Finding a new reality

The shock is wearing off. Reality is setting in.

It’s safe to say we are all sailing in unchartered territory. Certainly in my lifetime. And my parents’ too. Life amid the coronavirus pandemic is different and dynamic, with nonstop information coming at us, and life as we know it changing by the minute. My Bay Area county (and 5 neighboring ones) is about to announce a shelter in place plan to limit our comings and goings, interactions and inevitable spread of this virus.

As I write this, and apparently temporarily resuscitate my mommy-blog that had completely fallen by the wayside, I’m listening to my three young daughters work on their first round of “homework” that I created in our new “homeschool”. To them, the STEAM lesson I planned is a small shift from their norm — instead of creating leprechaun traps in their classrooms and with their classmates, they’re forced to create it at home with their sisters as their new learning contemporaries. But to me, it’s just the beginning of my newest identity shift where I add “homeschool teacher” to the many hats I wear on a given day.

I’ve been in nonstop texting and Facebook threads with other moms, passing ideas of schedules, lessons, chore charts, and so on, back and forth, using our collective brainpower to collaborate in this era of ever-changing reality. The texts and the Facebook threads are our lifeline not only to collaboration, but to survival. Where once we could grab a glass of wine at our local Whole Foods, settle into each other’s couches for book club or to watch the Bachelor, or take the kids for an impromptu playdate at the park, we are now within the confines of our own homes. Collaboration, humor and discourse are our virtual escape.

It’s this blurred reality that reminds me that my job, first and foremost, is to protect my children and help them make sense of the world. How my husband and I respond to the pandemic — the words we choose, the way we speak to each other and to friends and family on the phone, the attitude we carry — will have a direct impact on our children for years to follow. Whereas my parents’ generation still recalls where they were when JFK was shot, and my peers and I share stories of 9/11 and the days and weeks that followed, our children will talk about this. The pandemic. The shelter in place. They’ll ask each other what their experience was like, how they felt, what they remember.

People we know will likely become diagnosed with coronavirus… assuming testing is possible. It’s inevitable. And from what I’m reading, things could get worse before they get better. We are on information overload and things seem to be changing by the day. And so, while I sit at my dining table making color-coded schedules, scouring the internet for lesson plans, bookmarking online yoga classes, and preparing science experiments to continue exercising my daughters’ brains and bodies, I realize that my responsibility is even more-so to help them come out of this on the other side with a grounded sense of reality (somewhere between hysteria and denial) and to instill in them resilience, compassion and a burning desire to do their part to make a difference.

So when I put on that “homeschool teacher” hat each morning, I’ll remind myself of the bigger picture, too, and give myself some leeway to learn alongside my kids, to make mistakes, to know that some days will go better than others, and strive to be a positive role model for them amid pandemic-life. No, I’m not formally trained to teach long division (nor do I really remember it!); I’m not versed in strategies to help them move through the designated reading levels their classes follow. I’m now their homeschool teacher and I’ll certainly do my best. But, the first hat I wear is their mom, and I’ll do everything in my power to teach them, protect them, shelter them, guide them, and love them through each day ahead.

Yes, we are in a new “homeschool” situation, which is coupled with a double “work from home” environment between myself and my husband. Yes, they’ll complete math and reading lessons daily, practice their piano, engage in PE, and work on the virtual projects coming at us from their teachers, but we’ll also bake, watch movies, play games, have dance parties, organize closets, snuggle, and laugh. We’ll draw pictures and mail them to nursing homes where residents aren’t allowed to have visitors. We’ll FaceTime with friends and family. We’ll write letters and mail them to friends. We’ll learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.

We’ll adapt.

Because when we come out on the other side of this, I want my children to remember how it felt to be home, and to remember just how far the walls of our home and our hearts could stretch.

Finding 365 days of reflection

img_6435I have been waiting 365 days to write this blog post. 365 long, short, happy, sad, exciting, boring, fun, mundane, busy, slow, up and down days. 365 days that have each been unique… each their own snowflake within the year. Each day has tested me in its own way, making me better (even though some days I got worse first). When I walked away from a job I loved one year ago yesterday, I vowed to myself that I’d write and publish a post exactly a year and a day later reflecting on what I’d learned through my new role as a stay at home mom. Of course, at that time I didn’t predict that I’d spend the last four months of that year crippled by terrible writer’s block, with a head full of content and observations to share but an inability to translate them into shareable material. Perhaps that itself is the metaphor for my year…. a jumble of emotions and experiences too great to put into words. Or maybe, I’ve been so consumed by being home with my kids that I haven’t had a chance to reflect on what that has meant. Or maybe, the words haven’t come as easily as they once did. At any rate, I’m here now because I promised myself I would be, and that is a promise I intend to keep.

When I started out these last 365 days as a stay at home mom, I had great expectations of what that would look like and I’m simultaneously proud and saddened that I didn’t live up to much of that. I had lists, spreadsheets, projects, recipes, ideas and plans… most of which still sit in the same format that they did when I’d initially put them together, completely untouched. It’s not that I failed or that the expectations were too lofty, but rather that I had no idea what my days would be like until I lived them. Until I was the hot mess mom running her kid into her classroom late… again. Or the completely with it mom who planned great birthday parties. Or the mom who baked cookies and sat in the backyard making wishes on dandelions with her kids. Or the mom who had all the time in the world and yet no time at all to get anything done. I’ve been all these moms, and more.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned since this day last year:

  • Being a mom is the best job I have ever and will ever have.
  • Kids are resilient. They need a guide to help them navigate the world around them, but they are stronger and more intuitive than we realize.
  • Moms need a time out every once in a while. Sometimes that time out includes coffee. Or wine. (I’ve yet to need both at once, but never say never.)
  • Going to the bathroom alone is a luxury.
  • There will always be more laundry to be done and as much as you will it to happen, it will never fold itself.
  • Sometimes a bowl of cheerios and milk is dinner enough.
  • You can have ratings for your yoga pants, ranging from your nice ones to the ones you only wear around the house. Also, practicing yoga isn’t a requirement for wearing yoga pants.
  • Watching too much television isn’t healthy, but sometimes the television is the best (and cheapest) babysitter around.
  • Nothing teaches patience better than a child who asks “why?” all the time. Except for the child who says “mommy” on repeat for 30 minutes straight.
  • Pinterest is a great place to collect ideas for projects you’ll never do and recipes you’ll never make.
  • Breathe.
  • Put the date for a birthday party in your calendar. Check the date against the invitation. Don’t show up for the party a day early (or a day late for that matter).
  • Siblings fight. Sometimes they need you to step in and sometimes they need to work it out themselves because you can’t be a referee forever.
  • Every toy, shoe, and worksheet needs a home. I’ve yet to find a home for most of these things, but they need a home nonetheless.
  • You don’t have to be perfect all the time. Or any of the time.
  • Patience really is a virtue.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Kid laughter is the best form of it. Laugh with your kids often.
  • Ask for help. Accept it graciously.
  • Put the phone down. Sit on the floor and play.
  • Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
  • Be present.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Burned toast is salvageable. Burned chicken is not.
  • The drive-thru carwash with music blaring is an entertaining afternoon activity. (Oh, and your kids will like it too.)
  • Find your tribe. Make friends. Talk to people.
  • Being a mom (and being a parent, for that matter) is not easy.
  • Be kind to yourself.

img_6861This list is in no way complete, but it’s a good start. I was sure that after a year in this new life I’d have some deep and profound thoughts about what this transition has been like. I thought that I’d have a true understanding of both sides of the field having been a working mom, a stay at home mom, and, as I do now, straddling the two. But the truth is… there is no truth. I don’t have a profound understanding, I just have my days. These last 365 gratifying, challenging, amazing days. We spend so much time fighting the “mom wars,” comparing our experiences to others, longing for something else or being completely rooted in where we are. Maybe for some the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe the grass is perfectly green exactly where you stand. Or maybe the grass needs to be mowed, the laundry needs to be done, dinner needs to be made, work needs to be completed and the kids need to be bathed. It’s just grass, so do with it what you will.

Finding inspiration in 46 years

IMG_5719Today my parents are celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. WOW! This milestone is pretty incredible. Since getting married, they have moved completely from the East Coast to the West Coast with a 40 year “layover” in Arizona. They’ve gotten their advanced degrees, and started and retired from their careers with pretty significant accomplishments and accolades to boot. They’ve made countless friends, traveled a good portion of the world, and raised a pretty awesome lady (if I do say so myself!).

Today, for their wedding anniversary, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to them. After all, a good portion of finding the “me” in mommy, comes from how they raised me. And a good portion of the “mom” in mommy comes from how they raised me, too. So, instead of a Hallmark card or a bottle of champagne at dinner, they get this blog post (is that the equivalent of those “someone I know went to some random tourist destination and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? Man, I hope not!).

IMG_5435As the only child of two educator parents, I grew up in a household that valued kindness, social justice, education, and above all, love. We were a small but mighty unit of three (except for one special year when we had an exchange student from Brazil who made us a happy family of four. Hi sis!). My parents taught me independence at an early age which allowed me to forge my own path and to become my own person from from the get-go. One of their favorite stories to tell is about the first time they put me on a plane alone to visit my grandparents in Southern California. At the age of five, my parents took me to the gate, told me the flight was the same length of time as an episode of Sesame Street (which, to my disappointment I soon figured out did not mean that the airplane would actually show an episode of Sesame Street), and handed me off to the flight attendant to board the plane. I said goodbye and didn’t look back as I walked down the jetway and onto the airplane. “You didn’t look back,” they’ve told me time and again. And, I’ve always just laughed it off and held that moment as a point of pride. Until this week.

FullSizeRender 2This week was my five year’s first week of summer day camp (another important part of my childhood). The first day, she gripped my hand tightly as the counselors introduced themselves and started a game for the kids to get to know each other. As she got more comfortable, I loosened our grip, first by standing next to her while we played, then sitting to the side while she played without me, and then giving her one last kiss as I walked away. And so, the second day I anticipated a similar progressive exit. But to my surprise, we got to the door of the camp building and she abruptly turned around, gave me a kiss and said “Mommy, I can go in by myself. I don’t need you to walk me.” Sure enough, she walked down the hall without turning back. And then I understood. I knew why that moment had been such an important milestone for my parents. They’d put me on a plane and sent me away for a week to stay with my grandparents; my experience with my own daughter was for 3 hours and was less than a mile from my house. But still, I finally understood. That independence that we so deeply try to instill in our children is a wonderful blessing, but man does it pull at your heart.

As with most parenting decisions, there are always unintended (or maybe unexpected) consequences. Teaching me independence at a young age resulted in me leaving home at eighteen. Like many others, I went off to college in another state. But when I left we all knew I wasn’t coming back. Of course, I returned for school breaks, extended holiday weekends and family vacations in adulthood. But really, when I moved out to California after I graduated high school, I had no intention of moving back to my hometown of Phoenix. That was it – bye bye desert. And that’s how it was for fifteen years – me going back to Phoenix with my family or my parents coming to visit us here in Northern California. We made the most of our visits, but we all knew that those condensed weekends were jam packed with activity and emotion because there was just never enough time. So, when my parents retired from their long careers in education and moved last year to a new home just a few minutes down the road from us, that created an entirely new and special reality. Suddenly everything had come full circle. I’d left home all those years ago without looking back (just like before that first flight) and created a new home and new life for myself. They’d continued building their lives, careers and community in Arizona. And now, here we are, together again. The weight of their move is not lost on me and I count my lucky stars every day that it was possible.

IMG_6423Living so far away from my parents for many years, I’d often felt jealous of my friends who had random movie nights with their moms or dinner out with their dads. But this last week, I saw my parents nearly every day. I took my dad to breakfast for a belated Father’s Day celebration. I spent a few days in my mom’s studio as she taught me to sew on her sewing machine. As a kid and even as a young adult, I never could have appreciated this time together. But now, I cherish it. I love that my dad can call us when he makes a dish for dinner that’s too spicy for them but knows we’ll like it, so he asks if he can bring it over. I love that my mom can take the time to teach me how to sew on a project that has taken months (even though it should have taken a few days) because we have the luxury of starting and stopping whenever we want to. I love that my kids can go to their grandparents’ house at 7am on a Sunday morning so my husband and I can get a little extra sleep. And I love that my kids are growing up with all of their grandparents (my parents and my mother-in-law) all only minutes away so they can be an active part of the kids’ lives and can attend sporting events, art shows, and special dinners out (and can watch the kids when we need to run errands or get in an occasional date night! Thanks everyone!).

My parents are two of the bravest, strongest, smartest, and most loving people I know and I am inspired by them as individuals and as a couple. When they sold our home in Phoenix, I was sad about the loss of those memories, but what we have gained is so much more. And their house here is just as special as was the house in Phoenix. This year more than ever I’ve learned that a house is just a house, but home is where the heart is and my parents have two of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.

Happy anniversary you two! We love you! Have a wonderful celebration!

Finding firsts, lasts and somewhere in between

As parents, we put a lot of focus on firsts as important milestones… first words, first steps, first day of school… but focusing on the lasts is also an important part of this crazy journey we call parenthood. Last night in a crib, last time nursing, last day of school. I didn’t expect to feel emotional about my daughter’s last day of her first (there’s a tongue twister for you!) year of elementary school. After all, we had already celebrated her last day of preschool and her first day as an official elementary school student. Weren’t those the milestones to focus on? Yeah, I thought so too. But as tomorrow looms, my oldest daughter’s last day of school before her first (there it is again) “real” summer vacation, I’m strangely emotional all over again.

Ready to be the letter "N" in her class alphabet parade.

Ready to be the letter “N” in her class alphabet parade.

In some ways, it feels like her childhood is just beginning. The years leading up to this were largely toddler years, full of playdates, playgrounds and innumerable firsts. But beginning tomorrow at 11:17am, she will begin a summer vacation that represents much much more. She is on her path through traditional schooling, where she spends ten months learning inside a classroom and two months playing, exploring, and learning entirely outside of the classroom. This past school year has been just as much of a growing year for us, her parents, as it has been for our daughter. Prior to this year our entire school community and experience was wrapped up in a daycare/preschool. Our daughter’s friends had been the same babies with whom she’d covertly shared pacifiers. The challenges she had on the playground were with the same kids she saw as extended family because they were the only friends she’d ever known. The experience she had was loving and sheltered since she spent day in and day out in the same small classrooms from infancy to nearly five years of age.

But this year, we became elementary school parents and entered into this next (huge) phase of her life (and thus, by extension, ours). We watched our daughter work to make friends, expand her education and truly blossom. We listened to her as she’d come home and report to us about the games she played and the occasional squabbles she had on the playground. We comforted her on the day this spring when she cried because another child had been particularly mean to her, and taught her how to stand up for herself when she felt that an injustice (of the five year old variety) had occurred. We watched as she read (like, really read) for the first time. And we noted, time and time again, how clear it was that she had transitioned to being completely and utterly a kid, not the little girl we still imagine her to be. She became aware of the world around her and its magnitude, as well as its potential harm. She put to use so many of the lessons we’ve spent the last first years teaching her – how to be a good friend, how to ask for help, how to question things and explore her curiosity. These days, we sit in awe as this little girl, this kid who turned us into parents in the first place, is continuing to challenge how we define parenthood. She went from being a preschool “graduate” entering elementary school to completing her first year of her traditional educational journey, and that feels just as big as the day she started.

IMG_4014So many of my own childhood memories revolve around summer break – from family vacations to sleep away summer camp to day after day of riding bikes from one friend’s house to another, jumping in swimming pools and setting up makeshift lemonade stands. Summer represents such a key part of growing up – a time to develop independence, to have adventures and explore, to continually redefine yourself. And here we are, at the doorstep of her first real summer break of many. We’ll spend the next two months playing, doing art projects, seeing friends, testing recipes, going on small trips, participating in day camp, and marking each milestone as it comes. Whether the first, or the last, or somewhere in between, this year has shown us how quickly we can rack up the milestones and see time pass us by. So, tonight when I put her to bed, I hugged her a little tighter, told her how proud I am of her, and marveled as she told me “Mommy, I just want to go to bed. Can you tell me that tomorrow?” (Perhaps really we’re on the doorstep of the teenage years… just a few years early!)

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.


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 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.

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.