Finding an expanded heart… x3

IMG_2723Dear little one,

Happy birthday! Happy birthday to my third beautiful baby girl! Happy celebration of 12 months around the sun… an accomplishment shared between you and us, your loving and adoring parents.

You, my love, changed everything. Yes, it’s true. While your sisters, of course, changed us plenty, you were the tipping point that changed us… me… in more ways than I can explain.

Your oldest sister made us parents, and that is a gift for which I’ll always be grateful. She showed us how to completely adjust our lives and ourselves to make space for a tiny being that is completely reliant on us. She was the first to teach us, test us, push us, and show us the true definition of unconditional love.

Your middle sister taught us balance. She taught us how to be in two places at once, and to continually split ourselves to match the needs of her and her sister so that they were getting the physical and emotional care and attention they craved. She showed us the incredible bond of siblings and proved that our hearts could expand to love more than we knew was possible.

Then came you. You came in like a storm – brewing for a while, teasing with false labor and sleepless nights. When it was finally time for you to come (after a particularly spicy dinner of Indian food), you showed us that you could be simultaneously stubborn, strong-willed, and determined. When you were finally born, you instantly expanded our hearts again. You filled our family with joy and celebration. When you were born, a double rainbow appeared in the sky.

IMG_2761We often joke about you in the most endearing kind of way, blaming the fact that you’re the third child on why we are the way we are. We often say “oh, third child” as a reason or excuse for why we haven’t taken as many pictures, or why we are more comfortable letting you play alone in our dining room play area (still under observation, don’t worry! We didn’t throw you to the wolves!). Our entire family jokes about it too – about how we do things (or don’t do things) with you that we never would have done with your sisters.

But the truth, little one, is that we are that way because you’re the third, not in spite of it. We are more relaxed with you. We are able to give you space to explore in a way that we were more nervous to do before. Yes, we might have missed a picture here or there. We might give you a sippy cup with last night’s water still in it. We might pick a toy up off the ground and wipe it off on our leg rather than washing it or sanitizing it like we did for your sisters. Yes, we might do those things, and more. But we also are able to really relax with you. To focus on you in an entirely different way. To seamlessly fold you into the chaos of our family and having three kids five and under.

IMG_2558Yes, you’re the third child. And with that comes its own blessings and curses. But, my little bumble bee, I want you to know that you have taken our family by storm, just like the day you were born. You’ve expanded our hearts. You’ve given both of your sisters the unique and special experience of being big sisters and trying our their maternal instincts. You’ve given your daddy an intensified level of pride (and fear) of being the father of three girls. And, you’ve given me an entirely new approach to being a mom.

Happiest of birthdays, little one. Here’s to today, and to many more to come.

With love, adoration, and double rainbows,

Mommy

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Finding the paradox of parenthood

Oh these three!

Oh these three!

Do you ever have one of those moments when the irony and paradoxes of parenthood hits you square in the face? Recently, I have been having those moments… a lot! So, my writer’s blocked mind (yes, I know, my blogging has slowed down a bit…lately I’ve been so busy being a mom that I’ve had a hard time processing enough to write about it!) thought this was the perfect opportunity to make a list. Here we go – a list of some of my current parenting paradoxical struggles, in no particular order.

  1. Eat your vegetables. Eat your vegetables. Eat your vegetables. No… you can’t eat any more carrots. Whaaaat? What parent tells their kid they CAN’T eat more vegetables? Apparently, this one. See, somewhere along the way of trying to get my kids to eat their vegetables (and much to their dismay, chicken nuggets are not vegetables), they fell in love with carrots. And now, the only vegetable they ever want to eat is carrots. Raw carrots. Carrot sticks. Baby carrots. Sure, that’s great and all. And I do let them eat A LOT of carrots. But I want them to be exposed to other vegetables too… namely green ones. So, no, tonight you cannot have more carrots.
  2. You can do it… you can walk! Oh wait, you’re walking! Oh no… stop walking! Walking becomes running. Running becomes bolting. Bolting becomes a nightmare. Especially when there are three kids with capable legs who can run in different directions. Maybe learning to walk isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes I find myself longing for the days when the baby could only lay stationary on her play mat and her entire world consisted of the brightly colored animals dangling above her head. Simpler times, indeed.
  3. Say [insert any word here]. Use your words. Talk, talk, talk! But no, don’t say that… Yes, learning to talk is an amazing feat and communication plays a key role in interaction. Watching kids find their words and expand their vocabulary is truly incredible. And having them be able to communicate their wants and needs is much easier than trying to decipher their babble and their cries. But learning to talk also means learning to talk BACK, and that is a form of communication I could happily do without.
  4. Big girls (or boys) get to sleep in big girl (or boy) beds… Okay, sure, transitioning out of a crib and into a kid bed is a huge sign of growing older and exploring independence. But does exploration of independence have to happen every night between 8 and 10pm, mostly in the form of walking down the hall to tell us something that could have certainly waited until the morning. Tell me again why I transitioned you out of your cage… I mean crib.
  5. The law of opposites rings very true these days. And no, not of the “I say hot, you say cold” variety. I mean telling my kids to go to the bathroom before we leave the house and they swear up and down they don’t have to go, only for them to need to pee approximately 4 minutes after we drive away from wherever we are. Or, they tell me their belly is full of dinner, but minutes later tell me they’re hungry… for cookies (okay, yes, I have room for cookies too, but still…). Or, on weekend mornings they are bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:30am, precisely the day I want to be lazy and move slowly. But during the week, when we are trying to adhere to an actual schedule, they stay in bed like a teenager. What is the deal?!

More than anything, I find that the paradox of parenting is rooted deeply in the dichotomy of wanting my kids to grow up, and simultaneously longing for a button to slow the growing process down. With each milestone that passes, I celebrate their accomplishments while also being reminded that they are growing out of the stages of being babies, toddlers, and little girls and quickly approaching being big girls, teenagers and young women. People tell me all the time that “it goes fast.” Yeah, no kidding! The days are long but the years are short and they really do go by so quickly. In five short years, I have already found “it goes fast” to be a huge understatement, and can only imagine what the next five, let alone fifteen, years will look like. How can I make time slow down?

Finding butterflies and rainbows

You know it’s going to be one of those days when it’s barely 8am and you’re already ready for the day to be over! That was me today… I bawled after dropping my oldest off at elementary school this morning. No, not because of the separation or the fact that she is growing up Way. Too. Fast. I cried because I felt as though I pretty much failed this morning as a mom, and dropping her off after a rough start to the day just broke my heart.

IMG_1382

Not every moment is a perfect one!

Let’s back up and start at the beginning. My husband often travels or has early morning meetings, which leaves me getting myself and three young children ready in the morning without an extra set of hands. This morning was no different (though throwing on a pair of yoga pants and a zip up sweatshirt doesn’t really count as getting myself ready). I thought I had it all together based on last night’s successes… I picked and laid out the kids’ clothes the night before. I got them into bed (and asleep) 30 minutes earlier than their regularly scheduled bedtime. I set my alarm for extra early to get up and exercise (and set a back-up alarm in case that super early one was just too ambitious). Last night’s preparation made me believe that today would be off to a good start.

Ehhhh. No. Wrong.

I slept through both alarms and their related snoozes. After sleeping through the night (hooray!), the baby  needed to nurse for extra long this morning. My oldest woke up and started getting herself ready, with some tinkering and stalling along the way. And the threenager (yes, three going on thirteen), wanted nothing to do with the morning. Even when given a warning that the lights were going on and she would need to get up in five minutes, she hid under the covers and exclaimed “it’s too bright!” as soon as I turned on the lights, and promptly refused to get up.

So, between me oversleeping and a series of “three kids, five and under” missteps, we quickly went from having it all together to definitely late and I blew my lid. All my frustration bubbled up and I lost it. Big. Yelling. Stomping. It was ugly. And it didn’t help anyone. But it happened and I felt awful. So I apologized, took some deep breaths and got the kids out the door….

And into the pouring rain. Oy. Into car seats in the rain. Soaking wet because who can hold an umbrella and harness a carseat at the same time? Super late, yet again, to get to school. Once we got there, I made a quick decision to take my eldest to the drive through drop off where parent helpers wait to take your kid out of the car and walk them to class. But the parent who greeted me scolded me for taking too long to get her out and letting her out on the wrong side of the car (which, had I obliged with the side the helper wanted, would have gotten the baby soaking wet!). I felt bad enough not walking my five year old to class, especially after our rough morning, but then being told I was doing it wrong was icing on a not-so-sweet cake.

And so, between being late, yelling at my kids, and messing up the rules of drop off, I couldn’t hold it back. As I drove away from the elementary school and toward preschool, in between rounds of playing “I spy”, I let the tears stream down my cheeks. Tears of exhaustion and stress. Of being frustrated with my kids. Of being angry at myself for how I reacted. Of being annoyed that the lady at drop off couldn’t sense my stressful morning and give me a break. Of knowing I was making a mountain out of a molehill and being too hard on myself. Of wishing I could have a do over (which I do…tomorrow).

Parenthood isn’t all butterflies and rainbows (even on this rainy day). We try so hard to be good role models, to be patient and calm, to be a pillar of good parenting. And yet, that isn’t always realistic. Because to be a parent is to be human. The good thing is that life is full of teachable moments and when we have a misstep we can role model how to get back on track. Do I want another morning like today? No, thank you. But I know that today’s series of events is an anomaly, not our norm, and showing my kids remorse and apologizing is also an integral part of role modeling. It is important for us to remember that it’s okay to be human. We are all doing our best as parents, for better and for worse, in good moments and in bad. Isn’t that a butterfly and rainbow itself?

Finding the right words, part 1

Me & KOne of my favorite sounds when I wake up (nope, strike that, when I am woken up) in the morning is hearing my nine month old baby babble in her crib, sometimes to her reflection in the mirrored closet doors facing her crib and sometimes to her sisters who run to her room to say hello as soon as they hear her little voice. Her gibberish babble fluctuates as though she is actually talking but she doesn’t yet have the words to express herself.

Having the words to express themselves comes in handy for kids – they are finally able to tell us their wants and needs, communicate their emotions and negotiate situations around them. But, having words isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Anytime one of my kids (okay, not the baby but definitely the other two) is having a meltdown, I tell them to take a few deep breaths and find their words to tell me what’s going on. “Use your words,” I tell them. This simple phrase – “use your words” – is a staple among parents. However, it’s also a bit of a joke. In order to have the words, they have to know the words, and therein lies a problem.

A few weeks ago, my husband suggested that we go out to dinner. “YES!” my three year old exclaimed, clearly excited to be out of the house for a meal. After a quick brainstorm, we settled on a burger joint that we hadn’t been to for a while, which is conveniently located next to a burrito place that we’d been to relatively recently. As my husband opened the door to the burger place, the three year old melted down. “NO! This is not out to dinner!” Confused, I scooped her up and asked her what she was talking about. We were at a restaurant…away from our house… out to dinner. But she remained steadfast that this actually not “out to dinner.” As she continued to meltdown, I repeatedly asked her to “use her words” to tell me what was wrong. After a few failed attempts at trying to decipher what she meant (and with patience wearing thin), I had a breakthrough. “THIS is not out to dinner,” she told me while pointing at the burger joint. “THAT is.” Her arm swung so she was pointing squarely at the burrito place. I’d finally gotten to the bottom of the meltdown, and there at the bottom was a clear communication breakdown where her lack of words and our ease of language were in direct combat with each other. She thought that the burrito place was called “Out to Dinner” and so we were simply at the wrong restaurant and thus her expectations were thrown for a loop. She was using her words, but her words just didn’t encompass what they need to in order for us to have a clear line of communication.

SistersIt’s not just about having the words, though. I’m quickly learning that while my kids may not always have the words they need to express themselves, having the communication skills to utilize them is ever harder. For example, a few nights ago, my three and five year old girls were arguing during their cool down period before bed. As is typical, the five year old came to me to tell me all the things her sister was doing that bothered her. “Sweetie, you need to work it out with your sister. Use your words and tell her how you’re feeling,” I told her. So, she went back to their room to try to talk it out. However, this devolved quickly, as I overheard (eavesdropped) through the baby monitor in their room.

Five year old: “I feel sad when you tell me that I can’t come to your birthday party. We’re sisters and that means we are best friends too.”

Three year old: “No we’re not. My best friend is at school.”

Five year old: “We both have FRIEND best friends, but we are sisters and sisters come first.”

Three year old: “Well, at school, a boy bit me.”

Five year old: “What? No. That’s not what we are talking about. You are making me feel sad.”

Three year old: “I like grapes.”

Obviously their communication abilities are on very different wave lengths, which poses a big challenge for “I statements” and honest communication. As much as my five year old had the words she needed to use to express herself and the communication skills she needed to have a conversation about them, my three year old had neither. So simply telling them to use their words isn’t enough. Communication is a fickle little beast – it’s necessary for navigating the world around us and yet without the tools to do so, things devolve quickly. Telling my kids to “use their words” isn’t enough of a solution. I need to help them find, explore and understand the words so that they can then use them effectively, both with each other and with the world around them.

Finding the art of “yes”

Sometimes, it takes the wisdom and jibber jabber of a three year old to highlight a flaw in your parenting. Take, for example, the following exchange that happened a couple days ago:

“Come here, No-no,” my middle daughter encourages to my crawling-curious-about-walking baby.

“What’d you call her?” I ask, thinking surely I had misheard her.

“‘No-no,’ because that’s what you always call her,” she explains with her usual bit of flair.

It took me about 24 hours to realize that I do (lovingly) say “no no no no” a lot, like when the baby is trying to roll over on the changing table (before I’ve completed the changing process) or when she is crawling toward an area where I don’t want her going. In fact, the more I started listening to myself, I realized that “no” is one of the more frequent words I say. Now, granted I have an inquisitive five year old, a stubborn three year old and an exploratory baby, but why is “no” at the top of my phrase list?

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call "Nono"

These big sisters love playing with their baby sister who they now affectionately call “No-no”

When my oldest was younger, I was very conscious of avoiding using the word “no” too often. I’d offer alternative actions and phrases that highlighted the positive, saving “no” for a serious offense or key moment. In fact, I spent the last nine years working for an organization that believes in and trains staff on “going with the yes.” Instead of saying “no, but…” staff learn the art of “yes, and…” It’s a training I’ve taught many times and a mantra I adopted and absorbed into all facets of my professional life.

Somehow, though, when it comes to reserving “no” for critical moments and “going with the yes” with my kids, I’ve fallen short. When inundated with seemingly endless questions, my default answer is just “no.” When they ask me “why” I realize that my knee jerk negativity is backed by little reason other than that was the word that came out. That’s not much of a reason at all.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids hear “yes” plenty of times, like when they want to listen to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” for the umpteenth time, play “I spy” literally every time we get in the car, or when they want to have five more minutes before bedtime. But still, “no” has become a fast and easy default, so much so that my kids now just call their baby sister “No-no” as a nickname. Oy.

I want to raise my kids to be flexible. To be positive. To be accommodating, compromising and adaptable. To be strong and determined, but not stubborn and closed off. To be powerful women, and to assert the power for good, not as a roadblock for those in their path. And that all starts with me. They need me to role model how to do these things. That might mean taking an extra few seconds to listen to question upon question… or the same question over and over again. And it might mean that I let them do something that my first instinct was to reject. But, it also means they will hear more positivity and have more room to explore.

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

Yes, you can all lay in bed together! Look at the cute moment that created!

So, for the next few days, I am instituting my own creation that I’ve dubbed the “Just Say Yes Challenge.” I am making an active choice to be more aware of the power behind yes – to let my kids explore with fewer roadblocks. To let them hear a positive option instead of a negative response. To have a reason behind saying no, aside from it being the easier answer. I know it won’t always come naturally and will take a concerted effort to “go with the yes.” But I also know that the results could be wonderful and that makes it all worth it in the end.

Who’s with me? Do you want to try the “Just Say Yes” challenge with your kids? Comment below or on my Finding Mom-me Facebook page to pledge your participation in the “Just Say Yes Challenge!”*

*I’ll update the Finding Mom-me Facebook page with updates on how the “Just Say Yes Challenge” is going, so if you aren’t already following the page, click here to do so!

Finding five minutes

“Mommy, are we late?”

IMG_0068This is a pretty typical question my daughters ask me as they pile into the minivan and get situated in their carseats. And, unfortunately, too often the answer is “Yes.” It’s not intentional – most days we are running on time until life suddenly happens – a baby diaper blow out, an indecipherable toddler tantrum, a “big girl” meltdown over a seemingly harmless issue – and we go from mostly on time to most certainly late.

Teaching punctuality is one of those things that I think is a valuable life lesson for my kids. It teaches respect, responsibility and, most simply, time management. However, that also contradicts one of the great parenting liberties we have. Up to now, the concept of time has been entirely in our favor as parents. “Five minutes” is the most vague and open ended concept in our methods. At times, five minutes really does mean five minutes. 300 seconds. A small period of time in which to complete a task. However, more often five minutes is used as a theoretical – it can mean thirty seconds or it can mean fifteen real minutes. Since our kids have no concept of time, we can use the “five minute warning” as it benefits us.

However, that is soon changing. Our oldest is starting to understand time and the gig might be up. And, I’m realizing this might not be the worst thing. While I will miss being able to give a blanket time warning, having my kids understand the difference between 5 minutes and 35 minutes may help us contextualize our family’s schedule and what can be done in an allotted period of time.

The more that I think about time, though, the more I realize that it’s not just about the five minute warnings and understanding of the big hand and little hand on a clock (I mean reading the numbers on the iPhone lock screen…). Time alludes us. I swear it was just yesterday that I took the pregnancy test that changed our lives forever – that turned us from newlyweds to soon to be parents. And not much longer after that our first daughter, then our second, then our third, was born. How did that happen so quickly? Where did the time go?

My kids can’t understand the true passing of time yet, and I am so thankful for that. Our oldest daughter told me yesterday “when I grow up, I’m going to be a mommy and live in your house so we can always be together.” While a cute idea she will likely not follow through on, this statement gave me pause as I imagined what that will look like. If five years have gone by this quickly, what will the next twenty five look like. Will they also be a blur of memories and moments frozen in time? Will I look back at today and think “just yesterday my kids were babies?”

Proof of time going too quickly. My oldest trick or treating for the first time, and this year.

Proof of time going too quickly. My oldest trick or treating for the first time, and this year.

Time is of the essence. Time flies when you’re having fun. Time is on your side. Time heals all. So much of what we do and say is wrapped up in the theoretical and practical application of time. And, yet, most days all I want to do is speed time up so that the meltdowns and chaotic schedules turn to quiet slumber, and simultaneously slow time down to live in the moment and not let my kids grow up too fast. The paradox of time is overwhelming.

So, for now, I think I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee while the baby naps and the older girls play cooperatively together. I think I have, oh, maybe five minutes…

Finding risk

Photographic proof of the fall.

On the day my niece was born, I was responsible for babysitting my then two year old nephew while his parents were in the hospital. He and I had a great day playing together until the moment that he tripped in his living room, bumped his face on some furniture and got a little scrape on his nose. I was only steps away from him but it happened quickly and I couldn’t catch him from falling. Though the tears that followed the bump were fleeting (and the rest of the day continued to be fun), the memory of the bump will live on forever, thanks to the nice scab easily noticeable in every photo of him meeting his sister later that afternoon (not to mention the relentless teasing from my family).

I asserted then, and continue to assert now, that kids get hurt. They get scrapes and bumps as they explore the world around them. It’s a natural part of childhood. However, no amount of defending myself from the “scrape heard round the world” prepared me for this morning, my first Monday as a stay at home mom, when my 7 month old daughter fell and, yes, bumped her nose and got a little scrape. Call it karma, call it a coincidence, call it what you will… I call it a quick way to stir up a mother’s guilt. Though I was only a couple steps away, she fell fast and missed hitting her head by only a few inches. Being a stay at home mom is off to a whopping success…

I do everything I can to protect my kids and shelter them from harm, sometimes to an anxiety-ridden fault. But the truth is, they have to fall. Because if they don’t fall, they can’t pick themselves back up and see that they’re okay. They can’t experience the pride in trying again and succeeding. They can’t feel the comfort of my hug and reassurance afterward.

Just as my kids have to go through this natural part of childhood, I have to go through the parallel part of motherhood. I have to know when to let them take a risk. When to let them push outside their (and my) comfort zone. When to rush to their aid and when to hang back to see how they’ll respond. It’s not just about letting my kids fall down and pick themselves back up; it’s also about calculating the risk and adding a buffer zone for safe exploration, even when minor risk is involved. It’s not easy, and honestly, I’m not always very good at it, but I understand the value of it, too.

Proof of today’s bump.

Luckily, so far most of my kids’ scrapes and bumps have been minor and easily treated with ice, a bandaid and a big hug. For the record, the baby was fine for the rest of today. And I managed to help my oldest with a Lego project and make a pretty nice dinner. But, if ever I need a reminder of the calculated risks kids need to have, I captured a picture as evidence of today’s bump, though something tells me I won’t forget about it anytime soon.