The difference between being the first child and the third

I was going to take a pic of Ethan in his dirty PJs.  But I didn't have time for that.  Here's one that Eliza took on my phone.  He spends a lot of time in his exersaucer.
I was going to take a pic of Ethan in his dirty PJs. But I didn’t have time for that. Here’s one that Eliza took on my phone. He spends a lot of time in his exersaucer.

As I just cleaned off Ethan from breakfast, I was struck by how many things I have let go of this time around simply because I don’t have the time or energy to care about them.  One mom told me, “With our first baby, we drove home from the hospital under the speed limit with our emergency flashers on.  With the second, we made sure we didn’t go over the speed limit.  With our third, we stopped for drive-thru food on the way home.  And with our fourth, we went straight to soccer.”  I can totally relate, because for Ethan, things were different as soon as we left the hospital as well.  I went straight to Eliza’s school to pick her up because she had missed me so much in the 48 hours I had been gone.  I have been collecting ideas on how to explain what it’s like for me to have three children compared to two or one, but that will be another post.  This one is about how it’s different for Ethan.  Our poor, sweet Ethan.

Crawling.  Ethan is about 8 1/2-months-old and has been on the cusp of crawling for about a month.  What this means is that I purposely keep him off the floor because unlike with Eliza, I dread the day he is off and running.  With your first, you are excited to announce to everyone when your children reach their milestones, and secretly hope that someone says, “Wow, she’s advanced.  Isn’t that early?”  This time around I just hope no one accuses me of stunting his growth.

Cleanliness.  I’m not ready to be chasing Ethan around the house, but I’m also not ready for what his crawling will mean in the realm of cleanliness.  I’ve tried to institute a rule that any toys or parts of games that can fit inside a toilet paper tube cannot be on the main floor.  I might as well be asking the children to nail Jell-O to the wall for an art project.  So instead of an unenforceable rule, everyone gets down on hands and knees for “safety checks” before we set Ethan on the floor (sitting up, not on his belly, or else he might try to crawl).  We look for coins, beads, Rainbow Loom rubber bands, and anything else that could be a choking hazard.  Once Ethan is on the move, his life will be more in danger.  Not to mention I do not have a way to store a vacuum on my main floor.  (I’m about to buy a battery-operated tiny one that we can hide behind a living room curtain.)  So there is a ton of dirt and dog hair on my floors on a regular basis.  With Eliza, I was good about vacuuming and mopping every few days.  Ethan is going to be a veritable Swiffer on the ground.  (Should I get him one of these?)

Clothing.  Right now Ethan is wearing the pajamas I put him in on Tuesday night.  He has multiple layers of dried, crusty oatmeal, black bean juice, and formula on various parts of it.  Just now when I changed his diaper, three grains of rice fell out of his sleeper.  But I’m totally cool with that.  He’s had a cold, so his crib sheet is decorated with snot marks all over it (despite its being changed on Monday).  I lay him down in an area that doesn’t look too bad and hope he doesn’t move a lot in his sleep.  How could I?!?  Because it takes time and effort to change a crib mattress, and it makes more laundry.  I don’t change his outfits or much of anything related to him unless it’s an absolute must, like poop or pee got on it.  When you adjust to having one child, one of the most overwhelming aspects of new parenthood is dealing with all the extra laundry.  I used to separate out Eliza’s clothes, towels and other items to wash on their own, special cycle with baby detergent.  Then I just started using baby detergent for all of us, and continued to do that with Zach.  Now everyone gets regular detergent.  There is enough laundry with a family of five to require 8-10 loads a week.  Anything I can do to lighten that load, I will do.

Bathing.  Eliza and Zach were both bathed nightly as part of their bedtime routines.  Ethan is lucky to get two baths a week.  We are trying to do better with this, as eating solids makes for a dirtier baby.  But my brain has adjusted to thinking that a bath every day for a baby is not necessary, unless he doesn’t pass the aforementioned poop and pee test.

Eating.  There is one way Ethan is advanced, and that’s with eating.  I started his solids around 5 months like I did with Eliza, but I am pretty oblivious about when I’ve introduced him to certain things.  With your first, you write everything down, spreading out the introduction of new items every 2-3 days in case of allergies.  The only things I know Ethan hasn’t had are honey, shellfish and nuts.  He even ate some fish we had for dinner the other night that had spicy rub on it.  He seems to want to be a part of our meals and looks at our food with hungry eyes when we give him something different.  So as long as I haven’t added salt to something, I give it to him.  I think because he’s been eating so much real people food he’s cut his teeth a little early.  He has four teeth and the next two have popped through his gums.  If there’s anything you would want your children to be delayed in, it would be cutting teeth.  Nursing has been painful.

Photos.  Ethan is less photographed.  This is partly because he’s always wearing pajamas, and partly because I cannot seem to have one contiguous thought/follow through sequence such as, “This is a cute moment, I should photograph it” and then actually locate a camera or phone and snap the picture.  There are too many interruptions, mostly in the form of “Mommy, ____.”  (For example, Zach just interrupted me to tell me, “Mommy, chocolate chips are like poop because they are brown.  But they are not poop because they are chocolate chips.”  This happens all day long.)  I even bought those cute stickers you put on your baby to photograph him every month to mark his first 12 months with photos.  I did it consistently for the first five months, and then lost the six month sticker.  My track record has been horrible since then.  Eliza has a baby book that’s mostly completed.  I at least purchased one for Zach.  Ethan does not have one.

Activities.  At this point in Eliza’s life, I had signed us up for a water babies class so we could swim together, and I was in deep debate and research over where to attend other classes like music and exercise ones.  I do not think Ethan will ever make it to one of these things, at least not as a baby.  Ethan is on a daily schedule, but he has to be so much more flexible than Eliza and Zach did.  He misses his morning nap three days a week because of other commitments, and his afternoon nap on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are in the car for carpool pickup.  He doesn’t seem to mind that much, probably because he’s learned he doesn’t have a choice.

Crying.  I must confess it’s easier to listen to Ethan fuss than it was to hear Eliza or Zach fuss.  A new mom was at my house a couple of weeks ago when Ethan woke up from him nap.  He had made two seconds of noise when she said, “Do you want me to go get him?”  I don’t think my brain had even registered that he was awake.  I said, “No, wait a little.  He’s fine.”  Ethan cried a lot as a young baby, but around five months he finally adjusted to the sound of my voice saying, lovingly, “I can’t help you right now baby boy, but I’ll be with you in a minute.”  He had to learn that I would come, eventually, so he started to trust that.  I would stop mid-cooking if Eliza needed me; but with other little mouths to feed now, I don’t stop.

Stimulation.  Ethan is currently sitting in the Pack ‘n Play (in his dirty pajamas) with his toys while I type this.  He does this a lot.  That’s because like with many other things, he doesn’t have a choice.  He does have two older siblings who love to engage with him and “play” with him, though, so he’s not in need of attention.  With Eliza, if I wanted to leave her like I leave him, I would have researched if there would be harmful mental or emotional effects.  I would have sought out a guide on what kinds of toys to leave her with and how many.  Ethan is surrounded by some of his toys, some of his siblings toys, and some cellophane.  And that’s totally cool.

I’m sure there are other things that are different as well, but these are the first ones that come to mind.  I hope Ethan doesn’t hold this information against me one day.  The truth is, he is a very happy baby and maybe that’s in part the result of me being a little less neurotic.  So cheers to third babies and all the things they make you realize aren’t that important.


Parenting lesson #16: You’re not allowed to be sick.

The toilet Zach stopped up for the umpteenth time.
The toilet Zach stopped up for the umpteenth time.

“Mommy, you have to come see the toilet.  The water is way, WAY high!”  That was interruption #3 yesterday during my perfectly orchestrated, one-hour sick nap.

“Did you poop?” I groaned.  “Yes.”  “Did you wipe yourself?” I followed with fearfully, knowing the answer before he spoke because he likes to use half a roll.  (Why do they do that?!?!)  “Ye-esssss.”  “Okay, Zach, don’t touch the toilet.  Don’t flush the toilet.  Leave it alone.  I will get it later.”

You see, I woke up with a fever yesterday morning and peeled myself out of bed, taking all of my energy to pour some bowls of cereal and put a movie on for the older two right when Ethan was going down for a nap. The plan was flawless; real life with three kids is anything but.  Interruption #1 was Greg coming into the room after his nice, leisurely shower to get dressed.  Interruption #2 was the dog barking outside to come in, me hollering for Eliza to let her in, and then the alarm going off because Greg set it so the kids wouldn’t run away while I snoozed.  As if.

As if you can really sleep with three kids in the house.  It’s hard enough to fall asleep when you have one child, wondering if yours is the first super human 2-month-old who can climb out of his crib.  Once you add the second, you know the infant can’t get out of his crib, but the other child could burn down the house.  By the third child, you’re willing to assume your kids will sit nicely in front of the TV while the baby naps because you’ve gotten way more chill and you also have an eldest who will indubitably tell you if anything at all goes wrong.  But you still don’t sleep.

Growing up, I thought my mom never got sick.  I’ve long since realized it’s not that she didn’t get sick, it’s that she wasn’t allowed to be sick.  When moms are sick, they still have take care of everyone.  Even if we need to spend all day in bed to get better, it’s not happening unless someone else takes care of the kids.

I think my older two watched about five hours of television yesterday while I sprawled.  I managed to toss them some crackers and bananas for lunch, and I’m so thankful they actually BOTH napped while I lay in my bed with Ethan, nursing him a lot for fear the illness would hurt my milk supply.  Greg brought some take-out soup home for me for dinner, kissed my forehead and went, “Whoa.”  Yes.  Thank you.  Validation. I was burning up.  I finally took some Tylenol.  I felt much better.  And somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I did manage to plunge the toilet.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing that got done yesterday.

Parenting lesson #24: Change is often easier for children than it is for us.

IMG_4463I think I remember – but I’m not sure – that babies cry a lot, and at all times of the day and night.  Because our other two children know how to sleep all night long, baby #3 is going to need his or her own room from which to launch wailing attacks on the rest of us.  We knew the day would come when Eliza and Zach would get real beds.  I just didn’t know it would be so easy for them, yet make me cry.  (Though, as I’ve already explained, pregnancy can cause you to cry at the drop of a hat.  Literally, if someone dropped a hat, it could make me cry.)

This weekend Greg put together the bunk bed I ordered from Amazon.  Mattresses arrived; new choo-choo train and butterfly sheets came.  I really only teared up a little at the process, watching the shift before my very eyes of my children growing out of their little years into beds that grown people can use.  The kids are in heaven, already putting stuffed animals on the fan blades from the top bunk and sending them on carousel rides around the room until they fly off.  They have transitioned beautifully.  They are not scared.  They seem happy to be sleeping in the same room.  And that’s making it slightly easier on me.

But I sit here a bit nostalgic because of unforeseen ramifications.  Our bedtime routine for more than two years with Eliza, and a year with Zach, has included cuddle time in their toddler beds as we cling to a final few talking, processing, praying moments.  Now that Eliza is up on a top bunk, I can climb up pretty easily, but not down on my belly the way it is safe to climb down.  For now, I can cuddle with her on Zach’s bed or our bed, but it’s not the same thing.  Not only that, but on my way to bed later on at night, I always go into each room and admire their angelic, sleeping faces, tuck them in again, and kiss them one last time.  I can still do this with Zach, but I can’t with Eliza.  At least not without waking her up.  And it makes me melancholy.

As our children grow and begin new phases, there are often unintended consequences that we can’t foresee.  Some are welcome changes on the road to independence.  And others make us long for the times we didn’t know we cherished until they’re gone.  The end of the nursing relationship brings welcome freedom, but also a sadness of the loss of the bond.  Potty training means (generally speaking) an end to cleaning smeared poop in all sorts of crevices, but it also means you have to stop in a LOT more public restrooms for toilet breaks.  I know this fall, the beginning of Kindergarten will end the phase of Eliza’s life when she has spent most of her waking hours with me instead of someone else.  And on and on it will go, until these children either go off to college or get married, or maybe until we throw all their belongings in the yard.  (You never know what’s in store.)

It’s easy to worry about how our kids will adjust to changes as they grow.  But I think so far I’ve learned that change seems to be harder for us than for them.  Children seem to adapt to new circumstances pretty well, especially if we have prepped them for what’s to come.  We have spent several months telling the kids about the “cool” bunk beds they would get.  We acted like they were getting a new toy.  In retrospect, that’s probably why they have already turned the top bunk into a game lair for launching stuffed animals off the fan.  I’m anticipating the first bunk bed injury, which will no doubt lead to some serious crying.  But as we are getting ready for a new baby anyway, the inevitable tears will be good preparation for what’s to come – another life change for us, another life that will be born, and will bring with it a childhood that goes from phase to phase all too quickly.

The joys of pregnancy: uncontrollable crying

Violet Crawley“I’m a woman, Mary, I can be as contrary as I choose.”  – Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, to her granddaughter, Lady Mary Crawley, in Downton Abbey.

And I will add that there is never a time when a woman is more contrary, irrational or emotional as when pregnant.

We keep a thankfulness journal as a family, and at dinner we talk about something for which we are thankful and write it down.  Last night, Greg said he was thankful that he is not the one who has to be pregnant.  Here’s why.

Yesterday Greg helped me remove everything from our minivan (car seats, donation items, stroller, etc.) so I could go get it washed and vacuumed.  I went to our usual place around 2 p.m. to find a crazy line.  The big banner with hours listed said it was open until 6 p.m.  I decided to go back around 5:15, at which time I found they had closed off the line and put up cones, not to mention covered up the closing hours on the sign.  The pregnancy-induced rage that can rise so quickly to such a level boiled over and I got out of my car and began to move the cones.  Someone came over to tell me they were closed.  There’s no need to detail the rest of my discussion with the owner; all you need to know is that it reduced me to a heap of tears, as cars got stuck behind our van on a busy street, causing a ton of road rage and honking.  I came home rather quickly, and Greg saw my face and asked why I was crying (because despite my drive home and sitting outside the house trying to stop the flow, there was no ending this cry quickly).  I think I managed to blurt out, “They covered up the closing time on the banner and put up cones and then the owner had the balls to tell me they close at 4 and I just started crying and I can’t stop.  I’m pregnant, that’s why I’m crying!”

I am fully aware that many women are capable of manipulating with tears to get what they want.  I’ve heard several stories about women doing this to, say, get out of traffic tickets.  However, this was not that.  The pregnancy cry can come on at any time, over any little thing, and more often than not, you don’t WANT to be crying, and that just makes you cry more because you can’t stop.

It’s all part of the wonderful experience, I guess.  It’s times like these when I’m so grateful Greg understands that there is no way to understand what I’m going through and he just offers support and love.  He offered to vacuum out the car.  He helped put everything back into it for me.  And though it’s not clean, it’s raining today anyway, and would have just become an instant, muddy mess again.  I’m thankful that he realizes he should be thankful not to have to be pregnant.

And as for crying, it eventually stopped.  In fact, I think my tear ducts were empty, because Downton Abbey was super sad last night, and I didn’t even shed a tear.

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.