A Chat With My Former Self

You’d think by the time the third kid rolled around, JDubbs and I would be prepared for everything three-year-olds have to offer.  Temper tantrums? Piece of cake. Potty training? No sweat. Transition to big girl bed? Nailed it.  Taking away her Binkie? Um…  I said, Taking away her Binkie?  Well, you see…it’s like this…

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Oh boy.

Like most new parents, we came into this parenting thing with some preconceived notions of how our kids were going to be raised and how they would behave.  We would never raise our voices and we would never say things we would regret.  We would only empower and uplift them at all times, and we would never lose our patience or be one of “those” parents who give in to the iron will of a toddler.  We would parent them as we saw fit, and they would oblige.  Because when it comes to parenting, it’s all a matter of consistency.  Am I right, Former Self?

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Reality: parenting is consistently inconsistent.  Consistently confusing.  Consistently hair-raising, exhausting, rewarding but still confusing, inconsistent and evolving.  Just because you raised one child does not mean that you have any idea what to do with the next.  Or the one after that.  Because these little people do not come with instruction manuals, and they come with a whole lot of independence, opinions, and the beats of their very own (and very loud) drummers.

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Yes, Little H was a great sleeper as a baby.  Yes, she was super easy-going and was down to just follow along on the coattails of Brother and Sister’s lives, spending way more time in her carseat than doing Tummy Time, eating way more take out that organic homemade baby food.  Yes, she transitioned to a big girl bed like a champ and has been peeing in the potty for months.  The perfect third kid.  Flexible, adorable, and fun.

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But then the beat of her own drummer kicks in and girlfriend has a lot of opinions that don’t necessarily jive with what we were expecting.  Won’t even consider pooping in the potty.  Has become standoffish and grumpy to friends she has known her entire life.  Has opinions about whether or not she’ll take a nap today or ever and she definitely insists she still needs her Binkie.

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As with our other two, the Binkie Fairy made her appearance shortly after Little H turned three, leaving a gift behind and the promise that naps would never again happen in this house.  For a while, JDubbs and I were strong.  Two weeks in fact.  But in those two weeks Little H stopped napping, incapable of soothing herself to sleep, spent half her days with her entire hand in her mouth and became an overtired, exhausted wreck.  I wasn’t looking so great myself. Something had to give, and apparently it was her immune system.  Soon after we took her Binkie away she came down with both a sinus and an ear infection, probably from being so run down.  And this three-time Mommy said, Enough.

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So what if she is three? She didn’t start taking a Binkie until she found a rogue one under the changing table when she was one.  So what if we took a stand and said we’d stick to it?  Little girls have to sleep, they need to not stick their hands in their mouths after walking through their siblings’ elementary school (probably reason #2 she got sick, actually).  Mommies need their babies to nap while they do things like run the book fair and apply for new jobs.  Everyone needs to sleep and be happy and wake up rested.  There is a time and place to take a stand, but now is not that time.  So back off, Former Self–I know a little more than you do.

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The presumptuous childless person I used to be would shake her head with judgment and say, She’s going to regret that and JDubbs’s pre-fatherhood self would reply, We’ll never give in like that. It’s all about being consistent.  And then we’d go spend a carefree afternoon at the beach drinking margaritas because, oh yeah, our pre-children selves lived in San Diego and had money and time and energy to burn.  Those two had no idea what they were in for.

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No excuses, pre-baby Self.  I thought I knew it all.  I thought being a mom would be the most gratifying, fulfilling experience of my life, and to an extent, that is true.  But what makes it so gratifying is that I am so much more accepting of my flaws.  I now know that I do not need to be perfect.  I will lose my temper, choose the easier road, pick my battles, feed them fast food, let them watch too much TV while I catch an extra half an hour of sleep on the weekend because I am only as good a mother as my body allows.

I have a feeling that once summer comes, with adventures galore and siblings at home, Little H will catnap in the car and her nap will become a fond memory.  Maybe her Binkie will hang around in the evening for a while, but one thing I know for sure is that I am not going to beat myself up about it or punish her for it.  Every one of my children have been different, uniquely blessed and presenting unique challenges.  For every dollar I saved on diapers when she potty-trained early, I will spend five more on braces when she’s thirteen.  But you know what won’t be on my radar then?  Her Binkie.  You know how I will remember these last two months together at home?  Nostalgicially, blissfully, practically perfect.  And my Former Self can judge all she wants, but this mama really does know what her babies need.

Enjoy that Binkie, Little H.

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An ABC Egg Hunt

I would say one of the hardest things about being a parent to more than one kid is the need to remember that your third kid needs just as much of your time, energy, attention, and patience as your first one (or second, or third…).  Because there are so many people around to entertain her–her days spent with me, afternoons with brother and sister or friends, bedtime with Em–she isn’t the best at playing independently, but she’ll get there.  Her constant need for attention sometimes has the undesired effect of me just throwing up my hands and saying, “Can’t you just go play!?” instead of encouraging me to dream up some fun activity for the two of us.  I have been working on renewing my teaching credential–a process which has kept the blog low on my totem pole of priorities–so I have been even busier than usual, fielding emails and requesting transcripts during time that I used to spend perusing Pinterest for fun literacy activities like I did for Jax or Em (cue the Mommy guilt).  I could have just as easily spent this morning encouraging Little H to keep herself occupied, but with the recognition that both she and my blog were being grossly neglected, I pulled out an old favorite to meet the ever-increasing needs of my very bright three-year-old.

Alphabet Egg Hunt Matching Game @ Rub Some Dirt On It

I have come up with many upcycling uses for last week’s plastic Easter eggs that help my kids with various needs–spelling, counting, rhyming.  Little H already knows her letters, upper case and lower case, but I thought this would be a good exercise in letter sounds.  First I wrote all the upper case and lower case letters on egg halves, like so, and spread them all over our front deck.  Hooray for a warm spring day!

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Then she and I hung out, matching letters, matching colors, talking and smiling.  Since she does already know her letters, we focused on the sounds they make.  She would find a letter, I’d point out what color it is so she could find the match, then we should brought it to me she’d tell me what sound the letter makes.

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For a three-year-old, she’s one smart cookie, my Hannah Hummingbird.

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Last kids deserve all the love and enrichment and attention as the first ones.  I’m lucky enough to be home with her, and I need to make every day matter, in big ways or small.

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 It’s good for both of us.

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On The Clock

  Monday afternoons are a testament to this busy mom’s ability to juggle schedules and various after-school personalities, as we begin our foray into dragging siblings along to one child’s extracurricular activity without the other two losing their damn minds.  I know I am just dipping my toes into the sea of insanity, so I’m glad we’re taking baby steps, but the pressure (to remember all the gear, to bring food no one hates or already ate that day, to bring books, toys and my cell phone charger for all manner of distractions…) is real. On Mondays, Little H and I peel into the elementary school parking lot, grab the big kids and head south to make it to Em’s ballet class just in time.  Their school teachers and I barely make eye contact before the kids are dragged out the door by the handle of their backpacks and herded through the parking lot to the van I left running so we can get in and go (if I haven’t even just parked illegally in front of the school and left Little H in the car to shave precious seconds off our time).  There are updates on our days to share, Purell to be passed around and snacks to be desperately devoured (do these children eat at all during the day at school?), and various forms of entertainment to be doled out to the biggest and littlest once we arrive at the dance studio, all before my attention turns to my tiny dancer, because we are on the clock.  Costume change, bun in place, ballet shoes on and she scurries upstairs to take her place at the barre before I have even had a chance to take off my coat.  Half the time I am still stabbing bobby pins into her hair at random as she is halfway up the stairs, Jax’s voice already echoing behind me that he is bored.  The only thing that gets me through it all are glimpses of this through the classroom window, that make it worth the sweat and tears (mostly mine).

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Once back downstairs, the natives have already begun to grow restless, and beyond Little H’s willingness to play PJ Masks for hours on end (“To the Cat Car!”), I usually come to ballet armed with a bag full of new library books to appease Jax and all manner of distractions for Little H.  This past Monday I knew was going to be unseasonably warm, so Jax, Little H and I took a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy some February fresh air and earn me a breather from little people begging to use my cell phone.

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The sky was gray with no sunshine to be found, and even as the sun sunk lower to the horizon and the chill began to penetrate my wimpy bones, Jax and Little H were having a blast.  Could outside play be the key to my Monday afternoon survival?  Since the two of them have only finally begun to find a middle ground–mostly centered around a shared love for Transformers Rescue Bots–and it’s freaking winter and freezing dark outside before ballet is even over, I have not really attempted this tactic before.  I forced myself to man up and stay outside as long as they wanted to see how this experiment would play out.

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The playground was a soggy mess from all the rapidly melting snow, but to my kids, all the world’s a stage, with plenty of imagination at their fingertips, With Jax in rare Patient and Engaging Older Brother form, and Little H not telling him to take a hike as per usual, these two didn’t need me at all.  When they discovered an actual stage, just perfect for an elaborate performance of Rescue Bots: The Dance Party Variety Show, I was in for quite a treat.

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Jax was born to emcee.

Their play was so elaborate and Little H’s dance moves so comical, I actually was sorry for it to end, even if I was shivering.  Stupid winter.  Never fear, I assume I will be attending Part II of this epic saga next week at about the same time, and will keep you posted on the dramatic conclusion of Which Bot Is The Fastest and What Will Boulder Paint This Week?  Ah, the fleeting joys of motherhood.  Cue the nonstop whining that they are hungry for dinner in 3…2….1…

Such is life in this slushy part of the year, with three kids all on the threshold of big extracurricular things.  Mud season appears to have arrived early, and I will attempt to appreciate these wintery afternoons while I have them, while dreaming of green grass and picnic dinners after ballet (even if that would require one more thing for me to remember to pack!).  I’m glad to have found a bit of a key to surviving the Extracurricular Activity Chaos Black Hole, and will try to look on the bright side and appreciate the chance for Jax and Little H to carve out some time together…at least while they’re getting along!

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A Small Snowy Excursion

Little H and I took a walk to the end of our road yesterday, to look at the street sign and learn how to spell our street.  I know some of you not stay-at-home moms out there are like, Come again? That’s the crap you do all day?  Listen, pal.  These are big goings-ons for a two-year-old, when our driveway and street are oh-so-very long, and letters are impressive and exciting friends.  For the amount of effort it takes to wrangle a toddler into hats and mittens and boots, it better be a big deal, and talking a wintery walk for a little reading practice was a before-nap time-killing win for everyone.  Plus, she’s cute in her hat and mittens.

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But I digress.

So Little H, our pup Baxter and I made the trek down the driveway.  We hadn’t gone far before Baxter had totally freaked Little H out with his constant barking and leaping and nipping in encouragement of snowballs thrown for his amusement.  Halfway down the hill she wanted to put the dog back inside, but I knew if we went back to the warm house I would never get her back out again, and I wanted to take some photos, damnit!  A nice white background, cute pink accessories and softly falling snow were totally worth a grumpy two-year-old.  And to be honest, her glare is one of her more constant facial expressions right now–it must be preserved for posterity.

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She came around eventually, not because of anything I said or did, but because of the chance to catch falling snowflakes on her tongue.  Our snow accumulation this year has been pathetic, and she was ready for some frozen fun.

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Oh, be still my camera-wielding heart!

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Did we make it to the end of our street?  Nope.  We barely made it another few feet because once the snow stopped falling, Little H was officially over it.  Our winter wonderland is not so much magical as an expanse of dirty snow, and there was a nap calling. Plus, I got the photos I was hoping for so I was more than happy to go inside! I was pleased we explored a little bit of our local world, and even if we never looked at the letters on our street sign, we did write our names with a stick in the snow.  I’ll chalk it all up to a wintery win.  With an annoying dog.

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Stay cool.

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Our Gratitude Tree

Tomorrow is the last day of November, and so we will once again wrap up this year’s Gratitude Tree, my annual attempt to keep the kids’ heads straight during the contagious and overwhelming excitement of the holidays.  October ends with a bang with Jackson’s birthday and Halloween one after another, then the Christmas catalogs start rolling in and the kids get a glazed look in their eyes with the influx of holiday commercials and Christmas-themed television shows, not to mention the lingering sugar from their Halloween candy.  That’s why the first week of November we donated our Halloween candy to the troops overseas, and I think that is a tradition I will gratefully continue!  I thank my lucky stars that we live in a commercialized black hole, so the Christmas hype is easier to avoid for us than most, but I still like doing something every now and again to remind Jax, Em, and Little H that we are more blessed than we could have ever imagined.  Thus our Gratitude Tree was born.

Em was definitely the most thoughtful; Jax often did one-word answers, such as “books” or “food.”  Em was my girl for the most varied and specific answers, which I loved as much as her investigative spelling.

gratitude tree @ Rub Some Dirt On It #thanksgivingcrafts #handprintcrafts

I put Little H’s autumn button branch above our tree with the words “Give Thanks” printed on it, and our kitchen has been more cheerful and gratifying all November because of it.

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Present(s)

I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been a bit lackadaisical about posting over here, but I have an excuse.  Every time I get on the computer, I feel the need to shop…but not just any kind of shopping.  Christmas shopping!  Yes, I’ve already started and I love every single second of it, although it’s become a bit of a distraction.  I need to regulate myself (for financial and blogging reasons)!  So I will try to be better and stop taking every discounted email as an excuse to meander through my favorite websites for hours on end.  Christmas is coming, but I can’t miss out on presents–oops, I mean the present.

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After all, I don’t want to miss any of what’s going on in my every day life.  The company is too sweet to miss.

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With all the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy to forget what’s really important in this life, and that being home with them, in our home, with our family, these kids, is really the gift!  All the gift I need, really.

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Counting my blessings (and maybe some presents!) this holiday season and always.

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Being Brave

Some days require kids and parents alike to take a deep breath and put on a brave face, ready to take on a world full of changes or first steps in a new direction.  Days like the first day of school, big doctor’s appointments, and making new friends require an extra squeeze or hand hold, and can be difficult for everyone involved.  But some days only require bravery for Mom or Dad, as their little ones embark on new adventures courageously and enthusiastically and we’re the ones left needing our hands held.

For example, any day that requires taking three children near a body of water alone, even if the water is only knee-deep.  While the kids luxuriate in literally exploring new territory–territory that was below much deeper water earlier in the summer but thanks to sunny days is now basically a wading pool–Mom stands on the sidelines, reminding herself that such exploration is good for them, and that a giant sinkhole will not in fact open up beneath them and swallow them whole before her eyes.  On high alert, while letting the distance of their orbit increase beyond normal boundaries for the sake of autonomy, Moms and Dads sometimes just have to sit back and watch, and to some degree, be brave.

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In some ways, being a helicopter parent is so much easier; your adrenaline isn’t nearly as high due to the fact that you are confident you are secretly a ninja and could use your body as a human shield should crisis arise.  Although it is mentally exhausting to be on duty 24 hours a day, it may be less frightening than watching your kids walk across the river for the first time to THE OTHER SIDE, MOM!  LOOK!  WE DID IT!  But if you take that route, how will they ever know the thrill of adventure, the pride in accomplishing something they were literally never capable of doing before?

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While being a mom is so much about keeping kids healthy and safe, there’s also something even healthier about teaching them how to make safe choices and to let them take a risk.  Of course, calculated risks with safeguards to ensure their safety, but the kids don’t need to know that.  They won’t feel quite so accomplished if we point out that their accomplishment wasn’t that big a deal in the first place.  To them, that wading pool is a rushing river, and to courageously reach the other side, where only Daddy’s skipping rocks could reach before, is an enormous achievement, and should be applauded as such.

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Sometimes being a mom means being a cheerleader on the sidelines of an ever-increasingly scary world, but we all have to be brave sometimes.

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Raising kids who savor life and all its challenges is worth it the stress, but it’s not always easy for us to be the brave ones!  Baby steps aren’t just for little ones–sometimes Mommy and Daddy need them, too.

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