust me, even a two-year-old knows the difference.
Kids become who they are because of who we are. If we want them to become self-aware individuals who take accountability for their actions then we sure as hell better model what that looks like. Our children will only become bullish adults if we teach them to do so by example, leading only with our horns instead of also with our hearts.