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.

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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?

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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.

Find the symbolism in transition

FullSizeRenderFor the past week or so, my emotions have been tied in knots. I’ve watched on Facebook as many of my friend’s kids have started kindergarten and with each post, happy family picture, and report on how the first day went, I’ve become more and more overwhelmed with emotion. Their milestone moments are just days before ours, and the anticipation is staggering. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of preschool. At 6pm, she will “graduate” from the small center where she has been since she was four months old and transition next week to elementary school. Where did the time go?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why the emotion has become so heightened for me, and at best, I can think of a few reasons.

  1. Aside from the transition from maternity leave to daycare, this is the first real transition my daughter will have. Her cognitive memory exists solely in our daycare – it’s all she has ever known. The loving teachers, parents, and friends are her safe haven away from home. The kids she plays with on the playground are the same kids from the baby room who popped their pacifiers in her mouth when she was sad. The environment, the rules, the classrooms – all of it is not just familiar, it’s all there is. Soon, she will be propelled into a new school, new classroom, new community, new teachers, new kids who will become her friends and she will start from scratch. She’s an adaptable, social, curious kid and I’m not worried about her, but I am certainly aware of how quickly her comfort will get thrown out of whack until she finds her way again.
  2. Even before my oldest was born, people would tell me “it goes fast.” And while I believed them, I could never have understood just how fast it goes. While putting my older two girls to bed the other night, I told each of them the story of the days they were born. As I snuggled my eldest and told her about that first moment when they put her on my chest and she looked up at me, I found myself suddenly fighting back tears. Wasn’t that just yesterday? Didn’t she just take her first steps? Say her first words? Throw her first tantrum? When did she become a kid? (As she says, “I’m not a little kid anymore, I’m a child.” Indeed you are, baby girl.) I know it’s only going to go faster and faster. I know that the symbolism of her graduating from preschool tomorrow is a precursor to her graduating from high school, and in between there will be a blur of wonderful memories of a childhood that will inevitably go by too fast…after all, everyone says it’s true.
  3. My daughter isn’t the only one going through transition tomorrow. My husband and I are too. I’ll never forget how warm and welcoming the day care director was on our tour with our oldest still in utero. She said to us, “Our goal is to provide as loving a home here as you would yourselves. If you can’t be with your baby, we want to be a partner in parenting and make sure your baby knows how loved it is.” No other daycare we toured came close to saying that. And she lived up to her word. Overall they have provided a loving place while we went to work every day. It’s not easy to leave, but it is easier when you know your family is in good hands. At our daycare, we’ve made some amazing friendships. We’ve found community and we’ve built our village. It’s not just our daughter who is flying the nest, but it’s us too. Of course, we still have two more kids at the daycare center, and we will maintain friendships long after we leave there. But still, the symbolism of our own transition cuts deep. We are starting out again in a new school, new community and new potential friends and we will forge our way as well.

the road ahead

Tomorrow’s graduation and Tuesday’s first day of school are both huge milestone moments for our family. They are symbolic and emotional, overwhelming and exciting, real and unbelievable all at the same time. I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t know what to expect as we begin our journey into the world of elementary school. All I know is that I will cheer for our daughter as she graduates tomorrow, hug her extra tight when I leave her new classroom on Tuesday, and will savor every moment with each of our girls as they grow up before our eyes…inevitably, way too fast.

Finding mom(me) x3

party of 5Well, I did it. I popped out baby #3. (Okay, it was more than a “pop,” but I figure I’ll spare you the details.)

At any rate, last week I became a new mom for the 3rd time. Yes, I’ve been through this stuff before with my two older girls. Experience says I’m not “new” at this mom thing. And in many ways that’s true. For example, the constant fear that I’m going to drop the baby has mostly subsided by the third kid. And I check to make sure she’s breathing slightly less frequently than I did with our first and second kids. But having a new baby, whether for the first time or third, still brings the same simultaneous bliss and uncertainty.

The bliss is obvious. Blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby girl with ten little fingers and ten little toes, I spend a good part of my day staring at her – marveling at how this little being was just inside of me and now she’s not. She coos and cries, smiles as she passes gas and startles when she changes positions. The joys in each singular moment with a newborn baby are innumerable.

But having a baby is also hard… really hard. And in these first few days home, it’s all a little disorienting. Days and nights are interchangeable, simple tasks (like showering and brushing your teeth) become insurmountable obstacles, and the reality of sleep deprivation rears its ugly head. No matter how prepared or experienced you might think you are, newborns are as unpredictable as the birth experience itself and no amount of planning can prepare anyone for the moments of confusion, frustration and utter exhaustion that lay ahead.

3 sistersSince returning home with our new baby, I continue to also be reminded of how intense and intertwined nature and nurture are. Our older two kids need me from a nurture perspective – they need hugs and attention from mommy. Things that would normally roll off their backs are creating fodder for a full meltdown. On the other side, the baby needs me from a nature (namely nursing) perspective. The juxtaposition of this is taxing and trying, and in these early days is hard to navigate. I want to be everything to everyone, but it’s nearly impossible no matter how hard I try.

On top of that, there’s the reality of my own health – the need to take it easy, rest and recover from birth and that singular moment when everything changed and we were propelled back into baby world. For me, I also tend to navigate toward a bit of “radio silence” in the beginning – not returning phone calls, not having visitors (sorry to those who have reached out!). Just a week or two of a bubble-enclosed world where I can get my bearings again. All of this combined – the need to care for myself and to give each of my three beautiful girls attention in ways that are right for each of them – is tough.

Being a mom is a huge challenge, but it’s also crazy rewarding. It’s a constant struggle of giving our kids everything they need, and saving a little morsel for ourselves. It’s an ever-changing balance of putting ourselves in the trenches every day and navigating uncharted territory, all while falling madly, deeply in love over and over again. It’s a wild ride where we aim to keep the difficulties in perspective and the joys overflowing, where we aim to let the tough moments pass by us quickly and the tender memories linger forever. Because, in all honesty, what else is there?

Finding number three

It seems like now is as good a time as any to talk about my pregnancy with baby #3 on my blog. I’ve mentioned it once before but hadn’t been sure what more to say… until now.

Telling people you’re pregnant with your first child is constantly joyous. People’s eyes light up with excitement when they hear you’re bringing a new life into the world. They dote on your entrance to the land of parenting. They express emotions like happiness and show genuine excitement for the journey that’s unfolding.

Telling people you’re pregnant with your second child is still mostly joyous. People’s eyes light up with excitement when they hear you’re giving your first child a sibling. They express emotions like happiness and show genuine excitement for the journey that’s unfolding. Those that have more than one child, and some who don’t, give you a knowing look that is some combination of “It’s great” and “Just wait… you’ll see how hard it is.”

Telling people you’re pregnant with your third child is like telling them you have leprosy. On the outside they might appear happy (okay, no one would seem happy if you told them you have leprosy but it seemed like a good line. I digress.) but simultaneously they say things like “You’re crazy!” “You’re brave!” and “Good luck!” (And it’s not the kind of luck like they hope you win the lottery. It’s the luck that is loaded with the “You’re crazy” and “You’re brave” sentiments behind it). They show concern about the journey that’s unfolding and ask you questions like “can you afford it?” and “how are you going to handle three kids under 5?”

Just ask this guy – my favorite comedian Jim Gaffigan – what it’s like telling people you’re pregnant…again:

Since finding out we were pregnant with number three I’ve poured over every article and blog post I’ve seen about what it’s like to have three kids. I’ve questioned (maybe a bit aggressively) anyone I meet who has three kids, asking them questions like “How hard is it? Are we crazy? What should I know?” And, as I’ve gotten farther in the pregnancy I’ve found myself front loading the announcement to others by saying it all in one breath: “Yes, I’m pregnant. No, it’s not my first, it’s my third. We’re crazy,  I know.”

here comes number 3Now, with 10 weeks to go, I’m both overwhelmingly excited and terrified about having three kids. Our four and two year-olds are already so mommy-centric, what will happen when there’s a baby needing my attention, too? How long will it take these three, each two years apart from the next, to realize that they outnumber us? How will the growing pains of moving from two to three affect us (aside from the already inevitable purchases of a minivan and a king bed)?

Just like anything else, we all have to do what feels right for us. And this, having a third baby, no matter how crazy we might seem (or might be) feels right for us. And just because it’s not our first rodeo doesn’t mean we still aren’t experiencing pregnancy in a unique way independent of the other two. Each pregnancy has been different – from the way I’ve carried to the way I’ve felt (definitely most exhausted with this one!).

Last week, after quietly tracking my “kick counts” to ensure that the baby was moving enough each day, I felt unsure… my once karate chopping internal subletter had become quiet and calm. Something didn’t feel right. So we went to the hospital to get checked out. Everything is fine (thankfully!) and we were released after a few hours of monitoring. But it got me to thinking about this whole journey. Regardless of how many times you’ve been through it before, whether it’s your first baby or your third (or your 47th if you’re a Duggar), it’s all a journey with joy and excitement combined with foreign obstacles and concerns. Being pregnant with a third baby is really like being pregnant with a first baby for the third time. Yes, I know more than I did the first (and second) times around, but the magnitude of pregnancy and bringing a new life into the world isn’t at all diminished by prior experience… even if we are crazy!