It was a bleak winter Tuesday and I was trying to make dinner. The kids were overtired – Samson skipped his nap and baby Esther snagged only a short cat nap. They were pulling on my clothes, constantly fighting and making messes. The Dragon Lady Mom that I hate started to emerge. I snapped at them, raised my voice and even sighed dramatically a couple of times. I marched them through dinner, militantly loaded them into their beds and even prayed over them with curt words.
When I finally landed in bed, my mind raced. I felt terrible. How could I have treated my little darlings so roughly? Why hadn’t I taken time to regroup? Why had I acted immaturely, letting my emotions and physical exhaustion trump kind mothering?
I felt like I was back in middle-school with braces giggling to a friend after I messed up, “Can I have a ‘do-over’”? That’s what I wanted. I wanted a Do-Over. I wanted to suck back that time period of bad mothering and do it over again.
Sometimes I feel like this right after a small parenting situation happens – like say I raised my voice in frustration when Samson keeps whining about what I made for breakfast so I finally snap at him. I immediately want a “do-over” so I quickly apologize and try again. But sometimes, at my worst, I want a “do-over” day. I feel like I was a bad mom All Day Long. Guilt washes over me and I wish, so wish, I could have that day back. I cry to David at the end of the day about what a terrible job I did, and how I wish I could be more patient. Why did I let the little stresses get under my skin and handicap my parenting? Have you ever felt like this as a mother of young children? How do you handle these feelings?
I think Satan would like nothing more than for mothers of young children to wallow in depression and self-condemnation. He wants us to feel bad and carry that heaviness into the next day and the next. If you take on the identity that you are a “bad mom”, it can adversely affect your ability to parent. Don’t take on that identity or fall into his trap of lies and deception.
When you “blow it” as a mom, here are a couple of ideas to move forward and learn from your mistakes!
- Ask for God’s forgiveness and humbly ask for His grace as you face tomorrow. Isn’t that wonderful that we can seek His help in our times of weakness? Recognizing that we can’t do mothering in our own strength frees us to be full of His Spirit and His power. In our weakness, He is strong!
- Talk over your struggles with your spouse or another strong mentor in your life who can help you detect any blind spots or personal struggles you may be facing, but are unable to objectively pinpoint. For example, as I talked to David over my frustration at the amount of time it take me to get Samson ready in the mornings, he helped me see that I have a propensity to forget Samson is a high energy, distracted child. Not a 30-year-old driven adult, like me. So I needed to lower my expectations and recognize this season takes a little more time. (Take a chill pill, Leah.)
- The next morning, go right over to your darlings, give them a big hug and ask their forgiveness for wrong actions or words. I love doing this – even if they don’t always “get” my apology, it is healing for me, especially. I hope to always apologize to my children as they grow. My father made it a point to apologize as a parent, and I will never forget it. It made me respect him so much and I am grateful for his example as a new parent.
- Finally, if you can pinpoint areas of natural stress in your day or circumstance, you can better mentally prepare yourself for the stress. For me, areas of stress are: leaving to go anywhere and be on time (so I try to allot a lot of time and get my mindset right – nothing is worth getting angry at my little ones, even being late!), mealtimes (I try to prep as much as I can, create simple menus, and sometimes I don’t eat while they eat because it’s too stressful trying to simultaneously take care of them and eat my dinner) and busyness (I try to watch our calendar like a hawk, but when it’s out of my control – like holidays or overbooked days, I try to mentally prepare myself to be patient for the chaos and whiny-children aftermath).
What Satan means for evil, God means for good. I believe these “bumps” along the way can serve as a springboard for better parenting in the future if we stop to reevaluate, pray and learn from our mistakes. And the great thing about it? Since our children are so young, they probably won’t remember many of our faults form these years. Hurrah! Xoxo, Leah
WALK WITH MY BABY GIRL
Every other morning, I try to take baby Esther on a walk in our neighborhood. “Wanna talk a walk, baby?” I ask, screaming around the kitchen cleaning up breakfast and the thousand toddler/baby messes that emerged before 9am. “Yah! Yah!” she sings, like a little German.
Before another interruption or mess, I scoop up the barefoot, pot-bellied smiling angel toward the garage. I pop open our stroller and she’s already climbing like a monkey into her special spot. I take life at a terrifying pace if I don’t watch myself, so often I forget to strap her in just like I usually don’t bother to waste time putting on her shoes. I throw on my old blue pair of running shoes from my pre-kid days when I used to run whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted to all the music I had time to download and arrange. Now I’m dashing out for a precious 20-minutes from a non-stop, 12-hour day plus night time tending.
I try to grab a mom-visor for the sun and if I’m really on my game, black sunglasses. I toss my phone in the cup holder and kick up the brake. We’re off! I walk on the east side of my street, going north so the houses shade us. The sidewalk is jagged and uneven from the moving Texas mud-soil – in dire need of repair. When Samson noted a big indented sidewalk square near our house, he looked up at me with raised white eyebrows, “You know who did ‘dat, Mama? A GIANT! He stepped RIGHT ‘DER!” That is exactly what it looks like. But Esther loves it – every time an uneven concrete square pops her up she laughs so I never go on the street, always on the uneven giant-stomped sidewalk.
I keep the sun shade over Esther, but roll back the top black shade so I can still peer down at her through the transparent plastic square. I tap it lightly with my fingertips, and she smiles up at me tapping my fingers back, both of us looking at each other upside down. I sometimes nab a stray branch or leaf for her to examine – it usually occupies her for about seven minutes then she returns it to me, “Mama! Mama!” – never throws it on the ground.
If a dog barks, she barks back. We mostly walk in silence, but sometimes I ask her to sing. Then she babbles, “I luh LEW” over and over then experiments. When we spot a squirrel or a cat, I stop and turn the stroller to let her watch. I never want to be in such a hurry – even during my exercise – to enjoy a moment with my baby. Children are God’s gift to busy adults. The help us inhale the sweetest moments in life – the simple ones that are so often overlooked. At the bottom of our street, I join a new paved nature trail where we pass walkers, joggers and bikers. Esther waves her fat little hand at passerbys, but I can’t stop looking at those little bare feet squirming i n the sunshine. I wouldn’t trade places for the world with any of the elite athletes that pass by. No, no – give me a 20-minute neighborhood walk with my baby girl any day over a Lance Armstrong look and bike ride.
My favorite people to pass are the elderly couples. They are never in a hurry and always call out a friendly hello or make some kind remark about Esther. Last week, a white-haired grandmother called a friendly morning greeting across the street, “Good morning! You sure are blessed!” I must have been hyped up on exercise endorphins or something because I gushed back to the complete stranger, “Oh yes! I couldn’t be happier! These are truly the very best days of my life!” I sheepishly walked away, but you know, they really are.
You know who I think of as the sexiest man alive? A husband that picks up fast food for dinner and takes care of the little children when mama is sick. Tonight, Dave brought home Rosa’s tacos for everyone and a hot Starbucks drink for my sore throat. After the battle that is always mealtimes with two small children, we retreated to the living room in front of the fire. Dave brought in an old school TV and pulled out his childhood nintendo system to teach Samson how to play that game where he shoots ducks with a toy grey plastic gun.
“Hold the gun this way, son,” Dave instructs. I smile at him showing our four-year-old white-haired toddler boy dressed in Batman pajamas how to hold a toy gun the correct way. I look over at the transparent bin he pulled the game from – I must have been in a bad mood when I labeled it because the white sign with black sharpie marker reads, “NINTENDO CRAP.” Give me a break. I moved when I had a two-year-old and a two-month-old, unexpectedly and last minute. I was probably mad that Dave wanted to save his precious childhood video game collection, thinking we would just store it for the next several decades. I am so glad I was wrong. Nintendo crap is tonight’s father/son ordinary, extrodinary parenting moment.
Baby Esther stands next to Samson watching the primitive 80’s video game, her pot belly hanging out as she sucks her thumb. She does that when she’s observing a new thing. She picks up a remote control for the TV and mashes various buttons, pointing it toward the dying ducks on the screen. She gets too close and Samson swipes her away, “NO, BABY!” She furrows her flawless baby skin brow and yips like a angry puppy, then runs away. Today I put her hair up in two “real” pigtails for the first time. Her hair is finally long enough. As I brushed and parted it, I couldn’t help but think of all the ponytails, pigtails and braids my mama made on my head. And here I was, fixing my daughter’s first pigtails. Life’s cycle is so sweet.
Dave slumps back down in his chair. Man, that guy still looks so handsome to me after six years of marriage. He is fresh from a business meeting, on a Saturday. He’s wearing a starched striped shirt, dress slacks and his Italian black hair slicked back like my-kinda-maffia boy. I remember that was one thing that initially attracted me to David Spina: his work ethic and drive. He was so different from other guys I met. I immediately respected him and I still do.
But then I look up and I see the biggest dead animal mount you have ever seen above the biggest leather couch you have ever seen. That’s one thing about Dave I didn’t see coming: his growing hunting obsession.
Now there are dead animals in almost every room of my beautiful home. But how do I say no, when he comes jumping up and down fresh from his-boy taxidermist, “Honey! Honey! Look! Isn’t it BEAUTIFUL!” He tells me the long story, again, about how he hunted the thing and revels in how gorgeous it is. Eh, I will battle on other things. Dave rarely gets that excited and I don’t want to smash that happiness.
How did the animals start? I remember it like it was yesterday – it was about a week after we moved into our new, big, beautiful house. We had hired a decorator and I just knew our house would soon become the cover photo for Traditional Home. I heard Dave talking like a president about to win the election to his taxidermist about upcoming animals that were almost complete. Animals that I had no idea he was mounting. You may have seen smoke starting to snake up from my head as I envisioned my gorgeous new home transformed into a miniature Cabela’s showroom. When he got off the phone, I invited him for a friendly chat at the bottom of our wooden staircase.
We sat, side by side, ready to address a little marriage conflict 101. Animals vs. Pottery Barn. “Honey,” I began, in a sweet southern girl smile that no man could resist. “I just want to ensure we are on the same page as we decorate the house. Remember we had the designer come and she suggested the animals be tastefully arranged?” Dave looked back blankly. I continued with my fake smile, “So I was thinking one thing we could initially agree on is that we would both agree the word we want to avoid when mounting animals is that it wouldn’t be overwhelming, right?” Blank stare. I continued, because southern women win with honey not vinegar, “Ok, so I think animals would look great in certain rooms, but some rooms not so much.”
Since Dave was giving me zero help or feedback, I dove in, “Honey, so what rooms do you think would NOT be appropriate for animals?” Long pause. Me, “Well, for example, I don’t think the kitchen is a good place….” Dave immediately interrupts, “LEAH! What better place than where we eat animals all day long?” Me, horrified, “Well, then certainly not our BEDROOM?!?” Dave like it was Christmas decorating we were talking about, “HONEY! What could be more romantic than a gigantic deer shoulder mount above our bed?”
And so, my house is full of animals.
The first one you see when you enter is a black and white skunk. When I protested it, Dave immediately reminded me that we have young children and many of our friends have young children, so our house would be popular as a still-life zoo. I coughed in disagreement, but to this day, Mr. Skunk is one of the most visited toys in our home. Children run straight to it and pet it. Really small children also point to the two foxes in our living room and start barking “Woof! Woof!”, thinking they are dogs. And yes, you read that right: TWO FULL-BODY-MOUNT FOXES IN MY LIVING ROOM.
There is one animal I really do detest. It’s a horribly repulsive jet black Texas hog head with ugly yellow fangs hanging out under it’s slimy nose. Not a cute Wilber-the-pig, but what’s considered one of Texas’ most hated varmints. And where is it? Right smack dab above our downstairs guest bathroom – one of the most used rooms in our house. I never, ever would have let Dave put it up, but he did it in a very sneaky, underhanded way.
It was the night of our date night – kind of a big deal. I carefully stepped down the stairs in my high heels – because moms of young children have to re-learn how to walk in heels after so pregnant mom flats – feeling beautiful in my clean dress and red lipstick. And there was Dave, smiling as big as Texas with that gigantic Thing hung on the ceiling. I immediately recoiled at the sight of one of God’s ugliest creatures in my beautiful home. But, as Sneaky Dave banked on, I didn’t want to get in a big fight right before our date. So, I brushed back my hair like Scarlett O’Hara and sighed, “Well, I guess we’ll talk about that tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow came and went and the hog still stands. Especially since Baby Esther is obsessed with it and talks and points at it all the time, “Hog! Hog! Hog!” Then grunts like a pig. You win, Dave.
In my kitchen there is a flying beaver. Right smack dab in the middle of 18 white-and-blue antique plates – mainly with a Blue Willow pattern. Leah meets Dave. That’s old love beauty, ladies and gentlemen. At the other end of the kitchen is two sets of deer antlers. You know what I am going to do this Christmas? I’m going to decorate all 14 dead animals on our first floor in Christmas decor. Wouldn’t the bobcat look so cute with a candy cane bow around it’s neck? It’s only fair.
On getting that positive pregnancy test…
It sounds crazy, but as soon as I got married I suddenly wanted to have a baby. I don’t know if it was my beautiful diamond ring reminding me I was legal to have a child or what, but I wanted a little cooing baby all of my own. Preferably an adorable one, like on a Pampers commercial.
Dave wasn’t so hot on the idea. We just got married and needed to meld a bit before adding a child to the mix. Especially after our engagement counselors told us we were both such fiery, strong leaders we would be a dynamic couple….IF we could stay married.
Anyways. I didn’t want to push it or make our first big fight over having a cherub. So I kept quiet and hoped he would change his mind. Each time I saw Dave with his niece or other children, my heart burst inside. What a good father he would make someday!
Six months later, Dave took me on our weekly date night to Southlake Town Center here in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. It is a fun shopping area with lots of great restaurants and even a big water fountain near a gelato shop. Dave pulled up into a parking spot near Barnes and Noble for a coffee and magazine date on a Tuesday night. “Well, I think it’s time to have a baby,” he announced, like well, I think it’s time we watered the yard type-of-way. “What?!?!” I kissed him like it was our last kiss, or more accurately like a sloppy high-schooler in a car post prom.
Then I made the mistake I still hadn’t learned to fix in my six short months of marriage. I asked my make-a-decision-and-don’t-discuss-it-anymore bottom-line husband his least favorite question, “Honey. But are you sure?” Dave turned to me, heated. “Leah, why would I say that and not be sure. Are you sure?” I laughed, of course I was sure!!!!!!
I floated in the wood doors on pink baby dream clouds. I made a beeline toward the parenting section while Dave, my man’s man hunter, perused the firearm magazines. I lugged a stack of parenting books back to a small table and Dave ordered us steaming Starbucks drinks. I didn’t take a sip. All I could think about was having a baby.
But we didn’t get pregnant that month. Or the next month. Or the next month. It seemed all my friends were Fertile Myrtle. Their husband just sneezed on them and they got the magical double pink lines. That’s when I entered the fine world of fertility awareness. And subjected myself to stranger-turned-preggo-expert opinions. “Oh, you need to keep laying down for twenty minutes afterwards. You want gravity on the side of the little guys.” Why thank you so much. I’m Leah, what’s your name? The information was simultaneously overwhelming and hilarious to me. Take your temperature. Chart your cycles. Take ovulation tests – the little smiley guy means now is the time!
Turns out, we didn’t really have to get that involved. Six months later we were pregnant.
(More of that story in my upcoming book).
Six weeks into pregnancy, I felt like a female Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had so much energy. I thought maybe it was these awesome prenatal vitamins, or SOMETHING. Then Dave and I celebrated our first year wedding anniversary. Romantic Dave took me to a fine steakhouse with starched white tablecloths and had a bouquet of red roses waiting at our table. That was the first night my food didn’t taste just right. We retreated back to our swanky hotel and I ordered room service to bring me a Sprite.
The next day, when were back to normal married life and went to our neighborhood Wal-mart for some groceries. All of a sudden, the smells overwhelmed me. I dashed back to our car like a preggo track star and stood shuttering and fake vomiting in the parking lot. What in the world? Dave came to check on me. I nobly wiped the saliva off my chin with the back of my hand and told him I wasn’t sure what was wrong.
That was the beginning of morning sickness horror for me. I vomited at least once daily for four months straight, felt queasy non-stop and no food ever tasted normal until the baby was born. Even brushing my teeth or taking a shower triggered the vomiting. I lost 20 pounds in three months. Ginger Ale replaced my beloved Dr. Pepper.
I felt like an invalid, instead of a newly married peppy blonde wife. At my worst days, Dave would return home from work and the only thing I could offer our relationship was a smile from the couch. I couldn’t get up, cook, clean or do anything. Making this baby was dominating me. It was like being really, really sick for 10 months. No one prepared me for it and I felt pretty depressed as having a baby was surreal. I think severe morning sickness is the worst before you have a baby because you really don’t know what’s coming or why it is really, really worth it.
I remember one morning Dave game me the best morning sickness present ever. It was snowing, but I didn’t know it – a rarity for Texas winters. David made me keep my eyes closed until he opened the blinds – “Ok! Look!” Then he opened the blinds downstairs so I could lay on the couch, sick as a dog with morning sickness, to watch the snow fall. He is the BEST husband and morning sickness made me appreciate him so much more.
We started to prepare our house for a little human. We replaced the carpet with wood floors for easy clean-up and also purchased leather, not cloth, couches. We felt pretty smart and like pro-new parents looking at the gleaming brown loveseat, “yeah, it will be so much easier when the baby spills, like, their little sipee cup or something.” Sipee cup. Oh, say it again. We felt like expert parents-to-be.
Grocery shopping list during morning sickness: rice crispies, applesauce, cottage cheese, frozen fruit bars, ice cold watermelon, water crackers, lemonade, grapefruit juice, white bread for toast, crunch sugar cereal to eat dry. They say if you make only one change while pregnant, try to get down two eggs daily. How to get an egg down with morning sickness: burn a piece of toast so you have texture and lay the egg on top. And thank goodness for Chick Fil A lemonade. I sucked preggo pops during church – the citrus taste cut the nausea.
David finally decided to start cooking since I hadn’t cooked for six weeks. For lunch he is made Instant Ramon noodles (I got to choose chicken or beef) and for dinner he is made Mac n’ Cheese. I think those were some of the most love-filled meals we have ever shared. Forget five-star foodie restaurants, I’ll take a simple two-ingredient, packaged process meal with a kind husband at our kitchen table any day.
Prenatal massages are the closest thing to pregnant-heaven-on-earth. Except when you almost pass out afterward because you are so dizzy and light-headed that your wonderful husband must come pick you up afterward. Good grief. The lady finished and led me to pay. I dug into my purse, with shaky hands, for my credit card. Scribbled a signature then asked to go back to the waiting room to sit down. I told them I couldn’t drive and called Dave on my cell to pick me up. I almost burst into tears when he answered. I couldn’t believe, after all the vomiting and nausea, I had more pregnancy problems. Four straight months of vomiting and now this? After I hung up, the masseuses kept coming in to check on me, popping in their concerned heads through the curtains. I felt like such a weirdo. What had happened to my body? I used to be so strong – I played sports, worked out and was highly active. Now I was sickly and useless. Blah. Who are you, Pregnancy?
Morning sickness felt like this private war within that no one knew about. There was a silver lining – with no effort of my own, I was skinny with vomiting abs of steel. Because I was so sick and thin, and on top of that carried my baby so compactly, no stranger ever asked if I was pregnant until I was six-months along. I just beamed when they did – I still remember the elevator I was in at a hotel. “Why, YES! Yes I am!!!!” It felt so nice to be acknowledged for all the hard work – finally I could see tangible signs for the “whys” of morning sickness.
(More on morning sickness in my book).
THE LAST TRIMESTER
I have the sweetest sister and mother in the whole world! They came over and helped me sort through all the baby things post baby shower and set up the nursery. Mom finally left, while Faith – my sweet sister – helped me finish. At the end of all the gift bags, we had collected a staggering family of bath ducks: SEVEN. “Should I take some back?” I asked. “Nah,” Faith smiled. “You can never have too many ducks in a bath.” She was right. It started to sink in that we were near go time when Dave set up the Diaper Genie.
I remember looking at it in our quiet, still nursery decorated in grey, white and black since we didn’t know the gender of our Peanut. (That’s what we called the baby, bless it’s heart, because that’s what it looked like on the first sonogram. Eventually, we merged our last name into the nickname to foster the catchy name: Spinut. (Spina plus Peanut – “spee-nut”). Eh, eh?) I sat in my rocker, slowly gliding back and forth and looked out of the window. What was about to happen? Was our world about to change?
I played tennis through eight months pregnant. I’ll never forget the day I finally, and officially, asked Dave to tie my tennis shoes for me because I could no longer reach. And my non-maternity tennis dresses started to look hilarious hiked up like a miniskirt to accommodate that growing bowling ball underneath.
I never set anything on the ground anymore – it is too hard to bend down to retrieve it! I felt like I was 400 lbs and 100 years old. I got out of breath all the time. I still tried to go on walks, although it’s hardly a smooth walk in your final days. I liked that quote, “I do not have a waddle. It’s called Pregnancy Swag.”
You know you are pregnant when you stop to fully exhale before bending over for anything so your lungs don’t get in the way, too. I had never had so many people stop me to ask, “Do you need help with that?” I think I’ll get pregnant more often. I felt like the Queen of England everywhere I went.
I caved into friend pressure to take maternity photos. (Man, that is the beginning of photography mania once you have a child – newborn, three months, six months, nine months, one year, eighteen months, Christmas photoshoot, etc). My sweet sister in law agreed to snap them at our local botanical gardens. Truth be told, it felt weird capturing photos when I felt as attractive as an obese orangutan.
I went on a walk with our dog Princess in my final trimester and a gigantic German Shepherd attacked us. It was like something off of Ocean’s Eleven, except with a pregnant woman instead of a hot movie actress. I screamed and then high-kicked the German Shepherd over and over in the face until his owners could grab him away. I felt like an eight-month-pregnant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Dave immediately ordered me a new walking weapon – an ASP Tactical Baton. I was now the most feared walker of all my neighborhood. (Really, I felt like a British park warden from 101 Dalmatians with a little black stick).
It was awesome being an eight-month pregnant bridesmaid on a hot Texas beach for a beach wedding. My ankles and face were so swollen, I could have been a character with no added make-up for Lord of the Rings. Then I tried to make-up for my lack of beauty at the reception by dancing like a party girl gone wild. The next day, I literally could not walk because my feet hurt so bad.
I remember going to a Stars hockey game at the American Airlines center in Dallas, full-term. For me, pregnancy beat me down but fun occasional social outings like this shiny stars in a vomit-dominated existence. I waddled past all the happy fans, downing their cold beer, to our row of seats. I timidly set a hand down on the plastic arm rest, but those seats are so so so low. There was nothing I could do. You have no ab control at that point. I took a look at everyone watching the obese whale of a pregnant woman trying to sit down, smiled, and then fell into my chair. Plop. I felt really sexy, also, when I had to ask Dave to help me up again and again and again so I could use the bathroom. My bladder was the size of a hockey puck, thanks to the baby the size of a hockey goalie.
I came out of the closet before a family dinner, irritated because I felt so uncomfortable full-term. Dave took one look at me and exclaimed, “Good grief, Leah! You are NOT wearing that tonight!” I looked at him blankly and then looked down at the same black v-neck t-shirt I had worn all through pregnancy. “You look like you work at Hooters!” I took a glance in the mirror. That top and neckline looked totally different now. I could have doubled for Dolly Parton. But I was no longer vain as a full-term preggo. Oh, no. I was just irritated I had to change, again. Do you know how tired I was and how much effort it takes to get dressed pregnant? It’s like an acrobatic act at Vegas to put clothes on and off with that huge belly in the way.
My mom was ecstatic with my first pregnancy because it would make her a grandmother. Oh, yes. I was carrying the first grandchild. One day, however, she was a bit overzealous feeling the baby.
“Look! Leah! I feel the baby’s foot!”
Me: “No, mom. That is my rib.”
“No, honey! Feel right here! It’s a tiny foot!”
Me: “Mom. That is my rib.”
THE FINAL DAYS
Not knowing when your baby is coming is like a bride-to-be waking up each day and wondering if TODAY is the wedding and she will finally be a bride! So much preparation, but no date!
My two sweet friends, Jenni and Esther, planned a special “due date lunch” on my due take. They brought thoughtfully written cards of new mom encouragement and gifts for my upcoming changed world – including a few sanitary pads for post birth and tea bags for nursing problems.
You know you are close to your due date when your husband brings home post-baby survival food: an economy-sized box full of individual packages of Ramon instant noodles.
I tried walking to kick myself into labor when I went past my due date. Each afternoon, I lugged my pregnant body into the local gym. I tapped the elevate button over and over until the treadmill was raised as high as Mount Everest, then mashed the accelerate button to a walk that rivaled the Olympic walkers. All the other gym patrons gawked at this mammoth pregnant woman walking with purpose. Reminded me of that Sesame Street song “Which of these things just doesn’t belong here? Which of these things just isn’t the same?” I didn’t look at them because I was looking at the mounted TV’s, watching my tennis idols, the Williams sisters, dominate Wimbledon. My only concern was that my water would break right there on the treadmill in front of everyone and they would chant, “TOLD YOU SO! WHY WERE YOU DOING THAT?” But when you go 10 days over, you really don’t care anymore.
(rest of the story is in my upcoming book!)
The Strong-Willed Toddler
I’ve met a lot of parents that say their child is strong-willed. Silently, I laughed. “Meet my toddler Samson and tell me that again.” By the time Samson was two-years-old, both his grandmothers had independently gifted me Dr. Dobson’s book The Strong Willed Child. One day I found one of our three copies (I had bought one by that time, too) ripped in two. Perfect. He was even destroying the strong-willed parenting books. These were normal, everyday conversations in my house:
Me: Samson, let me wipe your nose.
Samson: NO! That’s MY NOSE!
Me: Samson, put your coat on. It’s cold outside.
Samson: NO! I BE COLD!
David to Samson, after Samson whacked him in the face: Samson! Don’t hit me!
Then there was the time Dave and I were relaxing on my parent’s couch one Sunday afternoon as new parents. “Mom and Dad,” I smiled. “So, you know how Samson is strong-willed? Which of your five children was most like him?” To my horror, they silently shook their heads, eyes on the ground. What? WHAT? Why aren’t you answering? Finally, Dad looked up. “Honey, we have never seen a child as strong-willed as Samson.” My face fell, and so did my heart a little. Mom and Dad immediately followed with encouraging words about what a GREAT job Dave and I were doing with such a strong-willed son.
When Samson was around two-years-old, we made the brightest move of our new parenthood career and enrolled our firecracker toddler in a Little Gym class. God bless us. What in the world were we thinking, chucking out our sweet monies to place him in a 45-minute structured environment monitored by mom-turned-toddler-sheriff. I guess I just thought it would be an ideal avenue for my active boy to burn energy and, bonus, foster fun mommy-and-me memories.
Boy, was I wrong. We gave it a good shot – Samson lasted a good six-months before we got kicked out we quit. At our first trial class, where you take a class to see if you like it, we arrived ten minutes early with a handful of other parents and adults. The gym wisely offered wooden train sets and trains for the waiting children. Samson made a beeline to his favorite trains: Thomas and Percy, from Thomas the Train (his favorite at the time). Soon, he was crying, claiming an adorable blonde boy had nabbed Thomas away. I didn’t see what had happened, exactly. That, of course, lends itself to those awkward moments in parenting young children where you try to figure out if your child or the strange child is in the wrong.
You start talking to your own crying child, but use a loud voice so the parents of the other little boy can hear and intervene. “OH, SAMSON. WHAT HAPPENED, BUDDY?” (Hoping Samson yells: “HE TOOK MY TOY!”, forcing the stranger boy’s parents to get off their phone, and make their child return the toy.) Samson obeyed my wish, and the other parents approached the toy stealing arena. “Oliver,” asked the well-dressed mom. “Did you take that from the little boy?” Oliver starts crying. I softly fake consolation to Samson, “Oh, honey – you have lots of trains. Why don’t you just let him play with it today?” But really I’m wishing the boy would just GIVE BACK THOMAS so my child would STOP CRYING.
Thankfully, the perky gym employee announces it’s time for class. All the children line up in a nice, silent line in front of the glass door to enter the gym. All except my boy Samson. He is like a wired, caffeine addict running in dizzying circles no abstract artist could draw. What is wrong with him, and what is wrong with me, his mother? I train him all the time and he looks like he is completely out of control.
We enter on a big red mat where all the children sit in a circle with their parents to sing our welcome song. Each child says their name and we welcome them. Samson does not like sitting, much less sitting in a circle like a docile Indian toddler. Sure enough, I’m pulling him back a hundred times, hissing in his ear to BE STILL, PLEASE and trying as hard as I possibly can to make him interested in his new friends. “Look!,” I exclaim, with forced enthusiasm about the boy across the circle. “His name is LOGAN! Isn’t that cool!” Samson thinks Logan is as cool as a dead ant and pushes me away.
After the class, the instructor asked me if Samson was used to structure or had experience in class settings – aka your son is TOTALLY OUT-OF-CONTROL. I sheepishly answered, “Well, he goes to the nursery at church.” But really I felt like a dog with it’s tail between it’s legs, after our failed class obedience. Somehow our green money was as good as docile Oliver’s money and we were in.
The next class, I yanked Samson aside and slowly pointed out the parameter of the big red mat. “See that, Samson? That is a NO, NO! You stay on the red mat or else we go to the bathroom.”
After the normal introductory song, where Samson did equally as bad as the first class, our instructor announced open gym time. (I shudder typing this sentence from the memories). Samson trots to various gym equipment to perform his simple tricks. We are all supposed to wait in line, take turns and share the gym. SHARE THE GYM. Samson shared nothing at that age. Anytime a child attempted to climb next to him, or got in front of him or even got behind him, he screamed and often clocked them square in the face. As if hitting was our normal everyday Spina conflict resolution. That’s right, just duke it out until you win. I say that as a joke, but I felt like every parent was giving me the judgmental eye. Good grief, new mom, get your kid under control.
Every time Samson hit one of his friends, I was mortified. (Why do we parents oddly use the term “friends” for other strange children in hopes our selfish toddler will somehow feel more friendly toward equally selfish toddlers?!!?!?). I snatched Samson’s wrist in the ‘ol Handcuff Toddler Grip (toddler parents, YOU KNOW you have used the handcuff grip) and led him to the sterile bathroom. I knew that white, non-descript bathroom too well, FRIENDS. Samson and I visited it, on average, seven times per class.
On my worst moments, when the door closed, I burst out, “Why, why, WHY do you keep hitting everyone?” Deep down, I knew children were different and my Samson was strong-willed. I knew he received more training than all those children in the class combined. I was not a sloppy, lazy parent. I was on top of him all day long. I just had a boy with more energy than the Energizer Bunny and more will-power than a communist dictator on steroids. But when that bathroom door shut, I felt GUILTY and alone. I felt like THE WORST PARENT OF THE ENTIRE CLASS. I felt like my baby boy was an out-of-control tyrant that no one liked and everyone wished would leave. It was a dark, stormy night at Little Gym for me, the new mom.
At the conclusion of class, all the children and parents lined up at the one sink to wash hands on a plastic stool and receive a colorful stamp on the hand. I can laugh about it now, but often by the time class ended, I was so sick of trying to train Samson I wanted to Avoid Conflict at any cost. So I just ducked him back in the bathroom to wash our hands in isolation so there would be no more fireworks. I was overwhelmed with the child I had made and needed a break after a 45-minute non-stop battle.
One time, my mom took Samson to his Little Gym class. Somehow I failed to warn her it was not a relaxing experience. “Honey,” she returned, out-of-breath. “I thought I would just watch – that was really hard! Samson didn’t want to do anything they said to do!” Welcome to my world, sister. I laughed and laughed. I was so happy to have someone else acknowledge how hard Samson was. It was a lonely journey, and it helped to have affirmation. I remember when we picked up Samson from his little Sunday school nursery, the kind nursery care worker smiled, handing him over, “Well, he is one of our most active friends!” Friends, aye? I really felt like she was saying HARDEST CHILD IN THE CLASS.
(I wish I could have pulled my new parent self aside back then and showed what was in the future: a popular, fun, confident four-year-old that talks to everyone and makes us laugh our heads off each day. Samson talks so much we are known as “Samson’s parents” at soccer practice, for example. He is just that cool. But back then, I couldn’t see it.)
As time progressed, the Little Gym class actually opened my eyes that I was really doing a good job. Instead of the class from hell, it became my salvation from my new parent deepest fears. Why? I started to really study the other toddler boys. Sure, some were independent and energetic like Samson. But so many were naturally still. Naturally quiet. Naturally compliant. But by no effort of their parents.
When I came home some days from Little Gym, I cried to Dave about how hard I was trying and how many kids Samson hit that day. How the other kids obeyed, and Samson bucked my instruction. Dave reminded to never grow jealous comparing our high-strung toddler to other toddlers that seemed naturally low-key. God gave us Samson and we wouldn’t trade him for anyone. We were the perfect parents for him and he was going to be a great future leader with all that drive and confidence.
The next week, I walked out of those Little Gym glass doors with my shoulders back and my chin a little higher. I was a mom of a strong-willed toddler boy, and I was doing a great job. After all, Samson was the most fearless child in the class. He would try anything and some parents even asked me how to help their child become braver like Samson. I felt like I had just won the Parenting Purple Heart.
Our last Little Gym class? The day baby Esther was born. That’s right, we went to a Saturday morning class and baby Esther was born that night. I didn’t know Esther would arrive that night, but I did know my world was about to change soon. I wanted to try, just once, to spend some quality gym time with my boy Samson. I was three days past my due date and waddled into the class, big as a whale. It was actually our best Little Gym class ever. He did the balance beam all by himself and I even let him get stamps on both hands AND both feet.
But will we try it again, now that he is an obedient four-years-old? Nah. I’m too scared of that bathroom.
Parenting babies and toddlers keeps you crazy busy each day. But how can we ENJOY our children in the diaper chaos? Here are ten ways I try to slow down and enjoy my toddler and baby through everyday routines.
1. Morning song. Each morning when I rip open my children’s curtains to let in the sun, I try to always sing a cheery song to start the day. The mother is the heart of the home and what better way to set the tone than a merry heart and tune! My mother sang to me each morning and now I echo that same attitude management to greet the day with my little ones with a happy song. Sometimes I need it more than them after a sleepless baby night!
2. Changing diapers. I was changing baby Esther’s diaper a few months ago like a mad woman to get one more thing done so we could get back to our day when I looked down at her. She was in rapt attention studying my face and movements. I felt so bad. How many diaper changes had I not given her any eye contact or interaction? From then on I used diaper changing as a springboard to remind me to have a special moment with my baby. Now I always make myself look at her while I am changing the diaper – sometimes we go over animal sounds or new words she is saying and sometimes we just play silly games. But now diaper changing is one of my favorite times instead of just another thing to get through.
3. Read a picture book out loud. I try to read at least one picture book a day to my toddler and baby. They get affection by snuggling in my lap or by my side on the couch and I try to revel in their smell, baby skin and rapt attention.
4. Car rides. When I back out of the driveway, I try to look back in my rear view mirror at my two little darlings strapped in their car seats and talk about the weather. Otherwise I’m thinking a thousand different thoughts, making a phone call or mulling over our next activity and nap time. I usually make the same comments like – “Oh, it’s raining! That’s my favorite weather!” or “Look at how sunny it is, guys! What a happy day!” Now even if I forget, Samson will chime in the back, “Mama, look what a beautiful day God gave us!” Car trips are a great time to enjoy children instead of a here-to-there duty.
5. Go outside. Sometimes when caring for young children all day, you can feel isolated in your own house. Nature offers renewal and calms even the fussiest baby. Each day, even in the heat, my toddler and baby follow me outside to a patch of shade outside for a few minutes. We either sit in our front yard and watch the cars in the morning or sit on our back porch watching the sun set. I have a “special” blanket that we take outside and we talk about the trees, pick out our favorite house and tell stories. We always look for bugs and Samson kills or observes them, depending on his mood.
6. Car seat kiss. Strapping children in car seats can become routine and annoying so I try to make it a special moment. After I snap the last snap I kiss their little cheek before moving to the next child. It helps me pause and appreciate my two little angels in the middle of a long day.
7. Relax after meals. My toddler knows the word “relax” like the back of his hand. It’s a word I try to use after mealtimes to cultivate a loving, welcoming home life. After we finish a meal – and baby/toddler mealtimes can be chaotic – I smile, “Hey guys, I have a GREAT idea! Let’s go RELAX in the living room!” We all melt like slugs into cushions on our leather couch. The children grab their favorite blankets. Sometimes they play with toys, sometimes they ask for a book but most of the time we just silently relax individually. Its the rush of being somewhere or doing something that kills the happy mood in our home so I try to carve out times to just be.
8. Wake up slow. My favorite part of the day is the morning because I get to greet my two tiny angels! Instead of viewing morning routine as a necessary evil, I try to enjoy the routine. I purposely allot plenty of time to lollygag, smile and talk about the night’s dreams. First I pull the smiling wordless baby out of her crib. I don’t dress her or fix her wild night hairs. I just kiss her and hug her. She staggers down the hallway half asleep to burst open the door to my toddler’s Batman room. We take our time getting him dressed then file back down the hallway to the nursery to choose an outfit for the live Cabbage Patch doll baby. My toddler loves to put away her dirty diaper and I try to kiss their little foreheads at least three times before breakfast.
9. Happy Mealtimes. Mealtimes – no matter how simple the menu – can be an excellent time to enjoy your children three times a day! We always start with a prayer and then I try to make an effort to discuss one happy topic, whether it is a story about my toddler obeying or the best part of our day. If you are in the silent baby stage, just try to STOP and look at their dirty face and big eyes and remember how blessed you are to share meals with a tiny person!
10. Taking out or picking up the mail. When we have a bill to go out to the mailbox, I choose a child to take it out. If it’s Esther (17-months), I show it to her and she nods incessantly back, thrilled to have a job though she has no words yet. I hand her the envelope and remind myself the moment is more important than the welfare of the envelope. She toddles out the front door so excited she often trips at least once, crushing and dirtying the envelope. WHO CARES? I pull her up and let her try an average of five times to figure out how to turn the letter so it fits in the mailbox. Her favorite part is banging it shut. When she helps me retrieve our daily mail, I hand her a piece of junk mail to “take to Dada!” She proudly trots back in the house and smashes it on his desk yelling, “DAH! DAAAAAH! DA!” the entire route. With my toddler, surprisesurprise, he wants to do it ALL BY HIMSELF so I wait silently at our wooden front door when he takes a piece of mail out. He looks over his shoulder every couple of steps to ensure I’m admiring his independent boyness, pulls the box open, slams it as hard as he possibly can so it clangs deliciously then gives me two thumbs up. I give him two thumbs up in return. He silently sprints past me back in the house because why would you ever walk when you can run? I love taking and picking up the mail each day. Yes, it would take half the time if I did it myself but I would lose the magical mail moments we share each day.
I believe the small moments in mothering young children are crucial in helping us slow down and smell the roses along the way. Otherwise these years will fly by in sheer physical exhaustion and we will think where did the time go? Let’s not just survive these years, let’s ENJOY them! Have you all found any ways to slow down and enjoy the small movements with your children?
Babies and toddlers can mess up a house faster than a hiccup. Each day it looks like a primary-colored plastic hurricane blasted my house. But instead of resenting the chaos, try viewing the messes as reminders of how wonderful it is to be with little people each day! Here are some of my favorite messes:
1. The little food and dirt smudges on the shoulder of my shirt at the end of the day. Aw, those little chubby hands grasping their mama as she holds the baby. I love that I was either too busy or didn’t care when I chose to pick up that little angel. These are the happiest days of my life!
2. Books splattered all over the couch and floor. There is nothing I love more than picture books and board books sprinkled everywhere. It means I stopped my day to sit down with my two little darlings and we shared stories, laughter and fun. I think of my toddler “reading” the books to himself after we finish in his high voice and jumbled grammar. I think of my baby holding a book like the statue of liberty over her head babbling so I will read to her.
3. Broken sand toys AND regular toys all over the backyard. I don’t see a mess. I see the beautiful aftermath of long days full of imagination and slow child’s play. Here’s where baby Esther showed me seven different toys she found – since she can’t talk, she shows. There’s where Batman had it out with the Transformers in the sandbox for an hour.
4. Toys all in the bathtub. Sometimes it is hard for me to relax after a day of parenting a baby and a toddler because I am so wound up. So sometimes I opt for a bath post children-bedtime. Before I draw the water, I always clean out at least 10 small monster trucks, a couple of ducks and a few miscellaneous toys. As I pull them out, I smile thinking of the happy hours we spend together in this bathroom – me sitting on the grey chair watching my babies splash and play in the bubbles. Samson rolling his beloved tracks around and around the rim of the bathtub and baby Esther sucking a white washcloth. Yes, they take their baths in my bathtub instead of theirs but I would have it no other way!
5. Toys at the bottom of the shower. When my husband or I decide to take a daytime shower, one of the children begs to join us – Samson incessantly pleads and wordless baby Esther keeps pulling at her clothes and diaper to show us. When I take a shower by myself, I always smile as I scoop the toys to the side with my foot. I think of the little gleaming wet bodies and the fun hooded-towel aftermath. I think of how the kids love to apply too much lotion because it is too much fun to use a pump dispenser. And how my toddler and I laugh our heads off when the baby smashes lotion in her hair. Every. Single. Time.
6. My messy closet. I have a big closet and my children love to both play in it or just be RIGHT by me when I dress. At the end of the day, I stop to review with a happy sigh the six unmatched shoes baby Esther tried to wear, the three dresses on the floor because Samson likes to hide behind the hanging clothes cave, the socks from a sock war scattered everywhere, etc. What a boring closet I will have some day – I love these messes!
7. Back porch mess. Our back porch is small and messy. We have some chairs and a table but they are always covered by fun memories. There’s the new special kinetic sand on the table with a few sand toys, tiny swim suits and towels drying on the chairs, a bug “jail” that Esther likes to hang around her neck, a dirty diaper because I let the kids play in the hose, popsicle wrappers from hot summer afternoon and a pile of shoes because we like to take our shoes off to *wee-LAX*, as Samson says.
8. Car mess. We eat snacks in the car, we drink in the car, we play in the car. When I take my car to the car wash, I feel I should shove armfuls of $5 bills in the tip box. I shudder to think what they find. Who knows what kind of food has baked under the seats? All I know is they return a beautifully clean car with 17 missing toys stacked neatly on the seat between the two car seats. But what a lovely mess! When I look back I see Esther’s favorite little lovie blanket and I think of her sucking her thumb with it, smiling at me. I cannot see her smile because it’s hidden by the blanket but I see her eyes looking into mine and I know she’s smiling. I see the plastic boy toys everywhere and think of Samson’s creative play with an occasional sacrifice toy to the whining baby. Who wants a clean car?
9. Toys all over the house. Keeping a house clean with children is like shoveling snow when it’s snowing. Last night I stepped on three different toys on my bedroom floor in the dark on the way to bed. I smiled at each painful step. I love that my little children want to be with me all the time. They are my constant shadows throughout the day and leave a toy trail from our adventures. Downstairs I see two tiny pairs of shoes next to David’s flip flops – they represent the Three Happiest Things in my life! Don’t get mad at the mess – use it to remind you of how grateful you are for the gift of family!
10. Kitchen mess. My kitchen is almost always messy. There are primary-colored sippy cups strewn all over the counters, floor and table. Spills on the floor from little eaters. But when I stumble downstairs in the morning and see three toys on the kitchen floor, I make myself stop and savor that sight. My children and I spend many hours together in the kitchen. They are my little cook assistants (hurrah for the mess, mama! You included them even though it made a mess and took twice as long!), my little tasters (that’s why you have toys to pass the time between tastings!) and my fellow dining patrons (look at the three messy place mats and dominated high chair – how boring if it were clean and set for one!) And possibly my favorite: the smudges all over the windows from little dirty hands looking outside and trying to push open the door. I almost don’t want to clean them.
Try to view the messes around you as beautiful flowers of love, happiness and family. Our young children will grow up before we know it and our house will someday be clean and lonely. Let’s revel in the chaos, smile at the craziness and kiss our tiny mess-makers a little more.