Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Moment I First Felt Like a Mother

I was in the hospital, hours after giving birth to our first child, Mary Grace. A stream of visitors had kept us busy most of the day, and by the time Brandon, our best man, arrived with his daughters, Mary Grace was done. She started to cry in his arms.

I panicked when he said, "She wants her mama." I thought, "This is the moment when I'm revealed as a fraud - this is when they're going to realize that I can't do this - that I don't have what she needs. Don't hand her back to me! I don't know what she wants! She's going to keep crying forever because I don't know what to do!"

He placed her gently in my arms and she stopped crying. And for the first time since I'd become pregnant, through the fog of perinatal anxiety I had the first flicker of an idea that I might be able to do this.

I've been doing this for over ten years now, which is hard to believe. My kids are happy. Their needs are met. They're thriving. I wish I could go back and tell myself, "It's going to be ok."

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Election

A woman just called me wanting to know if she could count on my support on Tuesday..... for Ted Cruz.

"Well, I suppose if every other republican and democrat is kidnapped by aliens, there might be a chance that I would vote for Cruz... No, actually, I don't think I would even then."

"So you're not a Cruz supporter ma'am?"

And then I started quoting his positions to her, and instead of refuting any of it or giving me any facts at all, she kept saying, "I don't believe that he believes that."

"I can't support Cruz. He is in favor of <controversial thing> and I find that morally repugnant."

"I don't believe that Cruz is in favor of that thing."

"I'm looking at MSNBC and it says that Cruz supports that thing."

"I don't believe that he said that."

"It's a direct quote, 'I support that thing,' said Ted Cruz on April 6, 2016."

"MSNBC is biased."

"Ok, pick a source that you'll believe... The New York Times, Wikipedia, the Washington Post? Because Ted Cruz is on the record supporting the thing."

"I don't believe that he believes that."

"Who would you believe?"

"I don't believe that he believes that."



"Honey, you need to get your story straight."

If you're going to call me and argue politics, at least argue from a position of facts, not denial.  

My favorite part was when she told me that she was in Indiana, but she was originally from Kentucky, and currently lives in Utah, and had come here to volunteer for Cruz's campaign.  I said, "Are you safe? Are they holding you against your will? If you need me to call the police, say 'Benghazi'."

I'm about sick of this stupid election.  We citizens of Indiana are uncomfortable with being relevant.  I'm getting 3 - 4 phone calls from various political personnel or surveys every day.  Next time someone asks me how I'm going to vote, I'm just going to say, "Spoilers!" and hang up.

It ended with her telling me they were about to shut down their phones (LOL), and me telling her that she needed to think about what sort of person she is supporting, because literally everyone who has ever met Ted Cruz in real life hates him.

Monday, April 25, 2016

On Criticism...

This weekend I found myself in a situation where a friend (male half of a couple that BJ and I are good friends with) corrected something I did that offended him. He was 100% right, and I was wrong (although wrong with good intentions, which he acknowledged right away).

I have to be honest, it really stung. When I got his first text I was so angry. I went straight into defensive mode. I wanted to justify my behavior. I wanted to attack him for calling me out - even though I knew I had been wrong.

I am not here to talk about that specific situation, because it all got resolved and everyone is cool now. I calmed down and found my zen before I replied. I acknowledged that I was wrong, apologized, and promised to work on that bad habit. I also reached out to other people I've done the same thing with, and asked for their forgiveness. It's 100% better now.

But what I do want to talk about is criticism.

picture borrowed from Good Housekeeping

Have you ever thought of how much criticism our kids have to endure on a daily basis? 

Get up! You're running late already! You should have been up 20 minutes ago! You're wearing THAT? Comb your hair. Do it again, it looks terrible. What do you mean you had a Pop Tart for breakfast - that's not healthy! Hurry up! Where are your shoes? Why can't you ever put them back where you found them? Your room is a mess. Go go go, you're going to be late! What do you mean you forgot your lunch/homework/backpack! You're so irresponsible....  and that's all before they get out the door!

Then they go to school and they don't have that lunch/homework/backpack and the teacher gives it to them, too. And they sit through that subject they are struggling in, and they feel stupid. Maybe they get a poor grade on a homework or a test. They sit there and feel dumb, worry about how their parents are going to react, and worry about their future. Their peers criticize them for what they wear, what they like, what they don't like, where they sit, where they don't sit, what they can do, what they can't...

Then they come home. Get off your iPad! Read a book for once! Go outside! Play with your siblings! Your room is still a mess. What do you mean you flunked that test! Do your homework. No, this is all wrong, do it again. You're not even trying. Get your elbows off the table. Don't talk with food in your mouth. You left without clearing your place at the table. What do you mean you forgot your math book at school? I don't have time for this. You need posterboard? For TOMORROW!? You couldn't tell me that an hour ago when we were out getting your math book? Slow down! Hurry up! Brush your teeth. Do it again. Go to bed. Stop coming downstairs, it's late. What do you mean you can't sleep?

Readers, that one bit of criticism I got threw me off for the entire morning. It literally took me 3 hours and half a milligram of Xanax to get over it. No one yelled, called names, berated, or accused - it was all very adult and respectful and mature, and yet I went through every negative emotion from angry to embarrassed to sad to hurt to angry again and even frightened that I had ruined an important friendship with my boneheaded behavior.

Is it any wonder that by the time our kids hit the teen years, they roll their eyes at adults? Maybe it's simply because they've taken so much criticism from us their entire lives that they learn to think we're stupid as a defense mechanism!  They just shut down.  And wouldn't you?

Next time I get irritated with my kids (which should be in about 11 seconds), I'm going to try really hard to correct without criticizing. Correction is often necessary, but criticism hurts and I don't want to hurt the people I love most.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hello From the Other Side

My kids are now 10, 9, and 5.  Jack is starting kindergarten in the fall, which is completely insane. I can't remember the last time I changed a diaper. And for some reason I feel moved to dust off This Old Blog today and say a few things to you moms who are still in the trenches that I wish I could go back and say to myself 10(!) years ago.

You Matter

Oh, please take care of yourself. Your body matters. Before you know it, you're going to be 40 and you're going to start falling apart. My blood pressure was recently 180/110 for no particular reason (it's better now, yay meds!). I wish I could go back and take better care of myself. If I had it to do over, I would have joined a gym with free childcare when the kids were little, I would have ignored their cries when they got dropped off at said free childcare, I would have made myself forget that you get what you pay for and understood that an hour of unhappiness would not kill them, and I would have walked on the treadmill for an hour every day. What a huge difference that would have made! And sometimes, especially during Shark Week, I would drop them off in childcare and go read blogs in the locker room for an hour. Because I deserved it. And I would have remembered that children don't die of neglect in a single weepy hour.

(I just remembered why we quit the gym - there was a corner where the slightly-less-young children who were in charge couldn't see the kids, and I caught someone hiding there eating drywall from a hole in the wall. Oh well. I made the best decision I could at the time. It would have been worth it to drive to the nice gym on the other side of town, Past Amy. When you get your do-over, do that!)

Your spirit matters, too. Having kids gives you an excuse to make friends that you won't enjoy again as an adult, so take advantage of it and make them. Bond with other adults over chicken nuggets and fast food play place playdates, and keep those friends. They'll keep you sane. Make time to take them a pot of soup when they're sick, or a cup of coffee when you know (from Facebook, of course) that they're having a crappy day. You won't believe the love that will come back your way. It's ok to put "Jane Smith, Tommy's mom" in your phone. I have handed people my phone at the park (usually when I've already forgotten their name) and said, "Put yourself in my phone so I can text you - I'll watch the kids!" You wouldn't believe how long you can go without using someone's name, anyway. There's this lovely woman I've known for years. No idea what her name is. She's delightful. Someday someone will say, "Oh, hello _____!" to her in my presence and I'll figure out what her name is. I'll probably promptly forget again, but maybe I'll get it into my phone in time someday.

Cultivate a hobby. Yes, I know you're too busy. Stop arguing with me. You have to do something for yourself, or you'll become one of those women who can't talk about anything but her kid's latest bowel movement and how little sleep you're getting. Even if your hobby is just reading on your smartphone over your kid's head as you feed him (pause every few paragraphs to make loving eye contact, of course). At least then you can say, "I am reading the most fascinating novel about World War II!" when you have to go to some adult function, instead of trying to cut your boss's steak into tiny bite-sized chunks for him and asking about his bowel habits.

Lots of Things Don't Matter

There were so many things that I absolutely agonized over that ended up not making a bit of difference. I struggled and struggled to breastfeed MG.  I tandem nursed the girls for 9 months, which was misery.  Guess what?  By the time they got to preschool, just a short year after I weaned MG, no one gave a damn. Does she eat?  Great.  Well done.  Gold star.  Let it go.

I am happy that we breastfed, mostly because we saved a ton of money, and because I'm lazy and cleaning bottles would have irritated me. I'm glad I stuck with it through the hard part so that I could get to the easy part. This is not to say that there aren't great advantages to nursing - there are - but there are advantages to bottle feeding (or doing both which is TOTALLY a thing) too. The main one being that someone else can do it!

Other things that ended up not mattering include:
  • Birth plans - approximately zero things went according to my birth plan, other than the fact that I left the hospital 100% less pregnant than I was when I went in. Save yourself some printer ink and go get a mani/pedi instead. Trying to plan birth is futile. It's like trying to plan a tornado. There are things you can do to be slightly less unprepared, but you can't control the situation no matter how many pages your birth manifesto encompasses. Besides, no one asks at Kindergarten registration whether or not you had an epidural, and I'm still waiting for my Natural Childbirth Trophy (I was begging for drugs - there just wasn't time to get them, maybe I disqualified myself).
  • The order in which you introduce solid foods - with MG I had a spreadsheet. With Claire she kind of just ate whatever I felt like feeding her that day, and I waited a few days to see if she broke out in a rash. By the time I got to Jack, he was eating pretty much everything (except honey, because botulism) by 6 months old. None of the kids have any allergies, all of them are equally good eaters (they love shrimp and roasted cauliflower, for heaven's sake, and Claire loves buffalo wings). That stuff about "if you give them fruit first they'll never learn to like veggies!" is bologna.
  • Preschool choice - they're all pretty good around here, and I'm glad we saved a fortune by not going with the most expensive one or the one with the waiting list.  
  • Kindergarten early enrollment vs. redshirting - MG missed the kindergarten cutoff by 10 days, and I agonized about whether or not to send her to a charter school that first year. We ended up putting her in a third year of preschool, and I'm so glad we did. There's no reason to push them to go early - it all evens out by middle school. There's also no reason to redshirt them. Just do your school system a favor and send them when they're eligible according to whatever arbitrary criteria the school system has chosen.
  • Sleeping arrangements/crying it out - we never cried-it-out, and all my kids have eventually learned to fall asleep alone in their own beds. Someday they'll stay there all night, too. Turns out that I'm the one who is having trouble letting go of snuggling Jack to sleep. He can do it, but I feel sad when I don't snuggle him. I also kind of like it that he sneaks into our bed at night, most of the time. Again, with MG I agonized.
  • Attachment parenting - this is the philosophy that most closely aligned with our natural tendency as parents, but we didn't follow it like it was a holy book. In the end, as long as what works for your family isn't illegal, immoral, or fattening - just do it. It's ok to be friends with people (or not argue online with people) who are doing something different. What works for you works for you, and may not work for another family. Realize that no one is wearing their 10-year-old in a Bjorn of any sort, and that there are plenty of paths to parental enlightenment. Namaste, baby.
  • Staying-at-home vs. Working-outside-home parents - I'll bet every single person reading this can think of at least one great kid whose parents both work, and at least one little tyrant who has a parent that stays home. It would be nice if parental success boiled down to one decision, but it doesn't.
  • Most childhood illnesses - I wish I could have all the co-pays back for all the little coughs and sniffles I took our kids to the doctor over. Try to think like a nurse, and if the kid isn't actively dying, keep them out of the doctor's office. They're just going to get sicker (or the healthy siblings that you have to drag along will get sick) from going there.  
Basically, if there's a Mommy War over it, it is probably a matter of personal preference. 

Things that Actually Matter

  • Vaccines
  • Car seats
  • Botulism
  • um....
What You Should Focus On

So if you aren't agonizing over all of the above, what are you going to focus on in all your free time?

Your relationship! Oh my gosh, that person you made the kid(s) with is still going to be there when the kid(s) stop(s) hanging off of your body every second of every day, and you might want to make sure you still like each other when that happens. Invest time and energy in your relationship. Go on dates. Talk about non-kid-related things (I'll let you know what those are as soon as I think of some!). Do nice things for him or her, just because. Be the kind of spouse you would want to have if you switched places. Be interesting. Be kind.

Dad: don't read the rest of this paragraph. The rest of you: remember there's a reason why it's called making love. Ahem...

Have you ever noticed that people are nicer to strangers (like waitresses and cashiers) than they are to their own family, sometimes? That makes NO sense to me at all. When you find yourself starting to be an asshole, and we can all be assholes, remember that the people who share your home are the people you love most in the entire world - and treat them accordingly. (Also, unless your partner happens to be a waitress or a cashier, do not make love with waitresses and cashiers!)

Focus on teaching your kids how to have a good relationship by modeling it for them. They will thank you when they're adults and they're not married to someone who drives them insane.

What Else?

The best advice I ever gave was, "Only take advice from someone whose kids you would cheerfully live with." (Mine are outstanding so it's safe to listen to me). The best advice I ever received was, "If you teach your kids nothing else, teach them to be helpers." ~Dr. Dave. All of my kids will stop whatever they're doing and feed the dogs or empty the dishwasher when they're asked to help. It's kind of my superpower, actually. And I honestly believe that it's because we told them, from the time they were tiny, "Oh, you are SUCH A GOOD HELPER!"

Kids will believe what you tell them about themselves, so if you tell them, "You're such a brat!" they're going to prove you right. If you tell them, "You're lazy," they will be. So use that to your advantage and tell them, several times a day, "Oh, you're a great helper! Thank you!" 2 year old big sibling brings you a diaper for the baby? "Oh, thank you my big helper!" Start early, say it often, make it so.

READ READ READ. I've been reading The Boxcar Children series to Jack, and when we get to some random old fashioned thing, we look it up. Grandfather Alden sent a telegram. "Jack, do you know what a telegram is?" Of course not, but suddenly we're off on a Google mission, listening to recordings of Morse code and talking about what the world was like before telephones. We've looked up birds and animals and specific sorts of shells (Cat's paw, if you care). We looked up what uranium ore looks like on the ground because the Boxcar children were given a ranch by their Great Aunt Jane, because of course they were, and the fireplace is made out of rocks with yellow flecks of uranium in them, because of course it was. And it's starting to come up occasionally in real life, too. I'm looking forward to him finding, and recognizing, a cat's paw (hopefully not uranium!). BJ is reading Harry Potter to the girls, and they're all obsessed. Reading together is a memory they'll cherish forever. Plus, kids who read or are read to are exposed to thousands more words over their childhoods than kids who aren't, and it makes an enormous difference in their education. Read every day, starting from birth.

BJ's on a business trip, and the other night we were "sending love" to Daddy. "How do you do that, Mommy?" "Well, you have to get a good clear picture of Daddy in your head. I always start with his hair, and I pop it on like Lego hair. Then I draw in his eyebrows, then his eyes, his nose, and his smile. Can you see him? Good! Ok, now you have to picture him doing something that either makes you feel loved or that makes you feel love for him, or both. What do you picture?" And every kid said, separately, "Reading to me!" ("And then you take the love from the picture in your head, and send it ALL the way to Daddy! Ready? Go!" Then the kids wanted to send me love, and I laughed and told them that it tickled, so if they ever ask you if you can feel it when they send you love, tell them that you can and it tickles.)

Rituals and traditions matter. When BJ is out of town we have breakfast for dinner. Always. It gives them a little something out of the ordinary to look forward to, and it makes them feel like life is predictable and safe. It gives them continuity. I still remember some of our traditions from when I was a kid, and they still make me smile. I do some of them with my own kids. They don't have to be elaborate, and they don't have to be tied to holidays. You can start now.

Family dinners matter. BJ always asks the kids, "How was school today?" when we sit down for dinner, and it's hilarious because when he isn't home the kids will ask each other, in their deep "Daddy voice," "How was school today, Mary Grace?" "How was school today, Jack?" "How was school today, Claire?" It's a ritual, and it matters to them.

Everything is a phase. Nothing lasts forever. And just when you get that little weirdo figured out, they'll switch it up on you and go on to the next phase. Don't stress too hard over any of it.  

Make a few friends whose kids are older than yours; they'll show you the path.

Finally, write it down. You're sleep deprived and you can't remember anything. Reading my own old blog entries is like reading a book written by someone else, now. Write down the cute things your kids say and do, in a journal or an app or on Facebook or a blog - just write it down. It goes by so fast, and I know I'm about to sound like those crazy old women at the grocery store, but I'm going to say it anyway: Enjoy every minute.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Purdue Christmas Show

I'm the worst blogger ever.  We're busy.  Mary Grace was in the 2013 Christmas Show at Purdue, and we're both in it this year.  She's the third kid from the left (red dress) in this video.  Gorgeous!  Love these kids, and this organization, so much.

Someday I'll have stories again.  Until then, friend me on Facebook, where I'm sharing most of my crazy these days.