1. Make sure your diaper bag is big enough to pack all of the essentials. Opt for the satchel with plenty of extra room, just in case you need to hold a few of your favorite things.
2. Use Your Role as Grocery-Getter to Your Advantage: Remember that there is really no need to begrudge your spouse for never setting foot in the bread aisle because the wine aisle is usually right next to it. When you want to make a wine run, but don’t want to hear any grief from your spouse about how you can’t make it a day without wine, you can use the old, I-need-to-go-to-the-grocery-because-the-baby-needs-diapers excuse.
3. Take a Special Treat to Sip As You Stroll: Endorphins plus wine = happiest of mamas. Just be sure to put your mommy juice in a cup with a well-sealed lid (do as I say, not as as I do) and take care to dodge the potholes.
4. Of course, don’t overindulge. A little nip to take the edge off is well and good, but there is no repercussion worse than having to parent with a hangover. You only need enough wine to counter the whine. Proportion wisely.
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”.
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….
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.
When I was pregnant with my second child I was pretty relaxed compared to being pregnant with my first. I didn’t obsess over which porta-crib had the best mobile, or whether or not I needed a diaper genie, or even what childbirth would be like. I knew that all that mattered was that the baby had onesies and diapers and I was ready. Or so I thought. Looking back, even though it was a bigger adjustment from no baby to one baby, going from one to two rocked my world more than I could have anticipated.
Before I could stare at my little baby and marvel at every little head nod and every sigh and every eye blink. “Aww…what a cute little blinker I have! Look how cute she is when she blinks”. I posted countless photos on Facebook of her cute little blinky eyes. Now, instead of staring at adorable baby eyeballs, I find myself staring at the ankle-deep puddles of milk that flood the living room carpet, or what appear to be ant hills made up from ground Cheerios filling up the space surrounding the tufted buttons on the couch cushions. I marvel at how a four-minute toddler mini-spree can result in a three-and-a-half hour clean-up job. I’m constantly on guard trying to make sure the baby’s little peepers aren’t poked out by her older sibling’s fingers or erratically waved fairy wands. I can not even imagine what will happen once the second one is able to walk. I know I’m living on borrowed time. Will the Cheerio-dust ant hills morph into massive termite mounds? Anything seems possible.
Before I hoped my baby would grow to be a passionate lover of books. Now I’m just crossing my fingers that Number Two will be semi-literate. Not only does it seem improbably difficult to physically sit on the couch and read for more than three minutes at a stretch, when we do we are rarely alone. Watch an infant try to garnish attention from an older sibling and you will quickly begin to question how accurate Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs is. Based on how Number Two responds to Number One, it would appear that feeling a sense of love and belonging with an older sibling far outweighs physiological needs such as eating or sleeping. If eating or sleeping aren’t top priorities during these times, you can best your ass that sustaining attention to board books when her older sister in the room is damn near impossible. It doesn’t matter how cute the little fuzzy bunny on the cover is. Sibling > board books. My next point might also have something to do with her potential pending illiteracy .
Before it was quiet a lot. Nowadays our household emits a ceaseless cacophony of child-rearing sounds. Between the Frozen soundtrack blaring from the T.V. (or from our smartphones, or our daughter’s Frozen watch, or her Frozen singing doll, or bursting from her own little Let it Go lips), the toddler stream-of-consciousness chatter that extends for 20 minutes stretches for 2 hour blocks of time to infinity and beyond, the periodic screams from memy husband my toddler of “Nooooo, I don’t wannnnnnt to”, the sanitizing swooshing from the dishwasher, the washing machine churning, the off-key singing of the Good Morning song and the Clean Up song and the Goodnight song and the endless shouts from one parent to another across the house of, “Will you throw me the wipes?” Or, “I need a burp cloth! Hurry!” or, “Why didn’t you replace the diapers down here?” I fear we’re giving her ADHD by way of auditory assault. And how the eff are we always out of one size diaper or the other at the downstairs changing table?
Before my house was clean. At least sometimes. Every parent knows that before and after kids there’s an inverse relationship between how much time you spend cleaning and how clean the house actually is. As far as I can tell, our carpeting will forevermore be littered with toys and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches and mystery crumbs of various size and shape that I hope the toddler isn’t snacking on while I am not looking. Even though she balks at eating a quesadilla or a slice of peach, I know she probably is stuffing her face with the hidden, hardened little gems, so my real hope is that there isn’t some antibiotic resistant strain of bacterial film coating the tops of them. Even when the clutter is contained, an invisible infection-spreader remains. Children’s noses are basically miniature volcanoes that spew continuous secretions – gentle, fluid eruptions on some occasions, violent chunk-filled emissions on others. I often wonder if mucus glows green under a UV light, and if we were to do a mucosal forensic sweep, would our living room resemble a murder scene straight out of Dexter?
Before I could stay up until 11 p.m. On a lot of nights, not just on the really special occasions. Like the nights when I drink Merlot, eat Doritos in my pajamas, and watch Netflix episodes that aired four years ago.
Before I didn’t need the Amazon Prime coffee subscription. And I definitely didn’t need to keep increasing the order size. I got a new debit card the other day and before I realized I needed to update my payment method, my subscription got delayed two days and I do not have that kind of leeway built in! For two whole days I was in caffeination crisis mode, scouring the house for rogue coffee grounds while mentally swearing at the damn hackers who were responsible for me needing a new debit card in the first place. I even pulled out the rusted out coffee maker we use when we go camping in the pop-up. After that fiasco, I’m thinking it’s probably time to bump up that Amazon order again.
Before I thought that sometimes knew what I was doing. Number One we swaddled for four months, Number Two broke out of the sleep sack at two days old. Number One ate bottles out of the fridge, Number Two literally chokes and gags unless the bottle is freshly made with water at or around 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Number One liked to be rocked to sleep, Number Two thrashes and headbutts and whines until we lay her down in the crib to settle herself. I imagine the more children you have, and more you realize that none of us really control our children’s behavior as much as we would like to think.
Before I got my hair cut and dyed on a semi-regular basis. Even if that meant every six months. It was also usually brushed. Now if you see me on a weekend know that definitely has not been brushed since I got ready for work on Friday morning. It’s only been slightly disconcerting that I don’t think most people have noticed the difference.
Before it was possible to make it to all those workout classes I wanted to go to each week.All one of them. I manage to carve out some time for activities that don’t require a definitive time and place, like jogging or writing, but for some reason being able to attend one scheduled activity each week seems to require an alignment of Venus and Mars, that occurs seventeen days after the first full moon, that also coincides with a month containing an even number of days, as registered on the Julian calendar.
Before the last seven pounds just melted away. Okay, not really. But in comparison they came off faster than a crack whore’s panties. Now I have this permanent bulgey bit that I’m starting to think will hang slightly over the waistline of my jeans forever.
Before my heart was only half the size. It’s cliché, but it’s true. Parenting is an adventure that can be as marvelously (and scarily) intense as the fiery inferno at the center of the Sun. Just like atoms at the core of a star fuse and produce a larger entity, one with more heft, the addition of another child creates something different, something bigger. A touchy-feely sort of nuclear fusion occurs in the hearts of parents that causes emissions of energy and light, even amongst the occassional volatile flares, and it is tremendously more substantial than even that bulge.
You know how when you sing, sometimes you can’t hear when you’re off-key? It seems like a lot of people tend to think they are better at singing than they actually are (especially after imbibing adult beverages) but, not me. I can hear my off-key-ness LOUD and CLEAR and you know if YOU can hear it, it must be really bad. Really really.
So, it was a surprise to me after Baby Grouch Numero Uno was born that I found myself singing to her, often. As she has grown, she loves to sing, and we are constantly singing, all of the traditional nursery rhymes we hear on Pandora (Nursery Rhyme Radio) or YouTube (Have you checked out Super Simple Songs yet? If not, you MUST) or that she has learned at daycare, and of course the Michigan State Fight Song (gotta brainwash ’em early). But more often than not we are making up lyrics on the spot, using the same beat to sing different versions of songs, or making up lyrics to describe what we are doing at the moment, or to just have fun and be silly.
Case in point:
Happy and Sad ABC’s
We always sing the ABC’s while washing hands. Somehow Toddler Grouch started singing bits of the song in a frenetic and goofy tone, “aybeceedee eeeeffGEE!” while smiling and bobbing her head and rubbing her hands back and forth vigorously, and singing other bits super slowly, with a mournful tone, slowly swaying from side to side, the corners of her mouth turned down, faking a sad version of the tune, “ayyyyy beee ceeeee deeee eeeee eeefff geeeeeeeeeee”. If I don’t make my fake-frown frowny enough, she stops me, “Mom, sing it with your mouth!” It’s hilarious. We giggle.
Case in point 2:
Silly Word Pattern ABC’s
I have no idea why, but ever since Toddler Grouch could speak “tunu” meant ABC’s. I have no explanation for this, and it took us a looooong time to figure out what she wanted when she said, “tunu” but we eventually figured out that this meant the ABC song. Every now and again we sing the ABC’s like this:
w-x-y and tunu.
Now I know my a-b tunus,
next time won’t you tunu with me?
One of our favorite Super Simple songs is the Good Morning, Mr. Rooster song, which I realize might seem ridiculous coming from the Morning Grouch, but maybe I sing it just as much for me as for her. It’s really cute.
Good Morning Mr. Rooster Lyrics – by Super Simple Songs
Good morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Good morning, Mr. Rooster,
Sometimes we sing the original version, but we often remix it up a bit:
The Good Morning Song
Good Morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Good morning, Little Grouchy,
Mama loves you.
(Repeat as needed)
Remix for two kids: Replace “mama loves you” with “and (insert kid’s name here) too!”
Sometimes we use the same beat to get her moving towards the bathroom:
The Potty Song
Good morning. Good morning. Good morning to you.
Let’s go pee on the potty.
And, maybe poo.
*Remix: replace poo with toot. Farts are always funny.
Songs just make everything easier. And happier.
Here are a few that are sung to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb:
The Nap Song
Now it’s time to
take a nap, take a nap, take a nap,
Now it’s time to take a nap,
It’s time to lay in bed.
Lay your head on
the pillow, the pillow, the pillow,
Lay your head on the pillow
It’s time to get some rest
Do you want to
read a book, read a book, read a book?
Do you want to read a book
Read a book with me?
The Let’s Change Your Poopy Diaper Song
It’s time to change your
diaper now, diaper now, diaper now,
It’s time to change your diaper now,
let’s clean up your pooooooooop.
* The longer you draw out the word poop, the louder the giggle
** Can easily be modified to accommodate a strictly pee diaper
Toddler Grouch’s favorite rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb is the one I bust out when she’s acting all toddler-like. “No! No! I don’t wannnnnt to!” You know what I’m talking about. This helps lighten almost any mood:
The No Song
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no,
No no no,
Toddler Grouch says no no no,
No no no no no!
Trust me, sounds too simple, but goes over very well with the target demographic.
The Brush Our Teeth Rap
This must be performed in rap version, swaying from side to side, bouncing the knees a bit up and down, with a sassy scowl on the face. Bonus points if you can do this dressed in a hoodie, or with a rasta hat on.
*Every “Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!” is accompanied with a hand gesture, mimicking brushing teeth.
We brush our teeth.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We brush our teeth
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We get the bottom.
We get the top.
We go in circles.
We do not stop.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
We get the front.
We get the back.
We keep them healthy.
We do not slack.
Ch ch ch ch ch chhhh chhh chhhh chhhh!
(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you have to spit in the siiiiiiink?
Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)
We brush our teeth.
We brush our teeth.
We’re almost done. (remix version = let’s have some fun)
(Sung in theatrical high pitch): Do you want to brush your tongue?
Eeeeee eeee eee ee ee eee eeeeeeeeeeeeee (spin the discs – don’t forget the hand motions)
Pro tip: Stop singing when the kid stops brushing. Tell them you need them to keep the beat.
What are your favorite songs to sing with your toddler? Please, let me siphon your ideas.
My daughters come from a long line of strong-willed individuals. Before they were born Mr. Grouch and I wondered what our kids would look like, or what they would be interested in, but one thing we knew for sure. They’d be headstrong. Our girls have aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, and, lucky for them, great-grandparents too, who are full of strength, who say to themselves, “I will be brave, I will not give up, I will not be stopped”, and who say to others, “I will be heard, I will follow my dreams, I will not be knocked down”. There is wicked strength within each individual and we, as a family, are a formidable force when our energy is corralled in the same direction. An unstoppable herd.
We are bulls.
Toddler Grouch is at the age where her bullheadedness can sometimes be frustrating. Like when she won’t put on her shoes, or brush her teeth, even when I say to her, “C’mon girl, we’ve gotta go! We can’t be late!” When she digs her heels in, asserting her independence and demonstrating her strong will, sometimes I call her my Little Bull. I place my hands by my ears, point my fingers up like horns, while I huff and shuffle my feet on the floor. She laughs and mimics the gestures, repeating the phrase, “C’mon, Little Bull!” Even when she doesn’t listen right away or when she blatantly disobeys, and I have to pull out my discipliny-mama voice, I’m secretly proud that she’s hard-nosed. There’s a lot of positive attributes to being a bull.
Mr. Grouch and I are both bovine in nature, both of us capable of being bullish to the max. Our individual ability to persist, to push on, to persevere has, for the most part, served us both well, and when we join forces, we are unstoppable. But, with any strength, comes complementing weakness. Bulls can lack grace. Bulls sometimes charge into situations, with their eyes on the prize, not thinking about the damage they may be inflicting upon anything in their periphery, with their bucking and banging, incapable of slowing themselves down. They can have difficulty seeing something from someone else’s perspective, seeing only the path that leads them towards their own passions. Bulls can be ornery and selfish. When Mr. Grouch and I are heading in opposite directions, the results can be brutal. We charge and we crash and when we’re back on track again, we have to sort through the debris, putting together the pieces that we unceremoniously smashed to smithereens.
As a family unit, we can not all be bulls. At least, not all at the same time. Four bulls in a house, all traveling down their own paths, means inevitable, even if inadvertent, trampling, wrecking emotional havoc and/or physical destruction. At any given moment, one of us needs to balance some of that brute force with a bit of softness.
So, how do we do that? How does a bull not act like a bull? Neither one of us can dramatically change who we are, but sometimes we can temporarily morph. We fill ourselves up, taking in all of the happiness and joy and light-heartedness that comes along with being happily married, and rearing young children. We swell with parent-pride, and transform ourselves into beings that are a little more graceful, a little lighter on our feet, with a little more bounce in our steps. Figurative bulloons, if you will. Kinder, stretched-out-smooth, versions of ourselves that make it easier to wipe off the shit-storms that emerge in marriage and parenthood, allowing us to more easily clear away unpleasantness and filth with a simple swipe, instead of allowing it to fester, stuck in our fur. Our bulloon selves are gentle to the touch, are buoyant enough to rise above our usual space of constant clamor, and are highly unlikely to cause any damage, even if we are to ricochet around the room. It works, for a while, until we deflate, landing on the ground with a thud, the floorboards creaking under our weight. Back to our regular punchy selves, we charge into action in our typical fashion until we need to fill ourselves up once again.
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.
So, there’s the tantrums. And the screaming. The “Mine!”s and the “No!”s. The bazillion toys with annoying musical themes. There’s the feeding and the changing and more feeding and more changing. There’s the blowouts and the spit up and the adult-type vomit that begins at a much earlier age than you would expect. There’s the cleaning food off the walls and off the floor, out of the crevices of the couch, and strewn across every square inch of the car. There’s the wiping of snot off of faces, off of walls, off of everything. There’s the cost. Of formula. Of food. Of daycare. Of clothes. Of parties. Of braces. Of college. Of cars. Of housing. Of weddings. There’s the “Don’t lick the window!”s and the “We do not eat cat hair!”s and the “We don’t pee on the dresser!”s. And, for the love of all that is holy, there is the LACK OF SLEEP. And I hear it doesn’t get any easier when the kids get older. Maybe they don’t wake you with their cries, or their morning renditions of Elmo’s Song, but they still wake you, with the worries. Late teen/early twenty-somethings doing God-knows-what with God-knows-who on a college campus. The impending insomnia tires me out even more than the current insomnia does.
That’s what really scares me. The exhaustion.
But, there’s the cuddles. And the “Look at that!”s and the gasps of awe at observing something new, the quirky insights and the questions that make you think, even though they came out of the mouth of a human being that has been around for a shorter number of years than my current smart phone. There’s the laughter and the silliness and the finding happiness in the little things, every single day. There’s the joy that exists in me, that is multiplied exponentially when I see the same joy exhibited by them. There’s the comfort in the feeling of being a part of a whole. There’s the learning what’s important, from those teeny-tiny monsters, those miniature Buddhas-with-attitudes. There’s the being ridiculously happy just from watching them be themselves.
That’s what really scares me. Missing learning and growing from a unique perspective, missing another eye-opening lesson about what life is really all about.
Now that I have two little peanuts, who are similar in the important ways, but who are already oh-so different in every other way, it makes me mourn for who elsecould have been. It makes me wonder who else could still be.
After having kids, shit changes. Anyone who argues this point is either a liar or is truly an asshole of a parent. But, I will concede that shit changes in varying degrees, due to the natural laws associated with Tiered Friendships.
Tier One: These are your closest friends. You communicate with them the most, they have known you for the longest, they know the details of your most intimate business. You do your best to keep in touch with them at all costs, before and after having children (sometimes partially because you don’t want them to turn on you and leak all of your dirty little secrets).
Tier Two: These are the members of your social group, who may or may not be friends due as much to proximity as due to heart-to-heart connection. These are the folks you may work with, play on a softball league with on Tuesdays, or on a bowling league with on Sundays, or DJ trivia with on Wednesdays.. (*Note that many of these events involve the potential for consuming adult beverages). You made an effort to stay in touch with them before kids, because you truly enjoy the activities involved, and their company, but these friendships tend to suffer dramatically after you have kids.
Tier Three: These are the ex-colleagues, or ex-roommates or ex-classmates that you really only know what is going on in their lives because you see what they are posting on Facebook. You didn’t make much of an effort to stay in touch before, and you don’t do much to stay in touch with them after. And you’re fine with that.
Below are some tips for keeping up with friends, as much as possible, within the confines of the chaos and exhaustion that ensue after becoming a parent.
1. Utilize social media. If you’re reading this blog post it means you’re likely a pro at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or similar sites. While this might seem obvious, making an effort to comment on your friend’s photos and posts, “like”, “favorite”, or “heart” some of their photos and remembering to send a private message every now and again shows that you are seeing and caring about what your pals are sharing. Bonus, you can do this in your PJ’s while hunkered down on the couch, any time of day or night.
Do not be an ass and make a comment that brings the conversation back to you and your kids STFU parents style. That is no way to keep friends. Make sure to comment on what is going on with THEM. On your end of the social media spectrum, you need to make sure to not ONLY post updates and photos of your children. Especially ones that are over the top ridiculous. It’s hard, I know, to not post that photo of that first poop in the toilet, but no matter how beautiful that fragrant lump of brown fecal matter may be to you (it smells so much less like shit and so much more like freedom and crisp twenties dollar bills in your pocket, to you, doesn’t it?), DON’T DO IT. Hold yourself back, for the sake of your friendships. Remember when you used to post snarky ecards, or photos of your dinner, or hilariously cute cat videos? Keep posting that kind of crap, just like the good ol’ days.
2. Fire Out Fast Facts to Your Friends. My friends and I have a system we call “Three Things”. One of us sends out a group email with “3 Things” in the subject and the body of the message contains a personal triad of information about what we are thinking about or things that are going on in our lives at that moment. They can be big things like, “I finally told my boss to shove it and found myself a new job!” Or strange things like, “I sprained my vagina” (that was one of my friend’s Three Things once, I swear to God), or silly things like, “I’m thinking I haven’t eaten cherry pie in a while, and I’m super excited to stuff my face with cherry pie as soon as I get out of work. Pie! Pie!”. Our group has done this long enough that one of us initiates the email chain at least once a month, sometimes more often. Everyone has the time for writing, and reading, three quick bullet points. No one cares about grammar. Sometimes these spiral into many more group emails, sometimes they don’t. But no matter what, it helps us know what is going on with our friends, which is the most important thing.
3. Go out to breakfast. Who doesn’t like french toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon? NO ONE, that’s who. At least, no one worth being friends with (seriously, if you don’t like bacon I have some serious suspicions about you as a person). For parents, this is typically a great time of day to connect. The kids are fresh and perky, there’s no stressors from the day built up yet in our shoulders, and there are unlimited refills of coffee! Glorious coffee! Your friend isn’t a morning person, you say? Invite them anyway, and don’t hold any grudges if they decline.
4. Let them know they have an open invite to any of your kid’s events. We often neglect to invite our pals because we care about them. We don’t want them to feel obligated to come to some crazy party that even WE think will be obnoxious and overwhelming, where we can’t really focus on them anyway. We don’t want them to feel like we’re asking them to buy our kid presents. BUT, not inviting them can make them feel excluded, forgotten, and unimportant, even if they didn’t really want to come to the eardrum-splitting, plague-filled bounce house anyway. Tell them you just need to know that they are interested in advance so you have an accurate head count and let them make the decision about whether the potential for losing the hearing in their left ear, or leaving the event with regurgitated hot dogs and neon frosted cupcakes all over their shoes is worth it, in their mind, to see you.
5. Line Up The Workout Buddies. So, as moms we always complain that we don’t have the time or energy to work out or see our friends, even though we know full well that both physical and mental health is supremely important. Solution? Meet up with friends at the gym, or outside for a jog. The conversation we can have the 5 minutes before and after our class starts, and the little moments of connection during a class may be all we need to help ensure you’re connecting, while toning our thighs so they look better in our mom jeans. Extra bonus: we might be able to snag a quick glass of wine right after yoga every now again, if the stars align. This one might be easier said than done, but for some of us, it can work.
6. Send notes. Short and sweet. Ridiculous. Funny. In the mail. Through the interwebs. Through Pinterest. Through tweets. Whatever. Just freaking say hi. You can do this. And, bonus, you can do this at 2.30 in the morning or whenever you’re up. Even if you haven’t contacted someone in 6 months, don’t be shy. A little note saying, “I’ve been thinking of you. How are things?” can go a long way.
7. Keep a friend contact chart. Okay, you’ll need to embrace your inner Type A personality for this one. If you’re feeling super brain-dead, keep a list of the top friends you want to make sure you don’t neglect, leave it on the fridge, and make a tally mark when you make contact. Sounds absolutely insane, I know, but c’mon, you know we parents are capable of forgetting EVERYTHING, sometimes even who our best friends are. Hell, I walked into the bathroom to give a urine sample at the doctor the other day and somehow FORGOT TO PEE IN THE DAMN CUP. Mommy-brain is real.
8. Acknowledge that you know you are spending less time with them and that you miss them. But just can’t make it work right now. Don’t completely drop off the face of the Earth. That’s just rude.
9. Ditch work early and head to happy hour sometime. Meeting up for one drink, for one hour can feel like a vacation. Does this even really need an explanation?
10. Every now and again, get that babysitter. There becomes a certain point for most parents where if you’ve literally NEVER had a night out, you’re making a conscious choice to seclude yourself. For every family, this cut-off point is different, depending on whether you have family available to watch the kids, or if you have a child with special needs. Since it can’t happen often, make it easier by bundling friends – have a night out every few months that includes a large group of people – a night out to dinner, or an overnight. My friends and I utilize my parent’s cottage (thanks, mom and dad!) and I make a huge effort to host two Girls Weekend events a year. Sometimes I only see those friends during those two nights throughout the entire year, but I relish them, and I think they do to. Even if they can’t all attend, they will appreciate the invitation and the fact that you made yourself available.
Good luck balancing work, home, family, marriage, children and personal alone time! It’s no easy feat.
A few years back, when I was pregnant with my first child, some of my friends and I were gathered around my living room, chit-chatting it up. I don’t remember the details of most of our conversation, but I will never forget one particular sentence. A good friend of mine, who at the time was the new mom of an seven-month-old, said, “I think I love my daughter more than anyone has ever loved their child”. I laughed and looked around at the other people in the room to make the “oh-my-goodness-isn’t-that-so-dramatic-and-hilarious” eyeball connection, and when my eyes circled back to my friend’s face, I was startled by her expression. She was smiling, but she wasn’t laughing. She was serious. She thought she loved her kid more than anyone had ever loved theirs, ever before.
I have known this friend for almost twenty years, she is strong, she is smart, she is not one to make flaky, flippant remarks, so I was caught off guard by her statement. I finished my now slightly uncomfortable giggle and looked down at my swollen belly. Having struggled with infertility, I did not take my pregnancy for granted; I wanted that child I was carrying so badly. I already loved her. But more than anyone else, ever? That seemed a little absurd and presumptuous and slightly creeperish and definitely impossible to measure.
Of course, I hadn’t yet began the process of mothering a child, outside the womb, when I thought she was joking about her champion loving ability. Now that I am right in the thick of that mothering process, with two girls of my own, I understand. I totally get it.
I get that feeling of tiger-like fierceness when I think of my child getting hurt. I get that gripping fear that something will happen, something unthinkable, and I have to force those thoughts away, because just dwelling on the mere concept that bad things could hypothetically occur can bring me to my knees.
I get that melty feeling of softness when I stroke my kid’s hair, or kiss the back of her head, or touch her shoulder when she’s standing next to me, gripping my thigh with her palms. I get a feeling of absolute tranquility and peace when we do things as ordinary as sit together on a park bench, smiling at each other and sharing a snack, as the sun beams down on our heads. I never thought that clumsy, awkward me would be capable of acts so tender, yet I have come to find that when I am with my children, it is second nature, and I am transformed from a bumbling oaf into a graceful nurturer, and this newfound gentle me, this me I didn’t even know existed before, is one of my favorite mes.
I get that feeling inside when my kid achieves a new feat, that bubble of pride inside of me that expands as it rises and makes my chest puff out as I think, she’s growing up so fast! coupled with the backhanded feeling of sadness, she’s growing up too fast. I never realized it was possible to simultaneously feel so happy and so sad about the exact same event. It’s terrifying, really, how something as simple as switching your child from a crib to a toddler bed can evoke so much emotion.
I get that the cuddles and hugs and the ability to peer in on my children’s faces as they sleep are all luxuries, even if they do not always seem to come cheap. Yes, I pay for these gifts with a stretched out body, and wrinkled eyes, and excursions out in public with unbrushed hair and spit up on my jeans. Yes, I pay the price with a right hip and right shoulder and right ribs that constantly get shifted out of place, that I then literally pay the price to get fixed by my osteopath on a regular basis. I realize, though, that I am truly getting a bargain, even with these seemingly hefty tolls.
I get that eventually I will get a lot more sleep and a lot less affection. I know that their requests for hugs and kisses, their demands to be held, their need to hide behind my legs when feeling shy, or upset, will not last long. I understand that the occasional wiggle to shake my hand off of their backs, or the “no, Mama, don’t touch me” remarks will continue to increase and eventually I will no longer have the excuse, or the right, to touch my children as much as I want to. They will, some day soon, no longer be physically connected to me all of the time, and while of course I want them to grow and mature, it also makes me sad because there is nothing on this planet that feels better than being in contact with them. Just like they love to hold their blankies to their chests, or snuggle them in their arms, I love the feeling of my children draping themselves over me. I even like it when they touch me with their toes, a dirty, stinky, little message of I love you, I need you, pressing against me. My girls needing me may have made me seek out a chiropractor, or a glass of wine, or, at times, even a vacation, but more than anything else their neediness has made me need them right back.
Their constant physical presence require that I be my best self. Amidst the chaos and the crumbs and the dodging of the plastic objects on the floor, they have forced me to work on finding happiness, and finding peace and finding balance. I didn’t really need to work on those areas of myself until I became a parent and wanted to ensure I was the best role model and the best mama I could be. And while it isn’t always easy, they make me laugh, even when I don’t feel like laughing, and they make me appreciate the beauty in ordinary life, that I very likely would otherwise ignore. Plus, they make me clean all the dirty crevices in my house on a regular basis. They make me happier than I ever thought was possible, and I have been made into a better person just by being near them. Will I be able to keep this up, without their push? Each new feat they perform is a sharp, jabbing reminder that pretty soon they won’t need me anymore, even if I still need them.
I think back to my friend’s comment about how much she loved her daughter and just like then, I still find her sentiment to be a tad bit silly – except now I think so for a very different reason. I now know it was silly because I’m the one who loves my kids the most. Out of anyone, ever. I am sure of it. Her idea that I had once thought to be sweet, but slightly irrational, I now not only subscribe to, but believe to have beaten the record. I don’t care how impossible it is to measure, I am certain that I love the most. She surely will protest this, but I don’t feel badly about battling her for the title, because there really can be no losers in a competition to out-love someone, can there? Everybody participating wins.