The Best Accessory

In recent months, I have found myself rebelling.  Rebelling against myself – my current self – in trying to become who I used to be before I was a Mom.

I’ve been trying to shed the last few baby pounds by working out intensely and making my diet more healthy.  I found a photo of me in my early 20s – thin, tan, blonde, carefree.  I’m now thicker, and back to brunette, with my natural paper-white skin, but I still see that 20s version of me as “prettier” even though she really wasn’t if you look beneath the surface.

I’ve been painting again – a hobby I have had for about 20 years, that seems to come and go with creative spurts.  I’ve even had a few paying clients.  I remember the times that I could paint all day without interruption.  Now, I struggle to find a free hour during nap time and one painting can take me months to finish.

I’ve been going out for “me” time and dates with friends and my husband.  Dates where we dress up, go to concerts, get pampered – whatever makes me feel young and free.

But the thing is, no matter how much freedom I’ve been trying to give myself to get back to the core of “me,” the truth is, I am forever changed by motherhood, both inside and out.

The moment I leave my children for date night or girls night or a painting workshop, I am thinking of them, talking about them, telling funny stories about them, scrolling through photos of them on my phone, or using them as my inspiration for a painting.  They are my Facebook profile picture, and the core of my News Feed.  They are inside my head and my heart and there really is no way to go back in time to the person I used to be before they made me, “Mom.”

And that’s okay.  The other day, my husband was trying to take a picture of me, dressed up in a new dress, ready to go to a friend’s baby shower.  I felt beautiful and healthy and young(ish).  I did my hair and makeup and nails and thought about my jewelry and shoes carefully to complete the look.

But then, posing for these photos, I felt awkward and silly.  To be the center of attention just wasn’t me anymore.  Every day, I give and give some more to my kids, and they are my focus.  My 18 month old noticed the attention on me during this little “photo shoot,” and immediately came to my feet, held onto my legs, urging me to pick her up and hold her.

Later,as I looked through the photos on my phone, I did look awkward in those pictures. Being alone and “free” of my kids, even in a picture, seemed fake.  But the ones where I smiled down at my toddler were the real keepers.  It made me realize, my kids don’t hold me back from being me.  They have helped to shape me, strengthen me, test my patience, and make me different than the young woman I once was.  They bring out my most natural smile and in many ways, they are the best accessory to the very best version of me.

I’m not going to stop giving myself time to do the things I love.  But I’m going to stop striving to go backward to a time when the only person I took care of was me.   The baby at my feet or the 3 year old on my hip, or the goofy hug from my 9 year old, are all part of me. They make me beautiful and make me shine the brightest. No matter the dress, the hair, the jewelry, or shoes, the best accessory is a child holding tight to your legs, refusing to let go.

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Bow Down to the Mother of the Year

Ladies, bow down because I just clinched the Mother of the Year award.  I know, I know what you’re thinking: she must be mastering Pinterest or something.

No, no.  It’s not that at all.  I think today I deserve the Mother of the Year Award because for once, I actually listened to the message of that Disney Frozen movie and I “Let it go!” We all need a break from the “rules,” and some days, let’s face it, we’re all just a little lazy.  So, even with the dizzying lawless children in my house, I didn’t lose my cool and I didn’t try to “over-control.”

I let them watch TV all day. Educational TV, at least.  My 2 year old is now calling her sister, “The Mona Lisa.”

I hid in the kitchen to “cook” our dinner of BLTs while they destroyed the living room to the tune of the Little Einsteins theme song running simultaneous to the demo song mode of the piano keyboard.

I handed them, without question, every snack and juice box they demanded.

One of them wasn’t wearing pants and another was walking around with only one boot on and a blanket over her head.

I gave them jellybeans and M&Ms for no reason at all and didn’t even care when they didn’t eat their dinners because hey, we’re composting now, so it’s all good.

They pulled each other’s hair and pushed each other and screamed and fussed about the toy that’s stuck repeating some unintelligible sound because it needs new batteries.  And I didn’t intervene.

I let them use their riding toys in the house and even when they were too loud I didn’t tell them to stop.

When I did try to feed them lunch, they ate it at the coffee table and mashed shredded cheese and chicken nugget bits and apples chunks well into the carpet below.  And that sucked, but it’s done now.

I let them carry the bath toys out of the bathtub, and brush their hair with their toothbrushes.

I let my 1 year old knock down an entire stack of magazines and rip them to shreds.

I gave my 3 year old “privacy” in the potty even though I knew that meant she probably wouldn’t wipe, flush, or wash her hands.

My 9 year old stared at her computer with her headphones on and didn’t really talk to anyone and didn’t do her homework or practice her piano either.

I didn’t nag them to do or not do.

I did my own thing for most of the day, taking care of loose ends and preparing for future events.

And you know, it felt bad, to be honest.  It goes against my nature to not be involved in their every little moments, trying to guide them, correct them, reward or discipline them.

I’m always intervening, cleaning, preparing, maintaining, monitoring, limiting.  And for one day, I didn’t want to nag or yell or any of it.  I just wanted to let them do their thing and I would do mine.

So today, in a strange way, I am that Mother of the Year.  We’re all still alive and well.  My house is a mess, and I don’t know how I’m going to handle tomorrow.  But for today, I went against my instinct, against the grain, and the world didn’t cry out or collapse.  We are all fine and still love each other.  It’s the smallest big achievement of my year (so far.)

Now, what’s on the docket for tomorrow!?

 

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My Truest Voice is Silent

Some people are good talkers.  They communicate verbally in a way that is true to who they are as a person.  While I consider myself to be a pretty good talker, I often feel that when I talk I’m not really saying much.  I often worry, “Am I talking too much?”  “Did I just say something stupid?”  Sometimes the words fall from my mouth too quickly and clumsily; they betray me because I haven’t had the time to process them.  If someone really wants to know me, they should be my pen pal.

The written word has intrigued me ever since I was in elementary school.  I started writing short stories with little illustrations – stories about magical mirrors, and jellybean jars at grandma’s house, and purple-people-eaters.  I was a shy kid; reserved, nervous and very much living in my own little head.  I dreamed of being a witch, or a movie star, or an Egyptian princess meeting her prince in a desert filled with fairies. People love to read about these grand ideas and dreams, but if you went around just speaking them, I’m pretty sure you’d be immediately thought crazy.

Living in my head and swimming in my own thoughts brought me to writing.  Writing allowed me the spontaneity of penciling a statement, fresh from thought, but then having the ability to ERASE it or rewrite it.  It gave me freedom.  It gave me escape; an outlet for creativity and trial and error. It gave me the ability to say what I mean, but then make certain that the words sounded like the voice inside my head.  And so it has been for many years that my truest voice is silent.

When I was 25 years old, I was a newlywed and the marriage was already in trouble.  Right as I was considering throwing in the towel, I found out I was pregnant.  I cried.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was lost.  I mulled over and over what to say and how to tell the news to my then husband.  I was fearful he would think I “did it on purpose,” or some such nonsense you see play-out in bad movies.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I wrote it all down in a letter.  The basic news, my thoughts and feelings about it, and how I thought we could get through things together.  It was my truest voice and I thanked the God of Writing for getting me through that very difficult moment.  It wasn’t the first time that writing had saved me from being the victim of my clumsy mouth, but it is one of my more poignant memories.
When I was 16, I wanted my parents to finish the basement of our house so that my brother and I could have a nice space to have our friends over.  Instead of whining out loud about it (which is how my clumsy mouth would have done it,) I wrote down an argument, point by point, expressing why I thought it would be advantageous for all of us to have a finished basement.  My paper words held true and the basement was finished.

For birthday cards and thank you notes, I always write a long essay inside each greeting card to the ones I love.  Because I want to say so many things that need to be said, to make them permanent.  Often the intimacy of love seems too awkward if spoken aloud, but so beautifully preserved by ink and paper.

Whenever I feel I have wronged someone or they wronged me, it is letters or emails that I turn to instead of a phone call or face-to-face meeting.  I know that the typed words will hold firm; they won’t crumble into tears or get angry when I didn’t intend them to, they wouldn’t wrinkle their nose or rolls their eyes impulsively.  They can be as light as dust in the air or as heavy as a brick on your foot.  They say what I want to say exactly how I want to say it.

Some might say that this is not really my truest voice.  Maybe it’s my edited voice because I can go back and delete or rewrite my thoughts to my liking.  Sure, that’s possible.  But I can also tell you that these words would never be spoken aloud.  In that respect, it’s as true as it gets.   When in life do you get such an opportunity, to deliver an uninterrupted monologue that expresses your deepest thoughts and feelings and dreams without the worry of verbal cues and missteps?  Writing is it.  It’s me.  If you want to hear me, don’t listen.  Read.

 

 

 

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“I Hate Weekends,” and Other Things Moms Think But Don’t Say

At the risk of seeming ungrateful, I’m just going to say it:  I hate weekends.  And let me backtrack just a little – I didn’t always hate weekends.  But since I became a stay-at-home mom 2 years ago, it’s hard to separate a weekend from any other day of the week.  In fact, sometimes weekends are just harder than the rest of the week.

I have low expectations for weekdays – we cruise through each day in routine-mode.  There’s breakfast and waiting for my oldest to catch the bus, then a visit to the gym with the little ones, errands, lunch, nap-time, playtime, dinner, trekking out to extra-curricular activities, then bedtime.  The routine is go-go-go, but can also seem mundane.  Yet, the routine brings comfort, both for the kids and for me.

As Friday rolls in, I have high expectations.  Time for my hubby and me to spend together without the pressure of the work day looming over him.  Time for some adventures.  Time to relax.  The only thing wrong with these visions of what a weekend should be is that they are from an earlier time before we had kids.

Often we make plans to go places and it ends up being more stress than fun – the packing extra items for the kids, the tantrums performed at inopportune times, the whining, the crying, the extra driving, ugh.

Then there are the times when we give up and say, nope, we’re not going anywhere this weekend.  We park ourselves at home without a plan in sight but then the kids are running around the house, screaming, fighting, your basic definition of “stir-crazy.”

So it seems we can never strike the right balance of how to spend our weekends.  But one thing is always certain – there is no relaxing for Mom.  Mom still has to be Mom and the endless tasks are still there – the dinner to be made, the baths to run, the questions to answer, the laundry to fold, and the mess to clean up.  It is probably the single most irritating aspect of being a stay-at-home mom.  Week-end?  What end?  It never ends!

I do give my husband tons of credit because he is always there on a weekend to pitch in with the kids to help to lighten the load.  But the kids are often so accustomed to asking me for everything that they can’t seem to break out of the weekday routine – like they can’t believe that Daddy can do it too.  So, try as he may to get them milk or help them put their shoes on or change their diaper, my 1-year-old screams in protest and my 2 1/2 year-old actually verbalizes, “No, I want Mama.  You’re not Mama, you’re a boy.”  We’re working on this slowly but surely, but you can’t always (ever) rationalize with toddlers.

Let me say also that I can see how this whole subject could be viewed as a whiny complaint by “working moms.”  But, I can also tell you that I was one of those “working moms” for 6 years.  Not only that, but I was a single working mom for 3 of those years.  I thought I had the hardest job in life.  And I did.  And I used to scoff at those “stay at home moms” thinking that they had life easy and couldn’t understand why they seemed so frazzled.  Now I know.  Being a parent is hard, no matter how you do it.  And weekends are hard for all parents because kids can be tough!  But something about not having a change to indicate that it is indeed the “end of the week,” can seem maddening to a stay-at-home parent.

So, here is my thought on how to “change” weekends for the better. First, I change my mindset.  I will no longer have high expectations that a weekend should be some glorious vacation from reality.  In fact, I will recognize that the kids will still be kids and will still need and want all of their needs and wants.  I will, together with my hubby and kids, come up with one fun family activity per weekend and try to keep it relatively relaxed for the rest of the weekend with at-home outdoor or craft activities that are different than our typical weekday activities.

In addition, I’m now calendaring ahead.  What this means is that I will look months in advance and plan date nights for my hubby and me, outings for my oldest daughter and myself, weekend getaways, or lunches or dinners where we invite friends and their families to our home. My husband and I also coordinate so that he and I can run solo errands without the kids tagging along.  I never knew how sweet a trip to Starbucks could be until I was up to my elbows in kids and couldn’t even sip my Chai Tea Latte without having to assist a toddler with eating a cake-pop while holding a baby on my hip.  Little moments alone can be more rejuvenating than you may realize.

With my constant disappointment in weekends, I knew something had to change.  And it wasn’t actually the weekend, it was me.  I stopped looking back to how things used to be and started looking forward.  I started planning ahead, getting excited (in a realistic way) about events and outings and friends and family.  In effect, I hijacked our routine and redefined “weekend,” stay-at-home-mom style.  It’s not perfect, but family and life never is.

 

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Fear and Worry – The Badges of a Parent

I recently returned from a long weekend getaway with my husband – just my husband and me.  No kids.  No diapers. No crying.  No routines.  No drama.  The trip was a much needed respite and was wonderful – something that I think all parents need to plan if they can.

But, being away from the kids did conjure some fears that probably cross the minds of most parents.  What if something happens to us on this trip?  What if something happens to them while we’re gone?  The endless possibilities are enough to keep you awake at night.  And this is the very thing that no one can really put into words to those who don’t have children.  They may remark, “they’ll change your life forever,” or “they will bring so much joy to your life,” but no one to my knowledge ever says, “Children will bring you much fear and worry.”

Upon returning home, my 2 littlest kids greeted me at the door, excited and probably a little relieved to see that I was still alive and would be their Mom again.   When my oldest got home, she just hugged me tightly and said, “I really missed you.”  They were fine and we were all fine.

After putting them to bed, I spent some time catching up on the news and it wasn’t good. Aside from the nightly horror show of the 2016 election coverage, there were other real horrors concerning young children.  One story, a father who witnessed his 5-year-old getting hit by a car and killed just waiting at the bus stop.  The next, a 13-year-old girl who was lured out of her home and murdered by an 18-year-old whom she met online.  I catch my breath, my heart skips a beat, and tears roll down my face as I read these stories.  Because, not only do the typical thoughts cross my mind like, “those poor kids, those poor parents,” and “what if that was my kid?”, but also, what is wrong with this world?  How in the world can I protect my kids?  And, am I savoring every moment with them?  Do I appreciate them enough?  Am I teaching them to be kind and trustful, but am I also teaching them to be street smart and to put their safety and health above all else?

There is so much guilt and regret and fear and worry associated with being a parent.  You can’t quite describe it unless you’ve felt it yourself.  Kids are an extension of yourself, practically a part of your own body in a sense, and letting them roam free in the world or on the web is something that is necessary to raise independent and functioning human beings, but I am fraught with self-doubt in the process.  I suppose the real kicker about being a parent is that you would do anything to protect your children from physical and emotional danger.  You WOULD do anything, but you really CAN’T.

You can do everything right, but in the end, their life is theirs to live and as for all of us, chance will inevitably play a role in it.  You can’t control every aspect of their little lives – their relationships, their choices.  But you can guide them and advise them, show them how to be smart and how to be good to other people.  You can teach them to trust and have faith in other people but you also have to teach them to be smart, cautious, and aware of their surroundings at the same time.  It’s a balancing act that’s difficult even for adults to manage and that’s what keeps me up at night.

Given the option to go right or go wrong, will my kids make the smart choice, the safe choice?  How can I show them how to safeguard their lives without living in fear?  I really don’t know.

 

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My Threenager & Her Precocious Quips

There have been moments in my life when I have relished in my witty comebacks and snarky one-liners, and been maybe a little too proud of my clever antics.  As it turns out, these personality developments in myself have come at a price:  I am forced to see them reenacted by my almost-three-year-old middle child, Curly.

Curly was born with the most perfectly cherub-like face – big blue almond shaped eyes, dirty blonde curly hair, pouty red lips and a wonderfully symmetrical heart-shaped face.  Her beauty is undeniable.  But, she was also born with her eyebrows knit in a portrait of irritability, with a cautious temperament that makes her distrustful of people at best, and downright mean to them at worst.  If it’s possible for a child to be an antisocial cynical pessimist, I think she is one.  However, her charm lies in her deep intelligence and thoughtful poise-  she gets the punchline of a joke easily, and she will give you a sly gorgeous smile and snicker playfully when she’s in the mood for such things. When you have gained her trust, it is cause for real celebration because you must have done something to really earn it.  She’s an eager learner and observer of all things.   She’s the type of kid that you feel a sinful sense of pride in; a child that both my husband and I apologize for profusely and take turns blaming each other for her traits in public, but also spend our nights in bed retelling the day’s events about her behavior and then laughing hysterically.  For after all, she is us and we are her.

Over the last year, her personality has ranged from aloof or sometimes unnecessarily aggressive, to a surly quick wit that demonstrates a solid understanding of sarcasm.   And she’s not even 3.  [Insert Pride mixed with Overwhelming Fear of this Tiny Force of Nature.]

Sigh, deep deep sigh, how does a parent manage an almost-three-year-old with a strikingly developed sense and balance of seriousness and humor?  I. Just. Don’t. Know.  As an example of her personality and behavior, here are a few of her recent quips:

Me:  “Curly, you need to wear your coat or you will be cold.”
Curly:  ” I want to be cold.”

Me:  “Curly, if you don’t eat your dinner, I might just have to feed it to your baby sister.”
Curly:  “She can have it.”

Me:  “You can’t pee in these panties or you will get all wet and you won’t like it.”
Curly:  “No, You won’t like it.”

Me: “If you’re good, I will give you a present.”
Curly:  “If you give me a present, I will be good.”

There’s a sense that she’s already outsmarted my plan before I’ve even made it.  She has a steadfast sense of what she wants and she will not be deterred by the opinion of a mere adult.  I admire and fear her all at once.

The best that my husband and I have been able to achieve in managing her is to show her the example of kindness, politeness and manners, and hope that she mixes in the good lessons with her natural temperament.  Don’t get me wrong – we don’t want to change who she is.  She is strong and smart and fierce and independent – something that some women (and men) strive for over a lifetime.  We hope she keeps those traits, but with some pretty heavy interventions on our part, we hope she can also find that people can be trusted, loved, and respected, and that realizing that is what life is all about.

 

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Belief in Santa Claus: Dangling by a Thread

When my now 9-year-old “Freckles” was 8, she started to interrogate me about Santa Claus.  “Is he real?”  “How does he get to all the houses in one night?”  “Are you and Daddy actually Santa Claus?”  “The kids in my class say Santa Claus isn’t real.”

Breath held.  Poker face on.  Employ avoidance tactics.  Do not smile.  Brush off the questions.  Delay.  Delay. Delay.  Google, “How to tell your child about Santa Claus,” for when the interrogation continues.

I didn’t know what to do, honestly.  I’d been perpetuating this clever ruse, along with the rest of our Christian culture, for years.  How do I come clean now without seeming like a heartless liar?  Not only that, but how do I handle it considering I have 2 other much younger children?   Hmm….it seemed that she had me between a rock and a hard place.

So I read some beautiful stories online about how to properly tell your child the truth, or some version of it.  Essentially the best thing I found was a way to explain that Santa Claus represents the spirit of giving, and of faith in something or someone greater than yourself ( a perfect tie-in to Christian beliefs in Jesus and his self-sacrifice for the greater good.)

Santa Claus is an excellent way to give Christian children a tangible expression of Jesus’ love and sacrifice- that we are all the beneficiaries of that inexplicable selfless gift.  Just as children reap the benefits of physical gifts from this “Santa Claus,” a man they have never known, Christians experience the gift of Jesus’ love and self-sacrifice.  And so, it is only natural for parents to do the work of “Santa Claus” and take on the responsibility of demonstrating the value of giving and of self-sacrifice.

I also know that there really is magic in this world, and Santa Claus shows us how to believe in it.  If you can look up in the sky and see an infinite selection of stars, there is magic.  If you can see the beauty of the world and its creatures and appreciate your family and friends through all of life’s trials and tribulations, then my goodness, there is magic indeed.

Of course, words often betray me when they come out of my mouth, so in talking to my daughter about Santa Claus, I’m pretty sure the above message (already kinda murky in its own right), was lost.  She continued her line of questioning, “So you are saying that for all these years, you and Daddy have been Santa Claus all along?”

Back-peddle.  Regroup.  “No, honey.  No one person can ever be Santa Claus.”  Right?  “Because we all need to continue to teach the spirit of giving to each other – at Christmastime and always.  To teach each other to believe in the magic that is all around us.”  Yes, that sounded better.

But then she mocked, “So, you’re getting me the presents, basically?” in a groaning, disappointed voice.  Tired of the charade, I crumbled and sighed, “Yes, basically.  But it’s your job to help keep the spirit alive, for all of us, but especially for your little sisters.  Can you keep this a secret and not tell them what we just said?”  Her reply, “I guess so.”  Me, frustrated: “No, not ‘I guess so.’  If you tell your sisters, you will be in trouble and you will get no presents at all.  Do you understand?”

Ugh.  Could that have gone worse?  I felt aggravated by my inability to handle this.  But, I tried to stay calm, to show her I loved her and let her feel that now we had this special secret, just between us.

I remember I was about her age when I found out about Santa.  A curious kid, I stealthily got into my parents’ closet and lo’ and behold – all of our Christmas presents were there in plain sight (well, some were in bags, but I did snoop further.)  Of course, being a little brat, the first thing I did was run and get my younger brother and show him what I had discovered, so I could ruin the magic for both of us.  But we were caught red-handed; my mom found us in her closet staring at all of our gifts.  And man, she was mad.

I think I was sent to my room, or maybe I huffed and pouted my way to my room on my own.   I don’t quite remember.  I do remember sitting at my desk with my diary and beginning an angry message about how wrong my parents were to lie to us.  But then the words were clouded with another feeling – a feeling of – oh my gosh – our parents got us all of those presents!  How nice of them!  They must really love us!  And I thought about all of the memories I had of Christmas together with my family.  And I felt this overwhelming joy.  Even as a kid, I did actually get it.  Years went by and every year, I still pretended that “Santa Claus” brought me all of those gifts.  Because the magic of it was just too much fun to give it up!

So, last year, I hoped and prayed that ultimately, my little Freckles would get it too.  I hoped that she would hold tight to the magic and the spirit of Christmas just as I did.   To my surprise, she has.  Seemingly oblivious to our conversation last year, she is wonderfully and amazingly attached to the spirit of Christmas – of Santa Claus and everything that goes along with him.  It is an amazing miracle to behold.

 

 

 

 

 

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