Playground Politics

*This goes out to the parents out there* …. Think back, to your days before “parent” was a label applied to you. What were your thoughts on children, moms and dads, and discipline? What sorts of behavior would you witness with rolled eyes and scoffing?

*This goes out to the parents of multiple children out there* …. Hey! Remember when you had one child and they consumed your world? Every moment you had eyes on them, you knew their quirks and had no doubt of their brilliance and uniqueness? Remember going to the playground and following their every step, every triumph of a ladder rung climbed, every round on the slide? Did you ever see some random, disheveled child pushing your precious out of the way and wonder aloud: “Whose kid is this??”

My personal answers to the questions above are probably pretty obvious.

Before I had E, I didn’t think about parenting at all. I had very little interaction with children beyond the ones I encountered at work, and I usually observed every scream or whimper or booger-streaked face with disgust.

That is, until I had a baby, and my entire life revolved around just E. I thought I had it figured out. I brought him to the playground every single day, rain or shine or wind or snow…. I hovered and hemmed and hawed over him at all hours of the day. I’d see sloppy looking moms parading their multiple offspring off and watch in horror as they pushed, shoved, and ran amok. And, I judged. Oh, how I judged.

But then I had two babies in a little under two years. Suddenly, the playground as a destination because a “trip”, a big “deal”. Beyond that, I started to see the play areas as a place for “them” and the benches along the side of the structures as “my” place. The luxury of sitting back and watching them do whatever it is they wanted seemed like a no brainer.

And my eyes were opened to the phenomenon of “parents of one”. I don’t judge them, because I was them for four and a half years, but looking through the playground scene with my new lenses of a “mom of three”, I started to realize how different I was from them. Usually its Mom and Dad following every step of little Jr and their adventures in the structures, with lots of “Be Careful!” And “Oh look at you!” Meanwhile, I’d be in a corner, trying to appear forgotten. I want my kids to play, but I don’t feel the need to follow them everywhere.

This brings me to today; another playground trip on a warm November afternoon. The sun was bright. I have a quiz to study for and three kids under my watch (as the hubby is flying for a few days) so I foolishly thought I’d have time to look over notes at the local playground. I forgot it’s a weekend. I should have realized every other parent in our suburb had the same idea as me: enjoy the sun while we can. And I should have realized that while I’m perfectly okay with watching the 2-year-old climb up a slide the wrong way, the vast majority of parents out there (especially the ones with only one kid) frown upon such behavior.

So, what should have been a relaxing escape from our house, became an internal struggle of my own. I don’t want to be “that mom” whose children are causing issues, I don’t want someone to see my little L and H seemingly alone and assume their parents aren’t mindful of the abduction risk of unsupervised children, but I also know that particular playground, being fully fenced, is pretty safe. I know that kids want to climb up slides backwards and I know that they don’t need me there “just in case”. So it becomes a show, and I have to act. Because I care too much about what everyone else thinks. Their frantic anxiety becomes my frantic anxiety.

After an hour or so I was sick of chasing H so I told the kiddos it was time to go home. To play in our own backyard. And guess what? In the privacy of my own home, confined in the fully fenced back yard, I can sit and study over the pulmonary system and even read a novel without worrying about H and L taking turns going upside down, down the slide. I guess it’s true: there’s no place like home.

earning the stripes

This weekend I took three kids to a county farm 50 minutes away and rocked it. I mean, I really did. It was easy, even. All by myself I navigated and educated and culture-ated the kids. I strapped two babies onto me, and my six-year-old walked along with me and we took in the baby animals. No fits. No screaming. No stress.

During these moments I feel like “mom-ing” is easy and I’ve got it down to a science.

Then someone up there decides my pride is growing at a cancerous rate or something and I’m knocked back down.

I got a call from school yesterday – my boy had an accident. Like, a bathroom accident. We didn’t hear much info beyond “it was bad” and he needed a change of clothes.

So, I entered the nurse’s office and found my poor child sitting on one of those puppy-training pads with a garbage bag tied around his leg. The nurse informed me his shoe was full of feces and the feces was all over his legs – ok, this is rapidly becoming explicit and not in a fun way so let’s just finish the paragraph with this: I’ve never before seen anything like this, and years of cloth diapering paid off just in that I didn’t add to the bodily fluid messes by vomiting. Spraying the poop of my two-year-old’s down the toilet made cleaning up my boy’s mess not seem as tragic or gross.

We came home and I took a garden hose to every piece of clothing he had worn, he hopped into the shower, I was informed via phone from the school that due to the explosive nature of what he did he wasn’t permitted back at school for at least 24 hours. We spent the afternoon outside, (E is fine by the way. I’m not sure what happened, really. He’s not sick in the least and hasn’t had a repeat) and internally I whined about having an unexpected weekend day with him home the next day.

It’s terrible.

But when he’s at school I have a routine set with the babies; gym-shower-lunch-nap-time. E is a great kid but him being home a full day adds a level of “what are we going to do now?” to each moment. Especially on a school day.

Anyway, said powers above punished me for my unkind thoughts in more ways. First, I made the dumb choice of brewing iced tea in an antique glass pitcher – I swear I never before knew the elementary-level thermodynamic rule that boiling water and glass don’t mix, so I was shocked and appalled when the gorgeous heavy pitcher literally exploded, staining the kitchen with red passion tea. Beyond destroying precious family heirlooms, I also managed to stub my toes and knees on various doors and furniture several times – stone cold sober I must add.

Basically, it turned into one of those days where I feel I couldn’t win and while my kids ran circles around me fighting and screaming and the baby needed constant attention I just wanted to give up, but, as every other mother knows, you don’t get to give up. Ever. Especially when your spouse is a pilot and away for days at a time.

I will finish this by saying today has gone much better. I got in a great spin class at the gym, we had a healthy lunch as a family together, and my little boy hasn’t said “Mommy I’m bored” even once, so that has to count for something. Days like today make up for days like yesterday, those days when you are reminded just how hard this whole parenting thing really is.

 

mirror bookends

My baby is already six-months-old. I’m trying hard not to resort to tropes of “Stay Small!” and “Stop Growing!” because, obviously, a growing and thriving infant is a healthy happy baby; but, in truth, my mind is boggled when I really think about how fast time has gone by. Not that I want it to slow down, but, it is causing a bit of mental whiplash to me.

H and E are bookends to each other. My two boys, six years apart, and in between I have changed so much as a person, and especially as a mother. At night, when my older two kids are slumbering away and I’m curled on the couch with H nestled in my arms, I wish the me-seven-years-ago could witness the happiness, the ease one can have taking care of a new baby.

Because MeBefore parented the exact opposite from MeNow.

MeBefore parented nervously. MeBefore worried incessantly about ‘bad habits’, especially in regards to sleep behavior. MeBefore slept trained baby E at four-months-old and sobbed in my husband’s arms as I listened to him wail, thinking “this is what’s best for him”.

MeBefore googled everything, from poop color to rashes to the best toys. I knew E’s age down to the week number and day- I remember in group discussion boards writing, “Ok, so E is 16 weeks and 3 days old, is it too early to start solid foods?”

Above all, MeBefore worried way too much about what other people thought, their opinions, and how my mothering would stack up compared to anyone else.

MeNow, with the experiences of raising both E and L, knows you can’t spoil a newborn. And it’s pretty hard to spoil a baby under the age of one, too. MeNow follows my instincts, not what I read online or what other people tell me. This confidence allows me to enjoy the small moments, the snuggles and cuddles and just being with H so much more. In turn, H is an easy, happy, flexible baby.

On the flip side of this bookend, some of the obsessions I had with parenting the “right way” with E have slacked in regards to H. For example, a few weeks ago I read a book exclusively to H. He was awake and the other kids were out of the room, so I picked up a baby board book, and started reading. The poor kid’s eyes bulged with joy. He kicked and cooed and reacted as if the book were a dose of Molly and he was raving at a cool Brooklyn dance club.

I realized at that moment, I’d rarely read just to him. Like, ever. Sure, he’s there when I read to L or E, but he’s sort of just in the room or environment. Basically all I did with baby E was read to him. Poor H obviously loved and appreciated me reading solely to him. I regret the reality that H is often toted around as a baby accessory as I chase the older kids around, and since I wear him in a carrier or wrap he literally becomes an accessory on my person. I know his big baby brain is absorbing all the stimulus and he’s learning just by being with us, but that one on one attention is something I need to strive to give him.

Also, I have a hard time remembering how many months old he is, let alone the week number.

I think I’m getting all introspective because H is the last baby. I look at him, trying to remember to savor every moment, but then L starts screaming from the other room or E demands a snack and before I know it I have to put H down on the ground to go solve the crises of the older kids. I guess what I’m trying to say is, even though I’m a better mother now than before, I also am aware H is facing a much more distracted and harried mother so maybe I shouldn’t feel too sorry for E and his clueless mother of MeBefore.

This six-month milestone is a big one, and I know six months from now I’ll have a walking toddler in H, who will throw fits and have opinions and my baby will no longer be a baby anymore.

 

IMG_0522
Hey, Mama, Stop taking bathroom selfies and read me a book, why don’t ya?

 

responsibility

It’s 8:20am. I am on the floor of my living room, pumping milk. H is near my feet, L is scampering around as she does, and E is by the front door. Tieing his shoes. His hat is on, his coat is zipped up, and his backpack is already on his back.

School starts at 9:05, and we generally leave the house somewhere between 8:40 and 8:50. We can see the school from our front yard, it isn’t far.

Besides the fact I worry this anxiety he has about “being late” is unhealthy for his psychological health, I have to laugh because E has me pegged. Every school day morning he’s my motivator, my morning-life-coach, urging me to get out of bed- the transcript of his morning looks something like this:

it’s time for breakfast mom,

mom, you gotta dress the babies,

you gotta get yourself dressed, come on mom!,

we only have 10 minutes left, you haven’t moved in a while, mom!

Mom! Mom!!!

This morning, at about 8:40 as I put in my contacts and put on my workout clothes, his little voice reminding me we didn’t have much time left, I realized this walking-alarm-clock that is E is this way due to my own lack of motivation and responsibility in the morning. Heck, on weekends when I don’t have to get out of bed by a certain time, the kid gets his own breakfast, feeds his sister and even completes some household chores all while I snooze in bed with the baby.

(in my lazy defense, I have a young infant who still wakes up 2-3 times a night to nurse. According to my FitBit, I haven’t gotten over 8 hours a sleep in a single night in well over a month. Heck, I barely get 7 hours on average)

So this responsible little time monster that is my six-year-old, it’s a monster of my own creating. And I depend on it.

How pathetic is that?

On the otherhand, he is insanely competent and responsible at such a young age so those are skills I’m glad he possesses. Maybe this slack lazy parenting in the morning is a good thing, right?

never enough

“Chronically Sleep-Deprived” is a label all parents claim. Especially parents of young kids. Especially mothers who breastfeed and co-sleep. When my husband is out of town, my mornings are exercises of me battling a need to “sit” and wake up all while changing diapers, outfits, making breakfasts, breaking up fights between the two older kids. I am a night owl by nature and have raised three early-morning-worm-eaters.

I like a lazy morning. These do not exist at this house.

In turn, I also like a lazy evening. My kids go to bed early, usually by 7:30, so I have a few luxurious hours to myself to binge watch the TV shows of my choosing (just finished season two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, now onto season two of Mr. Robot). I usually have baby H in my arms, or by my side, and that need of “just one more episode” makes it so I’m not in bed until 10:30 or so….

And then, I have a crazy goal this year of reading 101 books. I know I can do it, I’m currently reading books number 14 and 15, but this goal requires some serious pre-sleep reading. And Husband calls me around this time, so by best estimates, I’m asleep around 11 every night.

Last night H decided to fully wake up, cooing and laughing, around 11:15, and then didn’t settle down until 1 or so. I let him sing to himself as I tried to slumber, but last night he wasn’t having it. We have the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper attached to our bed, and, usually, he’s totally fine in there, but last night the kid wanted to lay in my arms. Now that he’s a pretty solid 5-month old I’m a little more at ease with him actually in my bed, but I don’t want to start each night off that way.

So last night it was a half-asleep parody dance of picking him up out of the co-sleeper, settling him down in my arms, then putting him back down in his own space only to have to repeat it five minutes later. I finally just gave up and H won the battle. The little stinker snuggled into me and I tried to find that happy medium of sleeping next to him with a blanket and pillow all while not having the blanket and pillow anywhere near his face (which is tricky).

Fast-forward to 6 am, the 6-year-old crawling into bed with me, and his every ten minutes or so plead to me to “wake up”. I eventually tell him to “get himself Cheerios” around 7 am and I follow him out of bed around 7:30.

I wish I could bounce out of bed with a halo of birds singing around my head, smiling and calm and cook these impossibly healthy breakfasts for the kids (that they actually eat) but this is not possible, like, ever. I wish I could responsibly turn in for the night at the same time each night, knowing full well the demands of early morning parenting, but apparently, this is not a possibility either.

So I’ll continue this hazy, distracted, grumpy, tired version of ‘mommying’, at least today. Perhaps tonight I’ll turn a page tonight and learn my lesson and go to sleep earlier, but with a full queue of Mr. Robot to watch, I’m sure I’ll skirt responsibility once again. Some lessons are never learned.