I’ve received a few emails from people – family members and strangers alike – commenting on the dearth of blog posts. I do miss writing more, but I just can’t seem to find the time to blog. I’m still freelancing. I’m still trying to overcome I-don’t-think-I-can-even-call-it-a-running-injury-anymore. I have my monthly radio gig and enjoy occasional speaking engagements. But mostly these days I feel like a glorified chauffeur. My life is all about schlepping, and sometimes I just want to hole up in home and nurse my non-existent baby.
My sister-in-law just had her first baby girl. I now have two nieces, and I am in heaven. I got to cuddle with one at the soccer fields last week. Unfortunately, the newest addition to our growing extended family lives far away, so I won’t be meeting her anytime soon. My sister-in-law is doing great, but I’m sure she’s bone-aching tired. Or, maybe, like I was after my first new-mom-euphoria is fueling her. If this is the case, I’ll pray she doesn’t slam into the wall like I did when Madeline turned six months of age and was still nursing on the hour. No matter how she or any new mom feels, I am careful to not say anything aloud about how I long for those baby days because I know it used to annoy me when I was bedraggled and exhausted and people would tell me to enjoy those precious years.
“These years are precious? Really?” I would think. “There’s nothing precious about chronic, fragmented sleep, smelling like my regurgitated breastmilk, and feeling like a yeti in yoga pants.”
But these days I am wistful that my youngest baby (my 3-year-old Thomas) is nearly as tall as my 5-year-old.
Maybe we always embellish the past. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we wouldn’t keep having babies if we remembered the sharp pains of labor or feeling drunk with exhaustion. Maybe we wouldn’t do a lot of things if we remembered how hard it was when we were in the midst of it. I am working on being happy with the now – not dwelling in the sepia-toned past or looking ahead to what is sure to be an easier, brighter future.
Still, I can’t help the part of me that is pining for the simplicity of those early years of motherhood when we stayed cloistered in our little home and only ventured out to go to the grocery story or to library story time. Of course, another part of me is enjoying the hilarity of my older children (and sometimes panicking over the fact that I am soon going to have a child who is a decade old). Truth is, this phase has been the toughest phase of motherhood so far for me. I can’t really say why. I do love babies, and I miss babies (and honestly, I thought I might have another baby by now), but it’s not just that. It’s the feeling like time is slipping by, and I haven’t really accomplished all that much. I fail to see the kids in front of me and how they are becoming such lively, wonderful people, and I am stuck in a weird funk.
Even now I am obviously not putting my feelings to words very well.
I’ll have to mull things over and maybe some day I’ll be able to write something encouraging again that is studded with brilliant insight. For now, I am turning to a something I wrote a long time ago about tough love. One child of mine has been constantly been comparing, and it’s driving me crazy. “You don’t ever get mad at so-and-so,” she bemoans. “Why can’t we do this like this family?” “So-and-so can listen to that song and watch that movie.” And then the refrain comes in loud and clear: “IT’S NOT FAIR!”
Nope. It’s not fair. Life’s not fair. The sooner you realize that, accept it, and be happy instead of jealous of the sister who seems to get more to you in your eyes, the better.
I refuse to keep score and make sure everything is even between my children. I love them all equally, but sometimes one of them may seem to come out ahead. That’s life. I’ve been working on celebrating the fact that other people have more than I sometimes do. Or praying for the multitude of people who have far less. I hope I can help my children to do the same.
Without further ado, my old “Tough Love” essay”:
The other day, I was reaching over to offer my two year old some leverage as she attempted to scale the mountain of our double jogging stroller when she batted my arms away and shook her head, saying in her adamant toddler style, “No, Mommy, no. I do it by self.”
Her tenacity impressed me. It also, I admit, made me uneasy to see my child toil like a turtle on its back when I knew I could easily step in to help her. But I forced myself to resist the urge to save my daughter from frustration.
Like most parents, I don’t want anything to thwart my children’s happiness. I want so badly for things to work out for them that I’m sometimes tempted to take away all their struggles. Other times, it’s difficult to say no when my child asks for another bedtime story while batting those long lashes, or when she asks politely for a toy she’s had her eye on for months.
And don’t get me started on the emotional and physical wounds the world inflicts upon my precious offspring. When I recently heard my daughter’s sharp sobs and saw a trail of blood running down her face after a head-on collision with an unruly Wii remote in the hands of her big sister, I was far more traumatized than my bleeding little one.
My mama-bear instinct is strong. It’s what drives me to safeguard my cherubs from everything from food additives to boogey men. Though I haven’t always been this way.
Before I became a mom, I rolled my eyes at doting, smothering parents and resolved to be more of a no-pain-no-gain hardliner when I had kids. I was never going to be one of those helicopter parents, I told myself, who hovered over their kids and swooped in to provide aid before their children even sent out an SOS. What doesn’t kill kids makes them stronger.
My how things change.
From the moment I conceived my first child, I was overwhelmed with an intense desire to protect my baby and to keep her safe. One day I was on a walk during my first pregnancy, and – preggo klutz that I was – I tripped on an uneven part of a sidewalk. I was headed belly-first for the ground, but somehow I managed to throw my body to the side, and it was my hip that first made contact with the concrete.
Nothing was going to hurt my baby. Nothing.
Only now I see that things hurt my babies all of the time. Sometimes it’s even – gasp! – me who’s doing the hurting, by gently but firmly saying no to their pleas. There are rainy days when it’s supposed to be sunny so we can venture out to the zoo. There are dinners not followed by dessert. There are new, nursing babies who take up too much of Mommy’s time.
One day, my kids will likely face much bigger disappointments – broken hearts, rejections from colleges and employers, backstabbing friends, missed opportunities, and maybe worse.
There’s no escaping it: Pain is a part of the human condition. Welcome to life, kiddos. It’s full of disappointments.
The world is chipping away at my children’s innocent hearts every day. And yet, as tough as it is for a mother who is designed to love her children fiercely and deeply, I know it’s not my job to inoculate them against all the angst of life.
Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” And didn’t God say something very similar when He sacrificed His only Son for us so that we could have life? One drop of Christ’s blood could have saved us all, yet He freely chose to shed every last bit of it. He gave what is beyond sufficient, so that we might recognize the power of sacrificial love.
But we often don’t get it. Neither do our kids. After all, it’s not PC to talk about suffering or sacrifice anymore. Why struggle when there’s an easier way? Why take the moral high road when there’s a quicker detour at every turn?
Counterfeit praise is distributed more freely than candy on Halloween. Standards for competence have been lowered or removed completely. Soccer games with no scoreboards. Awarding a tone-deaf child a solo in the school musical for fear that the truth that she can’t hold a tune might crush her. Eliminating honors societies in public schools so Average Joe won’t feel excluded.
The problem is that an artificial inflation of self-esteem only sharpens our children’s disappointment in the real world. What happens when they realize they have to do more than just show up at work to stand out and get ahead? How will they cope when faced with true adversity, if everything in life has been handed to them? How will they ever learn to embrace “Thy will be done” instead of “My will be done”?
As a mother, I’m here to teach my children to solve their own problems, not to be a slave to their longings. I’m here to gently guide them, not to micromanage their lives. I’m here to offer empathy but not always to take away the pain. I won’t boost their self-esteems by doing everything for them or by not insisting they take personal responsibility for their actions.
Ultimately, I want my children to recognize that we are entitled to very little except for God’s love. I want them to work hard as well as to see the redemptive value of suffering. But that won’t happen if I toss them a lifesaver at the first sign of distress, even when every ounce of my maternal being wants to do just that.
No wonder it’s called “tough love.”
As I watched my toddler wrestle with the stroller over the hard concrete, you better believe I made sure my arms were ready to catch her should she stumble, but I allowed her to struggle. In doing so, perhaps I gave her a small lesson in fortitude as well as a taste of triumph after perseverance. And it was her own glory for the taking.
When she finally clambered into her seat, her smile and proud exclamation said it all: “I did it all by self, Mommy!”
Yes, you did, little one. Yes, you did.
Here’s an old post from the archives as part of my Recycled Series. I dedicate this to both of my sister-in-laws – one who has recently welcomed a baby into her arms (whom I had the joy of spending a lot of time with on Monday) and to another who is on the eve of new motherhood and also a cousin of mine who recently had her first baby. I wrote this when Mary Elizabeth was just a little nugget.
Recently, I had the rare opportunity to go to the grocery store toting only the baby. She was a happy, wiggly little thing, and I quite enjoyed our visit as well as her many admirers.
Typically, I’m in such a rush that I avoid onlookers. I’m not overtly rude, but I don’t stop to make idle chitchat either. My goal is to take care of my grocery list before one of my kids melts down or surreptitiously takes shampoo off a shelf, pulls it into the car she’s cruising along in at the front of the cart, and starts smearing it all over her body (thinking it’s lotion of course), and isn’t caught in the act until a confused Mom smells mango, even though that type of fruit wasn’t on her list (yes, this is a true story. I won’t fully reveal the guilty party, but she often wears pigtails and exclaims, “I two!”).
But today was different. I had only one child with me. This was easy street.
During our visit we were stopped by the grocery paparazzi several times and received the following comments:
“She’s a big one for almost 4 months!”
“She’s so small for almost 4 months, isn’t she?”
See how fickle the paparazzi can be. You’re too fat one minute and a weak waif the next!
“Well, you’ve got an angel there.”
“Oh, look at that funny hair.”
I swear, I combed it. It has a mind of its own.
“He’s so cute. Errr…I mean, she. Sorry.”
No worries. Apology accepted.
“Is that comfortable for you to have her attached to you like that?”
Yes. Very much so.
Now in the olden days – as in when I was a newbie mom with just one child in my care – I admittedly would have fret over some of these comments.
In fact, I vividly remember when my husband and I ventured out to a salad buffet-type of restaurant with Madeline when she was around the same age as M.E. is now, and an older man and his wife stopped to ooooo and ahhhhhh over our little brawny bundle.
“Wow! He’s gonna be a linebacker. How much did he weigh when he was born?” the man asked, smiling.
I looked at my daughter’s pink and yellow outfit and then back at the grinning and obviously nearsighted man. “She weighed 6 pounds and 15 ounces.”
“She? My goodness. What are you feeding her?” the man asked, still smiling.
“My milk,” I replied, not smiling at all.
“She’s beautiful,” his wife added, probably noting my annoyance with my firstborn daughter being mistaken for a beefy linebacker.
This was not an isolated incident. Everyone use to comment on how chunky Madeline was. I know now I should have been proud of those rolls and extra dimples (they were of my own making and made for a healthy, happy baby, after all). But I used to worry my daughter was destined to a future in the NFL and that it would be all my fault for nursing her too much too often.
Fast-forward four years, and my daughter is tall and slender. But what if she’d stayed on the roly-poly side? What difference? Why was I so hung up on what strangers had to say about my baby?
I wish I’d had the confidence I have now. To appreciate the fact that I was feeding my baby somehow, someway with my body and that she was perfect just the way she was.
While I was a fairly laid-back first-time mom in many aspects (I didn’t constantly check to make sure my infant was breathing, for example, and I nixed the whole idea of having a perfect nursery, didn’t bother to use a Diaper Genie, and didn’t put a call into the pediatrician with a question until she was 15 months), the most innocuous comments could occasionally drive me to collapse into a heap of self-doubt. Was I nursing her enough? Too little? Was I, by subscribing to what experts called “attachment parenting” but what just felt natural to my child and me, setting my child up to be a leech who would be rooted to me like a barnacle for the rest of her life?
How tiresome it must have been to spend so many of my waking hours fretting over others’ unsolicited (and probably well-meaning) commentary about parenting!
And what a blessing it is now, that as more of a seasoned mom (although I realize more than ever with three completely different, tiny human beings who are constantly growing and changing under my care that I’ll ever have this whole parenting thing figured out), to not be crippled by the relentless foray of unsought pearls of parental wisdom tossed my direction at every aisle in one random grocery store visit.
Yes, M.E. is a chunky love. Is she too big or too little for four months? We’ll see at her well-child visit in a two weeks. Honestly, I don’t care what the growth charts say. She started out small, and now she comes in chunk-style – just the way I like my babies. Of course, Rae was on the small side at this age, and she was perfect, too. (Yes, I’m biased. I’m their mother. I’m supposed to be.)
I feed M.E. when she’s hungry, when she begins to stir in the night, when she cries during the day, or when she just wants to be close to me. I take note of her rolls, and I pump my fist in the air in triumph. I have a healthy baby, with strong limbs, who is growing each and every day! I “wear” her as I go about the daily grind. She’s a lovely accessory, and yes, it is quite comfortable to keep her so close to me. She sleeps close by and I sometimes hear her soft sighs and marvel at the wonder of her. I soak up her smiles and watch as her cheeks move in involuntary sucks long after she’s ceased nursing and is sleeping, curled into me. I don’t really care what others think or say about my baby. She is tiny for four months. She is big for four months. Perhaps she’s an androgynous sprite with hair that defies gravity to the casual onlooker. And I wholeheartedly agree with the “experts” that she’s an angel attached to me.
This post is not an endorsement of any particular type of parenting. If you’re new to my blog or are just wondering why my baby appeared to be “attached” to me as I foraged for food for my family at the grocery store, attachment parenting, or some semblance of it is the ideal I strive for, but I’ve found some of its principles – which seem to change anyway – are not always a constant reality in the trenches.
This is, on the other hand, an endorsement of mom intuition – a gift I believe all women-turned-moms possess. Use it, and use it wisely.
This one’s for all the new moms who – after a trip to the grocery store or anywhere out in public (or even during a click-by on some random new parent discussion board where a plethora of welcome and sometimes not-so-welcome advice awaits) – might find themselves lying awake in bed at night reciting an inner monologue of self-doubt about their mothering. Silence the inner critic. Once you become a parent, it is a waste of precious energy to seek popular acclaim from the experts and all those who make their public opinions known. Parenting gurus are an opinionated lot, and each has his or her own idea of the right way to parent. If you try to listen to everyone, you’ll end up with confused kids and no firm parenting principles of your own.
Please ignore the sweet old lady in aisle 7 who tells you your baby is too big. Ignore the cashier who says your baby is awfully small. Ignore comment number 7 on the discussion board that says the only way to be a good mom is to do this or to not do that. Ignore the friend who advises you to let your baby “cry it out” if every ounce of your maternal being is saying it doesn’t feel right. Tune out the finger-wagging advice that tells you you’re spoiling your baby by keeping him close to you all day. Be the mother you want to be. Better yet, be the mom you feel called to be. Smile politely at all of your baby’s admirers (they really do mean well), and snuggle up with your little one. Then repeat after me: Your baby is fine, and so are you.
Mother knows best, and you – not the woman who tickles your baby’s toes in the produce section – are your child’s mother. Be secure in your role. Because your baby doesn’t feel more secure in anyone’s arms but your own.
In the aftermath of what seemed like a life-shattering breakup at the time, I would belt out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I still have the song on my very eclectic workout playlist, and the other day I found myself shouting the lyrics and building up the tenacity to deal with another man in my life. This one weighs roughly 40 pounds and he’s not breaking my heart, but he breaks plenty of other things: Window blinds, flower pots, wire whisks from the kitchen (he likes to bend anything that is the least bit malleable), big chunks of my hair and his sisters’ hair off the scalp when in the throes of a titanic tantrum, toys, windshields (he did this with his head and was not injured in the least – thank God! Don’t ask. The car was parked in the driveway lest you think he was cruising around without a carseat in the front), etc., etc.
I’m supposed to be working on his birthday letter. Our little bruiser recently turned 3, but I’m spending too much time avoiding unidentifiable flying objects he has hurled in my direction to work on anything productive, and I’m afraid the letter will turn into a collection of grievances against the poor guy. I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass.” This mantra has always helped me get through rough parenting patches, but right about now, I find myself editing the phrase and gritting my teeth while thinking something like this: “This sure as heck better pass soon before I have a nervous breakdown or do something I’ll regret.”
Of course, there are tender moments when my sweet, little man cuddles close, but even his kisses and hugs are fueled with boy-power. I’ve had to remonstrate with him repeatedly to not hang on my neck when he hugs me because he’s pulled so hard, I’ve felt sharp jabs of pain.
We recently went to the beach to see my husband’s grandparents, and Thomas just kept asking, “When are we going to go home? Tomorrow?” He clearly wasn’t digging the change of scenery. He refused to nap, was sweaty with heat and exhaustion, and cried when sand got in his shoes and cried if we took his shoes off. He screamed when he was happy, and he screamed when he was sad. Dealing with his mercurial moods was completely exhausting.
Upon our return, a friend of mine first asked him, “What did you do at the beach, Thomas?”
“I got crabs!” he shouted.
The crustacean kind, of course.
After we all had a good laugh, I told her he had been ready to come home after a day away, so she queried, “Thomas, do you like the beach or home better?”
“Home!” he shouted.
My little boy craves routine and is definitely a homebody. When I take him to library storytime, he’s as still as can be and clings to my lap like a barnacle. But at home, he turns into the Incredible Hulk and plows from room to room leaving destruction or teary, melodramatic sisters in his wake.
My normal discipline strategies aren’t working, probably because I am so exasperated and tired from it all that I am not very consistent. The boy who once fell asleep so easily so long as I was beside him both at bedtime and for naps now pinches my nose and throws books around the room when I try to settle him down. The other day I was desperate for him to nap, so I finally held the door shut while he threw every possible toy at the door and screamed for 30 minutes straight. One day recently I actually did get him to sleep. It only took me two hours of cajoling him and putting him back into his bed. By the time he fell asleep, it was nearly time for me to pick up his sisters, and I was too worn out to get anything done, so I sat on the couch and cried.
It’s a terrible combination: A tired mama and an even more tired toddler.
Yes, this little man in my life is making me cry and cling to Gloria Gaynor’s words: “It took all the strength I had just not to fall apart.”
The saving grace is that he is the difficult one now. Madeline (my almost 10-year-old) is at that golden age where she’s helpful (for the most part, although her room looks like a disaster zone) and loves to be in my company. Rachel (7) and Mary E. (5) are getting along much better than they have in the past. Last year Thomas was easy, but I was having difficulties and stressing out over another child. God really doesn’t give me more than I can handle. Sometimes it just feels like it, but I’ve rarely been in a place where all my children were going through challenging developmental stages.
And I know that it is now – when books like When Your Child Drives You Crazy clutter my nightstand – that the most growth is going to happen within me.
Moms, don’t be (too) weary if you’re traveling down a difficult path right now in your parenting journey. Don’t wonder if you’re the only one who finds a newborn baby, a toddler, a preschooler, a 6-year-old, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, a grown child, a special-needs child, a girl, a boy, whatever difficult to mother. Because you’re not the only one. Wherever you’re at and whatever you’ve been given right now is probably the hardest for you. Maybe that’s the point. What would be easy for you may not be the best for you.
If God is trying to prune us and sanctify us through the vocation of parenthood, then it makes sense that He gives us just the kind of children we need – the kind who will push our buttons and throw us down to our knees and force us to realize that we cannot, absolutely cannot, do this on our own. We need good girlfriends we can vent to. We need spouses or other loved ones to lean on. We need community. We need to take care of ourselves to better take care of those entrusted to us. And we need faith. Faith is what makes our weakness – whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional – stronger. We have to have faith that this will pass, that we will survive.
Sometimes we have to simply show up – and to stay put once we’ve arrived even if every part of us is screaming to just go, escape, get the heck out of there before you or your child really loses it.
These are the kind of things I have to tell myself day after day right now as I try to figure out this rambunctious, toddler boy thing out.
I openly admit that I don’t have it all together. I have done things I regret. I haven’t always been gentle and firm. I’ve given up on God many times.
There are moments when I feel like my toddler is winning, but then I remind myself this isn’t a war. This isn’t about who is right or the most stubborn or the most in control. It is about love – the kind that sometimes really, really hurts to give. No, it’s not a war, but there is fighting. I have to keep on fighting to give of myself, to trust that a child who has started to pull our dog’s tail is not destined for juvenile delinquency. I have to fight to forgive myself and my boy when we reveal our raw humanness. At some point or another, we are all scared and tired moms who keep fighting. We are burnt out moms who are overwhelmed by keeping up with laundry and wayward tots or teens all day long, but we keep fighting and giving.
A mother doesn’t have superhero powers or even super patience. A mother is just a person – a woman like you or me – but she does super-amazing things. She is the woman with people in her care whom she loves and sometimes wonders how she loves them because they are driving her absolutely crazy. Yet, she still does love them. She gives, she fights, prays, and works. She shows up day after day for what sometimes can feel like a thankless or even pointless job. And it’s in this showing up minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day that just may make a mother a saint.
It took all the strength I had
not to fall apart