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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
As a parent, there are a lot of times I have wanted to change my mind about something Greg and I already decided because the easier option is so much more appealing in the moment. Last week, for the second time, I was ready to undo potty training Zach. (The first was in the middle of it.)
For the six of you who read my sporadic blog faithfully, you will recall that a week ago, Zach was interrupted – mid-business – by an automatically-flushing toilet that launched a powerful whirlpool attack underneath him. The two days that ensued are a blur of pee accidents: at a friend’s house for dinner, at the breakfast table in his seat, twice in Eliza’s bed, and perhaps others that I’ve blocked from memory. (Greg was traveling for work and I was in a place where I might have approached a stranger to “borrow” my children for a few hours. Is anybody with me?)
Zach had become terrified of every toilet. It broke my heart. He would walk up to the potty whimpering, pull his pants down, sit down, and cry, “All done, all done!” before letting anything out. He knew what he was supposed to do, but he just couldn’t do it. And frankly, I thought I had done enough pee-cleaning duty two weeks earlier when we trained him. I really wasn’t interested in going back to that place. I wanted to give up and put him back in diapers.
But I knew that Zach wanted to do what he had learned and fear was the problem. I assumed I would confuse him if I asked him to use a diaper again. I imagined him as a five-year-old, still conflicted about where he was supposed to dispose of his waste. I envisioned him holding it all in anyway, afraid to let it out in the diaper because he knew that wasn’t the right place for it either. So I didn’t give in to the seemingly easier choice in the moment. I stuck to the plan.
I’m so glad I did. On Wednesday morning, reluctantly, I took Zach to the museum-like house where I have a Bible study and took him to the basement, describing to the babysitters our situation. I went down a couple of times to take him to his potty that I brought along for familiarity. I knew he had to go. He knew he had to go. I was frustrated. He was uncomfortable. I told him it was going to be okay. I told him the potty could not flush. I named all the people who would be proud of him for letting his pee pee out, including Buzz Light Year and Lightning McQueen.
He still held it in.
He got to a whimpering point. I had lost my patience. I was done talking sweetly because the niceties were not working. He was sitting on the potty, crying in fear. And I stared him down. In that tone every mother has that says I mean business, I demanded, “Zach, we have to leave soon to get Eliza, but I’m not going until you pee. You MUST let your pee pee out.” And his eyes got really big, with full tears waiting to fall, and he released it. And then he smiled, and started telling me in a delighted way how happy he was that he was peeing in the potty. It was like he flipped a switch.
That was Wednesday last week, and for the next two days, I stayed close to the toilet, asked him often if he needed to go, and gave him cookies and gummy snacks every time he got it right. We went to New York on Friday for the weekend. He spent hours in the car. We went to the zoo. He used public toilets successfully, even the auto-flushing ones. And he has not had an accident in five days. The training stuck. I knew that he knew what to do. He had to overcome his fear, and he did. I’m so proud of him.
I know that as my kids grow, there are going to be a lot of times they’re afraid, and it’s going to be so challenging to know when to push them and when to give in. I often ask myself what the harder thing to do is, because more often than not and unfortunately for us as parents, the harder thing to do is the right thing to do.
If you learn anything from this, remember not to put your kids on automatically-flushing toilets. Both of my children have suffered from toilet flushing trauma disorder. And if you have no other option (HERE’S ONE!), then cover the sensor with your hand the WHOLE time your child is on the seat. Leave no room for accidental flushings. It might be difficult in the moment to both cover the sensor and keep your kid from falling in, but in the long run, you could save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.
There is nothing that will re-prioritize your life like having children.
Your to-do list expands overnight when you’re pregnant and you feel the pressure to read the countless books there are on hosting your little human parasite, birthing it and taking care of it. Once you have the baby, your to-do list is almost entirely decided for you. You never know how much time you’ll have before the baby needs you, so you have to decide whether to take a nap (as everyone advises), do laundry, eat something, do the dishes, write thank-you notes, or somehow try to feel like a normal person by talking on the phone to someone or e-mailing.
When I went back to work, the weekends became a juggling act of errands, going through mail, and trying to have “family time.” Personal, pre-children projects like scrapbooking (laughable!) weren’t even in my “top 200 things I want to do list.” When I quit my job five months later, my priority became figuring out what to do with an 8 1/2-month-old who couldn’t have a conversation. Then I found out I was pregnant. Of course, our biggest to-do list item became getting our personal wills done, as the thought of the government deciding what to do with our parent-less child would have been an overwhelming one without pregnancy hormones in play.
When Zach came along, my priority was surviving. My to-do list was to -NOT-die, and not accidentally kill or maim either of my children from lack of sleep. Honestly, the first few months of Zach’s life are a complete blur. I wish I had started blogging then, but even the idea is ridiculous because, well, when could I have done it?
And here we are, with a 3 1/2-year-old and a two-year-old, and things seem a bit more manageable, but now my to-do list has more weighty items on it, like teach the kids to swim, figure out how to build Zach’s character, and research where we should send Eliza to kindergarten (because that decision is, scarily, a year away). And of course, the scrapbooking from pre-baby days has fallen off the list, because it’s never going to get done. I’ve come to terms with that.
The thing is, having kids pushes a lot of things you thought were important in life out of the picture. And kissing them goodbye in return for newborn cuddles was a really tough pill for me to swallow. I like control and I like thinking about myself. But what I’m coming to realize is that I’m just beginning to understand what’s really important, and our kids are showing me that. I am sitting here trying to think of what my normal, after work to-do list was like before we had kids, and I can’t even remember (maybe planning home improvement projects?). I think that is more evidence that a lot of it didn’t matter; it isn’t lasting. What’s lasting is leaving a legacy of children who will love others like we love them, and care about others like we care about them.
So if your to-do list is currently diaper-changing, spit-up cleaning, and round-the-clock feeding, hang in there; it will change again pretty soon. Perhaps not to something easier, but at least, in my opinion, to something more rewarding.
I’m forever changed, and I wouldn’t ever want me – or my to-do list – to be the same again.
“Why didn’t anyone warn me?” I wondered to myself over and over in the early days with a newborn. How could having a baby be so hard, despite attending breastfeeding and infant care classes? How could two educated parents be so clueless?
The answer, I have come to realize, is three-fold. For one, friends did reveal the truth to me to an extent, and so did the birth and baby books I read. But like anything that’s hard (like training for and running a marathon, or making it through medical school, I imagine), people can’t fully make you understand it with words and warnings. Going through it yourself is the only way to truly “get it.”
Second, when I was struggling, I wanted to talk to others who had struggled. Crying on the phone to my childless friends about being tired, feeling trapped and not producing enough milk just wasn’t as comforting (or baggage I wanted to unload on someone who was hopeful to have children some day). I needed to talk to people who could relate, who could promise me I would come out the other end of the exhaustion and struggle. I think this means that we don’t get the real scoop before having a baby.
The third reason is that I have a few friends who have had their babies and everything has been dreamy – they had easy labors and deliveries, their babies were perfect little eating and sleeping angels, and for these friends, life was just beginning. (Haters.) Every family’s experience is so different, even from child to child, that trying to warn people about how bad it could be doesn’t make sense.
All of that said, there are some aspects of becoming a parent that are universal. So, if you want to know what to expect (no matter what), here’s what I can promise:
1. Bleeding: I was left in wonderment at how I was supposed to think missing 8 periods was so glorious when, once I had Eliza, I got all 8 missed periods in a row (and then some). Having a baby makes you bleed. A lot and for a long time. I’m talking about gelatinous clumps in the first 24-48 hours that make you wonder if you’re going to lose all your blood. (And you can’t use tampons.) The good news is that you get these really cool disposable net panties from the hospital or birthing center that you can throw out along with the elephant-sized pads you are provided. This is one of the reasons many postpartum women are anemic, so it’s important to continue taking pre-natal vitamins for the first few months, even if you’re not breastfeeding. (As a side note, my friend who just had a C-section was under the impression that she wouldn’t bleed because when they went in after the baby, they’d get that out, too, along with – in her dream world – a few pounds of extra stomach fat. She had no such luck.)
2. Pain: Whether you have a C-section or a vaginal birth, there is pain after expelling another person from your body. It’s not like the baby comes out and you prance out of the hospital like the sugar plum fairy. They wheel you out in a chair for a reason. And healing takes time, too. You might be on acetaminophen, or you might get heavy duty drugs. If you get heavy duty ones, they might be powerful enough to make you forget that you are wearing the aforementioned netted panties.
3. hormone changes: Some hormone levels drop instantly after a baby is born, and some take a few months to normalize. Almost all women experience some form of “baby blues” (isolation, fragility, and crying) for the first couple of weeks. If you are one of the few who doesn’t, you’re also a hater.
4. Engorgement: Whether or not you end up nursing, your breasts will assume you are. Thus, you will experience engorgement, which can be described as a burning hot pain along with super rock-hard breasts that have filled up with milk. If you don’t want to nurse and you express the milk by pumping, your boobs will keep making more milk, so you just have to suck it up and let them leak and cause pain for a few days. If you are nursing, you will go in-and-out of engorgement as your body tries to figure out how much milk to produce to meet your baby’s needs. It’s really awesome when your newborn starts sleeping longer stretches (like 3 or 4 hours) but your boobs wake you up anyway because they’re engorged, anticipating a feeding.
5. No exercise or sex: At the time when you’re in physical pain and hormonally imbalanced, when a good surge of endorphins would certainly help, you can’t exercise and you can’t jump your husband. The truth is, for the first 6-8 weeks, you won’t really feel like doing either anyway. (And if you thought you didn’t want your breasts fondled during pregnancy, it’s a whole new ball game if you’re nursing, seeing as you could leak or spray milk at just about any time.)
6. You will be able to see your vajayjay again, but you’ll be sorry you looked past your flabby, gelatinous belly to peek at it: No further explanation is needed.
7. Eat, sleep and poop: Granted, your child might not do them in that order, and the frequency of all three ranges from child-to-child, but for the first 6-8 weeks, it’s really all they do. Then they add smiling to the mix. (Yeehaw!)
8. Eating is the most important: Oh my gosh, a newborn’s stomach grows from the size of a marble to the size of a walnut in the first week of life. Then the growth spurts start. The old saying, “Let a sleeping baby lie” is detrimental to your child’s health in the early days. You have to wake them up to feed them sometimes. They must eat at LEAST 8 times a day, but it’s normal for them to eat as many as 12. For several weeks.
9. You will fear the baby is not getting enough to eat: It is unnerving to be responsible for the survival of another human life, and not knowing how much a child is eating and only being able to gauge it by whether the thing is peeing and pooping can be anxiety-inducing, especially for type-A folks. Your pediatrician and/or lactation consultants can help you, so don’t be afraid to ask.
10. You will be afraid you are going to hurt the baby: On our first pediatrician visit with Eliza, Kathy, our lactation consultant, was hurling our baby around as if she were Gumby, bending her into different poses and manhandling her. She was trying to show us how sturdy our love bundle actually was, and that it’s pretty hard to hurt them when they’re so nimble.
11. Exhaustion: Because of 1-9, you will be more tired than you’ve ever been in your life. (Thanks Dana!)
12. Love overload: Yet despite all the above, it is impossible not to be in awe of what God has created through you and another person. There is so much warmth inside on an entirely new level when you nurture a newborn. There’s no way to recreate it and bottle it up, because if I could, I would, and then I’d sell it on eBay and become a bajillionaire. And I believe you still experience this, regardless of your level of postpartum depression (it just might be more in moments than all the time).
There you have it. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I’ve read that some of those hormones make you forget how hard it can be. (Please feel free to fill in my gaps by commenting.) To the childless, consider yourselves warned.
Truth is paramount. I keep telling Eliza and Zach how important it is to tell the truth, mostly so Greg and I can help them, protect them, and teach them. I’m learning that it would be nice if you could teach children to be honest while at the same time tactful. Whereas honesty is pretty black and white to a child, (“Mommy, that lady right there is really fat”), tact, I’m finding out, is going to take longer to teach. (Sometimes people don’t ever get it right.) We have to be able to teach what facts and information are important to divulge. (Okay, maybe even I haven’t figured this one out yet.) And sometimes truth worked out in the logic of a 3-year-old’s mind is simply hilarious. I think part of the reason watching children between the ages of 2 and 4 is so entertaining is because, as my mom has always said, “they say the darnedest things.”
A few weeks ago we were staying with some friends, and I introduced the kids to “The Banana Song” by singing everyone’s name in the car to the tune. Both kids loved it. Eliza said she wanted to sing it, but she just couldn’t do it. Then she said, “Maybe I can sing it when I’m older, when I have hair in my hiney.” I then proceeded (as I felt compelled) to explain Eliza’s understanding that you get hair “down there” when you’re grown up. (See, perhaps my children are doomed as far as learning what to divulge and what to keep quiet.)
Then we were in Florida with family, and while we were all together, we made a Thanksgiving meal and celebrated the holiday early. My older brother, John Henry, is known for being a bit verbose when telling stories. As he had just returned from a hunting trip, he wanted to share some tales. He was in the middle of telling a story about how this deer and cat faced off, providing specific, colorful explanations of every move each animal made, when Eliza said, “Excuse me Uncle Henry, can you just tell me what happens in the end?” We all burst into laughing fits.
In this stage, we are all really getting to enjoy watching the wheels in the kids’ minds turn as they think through things and then verbalize them (in Zach’s case, through babbles, a handful of words and facial expressions). As I’ve said before, I have three different notebooks around the house where I try to remember to jot down the funny things they say so I have a document of them. As long as you write things down somewhere, you’ll be able to remember them. Then you can keep a shoebox for each child so you at least keep the memory. We also set up e-mail addresses when our kids were born, and we send them e-mails to document milestones, write them love letters and memorialize the great moments. Because the truth, especially if it’s funny (or blackmail material down the road), is worth remembering.
I’m pretty sure I had this argument with someone as a kid
Perhaps in this day and age of spell check, you don’t really need to know how to spell to write. It is a required skill, however, to communicate in code around your kids.
Here’s an example of how spelling can come in H-A-N-D-Y. As background, when kids use boobs to eat or pacifiers to soothe themselves, it’s easy to keep them sucking on an airplane during ascent and descent to help with ear-popping. Once they get a little older, I’ve found that lollipops work like magic. On our way back from California this week, Zach finished his lollipop too quickly, but luckily Eliza fell asleep (for the first time on the 5-hour flight) with a half hour left to go. Thus, I gave Greg her remaining lollipop to give to Zach.
When we landed, Eliza woke up and began one of her world-is-ending screaming tantrums. I looked at Greg and said, “Do you have any more of the L-O-L-L-I-P-O-P?”
Of course he didn’t. And of course a masochistic man nearby said, “That spells LOLLIPOP.” (“Really???” I said to him. Luckily, Eliza missed the reference and I managed to calm her down.) But at least I was able to inquire about it without having to say the word. These days, I spell a lot of words.
“Is it okay if they P-L-A-Y?”
“We have B-A-N-A-N-A and I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M.”
And on and on it goes. I remember my parents doing this. I remember spelling out words with my older brother in front on my younger brother so we could communicate about playing together without our third wheel figuring it out. I think the lesson to learn here is that if your children don’t want to practice their spelling words as they get older, you can tell them if they do, they’ll be able to figure out your code-speak.
Of course, by then, we’ll have to come up with different ways to say things, like ice cream will become “the frozen bovine delicacy.” And I’m sure it won’t take long for the kids to figure out our code language. But then it will spur on creative thinking. So if you never learned, start working on your spelling now. You and your kids will benefit.
When you’re a parent, a family vacation does not count as vacation from working. So I have found that for me, getting away without the kids is super important if I’m going to feel refreshed. Greg and I just came back from a four-day lake trip with old friends, and it was heavenly. I can honestly say that if you need assurance you can escape for some adult time, our experience is that it gets easier over time to leave the kids behind.
Perhaps you are a parent that doesn’t believe in ever leaving your children behind for vacation. (As my high school student government teacher used to say, you are entitled to your opinion, however wrong it might be.) Or maybe you think someday you’ll do it, but not until your kids are much older. (Completely understandable, but still wrong.) Or maybe you’re interested in doing it after you’re no longer breastfeeding, whenever that day seems to come, or even a soon as you can find someone willing to give you the break. (I was one of those, so of course I think I’m right.) And though I will admit it is difficult to do, I would highly encourage it for the sake of your marriage and sanity, provided you have friends or family you would trust to take care of your kids.
I have come up with a definition of stay-at-home parenting. It is like having a challenging, awesome job, mostly because things are always changing and you adore your colleagues. But the difference between this job and all others is that you live with your co-workers, too. So even though you might not be working 24/7 per se, your boss and work friends are always around and you are inevitably immersed in work conversations, gossip and to-do lists. I don’t see how anyone could do it without needing some time off, not only to refresh but also to remember that there are other things going on in the world. (And this need I’m sure heightens for working parents.)
When Eliza was about 11-months-old, Greg and I took our first overnight trip away. We left her with both of my parents at our house and about a two-page detailed instruction guide regarding her schedule and every potential scenario they might face and how to handle it. We ended up at a restaurant about 2 hours away where we did not have cell phone reception. (This was not on purpose.) It was unnerving, especially because I was pregnant and thus not willing to use a good cocktail to calm myself. But the restaurant called our house for us and reported that all was well. We were able to breathe a bit easier, relax and enjoy ourselves. It was the first successful attempt and it worked: Eliza and my parents survived unscathed. We were gone a total of about 16 hours. And it was amazing.
Then a few months later we took a “babymoon” outside of the country. We left Eliza with my mom for nearly six days, again with detailed instructions. Both my mom and Eliza came out of it alive. Each time you successfully leave, it builds confidence that you can do it the next time. (And video chatting helps!)
Then along came Zach. That complicated things. It’s one thing to leave a single toddler behind. It’s another to leave a baby and a toddler. We took our first overnight trip away when Zach was 7-months-old and Eliza was about to turn 2. We of course left detailed instructions and I had to pump a lot.
And now, here we are. Zach is 20-months and Eliza is 3. Though Zach still isn’t the perfect sleeper, he’s generally now in a phase where he’s done teething (until those 2-year molars come in), he eats table food, and he and Eliza play together. This time, I left my mom behind without a schedule or instructions and a hurricane approaching. She knows they nap in the afternoon and when they generally go to bed. They can feed themselves. They tell you when they’re hungry and thirsty. (Well, Zach pretty much just points and screams, but I consider that communication.)
The point is that I’ve never been as comfortable as I was this time around. I had less of an idea what they would eat and do than ever before, and I was okay with that. Time spent getting spoiled by grandma is important. And though I missed the kids terribly, Greg and I were able to celebrate our ten years of marriage by having fun and enjoying each other, which is what made us want to be together and have a family in the first place.
So, if you’re waiting until it “feels right” to leave your child or children at home (even just for a date night), I would highly encourage you to get out and do it. Because marriage is hard work that’s worth working for … and sometimes that means taking a vacation.