Finding a thick skin

When I first started writing my blog, the only people reading it were my close friends and family. As I gained traction in writing, I also slowly gained followers – more friends, friends of friends and absolute strangers. I love writing about my adventures in parenting and sharing my insights and vulnerabilities through my posts. And I love hearing people’s reactions – positive and negative – to what I write about. My blog is a wonderful outlet, and a great way for me to capture today’s moments that will become tomorrow’s memories.
mama and girls
So, each time Kveller picks up one of my pieces and publishes it on a national platform, I feel giddy with excitement that something I wrote is getting shared with a much broader audience. They’ve published pieces I’ve written ranging from kugel to missing my oldest’s dance recital. It’s a very empowering feeling.

Then, last week Kveller published a piece I was particularly proud of – a diatribe on our family’s rules which stemmed from an argument with my 4 year old about having to wear socks. The piece is playful and ends with a lists of 16 family rules – some of which are serious and others that make me giggle from the broken record I’ve become saying them. And this piece, more than any other that I’ve written, elicited a lot of commentary from a broad audience on Kveller’s website and Facebook page.

Two rules, in particular, struck a chord with the Kveller readership – leave a house that has a gun in it and kiss your grandparents hello and goodbye. Who knew that these would cause such a stir? That by writing that my kids should leave a home with a gun in it, I wasn’t properly educating them about gun safety? And that by telling my children to kiss their elder relatives as a sign of respect, I was exposing them to a future of abuse and body confusion?

I understand the arguments the readers were making and I appreciate that people took the time to read my post and share their opinions. I welcome feedback and comments – it’s fun to see how my writing impacts and influences others. But some of the comments on my last post made broad judgements about my parenting and ventured to say that I was wrong for having some of the rules that we do. While one reader said that each family’s rules are unique to them, other readers said things like I’ll make my kids a doormat by encouraging them to be nice to everyone or that I should never ever tell my kids to kiss a relative. By making such strong statements in response to the rules in our family, I can’t help but think about the litany of arguments, judgements and lines in the sand we draw in these ever present mommy wars.

mama and babeBreastfeeding. Bottle feeding. Formula. Breast milk. Pacifier. Thumb sucking. Attachment parenting. Cry it out. Organic food. Non gmo food. Regular ol’ food. Extracurricular activities to provide structure. No extracurricular activities to provide freedom. Stay at home mom. Professional mom. The list goes on and on. We all have such strong ideas, ideals, and approaches to parenting. We can read books about it. We can quote studies. We can wing it. We can do our absolute best and still feel like it’s not enough. And, although we are our own harshest critics, the commentary on my latest post reminds me that we can be each other’s harshest critics too. Instead of drawing a line in the sand of what we believe to be the right thing, why not open a dialogue in which we each speak out own truths while accepting those may not be the same truths for somebody else? I’m not upset or offended by the comments readers made, but am more so inspired by what the readers could have said.

We all know that raising kids takes a village, and in my experience that’s absolutely true. But the definition of village is loose and long, extending from our inner circle to the adult who attempts to discipline our kids on the playground. We need to find a way to lift each other up and support each other as we forge our own path, whether or not it’s the one we would take ourselves.

Finding family rules

I’m proud to share that another post has been picked up by the national site Kveller.org! Start reading here, and then click through to their site to see the conclusion.


sister trainWhen we remodeled our kitchen last year, I bought a prefabricated “Family Rules” canvas at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $19.99 to round out the decor. I’m sure you’ve seen a canvas just like it in a store (or home) near you. They list rules like hug often, listen intently, help others, and so on. The rules themselves are lovely and certainly speak to mantras we want our kids to live by. But, they seem to be missing some important ideas.

Take last Thursday, for example. As our girls were getting ready to head to preschool, our eldest asked which shoes she could wear without socks.

“None,” I responded. (Cue the bottom lip quiver.) I explained to her that she needed to wear socks because otherwise the sand from the sandbox and the tanbark from the play yard would get in her shoes and hurt her feet. (The first tear slid gracefully down her cheek.) My husband explained to her that wearing shoes without socks would make her feet smell. (And so began the tears rivaling Niagara Falls.)…want to read the rest? Click here!

Finding Independence

Since we’re just two days away from Independence Day, it seems only fitting to focus on independence in this post. However, I’m not talking about stars and stripes, or backyard barbeques and fireworks. No, this kind of independence lands squarely in the camp of “I can do it myself.”

biggestMy four year old has been exercising her independence for as long as I can remember. She started picking out her own clothes at age two and has developed an amazing (and unique) sense of style for herself. She is driven and confident (and at times bossy), and wants to assert her independence as often as possible. This has most recently come to fruition in public restrooms – she wants to go in the stall “by myself.” After mentally running through the list of all the things that could go wrong by letting her do this (she falls in the toilet, she doesn’t wipe well enough, poop goes where poop shouldn’t be…), we’ve come to a compromise that feels right for this blossoming little lady. She can go to the bathroom with one of us and in the stall by herself, but can’t lock the door. This gives her the sense of doing it on her own while still gives us access to her should she need help (unlike the time when I was 5 years old and locked myself in a bathroom stall at Disneyland then got stuck so I crawled out of the stall to my mom and had to face a long line of women who needed to pee with one fewer stall to choose from… alas, that’s a story for another day!). As she gets ready to go to elementary school, I am watching my eldest grow into a girl – not a baby, not a toddler, but a real kid. It’s frightening, and exciting, and happening way too quickly.

big girlThen there’s my middle daughter. She’s two and a half, and really good at it. Tantrums, silliness, strong opinions, defiance, exploration, snuggles… you name it, she’s got it. She is also exploring her independence, but from the strong-willed “I do it myself” approach. She so badly wants to be a big girl, but hasn’t totally outgrown the baby phase yet. So when she says she will do it herself, that’s usually accompanied with a whine or a tantrum or a set of incomprehensible tears. And the thing she wants to do herself usually centers around opening her own applesauce packet or putting the lid on her milk cup. These aren’t earth shattering actions, but for her they provide the smallest bit of control in an otherwise predetermined world. While I’m not ready for her to grow up so fast, it is exciting (and often aggravating… see tantrums above) to see her explore and exercise her independence.

happy babyAnd lastly, there’s the baby. The sweet little baby who can’t talk (or talk back!), who laughs at every face I make or sound I coo, and who can’t do a single thing for herself (unless you count spitting up, in which case she’s a champ!). Though she isn’t ready to exercise her independence in the same way as her sisters, she’s about to embark upon her own first step of independence. Next week marks the end of my maternity leave, and her first week at daycare. I’m beyond sad that I won’t be able to spend my days with her anymore. However, I know that this is an important moment for us. Separation from one another won’t be easy and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of tears Monday morning (mine, not hers). But, I also know that this separation can be good for both of us, and will make our reunion each night oh so sweet.

IMG_7786That’s the funny thing about independence. We long for our children to gain it – to be able to do things big and small for themselves. But once they do it’s impossible to refrain from longing for the days they needed us for every little thing. So, for every step that I set my girls free, I hug them that much tighter so they know that no matter how independent they get, they can always depend on me.

Finding lessons in puke (yep, that’s what I said)

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that can hold it together (literally and figuratively) around vomit, and those that cannot. I am squarely one of the latter. Thankfully, my husband is the former and since having kids he has proven this to me time after time.

all the girlsWe have had quite the epic episodes of puke over the years. It has hit one of our kids DURING dinner (yes, at the table), or once while she was sitting on my lap chewing vitamins (I was pregnant for that one and my husband wasn’t home – intensified sense of smell + intensified gag reflexes=panicked phone call to my husband) or, as was the case Saturday night, she woke up crying only to have me run into her dark room and jump onto her vomit covered bed (ugh!). Yes, my husband has shown over and over again that when it comes to our partnership in parenting, he will handle the vomit.

In each of these instances I’ve had to hold it together (and down) so that my daughters haven’t felt shamed, saddened or sickened by their mommy’s response. And so, in the midst of vomit has emerged for me some important parenting lessons and reminders:

  • Parenting is messy. There’s no one way to do it, but no matter how you do it, you’re going to get your hands dirty. We’ve got a kid with a stomach bug (finally on the mend), a kid who is potty training, and a baby who spits up at least half of everything she eats. Yes, it’s messy.
  • Parenting pushes you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to step into roles you wouldn’t have otherwise chosen and to do so calmly and with a smile.
  • Parenting is selfless. The needs of this tiny being you’re responsible for trumps your own every time.
  • Parenting is gross. Someone told me once that you don’t birth toddlers (or teenagers) because you only get dealt what you can handle. (I don’t know, given the choice between reasoning with an irrational being and being covered in poop, I’m not sure poop would be my first choice.)
  • Parenting is unpredictable. I couldn’t have guessed that my forearm would be covered in vomit on Saturday night, but there it was. Nor could I have predicted I’d spend the next three days snuggling with my oldest babe as she recovered. But there we were and there’s no place I’d rather have been.
  • Parenting is the greatest and hardest job I’ll ever have. Being a mom is fun, hard, rewarding, challenging, tender, trying, exciting, etc. etc. etc. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even though sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out!

Add to the list from your experiences… Parenting is…

Finding the antidote to anxiety

big eyesHave you ever seen a baby’s startle reflex? A young baby can be laying comfortably on a play mat or changing table cooing and smiling in happiness when suddenly, without warning, their eyes go wide and their arms jut out to the sides because they feel like they’re falling. In reality, the baby is totally safe but in that instant their reflex says otherwise and their entire body reacts in an uncontrollable action.

This is how I feel when a bout of anxiety passes through me – in one moment I can be peaceful, happy, and upbeat. Then suddenly a wave of darkness passes over me as I combat the demons in my head that warn of the “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios.

In reality, I think I’ve always struggled with some level of anxiety. However, only in the last few years, particularly since becoming a mom, has the anxiety become elevated. Anxiety is a nasty beast. It creates terrible scenarios in my head that are highly unlikely but just as highly alarming to think about. It creates questioning, self-doubt and fear.

At breakfast with a few new mommy friends last week one of them asked “When does the ‘what if’ reflex and worrying over everything subside?”

My answer was simple. It doesn’t. As a mom, I feel like there’s always some degree of worry in my head. If it’s not worry over a potential hazard in front of my kids, it’s over an image created by my overactive imagination suggesting a worst-case scenario. Sometimes I worry when my kids are with me. Other times, I worry when my kids are away from me. I worry about something happening to them; I worry about something happening to me or my husband resulting in them being without us. It’s exhausting and overwhelming.

vast ocean Recently I’ve been trying to find ways to combat the anxiety and the innumerable “what ifs” that sneak into my thoughts. Being a parent is hard. It’s hard to be entirely responsible for someone else. It’s hard to know when to hold tight to keep the children safe, and when to loosen the grip just enough that they can stumble and get up again.

Months ago, before my oldest daughter was scheduled to get her tonsils out and I was feeling nervous about the surgery, a friend told me to close the door on anxiety – every time it knocks at the door of my thoughts, do not invite it in but rather turn it away before it can poison my thoughts. This has been an important and effective technique.

Lately I’ve been trying to find the silver lining in the moments of anxiety. Trying to flip the anxiety from being something negative to something positive has been an incredible exercise. While these moments could easily be debilitating, they can also be empowering. They can be a reminder that I care and that I am protecting my children by not allowing those potential hazards to come to fruition. And, if by chance they do, I’ve mentally prepared for them so I can react in the moment. This is a powerful process.

In my experience, the what ifs and worry doesn’t seem to go away (at least, not yet). But I am trying to use the anxiety to make a choice — I can either keep those thoughts under control, or let them control me. Making the choice to maintain control over my thoughts is not always easy, but the more I can exercise that muscle the more practiced I will be. This will be an important skill on this journey of parenthood. And, if nothing else, I have a sense that these exercises will come in particularly handy when my girls start dating and driving…oy.

Finding commitment 

“Bad mommy!”

“You’re the baddest mommy ever forever!”

These were the screams coming from my four year old daughter on Thursday night as she sat in her bed, sent to sleep early after a particularly challenging evening. It was the first time she called me that (and no, she didn’t mean “bad” in the same way Michael Jackson did). She was mad at me, angry that the consequence I’d threatened her with had been put into action after she’d been warned multiple times.

A little bit of sass

While I licked my wounds (and a bowl of ice cream), I counted my lucky stars that the next morning we could easily kiss and make up. That’s the beauty of being four – life is still relatively simple. When she’s fourteen, it might be a different story.

As predicted, the next morning we talked about her epic meltdown and moved on. Well, not entirely. I’ve spent the better part of the past three days reflecting on what happened, questioning myself and the discipline decision we made on Thursday night. But, each time I start to question it, I remind myself of some parenting advice I recently received from a mom of three grown girls. “Commit,” she said. “Commit to whatever decisions you make because if you waiver your kids feel that and that’s when they start pushing back.”

At the time, I smiled and nodded but didn’t think much of it. And then, Thursday night happened and her words echoed in my head. Commit. Commit. Don’t waiver. Commit. As my sweet daughter kicked and yelled and called me bad, committing to the decision we made to put her to bed was the only option. Waivering would have been much worse, even though I questioned every second of it.

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Silliness prevails

That’s the funny thing about parenting. No matter how confident you feel in one moment, that confidence seems to give way to self doubt just as quickly. Doubt goes hand in hand with parenting. “Am I doing the right thing?” “Should I give in?” “Maybe this wasn’t the best course of action…” Doubt cuts strong and deep and can poison your thoughts and approach quickly. On Thursday night, doubt pulsed through my veins as I laughed (one of those “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” kind of moments) at my daughter’s willfulness and strong words. I questioned everything, from the decision to put her to bed early to the way I explained the reason to her to how I responded when she pushed back. Confidence that we were doing the right thing remained present, but doubt lurked at every corner.

In the end, we stayed strong. Her in willfulness. And me and my husband in our choices of consequences and follow through. It wasn’t easy for any of us, but I think we are all better for it. At least, I sure hope so… (There’s that doubt again!)

Finding my kryptonite 

Putting my kids to bed is my kryptonite. I don’t claim to be supermom (try as I might) but if I were a superhero, I would be just as debilitated by a glowing rock formation as I am a mom by 8pm.

girls on bed

Somehow, no matter how fun our day or evening has been and no matter how great everyone’s mood is, when the clock strikes my children’s bedtime suddenly all my patience goes out the window.

Last Sunday was no different. We’d had a fun day with a big family brunch, gone for bike rides, spent time snuggling on the couch and enjoyed a delicious (take out) dinner. All signs pointed to a successful day, and an exhaustion-filled bedtime. Wrong. We made it through tooth brushing and putting on pajamas with little incident. We did a dramatic reading of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” through giggles.

And then, disaster. My two year old didn’t want to sleep in pajamas anymore. Meltdown. And my four year old couldn’t find her blanket with bumble bees on it. Meltdown. Nevermind that we had spent 15 minutes picking out which pajamas the two year old wanted to wear that night. And never mind that this prized bumble bee blanket hadn’t been seen, let alone remembered, in weeks. No, in that moment these were the battles my kids were going to pick. And, these were the meltdowns that reduced me from being the normal calm, patient, loving mama I am to being the exasperated one that ends the day on a fed up, sour note with my kids.

“I hate who I become at bedtime,” I told my husband. I was feeling particularly down in that moment, equating my response to our kids’ multitudes of stalling tactics to us going to bed angry. “The last thing they’re hearing from me is a reprimand or harsh voice.”

“So let it go,” he told me. “What kid WANTS to go to sleep?”

And in that moment, my attitude toward bedtime changed. He was right. (Yes honey, you were right.) What kid wants to go to sleep? None. Heck, until we had a newborn eight weeks ago, I didn’t want to go to sleep either. I’d stay up watching Friends reruns on the couch far past what should have been my bedtime for no reason other than not feeling ready to go to sleep. I was no different from my daughters, just thirty-someodd years later.

So, the next night when we put the kids to sleep and they started in with their meltdowns and stalling tactics, and ultimately stayed up too late, I reminded myself over and over that I can’t physically make them sleep. Instead of getting angry, I responded calmly and patiently, accepting that all I can do is set them on the right path and continue guiding them back to it when they lose their way. And you know what? Bedtime was easier. Much easier. On everyone. It doesn’t mean they miraculously went to sleep or that I wasn’t frustrated inside. They didn’t and I was. But my entire approach and disposition changed and the evening was less contentious all around.

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Bedtime has become a metaphor for a greater lesson in parenting. In any situation (bedtime or otherwise), all I can do as a parent is set my kids on the right path and respond lovingly when they stray. And, just like bedtime being easier, I can only hope that whatever future battle we’re picking is easier to deal with because I have learned to face my demons and recognize my kryptonite. After all, isn’t that half the battle anyway?

What’s your kryptonite? How do you face it?

Finding truth in play

 

 There’s no greater mirror into your parenting style than hearing it parroted back through the playful games of your children. Our oldest two girls (yes, I have to say that now that we have three!) love to play house and they take turns being mommy and baby (and assigning me to be either “nana,” “grandpa” or “the dog,” and assigning my husband to be “brother” or sometimes just “boy”). Usually playing house looks pretty similar to any other game they play, with the added label of mommy and baby being yelled at the top of their lungs. But every once in a while there’s a golden nugget of truth mixed in.


Last weekend, I happened to overhear a particularly special game of house wherein my older daughter attempted to discipline her sister currently posing as the pretend baby by giving a warning and then counting to three before a supposed time-out would ensue. I had to remind my well-meaning eldest that even though they were playing, they should stick to the fun and let me do the mommying. A few hours later, as they continued their game, she came out of her room with her bottom lip quivering and announced that she tried to give her little sister consequences because she wasn’t listening and playing the right way.” Not surprisingly, the consequences she tried to give didn’t go over so well.

 

 As I’ve continued to listen to their games of house, I’ve heard them parroting phrases we say in everyday parenting, everything from telling each other to chew at the dinner table, to elaborate explanations of why the other should follow directions, to an exaggerated bedtime routine that mimics most of our frustration at their stalling techniques and few of our loving phrases and snuggles.

 

In this time of transition, with a new baby at home and everything that goes along with it, I’ve been trying to stay in tune with each childs’ emotional needs. The baby, of course, is easy to decipher because she needs everything. Our middle daughter is caught between being a baby and becoming a big girl. She swings between the two worlds, unsure of where she belongs and where she wants to be. And then there’s our oldest, verbal and mature, completely aware that she is a big girl and trying desperately to not wish she were still a baby. While she can’t verbalize those feelings in a direct conversation, the truth seems to come out in play and gives a window into her emotions. Who knew a game of make believe could offer such accurate insights in reality?

 

Kids really do say the darndest things and I’m learning that if we listen, really stop and listen, to what they’re saying out loud and “in between the lines,” we can tend to the needs they, and we, didn’t know they had.

Finding inspiration at 2am

Inspiration might be a strong word for what I’m finding right now… Blogging material might be more accurate. Or sanity in writing. Or solace in readership. But, for purposes of prose, we’ll call it inspiration.

It’s 2am and our 4.5 week old baby is confused by day and night and has them conveniently switched in her head. More so, tonight she has decided to try her hand at staying up for hours at a time… Something she hasn’t really done before and not exactly something I’d like her to be experimenting with between the hours of 10pm and 2am. I’ve tried everything – rocking, swinging, feeding, burping, shhing… And after a minor meltdown (mine, not hers), we’re trying the repertoire again.

This is compounded by our oldest daughter, age 4.5, getting out of bed mid meltdown (still mine, not hers either) to tell me she misses me and wants to spend time together. Though time together at two in the morning is not my idea of quality, I understand her sentiment. My first baby has had to mature twice in order to be a “good big sister” when each of her sisters was born. And even though she has been wonderfully loving to her sisters and forgiving of my absence when they were newborns, the feelings she’s having of missing mommy are real and warranted. But not something I can solve at 2am, much as I’d like to try.

And this is compounded by our middle daughter, just shy of 2.5, stirring from her fever-induced sleep where she lay burning up despite the dose of Tylenol she had before bed and the eye drops we gave her for the pink eye that developed over the course of the day. She is uncomfortable and wants to snuggle in our bed, where she slept last night as her fever began to set in. She’s in need of love and attention too, and it’s coming out in an actual physical response.

Three sweet, beautiful girls, each needing time, love, and attention. Each craving it at 2am, when we are all at our most vulnerable. As I sit nursing the baby with tears streaming down my face from sheer exhaustion and my husband negotiates the older two girls’ needs and requests when they should really just be sleeping, I find myself overcome by the simultaneous overwhelm of it all… The good parts and the hard, the tears (theirs and mine), the endless exhaustion, the reality of “holy #$*@, there are three of them,” and the deep unfailing and unconditional love I’m filled with.

None of that changes the fact that it’s now nearly 3am and I just want to go to sleep, but it’s comforting to know all those feelings and emotions are there and they’re real.

So thanks, readers, for keeping me company during a particularly rough night and for giving me an outlet to express those emotions… It’s comforting to know you’re “listening.”

Finding schmoopie

positanoUsually, my blog posts focus on a parenting topic de jour, highlighting the funny things my kids said or the challenge I’m currently facing. However, after my previous post about becoming a mom for the third time I realized that there’s a big part of being a parent in my family that I haven’t focused on in a blog yet – my husband. Hence, this one is for him.

In one of my first sociology classes in college, we read a book called The Second Shift. The book focused on the role of the working mom who spends a full day in a professional setting and then comes home to work her second shift – taking care of domestic duties, caring for the children, etc. The author argued that working dads may have some additional responsibilities upon returning home from work but they aren’t “on” all the time the same way a mom is.

Clearly the author of that book hasn’t met Jason.

family shot2When Jason and I fell in love, I often imagined what our life would look like down the road. I’d ask myself questions like: What kind of home would we build together? What would be the roses and thorns of our relationship? How would we raise our kids? …And so on. I’d catch myself daydreaming about our future together, 110% sure of that future without knowing how the specifics would all shake out.

When it comes to many things, Jason and I have very different taste. Whether evident while moving in together for the first time, planning our wedding, or redesigning our kitchen, anyone close to us can attest to our very different aesthetic preferences. Where I like modern, he likes traditional. Where I like vibrant, he likes conservative. These seemingly trivial differences have caused many discussions (read: fights) that have taught us how to communicate about issues bigger than light fixtures. During these “discussions,” it’s harder to see that as a silver lining. But now I realize that learning to communicate and see things from each other’s point of view has become especially handy when it comes to parenting and taking care of our home.

2015.3.10 Newborn KATZ-29From the beginning we have had an equal partnership in sharing the responsibilities of house and home… We balance each other’s habits (I create organizational systems and he attempts to maintain them; I bring in the mail every day and he sorts it and pays the bills) and we have a similar tolerance for clutter and mess (relatively high, unfortunately). But over the last few months, as I grew from pregnant to “really uncomfortably very pregnant” and then transitioned to “holy crap I just pushed a baby out of me,” our equal partnership went out the window. Jason took on an entire “second (and third) shift” of cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of the kids, taking care of me and doing pretty much anything that needed doing in our house, while my second shift (and sometimes first shift, too) consisted mostly of eating ice cream on the couch.

Love is a funny thing. I fell in love with Jason during a relatively carefree time in our lives – we went on dates, traveled, and built a foundation for our relationship. And that love runs strong and deep. But this love, the love that comes from seeing your partner take care of you and the life you’ve created together, is its own breed. And I count my lucky stars every day to have it, and to have Jason. I love you.

And, just for fun… here’s schmoopie.