I am not used to having a child that triumphantly declares, “And I make Mama so happy!”
I am used to my older daughter, going her own way, not really responding deeply to the words, “That doesn’t make me happy.” I am used a preschooler who sat in her chair at the dinner table for three HOURS (not exaggerating), staring at a piece of pizza that she refused to eat.
Imagine my surprise that my soon-to-be three-year-old derives deep satisfaction by making his mom happy. Who rejoices in his mom’s approval.
Some kids care about making Mom happy?
So potty training.
The End is nigh, friends. It is so nigh.
I can be totally content doing overnight Pull-Ups until this kid is four.
But I’m beyond done with the constant vigil of diapering a child. For the past seven years, since 2013, since the beginning of Obama’s second term, since the premier of the first Frozen, we have been changing diapers and Pull-Ups and a significant number of those were cloth, which means thousands of loads of laundry.
And for an added bonus, Child # 2 went through about 8 months of on-again-off-again Toddler Diarrhea (for no apparent reason, which resolved seemingly overnight when he was almost 2). I cannot tell you how many times we woke up in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night) to a toddler absolutely covered in poop juice. From the back of his head to his toes. Covered.
Child # 2 is the reason we have a Steam Cleaner. And the ability to initiate hazmat protocol at 2:00 a.m. with a toddler screaming less than a foot from our faces. And the reason we probably spent $150 on tubes of diaper cream. (Pro tip for new parents: Resinol. Google it. Buy a lot.)
What I’m saying is… We’ve worked hard for this reprieve.
We were three years into this decade before the biggest memories were made. It’s strange to think about now, but what did we do from 2010-2013? I remember that we traveled to Finland and Maui. We spent a lot of time with friends, cooked a lot of breakfasts…
… and experimented with making prickly pear lemonade and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
I wasted a lot of time worrying, wondering if I would ever be able to land a full-time job in my field.
And then one day, there was a newborn hand, wrapped around my finger
Maybe you remember something similar
Maybe if you thought hard right now, you remember
That bouncer where they slept, all swaddled, mitted, and capped
The beep of the microwave (tsk-tsk) as you warmed water for a bottle
The smell of Pampers and Similac and detergent
The creaking of the tea kettle as you boiled water at 3:00 a.m.
All the onesies, the bibs, the burp cloths, the swaddles
And all the Googling.
All of the Googling.
Normal baby poop.
Milk allergy in newborn signs
Breastfeeding milk production normal
How to stop breastfeeding
When does a baby start teething?
How old is a 20-pound baby?
Best car seats
What does croup sound like?
Croupvs. whooping cough
Can toddlers get whooping cough if they’re vaccinated?
My toddler won’t chew disorders
How often do toddlers get diarrhea?
Bleeding diaper rash remedies
And then, the Googling stops. Mostly.
One day, you just decide, To hell with it. It is what it is.
You decide the toddler is more like a preschooler and you let him carry scissors around the house, and play with teeny-tiny Legos, and walk around without a Pull-Up on.
You’re on the brink of Life without Diapers, but not there quite yet.
There is Light. A Sweet and Glorious Future beyond the constant wiping of butts.
And you wonder, How did I ever get used to wiping another person’s butt?
That whole area of another human being used to be totally private and off limits. And then, suddenly, you became completely responsible for the care of another human’s butt and genitals.
It was strange.
But so was the feeling of another person growing inside you, jostling your internal organs, barreling through your genitals, and causing your breasts to ache, throb, and leak.
It was all very strange.
How their tiny cries subsided when they smelled your skin, felt your heartbeat, and heard your voice.
You weren’t expecting to be so moved by this. You weren’t prepared for the swallowing of your heart, how the gentle breath of a newborn on your chest could eclipse all the pain, emanating from top to bottom, inside and out.
You weren’t expecting that you could be this utterly exhausted, and still be strong. And still practice patience. And not completely lose your shit while on the brink of sleep-deprived psychosis.
You expected them to be earthquakes in your life, each a great shifting in the plates of your being. You expected there to be changes, fractures, new landmarks, and new paths to chart in their wake.
But you didn’t expect that it would lead you to new beauty.
That it would create new oases, new islands.
And now here we are.
On brink of having a three-year-old and a six-year-old.
My babies are not babies anymore.
They have become tiny people with personalities that converge in some respects and diverge in others.
It goes by so fast, they all said.
Does it really?
There were moments that felt like hours. Times when I, hand-to-God, prayed that we could all survive the Present Moment. If we could just get through this day, everyone alive, it would be a win.
A huge win.
If I could just get to the end of today, when the kid or kids are asleep, I will be okay.
How many more hours until bedtime?
How many more hours until I can go to work and someone else can do all this?
Oh, Sweet Lord, if I have to tell you to eat your food one more time, I’m going to completely lose it.
…And, there it is. I’ve lost it.
The truth is more like, The nights are long, but the years are short.
The last six years of care-taking is settling in on my face, in lines that are not going away and little patches of gray hair that will one day make a magnificent streak (though I’m not ready for that just yet).
At get-togethers and parties, I’m realizing that, Whoa, I’m no longer the youngest adult here anymore.
On February 15th, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment on “Singles Awareness Day,” focusing on how single people shouldn’t feel so alone because everyone else, apparently, had such an amazing Valentine’s Day.
Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.
Valentine’s Day Prelude
Wednesday, February 13th: Spent the day at home with the toddler because of a diarrhea bug, which was mercifully mostly over by Wednesday. Lost time for grading and planning.
The Big V-Day
4:15 a.m. – 5:10 a.m.: Glorious morning run under the stars
(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)
5:12 a.m: Voicemail from public schools. Daughter’s kindergarten class is cancelled because of a water boil advisory due to a major pipe breakage. No problem. She’ll just spend the day at daycare, right?
5:30 a.m.: Bathe the toddler whose poop has turned into sludge and has mercifully remained contained in his footed pajamas.
7:00 a.m.: Daycare decides to also close because of the water advisory. Reverses course 15 minutes later. Children finally dropped off and settled by 7:40 a.m. Daughter forgets all classmates’ valentines in the car.
8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Teaching all morning, lunch for five minutes, grading/planning, public student poster presentations
3:30-4:30: Drive home, make dinner for the kids
4:30-4:45: Eat a leisurely 15-minute dinner alone before getting the kids (salad, hard-boiled egg, peanut butter pretzels)
4:45-5:30: Retrieve children from daycare
5:30-6:30: Feed children/ wash dishes/ sort through bags of valentines, crafts, and candy/ do laundry/ give baths/ dress kids for bed
6:35: Daughter says to me, “My panties have poop in them. Can you help me?”
7:00: Go to bed alone.
The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.
So, let’s dispel all those myths that married people / people in relationships are having amazing Valentine’s Days.
Because at the end of the day, what married couples of so many years with young kids really want is SLEEP.
This is going to be quite the year.
That has been the feeling for at least the past 12 months, since the youngest child started becoming mobile. In the back of my mind (as I’m transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer or moving dry dishes to the cabinets or dirty dishes to the dishwasher), I’ve had this nagging feeling that…
Perhaps, it’s all over.
“It” being my ability to reclaim any empty moment for myself.
If, by some miracle, an empty moment finds me during the day, and I choose to use it for myself, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of Oh my God, you should be doing something else right now! You are so far behind!
But then, the thought: Behind who? Behind what?
Who am I comparing myself to?
My pre-child self? Because she’s been dead for quite a while. And the hope of her resurrection is pretty much gone.
But then there’s the realization that, There is no end to this.
At least not for the foreseeable future.
This is my life now.
Moving from task to task to task to task until the day is done.
My life has become an endless treadmill of tasks that begin at 4:00 a.m. and pull me along, chug, chug, chug, until I throw in the towel at 6:45 p.m.
I don’t mind being busy. Sometimes, I even revel in being busy. Instead, what pulls me down is when I feel like I’m not growing or changing for the better. If I’m not pushing myself to learn more or grow, boredom soon sinks in. And that makes it harder to find joy and purpose in what I do.
So with that in mind, here are a few things that I’m trying out this year, as a way to grow and change.
Relearning algebra, geometry, and trigonometry via Khan Academy
The rationale here is…
I’m afraid of math. And I’m tired of being afraid of math.
So I wondered, What it would be like to learn math without being afraid of failing? What if I could go at my own pace and see how far my limits take me?
It’s also great preparation for taking the GRE (I may or may not be thinking about a Ph.D. program in the future).
Learning how to write computer code
Again, this is something that I’ve been afraid of. Maybe because it’s mostly a male-dominated field? But it seems like learning how to code is becoming not only useful, but necessary as computing power doubles, triples, quintuples.
Reading the Wheel of Time series
This is unabashed escapism. I’m okay with that.
Some mothers have daytime TV.
Some have romance novels (I never could get into those. Too formulaic. Too many one-dimensional characters.)
I’ve got fantasy fiction.
So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.
When I’m not following this tiny human around and making sure he doesn’t kill himself via stairs or light sockets or small items lodged in the throat, I’m feeding him.
Actually, a lot of the weekend is spent just feeding him. (Thank God the older one reminds me when she’s hungry. I can’t keep both of them straight.)
Offering handheld foods.
Mixing and mashing food.
Haphazard attempts at letting him feed himself
Spooning food into his mouth as he lowers his chin, head turned 90 degrees as he stares off into the unknown…
And I just think, Me too, sir. Me too.
When I’m not orbiting him around the house, he’s orbiting me in the playroom.
Because in a room of 5,000 toys, the most fun thing to play with is always, always, always Mom. Mom’s hair. Mom’s clothes. Mom’s coffee cup. Mom’s blanket that is so nicely arranged on her legs. No matter how many times I try to distract him with other things, he always comes back to me.
Over and over again, we are pulled toward each other, by the simple fact that we are existing in the same space. Either I am following him or he is climbing all over me.
And as I’m sitting on the floor of the playroom, moving my cup of coffee from left to right to left while he climbs over my legs from left to right to left…
I flip open the newest issue of National Geographic on my lap. And for a moment, both of us stare together at an illustrated image of our galaxy as it unfolds in full panorama from the magazine’s pages.
There we are, that tiny speck of a solar system in the Sagittarius Arm
A collection of stars orbiting each other, spinning by the force of their own gravity between each other
And I read about the fact that not only is Earth uniquely situated within our solar system to foster the conditions for life, it’s also situated well within the galaxy
And that our solar system exists in a relatively asteroid-and-space-junk free area of the galaxy
And that the sun actually repels harmful cosmic radiation that would kill us
There we are, so vulnerable and exposed, whether by design or by happenstance, protected from complete annihilation (for the foreseeable future, at least?)
There we are, in that great cosmic swirl around the mysterious, hotter-than-hell core of our galaxy
There we are, the tiniest of tiny of tiny in a universe of unfathomable vastness.
So my daughter is in love with the Berenstain Bears right now. And I happen to love that. Each story tackles a challenge that kids face and usually offers sound advice and moral lessons. Don’t eat too much junk food! Do chores around the house! Learn to compromise with friends! Don’t brag about yourself all the time! Take turns! Clean up after yourself!
I mean, really, who doesn’t love these books?
And then I read how the Berenstain Bears tackled the bully issue.
So in this episode, Sister Bear is the one that gets beaten up by a bully. (Nice twist, huh?) Brother is so pissed off about it that he marches down to the playground to knock this kid’s lights out–only to find out that the bully is a girl. Then, he decides that he can’t punch a girl. Why?
“Because then he’d be a bully, too.”
So, the first lesson is that if boys hit girls, they’re bullies.
… Which begs the question: What are boys if they hit other boys? Just boys? The old “boys will be boys” line?
So Brother stalks away, his masculinity deflated, disappointed and frustrated that he can’t hit a girl.
I’ll summarize the rest of the story: Brother Bear then goes to the school’s gym teacher, who then gives him boxing gloves (not kidding). Then, Brother Bear goes back home and teaches Sister Bear self-defense in the basement of the Bear Tree House. All of this happens unbeknownst to Mama and Papa Bear, whose advice isn’t much better.
“Just avoid the bully as much as possible,” they say.
However, when Sister Bear is inevitably confronted by the bully on the school playground, she indeed punches the bully right in the face (not kidding).
Both Bears are sent to the principal’s office. The bully cries as they wait to be disciplined, and Sister has a revelation that this kid is probably hit by her parents.
Resolution: Sister gets off with a warning. The bully gets a week of no recess–and they don’t tell her parents.
Two weeks ago, I heard my husband tell our daughter, “If he pushes you, I want you to say ‘Don’t push me!”
It seemed weird to be having this talk with a 2 1/2 year-old child. But I guess this is when these conversations need to start?
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have clear advice or strategies to share with my daughter about how to deal with bullying. Is it good advice to tell her to push back?
One thing I do know: I cringe at the thought of telling her to just avoid a bully.
So what options remain? Should I tell her to tell the teacher? But then, I also want her to know that she has agency to solve her own problems.
“Do you ever worry about your kid getting involved in drugs?”
I chuckled a little at my colleague’s question. We had been standing by the coffee maker–him getting coffee, me getting tea (since I’ve cut back to one cup of coffee per week)–when he blurted out this question.
I can always count on this particular guy to strike up a deep conversation, while peppering it with inappropriate humor. He’s one of those people whom you can tell is surveying the entire world about questions that are important to him. It’s as if he is cataloguing everything he learns for the moment when he needs it–and then his effort will have been worth it.
“So she’s only two,” I said as I filled up my cup with hot water. “But I know what you mean… I had the drug talk with her last week and psshhh… it was hard.” I kidded.
He looked to the side. “So I guess she’s still hitting up the crack pipe at night?”
“Well, clearly whatever I say isn’t going to stop her, right?”
We laughed and clinked our coffee cups.
“Cheers,” I said.
A moment passed.
“It’s just…” he looked around the room before lowering his voice and continuing, “I have this friend whose kid got into some trouble recently. And this friend–he’s like doing everything right, from what I can tell. But his kid got still into heroin.”
I nodded as I ripped open a bag of tea and dunked it in my cup. “Man… that sucks. I hear it’s because heroin is so cheap right now.”
His eyes grew wide. “I know, this is what I’m saying. If it can happen to this guy’s kid, you know, who can’t it happen to?”
“Doesn’t that make you worried, as a parent?” he asked. “Or maybe I don’t know this friend as well as I thought. Maybe there’s some crazy stuff going on there…”
“Well, you don’t know that, right?”
“Right, of course, just…”
“Yeah, I know… It does worry me, but just a little. I mean, right now, she’s only two, so this isn’t really going to happen tomorrow or anything. I still have complete control over what goes in her.”
But as soon as I said that, I instantly doubted myself.
Did I have control over her?
I wrote in my book about the illusion of having control over pregnancy, childbirth, and your child’s development. We do so many things for the purpose of having control over our children, but in the end, this control is an illusion. We never have been and never will be in control of our children.
I knew I had to amend my statement.
“Okay, actually, I don’t really have control over her, even now.” I explained my rationale and he nodded.
“So what do you do? Do you worry all the time?”
I thought for a moment, watching the water in my cup growing darker and darker.
“I’m thinking about this quote from Khalil Gibran. I first read it when I was pregnant–and it really struck me. A few of the lines goes like this: Your children are not your children…They come through you, but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”
He nodded, sipping his coffee.
“And what I think he was saying was that children aren’t our puppets. And they aren’t our reflections. We shouldn’t get lost in the illusion that we have control over them. We are responsible for protecting them and teaching them, but neither of those things are the same as ‘controlling.'”
“That’s true, that’s true… So you think it’s an issue of how we see ourselves as parents. Maybe there’s nothing he could have done about it. That’s what I’m hearing.”
“So… you have to see your role as a parent in the right light… but also I think you’ve got to make sure your child’s needs are met…
Do they feel loved?
Do they feel like they belong?
Do they know they can talk to you without judgement?
Do they know that they don’t have to work to earn your love?
…It’s all of those things. I think a lot of kids try out drugs when their needs aren’t being met.”
“Yeah, but don’t you think some kids get into drugs just because they’re curious?”
“Absolutely. But you’ve also got to tell your kids the awful things that drugs can do to you. You can’t watch them all of the time, but maybe if you’re honest about what can happen…”
I sipped my tea. “But I really think that a lot of it is about their needs. If you meet their needs, maybe they’ll be less likely to look for other things that will.”
We were quiet for a moment.
“It’s easy to talk about this now… when she’s still small and this whole scenario is still very far way. God, I hope I don’t eat my words later on.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make sure to rub it in your face,” he assured me.