Finding milestone moments

cold morningThe exact text message I sent to my husband this morning read, “Holy *#%@! Our baby is going to elementary school!” That’s because this morning I registered our oldest child to start on her journey of public education beginning next August. The required precision of paperwork and orderly fashion of lines in the registration process were overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of today’s notable milestone. And in just a few short months, today will be overshadowed by the first day of school.

In truth, most days have some sort of milestone. While the “big” ones are easily noted and just as easily remembered – first giggle, first time rolling over, first tooth, first steps, and so on – I’m finding that there are milestones even in the most mundane moments. Whether it’s the first time she dressed herself, or first time she cleaned up her toys without being asked, or the first time she spelled her name, each of these moments got flagged in my head as an important “first” in her maturation and in the development of her independence.

One of the mantras that I remind myself of daily is that parenthood is fleeting – as soon as you adjust to one thing, that changes and something else reveals itself. While I thought that would end during the infant stage, it has continued to prove true. After all, if life is a journey and not a destination, it’s inevitable that there will be milestones every step of the way.

Even so, today was a big one. Signing up for elementary school was both invigorating and terrifying. How did time already go by so quickly? And how much faster is it about to go? When I told my daughter I’d signed her up for school today, she said to me, “First I go to school, then I go to college, then I get a job, get married and become a mommy just like you.” While her overly simplified view of the journey is absent of an actual understanding of the timeframe associated with it, the summary of the next 20 years stopped me in my tracks. She’s right – time is about to fly by even faster than it already has and if we don’t appreciate each of the moments and each of the milestones, they’ll pass us by just as quickly as they arrived.

I wish I could say I was good about tracking them. When I found out I was pregnant with our oldest, I kept a detailed journal of my entire pregnancy and her first year of life. With my second, I started a journal half way through the pregnancy and kept it through most of her first year, more or less. And now, with less than 4 weeks to go before my due date for baby number three, I figure that tomorrow is as good a day as any to start writing in the journal. (Insert birth order joke here.)

It’s a challenging balance – how do you find time to honor the important moments and actually live them? And as life gets busier and the moments multiply, how do we ensure they don’t just pass us by? What do you do to honor, celebrate and remember milestone moments?

Finding affirmation of a mother’s instinct

Day after day, I read article after article about how to be a good mom, how to raise ______ children (that’s a fill in the blank because it could be happy, resilient, well adjusted, vegetable eating… just to name a few), how to parent with confidence or with intention or with patience or with any number of other things, all without royally screwing up my kids. I own a shelf full of parenting books about sleep, discipline, nutrition, and so on. My husband and I discuss, analyze and sometimes agonize over the choices we’re making, the actions we’re taking, and the ins and outs of our kids’ choices and actions. I talk with friends about the battles we are (or aren’t) picking with our kids. I’m on multiple listserves for moms – from finding great deals on Zulily to area mothers’ group functions. I read the Huffington Post Parents Facebook feed religiously. I attend lectures about hot parenting topics. At one time I thought this might all be a bit obsessive. And while all of this is truly informative, it’s even more exhausting! But the harsh reality is that this is parenting today.

Great Job gold starWe’ve all heard about, talked about, even joked about helicopter parents. Have we ever stopped, though, to ask why this generation of parents is hovering so closely to their kids? The truth is that helicopter parenting is a result of helicopter media telling us how to parent, why to parent, when to parent, what to parent. There’s a study and an answer for everything. Access to information has never been so easy. And, there’s plenty of mommy bloggers (myself included!) spouting their own opinions about everything from…well…everything.

But at the heart of it all – the literature, the studies, the scientific findings, the opinions and the judgments – isn’t there still a mother’s instinct? Where has trust in our own instincts gone? We have so diluted this instinct that we are now dependent on others to tell us what’s right. Sure, there’s always learning to be done. And yes, we should absolutely share with one another – it definitely does take a village. But where are the affirmations that we’re doing just fine? The confirmations that our instincts hold some weight? The declarations to moms everywhere of a job well done?

If I could write a letter for moms everywhere to see, it would go something like this:

Dear mothers everywhere,

You’re doing great. Yes, the sleepless nights (whether from a crying baby or newly driving teenager out past curfew) are rough. Yes, you haven’t slept in weeks/months/years. Yes, your patience is tested daily and your perseverance hourly. And yes, life is different than you imagined it would be. But the biggest yes, the biggest affirmation of all, is this: you are a great mom. You are doing a great job.

The dishes piled in the sink from dinner last night or the baskets of laundry yet to be folded acting as your family’s communal dresser are more affirmation of a job well done. You are busy. You are tired. You are juggling a million balls in the air, and you’re doing it well. At the end of the day, a parent’s job is never done, and to this you are no exception. Because whether you tackle the dishes or the laundry, or you take a break, you are doing a great job.

Raising children is no easy feat. From cooing/crying babies to terrific/terrible toddlers to children going on teens to teens going on thirty, you’re doing great. So next time you want to pull your hair out, or you question your abilities, your instincts, or your knowledge of whatever is making your three year old (or thirteen year old) throw a tantrum, remember this: The days are long, but the years are short and moments (and frustrations) are fleeting. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Enjoy every moment you can (and those that you can’t will be over before you know it). You’ve got this and you’re doing great.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Finding the strength to let “it” go

Let it go. LET IT GO. These three simple words have swept Disneynation off its feet and given Adele Dazeem (yep, still funny) the best publicity of her career. For those without kids (or without movie watching kids, or living under a rock) “Let It Go” is one of the signature songs from the hit movie Frozen. But it’s also a good mantra for motherhood.

Babe with her favorite new Frozen dolls

Babe with her favorite new Frozen dolls

Before having kids, I was a great mom. Like, really great. That’s not to say I don’t try to achieve greatness (most days) now with two little ones. But, I’m a different mom now than I was then. Back then, I believed my kids would never order off a kids menu (ha!), they wouldn’t subsist for weeks at a time (despite my best efforts) on chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches (haha!), and that they wouldn’t watch TV as a distraction so I could get things done or take a fiver (ha… you see where this is going). But, that was then and this is now. And I have to let it go.

The truth is, I had those beliefs without living the reality. When belief and reality collided, my parenting philosophies got flipped upside down. Though I’ve tried to maintain the expectations my husband and I set for our selves and our future children all those years ago, I’ve also had to find the space to forgive myself when those, and plenty of other beliefs, got thrown out the window. Last week when our oldest daughter was home sick all week and we were watching Annie multiple times a day for 5 days, we had to let it go. When she asked for grilled cheese for dinner AGAIN tonight, we had to let it go. And this week, while I’m sick with a virus, pink eye and an ear infection (a mommy trifecta), my husband is doing the best he can to keep his head above water while I lay in bed wishing I could help, and I have to let it go.

Motherhood feels like a daily exercise in letting “it” go. The “it” changes depending on the circumstance but the message remains. It’s a good reminder that when that “perfect” Pinterest project goes horribly wrong… Let it go. Or when the well-planned afternoon outing gets stalled at the front door… Let it go. Or when whatever expectation we’ve constructed for ourselves, or let others construct for us, does a 180… Let it go. After all, at the end of the day raising kids isn’t about the “it.” Rather, it’s about laying a foundation of values, encompassed by love with a safety net close enough to provide comfort but wide enough to allow imaginations to soar. It’s about creating memories wherein the details may eventually become hazy but the emotions remain. It’s about letting “it” go and being all the better for it.

What’s an example of how you’ve let “it” go?

PS: You’re welcome for getting the song (back) in your head.

Finding safety in numbers

A funny thing happens when you have kids – you are suddenly and simultaneously filled with love, awe and amazement (not to mention the slight fear that this tiny being is relying utterly and entirely on you for everything), while also catapulted into a new kind of loneliness and isolation that exists among midnight feedings, sleepless nights and the depths of mother(or father)hood. This juxtaposition is jarring and unexpected no matter how much planning and preparation new parents go through. I went through this with both my of my babies, and both times was shocked at these conflicting feelings and experiences.

with elizabeth

Courtesy of a three year old future photographer

Before having kids, I’d heard that motherhood was the next transition point in friendship – where some friends would inevitably disappear and others would emerge. The actualization of this transition was stark. As predicted, some friendships dimmed as our priorities shifted farther apart (and some showed their true strength), and I made some incredible new friends through daycare drop-offs, play dates, the occasional parents’ night out and random evenings of sneaking out after the kids go to bed to meet a girlfriend for a scoop of ice cream (yes, the drink of our twenties has been replaced with the ice cream scoop of our thirties… and we’re okay with that).

A few nights ago I had an opportunity to get a rare mother’s night out with a friend whose daughter is exactly one week younger than my second child. We reminisced about our pregnancies and the agony of waiting those final few (uncomfortable, sleepless, anticipation-riden) weeks before our daughters were born. However, the real shared experiences came in the weeks and months after the births of our bundles of joy. They came in the 3am text conversations we had while desperately rocking our kids to sleep, and in the midday maternity leave FaceTime chats that ultimately evolved into each of us staring at the other’s ceilings while trying to breastfeed/pump/get the baby to take the bottle. It was in those moments that I understood some of the deepest and most raw moments of friendship.

This wasn’t the first time that I experienced this kind of safety in numbers. When my first daughter was born, I joined a local mother’s group, thinking it would give me a chance to get to know other women in my new neighborhood and get out of the house with my young baby for a while. Never could I have imagined how life altering joining the group would be. Every Friday, six to ten of us would meet in someone’s living room and spread blankets on the floor for the babies to “play” while we swapped stories about poop, sleep cycles, sore nipples, and extreme exhaustion (ah, motherhood!). These women became my lifeline to a new normal, and without those Friday mornings, midnight texts and crazy stories, I’m not sure I would have made it sanely (mostly) through those early months of motherhood.

Although we see each other less now (and get a bit more sleep…on a good day), those are the ties that bind. We celebrate that fact every few months with a mother’s night out and a bottle of wine. There is a shared bond that we have — that all mothers have — that is an unspoken but real link between us. That’s not to say that I don’t cherish (and need!) my friendships with those without children (I DO!), or those that are not women (I DO!), but more to say that the safety and security that comes in numbers (and text messages) at 3am is not to be taken lightly.

How have you found your own safety in numbers?