NO.

Today, we crossed over.

Not the lovely kind of “let’s cross over,” though, Liz Gilbert-style. There was no “attraversiamo” here, no “let’s.” I had no say in the matter.

No–the crossing over I experienced today landed me right smack dab in uncharted territory. And it has definitely not been lovely.

Today, my two-year-old-in-one-week cherub and I took a parenting turn for the worse.

We boldly entered the Land of NO.

And so farit is terrifying.

Terrifying–because today; in one crazy, irrational display of toddler manipulation, that adorable little cherub figured out that he doesn’t HAVE to do what mama says.

He figured out that he can, in fact, do the exact opposite if he wants to. And all he has to do is say NO.

But here’s what really gets me. He could already say no! And it was so cute–those first few weeks–whenever he used his new word!

Me: Do you want some more strawberries, Hank? 

Hank: (in precious singsong) Umm, no-oh! 

Me: (still in new-parent la-la-land) Awwwww! Isn’t that cute? He said “No!” He is so SMART! Another real WORD! And look how he makes his mouth into that round little “o” shape! Goodness, that’s just adorable!

What happened to THAT no? How did we morph from darling baby no to demon-child banshee-screaming NO!?

Overnight.

Whatever it was, it flipped like a switch in that smart little brain this morning. On the stairs. In “time-out.” (Another relatively new concept.)

It went like this:

Me: Hank, please. Mama needs to go to work, so I need you to be a good boy and let me change your diaper so we can get you dressed.

Hank: NO!

Me: You don’t tell mama NO. We are changing your pants whether you want to or not!

Hank: *rolls eyes*

Me: Don’t you roll your eyes at mama!

Hank: *scrunches both eyes shut. Juts chin out defiantly *

Me: (inner monologue) God, help me. I am clearly not qualified to raise this child. 

Hank: *eyes still closed*

 

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Mischief. Personified.

 

The rest of our day brought more refusals, more time-outs, more counting-down-from-fives and a lot more NO. The demon-child version. I have never heard so much unexplained screaming. I have never done so much daytime praying. Or counting to ten. Or taking deep breaths.

All I could think about, all day, was how right all those people were about the “Terrible Twos.” Apparently, we have entered them. Exactly one week early.

I get it, now–all those toddler tantrum jokes and memes. I get the meltdown over not getting “the blue cup.” We had one today because Hank wanted the BLUE paci.

(But not THAT blue paci.)

I see why cutting the sandwich bread the wrong way can cause a full-on come-apart. Hank came-apart over mandarin oranges because the sections had already, (thanks to mommy) come apart.

(Which HE had wanted to do. Himself.)

Drew Barrymore’s picture of her daughter, sprawled across the Disneyland concrete, in full-on kid-fit, makes so much more sense to me now. Because now, I have seen my own child, spread eagle on the kitchen floor, kicking and screaming, for who-knows-why, exactly.

I tried to channel Drew’s cool, collected calm all day while my toddler’s world crashed down all around us. But it is harder than I thought.

Just ignore it.

Just forge ahead, go on with your day.

He will eventually get over it.

OK–but WHEN?

How on earth, a small, hardly-speaking toddler can out-wit and out-stubborn a grown adult with a Masters in Education is beyond me. (And more than a little embarrassing.)

Today–in all of its glory–left me wishing for my baby back. The baby who didn’t argue; the one who laid there, cooing and smiling as I changed his diapers, whenever I damn well pleased.

The baby who weighed nine manageable pounds, not the thirty-plus of rough-and-tumble I can hardly hold onto, kicking and bucking on the carpet, dirty diaper dangling perilously by one tab.

The baby who never told me NO.

I would do anything to swap him out, for one of those again. Maybe just for a few days, just until I can figure out how to handle this new, scary world we just landed in. I would gladly rock the baby keeping some new tired mama up around the clock. That–I was great at. Those days, I knew what I was doing. Because whatever I did, always seemed to work.

Today–nothing seemed to work–except my smart little boy’s brain as it filed away notes on how to outsmart his mama.

I don’t know if I am cut out for this. I need an emergency crash course in Toddler.

STAT.

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Smile, Hank! (Now doesn’t that just look like the face of an angel?)

Crow’s Feet, Mom Underwear and Moments in the Middle

I never saw the wrinkles coming until they were just suddenly there. I was admiring a cute picture of Hank that I had snapped of me holding him a few months ago, and once I stopped looking at his adorable mug and glanced up at myself, I freaked! I couldn’t believe that was MY face. . .with this sudden influx of crow’s feet?? 

When did I suddenly age ten years overnight? (Maybe in those two years when I hardly got any sleep at all?) Hmmm–maybe. But my goodness, those wrinkles sure carved themselves in deep! 

(Not crow’s feet, laugh lines. That at least SOUNDS nicer)

After the long hot shower I finally got in at 10:00 p.m. last night, I had yet another realization about my changed life. What the heck happened to my underwear drawer in the last two years? Who snuck in and traded all my fun frilly cuteness for granny panties?

I certainly never dumped out all those adorably-patterned VS under-roosies that used to fill up that drawer, and traded them in for mom underwear. If I had known that was coming, I may have reconsidered the whole idea of motherhood!! Somehow, they must have just slowly replaced themselves while my conscious wasn’t paying attention, one Target 3-pack of stretchy Hanes at a time. 

Who are you and how did you get in my underwear drawer?

I don’t think I have ever fully realized just how “adult” I am these days. How adult I HAVE to be, that is! It is still sinking in–almost two years later–that I am someone’s mother now. 

All of these changes are a whole lot like trying to keep the house clean. You don’t necessarily see it getting dirty, you just notice it once it IS dirty. Once it’s already too late to prevent it. 

I just packed up baby clothes that no longer fit my baby because he is no longer a baby. He’s suddenly a little “big kid” now. Who just sported his first pair of pull-ups, because he just started using his big-boy potty. Boy, did that ever help it sink in that he isn’t my little baby anymore. (But wasn’t he, just yesterday?)

Pottytraining. And that big-kid baseball cap that just this month became permanently attached to his little blonde head. Just like his bro-bros.

Again–all good changes. All blessings. (Well, maybe except for the wrinkles and the mom undies–I’m going to have to learn to live with those.) But I need to learn how to live with all my changes, whether I like them or not. The only constant in my life these days is change. Isn’t that true for all of us? 

My main problem is, I somehow need to figure out how to absorb all that time, all those moments, all the little bits that come in the middle between one stage and the next. Because I don’t want to only remember the milestones. The big moments. I want to remember all of it.

(Because after all–it is all of these beautiful little moments that have earned me such impressive laugh lines. 🙂 )

Another amazing moment somewhere in the middle 😉

My Parenting Style? It’s Not What You Might Think

Two words have been bouncing around in my brain a lot over the past year, as my barely-walking 1 year-old baby rounded the corner on toddlerhood and headed towards that looming milestone of horror–the Terrible Twos.

The two words I am referring to are: Parenting Style. While taking Advanced Human Development, I studied the three main types, so I thought I had it all figured out. I was prepared to be an effective parent someday. It was as simple as this:

Be too strict: you’re authoritarian and they’ll resent you. Be too lax: you’re permissive, and they’ll run all over you. Be perfectly balanced–authoritative–and your kids will turn out respectful and responsible. How hard can it be to achieve a balance of being both demanding and responsive? Not that hard, right?

It can’t be! 

I mean–we don’t want to raise complete hooligans, but we don’t necessarily want silent little soldiers, either!

Seriously, how hard can this be?

Well. . . I’ll tell you. Here I sit, a month away from the TERRIBLE TWOS where all hell promises to break loose, and I am pondering just how well my “Parenting Style” is actually fitting in with the above logic. Am I doing a great job of being the perfect Authoritative Parent?

Honest to goodness–I couldn’t even tell you. While I shoot for authoritative, I like to call my current parenting style “A Wing and a Prayer.”

Here’s why!

Parenting, it turns out, is WAY HARDER than I thought it would be when that little plus sign miraculously appeared on the pregnancy test.

I have found, that as hard as you try to do all the mom things just so and devote enough time to all the age-appropriate brain-stimulating activities, life happens. Things get real. Houses get dirty. You still have to figure out how to pay all your (steadily increasing) bills.

And then; just when you think you have finally gotten a handle on the whole baby thing, they turn into toddlers. (I’m convinced toddler must translate into tornado in some language, somewhere!)

All the things I promised myself I’d do or not do, suddenly went out the window. To avoid complete insanity, I evolved into practicing a new Parenting Style centered around one premise: what works. (Hence the wing and DEFINITELY the prayer.)

Here is what that looks like in my house on any given day.

“Ok, so let me get this straight–you absolutely must wear your glow-in-the-dark pajama shirt all day today instead of getting fully dressed?”

“The only way you will let mom take a shower is if you get to watch Bob the Builder on the iPad?”

“You suddenly hate everything I just cut up for you for lunch–which I should point out, are all things you loved yesterday?”

And–“You WILL NOT go to bed unless ALL your diggers are IN your crib with you?”

Sigh.

*Admit defeat.*

Well, ok then! 

This is why my new Parenting Style is such a beautiful panacea for stressful parenting! I finally figured out that while it may feel like it, these are not mom fails. 

These are simply tornado survival tactics.

Did we still get out the door, fully clothed (in something) and get to grandma’s in time for me to get to work? Check.

Did mama get a shower without a screaming fit? Check. (And he’s learning technology skills, right?)

Did he still eat a healthy lunch? (Even if today’s first lunch all got packed back into tuppers for another attempt at dinner?) Check.

Did he still sleep through the night, (even though he may have rolled over onto a hard plastic toy a few times)? Check.

These days, I consider even a fair amount of cooperation from the little tornado a huge success. I may not be hitting the qualifications for perfect Authoritative Parenting, but you know what? That’s OK. I don’t have a perfectly-behaved soldier, but I also don’t have a complete hooligan. What I do have is a little boy who knows he is loved, loves us back, listens to us (most of the time) and most importantly–gets to love being a kid.

I call that a huge win!

Of course you can walk through the mud puddle, little boy

If you happen to be one of the elite Authoritative Wonder Parents out there, perfectly balancing your demanding with your responsive, I applaud you, and I envy you. (Can you let us in on how you do it?)
And to the rest of you out there, parenting littles the best you can. . .maybe even identifying somewhat with my ‘Wing and a Prayer’ Parenting Style–cheers to us! We may have a little lower bar, but you know what I call it? 

REALISTIC. I say survive first–tune up later. 

We’ve got this!

(I will pray for you if you pray for me!)

Monkey child

Coming out of Hibernation

“Let light shine out of darkness”  2 Corinthians 4:6

I cannot find words to express how grateful I am that today is the first day of spring.

It was a looooooong winter!

Between huge snowstorms and subzero temps and keeping the home fire burning (literally) and staying on top of work and motherhood and kid activities and an awful lot of work-widow “single-parent” nights while the hubs traveled here and there. . . .it was a long winter.

This past week the temperature hit the 70s, the snow melted, and–FINALLY! I had the urge to blog for the first time in months. What was stopping me before? Exhaustion? Chaos? Yes. Both.

A good friend gave me an even more perfect explanation for my seasonal writer’s block though: my inspiration was hibernating. 

She was right! It was!

I didn’t have a single extra brain cell available with which to create or express or ponder or record or even just report the goings on of my crazy life the last few months. Because it was just that–crazy. 

I am still trying–my New Year’s intention–to be content in every day. Contentment in chaos is difficult, it turns out! So is calm, so is peace, and so is presence. I seemed to subconsciously realize around mid-January that if I had 10 spare minutes of energy, it needed to be focused on my family. So my writing and my new-found glass obsession both simply did what they had to do to survive–they went into hibernation. 

The other change that has helped me survive the long winter? My social media presence. I am online about 1/100th of the time that I was in 2016, and you know what? I could not feel better about that choice! The old me couldn’t walk down the stairs without scrolling my newsfeed. And now I can go days without a single peek at the book of faces. The connections are great, but what drained me was the time, and more recently, the negativity. I realized the very limited time that I have right now is too precious to waste reading bullshit political articles, or watching as 25 different people/pages all share the exact same news clip with different reactions. 

I simply don’t have time right now to worry about page views or likes or shares. 

I need that time to worry about hugs and mealtimes and snack times and nap times and tuck-ins and washing those favorite digger jammies so he can wear them again.

I also need that time for listening and supporting and laughing with and loving and enjoying my best friend (the hubs!) when he is home. Because all the days when he’s gone, my whole world just feels like winter.

I need to spend my moments watching these four brothers play ball and laugh and teach and practice and tackle and race and wrestle. Because every time they go away and come back again, Hank’s bigger. They’re all bigger.

God usually has a funny way of getting messages to me, but I always get them, loud and clear. This week I got the message that I am doing the right thing; by focusing more on what matters most, and letting everything else fall by the wayside. Loud and clear.

Coming out of his daily (mini) hibernation

I had just grabbed Hank after a perfect two hour nap, and I was feeling guilty that I had fallen asleep as well, rather than being “productive.” With 30 pounds of groggy toddler in one arm; I stacked his sippy cup of milk, his snack, a water bottle, and my phone all up on my Chromebook with the other; then headed down the stairs in a balancing act of multi-tasking greatness. 

Except that it wasn’t.

Somehow as we got off balance, I knew I had overestimated my capabilities. I managed to slide most of the items onto the banister as I squeezed Hank to my hip, but I watched in slow motion as the sippy cup full of milk went rogue and bounced end over end down the entire length of the staircase. Spraying milk in grand arcs all along the (carpeted!) stairs and the beautiful dark stain of the wood banister. 

LOTS of milk. 

I turned to Hank, who was equally enthralled by the display, (it looked just like those park fountains that spray the water up in the air in pretty patterns) and all we could do was laugh. He then offered up an adorable “Uh-oh!”and shrugged his little shoulders.

I held him closer to me and stood there for a few seconds, taking it all in. I had just summed up my life (as of late, anyways) in one milky disaster. 

I have been trying to do too much at once. And it just got messy.

I got the message.

I have to hold what is most important to me, closest to me, and let all the rest fall away. (Even if some of it does get messy at times!)

This springtime is the only springtime I will ever have with an almost two-year-old, who discovers something new every single day. 

A boy, a ball, and a bucket

I don’t want to waste these days, these hours, or these minutes. 

Any precious moment I am not working, this beautiful time of year; I will be spending with Hank. I will also savor the times when I get the privilege of enjoying his amazing daddy and his incredible brothers, too.

I have to find my peace in the chaos by leaving my phone in the house, while we play ball out on the lawn. 

I can catch up on the news some other day. . . .or not at all.

I can blog once a month, instead of weekly, and that will have to be good enough for me.

I know I will still write my books, make my mosaic masterpieces–another day, when I have more time. More energy. Less laundry.

(Maybe when he goes off to preschool?)

Until then, and until next time, happy spring!

*Make time for you and yours, and make sure to enjoy those little moments!*

I Could Not Have Been More Wrong About Sleep Training

HANK

I have a hilarious, chubby blonde cherub of a son, who is 19 months old.

Being that little boy’s mama has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Motherhood has made me more patient, more understanding, exponentially more grateful, and it has simply made life more meaningful.

It has also made me really, REALLY TIRED.

(Hence, the blog.)

The constant tiredness of motherhood surprised me–even though I had been warned! I thought Hank’s daddy and I would be such a great team for this whole parenting thing, that we would just take it all in stride. In marrying him, I had married a boy-dad extraordinaire, who already three amazingly-well-behaved sons on his resume. And while I was new to mamahood, I wasn’t totally clueless–I mean, I do hold a Masters in Elementary Ed so that had to count as somewhat of a prerequisite for parenting, right? I can teach, therefore I can certainly parent. Right? Ha. Not exactly! Teaching taught me a lot about kids, but it definitely didn’t teach me anything about how to get them to sleep well!

For the first year and a half, we had a very sweet, very well-behaved baby who slept well-enough, but not great. I was good with it; I mostly chalked it up to nursing him for over a year, even in the night. Was he using me as a pacifier? Probably. But I loved that middle of the night cuddle time, so I didn’t mind those wake-ups! Once I finally night weaned him, I still got up once or twice with him every night, and cuddled him til he zonked out again, because it worked. It didn’t take too long, and he didn’t cry that way. It worked for him and it worked for us, so that’s what we did. The path of least resistance.

Even though I was constantly tired from all the interrupted sleep, the hubs often reminded me how much worse things could be, since Hank always did go back to sleep pretty easily in the night. He had plenty of memories of almost NEVER sleeping with his first-born (who had acid reflux issues) so I figured he was right. We were simply dealing with normal parenting tiredness, and I just needed to drink more coffee! Suck it up, buttercup!

AND THEN. . . CHAOS

Enter holidays, 2016. Between his big brothers bouncing back and forth every other day to accommodate two households’ holiday/work schedules, discovering the magic of SANTA, and being cooped up inside thanks to two feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures–let’s just say our “normal” schedule went a bit haywire.

Sleep became pretty nonexistent in our household, from before Christmas right on up into 2017. The snuggles in the chair that normally put our little boy right to sleep (or almost to sleep) just quit working. He slept in fitful stretches and only wanted to snuggle, but wouldn’t even fall asleep on us anymore. Getting him in the crib meant a major fight every single time. We tried letting him cry after we were sure all his other needs were met and he had no fever, but without a firm plan we weren’t getting anywhere except more frustrated. I finally broke down and told the hubs I wanted to–at very least–look into some sleep consulting.

Thankfully, he agreed. (He was tired, too!)

Must. Make. Coffee.

CUE THE EXPERT

Well, lucky for me, I have a dear friend from high school who just happens to be a sleep consultant. AND-she happens to be a mama herself, to little ones who SLEEP WELL.

I wanted to get me some of that! So I swallowed my pride and asked for help. And only one week later, I can tell you that it was by far, the BEST parenting decision I have ever made. If you are reading this, and if you are even somewhat considering sleep training your child/children/future children, please keep reading. I want to share some of the most surprising things I discovered when we sleep trained Hank.

  1. My biggest surprise of all: Even after our worst night which included some serious crying, he did not hate me in the morning! Not even a little bit! On the contrary, my morning cuddle-time with Hank has become my very favorite time of day. He wakes up happy, rested, and proud of himself for sleeping well. We definitely make up for those late night snuggles in the daytime now, and I enjoy them so much more now than I did zombie-style at 3 a.m. (Wishing I was asleep in my bed, and then feeling guilty about that!)
  2. I didn’t have to let him “Cry-It-Out” nearly as long as I thought I would. (Or as many times throughout the night as I thought it would take, either.) I think it is somewhat like ripping off a band-aid; once you decide to do it, it hurts most right when you start, but if you just get it over with it is not as bad as you thought it would be! The anxiety I had about letting him Cry-It-Out was worse than actually letting him do it. Once that first difficult night was over, it got much easier, (on all of us) much faster than I expected it would.
  3. His overall mood has improved! I thought I had a pretty well-rested, happy toddler before; but now that I have seen Hank-on-Sleep, I almost don’t even recognize him! Hello, happy Hank!
  4. I still can’t believe how simple bedtime has become. I never dreamed I would be able to lay him down in his crib–completely awake–and cover him up with a blanket, tell him I love him and goodnight, and walk out, without so much as a peep. He actually goes TO SLEEP. Within minutes.  *Amazing*
  5. And lastly: Today, for the first time ever, Hank actually told me he wanted to get in his crib and lie down. During our pre-nap snuggles in the lazy-boy, he pointed at his crib and sighed a sleepy, adorable sound. “You want to lie down in your crib now?” I asked him, and he nodded his head. So? I carried him over, tucked him in, and he napped for over an hour, with NO CRYING. Yep. It was pretty much his idea. For the first time ever. Mind = Blown.

So–I am thrilled to recount our experience and brag up my amazingly helpful sleep consultant, because I know there are so many tired mamas just like me out there, who are too stubborn (sheepishly raising my own hand here) or too scared or too paranoid or too embarrassed or too whatever to give sleep training a try. I know. I read all those scary articles too. I googled everything I heard on the subject, too. I read both sides, and we chose to stay firmly planted on what-we-knew-worked-well-enough, until it just didn’t work any longer. Now that we finally gave it an honest chance, I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner!

I now have my evenings back, for me-time, or hang with the hubs-time, or bubble bath with a good book and a glass of wine-time. Anything but collapse into bed exhausted (because I know he will be up soon) time.

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I even had enough energy at night to stay up and sew Hank some special ‘Digger’ curtains, to make his room dark–as instructed!

Thank goodness we finally consulted with an expert on sleep. And to any of you other tired mamas out there–I hope you do too, if you need some guidance. Don’t go down with the sinking ship. There isn’t enough coffee in the world, when your kid just won’t sleep, believe me. I know firsthand.

Oh and that amazing sleep consultant I keep talking about? You can find her here:

SlumberBaby

Jenni is simply amazing. Like change your life amazing. She is my sleep savior, and my entire family is functioning better than we ever have, thanks to her wisdom and guidance.

(BTW–It doesn’t matter where you live, either, she got us lined out entirely by email! Awesome, right? And amazingly do-able. She found a plan that worked for us and it truly did work for us!)

Sweet dreams, Tired Mamas!

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I can sleep 11 hours straight, can you do that?

 

 

His Dig Dreams Are Big Dreams

Most little boys go to bed with a teddy bear, a tattered blue blankey, or a lovey they have carried around for months. I have offered all of these options to our little man, but he simply isn’t interested.

I guess you could say that Hank has a “lovey”, but his lovey is no cuddly puppy or bear. Hank’s lovey is a digger. And no, not the nice soft stuffed excavator that goes along with his Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site book. Oh, no. Hank goes to sleep at night with a death-grip on a cold, metal skid-steer he affectionately calls “dig-dig.”

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Dig-dig and Tractor

You see, our little boy has a love–an obsession, really–for heavy equipment of all kinds. It runs in the family, and he gets to foster his love often; thanks to the good luck that landed him on a Montana farm. Hank bounced around in a dump truck when he was still bouncing around in my tummy; and his affinity for that big huge truck seemed to be born into him from day one.

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Digger and Dump Truck

There are days I’m convinced that Hank has hydraulic fluid running through his veins!

Hank’s grandpa owned and ran a heavy equipment dealership for many years before “retiring” as a farmer, and Hank’s daddy sold/rented heavy equipment as well. Both of them can run anything. (And run it well.)

Hank doesn’t just get his love for running equipment from the men in his family tree, though–he also gets a little of it from his mama.

I was lucky enough to grow up on that same Montana farm, with that equipment-loving father who figured both of his kids might as well learn how to run everything on the farm. My big brother and I ran skid steers as soon as we could reach the pedals, and before we could reach them we rode along with dad, seat-belted onto his lap, like Hank does now.

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Moving Dirt with Gramps

I’m willing to bet that one day, my little digger-man will end up in the construction industry running something, and I am already behind him on that 100%. I don’t feel the need to push him to shoot for an Ivy League school, or to encourage him to be a doctor or a lawyer. I see how happy that little boy is when he is digging dirt or hauling gravel, and that’s plenty good enough for me!

It helps that I also see how happy his grandpa is–digging dirt or hauling gravel–and I know that it may simply be in their programming. I will encourage Hank to follow his dreams, whether they include construction or not, but I will thoroughly enjoy the fact that they do, right now.

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Motor Grading with Daddy

I will let him bring dig-dig to every meal with him as he insists on doing, currently. I will let him scoop up peaches with the bucket of that darn toy, and even let him use it as a spoon now and again. (What little boy doesn’t want to scoop food into his mouth with a bobcat bucket?)

I will let him sit on my lap as we read Diggers Go three times in a row before every nap-time and bed-time, and I will do my best to make the right sounds. And I will let him wear his equipment PJs more than any of the others, because of course, they’re his favorites.

I will do my best to keep a mental note of where each piece of equipment gets left around the house throughout the day, because Hank can’t quite keep track of them all yet.

I will keep handing him off to dad or grandpa; whoever happens to be running something that day.

And most importantly; I will keep letting him go to bed with dig-dig. Because to some little boys, dreams of diggers are much more magical than dreams about anything else.

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Excavator Operator

Puzzle Pieces

 

My little boy, Hank, has three heroes: his three big brothers. When they are with us, they throw balls with him and dive onto pillow piles and build endless towers to knock down. They make him laugh like neither their daddy or I ever can. He idolizes them; he wants to be just like them.

There is an electric charge in the air on the days when daddy arrives with Hank’s three big brothers in tow. He can sense when they are coming, and he can hardly contain his excitement. The door barely clicks open and he is running to the top of the stairs, squealing; racing to get to them. 

His puzzle is complete on the days we have the boys; all the pieces of our family are in place and his world looks as it should.

But three days later the puzzle falls apart; three major pieces of it suddenly go missing, and he has to try to make sense of it in a one-and-a-half year-old brain which knows nothing of parenting plans or shared custody. Nothing of divorce, or of real mamas and step-mamas. I am sure he thinks I am his brothers’ mama too—why wouldn’t I be?

“We”—our six-pack—is all he has ever known. I do not look forward to the day I have to explain things like divorce to my precious boy. Explain why his brothers have another mama; how it’s not me. Why they have another home, too, on the other side of town, or why he will go to a different school than they do.

I don’t know how to explain why some mamas and daddies don’t speak to each other, even though they share the same children.

And most of all, I worry about explaining why his big brothers have to leave us for half of every week. Because before he can truly understand, he won’t understand, and I know there will be tears.

I don’t want him to be heartbroken half of every week, his best friends in the world lost to him again. I know it is coming. I can already see the gears turning in that precious little head, wondering; the start of the dissonance.

Lately on the days without his brothers around, his little lip trembles when he sees their pictures. He runs into their rooms, just to check.

We will see them soon, sweetheart, I tell him, soon.

Hank’s big brothers have huge hearts buried under their tough exteriors. They play and wrestle and high-five and cuddle and pick up and carry and comfort their little brother. I know they miss him, too, when they are away.

They don’t treat him any differently because I am not their mama, too. They love him just like they love each other, even though they don’t say it.

Hank has no place in one of their two worlds, but they live for him in our world. They amaze me every day with their maturity and compassion. Their resilience as they bounce between lives; their acceptance of their new family.

When daddy loads them up to take them back to their mama’s house, Hank stands in the doorway waving his special wave. He opens and closes his little fist to each of them, saying I Love You, even though the words don’t come out yet.

His big brothers answer him with the same wave, their code, their secret send-off. The words don’t come out of their mouths, either.

But they don’t have to. He knows.

 

Originally posted on Tribe Magazine at: http://thetribemagazine.com/puzzle-pieces/#ixzz4OodjbHiL

Best Buds
Bookends

Putting the Devices Down: How Un-Plugging Tuned Me Back In To My Family

Even though I have a lot crammed into my 24/7, I adore my crazy life. I am a mama of a toddler, stepmama to three older boys, wife to their amazing daddy, and manager of a large commercial building. Whenever I have free time (we’ll get to that later) I love to write.

The one thing that has allowed me to keep so many irons in the fire (aside from my own amazing mama who babysits for me) is technology. I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do in a day if I didn’t have wireless internet, a smart phone, a Chromebook, and my Google Drive.

I have the luxury of working from home when I need to, answering emails as soon as they hit my inbox; writing leases and setting up showings right along with cooking meals. I am a working mama who sometimes stays at home, or a stay-at-home-mama who also works. However you want to look at it. I guess you could call me a “Hybrid” Mom. Basically, I am just very blessed to have the best of both worlds.

Whenever I am caught up at work, and the kids are fed and entertained (or sleeping!) I write. I write to keep my head clear, my stress level low, and my blessings in the forefront of my mind. And these days, even my writing happens online; it is much easier for me to write on a device than to carry around a notebook and a pencil all day long to record those spur-of-the-moment random thoughts.

But here’s the thing.

Some days it seems like I spend more time looking at screens than I do looking into the little blue eyes I live and work so hard for.

I find myself saying “please hang on, mama’s trying to finish an email” or “one second, honey” or “mama has to make a phone call first.”

To make matters worse, now that my baby has hit toddlerdom, motherhood has shifted from pretty much all-encompassing to FULL-TIME HANDS-ON. I have been so busy that lately my morning coffee time with my husband has become my best time for an online check-in.

So when that dear husband of mine asked me if I NEEDED to be online the other morning, I asked him what he meant. He spoke his heart: He missed our mornings of coffee and visiting and watching Hank dance to Baby First and laughing while he bounced back and forth between us for bites of our coffee-cakes. Together. I was there, but I wasn’t there. I was off in cyberland.

It was a definite wake-up call.

So? I woke up.

I snapped the chromebook closed, grabbed my coffee, and tuned back into the blessings that I was missing. Right in front of my face.

All that day, I thought about my online work and social media habits. I thought about how present I was being when I wasn’t at the office. I thought about how much time I spend working on my various devices throughout the day and evening, and decided it was simply too much.

Do I really need to share my latest post right then, during my best quality time with my husband?

Do I really need to reply to every comment on my social media accounts, right when my phone buzzes?

Do I need to waste precious time (and these days, my time is precious) scrolling through pages of ridiculous political memes on Facebook?

Do I need to answer every work call or email the second that I get it, on days when I am not in the office?

Nope. I sure don’t.

Not right now.

Right now all I need to do is be one little boy’s amazing mama, one husband’s loving wife, and three boys’ supportive stepmom.

So I am putting down my devices. As often as I can.

Even more importantly, I am also choosing to LEAVE it down, in my car. I don’t know about the rest of you busy gals, but I am 100% guilty of checking my email quickly or texting to check on the baby from the road, and I know that needs to stop. I am never SO BUSY that I need to be plugged-in while driving. 

I am putting down the device.

I am vowing to be more present as a wife and as a mother.

I am vowing to be a completely safe, focused driver.

Facebook can wait.

Email can wait.

The blog can wait.

My family shouldn’t have to.

As if I wasn’t already convinced, my wise young toddler cemented my decision with what I think was a sign from above. Yesterday morning, while I was down on the rug playing cars with him, daddy went upstairs for a refill on his coffee. Hank saw me grab my phone to steal a quick glance at my news feed. I didn’t even think to grab my half-empty cappuccino that was sitting on the end table behind me, getting cold.

As soon as I swiped the screen on my phone, I felt a strange sensation begin at my left shoulder and spread all across my lap. In that brief moment when my brain was online, my entire criss-cross apple-sauce got completely covered in lukewarm coffee and perfectly foamed milk. I slowly turned to look behind me–in shock–and saw my adorable toddler sheepishly holding my big green mug. My big green EMPTY mug.

Well, that sure showed me, didn’t it!

I don’t know whether he intended to bring me my coffee as a sweet gesture, or to pour it on me to say “put the phone down, mama!”

From the look on his face, I’m guessing it was the latter.

So after I changed my clothes and spot-cleaned the rug, I took the hint. I put the device down.

Today, our morning coffee time was technology-free.

And it was lovely.

He’s so much better to look at than a screen!

Weathering The Storm

Once we hit the 12-month mark, and my little Hank graduated from baby to toddler overnight, his development kicked into a higher gear. All of a sudden, instead of a new skill or sound or hand signal emerging every week or so, it was every day. Then there were two or three new tricks each day. Now it seems he’s hit the steep slope of the exponential curve that is toddler discovery, and I can’t keep track anymore.

This morning, he said “Up?” for the first time ever, arms outstretched to be picked up, like he had done it a hundred times. Scooping him up, I realized that in that brief exchange, I had relinquished my authority over whether or not he wanted to be held.

Then there were the stairs. He’d mastered going up them a week or so ago, but coming down was still daunting. We worked hard at sitting down first, then coming down slowly on his bottom. He held my hand (or daddy’s) tightly every time, steadying himself for each bump, bump, downward.

Today though, it clicked. My heart did a little flip-flop when he waved my hand away and scoot-scooted his own little bottom down the stairs. One by one, just like we had practiced.

Solo.

One more thing he doesn’t need me for now.

Outside, after dinner, my bold new Hank cuddled up against our Great Dane on the lawn, using him as a pillow for an impromptu snuggle session. This surprised me too; the only affection he had ever given Roscoe to date was a quick pat on the back as he toddled by him with a nervous giggle.

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Hmmm, I should use him for a pillow more often

Overwhelmed by all this new-found bravery, I was almost thankful when a summer storm rolled in and my little man suddenly needed his mama again. We hurried inside and I opened the blinds, so we could watch the angry clouds.

“Ma-ma-ma?” came his timid little voice, snuggling closer to me on the couch. He pointed wide-eyed at the ceiling each time the thunder rolled over the house.

“Hmmm?” he hummed, over and over, with a worried look on his face—his intense little mind in overdrive. I smoothed his hair and pulled him in a little tighter. His lip quivered and his stormy blue eyes balanced right on the edge of crying, brimming with anxious tears.

“It’s ok, sweet boy, Mama’s got you. We’re ok.”

Are we though? Inside my mama-brain, everything wasn’t ok. My husband had taken my three step-sons camping—two hours away with no cell service—so I was on single-mom duty.

In a huge electric storm.

Usually during the big summer storms, I am the one huddling close to him on the couch, shuddering at every thunder boom, hoping it will end soon.

Tonight it was up to me to be the calming force for our scared little son, since the daddy we both lean on couldn’t rescue us this time. Big storms with daddy are tolerable, but big storms without daddy are terrifying.

I scooped Hank up and carried him into his nursery, clicking the volume up a few extra notches on his bedtime Enya. Maybe I could cover up the sounds of the storm, and ease both of our minds.

Snuggling deep into the crook of my arm, he grabbed a firm grip on my shirt collar and sucked away at his pacifier. Silver-blue flashes of lightning glow lit up the dim room every few seconds; he hummed and looked up at me intently every time. Studying my reaction, watching me for how he should feel, how he should react. My little mirror.

Breathing out a long, deep breath, I tried to focus on the soothing strains of Caribbean Blue streaming out of the speaker on his bookshelf.

Calm, mama. I smiled down at him and kissed his forehead goodnight.

“Shh, sweet boy, mama loves you.”

We had gotten through many summer storms since Hank had arrived, but I realized in that moment how this one was substantially different. It hit me that for the first time ever, he was aware of itHe had slept right through most storms in the past, and we had always joked that they made him sleep better. Even if he had been awake for one, it wouldn’t have registered with him anyways; storm noise in the past was simply static in his busy baby brain.

But tonight, my tuned-in toddler was astutely aware of what was going on outside his nursery window. His baby startle reflex had evolved into full-blown little-boy fear.

I don’t have the luxury of being the scared one anymore.

I realized that whether I felt it inside or not, I had to show him only calm. I had to be a strong, fearless parent he could count on—just like his daddy. The daddy who isn’t always in town, to protect us from things like big scary thunderstorms.

As my tired boy finally drifted off in my arms, I felt the magnitude of my job as his mama hit me in a way it hadn’t before, and I didn’t want to lay him down in his crib quite yet.

I have a big job–I need to be his calm, for all the storms to come.

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My beautiful, (worried!) little boy

Two Horses

My 15 month-old son taught me a valuable lesson a few weeks ago at our local fair. He demonstrated, in living color, the profound truth of one of my favorite sayings: You can’t ride two horses with one ass.

We had just gotten to the front of the line for the big, beautiful circus carousel filled with glossy painted horses of every color. Long flowing manes cascaded down their necks, and fancy “saddles” beckoned, calling out “Pick me! Pick me!” to every little boy and girl who ran up onto the platform.

Hank meant business when they opened the gate, and he latched on to the first horse we came to, claiming it as his. I was just thrilled that he picked one on the outside row, as I had strategically placed his daddy on the other side of the fence with our good camera, hoping he would capture this magical mother and son moment.

Hank sat up proudly on his fiberglass saddle, gripping the golden pole for dear life as his horse started to rise and fall in those graceful waves around and around.

My little boy was in his element. And I was too, soaking up the sheer joy he exuded as he galloped slowly around in carousel circles while the tinny circus music played.

Once his toddler attention span ran out though, the novelty of his white horse wore off and he started considering his other options. Hank suddenly decided that he wanted to try out the horse galloping up and down right beside his. He started reaching for its golden pole with everything he had, squirming out of my tight hold on his chest.

I figured it would be easier to switch him over there for the rest of the ride than to fight with him about staying where he was. I scooped him up and plopped him down onto the middle horse’s saddle. This thrilled him for a bit, but the excitement from mounting his new steed quickly turned to wails of frustration.

Hank frantically pointed back to the first horse and tugged on my arm. He let out an angry squeal to convince me to listen, so I scooped him up again and plunked him right back where he started, on his original mount. But the tears kept coming.

The ride slowed to a stop, and as I carried him back towards his beaming crowd of fans (daddy and his grandparents) he proudly puffed out his chest and a big smile appeared on his face. He was already thinking about the next ride.

All through the rest of that fun-filled fair day, I couldn’t stop thinking about his carousel ride, and how I fight that very same battle. I completely understood his dilemma. Life often leaves us wanting to ride two horses at once, but once we choose, we often wish (mid-ride of course) that we were on the other one!

My two carousel horses these days are motherhood and my career. I am blessed by the fact that I have the best of both worlds: I have a fulfilling (and most importantly, flexible) job, and I also get to be somewhat of a stay-at-home mom. (Two days a week and on weekends.)

Sick baby? I can work from home, and snuggle him.

Emergency at work? I can drop him at grandma’s and run up to the office at almost a moment’s notice.

But-even with the amazing flexibility I have in my work/family life, I do often struggle with whether I am doing what I should be doing.

I always dreamed of being a wife and a mother, raising babies and making incredible home-cooked meals each day; my perfect little family all gathered around the dinner table at the same time each night like clockwork.

But in reality, my perfect little family is a big crazy blended family of SIX, and our schedule is sheer chaos. We bounce around daily; juggling shared custody of my husband’s three sons and his work-travel schedule and my three days a week at the office and a toddler and football and baseball and naps and school and doctors appointments. Somewhere in there we manage to buy groceries and cook meals, but it’s certainly never like clockwork!

In my craziest moments at home, when the baby refuses to nap and I have a long list of important voicemails I still haven’t gotten to yet and my checkbook needs balanced and dinner needs figured out and I can’t get the Tick Tock song to quit playing in my head–all I want to do is drop the baby off and head to my quiet office where I can actually get something accomplished.

But then there are days at the office when I am dealing with taxes or plumbing emergencies or unhappy tenants and I would give anything to be at home with my son, singing silly songs and reloading his t-ball tee for him 50 more times.

And if that doesn’t complicate things enough, there are also days when I drive by the little rural school Hank will go to in four short years, and I miss teaching. On those days I feel guilty for not using my Masters in Education that I worked so hard for. The one I earned proudly and then put on the shelf so I could be the best mom I could be in these important, formative years. (And selfishly, so I could savor this precious time with my one and only baby.)

On those very same days, I see my friends posting their first day of school pictures on Facebook and I actually cry tears because I don’t want to think about the day when Hank will be old enough to go to school; when I will have to give him up for seven hours a day. Five days a week.

Five days a week that will mean that I have all the time in the world to go to work, or teach again, or both–and I will be wishing I was home with my son.

I know this is going to happen. But if I can already guarantee that I will feel this way in four years, shouldn’t it be easy to be present, right now? 

Shouldn’t it be easy to enjoy every second of playtime or mealtime or snuggle time with my baby, who–overnight–is no longer a baby?

Shouldn’t it be easy to move thoughts of work or responsibilities or dreams-on-pause to the back of my mind? And just be in the moment, fully present; a focused, relaxed, FUN mom?

And shouldn’t it also be easy to enjoy the fact that I have a job that I love, that I am good at, that makes me feel accomplished and helps keep our lights on and groceries in our fridge? Without feeling guilty for missing out on three days a week of Hank time?

The answer to all of those questions is yes. Yes, I should be able to do all of those things. But the problem is, I can’t.

I should be able to ride one horse at a time, because I only have one ass. I fully realize that I can’t ride two horses at once, but just like my little boy, I want to.

My answer to the ages-old motherhood struggle of stay home vs. go to work is this: There’s no right answer. Whichever you choose will still be hard. Because as mothers, no matter whether we are staying home, or working, or working from home, or some ever-changing random combination of the above, we will always feel like we aren’t doing enough. Like we should be riding two horses at once.

Being a mom and having a career aren’t mutually exclusive–but at times it can definitely feel like they are. Especially when you want to do an exceptional job at both of them.

Hank taught me in one short fair ride, that as long as you let your heart lead, and spend some time on each of those horses–you will come out smiling. (Even if you do regret your choice from time to time. Sometimes you simply have to ride it out.)

Just like those pretty fiberglass horses; sometimes you will be up and other times you will be down.

But no matter which horse you’re on, you will still keep moving forward.

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Life is a beautiful, crazy ride – Hold on tight!