To All The Toys We’ve Loved Before…

To All The Toys We’ve Loved Before…

When my kids were little, my daily challenge was to see how much I could accomplish during a single episode of “Doc McStuffins”. This lovely character fixed and mended toys with her magical stethoscope and became part of our family at just the right time. Like brushing teeth or eating lunch, watching that show was something we did EVERY SINGLE DAY. Doc held the attention of my kids for twenty-two glorious minutes while I frantically sprinted through the house trying to do ten loads of laundry and a week’s worth of chores.

But more than entertainment, Doc became part of our lives in other ways- she helped my kids be more comfortable at the doctor’s office, explaining “check-ups” and stethoscopes. She encouraged my kids to try new foods and brush their teeth and this Mama appreciated the backup! Two of my kids dressed like her for Halloween and our Doc doll (along with “Lambie”) became bedtime buddies.

Fast forward a couple years and my kid was cleaning out her room and threw Doc and Lambie in the donation pile. (You know what else was in the pile?? Winnie The Pooh!! But I can’t even talk about that one right now.)

“Why would you give these away??” I asked in horror.
“Well I don’t really play with them anymore…” was the response. I knew she was right but my heart sank. Of course my kids weren’t going to always love a character from Disney Junior. I knew that in theory but seeing the confirmation in our hallway filled me with sadness. Are those childhood days really gone? How did they pass so quickly? Weren’t my kids just in diapers, grabbing things out of our kitchen cabinets and crying incessantly for me to carry them around?

And then I thought- “WAIT. Didn’t I WANT those days to pass quickly?” When diapers leaked into my clothes and sleep was some sort of magic from my past, I confess that there were times I longed for my kids to be older. I longed for them to wear pants without arguing, stop playing “Skidamarink” on repeat and listen to me like angel children.

And then one day it actually happened (minus the angel children part). My kids grew taller and leaner and cannot easily be carried. Their interests expanded beyond cartoons and we arrived at a different stage of childhood/parenting/family life. So here I stand saying “What?? Already??” SOMEBODY STOP THE TIME!

It’s in hindsight that I am now able to view those baby/toddler years and see them for what they really were- a beautiful juxtaposition of good and bad days, enjoyable and difficult hours, pleasant and not-so-pleasant minutes. In one minute my kid would be vomiting all over my shirt… but in another one she would be asleep against my chest as we rocked quietly in our nursery chair. All those moments coexisted to make a beautiful life.

For so many of us, fictional characters or toys or “lovies” symbolize this yin and yang. They witness us running around, tired and frantic and needing a moment of solitude. They also witness us seated on our couches, blanketed in kids, savoring the stillness together. Stuffed or plastic or whatever material, these unremarkable objects lovingly hold our memories like treasure chests. When we see them on the toy aisle or in our storage bins or even in our donation piles, they transport us to those moments in time. And to the memories of those little hands we held so often.

For all the parents in the middle of the beautiful mess- if you scarcely have time to breathe (or shower), if you have had a few rough days (or weeks or months), say a prayer, follow Dora’s lead and keep on swimming. Pick yourself up, clean that vomit off your shirt and wait for the clouds to part. When the sun comes out and you glimpse a baby smile or a sweet act from your toddler, take in the scene and sear it into your memory like a thousand photos. (And if your child wants to play “The Elsa Game” for the 1000th time, know that it won’t last forever, dear sister.😉)

However tempting it may be, try not to wish the ages away. Your children won’t always be this little. I PROMISE that someday you will sleep again and your kids will wear pants. And when you hear people say “the days are long but the years are short” repeat it to yourself. Because the years are VERY SHORT.

At this point it shouldn’t surprise you that when it came time for me to take the donation box to a charity, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Doc and her friends. I, the 40-something mother, wasn’t ready to let them go. Someday I will be, but not yet. 🙂

So like a mature, adult hoarder, I removed those loveable stuffed toys from the box and placed them on display in my adult closet. I DO NOT LIE. Maybe one day they will be replaced with a soccer medal or graduation cap or some other special memento, but for now, it’s Doc McStuffins on display. And each morning I walk into that space and see her. “Why, yes, Doc, I did sleep very well last night. Thank you for asking.”

To all the toys we’ve loved before: thank you for the precious memories.

You thought I was joking.

Words from a mom on the other side: your baby will be just fine.

Words from a mom on the other side: your baby will be just fine.

Having a baby is no joke. You can never fully prepare for the experience before it happens and then BAM. Hit by a truck. My military husband once said that having a newborn was akin to Navy Survival School where service members are thrown into the woods and told to survive for a week alone. They return disheveled, exhausted, sometimes a bit traumatized and mostly in need of a good, hot shower. See the similarities there??

I am happy to say I survived the baby stage (more than once) and graduated to the next chapter. Let me tell you- IT FEELS GOOD. Some days I miss those precious times but usually I am relieved to have that stage behind me- diapers, naps, screaming, no sleep, buh bye. And THE PRESSURE to do things “right”. Oh, the pressure.

It’s unfortunate that society lumps parents into sides and groups and then sprinkles judgment upon us all, but it happens: breastfeeding or formula, rocking to sleep or crying-it-out, on-demand feeding or scheduling, napping or no, organic food or no, spanking or time-outs, etc, etc. Looking back, I am content with some of the sides I chose but regret other decisions I made in those busy days. I did the best I could, people, and always hoped that it would be enough for my kids. And I know my friends were doing the same.

From a mother on the other side, with all her kids in school now, let me say this: IT DIDN’T MATTER. Not at all. Those sides did not define the success or health of my kids, moreso than any of my friends’ kids. You will find that once you exit that stage, no one cares anymore and no one asks.

No one asks if my kids were born in a hospital, at home or in a hot tub. No one asks if I had an epidural or used essential oils to hasten the delivery process. Honestly, the biggest question being asked in my circle is- why do kids want Tik Tok?? But I digress…

None of the second grade teachers have asked me how long I nursed my child. None of the middle school teachers have asked me if I let my kid cry-it-out or if we co-slept or if my kid was potty trained by age two. NONE. It seems a big deal at the time and I read the books and stressed over the various physical developments but in the end… my kids are doing just as well as any other kid.

From a mother on the other side, let me tell you that the kid who was breastfed for four years isn’t doing better than the neighbor kid who drank formula. They both do well in school and contract winter colds from time to time.

The kid who was up three times a night at age one is doing just as well as the kid who “slept through the night” at six weeks. (I put that phrase in quotations because I think most parents lie about this anyway. But that probably needs another blog post.)

From a mom on the other side, let me tell you that the kid who didn’t potty train until age four is doing just as well as the kid who rejected diapers at age two. (Neither of them wear diapers in Middle School so YAY.)

So if you are smack dab in the middle of that baby/toddler stage, please do what works for you and ignore the pressure. If scheduling your baby’s naps makes your life more manageable, then do it. If wearing your baby in a wrap all day adds joy to your life, then do it. I’m not saying to ignore science, reject advice or forego any parenting books… just know that many of the details we Baby Moms stress about won’t matter in the long run. My friends and I made different decisions and subscribed to different philosophies but all of our kids are now thriving.

Is there a larger lesson here? In a world filled with so much criticism and critiquing, can we refrain from judging the things that don’t matter? Can we support and encourage our friends who are uniquely navigating this road of parenthood, just like we are?

Looking back, I see the road as an exhaustive race. Some families hopped towards the finish, some ran, some rode their bikes, some were fast while others were slow but they all made it across the finish line. Our children received their hugs and medals, graduated to new stages of independence and together we journeyed to the next leg.

Whether you are sprinting, hopping or limping, YOU ARE DOING A FINE JOB. And an IMPORTANT job. Do your thing and accept the mothers around you who are doing their own thing. We are all in this together and I am cheering for each one of you.

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

It’s here! Do you see the Christmas trees in the stores? Do you smell the cinnamon pinecones at Michaels? THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS ARRIVED. People often think of this season as November-December but most parents know that it actually begins in October and extends into the summer. (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?) Are you on social media? Do you see how American holidays require our constant attention for months on end? At least, that’s what Pinterest tells me. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram tell me many things and it’s hard not to bow under the pressure.

In America we often talk about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but instead of walking around the neighborhood and envying people’s houses, we can now feel the pull every time we go online to these social media networks. During this time of year, they display tremendously creative ideas for our holiday celebrations, but they make parents feel woefully inadequate.

According to the Online Joneses…

In October we are supposed to decorate our entire house with spiders and cobwebs, “Boo” our neighbors, then grow and harvest cotton to make our kids’ costumes from scratch. After the Halloween treats are collected, we are supposed to coordinate an Almond Joy drug deal with “The Switch Witch” who will trade the candy for a toy. (Can’t we just tell them to stop eating candy? No, says Pinterest, that’s not the “creative” way to handle it.)

In November we are supposed to make paper maché thankfulness trees that stretch across our entire living room. If we don’t find time to construct these masterpieces then clearly our kids will never learn to be thankful. (Or will they?) After the tree is finished, we can prepare a ten-course Thanksgiving meal for our thirty closest family members. And make it organic, people.

In December the expectations are very clear: I am supposed to introduce Elf on the Shelf to my children and help coordinate twenty-five days of activities and entertainment. It’s endless fun to do in the midst of countdown calendars, Christmas cards, sugar cookies, Jesse trees, gingerbread houses, Operation Christmas Child, random acts of kindness, holiday parties, matching pajamas, homemade gifts and Christmas dinner for twenty. And I can’t forget to roll out the welcome wagon for Santa Claus by blanketing the backyard in fake, glittery snow to rival Arendelle. Zippity-do-da! Not overwhelming at all! 😉

In January, while laying on the couch in our post-Christmas fog, we must leave room for the Tooth Fairy. She comes throughout the year to leave glittery trails of encouragement on our children’s carpets or gifts under the pillow, like tickets to see Yo Yo Ma. (Whatever happened to twenty-five cents? Child of the 80s here.)

In February, we must follow Pinterest’s lead and shower our families in Valentines Day Love. We should decorate our entire house in pink and red and serve every food in heart shapes. Normal-shaped food will not do unless you are a bad parent. (*Sigh*…I’m feeling tired. What if I just want to whisper “I love you and I am glad you are in my world”?)

In March, the magic continues as I am told to dye my pancakes green and build a St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun trap with my child. Linking an oatmeal container to an Amazon box, painted green and sprinkled in gold glitter will prove my motherly devotion and warrant another treasure for my kid. (Whoa, Little Patrick, can we give it a rest? This is four months of gift-giving in a row!)

In April (are we done yet??) it’s time to coordinate pastel-colored clothing and buy Jelly Beans and Peeps to prepare for the Easter Bunny. Candy-filled eggs shall be hidden around the yard, but wait…there is also a basket full of gifts! (For the fifth month in a row!? Isn’t the miracle of Easter a gift in itself??)

By May, all good parents should be 100% focused on summer birthday parties. Turning our backyards into petting zoos with koalas and unicorns is the least we can do for our children. If we transport our guests via hot air balloons then we will be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy photos. (Or maybe we order pizza, buy some plastic cups and play Minute-To-Win-It games?)

W-O-W. Are you exhausted from reading all of this?? I am! This feeling hits me EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Do some of you coordinate all of these activities? Does this bring you joy? If so, I think you have an amazing gift for hospitality and party planning and people like you make the world fun. Being friends with you is exciting and I would love to ride in one of your hot air balloons someday!

For me, on the other hand, this holiday schedule is OVERWHELMING! My family does acknowledge many of these dates but I simply cannot keep up with my Facebook friends and the Instagram photos. I use the holidays to help pass the time and acknowledge the changing of the seasons but our traditions remain more simple; I have yet to find an affordable herd of unicorns and all my searches for homemade snow machines have been fruitless. (BTW, if anyone has actually done this, please send me photos.)

The truth is, I want my kids to have magical memories in their childhood, but engineering wow moments every six weeks is TOO MUCH…and an incredible amount of pressure! So while I occasionally battle “mom guilt,” I am trying to acknowledge my limitations, let go of the outlandish expectations and focus on what the holidays are truly about. These social media networks have benefits, but they don’t need to dictate my family’s celebrations.

Recently, as I was thinking again about my course of action during this holiday season, I happened to hear one of my children complaining that school was dumb “because it isn’t fun.” That night I began to wonder if too much of their lives have been centered around magic and entertainment. Do they realize that school, jobs, paying bills and other monotonous activities aren’t going to be magical? Have our American traditions created high expectations here? Food for thought.

Maybe there isn’t a direct correlation but I am wondering now if bringing down the holidays a notch might benefit both me AND my kids. I might be less exhausted and able to more easily enjoy the holiday season; they might learn that magic and gifts come at very special times, rather than every month.

So as you enter into this long season, let go of the Joneses and your mom guilt and go forth. Know that you have permission to go big, go small or just stay home and hug your kids. (And don’t forget to send me fake snow photos or selfies with your birthday unicorns.)

Happy Holidays!! 🎃 🍁🎄🧚‍♀️💕🍀🐰🎈

The Long Walk to School

The Long Walk to School

For years I have enjoyed the writings, blogs and social media posts of parents who admit they are struggling. Some I read over five years ago but I still remember the words and feel their impact. Their honesty gave me hope and offered relief in my imperfect moments with my imperfect children. I would read them and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE!”

Recently I had a tough week with one of my kids, tougher in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I sat down and wrote about it (because I’ve always been a journaling kind of girl) and then put it aside for a while, trying to get to the root of the mess and make sense of it. Weeks later, when I glanced at my words again I felt they were too personal to share on a public blog. I thought I would keep them private and show them to my kid at a later date.

BUT WHY??? Because I am afraid of being imperfect? Because I am afraid of admitting that my kid isn’t always an angel? Wasn’t I just talking about Living the Messy Life? Am I afraid that I am the only one experiencing these kinds of days and other parents might judge me for it? And if they do, why should I care? I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who needs that same hope and relief that was offered to me in the past. Maybe there is someone who needs to read this and think “I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE.”

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Wow, kid. This morning was TOUGH. Why are these early hours such a struggle for us?? All week I sensed the pressure building so I shouldn’t have been surprised when your volcano exploded at seven am. You woke up angry, you didn’t like breakfast and none of the clothes in your closet were good enough. You lashed out at your sister, screamed at me and cried about going to school. You accused me of not caring and even threatened to call my own mother to complain about me. For such a little person, the flames of your explosion travelled quite far!

Unable to process all that you are feeling, you set your sights upon me, your mother, your safe place. This morning, nothing I did was correct, every action on my account warranted a complaint or criticism. Hurtful words flew out of your mouth with the intent to injure, regardless of all I do for you EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Girl, it’s hard to hear and it’s hard to take sometimes, especially knowing you don’t treat anyone else this way! You would never say these words to your father, grandparents or teachers. Just to me, your mother.

But I know this morning wasn’t really about me. I know it’s your own heart that is hurting. I know that you are very frustrated with school and lonely without your friends from last year. I know that your teacher is different, your routine has changed and life feels out of your control. While part of me wanted to demand your respect and admonish you for your outlandish behavior, I saw what was truly happening and tried my best to love you in that realm. And then it occurred to me…

While it’s regrettable that I am your verbal target, I CAN TAKE IT. You can lash out at me and call me all the names you desire because I AM THE ADULT and I can take it LIKE AN ADULT. My self-esteem doesn’t rest on your juvenile, volatile opinion and I don’t need to get bent out of shape over your misguided anger. (I have made this mistake before and it benefited no one.) This anger is a strange backhanded “gift” of motherhood but I am choosing to accept it wholeheartedly.

Somewhere, in the middle of these explosions, lays the naked truth: whether you hug me or hit me, I’m here for the long game and you know that. You know that you can let down your guard, reveal your ugly side and still be immensely loved. AND YOU ARE. And I adore you and would take a bullet in the chest for you…But golly, why you gotta be so fiesty with me all the time?? Sigh…

Here’s the deal: I’m not naïve. I know this erratic behavior might become much worse as the years progress. Your sensitive heart feels all the highs and all the lows and I know I will be caught in some of those webs of darkness as you grow older. Friends will disappoint you, boys will break your heart, school will be tough and life will throw wrenches in your plans. There will be many days when you don’t like me and I predict there will be a number of days when I don’t like you either… but I will always love you (cue Whitney Houston).

In the future, my presence, “the safe place”, will most likely be a proverbial dumping ground. Your words towards me might become more venomous and the stings might become stronger, but I am committed to living in that place with you, not taking your actions personally and helping you grow into the person you were created to be. Your fire and determination will make you a great leader someday and I plan to be sitting in the front row, watching it all happen.

You are too young to see this from my perspective, but someday, if you become a parent yourself, you will understand that we adults have a complicated dance…

We push you forward

We pull you back

We come down hard

We nudge you gently

We yell angry words

We whisper terms of endearment

We cry with frustration

We shed tears of joy.

Sometimes we do all these things in a single hour. Parenting is a complicated job so maybe you could cut me some slack, too?? I’m not a perfect mother and I frustrate you sometimes but I am out there on the dance floor TRYING to parent you well! I feel like I deserve at least one gold star. 😉

⭐️

This morning, after many of the emotions above, we finally managed to get off the floor, wipe both of our tears and fall back into our routine. With sneakers on and your backpack ready we began the long walk to school in complete silence, just you and me, watching the leaves blow and gathering up courage for the day ahead. I think you sensed that you went a little too far with me. I sensed that now wasn’t the time to replay the morning’s events. In that moment, you didn’t need a scolding but a warm hand. So I held tightly to your small grip and progressed through the neighborhood while we each pondered our morning and our world.

You and I have much ahead of us as we walk along this road, continuing to learn about life and our family and where we both fit in. New challenges and new emotions await us around each bend and this morning has allowed me to think it all through. It will be long journey, a long walk to this school of life, but you and I are in this together and I won’t let go.

a.k.a Mom

To all the mothers (and fathers) out there with “spirited” children:

Hold the line, stay strong, find some supportive friends and buy a big box of chocolate. We are raising world changers here and our efforts will be rewarded… someday… hopefully.