TWO – My Baby Volcano!!!!!

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My baby boy is explosive emotion, wild energy, and ear piercing noise. Joyful belly laughter that elicits immediate smiles and torturous whining and screams that have your sisters clasping their ears and weeping because you just won’t stop crying. During the past two years, we have suffered hearing loss because you are the loudest baby yet, maybe the loudest baby ever.

I thought third babies were supposed to go with the flow, be easy breezy, but you rocked our boat completely. As I said, you are loud, it is impossible to ignore our baby. You erupt in fury if you don’t like something and your moods derail the most carefully prepared plans.

You make your third time mama feel like a first timer.

Daddy calls you our Sour Patch Kid, sour and then irresistibly sweet. You revolt and then ask for snuggles. When your sisters cry, you earnestly ask them, “Are you okay?” As you pat their backs and stroke their faces. Then the next minute you are throwing matchbox cars at their heads with tremendous force, grabbing their hair, and hitting them with all your might.

My three children are like magnets, you can’t keep your hands off one another, but then the electro magnetism switches and you repel each other with equal ferocity. Then minutes later you are inseparable and stuck together again. Your biggest sister dotes on you constantly, carries you around the house, and usually allows you to join in her play. Middle sister loves you one second and clocks you in the head the next. The intensity of the love/hate relationship between you and your middle sister baffles me. Your shared sibling bonds are stronger than I ever expected.

Currently, Disney Cars is your passion and you talk about it constantly, though you don’t have the patience to sit through the movie. You love Lightning McQueen, cars with smiley faces are the best, and you carry them wherever you go and sleep with them in your crib.

Much to your dad’s delight, starting at 18 months (maybe younger), you enjoyed shooting hoops in the basement. You love basketballs, throwing balls, toys, anything. You have a mini golf club and endlessly hit golf balls around the yard. You do this all left handed, which I’m learning may be the athletic coup de grace. We beam at your hand eye coordination and laugh at ourselves for thinking at two that each of our children were child prodigies. We are as amazed by you as we were by our first two babies, watching a baby grow and acquire new skills never gets olds. You are all unique little people.

Although we may think you are a baby genius, you learned to walk later than your sisters and managed to bump your head into the coffee table several times a day for several months straight. You love play doh and especially love to eat it. You laugh as you stuff it in your mouth because you suckered mom and dad into giving you play doh, yet again.

Getting out of the house has become nearly impossible, for example, one day as I filled water bottles for school, you made a beeline through the dog door and ran straight for the dog poop in the yard (for some reason you love touching dog poop). “Icky, mama,” you shouted and picked it up and smeared it all over your t-shirt, which led to tardy slips for your sisters and me carrying a toddler in a diaper into each of their schools. As I signed tardy slips and politely conversed with acquaintances, I wondered why we still smelled like poop, left the school, and realized you smeared me as well. This is how we roll, and it’s not always pretty.

The girls had bunk beds until you started scrambling up the ladder and leaning over the guardrail in the mornings as I brushed their hair before school. “Mama, watch me,” you shouted with glee as you leaned over the side. Then one day, you jumped off. We detached the beds to make our morning routine safer.

You are fast and give me heart palpitations. One night as I cooked dinner, you dashed out the kitchen, jumped through the dog door, sprinted around the yard, and attempted to climb the fence into our front yard. “I want to see G.G.’s car,” you said, a smile stretched across your face.

Speaking of G.G., another favorite is your grandmas. You love your grandmothers. If they are with us, you want them to constantly carry you. You talk about them and their cars constantly (because grandmas and cars may be the best combination ever). On Thanksgiving, everybody went around the table and said what we were thankful for and when we got to you we didn’t think you understood, but you stated clearly, “I’m thankful for my grandmas.” As a first time mother, I would have been insanely jealous if you preferred someone other than me, but this time around I appreciate their extra arms and your special relationship with them.

“How are you today?” Is your constant refrain when you see someone new and then you introduce yourself by your first and last name and say that you live in Colorado. “I’ll see you next Thursday,” you tell your teachers. You speak in full sentences and articulate thoughts way beyond your two-years (again, our baby genius).

When your sister played Kion, the elephant, in her school performance of the Lion King, you sat in the audience, shouting her name when she came on stage and then screaming Hakuna Matata throughout the other scenes. Almost immediately, Nana escorted you out of the auditorium.

You had the stomach flu the night before your 2nd birthday. You threw up and lay in my arms, tearfully asking me to make you better. Your family party was cancelled, the freezer broke, and your ice cream cake melted. A birthday two days post Christmas confused you, “I want Chanukah to come to my party,” you told me. When we gave you presents, you thought it might still be Christmas and handed them out to your sisters. “It’s not Christmas,” we told you, “It’s your birthday!” My Christmas baby will wait another year to have a birthday party, but your sisters want to make the next one a big birthday party (since you missed this one) and teach you what birthdays are all about. Christmas baby, birthdays are your own special day. You deserve a special day.

You are more than a handful. You are a mini volcano of love, precociousness, sunshine, rage, fire, energy, earsplitting headaches, tears of happiness, tears of frustration, a toddler jokester, a mini athlete, social charisma, mommy’s boy, daddy’s boy, your grandparents’ baby, and your sisters’ favorite/least favorite little person. You make us happy hermits who can’t leave the house for fear of the most intense and persistent little tantrums. At times we brave it and leave our house and then realize you are supremely charming and do better in public than home. After a successful experience we attempt to leave again, only to suffer an explosion and swear we will never ever leave the safety of our home. You have made me seriously consider buying a toddler leash.

We love you and thank you for making our lives colorfully chaotic and never dull.

Sorry for the delayed birthday note, as you know, things have been pretty busy.

We love you. Happy 2nd Birthday Baby!

I Guess Some Days Are Just Like That

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It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I wake up this morning at 5:30am, my daughter tugging at my arm, I roll over and see my husband lying on his side, pretending to be sound asleep.  I change diapers. I wipe bottoms. I make coffee.  The coffee over-flows, spilling on the counter, burning the underside of the pot, a puddle on the floor.  My husband says it’s my fault that I always over fill the coffee grounds.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It is spring, April 16th, snowing, not a pretty snow, but a slushy snow that looks dirty before it even hits the ground.  I get my daughters dressed and ready for school.  I remember her boots, snow pants, hats, and mittens because God forbid, I show up without them. (Yes, I’ve gotten the yellow sticky note inside her cubby, preschool’s Scarlet Letter, stating my daughter was dressed inappropriately for the weather).  TODAY I remember her snow clothes.  I squeeze two bundled toddlers into their car seats.  Pull two toddlers out of the car, holding one in each arm so their feet don’t get wet in the slush.  I carry them like packages down the sidewalk under my arms to school.  I enter the classroom, unloading snow clothes into her cubby and realize where is her backpack? No backpack. No lunch.  No snack. I am defeated, I drive home in the snow to retrieve the forgotten goods, buckling and unbuckling and squeezing my little one from her car seat again and again.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

A gloomy day with gloomy thoughts.  Dad in the ICU. Boston. Aurora. Newtown. Guns. Bombs. Parents, their core-beings amputated in a flash of violence as their children are senselessly ripped from their lives. Enough is enough. Gun control legislation shot down.  Where is our country’s common sense?

Self-doubt, my mind is a house of mirrors, reflections distorted and unclear.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But then, my husband comes home. “I’m sorry you’ve had a hard day.  I wasn’t mad about the coffee,” he returns to work.  My Dad is moved out of the ICU.  A message, “I love reading what you write.” Two hour naps and I write the entire time.  I am fueled.  Girls bounce from bed full of joy.  Bookstore. No tantrums.  No tears. A new chapter book.  A new Snow White princess book (with stickers). Excitement. Cold wind. Snow pelting our faces. Alive. Pizza. A phone call from husband, “Babe, the meeting was canceled, I’ll be home soon.”

A dance party. Arms outstretched like airplanes, a mom with her two girls, flying through the living room, spinning, and singing at the top of their lungs, “I PRETEND THAT AIRPLANES IN THE NIGHT SKY ARE SHOOTING STARS, I COULD REALLY USE A WISH RIGHT NOW, WISH RIGHT NOW, WISH RIGHT NOW … ”.

My youngest arms spread wide shouts, “I fly Mama, me an airplane,” as she circles the room at full speed. We are sprinkled with magic pixie dust and happy thoughts, soaring through Neverland.

Big girl orders, “Mom, you pretend you’re making the wish and we’ll be the shooting stars.  What do you wish for?” The snow is no longer dreary and the music swallows us on this unusual April night.

“Health and happiness.” I tell her.  A selfish wish, but it’s my wish all the same.

“I wish to enter the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” She exclaims, (like the Magic Tree House books we read at night where the kids are transported into the pages of their stories).

“Yeah, that’s a pretty cool wish.” I smile.  We fly. We dance.  We sing.

It has been a wonderful, magical, complex, very good day.

I guess some days are just like that.

32 Flavors

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Squint your eyes and look closer

I’m not between you and your ambition

I’m a poster girl with no poster

I”m 32 flavors and then some

I’m beyond your peripheral vision

So you might want to turn your head.

-Ani Difranco

*****

“Mommy, am I going to work when I grow up?” My three-year-old asks as we climb into the car.

“Of course baby, you can be whatever you want to be.”  I state emphatically, repeating the phrase that was repeated to me a thousand times throughout my life.

“Can I be a doctor like Daddy?” She asks earnestly.

“You definitely can be a doctor like Daddy.  You can be anything.”

“Mommy, does that mean I will be a man when I grow up?”  I freeze at three my daughter perceives that men work and women stay home, a feminist’s nightmare.  I am conflicted on a thousand different levels.  What message of equality am I teaching my daughter?  Where have we come since the women’s rights movement?

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Women of Generation X and beyond, grew up believing that we can be whoever and whatever we want to be.  We learned from an early age that gender is not a professional barrier.  Although some of our mothers may have been encouraged to go to college to get their “M.R.S. Degrees”, we were encouraged to go to college and get advanced degrees, so that we could have careers, break barriers, and crack glass ceilings.  From the moment I could speak my parents taught me that I could be a doctor, a lawyer, an executive, anything I put my mind to (within the limits of the aforementioned list).  I grew up believing these things and never doubting my intelligence compared to my male peers.  My parents listened to my future goals, and although it was assumed I’d have a family, being a wife and mother was never mentioned in these conversations.  To the adults around me, it may have seemed anti-feminist to bring up marriage and children when discussing my future aspirations.

For thirty years my identity was based on my academic and professional achievements.  I was an academic, a legislative intern, and an attorney – the intellectual equal to any and all of my male colleagues.  It seemed antiquated to think of the differences between the sexes. Women are equal to men in all ways.  My professional achievements aligned well with the feminist principals of equality that were deeply ingrained in my psyche.  But then I gave birth…

I became a mother and I decided to stay home with my children and everything I believed changed.  I grew up being told I can be anything I want, but no one ever told me that anything may include being a stay-at-home mother and wife.  I chose to do the one thing that nobody prepared me for.  The crazy thing is that once I made the choice to stay home, many adults supported the decision as if there was no other option.  If this is the case, then why was choice of being a wife and mother ignored until I gave birth?  In fact, sometimes women criticized my female peers who chose to return to work full-time after giving birth.  A best friend in the midst of a year long maternity leave confided, “I’m almost nervous to tell people I’m going back to teach full time next year.  I feel like they judge me, I’ve even felt insecure telling you.”  Was everyone preaching feminist principles of equality that they themselves did not believe?

*****

For many (especially initially), our identities as mothers feel all consuming.  No one can prepare us for the tremendous transformation that comes after the birth of our first child.  As a stay-at-home mom, there was a metaphysical death of my former self, which I’ve grieved.  However, this death occurred simultaneously with the birth of a new more expansive and vulnerable person.  Many mothers share a common fear of not being seen for anything but this new identity.  My friends have confided:

“I know it’s crazy, but I feel like my co-workers don’t respect my opinion anymore and just see me as a lame mom.  It’s like they ignore ten years of experience and don’t think I can do my job anymore,” one of my closest friends complained after a business meeting.

“I feel like when I hang out with my brother, he doesn’t even ask me what I think about things anymore.  He just sees me as a mom and doesn’t think I have anything interesting to say.  Maybe I don’t have anything interesting to say anymore?”  She admitted after choosing to stay at home.

“I feel like a part of me was lost when I had children.  I love being a mother, but I am in a funk and I don’t know what to do.” She confessed as they sipped coffees and watched their kids play on the floor.

*****

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Let Your Freak Flag Fly

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A group of three year old girls dressed in princess costumes loped around the classroom, whispering and giggling to one another. They came to our table and laughed loudly and then ran away.  I sat with my daughter at the art table, sticking heart stickers on paper, repeatedly telling her how beautiful her picture was.  I was volunteering for her Valentines Day class and she was so thrilled that her mommy was helping in her classroom.  The princesses continued to buzz around the room, loud high-pitched shrieks and giggles trailing them.

The social dynamics of preschool mirrors that of junior high and if the stakes just get higher, I am terrified. Each day after school I ask my daughter how her day was, what she learned, and with whom she played?  The first several months the answer was good, followed by “I played by myself … no one wanted to play with me … Ellie is friends with Ellen, not me … Nora only plays with Sophia … Grace plays with Julia … and no-one plays with me.”  Disturbingly, my reaction was, how do I help her make friends with these girls, how do I help her to fit in, how do I help her feel like part of the group?  I do think it is important to try to connect with the other girls and socialize, but my clear insecurity about being an outsider was leading me to figure out ways for my daughter to conform to the social norms of her classroom, instead of applauding her ability to play on her own.

Parenthood is hard.  It digs up the emotional trauma that we as parents have accumulated throughout our lives, highlights it in bold, and throws it back in our face.  If I didn’t learn it the first time around, maybe I will learn it this time?  My daughter’s experiences dig up my own hidden insecurities of being an outsider, and my childhood (sadly, maybe even adulthood) desires of wanting to belong in the “in crowd”.  I conformed to those around me instead of just being me, but that is not the right way.  It may be the easy way, but it is not the answer to happiness and security.

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A year ago I was getting my haircut and talking to the stylist about my gray hair.

“Do you think I need to start dying it?” I asked.

“I only see one or two,”he said, “and my advice to you is let it go, let its freak flag fly.”  I smiled, “let its freak flag fly,” I liked that expression; it struck a chord inside me.  I do not need to be like everyone else, I’m not like everyone else, and neither are my daughters.

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My daughter does not need to be a princess.  My daughter loves hyenas, snakes, bugs, and reptiles; she especially loves hyenas.  She will bring her stuffed hyena to show and share every week, no matter what the other children think, and will laugh telling you that his poop is white because he eats bones.  I want her to let her freak flag fly (unlike her scared mama) and never conform to the princesses around her.