My Mother’s Day Gift to Me

I’d like to say I’ve thought about Mother’s Day a lot this year. I’d like to say I have gifts picked out for myself and have been lovingly cocking my head at my children, but the truth is, I’ve been extremely busy. And I very rarely get a moment to myself – really to myself – complete with a clear mind and quiet all around.

Yesterday, after a brief, but completely re-energizing few moments between myself and the charcoal grill, a realization that’s been forming for the past few months finally achieved synergy. As I sat, drinking in the warmth of the sun like starving vine, watching tendrils of white smoke curl gently towards me, then away, I realized how grateful I was, for the yard, for the sun, for my family.

Regular, run-of-the mill appreciation, no doubt. Under another circumstance, it may have been enough. Yesterday, though, the appreciation bubbled up and ran over my fingers, down my hands, and into my soul. I was grateful for myself.  I didn’t fully understand this at first, though I’d been solidly (yet unknowingly) working on it for several months.

After almost thirty years of never quite being enough, not saying or doing exactly the right thing, not wearing the right clothing, laughing too loudly, and otherwise conducting my existence in an inefficient and/or ineffective manner, I completely laid off.

I don’t need to remind you about the complete loss of modesty that happens with pregnancy, when that life (or those lives) inside you dictate who you are, what you eat, if you sleep, and how you spend your days. I don’t need to remind anyone about the chaos that ensues following any birth. But it does bear a mention that people change, sometimes unrecognizably, after children enter one’s world.

After my first son was born, I was hyperfocused reclaiming ‘me’. In the short four-and-a-half months before I became pregnant with twins, I was on a mission – doing exercise DVD’s, walking, using the elliptical machine, eating only whole grains, lean protein, and produce. I was no longer me. I felt I somehow disappeared, was swallowed up, within the course of the pregnancy. And that was unacceptable.

I spent my time standing, facing the mirror, looking at myself from the side, trying to catch glimpses from the back, and trying all of my old clothing on in vain. In vain. Because my body was no longer the shape I had known. It had changed.

When I learned I was pregnant again, I felt a great, painful, heavy weight lifted off my shoulders. I could be me again, growing, and whining, and gestating. I was okay. I was pregnant. I could withdraw into my physical symptoms, poking and prodding, and questions from strangers again. I didn’t have to work on myself.

When my twins were born, in the bustle and confusion of living in a too-small house with three babies, I found I began to let up on myself a bit. I no longer stood at the mirror, straightening up, sucking it in, shifting my weight, adjusting. After back-to-back pregnancies, and twins, I was grateful any clothes fit.

And I moved on.

In the continual struggle just to get through my days, I let go things that had been of extreme importance to me (like my hair), and I didn’t mind. Angry, sidelong glares that I’d use to offend my reflection softened to quick, approving glances.

I was okay.

My preoccupation with whether my top was sticking to my rolls or what the shirt was (or wasn’t) hiding, blew away with the breeze. Lipstick became a commodity, that I’m proud to say I’ve only dug up and applied a few times.

And this phenomenon, of being kind to myself, that I’d believed was only a phase, has only gained momentum.

I don’t give myself a second look now when I leave the house. I don’t scold myself for wearing comfortable clothes over pretty ones. There’s a time and place for pretty now. I don’t scold myself for not wearing heels because they enhance my figure. I congratulate myself for having the good sense to wear practical, comfortable shoes. I don’t scold myself for sharing a cookie with my son, or banish myself to the basement to work it off. I get around with these babies. So much so, in fact, that I could probably use another cookie.

I realized that if people are going to love me, they will love me whether I’m five-foot-three or a sneaky five-foot-six, whether I’m covered in macerated Goldfish or not, whether I’m dressed up or simply dressed. Or if my hair’s not done, my eyebrows aren’t plucked, my legs aren’t shaved, or any of these other measures of a woman that have been so mercilessly pounded into us all of our lives.

After a lifetime of never quite reaching the top and repeatedly beating myself into submission, I owe this to my children. To show them they’re enough. To show them they’re beautiful. To show them they’re okay. 

And that’s my Mother’s Day gift this year. From me to myself. And to them. Because they deserve it. And so do I.

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How Much Do You Hate Crying Kids?

A toddler girl crying

I had an experience a few months ago, and then again last night, that gave me pause, and I’d really like to know: Do kids crying in public really annoy you? I mean, does that really bother people?

I will admit, before my propagatory ship came in, I was the first person to belch out, “Ugh! Kids!” at any appropriate juncture. The mere mention of children and the possibility that I may have to share real estate with them automatically activated the Eye Roll/Melodramatic Sigh Reflex. I realized, however, that children were people, too, and I couldn’t discriminate based on inability to control one’s impulses, form a sentence, or wipe one’s own tush, as much as my insides quaked to do so. I accepted children, much as I do reality TV stars, as a functional part of our society, and moved on.

Before Christmas, I had been afforded a quiet afternoon at the mall with my son. We strolled around Macy’s, browsing clothing racks and Christmas decorations. A few ornaments caught my eye, and I decided to pick them up. Excited to include my son in our newly formed Christmas traditions, I allowed him to inspect and guard our ornaments until we were ready to leave the store.

When we arrived at the customer service kiosk, I knew I’d have to wrestle them from his hands, causing a potential tear-and-glitter storm. I eyed a big wheel truck sitting nearby, and offered a trade. He’d unhand the ornaments, and I’d let him borrow the truck for a few moments. This plan went swimmingly until it was time to leave – without the truck.

I use the Band Aid Approach often, and it works, so I leaned down, asked him for the truck, and told him it was time to go. A wandering employee had taken notice and attempted to give me a hand. She bent down into the stroller and asked him if she could see the truck. He handed her the truck without realizing he wouldn’t get it back, and then started kicking, as large tears fell from his eyes. I attempted to roll away quickly, which would have both a) changed his mind, and b) gotten us the freak out of there, but the employee, so affected by the tragedy before her, gave me the exaggerated sad face and whined, “Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww. He’s crying! Can I give him back the truck?” Seriously? Seriously, lady? Can you give him back the truck? Are you kidding me?! No, dammit, you can’t give him back the truck! Walk away! Walk away NOW!

“Oh, no. Thanks,” I managed. “We have plenty of trucks at home. I’m, uh, we’re – just going to get going now. Thank you,” I smiled, lowered my eyes, and rolled my son away. He sniffed for a few seconds, and – Poof! - all better!

Not thirty seconds later, another employee, walking in the opposite direction, eyed my son, leaned in, told him how handsome he was, and then noticed the fresh tears on his cheeks.

“Ooooooohhhhh. He’s got tears on his face. Was he crying?” No. I just freshened him up. He needs a bit of a spritz from time to time.

“Oh,” I responded, “It’s nothing. He wanted a toy and, well, we have to go.”

“Aw, he can’t have the toy?” she asked, cocking her head in my son’s direction.

At that point, I was ready to lose it. I told her that no, indeed, he couldn’t, and that we needed to go, and continued towards the exit. And I seriously considered taking a long, hard look at a Macy’s Employee Handbook.

So I ask you, is it that painful to see a kid cry? Don’t kids, like, cry a lot? Isn’t that a hallmark of being a baby? Par for the course of parenthood? Call me cold and objective, but crying children don’t really stab at my heart, unless there’s a reason, a real reason, for their tears. For the most part, they cry, they stop, they cry again, they move on, and we move on. That’s it. I realized the sound of children bothered me all those years, but certainly not the individual sounds they were making.

Now, last night, after a very successful afternoon out, we decided to attempt dinner at a restaurant. This had only been done three times since the addition of the twins to our family, and only once successfully. I was optimistic, but by no means confident.

Maggie was a bit itchy on the way in. She was squirming and cranky. We managed to subdue her with a breadstick for a limited period, but shortly after, she became inconsolable. Instead of subjecting myself to pitiful looks, questions, and advice from concerned onlookers and staff, I decided to remove both myself and Maggie from the situation, and bring her to the car.

She finished her bottle, writhed, and screamed, until she fell asleep on my chest in the second row of the van. I took to dozing myself. My father tagged out of dinner to tell me he was through eating, and asked me if I wanted to go inside and have my dinner while he sat with the baby. I declined. It just wasn’t worth it.

All I imagined were large, distorted, Black-Hole-Sun faces, swirling down at me pejoratively, the sound of Tsk, Tsk, Tsk in my brain growing louder and clammier. And I didn’t want to deal with it.

So, I let my daughter sleep on me, and I ate my dinner when I got home, as I have for months now, from a styrofoam box at my dining room table. So no one would have to see or hear her cry.

To Dine Out or Not to Dine Out – Is that Really the Question?! Really? A Guest Post by The Food-Minded Mama

I started The Food-Minded Mama because I have some very strong feelings about how to feed kids. I’m living on an extremely tight budget and I’m a single working mom who doesn’t have (and doesn’t want to take) the time to slave over a stove every night. Because of how I have been feeding my kid (or just sheer luck), she’ll eat just about anything. She prefers fruit to chocolate and eats broccoli like popcorn when we watch a movie. I love that. For more about me, visit my first blog post from March 2011, From Food-Minded Traveler to Food-Minded Mama. Follow the Food-Minded Mama on Twitter and Facebook.

To Dine Out or Not to Dine Out – Is that Really the Question?! Really?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether parents should take, or not take, their children out to dinner in a restaurant; at least to a restaurant that doesn’t have an inherent kids’ theme.  (Eeeesh.  No, thank you.)  Well, for the most part, here’s my response to the people who say, “Get a sitter so people (they) don’t have to deal with your kids.”

 

My attention was piqued about the torrid debate when I heard about that Pennsylvania restaurant that banned children under 6.  In my opinion, that’s taking things a little far, but it’s not my restaurant.  Then I saw a great follow-up piece called “In Defense of Dining With Children.”   Here, a former grumpy and affected-by-whiny-kids diner-cum-mom made the excellent point that the onus of teaching children to behave properly in a restaurant rests on the shoulders of the parents, but also that children are part of our community and should be accepted as such.

To that end, I say this: We need to teach our children from the time that they are seated at the dinner table, even in their high chair, how to behave at the table. There’s no banging of the fork, no yelling or throwing of food, say your pleases and thank yous, and above all, eat the food that is served.  Our children learn how to be people from us.  If we don’t give them the skills from the very beginning, how will they ever learn?  Table manners are to be taught at home.  If children haven’t been taught basic manners and table etiquette there, of course they are going to be frustrated and squirm in their seats when they are expected to sit still and wipe their faces in a restaurant.

I use the phrase it takes a village a lot. I’m not just talking about friends and family helping parents rear their kids, I’m talking about everyone showing kids and each other how to be good people, good citizens, and members of a community.  It’s clear that there are social expectations that aren’t being met when it comes to raising children today.  Just read some of the comments left for the author of In Defense of Dining With Children, and you’ll see that people are fed up with kids’ behavior in public and, ultimately, with the lack of discipline enforced on those kids by their parents.

So let’s look at it this way…

Remember when we would visit our grandparents’ house and the whole family would sit at the dinner table, place their napkins in their laps, use the proper cutlery, and chew with their mouths closed?  Let’s do that!  Let’s set expectations for our children to be polite at the dinner table at home.  Like in every other realm of their lives (school, sports, and other activities), we need to set some rules of behavior and parameters that should be maintained.  Not only will our children learn to be better diners in public, but a modicum of peace may come to the dinner table, too.

If you haven’t read the post Why Our Parents Put Us To Shame that my fine hostess, Stephanie of Momma Be Thy Name, wrote back in August, you should.  You absolutely should.  Maybe together, maybe we, the village of parents raising young children in this wacky, fast-paced world, can slow things down a bit.  Let’s remember that we are our children’s parents, not their friends; we are their teachers, their guides, and maybe, just maybe, we can be their dining partners in a restaurant without stoking the fires of anti-kid-ism.

One last thing. My daughter is nearly three years old.  I take her to restaurants all the time. I have since she was born.  More often than not, I get that look of dread from the server when we are seated. However, it never fails that by the end of our meal, Lorelei has not only charmed the server but has also impressed him or her, as well as the other diners in the restaurant.  Why?  She sits still, she says her pleases and thank yous, she places her own napkin in her lap, and she eats what is served.  She makes this mama very proud.

Santé

Don’t Bug Me, I’m Driving: A Guest Post by Queen of the Jungle

Erin DeVincenzo a stay-at-home mom to three boys with a husband that used to be in ministry, but is now a mold inspector.  Long story.  She’s enjoying life outside of the fishbowl for a change.  Erin blogs regularly at Queen of the Jungle where she take the challenges of motherhood lightly.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then life is just hard, and who likes that?  She lives in southern California, so she enjoys the beach and spending time outside with her family, not to be confused with being outdoorsy, because she is not outdoorsy in the slightest.  When Erin grows up she would like to dance the freedom dance (as her children will be out of her house) and cruise around the world with her husband.

Don’t Bug Me, I’m Driving

I live in one of the nine states that prohibit handheld cell phone usage while driving a car.  I get the premise behind it.  Holding a cell phone to your ear leaves only one hand on the wheel and distracts you from driving responsibly.  Although, if we’re going to ban hand-held cell phones, we should probably also ban eating in your car, applying makeup in your car, and most importantly, driving in your car while children are present.

See, as long as I’ve been a driver (almost 17 years), I have never been more distracted by anything than my own children.  The constant jibber jabber, the bickering, the “Mommy I dropped my toy!”  I think it’s fair to say that gluing a cell phone to my hand while wearing a pirate patch over one eye and driving winding mountain roads while cats dart out in front of me would be far less distracting than driving down an abandoned straightaway with three kids in the back of my van.

However, I have a solution.  I’ve never been one to present a problem without having a solution in my back pocket.  I’ve thought of the “Don’t Bug Me, I’m Driving” vehicle equipped with several key features to keep your kids annoyances to a minimum.

Extendo Arm

This is kind of like a Go-Go-Gadget arm.  It jumps into action when it hears the following words, “Mommy!  I dropped my (fill in the blank.)”  Extendo Arm would blindly scout around the floor of the van (just as a regular mom would) until it stumbled upon the dropped object.  Once cries have ceased, Extendo Arm would return to its resting position.  It can be used to retrieve objects, reinsert pacifiers, or smack offending children upside the head.

Yes-No Button

I have one child that can talk until the cows come home.  He’s a great conversationalist and asks some really great questions, which lead to really great teaching moments, but when I’m driving around a new neighborhood, trying to follow my GPS that seems to be leading me down one rabbit hole after another, my little chatterbox can be quite the distraction.  So, for him, I have created the “Yes-No Button.”  You simple push the button, and each time your little lovely asks a question, it responds with a “Yes” or a “No.”  As an upgrade you can install the “Uh huh,” “Oh really,” and “That’s amazing,” feature.

Conveyor Belt

This is a just a regular old conveyor belt you would find in any old factory.  It would run down the middle of your vehicle to the back and would serve as a way to quiet the cries of hunger.  Simply keep a box of chicken nuggets in your glove box (We all know what’s in those now, thanks to Jamie Oliver, so I’m sure one box would survive in your glove box for a good two weeks…), and anytime a child acts like you have been starving him for days (even though they had a snack just minutes before leaving the house), you stick one chicken nugget at a time on the conveyor belt and send it back.  Wha lah!

Car Potty

Nothing distracts me more than the child that is wailing that he has to pee.  There is nothing I am more afraid of than arriving at my destination with a urine-stenched child with no change of clothes.  Nothing.  And when I hear those pangs of needing-to-go, I drive like a bat out of hell.  So, each vehicle will come equipped with a car potty.  I haven’t thought this one through all the way.  For the boys, there will be some sort of tube device that leads to the underbelly of the vehicle.  Listen, if my kid can pee in an empty water bottle, he can certainly manage to go in a tube-like device.  The part I haven’t thought of is the girl version, but since I don’t have any girls, I’m just gonna leave that for someone else to figure out.

Limo Window

The limo window will be raised when all else fails.  It is simply a sound proof sheet of glass that rises up between the driver and the passengers in the back.  It is used as a last resort, when none of the other features appease your children and you need to block out the sound, lest you lose your God-forsaken mind!  And, as long as you arrive at your destination without the children causing physical harm to one another, the limo window should be considered a success.

So, there you have it!  I’m considering patenting my ideas and lobbying Washington for some “distracting-children-free” driving.  Who’s with me?

On Being a Pity Case

Pity Party

For all intents and purposes, I am a pity case – a stay-at-home mom, who, due to bad timing or terrible birth control (or both), found herself the ward of three children under 2, married to a man whose only real flaw is having a rotating work schedule.

I’ve been beaten, kicked, puked on, and stepped over. I’ve had chunks of my hair ripped from their roots. I am a mess.

And people know it.

Before I go on any further, though, let’s take a little trip in the Way Back Machine. To 2009. To meet Old Stephanie.

Old Stephanie liked to work. A lot. She, like the man she was soon to marry, worked a rotating schedule, and somehow found a way to a) teach at night, b) maintain a social life, and c) take care of business. After their engagement, they would dreamily chat about their desire for children, and, probably like most couples, how they would space out said children, you know, two years apart, like everyone else.

After that, things get a little fuzzy. Old Stephanie found herself pregnant exactly two weeks after her wedding. The “honeymoon phase” was quickly replaced with the you-need-to-go-out-and-get-me-Cheetos-right-now-because-that’s-what-I’m-having -for-dinner phase.

And then came Matthew.

Fast forward to four-and-a-half months later. Old Stephanie, rearing to get back to the life she left behind, is standing in the kitchen, squinting down at a pregnancy test. 

“Is that positive?” she asked her husband.

“I can’t tell. Take another one,” he responded.

Five tests later, there was no denying it was positive. There was another baby on the way. Or so she thought.

So what exactly happened to Old Stephanie? Surely, some of this could have been salvaged. Well, she ceased to exist just as the ultrasound lady, in frighteningly slow motion, turned the screen toward her and said, “See? There’s two in there…”

But never mind that trip down memory lane.

My accomplishments today include being a first-responder to a rapidly spreading diaper containment emergency, cleaning a cascade of chocolate milk off the wall, and repairing my son’s favorite sippy cup (after, of course, he threw it at the wall).  Jealous?

And, just in case you’re wondering: Yes, they are twins. A boy and a girl. 6 months. Yes, there’s one more. He is 19 months old. Yes, crazy. I know. No, no, we didn’t plan it. Nope, no other twins in our family. I must have my hands full? Oh my, that’s hilarious. No, no, go on. I haven’t heard this one before.

I’m used to people stopping us when we’re out walking, or at the mall, or anywhere. I’m used to people sticking their heads in the double stroller to see just what exactly is inside. I’m used to the chipper chatter I’m now obligated to.

Oh, and my pride’s not hurt at all that people have to come over and cook for us or help me get the babies to bed. Or that I pretty much wear different permutations of pajamas all the time. Or that I just bagged up and donated 8 years’ worth of business casual to make room for jeans and t-shirts.

Though I can quickly point out all the challenges of this situation, I know somewhere in the back of my mind that this too shall pass. Diapers will inevitably give way to finger paint and Easter egg hunts and recitals, which will give way to learner’s permits and graduations and weddings. Who knows? I might even miss this chaos. For now, however, if you’re coming over, bring food and wear clothes that you don’t mind having ruined.

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