Why traveling with kids is worth losing my sanity.

There we were.

We were in hour seven of what was supposed to be an eight hour trip. The girls and I had spent the previous several hours sounding out words, making up new lyrics to our favorite songs and played round after round of I Spy. I’ve become pretty comfortable making the drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, where all but two of our immediate family members live. We’ve travelled this same stretch of highway since we moved to Georgia so I’m familiar with every grimy gas station bathroom and each of the three Starbucks along the route. When we moved to North Carolina and the trip was cut from a miserable 13 hours to a more manageable eight, the girls and I began making the trip ourselves. Josh has a hard time getting away from work so I needed to become comfortable making the trip alone.

The coloring books had been filled and the books reread from memory. Heavy rainclouds stole any bits of sunlight that may have remained after daylight savings time but we were in good spirits – one more hour to go. I topped yet another of the rolling hills and winding roads that carry us through Southern Pennsylvania when I saw it: miles and miles of red, angry brake lights staring at me through my rain spattered windshield.

A traffic jam. In the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside.

With no where to go, no where to reroute, the girls and I sat for two hours.

Do you know what’s exciting? Traveling.

Do you know what’s exhausting? Traveling with children.

We sat and whined, sighed and scowled. I prayed with a ferocious intensity that neither girl would have the sudden and immediate need for a bathroom break. An eight hour car trip is manageable. But when that eight hour gets stretched to nine and then 10… that’s enough to make a Momma lose her mind. I may have said some things to those sweet children that aren’t fit to repeat.

But we do it. Many times each year. And it sucks. Yet I do it gladly.

We made the decision to move away from home. Our families live in Western Pennsylvania – some just a stone’s throw apart. The issue of traveling and distance wasn’t bothersome when we were in college or when we moved to Ohio. But when we had children, we all became more concerned with quality time. When we agreed to move farther away and began collecting children, we had to make the decision that where we decided to live had to be worth the distance we were placing between our children and our families.

We chose to move away because it was what was best for us, our careers and our children. Yes, there are aspects of life that would be easier if we were near family but currently the benefit to living where we do is worth the sacrifice of a few miserable hours in the car.

While our families do visit and willingly drop their lives to come and help when we need it, it’s harder for our siblings and extended family to make their way south. It’s not fair to our children and our parents, siblings, cousins and dear friends that they don’t get to see us or our children. But they aren’t the ones who moved. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our children know and have memories with their extended family.

I don’t care if the drive is eight, 10 or 15 hours. We do it because family is important and memories like these aren’t made on Facebook on FaceTime.

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That being said, I’m putting away my suitcase for awhile.

 

Worry.

Parenting has a way of amplifying qualities in a person, doesn’t it?

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m a worrier.

Raising two girls, close in age and in the midst of a chaotic life has left me grasping for control. When that isn’t feasible, I get a little crazy.

This isn’t healthy, right? So I’ve been working to let go of what I can’t control. A healthy level of concern is a good thing. Worrying about every worst case scenario is not.

I’ve made a real effort to stop worrying so much about my children’s safety when they are playing outside. I survived years of wandering the farm from sunrise to sunset without seeing a single adult – I want my children to have the same opportunity to experience things without an adult hovering above, narrating and stopping them short of discovery.

This morning, we got a late start and missed church. We decided to take advantage of the gorgeous autumn weather and take the girls to a nearby park with great trails for scooter and bike riding. Josh and I had some reading to do so we settled on nearby bench and set the girls free to explore.

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They played flamingo and spun around in circles. They swung to the moon and raced down the slides. After awhile, Emery called us over to see what she learned. She jumped from a platform and reached her arms up to catch a bar above her head. She pumped her legs and tried to work herself into a chin-up position before losing strength. I was ecstatic to see her pride and accomplishment. She repeated this over and over and I encouraged her to try it again.

She jumped from the platform. Only this time, only her fingers gripped the metal bar and she slipped. She fell to the ground and landed on her elbows and knees. It was evident by the way she laid in the mulch that the landing hadn’t been kind. Josh was standing near and helped her to her feet. The sobs turned to shrieks as he tried to touch her arm. He carefully removed her sweatshirt to inspect the arm and her pain was undeniable.  They made their way to the truck while Blair and I gathered our books and the scooters they had intended to ride. After a few minutes, we concluded this warranted a visit to the Emergency Room.

I thought we were nearing the end of our childhood firsts. No, today we got to experience our child’s first broken bone. A fractured humerus, to be exact. Our sweet, adventurous girl will be sporting a full arm cast for the next six to eight weeks. This means no climbing at recess, no hopscotch in gym class and a hiatus from her beloved ballet class.

How can a momma not feel guilty? In my efforts to not worry and to let her explore, did I fail at my job to protect her? Common sense assures me not but her tear-filled question, “Momma, why did this happen?” breaks my heart.

She has handled this like a champion but my Momma worry is on high alert.

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No rest for the weary.

When Emery was a mere 3 or 4 months old, friends would share the horrors of children who had terrible sleep habits. Bedtime routines that lasted hours, kids wandering the house at night, awake for the day at 5 a.m. To them, these stories weren’t terrifying – they were life. But they horrified me. The prospect of waking up multiple times every night to deal with a child who should be physically, mentally and emotionally capable of securing a full eight 90-minute sleep cycles sounded like torture. I stared at these tired mommas and couldn’t fathom how they were feeling and their tired eyes and weary shoulders described more than their words ever could. In those moments, I was certain there was no worse fate than a child who doesn’t sleep.

Emery has always been a fantastic sleeper. She was essentially sleeping through the night at 4 months and woke only once for a 5 a.m. snack before hitting the crib sheets for another few hours. We never had to teach her to sleep. The girl was just born to do it. Thirteen hours at night, 2 hours in the afternoon. Clearly, my awesome parenting skills were being rewarded.

Sleep was a priority. If we missed the window of opportunity for a nap or bed time, all hell broke loose. Overtired and overstimulated, we could guarantee an evening of tantrums and tears before sleep finally arrived. Bedtime was sacred and we declined many evening activities to ensure our golden-haired tyrant was in bed by 7 p.m. She went down without fuss. A book, song, prayer, kiss, lights out. And never another peep until 7:30 a.m.

When Blair came along, things changed a bit. The bedtime routine got a bit more complicated and longer and featured a stuffed animal roll call. Emery always noticed when one was missing, sending the parent who drew the shorter straw on a 15 minute search for the “right” teddy bear (the one with the scarf, not a hat) while the other sang four more rounds of This Little Light of Mine. Blair never slept so by comparison, Emery’s new demands were tolerable.

Slowly and steadily, like a frog being boiled, things deteriorated.

Sleep? No thanks.

Hi. Sleep? No thanks.

We traded the pacifier for a cup of water which requires multiple refills on a good night. Potty training led to mid-night bathroom breaks, courtesy of the aforementioned cup. And then she started being afraid of the dark, so we got a nightlight. And with her room lit light a department store, she was now able to wander about throughout the night. Just reading books and doing puzzles like it was 3 p.m. – not 3 a.m. And since she was already awake, she may as well take a stroll out to the living room to see what Lucy is up to at such a fine hour.

Then she began noticing that Josh gets up for work around 4:50. So Emery started getting up at 4:50. You know, so they could drink their morning joe together and catch up on the news.

This is what my nightmares are made of. If I only got to sleep long enough to have nightmares.

Apparently, we need to visit Disney every.single.day. if we want her to sleep.

Apparently, we need to visit Disney every.single.day. if we want her to sleep.

When you’re child doesn’t sleep, you aren’t just tired. It sucks the life out of you. You feel physically ill. You completely understand why sleep deprivation is used to break prisoners of war. And there is no end in sight. Logically, you know that eventually it will end. Maybe in a few weeks, maybe when they head off to college. But in the moment, there is nothing – short of a terminal illness or your coffee pot breaking – worse than looking ahead at a night of not sleeping.

Emery’s sleep has been the constant that I can count on. Em is a difficult child – and I say that from the very bottom of my overflowing heart. She has more energy than anyone I have ever met and everyone loves to tell me the same. Regardless of how intense or high energy she can be, I’ve always been able to bank on her sleeping well. Until now. There is no rest for the weary and no chance to decompress. And when a child who is easily influenced by her moods and feelings is running on 9 hours of sleep total… Well, it’s not a great result.

A brief reprieve.

A brief and rare reprieve.

I tried the Ok to Wake clock, which terrified her. I tried a reward chart with moderate success. I tried a child lock on her door knob. I tried flat out bribery. I tired yelling. I tried begging. I tried threatening.

Her explanation? She’s lonely. And just not tired.

So in the morning, I told her she could come and sleep with me after her Daddy leaves for work – but she had to stay in her bed all night long. So at 4:55 a.m., she climbs into my bed. And for the next hour she fidgets, twitches, tosses, hums and asks to have her back scratched. The most restful hour of the night, clearly.

She asked to share a room with her younger sister. She promised-promised-promised that would resolve her nocturnal wanderings and begged her Daddy to move her big bed into Blair’s room.

We acquiesced.

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It lasted 27 hours. To Em’s credit, she’s ready. Blair is not. She found the whole thing equally exciting and unnerving and spent the majority of the night alternating between giggles and screams. Girl hates change. And the next morning began at 5:50 a.m. with not one, but two little girls ready to start the day. It ended with a certain child’s mattress being drug back to her respective bedroom while I screamed threats and promises.

I’m in survival mode. I’m throwing all my best parenting tricks at this almost 4 year old and admitting defeat. Every morning, she’s greeted by two books and her Ipod Touch waiting on the couch to entertain her until 6:15. Because I simply cannot hang.

I’ve become that defeated mother with dead eyes and a short temper. I’m the one who texts you at 7 a.m. because I’m already awake and had my morning coffee. I know that Little Einsteins comes on at 6 a.m., followed by Chuggington and then Octonauts. My husband has learned to have the coffee ready to brew when he leaves in the morning. Realistically, he could actually brew it and it would still be warm when I stumble to the kitchen 20 minutes after he’s gone but desperate mothers don’t get to be picky.

Oh, and Blair? Still not sleeping through the night. It’s party central over here.

So if you have a child that sleeps, hug them. Give them candy. Maybe even a pony.

And then buy an exhausted Mother a cup of coffee. Or a bottle wine. Maybe both.

Just say no.

This morning, I was at my tri-weekly —

Wait, is that a phrase? Thrice-weekly? I’m there Monday/Wednesday/Friday to have my ever-so-fickle back, neck and shoulders put back where they belong. I think I see my chiropractor more than my husband.

I think this is a new record for getting sidetracked so early in a post. 

Anyway.

This morning, I was at my second home/chiropractor’s office and managed to read five or six sentences from a waiting room magazine while Blair caught up on a back issue of Rolling Stone.

IMG_6064I don’t remember what magazine I was holding, but there was a pull quote from Kathy Ireland (a supermodel, says the all-knowing Google) that said:

“I was 40 before I learned that ‘no’ was a complete sentence.”

Oh my goodness.  YES.

Yes, yes, yes.

I have no idea who this woman or why she is in a magazine but this quote spoke to me.

I realize that she’s probably referring to the point that as women, we’re taught to say yes. Be helpful, be polite, be social, be hospitable. And if we have to say no, then we’re expected to have a darn good reason. And to share that reason for others’ approval.

And that’s spot on.

But then I looked down at my sweet child who was then trying to lick a picture of Jon Hamm’s face (wouldn’t we all like to?) and I said, no.

I took the magazine away. She let out a shriek and tried to grab it from my hands (girl loves some Don Draper) and asked, “why, momma?”

I replied, “because I said ‘no.'”

Never mind that it’s a magazine from a doctor’s waiting room, or that there are germs, or that we don’t lick things, or that we’re in public or any of the other reasons 50 reasons I may say no. They are good reasons but that doesn’t mean they need validated.

I really do try to make most situations learning experiences for the girls. I explain the rational behind my decisions so that they can eventually (hopefully) make their own good decisions. You know, like not like not licking a well-handled magazine or accepting an invitation to a frat party luau.

Other times, ‘no’ or “no.” or “no!” or “I SAID NO!” is a complete sentence and all the explanation needed. I will not go through the science behind communicable diseases to a 2-year-old (or 18-year-old, so be it). As a parent, my children need to respect my rules regardless if they understand or agree.

Oh my gosh, I’ve become my mother.

But it’s true.

“No” has a negative connotation (duh) and is considered mean, stubborn, pessimistic and selfish. And yet every single time I shout “No!” as my child tries to run across a busy parking lot, it comes from a place of love and my intent to keep my children alive long enough to wipe their own noses.

So, say no. Mean it and don’t feel bad. Don’t apologize, whether it’s when declining an invitation or stopping your child from melting off their face with a hot glue gun.

just say no

What dreams are made of.

Emery is still thick in the “why” stage. After a year and a half, I’m not sure when it stops qualifying as a stage and instead becomes an annoying personality quirk. She asks “why?” at everything. Difficult things. Nonsensical things. Things with no answers. And it’s rapid fire with no time to think between questions. Straight up interrogation style.

Why is it raining? Because the trees and grass are thirsty.

Why are they thirsty? Because they need water to grow.

Why do they grow? Because that’s their job.

Why is that their jobs? Because that is what God made them to do.

Why did God make them? Because I said so, small child! Silence!

She may look sweet but she is relentless, I swear. Probably has a future in the CIA.

She may look sweet but she is relentless, I swear. Probably has a future in the CIA.

I knew yesterday was going to be a super fun day when Emery woke up at 5:50. In the morning. It’s obscene, really. I was overreacting and grouchy so I spent the three hours before preschool being pouty and avoiding any interrogations by small children. By the time we loaded in the Vdub for the 6 minute drive to school, I had finally consumed enough caffeine and decided to act as a parent and engage in an enriching, meaningful conversation with my 3-year-old.

I once read somewhere – probably on a Hallmark card – that the car is a great place to have meaningful conversations with your kids. Because a captive audience is the best audience, I suppose. Except I’m usually the one held captive to her incessant questioning. But they said it was what “good” parents do, so I oblige.

Emery, did you have any dreams last night?

Uhhh. Ummm. What is a dream? (She knows this but wastes no time. We only have 6 minutes, after all.)

Well, a dream is what happens when your body is asleep but your brain is making up stories.

Why does a brain make up stories?

Uh, it’s like you are using your imagination while you are sleeping.

But why is it using an imagination?

At this point, We’ve travelled less than a quarter of a mile and I know this conversation will go on forever – or at least until we get to preschool – so I decide to switch tactics and offer the most philosophical answer I can muster. Because Walt Disney was deep, you know.

Em, you know what? A dream is a wish your heart makes. When you’re fast asleep. (Pure poetic genius, right there.)

A wish? 

Yes, sweetie, a wish.

Last night I dreamed ’bout scary monsters. 

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Errr. Uhh. Derr. Fail.

Thanks a lot, Cinderella. You keep talking to field mice because your insight on nocturnal brain activity blows.

Better luck next time!

Conversations you don’t want to have.

“Mommy! Yay! I pooped!”

“Yay, baby! Did you poop in the potty?!”

“…..No.”

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IMG_5223We’re back at it, folks. B decided on Saturday evening that she was done wearing diapers. But she doesn’t really want to go on the potty, either. So we’re in this wonderful and messy in-between stage. Yay.

 

The dangers of the silent child.

All parents have one fear greater than all others.

Silence.

Parents: if you encounter silence, run towards it. Whatever you are doing is not, I repeat, not as important as what awaits you. The repercussions of ignoring it are costly.

I was showering before laying B down for her nap and settling E in for quiet time. We had spent the playing, ran to the gym and swung by Target for enough oranges and bananas to feed all of Savannah. The girls had been really well behaved – or perhaps I was more tolerant after the luxury of sleeping until 7 a.m. – so I thought I was golden to get a quick shower while they entertained themselves.

While I was in our master bathroom, I heard B rummaging around in our bedroom. She’s been known to dig around in our bedside stands so I yelled a warning and the noises stopped. After a quick rinse, I stuck my head in the bedroom and saw nothing amiss and assumed I was in the clear.

I threw on a pair of comfy pants and a sweatshirt and realized my bathroom mirror needed cleaned. Oh look, more socks on the floor. Have a brushed my teeth yet this morning?

And then I noticed the silence.

I stuck my head into the hallway and spotted E sitting on the couch with a book.  Since she’s typically the ring leader in their sisterly shenanigans, I assumed that B was playing with her blocks in the front room.

Me and that assuming. Never again. From now on, I will always require visual confirmation.

After a few minutes, I made my way into the living room and spotted B across the room, hiding in the corner. She spotted me and ran. Not good.

When I caught the little mischief maker, this was what I found.

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A little blurry? Sorry, that’s because I was chasing her around the living room.

Let’s take another look:

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That would be my very thick, rather pricey Tarte under-eye concealer. All over B’s pretty little face. In her nose. Caked deeply in her eye lids.

IMG_5063I couldn’t even be angry. Trust me, I wanted to. But she wanted to be like her Momma. Secondly, she looked outrageous. Third, it was already past her nap time and I needed to focus all my energy on getting that kid in the bath and figuring out how to get the makeup out of her pretty little lids.

This is why I buy products that I believe are the safest not just for me, but for my kids. Because things like this happen.  Tarte’s products are eco-friendly, cruelty-free and have no parabens, synthetic fragrances, SLS and other nasties (source). I can’t imagine what poor B’s super sensitive skin would have looked like if she had gotten into traditional cosmetics. She probably would have been a walking, talking, 28-pound hived eczema patch.

Have you checked your makeup, hair products, and skin care items on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep list? Do it!

Until then, all my makeup has been relocated and I’m on high alert for the sounds of silence. Of course, that didn’t stop E from “redecorating” her bedroom while I made dinner last night. But that’s a story for another day.

Parenting gone rogue.

Today, J and I decided to do something we have never, ever done in our nearly 4 years of parenting.

We skipped nap time.

This was a huge freaking deal.

To me, nap time is the Holy Grail of parenting. It is non-negotiable. It’s an hour and a half for us as parents to regroup and prepare for the upcoming 5 hours of nonstop questions, crying, eating (everyone except us) and entertaining. Without this time of rest, my children are monsters. Especially E. Some children get quiet, snuggly and docile when tired. No, not my child. She goes into some sick form of self-preservation and everything is kicked into high gear. She runs around like a maniac laughing and crying and hysterics. Sometimes urine is even involved.

She’ll be 4 years old in June and honestly, I’m amazed she’s still napping at all. Her naps have dwindled down to about an hour each afternoon and I have taken that as a sign we’ll soon be nap-free. Sad face.

So, when we were making plan for today and the gorgeous weather forecasted, I suggested we forego our precious nap times and head to lunch and the park after church.

park12012Doesn’t that look like fun?

It was fun. The weather was perfect and the girls had a blast. It felt so energizing to be out and around other people during a time of day that for the past 3 plus years has been spent with E’s bed nearby. I swear, I forgot what angle the sun shines at during that block of time. It’s beautiful, really.

We loaded back into the truck around 2:30, a solid hour and a half after nap time and I felt proud.

Look at us, living off the cuff! Scoffing in the face of predictability and regimented schedules. We are cool parents and our kids have fun while those boring babies are sleeping in their boring beds while their parents read boring books. We are young, hip parents with perfectly well-adjusted children!

Yes. I thought all of those things. It’s a little embarrassing.

So when I turned around in my seat to engage my children in a reggae rendition of The Wheels on the Bus (because I’m that cool), imagine my surprise to find E fast asleep.

Oh. No.

Our window of opportunity for napping slammed shut well over an hour previously. If E took a proper nap, J and I would be royally screwed when it came time for E’s bedtime schedule.

I took back all those thoughts about living freely and my well-adjusted children and all that garbage.

My child wasn’t well-adjusted, she was terrifyingly exhausted and I was in for a wicked afternoon.

We got home and this poor girl was a wreck. She had slept just enough that I couldn’t have gotten her to lay down had I wanted to. But she was still so clearly spent that she went into overdrive and didn’t come down for nearly an hour. I eventually calmed the beast with a soft yellow blanket and a late afternoon viewing of Dumbo on Netflix.

So no, my 3 1/2-year-old is in no way ready to be done napping. Ever. She will probably nap until she has children. And then she’ll just wish, along with the rest of us, she could nap and hate the fact she decided to reproduce and consequently will not sleep again until her children have children.

But it was a lovely day at the park. And B had fun. That sweet little girl.

Why I can’t watch Toy Story.

I have this annoying habit of personifying inanimate objects. I know it’s crazy and I feel crazy when I do it. But I can’t help it.

Sorry, nameless souvenir animal from the Jacksonville Zoo. Lu really enjoyed your tasty head. E was mildly concerned so consider that your funeral.

Sorry, nameless animal.

It is no wonder why things don’t last long in this house. Between a curious 3-year-old, a destructive toddler and a chew-happy puppy, I’m amazed at the little carnage we do have.

Someday we’ll be able to have nice things again.

Or not.

An open apology.

I’d like to take a minute to apologize to a few people -scratch that – a lot of people who’ve had the unfortunate luck of coming into contact with us over the past few days. It’s been rough, to say the least.

  • Apologies to the friends I have ignored this week and the playdates I’ve had to cancel courtesy of the coxsackie virus visiting our house for the THIRD time. Ulcers on my children and myself make me a bad, mad, miserable friend.
  • Apologies to the kind nurse at the pediatrician’s office with whom I was snappy on Wednesday when I needed an appointment for B between 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. so I could pick E up from preschool on time.  You were very accommodating.
  • Apologies to the shoppers yesterday at our local Kroger who witnessed an impressively loud and spit-filled tantrum by my very large 3 year old. All because I wouldn’t buy myself flowers. Oh, the irony.
  • Apologies to the wonderful babysitters who graciously watched my cranky, cabin-fevered children this morning so I wouldn’t lose my cool due to the incessant whining, crying and fighting.
  • Apologies to all those who witnessed me losing my cool at the city’s best bakery after I waited 30 minutes for a sandwich order that never made its way to the kitchen. Of course, they compensated me with a free cupcake and cappuccino upgrade so I shouldn’t begrudge. But I of am. Sorry.
  • Apologies to the wonderful staff and patrons of Fleet Feet, the Color Vibe workers and the other racers who had to endure my screaming children at today’s Color Vibe race packet pick up. Additional apologies to the sweet, angel of a woman who tried to hold the door open for me and I instead rammed her little cheerful legs with my toddler-laden stroller/Weapon of Anger.
  • Apologies to my husband who didn’t get to enjoy any of the aforementioned cupcake. That’s what happens when you stay at work two hours late and I have to do packet pickup alone with two cranky children.

Wine, anyone? Correction – another glass of wine, anyone?

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