Traveling with young children

Traveling with children

The hilarious side of traveling with young children

By Leah Spina, leahspina.com

Although we have flown as a family before in the past, this summer was the first time we flew as a family of six. I would be remiss, dear fellow mothers, if I did not take time to recount the glorious adventures for your great entertainment.

So, please. Put the darlings to bed, throw on your PJs and join me in our epic journey of hilarity and chaos: THE SPINA COLORADO TRIP 2019.

GETTING THERE

After getting burned on trips before, I researched direct flights from Dallas within a radius of under two hours. (I will attempt trips involving layovers and flights over two hours with all four children in approximately five years.)

I discovered a few interesting direct, under-two hour destinations: Florida, Mexico or Colorado. Since I abhor the heat and David loves the outdoors, we decided to use up ALMOST 200K AIRLINE MILES and book ourselves tickets to Colorado for a week to escape the oppressive Texas summer. This was also the LONGEST trip I had ever planned with our family – seven nights.

And in case you were wondering, WE DID NOT SLEEP THRUGH THE NIGHT ANY ONE OF THE SEVEN NIGHTS. It was like roulette – each child consistently woke up at least one time, if not multiple times with multiple children each night. I cannot even tell you how nice it was to sleep through the night when we returned home the first night after returning. We woke up the next morning and David and I wordlessly grabbed hands in bed in glorious thanks. It is still very amusing to think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars we parents spend to not sleep through the night on family trips.

*Please note the careful selection of the phrase family TRIP vs. family VACATION. While we are very grateful to get away, trips with multiple little ones are many times more work than at home. Thus, the wise title our friends came up with: our long-anticipated FAMILY TRIP. Hahahahahah).

But I digress.

Once I booked the trip, a cold chill swept through my body of WILL THIS WORK OR WILL IT BE A TOTAL FAILURE. That is when you rent no less than 27 DVDs. That is when you create packing lists for your packing list. WILL THIS BE WORTH IT? WILL WE HAVE FUN? WILL MY HUSBAND AND I BE SO BURNED BY DAY TWO WE WILL WANT TO GO HOME? I SURE HOPE THE KIDS REMEMBER THIS TRIP!!!!

PACKING FOR A TRIP FOR SIX PEOPLE

The week of our trip, I started the packing process. I decided to go ahead and check our car seat and two boosters after friends said rental equipment was shoddy and uncomfortable. I didn’t want anything to go wrong that I could control, so I was like, eh, we can check everything for free with David’s AA status so no sweat.

(Samson was delighted to learn he was big enough for Colorado’s no booster law and I was equally delighted to have one less booster to check.)

Well, lemme tail yew. I don’t care how many items David can check for free. By the time I finished packing, there was a heap of items the size of my minivan by our wooden front door. I realized, in a cold sweat, THERE WAS NO PHYSICAL WAY we could even transport that amount of items from a vehicle to the airline counter to check. (We are talking multiple suitcases, stroller, large hiking backpack, clothing for both cool and hot Colorado summer days, kid carryon backpacks, car seat, two boosters, diaper bag, etc.)

I kept recounting the amount of humans physically capable of helping and those that were dependents. (. If they could do nothing, they were a full dependent.  If they could help a little – like one small item – I calculated them as a half-dependent. If they could full on push a stroller or pull a full-sized suitcase they were INDEPENDENT.) The ratio of independent humans to luggage was bleak.

I looked at the mean clock laughing at me as the precious, golden uninterrupted nap minutes ticked by. I sprinted to our outdoor shed, blazing in the Texas heat at the peak of afternoon oppression, climbed a rickety ladder AS ALL DESPERATE MOTHERS DO to the second level and yanked down our largest suitcase of all.

I was now sweating by this point. (Wait, southern ladies do not sweat. They glisten or glow.). I ripped open the smaller suitcases and jammed all the items into only two gigantic suitcases. I zipped them slowly, yelling at laughing Samson and Esther to sit their little bodies on top of the bulging suitcases so I could slowly force-zip them close.

I was in full happy-vacation-mom-mode by this point and we were all delightfully making memories: “GUYS! I MEAN IT! QUIT LAUGHING! I NEED YOU TO SIT *RIGHT HERE* AND BE STILL!!! IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS, WE ARE NOT GOING ON OUR TRIP. DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU WANT TO JUST STAY HOME? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? PLEASE HURRY! THE KIDS ARE NAPPING!!! WHY IS THIS NOT SHUTTING?!?!?!?”

Finally, I zipped the blasted last zipper shut. Now. My David is a quality guy and I consistently horrify him in my efforts to get things done quickly without quality. Usually in a Pollyanna-on-steroids-make-it-work method “IT WILL FIT! NO WORRIES, HONEY!”

This was one of those examples. I surveyed the zipped suitcases with pride – it was truly amazing how much stuff I had just forced in only two bags. But I knew if David took one look at it, he would be appalled as they were bulging with odd poking items and I’m pretty sure the seams were stretched beyond repair.

BUT I DIDN’T CARE. The adrenaline was pumping and my heart was racing from all the physical exhaustion of said Texas heat shed and forced labor of my offspring. I had won and the suitcases had lost. Leah 1 suitcase problem 0. We now had exactly the right amount of independent humans to transport that mountain to the kind check in lady. I smiled wickedly in glee like the Grinch after he robs everyone of their Christmas gifts.

But then a cold, cold thought shot through my sweaty, er, glowing head.

WERE THESE BAGS OVER 50 POUNDS?!?!?!!?

Oh, no. I ripped David’s scale from the garage and yanked the biggest bag up on it. But it was too large to read the scale. It literally covered the entire scale. No problem. I stood on the scale, then recorded my weight. I then picked up the bag (more like yanked it and staggered to the scale because of the weight – it wouldn’t take an Einstein to recognize by the look and then the weight that there was NO WAY this would even be close to the 50 pound mark). I didn’t care. I was ruthless by this point, like a wild savage and naptime was almost over. I had to make this work.

To my horror, I tried to look down past my white-knuckled death grip on the suitcase handle to see the scale. But the bag was again too large for me to even look at the numbers below. If I tried to bend over, the weight of the bag made me topple over. I had to stand ramrod straight to bear the weight of the bag so I couldn’t read the scale.

I again employed my non-napping hooligan darlings, beckoning them kindly to assist their glowing mother OR ELSE NO TRIP. “Esther! What do the numbers say? Quick! It will go away if you do not read it IMMEDIATELY!”

Esther: “Well, it says either a 6 or a 9, I’m not sure.”

Me, about to drop the blasted suitcase, “SAMSON! COME HERE RIGHT NOW!!!!”

Sure enough, both bags were both overweight. I kept ripping out items and transferring them to our carry on bags until I got close to the 50 pound mark. And lemme tail yew. When the lady weighed them at DFW, it was the most terrifying seconds of my life. I held my breath, wondering if our good old home scale was even accurate. And guess what? Each bag weighed EXACTLY 50 POUNDS. Bless it.

THE RIDE TO THE AIRPORT

I try, as best I can, to do as much work as I can before we leave for a trip so it’s a happy day despite all the stress of traveling.

My wise mom reminded me to TAKE IT EASY when anything went wrong or I had a different opinion on what should be done when Dave and I were collaborating on travel decisions. “Just look around the airport when you arrive, if you wonder if traveling can be stressful,” she laughed. “Look at all the arguing upset and angry people. Traveling is stressful – try to be nice to one another and just go with the flow when things go wrong.”

Well, we had an immediate problem when it was time to leave for the airport. We couldn’t fit all the people and the luggage in the minivan. I kept nervously tiptoeing around the bulging minivan full of hyper excited children hoping against hope it would all fit. I tried to be quiet and let SWEATING David lead as he kept shoving all the items in around the little humans like a real life game of Tetris.

(Bless his heart, I told him there was no more room in any of the suitcases for his clothes. So he was forced to pack all his belongings for a seven-night trip in a separate camo hunting backpack so he still had two hands free to pull both suitcases.)

When he finished, the bags were so high both in the middle of the vehicle and the back, there was literally no way for me to crawl through to the very back row to smash myself down between Samson and Esther. But I did not want to cause another problem and make us miss our flight.

So I did what any caffeinated minivan mom that desperately didn’t want to cook a meal for a week would do. I primitively hoisted myself up over the suitcases – entering from the back – and slithered myself like an uncoordinated writhing lizard through an opening approximately 16 inches wide and six inches tall  at the top of the suitcases and then fell down into my seat.

I triumphantly yelled through the forest of suitcases, “READY, HONEY! Let’s go!”

RENTING A CAR WITH SIX PEOPLE

Back when I was popping out the babies one after another, I never realized how much the amount of children one has affects traveling options. Take the initial planning of this Colorado trip with six passengers. After the shock of the total amount of flights I selected online to purchase (it seriously could not be this amount of tickets, but IT IS), I then popped into a rental car site. I typed in the dates and times, as I have done many times in the past, but then with a sinking heart, I slowly scrolled down, down, down the options realizing that with SIX passengers our only options were now a minivan or fullsize SUV. No more cheap rental car rates, y’all. I selected a minivan.

Since we were using miles to fly, I had selected a smaller regional airport over Denver’s huge airport – Colorado Springs. If you think I googled photos of the airport before booking, YOU ARE RIGHT. I beamed at the smallness and thought about blissfully walking to our rental car instead of taking a tram or bus. YOU ARE SO BRILLIANT, LEAH SPINA! YOUR FAMILY IS SO BLESSED TO HAVE YOU PLAN SUCH AMAZING TRIPS WITH SO MUCH FORESIGHT!

Well. We landed and I approached the rental car line. Only two passengers were ahead of me, and I was prepared that this would be the roughest part – rental car lines are always a beating, but this short line was one of the perks of a small airport and I was a “member” of this particular rental company to streamline the process. But no. This is when the melting began.

Joshua was strapped down like Fort Knox in the stroller with two buckles and black straps so tight his little potbelly protruded from the waistband. He could barely breathe. There was no way we would release him when we had so many children and bags. He started crying.

David was on the other side of the airport ripping the maxed-weight suitcases and multiple carseat/boosters off the moving luggage carousal with Samson and Esther standing like stones beside him. (The result of our very docile instructions to them TO STAY STILL OR YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!!!)

But Hannah, age 3, whom sometimes controls me if I don’t drink my coffee first thing, started her tantrum. She was also strapped in tight in the double stroller, but started screaming because she wanted to WEAR HER PACKPACK – aka backpack – that was hanging on the stroller. The reason she wasn’t wearing it was in all my attempts to save weight, I had loaded ger pink Unicorn backpack down so heavy with a DVD player, etc that there was no way she could wear that thing and stand up right. The weight would crush her. Even though she is a big girl for her age, THAT BACKBACK WAS BIGGER.

But, as sometimes happens in toddler world combined with a stressful situation, her repeated cries started to wear me down.

You know when a toddler asks for something they want, like cereal right when you wake up in the morning? And you say, “No, Hannah. No cereal.” And they start to chant faster and faster the SAME PHRASE AS IF YOU SAID NOTHING over and over, “Cereal mom? Cereal mom? Cereal mom?” And in your terrible parenting moment, you reward their bad behavior and consistent whining with “OK! YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CEREAL! JUST BE QUIET!!!”

That was what happened. The car rental agent was taking forever. The line was not moving. Joshua and Hannah were both crying and David couldn’t move since he had too much luggage and needed me to move everything. “OK HANNAH! YOU CAN WEAR YOUR BACKPACK!”

I unstrapped her and she popped up like a Jack-in-the-Box and immediately quit her Fake Crying. I helped her slide her arms through her backpack and she screamed for me to snap the little strap across her chest. I let her go. And just as I anticipated, she staggered a few steps away and then the tremendous weight of the over-weight backpack smashed her down, down to the floor of the airport. She was now laying on her stomach, with her arms and legs laid out like a still snow angel, with the backpack weighing her down on her back and her neck. Her red cheek was plastered on the super-clean-airport-floor as well.

She was wailing in frustration because she couldn’t move UNDERNEATH THE ROCK BACKPACK, completely still. Passengers were now walking around our crying toddler on both sides in shock. But I could not move or we would lose our place in line with crying stroller Joshua and David could do nothing since he had all the bags and no man power.

These are the times when traveling with young children that you can either choose to laugh or cry. I looked over at David over our crying child on the airport floor, helpless. I pointed to Hannah and he started to laugh and I started to laugh. There was literally nothing we could do.

Finally I grabbed the keys to our rental, raced over to Hannah, ripped her beloved 40-pound backpack off her small figure, strapped her back in the stroller and sprinted to David and the bags and children of stone. Somehow we managed to transport everyone and everything to our rental minivan.

(The kids kept saying, “LUXURY. Man, this van is LUXURY” when they climbed in the rental van. We finally realized that even though our minivan at home is nicer minivan, the basic rental minivan was extremely CLEAN compared to ours. So they kept chanting, LUXURY! Every time they entered the rental van.)

When we got home , I wondered whether all the work and stress was worth it. Dave and I started to decompress and process some of the crazy situations. The kids talked about the memories. And over time, the trip got better and better in our minds and the “worst” parts became the best jokes the kids begged for us to tell over and over again.

And I guess that’s why I just emptied our airline miles again for SIX flights next year for another memorable family TRIP. This time I booked a SUBURBAN rental instead of a minivan to hold the luggage. I just don’t know if it will be LUXURY, but I know we will make lifelong memories. 😉

TAKEAWAY

And, look, I do not consider myself a parenting authority. If anything, after our fourth child was born, I have been very very humbled as a parent. I suddenly am aware of just how selfish and impatient I am each day – how much I need God and cannot be a kind mom without Him, even if I want to more than anything else. I am a sinful human mother in need of God’s grace very moment of every day.

I just wanted to remind us both that you and I won’t always have summers with our kids. What’s that sobering statement that we only have our kids 18 summers so make them count? And even if the family TRIPS are hard or you got burned from all the work, I believe WITH ALL MY HEART that it’s worth it to build positive memories and build relationships with your kids. Good parenting takes a toll on a relationship with a child. I’m managing bad attitudes, teaching life skills when they don’t want to learn, making them do the right thing non-stop – it can be hard on our relationship even though I know it’s right to be a parent first, friend second when they are younger. Trips, to me, are the adventure and fun that breathe back the joy of parenthood. Watching kids fly in an ordinary airplane, experience new things, “Mom! Look! This hotel room even has a TOILET! LOOK!” – it’s just the best. We are so truly blessed to be able to travel with these little gifts from above. Help us, God, to be grateful mothers that look past the work and stress to realize how blessed we are to be called “ mom.”

I ALSO DON’T HAVE A LOT OF TIME THESE DAYS TO EDIT MY WORK SO I APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE FOR ANY SPELLING OR GRAMATTICAL ERRORS IN THIS ARTICLE. PLEASE STILL BE MY FRIEND.

Birthdays are a time to STOP!

Yesterday our chocolate-eyed Hannah Banana turned four.

We did our simple birthday traditions. I hung up the shiny “Happy Birthday” sign in the kitchen. Hannah got to choose the birthday breakfast between waffles and pancakes (she choose waffles). She selected her cake mix and ready-made frosting at the grocery store, because I AM BETTY CROCKER. Then she proudly made her cake and iced it while consuming at least 1/8 of the tub.

Like other mothers, I get emotional at every birthday. Birthdays, like holidays, make us STOP in life and reflect on the important things in life. But there is a different sentence I say on every child’s birthday, because of an experience I had early on.

After Samson was born, we were thrilled to get pregnant again. But at a 10-week sonogram, we saw a still baby resting at the bottom of my womb with no heartbeat. Three weeks later, I miscarried. After we waited the slow months for my body to heal, I wanted more than anything to get pregnant again. I wanted to stifle the hurt and loss with the joy of another baby.

But we didn’t get pregnant and month after month, I cried out to God with the same prayer, “You give and take away, but my heart will always say, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” I didn’t always *feel* this truth, but I said it. Over a year later, we finally got pregnant. And when the baby was born, we discovered it was a GIRL – our precious Esther Lynette.

That experience of loss and then the challenge of getting pregnant forever changed me. The pain slowly peeled back my clamped fist of control of my children. I eventually, month by month, opened my hand of ownership of my children until it was a flat palm. Yes, Lord. These children are not mine. I am a steward. They are 100% Yours. I am a steward, and I am blessed that you have loaned them to me this side of heaven.

Now at birthdays, I always say my unusual sentence right before we blow out the candles. “We thank you, Lord, for the four years you have given us with Hannah.”

Moms, EACH YEAR, each month, each day is a gift from above. I have friends that have lost children as babies and even as toddlers and children. And not that this makes us fearful of how many years we will have with our child. It makes me CHERISH each year God gives us.

Have you ever stopped to realize each year of your child’s life is a gift? That parenthood is not a norm, but a special blessing from above? Do you have friends, like me, that would give anything to be able to celebrate their own child’s birthday? Mothers, we are truly blessed.

Take time at your child’s next birthday to thank the Lord for another year of life with your precious gift from above.

Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the LORD , The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Want more stories like this? Check out Leah Spina’s Amazon Best-Seller book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years.

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Perspective in the little years

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During the girls’ naptime, Samson’s imagination and independent play run wild. Today he created an elaborate party, complete with kid snacks at each of our places at our wooden kitchen table, games like “bobbing for apples” set out (my stainless steel mixing bowl full of water on the kitchen floor with a lone apple floating, etc. so sweet!)

When I walked upstairs, I asked him about these five pictures. Samson said they were our family – the “guests” invited to the party – “this is dad, this is you, this is me, this is Esther, and this is baby Hannah.”

We don’t have a perfect family by any means. I yell at the kids. We have a lot of crying. Samson and Esther fight every day. LOL! But family is something wonderful. Family is our foundation, even from a young age. Samson draws pictures of our family often. Three-year-old Esther draws pictures of our family often, as well.

I don’t think it is by coincidence. I think children feel secure and safe in a family. So maybe you messed up a little bit today parenting. Don’t worry. Your children are going to be fine. They know they are smack dab in the middle of the family where they belong. And belonging to a family that loves you is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your child.

(PS watching Samson bob for that Apple was the best part of my day – his proud dripping face with a big apple in his mouth. These are the happiest days of my life!) #stopandsmellyourchildren

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So I’m plowing through my day as a mom of three little ones, busy busy busy. Running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, changing a diaper, slapping together a PBJ sandwhich and slicing it into small sandwiches like a ninja warrior mom, wiping a bottom, etc. Real glamorous, this real mom life. But then my mom will say ONE SENTENCE to me in her soft, feminine voice during our daily phone chat and BAM life is jolted back into perspective.

I was cleaning up after we had some friends over, and telling her how happy it made me to have people at my house and see them relaxing and being refreshed. Then she said, “Leah, when you get to be my age, you look back on your life and suddenly you wish you spent your time doing things that mattered. Really mattered in light of eternity. And serving others is something you will never regret. We have so little time on earth, and it’s so easy to spend time being busy with things that don’t really have any eternal significance. But remember, relationships are the only thing you are going to take to heaven.” We made a little chit chat, then I hung up the phone.

I looked out the window at the day that used to be long and dull until Dave got home, but now seemed short and precious. How I hope to live my life eternally-focused, and eternally-driven.

How I hope to be like my mom each day – to see the value in people and service. We have this one life to live. Give us grace, Father, to focus our efforts and time on things that MATTER to YOU.

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I am a mom of three children, age five-and-under. Every day I feel behind. Every day I feel a little overwhelmed. Every day I feel like I didn’t get everything done. BUT, in the chaos, I get to have sweet little companions by my side. Little shadows everywhere I go. Little feet pattering after me if I leave a room. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. ❤️❤️❤️

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If you look closely, this is a special Transformer, created by transforming five different Transformers into one big “Bruticus” Transformer. Samson has wanted him for a long time, but Dave said he had to do certain chores cheerfully, and without being told or reminded, each day. And at the end of each week, he could buy ONE of the five prized Transformers if he did his chores. Today he finally got to go with Dave to snag the final Transformer. ?

We’ve been reading Laura Ingels Wilder’s book Farmer Boy in the afternoons when the girls nap. Samson was inspired by Almonzo’s good work ethic – rising at 5am to work the farm in the cold! I am grateful for books that inspire my children toward good character. I love how Sally Clarkson says if you read stories like this to your children, they will emerge from your home picturing themselves as heroes and heroines in a dark world, doing right when no one is watching.

My favorite part tonight, though, was watching Dave slowly following the 82726251 steps to transform all five into one robot – and there was Samson, with his white hair and blue eyes, silently and intently studying his dad’s every move. It reminded me of a sentence in Farmer Boy we read: “Almonzo was sure that Father was the smartest man in the world, as well as the biggest and strongest.” I love my two daughters something fierce, but a daddy/son relationship is PRECIOUS. I LOVE BEING A PARENT!!!! These are the best days of my life!!! ❤️❤️❤️

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My mom calls these little “love marks” from dirty, fat baby hands clutching their mama while being held on the hip. I will miss these end-of-day “love marks” someday! ???❤️❤️❤️#stopandsmellyourchildren

 


Want more like this? Order Leah’s new Amazon Best-Seller book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on her site here.

The Do-Over Mom

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!

  1. 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!
  1. 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.)
  1. 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.
  1. 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

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Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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Walk with my baby girl

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.

Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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Just an ordinary, extraordinary night at our house

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.

Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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Surprise! We’re pregnant!

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).

FIRST TRIMESTER

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.

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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!)

Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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The Strong-Willed Toddler

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!

Samson: NO!

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.

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10 Simple Ways to Stop and Enjoy Your Young Children Each Day!

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?

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Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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My 10 Favorite Baby and Toddler Messes

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.

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Want more stories like this? Order my new book Stop and Smell Your Children: Laugh and Enjoy the Little Years now on Amazon here or on my site here.

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