Why parenting never gets easier – and why it’s amazing.

The countless diaper changes, sleepless nights and dirty dishes create a blur of beautiful chaos those early years of parenthood. Add in siblings close in age and you lay your head every night thankful everyone survived another day. The kids get older, you become a bit wiser until eventually one day goes by unnoticed as anything other than unremarkable. And it becomes two and soon a few weeks and then you realize that without the pomp and circumstance that celebrated your entry to parenthood, you’ve entered an entirely new phase that involves noticeably fewer tears from everyone.

I am never so naive to think that I’ve got this parenting thing down. But we seem to have travelled through the survival phase known as babydom and toddlerhood and arrived at the other side: school-aged.

And things become markedly calmer and you think, “This is easy! We could totally have six kids.”

Then you’re kid does something awesome like break her arm in such a way that it’ll require surgery, pins and a full arm cast. Because, you know, God is hilarious and has awesome ways of gently reminding me when I’ve become too big for my britches.

The kids get bigger and so do the problems. I’m not talking strictly about physical injuries. While I’m no longer concerned with the perils of potty training, I’m now facing the challenge of raising two young girls with healthy body images and leading them through the maze of mean girls and self esteem. While this chapter of parenting is typically less physically demanding – although the shuttle service between school carpool and ballet classes and traffic is exhausting – it is a race of emotional and mental endurance. I’ve shifted my energy away from the day-to-day and toward the long task of character-building and emotional development.

They ask Big Life Questions that I usually feel wholly ill-equipped to answer. You must formulate a concise, spur-of-the-moment response when your five year old explains that sometimes she feels like God isn’t close and wonders if I’m sure He really thinks she’s special enough. Or when she confides that she isn’t sure she’s pretty enough. Or if I’m sure there isn’t even one thing that would ever make me stop loving her – what if she steals a rainbow? Because to a five year old, there is nothing worse than stealing a rainbow.

I want to blame the influence of peers and society but truthfully, I’m confident most women struggle with the same questions regardless of our age, social circle or upbringing. The lessons that we instill now – or don’t – will have a lasting effect far into adulthood. Nurturing a sense of value and self-worth, cultivating grace and generosity and taming arrogance and superiority. Are we ever good enough? Interesting enough? Thin enough? Strong enough? That stuff is hard.

When Josh and I decided to have kids, it was a pretty short conversation and a sudden shift from my career-oriented life goals. And my view of parenting was very short-sited and I, embarrassingly, didn’t think what it meant to be a parent past the first year. I never entertained the idea that God may bless us with daughters instead of the enviably less dramatic male option. Instead, He gave us and one then another incredible little female human with tender hearts that need guarded and guided and given a safe place to flourish.

I want them to grow strong – physically and emotionally. I will teach them to shine brightly and boldly. I will show them that vulnerability is not weakness. I will encourage them to embrace difficulties and remain joyous through the challenges.

I miss the simpler days of parenting when snuggles and Momma milk made everything better. But how fortunate am I to be tasked as steward of such precious gifts?

Please, please don’t let me screw them up.

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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.

Don’t look under the bed.

The girls and I were homebound this morning because after 5 and a half years and over 80,000 miles, it was due time to get some new tread on the Vdub. Although I’m a stay-at-home-mom, I’m not really a stay-at-home-mom. I kind of really hate being stuck in the house. Barring illness, we get out of the house pretty much every day for a few minutes. The girls learned this behavior from me and, in turn, wake up every morning asking where we’re going that day and who we’re going to see.

Since we had no choice but to chill at home, I decided to make the most of it and check a few of the more time consuming items off my cleaning list.

Photo Credit: MadPhotos1 via Compfight cc

Not me. But pretty close.       |       Photo Credit: MadPhotos1 via Compfight cc

There more than 200,000 things I would rather do before clean. Especially deep clean. You know, the pull-the-couch-away-from-the-wall, clean-on-top-of-the-cupboards kind of cleaning.

But there has been this slight… odor… coming from Emery’s room. I’ve mopped her floor, checked the closet, washed the windows, changed her sheets, wiped the walls, washed the bedding, checked shoes and washed the rug. And yet, this slight smell remains.

So with today’s extra “free time,” I turned on a movie and spent an hour beneath and behind her dresser and bed.

Ladies (and gentlemen, if there are any of you lurking – although I doubt it), please heed my warning:

Do not look under the bed. Do not clean under the bed. Under no circumstances. Ever.

Apparently beneath Emery’s bed is where all the spiders in our house go to die.

So many spiders. Of all sizes. Dead, thankfully.

We’ve had a few run-ins with spiders since moving to Georgia. I remember most vividly the night I woke Josh around midnight after I saw a Georgia-sized spider saunter across our living room. Yes, it was big enough to saunter – it’s a Georgia spider, after all. So, my half-sleeping husband killed the big momma spider that was – unbeknownst to us – carrying baby spiders on her back. Those baby spiders survived the squishing and spread like the tide across our living room. We slept soundly that night and dreamt of baby spiders crawling in our bed to snuggle.

Anyway.

We’ve lived in this house for over three years. In that time, I can’t say I’ve ever given Emery’s room a good, solid scrubbing. And now that I’m doing the math, I’m pretty embarrassed to say I think it’s been nearly 2 years since I peeked beneath the bed frame.

And now that I know it’s a spider graveyard, I promise it will be at least another 2 years before I do.

Because cleaning beneath beds, couches and dressers is now going on Josh’s ever-growing list of man chores.

This momma doesn’t do spiders.

And that faint smell? Still there. I think it may just be the smell of a dirt-loving, tutu-wearning, roly-poly-collecting, almost-4-year-old girl.

What household task do you pass along to your spouse? 

 

Girls just wanna have fun.

As I mentioned yesterday, last weekend was a hectic one. It was also a monumental one.

Emery hosted her very first sleep over.

Her best friend came to our house with her pillow, stuffed bunny and impossibly small suitcase to catch some shut eye.

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Only there wasn’t much shut eye.

Josh and I were exhausted from the go-go-go of a long week and we couldn’t even muster to energy to clean up from the morning’s birthday party. So being excellent parents and hosts, the girls dined on take out and watched a Minnie Mouse movie on the floor while Josh and I collapsed on the couch. That’s fun, right?

The girls thought so.

It’s pretty ironic that they are called sleepovers. Because I assure you, there wasn’t much sleep happening.

But there was a lot of giggles, bouncing around and general mischief. At 3 a.m. And 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.

And isn’t that what it’s really about, anyway?

Adding to the madness, that night also held one of the loudest and brightest thunderstorms  in recent memory. So even when we did manage to quiet the giggles for a few minutes, the girls were right to shrieking and bouncing with each roll of thunder.

When I woke them at 7 a.m., it was a flash back to college.

IMG_5415Those girls partied hard.

But really, for being just shy of 4 years old, I think they did wonderfully. No tears for momma from our sweet guest and Emery didn’t ask me to send her friend home (which according to my mother, I did quite often when I had friends over).

But next time?

The sleepover is at someone else’s house.

Just Dance.

Spring has finally arrived. Mother nature is so kind.

You can’t help but lift your face to the sun and smile.

And dance.

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And close your eyes and feeeeeeeel the music.SONY DSCAnd steal a few hugs.

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And maybe a kiss.

SONY DSCWe met up with this lovely momma at The Forsyth Farmer’s Market and ventured downtown to City Market and Ellis Square for some fun in the sun. We had lunch at Your Pie and I was pleasantly surprised to find out they offer a gluten-free pizza dough which also happens to be dairy-free. For patrons with a food allergy, gluten-free pizzas are baked in a separate oven. We tried soy cheese and although B wasn’t a fan, she enjoyed the crust and toppings. After some pretty crappy experiences dining out with a food allergy, our experience at Your Pie was refreshing.

Oh, and the kids pies come with a serving of gelato or a dairy-free sorbet. Win, win, win!

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Do you like the eczema patch on her right cheek? Oh the joys of sensitive skin and change of seasons. Happens every time.

How was your weekend? Is has spring arrived where you live?

I’m doing some housekeeping around ye ole blog and updating the look and feel of the site. You like? My eyes were crossing after staring at chevrons for so long.

Mommy Meetings.

“Mommy, where are you going?”

“Out, sweet girl.”

“Are you going to work?”

“…No sweetie, mommy doesn’t go to work. You are my work.”

“But you’re wearing a working shirt, Mommy.”

“Yes, E, you’re right. This does look like a shirt someone would wear to work.”

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“What time is your meeting?”

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With that, I gave up. Truthfully, it was a shirt combination I wore to the office years ago when I had a job that provided intellectual stimulation/adult conversation/a pretty little paycheck.

Right now, this is my job. And last night’s meeting was a much needed dinner with a group of lovely mommies and my very own crème brûlée for dessert. And I didn’t share one bite.

Happy Friday, readers. It’s another damp, chilly day so the girls and I are off to the gym and a child-mandated trip to Target. The boss-girl needs oranges and “we don’t have any” isn’t an acceptable excuse. She’s relentless.

Quiet time quandaries.

Remember a few weeks ago when I told you that E was in no way, no how, no shape ready to drop her afternoon nap?

I SWEAR THE UNIVERSE IS LISTENING AND I NEED TO SHUT MY FAT MOUTH.

This is probably the twelfth thing in twelve months that I’ve sworn to and had to later recant.

Last Wednesday, E decided that she was over nap time. She agreed to “quiet time” in her room which lasted exactly 8 minutes before she saddled up to my side for the remainder of the day. I remained optimistic and attributed her surge in energy of the mountains of sugar and processed snacks consumed during her preschool Valentine’s Day party.

No such luck. Nap time is officially over for my 3 1/2 year old. I’m okay with the not sleeping. Her behavior has been fine considering the change in routine and bedtime arrives about an hour earlier in the evening. But I have an almost-2-year-old who desperately needs to sleep so the decibel level needs to be low for a couple of hours.

And I need the time away from my kids. I need to pee in silence. I need to eat my lunch without someone begging for “just one bite.” I need to fold laundry and phone a friend and catch up on my Hulu queue.

Okay, maybe “need” is a strong word. Call it selfish but without a chance to regroup, this momma is certifiably nuts. Regardless, I think quiet time is necessary for kids, even if it’s nothing more than 30 minutes of sitting and coloring or flipping through books in her room. Ya dig?

Also, nap time is when I usually sit down with my second third cup of caffeine to chat with you. I love blogging but I’m not great at making it fit in this new routine. Especially when E is standing next to me, begging I take my eyes “away from that ‘puter there” and put them on her. Oh, truth spoken from the mouth of babes.

I’ve talked to friends who’ve traversed this road before me and picked up bits of wisdom to help ensure quiet time is a “go” every afternoon. We’re not at 100% success yet, but I’m feeling hopeful.

First up, meet E’s new friend.

It’s an OK to Wake! children’s alarm clock that glows red during sleeping hours and turns green when the child is allowed to get up. Brilliance, right?! Amazon Prime 2-day shipping saves the day, yet again, and this gem is en route to our home as we speak.

Up until this point, I’ve kept all of E’s toys out of her room because her bedroom was a place for sleeping and not playing. Now, I’ve rearranged some of her storage space and moved some puzzles, kid-friendly markers and paper, and dolls into a new “quiet time play bin.” I’m also putting an old CD player on her shelf to hopefully add some ambient noise. Silence is boring, so hopefully some Beatles or Jack Johnson will help buy me 30 minutes.

Worst case scenario, the girl gets her iPod Touch for a bit. Heaven knows she needs no more screen time. But she loves it and some apps are educational, right?

Wish me luck! I love my children dearly but this Momma needs a break.

At what age did your kids stop napping? How do you create a good atmosphere for quiet time?

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.

The gift of a 3-year-old.

“Here, Mommy. I picked a flower for you because I love you and you should have nice things,” sang E in her sweet little 3-year-old voice.

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And my heart melted into a sloppy, messy puddle.

When I spotted it sitting on my kitchen table this afternoon, I almost forgot about our morning trip to Kroger when E dropped a pint of blueberries, squished them on the floor and then tried to eat them. Grocery shopping with kids is awesome.

It’s this flower and the unbelievably kind and unexpected actions that she pulls from thin air that get me through the really, really not fun times.

This simple gift of a flower snipped from the neighbor’s bush (shhh!) may seem, well, simple but to me it’s monumental. It is the fruit of three years of prayer and patience.

For my sweet E to show me love, unrequested. To know that not only does she love me, but actually likes me.

She has always been a daddy’s girl. From just a few hours old, she has always preferred J and his jungle gym body and afternoons of adventures. When E is fighting against me with every fiber of her being, J can get her to obey without incident. She counts down the time until he comes home in the evening. I’m certain she only naps because she knows it means daddy will be home sooner. I’ve always felt like the caregiver she tolerates but would never select.

Earlier this month, she informed me that she’d prefer if I went back to work so that Daddy could stay home and play all day. Ouch.

With the new year, I decided to make strides towards becoming a better mother. With that goal in mind, I’ve been listening to E and letting her speak. She can make decisions. She has more responsibilities and in turn, more rewards. While she is still very much a little girl, I’m treating her how I’d want to be treated if I were a 3 years old. Within reason, of course. She still can’t have any of my nutella.

And if my little gift is any indication, I think it’s working.

Do your children prefer one parent over the other?