Parenting lesson #30: Getting away gets easier

The lake view from our balcony as the sun set

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.

Parenting lesson #29: You will catch yourself in a “Do as I say, not as I do” moment

Quiet and alone.  That’s what I want to be.  It’s just another way that parenthood has changed me.  Four years ago, I scored 100% extroverted on the Myers-Briggs test.  Now I get energized by peace and quiet.  I want to pee alone and I can’t even do that.  This morning, by the time I was shoving food into my mouth, I wanted nothing more than to eat alone.  (It was “one of those mornings.”)  But alas, alone is not my reality.

This morning, Zach finished his blueberries quickly, and began to whine and point at Eliza’s.  Because he still only says about ten words, and blueberries is not one of them, whining and pointing is his main way of communicating exactly what he wants.  She understood immediately, and in a high-pitched voice, said, “Oh, Zach, you want some blueberries?  Okay, here you can have two.”  And she handed them over.  It was a melt-my-heart moment.  She was so loving, so giving, so cute in that instant!  I welled with pride, thinking to myself, “All my work is paying off.  She is turning into someone who wants to give and share.”  I patted myself on the back.

Not 10 minutes later, I was barking at her to occupy herself so I could finally eat something because I was hungry.  I poured myself a meager bowl of Raisin Bran, emptying the bag’s contents and realizing it wasn’t quite the amount I had hoped for.  I added my milk, plopped on the living room couch, and instantly had a visitor.  Eliza jumped beside me, opened her mouth to indicate she wanted some, and said, “Mommy, can I have some?”  And I said, with an attitude, “Eliza, you had your breakfast.  I didn’t get eggs and fruit like you did, I have this cereal.  This is mine.  I’m not going to give you any.”

Whoops.  Instantly my heart sank as I realized how selfish I was being.  I, the one who wants so much to teach my children to put others first and to share what they have, was refusing a bite of bran cereal (BRAN CEREAL!) to my 3-year-old.  And just 10 minutes after I watched her share her coveted blueberries.

I was so embarrassed.  I changed my attitude and said, “You know what?  I’ll share with you.  I’d love to share,” or something like that.  I probably gave her 4 bites of my 15 bites of cereal.  And she said, “We always share our food, right mommy?”  And I said, “Right.”

Getting married really shows you how ugly you can be, but having children magnifies it ten-fold.  When you watch your toddlers pointing their fingers at their friends while yelling at them to do this or that, you realize they learned it from … somewhere.  (Yes, YOU.)  It is humbling and revealing and amazing.  And yes, now that I’m having a quiet and alone moment because both kids are napping, I can see clearly enough to realize this is a good thing.  I know I’ll be ready for the wild and crazy, extroverted afternoon.  It beckons now – Zach just woke up!

Parenting lesson # 23: Your kids learn to talk by repeating what you say.

Teaching your kids to talk is a double-edged sword.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve already been embarrassed by what Eliza has said, mostly because it’s so obvious she’s repeating something she learned from me.  Something bad.  And it only seems to be getting worse.

Luckily for me, there haven’t been any recent instances of her saying “dammit!” like she learned about a year ago.  I taught myself not to say that word.  No, now she is much more into poop.

We’re trying to train her that “poop” talk is not funny, but somehow, especially with her friends, it is the funniest word she knows.  They will sit and giggle and just say it over and over and over.  It doesn’t help that yesterday, she was playing and just kept saying, “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap” when she couldn’t get things to go her way.  I instantly knew she must have heard me say that (apparently it is my replacement for “dammit”).  It was such an ironic moment because I keep trying to tell her not to use potty talk, but I do it obviously often enough for her to pick up the word and its proper usage (though I don’t think she knows that crap is a worse form of the word poop.  Yet.)

It’s the classic lesson of “do as I say, not as I do.”  It’s often funny to hear your kids repeat the not-so-great things you say, but it’s also scary.  It’s like every sentence you speak goes on the record and could be repeated at any moment (most likely when it would be the most mortifying).  So, now I can add “crap” to my list of no-no words.  I’m quickly running out of options.  Maybe I’ll start saying “drat” or make up a word, like, “snaggle!”  I need to come up with something before I fall on my proverbial “double-edged” sword.

Parenting lesson #1: Your birth plan is to get the baby out

Still able to smile after all my plans failed

At some point during pregnancy, someone or some book or some article tells you to think through your “birth plan” and write it out for your doctors.  After having two kids, I can honestly say the best advice I have is this: do not spend a lot of time planning out an event that is by nature entirely unpredictable.  I mean, the term itself is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp.

Sure, it’s good to have an idea of what you want so you can sign up for the right classes or anesthesiologist, and it’s good to weigh health risks of certain interventions and procedures.  But I didn’t understand the ridiculousness of my 3-page (typed!) plan until way after my episiotomy and tear scars had healed.  So I learned from my lesson, and with Zach, I told my OB that my birth plan was to get him out (safely).

Thus, I thought it might be fun for my pregnant friends and readers to see some of my birth plan (I wouldn’t dare bore you with the whole thing) compared to how differently things actually went.  The best lesson childbirth gives you to prepare you for parenthood is how to deal with unpredictability.

“We would like to do all we can to have a natural delivery while keeping the baby’s health the priority.  We will attempt to labor at home until contractions are two minutes apart, but with the knowledge that pain management or other complications might send us to the hospital earlier.”  Natural it was not.  I don’t think I’d even call it vaginal because my rectum became so involved in the whole process.  I distinctly remember calling the OB number about six hours after my water broke and 12 hours into labor.  The on-call doctor called me back, and when I told her my contractions were erratic and 3-5 minutes apart but that I wanted to come into the hospital, she said, “that’s not part of your birth plan.”  I wanted to say, “It is now!”

“As much as possible, we would like privacy during our birth.  Once I’m in stage two of labor, we do not want anyone but us and the doula in the room.  Additionally, after the baby is born, we want an hour to ourselves (without the doula) before anyone else interrupts our time (aside from medical personnel when absolutely necessary).”  There were probably 6-12 people in-and-out of the delivery room during my nearly two hours of pushing.  I almost fainted, so I think there was a team there responsible for me and also a surgical specialist waiting, among others.  Once Eliza came out, a bunch of new faces appeared during my 40-minutes of getting sewn up, and I realized later they were interns and residents.  If you will deliver at a teaching hospital and don’t want anyone to, ahem, learn about va-jay-jays while staring at yours, there is most likely a way to prevent this if you ask for the right paperwork.

“We would like as much freedom of movement as possible and as much choice in birthing positions as feasible.  Thus, having intermittent electronic fetal monitoring and a saline or heparin lock IV are important to us so that we are as free as possible to improvise.”  I had lots of freedom until I got drugs.  Then I had no freedom.  For pushing, I was on my back with my legs up like you see in all the movies and lots of videos.  It makes it easy for the doctor to see, and let’s be honest, isn’t that what really matters?  (Can you sense the dripping sarcasm?)

Specific interventions:

Epidural – only administered between 5 and 8 cm dilation, and only under circumstances listed above.  I had been advised to get the epidural in that window because that would give it the least chance of slowing down my labor.  Although I got it at 5 cm, it slowed me down anyway.

Pitosin – only administered if there’s a question about the fetal heart rate, the baby is asynclitic (head turned to the side or posterior), or aphoditic (the baby is no longer getting good circulation from the umbilical cord).  I am not interested in having Pitosin administered to speed up stage 3 of labor.  I wasn’t interested in it but I got it anyway after I hadn’t made any progress for two hours.  We were approaching 20 hours since my water had broken and needed to get things moving.  It turned out Eliza was posterior anyway, and she just didn’t manage to turn on her way out.

vaginal exams – only as necessary.  Hey, what do you know, I found something else that went as planned.  I didn’t have very many of these.

Episiotomy – only if absolutely necessary and we would like to be asked about the decision.  I would definitely like to know what the doctor will do to help prepare my perineum.  The doctor, who was not my OB, did not ask.  I knew he was cutting me because my epidural had been turned off for pushing and I felt him snip me three times.

If you’ve gotten through to this point, I do want to say I hope I am not scaring (or scarring) you.  My labor with Zach was everything I could have dreamed of at less than two hours and completely natural.  The bottom line is despite my two very different experiences, both of my kids made their ways out of my womb and into this world healthily.  So try not to freak out about your “birth plan,” and concern yourself with more important things, like sleeping a lot and thinking through what to eat right now because food will never taste as good as it does when you’re pregnant.

Parenting lesson #27: the extent to which things go wrong is directly proportional to how unrealistic your expectations are

On the days when everything has to go right for your plans to work out, inevitably just about everything will go wrong.  And if I really think it through, most of the time it’s my fault for expecting too much of myself and my kids.

Yesterday, my plan for the day was to get up, run, shower, feed the kids and get ready, go to our 10 a.m. music class, then, assuming Zach was hanging in there, head to Chuck-e-Cheese’s to meet up with a friend, get home for naps and build my lasagna for dinner, then once they woke up, head to the mall to hit up Old Navy’s sale with my Groupon and Gymboree with my Gymbucks, and finally go to the grocery store to pick up essentials and dessert fruit before hosting our friend and her son for dinner.  (Lovely, Zach just spilled a bottle of hot pink nail polish on the floor.)

The day, of course, did not get off on the right foot because Zach had a nightmare and spent two-and-a-half hours awake before finally falling to sleep again.  Instead of sleeping in, he woke up ready for the day at 6:15 a.m.  I knew he would need a morning nap or we’d never make it.  So after the morning eat and get dressed routine, I put Zach to bed at 8:30 with my fingers crossed that he would fall asleep.  At 8:45 he was still making all kinds of noise, so I checked on him and discovered he had taken his large morning poop.  Great, now he could sleep.  Well, he didn’t fall asleep until 9:15.

At 9:45, I made the decision to wake him up and go to music class anyway.  As a caveat, the only way to explain this is to say I am my father’s daughter.  When I was a kid and McDonald’s had its 29-cent hamburgers and 39-cent cheeseburgers for a limited time and a 10 burger limit per person, my family would pile in our minivan, my mom would go through the drive thru, and my dad, older brother and I would each get in a separate line inside.  We would head home with 40 hamburgers and cheeseburgers to freeze.

So, back to my music class … this class is $25 for the two of them and 45-minutes long, and because I don’t like wasting money, I couldn’t imagine skipping it so little man could make up his missed nighttime sleep.

Off we went.  Of course, Zach couldn’t really be peeled off of me because he was a hot mess.  When I did put him down, he proceeded to throw a temper tantrum that consisted of lying face down on the dirty tile floor, pounding his fists on the ground and kicking his feet.  I left him there, but noticed he had brown stains on the back of his shorts.  I checked him and realized his diaper was leaking.  Let me begin by saying this was a complete mystery to me, seeing as he had already taken a huge dump, and he hadn’t leaked out of his diaper in this way since he was at best 3-months-old.  So of course you understand why I did not have spare clothes.  (When you’re prepared, you never need them.)  And my diapers and wipes were in the car.  I agonized for 10 minutes over what to do, whether to just hold him and wait it out until the end of class, or risk leaving Eliza inside alone and run to the car.  I finally decided to head to the car as the leakage escalated, so I indicated my situation to a friend so she could keep an eye on Eliza and left to decontaminate Zach.

While cleaning up the blowout, I noticed a man sitting in his car in the parking lot, talking on the phone.  It seemed strange.  So when I decided to leave my purse in the car to avoid having to carry it and my koala baby, I took my wallet out and hid it in the center console.  I went back into the class with Zach in only a diaper and t-shirt.  I’m generally beyond caring about judging, especially on this day in this moment.

We finished up class and it was 11:15 by the time we left.  I decided to take a detour to the mall then, because it was only a few blocks away and I figured I could find some pants for Zach in the same amount of time it would take to go home and get him fresh ones before heading to Chuck-e-Cheese’s.  So off we went.  For the 10 minutes we were in Old Navy shopping, Zach was a mess.  He didn’t want to stay in the stroller after I put some jeans on him to make sure they fit, and I figured at this point that he was not only tired, but also hungry as well.  So I was in a hurry.  I got to the checkout line, ready to get the heck out of there.  Everyone was staring at me, in part because they had to scan pants that Zach was wearing as I explained that he came in the store without any, and in part because he and Eliza were running around playing with balls.

I stuck my hand in my purse and did my usual wallet search, only to realize it was not there.  Instantly, my memory flashed back to the parking lot where I moved it to the center console to hide it.  My wallet was a 5-minute walk and elevator ride away in the car.  If you are a fan of the movie, “A Christmas Story,” that moment was sort of like when Ralphie drops his pan of  lug nuts while helping his dad change their flat tire.  “Ohhhhhh … fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuddddddgggggeeee.”

I smiled at the clerk, asked if he could hold my stuff, and took screaming Zach (in stolen pants, essentially) and questioning Eliza (“Mommy, where we going?  Where are my pants and fancy shoes?”) back to the car, realizing it was noon and there was really no way we were going to make it to Chuck-e-Cheese’s.  I finally made it back to Old Navy to pay for the stolen pants Zach and the few other things I wanted to buy.  I headed, defeated, to the food court and fed them.  They were actually a little better after eating, so I spent my Gymbucks (while Zach continued to fuss) and then booked it the heck out of the mall to get them home for much-needed naps.

The good news is that Zach didn’t fight his nap this time and Eliza wanted me to cuddle her.  I lay there thinking about the lasagna I needed to prep, but the thought drifted off as I succumbed to sleep.  An hour later I woke with Eliza in my arms and moved to my own bed, where I slept another hour until Zach woke me.

In the end, my friend came over early and brought what I needed to complete the lasagna.  I’m just out of some staple foods and we missed Chuck-e-Cheese’s.  But looking back, I know I had doomed myself from the start.  With the kids in tow, errands take exponentially more time with potty and diapering breaks, and pauses to explain why we’re not buying the Hello Kitty lunchbox at the checkout line.  And kids also don’t need seven activities planned to fill up their days.  Music class and Chuck-e-Cheese’s in one morning is a lot to ask of them.  Parenthood teaches you flexibility, because plans can only be so set when these little people are so needy.  And I also learned to be sure I always have spare clothes for both kids in the car.

Today I’m taking it much easier and I have only one social item on the agenda.  And it’s already a better day, as – knock on wood – the nail polish spill is the only mishap so far.

I submit there are 3 certainties in life: death, taxes, and poopage

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.

Being supermom in a superwoman world: how to do it all


There’s no such thing.

If only I could remember that on a day-in, day-out basis.

Did you ever notice that Mrs. Brady had Alice?  That Mary Poppins is a nanny (and the children have a mom who does … I’m not sure what)?  Why is it that we take on staying-at-home with our kids like there’s a corporate measure of success for it and we have to beat everyone else?  Why does it seem so embarrassing, so indefensible, to need help sometimes?  Where does this onus to do it like we’re going to get a bonus from society at the end of each fiscal year come from?  Who’s judging you?  Who are you allowing to influence how you feel about yourself as a mom?

I am coming to realize the deeper into parenthood I get (and I’m really only ankle-deep) that there’s no way to do it all.  You have to pick and choose what’s important to your family and stick to those priorities.  Sure, there might be some obvious “no, don’t do thats,” but generally speaking, I would argue that there’s no wrong way to be a mom.  Some moms are super organized.  Some keep a messy home.  Some work very hard to make sure their kids are mentally stimulated, others care more about getting outside and getting dirty.  Some want to have something on the schedule every day to keep things interesting.  Others are happy to be in their homes for days on end.  Some are afraid of germs, others invite them in.  (“Sure, Johnny, suck your dirt-covered thumb that your sick friend Caroline just sneezed on.”)  Some think TV and sugar are evil, and others are okay if their kids get doses here and there (or all the time, which I think most doctors would say is a “no, don’t do that.”)

The point is I am always discovering what kind of mother I am.  I evolve and learn from other moms, and some of my friends have been such great influences on helping me let things go, which I need to do.  But when I get into the comparison game, I have to realize I’m not in an office building anymore.  In the workplace, you can measure yourself against others by completing projects, going the extra mile, and being recognized for those accomplishments.  Parenthood is not like that; it is unending and constantly changing.  You can’t check it off your “to-do” list.  So forget about finding a way to do it all.  You cannot possibly do everything your doctor, husband, family and friends tell you that you should fit into your day.  When I cut myself slack for not being perfect, that’s when I think I am at my best.

If you stick to what you know to be true and use trial and error, my guess is you’ll find that your kids will think you’re superwoman.  And really, isn’t that all that matters?

Mess up fess up

A mess takes only moments to make

I’m a bad mom.  As I usually have to make dinner while I have the kids around, I generally put on a TV show to keep them occupied.  (No, this isn’t the bad mom part.)  Last night they were giggling a lot, and I was distracted because I was making a new recipe, so I didn’t check on them.  That was a big mistake.  Exhibit A shows the damage they did, in a few minutes of I’m sure what they thought was good, clean fun.  That pile, before dinner, was folded laundry.

I lost it.  If you have an infant, you lose it when your baby wakes you for the third time in three hours, screaming, and you have no idea why.  And you shout in your head, “Shut the BLEEP up,” while wishing you could put her outside to sleep, just for a few hours so you could think straight again.  Of course, instead, you probably pick up your baby in your stupor and rock her as your anger needle drops, because rationalization overcomes your frustration.  (She is, after all, a defenseless baby.)

But when your kids are a little older, and they have brains that work, and you’ve told them before not to play with folded laundry, the anger that wells up from direct disobedience in a fleeting moment can overwhelm you.  I would go so far as to say I can have an out-of-body experience.  This isn’t a defenseless child; this is someone who made a conscious decision to combat you, just because it was fun, or just to see what you would do in return.  It is an ex-haus-ting, often daily, battle.

But (always afterwards) I realize that’s not a good reason to lose it.  I yelled about how I’d asked her not to do that before, and how that meant I would have to re-fold it, and how I don’t have time to do that, and it’s inconsiderate and mean to do such a thing to your poor mother.  And what that means is that all last night and all this morning, Eliza kept saying, “Mommy, you’re not happy with me.  You yelled at me.  I’m sorry” in a way that indicates the hurt I put on her was far worse than the frustration of re-folding laundry.  I forgot about re-folding the laundry by this morning.  Eliza, however, couldn’t forget hurting me in such a way that caused me to react like that.

I hope that next time I can look at the laundry pile and laugh, because my kids had a blast making the mess.  After all, it’s laundry.  I should be thankful we have clothes to wear, and a working washer and dryer to clean them, not to mention my floor was mopped earlier in the day, so the clothes were still clean.  Next time, I hope I can bring myself to say, “Oh gosh, that’s going to take some time to clean up.  Can you help me, because it’s okay to make a mess as long as you clean it up,” which would turn the situation into a teaching moment.

I hope next time I can react in such a way that doesn’t make me feel like a bad mom.  I’m not going to beat myself up over it anymore, because one thing my kids are already teaching me is that their grace, like God’s, is new each day.  And that reminds me that I might have bad moments, but I’m a good mom.

Parenting lesson #12: Having kids makes it harder to judge others

I am less judgmental than I used to be.  I realize that’s a self-defeating statement, but stick with me here.

I’m pretty good at judging people.  I know I shouldn’t do it, but I size people up pretty quickly and decide a lot about them with very little factual information.  I know that, while I’ll probably always struggle with this, becoming a parent has made me mull over my assumptions and contemplate that they could be (no, I don’t want to admit it) wrong.

A really good friend who’s an amazing, award-winning teacher recently went to Disney World.  Disney is one of those places where bad parenting really shines through.  (I’m picturing little Johnny beating his sister, Janie, while threatening to run away if he doesn’t ride Space Mountain RIGHT NOW.)  It’s hard not to look everywhere and wonder why God didn’t make it harder to get pregnant, or why there’s not some test you have to take to get permission from the government to procreate.  But that’s another topic entirely …

I asked my friend what she saw that was so disturbing, and she said she noticed families eating together but not communicating at all.  She saw kids playing with their iPods, iPads and iAnythings while the parents seemed happy to ignore them.  At first it made me sad to imagine the scene, too.  I thought, “Gosh, families just aren’t families anymore.  Those parents will probably wonder why their kids won’t talk to them when they’re teenagers.”

Then came the thought that perhaps, just maybe, that could be me someday.  It’s possible  (especially at Disney World), when I will be exhaustively park-hopping, accommodating at least four people’s preferences while keeping on a schedule to fit as many rides in as possible, that when we sit down as a family for a meal, no one will have anything to say.  We might just sit in silence, all hoping for a break from each other and from the hustle and bustle of the park.  Or maybe the kid in the family my friend saw was autistic.  I came to realize that someday, if my good friend didn’t know me, she could have seen ME at the park with MY family doing the same thing, and tell her friends how sad my family is.

Before I became a parent (and this is no dis on people without kids), I definitely watched and condemned other parents’ actions a whole lot more than I do now.  I find myself trying to give people the benefit of the doubt a little more, thinking through the various scenarios where I might do the same thing I can’t believe I’m witnessing (like if I’m tired, or if there might be days when I give in to the same type of battle because it’s not worth having the 22nd fight of the day).

So, if you ever see me at Disney World, or anywhere for that matter, and we’re doing something you wouldn’t do, please step back and assume I have thought through what I’m doing and I have a reason.

Unless you see one of my kids beating the other up while making demands and holding our emotions hostage.  If that happens, please intervene.  You have my permission to judge.

Top 10 reasons to love staying at home with your kids

I suffer from a constant, nagging internal struggle about wanting to work.  I’ve talked with and listened to so many moms who try to put into words their very same torment over this issue.  Because the grass is always greener on the other side, I find myself wishing often that I could have a sick day, or that my kids were messing up a daycare center instead of my house, or that I could pee in peace in a bathroom stall at work.  But today, I want to focus on the many blessings of being present, in the here and now, with my children.  Here are just the tip of the iceberg reasons to enjoy this precious time with them:

10. Your children need your presence more than they need your presents. I once read this on a church bulletin board as I drove by, and it stuck.  We live in a society that tells us if we buy our kids the best sneakers or video games or get them into the best private schools, we love them more than parents who don’t provide these things.  It’s bologna.

9. You can’t have quality time without quantity time.  Quality time can’t be forced to fit into scheduled time slots.  I’ve found that when I schedule special events, they often don’t live up to expectations.  The mundane tasks of everyday life give me those moments when Eliza looks over at me while I’m cooking and says, “I love you mommy.  Thanks for making me dinner.”

8. I might not get sick days, but I get play days. It is unusually warm for a winter day.  And I have the freedom to take my kids outside and enjoy the sunshine.  If I weren’t my own boss, I couldn’t do that.

7. Kids are sponges and they soak up everything – especially dirt and grime. I don’t have to wonder what my kids are learning about life from someone else.  The worldview they are getting is the one Greg and I want to teach them.  Sure, so I have a 2 1/2-year-old who says “freaking” and “what the heck?” and even “DAMMIT.”  It could be so much worse.

6. You get to experience the wonder of learning everything for the first time. Let’s face it – our earliest memories are probably from about age three.  It’s amazing to watch infants and toddlers learn day-by-day how the world works – how toilet paper rolls off if you spin it, how dirt tastes, how water splashes, how to give a good raspberry, how to sing a song and how to annoy the dog.

5. We only have to consider one person’s work schedule when planning vacations and trips. Every time I think about getting a part-time job, I cringe at the thought of not being able to get off work when I want to get off work.

4. My kids really get to know me. For better or worse, my children see all the sides of me.  Sometimes, I fly off the handle, like I did briefly this morning when I got Zach dressed and he subsequently spilled the dog water bowl all over the floor and himself, and then did the same thing with my water-glass about two minutes later.  When I mess up, I get the opportunity to model apologizing, taking responsibility for my mistakes, and accepting forgiveness from them.  If I were working, there wouldn’t be enough time to reveal my true self to my kids.

3. I can better serve my husband. When I went back to work after having Eliza, things like laundry, dry cleaning and dishes didn’t get done and we ate a lot of takeout.  I was getting by with the bare minimum.  I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do anything really well, and for a type-A person, that’s a very hard place to be.

2. Nap time. I am anal about this and I have always coordinated their naps so the two of them sleep at the same time in the afternoon.  If I need to take a snooze, I can.  There’s no way you can do that at work.

1. Not even Mother Teresa could love your kids like you do.  No other boo boo kisser, monster deterrer, bug squasher, book reader or nose and fanny wiper could substitute for you.  Period.