Parenting is the penultimate sacrifice

IMG_0068The Christmas season always makes me pause and think of baby Jesus.  And this year, I think I’m particularly pensive because we are expecting our third child in the spring.

It is nearly impossible for me to explain the desire to have more offspring of our own, despite knowing there are children out there who need parents to adopt and foster them.  When Greg and I sat down on a date night earlier this year and attempted to come up with solid, defendable reasons to “go for it,” we could not come up with anything that would hold up in court.  We reminisced about how quickly Eliza had grown from a baby into this young lady before even turning four-years-old, and about how Zach was out of toddlerhood and we couldn’t really imagine this being “it.”  But financially, time-wise, and considering life goals and dreams, a third seems draining, life-postponing and honestly scary.

And yet, here we are.  We still desired this.  God has blessed us with this expectant being that is definitely growing inside of me – at a rate that is either atypical or else I’m eating way more than I did the first two times.  I don’t know how to defend this life, this bringing into our fallen world yet another child when I don’t even agree with breeding pets instead of rescuing ones who would be euthanized.  (Please don’t misunderstand me.  This is my own personal struggle, and I am not judging anyone else for having zero children or 20.  Okay fine, perhaps I might consider you crazy to have 20 … )

But then I think of baby Jesus.  I am reminded that I believe life – every life – has a purpose.  I believe God is the creator and sustainer of life, and there is no life that comes into being that He does not ordain.  He must have a purpose for not only this child, but also for Greg and me as his or her parents.  And I hope, as I ponder the true meaning of this Christmas season, to somehow put it into words.

Raising children is the ultimate true love experience on earth.  When Eliza was born, I was slightly mad at everyone with children who had congratulated me in pregnancy and acted excited.  I felt betrayed, like my friends had lied to me about what it would be like.  I had never been so exhausted, nor ever felt like my life had so changed into something that required so much sacrifice from me.  I didn’t want to give what was required.  Truly, I had to die to myself in a lot of ways: I had lost the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, the ability to walk out the door responsible only for myself, and the basic right I thought I had to sleep.  Looking back, I was actually going through a sanctification; God was making me more like himself.  To live this life as a Christ-follower means we are to take up our crosses and follow Him daily.  When you are serving your children by extending unconditional love to them, you are becoming holy; you are loving the way Jesus loved others.

There is a Friends episode about how you cannot give with pure intentions because you are still getting the good feeling inside from serving.  But what that show didn’t address was service to others that comes with no guarantee of feeling good in return, such as what Christ did for us (knowing every person would have to choose to love him back and his sacrifice would go unclaimed by so many).  Yes, parenting is rewarding because my children make me laugh, they are affectionate, they tell me they love me, and they more easily forgive than any grown-ups I know.  But in the next moment after doing one of those sweet things, they can tell me they hate me, or that they love their daddy the most, or that I’m the meanest mom in the world.  Hurt and ingratitude are never more than a moment away.  Betrayal and disobedience are daily occurrences.  Anyone who continues to serve a child, or perhaps a disabled parent, or a spouse ailing with Alzheimer’s is extending the grace, and mercy, and undeserved love that Christ did.  No matter the good moments, those we serve in this way will never be able to repay us the debt.

My grandfather was one of the greatest men who ever lived.  He was funny, he was generous, and he went to hell and back in World War II; yet what I will remember most about him is how he cared for my grandmother for 20 years at home until her Alzheimer’s finally (and mercifully) killed her.  I never knew her for who she was before her illness.  It is so difficult to admit this, but I often viewed her as a sick woman whose life no longer had meaning.  I sometimes hated my grandfather for loving her like he did.  As a child, I watched her go through phase after phase of the disease, speaking gibberish, spitting because she forgot how to swallow saliva, hitting and scratching and punching my grandfather as he tried to dress her or feed her.  I honestly confess that I couldn’t understand why he did what he did.  I felt like he was putting us all through such a miserable experience when she “belonged” in a nursing home.  I was embarrassed when he insisted on bringing her to restaurants with us as if things were normal, and then she would have outbursts and spit her food at us and even sometimes others.  And for days, and weeks, and years he did this, always gently speaking kindly and lovingly to her, stroking her cheek and telling her in German that he was her Guenter, and all was okay.

Only now that I am a parent can I honestly grasp what he was doing.  The world would say that what he did was a waste.  And perhaps in some ways his time could have been better spent.  But I believe there is no other higher purpose we can serve on this earth than to love others the way Christ loves us: as we are, in an undeserving and unlovable state of sin.  Jesus valued everyone and didn’t look on the lame or the sick or the needy as lesser people; rather, he served them in love.

Having children who, despite all we do for them, could turn out to hate us, or be drug addicts, or murderers, and then loving them anyway and always, appears to me to be the highest calling.  In the same way our children are sinful and thus capable of the worst offenses, God gives us free will so we can choose his path – which by definition means we have the freedom to turn our backs on Him and follow our selfish desires.  I will never win an award or a bonus check for what I’m doing as a mom.  But that’s what selfless service, what really putting others first, what true love, is all about.

That is the reason why we know a third child (even of our own) is a blessing from God.  He has chosen to create this life, and with it, given our family another chance to love unconditionally (albeit imperfectly).  As I consider the birth of Jesus, and how his perfect life models a standard we can never match but for which we should strive, I will be thankful that no matter what is to come with this child or my other two, I have been given an opportunity to love fully.  Reminding myself daily of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice – to choose to die for you and me and everyone else so that we could be reconciled with a perfect God – helps me pour out myself for my family despite my own hopes and dreams.  It gives me the strength to make this penultimate sacrifice.

God knows children present an opportunity to know Him more fully and to better understand his love for us.  He uses them to draw us to the baby in the manger, so holy and perfect, yet humbly born in a barn because he is the king who came to serve instead of be served (Matthew 20:28).  Merry Christmas!

Parenting lesson #13: Most definitely, your children will embarrass you.

This might be one for Eliza’s senior yearbook page. She enjoyed “pumping” like her mommy when Zach was born.

It doesn’t take long to realize that your children will embarrass you.  But I am pretty sure – and only time will tell if I’m right – that some day we get to embarrass them back.

A friend recently posted on Facebook that her four-year-old daughter yelled to everyone while arriving at preschool, “We didn’t brush my teeth this morning so I have gum.”  I had to laugh because not only do my kids not brush their teeth every morning, but because every day our young kids can make us want to crawl into a hole, and most of the time, unknowingly.

Even when they’re infants, they can scream at the most inopportune times.  They can poop out of their diapers in the grocery line, when you’re almost done and can’t really walk out of the store.  They can pull off mid-stream while nursing, and even render your hooter hider useless as your breasts turn into fire hydrants.

The 18-month to 3-year age range brings along with it multiple public displays of crying, whining, screaming, and tantrums that include lying on the ground with fists banging and legs flailing.  Let’s be honest – who hasn’t’ seen that and thought, “That parent needs to get ahold of that child!”

Zach is still a screamer and whiner.  I know I’ve been mentioning this for, oh, half his life.  I have done some research because I’m nervous that he is never going to grow out of it.  He is easily frustrated and resorts to the loudest or most annoying sound he can make to cope.  Of course, this would be a great place to insert (via comment) your tips.  But I digress … I cannot tell you how many times I have felt the stares from everyone around me in stores, restaurants and the like.  We just returned from a weekend trip. At the airport, as I do often, I shared a bathroom stall with both kids, who proceeded to  wrestle while I was (not) peeing in peace.  Mid-stream, their playing turned into a fight.  I reached over and pulled them apart, shoving him one way and her the other.  Zach, of course, fell (hurled himself dramatically) to the floor and began to wail, “Mommy, why you pushed me?  You huht me, mommy!”  I was mortified, seeing as there were others who could hear us.  I often wonder how bad of a mom those witnessing me could possibly think I am.  And as if Zach still being in this phase weren’t enough, he’s entering the “embarrassing questions” phase that Eliza has been in for two years.

Eliza likes to ask just about all women if they have babies in their tummies.  In the spring, she asked an overweight co-worker of my mother-in-law this question.  The woman very sweetly responded, “No, sweetie, I don’t have a baby in my tummy.”  Eliza couldn’t resist: “Well then why does your belly look like that?”  Without missing a beat, the woman replied, “Because I’m fat.”  Another time Eliza asked my well-endowed friend, “Why are your boobs so much bigger than my mom’s?”

When walking out of church this summer right next to a disabled man, Eliza said, “Mommy, why does he have those sticks?”  I said, “Those are called crutches and they help him walk.” Eliza: “But why?” Me: “Well, because he’s a little different than us, so he walks differently.” Eliza: “But mommy, why is he sad?” Me:  “I don’t know that he’s sad.”  Eliza: “Why is he grumpy?” Embarrassed and lying: “Sweetheart, he’s not grumpy” (as I noticed him scowling at us).

These moments are really just part of life with children.  And I am pretty sure the embarrassment doesn’t end, but rather evolves.  I can’t wait for their tween and teen years, if only because I know my very presence will be embarrassing at times.  It will be payback for all these memories we parents have and will enjoy reminding them about in front of their crushes.  It’s part of the circle of life.

So kids, enjoy the upper hand for now.  It won’t be long before I’m dropping you off at the mall to meet your friends, kissing you all over and being certain to remind you out loud that the money I’m handing you is for your very own training bra or jock strap.

Parenting lesson #8: You cannot plan on being spontaneous anymore.

Our neighbor babysat for us on my 30th birthday, when Greg surprised me with a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants and about 40 friends. And Eliza was about 8-months-old.  See, you can still get out!

Before children, there is a spontaneity that even the most scheduled people get to enjoy in life.  Once baby arrives, the freedom to get home from a long day of work and decide, “Let’s try that new Asian fusion restaurant” goes right out the window.  Asian fusion becomes Chinese delivery, or if you’re lucky, Thai takeout – and you might get into a fight over who gets to go pick it up.

I remember before kids, Greg and I were spiffed up and heading out on a Friday night as a neighborhood family was playing out in the street together.  They whistled at us and asked what we were doing.  I said, “Oh, we’re just going to dinner and a movie.  It’s nothing special.”  And they replied, “Nothing special?  Just dinner and a movie?  For us, that’s Dominos and Netflix.”  We laughed.  But now, I so totally know what they meant.  A nice dinner and a movie date night would cost us at least $150, after paying for food, drinks, theater tickets, and a babysitter for 5 hours.

Getting out looks a little different now.  Last week, it was a bit sad to realize that our dinner date was a 5 p.m. visit to Outback Steakhouse with the kids and half of the geriatrics who live in Leisure World.  Eating with kids is already an experiment in trying to finish a conversation amid 46 interruptions.  But for some reason, your children know you really want them to behave in a restaurant, so they bring their A games of infighting, whining, and questioning.  (“WHaaa, I dropped my crayon!” “Mommy, can we get dessert?” “Why is that lady’s hair purple?” “Zach’s touching my picture!” “I want bread.  I want bread.  I WANT BREAD!!!”).  Not only that, but it’s a tough reminder of what your social life has become when you overhear, “What is Sangria?” at the table next to you.  (True story.)

I don’t think that before you have children you can plan for how potentially trapped you might feel by not being able to just “get up and go.”  But as I sat at Outback last week, I realized that almost exactly 4 years earlier, we were there for Greg’s birthday with 3-month-old Eliza.  And at that time, I felt trapped.  I was overwhelmed.  I was adjusting, rather poorly, to our new lifestyle.  Yet last week, despite all the reminders of how life changes with kids, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So embrace chucking spontaneity out the window.  Sure, you have to remember diapers, wipes, bottles, formula or breast milk, spare outfits, burp cloths, pacifiers, and maybe even a pump for a restaurant visit.  And you might go to Outback instead of the hip new place where people will stare at kids being kids.  But getting out with a baby beats the alternative.  And hopefully you can count on good friends, neighbors or family to do some free babysitting so you can try the new Asian fusion place after all.  You just have to do a little advance planning.

Parenting lesson #28: It won’t be long before your children challenge you intellectually.

Every parent will feel at some point like he is the only one who deals with a particular behavior.  Sometimes the way your children act makes you think there couldn’t possibly be another child like this.  For me, I have often wondered if my children ask more questions than any other child has in the history of the human race.

The good news is that I now believe the inquisitive nature of my two is actually universal.  Answering questions is par for the parenting course it seems, especially between the ages of 2 and 4.  (Please, someone with older children, tell me it gets better, perhaps if only because they’re in school 7 hours a day and their teachers get to take on a portion of this responsibility.)  The thing is, it’s not that I necessarily mind answering lots of questions.  I simply don’t think I was prepared for the sheer volume I would have to tackle, nor for the challenge some questions would present.  By the afternoon on most days, I find that my brain is exhausted from trying to find the best way to answer each question in a way that gently forces these kids to think while at the same time satiates their curiosity for information from a trusted source.  My head rarely has time to process anything without background noises or interruptions such as screaming, fighting, giggling, singing, or direct questioning.  Sometimes, the questions are simple.  But more often than not now, they require a bit of thought.  I find that questions these days fall into three categories:

1. Permission questions – These are the easiest because the answer is almost always “Yes” or “No,” and I can generally get by with a little explanation and the conversation is over.  “Mommy, will you help me wipe?”,  “Mama, can I pour the syrup?”, “Mommy, can I go to the bathroom outside like Abbey (our dog)?”  Granted, if the answer is “No,” I generally assume I have to support my response with reasoning to preempt the inevitable, “Why not?”  But thinking through these responses has become second-nature to me at this point.  My brain is programmed to answer them.

2. Ethereal questions – “Why are there bad people?”, “Why does God love me?”, “What does Heaven look like?”  These are actually my favorite questions, because they can lead to the most interesting conversations, and generally ones that we need to have.  The problem is if they come after answering 27 factual questions (to be addressed below) and I’m just tired.

3. Factual or “How does the world work?” questions – Eliza is starting to ask more and more of these, and they’re getting more complicated.  This is where I’m struggling.  When she asks, “Why do you have hair in your butt?” I have to bite my cheek to prevent giving my AP bio teacher’s scientific explanation, and just say, “Everyone gets hair there when he grows up,” quietly hoping that it’s enough of an answer to prevent further questioning.  (So far, it’s worked.)  She is no longer satisfied when my answer to “Why does it rain?” is because God knows the plants, flowers and animals need it to survive.  She now wants to understand the clouds and the amounts of rainfall and why it’s raining here and not over there.  I’m starting to have no idea how to answer some of her questions.  In one afternoon in the car last week, I wrote down just a few of her inquiries:

“Mom, will different kinds of rocks hurt you?”  “How do you survive?”  “What will happen if we drive onto the sidewalk and fall backwards onto the roof if your seatbelt is not on?” “Why does music play for us?”

The thing about these questions is that they often require copious amounts of discussion.  If I respond, “What do you think will happen if our car flips over and we’re not wearing our seat belts?”, she will say that we will get hurt, but then want to know how extensive our injuries will be.  As questioning continues, she often gets me to, “I am not sure if I’m going to be able to answer that question in a way that will satisfy you,” or “I just don’t know.”  And sometimes, I just want to hear one song in the car that’s not Veggie Tales or Little People singing Christmas songs and allow my brain to wander wherever it wants for 3 straight minutes.

The funny thing about being in this season is that I used to feel so un-challenged intellectually by parenting infants and toddlers.  But now I find myself being challenged daily by the questions.  And it’s starting to matter whether I get it right.  It’s a somewhat scary and simultaneously exciting time.  Despite the daily inquisition, I really am enjoying Zach and Eliza these days.  There’s a bit of nostalgia already sprouting for their “younger days”; a realization settling in about how quickly time flies and how fast they grow.

I guess I would be okay with it even if my kids did ask more questions than any others in human history (and I know they don’t).  The truth is that even though they are just like every other curious pre-schooler, they are completely unique.  And I am thankful that they DO come to me for answers.  I am pretty sure that someday, they won’t want to.  And then I’ll reminisce about the days when they couldn’t get enough of me, asking hundreds of funny, silly questions a day.

Life is precious and fragile and painful; yet in my God, there is hope.

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

Sometimes there is no explanation for tragedy except that we live in a fallen world.

Recently we marked the first anniversary of the loss of our dear friends’ daughter, Olivia. We still keep her photo up in our living room as a reminder to cherish every day we get with our children.  And today, I cried through yet another miscarriage with a friend.  I have almost heard about as many miscarriages among my friends in the past few months as I have heard about successful pregnancies.

I do not know why God has created me to feel others’ losses so deeply (as I leak tears onto my chest while typing).  I just do.  So many things on this earth make so little sense to me.  How could a family that wants a baby so badly lose a child?  Why would God allow Olivia to drown?  And don’t get me started about all the other injustices in our world, such as hunger, and child prostitution, and slavery, and corporate greed, and … (that’s me getting started and now stopping myself).

I really do trust that my God is a good God.  I know it deep within my soul because I’ve seen it time and again.  I just walked through an amazing miracle in Greg’s uncle’s life, where we prayed for an inoperable cancerous tumor to disappear, and it did.  (The doctor’s could not explain it, but I can.  Praise Jesus!)  Today, despite the news of loss, it is my mom’s 60th birthday, and I’m so thankful and blessed to have her around and healthy.  I love you, Mom.  And I’m sorry that the world now knows how old you are.

I believe that God wants to bestow the best blessings on us, ones that we wouldn’t even know how to ask for because his plans are better than ours.  The only way I know how to walk through these sufferings is to remember that Jesus suffered in my place; that as a parent, I could not imagine loving others so much that I would allow my own child to suffer and die to save someone else (as God did with Christ).  And I have hope that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

I think one of the greatest things I’ve learned by becoming a parent is how to walk alongside those who are suffering.  I look in those precious little faces of my children daily and am reminded how much I could lose at any moment.  When someone I know is going through a tragedy, the best thing I know to do is love on them and serve them.  I cook for them.  I pray with them.  I shed tears for them.  I am honest with them when I am at a loss for words, because I know saying nothing at all is worse than saying the wrong thing.

Until I am in heaven, suffering and loss will be a part of life on this earth.  The Lord gives and the Lord allows things – precious things – to be taken away.  Even so, blessed be the name of the Lord.  I thank Him for the hope He gives me.  (Job 1:21, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 5:2-5, Romans 12:12, and Romans 15:13).

For A, J, J, and G.

I wish Zach were taller so he could pee standing up.

Who decided that boys underwear should have a one-inch elastic band?

Toilet training a boy is harder than toilet training a girl.

Yes, Zach is still doing a great job with using the potty, and he’s not having accidents when he’s awake (although he still needs a diaper for his nap and he often likes to poop at that time, which sort of negates the fact that we’ve trained him, seeing as I’m still changing poop diapers … but as usual, I digress).

The problem is one of anatomy.  He gets himself to the little potty just fine.  He pulls his pants down, sits down, leans forward, and pees, happily, all over himself, or all over the floor, or some combination of the two.  Sometimes the pee pools in-between his legs because he’s got them together with his penis somehow wedged in the middle.  Then he stands up with pee dripping down his legs, looks in the nearly empty pot (as the majority of the pee didn’t end up in there), and says, “Pee pee poppy (potty) Mama!!!”

See, leaning forward seemed to be the only thing I had to teach Eliza in order for her pee to make it into the pot instead of out the front.  With Zach, I have to make sure I point his penis downward manually with a finger or, generally speaking, the pee is going to go everywhere.  He has not picked up on the need to do this for himself yet.  So though he is trained, it would honestly still be easier if he were in a diaper.

Earlier today he had to poop right when I needed to get to an exercise class.  Thus, I took him to the toilet at Eliza’s school before heading to my class.  He sat down, started peeing (into the toilet, with my help!) and got red in the face like the big business was happening.  And then the automatic flusher on the toilet went off for some reason.  (Freaking sensor malfunctions!)  As a side note, Eliza will not use a toilet with a sensor unless I cover it with my hands while she goes, because one went off underneath her and I believe it scared the $@)% out of her.  Well, Zach had the same reaction to the toilet underneath him.  I didn’t get to see if any poop came out before everything was flushed under him (as he reached for me and started whimpering about the whirlpool underneath him).

Then I dropped him off at the YMCA babysitting center, already late for my class, and figured I ought to try to be kind to the childcare workers and make sure he didn’t have to poop.  I sat him on the potty there, no more than 8 minutes after he had JUST PEED.  And of course I was hoping for a poop, and focusing on that, when I sensed wetness on my leg and looked down and immediately pushed his penis down because he started peeing all over me (and his clothes).  Of course, he didn’t poop.  Nope.  He did, however, poop in his diaper during his nap.  (That just happened.)

I can totally see why people say boys take longer to train.  I don’t believe that’s actually the case (based on my highly scientific statistical analysis of one boy and one girl).  Both of my kids took the same amount of time to train to hold their pee in and get to a toilet to release it.  The problem is not in the process; it’s in the anatomy.  It would be much easier to wait to train a boy until you can train him to stand in front of an adult-sized toilet, point, and shoot.

The reaction I get when I ask Zach to climb onto a stool to sit on the big toilet is exactly like what his reaction would be like if I asked him if I could give away his Thomas the Train.  So we have a long way to go before he’s standing and peeing (and I’m sure there will be accidents all over the seat rim then as well, especially when he discovers his powers to direct pee in every direction.)

The other boy/girl difference is in the underwear.  Girl underwear is designed to be easy to pull down.  It’s almost like the manufacturers know that girls are well-mannered and deserve to be able to get their underwear off.  Boys, on the other hand, have an inch-wide band of elastic around their waists.  I’m not sure what purpose this serves.  If it’s to keep boys from pulling their pants down and showing everyone their packages, it has worked.  If it’s to keep them from playing with themselves, it hasn’t, seeing as they’ve designed the cut-out hole so they can pee without having to remove the underwear.  I’m afraid to teach Zach about that hole for obvious reasons, and also because as previously described, he’s not standing and peeing yet.

So, he will continue to sit to pee for the time being.  I will continue to be there for each toileting experience so I can help him get the childproof underpants down, and so I can aid him in pointing his manhood in the right direction before  the pee goes everywhere.  If you have a son who’s still in diapers and you’re reading this, enjoy it.  Honestly.  I am announcing defeat – for the moment – on this one.

Zach is not peeing in peace

Here I sit in the second day of what is supposed to be “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” with Zach.  I love the irony.  Greg did the training yesterday, as he did with Eliza.  And as with Eliza, we seem to be having some issues.

The book’s method makes so much sense to me.  It combines several types of teaching all-in-one to get a child trained quickly (learning without distraction, increasing urination opportunities, practice in walking to the potty, practice in required dressing skills, learning to relax before urinating, learning by imitation, learning by teaching, learning by manual guidance, increasing motivation to be trained, and teaching the attitude of personal cleanliness).  The problem so far has been that my children don’t seem to get a first successful pee on the potty (despite lots of time sitting on it).  So it has not been the wonderful, fun experience for either of them that the book promises.

Nevertheless, we persevere, because the point is I know he will be trained shortly.  Maybe it will be today.  Maybe it will be tomorrow.  And I’ll be sure to write more about it.  But as I’m in the thick of it, I thought I would update you.  There will definitely be more to come.  Here’s hoping for a good pee in peace this morning!!!

Someday, the war will be over, and our everyday battles will be a distant memory

Eating peas one at a time took too long. I preferred to get it over with, putting one on each spike of my fork per bite.

Some days my kids don’t eat.  What I mean is not a lot and not what I want them to eat.

I used to see parents out with their kids in restaurants, judging them for allowing them to eat bread, french fries and ice cream for dinner.  Now I’ve been there and done that to keep them quiet.  In my defense, we’ve taken the kids to some nice restaurants where I’ve weighed the unavoidable disapproving looks for malnourishing my children against those glares I would get if a tantrum about anything ensued (like someone using someone else’s crayon, or one or both not wanting to sit in a seat).  Malnourishment wins a lot of the time.  It’s called picking your battles.  Even at home, mealtime can be a mine field.

Me: “You can eat your dinner, or you can not eat your dinner, and then go straight up for a bath, without building a fort and without a popsicle.  It’s your choice.”

Eliza: “Mommy, I don’t want to build a fort.  I don’t want a popsicle.”

Seriously?  I know she’s lying.  But right now, I’m trying to deal with the not eating, so I can’t get into a discussion about whether she’s telling the truth because I have to deal with the consequences of her answer.  I cannot get sidetracked by her efforts to derail me.  So, we take her up for bed and that’s that.  She doesn’t eat.  My 41-inch tall, 31-pound daughter chooses to go without food.  (She might get to move out of her car seat and into a booster by her sixth birthday.)  Zach refuses to eat any part of his dinner about half of the time.  The pediatrician assures me that he must be getting enough in the earlier parts of the day.  But how infuriating it is that he won’t even taste what I’ve cooked!

I remember my childhood.  I remember secretly feeding my veggies to the dogs.  I remember refusing to eat.  I also remember my parents threatening to reheat the food for breakfast if I didn’t eat it right then (and they did).  When I realized they were serious, I started negotiating.  “I’ll eat 3 peas.”  “No, Christine, eat 20 peas.”  “Four.”  “Ten, and that’s final.”  And then I would hold my nose and gag and make all sorts of crazy torture-enduring faces at them while I drank the peas down with milk.  And now?  I actually like peas.  And I enjoy most of the vegetables I didn’t like as a child.  I grew up and had to make a decision about whether I wanted to live a healthy lifestyle or not.

Someday I’m going to look back and see that the truth is, my kids get food.  They get nourishment.  The probably get more calories each day than 80% of the people in this world.  Could they do better?  Sure.  Everyone probably could.  But there are actually kids who don’t have enough food.  And there are actually kids who don’t eat, like they must be intubated to get the nutrition they need.  I saw a news story on it once.  Those are real problems.  What I face is … annoyance and a lack of control.  (Welcome to parenting 101.)

Thus, I’m hopeful that if my kids see Greg and me eat well, they will grow up to eat well.  I hope they one day make good food choices on their own, because at ages 2 and 3, they aren’t capable of it.  And that’s okay.  I have to stop looking at all these obstacles (they don’t eat, they don’t sleep, they fight, they’re defiant) as battles.

Instead, they are opportunities for growth.  I’m here to teach them to make good food choices, and teach them how to behave and have self-control even when they’re tired (hmm, am I capable of that?), and teach them how to value putting others first, and teach them to be agreeable or others won’t want to be their friends.  (And okay, that sometimes, a person is just asking for it and that’s when you slug ’em.)

Someday they will not be children any more.  They will still be mine, but my prime time for parenting will be over.  So I want to get over the random days they don’t eat and realize that this, too, shall pass.  It’s not letting them win the battle, it’s giving up fighting at all.

When our kids are being bad, we must not miss the good

Mute, pause, stop, power off ... these would all be useful buttons for our children.

It would be so nice if we could have remote controls for our kids.  I think I would use “MUTE” quite a bit.  It would be awesome if you could custom-tailor them to your needs.  Mine would have a button that makes them enjoy vegetables.  And one that keeps them from picking their noses and eating their boogers.  And there would be a button I could hit to make them do exactly as they’re told.

This morning I had my mom’s group, and we currently do not have a babysitter to help out.  Thus, there are five 2- to 4-year-olds who we basically ask to go down to my basement and play together for two hours.  I’m actually amazed we get to have any time to talk when I think about how ridiculous a request this is of children that age.  Thus the kids come up several times and we take turns directing them back to the basement and taking care of the “he hit me” and “she didn’t share” issues.

Today, while one of the mom’s two boys were up with us and eating our food, I confess I was a bit annoyed they were upstairs and wanted them to go back down and eat their snacks, not ours.  And then the older brother said to his little brother, “Hey Timothy, would you like some cheese?”  And he proceeded to cut a large slice of the little bit of brie that remained, and then he handed it to Timothy.  And of course that was when their mom (like I would have done) took the piece of cheese away and directed them back down to the basement.

Now that it’s nap time, I have had a few moments to think back on that moment and realize how beautiful it was.  Yes, the boys had come upstairs to be with their mom, even though we had asked them to stay in the basement.  But the older brother was taking care of his younger brother; he was putting him before himself.  He was clearly enjoying the brie, and even though there was very little of it left, he offered it to someone else.

And I sit here wondering how often I miss the good in the middle of the bad.  And bad here isn’t necessarily bad.  In the moments when I’m not able to control them (because they do have minds of their own) and not getting what I want, am I seeing the growth?  Do I praise and reward them when I see their hearts reflecting goodness, kindness, or gentleness, in the middle of disobedience?

I am not even sure that I would call the children’s visits upstairs disobedience because they are too young to be left alone and they need a lot of guidance.  Our children needing us shouldn’t be annoying (though I sometimes allow it to be).

I think, in retrospect, I’m the one who needs the remote control: one that turns off my selfishness.  And one that enables me to step beyond how I feel in the moment – a pause button – and opens my eyes to all the good my kids show me, each and every day.

Parenting lesson #4: Your to-do list will never be the same again

If you’re a mom, it’s more like 10 or 10,000 things

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.