Mom Guilt – I Will Do Better

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My head is heavy on my pillow. I roll over in my bed, trying to turn my brain off. It is time to sleep for hopefully three hours until the baby wakes me for his midnight snack. Instead I endure a mental pummeling. Why did I get so impatient when my four-year old treated the minivan like a jungle gym? I raise my voice too often. I tell them to hurry too much. I’m not a fun mom. I don’t read enough with the baby, his bedtime routine is non-existent. I was on the phone when I should have been playing with my three-year-old. I must schedule more special individual time with each of my kids.

Thoughts hit rapid fire, they don’t listen, is there something wrong with them, do other preschoolers listen better? Is their behavior normal? Is there something wrong with my parenting? Are my expectations too high? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on my oldest? Should I sleep train the baby? Will sleep training cause emotional problems?

I am so tired.

Pow. Bang. Boom. The punches keep coming. I take the blows like a professional, but I feel them hard in my gut. I gasp for breath, the guilt. I am a crappy mom. I must do better! I feel defeated.

I make a promise to myself.

Tomorrow I won’t raise my voice. Tomorrow I will be “fun” mommy. Tomorrow I will be less stressed and smile more. Tomorrow I will look at my phone less and play with my kids more. Tomorrow we will eat healthy foods. Tomorrow everyone will brush teeth morning and night. Tomorrow there will be less screen time. Tomorrow I will participate in child directed imaginary play (good for their self-esteem). Tomorrow I will get two loads of laundry done at least. I will return friends’ phone calls. I will be a better mom. I will be a better wife. I will be a better friend. I will be the fun parent.

                                                                       *****

I suffer from mom guilt. Every night I unleash an internal assault upon myself. It has gotten worse since the girls have gotten older and seem to deliberately antagonize each other and myself. I know I’m not alone. We all feel it. However, recently I discovered a temporary scapegoat for my mom guilt rage – Hands Free Mama.

Instead of directing my frustration at myself, my husband, my children or my dogs, I am directing my mom guilt anger at the Hands Free Mama. Her essays about putting the phone down, not yelling and not telling her children to hurry up have gone viral. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is as important as the time we spend with our children. Further, she insists that we must focus on our young children because we will never get this precious time back (a true but very guilt inducing message).

She has one post in particular, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up that makes me feel exceedingly guilty. The angelic mama eliminated “hurry up” from her vocabulary. One of her children was a “stop and smell the roses” type of child. Before becoming Hands Free, the writer lived a frazzled life. She told the child to hurry up. Then enlightenment struck, she realized she bullied her child by rushing her and decided that she would be more patient. Just like that, she reformed. She accepted her child for who she was and started scheduling herself at her daughter’s pace. Sometimes they were late, but she acknowledged “… I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young”.

In theory, I agree with the Hands Free Mama. My children are paramount. My time with them is priceless and I must do my best to enjoy my time with them without distraction. But, and this is a big but, I must do this in the context of the real world.

Hands Free Mama makes me (and possibly others) feel like bad mothers. Her perfection makes me mad. Maybe my anger stems from jealousy of her seemingly endless patience and energy? Or maybe it’s because she makes millions of women feel guilty because we fail to live up to her standards by setting our agendas to our preschoolers’ time clocks. We aspire to live as she does, but we fail because we are women who have jobs, household responsibilities and other children, in other words, full and busy lives.

American society has become very child-centric. Parenting theories a la the Hands Free Mama, tell us that we must focus even more on our children. If they act out, they are feeling ignored, so we must have time-ins rather than time-outs. We must never raise our voices. We must never be distracted when we interact with them. We must schedule our lives around endless afternoon activities. We must never get frustrated when our children don’t listen. We must. We must … And if we don’t, we are parenting failures.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to be too many things. We are human. Humans raise their voices. Humans get impatient. Humans sometimes need to make phone calls, respond to emails or meet work deadlines when their children are present.

Being human is not a disservice to our children. The real world is not going to revolve around our grown children.  As adults they will have to show up on time to school, interviews and work. Their future bosses, acquaintances, friends, husbands and wives will be human. They will be human and sometimes will raise their voices, make mistakes, be distracted and be busy. We must teach our children to forgive them when they do these things.

Children learn what it means to be human from their parents. Isn’t it best that we prepare our children for an imperfect world? I aspire to spend undistracted time with my children, to refrain from telling them to hurry up, to not raise my voice, to be patient and to spend quality time with each of them.

Most likely through the course of a day, I will sometimes be patient, undistracted, calm and fun, but I will also sometimes raise my voice, be impatient and distracted. If I am the un-pretty version of myself, I will apologize to them, I will try to do better and I will try to forgive myself for not being a“perfect” parent. My children will learn that I am human (as they are too) and make mistakes, but also learn the importance of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and saying sorry.

I Know a Dog

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I know a dog that thinks he is a person.

I know a dog that wouldn’t think of sleeping on a dog bed.

I know a dog that forced his humans to buy a king sized mattress.

I know a dog that can’t be bothered sharing a room with a newborn. Night waking is not his thing.

I know a dog that left his parents’ bed a few days after baby #1 was born but returned to their bed when she moved into her crib.

I know a dog that left the bed again when baby #2 arrived, but again returned when she moved to her own room.

I know a dog that left his human parents’ bed the minute baby#3 was conceived. His human mom didn’t even know she was pregnant. The dog knew. He thought they were insane. He still has not come back.

I know a dog that sometimes pretends the kids do not exist.

I know a dog that at night snuck into the girls’ bedroom, jumped in their beds and stole their favorite stuffed animals to carry around the house.

I know a dog that was bred to tree bears, but is scared of people with strange haircuts and hats.

I know a dog that acted out when baby #3 came home – no more kids – enough is enough.

I know a dog that in 2014 destroyed a princess lunch box, a cat lunch box, a dinosaur lunch box, two fox lunch boxes, a panda bear lunchbox and three fox backpacks.

I know a dog that when baby #3 was just a couple weeks old devoured a giant Costco size container of Jelly Belly jellybeans (64oz). The bloated dog wandered the house, whimpering for hours while his human parents worried. That night the minute the human mom sat on the couch to relax after getting three babies to bed, the dog jumped on her lap and spewed rainbow color vomit all over her and the sofa.

I know a dog that has had his tail pulled, face grabbed, been climbed on and bitten by barbaric small people but has never snapped back.

I know a dog that didn’t acknowledge the existence of baby #3 until he started eating solids.  Now he licks baby feet daily.

I know a dog that runs to the door when his mom puts on yoga pants and running shoes in hopes that he will get walk.

I know a dog that was born to run unleashed in the mountains.

I know a dog that more often than not walks sandwiched between two strollers around the park in the city.

I know a dog that could choose to hide in the closet and avoid the chaos of three children under five like his Basset Hound sister.

I know a dog that always chooses to be part of the action, lying in the center of stuffed animal picnics, hiding in blanket forts and always cuddling up for story time.

I know a dog that is depressed when his family goes on vacations without him.

I know a dog that didn’t like the children but now lies with them on the couch.

I know a dog that has the loudest howl in the neighborhood.

I know a dog that is lightning fast.

I know a dog whose cerebral cortex shuts down when tennis balls are around.

I know a dog that like his human dad became exponentially grayer with each additional child.

I know a dog that is indispensable at mealtime, cleaning all the crumbs and licking messy hands.

I know a dog that after four years has grown picky as to what food he eats off the floor at meal times.

I know a dog that got me walking even when it was 90 degrees outside and I was 41 weeks pregnant.

I know a dog that has gracefully been through the ups and downs of eight years of marriage and the birth of three children.

I know a dog that was at the top of the totem pole and is still pretty high up there.

I know a dog that now sleeps covered in stuffed animals on a certain four-year-olds bed.

I know a dog that will be magically woven into three children’s childhood memories.

I know a dog that pretends he doesn’t like the kids but accepts them in his family.

I know a dog that sometimes acts as the scapegoat for his human mommy’s wrath.

I know a dog that is fine with that.

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Three

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You are three!!!! How can it be that my baby is three? You are my firecracker, thunderously loud and blazing in color. You make my eyes twinkle. You are magic and you make me and everyone that you touch feel special. Charming to the nth degree like no one I have ever met.

Your monstrous tantrums and disobedient spirit erased by warm snuggles and kisses with physical force behind them.  Kisses that literally leave marks on my arms and cheeks. Your kisses are 1/3 kiss, 1/3 suction, and 1/3 bite. Your emotions are bold and looming, they march into a room and swallow us whole, coming as quickly as a storm on a hot Colorado summer afternoon. When you are scared, your body physically trembles. When you are mad, you roar. When you are happy, you shout with glee, “this is the best day ever.”  Love, fear, sadness, and anger explode out of you like a physical force.

This year you went to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The highlight of those mornings (other than my walks and workouts) was picking you up from school, the energy and excitement that rushed my way as you screamed my name and leapt into my arms. Pure joy, you made me feel special, literally brightened my days. But then there were the icy days – you’d see me and scream at the top of your lungs as if pained, “Mama, I don’t want YOU to pick me up! Where is Nana?” My face reddened as I felt the sting of your words. Do other children say these things? What are her teachers thinking? The ability to make me swoon, or to pierce me like a balloon, quickly and silently deflated.

“Be Nice!” I’d say as I packed your things and carried you from your classroom. “Be Nice,” a refrain echoed often in your presence.

*****

This year you made it clear that you love BOYS. “Mama, I love boys,” words every father fears hearing, we hear on a daily basis. Every day we picked your sister up from her Pre-K class and you confidently marched into her classroom. You greeted your sister who you love, and then flirted endlessly with the boys, “Hi John … Hi Carsten,” you said with a magnetic smile. The boys you greeted were the biggest boys in your sister’s class, the five-year olds in a class of four-year olds. Big John, as we called him, would start hitting himself in the head with his lunch box or any object he had within his clutches, chanting “Ow, ow, ow,” to try to make you laugh. You belly laughed in response, pleased with yourself and your admirers. Each day you chased these boys around your big sister’s classroom and as we walked to the car, you’d hash out what had occurred, “Mom, Carsten didn’t say hi to me today,” you stated seriously, “but John said ‘ow, ow, ow …” you grinned mischievously.

My constant narrator, you always give me the detailed narration of the day. Your sister doesn’t indulge me in this way, but you recite all the details, including who talked to you, who didn’t, if you got in trouble, etc.

“She LOVES the boys in my class,” your sister giggled, amused by your obsession with boys and not yet jealous of the attention you seek amidst her peers.

At the beginning of this year you wanted to be one of the boys. You were in an alliance with Dad (because he is a boy). You insisted on wearing “Prince pajamas” to bed (blue and green pajamas). You always sided with the boys. You and your sister acted out scenes, you adorned in your prince pajamas and your sister in her nightgown. “I want to marry a girl with long hair,” you declared as you paced your bedroom. “Will you marry me?” you asked your sister, kissing her on the cheek. As the year progressed, you decided you wanted to wear princess nightgowns too, but you still prefer the princes and boys.

*****

As an aside, I love two-year olds, not yet influenced by their peers or those around them. They live with abandon, completely unselfconscious. They scream, shout, shriek, laugh, and do not consider how they’re perceived. Pure freedom.

*****

This year came with big changes. At the beginning of the year you moved from your crib to a twin size bed in a shared room with your sister. If given the opportunity you girls will stay up late giggling, talking and playing with your animals. Dad or I must plant ourselves in the chair in your bedroom until you quiet down. Sharing a room kept you girls up later and got the day started earlier than we would have liked. It has not been great for overall sleep in our household, but the bond you have with your sister is incredible.  Best friends. On more than one occasion I have come to your room to find you curled up in your sister’s bed. 

You became a big sister this year! At two and a half years old, you became a big sister to your baby brother Jamie. I remember you holding him for the first time on the couch. You sat seriously on the couch, arms wrapped around your brother. You looked a little worried, “Are you done?” I asked.

“Yes,” you answered immediately, relieved to escape the duty of holding him so carefully.

Sharing your mom with a baby has been difficult, but it is getting easier as each month flies by. This winter whenever you got upset, you cried, “I want my mommy back.” You repeated these words daily and your dad looked at me knowing that as always you found my Achilles heal. You know how to do that, how to find the one thing that will hurt the most, whether it is me, your dad, or your sister, you know how to make us hurt. Incredibly manipulative for a two-year old, “I don’t want to be your sister anymore,” you shouted in the back of the minivan, eliciting immediate tears from your big sister’s eyes. I don’t know where you learned it, but for good or bad, you know that your words have power.

The love you have for your brother grew with each passing day. Now I see the sparkle in your eye as you give him your suction kisses and tell him that soon he will be chasing after you. You scream his name in glee after naps, bring him toys, and sing him songs. You are my big helper. I ask for a burp cloth, “Sure,” you say in your low toned smoker’s voice and you run across the room to retrieve it. God forbid your sister attempts to get the burp cloth first you scream or roar with violent force.

You learned how to use the potty. Wherever you are when you need to go, you pull your pants down and start walking to the bathroom. You walk with your pants around your ankles to the nearest bathroom. Your big sister has told me that this has happened at the playground at school, it happens at the mall, and the supermarket. If you are outside you pull down your pants and squat. I know it is important to break you of this habit, but it is pretty funny.

*****

Your terrible twos were characterized by declarations of “I don’t like you”, deafening roars, spitting, name calling, and temper tantrums. This infuriating and barbaric behavior was easily erased by the passionate hugs, kisses, and declarations of love you tossed wildly to those around you. I hate to admit it, but you can get away with murder. You have more than one of us charmed and wrapped around your finger. You are brilliant, independent, and fun. I was amazed this year by the stories you told to your animals, your ability to focus and put together giant floor puzzles for hours, and the elaborate games you orchestrated with animal and princess figures. Riding your scooter or strider bike around the park, the wind blowing through your wild blonde hair, shouting at the top of your lungs, “THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!” Your enthusiasm sweeps me away in a wave of pure bliss.

You are a glorious independent spirit. Love oozes out of you to all of those around you. A charmer, my fierce firecracker – explosive, bright, brilliant, breathtaking, beautiful, and loud.

I love you so much. I can’t believe you came from me. I can’t believe you are three.

 Solot summer 2014-9874

Now She’s Four … What a Ride It’s Been

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Four years ago my entire existence transformed, four years ago my former self became a mother.  You are not supposed to say that, or at the very least not supposed to admit it out loud. But parenthood was a game changer, a life changer, an electric shock to my perspective.  Four years ago, I watched in fear as my heart leapt from my chest and became entwined with an infant child.  Four years ago, you became my primal concern, my heart, my breath, my anxiety, my fears, my hopes, my dreams … my infant girl.

You were an infant that had to be held constantly.  You were fussy.  You didn’t nap anywhere, but in my arms.  As a first time mom, I was told that I must breastfeed fifteen minutes from each breast at each feeding.  As I studiously approach life, I diligently approached nursing, I had a pen at each feeding and I documented each feeding, minutes, time, etc.  I cried when you only ate for six minutes on my left breast and then fell fast asleep.  I worried whether you would be okay when you only ate for two minutes on my right.  I did everything that I was told, I undressed you, I tickled your feet, I squeezed your palms, and I brushed a cool washcloth on your forehead.  I worried why breastfeeding, parenting, work, life was not occurring exactly as it was described in the books.

You would not sleep in a crib, a swing, or a bassinet.  You chose only to sleep in my arms. Night after night months on end, I held you resting on the boppy as your dad brought me my dinner, crumbs falling on your bald head.  You were the definition of a baby that needed to be held, so I held you.  You didn’t just fall asleep in my arms.  Dad and I took turns spending endless hours on the large inflated bouncy ball with you swaddled in our arms.  We bounced and bounced.  We bounced until our backs hurt.  We bounced until our arms were numb.  We bounced and we tried to put you in your crib.  We would lie you down and creep away.  The moment we’d get to the couch your scream jolted us up.  So we held you.

No one tells you how hard it is to add an infant to a marriage, but it’s hard.  We learned patience in the midst of exhaustion.  We learned to divide our attention.  We tried to put a little focus on our marriage.  We struggled, we reminisced, and we accepted our new reality.  We grew with you.  Your dad laughed at ever giving parenting advice to his patients pre-children, he became a better doctor.

When you were almost five months old you took your first trip to Mexico.  You spent most of your time in a baby bjorn, where you would sleep on and off throughout the day.  You still had not learned to fall asleep on your own.  You dozed off for 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, but never enough to allow you to feel rested.  We have an amazing photo of you falling asleep for 5 minutes sitting up on your Dad’s lap.  He was so proud.  Pre-kids he had dreamed about napping with his baby drifting off on his chest and for five minutes in Mexico that was his reality.

Before you were two-years-old you became a big sister.  It broke my heart to think you would have to share your attention with another little person.  It broke my heart to think that I would not be available to give you 100% all of the time.  I worried whether adding a child so soon was the right thing to do.  I worried how you would feel.  I worried about  how I’d manage two babies alone all day.  I still remember the first day I was alone with my two babies, pure panic, but I made it through, we all made it through, and expanding the love in our family was the greatest gift.

You are my hyena girl.  At two, you loved Lion King.  You had a strange obsession with the darker characters of Lion King, especially the hyenas.  I was a little worried.  You carried plastic hyena figures with you everywhere.  You took them to your two-hour preschool class, and by the end of the year, the other children were searching for Simba and the hyenas in the schoolyard.

When you were two and a half your vocabulary was huge.  I remember people teasing you that you sounded like a little English professor.  You inserted exclamations such as “clearly” and “of course” throughout your speech.  It almost sounded as if you had a British accent. My sister would imitate you to no end.  Your attention span is and was tremendous.  You sat for hours and listened to books, combing through the pictures, and asking numerous questions.    You never really played on your own. You needed to be entertained.  You jumped from playing with your parents to playing with your sister.

You loved to sing, you still love to sing. You awoke from every nap singing at the top of your lungs in your bed, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”, “Hakuna Matata”, and any number of childhood songs.  You have a great singing voice and I love hearing the unabashed melodies echoing from behind your closed door.

At three, we started reading chapter books with you and again your amazing attention span continues to surprise me.  We’ve read Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least five times each.  Sometimes I wonder what you absorb in the books we read aloud, and then weeks later you will say something to me that will sound so familiar.  Suddenly, I realize that you directly quoted a line from a book that I read several weeks before.  It doesn’t even have to be a book that we have read thousands of times. Your memory is a sponge. I read to you and you often correct me.  It is not words that are glaringly obvious that you catch, such as wrong names, but sometimes you correct me when I insert the wrong preposition into a story.

You are an observer.  You love to play with friends and be part of the action, but you often sit back and take it all in.  You are cautious, but as you approached your fourth birthday you have become much more physical with your behavior and are less afraid to fall down and pull yourself back up.

At times you are heartbreakingly quiet.  If you are not comfortable in a situation, your voice is not heard. I struggle with respecting your quietness and trying to pull you from your shell.  YOU have so much to share with the world.  People have asked, “Does she speak? … Has she been in school? … Why is she so shy?”   I am a Mama Bear, I want to protect you from the world’s judgment and criticism.  All I want is for others to see your wit, creativity, sensitivity, and strength.  I never want you to be overlooked or lost in the crowd.

At four you are a little girl.  You are engaging, dramatic, bright, and fun.  You love playing with your close friends and cousins.  You are painfully aware of all the preschool social dynamics. You are learning to make new friends.

Your sister is your best friend.  You orchestrate long play sessions with her and your animals, stories with dramatic plot twists.  I see the two of you together and I am so grateful to have two girls so close in age with such a magical friendship.  Your interactions shine a light on the magical gift I had growing up with a twin.  No words or need for explanations are needed between you and your sister.  You truly are each other’s yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, and everything else that is different but just supposed to be together.  This last couple of weeks you’ve started sharing a room.  A couple of nights ago, I found your little sister had crawled out of her bed and fell asleep snuggled next to you in your twin bed.  You are each other’s warmth and security.

This summer turning four has come with big changes.  Fear of the dark has wreaked havoc on our nights.  Every night you drag your animals down the hall and fall asleep on the floor by my bed.  As a baby you were not a good sleeper, and you continue to be my problem sleeper.  You shower me and your dad with love, “You are the best mom in the whole world,” as you wrap your arms around my waist.  This is often followed by, “You’re the meanest mom ever.”  Your emotions run hot and cold, arms crossed, eye rolls, and stomping of feet have scarily become common gestures. A few nights ago you moaned, “my mom is sooooo irritating,” when I insisted that you stay in your room at bedtime.

The dogs have transformed from objects that you torture to furry friends that you love and help me care for.  You help feed them, walk them, and will curl up on the dog bed to snuggle Cru every morning (currently around 5am) when you wake up.

You hate to disappoint people.  The moment you are unable to complete a task, reprimanded for hurting your sister, or you spill something, crocodile tears appear in your eyes.  You have an uncanny ability to trigger tears on command, and I swear they are the biggest tears I’ve ever seen.  In fact, most babies don’t cry real tears for the first few months of their lives, but you have shed real tears from day one.

You took ballet over the summer.  You twirl and spin, jolted movements that  at times appear far from graceful, but I am so proud of you, bravely dancing with the other girls.  You make me laugh.  You have your Dad’s flexibility (an inability to touch your toes), gymnastics and ballet may not be your strong suits, but you love it all the same.

You have no fear of animals, reptiles, or bugs.  You love searching for bugs, especially rolly pollies, digging through the dirt.  Bug hunts are a favorite activity.  You love snakes.  We have pictures of you holding huge snakes with them wrapped around your shoulders.

You still love hyenas, but foxes are your four-year old passion.  When you watched Peter Pan, you didn’t fall in love with Tinker Bell, Wendy, or Pan, you fell in love with the Lost Boys and because you did so did your sister.  You continue to love the obscure characters in books and movies (i.e. the parentless children dressed as animals that live in a hollow tree with Peter Pan).  You dress up like the fox Lost Boy (Slightly Foxy) and your sister like the bear (Cubby) and you create endless adventures. Sometimes you ask me why you are the only one that loves these animals so much, and why no one else loves the Lost Boys like you do. I try to teach you that it is your differences that make you special.  I wish I could build a protective wall around your idiosyncrasies, so that you will always remain confident enough to be my lost boy or hyena girl.  I wish the world was more appreciative of everyone’s differences.  Our differences are what makes the world a beautiful place.  As the People book states, “what if we all looked and acted the same, what a boring place it would be.”

You are so special, so different, so unique, and not like anyone else.  You are brave, timid, loud, quiet, dramatic, logical, heart melting, and infuriating.  You are the most amazing, magical, interesting, and dynamic four-year old that I know.  I love you mountains and mountains and mountains.  Your dad and I have learned the world from you.  You teach us to be better parents and people.   You teach us to rethink everything we ever assumed of what or how parenthood should be.

We thank you for all we’ve learned and continue to learn, pushing our limits and stretching our perspectives.  We wouldn’t change you for the world.  You are magically unique.

We love you.

A Love Letter to Two

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My dear daughter you have grown so much this last year.  I have not done well at keeping up with your baby book and milestones, but I want to take the time to tell you who you are at two-years-old.

This year you transformed from baby to toddler.  You still alternate between wanting to be a baby and a big girl.  You started the year with one or two words and ended it speaking in sentences.  Words like dog, no, mama, dada, dotted your early vocabulary. Now sentences like, “me wanna see too,” or “Baby Tiger misses her mommy” spill from your mouth.

You’re fascinated with wild cats.  Every night you sleep with Leppy, your stuffed animal leopard.  Wild animal figures and dinosaurs fill your imaginary world.  You also love Snow White, princesses, and castles.  In a year developmentally defined by parallel play you have been pulled into an imaginary world of play with your big sister, joining tea parties, slumber parties, far away lands of Lion King, and pretending you’re the lost boy “Cubby” from Peter Pan.

You are my sidekick, my partner in crime.  With your sister there was time for endless mommy and me classes.  I try my best to do fun things with you too, but our mornings when your sister is at school are often filled with shopping trips, helping with laundry, cleaning, and bike rides around the block.

Your sister is your best friend.  Everyday when we picked her up from preschool you rushed to her with open arms shrieking her name in happiness.  She was so proud to have her baby sister greeting her at the end of each school day.  You give her daily hugs.  You tell her you love her.  After naps you always ask to wake her up.  She loves you enormously.  You are her best friend too.

You are charming, social, and comfortable with the big kids.  This past winter you started greeting your big sister’s friends at school on the playground, “Hi Grace, Hi Annie, Hi Ellen,” as you raced to catch up with them and pushed yourself into the line on the slide.  I can already see the competition over friendships budding between the two of you.

Your emotions are electric, high voltage from one extreme to the next with no insulation to protect us from the shock.  At this age your sister had a couple tantrums, but you throw many tantrums.  You love to play outside and you often scream and kick when we must go in for the night.  Your scream is loud and high pitched.  You scream when my foot enters the room and you know that bedtime is approaching.  You scream when your sister reaches to have a toy in your grasp.  You scream when the dog comes too close to your food.  You fight teeth brushing like a kick boxer.  Your scream punctuates our days.  You are strong willed.  You make me fear adolescence.

Mid year your scream mutated to a roar.  You became the wild tiger you adore. You roar at your sister.  You roar at flies.  You roar at ants.  You roar at the dogs.  You often roar at me.

You have a little gremlin voice.  At two your voice often sounds as if you smoked a few too many cigarettes.  It is so low compared to the chirpy voices of your peers.  It makes me smile every day.  To add emphasis you sometimes whisper the last words of your sentences, it works and I don’t think there is anything more adorable in the world.

I gave birth to the infamous biter that you read about in parenting books, fear to have in your playgroups, and look at and think “my child would never do that.”  For a couple of months you bit.  You bit your sister.  You bit the dog, poor Cru I can still see the shock on her face.  You bit your Dad.  You bit me.  I think and hope this behavior is finally fading, but I had moments of fearing your preschool future.  Luckily, so far you’ve kept the biting within the family.

You are adventurous.  You jump from the side of the pool.  You put your face all the way in the water.  You float on your back and look up at the sky, closing your eyes peacefully.  You fill cups of water in the tub and pour them over your head.  Sometimes you are surprisingly sensitive, “me scared mama” as we climb onto the train at the zoo.  Some TV shows scare you.  You say, “me scared” and grab my arm and bury your face in my shoulder.  I’m impressed you articulate your fear.  I love that you love to cuddle.

You are a daddy’s girl. You say, “Me ride daddy’s car.” This summer you’ve insisted, “Me want Daddy stay home and Mama work.” Sometimes your words sting, but I agree he is golden.  I too love to spend my days with your dad.  You, my daughter, are golden too.

You have your dad’s dark skin, dark eyes, curly hair, and my long torso.  You dribble a soccer ball, shoot a basketball, and love to run.  You spell your sister’s name over and over again.  Starting at 18 months, you saw signs with letters on them and sang your jolted ABCs in recognition.  You count to ten. You know your colors.  You sing the months of the year song that your sister learned in preschool.  You imitate your sister and have mastered language and ideas so quickly.

You are our welcoming committee, pure love and warmth.  You shriek with excitement when your dad comes home from work and rush to see him.  You exhibit joy whenever your grandmothers enter the house.  You love your Zaidy.  You run excitedly to give him the first hug and be lifted up into the air.  You love your cousin (three months your senior) and have claimed him as “your own” since big sister has her own big girl cousins.

You talk constantly.  Your mouth is constantly running telling us what you are thinking, what you are doing, what everyone else is doing, and what you were doing when your big sister was doing something else.  There is no end to your stories.

This year you acquired a love of books.  Your sister loved books from an early age.  A year ago you did not want to focus on a story, you now love to sit and read.  You love books that rhyme with musical language.  You love books about animals.

No label describes you.  You are wild cats, triceratops, and princesses.  You are playing sports and playing dolls.  You are outgoing and the next moment you hide in my shoulder.  You are giant snuggles and ‘leave me alones’. You are rough and tumble and pink fluffy skirts. You are impossible to capture in words and labels.

You teach me every day.  You taught me that my parenting or lack thereof did not make your big sister a rule follower or cause you to throw tantrums.  Our children are who they are, there is no singular parenting strategy for well behaved children. Parents cannot take all the credit for their childrens successes or all the blame for their flaws.  You taught me not to take everything so personally.  You taught me that parent preferences change, I can’t be offended if you want dad to say goodnight.   You helped me to start to let go of my perfectionism.

I am so lucky to be your mom.  You will press my buttons, but I will always be awed and inspired by your fire, spirit, and warmth.  You are my firecracker baby.

I love you two-years-old.

My Gripes with Gender Stereotypes

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Focus on Physical Beauty

My daughters are beautiful and I want them to know they are beautiful.  However, I am frustrated by people who feel the need to constantly comment on their physical beauty.  “You are so beautiful,” comments are nice to hear every once in a while, but it should not be the only thing one says to little girls.  They should hear that they are smart, fun, unique, adventurous, brave, and the list goes on, the more specific the comments the better.

Society’s fixation on female beauty infuriates me.  From fourth grade through college, I was uncomfortably aware of who was the most beautiful girl in my class.  Growing up, girls constantly hear how they rank in the spectrum of superficial beauty.  Throughout my life my physical attributes were compared to those of my sisters.  Strangers felt they could comment, “Your oldest daughter is so beautiful,” as my twin and I sat next to her.  We were labeled, the “pretty one”, the “smart one”, the “artist”.  I remember thinking “if only I was prettier, I’d have more friends … I’d be happier … life would be easier.”

I know I cannot protect my daughters from the superficiality of our world.  I want them to have healthy self esteem, so they never feel ugly in this world fixated on beauty.  But it irritates me that at two and four, adults constantly comment on their looks.  Adults don’t approach toddler boys and continuously comment on how pretty they are.  They may comment on it once, but it is not something daily repeated to little boys.  Beauty does not play a primary role in a boy’s narrative.  It should not be a part of a little girl’s either.  I hate that I have heard my three and a half year old daughter ask, “Am I beautiful?”, after hearing an adult make a pretty comment about her sister.  My daughters have a lifetime to worry about superficial beauty, they need not concern themselves with it now.

I am struck by my daughters’ beauty everyday. Sometimes I tell them they are beautiful and I hope my words stick within their brains, but I don’t want to focus on it.  Telling them they are beautiful every day is not going to make them have healthier self-esteem, instead it will teach them that the adults in their lives highly value physical beauty.  My daughters’ are so much more than their physical appearances and I wish adults focused less on little girls’ superficial beauty and more on their individuality.

As adults we need to think before we address young girls about their physical appearances.  Cute comments have become ingrained in our psyche, I fall prey to the superficial focus as well.   It’s important to thoughtfully consider our language and engage children in gender-neutral compliments.  The more specific the comments the better – “I love how much you like hyenas, it’s so cool that you’re not afraid of snakes, you run so fast, you climbed that wall so well, or you’re so brave on the slide” rather than “do you know how pretty you look today?… or “your outfit is beautiful.”

Toddler Boys are so Much Harder than Girls

Oh, how I can’t stand this comment.  Yes, typically boys are wild and rambunctious.  They like balls, trucks, and all things physical.  They aren’t sensitive.  They fall and pick themselves back up.  They are messy.  I admit that often gender stereotypes can be true, but who is to say they are always true?  Accordingly, who is to say one sex is harder than another?  (Who knows maybe I’ll have a boy and end up eating my words, but I don’t think so).

For those of you that continuously make this comment: (1) do you have both a boy and a girl?  (2) Is it easier to label it a gender difference rather than a personality difference, or a birth order difference?

My daughters are as different as night and day.  One is at times more reserved, a reader, an observer, more cerebral, sensitive, and the other is at times more physical, she’d sometimes rather throw a book than read it, wild, adventurous, a hitter, a kicker, and a biter.  I hate to even use these labels on either of them because they both change daily and at any given moment can be so different.  However, innately they were born with distinct personalities.  If my second was a boy then maybe I would write her physicality off as a gender difference, but she’s not, so I know there is a wide range of personalities and physical differences amongst both boys and girls.

One often hears, “he is pure boy”, alluding that he likes all the stereotypical boy things, as if other boys are not “pure” boy.  I assert that a boy can be “pure boy” and play dress-up or play with dolls.  My daughters are “pure girls”.  They sometimes play with dolls and princesses, but they often prefer to play with wild animals or dinosaurs.

Give Me a Kiss and I’ll Give You a Cookie

It is pretty obvious what is wrong with this comment when you see it typed in black and white.  But this statement is made over and over again to my daughters.  It is not always so blatant, but sometimes I even catch myself pressuring my daughters to give someone a hello hug when one or both clearly don’t want to.  Is pressure like this put on little boys too?  It shouldn’t be placed on boys or girls.

Teaching girls to ignore their feelings and succumb to the pressure to hug or kiss someone sets a bad precedent.  I want my girls to have boundaries.  I don’t want them to be people pleasers.  I want them to listen to their own feelings and respect them.  If they don’t feel like hugging or kissing someone then they shouldn’t have to do it.  They should not be rewarded for doling out physical affection and they should not be publicly embarrassed for wanting to maintain their own physical space.  My daughters need to learn that their feelings deserve respect and they shouldn’t make decisions based purely on an adult’s happiness. For instance, if a situation is uncomfortable then they should leave even if someone will be hurt or disappointed.  I may be jumping ahead of myself, but they need to know if they feel uncomfortable by someone’s touch, they can say no.  I want my girls to know they are valued for something other than their looks and their physical affection.

We need to teach our children to trust themselves starting at an early age.  I want my girls to know that I (as well as the other important adults in their lives) respect their feelings, and hopefully this respect can build the foundation for mutual (parent/child) respect in the future and their own healthy self respect.

You’re Pregnant Again????  I Hope It’s a Boy!!!!

For all of my readers that don’t know, we are pregnant again.  I am due for a New Year’s baby this time around and we will find out the sex in August.  We truly are excited to have either a boy or a girl, what’s important is a healthy baby.

It bothers me when people tell us that they hope it will be a boy.  It seems that people act as if giving birth to a boy is winning the gender lottery.  When I was pregnant for the second time with a second girl, some people were truly disappointed to hear we would have another girl.  Or they’d say, well maybe the third will be a boy.  It hearkens back to medieval times as if girls are second-class babies and everyone secretly wishes for a boy.

Of course we would love to experience a boy, but we would also love to have another girl.  All we want is a healthy and happy family.

Little Girl Underpants

Now that my youngest will be potty training soon, we are looking for underpants that will get her excited to ditch the diapers and use the potty.  The problem is the only underpants sold for girls are fairies, princesses, hello kitty, Dora, etc.  My girls like princesses and pink, but my youngest loves Diego the animal rescuer (Dora’s cousin), wild animals, dinosaurs, and the lost boys from Peter Pan.  None of these options are available for little girl underpants.  They are not all available for little boys, but the boy options are more fun, i.e. Diego, Lion King, Monsters Inc., Spider Man, etc.  My oldest didn’t love the girl options either, so I ended up buying her a set of boy underpants.  I didn’t think this is a problem, but sometimes I worry what their preschool teachers will think if I send my daughters to school in underpants that are clearly made for boys (i.e. the open flap in the front).  I know we must not be the only ones in the world with this problem, so why do clothing manufacturers genderize toddlers’ underpants?

Another issue with toddler underpants, once the sizes get out of the toddler range, it seems that the preschool and above sizes are all bikini styles.  Why should four and five year olds be wearing bikini cut underpants? Little boys get to jump up to boxers, which provide more coverage and more comfort while little girls’ underpants get skimpier once they hit elementary school, there is something seriously wrong with this scenario.

To conclude, I like princesses, fairies, and the color pink, but there should be more fun options for girls.  We don’t need to pigeon hole our children into gender stereotypes at two and four years old.  It’s all about creating more options.

Speaking of which, after writing this post I saw this video on the Huffington Post. Goldiblox was created by a woman disappointed in the under representation of women in engineering professions, so she created engineering toys for little girls.  She too was frustrated by the lack of toy options for little girls i.e. barbie dolls, dress up, etc.

What do you think about gender stereotypes?  Am I being overly sensitive?  Do you think there is too much focus on girls’ physical beauty, clothes, etc.?

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I Choose to Write

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Sometimes it is hard to write.  I love to write and put my thoughts on paper.  I love to process my feelings on a computer and articulate the many things that are going on inside my head.  But sometimes it is hard to do what makes us feel good, it is hard to pull yourself out of exhaustion, it is hard to give yourself credit for having anything at all to say.  Today I am choosing to write.  I don’t have much to say, but I am writing because I want to keep writing and sometimes it is so easy to let what makes us feel good slip away.

Starting this blog enabled me to connect with people in a whole new way.  I expose myself through my writing, imperfections and all, and often in response I receive a message from a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger that expresses solidarity, understanding, or thoughtfulness and we both feel less alone.  I worry whether posts seem too dark, too down, or too vulnerable. But every mother feels these ups and downs, none of us are immune to them or perfect even though we may pretend to be.  I love parenthood, but it is hard work.  I wonder when I discuss how hard it is whether people interpret me as unhappy or unappreciative.  I love my girls and my job raising them more than anything in the world, but in becoming a mom (or a dad) there is a lot that is given up.

My days are filled with the yin and the yang – laughter and tears, energy and exhaustion, lightness and darkness, levity and weight, confidence and self-doubt.  Parenthood exacerbates the emotional extremes.  It pushes me beyond myself and my own personal feelings, experiences, and ideas. Toddlers don’t care whether I got enough sleep the night before, I must feed them, play with them, and love them with all my energy and heart, day in and day out.

My daughters bring me joy every day, as they splash in the pool, jump through the waves, and lose themselves in the sheer abandonment of the moment on a beach vacation.  Happiness, as I watch them circle the house, pretending together they are “lost boys” traveling through Neverland.  Pure joy, as we sit outside in the afternoon sun our feet in a baby pool, shooing the dogs, and devouring fruit popsicles.  Golden moments in time, as my big girl proudly walks our pet basset (the first baby) on a leash around the park chasing her dad, her baby sister running by her side.  But, oh there is unadulterated heartache as I suffer their pain, hearing my big girl cry because of the rejection of another child or a lack of friends on the playground.  To live these buried traumas again through my daughters is beyond painful.  My heart shutters at the thought of middle school and high school – literally shutters. I need to toughen up.

So, today I am choosing to write.  I choose to write because it is good for me.  I choose to write because one day I aspire to be a writer.  I choose to write even when inspiration has not hit me.  I choose to write because it has been a hard month.  I choose to write and not question whether anyone cares to read it or what they think (easier said than done).  I choose to write though we’ve been up at 5am for close to three weeks straight.  I choose to write because I haven’t in weeks.  I choose to write and not edit since the girls took shockingly short naps.  I am choosing to write and today that is what is important.

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