Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: child

Please Don’t Try to Be the Best: A Letter to my Daughter on her First Day of Kindergarten

Last week, I bought your first backpack for kindergarten (not your first one ever—you had one for preschool). While we were shopping, I thumbed through the spiral-bound journals, remembering when I was eight years old, and my mother bought me my first scented diary. I let you pick one out for yourself and you chose a light pink one with a unicorn, the words Make today magical scrawled across the front.

That night, you stayed up far past your bedtime. You wanted to write in your notebook, but you’ve only just learned how to write the alphabet. So you pulled out your Richard Scarry book and copied words from it.

Richard Scarry

Hippoelephantzebra.

Then, you wrote your oft-repeated motif from your fourth year of life,

Mom love. Love moma.

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I thought you would sleep in the next morning.

But there you were at 4:00 a.m., standing next to my side of the bed. You didn’t touch me to wake me up. You just stood there until I opened my eyes to the light of the hallway.

“Henry’s talking, Mama. So I’m going to write in my notebook now. Are you going to do yoga?”

It turned out that Henry was just sleep-talking, but I got up anyway since I usually get up early to exercise. To you, exercise always means yoga. But instead of yoga, I lifted weights while you copied words into your notebook while eagerly watching me lift weights to my workout DVD. After fifteen minutes, you joined me in lifting weights.

Kind of.

You picked up a two-pound weight with your right hand.

Since this happened to your left elbow a few weeks ago.

Felicity cast

You and I “worked out” together. You, with a 2-pound weight and a haphazardly stretched resistance band. Me, with 10- and 20-pound weights.

And when we were done at 5:00 a.m., we took a walk down the street, you wearing your brand new backpack. With the tags still on.

You told me about how excited you were to start kindergarten and all of your plans about what you would put in your new cubby in your new school. You recited all the steps that will be involved in getting you to your new school.

“First, I’ll get up in the morning and get dressed. Then, Daddy will take me to daycare and I’ll eat breakfast. Then, someone will drive me on the bus to kindergarten. And then what, Mama?”

We went over the steps several times, our sneakered feet moving quietly across the pavement, the moon high in the early morning sky.

Of course, by 1:00 p.m., you completely crashed at naptime.

***

I’ve learned a lot about you in the first five years of your life.

You’re like me.

Caring. Lover of books. Curious. Persistent to the point of Stubborn. Strong.

But you’re also not like me at all.

You’re a Natural Born Leader. Optimistic. Super-sociable. Pusher of boundaries. Observant. (You can spot a tiny cricket, hiding behind the vacuum cleaner, from across the room.)

Some mothers say they love the baby years. Some say they love the toddler years (though I think they’re few in number). Others love the preschool years. And although I had moments when I couldn’t get enough of your newborn smell, I have to say…

I think I’m going to love the school-age years.

***

Here’s what I want to say to you as you turn five on your first day of kindergarten.

If I cry when you leave, it’s not because I wish you were still a baby. Still small enough for me to encircle in my arms. Still young enough to believe that I can keep the moon from fading from the early morning sky so we can walk together, uninterrupted for hours.

If I cry when you leave, it’s because I’m so excited for you.

To learn to read and write.

To find out what interests you, makes you curious, drives you crazy.

To dive into math and science.

To figure out how to build friendships and make amends.

To solve puzzles.

To fail.

To make bad decisions, and (hopefully) learn from them.

You won’t understand this just yet, but someday you will:

Please, please, don’t try to be the best.

Please, please, don’t try to be perfect.

There will always be someone who is better at something than you are.

I don’t care if you get all A’s. I don’t care if you’re the best at clarinet or soccer or gymnastics. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re class president or voted Best Artist.

Please, please, don’t live your life according to ways that you think will earn my love, my attention, and my respect.

You already have them.

Find what you love to do. Find what you’re good at. Try lots of different things. Read lots of different books. Ask questions.

But most importantly, don’t serve yourself.

Serve humanity.

Do good. Follow a higher calling. Keep your moral compass pointed north.

Don’t create a life that leads you down a path of wanting more money and more power. It’s futile and unsatisfying. And it will never be enough.

I’m so happy for you.

Happy that I get to be a witness to it all.

Love,

Mom

PoP # 11: Where Do All My Hair Ties Go?

“It needed a seat belt, Mama.”

 

From the Vault: 8 Lessons from my Childhood Diary

6:00 a.m.

Day after Thanksgiving.

Sitting on the floor with one of my legs pinned over my baby’s chest, the other leg over his legs, making a human cage. Because this is the only way I can change the diaper of a child that can flip and crawl away from me.

And he’s screaming.

That eardrum-piercing shriek that cries out to the world, Help!!! I’m being murdered!!! 

But which I interpret as, I won’t let you do it! I WON’T!!!

Today is my birthday.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I sing.

He stops screaming and pays attention to my voice, the tears still coming down.

But when I reach the end of the song, he starts winding up for a second round of protest. I switch the melody.

“Oh wow, look at ‘im now, Zuckerman’s famous pig. Sue-y, whaddya see? The greatest hog in history. Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big? He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thing-a-ma-jig-of-a-pig.”

And just like that, I’ve hypnotized him with Charlotte’s Web (the 1973 version, of course).

I keep singing it until he’s dressed.

***

Moms put up with a lot.

I think our society kind of knows that.

Kind of.

And then there are moments like these that deserve to be plastered on a Someecards meme that chirps about how rewarding motherhood truly is (Someone pass the wine,  it would probably read).

It makes me wonder what it was like to be my mom, mother of five.

For most of my life, I’ve only seen motherhood from the lens of a daughter.

And that lens can be pretty amusing.

***

This summer while I was cataloging some old photos and taking stock of some mementos, I found my first diary, which my mother purchased for me when I was eight years old.

Within its pastel, scented pages, my writing career began.

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I loved this diary.

Like, LOVED.

I wrote in it every single day. And when I was too tired to write, I asked my mother to write about my day. (And she actually did. For that alone, she won Mother of the Year for 1990.)

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Cecilia Tjaden: Mother of the Year, 1990

I wrote about such riveting topics like my breakfast, what my siblings did (or didn’t do), and what I learned in school.

Here’s a sample page:

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Food. Siblings. Video games. It was a great life.

Here are some gem excerpts and the life lessons we can glean from them.

***

Lesson # 1: Kids Don’t Appreciate Irony

Sunday, November 11, 1990

Today I got up and went to church. I learned about loving one another. Phillip got two bars of soap in his mouth. DeAnna got one bar of soap in her mouth. Holly made another mark on my Magna Doodle. I had a sluply joe. (sloppy joe) I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 2: Kids Don’t Really Understand Pregnancy

Saturday, November 17, 1990

Today, I got up and watched Look Who’s TalkingThey showed us what it looks like when you get pregnite. Phillip only needs the red ring in the Legend of Zelda. Mommy came home and she made me stay out of the house for one hour. I had potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson # 3: Kids assume everyone knows what they’re talking about.

Wednesday, November 21, 1990

Today I got up and I had pancakes for breakfast. Annie and I played barbies. I finally got to see Zelda. Gannon was big, ugly, rude, and huge. The only way to see Zelda is to hit the fire. Then, they held two Triforces above their heads. I have to go. Good-by.

Lesson #4: Kids completely miss clues that their parents might be stressed.

Saturday, March 9, 1991

Today, I got up and had to stay in bed. I took the TV in my bedroom and watched cartoons. (not sure how I did that?) Mommy went to work for 10 hours. My temperature was 101.8 today. Mommy might take me to the doctor tomorrow to get a shot. DeAnna felt a lot better today. Mommy paid me $2.00 for babysitting. I’ve got to go now. Good-by.

Lesson # 5: Kids are surprisingly capable creatures.

Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)

Today I got up and get DeAnna dressed. Then I gave her some breakfast. Nate helped me do the dishes. I put on cartoons for Holly and DeAnna. Later, I watched The Price is Right. I had a cherry pie. Mommy came home and said she would have to go to bed. I watched the Simpsons. I have to go. Goodby.

Lesson # 6: Sometimes, kids really don’t see their responsibility.

Saturday, July 19, 1991

Today I got up and went to Howard’s (Pharmacy). I bought some candy cigarettes. Dad almost won all the time when he played Duck Hunt. Mom comes home and blames me, Holly, and DeAnna for the mess. It’s not our fault. Daddy didn’t bother to watch them. First thing, I didn’t even touch the room. Now she blaming it one me. I have to go. By!!

Lesson # 7: Kids can experience hardship as adventure.

Tuesday, July 29, 1991

Today I got up and had to get up. We all walked to the bus stop. We took a bus to Dayton. Then took a bus to Englewood. We got off at Rolling Pin Bakery. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s. Then we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Then we got on another bus to our house. We had rice for supper. I’ll see you later. I’ve gotta go. Good-by.

Lesson # 8: The World is Just So Unfair!

Friday, February 20, 1992

Today I was waiting for the Science Fair to start. It was from 1:30-3:15. Unforently, I didn’t win. They were all fifth graders. And a kid won 2 times in a row! Katie Owens did a stupid poster and got 3rd place. It’s just not fair!! I wish they had a rule you can’t win twice! Well I better go. Good-by.

***

So bravo to you, Mom, for hanging in there. Through five kids, unreliable transportation, and the ingratitude of whining children, you persevered.

And thanks for the diary.

I’m pretty sure it was the best gift you ever gave me.

Love,

Sharon

Happy birthday to someone who wasn't welcomed into the world via tweet or status update.

 

Week 36: Sort of Ready for Another Baby

I’m sort of ready to have another baby.

We bought a new car. The thought of shoving two car seats into the back of my Honda Civic was just… No.

We bought the Civic in 2006, shortly after we got married. So it is probably time to move on. Although, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a creature of habit and unless I see a real need to buy something else, I’m usually good with what I have. Indefinitely.

A larger car meant either a minivan (No), an SUV (maybe?), or a station wagon (Am I becoming my parents?).

In the end, I fell in love with a Subaru Outback. We bought one this past week.

subaru

Do I have to call it a station wagon? Because it feels a whole lot better than the Buick station wagon that I rode around in as a child.

buick

I think I’ll just call it a Subaru.

***

All year, Doug has had the goal of “getting the baby’s room ready.” Which is actually a three-step process.

  1. Convert the “overflow room” into Felicity’s new bedroom. (Run new wiring for a ceiling fan, redo/paint the walls)
  2. Convert Felicity’s bedroom into Doug’s office.
  3. Convert Doug’s office into the new baby’s room.

So far, we are approaching the end of step # 1.

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In the process, Doug’s office has become the “overflow room.” And the baby’s things (a combination of Felicity’s old things and some new things) are chillin’ in the hallway.

If this were my first baby, this would totally freak me out. Before Felicity was born, I needed–at the very least–the appearance that we were prepared to have a baby around the house.

This time, my checklist is much shorter.

1.) Is the car seat in the car?

2.) Do we know where the old baby things are?

3.) Do we have diapers and bottles on hand?

Doug, on the other hand, is much more freaked out than me. From his perspective, Felicity’s room and the baby’s room must be done. (And let us not even mention the last bit of mulch from last April that still sits in the driveway–it is his current bane of existence.)

***

What does freak me out is this obvious fact that is just now hitting home.

I am going to have to give birth again.

Oy.

Everyone tells me the second birth is easier.

God. I hope so. Really not looking forward to a 33-hour labor again.

Even if I wouldn’t change (much) about my first birth, that doesn’t mean I desire to relive a similar experience.

The thing that really sucks is that I know there’s not much you can really do to prepare for birth. We have a doula. We’ve done a tour of the birthing facility. I’ve been seeing my medical provider since the beginning of this pregnancy.

And having been through labor before, the best advice that I can offer myself is to just roll with it. Hour by hour and moment by moment.

Just deal with the pain that you have in the moment and don’t worry about the pain coming down the line.

***

My body, on the other hand, is totally ready to do this.

I’m burning about 600-700 extra calories per day, just because I’m existing and moving.

After about 15 minutes of standing, I need to sit down. My lower back hurts too much. So I end up wearing the pregnancy belt a lot when I need to walk for periods of time.

My belly is–yet again–getting tighter.

At my last appointment, the doctor told me that the baby is head down (good) and sideways (a little weird this late in the game?). Its butt is pointed out to my left side. Its feet are jutting out from my right side. It’s about 5 1/2 pounds now, according to my pregnancy app.

My pregnancy app also tells me that my placenta is starting to age and my amniotic fluid is decreasing. That makes sense. The baby’s movements are much more pronounced now. It feels like the cushion between the baby and my bones is much thinner. A foot in my ribs is very uncomfortable.

And… I just feel so much pressure.

I forgot how much physical pressure you feel in these final weeks.

I remember that in that first moment after Felicity was born, I said, “It’s over. I’m so glad it’s over.”

I was talking about the pain, of course, but I was also talking about the pressure. To shift so suddenly from fullness to emptiness. To breathe again. An honest-to-God full breath.

But this time, with that full breath comes the knowledge that it’s over for me.

This is it. No more pregnancies after this.

So I’m caught.

Between the desire to be free from this pressure and the knowledge that being free of it will make me wish that it wasn’t over.

I absolutely know that when the dust has settled,

and we’re back at home with a new baby,

and I lie down for the first time in my own bed,

and place a hand where my belly once was,

the emptiness will creep in

and I will realize how much this baby has become a part of me

and we will never be that close again.

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