If I could travel through time, this is what I would go back and tell myself after having my first baby

The beauty of the third baby
The beauty of the third baby. Photo credit: Chelsea Hudson Photography. http://www.chelseahudsonphotography.com

About a month ago, we welcomed our third child into this world.  I am in awe at what an amazing little miracle and gift from God he is.  The experience this time around has been so different.  Maybe it’s because I am more experienced.  Or maybe it’s because my mom stayed to help for three weeks instead of just one (and left today – sniff sniff).  Or it could be a number of other things.  But in thinking through the past four weeks, my mind dwells on so many beautiful, wonderful moments.  I wish I could have felt the same way when I had my first.  I keep thinking about things I wish I would have known or been able to focus on.  So for those of you out there whom this might help, here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back to the day before Eliza was born:

Hi there.  Tomorrow your life will change forever, but relax, it will be good.  It will be better than good.  But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done before.  Your life as you knew it is not over; it’s just turning over a new leaf.

I know you have thought through everything you would like for labor and delivery.  You don’t need to throw it all out the window (because that’s actually what’s going to happen), but the whole process will be better if you are able to let go and release yourself to what’s not going your way or as you had hoped.  I know immediately after Eliza comes out you’re going to go through a really difficult time and you’re not going to feel a lot of joy and love for her right away.  Be okay with that.  It will come.  I can even tell you that despite how little you feel like holding and cuddling her now because of depression and your delivery injuries, that she has grown into one of the most nurturing and caring people you know.

Despite having read books about newborn care and taking nursing classes, you are going to struggle in a major way with both.  I think most new parents do to some extent.  This is normal and you should expect it.  Keep the phone numbers of friends who have already been through it handy, and warn them you might call in the middle of the night for support.  And then pick up the phone and actually call if you’re in a rough moment.

Having a baby is not like taking a math test, where if you study hard enough, there is a formula you use and you get the same result every time.  It couldn’t be more different from that.  So stop thinking about a sleep formula right now.  You cannot spoil this new life by holding her.  You are her favorite person, and your breasts her favorite part of you.  She will learn to sleep, but first she has to learn to eat.  In fact, go ahead and leave yourself topless for the first few days and keep her in a diaper, and let her sleep on your chest and nurse anytime she wants.  Enjoy her despite of and in the midst of your pain and baby blues.  Even though you’re not sleeping much and your whole bottom hurts, try to take her in.  You can’t, but you should try.   Journal your thoughts and write her love notes.  I’m talking a sentence here or there, because you won’t have time for more.

I know the sleepless nights that are coming.  You will get through them.  I know they seem interminable right now, but they will end.  I know there will be incessant crying, and the feeling that you’d just like to put her outside in the back yard so you can’t hear her for a few minutes.  You might want to squeeze her or shake her.  You won’t do it, but you will beat yourself up for having the thought.  Don’t do that, either.  This moment that is so hard is also fleeting, and she will sleep and stop crying.

Trust your natural motherly instinct and your body.  Get every bit of help you can get from lactation consultants, midwives, nurses or doulas in the first two days.  Make certain you are getting a good latch.  A bad latch will hurt and after doing it over and over, will mutilate your nipples.  It’s great to know you feel so strongly and fierce about nursing; but also know that if you just need rest and for someone else to feed her formula so you can sleep, doing that does not make you a failure or a bad mom or physically deformed.  When you find out that she’s lost too much weight, the formula supplement they are telling you she needs is not going to poison her.  Your husband and father were formula-fed, and they grew up healthy and pretty darned brilliant.

The pediatrician and lactation consultant are telling you to have a Guinness a day not only because it will help you produce more milk, but also because you need to take a serious chill pill.  Your body cannot heal and produce milk if you do not allow yourself to sleep and relax.  I know at night you want to do what you would normally do, and you want the freedom to stay up late, but it’s just not worth it right now.  Go to bed.  Take the baby with you.  That will also help your milk.  This seemingly inexorable phase is actually pretty short.  In about five years, you will go to Eliza’s dance recital, she will have a loose tooth, and will be preparing to go to Kindergarten, and you will wonder how in the heck you got there.  And you will then know how fast these early days not only go by, but how fleeting all the difficulty of them is.

So rest and relax, my dear self.  Accept help.  Forgive yourself when you flip out or lash out or feel like an idiot for crying.  Let go of how clothes should be folded, stacked in your drawers, or how they don’t fit.  Be okay with paper plate dinners.  Allow others to make meals for you.  Eat dessert.  It, too, is good for your milk.  And cherish and marvel at what God has done.

The joys of pregnancy: No really, there are some

This is the first baby item I bought  when I was pregnant the first time.  It was so fun to shop!
This is the first baby item I bought when I was pregnant the first time. It was so fun to shop!

As much as it’s fun to make fun of the not-so-fun parts of pregnancy – and believe me, at nearly 35 weeks, there are a lot of things I’d like to complain about – there are a lot of wonderful aspects to this journey.

1.  Great hair – By my glorious genetics, my hair is thin, fine and fragile.  My best friend’s nickname for me in 5th grade was “chemo woman.”  (Looking back, perhaps she wasn’t the best best friend.  I did call her “palm tree” in return because she had a massive, thick mop.)  But when I’m pregnant, it thickens up, gets a natural shine without looking greasy, and grows at a record speed.  In each pregnancy, I’ve gone up to 3 days without washing it and doing nothing to style it, and it still looks good when I wake up.   It’s fabulous.

2.  Great nails – The prenatal vitamins that so miraculously fix my hair for a season also make my nails strong and pretty.  It’s a good thing, because they’re pretty low on the priority list, but my kids sure do appreciate how long they are when they ask me to scratch their backs.

3.  That pregnancy “glow” – It’s real.  Sure, it might be tainted by some pregnancy acne here and there (or everywhere), but your skin radiates.  I have no idea why.  Maybe it’s that you generally take better care of yourself and drink enough water.  But there is a definite beauty halo that every pregnant woman gets.  Her natural beauty magnifies.

4.  Feeling a life moving inside of you – In all three pregnancies, I’ve never gotten so used to feeling one of my children move inside of me that the sensation has lost its awe factor.  Sure, sometimes I wish there weren’t 20-minute hiccup sessions keeping me up in the middle of the night between one of 4-5 bathroom excursions, but even those remind me of the beautiful miracle growing in my belly.  It’s pretty freaking amazing.

5.  A renewed motivation to take care of yourself – Something about being pregnant makes you reassess all of your priorities, and I generally find I want to treat my body better.  I also want ice cream and chocolate, but even those have things my growing baby needs, like calcium, vitamin D, protein and antioxidants.  (It’s all about spin.)

6.  An excuse to be pampered – People generally want to take care of others who are pregnant.  It’s nice to have people give up their seats for me, open doors, carry things and the like.  Remember the aforementioned ice cream cravings?  Last night I showered after my Zumba class and felt I deserved a reward for exercising.  But I was in pajamas.  I asked Greg if he would go get me a McDonald’s ice cream cone since he was still dressed.  Could the man really say “no” to me?  (And ohhhhh, it tasted so good!!!)

7.  An excuse to tease strangers – Now that it is pretty clear I am either about to birth a baby or I have a massive abdominal tumor, it’s fun to tease strangers who assume I am pregnant.  “When are you due?” gives me the chance to respond, “For what?”  A woman at church asked me on Sunday when I was expecting, and with a bewildered look, I said, “Expecting what?”  Without missing a beat, she pointed at my belly and said, “Your BABY!”  Eh, you win some, you lose some.  But it’s sure fun to try to catch them off-guard.

8.  Shopping – Regardless of how many times you’ve been through it, there are some things you need.  Preparing for the baby gives you an excuse to buy some much-needed items, and adore all the cute baby clothes in stores.

9. Celebrating – Having a baby shower or any sort of party to celebrate you and the baby is super fun, especially the first time around.

Of course, there are many more moments of pregnancy I could cherish, but my pregnancy brain is currently blocking my memory.  Feel free to add some true pregnancy joys to the list by commenting!

The joys of pregnancy: judgment (or the fear of it)

It can be shocking when you see pregnant women doing things that we have decided are bad for the baby.  I will never forget being in high school and going out to eat with some friends.  On our way out of the restaurant, one friend ran into her very pregnant cousin at a table we passed.  I am sure I wasn’t even able to stutter through my name during my introduction, as my mouth was agape at this clearly pregnant woman, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of wine.

It’s amazing how we humans can be so judgmental about another person’s life until the moment when we are in the same boat.  Though I’ve never tried a cigarette in my life, OH, how I appreciate a few ounces of wine or beer here or there while pregnant.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when Greg was out-of-town for work.  I have been struggling with insomnia for several weeks now (another joy of pregnancy), and being on my own with the two kids at 31-weeks pregnant would have been tough enough if I were getting loads of rest.  After swim lessons on Thursday, I was D-O-N-E.  And I was not about to cook dinner. I decided on the five-minute drive to our neighborhood pub that I was going to order a beer and just drink half of it.  I convinced myself that of all places, a pregnant woman could order a beer in a pub without judgment, especially when some of those present could be considered alcoholics and could also see there were two other children in my care who appeared to be surviving.  I was wrong.

Oh no, nobody judged me.  I chickened out.  I just couldn’t bring myself to publicly order an alcoholic beverage while obviously pregnant and in charge of two children.  And maybe it dates back to my experience in high school, when I couldn’t stop gawking at this pregnant woman, cigarette in one hand, wine in the other.  But regardless of the reason behind chickening out, I realized that a lot of what I do or don’t do in public these days depends on how I think others will see me.

At no other point in history have there been so many things you should and shouldn’t do during pregnancy.  We shouldn’t: get our hair colored; take any medicine; go in hot tubs; touch cat litter, pesticides or chemicals; clean with bleach; paint our homes; eat nitrates, cold deli meats, high mercury fish, raw fish or unpasteurized cheeses; lift anything heavy; ski, ride roller coasters, or do any other adventurous fun activity; paint our nails; smoke; or consume caffeine and alcohol.  We should take exorbitant amounts of vitamins, drink lots of water, eat healthily, get loads of rest and exercise.  It’s honestly hard to keep track of it all.  One of the “joys” of late pregnancy is that the whole world, just by looking at you, can tell that you are pregnant.  And boy, can you get some glances and stares if you publicly do any of the “no-nos.”  It’s funny how I think I’ve gotten a little more relaxed about it with each subsequent pregnancy.  I guess that’s to be expected.

When it really comes down to it, the way I decide if I am going to do something or not do something that could be considered risky, I ask myself this question: “If anything bad happens to the baby, or if this child develops any health issues over life that could potentially be caused by this action, will I blame the decision I’m making in this moment?  Will I feel guilty?”  If the answer is “no,” I generally allow myself some freedom.  When it is “yes,” I play it safe.  Thus, we just returned home last night from a ski trip, and though I badly wanted to strap on some K2 Burnin Luvs and take a few easy runs, I knew if I fell I would never forgive myself.  But when I was in Greece at 4-5 weeks pregnant, I ate what was most likely unpasteurized feta cheese just about every day, despite the risk of Listeria.  A couple of weeks ago, I ordered an Italian cold cut sub  from my favorite deli and ate it while getting a manicure and pedicure.  I thought I might get judged for one of both of those actions – but I decided I didn’t care.  And that beer?  Well, I told myself in the pub that I would have half a Yuengling when I got home.  Only I was too tired and threw myself into bed after getting the kids into theirs.  So the following night, I had my beer.  And I had a little beer and a half glass of wine on my ski trip.  And I’m okay with that.  Judge me if you’d like.  At least I didn’t do it in public.

Parenting lesson #24: Change is often easier for children than it is for us.

IMG_4463I think I remember – but I’m not sure – that babies cry a lot, and at all times of the day and night.  Because our other two children know how to sleep all night long, baby #3 is going to need his or her own room from which to launch wailing attacks on the rest of us.  We knew the day would come when Eliza and Zach would get real beds.  I just didn’t know it would be so easy for them, yet make me cry.  (Though, as I’ve already explained, pregnancy can cause you to cry at the drop of a hat.  Literally, if someone dropped a hat, it could make me cry.)

This weekend Greg put together the bunk bed I ordered from Amazon.  Mattresses arrived; new choo-choo train and butterfly sheets came.  I really only teared up a little at the process, watching the shift before my very eyes of my children growing out of their little years into beds that grown people can use.  The kids are in heaven, already putting stuffed animals on the fan blades from the top bunk and sending them on carousel rides around the room until they fly off.  They have transitioned beautifully.  They are not scared.  They seem happy to be sleeping in the same room.  And that’s making it slightly easier on me.

But I sit here a bit nostalgic because of unforeseen ramifications.  Our bedtime routine for more than two years with Eliza, and a year with Zach, has included cuddle time in their toddler beds as we cling to a final few talking, processing, praying moments.  Now that Eliza is up on a top bunk, I can climb up pretty easily, but not down on my belly the way it is safe to climb down.  For now, I can cuddle with her on Zach’s bed or our bed, but it’s not the same thing.  Not only that, but on my way to bed later on at night, I always go into each room and admire their angelic, sleeping faces, tuck them in again, and kiss them one last time.  I can still do this with Zach, but I can’t with Eliza.  At least not without waking her up.  And it makes me melancholy.

As our children grow and begin new phases, there are often unintended consequences that we can’t foresee.  Some are welcome changes on the road to independence.  And others make us long for the times we didn’t know we cherished until they’re gone.  The end of the nursing relationship brings welcome freedom, but also a sadness of the loss of the bond.  Potty training means (generally speaking) an end to cleaning smeared poop in all sorts of crevices, but it also means you have to stop in a LOT more public restrooms for toilet breaks.  I know this fall, the beginning of Kindergarten will end the phase of Eliza’s life when she has spent most of her waking hours with me instead of someone else.  And on and on it will go, until these children either go off to college or get married, or maybe until we throw all their belongings in the yard.  (You never know what’s in store.)

It’s easy to worry about how our kids will adjust to changes as they grow.  But I think so far I’ve learned that change seems to be harder for us than for them.  Children seem to adapt to new circumstances pretty well, especially if we have prepped them for what’s to come.  We have spent several months telling the kids about the “cool” bunk beds they would get.  We acted like they were getting a new toy.  In retrospect, that’s probably why they have already turned the top bunk into a game lair for launching stuffed animals off the fan.  I’m anticipating the first bunk bed injury, which will no doubt lead to some serious crying.  But as we are getting ready for a new baby anyway, the inevitable tears will be good preparation for what’s to come – another life change for us, another life that will be born, and will bring with it a childhood that goes from phase to phase all too quickly.

The joys of pregnancy: The takeover of your body

Today became the day when I can no longer bend forward comfortably to put on socks.  I’m at the pregnancy point when I must fold one leg over the other knee to get dressed.  And I know from previous experience this is just the beginning.

Adjusting to the aesthetic changes to my body is one of the hardest parts of pregnancy.  I actually think the belly bump is cute and I love doing the Aladdin Genie in the Lamp move where I say to Greg in a Robin Williams voice, “Look at me from the side.  Do I look different to you?”  But beyond the belly bump, it is difficult not to look at yourself in the mirror and wonder what the heck is happening, and worse, can it ever be undone?  And this concern and fear hasn’t changed from pregnancy 1 to pregnancy 2 to pregnancy 3.

I’ve always struggled with cellulite.  I’m genetically prone to it and, um, I like to eat Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids sometimes.  And if they’re not the cause, maybe it’s steak or french fries.  Whatever.  But when pregnant, it is pretty disconcerting to look at your naked body head-on in a mirror and see cellulite down the FRONTS of your thighs.  And though I’m lucky enough not to be prone to getting stretch marks on my belly, I do get them on my lower butt and upper thighs in pregnancy.  Nice, big purplish-pink ones.  If I had the choice, I think I would rather get them on my belly, because those can at least be covered up by a one-piece bathing suit.  As can the weird hairs you start growing in never-before-seen places.  Ugh.

It’s weird the first time you cough, laugh, sneeze or jump and a little pee comes out.  Thankfully, other women who have been there assure you it is normal.  But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you ever adjust to it.  It’s hard to sleep, not just because of your growing belly and changing anatomy, but because your bladder becomes increasingly smaller.  Only with Eliza did I really get the second trimester break from multiple middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

I haven’t even gotten to the point in pregnancy when my ankles swell and I get Fred Flinstone feet.  I haven’t gotten to the point yet when I can’t see my toes when I look down.  Sure, I have some lower back pain here and there, but nothing like I know what’s to come.  And I know what’s also coming before this baby comes out is warmer weather, when I won’t need to put on socks anymore, thankfully.  But then I’ll have to shave, which will become a potentially dangerous endeavor.

The joys of pregnancy: uncontrollable crying

Violet Crawley“I’m a woman, Mary, I can be as contrary as I choose.”  – Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, to her granddaughter, Lady Mary Crawley, in Downton Abbey.

And I will add that there is never a time when a woman is more contrary, irrational or emotional as when pregnant.

We keep a thankfulness journal as a family, and at dinner we talk about something for which we are thankful and write it down.  Last night, Greg said he was thankful that he is not the one who has to be pregnant.  Here’s why.

Yesterday Greg helped me remove everything from our minivan (car seats, donation items, stroller, etc.) so I could go get it washed and vacuumed.  I went to our usual place around 2 p.m. to find a crazy line.  The big banner with hours listed said it was open until 6 p.m.  I decided to go back around 5:15, at which time I found they had closed off the line and put up cones, not to mention covered up the closing hours on the sign.  The pregnancy-induced rage that can rise so quickly to such a level boiled over and I got out of my car and began to move the cones.  Someone came over to tell me they were closed.  There’s no need to detail the rest of my discussion with the owner; all you need to know is that it reduced me to a heap of tears, as cars got stuck behind our van on a busy street, causing a ton of road rage and honking.  I came home rather quickly, and Greg saw my face and asked why I was crying (because despite my drive home and sitting outside the house trying to stop the flow, there was no ending this cry quickly).  I think I managed to blurt out, “They covered up the closing time on the banner and put up cones and then the owner had the balls to tell me they close at 4 and I just started crying and I can’t stop.  I’m pregnant, that’s why I’m crying!”

I am fully aware that many women are capable of manipulating with tears to get what they want.  I’ve heard several stories about women doing this to, say, get out of traffic tickets.  However, this was not that.  The pregnancy cry can come on at any time, over any little thing, and more often than not, you don’t WANT to be crying, and that just makes you cry more because you can’t stop.

It’s all part of the wonderful experience, I guess.  It’s times like these when I’m so grateful Greg understands that there is no way to understand what I’m going through and he just offers support and love.  He offered to vacuum out the car.  He helped put everything back into it for me.  And though it’s not clean, it’s raining today anyway, and would have just become an instant, muddy mess again.  I’m thankful that he realizes he should be thankful not to have to be pregnant.

And as for crying, it eventually stopped.  In fact, I think my tear ducts were empty, because Downton Abbey was super sad last night, and I didn’t even shed a tear.

Parenting is the penultimate sacrifice

IMG_0068The Christmas season always makes me pause and think of baby Jesus.  And this year, I think I’m particularly pensive because we are expecting our third child in the spring.

It is nearly impossible for me to explain the desire to have more offspring of our own, despite knowing there are children out there who need parents to adopt and foster them.  When Greg and I sat down on a date night earlier this year and attempted to come up with solid, defendable reasons to “go for it,” we could not come up with anything that would hold up in court.  We reminisced about how quickly Eliza had grown from a baby into this young lady before even turning four-years-old, and about how Zach was out of toddlerhood and we couldn’t really imagine this being “it.”  But financially, time-wise, and considering life goals and dreams, a third seems draining, life-postponing and honestly scary.

And yet, here we are.  We still desired this.  God has blessed us with this expectant being that is definitely growing inside of me – at a rate that is either atypical or else I’m eating way more than I did the first two times.  I don’t know how to defend this life, this bringing into our fallen world yet another child when I don’t even agree with breeding pets instead of rescuing ones who would be euthanized.  (Please don’t misunderstand me.  This is my own personal struggle, and I am not judging anyone else for having zero children or 20.  Okay fine, perhaps I might consider you crazy to have 20 … )

But then I think of baby Jesus.  I am reminded that I believe life – every life – has a purpose.  I believe God is the creator and sustainer of life, and there is no life that comes into being that He does not ordain.  He must have a purpose for not only this child, but also for Greg and me as his or her parents.  And I hope, as I ponder the true meaning of this Christmas season, to somehow put it into words.

Raising children is the ultimate true love experience on earth.  When Eliza was born, I was slightly mad at everyone with children who had congratulated me in pregnancy and acted excited.  I felt betrayed, like my friends had lied to me about what it would be like.  I had never been so exhausted, nor ever felt like my life had so changed into something that required so much sacrifice from me.  I didn’t want to give what was required.  Truly, I had to die to myself in a lot of ways: I had lost the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, the ability to walk out the door responsible only for myself, and the basic right I thought I had to sleep.  Looking back, I was actually going through a sanctification; God was making me more like himself.  To live this life as a Christ-follower means we are to take up our crosses and follow Him daily.  When you are serving your children by extending unconditional love to them, you are becoming holy; you are loving the way Jesus loved others.

There is a Friends episode about how you cannot give with pure intentions because you are still getting the good feeling inside from serving.  But what that show didn’t address was service to others that comes with no guarantee of feeling good in return, such as what Christ did for us (knowing every person would have to choose to love him back and his sacrifice would go unclaimed by so many).  Yes, parenting is rewarding because my children make me laugh, they are affectionate, they tell me they love me, and they more easily forgive than any grown-ups I know.  But in the next moment after doing one of those sweet things, they can tell me they hate me, or that they love their daddy the most, or that I’m the meanest mom in the world.  Hurt and ingratitude are never more than a moment away.  Betrayal and disobedience are daily occurrences.  Anyone who continues to serve a child, or perhaps a disabled parent, or a spouse ailing with Alzheimer’s is extending the grace, and mercy, and undeserved love that Christ did.  No matter the good moments, those we serve in this way will never be able to repay us the debt.

My grandfather was one of the greatest men who ever lived.  He was funny, he was generous, and he went to hell and back in World War II; yet what I will remember most about him is how he cared for my grandmother for 20 years at home until her Alzheimer’s finally (and mercifully) killed her.  I never knew her for who she was before her illness.  It is so difficult to admit this, but I often viewed her as a sick woman whose life no longer had meaning.  I sometimes hated my grandfather for loving her like he did.  As a child, I watched her go through phase after phase of the disease, speaking gibberish, spitting because she forgot how to swallow saliva, hitting and scratching and punching my grandfather as he tried to dress her or feed her.  I honestly confess that I couldn’t understand why he did what he did.  I felt like he was putting us all through such a miserable experience when she “belonged” in a nursing home.  I was embarrassed when he insisted on bringing her to restaurants with us as if things were normal, and then she would have outbursts and spit her food at us and even sometimes others.  And for days, and weeks, and years he did this, always gently speaking kindly and lovingly to her, stroking her cheek and telling her in German that he was her Guenter, and all was okay.

Only now that I am a parent can I honestly grasp what he was doing.  The world would say that what he did was a waste.  And perhaps in some ways his time could have been better spent.  But I believe there is no other higher purpose we can serve on this earth than to love others the way Christ loves us: as we are, in an undeserving and unlovable state of sin.  Jesus valued everyone and didn’t look on the lame or the sick or the needy as lesser people; rather, he served them in love.

Having children who, despite all we do for them, could turn out to hate us, or be drug addicts, or murderers, and then loving them anyway and always, appears to me to be the highest calling.  In the same way our children are sinful and thus capable of the worst offenses, God gives us free will so we can choose his path – which by definition means we have the freedom to turn our backs on Him and follow our selfish desires.  I will never win an award or a bonus check for what I’m doing as a mom.  But that’s what selfless service, what really putting others first, what true love, is all about.

That is the reason why we know a third child (even of our own) is a blessing from God.  He has chosen to create this life, and with it, given our family another chance to love unconditionally (albeit imperfectly).  As I consider the birth of Jesus, and how his perfect life models a standard we can never match but for which we should strive, I will be thankful that no matter what is to come with this child or my other two, I have been given an opportunity to love fully.  Reminding myself daily of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice – to choose to die for you and me and everyone else so that we could be reconciled with a perfect God – helps me pour out myself for my family despite my own hopes and dreams.  It gives me the strength to make this penultimate sacrifice.

God knows children present an opportunity to know Him more fully and to better understand his love for us.  He uses them to draw us to the baby in the manger, so holy and perfect, yet humbly born in a barn because he is the king who came to serve instead of be served (Matthew 20:28).  Merry Christmas!

Parenting lesson #13: Most definitely, your children will embarrass you.

This might be one for Eliza’s senior yearbook page. She enjoyed “pumping” like her mommy when Zach was born.

It doesn’t take long to realize that your children will embarrass you.  But I am pretty sure – and only time will tell if I’m right – that some day we get to embarrass them back.

A friend recently posted on Facebook that her four-year-old daughter yelled to everyone while arriving at preschool, “We didn’t brush my teeth this morning so I have gum.”  I had to laugh because not only do my kids not brush their teeth every morning, but because every day our young kids can make us want to crawl into a hole, and most of the time, unknowingly.

Even when they’re infants, they can scream at the most inopportune times.  They can poop out of their diapers in the grocery line, when you’re almost done and can’t really walk out of the store.  They can pull off mid-stream while nursing, and even render your hooter hider useless as your breasts turn into fire hydrants.

The 18-month to 3-year age range brings along with it multiple public displays of crying, whining, screaming, and tantrums that include lying on the ground with fists banging and legs flailing.  Let’s be honest – who hasn’t’ seen that and thought, “That parent needs to get ahold of that child!”

Zach is still a screamer and whiner.  I know I’ve been mentioning this for, oh, half his life.  I have done some research because I’m nervous that he is never going to grow out of it.  He is easily frustrated and resorts to the loudest or most annoying sound he can make to cope.  Of course, this would be a great place to insert (via comment) your tips.  But I digress … I cannot tell you how many times I have felt the stares from everyone around me in stores, restaurants and the like.  We just returned from a weekend trip. At the airport, as I do often, I shared a bathroom stall with both kids, who proceeded to  wrestle while I was (not) peeing in peace.  Mid-stream, their playing turned into a fight.  I reached over and pulled them apart, shoving him one way and her the other.  Zach, of course, fell (hurled himself dramatically) to the floor and began to wail, “Mommy, why you pushed me?  You huht me, mommy!”  I was mortified, seeing as there were others who could hear us.  I often wonder how bad of a mom those witnessing me could possibly think I am.  And as if Zach still being in this phase weren’t enough, he’s entering the “embarrassing questions” phase that Eliza has been in for two years.

Eliza likes to ask just about all women if they have babies in their tummies.  In the spring, she asked an overweight co-worker of my mother-in-law this question.  The woman very sweetly responded, “No, sweetie, I don’t have a baby in my tummy.”  Eliza couldn’t resist: “Well then why does your belly look like that?”  Without missing a beat, the woman replied, “Because I’m fat.”  Another time Eliza asked my well-endowed friend, “Why are your boobs so much bigger than my mom’s?”

When walking out of church this summer right next to a disabled man, Eliza said, “Mommy, why does he have those sticks?”  I said, “Those are called crutches and they help him walk.” Eliza: “But why?” Me: “Well, because he’s a little different than us, so he walks differently.” Eliza: “But mommy, why is he sad?” Me:  “I don’t know that he’s sad.”  Eliza: “Why is he grumpy?” Embarrassed and lying: “Sweetheart, he’s not grumpy” (as I noticed him scowling at us).

These moments are really just part of life with children.  And I am pretty sure the embarrassment doesn’t end, but rather evolves.  I can’t wait for their tween and teen years, if only because I know my very presence will be embarrassing at times.  It will be payback for all these memories we parents have and will enjoy reminding them about in front of their crushes.  It’s part of the circle of life.

So kids, enjoy the upper hand for now.  It won’t be long before I’m dropping you off at the mall to meet your friends, kissing you all over and being certain to remind you out loud that the money I’m handing you is for your very own training bra or jock strap.

Parenting lesson #8: You cannot plan on being spontaneous anymore.

Our neighbor babysat for us on my 30th birthday, when Greg surprised me with a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants and about 40 friends. And Eliza was about 8-months-old.  See, you can still get out!

Before children, there is a spontaneity that even the most scheduled people get to enjoy in life.  Once baby arrives, the freedom to get home from a long day of work and decide, “Let’s try that new Asian fusion restaurant” goes right out the window.  Asian fusion becomes Chinese delivery, or if you’re lucky, Thai takeout – and you might get into a fight over who gets to go pick it up.

I remember before kids, Greg and I were spiffed up and heading out on a Friday night as a neighborhood family was playing out in the street together.  They whistled at us and asked what we were doing.  I said, “Oh, we’re just going to dinner and a movie.  It’s nothing special.”  And they replied, “Nothing special?  Just dinner and a movie?  For us, that’s Dominos and Netflix.”  We laughed.  But now, I so totally know what they meant.  A nice dinner and a movie date night would cost us at least $150, after paying for food, drinks, theater tickets, and a babysitter for 5 hours.

Getting out looks a little different now.  Last week, it was a bit sad to realize that our dinner date was a 5 p.m. visit to Outback Steakhouse with the kids and half of the geriatrics who live in Leisure World.  Eating with kids is already an experiment in trying to finish a conversation amid 46 interruptions.  But for some reason, your children know you really want them to behave in a restaurant, so they bring their A games of infighting, whining, and questioning.  (“WHaaa, I dropped my crayon!” “Mommy, can we get dessert?” “Why is that lady’s hair purple?” “Zach’s touching my picture!” “I want bread.  I want bread.  I WANT BREAD!!!”).  Not only that, but it’s a tough reminder of what your social life has become when you overhear, “What is Sangria?” at the table next to you.  (True story.)

I don’t think that before you have children you can plan for how potentially trapped you might feel by not being able to just “get up and go.”  But as I sat at Outback last week, I realized that almost exactly 4 years earlier, we were there for Greg’s birthday with 3-month-old Eliza.  And at that time, I felt trapped.  I was overwhelmed.  I was adjusting, rather poorly, to our new lifestyle.  Yet last week, despite all the reminders of how life changes with kids, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So embrace chucking spontaneity out the window.  Sure, you have to remember diapers, wipes, bottles, formula or breast milk, spare outfits, burp cloths, pacifiers, and maybe even a pump for a restaurant visit.  And you might go to Outback instead of the hip new place where people will stare at kids being kids.  But getting out with a baby beats the alternative.  And hopefully you can count on good friends, neighbors or family to do some free babysitting so you can try the new Asian fusion place after all.  You just have to do a little advance planning.

Parenting lesson #28: It won’t be long before your children challenge you intellectually.

Every parent will feel at some point like he is the only one who deals with a particular behavior.  Sometimes the way your children act makes you think there couldn’t possibly be another child like this.  For me, I have often wondered if my children ask more questions than any other child has in the history of the human race.

The good news is that I now believe the inquisitive nature of my two is actually universal.  Answering questions is par for the parenting course it seems, especially between the ages of 2 and 4.  (Please, someone with older children, tell me it gets better, perhaps if only because they’re in school 7 hours a day and their teachers get to take on a portion of this responsibility.)  The thing is, it’s not that I necessarily mind answering lots of questions.  I simply don’t think I was prepared for the sheer volume I would have to tackle, nor for the challenge some questions would present.  By the afternoon on most days, I find that my brain is exhausted from trying to find the best way to answer each question in a way that gently forces these kids to think while at the same time satiates their curiosity for information from a trusted source.  My head rarely has time to process anything without background noises or interruptions such as screaming, fighting, giggling, singing, or direct questioning.  Sometimes, the questions are simple.  But more often than not now, they require a bit of thought.  I find that questions these days fall into three categories:

1. Permission questions – These are the easiest because the answer is almost always “Yes” or “No,” and I can generally get by with a little explanation and the conversation is over.  “Mommy, will you help me wipe?”,  “Mama, can I pour the syrup?”, “Mommy, can I go to the bathroom outside like Abbey (our dog)?”  Granted, if the answer is “No,” I generally assume I have to support my response with reasoning to preempt the inevitable, “Why not?”  But thinking through these responses has become second-nature to me at this point.  My brain is programmed to answer them.

2. Ethereal questions – “Why are there bad people?”, “Why does God love me?”, “What does Heaven look like?”  These are actually my favorite questions, because they can lead to the most interesting conversations, and generally ones that we need to have.  The problem is if they come after answering 27 factual questions (to be addressed below) and I’m just tired.

3. Factual or “How does the world work?” questions – Eliza is starting to ask more and more of these, and they’re getting more complicated.  This is where I’m struggling.  When she asks, “Why do you have hair in your butt?” I have to bite my cheek to prevent giving my AP bio teacher’s scientific explanation, and just say, “Everyone gets hair there when he grows up,” quietly hoping that it’s enough of an answer to prevent further questioning.  (So far, it’s worked.)  She is no longer satisfied when my answer to “Why does it rain?” is because God knows the plants, flowers and animals need it to survive.  She now wants to understand the clouds and the amounts of rainfall and why it’s raining here and not over there.  I’m starting to have no idea how to answer some of her questions.  In one afternoon in the car last week, I wrote down just a few of her inquiries:

“Mom, will different kinds of rocks hurt you?”  “How do you survive?”  “What will happen if we drive onto the sidewalk and fall backwards onto the roof if your seatbelt is not on?” “Why does music play for us?”

The thing about these questions is that they often require copious amounts of discussion.  If I respond, “What do you think will happen if our car flips over and we’re not wearing our seat belts?”, she will say that we will get hurt, but then want to know how extensive our injuries will be.  As questioning continues, she often gets me to, “I am not sure if I’m going to be able to answer that question in a way that will satisfy you,” or “I just don’t know.”  And sometimes, I just want to hear one song in the car that’s not Veggie Tales or Little People singing Christmas songs and allow my brain to wander wherever it wants for 3 straight minutes.

The funny thing about being in this season is that I used to feel so un-challenged intellectually by parenting infants and toddlers.  But now I find myself being challenged daily by the questions.  And it’s starting to matter whether I get it right.  It’s a somewhat scary and simultaneously exciting time.  Despite the daily inquisition, I really am enjoying Zach and Eliza these days.  There’s a bit of nostalgia already sprouting for their “younger days”; a realization settling in about how quickly time flies and how fast they grow.

I guess I would be okay with it even if my kids did ask more questions than any others in human history (and I know they don’t).  The truth is that even though they are just like every other curious pre-schooler, they are completely unique.  And I am thankful that they DO come to me for answers.  I am pretty sure that someday, they won’t want to.  And then I’ll reminisce about the days when they couldn’t get enough of me, asking hundreds of funny, silly questions a day.