I’ve Been Giving My Threenager a Bad Rap

 

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!!”

———

“Sit down.”

“YOU sit down!”

“Sit down or you’re going to go to time out.”

*she stays standing*

“Do you want a time out?”

“Yes.”

———–

“Don’t hit.”

“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.

 

 

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Stay With Me – Ignoring That Pile of Dishes In My Sink

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.

A Fading Heart

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.”

heart

My Hands Are Full

Full of a stroller handle in one and a small palm in the other when I walk into a store. Full of an infant that I balance on one knee as I squat in the stall, and toddler arms wrapped around me to keep from falling into the toilet that she needs to use five minutes after we walk in.

Full of dishes that I put in the dishwasher and then dishes I take out.  Full of clothing put in the washer and taken out of the dryer.  Full of many, many diapers.  Full of blankies and books and bags full of responsibility.

Full of flailing toddler or thrashing infant, or a sobbing, collapsing heap of both.  Full of tears and snot and deep breaths and deep hugs.

Full of twenty pounds of clinger who cries when I put her down, and who gives me a knowing smirk when I pick her up. Full of child with eyes so dark I can feel the weighty pull of their stare before I turn my head to see them, the little jewels shining in her tiny head, which she tilts sideways as she waits for our eyes to connect, and erupts in laughter when they do.

Full of skinny legs that wrap around my waist, but only partway.  Full of arms that rest upon mine and a very small forehead that leans in towards my own and pauses for a moment when my head touches hers.  Full of giggles when we pull apart before we lean towards each other again.

Full of tiny toddler booty and squashy baby booty that I pat. Pat. Pat. Squeeze. Pat. Full of little hands that pat me back.

Full of twenty pounds of infant, but always available for thirty more of toddler.  “Uppy, Mama”.  I do not hesitate to add more to the load.  The weight feels good pressed against me.

Full of hand weights I use during a quick workout, which are often replaced mid-rep with a tissue to wipe a nose, or a snack to feed a hungry mouth, or an entire child whose whining can not be quelled any other way.

Full of dancing babies who had favorite songs at a very early age and who spin with me in circles and who do not care that the tune we sing along to is sung off-key.  They are full of exuberant giggling.

Full of a toddler old enough to say, “Carry me like a baby, Mama”, who then quietly fake-cries and, if I haven’t started doing it yet, instructs me to, “Say, ‘shhhh'”.

Full of numerous dolls, all of them named Ruby, who have tea parties and who have conversations and who sometimes are naughty and drink mom’s coffee without asking permission. Ruby! No!

Sometimes they are full of puke, caught midair, midstream.  At least on those days there are many more hours that they are filled with enveloping child than with sickly fluids.

They are full of challenging comfort.  Full of exhausting luxury.  They are brimming with rigorous joy.

Parents have their hands full.

Parents have their hands full.

Moms Aren’t The Only Ones Out There Mothering

I dropped my girls off at daycare the other day and watched two-year-old Toddler Grouch take of her boots and put them in the basket at the bottom of the closet. She unzipped her coat and laid it on the floor before grabbing a hanger off of the bar purposely positioned at half the usual height.  She folded her coat’s arms around the ends of the hanger, hung up her coat and shut the closet door while I chatted away with Ms. J.

Ms. J. and I talked about how the kids were doing lately, not superficial talk, but talk about how they were actually doing, the minute-by-minute of every nap and night, the what and how often and by what method, nutrition was being obtained, the color and shape and frequency of each bowel movement, the how well are they listening, the where are they at with each motor skill, the she did that! and the oh-no-she-didn’t! We smiled and nodded while we expounded upon how silly and exuberant and fun Infant Grouch was lately, whether it be her side-to-side head-shakey dance or her fearless rampaging through the crinkling polyester tunnels, or the yelling at the top of her lungs when the other kids cheered, always wanting to be part of the group. I laughed at something Ms. J. said and called Infant Grouch a little goofball.

Ms. J. hugged Infant Grouch to her chest and cupped her hand gently around the back of my baby’s head while leaning her own forehead in and looked into my daughter’s eyes as she said to her, “You’re my little goofball”.  For a split-second my heart stuttered.

She called MY little goofball HER little goofball.

And I realized, she is hers, too.  Ms. J spends almost every weekday of every week teaching her, holding her, caring for her.  Loving her.  She and Ms. L. are mothering my children, and on many days, for more hours than I am.

We can call it daycare, or childcare, or preschool, but if they’re doing a good job, they’re mothering, right? Wiping noses, bandaging skinned knees, diapering, cleaning up after. Teaching skills and character: ABC’s and 123’s, no thanks and yes please.   Hugging, touching, smiling.  Watching, reinforcing, encouraging, enlightening, guiding, reprimanding, uplifting, forgiving. Loving.

Us mamas aren’t the only ones mothering our kids.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

Got a good childcare provider? Thank them, today.

When my kid leaves daycare she’ll have teachers that will see them for a fraction of the time that their daycare providers do, and I can only hope will love them a fraction of the amount. Because those relationships are important.  I have no interest in a teacher or a coach or a mentor who isn’t mothering my child, at least part of the time.

Note that I did not say coddle, because that isn’t the same. Mothering is not friendship, and mothering means love with limits and setting the bar high, and helping achieve goals.  Mothering means doing what can be done to mold a person into someone who is as self-sufficient as possible, as kind as possible, as well-rounded as possible. Mothering means doing these things with a gentle tone, or at least a gentle heart, with you-can-do-its and try-agains and safety nets, not forceful sneers, dismissive shrugs, or there’s-nothing-more-I-can-dos.

We mamas take a lot of pride in our roles, and a mother’s work could very well be one of the most important jobs in the world, but we can not forget to acknowledge, appreciate, and respect those other lovelies out there who are also mothering our little ones. Most of us don’t do it alone.  I sure as hell didn’t teach Toddler Grouch how to put that coat away.

So with Mother’s Day near, I say thank you, fellow mamas. Thank you to the Ms. J’s and Ms. L’s, and the other childcare providers, the teachers, coaches, mentors, grandmas, aunts, cousins and friends. A very extra special heart-huggy thank you to those mamas who aren’t mamas by birth, but are mamas by heart. Thank you for helping mother my babies.

Got a great childcare provider?  Tell them thank you, today.

Got a great childcare provider? Tell them thank you, today.

Today I Did Good.

There are a lot of days I screw up. But today was not one of them, even though it could have been.  After work I had a doctor appointment, and then I picked up the kids from daycare and we went straight to the grocery store.  I knew I was pushing it, but my kids are pretty good and I brought diapers and snacks.  I am ready, I thought.  Immediately upon entering the store my 2-year-old told me she had to go potty.  SHIT.  We’re just starting this whole potty business so we’re at the point that if she ASKS to go, we have to take her. Nevermind that the clock was ticking until meltdown mode for both her and Infant Grouch, or that the public restrooms are bacterial infected cesspools or that I’d be precariously holding both her and the infant, or that she probably wouldn’t go to the bathroom anyway until she was back in the cart (spoiler alert, she later shit in the cart).

So I took a deep breath.

I said, “Okay, let’s go” and we entered the bathroom and to my surprise, she peed!  So I wrangled her diaper back on and said, “Don’t touch anything!” a million times and we washed our hands and we hoped Infant Grouch wouldn’t start screaming (and she didn’t, whew).  Fifteen minutes after we arrived we finally started our grocery shopping.

Toddler Grouch was sitting in the big part of the cart and Infant Grouch was in the small upper seat.  Toddler Grouch kept standing up and grabbing things off of the shelves and shouting cliches like, “I want that!” while knocking over rows of shampoo.  I found myself repeatting, to her, “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down”, and, “Do you need a snack?” and to myself, “Take a deep breath. An ujayi breath.  Fuck it, ANY BREATH”.

I breathed.

The first item on my list was dry shampoo.  Because God forbid I have to wash my hair every day.  (Seriously, who has time for that?)  I was completely out so I needed it and I walked back and forth and back and forth, scouring the aisles.  I walked back and forth as many times as they say “back and forth” in Love You Forever.  Where the hell is it?  I was getting pissed.  The Meltdown Clock was ticking.   After the amount of time it could have taken me to write a graduate thesis, I finally found it.  Why the hell do they have to always change the packaging?  I resisted the urge to ask this question out loud, since little ears were within the listening range.

The next item on my list was saline rinse for the two stuffy little noses that alternate between mimicking spewing volcanoes and crusty manhole covers.  Our household is plagued with sinuses as delicate and narrow as human hairs, so none of us can survive without this stuff.  We were out, so it had to be found immediately. Where the fuck is it?  For the love of God, it’s been thirty-five minutes and so far all we’ve done is pee on a potty (but, Potty Dance!) and make it down one aisle.  The Meltdown Clock is ticking! I finally found it. “God damned fucking packaging changers!” I yelled.  In my head.  I actually held it in. And again….

I breathed.

While Toddler Grouch was screaming, “I wannnnt it” and, “Go away!” and “Poooooooopy Poop!” I could not be the mom who loses her shit because the saline drops now came in a purple package instead of a white one.  I didn’t even yell when Toddler Grouch started screaming in a sort of horribly mean tone, “Go away!”  or as she crushed groceries with her boots and kept stacking items up next to the infant carrier until they almost toppled over.

Instead, I breathed again and made myself smile at Infant Grouch, even though it may have been a bit too toothy, looking perhaps like the smile the Wolf gave to Little Red Riding Hood.

I bought four different types of dark chocolate and a bottle of Cabernet.  But I did not yell.

We got home and I had two tired and hungry kids to feed, and I opened the fridge to get the leftover chicken tenders and fries for Toddler Grouch…..and I realized Mr. Grouch had eaten them.  He was on a plane heading to an out of town business event so I could not give him an evil glare.  I threw together some leftover black beans and roasted vegetables and told Toddler Grouch she could watch a Little Einsteins episode if she ate her food. And after she tried to pull down the kitchen blinds, she did. Somehow after all that she ate beans and vegetables for dinner.  Score.

It was time for her to head to bed and she started complaining.  I started singing the Goodnight Song to her but improvised the words, changing, “It’s time to go to sleep” to, “It’s time brush your teeth” which she somehow found hilarious, so we laughed and laughed about that as we walked upstairs and she brushed her teeth.  Then when we were getting her pajamas on, she said she wanted to wear the coconut tree poop pajamas so I repeated back to her what she said and we laughed and laughed as we joked that, “A told B and B told C, I’ll beat you to the top of the coconut poop pajama tree!”  After we laughed about that we read I Love You, Stinky Face. On the page with the swamp monster on it I always blow a kiss and touch her face with my finger when the kiss lands on her cheek.  Tonight she giggled and told me she was wiping it off, so I gave a million or so kisses to my little slimy swamp monster and she laughed so loud she could hardly breathe as she wiped them off (even though she asked for more on every inhale) but my kisses were no match for her. Before we knew it, we had been laughing for over half an hour.

A day like this I consider a win, and worth recording.

And I still have dark chocolates and Cabernet to top it off.

The Gratitude Muscle

Building strength can be hard.

The first part is deciding to get stronger.  That’s really the hardest part, even though it doesn’t even involve a workout regime.  It’s just a mindset, at first, a determination to make improvements to who we are.

Until it becomes habit, reminders are needed.  Sticky notes that say, “go work out!” and a calendar on the fridge with the workout plan on display, demanding to be seen.  Smiley faces are drawn on the days the plan is followed through and frowny faces are drawn on the days that aren’t.  Until it is second nature, strict discipline and careful planning are needed.

Over time, the body starts to crave the good feeling it gets from the workouts on its own. There is less reliance on the sticky notes and the calendars and more just listening to the muscles, noticing when they need to rest and recoup, and when they ache to be used.

It doesn’t take long for changes in the body to be noticed.  At first by you, and then by those around you.  Energy pervades, even when the muscles are tired, or sore, because they are stronger.  Healthier.  Everyone has slumps, but those who are determined find motivators: workout buddies or personal trainers, or bigger calendars on the fridge.  Even with a downward slide here or there, a fit person generally keeps getting fitter.

There are 206 bones and several hundreds of muscles that make up the adult body, but one of the most important, yet overlooked, piece of human anatomy is the Gratitude Muscle.

Just as the heart must be strong enough to pump oxygen and nutrients, and our bones must to be strong enough to carry our weight, the Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile.

Children have bodies with natural strength, they exercise daily, through exploration and play, but over time sedentary lifestyles and self-neglect can cause atrophy to all of the muscles, including the Gratitude Muscle.  Even though the importance of staying fit is always recognized, we can easily become set in our ways and make excuses for why we don’t have time to learn, to play, to be grateful.  People without healthy Gratitude Muscles, can technically survive, but they.tend to live horribly dreary, unhappy existences.

The good news is that even if we’ve neglected our Gratitude Muscle in the past, we can always start strengthening it now, no matter how weak it may be.  If we have the desire, we can bolster our thankfulness, even if it is currently grey and mushy from extended disuse.  It is worth penciling in Gratitude Workouts, forcing ourselves to focus on what we have, and what is good.  Working to find gratitude in everything and everyone means pushing ourselves to new limits, which might tire us out, might sometimes cause temporary strain.  It can be uncomfortable at times, practicing gratitude.  The end result is worth it , no pain, no gain, as they say, and a little bit of tenderness can feel good, in this case, loving what we have so much it hurts.

The Gratitude Muscle is an anatomical necessity that must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Gratitude Muscle is on par with those anatomical necessities – it must also be strong, to keep our mental faculties at peace and to make our physical presence worthwhile. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

These Are The Reasons I Am Thankful For My Childcare Providers

As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming.  It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there.  Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should.  Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should.  I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for.  I need to remind myself of this.

They create stability and routine. Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday.  There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused.  This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through.  As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place.  My kid whistles while she works.

They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself.   I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home.  The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers.  There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared.  “Nope”, she said with her eyes.  “You guys can do it”.  At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this.  I was a broken record and said, “Clean up.  Clean up.  Clean up.”  I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day).  I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor.  But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her.  They did not have this problem at daycare.  Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.

They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee.  She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first.  It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces.  But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight.  My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom.  I’m glad this happened.  On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around.  I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.

They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids.  I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers.  My kid’s shit always stinks.

They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub.  They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks.  During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code.  Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis.  My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.

They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue.  They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and  binoculars.  They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers.  They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do).  My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.

They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special.  They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to.  They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games.  Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions.  They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas.  I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways.  My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.

They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids.  In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for.  I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.

They love my kids. In their own way.  They play with them.  They hug them.  They want them to grow into good people.  They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do.  At least a little differently than I do.  And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do.  Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations.  This can lead you to be tough on them.  Which brings me to my next point.

They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice.  She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something.  She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them.  That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time.  I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty.  I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself.  It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill.  That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse.  I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.

They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped.  I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet.  Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things.  More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her.  Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Reasons to thanks your daycare provider

Anything I missed that I should be thankful for?

“The Moon Got Turned Off”, and Other Reasons Being the Parent of a Toddler is Awesome

Toddlers can get a bad rap.  It is true that they have no real means of regulating their emotions, which can sometimes result in tantrums that are shockingly intense, often over matters involving having to put on pants or to wash peanut butter out of their hair, or perhaps over being asked to take a bite of macaroni.  As erratic and annoying as these behaviors can be, the moments of meltdown are far outweighed by the beauty that is toddler joy and excitement.  What is more delightful than being thrilled about what we have, right in front of us?  Being interested, being awed, being loved.  There is nothing more magnificent than that.

I give you three examples.

1.  Toddler Grouch and I were in the car, on our way to daycare.  Toddler Grouch was looking out the window babbling away, when she stopped mid-stream-of-thought and gasped.  “Mama!  I see the Moon!”  I wasn’t sure if I had heard her correctly, or if the Moon could, in fact, even be seen.  I surely didn’t notice it.  We turned the corner and I looked, and sure enough there it was.  The Moon.  It was the first time she had seen it, outside of picture books, that I was aware of.  I loved that she being observant, that she was able to incorporate some of what she had read into real world experience, and that she was able to share this experience with me, “You’re right honey, there it is!  The Moon!” Her speech echoed my own, “There it is!”  she inhaled sharply, doing her little gasp she does when she is surprised or excited, “I see the Moon!” The best part about the Moon spotting was that there were many trees in the neighborhood we were driving through so the Moon would become hidden behind the foliage, and then peek back out again, and she would exclaim, “there it is!” again and again, as it appeared, disappeared, and reappeared throughout the duration of the ride. Several months after the initial spotting she still gets excited about seeing the moon. The other day the moon was visible when we were on our way to daycare.  She still points out when she sees it, sometimes adding a “wow!” or a “it’s so pretty”.  This time when the Moon went behind the trees she said, “the Moon got turned off”, no doubt inspired by her current guilty pleasure of flicking the light switch on, then off, then on again.

2. On the Fourth of July, I was excited for Toddler Grouch to experience fireworks for the first time. I knew it would be a stretch to keep her awake long enough to see them, but considering she had her cousins nearby to play with, I hoped the social setting would distract her and keep her awake. As we approached the nine o’clock hour, I could tell she was getting sleepy but I didn’t shoo her to bed. At half past nine she said she wanted to go to sleep and I cursed the Sun for taking so long to set. But, I figured I wouldn’t push it, I didn’t want to make her miserable just to satisfy my curiosity about whether or not she would like the show, so we headed to the back house of my parent’s cottage and brushed her teeth, put on her pajamas and laid down together on the bed.  We shared a pillow and read two of her favorite stories, Go Dogs Go and Put Me in the Zoo. The bed faces five windows that span the length of the back house, with a view overlooking the lake. By this time, the Sun had finally set and the fireworks began with a few intermittent BOOMS.  We had heard some errant booming earlier, and when she looked at Mr. Grouch and I, slightly alarmed, we reassured her and labeled the noise. “Fireworks”, we told her. So, when the booming started again, muffled a bit since we were indoors, I reminded her that fireworks were the source of the commotion.  We kept reading until the show started. From the safety of the back house, with the security of pajamas, blankies, books and cuddles, the firework show was safe and attainable.  We saw embers that arced and popped and soared, and with each colorful explosion Toddler Grouch let out her little gasp, “Oooh!” and when a really good one sailed into view, our heads would turn towards each other and we’d give each other a little grin. Even when the firework itself was out of sight, behind a tree or out of our eye line, the windows flashed, rectangles of greens and pinks and blues.  I asked if she wanted to go outside, now that she knew what they were, and she did, for a bit, before asking to head back in.  For over an hour we continued to lay together, with the peacefully muted display before us.

3.  Toddler Grouch’s bedtime routine involves the usual brushing of teeth, putting on pajamas and reading of books.  She loves to read and we often recite the same story, over and over.  I’ll stop every once in a while and give her a raised eyebrow, and she’ll fill in the next word in the sentence.  She pays attention.  I always end story time with a kiss on her check or her head, and if she isn’t too sleepy, sometimes I’ll trace her face with my fingertips.  If I’m okay with her getting a little riled up, I’ll take the end of my ponytail and swish it over her face, which she evidently finds hilarious, since she giggles as she lifts her chin up to meet my tresses.  When I do any of these things, she usually says, “again”, which, of course, I am more than happy to oblige.  I’ll ask her where else needs kissing, or where my fingertip or ponytail needs to swipe, and she’ll say, “head” or “eye” (yes, she has me kiss her eyelids) or simply, “here” and point.  On days that I’m really lucky, she’ll touch my face gently, mimicking my gestures, running her fingers from my head, over my eyes and under my chin.  I hold very still.

There’s something to be said about the “Terrible Two’s”, and that is, it isn’t all so terrible. It’s these types of moments that astound me, the ordinary ones that are made extraordinarily beautiful, because of my toddler’s inability to hold back all of her feelings.

What adorable things does (or did) your toddler do that made you notice and appreciate the little things?

awesome

10 Ways Infertility Prepares You for Parenthood

Infertility sucks.  But, while it depresses you, drains your bank account and almost kills you in the short-term, in the long run it can be good preparation for parenthood.  Some might say it even makes you a better parent than you would have become otherwise, if you let it. Here’s how getting the short straw before becoming a parent can be a benefit, once you finally are one:

Infertility prepares you for:

1.  All of the doctors appointments you’ll have once you’re pregnant, and for your new baby.  In fact, while other women are complaining about how many appointments they have, you’ll be rejoicing at the reduction of the number of times you have to go, and at the pleasure of going for such an awesome reason.

2.  The discomforts of pregnancy.   You’re guaranteed to not complain about the fact that you can’t ride rollercoasters or jump on trampolines and you’re less likely to dwell on the aches and pains you will experience as you morph into a whaleish host.  You may already have experienced nausea, vomiting, bloating, surgeries, and/or severe pain from all of the medications, self-injections, ovarian cysts and medical procedures you’ve went through.  Infertility removes any feelings of entitlement and you will be less likely to take things for granted. Even things like peeing through your pants when you sneeze.

3.  Unsolicited questions and advice.  You’re used to dealing with questions about when you’re planning to have children, comments about how you better not wait too long, and advice about how “just relaxing” will cause you to conceive within the month, so you’ll be well prepared for strangers asking you when you’ll “pop” (looks like any day now!), and telling you that formula feeding is basically the equivalent to poisoning your child.  Idiocy abounds.

4. Random stranger’s hands on your belly.  Just remember:  SO much better than the dildo camera.

5.  Dealing with any doubts or qualms about  becoming “tied down” with a child. Infertility gives you time to realize how badly you want to become a parent, so you don’t waste any precious time with your baby wishing you were still childless and “free”.

6.  How difficult parenthood is.  Infertility is hard.  Parenting is even harder.  The struggles you experience beforehand will help ease you into the time-consumption, expenses and exhaustion you’ll be graced with later.

7.  Working through with challenges and hard times with your spouse. Think of this as a litmus test for your relationship.

8.  The unknown.  Infertility reminds you that nothing is a guaranteed and any luck or happiness that happens to fall into your lap is a gift.

9.  All of the worrying. When you’re faced with horrible or scary scenario involving your child, instead of thinking that this is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, you know that the most horrific thing would really be not being in this situation in the first place. You’ll still panic (EVERY DAY), but at least there’s some sort of cosmic retribution for all of the anxiety you experienced before you had kids.

10.  Being a more empathetic person. People who have been through battles of their own tend to be kinder, more compassionate, more helpful to others. All traits any good parent wants to possess and model for their child.  Of course, this is only true if you don’t remain so bitter that you’re unable to see that others with different problems have had different battles to fight.

Infertility prepares you for parenthood in countless ways.

Infertility prepares you for parenthood in countless ways.

If you liked this post, you may also like my other infertility and pregnancy posts.