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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Parenting lesson #25: Mommy brain never goes away.


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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.

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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.

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


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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.

 

Parenting lesson #11: There will always be poop to clean up.


Just ... ugh.
Just … ugh.

When you have little children, it’s easy to daydream about being done with diapers and blow-outs and leaks and toilet training.  But the truth is that even when you’re out of this phase, there will still be poop to clean up.

Tuesday we had a snow day.  Now, our Christmas break began December 19th, and that night Zach and Greg started flu symptoms.  Eliza succumbed the following Monday.  On Christmas, I still had three pretty flat-out family members and a rambunctious, healthy toddler.  Then after another week of having three kids at home, I sent them off to school Monday and took a nice, long, deep breath.  Thus, to have a snow day one day after school began again seemed so … unfair.  As the snow piled up outside, three other people in this family who use toilets (read: not me) also managed to “pile up” some things.  And they clogged two of our loos.

I was sitting on the couch trying to appreciate being “all here,” when I heard Zach whine talking to himself in the bathroom.  “I can’t use three pieces of toilet paper.  It’s not enough and now mommy’s going to be so mad with me.  I used too much toilet paper but I’m so sorry about it because I used more than three pieces.”  I waited for him to emerge.  And he gave me the saddest look and apologized for using too much toilet paper.  I told him it was alright and ignored the bathroom because I wasn’t ready to deal with whatever had happened yet.  Several hours later I had forgotten about it until I went in the bathroom and saw a toilet filled with half a roll of soaked tissue covering a brown mess that looked more like a bird’s nest than a branch.  It was a scene that on this snow day, was all too familiar.  And unfortunately for Zach, one I had witnessed one too many times (and the second stoppage of the day).

Me: “Zach, come in the bathroom.  I didn’t realize this is what you did with the toilet paper.  This is way too much toilet paper.  We’ve talked about this before.  You’re going to clean it up.”

Zach: “I’m sorry mommy.”

Me: “I’m going to go get the trash can.  You have to pull all the toilet paper out until there’s not too much to flush.”

Zach (in disbelief): “WITH MY HANDS!?!?”

Me: “Yes, because that’s what I would have to do and maybe if you do it this time, you’ll remember this the next time you consider using more than three squares of toilet paper for each wipe.”

Can you see how much toilet paper is in the trash and how much is STILL in the toilet?
Can you see how much toilet paper is in the trash and how much is STILL in the toilet?

It’s been three days since the snow day toilet debacle, and so far, Zach has amazingly had zero issues in the bathroom.  We will see if it sticks.  But even if it does, I still won’t be done dealing with poop issues.  Even once Ethan is out of diapers, toilet trained, and past using too much toilet paper, there will still be gross messes.  They will come in the form of school issues and bullying and crushed dreams and dying friendships and break-ups and a hundred other things I can’t anticipate and don’t want to.  So pull up your sleeves, grab your rubber gloves, and get ready to dig in.  Because the poop of life takes many forms, and once you have kids, helping them deal with it never ends.

Parenting lesson #5: Mommy brain is real.


Forget actual scientific research.  I don’t care what (mostly male) researchers have to say about pregnancy or momnesia.  I am confident I can claim 100% matter-of-factly that “mommy brain” is a real ailment.  It is my diagnosis for having a short attention span, terrible recall, and doing stupid stuff.

The coffee does not come out from there.
Exhibit A: Before having kids, I would have known coffee does not come out of that side.

Take Exhibit A.  Not once, but TWICE, I have tried to pour coffee into my mug from the hinged back of this coffee carafe instead of where the dispenser spout is.  I took this picture to document the second time this happened.  If you look closely, you can see that I managed to drench the sugar in the sugar bowl with coffee as well as the tablecloth before my friends were able to stop me.

And this is one documented example of hundreds.  I have poured coffee into my cereal and milk in my orange juice.  I have even poured liquids straight onto the counter.  I have found my missing keys in the refrigerator.    I can’t even recall simple words like “mug” and “cabinet,” so I often ask Greg to get me a “thing” from the “thing” and hope he can deduce what I need because I’m holding a coffee carafe.  This week alone, here is what I remember: On Monday I forgot to strap Ethan into his car seat when I went to the gym.  On Tuesday, I took out the trash in the pouring rain on my way out the door, and upon returning, Eliza said, “Mommy, the front door is open!”  Just to be safe, I waited for three police cars to arrive 20 minutes later to check that it wasn’t an intruder who had opened my door, but rather that we had left for two hours without closing and locking up.  Yesterday I grabbed my mailbox key instead of my neighbor’s house key to let out their dog, and I didn’t figure out the mistake until the key didn’t work in their door.  And just now as Greg got home, we found I had left my keys in the door for the umpteenth time.

Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head.  Imagine how much of my brain just Ethan took.
Exhibit B.  Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head. Imagine how much of my brain Ethan sucked into his.

Check out Exhibit B.  I’m going to say that the laws of proportion back me up on this.  My thought is if your body incubates a baby and provides what it needs to grow its own organs, bones, and especially brain, then just as the baby will take Vitamin D and Calcium from your bones, it will also take cells from your brain.  It also follows that the more times you go through this process, the worse off you are.  I’ve read that the parts of your brain that control motivation, reward behavior and emotion regulation actually grow after you give birth, presumably to help you care for the child.  That’s lovely.  But my brain can only do so much at a given time, so keeping a baby’s needs at the forefront means other things – like remembering the word “chair” – go out the window.  In fact, a British study showed that hormones can control spatial memory, which would explain why when you’re pregnant or a mommy with a baby, you can’t remember where you put things or why you walked into a room in the first place.

Sleep deprivation has to be a part of it.  We are sleep-deprived when pregnant, and even more so after giving birth.  This past week, Ethan has woken up every night, I think because he’s going through a growth spurt.  I fed him a bottle for a few nights in a row, and now I think he’s waking up because he got in that pattern.  (Ugh.)  He was sick before this, so I haven’t had a good night of uninterrupted sleep in a while.  Mommy brain always gets worse at times like these.  I am hopeful that I can get close to normal again soon.  I do think I remember it getting better.  I vaguely recall that once Zach was two, I felt like my brain was sharper and I could remember things better.  I think …

I think I’m resigned to having mommy brain forever because I’m getting older.  And maybe that’s part of it, too: maybe women are having children later in life, and so our brains are already less capable of bouncing back easily.  Like I said, I don’t claim to have any scientific basis for my conclusion.  I just know I’m right.  It is the one thing I can trust my brain on these days.

What is your funniest pregnancy or mommy brain moment?

 

Parenting lesson #17: Forgive yourself and get over it.


There’s nothing in life so far that has forced me to face my own flaws like parenthood has.  Daily there are flashes of brilliance or tender moments that take place within minutes of epic failure.  Work wasn’t really like this; at work, I never would have acted this way.

Is your glass half full, half empty, or just empty?
Is your glass half full, half empty, or just empty?

On Saturday, our children wanted to have a family movie night.  We decided to serve them dinner in front of the TV, and as I poured milk for each child, my brain warned me, “You should put this in a lidded cup for Zach.  He is going to find a way to spill this.”  Sometimes, though, you ignore your inner voice of reason because in the moment, you don’t want to change course because that would require energy you simply don’t have AND you are secretly holding out hope that you could be wrong in your pessimism.  It did not take long for Zach to reach for his drink and knock over the full cup on our ottoman.  He started crying about spilling it immediately.  And what was my reaction?  I screamed in frustration, at the top of my lungs, “ZAAAAAAAAAAAACH!!!”  (So much for putting into practice the old adage, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”)

Not long after, we were getting ready for bed and Eliza was singing one line from a song over and over and over again, as she has the habit of doing sporadically for about a total of three hours each day.  (That is a conservative estimate.)  Thus, she was dressing while chanting, “Stay in the fight ’till the final rou-ound” on an endless loop.  I lashed out at her about not wanting to hear it.  Then she asked, “Do you not like to hear my singing mama?”  And I said, “No, Eliza, I actually don’t like to listen to it when you sing the same thing over and over and over and over.  I do like it when you sing a song.”  For a five-year-old who seems to have the hormone levels of a 12-year-old mixed with those of a 48-year-old, this of course elicited tears and hurt.

As I cuddled my little girl not long after, she asked me what was wrong.  (She has a sixth sense about these things.)  I told her that I felt bad about myself for lashing out at Zach the way I did, even though I had apologized, and for making her feel bad about singing.  I told her I didn’t like to mess up like that or treat them in those ways.  And she said, “Mama, forgive yourself and get over it.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  I asked where she came up with that, and she raised one shoulder to say “I don’t know” as she pointed toward the ceiling to  indicate it came from God.

Although as parents we will mess up daily, unlike with a work job, we can’t get fired.  These little beings can’t get rid of us (well, for the most part).  And when we don’t treat them the way we should, which for me happens daily, they are so quick to forgive.  And then they are over it.  Grace like that is nothing shy of breathtaking.  So despite our inevitable flaws, our little ones remind us to let go of the bad and cling to the good – those precious moments that are interspersed amid our mess-ups.

Philippians 4:8 Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

Parenting lesson #10: Be prepared, but when the diarrhea hits the fan, seek help from another parent.


I like to be prepared.  Although having three kids has thrown my life into more chaos than two ever did, I still try to keep myself from getting caught off-guard.  For example, as a general rule, I have six diapers in the diaper bag.  My nursing class teacher shared how she got stuck traveling with her baby who had diarrhea.  Flight attendants had to take turns running paper towels to her seat, and the story stuck with me.  I don’t ever want to have diarrhea all over me in a place where I can’t get to a change of clothes.

This story comes to mind when I travel, so I try to pack extra diapers.  But for our last trip home from Florida, I had three remaining diapers when we left for the airport.  It should have been more than enough to get me through.  But that’s not how things went down.

We knew when we left for the airport that our flight was delayed.  What we could not have foreseen was that the one-hour delay would become a four-hour delay, the final hour of which came once everyone had boarded the plane and a rogue piece of luggage fell from the overhead compartment, injuring a passenger.  This necessitated emergency aid in the form of a sheriff’s vehicle and fire truck pulling up next to us at the gateway “just in case” while the crew waited for this passenger to feel better.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)

The rip-off package of two diapers and eight wipes.  No thanks (but good to know they're there)!
The rip-off package of two diapers and eight wipes. No thanks (but good to know they’re there)!

When your 5-6 hours traveling with three children becomes 9-10 hours, you learn to relax.  You roll with the punches.  And you improvise.  A four-hour delay with Eliza would have had me sweating bullets about the diaper dilemma.  But with Ethan, I wasn’t all that concerned, despite having used up two diapers before our flight even took off.  I briefly considered buying the $5 airport pack of two diapers and eight wipes, but the cheap skate in me just couldn’t do it, and the diapers weren’t the right size anyway.  But the anal-retentive part of me couldn’t board the plane with only one remaining diaper.  (I might be anal, but Ethan is not!  And diarrhea was what I feared, remember?)  I decided to make a new friend.  There was a woman with an 11-month-old nearby.  I introduced myself, explained my situation, and asked if she had a diaper to spare.  She was happy to help.  I told her I just needed a one-diaper cushion.

Thank goodness for that woman.  And every other mom or dad who has been that person for another mom or dad in need.  I must confess that I haven’t always had the most gracious thoughts towards unprepared parents.  But the truth is we all need help sometimes.  No matter how well you plan or predict, parenting is beautifully unpredictable.  In the end, I did need that diaper.  I used one on the plane, and then of course Ethan pooped as I waited at baggage claim for Greg to pull up the car.  No, the little man didn’t get diarrhea.  And if he had, I might have ended up like my nursing class teacher.  But I have found that stressing out about every potential worst-case scenario makes for a really stressed-out mom.  Which can give you … diarrhea.

Parenting lesson #3: You are embarking on a new phase in life that many see as an invitation for unsolicited advice and judgment.


They certainly look like a fun way to pass the time …

As with everything else, not everyone will agree with you when it comes to parenting.  And it seems like more so than in any other occupation, family and strangers alike feel the need to voice their opinions about the job you’re doing.  It’s possible there’s nothing else we do in public that’s as judgment-inducing as how we deal with our children.  When you have a newborn and you’re already nervous about being out, inevitably some little old lady will tell you that your baby – who is in a fleece sleeper and covered in blankets – is cold.  When Eliza was four-weeks-old and I was dealing with feeding issues, my mother-in-law came to visit.  I had just fed Eliza and she was crying.  My MIL said, “Do you think she’s hungry?  Why don’t you just give her some formula?”

I wish I could say that these unsolicited remarks end at some point, but they do not.  It happened to me Wednesday while traveling alone with the kids, and I know it will happen hundreds more times.  After spending 1 1/2 hours driving to the airport, and the next 1 1/2 hours going through security and traipsing the kids across the terminal for 3 gate changes, I was already spent.  Honestly I was just thankful I hadn’t lost my kids in an elevator or bathroom.  But the wait wasn’t over.  There were storms that were keeping our plane circling above, and in the end, our flight was delayed an hour-and-a-half.  When your kids are at the past-exhausted, giggly, we’re going to hit each other because it’s funny mode, you can only do so much.  I decided that getting them some exercise on the moving walkways was a good way to expend energy and pass the time.

Once there, I felt a little like perhaps this wasn’t the best decision.  I didn’t want to be in the way of people hurrying to make their connections.  I did a decent job keeping the kids to the right so people could pass on the left.  Regardless, there was one older couple traveling with a single female companion, and they all huffed and puffed as they walked around us and threw me disapproving glances.  Then the single companion said to my kids after passing them, “Children, hold on to the railing!”

In some ways, it’s entirely annoying that others – especially strangers – do this.  I am not perfect and I might not always make the best decisions, but I would appreciate it if people assumed I have thought through what I’m doing.  Were my children in danger of falling?  I don’t think so.  Were they in the way of others?  Perhaps a little.  Did their presence on the moving walkway hinder anyone?  Maybe by a few seconds.  But honestly, if you’re a stranger and you want to help a parent, sending dirty looks at her is not helpful.  If this woman had looked at me and said, “Do you need some help?  Would you like me to hold their hands and help you get through the walkway?”, I would have known she was concerned for their well-being, not trying to chastise me for what she thought was carelessness.  There’s a part of me that wishes I would have reacted how Greg would have reacted, which would have been by saying, “Yes, and kids, remember not to speak unless spoken to.”

I really hope that regardless what stage I’m in with my kids, I give others the benefit of the doubt, and if I really want to be helpful, that I’ll offer actual help, not judgment.  When I see a woman holding her baby in one arm and feeding her toddler some candy with her other while loading groceries into her car, I’m going to offer to strap her baby into his car seat or load her groceries, not shake my head at her for giving a toddler candy.  Because I’ve been there, and I don’t want to forget what it’s like to live that tough moment.

This parenting journey is hard, with lots of twists and turns.  Sometimes what we need least are these opinionated naysayers.  But if we can laugh it off, and perhaps take any bit of truth from these incidents for the next test, it’s all part of the experience – the wonderful, challenging, beautiful experience.

Parenting lesson #18: You will use the same phrases your parents said to you that you swore you would never use


Every parent will experience this moment.  No matter how much you swore to yourself up-and-down as a child that you would never torture your own children with that phrase, you will hear it out of your mouth.  And then (GASP!), out of your child’s mouth.

We were driving away from church yesterday when Eliza asked if we were going to the pool.  And I said something like, “We can probably do that, but after naps.”  And she said, “We can do it the easy way or the hard way.”  Gulp.  There it was.  I heard this Larry-ism (my dad) echoing in the recesses of my brain and realized that there was no way she came up with that on her own.  Especially because when she said it, it didn’t make any sense.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”  It hung in the car and Greg and I looked at each other.  I envisioned all those mornings before school growing up.  I thought I had forgotten these terrible memories, but I had not.  My dad has a growlish sound to his voice when he’s angry.  You knew you had tested him to his limits when he got to this point.  And he got angry just about every morning when it came time to brush my teeth.  (As an orthodontist’s daughter, I was destined to rebel against dental care.)  I have obviously blocked out what I could have possibly done to deserve that phrase.  But I can imagine that the exchange every day included at least these three things:

“Why do I have to brush my teeth?”

“I don’t want to.”

And the best one, “You can’t make me!”

I understand now so clearly how frustrating I was to my dad.  I always knew that we had reached the end of the battle when he would bark, “Christine, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” And he would sprawl me horizontally on his lap and pin me down as I screamed, kicked and twisted my head.  The torture of it all!  How dare he brush my teeth!

Looking back, I think I so hated this phrase because it signified defeat.  I do not like to give in.  And here I am.  Thirty years later, I have done this to my two children.  I have pinned their puny arms down with one of mine while saying this weighty phrase and forcing a toothbrush into their little traps.  At least I believe I say it rationally and calmly, without the growl.  These days, the kids are both great at allowing us to brush their teeth.  They generally don’t fight it at all.  As with anything involving children, though, it is an unpredictable pattern and I have no idea if we will regress back to these necessary teeth-brushing battles.  And so the phrase will live on, despite my desire to retire it.  There are some matters in which children do not have a choice.  I can’t think of a better way of explaining to them that there are some things they must do; the power they have is in how they do them.  There is an easy way and a hard way for a lot of things.

Just as I eventually stopped squirming in my father’s arms as he tried to be a good dad, I will give in to using this phrase, and at least attempt to use it only when needed – and even then, without the growl.

Have you heard your mom or dad speaking through you?