Gifts that give this holiday season


o1ITZwxVRxOZnHV2IP%O1w
Costco, August 21

As I entered Costco this summer and passed the beach towels and swim goggles at the door, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Christmas wrapping paper on sale.  I took a picture and sent it to my husband with the caption, “It’s August.”

It seems as though each year the stores we frequent are pressuring us earlier and earlier to remember that “consumption season” is coming.  Everywhere I turn, the message is clear:


BUY MORE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO SATISFY A PERCEIVED OBLIGATION THAT YOU SPEND MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE ON GIFTS THAT MUST BE EXCHANGED INSTEAD OF FREELY GIVEN.


No matter your beliefs or the holidays you celebrate, I imagine we can all admit that it’s easy to get wrapped up in unwrapping gifts.  I love a good gift as much as the next person, and if Greg were reading this, he would find out I would love a new espresso maker.  (Hint, hint, the one we have is broken.)  For me, it is so easy to forget that the reason I celebrate this season is the ultimate no-strings-attached-gift-ever – the gracious birth of the Savior of the World. If the meaning is different for you, I think we can agree our culture pressures us earlier and earlier each year to consume more.

I’ve wrestled with how to point my children to the giver of every good and perfect gift during this season, to make our faith the focus instead of an afterthought. We can all do better in this area.  Here are a few ideas:


  1. Do a gift exchange within your family so you buy a gift for one person instead of for many.

  2. Give small, homemade gifts to friends and neighbors such as baked treats, homemade body scrubs, or flavored simple syrups. Pinterest is a great place to go for ideas that are both from the heart and won’t break the bank.

  3. Focus on gifts of time instead of gifts of stuff. Buy your bestie concert tickets so you can go together, or museum passes.

  4. Look for gifts that give and serve the purpose of life-sustaining work to those in need. Some of my favorite companies are ABLE (livefashionable.com), 31 Bits (31bits.com), Purpose Jewelry (isanctuary.org/purpose-jewelry), Raven and Lily (ravenandlily.com) and Noonday Collection (noondaycollection.com).


But perhaps my favorite focus shift for the season is not in the gifts we give, but in daily Advent service projects.

KxC26FlNSY2TZ%3uUVv%iA

Years ago, my mom gave me an Advent calendar in the form of a house.  It has little drawers for treats that can be discovered each day in December leading up to Christmas.  I decided to include notes with an act of service my children could do (with help). When I started this, I had a four-year-old and a nearly three-year-old, so our first one included pretty simple tasks such as “go through your toys and find some to donate” and “give a friend who is sad a hug.”  Today, of the 24 drawers we open, those two acts still make an appearance.  But as the kids have grown, we’ve added age appropriate service items.


TO START YOUR OWN, HERE ARE SOME ADVENT CALENDARS:

VARIOUS GROUPON ADVENT CALENDARS – https://gr.pn/2Qwlfsw

AMAZON ADVENT TREE – https://amzn.to/2AQZb6d

TARGET ADVENT HOUSE – https://bit.ly/2Qs1LIN

ETSY ADVENT BAGS – https://etsy.me/2D7Ajc2


Around Thanksgiving, I come up with the list by looking at our calendar.  I look for days when service projects are already scheduled and include those.  Then, I think about the various activities we do annually and where they might fit best based on everything else that’s going on.  For the busiest days on our calendar, I choose activities that won’t take up a lot of time. Here are some examples from years past:

  1. Send Eliza to school with underpants and white shirts for the orphans in Kenya.
  2. Stack our cord of firewood so we can enjoy fires.
  3. Help mommy weed the garden.
  4. Pack six homeless bags to keep in the car so we can pass them out at traffic lights.
  5. Pack a basket of snacks and water bottles and set outside for delivery people.
  6. Go through your toys and games and pick at least three to give to Toys for Tots.
  7. Go through your books and pick at least three to give to Milk and Bookies.
  8. Choose a pair of your old shoes to donate for children in Sierra Leone.
  9. Go to Build-a-Bear, make bears, and put them in the donation bin at the store along with our other Toys for Tots donations.
  10. Build our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and deliver to Samaritan’s Purse.
  11. Write letters to your teachers to thank them for all they do for you.
  12. Write thank you letters for all your coaches and music teachers for all they do.
  13. Write a letter to our Compassion International child and mail it to her.
  14. Bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors.
  15. Pack backpacks for the kids in need at our local elementary school.
  16. Volunteer at A Wider Circle’s North Pole Holiday Program.
  17. Collect hats, mittens, gloves or scarves to donate to a local coat drive.
  18. Take a meal to a family with a new baby.
  19. Clean up all your messes in the house today without being asked.
  20. Make a care package for a college student we know who’s taking finals and mail it.
  21. Send a care package to each of the deployed military members we know.
  22. Shop for our Angel Tree selection and take it to church.
  23. Take some canned goods to Starbucks and donate them in the collection bin.
  24. Deliver Christmas treats to daddy’s co-workers.
  25. Make a casserole and deliver it to a local homeless shelter.
  26. Forgive someone who hurts your feelings today, even if the person isn’t sorry.
  27. Make your siblings feel special today.
  28. Spend the day with friends and be kind to them, putting them first.
  29. Visit a nursing home and make crafts with the residents.
  30. Deliver breakfast to firefighters or nurses in a hospital.
  31. Throw out a piece of trash you find outside.
  32. Take the dog for a walk and play with him in the yard.
  33. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.

Of course, the list will continue to change over time as the children become teenagers and perhaps come up with ideas of their own.  They – now 10-, eight- and five-year-olds – receive a lot of gifts.  I do love the wonder of Christmas morning and of unwrapping gifts that have been carefully made or bought with each other in mind.  But it warms my heart every year when I pull out the Advent house and the kids get more excited about it than any other Christmas decoration.

May this Advent season be filled with the wonder of gifts well gifted and graciously received.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Treasure family dinners


Growing up, it was a rite of passage.  If someone could survive an “Elliott family dinner,” the person was okay in our book.

coming to america

What happened at these dinners?  We shared stories.  We made fun of each other, even berated each other, but in love: I don’t think any of us is in therapy because of them.  We all had the chance to laugh at my dad’s perfectionism and my mom’s quirks, as well as each others’.  My brothers and I played out movie scenes we memorized, all taking on different characters such as those in the “Coming to America” barber shop scenes. My older brother always had a quick-wit, and we laughed hard.  My younger brother was funny and a performer who kept us giggling.  I was simultaneously the most studious child in my family and the one with the least amount of common sense, asking stupid questions in an entirely unsafe environment where I paid dearly for it.  And the stories we share of these family dinners still get repeated over and over again when we are together.

IMG_1675

My own experience – along with scientific proof that family dinners are impactful – are reasons why having dinner together as a family is something I work hard to make happen.  To name a few benefits, family dinners help with health, brain growth, vocabulary and family relationships, as well as promote good behaviors and stave off bad ones.

If I haven’t lost you already, I’m hoping you’ll stick with me.  My husband travels a lot and my kids have activities some nights that make eating together impossible.  This means we currently eat together as a family about three nights a week.  On the nights we can eat together, I work to make these count.  Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. I keep our meals simple.  It’s okay if family dinner is Chipotle.
  2. It makes me SO MUCH HAPPIER when everyone enjoys their food.  That means I make a lot of the same meals for the sake of peace.
  3. I make big pots of spaghetti, chili, soups and stews so I can freeze the leftovers for a night when Greg is traveling or to give to a family in need.
  4. When I had babies and toddlers, I gave them what we were serving as early as possible.  Once a child is about 1, there is very little he cannot eat if you cut it into small enough pieces.
  5. I used the Deceptively Delicious cookbook when the kids were younger to help get more fruits and vegetables in them.  I’ll write another blog about healthy eating strategies for toddlers – someday …
  6. Now that they’re older, I often serve raw vegetables or a salad as the side dish and let the kids pick the ones they like.  They eat vegetables and there’s no arguing, gagging or nose-holding.
  7. Everyone has to at least TRY all the food.
  8. If you don’t like it, we’re not making something else for you.  I have a friend who grew up in a family with six kids, and the alternative if you didn’t like dinner was a microwaved, scrambled egg.  (That sounds more disgusting to me as an adult than an asparagus and Brussels sprouts pie would have as a child.)  Come up with something that works for you if you are concerned your child might not eat.
  9. Though we don’t always remember to do it, we have a “thankfulness journal” where we write down something each of us is thankful for at dinner.  This is a favorite for everyone, but especially our most reserved child, who gets a chance to be thoughtful and heard over the louder two.
  10. Another conversation starter is the “roses and thorns” concept.  Everyone goes around and shares his or her rose (high) of the day and thorn (low) of the day.  I actually got that one from the Obamas!

IMG_4135When I prioritize an activity in our family life, I often ask myself, “Will I regret doing this or not doing this when I look back some day?”  And then I remember my childhood family dinners – which sometimes went very wrong – and how they make me smile.  My mom’s spaghetti, roasts, chicken and dumplings … these foods take me back.  And none of my family will allow me to forget the night the Domino’s commercial came on television announcing (in my defense, with buffalo flying through the sky, flapping wings) that it was now selling buffalo wings.  And I looked at everyone, and before I could process the question that came to my mind, I blurted out, “Wait – do buffalo wings come from real buffalo?”

I want my children to have their own “Elliott family dinner” memories.  And based on our meals so far, I’m sure they’ll have plenty to talk about when they’re older.

Parenting lesson #39: Put it in writing.


The struggle to pack school lunches is real.

Today is my oldest’s first day of school, and my other two will follow suit next week.  Planning, shopping for and packing healthy, appealing lunches for the kids are not my favorite hobbies.  In my dreams, I would pack them kale salads with tuna, quinoa crackers and homemade fruit roll ups.  But real life limitations such as time constraints and needing my kids to actually eat their lunches means that the basic sandwich, pre-packaged chips I buy in bulk from Costco, a fruit or veggie and a few Pepperidge Farm cookies are what they generally get (because fewer preservatives = healthy junk, right?).

And while the food I pack is the opposite of Pin-worthy, I must say that I love including lunchbox notes for my kids.  (As an aside, does anyone actually make shapes or animals out of their kids’ food?)

fullsizeoutput_b1b2

Since I began packing lunches six years ago, I’ve been including little notes, and I’ve enjoyed writing to my kids ever since.  It’s like sending a little part of me to school with them.  For pre-K, the notes were pretty simple, as the teachers had to read them.  But as the kids have learned to read, I’ve made them more interesting.  When they need encouragement on a particular day, I can provide it.

fullsizeoutput_b1b0.jpeg

My process:

On Etsy, there are some really talented moms who make inexpensive templates you can download.  (Just search “lunchbox notes.”)  Then, print them out on card stock.  Last, cut them with a paper-cutter (or scissors) and voila! – you’re ready for lunch packing.  This morning I printed out my Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter-themed cards as well as a stockpile of everyday ones so I’m not scrambling to have cards ready to go (which is the bottleneck in this process).

One of my favorite shops no longer exists (boo!), but here is a link for @LemonSqueezeDesigns, where I have bought a few.

To make packing lunches easier this year, I also printed out a food chart that is specific to our family.  It took me about an hour of thinking and using other lists on Pinterest for help.  I posted it in my kitchen today.

fullsizeoutput_b1b8

The bottom line: What I want my kids to remember about school lunches when they’re grown is not that we had fights about them not eating what I packed.  (If I’m being honest, the owl one above is for tomorrow, because Eliza came home today with a full lunchbox.  “Mom, everyone was talking!!!”)  What I want them to remember is that I shared a little piece of my love, my humor and myself with them when I took 30 seconds to write a note.

Parenting lesson #38: Little kids, little problems; bigger kids, bigger problems


As I was texting about my frustration and embarrassment to a friend this morning whose children are younger than mine, I confessed that it seems the adage “little kids, little problems; bigger kids, bigger problems” rings true.  She stuck her fingers in her proverbial ears as I read her reply: “La la la I’m going to pretend you said it gets easier. ;)”

Clearly she spends time with toddlers.

I was easily annoyed at moms with older kids when I was in the thick of the infant and toddler days.  When I had a two-year-old and a baby, I would relay stories of not being able to shower, of kissing makeup goodbye, of being covered in spit-up and food, in not being able to get out of pajamas, in ____________________ (fill in the blank).  I distinctly remember these moms of older kids would get these grins on their faces like they were remembering these times fondly and say, “I remember those days, and they are fleeting.  Enjoy them.”  And part of me wanted to punch them in the face.

Because every phase of parenting has its challenges, the one you’re in feels like plenty to navigate.  Imagining that parenting gets harder is not a happy thought.

But it does.  I already see it.

Currently, we’re struggling with how to help one of our kids who has hit others a few times when angered.  Our children are 10, eight and five, so while our expectations of them are different based on what makes sense developmentally, ALL OF THEM are old enough to know better. When one of them hit (or bit) another child as a two-year-old, I laughed with the other mom uncomfortably while apologizing as she said, “hashtag toddler problems” with a smile on her face.  One of our kids even left a bruise on another child’s face after biting him.  That mom and I still laugh about it.  But if one of my kids did that now, I’m not sure I’d still be friends with the victim’s mom.

I scratch my head and wonder if I’m doing something wrong.  I’ve been taking a kickboxing class where I punch a bag and the kids have all sat and watched it, making me wonder if somehow them seeing me punch a bag – which is cathartic for me – is bad for them.

Perhaps nothing in life is as powerful as parenting is in its capability to push you to question everything about yourself, to overanalyze and believe nearly anything you do could come back to bite you.

I imagine the two-year-old who doesn’t like to “play” clean up and who you laugh with as you put the toys away for the 16,000th time while you shake your head turns into the teenager you have a screaming match with as you (unreasonably) threaten she will never leave the house again because her room looks like a bomb went off in a mall where a Sephora shares a wall with Charlotte Russe.  And she hates YOU for it, because somehow it’s your fault you didn’t teach her to be tidy.  And you wonder, “Where did I mess up?”

You probably didn’t.  It’s important to remember that our children have their own God-given personalities, they will have their own struggles, and a lot of the time, it’s really not about you.  We are here to guide, model, teach, comfort, love and instruct; but at the end of the day, they are their own people with unique minds.  What they do reflects on us to an extent, but as they grow, they become more and more independent.  And I can see how growing up causes boundary lines between them and us to be redrawn a lot.  That’s going to cause strife, conflict and struggle.  As they become free to make more decisions, good and bad, we can help guide them, but we simply can’t learn the tough lessons for them.

As I process how to help my child, it’s so important for me to talk to other moms who’ve already been through these ages and stages and similar difficulties.  I gain so much perspective and wisdom.  And I remind myself that’s what good parents do: seek wisdom, learn from my own mistakes, ask forgiveness and move forward.

My friend helped me this morning, because after exchanging funny texts, she wrote, “You’re one of the best moms I know and I’m so thankful that I get to glean knowledge from you.”  We need encouragement from those around us as we struggle through the times we all want to plug our ears and say, “La la la I can’t hear you.”  Facing parenting challenges with others, being vulnerable about our shortcomings and struggles and lifting each other up is how we get through the increasingly difficult problems of parenting.

And to think: I don’t even have a teenager yet.

Parenting lesson #25: Mommy brain never goes away.


ToDoList
I will not forget my children.

I wish I had better news for new moms.  But the truth is that the mommy brain fog, while it lifts after the newborn weeks, does not ever fully clear.  I have never been more certain of it.  When I first wrote about mommy brain, I was hopeful it would be gone by now.  It’s not.

On Monday, I took dinner to my boss because his wife just had their third child, and somehow we got on the topic of mommy brain.  He said, “My wife just says she feels like she’s gotten so dumb.”  I said, “I know exactly how she feels, and I wish I could say it gets better, but it never goes away.”  Case in point: later that night when I was getting things out of my trunk I found the baby gift I had bought for them still in my trunk.  The irony is I put it there a week earlier so I wouldn’t forget it on the morning I was driving into the office to take them food.

Let me be clear: mommy brain makes you feel stupid in the early weeks after giving birth.  But what remains after that is a forgetfulness.  It’s looking for your keys while you’re holding them.  It’s driving off with your cup of coffee on your roof.  It’s going to the grocery store for peanut butter and arriving home with two full bags and no peanut butter.  (These are all things I’ve done.)  And the forgetfulness is directly proportional to how many things you are tracking in your brain.  The busier you are and the less sleep you get, the more forgetful.  So since the past two weeks have been pretty full, I did something yesterday that I would have never thought possible.

I decided to call my dad while in the carpool line waiting for Zach.  I was relaying all the details about the stains on our basement carpet when I pulled out of the school parking lot and, while waiting at the light, heard Ethan interrupt my conversation with, “Mom, did we get Zach?”  I started responding, “Ye … ” as I turned my head and realized Zach was not in the car.  I said, “Dad, I gotta go, I have to focus, I just drove through the carpool line without getting Zach.”  I wondered how I managed to forget my kid when I didn’t really forget my kid.  I was there, just not “all there.”  The car in front of me was the last to get a kid in the group ahead of me, so as it drove off with its child, I just followed it out of the lot without stopping as the first car in my group.  This could happen to anyone, right?

Then I started thinking about how I needed to take this as a real warning that I simply have too much going on and I need to focus on each moment and the task at-hand without trying to multitask.  But it didn’t take long for me to forget the lesson I had just learned, because about an hour later I was driving to an appointment while making another one on the phone and I missed my exit on the highway, making me late.

As I pulled up at home last night, I was laughing at my day as I got out of the car.  Greg pulled up and I told him, “I’m laughing about how I left Zach at school.”  He pointed at my van and said, “You left your lights on.”  I realized then that my brain was trying to tell my body something.  So I went to bed early, and though I slept longer than usual, I know there are forgetful things I did today as well, I just can’t remember what they are right now.  And I have come full circle … so if you’re a new mom, don’t let the mommy brain bother you.  Embrace it, because you’re going to have it forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting lesson #6: Birthing is not the height of parenting pain, it is the beginning of it.


Pre-bedtime dance parties can be super fun.  They can also be dangerous.  Tonight, after finally hooking up a radio in the boys’ room, Ethan was so excited to hear the Biebs that he jumped right into my mouth.  Like his head collided into my chin.  I got a fat, bloody lip and my teeth are still hurting.

img_2620

And it got me thinking about how wonderful parenting is while simultaneously being painful.  There’s no better lesson about how life is a journey with the good, the bad and the ugly like having kids.

We have so, SO much to be thankful for, and there are good, happy, joyful moments every day.  But there are also hard, disappointing, try-my-patience-for-the-umpteenth-time and – yes – painful moments almost daily as well.  In the words of Clark W. Griswold, “It’s all part of the experience.”

My kids are 8, 7 and 3 now.  They’re not old, but they’re not young.  I’ve struggled about whether to blog about so many things because now that they’re getting older, I want to respect who they are becoming and I don’t want to share things with the world that might be too personal.  Everyone knows two-year-olds are crazy, demanding Hitlers, so it is funny to write about them.  But when those two-year-olds are 8 and they tantrum, or are 7 and cry over every little thing, it seems like stepping over a line a little to write about them and their struggles.  (This is partly why I simply haven’t blogged much.)  But in order to be authentic, you have to be real about all parts of life.  And the reality of having children is that it’s messy.  And painful.  Physically painful sometimes, yes.  Emotionally painful, absolutely.  Mentally painful, you bet.

So if you’re embarking on this parenting journey, you’re in for quite the ride.  If you have a crazy labor and delivery story (like just about every woman I know), I can relate to your pain.  And I can also honestly say it’s just beginning.

But it is all so very worth it.  There’s no one I’d rather dance with at 7:30 at night to “Sorry” than over-exuberant Ethan.  Even if it means I’ll get a fat lip.  I’d do it again tomorrow night in a heartbeat.

What I Really Want for Mother’s Day.


IMG_1305Along the lines of my previous Top Ten list for Mother’s Day:

I love being a mother.  Each of my children is such a blessing, and I really do – for the most part – enjoy serving them.  Yes, there are moments every day that try my patience and make me wonder how old I’ll be when I get to count on not getting woken up or interrupted in the middle of every. single. thing I am doing (yes, even peeing).  But Mother’s Day makes me reflect on both the joys of motherhood and also the service of it.

Along those lines, here are the things on my mind:

 

  1.  I would like to sleep until I wake up.  I know this will naturally be between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. anyway, but I would like to go to bed tonight, not have anyone wake me up in the middle of the night, and not hear any noise until I naturally wake up.
  2. I don’t want to have to think about feeding myself or anyone else.  I just want meals to magically appear at the right times.
  3. I also don’t want to answer any questions about food, especially not about eating candy or junk so I don’t have to say “No” and feel like a food Nazi on Mother’s Day.
  4. Honestly, while on the subject of questions, I would really love to have every question from every child begin with the word “Daddy” tomorrow.
  5. I would love some homemade gifts from my kids.  Honestly.
  6. It would be great to have a chunk of time when I get to do whatever I want.  I think I would use it to load the car with about half of the kids’ toys and drop them off at charity.
  7. I don’t want to clean up any messes, deal with pee or poop (not even from the dog) or wipe any tushies.
  8. I don’t want to use any appliances such as the dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer.
  9. I would love a good back scratching.
  10. Most importantly, I would love some family snuggles, definitely at night, or after I wake up ON MY OWN from that solid night’s sleep.

What would YOU like?

Parenting lesson #22: Everyone lies, especially parents


IMG_1124

It’s possible my last post made me sound like an amazing parent who always sticks to her guns, never issues empty threats, and never goes back on what she says so her bipolar two-year-old will respond perfectly to every situation by age three.

I lie.  Or maybe I stretch the truth.  Or perhaps I’m simply implying I’m better than I actually am.  At the end of the day, a lie is a lie.  (Yes, even if it’s about the Elf on the Shelf, or Santa Claus, or that if your kid doesn’t eat green vegetables, his nose will turn green and his feet will turn purple.  That’s another lie I tell.)


 

Thursday is a great example of a time when I absolutely caved.  I had just dropped off my older two at school.  Let me digress a little by letting you in on the fact that Ethan is obsessed with lip balm.  In fact, recently after I told him he couldn’t have my lip balm, he took my secretary table where I keep the lip balm and flipped it up, spilling my full cup of coffee into all of my makeup.  But that’s another post.


 

IMG_1087
This is but a glimpse of the coffee mess.

 

So I was on my commute home from school drop off, and Ethan asked for my lip balm.  I said, “Maybe later.”  (I am really trying not to say “No” so much.)  Of course that was not an acceptable response, because two seconds later happened to be later.  So he asked again. “Another time,” I said.  Again, the question.  “I already answered you, Ethan.  I said later.”  Again.  “No, not right now.”  It was probably the sixth or seventh time that I said, “Okay, fine.  You can have it.”

This was that parenting moment.  That moment when you KNOW you are sending a mixed message.  When you know you shouldn’t say “No” and then give your child what he wants in the next second, but you’re just too darned drained and tired to keep bantering.  It’s also the moment when there is a high risk of things ending badly, but for the momentary relief you so badly want from the badgering (or noise, or sibling spats, or whatever the case may be), you cave.  You make what you said just moments earlier a lie.

About twenty minutes of peace and quiet later – which is precisely what I knew I was buying with my change of heart – I arrived at the gym.  When I opened his door to get Ethan out, there was no more lip balm left in the Eos container.  It was empty, and Ethan looked at me and said, “Mama, I need a napkin to wash my hands.”  No kidding!  His hands, seat belt, and jacket were so artistically smothered in berry lip balm.


 

 


 

We simply can’t get it right all the time.  There is no perfect parent and it is impossible to be 100% consistent.  But also, it’s not necessarily inconsistency if our children are able to convince us to change our minds.  I actually think it’s important for my children to know that they do have negotiating and reasoning power with me, especially with my older two.

Sometimes Eliza and Zach convince me to change my mind about giving them a treat, or having longer to play, or, really anything.  And when they do, I get to share with them the reason I have changed my mind.  When they’ve made a great point (“But mom, I already finished my homework and we’re getting along so well!”), I can recognize it.

And when I’ve changed my mind for no explicable reason except that I’m buying some peace and quiet, I use it as an opportunity to explain grace to them.  I like connecting these dots for them.  I connect the idea that sometimes we get things – good things we want – for no reason at all, but simply because we exist and are loved.  I don’t believe that Ethan can grasp that yet, but I still tell him that’s what he’s getting.  My older two began asking me for grace when they were three or four, so it’s not far off.

For now, I need to remind myself that sometimes, giving in, or turning myself into a liar, is worth the 20-minute drive of quiet when I am able to string some cohesive thoughts together.  And cleaning up smeared lip balm is also worth it.  A lot of parenting is weighing the various options in the moment and picking that one that works best in that situation.  There’s hardly ever one, black-and-white, always the right response.  And THAT’s no lie.

 

 

Parenting lesson #21: Two-year-olds are bipolar and skeptical.


IMG_1013
My little prince, NOT eating his yogurt.

Sometimes I think my daily life looks like the scene from “Coming to America” when Prince Hakeem meets his arranged betrothed, Imani Izzy.  Imani has been trained her whole life to do anything he asks of her, and he tests just how far she will go to meet his demands.  (“Make a noise like an orangutan” ring any bells?)  The difference in my life is that my prince is a two-year-old who, after getting exactly what he wants, changes course and decides screaming for the exact opposite is in order.

On any given day, we have many conversations about food, toys, and activities that go something like this:

Me: “(Prince) Ethan, you’ve been sick.  What would you like for breakfast?  Pick anything you’d like from the fridge.”

Ethan: “I want dat yoguht peas.”

Me: “Sure, please sit at the table to eat it.”

Ethan: “NO, I DON’T WANT DAT YOGUHT!!!!”

I don’t remember child #1 or child #2 doing this.  It’s very possible I blocked it from memory like every mother does for the survival of the human race.  Or maybe my older ones didn’t really test me in this particular way.  But at least a small part of me wants to take the yogurt and dump it all over him.  Some days I probably would if I could get past knowing I’d just be creating another mess to clean.

I had his teacher conference today, and the teacher reminded me that he is dealing with normal two-year-old issues such as making good choices, following directions, and learning to share.  Honestly, it must be really hard to be two.

Unlike Imani Izzy in “Coming to America,” I actually say “no” to my prince quite often.  Over the course of a day, he probably hears “no” or “not now” or “try this instead” so many more times than he hears “yes.”  Part of that is being two and making ridiculous requests, like “Can I eat dis wip balm?”; part is being the third child and having older siblings who get to do things he can’t but would love to do; and part of it is I am an older, more distracted, more easily exasperated mom now than I was five years ago.  In all seriousness, it must be really hard to start to understand you’re a person, and have so much to learn, but have so many handicaps.

My little Prince Hakeem is testing boundaries and trying to find his place in this world.  He wants to know just how much power he has, whether I mean what I say, and whether he can do whatever he wants.  When Ethan gets an answer he doesn’t like, he simply keeps asking the question over and over, assuming I must have lied the first (32) times I told him he couldn’t have any candy.  In fact, in the car the other day he asked me seven times for my soda and 14 times for dessert in a span of five minutes, despite my answer being the same “No” every single time.  Imagine wondering at every turn if “no” really meant “no,” or if it meant “maybe” or simply “not now.”  He has to figure out these things for himself.

Now more than ever, I have to patiently and consistently deal with his antics so he knows he can trust me and what I say, and also so he can grow into someone who respects authority instead of demands power.

If he wants me to bark like a dog for fun, I’ll probably do it for him.  If as soon as I start barking he changes his mind and decides he wants me to make a noise like an orangutan, I might even do that if he asks me nicely.  But if he’s screaming about getting exactly what he wants when he wants it, he’s not going to get it because this world is not his kingdom.  And he might need to test this truth thousands of times before he believes it.

 

A Different – And Desirable – Level of Crazy


Violet Crawley
She is timeless.

I have completely neglected this blog.  There are a few reasons for it, or some might call them excuses, but I think they’re pretty valid.

  1.  I started a part-time job about a year ago, and while I love working in a somewhat official capacity, it leaves me less free time to write recreationally,
  2. Re-writing about the antics of a two-year-old does not help me cope like it did when I dealt with them for the first time ever, and
  3. I have three children.  Three beautiful, amazing, demanding and very different children.

Last weekend, some childless friends had us over with some other friends who have a two-year-old and six-month-old.  (They are in the thick of it.)  And the dad said, “Having two kids is not twice as much as having one kid.  It’s like three times as much.  It’s more than two kids.”  Yes.  A thousand times yes.  And then he turned to Greg and me, and I responded, “Three is like having five.”

Truly, once you have more children than you have arms to hold them, you are in a different ball game.  Writing about the daily shenanigans, brawls, mishaps, messes, spills, poop, and yes, pee of three children doesn’t hold the same wonder that writing about how crazy life gets when you add a second does.  It doesn’t seem like a special level of crazy anymore, because you adjust to it.  I am so used to not being able to complete a sentence or a thought that in the moments I am able to do so, it feels strange.  And if the kids are home and it’s quiet enough that I can string cohesive thoughts together, it means something bad is happening.

But I do want to write and document these moments and years.  Yes, they are crazy, but boy, are they amazing.  And I don’t want to miss the joy of what having a house full of noise and love represents.  Today, I found out that someone I know who is 17-weeks pregnant with her first child (after trying for a long time) has a cancerous tumor on her bladder.  And when you get slammed with news like this, which it seems like the past year has been full of stories of loss and heartache, it also seems a little weird to me now to vent about how challenging our healthy, crazy lives can be.  I don’t want to take these days or years for granted, or be ungrateful.  Right now I’m sure there are many, many parents who would trade places with me, who would give anything to pull their clothes out of the shower while in it because their two-year-old threw them in for fun.  (That happened yesterday.)

So, I’m not sure how much I will write, I only know I want to do more.  And I hope to tell funny stories and make people laugh because they can relate, but I also might get more pensive in my writing this year.  I’m not sure what the future holds in so many ways.  It wouldn’t be my first post of 2016 without a quote from the Dowager Countess.  In the first episode of Downton Abbey, during her fight with Isobel about the future of the hospital, Violet says, “I suppose we only know what we are capable of when we test our limits.”  I am looking forward to a year of testing mine, and coming out the other end a better mother, wife, and I hope, blogger.