The difference between being the first child and the third


I was going to take a pic of Ethan in his dirty PJs.  But I didn't have time for that.  Here's one that Eliza took on my phone.  He spends a lot of time in his exersaucer.
I was going to take a pic of Ethan in his dirty PJs. But I didn’t have time for that. Here’s one that Eliza took on my phone. He spends a lot of time in his exersaucer.

As I just cleaned off Ethan from breakfast, I was struck by how many things I have let go of this time around simply because I don’t have the time or energy to care about them.  One mom told me, “With our first baby, we drove home from the hospital under the speed limit with our emergency flashers on.  With the second, we made sure we didn’t go over the speed limit.  With our third, we stopped for drive-thru food on the way home.  And with our fourth, we went straight to soccer.”  I can totally relate, because for Ethan, things were different as soon as we left the hospital as well.  I went straight to Eliza’s school to pick her up because she had missed me so much in the 48 hours I had been gone.  I have been collecting ideas on how to explain what it’s like for me to have three children compared to two or one, but that will be another post.  This one is about how it’s different for Ethan.  Our poor, sweet Ethan.

Crawling.  Ethan is about 8 1/2-months-old and has been on the cusp of crawling for about a month.  What this means is that I purposely keep him off the floor because unlike with Eliza, I dread the day he is off and running.  With your first, you are excited to announce to everyone when your children reach their milestones, and secretly hope that someone says, “Wow, she’s advanced.  Isn’t that early?”  This time around I just hope no one accuses me of stunting his growth.

Cleanliness.  I’m not ready to be chasing Ethan around the house, but I’m also not ready for what his crawling will mean in the realm of cleanliness.  I’ve tried to institute a rule that any toys or parts of games that can fit inside a toilet paper tube cannot be on the main floor.  I might as well be asking the children to nail Jell-O to the wall for an art project.  So instead of an unenforceable rule, everyone gets down on hands and knees for “safety checks” before we set Ethan on the floor (sitting up, not on his belly, or else he might try to crawl).  We look for coins, beads, Rainbow Loom rubber bands, and anything else that could be a choking hazard.  Once Ethan is on the move, his life will be more in danger.  Not to mention I do not have a way to store a vacuum on my main floor.  (I’m about to buy a battery-operated tiny one that we can hide behind a living room curtain.)  So there is a ton of dirt and dog hair on my floors on a regular basis.  With Eliza, I was good about vacuuming and mopping every few days.  Ethan is going to be a veritable Swiffer on the ground.  (Should I get him one of these?)

Clothing.  Right now Ethan is wearing the pajamas I put him in on Tuesday night.  He has multiple layers of dried, crusty oatmeal, black bean juice, and formula on various parts of it.  Just now when I changed his diaper, three grains of rice fell out of his sleeper.  But I’m totally cool with that.  He’s had a cold, so his crib sheet is decorated with snot marks all over it (despite its being changed on Monday).  I lay him down in an area that doesn’t look too bad and hope he doesn’t move a lot in his sleep.  How could I?!?  Because it takes time and effort to change a crib mattress, and it makes more laundry.  I don’t change his outfits or much of anything related to him unless it’s an absolute must, like poop or pee got on it.  When you adjust to having one child, one of the most overwhelming aspects of new parenthood is dealing with all the extra laundry.  I used to separate out Eliza’s clothes, towels and other items to wash on their own, special cycle with baby detergent.  Then I just started using baby detergent for all of us, and continued to do that with Zach.  Now everyone gets regular detergent.  There is enough laundry with a family of five to require 8-10 loads a week.  Anything I can do to lighten that load, I will do.

Bathing.  Eliza and Zach were both bathed nightly as part of their bedtime routines.  Ethan is lucky to get two baths a week.  We are trying to do better with this, as eating solids makes for a dirtier baby.  But my brain has adjusted to thinking that a bath every day for a baby is not necessary, unless he doesn’t pass the aforementioned poop and pee test.

Eating.  There is one way Ethan is advanced, and that’s with eating.  I started his solids around 5 months like I did with Eliza, but I am pretty oblivious about when I’ve introduced him to certain things.  With your first, you write everything down, spreading out the introduction of new items every 2-3 days in case of allergies.  The only things I know Ethan hasn’t had are honey, shellfish and nuts.  He even ate some fish we had for dinner the other night that had spicy rub on it.  He seems to want to be a part of our meals and looks at our food with hungry eyes when we give him something different.  So as long as I haven’t added salt to something, I give it to him.  I think because he’s been eating so much real people food he’s cut his teeth a little early.  He has four teeth and the next two have popped through his gums.  If there’s anything you would want your children to be delayed in, it would be cutting teeth.  Nursing has been painful.

Photos.  Ethan is less photographed.  This is partly because he’s always wearing pajamas, and partly because I cannot seem to have one contiguous thought/follow through sequence such as, “This is a cute moment, I should photograph it” and then actually locate a camera or phone and snap the picture.  There are too many interruptions, mostly in the form of “Mommy, ____.”  (For example, Zach just interrupted me to tell me, “Mommy, chocolate chips are like poop because they are brown.  But they are not poop because they are chocolate chips.”  This happens all day long.)  I even bought those cute stickers you put on your baby to photograph him every month to mark his first 12 months with photos.  I did it consistently for the first five months, and then lost the six month sticker.  My track record has been horrible since then.  Eliza has a baby book that’s mostly completed.  I at least purchased one for Zach.  Ethan does not have one.

Activities.  At this point in Eliza’s life, I had signed us up for a water babies class so we could swim together, and I was in deep debate and research over where to attend other classes like music and exercise ones.  I do not think Ethan will ever make it to one of these things, at least not as a baby.  Ethan is on a daily schedule, but he has to be so much more flexible than Eliza and Zach did.  He misses his morning nap three days a week because of other commitments, and his afternoon nap on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are in the car for carpool pickup.  He doesn’t seem to mind that much, probably because he’s learned he doesn’t have a choice.

Crying.  I must confess it’s easier to listen to Ethan fuss than it was to hear Eliza or Zach fuss.  A new mom was at my house a couple of weeks ago when Ethan woke up from him nap.  He had made two seconds of noise when she said, “Do you want me to go get him?”  I don’t think my brain had even registered that he was awake.  I said, “No, wait a little.  He’s fine.”  Ethan cried a lot as a young baby, but around five months he finally adjusted to the sound of my voice saying, lovingly, “I can’t help you right now baby boy, but I’ll be with you in a minute.”  He had to learn that I would come, eventually, so he started to trust that.  I would stop mid-cooking if Eliza needed me; but with other little mouths to feed now, I don’t stop.

Stimulation.  Ethan is currently sitting in the Pack ‘n Play (in his dirty pajamas) with his toys while I type this.  He does this a lot.  That’s because like with many other things, he doesn’t have a choice.  He does have two older siblings who love to engage with him and “play” with him, though, so he’s not in need of attention.  With Eliza, if I wanted to leave her like I leave him, I would have researched if there would be harmful mental or emotional effects.  I would have sought out a guide on what kinds of toys to leave her with and how many.  Ethan is surrounded by some of his toys, some of his siblings toys, and some cellophane.  And that’s totally cool.

I’m sure there are other things that are different as well, but these are the first ones that come to mind.  I hope Ethan doesn’t hold this information against me one day.  The truth is, he is a very happy baby and maybe that’s in part the result of me being a little less neurotic.  So cheers to third babies and all the things they make you realize aren’t that important.

 

New year, new you? Maybe the old you was already great.


She is oh-so-blunt and oh-so-right!
She is oh-so-blunt and oh-so-right!

Now that Downton Abbey is back on, I am in television dreamland.  And on Sunday, the Dowager Countess had some fabulous one-liners and insights to impart upon the world in the season four premiere.  In one scene, Lady Mary confessed that she feared she wouldn’t be a good mother because her softer side had died with her late husband.  The Countess responded sincerely, “My dear, there’s more than one type of good mother.”

Those words continue to resonate with me, because I know a lot of good moms, and many of them aren’t like me.  But I like to think I’m a good mom as well.  It becomes increasingly clear that there’s no one right way to do this parenting thing.

We all have in our minds some ideal, “perfect parent” and what that person does.  Maybe she reads more with her kids, or cooks better, or keeps a cleaner home.  Or perhaps she signs up her children for every activity, or has more money, or is craftier and not afraid to get Play-Doh on the furniture.  It could be that she never complains, or has a sweeter disposition, or that she works out, or is sexier and gets out of her loungewear on a day-to-day basis.  Just typing out the ideas above makes me realize I could be doing more in all these areas (especially with getting out of my PJs).  But then I am instantly faced with the notion that I’m not doing a good enough job because of things that generally won’t matter one bit when my children are grown.  I am only one person, and the demands of being a wife and a mother (and for some, a provider as well) leave little time for every estimable pursuit that could allure me.  Parenting on a day-to-day basis is sometimes like trench warfare and sometimes more beautiful than anything ever.  We have to prioritize and do the best we can with the things we can predict, and more often than not, the ones we can’t.

Every new year, many of us make resolutions to change for the better.  Perhaps something in my list above about the “perfect parent” is close to one of your resolutions.  I have to say that this year, I did not make any.  I find that I never keep them.  I’m not saying we should not strive to improve or allow God to work in our lives to make us better.  What I’m saying is we should make sure that what we are striving for is both desirable and attainable.  Can you measure when you’ve “gotten there?”  And is where you’re trying to go where you should be?  Is it even possible when realistically considering the constraints of your life?

Doing my best for my unique children and family makes me a good mother.  And it makes you a good parent if those are your goals.  During our visit back home over Christmas, I went to dinner with two very old and dear friends.  One of them said that her New Year’s Resolution was to enjoy every day with her healthy children and husband, and to be thankful for all that she has instead of focusing on the fact that she really hates her teal carpet.  I completely concur.  That’s a resolution I can get behind.

The truth is God has given each of us the children we have for a reason.  Your child or children were born to you for a particular purpose.  Each of us, with our unique personalities, gifts and quirks, has the potential to be a great parent.  The cheerful, stoic, social, shy, creative, nerdy, organized, impulsive, dreamers and doers can all be simultaneously – and in their own ways – great.

Life will never be perfect and there will always be things to get done to improve ourselves and our lives.  Just remember to focus on how you are uniquely suited for your children.  If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf in 2014, remember the Apostle Paul’s words of wisdom in Galatians 6:4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”  Here’s to all of our personal bests this new year!

Parenting lesson #16: You’re not allowed to be sick.


The toilet Zach stopped up for the umpteenth time.
The toilet Zach stopped up for the umpteenth time.

“Mommy, you have to come see the toilet.  The water is way, WAY high!”  That was interruption #3 yesterday during my perfectly orchestrated, one-hour sick nap.

“Did you poop?” I groaned.  “Yes.”  “Did you wipe yourself?” I followed with fearfully, knowing the answer before he spoke because he likes to use half a roll.  (Why do they do that?!?!)  “Ye-esssss.”  “Okay, Zach, don’t touch the toilet.  Don’t flush the toilet.  Leave it alone.  I will get it later.”

You see, I woke up with a fever yesterday morning and peeled myself out of bed, taking all of my energy to pour some bowls of cereal and put a movie on for the older two right when Ethan was going down for a nap. The plan was flawless; real life with three kids is anything but.  Interruption #1 was Greg coming into the room after his nice, leisurely shower to get dressed.  Interruption #2 was the dog barking outside to come in, me hollering for Eliza to let her in, and then the alarm going off because Greg set it so the kids wouldn’t run away while I snoozed.  As if.

As if you can really sleep with three kids in the house.  It’s hard enough to fall asleep when you have one child, wondering if yours is the first super human 2-month-old who can climb out of his crib.  Once you add the second, you know the infant can’t get out of his crib, but the other child could burn down the house.  By the third child, you’re willing to assume your kids will sit nicely in front of the TV while the baby naps because you’ve gotten way more chill and you also have an eldest who will indubitably tell you if anything at all goes wrong.  But you still don’t sleep.

Growing up, I thought my mom never got sick.  I’ve long since realized it’s not that she didn’t get sick, it’s that she wasn’t allowed to be sick.  When moms are sick, they still have take care of everyone.  Even if we need to spend all day in bed to get better, it’s not happening unless someone else takes care of the kids.

I think my older two watched about five hours of television yesterday while I sprawled.  I managed to toss them some crackers and bananas for lunch, and I’m so thankful they actually BOTH napped while I lay in my bed with Ethan, nursing him a lot for fear the illness would hurt my milk supply.  Greg brought some take-out soup home for me for dinner, kissed my forehead and went, “Whoa.”  Yes.  Thank you.  Validation. I was burning up.  I finally took some Tylenol.  I felt much better.  And somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I did manage to plunge the toilet.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing that got done yesterday.

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!