Friday, September 12, 2014

Taming My Helicopter

I grew up with a VERY overprotective mother. My dad wasn't really involved in parenting decisions (we saw him daily, but he was/is a workaholic) so it was all up to her. As I get deeper into this parenting gig myself, I can see how extremely hard that must have been on her. All three kids to take care of, plus a part time job as a physician (later started her own business), plus the upkeep of the house and our huge 3 acre yard. So much for one person. I think part of how she handled that was by keeping rules tight and strict and by keeping very short leashes on all of us. Things sort of operated as though we would absolutely get into terrible situations if we were out of her sight, so we mostly weren't let out of her sight. Or if we were allowed to go somewhere, we had very early curfews compared to our peers.

So whether it is justified or not (probably not), I lied a lot as a kid and especially as a teenager. I was still a very good kid - we all were - and I never chose to drink or canoodle beneath bleachers or anything (as in, drugs were so far off the radar that I didn't even think to initially list that in this sentence) but I lied through my teeth day in and day out. Lied about who was picking us up, whether a parent would be somewhere, who I was with, where we were going. Lies on top of lies. I sort of created what I thought were my own reasonable rules and operated within that context and lied just enough to make that work. Maybe my mom knew the extent of my lying but probably not.

As I type this, I just remembered one elaborate lie that is kind of funny but kind of sad. So I was dating a 15 year old boy when I was 16. North Dakota is insane and you can get your license at 14 years and 9 months (and your permit at 13 years and 9 months!) It's an old farming rule that makes zero sense when you apply to a decent sized city like Fargo (yes - decent enough - over 100,000 people these days). Anyway, my HS boyfriend got his license at 15. I wanted him to be able to drive us on dates rather than have our parents drop us off at the movies because DUH. So I pretended he was 16 to my mom for the next two months. Then when he actually turned 16 that April, I acted to my mom like I had just found that out and that I was so grossed out and horrified that he had been 15 the whole time! Ew! Gross! I did this knowing my mom would think I was being a shithead to my poor young boyfriend and therefore chose to focus on me being so judgey over age rather than focusing on the fact I had been riding with an inexperienced 15 year old driver. And thus my master plan worked. Lying for the win.

I'm wondering if I'm a sociopath right now...

Eh, teenage brains are crazytown and all teens behave sociopathic to some degree. I would also like to add that I think my mom was justified and smart in having a rule about not being driven around by 15 year olds. That does seem like a common sense safety move. But - and here's the but that the teenager in me still wants to rebel against - my mom was one of the only parents putting up a stink about that and it felt like just one more rule I had that no other kid had. Plus her rule was that a kid had to be 16 PLUS driving for several months before we could ride anywhere with them. Again, still reasonable in the bigger picture but it all just felt like so. many. rules. (And in case you are wondering, the boyfriend got grandfathered in and I was able to continue getting rides from him. Ha! Sorry, mom.)

Which brings me to the present day and to the fact that my life now involves parenting a school-aged child. Suddenly there is a lot about her life that I don't get to watch or be present for first hand anymore, for better or worse. I have always hoped that having a husband who grew up under a (perhaps inappropriately) very free-range style of parenting would help to counter my own overprotected upbringing. I hope that we can meet in the middle and keep each other from (1) overcompensating for our youths and (2) wanting to fall back to how we were raised. Like it seems like we will have a good set of checks and balances when it comes to parenting decisions. We won't provide alcohol to teens but we also won't say no to parties.

But some of this came to a head on a mini level once school started. I was down with Bella going to school but the bus? Nuh uh. Too scary. Too unknown. I wasn't going to be there with her. NOPE. She's too little. Plus the bus ride to school is over 30 minutes in the morning - way too long when I could drop her off in 10 minutes. And she is the only kid on our street to be elementary aged - that doesn't seem good to have her be the only one getting on the bus even if I am waiting at the stop with her. Plus, let us not forget the biggest reason of all - every summer there are people waving signs on street corners that say "Bus drivers needed! No experience necessary!" I DO NOT FEEL GOOD ABOUT THAT. I will do all pick-ups and drop-offs and that's that.

Two weeks in and I realize I was being an idiot. I'm juggling a lot of kids these days and I think there is a reason that I'm not seeing anyone else with two kids show up to drop-off and pick-up at the school. Plus I have a time conflict with Oliver's preschool on Fridays and unless I include the bus in the equation, Oliver was going to be late every single Friday. And so I had to go into the school office yesterday with my tail between my legs and ask them to show me where the kids get dropped off in the morning so I could show Bella how to get to her classroom. Had I just sent her on the bus to begin with she would have gotten PLENTY of practice with that (her teacher was meeting the bus kids each morning for the first several days) but nope. Mama messed up. Ooh, I hate feeling dumb and embarrassed but it seemed better just to admit my mistake right now.

So Bella took the bus this morning. Here is how she felt about that:

Once she was on the bus and I watched it drive away I felt fine, although a thought of "my baby is on that bus" hit my brain 10 minutes later and tears came to my eyes because I don't know. I love her? I don't sleep much these days? Letting go is hard? That bus driver dude is a random stranger and had no experience necessary and holy crap?

But of course I have been underestimating Bella's ability to handle something like riding the bus - even taking away from her by not letting her experience the fun of the bus - and I hated that my mom consistently underestimated my own abilities to function in the real world. I wasn't allowed to go to parties because alcohol might have been involved (unlikely seeing as I hung with the theater kids and dance kids for the most part). And if there had been alcohol, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have partaken (at least in high school). Kids need practice at life situations before they are adults. Parents need to let their kids practice even though it takes them out of their protective bubbles.

Kids growing up means that we are forced as parents to change and grow up some more ourselves. The constant re-molding and re-shaping and re-configuring of myself as a parent and as a person surprises me. Like I'm being forced to work towards self-actualization at a time when I don't have time for trying to be a better person! I have diapers to change and lunches to make and all the rest. But no matter, right now is about me learning to let go and learning how to relax my brain when it seems hard.

So I think the new plan is for her to ride the bus 1-3 mornings a week (I'm not crazy about her spending all that extra time in the morning just riding but if she likes it then that's fine) and I will drop her the other days on the way to preschool. Then I think I will have her ride the bus home every day since she will be one of the very first to be dropped off (so she will be home at the same time as if I were picking her up myself) and it means I'm not schlepping 2 little ones into and out of the school through the winter.

Look at me go! Look at her go! The whirr of the helicopter blades are a little less loud, for today at least.

And now two super super cute stories from the week.

  • Bella got hurt on the playground. She bumped her head after one too many twirls around a bar so the recess teacher wanted her to visit the nurse's office. Somehow it was decided that she would be walked to the office by two of her new friends  - Justin and Preston. The idea of Bella being walked by two little kindergarten boys to the nurses office is almost too adorable to handle. (And she then loooooved the attention from the nurse and laid on the cot for 20 minutes with an ice pack until no red mark remained.)
  • Oliver had a poo-on-the-potty success yesterday and he was so happy and proud that he shouted it to Bella at pick-up. So we are standing in a crowd of people and Oliver is yelling "Bella! I pooped on the potty!" and Bella, knowing how hard we have been working at that, says "Oh Bubba! I'm so proud of you! That's great! Give me a hug!" and they embraced and I was giggling-snorting all by myself. Oh kids. They are awesome.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Can't Forget the Bubster

Oliver started his first day of REAL preschool today. He's so cute and so little and actually so big. Like his head is way bigger than Bella's and now his feet are a little bigger than her feet. So I guess I can buy them shoes to share? Or Oliver can be the original owner of a pair of Crocs and then B gets the hand-me-downs? This seems crazy to me.

I still have not had a chance to make Oliver's birthday video from his third year or write out a wee love letter to him, which makes me sad *BUT* there are riches of time heading my way between Bella in school, Oliver in preschool a few mornings a week, and a babysitter morning each week. I AM GIDDY!

Also noteable: we have entered into the awkward smile stage with Oliver. Hahaha.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

And Off She Goes

Feeling calmer after yesterday's post. I'm so glad Bella escaped the strep and was able to go to her first day. She was so excited and was up and dressed by 7 AM. We walked her to school as a family (poor sick Oliver rode in the stroller) and she was happy to join her classmates. The other kids were a bit shy but Bella was her usual bold self and initiated conversations. I would have liked to have a Bella march up to me on my first days to help me feel less scared! I only had one minute of near-sobs after walking away but then I was okay.


Big day for all. I'm doing quite well with it - probably because I've been so distracted by my sick boy. The house is so quiet without Bella home. It will be an adjustment to not have a 13-hour long conversation each day ;)

I'm excited for this new chapter in life. So is she.

Monday, September 1, 2014


From looking at the past several years, and really, from looking at the entirety of my life, I can see that my biggest triggers for my anxiety and depression flaring up are:
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Illness - like those of the lingering cold/sinus problems/thrush/pinkeye ilk
  • Lack of time to myself to catch up a bit - i.e. 4 hours of babysitter time each week
Things are starting to get a little iffy for my mental health because
  • I have a lack of quality sleep. 3+ wake-ups by Miss Lilypants for over 5 weeks now which is not bad at all compared to her siblings at the same age, but it's still a lot of wake-ups for me.
  • We continue to get sick - strep throat this time! Oliver was just diagnosed this morning because we like to get sick on holidays. I just...cannot. I know I am doing a reasonable and yet not over-the-top level of prevention (ranging from tons of hand washing to occasional sterilizing of things to giving the kids elderberry syrup and probiotics each day and all the rest of what one might do if their family had been ill for a solid two months) but it's just the season of life right now. Oliver is a thumb sucker. We go a lot of places that have young children. Ergo, germs. Our immune systems haven't gotten a break and so we continue to catch it all. At least it's not thrush? Or pinkeye? Or puking? Or obviously any really terrible illness?
  • There has been a major lack of time to myself. I intended to set this summer up so that I could have the sitter come twice each week for 4 hours a shot. A little indulgent, but again, I know what I need to do to stay a happy and healthy person and I know I am a way better mom when I have some space. Unfortunately, with all the contagious illness we have had to cancel so many of those day time sessions. Just bad timing and my sitter needs to avoid exposure to these highly contagious bugs as she works with a vulnerable population as her other job. (Plus it's not like I'm working and must have a sitter - she would probably still be coming if I had a job.) Anyway, we have ended up only being able to have the sitter come a handful of times in July and August and a lot of those have been date nights. Don't get me wrong, date nights are great, but right now I am more desperate to answer some emails or go through piles of papers from Bella's school or grocery shop with just Lily than I am to have a drink on a balcony. Like I just feel really off balance and scattered. (Ugh, reading this over and I sound like an asshole. Maybe I am an asshole or maybe I'm just feeling ragged. Allow me an asshole moment, maybe?)
Anyway, no real point to listing this all out except to unload my brain during this window of time while Raj and Bella are getting checked for strep themselves and Lily is napping and Oliver is watching My Little Pony. I've been in this place before (the tougher-than-usual days, I mean) and we will get out of it, but I'm also realistic that that might not really happen for another few months.  We might continue to get hit by bug after bug since Bella will be in school (oh please no, but...yeah. Probably). Or we might get lucky and have another easy school year without any doctor visits. Last year was a really awesome break from the seemingly endless string of kid illness. The previous two years...holy hell. No thank you to a repeat of that.

As someone at very high risk of developing PPD/PPA I'm getting worried all this will push me in the wrong direction. I'm glad I have that daily small dose of medication to help keep me afloat during times I can't rely on my other usual sanity savers but I don't like this feeling that is creeping up on me.

Hoping the addition of kindergarten (tomorrow!) and preschool plus my weekly 4 hours of glorious sitter time (though it is cancelled for tomorrow, because OF COURSE) into our lives will be more than enough to get me heading happily in the right direction with my mood.

Ok, posting this one without cleaning it up or making it fancy or spending enough time questioning if I should even share it...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Letters to Lily: 4 Months

(Lily was 4 months on 7/29/14.)

Dear Lily,

You are now 4 months old.

Oh, my little biscuit baby. You are simply the sweetest.

With your big, bright eyes and your halo of curly hair and easy smile, it's hard not to coo at you all day.

Some of this month's highlights
  • You are now almost 16 lbs based on our home scale. We will get official stats at your doctor's appointment next week. You have the leg and arm rolls to match your weight and you are just deliciously chubby. This means you are now at get-stuck-in-the-Bumbo stage, which is just like your older siblings. You are also definitely longer as evidenced by your 3 month onesies and pjs getting a little stretched when I snap them.
  • You have been fussier and a bit more demanding and we wonder if you are working on those first teeth, although maybe it's illness related since you have been a little sick this month. But this fussy/demanding behavior is quite mild overall and I still consider you an easy baby.
  • This month had you spitting up a lot, but you generally seem unbothered by it. Others are not so lucky...
  • You remain a solid sleeper and I cannot be more grateful. Towards the end of the month we transitioned you into the crib instead of bed sharing with me because your new-ish ability to wiggle over to me and snuggle in the night was making me too nervous. You have done well in your crib and wake once, maybe twice most nights, though you do have occasional nights when you want to eat more. Naps are not yet routine and you prefer to nap in the swing, in the carrier, or next to me in bed. As of your 4 month-day we had our first successful crib nap at 45 minutes. I should also note that this month you made sure to be awake from 7-9 PM pretty much every single night, thus guaranteeing some one-on-one time with your Mama and daddy.
  • You are a big fan of me, your mama, and I will readily admit I kind of love it. You keep a close eye on me whenever you are held by someone else and you can easily be soothed by being returned to me, especially if I get you snug and wrapped up in the Moby wrap.
    For example, this is you watching me instead of your sister's performance at Frozen camp.
    One less desirable side effect of this trait is that you prefer your milk straight from the source. We have been trying lots of things to get you to take bottles and our biggest successes has you taking in around 2 ounces. Hopefully this improves soon, but in the meantime I stick very close on date nights or while running errands without you.
  • You are starting to babble and coo and vocalize in a way that reminds me so much of your sister. It will be interesting to see if this leads to you being as chatty as she is.
  • You met lots of relatives for the first time this month (Papa, Auntie Valerie, Uncle Alex, Cousins Vivian and Nick) 
and went to some new and exciting places like the beach and a lake cabin.
    And a few more pictures, just because you are so darn adorable.

    Notice your hands in your sister's hair. She doesn't mind cause she loves you so.

    I'm so very glad you are in our lives. Love you forever.


    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    The Lady at the Dentist

    Last week we sat in the waiting room of a pediatric dentist. Lily was in the baby carrier on me and I was doing that cautious-perch-on-the-edge-of-the-chair thing since we all know that babies are very much opposed to their people sitting for more than a minute. The older two were playing nearby with the waiting room toys while getting slightly mocked by a tweenager and her brother but thankfully my little ones did not realize they were being mocked. (*Insert a blog post worth of thoughts on that kind of situation HERE.*) I noticed a woman in her late forties who was sitting across from me rummage in her large mom-purse. She pulled out a tissue and dabbed her eyes.


    Of course that was my immediate thought after our recent plague but upon glancing at her again it seemed more like she was crying. Oh no! Why was this lady crying in a place that was clearly not a normal crying place? And then when her almost-a-grown-up-but-still-so-young daughter (pretend like that didn't make you think of that Britney Spears song) walked out with the dentist, that mama started crying for real but at the same time kind of laughing at herself.

    "Oh, I'm so sorry! I'm just so emotional! It's all these lasts! She leaves for college tomorrow and it's all hitting me at once. It's just a lot."

    Oh, my young mama heart lurched at this moment of witnessing what amounted to 18 years of parenting. Her little bird was about to take flight and it was the mother's job to stand back let that happen. There I sat with a wee baby strapped to me while my about-to-have-his-first-dentist-appointment little boy and about-to-start-kindergarten little girl played nearby and I tried not to listen while still very much listening to what this older, wiser mom was saying to the dentist.

    I'm in the land of the firsts but I carefully watch those in the land of the lasts. There is good stuff to learn from those who can look at parenting with nostalgia, but that good stuff sometimes needs to be filtered out.

    Some of you may remember when I wrote a post back in 2011 about being so frustrated and bothered by all those comments to "Enjoy every moment! It all goes by so fast!" I wrote that when Oliver was around Lily's age and life was leaving me super depleted. I hadn't been diagnosed with postpartum anxiety/depression yet but I can see it throughout that post. Or maybe it was just extreme sleep deprivation that caused that degree of frustration, but for me there isn't really a point to trying to distinguish between PPD/PPA and sleep deprivation. They end up feeling the same to my brain. Shortly after I wrote the "Enjoy Every Moment!" post, Glennon of Momastery wrote the post Don't Carpe Diem, which went viral. I remember lying on the couch in our townhome, reading through the hundreds of comments on that post. I desperately tried to make sense of it all. I tried to take in the "This is it! This is life's climax! Your life will never be as great as it is when your children are young!" admonitions from the older crowd while much more closely relating to the "This is so hard. How can we possibly enjoy this time?" laments of the younger crowd. I don't remember many of the middle of the road comments, but I'm sure they are there. I just wasn't really in a middle-of-the-road state of mind back then.

    Things got easier over the next year but never easy. Borrowing Momastery's analogy, most days still felt like a slow-but-neverending uphill climb and I was always looking for that nice plateau to reach so I could chill out for a bit. And then an encounter at a Starbucks where an older woman told me to, "Enjoy this time. It will just get harder and harder" sent me back to the keyboard for another frustrated post on the same theme: Why I Will Lie to Young Parents.

    And then life kept happening and you know what? Things did get easier! A lot easier! Like for a whole solid year when Oliver was 2 and Bella was 4, I found day-to-day life really quite pleasant. The plateau had been reached and I realized that things did move pretty quickly in baby-toddler-preschooler land. I had time to rest and that time out of the parenting trenches gave me so much more energy before I headed back into baby days once again. So now with the gift of perspective (and a decently sleeping baby), I can look at this parenting gig with very different eyes.

    Somehow I ended up telling my neighbor, whose 18 year old had just left on her own college adventure, about the dentist lady. And my neighbor said she could understand it. And then she gushed, "Oh, treasure this time. It will go so fast. You won't believe it will happen, but it will just slip by."

    That kind of comment feels so much sweeter to me now and I can easily take it in the spirit it is intended. I feel this parenting experience very differently and I don't give much energy to trying to make sense of it or trying to decide if this is the best time of my life and worrying that I'm missing the boat if life is feeling hard. And please know that I say this after a few very challenging weeks of really crappy sleep, lingering illness, and little time to myself as I wrangle 3 little ones. But while recent events would have once sent me fully reeling, it now just leaves me grumpy. My edges have softened when it comes to these life hiccups (though I am still quite the complainer - I will fully admit that!), I am a calmer parent and person.

    Oh, don't get me wrong, I will roll my eyes at anyone who acts like they enjoyed every minute of their children's youth (BULLSHIT) or anyone who feels like a mother is doing it wrong if they aren't actively treasuring each second (DOUBLE BULLSHIT AND A KICK TO YOUR SHINS!) but the overall idea of taking a moment to breathe in the now whenever I get the chance, that I understand better. I'm less panicked about a future that will include teenagers and adult children and all the challenges that that might bring. I'm no longer scared that this is supposed to be the pinnacle of my life and that it's all downhill from here. I'm not willing to let my life have a pinnacle. My life is ups and downs but there will never be a peak that stands so very high above all the rest.

    From my oh-so-smug parenting throne of having five whole years under my belt - in other words, I have had five whole years to realize I know so little - I can see how it does go so fast. I can feel why it's so fleeting. I can truly understand that urge to want to grab someone with a newborn and be like,  "THIS TIME WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! PANIC! PANIC AT THE DISCO!" But I have also had the past five years to get very comfortable with the idea that each new stage is going to have some new good and new bad to it. So I'm firmly in the camp of "Enjoy this moment as much as possibly you can given your unique set of life circumstances and plan on enjoying the next stage and the one after that and the one after that..." Nope, you can't get this time back. Yes, sometimes these days parenting little ones will suck donkey balls and you won't enjoy it at all. Just focus on the big picture of enjoying it. String together those happy moments to savor as time goes on, let the rest fall away as you are able.

    So hugs to you, lady at the dentist, as you go through all these lasts and prepare for a new world of firsts with your adult daughter. May you enjoy this change in your life while mourning the end of an era. And I will take to heart the fact that these challenging daily errands of dentists appointments and all the rest represent something so much greater than any given moment, day, or phase in my life with my children. And may I also remember to not schedule too many "lasts" in the days before my children leave for college. I can very much see myself having a big old waiting room cry in 2027.

    Bella starts kindergarten in a couple weeks and it's starting to feel so real. Like keep-me-up-at-night real. Right now I'm going through my own mini version of lasts with Bella and I get teary about it at least once every day. This kindergarten transition will help me to prepare for that far away and yet so close date in the future when she leaves for real. Oh god. It hurts. But first we will start with kindergarten. Let us focus on that. We are both ready for this upcoming change to take place, scary though it may seem in the middle of the night.

    So hugs to me as I go through all these lasts and prepare for a new world of firsts with my daughter heading to kindergarten. May I enjoy this change in my life while mourning the end of an era.