I’m walking with my three year old son and the puppy this morning, thinking about what I had gotten done that day in between “hold my hand crossing the street” and “don’t eat that”. It was 9:00am and I’d been up for 4 hours already. I think I put a load of laundry in the washer.
It might not be in the dryer,
I’ll have to check.
In the past I used to say “I didn’t get anything done all day”. In the past I would have chastised myself about, well, everything. But after three kids and a boat load of positive thinking training I know better.
Now I think:
What was I doing all day? Ask the babysitter. (And then I grin at my little joke because that would be me.)
Now of course I’m not the babysitter, I’m the mom.
But bear with me for a moment while I make an analogy. I think that’s right word for it. I’m at the library with all the kids and there is some crazy loud stuff going on here. We are in the kid section so it’s OK. Plus, it’s not my kid that’s making the noise this time.
So.... where was I?
When you hire a babysitter do you expect them to organize your closet, style their hair, address holiday cards, or fix a three course meal while they are at it?
NO. OF COURSE YOU DON’T.
You come back from your time away and you pay them, slyly eyballing them to see if they are still OK. “Hope it went well,” you might add with an air of sympathy.
Because you know that babysitting a wee one, a kid, a baby, a toddler, is a big job.
Wait, not just big.
IT’S FULL TIME.
So why did I fully expect to accomplish everything I used to do before kids once I had kids?
I have no idea.
Unless it was by watching The Brady Bunch AND FORGETTING THAT ALICE WAS FULL-TIME HIRED HELP.
Or because most of my childhood memories are from when I’m older and my parents DID have more time to get things done because I wasn’t dragging the chair over to get myself some water so I could make a puddle on the kitchen floor to dance in.
Think about that.
I’m just grateful I don’t do it anymore. (Not the chair dragging, the self-criticism.)
Because now I can take that walk and no matter what is left undone at home I smile knowing I’ve got a happy, healthy three year old boy scooting his blue rubber boots through the fallen leaves while his new best friend puppy wags his tail beside him.
I’m doing my job.
In fact, I’m doing a great job.
And, come to find out, the laundry WAS in the dryer, how about that?
I adore my kids and I know you love yours too but that doesn't mean every day is roses. Sometimes it's boring. Sometimes the kids are whiny (which means we are whiny because the littles reflect us, but that's another story). Sometimes we are tired. And sometimes, sometimes, it's just a short-order-cook day with "Mama! Mama! Mama!" and hurry up and DING! here's another request like a short-order cook and all.the.demands.
So if your ability to appreciate your life on a day like that (or a week like that, or heck, a year like that) is waning, you aren't alone.
How are you supposed to appreciate a day that doesn't look like it's going to let up all week?
Sometimes you can't.
But you can appreciate a moment.
Here is a true life story. I know, it's mine.
I'm getting chewed on once more. I'm sitting in the pen with the puppy and the three year old and the puppy is chewing on me and it's not his fault because the three year old is tossing toys at his face and waving his precious blanket around like a bullfighter in the ring.
I am not enjoying this.
Those little teeth hurt.
Those Petco products hurt.
I cannot find a smile at that moment and think I love this time and all the times today I get to do this again and again to care for these two little ones because I don't. I don't love it. What I really want to do is curl up in a pair of sweats and read the book of the short stories on my Kindle that my friend wrote without being touched. I can't remember the last time I read a book at leisure or sat down without being jumped on....
But then there was a moment of calm.
One beat. Maybe three, of peace.
That's when I found appreciation again.
Ooh! I love this moment.
Here. This moment here. The puppy is warm on my lap and my beloved boy is giving him a gentle hug. This is beautiful.
Ack! Too tight! Puppy bite! Redirect, teach, redirect, teach!
Wait. Here is a moment. The puppy is sitting down and my amazing child is petting him so lovingly. This is beautiful. I love this moment.
Ack! Puppy attack!
And on it went.
When I found a spot of lovely–and there were a surprising number of them once I paid attention to them–I held it in my mind for a moment and gave it the doe-eyes.
You are so awesome. You. This moment right here.
That I could do. I couldn't see into the entire rest of my day and feel the love but I could appreciate a moment I genuinely liked so I kept it up. Not all day. Not every moment. But I found true moments to appreciate enough that...
Little by little, everything got better.
You've heard it before and it really is true: life is just a string of moments all put together. If you can't appreciate the string, find a pearl to admire. They are there, even in the midst of the most trying days they are there.
I'm at that stage in my marriage again and I've seen it time and again in the marriages with kids around me. Heck, I've seen it three times in my own marriage so far because I spaced my kids out so much.
It's called "reconnect with spouse."
It's such a major milestone I actually put it on the calendar. In advance. Like, before I even had the baby. Once I knew I was pregnant I got out my iPhone notes and wrote something like:
2013: Have baby (late in the year)
2014: Baby Year
2015: One Year Old
2016: Two Year Old
2017: Three Year Old: Reconnect with husband.
2018: Go on retreat.
That way, when things got crazy, instead of thinking EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE OH ME OH MY OH DRAMA I could look at my note and say: Oh, it's 2014. I have a baby. My hormones are still coming back to normal, I'm sleeping when? And I have a little dude who needs constant care. So, yeah, probably not showered all of the time or spending a lot of hours hanging out with the girlfriends to recharge. But at least I can carry him around still, let's go to Harry Potter World before he can walk!
In 2016 when I had a two year old I could look at it, remember I was in the most intense toddler phase of getting-into-everything and if I could still smile or had any sense of humor despite the shenanigans and clutter and inability to go to the bathroom by myself I was winning at life.
I could also look at it and remember that when little dude was four I could go on my women's retreat again. (Yes, I *could* go before that because my awesome husband supports things like that, but *I* could not go because I would not be able to handle it until he was older. MY BABY.) This gave me something to look forward to that was just for me. Me. Me. Me.
That list was a life-saver.
It helped me remember to be easy on myself. To appreciate where I was because it would not last. To put myself on a map and realize I am not lost.
But the biggest gift it gave me was the consistent reminder that I'm not the only one going through the intense baby-toddler period, my husband is too.
Both of us are stretched with a 24/7/365 care-taking job. Both of us probably miss each other even while we are living under the same roof and sleeping in the same bed. Both of us are doing the best we can with what we have. And, once that intense period is over (usually around ages 3.5-4.5 depending on a zillion factors) we will need to take the time to dig out our relationship closet, sort through the piles that got thrown on the floor in our haste and exhaustion, and organize ourselves again for the next phase of life so that we can enter it TOGETHER.
I see so many couples fall apart once their kid (or last kid) reaches the ages of 2-4. Sometimes it's inevitable. But if:
You can reconnect after having a baby. You can.
I brought this up with my husband before we had our third child. Our oldest was nine and our youngest was five at the time and so our relationship was already full again with dates and lounging around having actual conversations about interesting things we were getting to do and think about outside of child-rearing. I knew the cycles by heart now.
I asked him directly, "Would our marriage survive this?"
If he had hesitated, even one blink, I might not have had our baby boy. I love my husband and I adore our marriage and I had zero judgement about whether or not he could take it. I was wondering if I could take it again.
He didn't blink.
So I'm over here all struttin' my stuff. Check me out, I've got the laundry caught up, and I can find the kitchen counter, and I know what I'm eating for dinner this week... I'm totally kickin' it. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
What is my new program? I ask myself. What is the miracle I discovered that transformed me?
Nothing is new except one thing: My baby got older.
Suddenly, I find myself feeling more in control of my life and more aware of my surroundings. I am remembering friend's birthdays again and I'm often showered. I've got a more robust sense of humor. I'm smiling and saying hi to strangers across the street just because the sky is blue.
I'm Mary Poppins, Y'all.
Since my three kids are spaced four and six years apart this is the third time this has happened to me. One day I look up and think: Hello World, you're awesome. Where ya been?
And it is a wonderful feeling to look up.
To look up, look around, and not worry someone is going to dash into the street, dump a cup of water on the floor, or randomly eat something off the ground. The delicious feeling I had when I did dishes yesterday and there was silence. Not the dreaded silence because someone has found my purse or figured out how to climb on the counters but the calm silence because they are playing–even with the puppy–so harmoniously....
...I can't even describe the feeling but it's like a rainbow mixed with a truly funny meme.
I remember asking a dear friend of mine who had kids well before me how she did it. Her kids were closer in age than mine and her answer was immediate:
"I lived in filth for three years."
She said it so matter-of-fact it stunned me.
It was her calm in that moment that has helped me all of these years. She made it. So can I.
Maybe there are parents out there who can keep everything together in their own zen just like it was before their baby came into their lives. (WHO ARE THEY? WHO?!) But for me it's just a real-life blend of "aaaaahhhh" and "awwwww" and "whhhaaaat?" and "oooops" and "sweeeeeeet" during the baby and toddler years because it's so awesome and so hard sometimes and so loving and so frustrating sometimes until one day, before you realize it, that stage is over and you have clean socks.
Two of them. Paired up. They actually match.
Once again, dear friends, I have arrived and let me tell you–it was a messy ride but it was totally worth it.
I'm a mom and sometimes... sometimes... I lose my cool.
(Really? Nah. Oh yes, it's true.)
The biggest challenge I have found when I'm irritated is that as an extrovert I tend to vocalize when I'm upset. This really, REALLY, doesn't work with kids. No child thrives in a nagging, negative environment. Heck, no adult does either, but at least the adult can walk away and go to a movie or something. That little kid who is just getting more upset and acting out because of the icky vibes will be with you all day. Like right with you. Probably even while you are trying to go into the bathroom and shut the door.
When you have an adult roommate or you live in an open office environment you can usually put up a hand and the person will back away lest they upset the tiger. Little kids? Not so much. They probably forget you are in a terrible mood. They might remember for... say... 30 seconds.
So one day years ago, after realizing the old adage again was true–if you can't say something nice... I had an inspired idea.
What if I put a sticker on my mouth?
That way I would not talk from my non-heart place, and the kids had a visual when they looked at me to remind them that Mommy was not in a good place to be talking to.
Not only did it stop the stem of unnecessary nagging and negative commentary from me, it stopped questions from them which would open the floodgate of nagging and unnecessary negative commentary from me. With this small measure of peace, peace began to descend. Or maybe I just got a chance to breathe through my nose and calm down. One thing happened that was unexpected, though.
It eventually made us laugh.
It's hard to stay mad with a sticker on your mouth. Try it. My favorite stickers are the ones from Trader Joe's. I also like their bacon.
"You're so... happy!"
Yes. Yes I am. That's because I clocked in to the sleep zone around 9:00pm last night. 7:30pm the night before.
Once again I am reminded of the balancing power of sleep.
You think I would have learned this by now. I have three kids, four and six years apart. Enough time to free-fall into the sleep-deprived baby and toddler years and then come back out, battle-worn and sweatpant weary, into blissful sleep at night once more, only to do it all over again.
This time, however, my baby has hair. Lots and lots of hair:
I wuv him!
The first month was, well, brutal. Loving and fun and amazing and cuddly and... brutal. We didn't know how this puppy-thing worked. He didn't know how we worked. All we both knew was that there was a lot of potty happening and not a lot of sleep happening. Sometimes in the yard. Many times in the house.
I weathered it well at first. I was invincible! Fueled by love and determination!
It took weeks before I looked in the mirror and realized I was un-showered, in the same clothes I'd been wearing since.... um.... I don't remember... an old pair of glasses sliding off my nose instead of wearing my contacts. I had to step over piles of laundry to get to the kitchen.
The pre-schooler was always doing things wrong. The dog was too jumpy. People weren't helping enough.
Diner was an afterthought. I didn't have time to play. I don't know what day it was.
And it was getting worse.
Luckily, we got a cold.
I could blame the play-place I took the kids to but I know better. Getting a cold means you are overwhelmed. So I shut it down, went to bed early for two nights and now...
The pre-schooler is doing everything well. The dog is awesome. People are so supportive.
Dinner is planned. I played all morning. It's Tuesday.
And yet nothing changed except me getting some much needed zzzzz's.
So mom and dads, before you wonder what's wrong with you, what's wrong with your kids, what's wrong with your life, what's wrong with your very existence, check to see if there is anything wrong with your sleep. If you can get some extra hours in the sack, do it. If you can't, put a sticker on your mouth while you ride it out. It will get better, I promise.
Really Good Life... With Kids
Tips for how to live a fantastic life while parenting, raise connected, successful kids, and navigate relationships... happily.
Love, Love, Alora
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