Parenting lesson #42: 21 anythings to make or break a habit.


The idea just popped into my head.

My dad, ever the supportive one on the phone this weekend, was listening to me rant about how my kids don’t clean up after themselves. “You have to make them,” he said. Thanks, dad. Then it just came out of my mouth. “I’m going to make the kids go out the front door, walk in and over to the boot tray, take off their boots, put them on the tray, and then put them back on and do the process over and over again in a row, like 20 times. Maybe that will work.” My dad laughed and said, “Maybe.”

So I did an experiment.

I started with my daughter because she’s the oldest and thus gets to shoulder the most responsibility and highest expectations. (#birthorder) She shrugged, and about every three trips outside asked, “How many more do I have to do?” And I said, “I know you can count, but you’re at 9.” “No way! I’m, like, at 12.” “Fine, 11,” I said. “Nine more.”

She finished. And do you know what happened when she came home from going out with a friend for the afternoon? She walked in the door, went right over to the boot tray, took off her boots, and put them there.

It was glorious.

I know this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a habit or will stick. But just last night, she proudly said as we came in the door, “Look, mommy, I’m putting my boots where they go.

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

“This is amazing. Of course I’m proud. Do you think the experiment worked?”

“I think so,” she said.

Time will be the judge of that. But I’ve always heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. What if it’s the same with muscle memory for tasks such as clearing a plate after eating, hanging up a coat, or washing hands after going to the bathroom? If this truly sticks, I’m going to use it over and over and over again. At least 21 times.

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Parenting lesson #41: You have to clean up your messes.


Being essentially bedridden (on the couch) with my injury, I’m amazed at how many messes my children make that they don’t clean up, especially when all three are home all day.  Have I not taught them how to clean up after themselves?  No, that’s definitely not it.  I’m certain I’ve shown them millions of times.  They.  Simply.  Don’t.

While sitting here in wonderment about the clean socks strewn all over the couch, I have stumbled upon this two-year-old piece I wrote called “You have to clean up your messes.”  And I am marveling at how much repetition is required for teaching young ones … as well as old ones.  One of the most cyclical parenting lessons is how our kids show us daily how little we know and how much we still haven’t mastered.  Because we are constantly learning and evolving and becoming.  Enjoy!

***

January, 2017

Last week, I had to teach Zach a lesson, and it was really painful for both of us.

I asked him if he could take out the trash for me.  I warned him it was heavy and he might not be able to get it up and into the can.  He came back in and said he did it.  I said, “Wow, you didn’t have any trouble?”  He said he didn’t.

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Late that night I was ready to go to bed but the dog had not returned to the door to come in.  Greg was out-of-town and it was 20 degrees.  I was not about to go looking for her.  I turned on the lights in the back; no sign of life.  I checked through the windows to make sure all the gates were closed.  They were.  Since she’s 14 ½-years-old and deaf, I couldn’t call her name and get her to come.  So I waited.  And waited.  Finally, I caught her right out the window, got her attention, and had her come in.

The next morning after I got the kids off to school, I looked out the dining room window and realized why I couldn’t find her.  She had been tearing apart the trash bag that Zach left outside next to the trash can.  There were vegetable and fruit skins, used tissues, and of course, the plastic wrap that had encased a now-consumed bag of rotten fish I had never gotten around to cooking.  (RIP, Abbey.  If you had one, your tombstone would say “stomach of steel.”)

I was fuming, not only because the dog had gotten to the trash, but because Zach had lied.  I decided to leave the mess for him to clean up.

We didn’t get home until just before dark that afternoon, and I told him he had to hurry.  In my unending graciousness, I decided to help him.  As he looked at the trash, he fussed and moaned and groaned and whined.  We got our large dust pan and broom and I began to help him.  As tears streamed down his face, he agonized, “This is SO DISGUSTING! I’m going to BARF!!!” Perhaps the worst part was that I had cleaned out their art supply caddy the day before when they were at school.  What that meant is I threw out some “priceless gems” without telling them (as we have ALL done).  As he choked back tears and bile, he also wondered aloud how I could get rid of his Frankenstein notepad without telling him, and why I would do such a horrible thing in the first place.

***

It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.

***

It was probably the worst 10 minutes of my week.  It made me feel bad about cleaning out their stuff, and it made me feel like I was a bad mom to make him clean up the mess.  It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.  Our kids are so good at making us feel like we’re bad parents when the opposite is true.  There are consequences to lying, and when you make a mess (or are responsible for one), you have to clean it up.  These are life lessons we must teach.  If we do these things for them, we’re doing them a disservice.  College is not the place to learn that your trash goes in the can, you have to put it there, and if you leave it out and a dog noses through it, you have to clean that up, too.

I’ve been called the worst mom in the world.  That happened a few days later when I made two of my three stay home with me for bickering while the other got to go out with friends who were visiting.  And I told my child, “When you say that to me, I know it means that I’m actually a good mom.”  And later that night, I got some of the best cuddles from that very same child.

Everybody lies sometimes.  And we all make messes.  The mess I had to clean was owning up to throwing out Zach’s prized art materials.  I apologized and he forgave me.

I did not promise not to do it in the future because I know I probably will.  If we kept everything the kids brought into this house, we’d be featured on “Hoarders.”  And so, as an adult, I’m capable of making that judgment about some items.  But I have learned, after many tears, that I should check about some items first and give the kids the chance to store things in their rooms if they truly cherish them.

I also know better now that if I’m going to secretly trash a Happy Meal toy, I’d better be the one who takes out the garbage.

***

Learning, growing … becoming.  I can’t wait to do more of these things in 2019!!!

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.

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 #33: Everyone lies, especially parents


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

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


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


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This is but a glimpse of the coffee mess.

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

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

About twenty minutes of peace and quiet later – which is precisely what I knew I was buying with my change of heart – I arrived at the gym.  When I opened his door to get Ethan out, there was no more lip balm left in the Eos container.  It was empty, and Ethan looked at me and said, “Mama, I need a napkin to wash my hands.” IMG_1122

No kidding!  His hands, seat belt, and jacket were so artistically smothered in berry lip balm.IMG_1123

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

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

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

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

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


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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 #20: Some lessons must be learned over and over. And over.


Olivia's photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.
Olivia’s photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.

I’ve never before re-posted a blog.  But I’m amazed at how easy it is for me to lose perspective.  Sometimes I revisit my old posts because I need to re-read the lessons I thought I had learned.

Originally, I called this post “I submit there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and poopage.”  Amazingly, the past 24 hours have not only involved poop (and the remembrance of a death), but also dog vomit and pee.  Of course, they have also included an out-of-town husband and a sick toddler, and with my third child, that means a menace who goes from extreme clinginess accompanied by inconsolability, to running around and destroying things like the Tasmanian Devil.  I think once you have more than one child, it’s all just chaos, and whether you’re cleaning poop off your flip-flop or vomit off the rug, it’s all just part of a day’s work.

The lesson I need to be reminded of is that these ARE the good days.  There are tough moments, but the days are good.  They are blessings.  I didn’t graciously respond to every inquiry or issue today — far from it — but I’ll take it.  I’ll take all the above, because the alternative is devastating.  Yesterday, our dear friends marked four years since their daughter Olivia died unexpectedly.  FOUR YEARS.  And I can assure you, the pain of the loss is so slowly ebbing.  I still keep her photo in our living room as a reminder to treasure all the moments.  And remember to hug and kiss your babies tonight one more time in their sleep because they are still here.

————–

When you spend all day with toddlers, chances are something either really gross or scary (or both) is going to happen at some point in the course of 12 hours.  It’s almost a given.  This morning, I took the kids out in the yard to play.  As I do most days as soon as I get out there, I started to clean up the dog poop to prevent the kids from either accidentally or purposely getting into it.  (Eliza still asks, “Mommy there’s dog poop.  Can I eat it?”)

Well, this morning somehow within about two minutes Zach not only managed to step in a fresh, wet pile (why it couldn’t have been a sun-dried one, I’ll never know), but he also managed to get some in his hair.

And moments like this are frustrating and annoying, but for the past few weeks, I’ve tried to thank God for them.  I don’t want to make anyone cry, but these two weeks have been tough.  Dear friends of ours lost their beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, in a tragic drowning accident on June 23rd.  And I’ve lived through tragic deaths before; but this one has hit me more than any other unexpected loss.  This family is just so amazing, so loving, so wonderful, that it seems so unfair for them to have to live through something like this.  At the viewing, I was hugging Steve, Olivia’s dad, and I said, “You give great hugs.”  And he said, “Hugs are all I’ve got right now.  Do me a favor and hug and kiss your babies for me when you get home.”

I’ve been so struck by how much EVERY moment is a gift.  Though not likely, and certainly not fun to think about, any moment could be my last moment with one of my precious little ones.  And I’ve really pondered that these past couple of weeks.  When Zach has been waking me up (almost nightly for a reason I still haven’t determined, but I think it’s nightmares), in my tiredness and frustration, I’m trying to feel blessed that I can hold him and touch him and comfort him.  When Eliza and I have one of our 72 daily conversations that exacerbates my patience,  I’m trying to be thankful for her inquisitiveness (or desire to be annoying – I am not sure which it is yet).

Just this morning, we had this conversation:

Me: “Eliza, we need to put the Play-Doh away because you’re dropping it on the floor and Zach doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t eat it, so we need to play with it when he’s not around,” and she says,

“Why mommy?” and I say,

“Because he’s still too young to understand that it’s not food,” and then she says,

“But why mommy?”

and I try patiently to come up with an answer (my favorite these days is that I don’t have to explain myself to her and she should trust my judgment).

But back to my point, I guarantee that if she weren’t here tomorrow to ask me these questions, I would give anything (an arm? a leg? all our assets?) for one more annoying moment with her.  And if something happened to Zach, I would give anything to clean the poop off of his shoes again if I could have one more of his amazing hugs.

So in my grief, I want to encourage you to enjoy the gross and scary moments before they’re gone.  And in the words of Steve, go give your babies a hug and a kiss, just because you can.

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?