A Trip Away

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It’s hard for me to leave my kids – nearly impossible. I may be in the minority. I know other mothers who went on solo vacations away from their children months after they were born. I felt differently. I didn’t want to leave them. The idea of leaving them brought on major anxiety. After my first child was born, my husband and I argued about taking vacations away. He wanted them and I didn’t. My feelings stemmed from a mixture of anxiety, hormones from breastfeeding, control freak tendencies and my own childhood memories when my mother took trips away.

***

On a side note, readers, please have patience for those people in your life who struggle leaving their children. Their decision to opt out of a weekend away is not about their friendship with you/ their love for their husband/ or the importance of the event, it is about them having the faith to leave their heart/the center of their life’s orbit in the care of someone else and trust that everything will be okay. They will be missed but not forgotten. This takes a lot of faith. Some parents understand that if they leave it will be fine and others need some time to figure this out.

***

As time passes, I realize the importance of taking mini vacations. I realize my most precious little people will thrive while I’m away. Most importantly, I want to be an example of a mother who is more than just a wife and mother. A mother who is a woman. A woman that likes to have fun. A multidimensional woman who values family, friendships, adventures, self-care and pursues her dreams.

***

“Mama, you’re going to a Bachelorwet party?” My three-year-old asks, her mispronunciation may be the cutest thing ever.

“Yep, a Bachelorette Party in Miami,” I chime. I’ve been anxious about this trip for several months, but as it approaches my excitement increases.

“What’s a Bachelorette Party?” The girls ask.

“It’s a party you have with your girlfriends before you get married.” I say.

“I want to have my Bachelorette Party in the jungle,” my five-year-old declares.

“Pretty cool,” I say. My mind races, I am pathetically nervous about this weekend:

  1. I haven’t seen my roommate from college in years (in which I became a mom to three kiddos) and I don’t know any of the other women joining her on this weekend.
  2. It has been a long time since I’ve been out after 10pm in Denver, let alone Miami.
  3. I am slightly intimidated by the other women on the trip. These women are successful, from New York City and Los Angeles – I think, clearly, cooler than a stay-at-home-mom from Denver.
  4. In situations where I don’t know anyone, I’m embarrassed to say, my husband has become my security blanket. I think this happens to a certain degree after nine years of marriage, especially for introverts who struggle to leave the couch.
  5. I have never left all three children.
  6. I could die in a plane crash. My husband would be left alone with three small children. I visualize him remarrying a beautiful young thirty-something (perhaps 20-something) immediately and my children calling her “mom” as I become a distant memory. For this highly paranoid reason, I haven’t taken solo flights away from my kids. FYI, I’m aware that there is a higher probability of me dying in a car than a plane crash, but for some reason air travel makes me paranoid. It would be very unhealthy if I was this anxious every time I got in the car.

***

The trip could have gone in a number of different ways, but in the end it was amazing.

I felt good. I went on a shopping spree, which was really a declaration of having possession of my body again –no more pregnancies or breastfeeding. I bought a couple of amazingly “hot Miami” dresses to wear out at night. I bought some bootie sandals like these –  seriously, they make any outfit.

I called my twin sister and told her that if I died in a plane crash, she would have to move to Colorado and tell my children stories about their real mom every day. She told me to “Shut-Up”, but promised she would in the case of my death.

I got on a plane with a small purse. (Other parents will recognize the miracle of this moment). I brought this book and finished listening to this Podcast.

I was ambitious. I packed this book and this book as back up, but I didn’t read either of them.

The afternoon I arrived I sat on the beach and ordered a fresh watermelon drink spiked with vodka and drank it in the sand.

I discovered there is such thing as a selfie stick. As someone who can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve taken a selfie, I came to appreciate the invention (you can take group photos of everyone without anyone stepping out of the picture) and now realize why other people’s selfies are way better than my own (it takes practice).

My beautiful friend from college and I caught up.

I met her amazing friends from New York City and Los Angeles. They seemed intimidating, but they are REAL and so much FUN. My husband can spend days with a group of men and come away with few personal details. Forty-eight hours with these women and we became friends, we listened to each other’s stories, took a break from our lives, shared and connected.

I realized Colorado girls have style too.

I didn’t talk about my kids. Okay, I shared a couple of pictures and funny stories.

I enjoyed hearing – “What, you have three kids? I can’t believe it.” It turns out I don’t have a MOM tattoo stamped on my forehead.

I appreciated and loved my husband from a far. He didn’t complain once about single parenting while I was away.

A five hour flight delay, I came home to freezing temps and a windshield of solid ice. Refreshed. Exhausted. Out of routine. Back to the grind. I ordered some new lipstick, which is always a good “Me” sign.

Five-Years-Old, Kindergarten, and Ripping My Heart From My Chest

For me five-years-old is kindergarten. Today she is five tomorrow she starts kindergarten.  She will be in school all day. For the first time I will drop her off at the curb instead of holding her hand and guiding her to her class. She will be in a room with 26 five-year-olds. For all the new moms out there, this milestone is hard. It seems like it will never happen, but then it happens, and it happens fast.

My shining star, beating heart, quiet, sweet, and innocent baby is going to kindergarten.

Yesterday she spent twenty minutes being assessed by her teacher and maybe said three words – painful, gut-wrenching, grab my heart with your bare hands and rip it from my chest – all words to describe being a mother of a painfully shy child starting a new school year.

“I spelled one word perfectly,” she told me as we left her school assessment.

“Which word?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “N-O-A.”

In other words, (1) her teacher did not learn much in the assessment, (2) I maybe should have spent more time practicing letters with her this summer, and (3) I wanted to grab her (teacher) and shake her and tell her how sensitive, brilliant, and special my baby is. My heart literally breaks sending her into a giant classroom.  I feel as if I am releasing her into a pack of  Wild Dogs.

I fear that since she is quiet her teachers and classmates might miss her sparkle.

I want everyone to see her SPARKLE. She is spectacular.

She is my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, a dark night with no electricity for hundreds of miles. I tilt my head back and look up into the night sky. There is a magnificent carpet of stars and as my eyes skim the horizon, I see the Southern Cross.

She is the cold sand between my toes, quiet, and peaceful with a glowing moon overhead. I tentatively stick my foot into the saltwater and – POW – glowing phosphorescence swirl around my feet. I swipe my toes across the water and a glowing trail follows it.

This is my daughter.

She walks on her toes – a quirk – some say a problem. When she was three-years-old, I asked her P.E. teacher about it. Her reply, “Some of the fastest runners in elementary school are the kids who walked on their toes.”

My five-year-old is fast. She is confident about her speed. “I am the fastest,” she says, challenging anyone to a race. Long legs and endless endurance, she loves to run.

She is an observer. She learns visually. She may be the most observant person I have ever met. I too like to observe. She hasn’t yet learned it’s impolite to stare, but she is watching the way the world works, soaking it all in, and remembering the details.

My girl has been to three new schools in three years. We had bad luck with preschools. She is nervous, introducing herself into each new situation. It is scary going to new schools. She gets anxious. Each year on the first day she does not cry. She walks right in. She says goodbye and lets me leave. She tells me to leave. My daughter is the essence of BRAVE.

She is learning to make friends, learning to ask others to play, and to join a crowd of her peers. She watches. She learns. At the beginning of her pre-kindergarten year, I asked her what she did during free play at school.

“I play puzzles.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can do it on my own.” At first I considered this a sad response, but then realized this is a SMART response. She knows how to handle new situations on her own. She knows what games she can play by herself and be happy.

First she circled the girls she wanted to play with like a humming bird she gracefully hovered nearby. She circled them until they asked her to play. She was with a group of kids many of whom had been at the same school for three years and she gradually learned to play with them.

 *****

She is generosity. Her heart is gold.

“Wow,” her teacher whispered. My daughter received a chocolate covered strawberry at her end of the year party. When her sister and I picked her up it was untouched. She smiled and offered her sister the first taste. “Most kids don’t do that,” her teacher confided.

She is kindness.

This summer I told the girls they would receive a treat if they participated in their swim class. Her little sister screamed by the pool, refusing to participate. She stayed dry loudly. My oldest swam. She kicked and suddenly her freestyle looked like freestyle. “You get a treat,” I told my big girl proudly as her sister screamed in the car seat beside her.

I gave my oldest a gummy peach. As I put the car in reverse, I peered into the rear view mirror. My daughter bit the gummy in half and handed half to her sister.

She is patience

*****

“She sings like a bird,” a schoolmate whispered to his mother.

First day of school and her pre-k teacher asked her name. I gently elbowed her, pushing her to respond. Silence. Sometimes she hides within herself like a rollie pollie bug, folding into itself at the slightest touch. This year she feared asking for a pencil. She feared asking to go to the bathroom. She had an accident. We (her teachers and parents) were concerned.

But then …

At preschool graduation my daughter stood in front of her entire class and ALL their parents and sang. She sang beautifully. She sang loudly.

“Are you nervous,” I asked.

“No mom,” she rolled her eyes as if I was crazy.

My four-year-old sang. “Peace like a river, I know peace like a river, I know peace like a river in my soul.” The words poured from her mouth and tears spilled from my eyes. She is meant to sing.

Since she was two-years-old she sang in tune.

She is a performer.

The night before preschool graduation, she danced in a recital in front of literally hundreds of people. I was nervous. “Are you nervous?” I asked, dropping her off with over a hundred dancers from classes across the city hours before the show.

“No Mom.” Again, huge eye roll, (I’ve been getting a lot of those lately).

She performed beautifully. Grace personified. She moved across the stage. I underestimated her ability.

“She is a ballerina,” my ex-ballerina sister gushed over the phone after watching the video. “I tease you guys about your dancing, but Justine, she is good.” I let the words sink in.

Acting camp. She knew no one. At the end of the week performance her words rang loud and clear.

My daughter is a star.

Her Elsa rendition – out of this world.

The Hans and Anna duet with her dad – show stopping.

Annie songs – impeccable.

Daring, this summer my daughter jumped on a horse bareback, grabbed its mane, and eagerly kicked it to trot.

A photographic memory, she beats me at memory cards. (I am sleep deprived but her mind is mystifying).

She draws hyenas, foxes, elephants, and portraits of her family in amazing detail.

She is still passionate about hyenas. Foxes are a close second.

This year we read books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume. Fudge is our favorite.

She is not scared of spiders or snakes.

She is gorgeous with big brown eyes, curly hair, eyelashes that will never need mascara, dark skin, and long legs. Her looks are a beautiful mixture of her Dad and me.

She is strong. She repeatedly swings herself across the monkey bars.

She will be the youngest in her class. As her mother, I worry whether we made the right decision or whether we should have kept her in preschool for one more year.

But then …

“It’s my turn,” she snapped loudly, pushing herself in front of a group of girls at a birthday party. Her newly found confidence is music to my ears.

We go to the park and she gets on the swing. All of a sudden, her legs stretch out and her body leans slightly back. Her knees bend and she leans forward the slightest bit. The swing gets higher and higher. My daughter soars. Her legs stretch into the trees. A sign.

“Look at me,” she shouts. She’s got it. The monkey bars, the swings, the rock wall, my five-year-old dominates the playground. Back and forth she goes, higher and higher, my baby bird soars free. She is brilliant. She is beauty. She is strength.

Five years ago, she pulled the heart from my chest and this girl holds it there.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I ask.

“Stuffed hyenas, balls to play all different sports, and a bike without training wheels.”

The best answer ever. After this birthday, she will own every hyena ever manufactured.

Wow, she is the coolest.

*****

Dear Teacher,

Please work hard to discover that my daughter is so much more than her assessment.  You will love what you see. Please help her make a friend.

Sincerely,

A mother who loves her daughter fiercely and completely.

P.S.

I know this may be a little helicoptery, but the toilet flush in the girls bathroom at school is really confusing.  I hope you explain it to the kids. (It’s one of those big 1970s circular flushes you kick with your feet).  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take her into the bathroom and show her how it works. I know I am already borderline being labeled “Crazy Mom”, so I am refraining from emailing you about this before the first day of school.

(Instead I am posting a pretend email on my blog – CRAZY).

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 Guy …

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I know a guy with deep-set dark eyes that sparkle when he smiles.

 

I know a guy that for years never washed his hair because the dirt kept it tame. “I hope the kids have your hair,” he laughed.

 

I know a guy who moved to Colorado and was asked to be a hair model.

 

I know a guy who is extremely handsome, but doesn’t know it. Or maybe he does.

 

I know a guy that listens to endless amounts of sports radio.

 

I know a guy that when it comes to sports (among other things), he is BRILLIANT. Sports trivia, he should be everyone’s ‘phone a friend’.

 

I know a guy who uses aerosol deodorant. Ugh. Years ago when he and his girlfriend backpacked through Europe he “sprayed” his clothes with Right Guard to clean them. His girlfriend experienced chemical asphyxiation each time she hugged him.

 

I know a guy who 13 years later still uses the same noxious substance.

 

I know a guy who does laundry nearly every day and becomes exasperated by the way his wife and daughters shed their clothes with their underwear still in the pants and socks in each pant leg.

 

I know a guy who sings Frozen duets with his daughter in the shower.

 

I know a guy that grew up with no sisters and hardly any friends of the opposite sex, but was happy to grow old surrounded women.

 

I know a guy who didn’t wish for a son, and grew irritated by everyone who presumed he wanted anything other than his daughters.

 

I know a guy who didn’t need a boy, but got a boy.

 

I know a guy that kisses that boy and his girls every day.

 

I know a guy who can’t wait to play sports with his son and daughters.

 

I know a guy who works hard all day supporting his family and comes home to help with dinner, dishes, and bedtime.

 

I know a guy who works extremely hard and tells his wife that she works harder.

 

I know a guy who chooses to spend time with his wife.

 

I know a guy who went camping for the first time in his late twenties and now wants to camp every summer.

 

I know a guy who is truly his wife’s best friend.

 

I know a guy who hates bugs and is scared of snakes.

 

I know a guy who sometimes loses his temper, but knows how to say sorry.

 

I know a guy who loves air conditioning and his wife negotiated a deal that he could control the thermostat if she never had to look at the electric bill when they first co-habitated.

 

I know a guy who is slowly losing control of the thermostat.

 

I know a guy who fills the bath with bubbles and hides princess figures in the tub, so his girls get clean searching for them.

 

I know a guy who gets swept away coloring with his kids, meticulously drawing their favorite cartoon characters out of sidewalk chalk on the fence. Sometimes his wife rolls her eyes, “The kids aren’t coloring anymore … You are supposed to be playing with them!”

 

I know a guy who two years ago got upset when his toddler crushed his beautiful sand castles.

 

I know a guy who now sometimes laughs when his toddler knocks over his block, sand or lego creations.

 

I know a guy who told his wife she was beautiful every day throughout three pregnancies.

 

I know a guy who tells his wife she is beautiful even when she hasn’t showered, brushed her hair or put on makeup.

 

I know a guy who feels pain when his wife cries.

 

I know a guy who loves all things that start with the letter P. Pittsburgh. Pickles. Penguins. Platypus. Perogies. Plott Hounds. This guy loves P so much that when he found out that his daughter’s preschool class had parent volunteers to teach each letter of the alphabet, he knew he must have P week.

 

I know a guy who was crestfallen when another parent signed up for P week.

 

I know a guy whose wife negotiated a letter week trade with an unknown parent because her husband LOVES the letter “P”.

 

I know a guy who is now known as “Mr. Pickle” because he hosted a pickle tasting in his daughter’s classroom for P week.

 

I know a guy who loves fashion and often predicts the upcoming trends.

 

I know a guy who likes to spend a lot of money on obscure designer clothing.

 

I know a guy who buys beautiful clothes for his wife – just because.

 

I know a guy who loves to give gifts and wraps them beautifully.

 

I know a guy who is athletic. He runs fast, throws a ball further than anyone I know and has an amazing free throw.

 

I know a guy who shoots hoops so well that he wins prizes for his children at amusement parks.

 

I know a guy who seems normal, but may be the weirdest guy I’ve ever met.

 

I know a guy addicted to gummies – especially peachy penguins.

 

I know a guy who gets along with octogenarians better than any other group of people.

 

I know a guy who is loyal to no end.

 

I know a guy who loves the Lord of the Rings.

 

I know a guy who must watch the Steelers in real time – no recordings – much to the exasperation of his wife.

 

I know a guy who drinks sweet coffee – Creamer. Sweet and Low. The works.

 

I know a guy who is not afraid to order fruity drinks at a restaurant.

 

I know a guy who can be misunderstood.

 

I know a guy who hates fajitas, the sizzling spotlight.

 

I know a guy who deserves to be in the spotlight.

 

I know a guy who met a girl at a bar.

 

I know a guy who spilled a beer on that girl at the bar … or maybe the girl spilled the beer on him?

 

I know a guy who drove that girl to New York City to meet her father.

 

I know a guy who introduced her to all his grandparents along the way.

 

I know a guy that sat at a diner with her father and told him he wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon and discussed his ‘philosophy of love’.

 

I know a guy who decided to be a family practice doctor, so he could spend time with his family.

 

I know a guy who never ate fish – an alleged allergy.

 

I know a guy whose girlfriend convinced him to try fish.

 

I know a guy who now likes sushi.

 

I know a guy who married that girl.

 

I know a guy who is a role model for my son.

 

I know a guy and I hope my daughters find men like him.

 

I know a guy who will be embarrassed by this essay.

 

I know a guy and he knows me.

 

My love – Happy 8th Anniversary – I hope we last forever.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

An Ode to AAA

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Every year I debate whether to pay the $100 renewal fee for my AAA card.  I don’t know why I debate this payment in my head, but I do.  I just paid the renewal fee a couple of weeks ago, and once again I’m relieved that I did.

Today my girls and I had a fun day planned.  We were going to meet a friend and her kids at the pool.  All the parents out there know that getting two toddlers to the swimming pool is not the easiest feat.  Our morning itinerary included getting dressed, using the potty at the precise moment before we left and before swimsuits were put on, so as to not have to use the potty immediately after entering the swimming pool, which would entail getting out of our wet swimsuits in a public restroom with two wet whiney toddlers.  I applied copious amounts of sunscreen.  I packed swim diapers, a change of clothes, floaty devices, pool toys, coolers with lunches and cold drinks, and a stroller to lug all our equipment.

As I was preparing for the pool today, my girls were in unusual sorts.  They would play well for a few minutes then I’d hear crazy screaming from my oldest, “The baby took my pots, I’m baking a cake,” she cried.  “Give it back!”  Her screams were earth shaking.  “She stole my dinosaurs!!!!”  This morning the screaming occurred at 15 minute intervals, play nicely for 15 minutes, then screaming and hitting.

“ROAR,” my littlest shouted.  As I approached to take away the toys that instigated their repeated arguments.  My baby has started roaring at people.  She roars at me when I try to change her diaper, put her down for a nap, or brush her teeth.  She roars at the dogs when they get too close to her food.  She roars at bugs outside, or on the road she roars at cars driving by.  My husband and I are now constantly repeating, “Please don’t roar. Roaring isn’t nice.”  See this baby knows how to use her words, she just chooses to ROAR and when I say ROAR, I mean she ROARS.  Her guttural roars have become pretty aggressive.  The dog flees, the big girl cries, and my baby knows her ROARS are powerful.

Finally, we were ready.  I got the girls outside, locked the dogs inside, and loaded the car with a profuse amount of swim equipment, sufficient for a morning at the pool.  My baby screaming, “No pool. Me Wanna Play Outside. No Pool, Mama, PLAY OUTSIDE!!!”  I turned the key, no sound.  My battery was dead.

“Okay girls, we’re not going to the pool.  The car won’t start.”

At this point the Baby started screaming, “Pool Mama, Me Wanna Go to the Pool!  Mama, Me Wants to GO TO THE POOL.”  Clearly, she woke up on the wrong side of the crib, an indication of how my morning had gone thus far.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote that taking my car to the carwash was a pointless venture because minutes after leaving my car is covered in snacks. (I wish I knew how to insert a permalink in this blog -“I Will Vacuum More – Or Maybe I Won’t”).  The post car wash clean usually only lasts for the return drive back to my house.  Well, the other reason, taking my car to the carwash never seems worthwhile is because every time I take my car to the carwash, they accidentally hit the hidden light switch above my steering wheel that ignites the hidden light that cannot be seen.  I therefore leave my car in the garage over night with the hidden light on and my battery dies.  Over the past several years this has happened several times.  However, I do not take my car to the carwash frequently enough for this to be burned into my brain.

My solution to today’s snafu, I didn’t panic, I wasn’t too upset, I picked up the phone and dialed AAA.  “Hello,” the lovely operator said, “How can I help?”

“My battery died and I need a jump start,” I respond to the kind lady.

“Are you safe?” She asked.

“Yes,” thinking as safe as one can be with a roaring and biting two year old and her big sister.

“I’m glad,” she said, “a driver will be there in less than an hour.”

*****

“You really don’t need a boyfriend when you have AAA,” my sister, single at the time, confided in me after AAA had replaced a flat tire for her on the side of the road.

“So true,” I said. “And if you have a boyfriend he doesn’t really need to know anything about cars.  AAA may even be more reliable than most boyfriends, a phone call away, to your rescue in less than an hour.  Have you ever met a man that is that reliable?”  We both laughed.

*****

I love my husband, he is truly my best friend, and I know how lucky I am.   I also am fully aware that it is best that we all learn to jump start our own cars and change our tires.  I aim to have someone teach my daughters to do these things, but if we fail to do so, I will rest easy knowing that they will definitely be added to the AAA Family Plan.

But for all of you single women out there, I grew up with one, you really don’t need a man if you have:

(1) AAA card

(2) The number for a good handyman, and if this handyman is also a plumber, you’ve hit the jackpot

(3) A big dog

(4) Hmmm, I can’t really think what else to add to the list, cable television?

*****

As for today, I think it may be smarter if the girls and I stick to our classy backyard inflatable pool.  My handy husband filled it up.